Maybe It’s A Metaphor

June 5, 2011 at 8:51 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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I went back to school in 2001.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.
In the fall, I hemmed and hawed and finally got around to it, thinking I was too late–
But there was a Saturday class, Intro to Computers, that I needed to take before I took anything else.  And it hadn’t started yet.  Oh.  Okay.  I guess I’m in.
It was an easy, easy class, a perfect way for me to get back into the school groove.  And it paved the way for other classes I wanted to take for my degree.  Starting in January of 02, I took 12 credit hours.
Keep in mind that I was working two jobs at the time.
Two of the classes were fairly in line with each other, and these were 100-level computer classes.  One was Hardware and Software Support–essentially the knowledge for an A+ certification.  The other class was Software and Hardware Concepts.
Think of it as “Turing meets Buddha.”
Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but the instructor who taught it was a PhD in–God, I *hope* it was Computer Science.  I never asked.
In this class we got a brief rundown of all computer topics.  Starting with math, we went from binary to octal to decimal to hex, with explanations on why and how.
We also learned how computers thought and made decisions, using Boolean algebra.  And we learned a little of the various layers of communication between a computer and a human:  machine language, assembly code, command line basic, and up into C++ and VB–Visual Basic.
I really felt that we were–or I was, anyway–learning the deep secrets of the inner workings of the machine.  Kind of like Tron.
So, this was a 100 level class, like IS 110 or something like that.  Pretty basic stuff.  The class began with about 24 students, a pretty good turnout.  By mid-term, there were about 18 of us.
After the mid-term, there were 12.
Nine of us passed the class.
Bob, the instructor, was a nice guy.  I liked him.  He was obviously smart as hell, too.  Although he didn’t show it, I imagine he held stupid people in contempt.  I respect that.  He had a fairly simple two-step process for weeding out the idiots:  the mid-term and the final.
Okay, the rules were the same on each test:
1) multiple choice
2) take home
3) use any resource whatsoever that you want, but no collaboration between students
Wow!  This was great!  This was going to be one of the great blow-off classes of all time!  How hard can it be, if it’s multiple choice *AND* take home?
I’ll tell you how hard it can be:  They were hands-down the hardest tests I have ever taken in my life, and probably the only time I EVER did any real thinking.
What made them so hard?  Well, it wasn’t a traditional multiple choice test.  The first pages of the test were just the questions, fifty of them.
The last page was the answers.  Twenty sets of A-B-C-D.  The answer to a given question could be ANY ONE of the 80 answers on that page.
The midterm was handed out on a Wednesday, and we had until Monday.  It wasn’t enough time.
It’s a bit blurry for me now–I wish I had the test still.  I don’t think Bob wanted it to get into the wrong hands, though.  If I had known that, I would have made a copy of it.
However, we turned them in, and then when we got them back graded, we went over them question by question.  Bob was willing to make concessions based on valid arguments and vague wording of questions.  I know that I initially got a B on it, but we successfully argued some that I got wrong, and worked my way up to an A.

By the time the final came around, we were less enthusiastic about the “easy” take home test we were given.  Same deal, just as hard.  Maybe harder, because we hoped at this point we would have an understanding of the style and that would give us a small step up.
No, it didn’t.
As I said, we lost students throughout the semester.  On the day we turned in our final, three guys just dropped it off on his desk and then left.
Bob graded them all quickly–about 12 tests–then handed them back to us for us to go over and argue.
Again we were able to successfully make our case on about a dozen questions.  I gained a few points, as did everyone else.
Of course, the students that dropped and walked did not partake of that luxury.
Yes, the moral and the object lesson contained herein are left as an exercise for the student.  You will be graded on your answers.  In fact, you always are–but this time I’m telling you.

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The Girl With The Red-Brown Hair

October 8, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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January, 1984.
I had just returned to SIU-Carbondale for my second semester, after a pathetic first try and an awkward winter break with my parents wherein I tried to explain.
Explain what, exactly? Explain how I was smart but completely undisciplined, how I had turned into a pothead and had no motivation? How I was wasting their money and embarrassing them in our small community?
One of the few classes I had passed the previous semester was Composition, so here I was in the next step up for engineering majors: technical report writing.
I hadn’t been as lucky with some of the other classes. FORTRAN I passed with a D, so I don’t think that really counts as passing. Engineering physics had been as hard as Chinese Calculus. I flunked that, as well as Calculus, ironically.
Luckily I have a distorted perception of how I view myself, otherwise it would have been embarrassing when the dean of the math department came to my Calc II class–where I was sitting in the front row!–and escorted me to a new Calc I class.
But in writing I had excelled–at least relatively speaking–and so I was excited to be in tech report writing. I remember our instructor was a young woman, and cute, which was guaranteed to get me to go to class in much the same way that the very hot lab TA for my biology class got me to an 8 am lab on a Friday morning.
In addition to the instructor, there were a few other chicks in the class. And there was one very hot little blond chick. I sat casually behind her and to the left, so I could more easily check out the shape of her ass in those jeans.
And so it was a complete shock to me about two weeks later when some girl that I had never seen before flagged me down in the cafeteria. She was cute, but at first she seemed somewhat plain, at least in comparison to the overly-made up chicks in the 80s. She had an easy smile and a wide grin, and her chin seemed to crinkle devilishly when she laughed. She didn’t wear make up, which is what gave me the impression of her plain look. To her, however, it was a statement of honesty and simple living. I would have expected her to have a flower in her should-length, wavy, reddish-brown hair…it reminded me of that Zeppelin song.
We talked, and became friends quickly.
Of course I wanted to have sex with her; I’m a guy. But she had a boyfriend. I never really saw him, except maybe once–she kept her many lives separate. I was her school-friend. Her boyfriend was in the campus-approved campus-adjacent housing for sophomores.
I felt like I was finally living the college life. I had a few friends now that I hadn’t glommed from my roommate, and I had a hip girl as a friend as well.
We were really good friends, and fit well together. Meaning, she listened to me ramble on endlessly about random bullshit and seemed to be entertained. She was eccentric, and I guess she detected in me a kindred spirit.
And so it went that semester, and then I was out of that school–I had flunked out. Would I see her again?

During the summer, I had occasion to drive down to school–about 2 hours away–and hang with my old roommate and his friends. Heather had gone back home for the summer.
We did talk on the phone–oh, the long distance charges!–and wrote to each other. By the time school had started back up, my family was living in St Louis. I kept in touch with my friends, and two of them were getting married.
And let me tell that story. My roommate John knew a lot of people. Gail and Susan were roommates on the third floor of the same building in which Heather lived on the first floor.
Susan had a boyfriend named Scott. They had broken up, and John had quit his girlfriend for a while. I don’t remember her name, but she was cute. John and Susan hooked up. They were together for quite a while, in college terms (almost a semester).
Towards the end of the spring semester, Scott was in an accident. Actually, an accident happened in front of him and he got caught in it. He and his friends were standing on the street corner because parties often fall out of the house and into the yard. A drunk driver came barreling down, hit a car, caromed off of it, and hit Scott, somehow dragging him between two cars.
He ended up having to have part of one leg amputated below the knee, and some serious metal installed in the other. Susan went running back to him.
Since this was college, they were all able to still remain friends. Susan and Scott were going to get married. John wasn’t the best man or anything like that, but he was invited. It was in the fall, I think in October.
I coming down about every weekend to hang out (and also buy pot), and I would crash on someone’s couch. The weekend before the wedding was the bachelor/bachelorette party. We had turned into a large group of friends–mostly women. There was me and John and Mike, and now Scott, and half a dozen or more girls. The party ended up at a blues bar, and after I ended up driving…shit, what was her name? Mary? That sounds right. I drove Mary’s Mustang, because she was completely plastered, and she crashed in the back seat. Cindy rode in the front, with me. John, Gail, and Cindy had all gone in together to rent a house, so that’s where I headed. Cindy was pretty drunk, too. I was just a little drunk, but not out of it, which made me the designated driver. We placed Mary into Cindy’s bed, and Cindy came out and sat on the couch. I sat next to her. Drunkenly, she makes a move on me, and we started making out. Then she passed out.
It was a special moment, one that I would see replayed a more than a few times in my lifetime: the moment when you realize you are not getting laid. I covered her up, and lay on the floor next to the couch, and went to sleep.

Several weeks later, I called ahead to make sure I could crash at Scott and Susan’s. I didn’t know (and still don’t, to this day) if Cindy had ever told anyone what we did, or almost did. Hell, I didn’t know if she even remembered. But I didn’t want to just invite myself over to their house. I remember some part of this conversation with Susan, where I told her that where I really wanted to stay was at Heather’s, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
I did stop by and see John, and we went to the Hanger 9, one of the college bars. We were groovin’ to the live band, and during a break in the music, it happened.
This was such a subtle thing–little thing–a sudden twist of fate, the most exact of timing, that I believe if things had been off by just a few seconds, my life for at least the following several years would have been different.
It was killing me to know what Cindy knew, and how she felt, and if there was an “us”–a future. I liked Cindy. She was a few years older than me and way more mature, and pretty, if not a bit chunky. And she thought I was interesting.
John was her roommate, privileged to all information, and confidant to many. He would know, and could advise me. I could scope this situation out.
At the exact–exact–same moment that I tapped John on the shoulder in this noisy little bar to get his attention to ask him about Cindy, I felt a tap on MY shoulder. Just as John turned around to me, I turned around.
To Heather. Having been my roommate, John knew I was in love with her. He turned back around and ignored us.
Heather! She was surprised, shocked, and happy to see me. She had broken up with her boyfriend a few weeks prior, and of course I had been right there to comfort her. Yeah. It comforted me. I listened to her as she talked and bitched and got it out of her system, I was her sounding board. Then I left. I knew that it was not a good time to profess my love, or lust.
While we were talking, John came to us and said, “There’s a party at my house tonight. You guys should come.” So we did. It was your typical small off-campus rental house, and there were about 50 people there, all over the place. Several stereos going at once, including one in John’s room. Heather and I ended up sitting in there; she on a stool, a little higher than me, and I was on a chair. John popped in once or twice, gave me a knowing smirk, and closed the door behind him as he left.
It was loud in there, so I had to lean over to her to tell her anything. I did, and she would lean in too. I did this two or three times. Then, the last time, I leaned in, she leaned in expectantly, and I kissed her.
She drew back slowly, and looked at me. She had the look on her face as though she were making a decision. She may have even had a hand on her chin, I don’t know. This was mid-November, 1984. I was 19. Three months away from being 20.
She stood up, took my hand, and led me to a different chair, a bigger one. She sat me down, then slowly she straddled me and sat on my lap, put her arms around me. We began to make out.
We left the party, and we drove back to her dorm room. I was shaky and a little nervous, but mostly excited. We get to her dorm room, and she hangs a little flowered thing on the doorknob. The signal, I guess, for her roommate.
Afterwards, as we lay in each others arms, I was aching to tell her something. I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. I turned to her and, “Before this–before tonight–I was a virgin.”
Don’t you just love this reaction from a woman? She rolled her eyes and groaned, and turned over.

And from there I proceeded to ruin it.
At first it was wonderful, of course. That fresh romance thing, and young love. Although it was November in a college town, through my love-colored glasses it was April in Paris. It really was just lots and lots of sex, which I equated with lots and lots of love. Through the end of that semester and the following spring semester, I went down to see her every weekend.
I liked her roommate–I forget her name–but she started to not like me. Of course. I made her dorm room a hostile environment for her. I had school and work Monday through Thursday. Friday–and sometimes Thursday–I would drive down. I crashed in their room Friday and Saturday night (and sometimes Thursday night) and drive home Sunday afternoon. I was *always* there. And we were either having sex, about to have sex, or just finished having sex. How is she supposed to live in her room?
We did go out of the room a lot, so she was able to get in there. But I remember a few comical times…
Early on, we were in bed, under the cover. Just got done, maybe? A knock on the door. She pauses, then comes in, averts her eyes and puts her hand up as a blinder. “Sorry-didn’t-mean-to-bug-you-I-just-have-to-grab-something-real-quick-and-then-I’ll-be-out-of-here.” She said it all as one word.
Two of her friends were standing in the door. I guess they had heard about us and wanted to see. One of them said to us, “Did you two know you still have your socks on?”
“…We were in a hurry.”
Actually, the truth would have been funnier. I should have said, “We’re going to go out later.”
I told Heather that I loved her once. Maybe a few times. For my birthday, she gave me a card where she had written down everything she felt. “Love” is not the right word, the right emotion, for what we have. It’s like, it’s infatuation, it’s lust. Not love.
Maybe she was right.
Every weekend I went down there to see her. Funny, if I had just gotten there before 5pm, I could have gone to the security office and gotten a visitor’s parking pass for free. But I never did. And so, every weekend, I got a parking ticket. Sixteen weeks, sixteen tickets. Of course, 13 of them were on the Maverick, which was technically in my dad’s name. But the last three were on my Chevette, which was in my name. The next year when I needed my transcript transferred, I had to pay them. All three of them, five bucks each.
For the summer, she went home to the Quad Cities. I went up to visit her once–
I went up to “see” her, but it was pretty transparent that I just wanted to have sex. She wanted to “take a break” from sex for the summer. I thought that was silly, and also thought that paradigm would change if I came up to see her. Right? But actually it did not. Eventually she relented–was I forcing myself on her? What the hell kind of relationship was this?
At home, by myself, I had too much time to think about it and not enough data or experience to process; in essence, I was spinning my wheels.
But school was starting soon–
The first weekend–hell, it might have been the weekend BEFORE school starts, when people show up early to get acclimated or just get away from their parents–I showed up at her doorstep.
There were no words, but there were looks. At that time I was still socially retarded, but even I was able to pick up on the look of surprise and subtle distancing on Heather’s face, and the stern disapproval on her roommate’s. And I felt the warm flush come over my own. It was actually late at night when I showed up. I recall saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll just sleep on the floor, and leave in the morning. I lay down, used my little backpack for a pillow, faced the wall, and brooded myself to sleep.
I think I began to piece some of it together that night, but it wasn’t until years later that it all finally clicked for me. I had no idea what love was, most likely. I was using her for sex. Of course, no one “gets used” without their permission–but she was seeing it get out of control. It was affecting her school work, probably, as well as obviously her other relationships (like that of with her roommate), and my insensitivity was reflected in how we were treating her. And where was this going? I was just clingy, and wanted sex.
And in my moody, self-pitying introversion, I reasoned that if she didn’t want to have sex with me, she didn’t love me. And she had already said this wasn’t love. I didn’t think about what it was doing to her, or her reasons; my only thought was how much she hurt me.
In the morning, I got up and left without waking either of them.

Sometime later we had the awkward in-person conversation, the break-up. The closure. The whatever. She was passive-aggressively trying to get me to take a hint, and I was stubbornly looking past it for any kind of sign that there was still hope. Finally, I guess, I got it.
“So…I guess…this is it, then…”
“Yeah…”
“Well, maybe…maybe we can…you know, maybe we can be friends still…”
“Friends. I’d like that.”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah.”
“…”
“So, I guess I’ll see you around, then. Next time I come down, or whatever–”
“Yeah–”
“Or if I see you in town, or something.”
“Okay. That’d be great. Or good. That’d be good.” She gave me a weak, thin smile as she let the door close on me.

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