Friday, December 12

Why I Will Never Be The Host Of 'This Old House.'

On Monday afternoon, I arrived home from work just after the freezing rain had begun. I made a point to leave the office early that day, as a snowstorm of apocalyptic (ie: typically Midwestern) proportions was on deck to ravage and pummel the county with its fluffy payload. Also, as a preemptive strike, I took the next day off as well, because I’m allergic to snow and have no interest in knowing what it feels like to die in a car accident.

As I stepped into my house and tossed my keys into the Key Bowl (every house should have one), I took a deep breath and relaxed, feeling relieved that I had nothing more to do during the first big snowstorm of the season than to sit in my flannel pajamas, sip hot chocolate, watch The Price Is Right and take a nine-hour nap.

I exhaled just as quickly, you see, for my house smelled disgusting.

I tilted my head in a futile attempt to understand why my home smelled so…gamey. It was as if a grizzly bear had, for whatever reason, picked the lock and wandered in hours earlier, rubbing himself on my furniture and pawing through my carefully-straightened stack of Rolling Stone magazines, only to show himself out just before I had arrived. Usually, my place would waft forth the aroma of a scented candle, or one of the many homemade breads that the Missus makes for absolutely no reason. Not today.

Naturally, I blamed the cats. They can be particularly foul beasts at times, and on occasion, their litter box funk tends to seep up through the basement and out the vents, bathing the condo with the all-too-familiar scent of feline feces until we clean it out. I silently chastised them and continued on with my upcoming Afternoon of Relaxation, with no intention whatsoever of changing the litter boxes on such a joyous and peaceful day.

For about, I don’t know, an hour or so, I ignored the fact that my house smelled like a State Fair, until I first heard the sump pump fire up. The freezing rain outside was getting bad, and it wasn’t until I heard the whoosh of the pump downstairs that I began to make the connection that I should probably check to see if my storage bins were floating around down there. I bounded down the steps, peeked around the corner and saw nothing but a dry floor and clean litter boxes. I was perplexed, as the full force of the musty scent hit my nostrils like a racist joke, instantly reminding me of our old apartment, which suffered from mold and flooding issues on a bi-weekly basis.

Now that we live up in an elevated region of the county (the Hills, bitch!), our basement is bone dry. We’ve never had a problem with flooding or leaking, so the unmistakable smell of dankness had me scratching my head in confusion. It doesn’t take much, but I was fairly stumped. This Snipe Hunt was cutting into my afternoon Talk Show block, however, so I gave up the search and went back upstairs. My Swiss Miss and Rachel Ray were calling to me.

It was about 10 minutes before the Missus came home when I heard the dishwasher start up. I found this to be quite perplexing, as I didn’t start the dishwasher, nor do we have a dishwasher that runs on a set timer, for those do no exist on this planet. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “Is this what happens every afternoon at my house? Phantom flooding and dish washing? I’d better make a note to never take a day off ever again; this place is starting to freak me out.

Then, much like the Urban Legend about the babysitter, I realized that the sound of spraying and sloshing water wasn’t coming from the dishwasher, but from the basement. “The calls are coming from inside the house!


I ran back down into the basement, this time actually turning on lights and walking around and whatnot. I saw the sump pump, sitting idly and unassuming, surrounded by walls, carpet and a lifetime of possessions that were completed saturated and soaked with water. When I turned my back on the pump, it probably gave me the finger, too.

By this point, the Missus was home, who I instructed to bring down as many towels as possible while I pulled back the carpet and got everything away from the sump pump. We sopped up all of the water, cranked the dehumidifier next to the wet carpet and stared into the pit of the pump, wondering just what was going on while we were away.

I think we have a loose pipe or something,” I said. “Look, there’s water all over the walls and everything; I wonder how that happened.

I then had the brilliant idea to trip the sump pump into working, so I could see exactly what was going on. Fishing out a golf club (7 iron, methinks), I stuck it into the pit and pulled up on the tanker ball, springing the pump into violent action.

Instantly, a six-foot geyser of water exploded from all directions inside the pit, drenching not only myself, but everything within a hefty radius from the corner of the basement. The Missus screamed, the cats scattered and I watched in soaked horror as gallons of water cascaded onto the walls, floor, ceiling and most notably, directly onto the outlet in which the sump pump was plugged in.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, the pipe outside of the house had frozen due to the freezing rain, clogging the sump pump tube and preventing it from shooting the water outside of the house. Because of this, the built up pressure blew the pipes apart, creating the Fountain Show and subsequently eventual electrical fire in the basement of CDP Headquarters.

So we tightened the pipe, cleaned up the pool of water (again), and I began to suit myself up for a trip outside of the house and under my deck, to disconnect the frozen pipe and save my home from destruction. Some day off this turned out to be.

We live in a chain of condos, so walking around to the back of the house requires a trip more or less down the street and around the corner, and amidst one of the worst snowstorms of the last three years, it was not something I was looking forward to. I blindly stumbled through the pitch-black backyards of the Wyndham Hills subdivision, sinking into two-foot drifts at random intervals and trying to remember which deck was ours. Dogs barked at me; I wasn’t happy.

I dropped to my knees and dug the sump pump tube out from under a foot of snow, and it was indeed frozen solid. The landscaping crews must have decided that it was getting in their way this Summer, and they coiled it up under the deck instead of unfurling it like, you know, a functioning tube that directs water away from your home should. After about 15 minutes of unscrewing, twisting, grunting, falling over and swearing, I had the tube disconnected from the house and ready to bring back to the garage for a full night’s thawing.

Before that, however, we needed to make sure that the sump pump was now functioning properly and the pipes had been adequately tightened by my girlish hands and debatable wrist strength. So I yelled to the Missus to run down to the basement and plug the sump pump back in (we unplugged it so the house wouldn’t burn down). As the sump pump had been running for hours, trying feverishly to dispel the clog for the bulk of the day, the pit was full of steaming, vibrating, near-boiling water.

Much like a scene directly from The 3 Stooges, I happened to be outside and looking directly into the eye of the sump pump hole at the exact moment she plugged it back in, spraying me down with three gallons of two hundred-degree water in a sub-zero snowstorm. I fell back, lost my screwdriver in the snow (I’ll retrieve it in June) and clutched the length of frozen tubing with equal parts anger, confusion and sadness.

It’s fixed!” I yelled to the Missus.

Afterwards, we surveyed the damage, which amounted to nothing more than a slightly wet basement. You’d think that my pride would have been the only major casualty, what with the pipes exploding all over me due to sheer ignorance, or the embarrassing scene out in the snow on my hands and knees. However, I felt good. As far as Home Ownership 101 is concerned, this seemed like a Level 1 issue, and I (eventually) handled it with a certain amount of poise and grace (and wet pants and frozen hands). Maybe because of this, I’ll be more prepared when a Level 2 issue decides to show up. I always thought that buying a condo gave you a happy medium between responsible financial equity and not having to fix things when they break, but when the pipes explode in your basement during a blinding snowstorm, you’re pretty much on your own, regardless of how inept you are at fixing stuff.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your weekend.


Thursday, December 11

The Pre-CDP Essays (2000-2002: Volume 4).

Pre-CDP Essay week continues to roll along, as we now move into a chunk of my life never-before written about in the history of the CDP (still haven't, technically); my time spent attempting to earn a college degree. Today, we'll focus on three essays spotlighting my first day of post-High School school, my cultural animosity in moving to the impenetrable Metropolis that is Madison, Wisconsin, and the hopelessness of being completely broke and sad and stupid and alone. Enjoy.

Ryan, Meet Ryan And His Other Friend Ryan.
(Published appx. 09-26-02)

I woke up last night at 3:27am. I could feel the vessel explode inside my head, and the blood begin to stream out of my nose. I was in pitch darkness, my head covered with a down comforter. I cupped my hand under my chin, threw the cat off of my shins and made a stumbling beeline for the bathroom.

Flicking on the fluorescent lights shrunk my pupils to pinholes, and as the reflection slowly came into focus, it appeared as if I had attempted to take my own life. Blood everywhere. On my neck, my forehead. I was in no mood to battle this softly. I blew the huge, dark clot out of my nostrils and went back to bed. I had to be up soon.

Getting up for school felt strangely routine, despite its absence from my life for two years. As usual, I showed up about five minutes before class time; I wanted at least a minute or two beforehand to collect myself and mentally prepare, but perhaps tomorrow will be less paced and frantic. Regardless, I timidly stepped into a lecture room full of people that looked just like me…cold, uninviting and very much worried about how other people were viewing them.

Once I found a seat somewhere towards the back, I joined the mob in eying down everyone who walked in for the next four minutes. I tried to not draw any attention to myself, and silently prayed that my nose wouldn’t start to bleed again. Nothing would make friends quicker on my first day of Big Boy School than scrambling for the exit, pooling my own fluids in my hands. Didn’t happen. Our instructor walked in; a man who looked more at home in the front row of a Rusted Root show. Long, wavy hair. Hemp necklace. Kind of looked like Eddie Van Halen. Told us we should call him Ralph. We did.

Over the next few hours, apart from the wavelengths and kilohertz and rarefaction, I made a startling discovery. Somewhere along the way, I became frighteningly uncool.

In a small town, dressing funny and being in a band gives you looks, stares and curious attention. However, that’s the status quo in any larger city. Everyone here is into music. Everyone here is in a band. Everyone here is a critic; that’s why they’re here. I more or less dress like a sad, little boy. Denim jacket. Converse shoes. Faux-hawk. Jeans that my girlfriend insists I buy three sizes too small. I completely forgotten that, outside of my group of friends, nobody else could give a shit less what I dress like.[1]

(1. Apparently, I was more flippant with my profanities as a youngster.)

Madison is all about extremes and stereotypes. The punks look very punk. The gangster wannabes look scary, and nearly disappear into their huge clothing. The Italians walk around flinging pizza dough into the air. Everyone else just smells like cigarettes. And here I thought for sure that this kind of individuality was dying out.

I’ve also discovered that Sun Prairie is for people who are too pansy for Madison. That was essentially the one thing that I learned on my first day of college.[2] That, and there are four people named Ryan in just one of my eight First Semester courses. There are more losers named Ryan in this city than there is litter.[3] I personally feel bad for every one of them. I can soon imagine all of us stutter-stepping around the commons, wondering if the guy across the hall was trying to get their attention or some other Ryan’s.

(2. I no longer find this to be true.)

(3. I no longer find this to be true.)

Me and The Girlfriend went to Fazoli’s for supper after school. I needed money, so I walked over to the mall to hit the ATM. There, more of the same. People everywhere who suddenly looked much more important, cultured, fashionably literate, wealthy and smarter than me, when just last week, they were nothing more than obstacles between me and my Sweet & Sour Chicken at the Happy Wok.[4]

(4. Pre-vegetarianism!)

Was I depressed? Jealous? Having an early breakdown? No idea. I’m just finding my place in a new environment, it seems. Spending your life in an Unincorporated town lends to a slight amount of discomfort and culture shock, even if you’re only moving to a city with a quarter of a million people in it. Celia, on the other hand, has talked to many people and seemed to feel quite at home, which I think is a first for her. Meanwhile, Mr. Social Butterfly’s wings have crusted over, and are being devoured by hungry aphids.

Damn, dirty aphids.

(Faux-hawk to the rescue. Eat a sandwich, for Christ's sake.)

The following is one of the few essays I've ever written, as an adult or child, that I would consider 'too whiny.' Judge for yourself.

One Tempo To Another.
(Published appx. 10-10-02)

I’m well into my second week of becoming a master sound engineer and music business virtuoso, quickly learning everything there is to know about sound waves, amplitude, acoustics, music theory and basic studio recording. Scoring a 95% on my ‘Practical Computer Skills’ test-out examination, I can now sleep until 10am on Tuesday mornings. My head is quickly filling up with more useful information than three years at the Hardware Store ever could have, discounting all of that ‘real world’ stuff, like preventing explosions and ducking when alcoholics throw coffee mugs at you.[1]

(1. I should really write more 'My First Job' essays. This is all true.)

Also, one of my instructors looks a lot like Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go’s, and if you pardon my bluntness, I’d like to have a Go-Go on that as soon as humanly possible. Seriously, she needs to drop the attitude, stop by my apartment one night and just get it over with already. The sexual tension between us needs to be dealt with and put behind us immediately, so we can move on comfortably as a student and teacher. It’s for the best; my lips are sealed.[2]

(2. In a delightfully ironic twist of fate, Miss Jane Wiedlin herself now lives in Madison, where she's engaged to one of my former college instructors. Can you freaking believe that? We're going to meet up one of these nights, I swear to God.)

But one thought has filled my head more than anything as of late. A harsh realization that seems to nip at my heels whenever class is dismissed and I step out onto the concrete.

I have the absolute shittiest car on the lot.[3]

(3. Language; geez!)

No doubt about it. Look, this private school wasn’t cheap; not by a long shot.[4] The bulk of the kids that go here are living off of daddy’s dime. They didn’t have to move, don’t live on their own and probably don’t even have to pay for gas. I see Acura’s, Audi’s and monolithic SUV’s. Somewhere in amongst the chrome sits my 1993 Tempo with the massive dent in the driver’s side, from when a deer decided to run directly into it at Full Deer Speed.

(4. I did the math, and I'll have my student loans paid off in eleventy billion years.)

It rattles as I start it up, and the number of unattended problems with it continues to add with each passing day. I’m literally scared to death to even sit inside of it. It cost me $500 to buy it, thousands have been poured into it, and I pay over a thousand dollars a year to insure it. And of course, that money only covers me if I were to hit someone else; someone who has a nicer car and a lot more money. I won’t see a penny.

Am I jealous? Am I upset that I have it a little bit harder? Does it make me sick that these kids can get away with limited responsibilities, while my palms sweat every time I pull out of my underground garage?

Buy a new car, you ask? Listen. Last night, I ate a bowl of microwavable Bow-Tie pasta that cost 75 cents at the supermarket, and it was the fifth night in a row that I’ve done so. So yeah, like it or not, this car is mine until it officially becomes illegal to drive. Tonight, I have to decide if I’d like more food, or if I want to use the 75 cents to do a load of laundry.[5]

(5. In order for us to get quarters to use in the washing machines, we'd have to walk over to the bowling alley and change our dollar bills in the Game Room.)

I can’t allow myself to scream “It’s not fair!” at the top of my lungs and carry around a pissy attitude all the time, but it’s a constantly uphill climb right now. Let’s face it, I don’t have a job right now, and I’m living off of a student loan, but I can promise you that I will have to pay this all back times two over the next 30 years.[6] What the hell, I should just start breaking into some of these nice vehicles. Some of these kids probably wouldn’t even miss some of the stuff that I want to take. Can you feel the bitterness? I sure can.

(6. Yup.)

Autumn is coming, and the reminder that Christmas and Winter will follow is naturally depressing enough for anyone to be looking for a quick escape. My only small wish is that the snow waits until after Christmas to fall, so I don’t have to drive up north amongst it. If that doesn’t work, then I hope to die before I attempt to make the trek. That way, my girlfriend won’t have to perish with me in the horrible wreck that’s certain to follow.

I miss my Buick. That’s all for now.

To the best of my knowledge, this was the last essay I wrote before launching the Communist Dance Party 14 whole months later. I kicked ass at school, graduated in February of 2004, launched the CDP weeks later, and the rest is blogging history. Enjoy.

(Published appx. 11-25-02)

Whenever I heard anyone mention ‘midterms,’ it always sounded to me like trite college-speak from brats who wanted to sound important. ‘Oooh, I’ve got midterms this week; it’s gonna suck!’ they’d say, as I would agreeingly nod and contemplate why I was talking to this person in the first place.

Turns out, they were right. Midterms do suck.

Exactly halfway through the semester, those communist instructors decide that they want to make sure you’ve been keeping up with the material or not. So they actually give you a test! A test that you’re graded on! Well, I was just as shocked as you are right now, I promise. It’s a massive chunk of your grade, too. And here I thought that I was paying $24,000 to sit around school and occasionally catch a can of mace to the eyes.

True story; a kid’s can of mace went off in his bookbag, and I stepped directly into a cloud of it. Even secondhand, it was debilitating and sent dozens of people scurrying for the exits, coughing, crying and blindly stumbling the whole way. Don’t say I never warned you about anything.

I can’t say that the midterms snuck up on me. They really pound this stuff into your head for a good week or two. Countless reviews, writing and re-writing notes, handfuls of quizzes. So needless to say, I’ve been studying Sound Engineering like an autistic kid would study a shoelace.[1]

(1. Still one of my favorite one-liners.)

But so far, so good. School has given me nothing to complain about, mainly because I’ve been putting myself in no position to complain. I’m working hard, trying to keep up and remain in the pack. As long as I continue to boot myself in the ass when I get lazy, it’s been mostly smooth.

On the home front, I received a postcard in the mail from The Exclusive Company in Appleton. Two months ago, I dropped off my CD player because it wasn’t responding to anything. They finally got back to me a couple of days ago to tell me that it would cost $125 to fix. So here I am, staring back at the postcard, contemplating calling them with the go-ahead, or instead sending them two pounds of cat feces in an Airwalk shoebox. I don’t have the cash, but I do have the feces. I’ll need a few more days to decide.[2]

(2. I eventually went with the money, but just barely.)

Speaking of the cat, she’s in the habit of finishing her food shortly after we go to bed, and forcing us awake to feed her at 4am. She’ll yell, step on your head, rub her whiskers on your face, anything. The cuteness of this wore off faster than an author’s paycheck at the tavern. We’ve got into the habit of tossing her over the loft; she only gets hurt when the ceiling fan is on.

When you have no friends where you live, and merely a cat and a girlfriend for company, you end up telling humorless anecdotes like that. I’m not a senior citizen yet, but I’m certainly beginning to sound like one. Soon enough, I’ll be yelling about the price of my medications and bothering the poor kid bagging my groceries. I try not to bother him now, but every once in a while, I’ll tell him to bag all of my instant pastas alphabetically. Starting with the Bow Ties and ending with Sour Cream & Chives. I’ve got nothing but time!

Well, I’ve got to go and study. I have a Music Business exam tomorrow, so I have to brush up on the art of being a lying, shrewd, conniving prick. Wish me luck.

This week's historic Pre-CDP Essay anthology is over. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.

Wednesday, December 10

The Pre-CDP Essays (2000-2002: Volume 3).

Pre-CDP Essay week continues to roll on with a Hump Day Double Feature. We kick things off with the very first essay written as an independently-functioning man-child, followed by the last essay written before I became a college student. Life-changing, neurotic and hopelessly bankrupt, I hope you enjoy these essays written during my 20th Autumn on Earth.

Sun Prairie Welcomes You!
(Published appx. 09-05-02)

Belated greetings from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The Charter Communications ‘Pipeline’ Internet Service is in blazing full effect, and I am finally reunited with the Wired. It’s nice to be back after all the seclusion.

On Sunday, September 1 of 2002, I moved into 1755 Linnerud Drive, Apartment #204.[1] Accompanied by my girlfriend of almost three years, we embarked on adulthood together, and realized that it’s not too difficult thus far. All thanks to good planning.

(1. I don't live anywhere near there anymore, so don't bother stalking me. I do, however, frequent the Post Office just across the street to check my PO Box from time to time.)

We shelled out all the cash for the 12x16 moving truck, filled it to the brink with all of the the things that The Fiancee’[2] owned (and all of the things that I haven’t thrown out yet)[3], and drove for two and a half hours south. We then emptied the contents of the truck into a space that seemed significantly smaller than 12x16, it would seem, and tearfully said goodbye to our parents, and to a greater extent, our childhood. In actuality, my mother was the only one crying, but I had to hold it in. I cry more than I let people know, and the apartment is plenty big, so I guess that I’m a liar on both fronts.

(2. In February of 2002, The Girlfriend became The Fiancee'.)

(3. I liked to throw my possessions away during particularly steep bouts of anxiety.)

The door shut, and we stood together, amongst our strewn belongings. Three days later, and the place looks as we wanted it. What to do now?

It was just that. September 4, and school didn’t start for three more weeks. We can’t afford to spend too much money in the meantime, and a giant, friendly Wal-Mart and Supermarket are our closest neighbors. We go there way too much. The refrigerator is stocked with three cases of soda, and above that sits grape, orange and pineapple juice, chocolate and white milk, and a random assortment of dressings. As long as I live, I will never go thirsty again!

In the pantry…half a loaf of bread and two boxes of cereal.

In the freezer, three cheese pizzas. In three days, we will be out of pizza.

But I kid. The Fiancee’ has been showing me her long-hidden, chef hat-wearing side. She awakens me with waffles, showers me with pastas and taught me how to work the dishwasher, a kitchen appliance that I’ve never once had in my life. I, in tune, do my part by making sure I vacuum up my fingernail clippings from the living room floor so they don’t cut her toes. And it just so happens that I put the vacuum cleaner together, too. And it almost works!

With everything cleaned up and taken care of, we retire to our loft to sleep (it’s a studio loft, and it’s very expensive). The upstairs is usually 30 to 40 degrees hotter than downstairs, as our cooling source is on the ground level and refuses to rise. So we sweat. That, coupled with the super-firm mattress and frame that I purchased on the cheap, is giving us the most troubled uncomfortable sleep ever (not to mention that neither of us are too used to sharing a bed). And when we awake and trot back downstairs, our breath is clearly visible amongst the frosty furniture and air conditioner.

I called the cable guy, who installed my blazing cable Internet connection. Two-hundred and fifty-six K, baby![4] He also hooked up our digital cable: 145 regular channels, 32 premium channels, 45 music channels and 25 more channels that I will never watch and instantly deleted from my guide. Pure bliss. I took the afternoon off[5] to hook up the cable, DVD, VCR, Sega Genesis, NES, RF converter and stereo to the television. You can hear the hum of the electricity from outside the building.

(4. Whoo-hoo!)

(5. I have no idea what I meant here by 'took the afternoon off.' I was unemployed and had no friends.)

Note that even with all of the recent advances in boredom control, I still stick with the Nintendo and Genesis. I refuse to buy another instantly-out-of-date console until they find a way to insert it directly into my cerebrum.[6] Regardless, television is wonderful enough, you can do almost anything online, and The N is airing back-to-back episodes of Pete & Pete five nights a week.[7]

(6. I went back on this statement when Guitar Hero was released.)

(7. I miss that.)

You’d think that I was a technological genius. That’s not true; in fact, I spelled both of those words wrong. I usually just bumble along, knowing nobody knows any more or less than me. I can half-ass with the best of them.

But you can’t half-ass when it comes to laundry, and I feared the washing machine. Loathed it, wished it gone. However, here at the Hunters Ridge compound where I reside, they’ve idiot-proofed the entire operation. The washing machine requires you to press only one button to clean your clothes. I couldn’t believe it, it was almost worth the $1.25 per load. We dried our socks on the deck last night.

It should also be noted that before moving here, I purchased a large amount of cheap, blue bathroom towels that instantly came apart in the wash and shower, covering everything in their path with a thin, blue film. This problem has since been remedied, but not before some cursing and utter shock upon looking at my naked, blue body in the bathroom mirror.

All hilarious and quick-witted observational humor aside, I couldn’t be happier here. The people are nice. They say hello to you on the street. They help you at the store when you can’t find the ranch dressing. The Fiancee’ got several comments on how nice her hair looked (as usual). It really is a much nicer and friendlier community than I am used to, coming from the stuck-up-for-no-reason Fox Valley, and snooty Winneconne folk. Yeah, I said it, and I’d say it again if I had to.[8]

(8. Yeah, suck it, Village of Winneconne! That'll teach 'em!)

In my sleep-deprived state, I have run out of things to say. Any questions, comments or concerns about my journey into adulthood; send ‘em my way. And come visit us; we’ll take you to the zoo. And no, I’m not talking about the Capitol Building! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!


I attended a private Media Arts college in Madison with the hopes of becoming a Sound Engineer, Music Producer or what have you. And while my education has given me a golden ear and deep appreciation for the Science of Sound, I got entirely sick of making records rather quickly, and now only work on audio production as a hobby.

Today's last essay spotlights my feelings that maybe I should have just stayed in my Grandma's basement instead, and put this independence nonsense behind me. It also shares a secret that, to this day, nearly nobody knew about until now. Enjoy.

The Day Before The First Day Of College.
(Published appx. 09-25-02)

I remember my last memory of High School quite vividly. I was 18 years old, and graduation was a week and a half away. Mrs. Fuller’s Algebra II classroom was cold and quiet, and the echoes of much happier kids rattled just beyond the oak door. I was watching her slurp her water as emotionless as can be, her glasses coming dangerously close to slipping right off of her peaked nose and dunking right into the mug. She was not happy, but she was willing to help.

‘If you don’t pass this Final, you’ll fail the class. That equals a Semester F, which means you’ll lose the credit and not be able to graduate next week.’

I heard it, but I couldn’t really believe it. Just like anything she ever said to me, it never really sunk in. Algebra II wasn’t really my scene; I remember dropping the class after about 15 minutes my Junior year, before it came back around to bite me in the ass at the worst possible moment. Who knew that I needed it in order to go to my chosen college?

For most of the year, I blamed Mrs. Fuller, but this time it was different. The cold woman whom I’m sure began to hate her job years ago was looking at me differently. She offered after-school help. She offered anything she could do. She even asked my girlfriend, the 4.0 Academic Genius to help me out. Mrs. Fuller wanted me to pass this test even more than I did. Maybe because she didn’t want to see me again. Or maybe it was because she knew I could. Whatever the reason, it finally began to sink in.

I could feel it all coldly imploding inside of me. The humiliation. I could hear my mother sobbing, blaming herself. Mostly, I could hear everyone’s frustration that such a smart kid could have transformed himself into such a lazy, apathetic bastard. For the first time in my life, I really did feel like a lazy, apathetic bastard.

So, one week before I quit public school forever, I finally began to try.

I brought the work home, I shut the television off, and I studied. Honest to God, studied. After a few hours, I got some questions correct. I began to wonder why I hadn’t done this before; surely this was a far easier way to pass an exam as opposed to just winging it for over a decade. I went into Algebra II class the next day, and a few minutes later, I was the first person in the room to turn the test back in.

The rest of the day was hell. Everyone around me was talking about their plans following high school. I figured that none of these plans contained a diploma book with a blank piece of paper inside. I was sick to my stomach. An adolescence of slacking had led me to this moment, and at 3 o’clock and 4 seconds, I dashed back into Mrs. Fuller’s classroom to see my fate.

100 percent. Perfect Final. Something I hadn’t done since Elementary school, when I was touted around every ‘gifted’ class in the District for years, and perhaps mistakenly labeled a ‘boy genius.’ Maybe ‘idiot savant’ was more like it.

Nobody was more amazed with this score than me. It was one of the most relieving moments of my entire life. The happiest moment, though? Not even close. I finally felt as frustrated as everyone around me had been with my lack of effort. I really could do anything if I tried. Ironically, I finally made peace with this fact after what was the last test I would probably ever have to take.

Then, graduation. Diploma. Pictures. Smiles. Happiness. Almost nobody knew what had happened, and what I had gone through to get there.

I was a changed man. I would never, for as long as I lived, half-ass again. I would look at every challenge with fresh eyes and a new outlook. I would constantly work with as much brain power as I could muster, and never do less that what all my cells firing as one could produce.

Then came the Hardware Store and my dreams of punk rock superstardom for the next two and a half years, where I slowly-yet-completely died inside. Right on Autopilot for the remainder of my teen years. I was never given tasks, never told what to do, had a ton of expendable income with no bills, and didn’t live with my parents. I essentially became a 117-pound lump of unimaginative, egotistical crap.

I’m still that lump typing today. Only now, I’m 20 years old, tomorrow is the 26th of September, which marks my first day of college. I somehow slipped back into school again, carrying with me the attitude that I swore would never return. Oops.

It should be known that I used to have nightmares about school. Awful ones. As an obsessive-compulsive teenager who suffered from disorganization at school and home, sweat-soaked, bloody-nosed nightmares tended to show up every now and then. Since I’ve moved to Sun Prairie to get my degree, they have since returned.

Where are my books? Why am I late? Where have my clothes gone, and for God’s sake, what is my locker combination!? Childish, 9-year-old fears have forced this 20-year-old man to wake up shivering again. There aren’t even lockers at college; what in the hell is happening to me?

It’s 9:36pm right now. My first class in two years starts in ten and a half hours. I’ve just triple-checked my books and schedule, and could repeat it verbatim if forced to at gunpoint. Of course, if someone ever did point a gun at my head, they probably wouldn’t ask me to recite a schedule; they’d probably just take my wallet. It’s a good thing I always carry a knife around with me. But I’m digressing from the cold, Dr. Phil-like truth.

I’m scared to death.

Yeah, I moved all the way out here for this very reason. Started a new life with The Fiancee'; bought a cat and everything. But I’m still scared to death about this thing that I’ve tried so hard to make a reality. I mean, I did all of this stuff for the sole purpose of going back to school, and yet it’s the only thing I’m afraid of. That, and the pale girl that works at the Pick-N-Save. I’m really worried about her.

Regardless, whatever remaining fears I have will have to go untyped for now. I have to set my alarm clock for 6:30am; a time of day I haven’t seen in at least two months, when I quit my job at the Hardware Store to move down here. I’m going to pretend to sleep, and we’ll talk all about Ryan’s Big Day tomorrow.

As you can imagine, I’m going to be pretty relieved when it’s all over.

(2000-2002: VOLUME 4)

Tuesday, December 9

The Pre-CDP Essays (2000-2002: Volume 2).

Pre-CDP essay week continues with a trip back to the Holiday season of 2001. Here, we cover the trials and tribulations of merely surviving as a 19 year old with a crappy job and dreams of punk rock superstardom, amongst the coldest Winter in Wisconsin history. Enjoy.

Merry Christmas, Ya’ Bastards.
(Published appx. 12-11-01)

Exactly 365 days ago, I remember waking up at 6:28am, and getting ready for work. I ate two slices of peanut butter toast, and I wore an odd, feminine-looking sweater that was a hunter green color.[1] I stepped outside and shoveled a path a foot in front of myself to reach my car, which was crusted over with a good thick inch of ice. By this time, my ankles were soggy, and a gust of wind had blown a large pile of loose snow in my face. As it melted and ran down into my feminine sweater, I remember shaking my fist to the sky, screaming ‘never again!’ as loud as I could muster through my scarf and heavy tears.

(1. I believe I'm wearing this sweater in the photo that leads off yesterday's essay.)

No doubt about it, I was truly Winter’s Bitch.

I would use my car keys to scrape a clean spot in the windshield the diameter of a silver dollar, convinced it was enough visibility to get me down the street to the Hardware Store. It was not, and nine times out of ten, I would almost hit the first car I passed. Usually this would be my mother on her way to work, where she would get out in the middle of the road and scrape my windows herself, all while telling me how lazy and boneheaded I was. But she had a scraper, and I did not, so I did what I had to do. For the record, I could see just fine through the silver dollar peephole.

I would make it to work in about five minutes, where I would slide past the parking lot. Putting the car in reverse was always a challenge, as I was doing it completely blind. I was pretty certain that one day I would back over an elderly woman, and in my panic, manage to run her over 14 times.

I would step out of the car, now already 10 minutes late. A split second after my foot would touch the ground, I would routinely slip and fall down on the sheet of ice completely encasing the parking lot of the Larsen Co-Op. I had set myself up for a full day of humiliation and jokes in the eyes of anyone who had just witnessed this. It’s hard to defend yourself maturely when you have a wet spot extending from the heels of your shoes to the base of your neck.

Stepping into work only made things worse, as for the next eight hours, I would hear everyone in the tri-county area telling me how bad their morning has been. Don’t you hate that (I’m being tragically ironic, here)?

But that was a year ago. Everyone can now remember that December 2000 went onto be the coldiest and snowiest month in recorded history (seriously).[2] Cars filled ditches, I saw at least 24 people fall down,[3] and the Co-Op sold a record amount of road salt. It was also about a year ago when I completely lost control of my car, spun into an embankment and had to walk in the pitch-black, freezing darkness to my friend Aaron’s house; slipping, falling and swearing the entire way. Also that year, Florida got an inch of snow in a freak weather mishap, and they practically closed down the state. Remember kids, that’s Florida, truly America’s Wang.

(2. ...until 2007, of course.)

(3. Give or take.)

The timeline for my fateful December 8, Year 2000 car accident was as follows:

(Here, you see me and my manager at the Hardware Store. This was the cover of a midwestern farming magazine in December 2001, discounting the fact that I was completely Photoshopped out of the finished product. I had a good laugh.)

2:30am – Get dropped off at Ben’s house after another wildly successful Mediocre At Best show. Get into Ford Tempo and make a mental note to drive carefully, as I didn’t want to crash into a snow bank.

2:33am – Crash into a snow bank.

2:34-2:40am – Frantically shift from Drive to Reverse, swearing and fogging up glass.

2:41am – Realize I am stuck. I have to think of a plan. I step out into the freezing, zero-visibility night and come to the conclusion that I am quite helpless. I see where I am stuck, and try to dig myself out with my bare hands. This gets me nowhere, but I continue to do it for a few more minutes out of anger and spite.

2:57am – Attempt to lift the car up in a last ditch effort.

2:58am – Fall to the ground, clutching back in pain.

3:04am – Screaming to the foggy, barren moonlight, I start walking to Aaron’s house down the street, straight down the centerline of the road, losing traction and falling down at approximately every fourth line. I reach his driveway, and walk through the knee-deep snow to prevent me from falling down anymore. I am completely soaked, and not in a friendly way.

3:15am – Just as I am about to knock on Aaron’s door, he opens it to let his dog out, with an absolute rictus of terror painted on his face. Living out in the middle of nowhere, he didn’t expect to be visited at quarter after three in the morning, and I think I scared him just a little. I tell him the problem, and he offers me some macaroni and cheese to cheer me up. I decline this offer, and instead call home to find out that I’m stuck until at least 7am.

3:24am – Me and Aaron go back to the site of the crash to see if we can do anything on our own. We are not car professionals, and proceed to put on a display that certainly made God cackle with delight and embarrassment. We failed at everything we tried, and broke two collapsible shovels in the process.

3:30am – We go back to Aaron’s. After discussion, I decide to sleep on the basement floor with his cat. He goes to bed, and I watch the VCR clock until it reads 7:01.

7:02am – The doorbell rings, and I hop into my mom’s truck. I give Aaron a quick kiss on the forehead goodbye. To this day, he still believes that he dreamed that kiss.

7:05am – With a mighty roar, the Ford Explorer kicks into action and pushes my Tempo right out of the snow bank and directly into the ditch on the other side of the street. I get out of this jam, however, and drive directly to work.

7:30am-12:30pm – I work without sleep, still wearing the same soaked and tattered clothes from the night before. Customers are frightened by my appearance, but are too shy and intimidated to ask me what had happened. I wave the shotgun around a little, just to make my intentions absolutely clear.

It was certainly an event to remember.

So, now it’s a year later, and the snow isn’t around yet. Sure, it will show up eventually, and the whole Midwestern Winter system will start up again, but that’s not really what I’m concerned with. Enjoy this snow-free week while you can, because I can assure you that we’re going to pay for this.

Maybe you guys don’t watch the Weather Channel as much as me, but remember that I live with my Grandparents. They’d tape that damn channel if they knew how to operate the VCR. I know more about the weather now that I ever have or wanted to. For example, did you know that if you are over 65 years of age, you can predict the forecast with a 96% accuracy rate? I’m serious; ask your Grandpa, I bet he has this talent, too.

I’m not going to talk about Christmas and all the hassles that come with it, because we have brought these challenges upon ourselves and have nothing to complain about.[4] I also know that many people out there have it much worse off than me, so I have no rightful reason to bitch. All I really wanted to say was this: Enjoy this Winter, and enjoy this Holiday season.

(4. I think I'm making a reference to 9/11, here.)

We are all getting older, and it may feel less and less important each year. I mean, I know that we can never really feel the same way we did when we were 9 or 10, but we can at least remember, and that’s what it’s all about. This is a beautiful time of year if you allow it to be, and all the ice, snow and car accidents in the world couldn’t change my mind. I may be Winter’s Bitch, but at least I serve a good master. Merry Christmas and have a safe Winter.

(2000-2002: VOLUME 3)

Monday, December 8

The Pre-CDP Essays (2000-2002: Volume 1).

For this week and this week only on the CDP, I will be spotlighting a group of essays written by yours truly before the existence of the World-Famous blog you're currently reading. Essays originally published on the website of my old punk band, spanning from 2000 to 2002 and ranging on a variety of topics, including: graduating from high school, working at a Hardware Store for $6 an hour, car accidents, Christmas, moving to Madison and starting a new life with the Missus, attending college and much more.

For longtime fans, you'll notice many things about these teenage essays. For one, they're not all that spectacular. Sure, it's very distinctly me and a good precursor to the supremely mediocre writer I would become in my mid-20's, but the teen angst and introspection is dripping from each and every word. Also, and this is probably the thing I'm the least comfortable with, it shows a side of me that was legitimately insecure, obsessive-compulsive and borderline-paranoid at times. You may even find that the writings of me as a late teenager on the verge of a brand new set of adult responsibilities will show a personal side of me that I don't actively show anymore, and for good reason. It ain't funny and it makes people worry.

Today's first pre-CDP essay takes place during the dog days of Summer 2000. I was 18 years old, recently graduated and living with my Grandparents; treading water at the Hardware Store while my girlfriend finished up with High School. Most every night would consist of me driving back and forth from my place to her place, wasting away the evening and heading back home for work the next day. 'Heart Of Dragon' spotlights one of the many typical evenings spent during the innocent, apathetic and pre-9/11 Summer of Teenage Love.

The numbers within the paragraphs represent footnotes that bring a more current explanation to some of the events, and even though it killed me not to, I've made no edits to the pre-existing essays. Enjoy.

Heart Of Dragon.
(First published appx. 08-01-00)

I’m not one to keep a diary or jot random thoughts onto paper. My reasons are quite simple: it bores me. I have no satisfaction in reading about things I’ve already done. I feel it keeps me from doing other things, and would soon turn me into a hermit, or an old man who loves nothing more than to share his stories with unsuspecting teenagers.[1]

(1. It goes without saying that this went on to be the single most ironic and unintentionally hilarious paragraph I have ever written.)

So I’m wondering why I feel it necessary to force you to sit through the events that went on last night. It was like almost any other night in my life, free of emotional extremes. Nothing impressive at all. Perhaps I’m way too bored, standing on tired feet at my place of work.[2] All the more that I need a way to pass the time. I’m already sorry that you have read this far.

(2. Clerking at a Hardware Store meant only one thing. Eight hours a day on your feet with nothing to do but write.)

The Girlfriend[3] and I were going to see Flight 180 play in Menesha, but we decided not to go at the last minute on account of sheer laziness. We were just at a concert the night before, and couldn’t bear to peel ourselves off of the couch that we had just nestled into at her parent's house. Soon after, however, our boredom got the best of us, and we decided that we needed to go out for pizza. So we called over to Sherry’s house, and got her and Ben to come along with us.[4]

(3. Now known as The Missus.)

(4. Sherry was Celia's neighbor, and on any given Summer night, it was a good bet that her and Ben were equally bored and looking for something to do over there.)

Before they showed up, we were watching the movie Fear. It’s a good film, provided that you like to watch Marky Mark smack women to pieces, or watch Alyssa Milano parade around in her underthings[5]. It kept my interest for approximately three minutes, and then we left for Oshkosh in my 1993 Ford Tempo, the Aquabats[6] blaring throughout the interior.

(5. I now own Fear on DVD.)

(6. The Aquabats were the soundtrack to many Summers.)

The waiter at Pizza Hut was the same one that served us when we were there a few weeks ago during a blinding thunderstorm. He asked us if we were nuts for driving around in it at the time. For the record, the only reason we even went there during the Storm of 2000 was because we were early for the start of American Pie 2 [7] at the theater across the street. A large, Twisted Crust pizza hit the spot [8]; I would eat my own testicles in ranch dressing if it were possible without bleeding to death or being committed. Someday science will find a way.

(7. Totally embarrassing and unacceptable, I know.)

(8. Does Pizza Hut still make Twisted Crust pizzas?)

The conversation was lighthearted and comical. I hadn’t seen Ben or Sherry in a few days, so it was nice to sit across from them and talk about absolutely nothing for an hour or so. [9] It made me realize that, although nobody is perfect, friends are friends. Of course, they probably think that I’m a worthless prick [10], but I value them as good friends at any cost.

(9. We still do this almost every night.)

(10. They do.)

The night before, The Girlfriend and I ran to Neenah to watch Caution To The Wind play at the Blue Moon Coffee House.[11] We ended up at a diner at around midnight with the bass player and a friend of his. At that moment, I thought about all the money I was spending going out to eat and attending concerts every night. Especially since I was supposed to be saving money for college. Every time I think I can get it together and and set a few pennies aside, I find myself with a cheeseburger in my mouth [12] and a large check to pay. [13] I really cannot believe that I’m not 300 pounds. So, here I was again at Pizza Hut, eating my fifth meal of the day, and my seventh slice of pizza that day, too (I had eaten pizza for lunch, too. I will have a heartattack on my 20th birthday).

(11. My band was banned there after we refused to tell the crowd to buy coffee during our set.)

(12. Pre-Vegetarian.)

(13. As you can see, my teenage problems are strikingly similar to my adult ones.)

Stepping out of Pizza Hut, and into a surprisingly clear Summer sky and beautiful night temperature, we all decided that nobody wanted to climb back into the Tempo just yet, so we walked across the parking lot to the video store to see if there was anything else we could spend more cash on. We dug through Hollywood Video for at least an hour, and when the dust settled, we had six films in our mitts. Ben and Sherry rented Hannibal and Josie & The Pussycats. I’ll probably borrow Hannibal from them when they are finished,[14] and already thought that Josie was a halfway-decent movie.[15] Celia rented Pollack and The Gods Must Be Crazy. We hadn’t yet seen Pollack, about artist Jackson Pollack and his subsequent insanity. She had, however, seen The Gods Must Be Crazy many times, and thought I needed to bathe in its brilliance. We’ll watch it tonight, so I have yet to make an informative decision on it. I rented Spinal Tap and Heart Of Dragon. I feel very much like a loser because I haven’t seen Spinal Tap yet. Being a rock star and all [16], it seems like a prerequisite. I think I spelled that wrong.[17]

(14. Never did; still haven't seen it.)

(15. Loved it.)

(16. Nope.)

(17. Didn't.)

We drove back to Winneconne and dropped Ben and Sherry off at her folks' residence. Me and The Girlfriend still had a couple of hours to kill, so we picked the shortest movie that we had and popped it in. This happened to be Heart Of Dragon. Earlier in the night, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to leave the store without a Kung-Fu movie, so Celia recommended this one. She claimed to have seen it during a Jackie Chan marathon some years back,[18] so I took her word for it. To repeat: This movie was recommended to me by Celia.

(18. One of the many reasons we were dating in the first place.)

It starred Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. They were brothers, and Sammo was retarded. I’m not being mean; he was legitimately a retarded man-child in the film. Jackie had to constantly look out for him, and kick everyone’s asses to make things right. Tables were broken, voices were dubbed, and tears flowed like water. The bad guys were hanging out in abandoned construction sites, and the gang leader had an extremely thin mustache. I love this stuff.

This movie is also notable for featuring the most surreal and disturbing theme song I have ever heard in the history of Cinema. It was the kind of circus-y music you’d expect to hear if you saw a clown hacking up a small child. I am currently in the search to find the sound file online somewhere, and if I find a good enough version of it, it will be on our next album; swear to God.[19]

(19. Check it out right here; we never released a second album.)

Sammo Hung’s retarded character was framed, Jackie Chan attempted to save him and was thrown in jail. The last scene of the film was Jackie Chan sitting in a prison cell after being the good guy for the entire movie. His hopes of being a sailor ruined. It looked to me that when he finally gets out, he was going to kill Sammo. Extremely depressing and unforgettably strange.[20]

(20. Also one of the few Jackie Chan movies that shows him shooting people with guns.)

I kissed The Girlfriend goodbye and started on the 22-minute drive back to my house at 10:30 on a Sunday night. I was happy. Smiling, even. I didn’t really know why. It was such a mediocre day; just like every other day I’ve spent during this long and boring Summer. What was different? Could it have been because nobody was at each other’s throat? Nobody was pissed off to the point of not speaking? Could it be because last night reminded me of the way things were a year ago?[21]

(21. There had been...tension. I'm sure you can relate.)

I don’t know for sure. Maybe I’m just overtired. Maybe I had way too much caffeine this morning.[22] Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. A great relationship-saving device has always been peppering people with constant distraction to take their focus off of the jerk they’re hanging around with. I have always relied on this. Perhaps this is no difference.

(22. Pre-caffeine cessation!)

Here’s to not being an asshole. It just might make your day.

Todays second essay takes place a mere day after the events of 'Heart Of Dragon.' Another night out with The Girlfriend turns into a textbook nervous breakdown for your favorite Blogger Boy. I enjoyed this one; I don't write like a paranoid lunatic anymore.

The Gods Must Be Crazy.
(First published appx. 08-03-00)

On Monday night, me and The Girlfriend watched The Gods Must Be Crazy from the comfort of the Family Room at my Grandparents’ house. It was a very funny and very intelligent film, wrapped into an absurd, Monty Python/Benny Hill-esque package. We locked the door to the house at 10:14pm [1] and walked the 20 feet in the moonlit darkness to my car in the driveway. The construction crews took out the driveway that was in front of the door, [2] so now I have to walk in the dark and pray that I don’t step on a frog, have a spider land on me, or have God knows what lurk out and leave me in hunks on the stoop. While this hasn’t happened yet, I’m sure it will eventually.[3]

(1. I was still pretty wracked with OCD at this age, so you'll notice that there are a lot of exact times, dates, locations, measurements and destinations worked into my essays.)

(2. ...and taking the basketball hoop with it, which just killed me.)

(3. I meant this.)

So we drive. 22 minutes to her house. 17 of those 22 minutes in complete isolation and darkness. Fields, rows of corn and barren land. Power lines and pairs of eyes in every ditch.[4] I only have to take two turns to get her back home; the rest of the stretch is a lonely, straight shot in the dark. I have driven this path well over 200 times, and could do it in my sleep (and I have, on occasion). It is a time to clear my head of the day, to reflect on the events that transpired, or to sing loudly to myself so I can fall asleep quickly once I get home. But some nights, my imagination gets the best of me.

(4. You know, like raccoons and stuff.)

As soon as she slams the door shut, I am alone. I shine the headlights on her as she walks through her door, just to see her make it inside her house safely, and I pretend not to think about anything. But I am instantly hit with a sense of vulnerability. My imagination immediately begins its task of screwing me into a bloody mess. I begin to recite every scary story I have ever read, every newspaper article and every Urban Legend I have ever told someone to scare them should they ever wind up in my current position. In reality, there is nothing around. Nothing there to get me. But if I believed that, I wouldn’t be turning on the dome light every 15 seconds to check the backseat for an axe-wielding maniac.[5]

(5. Hey, driving in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night is scary, goddamnit.)

Before she left me, we were having a spirited argument over a story I was told concerning intersections with stoplights. We were discussing whether the lights were timed or weight-sensitive. The conclusion was that some were one way, while the rest were the other. I always pass through a single lit intersection on my way home, and it is always just me at that time of the night. Nothing but the lights and me. On the nights where I happen to hit it on a red, I sit in silence, twisting my head like an owl so the darkness don’t get the chance to jump me. This particular intersection is weight-sensitive, so I don’t have to wait long; as soon as I brake, I get the green light and continue on my way.[6]

(6. As pedestrian as it may seem, this paragraph becomes important later on in the story.)

But I remember reading about a kid like me, who drove a 1958 Fiat Spyder.[7] The car was incredibly light, and while driving alone at night, he was never able to trip the weight-sensitive trigger to change the lights. This would mean an endless red light until another car came along. Most nights, he claimed that he had to put his car in Park and walk over to press the pedestrian button, so the lights would change for him.[8]

(7. Sure I did.)

(8. Sure he did.)

This frightened me. I don’t ever want to leave the bulletproof confines of my car. It is similar to the notion that monsters could not get you if you were completely underneath your blankets. Any exposed skin meant certain death.[9]

(9. Still true.)

So, 15 minutes into the drive home, and I’m scaring myself into oblivion. Everywhere I turn, there are grim visions. A kid is hanging from the telephone pole. There’s a garbage bag full of body parts on the side of the road. Blood crashes across the street like a flash flood. I am wide awake, and I try to convince myself that there’s nothing to blame but myself, but it doesn’t stop me from shaking. I drive faster, but the antlers of a deer in the distance cause me to cautiously slow back down. If I were to crash out here, I would surely die. Not from the impact, though. A stalled car in the middle of nowhere would instantly cause my heart to explode well before the Boogeyman had a chance to get me. 18 minutes down, 4 more to go.[10]

(10. When I was a young kid, I saw police officers discover a garbage bag in a highway ditch that contained the torso of a missing woman. Needless to say, it stuck with me for awhile.)

I saw the intersection approaching. The lights were red, but I was confident that they would change before I got there. They were weight-sensitive, after all. Besides, I had no time to stop. Whatever was out there, chasing me, wouldn’t take a break for a red light. I had to get back home to my bulletproof blankets. I was now about 100 yards from the intersection, still red. I began to brake slightly, looking for any cops to help me in case the man in the backseat decided it was time to start carving me up. I had planned on running the red light tonight, anyway. Getting a ticket [11] was better than getting slaughtered by a madman, and I floored it with about 50 yards left to go.

(11. In my paranoia, why was I still worried about the cops? Wouldn't that be a good thing?)

Suddenly, my entire Dashboard panel went red. Flashing lights and noises began ringing throughout my car. I looked around for the cop, but there was nobody around. This was all coming from my car; there was something seriously wrong with it. I gasped. I was four minutes from home, and for only the second time in my life, the Wild Stallion v2.0 decides that it doesn’t want to drive anymore. This was when I realized that it wasn’t an oil light or a Check Engine light. It was a Seat Belt light.[12]

(12. This was before I thought it was necessary to buckle up.)

It was the picture of the little man in the driver’s seat with his belt on, reminding me that I probably should, too. I waited for it to shut back off, but it wouldn’t. I punched the seat belt console; I tugged and pulled. Still it beeped and flashed, the little seat-belted man still staring up at me. Instantly, I thought, “Why on Earth would that turn on now?” It made absolutely no sense at all. I had been in my car for over 20 minutes now, and all of a sudden, it feels that I should buckle up? I was frantically wondering who was trying to tell me what. Then it came to me.

I was about to have an accident.

Right away, I knew that this was supposed to be taken as a sign from somewhere. It was telling me that I was 10, maybe 15 seconds away from wrapping my Tempo around a telephone pole, and if I wanted to live, I should do as they say. Taking this as a sign from the Gods,[13] I threw on my belt and floored the gas. If this was how I was going to go, I wasn’t going to hold back. I took all of my terror, all of my irrational fears, closed my eyes and waited for my fate.

(13. If you believe in God, why not believe in more than one, right?)

I opened my eyes. Nothing happened. The light had stopped blinking and I was sitting in my driveway with the engine idling quietly. I was safe at home; safe with my bulletproof blankets. I once again scurried the 20 feet in the darkness to my door, praying aloud. I figured that if I was in mid-conversation with God, there was no way that I’d be killed in my own driveway.[14] I turned on every light in the house on the path to my room, dashed into my bed and was asleep no more than five minutes later. I was safe from all of the horrible things that were chasing me that night. It was a good thing that I had kept my wits about me, or I would have been a goner for sure.[15]

(14. A ludicrous theory if there ever was one.)

(15. And a ludicrous attempt at irony, too.)

The next day, I told The Girlfriend about the Seatbelt Incident, and she kind of perked up and leaned in my direction. She then told me that on that very same night, she dreamed that I was lying in a coffin with my relatives observing my funeral. She kept screaming and apologizing to my corpse, claiming that it was all her fault.

“How did I die?” I asked her.

Car accident.

TOMORROW: The Pre-CDP Essays.
(2000-2002: Volume 2)