(February 2023. Interlude: “Thrill Ride” [repost from the Greg Out Of Character blog] and submit questions for a Q&A.)

Hi, friends. I’m still on a planned break from writing. I’ve been working on a non-DLTDGB story (set in modern times in the same fictional universe) off and on for the last few weeks, and I think I’m ready to share it. I’ll be back in a few weeks, hopefully. Until then, read “Thrill Ride” and leave a comment. And ask me a question on here, and I’ll answer it next time before I start working on DLTDGB again.

Greg Out Of Character

I’ve been working on this new short story during my planned break from DLTDGB. Let me know what you think.


As soon as I woke up Friday morning, my thoughts drifted to my plans for that night, but not in the way I wanted.  All of the excited anticipation I should have had for the show that night was being drowned out by other thoughts running through my head.

Why drive all the way to Bay City just to see a half-hour set from an opening act?You don’t like any of the other bands.You’re too old to like Stone Shadows.  You have friends whose kids are older than the band members.There’s no guarantee you’re going to get to meet the band.  Yes, you’ve been to concerts before where the opening acts hang out with fans afterward, but it doesn’t happen all the time.

I got out…

View original post 5,284 more words

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December 9-12, 1997.  Not everything follows consistent rules the way math does. (#156)

Three more days, I kept telling myself as I stared out the window of the bus.  Three more days, and I could finally take a break from studying.  I could take a break from everything, in fact.  It was Tuesday morning, and by Friday afternoon I would be done with this quarter.  

I arrived at campus around nine-thirty, an hour before my first final.  I had been studying abstract algebra all weekend, and I felt ready for this final.  But I still found an empty seat in the very crowded Coffee House, across the street from Wellington Hall where my class met, and reread sections of the textbook over again.  That was just who I was when it came to studying.

A few minutes after ten, I saw a girl from my math class named Jillian walk by.  She was a thin, pale girl with shoulder-length straight hair that was dyed black, and she held a large chocolate chip cookie in a paper wrapper.  I did not know her well, we had never really said more than hi to each other, but I recognized her enough to wave.  She waved back and walked toward me.

“How’s it going?” Jillian asked.  “Ready for the final?”

“I think so,” I said.  “What about you?”

“I’m freaking out.  This is gonna be so hard.  Can I sit down?”

“Sure.”

“Quiz me on vocabulary.”

“What’s a group?”

“It’s a set with, um, an operation on the elements of the set, and the inverse property.”

“And?”

“Oh.  And the identity.”

“And there’s one more thing.”

“There is?”

“Another property that the operation has.”

“Commutative.  No, associative.”

“Associative, yes.  And a group with the commutative property also, what’s that called?”

“It’s that one that starts with A.  Crap.  I don’t remember.”

“You’re right, though.  Abelian group.”

“Oh, yeah!”

Jillian opened her textbook and skimmed through it as she took a bite of her cookie.  “It’s a little chewy,” she said after swallowing. “It’s like it isn’t cooked all the way through.”  She took another bite and continued, “I guess I should say it isn’t baked all the way through.”

“That’s weird,” I said.  “Why do they call it a cookie?  You bake it, you don’t cook it.  They should call it a bakie.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m gonna start using that,” I said.  “Chocolate chip bakies.”

Jillian looked up at me.  “How are you doing this?  We have a final in a few minutes, I’m freaking out trying to cram as much as I can, and you’re over here talking about bakies!  I wish I could be as calm as you right now.”

I laughed.  “I guess I just feel ready for this final.”

“I wish I did.”

Jillian and I sat at the table for another fifteen minutes or so, occasionally quizzing each other about abstract algebra.  When I noticed it was almost time for the final, I asked, “You want to walk over now?  It’s almost time.”

“Sure,” Jillian replied, grabbing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder.  I put on my backpack, and we walked together across the street to Wellington Hall.

“What are you doing over break?” I asked.

“Just going home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Capital City.”

“That’s not far.”

“What about you?  Are you going home?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”  By then, my fourth year at the University of Jeromeville, I no longer waited for people to ask “Where’s that?” when I mentioned Plumdale.

“How far is that?  Couple hours’ drive?”

“Yeah.  Two and a half.  Then for New Year’s, I’m going to see my old roommate at his parents’ house in Valle Luna.  He’s in medical school in New York now.  And apparently he always has these massive New Year’s parties at his parents’ house.  I’ve never been to one.”

“That sounds fun.”

The math final was straightforward, and I thought I did well.  I hoped that Jillian did well too; she seemed really worried about this final.  Although fourth-year university mathematics courses were not as easy to me as high school math was, I still felt bad for people who struggled so much with math when I did not.  Everything made so much sense, and everything followed consistent rules.  But those people who are not good at math are good at other things in life that I am not.  Unfortunately, not everything follows consistent rules the way math does.


Part of the reason I felt like the rules of life were so inconsistent were that I, like all people, was often not in control of the things that happened to me.  I had heard all of the clichés about making things happen and not being a victim of circumstances, but that could only go so far.  I was not in control, and I never would be.  But occasionally, the unpredictability of life worked out in my favor.

I had two other finals, my other math class tomorrow afternoon and English on Friday.  I wanted to find a quiet spot in the library and study this afternoon before I went home, but first it was time for lunch.  I walked back to the Coffee House where I had been sitting earlier.  The student-run Coffee House, despite its name, also sold burritos, pizza, sandwiches, and many other food items.  I got a slice of pepperoni pizza and a Coca-Cola and carried it over to the tables, and I saw something that had the potential to make this good day perfect.

Carrie Valentine was sitting at a table, eating lunch, alone.

I walked closer to make sure it was her, since she was facing away from me.  The girl at the table was taller than average, with straight brown hair, wearing a dark red long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans that were frayed at the bottom of the legs.  I approached from the side, hesitantly at first until I recognized her for sure, then more purposefully.  Carrie saw me approaching out of the corner of her dark brown eyes.  As she turned to look at me, I said, “Hey.”

“Hi, Greg!” Carrie replied enthusiastically.  “Sit down!”

I smiled and sat across from her.  “How are you?  Did you have any finals yet today?”

“I had one this morning at 8, and I have another one at 4.  I’m staying here all day to study so I don’t get distracted.  But I’m taking a lunch break.”

“I just got out of a final, for abstract algebra.”

“Abstract algebra,” Carrie repeated.  “The name of that class makes my brain hurt.”

“That’s what a lot of people say,” I said.  “The final was pretty straightforward.”

“Good!  How many more do you have?”

“One tomorrow and one Friday.”

“That’s not too bad.”

“Yeah.  I’ve been working on a new episode of Dog Crap and Vince during study breaks at home  I should have enough time to get that done this week.”

Dog Poop… what?”

Dog Crap and Vince.  I haven’t told you about that?”

“No!  What’s that?”

“Did I tell you about the movie I made with the youth group kids from church?”

“Yeah!  That sounded like a lot of fun!”

“I do a website called Dog Crap and Vince.  It’s a series of illustrated stories about two weird teenagers and their friends.  I’ve been doing things with these characters for several years now.  And that movie was based on those characters.”

“What did you say it was called?”

Dog Crap and Vince.

“Dog Crap?”

“Yes.”

“One of the guys is named Dog Crap?  Why?”

“Because I was sixteen when I made them up, and anything related to poop is funny.”

“That makes sense.  I guess, at least.  I only have a sister, so I don’t know what goes through the minds of teenage boys.  So you write a story and draw pictures to go with it?”

“The drawings really aren’t that good.  It would probably work better as animation, but I don’t have the capability to do that right now.”

“That’s so cool, though!  What’s this next one about?”

“It’s a Christmas special.  The guys and their friends do a Secret Santa exchange.”

“Secret Santa?”

“Yeah.  They all get randomly assigned someone else in the group to buy a gift for.”

“Oh, okay.  I’ve heard of that, but I’ve never called it Secret Santa.”

“Dog Crap gets someone he doesn’t know very well, and he keeps buying exactly the wrong thing.  And Vince has to buy something embarrassing for the person he has.  And then when they meet up to exchange the gifts, all these weird things happen.”

“That sounds funny!   Are you looking to get this published someday?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “For now I’m just doing this for fun.  You want to read it?”

Carrie’s eyes lit up.  “Yeah!” she said, smiling.  “It’ll probably have to wait until I’m done with finals, but I’ll totally read it!”

“I’ll send you the link when I’m done.  I should be done later tonight.”

“Thanks!”

“So what are you doing over break?”

“Just going home.  And my sister is coming over.  She’s older, she lives on her own. What about you?”

“Same, going home.”  I told Carrie about going to visit my family, and about Brian Burr’s New Year party in Valle Luna.

“I remember Brian,” Carrie replied.  “That’ll be fun seeing him.”

“Are you doing anything for New Year’s?”

“Not really.  I don’t usually.”

“Nothing wrong with that.  Brian said everyone can stay over at his house, so I can try to sleep before I drive home.”

“That’ll be good.”

Carrie and I had both finished eating by then.  “I really should get going now,” she said.  “But it was good hanging out with you!”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I’ll send you a link to Dog Crap and Vince.”

“Yes!  That’ll be good!  Good luck with the rest of your finals, and enjoy your break!”

“Thanks!  You too!”  Carrie gave me a hug, and I walked toward the library, to find a quiet place to immerse myself in number theory in preparation for my next final exam.

Later that night, after I finished the Dog Crap and Vince Christmas episode and posted it to the website, I opened a blank email and began typing to Carrie.  I copied and pasted the link to Dog Crap and Vince, then continued typing, “How did your final go?  How many more do you have?  I hope you did well!  It was good to see you today.”

Earlier today, an opportunity had fallen into my lap when I got to talk to Carrie at the Coffee House.  Now, it felt like time to seize that opportunity and use it to take a giant leap forward.  I paused, trying to think of exactly how to word the next part.  It had to be absolutely perfect.  After I deleted three or four attempts at the next sentence, I came up with this: “Would you ever want to get together for lunch again sometime?  If you’re busy with finals, we can plan for after we get back from break.  Take care, and I’ll talk to you soon.”

Now all there was to do was wait.


After I finished the number theory final on Wednesday afternoon, I felt confident.  I was pretty sure I answered everything correctly.  When I got home, the first thing I did was check my email.  I heard the sound that I had new messages, and I could feel my body tense up when I saw that one of the messages was from Carrie.  I took a few deep breaths, then double-clicked Carrie’s name to open the message.


From: “Carrie Valentine” <cavalentine@jeromeville.edu>
To: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997 14:06 -0800
Subject: Re: Dog Crap and Vince

Hi Greg!  Your Dog Crap and Vince story was funny!  Thanks for sharing!  Also, thank you for the offer, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to get together right now.  But good luck with finals, and have a great Christmas with your family.

– Carrie


I closed the message on the screen, then climbed up to my bed on the loft above the computer and lay down, face down.  What did I do wrong?  Why was this not a good idea?  I was confused.  Did this mean that Carrie did not want to talk to me at all anymore?  Was she only being nice to my face because it was proper, and she really hated me and did not like talking to me?  Should I leave her alone now?  Should I have left her alone yesterday?  Or was she just busy with finals?

As I thought about this, I realized something.  If Carrie really was just pretending to like me, and we were not really friends, then maybe I had nothing to lose by asking her why she turned me down and finding out what was really going on.  What would happen if I asked her?  She would get mad and never talk to me again?  Maybe that was for the best.  On the other hand, if there was some other reason Carrie turned me down, then she really was enough of a friend that she might actually be honest with me.  I typed another email before I went to bed that night, trying not to sound presumptuous, arrogant, or anything else that might jeopardize this friendship that may or may not exist.  It took several tries to get the wording right, and I still was not sure it came across the way I wanted.


To: “Carrie Valentine” <cavalentine@jeromeville.edu>
From: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Subject: Re: Dog Crap and Vince

I’m sorry if I did anything wrong.  May I ask what you meant when you said it wasn’t a good idea to get together?


I spent most of Thursday studying, although the English final tomorrow would not exactly be the kind of exam where I had to memorize facts.  I went to campus for a few hours just to get out of the house.  I checked my email when I got back, and this message was in my inbox.


From: “Carrie Valentine” <cavalentine@jeromeville.edu>
To: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 12:29 -0800
Subject: Re: Dog Crap and Vince

I just meant that it kind of sounded like you were asking me on a date.  I’ll see you after break.  Good luck with your last final!


I thought, what does that mean?  Of course I was asking you on a date!  Why is that a bad thing?  If Carrie really was not interested in dating me, why could she not just say so?  I noticed she did not answer the part of the question about if I had done anything wrong.  It would be nice to know if I did something wrong, so I could fix that for future interactions.  It was possible she was just not attracted to me that way; I had plenty of single female friends I was not attracted to as more than a friend through no wrongdoing of their own.  That answer would have been disappointing, since that seems to be the case with all girls I am interested in, but at least I would not be left to wonder what I did.

I thought I did fine on the English final, it seemed like a simple enough piece of writing, but when grades were released, I ended up with a B in that class.  It was my only B in five years at UJ, from freshman year through the teacher training classes I would be taking the following year.  I did not have a perfect 4.0 grade-point average before that, though, because I had gotten two A-minuses over the years and would get one more later that year, and an A-minus only counts as 3.7 grade points in UJ’s grading system.  There were now two reasons that 1997 was ending on a disappointing note.  Hopefully Brian Burr’s New Year party would be awesome enough to make up for this disappointment.

I still was not sure how to interpret Carrie’s remark about being asked out on a date.  Was the act of someone asking someone else on a date being construed as a bad thing in and of itself?  Why?  Was it not true that people asked other people on dates all the time?  If this confused me now, then it is little wonder that upcoming events of 1998 and the years beyond would find me even more confused and frustrated.  But that is another story for another time.

None of those things ended up being the reason why Carrie had written what she did.  I was a little distant for the next couple months, but Carrie and I did stay friends after this.  An opportunity arose a few years later to bring this up and ask about what happened.  By then, it was less awkward to discuss, since it was clear that it did not matter and I was not trying to rekindle anything.  Carrie and I lived sixty miles apart at that time, and she was already in a relationship with the man she would eventually marry.  I found out that the reason she rejected me was actually more complicated than any of the scenarios I had considered in my head, and her side of the story definitely cleared things up.  Because of that, it is no coincidence that Carrie is the only one of my many failed love interests at UJ whom I am still occasionally in touch with today.

But there was no such comfort in my mind as I packed my car and drove down Highway 6 through the hilly outer suburbs of Bay City to San Tomas, then down Highway 11 to my parents’ house.  All I knew was that I had failed again in making any meaningful steps toward finding a girlfriend.  This had been the story of my life so far, and I was learning nothing that would lead to more successful outcomes in the future.


Readers: Merry Christmas! I’ll be taking a break from writing for a while, as I always do whenever character-Greg takes finals in December and June. Keep in touch, and leave a comment about anything you want… something this story made you think of, something you’re doing for the holidays if you celebrate anything this time of year, or just something random and silly.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


November 30 – December 8, 1997. But he won’t admit he has a problem. (#155)

I realized that I was so busy and scatterbrained last week that I forgot to acknowledge that last week was four years since I started this blog. Thank you so much, loyal readers, for sticking with me on this adventure.


As church dismissed and the congregation filed out of the building, my mind was on one thing: a quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon at home.  Today was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and church was noticeably emptier than usual.  In a university town like Jeromeville, everything gets less crowded on major holidays, when students go home to visit their families and do not return until the very latest possible minute.

I went back to Plumdale to visit my family for Thanksgiving.  Growing up, we always traveled north to see Dad’s side of the family in Bidwell for Thanksgiving.  But now that my brother Mark was in high school and playing basketball, his first tournament of the year was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we could not travel far from home.  We had a small Thanksgiving celebration at our house, and my grandparents on Mom’s side, who lived nearby, came over.  I came back to Jeromeville last night, because my bike was here, my computer was here, my family was not doing anything particularly noteworthy the rest of the weekend, and I liked being able to be on my own.  Sam and Josh were around the house for the weekend; neither of them had to travel far for Thanksgiving, with their families both nearby, across the river in Capital County.  Sean’s family was farther away; he would not return until tonight.  I had the bedroom to myself for another several hours.

Of course, my Sunday afternoon was not as quiet as I was hoping.  Jim Herman approached me as I was headed to the parking lot.  Jim was a scrawny-looking man, older than me, probably in his late thirties or so.  He did not have a spouse or children as far as I knew, but he seemed well-connected around church.  He had told me before that he was a real estate agent.  When I made the Dog Crap and Vince movie earlier this fall, Jim had asked if he could help, and I appreciated having another person to run the camera.

“Hey, Greg,” Jim said.  “Can you help me out this afternoon?”

“What do you need?”

“I need to borrow your car.  I’m showing a house in Woodville, and I don’t have a way to get there right now.”

I was not entirely thrilled about someone else driving my car.  What if something happened to it?  “I don’t know,” I said.

“I won’t be gone long.  I’ll bring it back by three o’clock.  I’m really in a bind here.”

I had heard a lot of talks and sermons recently about showing God’s love by helping and serving others, and Jim was a church friend, so I figured I could trust him.  “Okay,” I said.  “I walked here, but you can follow me home and leave from there.  Be back by three, because I need to go grocery shopping later.”

“Okay.  Thank you so much.”

My Ford Bronco had two separate keys, one for the door and one for the ignition; this was common in cars from that time period.  When we got to my house, I took both keys off of my key ring and handed them to Jim.  “I need it back by three,” I reminded Jim.

“I’ll be back here soon,” Jim said.  I went inside, trying not to worry about the car.

I noticed a message on the answering machine.  “Hi, Greg,” Mom’s voice said on the recording.  “I just wanted to make sure you got home okay, since you never called when you got home last night.  But I know you forget sometimes.  Let me know you’re okay.”

I rolled my eyes at Mom being a mom and worrying, but she had a reason to, since I had forgotten to call.  I dialed the number, and when Mom answered, I explained that I was fine.

“Glad you made it back,” Mom said.  “How was your day?  How was church?”  I explained that I had let Jim Herman borrow the car, but I was a little uncomfortable with that, and having second thoughts. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with that either,” Mom said.  “And it’s still our car, technically.  What happens if he wrecks it?  Then you’re stuck.”

“Yeah,” I said, knowing now that I had screwed up.

“I’m sure you trust this guy, your church friends seem honest, but please don’t let people borrow the car again.”

“I won’t,” I replied.  Mom and I made small talk for another few minutes, but we did not have much to say since I had just seen her and Dad the day before.  After we hung up, I tried to take a nap, anxiously awaiting the return of Jim with the car.

Jim did in fact return the car on time, undamaged.  “Hey, thanks again,” he said.  “Can you take me home now?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I drove east on Coventry Boulevard just across the railroad overpass to Jim’s apartment.  I tried asking him about his showing, how it went, but he gave answers using some real estate words I did not understand.  It seemed like his client had not made a decision yet.  Jim said I could just drop him off at the entrance to the parking lot; I waved and turned back to my house.  Something told me that I had dodged a proverbial bullet, with Jim having brought the car back intact.  Something also told me that I would eventually have to confront Jim, that he would ask me again to borrow the car and I would have to tell him no.  I had an excuse this time, though.


My chance came three days later.  I got home from class on Wednesday afternoon, and the light was blinking on the answering machine.  The message was from Jim, needing to borrow the car again tomorrow for another property showing.  I did not look forward to conflict, and I was nervous to call Jim back and tell him no, but I knew that I had to.  I called Jim back, and he did not answer; I left a message on his machine explaining that my car technically belonged to my parents, and they did not want me letting others drive.

About an hour later, I was in the living room, doing homework while watching reruns of The Simpsons.  The phone rang, and Sam, who was in the kitchen cooking something, answered since he was closer.  He called me over, indicating that the phone call was for me.

“Hello?” I said.

“Greg,” Jim said over the phone.  “I really need to borrow your car.  If I can make this sale, that would be huge for me.”

“I understand,” I replied.  “But I can’t help you.  I don’t own the car.  It isn’t mine to lend.”

“Look.  I’m really in a bind here.  I promise nothing will happen to the car.”

“Can you rent a car?”

“I can’t afford it right now.  Just let me borrow your car.  What would Jesus do?  Jesus says to help those in need.”

Was Jim right?  Was I being un-Christlike?  Jesus made it clear that all earthly possessions paled in comparison to the rewards of heaven.  But did that mean that I must put myself and my driving record at great financial risk so that a friend could do his job?  Was it worth disobeying my parents?  “I told you,” I said, “It isn’t my car, and the car’s owner said no.”

“Look at the early church in Acts,” Jim said.  “The believers had everything in common.  No one was in need.  By leaving me in need, you’re sinning against the Lord.”

Jim had Scripture to back up his point, but his aggressive tone certainly seemed un-Christlike to me.  After a pause of a few seconds, I realized that I had Scripture on my side as well.  “One of the Ten Commandments says to honor your father and mother.  So I can’t let you borrow the car without dishonoring my father and mother.”

“Have you read Acts?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira when they held back their money and didn’t give everything to the Lord?  They died.  They fell down and died on the spot.  Paul writes in Galatians to bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.  This is the law of Christ.  It’s what Jesus is calling you to do.”

“I’m not lending you the car,” I said.  “I feel caught in the middle here, and you’re unfairly taking it out on me.  The car is not mine to lend, and as much as I want to help you, I can’t.”

The conversation continued for another several minutes, with Jim twisting Scripture to make the point that I was a bad Christian for not letting him use the car, and me trying, with great futility, to reason with him.  By now, Sean and Josh had emerged into the living room, and all three roommates intently observed my phone conversation.  Sam began miming hanging up the phone with his hand.

“Jim,” I said, “I told you, I can’t lend you the car.  If you can’t accept that, if you’re going to continue to rant at me like this, I’ll have no choice but to hang up on you.”

“You’re a brother in Christ,” Jim replied.  “At least I thought you were.  But right now you aren’t acting like it.  Are you really saved?  Do you know–”

I hung up the phone without letting Jim finish the sentence.  I sat at the dining room table, emotionally exhausted, not even going back to the couch and my studies.

“Good for you,” Sam said.

“Who was that?” Sean asked.

“Jim from church,” I explained.  “He was the one holding the camera when we made the Dog Crap and Vince movie with the kids from The Edge.”  I told Sean about the time I let Jim borrow the car, and Mom telling me not to do that again.  “Am I in the wrong here?  Was it un-Christlike of me to say no?”

“Not at all,” Josh replied.  “You said it wasn’t your car to lend.  And Jim definitely has some problems.  I know there’s been some issue before with him wanting to volunteer with the youth group, but the parents aren’t comfortable with his behavior sometimes.”

The phone rang as I was talking to Josh.  I did not answer, because I assumed it was Jim continuing his rant.  I let the machine answer the call, and after I heard the beep, I heard Jim’s voice say, “The law of Christ.  Look it up.”  Jim then hung up.

Josh never said anything mean about anyone, so the fact that he characterized Jim as such really made me feel like Jim had some serious problems, problems that I did not want to get mixed up in.  But I did not know how to deal with Jim’s problems, and I had a feeling he would not just leave me alone.


Friday was the last day of classes before finals.  On Saturday afternoon, Andrea Briggs invited a bunch of us from the Abstract Algebra class to a study group at her apartment.  Actually, Andrea Wright invited us, but I still thought of her as Andrea Briggs; she had just gotten married a few months ago.  She and her husband, Jay, lived in an apartment complex at the corner of Coventry Boulevard and G Street.  The C.J. Davis Art Center, where I had seen a now-defunct band perform a benefit concert a while back, was across the street.

I got home a few hours later, feeling much better about the upcoming Abstract Algebra final.  When Sam heard me walk in, he called to me from the living room.  “Yes?” I replied.

“Your friend left you another message.”  Sam pointed to the blinking light on the answering machine.  I pressed Play and listened to Jim ask to borrow the car again, then launch into another rant about how I was a hypocrite and a bad Christian.  After about a minute or so, I deleted the message without listening to the rest or calling him back.

The following Sunday after church, I asked Dan Keenan, the college pastor, if I could talk to him about something.  “Sure,” Dan said.  “Wanna come to my office?”

I followed Pastor Dan to his office and explained the situation with Jim.  I also told him that I was wondering if Jim was right that I was being a hypocrite.  “First of all,” Dan said, “you’re not doing anything wrong.  I think you’re handling this just fine.  And you aren’t the first person who Jim has done this to.”  I nodded as Dan continued.  “Jim will often find someone who agrees to something that he wants, then he will continue to harass and manipulate that person.  He claims to be a real estate agent, but he lost his license some time ago.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly realizing that I had been taken advantage of to a much greater extent than I had thought.

“You said he’s living in an apartment now?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“I don’t know who set him up with that, but he’s been homeless for much of the last few years.  He doesn’t have a stable job or a stable living situation.  He used to be a leader with The Edge, but we asked him to step down when he was stalking some of the kids at home.”

“Wow,” I said.  To me, the events of the last week made Jim seem annoying but relatively harmless.  This allegation made him sound much more dangerous.  No wonder the youth group parents had complained about him, as Josh had said. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have let him help with my movie, with kids around.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.  No one blames you for that.  But if he won’t leave you alone, call the police.  Other people have, and they’ll know that he’s still someone they need to keep on their radar. Jim has been in trouble with the police before, so hopefully that will get him to leave you alone.”

“I will,” I replied, not exactly enthused about having to call the police on someone I thought was my friend, but ready to do what it would take.

“Would you be willing to submit a written statement about your interactions with Jim?” Pastor Dan asked.  “The church board was looking at actions we could take after the last incident, and now that he is harassing someone else, we need to revisit that.”

“Yes,” I replied.  “I just hate that it has come to this.  It sounds like Jim really needs help.”

“But he won’t admit he has a problem,” Dan explained.  “And no one can really get that kind of help without admitting that there is a problem.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’ll write that statement and email it to you.”

“Also, be careful.  Watch for him stalking your house.  He’s been known to do that before.  Make sure you lock the doors.”

“I will,” I said, a little more scared now.  I had not noticed anyone outside, but I did not like thinking about this possibility.


The following day, while I was studying for finals, the phone rang.  A few of us who had been to Andrea’s study session on Saturday had exchanged phone numbers, and I thought it might have been one of my classmates calling to ask a math question.  But it was Jim, asking if I had repented and decided to let him borrow the car.

“Please stop calling me,” I said.  “My answer has not changed, and it won’t as long as you keep ranting at me and twisting Scripture.  If you don’t hang up now, I’m calling the police.”

“Calling the police just proves you’re not following the commandments of God.  It says in the Bible that we must obey God rather than human authority–”

I hung up and immediately called the police.  I explained my situation to the dispatcher.  “There’s nothing we can do right now, but if this person continues to harass you, you can look into filing a restraining order.  What is this person’s name, and what is his relationship to you?”

“He goes to my church.  His name is Jim Herman.”

“Oh, we know Jim,” the dispatcher said.  “We know him very well.  We’ll add your complaint to our files.  Have you notified him that you’ll be getting the police involved?”

“Yes.”

“Hopefully he’ll leave you alone now.  Just let us know if he doesn’t.”

“I will.  Thank you.”

Jim did leave me alone after that, for the most part.  I did my best not to interact with him at church, although we did cross paths a few more times over the years.  I got a letter from the church in the mail a couple months later; I opened it and began reading.  “We are writing to inform you that the Board has voted to remove Jim Herman from the membership roster of Jeromeville Covenant Church,” I read.  I assumed that I was on the list to receive this letter because the statement I wrote was part of what led to this decision.  About a year after that, I was still a volunteer for The Edge at church, and as the kids were getting picked up at the end of one rainy night, I saw police car lights outside.  I poked my head out the door and watched as an officer led Jim away in handcuffs.  Apparently, the church had a restraining order prohibiting Jim from being on church grounds during youth activities.

I spoke to Jim once more, in 2001, a few months before I moved away from Jeromeville.  I was walking home from church, still living in the same house on Acacia Drive, when I saw Jim going through the dumpster of the apartments across the street.  He made eye contact, and I said hi, because it would have been awkward not to.  We made small talk for about a minute, ending with him asking if he could borrow my car to go to a job interview.  I said no, wished him well, and walked away.

I saw Jim in person without talking to him one more time after the conversation at the dumpster.  It was July of 2002, I was living fifty miles away in Riverview, and a bunch of my friends from my church there were driving up to the mountains for the weekend.  We stopped for dinner on the way at In-N-Out Burger in Jeromeville, the one that was under construction at the time that Jim was leaving me harassing messages.  After we sat down with our food, I spotted Jim sitting alone at the other end of the restaurant.  “Don’t make eye contact with that guy,” I whispered to my friends.  “Avoid him.  I’ll explain later.”  Jim did not see us.

Many years later, in 2021, I was scrolling Facebook.  Someone shared a post from a page called Arroyo Verde County Crime Watch, warning parents of a pervert living in the community who often sat in areas with outdoor tables and benches. spying on young girls.  The author of the post was the mother of a teenage daughter; she explained that this pervert got her daughter’s name from looking over her shoulder at something she was writing.  The mother told the man to leave her daughter alone, and the man said, “There’s no law against reading.  I didn’t do anything wrong.”  The mother explained that she had contacted the police, and that this man was well-known to them and had been doing this kind of thing for years.  I looked at the attached photo; sure enough, there in the picture, seated at a picnic table in front of a familiar sandwich shop in downtown Jeromeville, was Jim Herman, now aging and gray but still clearly recognizable.

Seeing this made me sad.  Jim and I were friends once, at least I thought we were, and he really was helpful when I was making my movie.  But now, over twenty years later, Jim had not changed one bit.  Jim claimed to have such a fervor for Jesus, and he clearly did have a lot of knowledge of the Bible, but his delusions had kept him from truly advancing God’s Kingdom and using his gifts for good.  Jim needed professional help, yet he denied this and refused to get help for decades.  All I could do, all anyone can ever do, is pray that Jim will truly be healed of these demons before it is too late, and before anyone else gets hurt.


Readers: Have you ever had someone harassing you like this? Tell me about it in the comments.

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November 19-23, 1997. The road trip to the National Youth Workers Convention. (#154)

Unlike many university students, I almost never missed class.  I stayed home sick only once during my time at the University of Jeromeville, and I only skipped class to do something fun once, when Brian Burr was my roommate and we went to see the rerelease of Return of the Jedi.  Because of this, as I walked from my house to Jeromeville Covenant Church carrying a suitcase and backpack, I felt bad for having to miss chorus and cancel one of my tutoring sessions this afternoon.  Students in chorus who missed more than two rehearsals would not receive passing credit for the class, and this was the first one I had missed, so I did not have to worry about that, but I still did.

“You look like you’re ready,” Adam White, the youth pastor, said as I stumbled into the fellowship hall with my heavy bag.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I said.

“You excited?” asked Taylor Santiago.  Taylor and I had been friends since the first week of freshman year, and he was the one who had introduced me to youth ministry last year.  Normally, if I was walking from home to church on a Wednesday, it was because I was a leader with The Edge, the junior high school youth group.  But on this Wednesday, it was two in the afternoon, and none of us would be at The Edge tonight.  The other volunteers would have to run things without us.

“I’m excited,” I said.  “I’ve never been to San Diego.”

“It’s nice.  I’ve been there a few times.  Last time was a few years ago, during the summer.  I went to a baseball game, when the Titans had an away game in San Diego.  It’s a nice stadium.  And the beaches are nice too.  We won’t really be near the beach, though.”

“I’ll just have to go back again someday, I guess,” I said.

Noah Snyder and Brad Solano, the interns for junior high and high school ministry, also waited with us in the church office. “I was thinking we could start packing while we’re waiting.  That way, as soon as Kate gets here, we can just throw her stuff in the van and take off.”

“Sounds good,” Adam replied.  Kate, a volunteer with the high school group, arrived just as we finished packing our things.  With only six of us going on this trip in a fifteen-passenger van, we also used the entire back seat to hold luggage.

Adam pulled out of the church parking lot and worked his way to the freeway.  We crossed the river to downtown Capital City and turned south, driving through ten miles of suburbs.  This quickly gave way to the miles and miles and miles of pastures and orchards that would make up over half of the nine-hour trip to San Diego.  The major highway was built down the Valley on a different route than the earlier highway it replaced, far from most cities, to benefit long-distance drivers.  The old highway still existed parallel to this one, passing through Ralstonville, Bear River, Ashwood, and many other cities, some distance to the east.  I knew the first hundred miles down the Valley well; this was my slightly longer route to see my parents when I needed to avoid traffic in San Tomas, and it was also part of our route on childhood trips to see my dad’s relatives in Bidwell to the north.  But I had never been all the way down the Valley to the south.

After we left Capital City, I got out my backpack and began doing math homework.  “You’re doing math?” Taylor said.

“What?” I replied.  “I’m missing two days of class.  I need to stay caught up.”

“I think you’re the only one who brought homework on this trip.”

“And I probably have the best grades out of all of us too,” I replied, smirking.

“Oooooh,” Noah exclaimed, jokingly.

“Grades?” asked Adam, who had been out of school for a few years.  “What are those?”

“Seriously, though, good for you for keeping your grades up,” Taylor said.  “I kind of gave up on that freshman year.  But you know what they say.  Cs get degrees.”

“I figure I need to set a good example if I’m gonna be a teacher.”

“Trust me.  Most of your teachers probably weren’t straight A students.”

“Good point.”

Adam had a portable CD player with one of those adapters that plugged into the cassette player in the church van, with a wire extending out from it connecting to the CD player.  At some point when we were still in Capital City, Adam played the new Five Iron Frenzy album, appropriately titled Our Newest Album Ever, which had just been released a couple weeks earlier.  We listened to it three times on the way down and twice on the trip back.

By the time we reached the unfamiliar part of the highway, it was quarter to five, and the sun was about to set.  I put my books away once it was too dark to read, and unfortunately, it quickly became too dark to enjoy the view of the unfamiliar road as well.  Soon after it got dark, Adam said, “This road is evil.  But it’s less evil at night, because you can’t see how boring it is.”

“Pretty much,” Brad agreed.

With no substantial cities through this stretch of the Valley, every thirty miles or so we would pass a cluster of fast food restaurants, gas stations, truck stops, and cheap motels clustered around an interchange.  These communities built up entirely around the needs of automobile tourists and truckers.  At around six-thirty, we took one of these exits and debated where to go for dinner.  Adam suggested Jack-in-the-Box, Brad suggested Burger King, and Jack-in-the-Box won by a vote of 4 to 2, with me being the other vote for Burger King.  As we pulled into the drive-thru lane at Jack-in-the-Box, Taylor said, “Look.  There’s In-N-Out Burger.  We should have gone there.”

“I’m not in a mood for a burger, though,” Noah said.  “But we can go there on the way home.  You guys heard Jeromeville is getting an In-N-Out Burger, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I’ve never been there.  And I don’t think I’ve ever been to Jack-in-the-Box either.”

“Really?” Taylor repeated.  “In that case, we have to go on the way home.”

“My parents went to the one in Gabilan once, and they said they didn’t really like it.  But I guess I should give it a try myself.”

Adam picked up his food from the drive-thru window and passed out everyone’s food.  We did not stop to eat; Adam continued driving, and all of us, including Adam, ate in the car.  I took my first bite of Jack-in-the-Box, and after I took my first bite of cheeseburger with mustard and pickle, when I had specifically ordered no mustard or pickle, I did not return to another Jack-in-the-Box for another seven years.

When we got to the big cities of southern California, it was late enough that traffic was not too bad.  Adam’s parents lived in a semi-rural hilly suburb just south of San Diego; we stayed on couches and in guest rooms there for the weekend.  I had trouble falling asleep the first night, as I always did in an unfamiliar area, but I slept fine the rest of the week.


Youth Specialties, an organization providing resources for Christian youth groups and their leaders, held the National Youth Workers’ Convention in two different cities around the United States every year, each lasting three full days.  A number of speakers, well-known to people heavily involved in the world of youth ministry but not to me, presented at this convention, with exhibits from dozens of publishers, companies, and other organizations involved in youth ministry.  Several well-known Christian musicians and bands, including some I knew and liked, were also performing at this event.

Thursday morning we drove back north a few miles into San Diego, to the hotel that hosted this convention.  We parked and looked at an event map to determine where to go.  “We’re on Stage 2,” Adam explained.  “Apparently they filled up, so they added a second meeting room, with a different worship team and a video feed of the speaker in the main meeting room.”  It sounded like we were being treated as second-class citizens, but it was not a big deal.  In fact, when I arrived at Stage 2, they were passing out free Stage 2 T-shirts in addition to the T-shirt that all attendees had already received.  Our tardy registration had gotten me a free shirt, and everyone knows how much university students love free shirts.

I attended a variety of sessions during the day.  This convention was structured similarly to the Urbana convention almost a year ago, as well as other conventions I attended when I was older.  I attended a morning and evening session with all attendees, except that as Stage 2 attendees we were in a different room from those who were not, watching the main speaker on video.  In between those two sessions, I could select from a variety of small sessions and workshops on different topics.  Taylor had given me a bit of guidance regarding which sessions to sign up for; occasionally someone else from Jeromeville Covenant was in the same session as me.  There was also an exhibit hall to browse between sessions.

A big-name musical artist, at least a big name in the world of Christian music, performed at the end of each night.  Volunteers removed the seats very quickly from the main stage so that those of us from Stage 2 could join them, with standing room only, for the concert.  Audio Adrenaline played Thursday night.  Another band would play on another concert stage in the exhibit hall late at night, after the main concert.  Dime Store Prophets, whom I had seen once before, was the late show Thursday night.  I was looking forward to seeing DC Talk on the main stage on Saturday.  The late show Friday night was Five Iron Frenzy, but I still had mixed feelings about that band.

On Friday afternoon, I was wandering the exhibit hall.  The carpet on the floor of this building appeared to be temporary, not attached to the floor.  At one point I reached the edge of the exhibit area and realized why, as I saw concrete and white painted lines peeking out from underneath one section of carpet.  This exhibit hall was actually the hotel’s parking garage.

I saw a table for 5 Minute Walk, a record label specializing in alternative Christian music, and walked over to it.  I knew that Dime Store Prophets and Five Iron Frenzy were on this label, and as I took a brochure and looked through it, I recognized many more artists from music that we had played at The Edge.

“How’s it goin’,” the man behind the table said.  I looked up and realized I recognized him; he was the bass player for Dime Store Prophets.  His name tag identified him as Masaki Liu, and I also recognized this name from reading album credits; he was Five Iron Frenzy’s producer.  “Are you familiar with any of our artists’ music?” Masaki asked.

“You’re in Dime Store Prophets, right?” I asked.  “I saw you guys last night, and also in Jeromeville in September.”

“Yeah!  The show that was postponed because of rain.  Did you like us?”

“It was great!  I also know Five Iron Frenzy.  I had their first album, but I’m still trying to figure out if I like it.  I like some songs, but I didn’t like the way some of it was so political.”

“Yeah, they can be kind of forward about their politics.  Any chance you’ll make it to their show tonight?  I’m running sound.”

“The rest of the people I came with are going.  So I’ll probably go with them.”

“Good!  I’ll see you there.  Would you like a sampler CD?” Masaki asked as he handed me a CD in a case.  “We’re selling these for only four dollars, it’s a full-length album with music from a bunch of our artists, and the proceeds go to feed the hungry.”

“Sure,” I said, taking the disc.  I looked at the back and recognized about half the names, including Dime Store Prophets and Five Iron Frenzy.  I got my wallet out of my pocket and handed Masaki four dollars, and he thanked me.

“I’ll see you around,” I said.

“You too.  Enjoy the convention.”

I got a lot more free samples the rest of the day to add to my growing bag of brochures and free stuff.  Many of the exhibitors handed out samples of their products, and each day we received a free gift at the evening main session.  By the time I met the others from J-Cov at the Five Iron Frenzy concert, I had tons of brochures in my bag, along with several sampler CDs of music and a sample of this slime-like substance that one company was marketing as something to be used for fun youth group activities.  Tomorrow I would add a sampler of Christian music videos on a VHS tape to my bag.

“You excited for the show?” Noah asked as we waited for Five Iron Frenzy to start.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” I said.

“Have you seen Five Iron before?” Taylor asked.

“No,” I said.  “I have the first album, but…” I trailed off, trying to think of how to explain in a polite way that, if they were going to sing about how fake and shallow the United States was, then they were welcome to move to one of the many countries in the world where they would be executed for speaking against their government, instead of getting to build a career and making money from openly not loving their country.  “There were a couple of songs I really didn’t like.”

“They put on a really fun show,” Taylor said.  “I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“I wonder what Reese’s costume will be this time?” Noah asked.

“Costume?” I repeated.

“Reese always wears something funny,” Taylor explained.

“Interesting.”  Just then, the band began filing on stage, all eight members; Reese Roper, the lead singer, came on last, wearing a John Elway football jersey.  John Elway was the quarterback for Denver, where the band was based.

The crowd quickly came to life as soon as the band started playing their signature blend of ska and punk rock.  I recognized most of the songs, either from the album I had or from hearing Our Newest Album Ever on the trip down.  Reese danced, flailed, jumped, and gyrated on stage as he sang, and the crowd fed off of this, bouncing up and down to the music and bumping into each other.  I sang along to the ones I knew.

“Here’s a song off our new album,” Reese said at one point.  “It’s about divorce.”  The band then played a song from the new album featuring the refrain “Have you seen my comb?”  After they finished, Adam looked at the rest of us and said, “Divorce?  I thought that song was about a comb.”

Although I already had their first album, that show in the parking garage in San Diego was what made me a Five Iron Frenzy fan.  This band had a unique ability to be serious and silly on the same album, at the same concert.  For example, I would learn later that Reese wrote that comb song about a childhood memory of losing a comb being tied in his mind with his parents still being together.  They were able to unite fans of secular and Christian music just by being real.  I would have a complicated relationship with this band over the years, and there were other times that they wrote political songs that I disagreed with.  But those are stories for another time, and the band does make the good point that, despite its reputation as a Christian nation, the United States has been associated with some very un-Christlike behaviors and practices over the years.  I bought Our Newest Album Ever a couple days later.


The DC Talk show at the end of Saturday’s session was just as enjoyable, although not as energetic as the Five Iron Frenzy show.  I also did not know much of their older music; my knowledge of DC Talk did not extend far past the 1995 Jesus Freak album, their most recent.

We had a relaxing morning; I woke up far earlier than anyone else.  I used the time to finish all the studying I did not do earlier.  We left Adam’s parents’ house after a late morning breakfast.  Traffic slowed down in a couple of spots, but not enough to delay us from being home by bedtime.

We turned off at the same In-N-Out Burger we had seen Wednesday night.  Apparently it was crucially important for me to have this burger for the first time.  I got in line toward the back of the group, so I could study the menu while others were ordering, but as I was reading the menu, it became quickly apparent that there was not much to study.

“Not a whole lot of options,” Taylor commented, noticing me looking at the menu.  He was right.  Burgers.  Fries.  Sodas.  Milkshakes.  No chicken or fish sandwiches, no onion rings, no chicken nuggets, no tacos, and no breakfast items.  This place made one thing, and one thing only, and the only real option was how big of a burger to order.  I ordered a Double-Double with onions but no tomato, fries, and a vanilla shake.  (It would be another couple months before I learned about the secret menu, and although some In-N-Out fans consider this blasphemy, I discovered I liked the regular menu better.)

We all sat together at adjacent tables.  When I got my food, I held up the burger, half of it wrapped in paper and the other half exposed.  I held the paper and bit into the exposed end.  My eyes lit up.  The meat, cheese, onions, lettuce, and sauce blended perfectly in my mouth, a beautiful explosion of flavor, not only a good meal but a fundamental way of life for so many in one geographical region that was slowly expanding and would eventually take over much of the western United States.  The French fries were not soggy and half-hearted like many other fast food restaurants; they were hot, and the right balance of crisp and soft.

“This is amazing,” I said.

“Looks like you’re hooked now,” Noah replied.

“Pretty much.”  I finished my meal, knowing that I now had a new regular fast food option.  Perfect timing, because my previous go-to burger, the McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, was now considered a massive marketing failure and was disappearing from McDonald’s menus.

Once we were back on the road, Adam started asking us what we all had learned from the convention.  Kate shared about how so many students come from such different family backgrounds, and Brad shared on the importance of learning about things the students were interested in, and how he had started listening to the kind of music his students listened to.

“Greg?” Adam asked.  “What about you?  What did you learn?”

“Honestly,” I said, “I learned a lot about what’s really important in youth ministry, that we’re doing this to love students the way Jesus did.  But I also felt like I’m just not good at this.  So many times I heard about the importance of discipleship, and hanging out with your students outside of church activities, but I’m just not good at making plans with people.”

“I think you’re doing fine,” Noah said.  “You show up every Wednesday, and you participate in activities with The Edge.  You’ll get to know kids from there, and they’ll start wanting to spend time with you.  Didn’t you say Danny Foster invited you to have dinner with his family once?”

“And what about your movie?” Adam added.  “That was a fun project for everyone.”

“I guess,” I said.  The movie I made with the kids was conceived as a project for myself, but I supposed that including them was an act of ministry as well.

As we continued driving north, I continued to experience mixed feelings.  I was on a high from all the great concerts I had seen over the last few days, as well as the wonderful new cheeseburger I had just discovered, and the experience of having visited San Diego for the first time.  But I also felt inadequate as a youth leader.  I was an introvert, not good at reaching out to these students.  The others were right; I was doing fine.  I did not have to reach out to other students in the same ways that Adam and Noah and Taylor did.  I had heard many speakers and pastors talk about the importance of different spiritual gifts, and I had ways to serve the youth of Jeromeville Covenant Church within the bounds of the way that God made me. 


Readers: Have any of you ever been to San Diego? Or did you discover a new place on a trip to a convention or an event like this? Tell me about it in the comments.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.



Disclaimer: Masaki Liu is a real person. Don’t Let The Days Go By is based on true stories, but normally I changes the names of all people involved. I have often used real names of actors, athletes, musicians, and other public figures in order to make DLTDGB historically accurate. The situation becomes more complicated in this episode, though, because the conversation with Masaki marks the first time that character-Greg actually interacts with a public figure. I actually did attend this convention, and I actually did meet Masaki at this table, but nevertheless this story should first and foremost be taken as a work of fiction, not necessarily an actual transcript of anything that Masaki actually said or did. I did not ask permission to use his name and likeness in this story.

The other episode that mentioned Dime Store Prophets (#132) contains the line “In my late twenties, two counties away, I attended a church where one of the former band members was the worship leader.” I attended Masaki’s church for about a year and a half. I have possible plans someday to write a sequel blog to DLTDGB that will open in 2004, during the time that Masaki and I were friends, and I have not yet decided how to handle the issue of whether or not to use his real name. If I do not, I may have to do some retconning to this episode. I have not stayed in touch with him, but I know people who would know how to get in touch with him in case I need to ask whether he is okay with me using his real name. I don’t believe Masaki will appear in DLTDGB again, so I have a few years to figure that out.

November 14, 1997.  Kind of brilliant, but really weird. (#153)

“I’ll see you tonight at JCF?” Sarah Winters asked as we left our math class in Younger Hall and crossed the street toward the Quad.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Have a great day!”  I watched Sarah walk toward the Memorial Union as I walked diagonally in the other direction, crossing the Quad from northeast to southwest.  It was a sunny but cool November Friday morning, and many of the trees on campus were in the process of shedding their leaves.  Beyond the Quad, walking past the library and across Davis Drive, I noticed piles of leaves accumulating along the edges of walkways.  I continued south beyond Evans Hall, where I would go later tonight for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship; apparently Sarah would be there too.  I walked past the law school building to the University of Jeromeville Arboretum, a park-like public garden of trees and plants from around the world planted along a mile and a half of dry creek bed that had been converted into a long, skinny lake.  I walked past some succulents, their fleshy spiked leaves radiating from the ground, to a bridge a few feet wide connecting the north and south banks.  I stayed on the north side of the waterway and continued walking west on the path to the next bench, about fifty feet past the bridge, and sat, overlooking the waterway and a tall oak tree of the type that grew naturally here in the western United States.

Last year, I attended a convention in Urbana, Illinois, hosted by the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  The convention was for university students and young adults to learn about missions and opportunities to serve Jesus around the world.  I was a newly practicing Christian at the time, many of my friends were doing these kinds of projects during the summer, and I wanted to learn more about what was out there.  Every attendee received a Bible that included in the back a plan to read through the Bible in a year, with a few chapters to read each day from three different parts in the Bible.  Next to each day’s readings were a checkmark.  Yesterday I had checked off August 8; I knew that I was a few months behind, and I had stopped trying to finish in a year.  I would just get through the entire Bible in as long as it took.

I read the verses for August 9 and prayed about what I read as I looked up at the oak tree.  Coming to this bench to read the Bible between classes had become my routine on school days for several months.  I had often heard talks and sermons about the importance of spending time with God first thing in the morning, but this routine seemed to work better for me.

On Fridays, I only had my two math classes.  I worked part time as a tutor that quarter, and I had one group that met on Fridays, in the afternoon after my other class.  After I finished reading, I headed back toward the Quad and the Memorial Union.  I planned to look for a table in the MU where I could sit and do homework until my other class started.  I had math to do, and it was the kind of assignment that did not require my full concentration, so I could work on it and not get distracted inside a busy student union.  Maybe I would even find friends to sit with, I thought.

As I looked around the tables, I did in fact find friends to sit with.  I saw Todd Chevallier, Autumn Davies, Leah Eckert, and John Harvey from JCF talking to Cheryl Munn, one of the paid staff for JCF.  They had pushed two tables together, and there appeared to be room for me to join them.  As I approached, Autumn smiled and waved.  Cheryl, who was sitting with her back to me, turned to her left, waving her arm toward me, holding her palm out at arm’s length, and said, “Out.”

What did I do?  I thought.  Did I accidentally say something inappropriate that had made me a pariah within JCF?  Was this another one of the cliques that had formed within JCF, doing some kind of exclusive Bible study that was only open by invitation?  Maybe no one was mad at me or trying to exclude me; maybe someone was just sharing something sensitive and did not want to share with people beyond a close circle of friends.  “Sorry,” I said, starting to back away.  Maybe I would not be sitting with friends this morning after all.

“Greg,” Cheryl said, motioning toward the table.  “Come sit!”

“You just told me not to,” I said, confused.

“Huh?  I was just telling Leah that she was on that side of the table, with her back to the wall, and she could see out.”  Cheryl made the same sweep of her arm, gesturing in my direction toward the rest of the room where others sat and a continuous stream of people walked by.

I stood for a second, puzzled, then laughed.  “Oh!” I exclaimed.  “I didn’t hear any of that.  I just saw you put your arm up, and all I heard you say was, ‘Out!’  I thought you were telling me to get out.”

“No, no!” Cheryl said.  Autumn laughed.  “Please, sit down!”  Relieved that I had done nothing wrong, I sat in an empty seat on the end of the table.  Cheryl and Todd sat on my left,  Autumn and Leah sat on my right, and John was facing me on the other end. “How’s your morning going?” Cheryl asked.

“Good.  Only two classes today.  Then I have a tutoring group this afternoon.”

“How’s tutoring going?  You like it?”

“Yeah.  It’s good experience, now that I know I want to be a teacher.  I’m going to do another internship in a classroom at Jeromeville High winter quarter.  I did that last spring, and I really liked it.”

“Did you guys hear Jeromeville is getting an In-N-Out Burger?” Todd asked excitedly.

“No!” Autumn exclaimed.

“Is that place good?” Leah asked.  “I’ve never heard of it.”

“I used to live in California,” Todd explained.  “It’s huge there.  It’s so good.”

“There’s one now in Gabilan, near where I grew up,” I said.  “My parents went there and said it wasn’t all that good.”

“That’s weird,” Todd replied.  “Everyone loves In-N-Out.”

“I’ll have to try it sometime.  I love burgers.”

“Hey, are you going to JCF tonight?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

Romeo + Juliet is playing at 199 Stone tonight.  We’re probably gonna get some people together to go.  You wanna come?”

“Sure.  Is that the new Romeo and Juliet movie that came out not too long ago?”

“Yeah.  With Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.”

“Okay,” I said.  Those actors’ names did not mean anything to me, I did not follow movies closely, but I was always looking for opportunities to hang out with friends, especially those that did not require a lot of work on my part to plan.

“Isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio in that Titanic movie that’s coming out soon?” Autumn asked.

“Yeah,” Todd replied.  “That one’s gonna be good too.  I heard they built a replica of the actual Titanic for the movie, just to sink it.”

“Wow,” I said.


I was running a little late when I got to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that night, since I made spaghetti for dinner and spilled it all over myself, necessitating a change of clothes.  The worship team was already playing when I arrived, and the room was mostly full.  Maybe the spilling of the spaghetti had been divine intervention, I thought, because as I walked into the room, I found myself looking directly at the back of Carrie Valentine’s head.  She sat a few rows down, one seat in from the aisle, with an empty seat next to her.  I walked over to her, pointed to the empty seat, and nervously asked, “Is anyone sitting there?”  Hopefully she understood what I was saying over the music.

“Go ahead!” Carrie replied, smiling.  I sat next to her.  As we sang along, then listened to announcements and a talk delivered by Cheryl, I realized the great irony of this situation.  I was sitting next to a cute girl.  This would provide an opportunity for a conversation afterward.  But I could not make plans with her, because I already had plans tonight, to go to the movie with Todd and Autumn and all of them.  Go figure.  Nevertheless, after the ending song, I asked Carrie how her week was going.

“Good,” she said.  “I just had a midterm today.  I don’t think I did very well.”

“Maybe you’ll surprise yourself,” I said.  “I’ve been trying to get ahead on reading and studying, because I’m gonna miss class Thursday and Friday next week.”

“Why’s that?”

“Some of us from Jeromeville Covenant are taking a road trip to San Diego, for the National Youth Workers’ Convention.”

“That sounds like fun!”

“It will be.  Apparently a lot of big-name speakers will be there.  And a lot of Christian bands play live there.”

“Like who?”

DC Talk.  Audio Adrenaline.  Five Iron Frenzy.  The OC Supertones.  I don’t remember who else.”

“Wow!” Carrie said.  “San Diego is nice!  Have you been there before?”

“I haven’t.  I’ve only been as far south as Disneyland.  So this will be a new experience for me.”

“Have fun!  I’m jealous.”

“Thanks.  I’m excited!”

“How is that going, working with the youth group at church?  You work with junior high kids?”

“Yeah.  It’s a lot of fun.  Over the last few weeks, I did an unofficial project, not an actual church activity, where I made a movie based on some characters I created several years ago.  I got a lot of kids from the church to be in the movie.  And I filmed some of it at church, like we used the youth room for a school dance scene.”

“That sounds like so much fun!  How did the movie turn out?”

“Pretty good.  A little unprofessional looking in some spots, but it was fun.  We had a watch party after youth group this week.  Not a whole lot of people stuck around, but it was fun to watch the movie on the big projector screen in the youth room.”

“Nice!  I’ve never done anything like that.  My sister and I used to make home movies sometimes when we were kids, but nothing as complex as what it sounds like yours was.”

“That sounds like fun too,” I said.  I smiled, looking into Carrie’s big brown eyes, desperately trying to think of something to say to keep this conversation going.  I wondered if Todd would be okay with me inviting her along to see Romeo + Juliet?  “What are you doing tonight?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Carrie replied.  “I heard some people were going to see Romeo + Juliet, but I don’t know if I want to go.”

Perfect, I thought.  Carrie knew about the movie without me having to be awkward.  “I’m going,” I said.  “I think you should too.”

“I’ll wait and see how I feel later.  I need to go talk to some people from my Bible study before they leave.  But maybe I’ll see you at the movie tonight?”

“Yeah.  I’ll talk to you soon.”


William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, spelled with a plus sign but pronounced “Romeo and Juliet” like the play it was based on, was the movie that made actor Leonardo DiCaprio a household name.  I did not know much about the movie, except that I vaguely remembered hearing about its existence last year.  The lecture hall at 199 Stone Hall showed second-run movies on weekends, and this was often a destination for people hanging out after Jeromeville Christian Fellowship on Friday nights.

Carrie did end up coming to the movie.  A group of eight of us walked down Davis Drive from Evans Hall to Stone Hall, the next building to the west.  When we left, I was in the middle of telling Autumn about the Dog Crap and Vince movie that I made with the kids from church.  Autumn and I were near the back of the group, and Carrie was closer to the front.  As we walked into the theater, I could not position myself next to Carrie without looking conspicuous and awkward.  When I sat down, Todd was to my left, then Autumn, then three more people between Autumn and Carrie.  The aisle was on my right.  Carrie was here, but I was not sitting next to her.

When I was a freshman, movies at 199 Stone would be preceded by classic cartoons, an experience normally associated with past generations of moviegoers.  This tradition had fallen away at some point since then; tonight the screen showed a silent slideshow of advertisements before the movie started.  The lights darkened, I saw the name of the movie studio appear on the screen, but I became confused when a television with a news broadcast showed up on the screen.  Was the movie starting?  Was this the movie?  Surely this television was not part of the movie, since Shakespeare’s play was set in the sixteenth century.

The reporter began talking about the Montagues and Capulets.  Those were Romeo and Juliet’s respective families, so this was definitely the movie, but why did Verona look like a city in a gangsta-rap music video?  What were these police cars and helicopters?  I quickly realized that what I was seeing was not going to be a faithful reproduction of Shakespeare’s work.  Instead, the story had been adapted to a modern urban setting, with the Montagues and Capulets rival crime families.  As the movie continued, I noticed that all of the characters still spoke their actual lines, unchanged, from the Shakespeare play.

It was kind of brilliant, but it was really weird.

As the movie continued, I noticed more and more creative interpretations of Shakespeare’s words for a modern-day context.  The police chief was named Prince, for example, and it took me a while to realize that he filled the role of the actual Prince of Verona as written by Shakespeare.  The characters fought with models of guns named after the blade weapons used by Shakespeare’s original characters.  Even with these changes, though, it still seemed odd to me that these gangbangers spoke in Shakespearean vocabulary and iambic pentameter.

When the movie ended, as the credits played, I stood and stretched.  “That was weird,” I said disdainfully.

“That was so good!” Todd exclaimed.

“It was weird!” I repeated, louder.

“You didn’t like it?”

“It just seemed really unnatural having modern characters use Shakespeare’s language.”

“That’s what makes it so good!”

“I don’t know.  I guess it just wasn’t for me.  Thanks for inviting me, though.”

“Any time.”

As we walked out toward the parking lot, many of the others talked about how much they loved the movie, and I remained silent.  I tuned out the conversation, so I did not find out what Carrie thought of the movie.  I did not want to say any more bad things about the movie, in case Carrie loved it as much as Todd did.  I may have already ruined any chance I had with Carrie by not liking the movie, and I did not want to open my mouth again and make things worse.

I never watched that movie again, although now, with a quarter-century of hindsight, I would not rule out giving it another chance if the opportunity arose.  Maybe I would enjoy it more knowing from the start that the movie was a combination of Shakespeare’s words and a modern-day setting, and not having my thoughts darkened by the frustration of not getting to sit next to Carrie.

Why was it so difficult to ask a girl out?  Why was this process so difficult for me to understand?  Romeo and Juliet had no such problems.  Romeo crashes a party because he wants to bang some other chick who he knows will be there, he and Juliet see each other, he goes to the balcony, and boom, they were in love that night and married the next day.  What was wrong with me that love never dropped into my lap like that?  Of course, as a direct result of all of this, Romeo and Juliet both end up dead after a few days.  Maybe it was for the best that my life did not turn out like Romeo’s life; this story was, after all, a tragedy.


Readers: Was there ever a movie that all your friends liked but you didn’t? Tell me about it in the comments.

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November 5, 1997.  Another epic prank. (#152)

“Excuse me?” the employee at the grocery store told me.  “You’re not allowed to have that in here.”

“What?” I asked.

“The camera.  Those aren’t allowed in here.”

“Why?”

“Company policy.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know.  But it’s our company policy.”

“That’s dumb,” I said.

I sulked toward the front of the store, holding two 12-packs of toilet paper in one hand and the Santoros’ video camera in the other.  Taylor, Noah, and Erica were standing near the front of the store, each also holding toilet paper.  “They said we weren’t allowed to use the camera in here,” I said, disappointed.

“What?” Erica replied.

“Maybe because they don’t want competitors to find out how they do business, or what their prices are,” Noah explained.

“I guess that makes sense,” I said.  “But then we’ll be missing the start of the video where it shows all of us buying toilet paper.

“What if we film from the parking lot?  We can show each of us walking out of the store with toilet paper,” Taylor suggested.

“That’s a great idea,” I said.  “Where are Brody and Courtney?”

“Here they come,” Taylor pointed across the store, where Brody and Courtney approached us, each carrying toilet paper and giggling about something, as they often did.  The six of us all got in line to pay for our purchases.

“Wow,” the cashier commented, seeing all of us buying toilet paper together.  “Someone’s getting hit tonight.”  I laughed.

I went through the line first and waited outside, with the camera running.  We had each paid separately because we wanted to record a video of each of us individually buying toilet paper.  I stood in the parking lot and recorded Taylor, Noah, Courtney, Brody, and Erica each walking out of the store holding toilet paper, with about three seconds between each person.  I then walked inside the store and walked back out carrying my toilet paper, with Brody holding the camera, so that I could be in the video as well.


Lucky closed at midnight on weekdays, and we had finished our purchase and left the store about half an hour before closing.  It was a Wednesday night, and a few hours ago, we had all been at The Edge, the youth group for junior high school students at Jeromeville Covenant Church.  I was borrowing a VHS video camera from Zac Santoro and his family, because we were making a movie based on my characters Dog Crap and Vince.  That was the week that we had recorded the school dance scene after youth group.  The students did not know that we had plans to make another video with the same camera after they went home and went to bed.

A week ago, during our weekly meeting before the students arrive, we were talking about playing some kind of fun, non-destructive prank on a large group of students, and making a video of it to show at youth group.  “Does anyone have a video camera?” Noah asked.

“I’m borrowing one from the Santoros right now, because we’re working on the Dog Crap and Vince movie,” I explained.

“That’s perfect!”  We discussed all of the usual playful pranks that were popular at the time and made a plan.  Not everyone participated; Cambria and Hannah both had midterms to study for and could not stay up all night, as this would probably require.  Adam, the youth pastor, politely declined, although he was completely supportive of what we were planning to do.

Back then, Brody drove an old family sedan that seated six, three in front and three in back. The car had been his family’s old car.  We all piled in the car and headed north on Andrews Road, across Coventry Boulevard, toward the Santoros’ house.  We went there first because it was the closest.  “Kind of ironic that we’re using the Santoros’ camera to record the Santoros getting toilet-papered,” I remarked.

“I know!” Taylor said.

Brody stopped the car around the corner from the Santoros’ house, far enough away that they would not notice.  “Wait,” Taylor said before we got out.  “Let’s make sure to ration our toilet paper.  How many houses are we hitting?”

Noah looked at the list that we had made earlier.  “Eighteen,” he said.

“And we each got two 12-packs, so that’s 24 rolls.  Six of us, what’s six times 24?”

“One hundred forty-four,” I blurted out.

“And eighteen houses, what’s 144 divided by 18?”

“Eight,” I replied just as quickly.

“Good thing we have a math major on this adventure!” Courtney said.

“Yeah, because apparently you need my advanced math skills to do second grade arithmetic.  Just kidding.”

“So,” Taylor said, “maximum of eight rolls per house.  Ready?  Go!”

We began unwrapping the cases of toilet paper.  We carefully counted out eight rolls and walked quickly but quietly to the Santoros’ front yard, some of us carrying one roll and some of us carrying two.  Brody looked ready to throw his in the tree, but Taylor grabbed his arm.  “Wait!” he whispered.

“What?” Brody mouthed silently.

“We should show the house on camera first with no toilet paper.  So Zac can recognize his house.  Then we’ll show scenes of us TP’ing it.  And do that for all the houses.”

“Good idea,” I mouthed, nodding.  I started the camera and recorded the front of the house for a few seconds.  Then as the others threw their rolls of toilet paper into the trees and bushes, I continued recording people throwing toilet paper flying through the air, and the trees and bushes covered in long white streaks.  We stood back and admired our work for a few seconds, then quickly walked back to the car.  It was already midnight on a school night, and we had a lot of work to do.

Next, we drove the quarter-mile to Samantha Willis’ house, on the end of a cul-de-sac off of Alvarez Avenue.  We parked at the other end of the street, near the corner with Alvarez, and carried a total of eight rolls of toilet paper to the Willises’ front yard.  I had not been to this house before, but it backed up to the Coventry Greenbelt, so I had probably been on a bike ride at some point and seen the Willises’ back fence from a distance without realizing it.  The other five carefully tiptoed around the yard, throwing toilet paper up into the tree and across the bushes, as I stood back recording it all on camera.  I made sure to get a clear shot of the house, so that Samantha and her friends would recognize the house.  “This video is gonna be so cool,” I whispered to Taylor and Noah as we quietly walked back to the car.


We had been planning this event for the last week, and I had been assigned the task of making our route, since everyone knew that I was good with maps and directions.  Noah and Taylor, in consultation with Adam, had made a list of which students’ houses to visit.  We only included students from families that were regularly involved at church and families whom the youth leaders knew well.  Some of the kids came from families that would not appreciate being pranked, and some families were unsupportive of their children’s involvement with Christianity, so we did not want to get in trouble or jeopardize our relationships with those students and their families.

We hit a few more houses in north Jeromeville, then headed west across the overpass at Highway 117 to three houses in west Jeromeville.  We arrived at the Fosters’ house first of those three.  As we approached the front yard, full of bushes that could hold a lot of toilet paper, Erica turned to me and said, “This is really weird, toilet-papering my own house.”

“I know!” I said.  I kept one roll for myself, because of something I thought of on the drive over here.  When the other seven rolls had been strewn about the bushes, I unrolled mine and began decorating a large bush that had mostly been missed by the others.

As we tiptoed back to the car, I could now turn to Erica and whisper, “Your house is now the only house in the world which I have toilet-papered twice, once on the outside and once on the inside.”  I knew that Erica knew of my involvement in the prank that we pulled for her birthday last year, so I was not incriminating myself by saying that.

Erica thought about this for a second, then smiled and laughed.  “Oh, yeah!” she whispered back.  “And I never changed my answering machine from that night!  People still hear you guys singing when they call me!”

“That’s amazing!”

“I still think it’s hilarious that you filled up all those water bottles.”

“I think that was Brody’s idea.”

“Sounds like a Brody thing.”

Several houses later, we were driving along 8th Street in central Jeromeville when we noticed another car behind us turning out from a side street.  A few seconds later, flashing red and blue lights appeared from the car behind us.  Brody swore and signaled to pull over.  I looked at Taylor and Noah, horrified.  “Hide the toilet paper!” Taylor said, as we attempted to push as much of it as we could under our feet.

As Brody rolled down the window, the police officer from the car that pulled us over approached and said, “Your tail light is cracked.”

“It is?” Brody said.  “I didn’t know that.”

“Can I see your license and registration?” the officer asked.  Brody produced the necessary paperwork, and the officer filled out a ticket for Brody to repair the taillight.

“I’ll get that taken care of,” Brody said, looking at the ticket and putting it aside.

“Have any of you been drinking?”

“What?  No, we haven’t.”

“Step out of the car, please.”

Brody stepped out of the car as I sat silently in the back, terrified, looking at the others who were being equally silent.  After a couple minutes, the officer was sufficiently satisfied that Brody was sober and let him return to the car.  The police car drove off.

“Turn on the camera!” Taylor said.  I did so and pointed it at Taylor, who spoke to the camera.  “This is Taylor, reporting live from The Edge.  We just got stopped by the cops!  Brody, tell them what happened.”

I turned the camera to Brody, who said, “He said my tail light was cracked.”

“What else?”

“He wanted to know if I had been drinking.” Brody chuckled.  “Of course not.”

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled program,” Taylor said.  I turned the camera off.

A little bit later, we parked down the street from the Foremans’ house.  The Foremans had two students in The Edge, eighth-grade Shawna and seventh-grade Cory.  They lived on a cul-de-sac, this one in an older neighborhood, off of M Street just east of downtown Jeromeville.  “Be careful,” Noah whispered to the rest of us just before we got out of the car.  “They have dogs that might start barking.”  I nodded quietly.

Courtney was in the front as the six of us walked toward the Foremans’ house.  Their next-door neighbors had a tall sycamore tree that was beginning to shed leaves, and Courtney stepped on a dry, crunchy leaf as we reached the Foremans’ driveway.  As soon as the leaf crunched, two dogs began barking loudly.

“Run!” Noah whispered.  The six of us made an abrupt about-face and ran down to the car parked four houses away.  After we caught our breath, Taylor told me to start recording.  Brody turned north on M Street as Taylor announced, “This is Taylor, coming to you live from The Edge!  Shawna, Corey, we tried to include your house on this, but your dogs started barking.  If you woke up to the dogs barking in the middle of the night Wednesday night, or Thursday morning, that was us.  Sorry if we woke you up.  Hope you got back to sleep.”

We continued heading east after the Foremans’ house.  Eventually we reached Beech Drive, where the Houstons and the Suttons lived across the street from each other.  We only had to park once in order to hit both houses.

“They’re going to know right away it was us,” Noah said.  “Whoever goes outside first in the morning will notice that both of them got hit.”

“Should we only do one of their houses?”

“No, it’s okay.  Everyone will figure it out soon enough.”

I did my usual thing, recording each house from the outside first, then getting footage of the others throwing toilet paper into trees and unrolling toilet paper along bushes.  After we finished on Beech Lane, we drove all the way to Bruce Boulevard on the eastern edge of Jeromeville and crossed south of Highway 100 to hit a few houses in south Jeromeville.  By the time we finally got back to the church, where everyone had parked, it was almost three in the morning.  I walked home, since I lived just a short distance from church, and very quietly tiptoed to my bed and slept for less than four hours, since I had a full day of class and working as a tutor tomorrow.


“Greg,” I heard a woman’s voice say as I was leaving church the following Sunday.  I turned around and saw Mrs. Houston smiling at me.  “How was your week?” she asked.

“It was good,” I said.

“I was thinking about you the other day.  I was going to call you in the middle of the night and remind you that we love you.”  I looked at Mrs. Houston, a little confused, and she continued, “You know.  Because you stopped by in the middle of the night and told us that you loved us.”

“I see,” I said, chuckling.

Noah and Adam edited my footage down to a video about seven minutes long, with the Mission: Impossible theme song playing in the background.  This song, originally from an old television show about secret agents, had become popular again in recent years.  A movie based on the old show was released last year, and Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, the bassist and drummer for the band U2, had a top 10 hit with their recording of the theme song.  We showed the video at The Edge the following week, and students cheered and laughed as their houses appeared on the screen.

I have often humorously wondered if God keeps some kind of record for each person of how much toilet paper everyone has used for pranking purposes and how much each person has received as the target of pranks.  If such a ledger exists, mine is far out of balance.  I have thrown many rolls of toilet paper for amusement purposes, mostly during my early twenties but also a couple of times after that, yet I have only ever received one roll in return.  During that same school year, different leaders with The Edge would take turns hosting watch parties for Monday Night Football each week.  This had been a popular tradition with previous years’ groups of students, but the students we had this year were not into football so much.  They would get bored by halftime and just to hang out or play games instead.  The Monday after we showed the video, I was hosting the football watch party, and Noah and Brody, who shared an apartment right across the street from me, were at my house.  Adam pulled me and a couple of the boys aside at one point and said that we should prank Noah and Brody while they watched the game, so in an inconspicuous span of five minutes, we walked across the street with a couple of rolls of toilet paper and decorated the bushes in front of Noah and Brody’s apartment.  The following week, I was at Noah and Brody’s for Monday Night Football, and when I got home, I noticed that someone had tossed one roll of toilet paper into the tree in my front yard.

Of course, there is no eternal consequence for being out of balance like this, and it is not something that affects my life from day to day.  All of this toilet-papering was in good fun, and as Mrs. Houston said, playful and non-destructive pranks like this are a way for recipients of the prank to know that we are loved.


Readers: Those of you who know where I live in real life, please don’t toilet-paper my house. I have enough to deal with right now. Also, tell me about some pranks that you’ve been part of.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


October 31-November 2, 1997.  Wrestling with God at Fall Conference. (#151)

The year that I was a senior, Jeromeville Christian Fellowship had a large class of freshmen who had been very active in the group.  Also, many of the students in the class above me did not graduate in four years and were still involved in JCF as fifth-year students.  The group was the largest that it had been in the time I had been involved; its Friday night large group meetings were almost completely filling 170 Evans, a lecture hall with two hundred seats.

October 31 was a Friday that year, but there was no large group meeting, because it was the weekend of the annual Fall Conference.  Not everyone who came on a typical Friday had the money and free time for a weekend retreat, but around seventy people from JCF attended Fall Conference that year.  JCF was a chapter of Intervarsity, a nondenominational Christian ministry with chapters at colleges and universities across the United States and a few other countries.  This Fall Conference was a regional retreat, attended by students from Intervarsity chapters at six different schools around the area.  The University of Jeromeville had the largest chapter out of all of them.  Last year, about half of the students at Fall Conference came from UJ.

Those of us who were going met at four o’clock in a parking lot on campus to carpool for the hundred-mile trip north to the retreat center at Muddy Springs.  Tim Walton, a freshman with thick black glasses, approached me as I walked from my car to where the rest of the people were.  He was with another freshman, a tall, sandy-haired guy whom I had met a couple of times whom I knew only as “3.”  “Hey, Greg,” Tim said.  “We’re in your car.”

“Cool,” I replied.  “Who has the list?”

“Dave and Janet.”

I walked over toward Dave and Janet McAllen, the couple who worked full time as staff for JCF.  Janet held a clipboard and made a checkmark next to my name.  I looked to see whose names were next to mine.  Melinda Schmidt, Autumn Davies, Tim Walton, 3.  Even the carpool list just called him 3.  “Autumn isn’t here yet,” Janet said.  “Do you need the directions?”

“I remember how to get there,” I said.

I saw Melinda in the distance; I walked off to tell her that I had arrived.  She carried her bag to my car, where Tim and 3 stood waiting for me to unlock it so they could put their things in the back.  Autumn arrived about five minutes later; after she loaded her bags, the five of us got in the car and headed north on Highway 117.

The North Valley was a productive agricultural region, with a variety of crops grown.  Highway 117 narrowed to one lane in each direction north of Woodville, passing through various fields, pastures, and orchards.  This was a lonely stretch of road, with only one town of around a thousand people in the thirty-mile stretch between Woodville and the point where Highway 117 ended and merged with Highway 9.

“Can I put this in?” Melinda asked, holding up a tape.  “It’s a mixtape of Christian music.”

“Sure,” I replied.  Melinda put her tape into my car stereo; the first song was “Liquid” by Jars of Clay.  I knew that one.

“Did you guys do anything for Halloween?” Autumn asked.

“I was at the Halloween party at the De Anza house,” I said.  “They had it last night, since most of them are on this retreat.  Tim and 3 were there too.”

“How was that?  I wanted to go!”

“It was fun.”

“I wanted to go too,” Melinda added.  “I had a midterm today that I needed to study for.”

“What did you dress as?” Autumn asked.

“I just wore this old 70s-looking jacket that I borrowed it from the lost and found at church.  Xander had a great costume.  He dressed as a hillbilly, with overalls, and a cowboy hat, and a piece of straw in his mouth.  And he had a real missing tooth.”

“What?  Missing tooth?”

“Yeah.  Apparently he really is missing a tooth.  He normally wears a bridge, and he took it out for his costume.”

“Wow,” Autumn said.  “That’s dedication.”

“Lots of good costumes.  Sam Hoffman was Austin Powers.  And Ramon was Michael Jackson.  He even went to campus in costume today.  Did you see him in the parking lot?”

“No!”

“He’s still in costume, with the red jacket and the glove, and he made his hair more curly than usual.”

“That’s amazing!”

“He pulled it off really well,” Tim said.

At its north end, Highway 117 merged into Highway 9 just south of Mecklenburg, a medium-sized city about the size of Jeromeville.  From there, we drove north through various fruit and nut orchards and a few small towns.  Melinda’s tape ran out, and Tim put on a tape with some really weird songs on it.  He said it was from some TV show on a channel I didn’t get.

“You’ve never seen that show?” Tim asked, incredulously.

“I don’t have cable,” I explained.  “None of us really watch TV all that much.  And the cable provider where I grew up doesn’t have a whole lot of channels compared to most places.”

“Wow.”

Around quarter to six, we arrived in Bidwell, a city of about ninety thousand and home to one of this state’s oldest public universities.  My dad had spent his early childhood in Bidwell, and I still had relatives in the area that I had grown up visiting around twice per year.  I had applied to Bidwell State, and was accepted, but Jeromeville is a more prestigious university, and they offered me a scholarship for my grades.  I turned off of Highway 9 at the exit leading to Muddy Springs.  There was a Wendy’s just off of that exit where most of the carpools coming from Jeromeville stopped to eat.  The five of us sat at a table together, watching people from JCF who arrived before us leave and watching others arrive after us.

“I’ve never asked,” Autumn asked 3 at one point.  “Why do they call you ‘3?’”  I was glad Autumn asked, because I had been wondering the same thing since I met 3 a few weeks ago, and I thought asking would be too awkward.

“My real name is Robert A. Silver III,” 3 explained.  “Because I’m The Third, my family just started calling me ‘3’ when I was a kid.  Some people who are The Third go by ‘Trey,’ but my dad just thought ‘3’ sounded better.”

“That’s a great nickname.”

“So is anyone hoping to learn anything specific at this conference?” Melinda asked.  “God spoke to me so much on the China trip over the summer.  I can’t want to do something like that again next summer.”

“What was this China trip?” 3 asked.  Melinda explained that twelve students from JCF went on a mission trip to China over the summer as part of a large group of hundreds of students from various Intervarsity chapters around the US. 3 was a freshman, so he would not have been around last year when they were preparing for the trip.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Just whatever God wants to teach me, I guess.”


After we arrived at Fall Conference, nine miles past Wendy’s into the foothills outside of Bidwell, all six schools had a worship session led by JCF’s worship team.  A group of students, also from Jeromeville, performed a skit about a freshman experiencing Jesus for the first time. In between scenes from a day in the student’s life, Ramon danced in his Michael Jackson costume and sang a song called “Freshman,” to the tune of “Thriller.”  Liz Williams, actually a senior, played the freshman, and from the way she and Ramon behaved after the skit finished, it quickly became apparent to me that they were back together.  Liz and Ramon had been a couple from about a month into freshman year until the start of junior year, when they had an amicable breakup.  To this day, I do not know exactly how or when they got back together, or why.  I’m always out of the loop of other people’s relationships, even though I had known Liz and Ramon as long as they had known each other, and three years later I would eventually attend their wedding.

The head staff from Capital State’s Intervarsity chapter, a man in his thirties named Stan, led the teaching that weekend.  He spoke on Genesis chapter 32, in which God wrestles with Jacob and gives him the name Israel, meaning “he struggles with God.”  Jacob later would go on to be the ancestor of God’s chosen people, the twelve tribes of Israel.  I was tired, so I went to bed fairly soon after Stan’s talk Friday night.  Stan continued his teaching Saturday morning, and after that session, we all received a handout, with instructions to find a quiet place and spend some time with God.  The handout listed verses to read and related questions to answer.

It was a cool morning; I put on a sweatshirt and walked around outside.  A large ninety-year-old building dominated the retreat center; it had been built as a hotel, the centerpiece of a mountain getaway resort.  It was later sold to a Christian organization, who now used the first floor as the lobby, cafeteria, and a meeting room, and the rest as a dormitory.  The paved road ended at the parking lot for the retreat center; I noticed a dirt road continuing deeper into the hills which I had never noticed before.  I walked in that direction, carrying my Bible.

The last four miles of the drive to Muddy Springs followed a canyon into the hills, and this dirt road continued to follow the small stream that formed the canyon.  Oaks grew in the valley, at least in the areas that had not been claimed for agriculture, and pines grew in the mountains; Muddy Springs was in the transition area where both grew on the surrounding grassy hills.  The hills were brown; it had not rained in at least six months.  In this part of the world, October typically felt like a milder version of summer, with sunny and pleasant days, but today was the first of November, and right around the time the calendar changed, the weather usually did too.  The rain had not returned yet, but the sky was gray and dreary, and the leaves on the oaks were becoming more brown and more sparse.  I found a large rock with a flat enough top to sit on, overlooking the canyon and the ridge beyond.

I read from the handout.  Pray that God will open your eyes and ears to His presence in your life, I read.  I did this.  I followed the succeeding prompts on the page, thinking about how I might be wrestling with God at the moment.  I prayed about my struggles with being outside the cliques.  I prayed that I would meet a nice Christian girlfriend soon, and I prayed for patience until that happened.  I continued reading the paper; it said to listen quietly until I heard God speak.  I closed my eyes and bowed my head.  After hearing nothing, I opened my eyes and looked around.  I stared at the hills around me, at the gray sky, at the trees.  I bowed my head and closed my eyes again.  Still nothing.

The schedule for the day had allotted an hour for us to wrestle with God outside that morning, and by the end of that hour, I was frustrated.  God had not even shown up to wrestle with me.  Did that mean I won by forfeit?  That was not the point; it felt more discouraging than anything, like I was not important enough for God to speak to.  I looked at my watch; it was almost time for lunch.  I started walking back to the building, defeated, and I sat and ate alone.

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie Baker said, approaching me.  He had just finished eating with others, and he was walking toward the exit with Tabitha, his girlfriend.  “What’s up?”

“I’m just kind of discouraged.  I feel like God isn’t speaking to me, like he did to Jacob, or like all the stories I hear from all of you guys.  Like maybe I’m not a real Christian.  Or not a good enough one.”

“That’s not true!” Eddie replied.  “Look at how much you’ve grown the last two years.  You’ve helped out with things around here.  And now you’re working with junior high kids at church.  It takes a lot of faith to commit to something like that.”

“God speaks to everyone in his own way and his own timing,” Tabitha added.  “Don’t think of yourself as less than others because you don’t hear from him in the same way.”

“I guess,” I replied.

“I’ve been where you are, and so have a lot of us,” Eddie explained.  “This is the way that God wrestles with us sometimes.  Just keep listening for his voice.”

“And when you feel like you’re not good enough?” Tabitha said.  “That’s not God’s voice.  That’s Satan trying to distract you.”

“I know,” I said.

“Can I pray for you?” Eddie asked.

“Sure.”

“Father God,” Eddie began as we bowed our heads, “I pray for Greg, that you will speak to him, in a way that he will hear your voice clearly.  I pray that he will shake off all of this discouragement, and know that it is not from you.  I pray that you will give him a new name and a new identity, so that he will know his identity in you, as your beloved child.  I thank you for bringing him here to Muddy Springs, and I pray that when we go back to Jeromeville, Greg will return with a renewed sense of faith and identity in you.  Amen.”

“Amen,” I said, looking up.  “Thanks.”


We had the afternoon free, so I went back to my room.  Kieran Ziegler was my roommate for the weekend.  “I love that story about Jacob wrestling with God,” Kieran said.  “Because I can tell people that wrestling is the only sport mentioned in the Bible.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, chuckling.  Kieran was on the UJ wrestling team; of course he would notice this.

“Brent is gonna get some people to play Ultimate.  You wanna come?”

“I need a nap,” I said.  “Maybe if you’re still playing when I wake up.  Or when I give up on trying to fall asleep.”

“No problem.  I’ll see you around.”

I closed my eyes after Kieran left, but I did not sleep.  I could not shake these thoughts of not being good enough.  I still felt left out of the cliques within JCF.  I wished I had been asked to live at the house on De Anza Drive, with Eddie and Xander and Ramon and Jason and John and Lars.  All the cool things in my social circle happened around those guys, like the Halloween party Thursday night.  I kept hearing people tell stories about God working in their lives, like when Melinda and Eddie and Tabitha and a bunch of others went on the China trip last summer.  Some people have said that they sometimes hear God speak audibly, and some of my friends came from the kind of Christian traditions that spoke in tongues.  Many of my friends have led others to faith; Eddie did that with his freshman dorm roommate, Raphael.  But not me.  I was not good at talking about Jesus or my faith with others, and that would probably make me ineffective on a mission trip to another country.  I had heard a speaker once highlight the importance of supporting missionaries behind the scenes, and I was all for that.  I gave money to friends’ mission trips, and to my church, which supported missionaries.  That role was more suited to me.  But it also made me feel like I was missing out on all the cool experiences.

I went outside after about forty-five minutes of not sleeping.  The Ultimate Frisbee game was still going on, but with no flat grassy field at Muddy Springs, they played on a paved basketball court, which did not exactly seem safe.  I watched the game with a few other people who were just hanging out and watching.

At the evening session, Stan from Cap State told stories from the Bible about other people whose names and identities God changed, besides Jacob.  Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who helped the Israelite spies, whose family God saved from Jericho’s coming destruction.  The invalid at the pool of Bethesda, whom Jesus healed.  And Abram, Jacob’s grandfather.  Long before God wrestled with Jacob, he changed Abram’s name to Abraham, to indicate that Abraham, an old man with a barren wife, would become the father of a great nation.  I read all of these stories again later that night before I went to bed, trying to keep these Bible stories on my mind to avoid another descent into discouraging thoughts.


When I woke up, the sky was sunny and clear.  It was still cold, but the dreary gray had departed.  My mind was also becoming sunny and clear as I kept thinking about last night, particularly about the man whom Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda.  I read his story, chapter 5 of the Gospel of John, again that morning, and something stood out to me.  I knew in my head that God was not ignoring me when he remained silent, but it seemed much more real now.

The conference center gave out name tags in plastic cases to all attendees.  I removed my name tag from the plastic case and turned it backward, so that the blank back of the card showed, then I put it back in the case and attached it to my shirt with the built-in safety pin.

The students from all six schools gathered in the main hall, in a separate building from the old hotel, for worship that morning.  Before Stan gave his final message, Janet McAllen got up and invited anyone who so desired to share something that we learned this weekend.  “Tell us your name, what school you’re from, and anything that God spoke to you this weekend,” she said.  I raised my hand, and she called on me first.

“Hi,” I said, standing up.  This was it, the moment I got to share my sudden idea. I pointed to my blank name tag and said, “I don’t have a name, because God is going to give me a new one.”  I smiled, and everyone clapped for me.  I was not doing this for applause, though.  “Sometimes I feel like I’m not really hearing from God the same way everyone else does,” I continued.  “But that doesn’t mean that God has given up on me.  The man by the pool at Bethesda waited thirty-eight years to meet Jesus.  God could have healed him earlier, but he waited until the time was right for the man to meet Jesus face to face.  The man didn’t know that.  We don’t always understand God’s timing.  But I’m going to keep listening, and following, and God will answer all these questions I have in his own time.”

I sat down again.  A few other people stood up and shared what they learned.  After one final message from Stan, we all went to lunch, then we began packing for the return trip.  No one played music on the trip home, because everyone was tired.  Autumn slept most of the way home, and 3 nodded off for a bit too.  I was okay with that.

And I was also okay with not being in all the cliques, and I was okay with not having a girlfriend.  At least I was trying to be okay.  All of those names that had been stuck in my head for years, outcast, loser, forever alone, and all the horrible names my classmates in elementary school had called me, those were not God’s name for me.  God had already changed my name.  I was his beloved child, I was forgiven, I was saved, and I was living his will for my life.  Sure, I would suffer setbacks, and life would not always go the way I wanted it to, but that was because my vision was short sighted.  God had a better long-term plan for me, and ultimately, if I was living out God’s will in my life, nothing could stop me.


Readers: Have you ever felt like you were wrestling with God, or just struggling in general with something you believe in? Tell me about it in the comments, if it’s not too personal.

Check out my other projects, Greg Out Of Character and Song of the Day by DJ GJ-64.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


Late October-early November, 1997. I made a movie. (#150)

These days, in the era of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, it is difficult to believe how recently it was that common people did not constantly make their own videos.  In the 1990s, doing so required a camera that cost hundreds of dollars, and was the size and weight of a medium-sized textbook, at minimum.  Also, it was necessary to record these videos onto a tape, and to make sure that there was enough room on the blank tape to record the video without erasing any existing footage.  Showing someone a homemade video required a television connected to a VCR or to the camera itself.  The Internet existed, but the processing and connection speeds of computers in that era limited most Internet uses to text and standard-definition photos and graphics.

I never had a video camera growing up.  I wanted one so badly.  I had many ideas for movies and shows I wanted to make.  My brother Mark and I, along with whatever neighborhood kids were around, would sometimes act out performances that would have made good home movies.  We had a weird variety show called The Mark Show, full of characters based on various inside jokes, and a game show called Messy Room, inspired by Double Dare and Fun House and the other kids’ game shows that briefly became popular in my preteen years.  For some of our shows, we would record the audio so we could at least listen to them later, but they were the kind of performances that would have worked much better with video.

Now, in my early 20s, my creative project was a website called Dog Crap and Vince, which I began shortly after I taught myself the basics of HTML, the code used to make websites.  Dog Crap and Vince was a series of crudely illustrated stories about the adventures of two quirky high school students, and it would have worked much better as video or animation.  I still did not have a video camera, nor did I have the money to buy one.  But I had more connections now than as a child, so when I showed Dog Crap and Vince to the boys from the youth group at church, and mentioned that it would work better as a TV show or a movie, Zac Santoro offered to ask his dad if I could borrow their video camera.  And thus one of my most involved creative endeavors of my life so far was born.

That night, we had talked about beginning the project Sunday after church, so when I walked up to Zac, Ted Hunter, and Danny Foster after church and asked if they were ready to start filming, I felt inwardly frustrated when Zac replied, “Huh?”

“The Dog Crap and Vince movie.  You said you talked to your dad about borrowing your video camera, and that we could start filming today.”

“Oh, yeah!  He said you could borrow it.”

“So, like, now?  Are we going to your house?”

“Sure.”

“I can’t,” Ted said.  “My mom said I have to come straight home.”

“We talked about this on Wednesday,” I reminded Ted.  “You said you’d be free on Sunday, and that you would play Vince.”

“I forgot.”

“Well, I can still get the camera, and maybe we can film some scenes that don’t have Vince in them.”

“Film some scenes?” a voice behind me asked.  I turned around to see Jim Herman.  I knew Jim from seeing him around church; he was older than me, I would guess in his mid-thirties, presumably single because I never saw him with any sort of family.  Everyone at church seemed to know Jim.  “What are you guys doing?” Jim asked.

“We’re making a movie,” I explained.  “I’m borrowing a camera from the Santoros.”

“You think I could go along and help out?”  Jim’s question caught me off guard, and when he saw me hesitate, he added, “That way you can all be on camera at the same time, and I can be the cameraman.”

“Sure,” I said.  “That would be helpful for scenes I’m going to be in.”


By the time we got to the Santoros’ house, we had already made a change to the script.  The boys had decided to film a scene that broke the fourth wall, in which I would knock on Zac’s door asking if Zac could come make a movie with us.  Although I had carefully worked on this script for several days, this change seemed like it would fit the quirky, offbeat nature of the Dog Crap and Vince world.

Zac, Danny, Jim, and I walked up to the front door of Zac’s house.  I knocked on the door, and Zac’s dad answered a minute later  “Hi, boys.  Hi, Greg,” he said, shaking my hand.  “Jim.”  Had I been more observant of body language and subtle cues, I might have noticed a shift in Mr. Santoro’s tone when he addressed Jim, but at the time I thought nothing of it. “Here’s the camera,” Mr. Santoro continued, handing me the camera.  “Please be careful with it.”

“I will,” I said.  “They wanted to film a scene here first.  Is that okay?”

“Sure!”

I handed Jim the camera as we filmed the new scene.  Zac’s six-year-old sister answered the door, and I asked if Zac was home.  Zac appeared a few seconds later, and I said, “Hey, Zac.  Let’s make a movie.”

“Okay!” Zac announced excitedly, acting overly dramatic in a way that I had not intended.

“Go get Danny,” I said.

Zac turned his head toward the inside of the house and called out, “Danny!  Let’s go make a movie!”  Danny ran out of the house a few seconds later, Zac following, me following both of them, and Jim following us with the camera.  “We’ll pick up Ted on the way!” I shouted, since Ted was not there.  The two boys, for reasons unknown other than the fact that they were teenage boys, jumped onto the hood of my parked car.

“Cut,” I said to Jim a few seconds later, taking the camera back after he stopped recording.

“Ow!” Danny said.  “You kicked me in the head!”

“What?” Zac asked.  I played the footage back on the camera’s small screen, and just before Jim had stopped recording, I saw Zac’s foot connect with Danny’s head as they climbed on my car.  “You have to leave that in the movie!” Zac said.  “Sorry, Danny, it was an accident.”

“It looks good,” I said.  “I think it would be hilarious to leave that part in the movie.  Especially since it was an accident.”


The leaders from The Edge, the junior high school youth group from church, would have dinner at the Parkers’ house before youth group on some Wednesdays.  The Parkers’ oldest son, Brody, was a sophomore at the University of Jeromeville and one of the Edge leaders, and their youngest, a girl named Michelle, was a student in the youth group, the same age as the boys I was making the movie with.  Michelle was playing Kim, Dog Crap’s love interest in the movie.  I had arranged with the Parkers and Michelle’s real life friend, a girl from the youth group named Shawna Foreman, to film a scene when the leaders came to the Parkers’ house for dinner.  The two girls were in Michelle’s room, talking about cute boys, when Michelle’s character, Kim, admitted that she liked Dog Crap.  I held the camera for that scene, and one take was good enough.

The Parkers had two telephone lines in their house.  Adam, the youth pastor, was downstairs using one phone to call the other, so that I could record Kim answering the phone in her room.  After Shawna’s character left, the final film would cut to Dog Crap fidgeting in front of his phone, working up the courage to call Kim and ask her to a school dance.

“Hello?” Michelle said in character as Kim.  The final film would then cut to Dog Crap chickening out, awkwardly shouting into the phone, “You have the wrong number!”  I continued running the camera as Michelle got a confused look on her face and said, “Oh, sorry.”  Michelle hung up the phone.  Then she looked up and said, “Wait a minute!  How could I have the wrong number? I didn’t call anyone!”

I played the tape back on the camera’s small screen.  “It looks good,” I said.  “Thanks.  We’ll do the dance scene after The Edge tonight.”

“Sounds good!”

“Do you need me again?” Shawna asked.

“Those were your only speaking lines, but you’ll be in the background at the dance.”

“Great!  I’ll see you tonight!”


Five Iron Frenzy, a punk-ska band with a Christian background who were too edgy to get much attention on Christian radio, was very popular with the Edge kids at the time.  Ted told me that he had gotten the band’s permission to use their music in our movie; he was probably not telling the truth, but I did not bother to check.  After The Edge, I filmed the school dance scene for the end of the movie in the youth room.  Five Iron Frenzy’s “Where Zero Meets Fifteen” played while Dog Crap and Kim danced.  The others in the background danced in much sillier ways than I had imagined; I was losing control of just how quirky this movie was, but I just wanted to get it done.  And quirky was good for a project like this, I thought.

“I love this song!” Zac said in character as Dog Crap.

“Me too!” Michelle replied in character as Kim.  “It’s my boyfriend’s favorite song!”

“Boyfriend?” Dog Crap said.

“Just kidding!  Vince told me to say that.”

I wanted to imply that Vince was playing a prank on Dog Crap by telling Michelle to pretend that she had a boyfriend. I wanted Dog Crap to say something like “I’ll get him back for that,” but what Zac did instead was shout, “Vince!” and run out of the room.  At this point, I was not going to be picky; that would have to be good enough.

Kim’s comment about her boyfriend was a reference to a scene from earlier in the movie.  I had to shoot the film out of order, to accommodate everyone’s schedules, and I took careful notes of what had already been done and who was needed in each scene.  In the boyfriend scene, which we had not yet recorded, Dog Crap and Vince were at school, talking at lunch.  Dog Crap said that it is hard for him to ask a girl out because, whenever he starts talking to a girl, she will start talking about her boyfriend, so that he will not ask her out.

“That’s not true,” Vince replied encouragingly.  “There’s Christine.  Go talk to her.”

Dog Crap walked up to Christine and said, “Hey, Chrsitine.  Did you figure out that one math problem you were confused about?”

“Yeah,” Christine answered.  “My boyfriend is good at math.”

Dog Crap walked back to Vince with a look on his face as if to say I-told-you-so, and Vince said, “That was just one girl.  It’s not everyone.  There’s Samantha.  Go talk to her.”

Dog Crap walked up to Samantha and said, “Hi, Samantha.”

“My boyfriend says hi to people,” Samantha replied.

At least that was how I pictured the scene in my head.  When we recorded it a few days later, Vince said “go ask her out” instead of “go talk to her” for Christine.  That seemed out of place if the whole point of the movie was that Dog Crap wanted to ask out a different girl from these two.

Christine and Samantha each had only one line, and I recorded their parts for that scene after we finished the school dance scene.  It turned out better than I had planned.  When I first started working with The Edge last year, a girl named Samantha Willis had said some awkwardly silly things to me.  When I wrote this scene, I named this character Samantha because I had Samantha Willis in mind to play the role, and fortunately, she agreed.  “My boyfriend says hi to people a lot!” she exclaimed excitedly on camera, before adding “Bye, Dog Crap!”  It was perfect.

We filmed one more scene in the youth room.  I played Matt, the school bully, who was also trying to ask Kim to the dance despite Kim’s frequent rebuffs.  In this scene, near the end of the movie, Kim turns Matt down again.  “I’d rather go out with someone who crawled out from under this table!” Michelle exclaimed in character as Kim, lightly shoving Matt away.

Just then Zac, in character as Dog Crap, crawled out from under the table, where he had been looking for something he dropped.  Dog Crap greeted Kim, who smiled at him, and he used the opportunity to ask her to the dance.  I thought that scene was particularly brilliant writing on my part, and Zac and Michelle acted it perfectly.


On Saturday, I picked up Zac, Ted, Danny, and Michelle, as well as Jim, who did not have a car.  We went to a nearby school, with classrooms that opened directly to the outdoors with no hallway in between, to film the scenes taking place at school.  It was more common in those days for school grounds to be left unlocked, open to the public, and all of the school scenes took place outside of classrooms, so this would be good enough for my purposes.

While Dog Crap was trying to find a way to ask Kim to the dance, Vince was training for an upcoming video game tournament.  My bully character, Matt, in addition to trying to steal Kim, was also bragging that he was going to win the tournament.  Dog Crap’s cousin had told him about Fish Boy, a mysterious video game master who lived in Jeromeville.  I also played Dog Crap’s cousin; my two characters were distinguished on camera by Matt wearing a hat and Dog Crap’s cousin not wearing a hat.  Of course, though, in one scene I forgot to wear the hat as Matt, and confusion resulted when I showed the movie to people later.  I did not know how to run a costume department.

In character as Dog Crap’s cousin, I suggested that we all travel to Jeromeville to meet Fish Boy, and Ted replied as Vince with a brilliant ad-libbed rant.  “Jeromeville?” he said with a crazed look, grabbing my shoulders to get my attention.  “I’ve heard about this place!  They have frog tunnels!  And roundabouts!  And you get arrested for snoring too loud!  It scares me!”

I was not expecting this, but I stayed in character and calmly replied, “But Fish Boy is there!  You’ll win the video game contest for sure.”

Vince, instantly back to normal, said, “Oh, yeah. Let’s go!”

Later, we drove around to film scenes from the Jeromeville trip.  In character, I got lost several times and made multiple wrong turns, including getting stuck in a roundabout circling multiple times.  I took Jim and Michelle home, since I was done with their scenes, and the rest of us went to the Fosters’ house to film the scenes with Danny playing Fish Boy.

Danny’s eighteen-year-old sister Erica, a leader with The Edge, joined us as we walked a quarter mile to the nearest gas station, where the characters had to stop to ask for directions.  I had intended this scene to be a shot-for-shot parody of the scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker meets Yoda, without realizing at first that the little green stranger who finds him is Yoda.  The boys wanted to go into the gas station store and get snacks.  I wanted to focus on getting my movie done, but since these boys were doing a favor for me for free, I let them.  Afterward, I reminded everyone of their lines and started the camera.

“We’re being watched!” Zac said in character as Dog Crap, noticing a girl next to them.

“No harm I mean you,” Erica replied, using her normal voice but Yoda’s characteristic syntax.  “Wondering what you are doing here, I am.”

“We’re looking for a video game master.”

“Fish Boy!  You seek Fish Boy!”

“You know Fish Boy?” Dog Crap asked.

“Take you to him, I will!”

For the next scene, we returned to the Fosters’ house.  After an awkward blooper in which Ted forgot his lines, Ted, in character as Vince, angrily spoke up about how they were wasting their time.  Luke Skywalker had done the same when Yoda took him to his house.

“I cannot teach them,” Erica said, turning away.  “They have no patience.  They are not ready.”

“I was once the same way,” Danny replied from off camera.

Dog Crap and Vince looked at Erica, wide-eyed.  “Fish Boy?” they said.  They turned to each other and added, “Fish Boy’s a girl?”

“No, silly!” Erica replied, no longer speaking like Yoda.  “I’m no good at those games!  Fish Boy’s my little brother.”

Danny emerged from his bedroom, wearing some weird mask and carrying a hockey stick.  Neither of those details was in the script, but this movie was already weird enough, so I allowed it.  I continued recording as Fish Boy showed the other two shortcuts and special techniques for the game they were playing.  After we finished, I thanked Danny’s parents for letting us their house.  I took Ted and Zac home, then went home myself.


Over the next couple weeks, when I had time, I finished recording the remaining scenes.  I edited the movie with a very unsophisticated setup of two VCRs connected to each other.  We had a watch party on the big projector screen in the youth room at church after The Edge the following week; most of the Edge leaders and some of the kids who were in the movie stuck around to watch.

By modern standards, the movie was pretty terrible.  I knew nothing of acting, directing, or editing, and with my rudimentary equipment, the video and sound quality was subpar.  The characters’ clothes inexplicably changed from one shot to the next within the same scene, and twice during the movie, my shouts of “Cut!” were audible at the end of scenes, since editing a video with two VCRs was not a precise technique.  The film was only half an hour long, too short to be considered a feature film.  But we had so much fun and made so many memories during those few weeks.

The Dog Crap and Vince movie had a lasting legacy in my life.  The boys from The Edge and I quoted lines from the movie to each other for years to come.  I watched that movie so many times with so many people that I still remember much of the dialogue by heart.  And Samantha, the boys’ classmate whose boyfriend said hi to people, became a regular character in the web series.  It was later revealed that the character’s last name was Whitehead, and years later, among my adult friends, the act of bringing up a significant other in conversation out of context became known as “pulling a Samantha Whitehead.”

Those few weeks that I spent making the Dog Crap and Vince movie also set in motion a chain of events that took a much darker turn.  I had no idea at the time that anything like that would come to pass from it, or that anything like this would happen among a Christian community such as Jeromeville Covenant Church.  Looking back, though, in that context, it makes sense now why Mr. Santoro, normally a warm and friendly man, seemed aloof when he greeted Jim Herman on the day I borrowed the camera.  But that is a story for another time.

This project was also the beginning of my realization that I prefer creative projects I can do alone over ones requiring the involvement of others.  As much as it is fun to bring others into my creative mind, coordinating everyone’s schedules and dealing with flaky people caused much frustration.  The same thing invariably happened every other time I tried to involve others in Dog Crap and Vince projects.  But for the people who did stick to their commitments, I now have a record of the role they played in my life.


Readers: Tell me in the comments about something creative that you worked on with others. Did it all go according to plan or not?

As always, the episodes featuring Dog Crap and Vince were inspired by Cow Chip & Lance, an actual creative project that some people I know have worked on for decades. It has been inactive for a couple years, but some of their material is still available for viewing (click).

Also, if you like music and aren’t following my other site yet, Song of the Day by DJ GJ-64, go follow that one.

And I updated my Greg Out Of Character blog for the first time in several months, with a post that has little to do with 1997. Go follow that one too.

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October 15-19, 1997.  Trying to figure out if I can graduate in June. (#149)

The weather in Jeromeville for most of October was typically what I could consider perfect.  Days were sunny, with afternoon temperatures in the 80s, still warm enough to be outside, but the nights were cool, so the days did not get blisteringly hot like they did in July and August.  I was still wearing shorts to class during the third full week of fall quarter, and I had some free time on that Wednesday afternoon, so I sat outside on the Quad.  I brought another book with me to campus in addition to my textbooks, and I was looking through this book when I saw Carrie Valentine walking toward me, coming from the direction of the library and headed toward the flagpole.  I waved, but she was not looking in my direction, so I quickly put my hand down, not wanting to look awkward.  I nervously watched as she approached and waved again when she turned her head toward me.  She stepped off the path and walked toward me.

“Hey, Greg,” Carrie said, smiling.  She put her bag down and sat on the grass facing me.  “Can I hang out here?”

Yes, I thought.  Of course you can.  It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve actually gotten to talk to you, and I’ll never make you fall in love with me if we don’t talk more often.  But all I said out loud was, “Sure.  What’s up?”

“I’m meeting with my Kairos leader,” Carrie explained.  “But I’m early.”

“You’re in Liz’s group, right?”

“Yeah!”

“We were in the same dorm as freshmen.  She was across the hall, one down from me.”

“That’s cool!  Whose Bible study are you in this year?”

“Joe Fox and Lydia Tyler.  The group is so huge, we usually read the Scripture together and then break up into three smaller groups.”

“How big is it?”

“Usually around twenty-five.”

“Twenty-five!  Why so many?”

“Honestly, I think it’s because, with all the Kairos groups, and all the specialized Bible studies for certain groups of people, there was only one group left for all the rest of us.”

“Interesting.  You couldn’t be in a Kairos group?”

“The Kairos ministry is for training future leaders.  You have to be asked to be in a Kairos group, and they don’t invite seniors.  Unless you’re leading a group as a senior and you were in one before, like Liz.”

“I see,” Carrie replied.  “Hmm.”

I decided not to share my exact thoughts about Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s Kairos ministry, since Carrie was part of a Kairos group.  As I was thinking about what else to say, Carrie broke the silence and asked, “What are you working on?  Is that the course catalog?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I was trying to figure out if it’s possible for me to graduate at the end of this year, what classes I still need to take, stuff like that.”

“That’s exciting!  What are you doing after graduation?”

“I’m going to be a teacher.”

“That’s so cool!”

“I’m still trying to figure out if I’ll do my teacher certification through Jeromeville, or Capital State, or somewhere else.  I know Jeromeville’s program is one year, and it’s only fall through spring.  If I graduate in June, then I’ll be able to do that, but if I don’t graduate until December of ’98, then I’ll either have to wait until the fall of ’99 to start student teaching, or see if anyone has a program where I can start in the winter.”

“I hope you get all that figured out.”

“I got this Graduation Progress Tracker form in the mail last week, I guess they send it to all the seniors.  They list all the graduation requirements and what you’ve done and what you still need.  And I also have some prerequisites for the teacher certification program that I have to be able to fit in.”  I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye walk up to the flagpole.  “There’s Liz over there,” I said, pointing.

“Oh, yeah,” Carrie replied.  “I should go.  Good luck figuring that out!  Keep me posted.”

“I will!  Tell Liz I said hi.”  I watched as Carrie got up and walked to the flagpole.  She said something to Liz, who then turned in my direction.  I waved, and both of them waved back.


My new house on Acacia Drive was a quick three minute walk to church, and in addition to Sunday mornings, I was there every Wednesday night as a volunteer with The Edge, the youth group for junior high school students.  Before the students arrived, the leaders met to catch up, go over the events of the upcoming night, and share prayer requests.

“What’s up,” Taylor Santiago said as I approached the group.  I had known Taylor the longest of any of the other Edge leaders; he lived on the floor above me freshman year.  Taylor was also the one who first suggested I get involved with The Edge.

“Not much,” I said.  “I’m just trying to figure out if I can graduate in June.”

“I thought you said you were going to go four years plus one more quarter.”

“I just assumed I had to, with all the math classes I still have to take and the prerequisites for the teacher training program.  But I was looking at stuff earlier, and if I understand correctly, I think I will be able to graduate.  I wanted to take some more of Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes, but I might have to skip those if I don’t want an extremely full class schedule.  They don’t fulfill any requirements at this point.”

“Have you filed your intent to graduate yet?” Noah Snyder asked, having overheard this entire conversation so far.  Noah was the youth group intern, being paid part time by the church to lead The Edge.

“Not yet,” I replied, “but I want to do that in the next few days.  I just hope I understand everything correctly, and that I don’t get to graduation day and someone tells me that I can’t actually graduate, that I have to take more classes.”

“That won’t happen,” Taylor said.  “I’m pretty sure someone will contact you if you file for graduation and you haven’t met the requirements yet.”

“Kathleen Sutton works with the office that handles all that stuff,” Noah added.  “You could probably ask her to look over your form.”

“That’s good to know,” I said.  Kathleen Sutton was a youth group parent; the Suttons occasionally hosted lunch socials for the church college group at their house. Kathleen’s daughter was in The Edge last year, and she had an older son in high school and a younger son in the preteen youth group.  “When I got that Graduation Progress form, it had a number to call.  I’m sure between that person and Kathleen Sutton, I can get all of this figured out.”

“Are you going to stay at Jeromeville for your teacher certification?” Noah asked.

“If I can, I’d like to.  I know the professor who does math education, and I’d be able to stay here and keep working with The Edge.”

“I’m going to stay in Jeromeville, but commute to Cap State for mine.  It’s cheaper, and it just works out better for me.  They have a really good program for elementary school teachers.  I’m not sure what they’re like for high school teachers, though.”

“If staying in Jeromeville ends up too complicated, I’ll look into Cap State too,” I said.  Capital State University was about twenty miles from Jeromeville on the other side of the Drawbridge, and Noah’s mention of their program being cheaper started to give me doubts about my tentative plan.  However, Mom always told me not to worry about money, that we would find a way to pay for things.  My grandmother had started a college savings account for me when I was very young, and with the academic scholarships I had received, we had hardly had to use that money so far.  I would also have to find a way to pay for school if I stayed at UJ for part of a fifth year as an undergraduate, so I would keep that under consideration if any options that did not include graduating in June were still on the table.


When I got home, I went straight to my backpack, in the large bedroom that I shared with my roommate Sean.  Sean was sitting at his desk typing a paper on his computer; a cluster of helium balloons, including one that said “Happy Birthday” and another that had the number “22” written on it in black marker, was rising from the floor next to him, anchored by a weight at the end of a ribbon a few feet long.

“It’s your birthday?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Sean replied.

“I didn’t know that.  Happy birthday!  Did you do anything fun?”

“I went out to dinner with some friends from the wildlife bio major tonight.  We just got back a little while ago.  And I’m flying home tomorrow to spend the weekend with my family.”

“That’ll be nice,” I said, excited for Sean that he will get to see his family, but also excited that I would have the bedroom to myself all weekend, able to flirt with girls on Internet Relay Chat and not worry about someone looking over my shoulder.

I got out my course catalog and the Graduation Progress form.  I had completed my general education requirements and the classes required for everyone regardless of major.  The only requirement remaining was for the major itself, and I needed three more upper-division mathematics classes, including 150B, the continuation of my current abstract algebra class.  With two quarters left, I had plenty of time to take those.  I was limited in which classes I could take, since not all classes were offered every quarter, or even every year.  But I was sure I could find three that would work with my schedule.  Math 150B was offered every year in the winter, and at this point I did not really care what the other two classes would be.

The tricky part would be preparing for the teacher training program.  In my state, universities do not offer education majors; instead, teacher training is a one year graduate program taken after completing a bachelor’s degree.  I would have to reapply to UJ by the end of November, this time as a graduate student applying to the School of Education.  I was missing three classes for that program’s requirements: Educational Psychology, a lecture class offered by the physical education department called Healthful Living, and one more English class of my choice.  I looked up to see which quarters those classes were offered, and I came up with a plan.  In the winter, I would take Ed Psych, Math 150B, and some other math class that I could fit into my schedule, and in the spring, I would take Healthful Living, one more math class, and Fiction Writing for the English class.  Fiction Writing was a lower-division class, but it sounded the most fun and interesting out of all the English options, and I would still have enough total upper-division units to graduate.  Healthful Living was only a two-unit class, so I would need one more class in the spring in order to be a full-time student.  I would be able to take one more of Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes after all; he taught Christian Theology in the spring.  For the winter, I would have just barely enough units to be a full-time student, so maybe I could look at doing another two-unit internship tutoring at Jeromeville High School, as I had done last spring.

At that moment, something caught my eye at the bottom of the Graduation Progress Tracker.  A few lines of small print at the bottom informed me of a number to call if I had questions.  Apparently, as fourth-year student, I had been assigned to a specific person, the one who had filled out this form, and that person would process my application to graduate, as well as answer any questions I might have.  The lower left corner of the form said, “Completed by,” with a blank for that person to initial, and in that blank were the handwritten initials “KS.”  I remembered Noah’s words a few hours earlier, telling me that Kathleen Sutton worked in the office that processed these forms.  Could Kathleen Sutton be the “KS” who filled out my form?  Did I just happen to get assigned to the one person in that office whom I knew personally?  How many of these graduation processing specialists were there, and what were the chances of that?  It was probably a coincidence; there were plenty of people in the world with the initials K.S.  I had nothing more to do at this point for graduation planning, and I had finished everything I needed to do for tomorrow’s classes, so I went to bed.


I saw the date on Sunday morning’s newspaper; it was my brother Mark’s birthday, sixteen years old now. I reminded myself to call home this afternoon, although I had already sent him a card with a fart joke on it.

I had not yet turned in my application to graduate.  I was nervous.  What if I was not ready to graduate?  I would apparently have my requirements done by the end of the school year, but what if I was misinterpreting the requirements?  And was I really ready to finish my undergraduate time and move on to the next phase?  A few weeks ago, when I thought I would need another quarter or two to graduate, I was looking forward to staying in Jeromeville longer.  Jeromeville was my home now.  I had a community here.  Advanced mathematics was getting weird and abstract, I did not enjoy it as much as I used to, and I was ready to be done with school.  But filing for graduation would bring closer the inevitable day when I would leave Jeromeville and go out into the world.

All of this was still on my mind when I got to church that morning.  The worship team played a fast song to begin the service, and when they played a slow song later, I sat and prayed about these things.  I asked God to give me peace about my plan to graduate at the end of the year and do my student teaching through UJ.  Send me a sign that this is your will for my life, I asked silently.

God often speaks to me through odd coincidences.  Some people have told me that I pay too much attention to this sort of thing, but God knows that it will get my attention.  The sign that I prayed for came quickly, as I was wandering aimlessly on the patio after church mingling with others.  I saw Kathleen Sutton ahead of me in the direction I was walking; she turned and looked at me, and I waved.  “Hello,” I said.

“Greg,” Kathleen replied.  “I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”

“What do you mean?”

“I work in the office that processes graduation applications.  We were doing this year’s Graduation Progress Trackers, and I recognized your name on one of the forms I filled out.”

“Oh, wow,” I said.  Kathleen Sutton was “KS” after all.

“I saw your transcript,” Kathleen continued.  “A 3.9 grade point average, and all As in all those hard math and science classes.  You have a pretty impressive academic record.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“What are you planning to do after you graduate?”

“I’m going to be a teacher.  I didn’t think about being a teacher until just last year, but I was planning out the rest of my year this year, and I’ll be able to do all the requirements for the teacher certification program before the end of the year.”

“Good for you!  We definitely need good teachers who know their subject matter.  I’m sure you’ll do great.”

“Thanks.  Oh, by the way, if I’m misunderstanding something, and I file for graduation but I don’t actually have all the right classes, will someone let me know?”

“Definitely.  But I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

When I got home, I changed into an old pair of shorts and went to the small shed in the backyard.  Our house only had a covered carport, not a locked garage, so I typically left Schuyler, my bicycle, in the shed.  I had a long ride I would occasionally do around the entire perimeter of the city of Jeromeville, and with the October days getting shorter, I wanted to do my long ride again before it got too cold and gray.  I had sat down once with a ruler and a map and estimated the ride at fifteen miles, and the fastest I had ever completed the ride was just a few seconds short of an hour.  I rode west on Coventry Boulevard across Highway 117, worked my way through the neighborhoods of West Jeromeville, then headed back east on Fifth Street along the row of walnut trees that separated the city of Jeromeville to my left from the university’s agricultural research fields to my right.  After crossing back to the east side of 117, I cut through campus, past the North Residential Area and the Rec Pavilion, and emerging into downtown Jeromeville next to the Death Star building on Third Street.  Although I was trying for record time, pedaling as fast as I could, I slowed down a little bit through downtown, with its many cars, bicycles, and people.  I worked my way to the Cornell Boulevard underpass, still too narrow for its traffic volume, southeast past Murder Burger and across Highway 100.

I had learned quickly as a freshman that I would feel a bit out of place in a university town like Jeromeville with its hippies and extreme politics.  But now, as a senior, I was on a timeline to graduate eight short months from now, and I did not want to leave.  Jeromeville had grown on me.  It was the place where I found friends, and the place where I found Jesus.  I had gotten involved with youth ministry at church and built meaningful connections beyond the campus bubble.  Jeromeville, in all its quirkiness, was home.

I continued along the southernmost neighborhoods of Jeromeville, through the neighborhood where Eddie, John, Xander, and Lars had lived when I first met them sophomore year, and into a section of the Greenbelts where those guys had held the Man of Steel disc golf competition.  I continued east all the way to Bruce Boulevard, the easternmost of Jeromeville’s north-south thoroughfares, and turned to the north.  About a mile north, I crossed back over Highway 100, where a new neighborhood was under construction, rare in a city like Jeromeville where suburban sprawl is so hated.  I turned west on Coventry Boulevard and rode for almost three miles, then turned into the Greenbelts of north Jeromeville, emerging on Maple Drive about half a mile north of my house.  I looked at my watch when I got home: 58 minutes, 57 seconds, a new record for me.

Time moves forward.  Children grow up and become university students, who then go out into the real world and have children of their own.  But, although time was definitely moving forward, maybe I did not have to leave Jeromeville yet.  I would still have one more year at UJ in the teacher training program, so I would be a registered student through June of 1999.  If I did not get into UJ’s program, Jeromeville was close enough to commute to Capital State.  After that, there were plenty of high schools in commuting distance from Jeromeville where I could work; maybe I could even teach at Jeromeville High.  If I did leave Jeromeville eventually, as I would do in 2001, it would happen when the time was right, when I felt ready to move on.


Readers: Did your education and career end up happening according to your plan or projected timeline? Did you even plan these things in advance? Tell me about it in the comments.

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


October 10, 1997.  A silly party game at Scott and Joe’s apartment. (#148)

As I walked from the parking lot toward Evans Hall for the Jeromeville Christian Fellowship meeting, I quickly realized that I was probably underdressed wearing just a t-shirt and jeans.  October days in Jeromeville were usually still warm and summerlike; I had worn shorts to class that morning.  But the nights were quickly becoming cooler, and the sun was setting earlier.  It was almost completely dark by the time JCF started that night, and I felt a chill in the air.  Once I got inside, though, I would probably be more comfortable.

I had more friends at this point of my life than I had ever had before, but I was definitely a follower, not a leader, when it came to socializing.  Although JCF was supposed to be a time of worship, prayer, and Scripture, one of the things I looked forward to the most was the possibility of people socializing afterward, whatever form that may take.  I did not typically initiate social activities; I was nervous, and afraid of rejection, and I was not always familiar with the kinds of things that normal people did for fun.  But I also did not want to be presumptuous and invite myself somewhere that I was not welcome.  And, of course, all of this socializing had not led to any better luck with finding a girlfriend.  I had never had a girlfriend, and I had never even so much as kissed a girl.

Now that I was taking my Christian faith more seriously, I was constantly being told to pray about this and submit to God’s will, but so far God’s will did not involve a girlfriend for me.  Nothing had ever worked out with anyone from my year or the year behind me.  There were two cute sophomore girls at JCF whom I was interested in, Carrie Valentine and Sadie Rowland, but so far no opportunities had come up to make anything happen.  Maybe I would have better luck with this year’s new freshmen, although that might bring up questions of whether or not an 18-year-old was too young for me. I was a 21-year-old senior hoping to graduate in 1998.

Sarah Winters and Liz Williams were working the name tag table.  “Hey, Greg,” Sarah said, writing “Greg” on a name tag.  At the same time, a guy named Silas walked up to Liz’s table, and she filled out a name tag for him.

“Hey,” I said, noticing something interesting.  I pointed back and forth between Sarah and Silas and said, “We’re all in Math 115 together.”

“Oh, yeah!” Sarah replied.

“How do you like that class so far?” Silas asked.

“Seems pretty straightforward.  Unlike Math 150.”

“I know!  150 gets kind of weird.”

“What class is that?” Liz asked.

“Number theory,” Sarah replied.  Sarah, Silas, and I were all mathematics majors.  I found it noteworthy that Silas had already taken Math 150, since it was usually a senior class and Silas was only a junior, a year behind me.  But I knew that he was some kind of mathematical genius who had completed a lot of university-level coursework before beginning at the University of Jeromeville.

I looked around the room and found an open seat next to Scott Madison and Amelia Dye.  “Hey, Greg,” Scott said.  “What are you doing after large group?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“You’re coming to my place.”

“What for?”

“Just hanging out.”

“Okay,” I said.  Finding appropriate situations for socializing can be difficult and scary for me sometimes, but other times it was easy, like tonight.

After large group ended, Scott told me he had some things to get ready, and he reminded me to show up at his apartment in half an hour.  I walked around, looking for other people to say hi to.  I saw Sadie a few rows behind me; I walked to the aisle and back toward her.  “Hey,” I said after she turned around and saw me.

“Hi, Greg!  How was your week?”

“Not bad,” I said.  “We had a performance yesterday for chorus.  They’re renaming the drama building after a professor who was instrumental in founding the department, and we had to sing this weird-sounding modern piece with lyrics that she wrote.”

“That’s cool!  I heard about that in the newsroom.  Oh, yeah, did you see I got my first article published in the Daily Colt this week?”

“I did!  I saw your name on the article.  It was the one about the girl who didn’t know she was pregnant, right?”

“Yeah!  Isn’t that crazy?  How do you not know you were pregnant?”

“I guess it’s possible, if you don’t gain much weight during the pregnancy.  But still, her doctor told her multiple times she wasn’t pregnant.  Isn’t it your job as a doctor to know what’s going on with your patient?”

“I know.  At least she and the baby are okay.  And I didn’t really want to write fluff pieces like this, but it’s a start.”

“Yeah.  Put in your time doing this now, and then later you can write the kind of stories you really want to write.”

“I want to write about city news and politics.  Last year’s city writers were way too nice to the crazy liberals who run this town.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Someone needs to tell the truth, and not just suck up to them and their ilk.”

“Their what?”

“I never told you that story?”

“No,” Sadie replied.  I proceeded to tell her about the time I got into an argument on the Quad last year with a City Council member who was against a plan to widen an underpass.  Traffic backed up horribly at that underpass, but according to these elected officials, wide four-lane roads do not belong in a small town like Jeromeville.  “She told me that I was ‘of a different ilk.’”

“‘Ilk,’” Sadie replied.  “That’s a funny word.”

“Seriously.  Jeromeville has fifty-six thousand people.  That’s not a small town.  That’s big enough to have traffic jams.”

As the conversation paused for a few seconds, I contemplated whether or not to invite Sadie to Scott’s house, and if so, how to do so.  I did not feel right bringing an uninvited guest to someone else’s house.  But I really wanted to keep talking to her.  The point became moot, however, when Sadie said, “I should get going.  I’m really tired tonight.  I had a long day.”

“All right,” I replied.  “I’ll see you next week?”

“Yeah!  Have a good night!”  Sadie gave me a hug, then walked out of the building.


Scott led a Bible study on campus for freshmen, and when I arrived at Scott’s apartment that night, a good sized crowd had already shown up.  I recognized Tim and Blake, two freshmen from Scott’s study, sitting and talking to Scott. My Bible study that year was Joe Fox, Scott’s roommate; he was sitting next to his girlfriend, Alyssa Kramer. Kieran Ziegler, John Harvey, Brent Wang, a freshman girl named Chelsea, Silas the math major, and a few others were also there.

Blake and Scott were talking about weddings. Blake said that he had recently been to his cousin’s wedding, and Scott and Amelia were currently planning their wedding next summer. I walked to a couch and sat down, not in a mood to think about weddings. I would probably never have one myself.

After about twenty more minutes of mingling and snacks, Amelia began asking if anyone had ever played a party game called Psychologist.  “Have any of you guys ever played that?  One player is the psychologist, and he has to ask the others questions?”  One other person had some vague memory of the game, but most of us did not know this game.  Amelia continued explaining, “So the psychologist leaves the room, and everyone else decides that they’re going to answer the questions, like, in some certain way.  Not necessarily if it’s true or false, but according to something else.  We all know how we’re answering, and the psychologist has to figure it out.”

“I don’t get it,” Alyssa replied.

“It’ll make more sense when we start playing.  Can we try it?  It’s a fun group game.”  No one objected.  “Who wants to be the psychologist?” Amelia asked.

“I’ll do it,” John said.  “I feel like I should, since I’m a psych major.”

John stepped outside and closed the door behind him.  Amelia explained, “So the way I learned the game is that you answer the questions as if you are the person on your left.  So, for example, Brent is sitting to the left of Greg, so if John asks, ‘Greg, are you a math major,’ Greg would say no, because Brent isn’t a math major.  If John asks, ‘Greg, do you play piano,’ Greg would say yes, because that’s Brent’s answer.  Brent plays piano.  So do we all understand?”

“What if you don’t know the answer?” Brent said.  “Like, what if he asks me, I don’t know, ‘Have you ever been to France?’  I would answer for Scott, but I don’t know if Scott has ever been to France.”

“Just say I don’t know,” Amelia explained.  “I’ll go get John, and we can start playing.”  Amelia went outside to tell John to come in.

“It’s cold out there!” John said.  “You guys ready?”

“We’re ready,” Amelia replied.  “Just start asking yes-or-no questions.”

“Okay,” John said.  “Joe, is it cold outside?”

Joe appeared confused.  “Yes?” he replied.

“You should probably ask people questions about themselves,” Amelia explained.  “That’ll make this easier to figure out.”

“Okay,” John said.  “Amelia, are you getting married next year?”

Blake was on Amelia’s left.  “No,” Amelia replied.

“Hmm,” John said.  “Greg, are you tall?”

“No,” I said.  I was six foot four, but Brent, to my left, was shorter than average for a male university student.  A few people giggled, and Brent gave me a look as if to express humorous annoyance at me calling him out for being short.

“Chelsea, are you female?”

Tim was sitting to Chelsea’s left.  “No,” Chelsea replied, trying to hold back giggles.  A few others laughed.

John continued asking questions that had very obvious answers.  “Brent, do you have dark hair?”

“No,” dark-haired Brent said, with blond Scott to his left.

“Joe, are you a man?”

“Yes,” Joe replied.  I was on his left.

“Hmm,” John contemplated.  This was the first time someone had given an answer that was actually true.  “Greg, are you a man?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Alyssa, are you a man?”

“Yes,” Alyssa replied emphatically, with Joe to her left.  John continued this pattern of asking the same question to multiple people, and after about fifteen minutes, he figured out that we were all answering as if we were the person sitting to our left.

“I wanna play again,” Blake said.

“We can’t really play again, because everyone knows the secret now,” Tim replied.

“We could just think of a different way to answer the questions,” Amelia explained. “Who wants to be the psychologist this time?”

Silas volunteered to be the psychologist; he went into the bathroom and turned on the fan, instead of going outside in the cold.  “Anyone have any ideas of how to answer the questions?”

“We could answer for the person sitting, I don’t know, three to the right,” Alyssa suggested.

“That’ll be too easy to figure out, after we did the person to the left,” John replied.

“Hey, I have an idea,” Blake said.  “We all pick someone, and we look at that person’s hand.  If the hand is palm up, we say yes, and if the hand is palm down, we say no.”

“That’s a great idea!” Amelia said.

“I’ll do the hand,” Kieran said.  “I’m sitting in an armchair, so it’s easy to see.  If my left hand is palm up, say yes, and if my left hand is palm down, say no.”

We called Silas back into the room.  Kieran sat in the armchair with his palm down.  “Tim, are you a freshman?”

“No.”

“Greg, are you in my Math 115 class?”

“No.”

“Kieran, are you a man?”

I looked around the room, where I could see people trying to hold back laughter.  Kieran’s own left hand was the only thing requiring him to claim that he was not a man, and Silas had unwittingly exposed this just three questions into the game.  But Kieran had the perfect response.  “Hmm,” he said loudly as he furrowed his brow and scratched his chin with his left hand, palm up, as if pantomiming being deep in thought.  “Yes,” he said while his palm was up.  A ripple of giggles flowed through the room, since everyone but Silas knew exactly while Kieran moved his hand that way.  Kieran then put his hand back down, palm still up.

Silas, confused about why everyone was laughing, asked, “Tim, do you wear glasses?”

“Yes.”

“Greg, do you wear glasses?”

I did not.  “Yes,” I said.

“Brent, do you wear glasses?”

Brent did wear glasses, but Kieran had switched his hand to the palm down position as Silas was asking the question.  “No,” Brent said.

The questions went around in circles for almost an hour, with people occasionally laughing when humorous answers were given.  At one point, Silas asked me if I was tall; Kieran’s hand was palm up, so I said yes.  Next, Silas asked Chelsea if she was tall; she was five foot two, but Kieran’s hand was still palm up, so she said yes.  That made people laugh.  Kieran switched his hand as Silas was asking other people if they were tall, and he inadvertently asked me again with Kieran’s palm down this time.

“No,” I said.

Silas paused, realizing what had just happened.  “Wait,” he said.  “Earlier, you said you were tall.”  I smiled silently, wondering if he was finally figuring this out.  “Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”

“No.”

Silas thought about this.  “Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”

“No.”

“Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”

“No.”

Kieran switched his hand, grinning.  “Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”

“Yes.”

“Greg, are the Captains your favorite football team?” Silas asked.  I was wearing a Bay City Captains shirt that night.

“Yes.”

“Greg, are the Captains your favorite team?”

“Yes.”

Kieran switched his hand.  “Are the Captains your favorite team?”

“No.”

This continued for another several minutes.  Silas seemed to be counting how many times we answered one way before switching to the other answer, and Kieran wisely switched his hand after inconsistent numbers of questions and answers.  Silas began watching things in the room more carefully, and he eventually noticed Kieran’s hand and figured it out.

“Finally!” Silas said.  “That was a good one.”

“I know,” Kieran replied.  “I thought I was in trouble when you asked if I was a man.”

“That was hilarious,” I said.  “Brilliant performance.”

By the time our second game of Psychologist ended, it was getting late, and the crowd at Scott and Joe’s apartment began dispersing.  I drove home, quietly unlocked the door because I did not know if any of my roommates were asleep yet, and went to bed.

It took me a while to fall asleep, and I thought about the events of that night as I drifted off to sleep.  Psychologist was a fun game.  I wondered if I would ever be able to introduce the game to a new group.  I never did, though, and to this day, I have only played it that one time.  The game was fascinating.  At first, everything looks like nonsense, but after asking enough questions, and making enough careful observations, some order begins to emerge in the players’ replies.

Would I really never get to experience my own wedding?  I did not know, but it sure felt like it.  Everyone else was getting into relationships.  Scott and Amelia were getting married soon, and so was Josh, one of my roommates.  I knew plenty of girls, but I did not know how to make anything happen.  Sadie was lots of fun to talk to, but she always seemed too busy to do fun things after JCF.  Carrie Valentine was not even at large group tonight; I had not talked to her all week.  When would it be my turn?  Maybe life really was like a game of Psychologist.  Maybe God was working behind the scenes in ways that I could not understand.  Things happen to everyone that make no sense.  But after asking enough questions and enough observation, an order begins to emerge.  It takes time to understand what is happening, sometimes decades or more, but God has a plan, and someday it will all make sense.


Readers: What’s your favorite party game? Tell me about it in the comments.

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