Sunday, September 25, 2005

Freshman Follies

As a mentioned before, when I came to college in the summer of '97 I was pretty naive. Austin seemed so BIG to me (pop. 700,000). Everything there was different. Driving and parking was a nightmare. In my hometown (pop. 10,000) you could drive anywhere within 5 minutes. If you drove longer than 5 minutes then you were outside the town. In Austin, you would spend 15 minutes alone driving in a circle looking for parking. Sometimes, I would be on UT campus and someone would drive me to some part and we would circle looking for parking and then finding none we would have to go back to the dorm, park there and then walk to where we were trying to go, only now we were late.

However, my freshman year, I tried not to drive as much as possible since I was terrified of it. I had so much anxiety about driving that I simply would not go some place if I had to drive. People tail-gate in Austin and run red lights like it's nobody's business and each road has 2 or 3 different names so every time I drove I was not only freaked-out but lost.

But driving was the least of my problems. I arrived in August and by September my highschool sweetheart of 2 years broke up with me. This was a good thing since our relationship was really shallow, but at the time I thought it was the end of the world. I responded by immediately trying to get another girlfriend. I did this because I now realize that I was trying to get my self-worth by dating girls or feeling like I am really somebody if an attractive girl likes me. The unlucky victim was a girl who sat by me in one of my classes. Her name was Melissa.

In short, I spent the next year walking her to class, giving her poems and flowers and basically being a pathetic loser waiting by the phone. I think she was flattered but I could always sense a kind of anxiousness she had when I talked to her which I now think was her trying to find a way to lose me somehow as nicely as possible. But I was so infatiuted! I thought that if I could somehow win her heart then I would be happy. I overlooked the fact that we didn't have a lot in common, and I didn't really know her, oh yeah, and she didn't like me.

One time when I was talking to my Mom I mentioned that there was this girl that I really digged and her name was Melissa. My mom was very excited that I was meeting girls at college (since she wanted me to marry and give her grandkids) but then she started asking me questions.

"Is she a Christian?" she asked.

"Uh no, she's Muslim." I said. "Her family is from Egypt."

"What! Oh, Barry, can't you find a good Baptist girl? I am sure that UT has a Baptist Student Union there where you can meet a nice Christian girl."

"Mom, we talk about God."

"Oh Barry, they believe in Allah, and besides her family would probably kill her if they found out she was dating a Christian."

"Well, we're not dating yet..."

"Just go on down to the BSU and I'm sure there's a [I tuned out at this point]."

In addition to pursuing this girl I also grew out my hair and joined a Christian cult. The two are not related, I just decided to grow out my hair. The only requirement to join the cult was to be gullible enough to accept an invitation to a Bible Study by some really zealous people on campus. Of course I wouldn't have joined had I known it was a cult. I thought it was legit. But first, the...

One morning I looked in the mirror and I was disappointed. I always had an image in my mind of what I would look like when I was 18 and in college. I expected myself to look older, cooler. But what I saw was that I looked exactly the same as I had in 6th grade. So I grew out my hair and some side-burns. I went for the Beatles look.

This worried my parents who thought I had started doing drugs. I would say something about a Beatles' song I liked and my mom would say, "You know they did a lot of drugs..." and then she would just trail off in a serious tone. My dad would say, "When are you gonna get a haircut?" I could tell he was seriously irked because he had been in the military and had since then kept his hair short with trips to the barbershop every 2 weeks. When I came home for Christmas the first thing my mom said as she greeted me was, "Get a haircut, Santa Claus." I still don't know what this means, but I swear she said it. Then there's the...

I had attended a college orientation for a week in the summer before I started classes in the fall. While I was on campus, a person who was handing out flyers jumped in front of me as I was walking and handed me a card. It said "Christians On Campus" and had a spot on it to fill in your information if you were interested in a Bible study. I thought, "I'm a Christian, I'm on campus, why not?" So I filled it out and dropped it in the mail and promptly forgot about it. On the day that I moved into the dorm, as soon as I plugged in my telephone it rang. "Hello?" I said, thinking that the phone was broken. "Hi, this is Neil with Christians on Campus, we're having a Bible study downstairs if you want to come." And that's how I joined.

When you first join a cult they "love bomb" you, telling you how great you are and what not. I didn't mind this at all. Also, cults tend to isolate you and monopolize your time. Christians on Campus met everyday and for long hours. Once, when I went to a meeting I was there for 2 and half pretty boring hours. We were meeting in an empty classroom and the bell rang to show that classes are changing. I had an afternoon class I had to go to so I got up and tried to quietly leave. The guy who was speaking stopped and turned to me and said, "Hey brother, where are you going?"

"I've got CLASS, I've got to get to." I said it this way because I had kept thinking, "when is this thing gonna end?".

"Oh are you sure you can't stay?" he said, with 40 other people looking at me. "No, I have to go to class now." I was, after all, a college student unlike some of the 30- to 40-year- olds I saw in the meetings. I later found out that this group was part of the Boston Church, (aka International Church of Christ) who believe there is only one true church per city, which of course would be theirs. Because of this, everybody in that local church had to attend meetings, college student or not. They also have a misreading of Matthew 28:19-20 where they believe you must make disciples first before you can be baptized yourself and thereby saved. All I knew at the time was I got some weird vibes.

My freshman year was a very difficult time with lots of soul-searching. But I wouldn't trade it for anything because a lot of important questions came out of it.
* Would I let fear [of driving] rule my life?
* Did I need someone [Melissa] to make me valuable?
* Did I care too much what people thought of how I looked [hair]?
* Did I really know what I believed [cult]?

In case your wondering, I did learn to drive fearlessly, Melissa lost me over the summer, I cut my hair eventually, and I left the cult after a couple of months and one shakedown from the leader. Since I was shaped by these things I will probably talk about them in more detail later. Or just drop me a comment if you are interested in a certain part and I will talk more about it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Football Season

Fall always reminds me of my days of playing football in school. When the first waft of cool air blows in the Fall it's like there's magic in the air. We have really long summers here in Central Texas. I mean, days of 100 degrees can happen anywhere from late April till September. Just yesterday it hit 100 degrees in Austin. After months of 90 and 100 degree days when you have a day where a cool wind blows in and it is 78 degrees it makes you feel giddy. Usually, the change in the weather here happens gradually. A cool day here or there and then a return to unbearable heat. Then right around Halloween a cold front blows through that drops the temperature to 30 or 40 degrees and finally it's Fall and the vicious Summer is dead.

We would start training for football during the heat of August. With helmets, pads, and jerseys on and intensive running we felt like just laying down and succumbing to the heat. I swear that buzzards were circling us as we practiced, just waiting for one of us to stumble and not get up.

But then on some magical day in Sept. or Oct. we would have a game to play and a cool wind blew into town. Us football players would be so excited we would start smacking our helmets together and yelling at each other, "It's FOOTBALL weather, baby! Yeah! Let's go kick some tail!"

From 7th grade through 12th grade I was a strapping lad of 5'7" and 130 lb. What this meant was in 7th grade I was one of the biggest guys on the team. In 12th grade I was the smallest. My senior year our coach had a clipboard and was asking everybodys' weight to put on the roster for the official program. Most of the guys were 200 lb. When I said I was 130 the coach said, "That's embarrassing! We're not gonna put that on the roster. Other teams will think we're small. I'll put you down for 145 lb."

Despite my small size I played fullback on offense. For those of you who don't know anything about football, the fullback is usually a really big guy you hand the ball to who runs straight up the middle through both teams to advance the ball 2 yards on a critical play. However, most of the time the fullback is mowing down people and clearing a path for the real running back who has the ball and is right behind him. Either way, you take a big pounding.

So in Jr. High I played fullback because I was big and fast compared to my peers. In High School I was the third-string fullback behind 2 bigger and beefier guys. But year after year when the season started the other 2 guys who would start in front of me couldn't play for some reason or another. One broke a bone, another couldn't pass a drug test, another failed some classes and so on. Suddenly, I was the starting fullback again.

It was like the story of the little Engine Who Could. Seconds before the ball was snapped I would be looking at the Behemoth on the other team that I would have to block and be saying in my head, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..."

Then the ball was snapped and I would run as hard as I could at him and dive at his knees with my shoulder leading and go into a full log roll.

No one ever expects you to roll. This move if executed properly will fell the largest of giants and I can't tell you how satisfying it is. However, if you don't time it right you just ending up rolling on the ground and looking like an idiot while the giant lumbers past you and smashes into your team mate who has the ball. Then your team mate gets up and gives you a look like, "Way to go, Jerk." or if he's in serious pain, "How could you?" And you hear the hometeam crowd turn violent.

Honestly, playing football was difficult and painful--in my short career I had 2 concussions, stitches 4 times, blood poisoning, knee surgery, tendonitus, jammed vertebrae, and countless cuts and bruises--but it taught me some important things about life. I learned to push myself physically. I learned to be a part of a team--something bigger than myself. I learned to enjoy winning as well as accept that failures happen in life. And I had fun!

My wife has mentioned that if we have a son she doesn't want him to play football. I always agree with her that it is a dangerous sport. But I am secretly hoping that a son of mine will want to play football, so he can push himself and be tough like his dad. More than that I want him to know the joy that I had. Maybe I'll just have to switch his rattle with a toy football.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Smokeless Tobacco

When I was growing up in Gatesville I saw a lot of the men dip snuff or chew tobacco. Usually, you could tell because you would see them spitting and the spit would be brown. Your next indication would be the large bulge in their mouth that looked like a jawbreaker. But that was candy of a different sort--a wad of chewing tobacco. It was a little harder to see if someone was dipping. But there it was, a little pinch of fine, black, pepper-looking stuff just in front of the bottom teeth.

Most people are grossed out when they hear me describe this. When you see it a lot though you think it's normal. So naturally when I was 13 I wanted to try some. At first I stole a little tobacco from a pouch my Dad kept hidden from my Mom. He used to chew tobacco but my Mom hated the fact that he did. Whenever she would find a pouch of tobacco she would throw it away and chide him. Dad would flaunt it in other ways though. He cut the proofs of purchase squares off the back of the packages and sent them in for a Beechnut T-shirt (one of his favorite brands). Then Dad would proudly wear this shirt around my mom who would make a sour face at him.

I wonder if Dad would have let me try chewing tobacco if I just asked? Well, I didn't. I took some and went outside to walk around the neighborhood nonchalantly. It was great! I felt like such a man with some tobacco in my cheek. I knew it could kill me but I didn't care. I was enjoying the tingling, light-headed feeling it gave me, not to mention the bad taste. Soon I was bragging to my friends at school and they all thought I was a bad-boy tobacco user. My buddy Jason, who was also 13, got me a pack of Levi-Garrett chewing tobacco for my birthday. How he acquired it I don't know but it was a brand new package and the kind I liked. (My older brother and his friends chewed tobacco and they used Levi-Garrett so I assumed that was the best brand.)

I continued to dabble in tobacco through my 8th grade year. This meant that I would take a tiny pinch from my hidden package which I was rationing ever so often. Those pinches would make my mouth tingle and salivate, generally a good feeling.

One night, Jimmy, who was one of my brother's older friends, stopped by our house looking for my brother. My brother wasn't home and Jimmy, being restless, invited me along to ride with him while we cruised the Drag (see entry for Mon. Sept 12th for explanation). Jimmy was always restless, it seemed like every week he had a different beat-up old car or a different job. We would ask him, "What happened to your car?"

"Oh, I wrecked it." he would say, or "I just got tired of that piece of junk."

"What happened to your job?"

"Oh, I quit," he would say, "I got tired of their crap and walked out."

Jimmy was incredibly funny too. He didn't cuss often but when he did it was in a way that would have you rolling on the floor with laughter. He would be emotionally elaborating about something and his tone would be building and building and then suddenly, there it was, like a star on a Christmas tree, the most obscene word you ever heard.

I have never met anyone wittier either. If someone jokingly insulted him he would immediately reply with an even better cut-down. If they were foolish enough to up the ante and say something again, Jimmy would reply just as quick, this time getting funnier and more crass. I have seen many cut-down fights started this way with Jimmy and they always ended the same way--Jimmy calmly staring at the other person who stood there red, flustered, and stuttering.

So I was riding with Jimmy who was somewhat of a hero to me down Main St. and he reached down under his seat and grabbed a pack of chewing tobacco and put some in his mouth. Then he offered me some. I wanted to look like a real man so I not only took some but I took a handful and crammed it in my cheek. Jimmy noticed and warned that I might want to be careful. "This stuff is cheap and strong." he said. But I assured him I could handle it.

Five minutes later I started feeling incredibly hot and slightly nauseous. At first I rolled down the car window to get some air. Then I stuck my head out the window to get even more air. I tried to pretend that everything was fine, but Jimmy could tell that I had gotten a little too much. He could probably tell because by this time I was pale, with a slight green tinge. Then there was no more pretending. I spit the tobacco out and my head was incredibly woozy. Suddenly, I didn't like riding in a car anymore. I never realized there was so much motion involved.

"Jimmy, take me home." I moaned with my head between my knees. He was sympathetic and told me if I ate some bread it would help me get better. Walking up to my house my head was floating 5 feet higher and 2 feet behind my body. I stumbled through the door and laid on the floor and watched the room spin. That was the last time I ever chewed tobacco.

Lessons learned: I have done stupid things to impress my friends. Also I shouldn't bite off more than I can chew.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fun with throwing things

Although you wouldn't realize it by looking at me now, I can throw things pretty hard and accurate. Like any other boy growing up I liked to chunk rocks, sticks, dirt clods, eggs, balls, or anything else I felt like throwing. But I threw better than most boys. I know this because I would play catch with them and some of them would look like they were using their wrong hand. I would say, "Why are you throwing left-handed?" and the other boy would say, "Because I AM left-handed."

"Are you sure?" I would say, because it looked so clumsy and awkward. I wasn't cruel enough to say, "you throw like a girl" but usually one of the other guys said it. Most of these awkward-throwers didn't have a Dad to play catch with them so I cut them some slack in that category. I didn't have a Dad to play catch with me either. I had a Dad but he just usually didn't play catch with me--my Mom did.

My Mom is by far the most athletic person in our family. She was a Jr. High girls' coach for 30 years and she's tough as nails. At the age of 57 she is still playing in the most competitive league of summer softball for our hometown--something she has done since I was 2. In Highschool my mom lettered in 5 sports (basketball, volleyball, softball, track, tennis) all 4 years. Naturally, when she got to college she played some sports there too, like basketball. So my Mom and I would be throwing a baseball out in the yard and she would yell at me, "Throw it harder, you're not gonna hurt me." and then she would zing the ball back to me with a perfect overhand throw. I learned from the best.

So today, I thought I would share a few anecdotes of me throwing different things. Here we go:

One of the summers when I was hanging out at the baseball fields while my mom was playing softball, me and some other kids were playing on some dirt mounds by the fields. There were some really good clods there so we started launching them at each other and ducking behind the mounds.

I was doing pretty good until a rock hit me in the forehead and I started bleeding. The other boy got tired of throwing dirt and he threw a rock instead. I was in a lot of pain but I was embarrassed to have to walk up to my mom and tell her I was hurt. Some eyewitnesses told her we were throwing rocks. "DIRT!" I protested, but still I got in trouble.

Then there was another time when some kids were throwing glass bottles in an old equipment closet at the baseball fields. It looked fun! I grabbed a bottle and threw it and watched it shatter. No sooner had I done it, than I noticed my Mom charging out of the dugout straight for me. She had eyes in the back of her head. I quickly protested that the other kids were doing it as well. "I'm not their mother.", she said, and quickly administered justice.

When I was in highschool I liked to sneak eggs out of the fridge and go out into the street in front of my house and throw them as high as I possibly could and watch them SPLAT! Or sometimes I would mix it up and throw them as far as I could. Once, when I was doing this, a pair of Mormon missionaries were on bikes at the end of the street. Without thinking I threw an egg towards them that flew impossibly far and landed just behind their back tires. Lord, forgive me, I now know that people are only won to You through Your love and truth, not eggs.

My best friend, my brother, and I were walking through a field by my friend's house. It was obvious that cows had been there before because there was a lot of dried cow patties. For those of you who don't know, when cow poop dries it looks something like a greenish-brown, flattened cinnamon roll. They also make good frisbees. So one of us grabbed the edge of one off the ground and quickly flicked it at the other. "Eww, you've got cow crap on you now!" Soon it was an all out war and all three of us were hurling cow patties as fast as we could at each other.

Then in a scene that is all too familiar, my friend grabbed a huge rock and threw it at me. It landed on my ankle and I was instantly crippled. I can't repeat what I yelled at him but it was the dirtiest words I could think of. He and my brother just laughed and I eventually could walk again.

What have I learned? When life throws crap at you, there are worst things you could be hit with.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Barry vs. the Tree

Well, I didn't post anything on Saturday or Sunday because 1) it was the weekend and 2) I travelled to my hometown of Gatesville where internet is still a new and mysterious thing. After trying to connect to the Web on my parent's computer (Windows Me, Pentium III, AOL, 56K modem) I almost gave up after 10 minutes and still not being connected. Finally, I connected and went to a website, clicked a link and promptly got a blue screen of death.

As much as I talk about Gatesville I don't go there much. Since getting married 4 years ago the pace of life has really sped up and months pass before I realize I haven't seen my parents in a while. Let's face it, I started a new family. In the frontier days of America, some young man would marry a woman and they would travel west to the prairie or mountains or desert and that's the last they ever saw of their family. Marriage is still an adventure. Have you ever tried to pack up a vehicle with a ton of baby stuff and a few bags of your own for a one-night stay?

Not much had changed in Gatesville since I lived there 8 years ago, although the town is abuzz because there is a Super Wal-Mart now. I went to it to pick up a few items while I was there and it was really nice for a Wal-Mart.

My parents' home still looks the same--so many memories. I looked up at the tree in the front yard and remembered how much I loved to climb it. It's a pretty big tree--an ashleaf maple I think. I used to climb up the tree and just hang out and watch people walk by or occasionally see some truck go down the road. I was practically invisible because no one ever looks up. I spent many enjoyable hours in the tree but it wasn't always good to me.

One day I got a great idea. I took an old belt and climbed up as high as I could in the tree. When I could get no higher I strapped myself to the underside of a branch with the belt. Then I let go with my arms and legs. It worked! I hung there triumpantly and began to flail my arms and legs freely. It was exhilarating to hang high up and suspended in the air. Suddenly, the old belt broke at the worn-out notch. Slap slap slap slap slap... THUD! The slaps were branches hitting me in the back on the way down followed by a brief pause and then, "THUD", the ground.

I laid there for a long time looking up at the tree which had betrayed me. Or was it the belt? Or had it just been a stupid idea? I was in so much pain I couldn't even groan. 15 minutes passed by. Finally, I got up and hoped my kidneys were still intact. Luckily, the branches did sort of break my fall. All told my trip down was probably about 20-30 feet.

Believe it or not, I kind of miss adventures like this. Nowadays, the only way I could get hurt is by carpal tunnel syndrome or wrecking my car during my commute to work. This is not as exciting as falling out of a tree. However, I did mention earlier that marriage is an adventure and recently I added parenthood to that too. Perhaps, many more interesting stories will come about. The years will tell.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The day I almost died

When I was 16 through 18 I was dating a girl who lived on a farm. Her dad had three daughters and no sons so he ran the small farm practically by himself. However, he employed a farm hand from time to time. So once he asked me if I wanted to work on the farm and I thought it would be a great way to earn his daughter and a little extra money too.

I worked on the farm every summer, winter, and spring break and I loved it! In fact, my working relationship with him was better and lasted longer than my relationship with his daughter but that is a story for another time. Anyways, the Farmer would always have some new task for me each day. It was quite an adventure. He would ask me something like, "Have you ever driven a stick shift before?" and I would say "no" and he would say, "Ok, it's not that hard. You just push this on the left and shift over here on the right. You can see the gears by the drawing on top of the ball. Now deliver this fruit to the store in Waco." And then off I would go, trying to learn how to drive stickshift without wrecking the truck or spilling the watermelons and canteloupes stacked in the back.

He taught me how to drive a tractor the same way. I think that there was so much work to do that he thought on-the-job training was the best.

So one time it was pecan season and me and another farmhand named Jarrel had to move two tractors from a field to another one 20 miles across town. These tractors were your typical red tractor--the ones that a little kid would draw with big tires in the back and little skinny wheels in the front. Both these tractors were pulling pecan harvesters behind them. Pecan harvesters are trailers that have a conveyor belt of rubber fingers on the bottom that snatches up everything off the ground such as rocks, sticks, leaves and pecans. Then it grinds up everything that isn't pecan shaped and blows it out the side like a mower while the pecans roll down into a hopper. Essentially, you would drag these things behind a tractor underneath a pecan tree and it picks up all the pecans. They weighed just as much as a tractor so if you wanted to stop you had to start braking early and lowering the throttle and eventially you would roll to a stop. Even without a trailer, tractor brakes are something of a joke--a lever to push to make you feel like you are doing something.

The farmer gave me and Jarrel instructions: Take the following backroads to the field 20 miles away. No racing, no horseplay, put some space between you and, Barry, you follow Jarrel. I'm
going ahead in the truck and I will meet you in a couple of hours. Then the Farmer drove off. Jarrel immediately challenged me to a race.

Jarrel was a country boy to the core. He lived just down the road from the farmer and he had a bit of a wild side due to drinking. After Jarrel spent time in jail for drunk driving no one would give him a job. The Farmer felt sorry for him since he had always been a wonderful neighbor and he gave Jarrel some work on his farm. So when I saw a bit of a wild gleam in Jarrel's eye I emphatically stressed that I would not race him.

So off we go. The trip was pretty uneventful for the first 19 miles. Those of you who have ever driven behind a tractor on a major road know that the top speed is about 20mph. Right before we reached our destination we were going down a narrow dirt road. There was a large hill we had to go up and then down and then up and over a little hill and then we were there. The Farmer had warned us about the big hill (to get enough momentum to go up it).

I sped the tractor up as fast as I could and then started climbing the big hill. I reached the top and I decided to downshift the tractor to a lower gear so that the tractor would go at a measured pace down the hill.

However, by the time I put the tractor in neutral and tried to shift to a lower gear, I had already crested the hill and was on the way down. I began to gain a little momentum and I was going too fast to put it in a lower gear. Then I panicked and tried to grind the tractor back into high gear but it was too late for that too. Suddenly, I was still in neutral on a tractor that took off like a bobsled!

Down the hill I flew at an unprecedented speed. I was going so fast that the tractor was bouncing, and skimming down the road. The skinny front wheels were rattling. The steering wheel was shaking in my hands. I knew that if I applied the brakes or turned the wheel ever so slightly I would throw the tractor into a log roll that would end up where I would be thrown and crushed like so much goo under heavy machinery. However, I had to make a decision quick because I was fastly approaching Jarrel on his tractor and was about to slam into the back of it like a train.

"JARREL! JARREL!" I yelled, hoping to get his attention and get him to swerve off the road out of my way. However, I forgot that we were both on loud tractors so he kept on poking along.

There was a narrow gap on the left side of the road between his tractor and the ditch. At the last impossible second angels guided my hands to turn the wheel 2 degrees and I threaded the needle flying past him on the left. As I was passing him he looked over at me with a face I can only describe as reverence. Or perhaps utter disbelief.

I shot halfway up the next hill and when I managed to jam the tractor into high gear it lurched and immediately slowed down. "I'm going to live!" I thought, whereas seconds before I was thinking, "this is it, this is how I die."

I crested the second hill and saw the Farmer waiting at the gate to the field. He had an angry look when he saw me first instead of Jarrel. I pulled into the field and jumped off the tractor still rabbit scared and the farmer said, "It always means trouble when you arrive in a different order than when you left." Before I could explain, Jarrel jumped down and was whooping and hollering about how I made a last minute gutsy move to beat him in a race.

All I can say is that Jesus saved my life that day, and I don't mean in any eternal sense, but a real and physical sense. He still takes care of fools. I'm living proof.

What happened one night

On Monday, I explained a little about how there was nothing to do my hometown of Gatesville. This just sets the stage for all sorts of things to get into when you're a kid and you're bored. For example:

I went to a birthday party when I was in 8th grade one night. None of us kids could drive but we were too old to want to have our parents around so everybody got dropped off at the birthday girl's house. Her parents were gone too.

It was a pretty low turnout. I think there were only 8 of us in all with half girls and half boys. We were all friends though, because the town only had one school system and unless you failed a grade you saw the same kids year after year.

After standing around in her garage drinking punch off a card table and listening to music on a cassette player we decided en masse to blow the joint and go wandering around the neighborhood. No sooner than we had gotten to the end of the block when a truck with highschool guys pulls up right beside us and someone yells something from the window at us.

Then one of the girls in our group started shouting choice words back at them. What did the guys say? Memory fails me. Perhaps they called us "grooders" which was an insulting term we used in our hometown for underclassmen (kind of like "n00b"). Maybe they yelled out something about one of the girl's physical attributes. Whatever the case the conversation got ugly real fast with threats and cut-downs increasing from both sides.

Finally, C.W., one of the 8th grade boys, picked the girl up who was yelling and carried her on his shoulder away from the truck with her still kicking and screaming. Luckily, the highschoolers peeled out in their truck and the skirmish was over. C.W. wisely knew that the fight that the girls had started would probably end with us 8th grade boys taking a whooping from some rednecks in a truck.

Of course, this incident was not enough to deter us from continuing to wander the neighborhood. Soon we found a construction site with a 6 foot tall chainlink fence around it and a sign that said "Keep Out". So naturally we all clambered over the fence. I knew this was wrong and a bad idea but all self-control was gone since I was with peers and there was pressure. Yes, Mom, I would jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it.

To our delight there were huge mounds of fine dirt at the construction site. They were kind of like sand dunes that you would see in a desert movie and they were about 15 feet high. All the guys clambered up them as well. The girls were too ladylike to get dirty by climbing them (although they had just climbed over a 6 foot fence) and they watched us from the ground. Us guys climbed to the top of the mounds where the rain had packed down the dirt (although the sides were crumbling and pretty tough to scale). Once on top we did what any 8th grade boy would do to impress a girl--we immediately began jumping off and landing knee deep in a pile of dirt 15 feet below. It was pretty scary but amazingly fun. You would think we were riding a slide at a waterpark because as soon as we would land at the bottom we would run around and climb up the side to get to the top again.

By this time the girls were bored and chatting to themselves when suddenly, Carl shouted from the top of the mound, "Hey, look everybody!" Carl then took a short run to the edge and did sort of an awkward trip at the end. It was clear that he was attempting a flip but he didn't make it all the way over and he landed 15 feet below flat on his back with a sickening thud.

"CARL!!!" one of the girls shrieked, which was just as disturbing. He laid so still I knew he was dead. In the next agonizing seconds we stood there, each on the edge of bolting. Then, a truly pathetic sound came from Carl. "oooooooooh" he said, and my heart started beating again. He just had the breath knocked out of him. We helped him up and slung his arms across our shoulders. Then we somehow managed to get our fallen comrade over the fence and we headed back to the house.

Usually, at this point I mention some kind of moral to the story. However, the only point I can think of is that we were stupid kids. Or perhaps that is redundant. Perhaps all kids lack good decision making skills. However, I knew at several times during that night that things were a bad idea, but then I chose to ignore my conscience.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Accent in the Oasis

Yesterday, I told you about moving into my dorm during my freshman year at UT in Austin. Well, it didn't take long for me to figure out that Austin was different than my podunk town of Gatesville.

For one thing as I was introducing myself to other college students they would smile as I was talking and I could tell they weren't really listening to what I was saying and then they would ask where I was from. Then say something like, "you sound like you're from the country." or "you have a strong, Texas accent."

"Where are you from?" I would ask. And 95% of the time they would mention some suburb of Dallas or Houston or maybe just El Paso. Why they didn't have a "Texas accent" either I didn't know, but something was obviously different. One guy asked me, "Where are you from--Georgia?" "I'm from TEXAS!", I retorted. I didn't even know what a Georgian accent sounded like since I had hardly ever been outside the state. So many people said things like this that I began to wonder if Dallas was below the Mason-Dixon line.

Apparently, I was truly a novelty. At a big state college like UT you have mostly students from large urban areas and big schools. I had to face the fact that most hicks like me would graduate high school and then go to a Jr. college if any college at all or a trade school and then get married and start their life in a small town while urban kids were still pursuing their doctorate or medical school and marriage was still years away. So there was a difference in culture. I am not sure which is better. I think it's great to pursue higher education but I also think it is good to marry early if you find the right person (I got married a month before I turned 22). Also, I know lots of people that work blue collar jobs that are not only good at it but they enjoy it.

Another thing about Austin is that it is an Oasis of "not-Texas" in the middle of Texas. Most of Texas is staunch Republican, conservative, traditional, rural. In contrast, "Keep Austin Weird" is a local motto and many would proudly wear the label Vegan, Bleeding-Heart Liberal, homosexual, etc. Also, Austin's main industry is hi-tech (Dell, IBM, Nvidia, Intel, National Instruments, Samsung, etc) whereas when you drive outside of the city in any direction you will see cattle on the side of the road. Many people move from California or Colorado or all over Texas to Austin just because it is a "cool" place to live ("cool" is in quotes to show that I don't mean temperature-wise). In fact, I have lived here for about 8 years now and it is rare to meet someone who actually grew up in Austin. Most people moved here like me. They will say, "Yeah, I'm an Austinite." "REALLY?", I say. "Well, I've lived here for 15 years after moving from LA..."

I can't tell you how frustrating, embarrassing, and painful it was for people to point out my accent. I mean, no one had ever pointed it out before when I lived in Gatesville. But then I realized that everybody there sounded pretty similar to me. The funny thing is when I would meet other students with a "Texas accent" I would be immediately put at ease. As if to say, "finally, I can be myself and don't have to worry about how I talk". I could usually count on all the students from the Piney woods area of East Texas. They had a twang and a drawl that was music to my ears. I also enjoyed speaking to those who spoke what would be political correct to call Ebonics. They made me feel at ease to be myself as well.

By the end of college I had lost most of my accent. At least all of the rough edges were smoothed off through negative reinforcement from frustrating conversations. It was so gradual that I didn't realize it at the time until I saw an old home video and heard myself talking. Also, when I would go home to see my parents I noticed that the town folk sounded markedly different from my professors and classmates.

I wonder if I will ever get my accent back. I hear it slip out sometimes when I am angry or if I am talking to family. In some ways I feel like a sell-out and that I am not true to my roots since I lost it. Whatever the case may be, I vow to be kind to strangers who are new to a place and to not point out their accent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Austin or Bust

Yesterday, (see below) I mentioned that I left my small town for Austin when I went to college in the fall of '97. One hot day in August me and my roommate, Tommy, who was a highschool friend, packed up our vehicles and drove the 100 mile trip to Austin.

I was really green and naive. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it is bad to be naive but I didn't even know how to get to Austin even though it was fairly close, the capital of the state, and on a major highway. I didn't really even know which direction it was either. I just followed my buddy Tommy in my truck the whole way there.

We were directed into a parking lot on UT campus since it was moving day and what seemed like all 50,000 students were there with their mom, dad, siblings, and pets moving into the dorms. My own parents would have gladly helped me move in but I insisted that I could handle it on my own. So did Tommy. I think we were both itching to get out on our own and experience the freedom that so many college movies promised us. "Yes! I can finally do what I want." I thought, although in reality I could have before.

Well, UT has a serious parking problem even when people are not moving into the dorms. So we were waved into parking spots that were about 1/2 mile from the dorm that we would be staying in. As we started walking with a few bags towards the dorm it might as well have been 5 miles away. The sun was baking us and you could almost feel the heat from the concrete through your shoes. Also, UT is several square miles of hills that are paved over with buildings so the gentle grade of the hills would sap away any remaining energy the heat hadn't gotten.

We checked into the dorm and were given a key and a tote bag of promotional stuff. It seemed that every business in town wanted a piece of our money. After we threw our bags in our 8 x 8 dorm room we realized that it would be a couple of more trips to our vehicles before everything would be moved in. So we got the bright idea of checking out some moving dollies that the dorms had available.

Now, using a dolly is a good idea. I mean if you placed a box on a skateboard and rolled it then it would be a lot easier than carrying the box. However, these things were smooth, slick square boards with 4 shopping cart wheels--only the wheels were smaller and one of the wheels would make a vibrating, squeaking sound so loud that you could not have even a yelling conversation with a person 2 feet from you. I know, because I would say something to Tommy like, "Which way?" and he would yell, "What?" and the board would have to grind to a halt before we could continue talking. You would pull the board by a loop of nylon string that I swear was specially woven to cut into you hand.

So we walked a half mile to our vehicles and loaded these boards down with boxes and stuff. I had a guitar in a case on my back, two bags in my left hand and my right hand pulling a dolly. Tommy put everything on his dolly so it was stacked pretty high. Then we began to trudge toward the dorm still in good spirits because, hey, we were college students now.

There is a steep hill right behind the dorm. We waited at the corner of an intersection until it was clear to cross the street and continue up the hill. In the middle of the street I heard all of Tommy's boxes come sliding off his board. I looked back and sure enough there they were making a successful blockade of the road. Cars continued to drive by through the clear side. I began to laugh hysterically while Tommy was cussing and stooping to pick up boxes. I never felt so helpless in my life. My hands were absolutely full and I was tired and the cord was cutting me and my own dolly was trying to roll backwards. Already I felt like such an out-of-place rube in a big city.

Well, we did manage to get all that stuff into the dorm and we promptly returned the dollys and just pack-muled the rest of the stuff to our room (we were the mules). I remember Tommy bear-hugging his computer tower and carrying it from the car and collapsing in the middle of our dorm room floor.

A few weeks later we found out by talking to other people that temporary parking was available right by the dorm during move-in.

Alas, sometimes you are alone because of circumstance and sometimes because of your own choosing, but either way it is tough being alone. Many times I should not be so self-reliant or independent.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Growing up in Gatesville TX

So I grew up in a small town called Gatesville. The people there have hearts of gold but by golly nothing ever really happens. I mean, us kids had to drive 30 miles to Waco in order to go bowling or watch a movie or do anything remotely interesting. So most of my anecdotes happen in that setting when me and my friends were just killing time trying to figure out what to do in a small town. Heck, for all I know kids in Houston or NYC are just as restless but somehow I think not.

I used to ride with some of my buddies in their trucks up and down Main St. We would come to a little restaurant called Grants and turn around in the parking lot and go West down Main St. Then we would come to the Square and circle the courthouse then go East on Main St. About 5 minutes later we would be back at Grants and turn around and go West again.

We would do this about 20 times I think. And this was a night of entertainment. If you were really lucky you would see other highschool friends doing this and you would wave them down or try to beat them off the line at the stoplight or pull over and chat from your windows in some parking lot until a policeman rolled up and flashed his lights to say "No loitering!".

Some of the people doing this liked to add alcohol (or "alki-hol" is probably how we said it). This always made for interesting conversation whenever a truck would pull up next to you with their window down and someone would yell something unintelligible at you. "Who's that?" we'd say. "Aw, that's just Kelly and I think he's drunk."

I never drank. Not that I was better than anyone else (though some may have thought I was a goody-goody) but I was scared that I would get caught. I don't believe there is anything wrong with consuming alcohol. Of course, if I would have drank it then I would have been underage and breaking the law. Also, I do believe it is morally wrong to get drunk but I'm getting off topic here. So at the time I also felt that I would be sinning by drinking.

As fun as it was to drive up and down "the Drag" as we called it, it was also a little discomforting. I mean, we were not just looking for fun we were also looking for meaning in life. Was it found in spending time with friends, or agitating the police, or drinking? The scary thing that I realized at the time were there were not just high schoolers cruising the Drag but there were people in there 20s and 30s that were still doing it which seemed ancient to me at the time (I am 27 now). There they were still driving up and down and up and down slowing down only to give an inebriated shout at highschoolers who were scared of them. It made me wonder if I would ever leave the town.

Well, I did leave the town when I went to college at UT in Austin. I sure do miss my friends from Gatesville. However, I regret a lot of the stupid things I did there.

There's more stories to come about some of my mistakes and what happened after I left Gatesville. Tune in next time for more anecdotes from a hick.

Here we go again. I am figuring out how to send pictures. Posted by Picasa
Here is a photo of me and my daughter, Abigail Luann, who is currently 4 months. Posted by Picasa

My first blog, ta-dah!

Welcome, one and all to my blog. You will get endless stories (some of which have a point) and other odd snippets from my noodle.