February 14-16, 1998. Where are you going? (#163)

I turned into the parking lot for the camp, exhausted.  This trip up the mountain had taken about two hours longer than it would have taken in good weather.  A few feet of snow blanketed the ground, but the parking lot had been plowed, and it was no longer snowing.  Much of the snow from the parking lot had been piled in one spot, a little ways away from the entrance to the lodge.  I found that somewhat odd, but I thought nothing of it since I had not had much experience with snow in my lifetime.  I parked and went inside.

A student named Samantha Willis was the first one to see me.  “Greg!” she said.  “Where have you been all day?”

“I just got here,” I said.  “I had to take a test.”

“On a Saturday?”

“Yes.  It’s the test to get into the teacher training program.  It’s given all over the state, but the testing dates are always Saturdays so it doesn’t conflict with anyone’s classes.”

“Greg!” I heard Taylor’s voice from the next room.  He walked to where I was and continued, “Glad you made it.”

“It was crazy getting up here!  I guess they were only letting one car up the mountain at a time.  Is that so there aren’t as many cars on the road in the snow?”

“I think so.  Erica and the other kids who stayed back are outside, playing in the snow.  Or you can hang out here inside.  You can put your bags over there.”

“I’m gonna go outside for a bit, then I’ll come back in later.”  I put my bags where Taylor pointed, then walked outside.  About ten kids were out there with Erica Foster, who was helping a girl onto a sled as her younger brother Danny, one of the students, playfully dumped snow on her head.  Erica pushed the girl down a gently sloping hill as the others built snowmen and threw snowballs. Around thirty kids came to this camp; today was the day for skiing and snowboarding, and the rest of the kids and leaders were doing that at a resort about twenty miles away.

I would have enjoyed coming to something like this when I was of middle school age.  This camp was part of The Edge, the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church, and I knew that not all of the kids who came to youth events came from families at the church.  Some came from small churches with no youth groups, and some got invited by friends at school.  For some of these students, this youth group is the first they really hear about Jesus.

One of the snowballs flying across the grounds came right at me, and I jumped aside just in time.  “Hey!” I shouted at Shawna Foreman; I could tell from her arm position, and the way she was giggling, that she had thrown it.

“Did you just get here or something?” Shawna asked.

“Yes,” I said, explaining to her about the test.

I wandered over to the hill and tried sledding a few times.  Each time, the same thing happened: about halfway down the hill, the combination of my large size and the sled’s small size caused me to fall off the sled on my back.  I was not going fast enough to be hurt, though.  It was fun.

About an hour after I arrived, I had returned to the lodge to dry off, and I heard cars outside, then voices and footsteps. The skiing and snowboarding group had returned. My brain was wrapping around the significance of the numbers for the first time.  The majority of these students knew how to either ski or ride a snowboard, and most of those were experienced enough, and from wealthy enough families, that they brought their own equipment.  This was very different from where I grew up; Plumdale was a much more blue-collar community than Jeromeville, and a bit farther from anywhere with snow in the winter.

“What did they do?” Martin Rhodes asked as he walked in with the students.  “They plowed the parking lot while we were gone, and they piled all the snow on top of my car!”

“Wait!” I said, remembering what I had seen in the parking lot when I arrived.  “That pile of snow in the parking lot?  That’s your car under there?”

“Yes!” Martin replied.  “How am I supposed to get out?  Oh, hey, Greg.  You made it.”

“Yes.  But it took forever.  They were only letting one car up the mountain at a time, so we all had to take the off-ramp at Apple Canyon, stop at the stop sign, and get back on.  It took almost two hours to get from Blue Oaks to Apple Canyon.”

“Two hours?” Adam White, the youth pastor, said; he had walked up as I was talking to Martin.  “That’s only eight miles!  So you averaged four miles per hour?”

“Pretty much,” I said.  I noted in my mind that that was such a typical Adam comment.  Although he had a degree in psychology, I heard someone else at the church once describe Adam as a math guy who just didn’t study math, and as a mathematics major myself, I would definitely agree that Adam had a mathematical brain.

We had dinner about half an hour after everyone returned from the ski resort, then we gathered in the main room for Bible study.  The Bible study was led by a guy named Jonathan, not someone from our church; he was a youth pastor from a church in a different part of the state who had this side gig speaking at youth camps.  The theme for this camp was “Where Are You Going?”; a large banner with this title on it hung on the wall behind where Jonathan stood to teach.  That evening’s session was about Jesus calling the first disciples; they were fishermen, but Jesus said he would make them fishers of men.  He gave their lives a new direction.

Adam got up in front of everyone after Jonathan finished.  “Today is Valentine’s Day, as you know, and you might have noticed, on the walls here, there are hearts with each of your names on it.  For the next fifteen minutes, we are going to go around and write Valentines to each other.  Sign as many people’s hearts as you can.  Write encouraging notes to each other.  Say something nice.  Tell people what you like about them.  But keep it appropriate.”

This kind of activity made me both excited and nervous.  I was very interested in what others would say to me, but I was nervous to be honest with others, because I did not want anything I said to be taken the wrong way.  I wrote to several of the kids I knew well how much I enjoyed seeing them at youth group every week.  I added slightly more personal messages for a few of them, like the ones who helped me with my Dog Crap and Vince movie a few months ago.  I also wrote to all of the leaders: Adam, Noah, Taylor, Martin, Erica, Courtney, Brody, Marlene, and Robert A. Silver III, who went by the nickname 3.  To each of them, I wrote something along the lines of how I enjoyed having gotten to know them over the last year.  For Taylor, I added something about having been friends since Day 1 of freshman year, and about having gone to In-N-Out Burger on the day it opened.

“Okay, now,” Adam announced after a while.  “You can go look at your own Valentine and see what people wrote to you.”  I walked over to mine, half expecting it to be mostly empty, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not.  About twenty kids had written messages to me, some of them just saying things like “hi,” but a few of them meaningfully expressing appreciation for my presence on the youth leadership, and reminiscing some of the fun memories of the last year.  All of the leaders had also written on my Valentine.  Abby, whom I had known since sophomore year and who was engaged to my housemate Josh, wrote:

Greg – I’m so glad you’ve gotten involved with The Edge! You’re great around these kids.  God has really given you a heart for youth, and it’s been good to see you discover that. You’ll make a great teacher too!  Your sister in Christ, Abby

In a corner of the Valentine was an unsigned message in Josh’s handwriting.  He had drawn a small dog with a speech bubble next to it, as if the dog were speaking, and inside the speech bubble he had written a quote from a well-known television commercial that I often laughed at and quoted around the house:

“Yo quiero Taco Bell”

I laughed at this.  It was silly, but having an inside joke of sorts is a way to know that someone really knows me and pays attention to me.  I really did feel appreciated tonight.

“Hey,” I said walking up to Abby and Josh.  “‘Yo quiero Taco Bell.’  That was funny.  And, Abby, thank you for your kind words.”

“I meant it.  You really are going to be a great teacher.”

“You are,” agreed Josh, who was currently in the teacher training program, to teach science.

“Thanks,” I said.

We sang worship songs and had another Bible study with Jonathan on Sunday morning.  He spoke about John 14, where Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Thomas did not know where he was going, but following Jesus was the way, just as it is for us.

After lunch, we had the afternoon to play in the snow, or hang out in the lodge.  I hung out in the lodge for a while, then went outside.  Danny Foster, Zac Santoro, and two other boys appeared to be making a snowman, but as I walked closer to them, I realized that the object they were shaping out of snow was not a snowman.

“Hey, Greg,” Zac said.

“Wait,” I replied.  “Is that–”

“A snow toilet!” Danny exclaimed.

“I have to remember this,” I said.  I pulled out my camera and took a picture of the snow toilet, with the boys posed around it.  A couple minutes later, Danny tried to sit on the snow toilet, and it collapsed.

“Oh, no,” Zac said.

“Can you rebuild it?” I asked.

“Let’s go!” Danny exclaimed, attempting to repair the snow toilet.

I walked a little farther from the lodge.  Courtney, Brody, Marlene, and 3 had engaged several students in a playful snowball fight.  Others were riding sleds and innertubes down the hill.  Playing in the snow was so much fun.  This was only the fourth time in my life that I had ever touched snow, since I grew up somewhere where it did not snow, and my family had no concept of fun family vacations or outdoor recreation.  Almost all of our family vacations consisted of driving long distances to visit relatives, where my brother and I had to sit still as the adults talked about boring adult things.  Although I sometimes lamented all of the experiences I missed out on in childhood, it was kind of nice to still be able to enjoy simple things that were new to me, like playing in the snow.

After dinner, and another Bible message from Jonathan, someone suggested playing a giant game of Mafia.  I had learned this game recently from one of the other Edge leaders, and we had taught it to some of the kids.  Mafia was a social deduction game that inspired many other similar games over the years, including the 21st-century Ultimate Werewolf card games and Among Us smartphone game.  A master of ceremonies would secretly give each player a role by drawing cards.  Two players were the Mafia.  Each round, all the players would close their eyes, and the two Mafia would open their eyes and silently decide on someone to eliminate.  Another player, the Doctor, had to guess whom the Mafia would eliminate, and if correct, the player would be revived and not leave the game.  A fourth player, the Detective, made one guess each round as to who the Mafia was, and the master of ceremonies would silently answer yes or no.  Then, everyone would open their eyes and discuss the results, eventually voting on one suspect to eliminate.  If both Mafia members were eliminated, the citizens would win; otherwise the Mafia would win.

Almost everyone from our group decided to play. I had never played with a crowd this big; the game could take a while if the Mafia were not flushed out quickly. Brody was the MC; he dealt cards to determine roles, and I was the detective.  “Close your eyes,” I heard Brody say.  While my eyes were closed, I heard him ask the Mafia to open their eyes and choose a victim, then he asked the Doctor for a player to revive.  Continuing, he said, “Detective, open your eyes.”  I looked up at Brody, and he said, “Point to a player to find out if they are Mafia.”  I pointed at Erica Foster, just because it would be hilarious if the sweet, innocent leader was Mafia.  Brody’s eyes widened, and he shook his head yes.  Perfect.  I guessed one right on the first try.  I did not want to be too obvious during the discussion, though, because that would put a target on myself.

 “Wake up,” Brody announced.  “Adam.  You mysteriously crashed into a tree while snowboarding.  They did a good job of making it look like an accident.”

“Aww, come on, really?  First one out?” Adam said.  I mostly kept quiet during the ensuing discussion.  The group voted to eliminate Zac Santoro.

“Zac was not Mafia,” Brody announced.  “Everyone close your eyes.”

I waited until it was my turn to open my eyes as the Detective.  I pointed at Shawna Foreman, still remembering the afternoon before when she threw the snowball at me.  Brody nodded in the affirmative, with an even more surprised look on his face.  Thirty-five people were playing, not including myself, and I had picked out the two Mafia on my first two guesses.  After I closed my eyes, I was distracted from the discussion because I was trying to work out the probability that I would choose correctly on my first two guesses.  The number of combinations of 2 out of a group of 35, that would be 35 times 34, divided by 2… which simplified to 35 times 17.  I knew 35 times 10 was 350. Then add 35 times 7, which would be, umm, 5 times 7 and 30 times 7.  So, 35 plus 210, or 245, and 350 plus 245 was 595.  So the probability of picking out the Mafia on the first two tries was 1 in 595, or less than 0.2 percent.  As I was doing the math, not paying attention to the discussion, I heard that Erica Foster was eliminated.  Perfect. One of the Mafia gone already, without me having to look suspicious as the Detective.  Maybe this would be a quick game after all.

It was not a quick game.

On the next round, when it was my turn to guess, I did not need to do anything, since I already knew who the two Mafia were.  Brody had to ask for my guess, though, because the other players did not know that I knew.  I pointed at Brody; he silently laughed while shaking his head no.  On the fourth round, I pointed at myself, also obviously not Mafia.

Brody began telling more and more gruesome stories about how the people died. “Samantha, you were found decapitated in the town square.  3, you were ripped apart by wild dogs.”  Danny Foster started a campaign to get me eliminated after the Mafia took out 3, and just like that, I was out.  I had information as the detective, and I never got a chance to use it.

One by one, Shawna, as the Mafia, continued eliminating all of the players, drawing no suspicion to herself.  And one by one, the townspeople continued eliminating everyone but Shawna, drawing a collective gasp every time Brody announced that the eliminated suspect was not Mafia.  Finally, the game was down to just one leader and two students: Taylor, Shawna, and Stanley Houston, one of the boys who had built the snow toilet.  Shawna was trying to convince Stanley that Taylor was the Mafia.  In desperation, Taylor said, “This is our last chance to get this right.  If we pick the wrong person this time, then the Mafia will win, because the last townsperson will be dead after the next round.  So here goes: I’m the detective.  And Shawna is Mafia.”

“He’s lying!” Shawna replied.  “I’m the detective, and Taylor is Mafia!”  I knew they were both lying, but it was interesting to see how desperation had inspired this bold move.  When it came time to vote, everyone held their breath and looked at Stanley, since they knew Shawna and Taylor would be voting for each other.  Stanley pointed at Shawna.

“Shawna is Mafia!” Brody exclaimed.  Everyone except Erica and Shawna erupted into cheers.  The townspeople finally won the game, after the Mafia had taken out all of them except two.  We won at the last possible chance.

We had one last “Where Are You Going?” Bible study on Monday morning. We chose this weekend for Winter Camp because today was Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday, so there was no school even though it was Monday. The Bible study was about the beginning of Acts, when Jesus appeared to his disciples forty days after his resurrection.  He told them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Now they knew where they were going: far away to carry the Gospel to other lands.

After this, we packed up and headed home.  Since I had arrived late, no one was assigned to my car, but Zac and Danny asked if they could ride home with me.  I was fine with it; those two were a lot of fun.

In addition to our Valentines, we each got to keep two other things from the weekend.  One was an annual tradition for Winter Camp with The Edge: a mixtape with ninety minutes of Christian music of all different genres.  There were songs from some bands I was familiar with, like Jars of Clay, Five Iron Frenzy, DC Talk, and the children’s video series VeggieTales, of which I had seen two episodes.  Many artists on Edge Mix ‘98 were new to me.  Track 3 was called “What Would Jesus Do,” by a band called Big Tent Revival.

“What would Jesus do?” I said as the singer sang the same phrase, holding up my left wrist.  The other gift we all received that weekend was around my wrist, an embroidered bracelet with the letters “W.W.J.D.?,” which stood for this phrase.  These bracelets had recently become trendy among Christians, especially in youth and young adult groups, but some Christian celebrities and athletes had been seen wearing the bracelets too.

Zac and Danny fell asleep within the first half hour of the trip home, but I kept the music playing. Several tracks deep into side 2 of the mixtape, a song came on that kept asking in the chorus, “What’s your direction?”  This song seemed appropriate for a weekend with the “Where are you going?” theme.  I did not recognize the voice, so when it was safe to do so, I looked at the liner notes.  There was no song called “What’s Your Direction,” or any other phrase repeated in the song, but I analyzed the song list and discovered that this song was the oddly-titled “Ode to Chin,” by a band called Switchfoot.

In addition to being only my fourth time seeing snow, that weekend also held the distinction of being the first time I had ever heard Switchfoot.  They had another good song on Edge Mix 2001, but their major turning point in my consciousness would come in 2003, when they released the album The Beautiful Letdown.  This album was a crossover hit, one of the most successful Christian albums of all time, eventually going on to sell three million copies and spawn two mainstream top twenty hits.  Switchfoot’s music stayed true to Christian principles, but they presented these principles lyrically in a philosophical manner, without sounding preachy, gaining them fans outside the church as well.  They have been one of my favorite bands since my late 20s.

I would learn years later that Ode to Chin, as well as the album it came from, The Legend of Chin, were named after a childhood friend of the two brothers who founded Switchfoot.  I liked that song.  It made me think.  What was my direction?  Where was my life going?  I was going to be a teacher, I had that at least, but life still had many unanswered questions, and I would probably spend the rest of my life seeking the will and heart of God to figure those things out.

Readers: Does it snow where you live? Have you ever been to a winter camp? Tell me about it!

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February 8, 1998. A new weekly tradition. (#162)

“Friday at 2pm?” Adam, the youth pastor, asked me after church.

“I’ll be meeting you up there on Saturday,” I explained, “because I have to take the test Saturday morning for the teaching program.  Remember?  I told you?”

“That’s right.  You did.  Did you get directions to where we’re going?”


“And you have chains, just in case?  It might be snowing on the drive up.”


“The kids who are going skiing and snowboarding will be leaving Saturday morning, and the rest of the kids will be back at the retreat center playing in the snow all day.  So whenever you get there, you can hang out with the kids playing in the snow.  Erica and Taylor will be staying back too.  We’ll get back from snowboarding around dinner time.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Great!  I’ll see you there!  And good luck on that test.”

“I hear it’s not that hard.  But thanks.”

Adam walked off to find all of the other youth group leaders who would be at junior high school Winter Camp next weekend, to finalize plans with them.  I saw Erica and Courtney nearby, and Adam had already talked to them, so I went to say hi to them.

“You ready for Winter Camp?” Courtney asked.

“Kinda,” I replied.  “I’m not going to get there until Saturday afternoon, because I have to take that test to get into the teacher training program.”

“Oh, that’s right!”

“Good luck!” Erica said.  “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“Yeah.  It doesn’t seem hard,” I explained.  “What are you two doing the rest of today?”

“Swing dancing!” Erica replied excitedly.

“Have you ever been?” Courtney asked.  “You want to come?”

“No thanks,” I said.  “I don’t dance.  But I keep hearing about all these people getting into swing dancing all of a sudden.  Scott and Amelia and Joe and Alyssa were talking about it the other day.”

“Yeah.  We just started going last week.  It’s a lot of fun!  You should try it someday.”

“Maybe,” I replied, just to be polite.  I had no interest at all in swing dancing.  I just found the whole thing strange.  All of a sudden, this style of music and dancing from my grandparents’ childhood and youth was popular again, with people sometimes even dressing in fashions from that era for swing dance events.  And the people I knew who had gotten into swing dancing talked about it obsessively, as if swing dancing had become their entire lives, whereas I had never heard those people talk about any kind of dancing previously.  Swing dancing almost felt like a cult.  But if these people are having fun with it, good for them; I will not stand in their way.

Two new leaders had recently joined the youth group staff, freshmen from the University of Jeromeville whom I knew from the church college group and from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship: a tall, sandy-haired guy who went by the nickname 3, because he was the third one in his family to have that name, and a curly-haired girl named Marlene.  Everyone thought they were a couple, but they insisted they were just good friends.  They met on the first day of school this year; they lived on the same floor in the same dormitory.

I walked over to 3 and Marlene and said hi.  “How’s it going?” I asked.  “Are you two going to Winter Camp?”

“Yes!” Marlene exclaimed.  “I’m so excited!  You’re going, right?”

“I’ll be getting there a day late.  I have to take a test to get into the student teaching program next year.  I’m not worried about it, but it’s only given a few times a year, so I have to miss part of Winter Camp.”

“That’s too bad, but you do what you have to do,” 3 said.  “What are you up to the rest of the day?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.  “I have some reading to do, but that shouldn’t take long.  I was hoping to find something more interesting to do.”

X-Files!” Marlene exclaimed enthusiastically.

“Huh?” I asked, not expecting that response.  I had been watching The X-Files since the middle of season 1, during my senior year of high school, and the show aired on Sunday nights.  So, yes, I would be watching it tonight, but it seemed an odd thing for Marlene to get excited about.

“You should come!” Marlene continued.

“Come where?” I asked, now even more confused.

“To X-Files, at the De Anza house!”

“I don’t know about this.  People watch X-Files at the De Anza house?”

“Yeah!  This just started not too long ago.  They invited a bunch of people over to watch X-Files on Sunday nights.  They said we can invite anyone, and they’ll be doing this every week.”

“That sounds good.  Thanks for letting me know.”

“We’ll see you there?”

“Yeah.  Probably.”

I still felt a little uneasy about crashing the party, and I was disappointed that no one had told me about this new X-Files gathering.  I already felt like I got left out of things too often.  I looked around to see if any of the residents of the De Anza house were at church this morning.  I knew that some of them went to Jeromeville Assembly of God, so I would not see them here at Jeromeville Covenant.  I saw Ramon, so I walked over to him.  “Hey, Ramon?” I said.


“3 and Marlene just told me that you guys watch X-Files at your house on Sunday nights now.  Is that true?  Can I come over?”


“So, just like, show up at 9?”

“Actually, at 10.  We record the show and play it an hour later, because there’s a JCF leadership meeting on Sundays, and they don’t always get done by 9.”

“Okay.  I see.  I’ll be there then.  Tonight at 10.”

“Great!  I’ll see you then!”

The X-Files was a weekly supernatural science fiction television series.  The series followed two government agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who investigated cases involving unexplained and possibly paranormal events.  Mulder was a stereotypical conspiracy theorist, with his views shaped by a childhood incident in which his sister was supposedly abducted by aliens.  Scully, with a background in medicine, was assigned to be Mulder’s partner in order to bring a more rational view of the events of these cases.  Some episodes featured standalone storylines, whereas others had continuing story arcs about the existence of aliens and government coverups.

As I drove toward the house on De Anza Drive, my thoughts drifted back toward the fact that I had not been invited to this event.  No one would admit it formally, but I was of the perspective that JCF had a serious problem with cliques, mostly because I was usually on the outside.  For example, the Kairos ministry within JCF featured Bible studies specifically designed to prepare future student leaders.  These groups were handpicked by their leaders, and they often spent time with each other away from everyone else during retreats.  No one had ever considered inviting me, and sometimes it felt like I was growing apart from friends because of it.  Also, I never got asked to be housemates with the people who seemed to be at the center of these cliques.  Although I was friends with all six residents of the De Anza house, Eddie, John, Xander, Lars, Ramon, and Jason, I did not live there, and I felt like they were a sort of inner circle that I desperately wanted to be part of.  It stung a little that they had started this new weekly group around The X-Files and not invited me, particularly since I had been a fan of the show for longer than I had known any of them, even since before I had started school at UJ.

Ten o’clock on a Sunday night was not an ideal time to socialize.  That would get me home after eleven, and I had class the next morning at eight.  But I did not care.  It would be worth it.  I parked on the side of De Anza Drive and walked up to the house where my friends lived. I knocked on the door.

“Come in!” someone shouted from inside.

I walked in, not expecting to see what I did.  About fifteen or twenty people filled the couches and the floor of the living room.  Apparently this was a big gathering  “Hey!” Marlene said, waving at me; she sat next to 3 on the smaller of the two couches.  I recognized most of the people there, including some of the guys who lived there and other familiar faces from JCF.  “Who’s there?” I heard Eddie’s voice from the kitchen.

“Hey, Greg,” Xander, the sixth resident of the house, said, coming down the stairs.  “Glad you could make it.”

“Thanks,” I said, finding a free spot on the floor.

“Greg!” Eddie called out, emerging from the kitchen.  “Good to see you here!  You like X-Files?”

“Yeah.  I’ve been watching since the middle of season 1.  Marlene and 3 invited me.”

“Welcome!  We’ll be doing this every week there’s a new episode.”

I found an empty space on the floor, next to a freshman girl named Jen Powell.  “Hey,” she said to me.  Jen Powell was one of those people I often referred to by her first and last name, since I knew so many girls in those days named Jennifer or variations thereof.  There were three Jennifers among just her freshman class at JCF, plus several more among the older students, and two of them were here at the De Anza house tonight.

“What’s up?” I replied.

“Nothing.  Just had to study all weekend.  What about you?”

“Same.  I just found out about this group.”

“They’ve only done this a couple times.  Everyone from my Bible study came last time.”

“Nice!” I said.

“Are we all here?” Eddie asked.  “Ready to start?”

“I think so,” John replied.  He got up and walked to the VCR, rewound the tape, and began playing.  Someone turned the living room lights out, but the attached dining room light was still on, so it was not completely dark.

The episode began with a mom going to a grocery store with her daughter, who was carrying a creepy doll.  The daughter began complaining, the doll spoke in a creepy voice, and suddenly everyone else in the store began clawing at their own faces, with one store employee fatally stabbing himself.  It appeared that this would be a standalone episode, not connected to the government’s involvement with aliens. The first commercial began, and John pressed the fast-forward button on the remote control. The tape skipped forward past the commercials.

“Dude,” Lars said.  “That doll is totally making me think of Chucky, except it’s a girl.”  I had never seen any of the Child’s Play movies, featuring Chucky the murderous doll, but the comparison made sense.

As a commercial for an upcoming show on the same channel sped by on the screen quickly, John pressed Play, trying to time the button press so that the tape would go back to normal speed exactly at the end of the commercial.  As the tape slowed down, the screen transitioned to the next scene in the episode, where Mulder, in his office, calls Scully, who is on vacation in Maine, in the same town where the grocery store employee stabbed himself.  The opening credits began flashing at the bottom of the screen over the next few minutes of the episode.

“Nice,” 3 said, commenting on John’s timing.

“Did that say ‘Written by Stephen King and Chris Carter?’” John asked.  “Is it that Stephen King?”

“Yeah!” I said.  “I saw a commercial that this week’s episode was by Stephen King.  And that makes sense why they’re in Maine.”  Chris Carter, the other co-writer, I knew that name; he was one of the show’s creators.

“Do Stephen King stories always take place in Maine or something?” Jen Powell asked.

“Mostly,” I said.  “That’s where he’s from.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I was never allowed to read Stephen King.”

I had read several of Stephen King’s books, and I still was not used to the concept that some of my Christian friends grew up in the kind of environment where their parents did not let them watch or read certain things that they deemed inappropriate.  

At the next commercial, John attempted to skip the commercials again, but he missed the right time to start the show at normal speed again.  As Scully and the local police drove up to the house where the little girl with the doll lived, having noticed from security camera footage that she and her mother were the only people not acting strangely in the grocery store, we watched it all happen in high speed.  John had to back up and restart the tape at the correct point.  “Boo,” 3 taunted jokingly, and others joined in, booing John for missing the right time on the tape.

I continued watching the rest of the episode.  At one point, Scully realized that the doll was connected to these attacks, and the next time Mulder called her from the office, she asked him what he knew about folklore involving haunted dolls.  Mulder referenced Chucky, and Lars shouted, “I told you so!”  At the end, Scully destroyed the doll, but the final scene implied that someone else had found the now-mutilated doll, which still seemed to have its powers to possess people.

“That was creepy,” Jen Powell said.

“I know,” I said.  “Creepy dolls always make me think of my grandma.  She has some.”

“What is it with grandmas and creepy dolls?”

“Your grandma has creepy dolls too?”

“Hey, guys,” Eddie said, walking to me and Jen.  “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Jen said.

“Greg?  Will you be joining us every week?”

“I think so,” I said.  “This was fun.  It was nice getting to watch this with other people.”

“Great!  Hey, did you hear there’s gonna be an X-Files movie coming out soon?”

“I did, but I don’t know much about it.  That’ll be fun to see.”

“We’ll probably get a big group together to go.  I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks!  Definitely!”

That one episode was the only time the producers of X-Files collaborated with Stephen King.  It was creepy, and I would probably be thinking about that as I tried to fall asleep that night, but I enjoyed the episode. I also found the episode interesting, because Mulder, in his phone calls to Scully, was the one suggesting more rational explanations. Typically Scully was the more rational of the two.

The more I thought about it, I was probably not intentionally left out of the X-Files group because of cliquishness.  The group had just started recently at the time, and I was not very outspoken about being an X-Files fan, so the guys from the De Anza house probably just would not have thought to invite me right away.

The X-Files group at the De Anza house would become a regular weekly activity for me for much of the rest of the time I lived in Jeromeville.  The group continued even after some of that year’s residents of the De Anza house graduated and moved away.  I continued watching new episodes of The X-Files at the De Anza house all the way until November of 2001, a few months after I moved away from Jeromeville.  That night, I made the trip to Jeromeville, an hour drive from where I lived at the time, for the first episode of season 9, the show’s return after a break for the summer.  This ended up being the final X-Files watch party at the De Anza house; many of the remaining regulars had all moved away in 2001, and there were not enough people to keep the tradition alive.  After I heard that they had not continued their weekly watch parties, I wondered if maybe I was in fact the glue that kept that group together, although it probably had more to do with the fact that all of the original people at the De Anza house had graduated by then.

Season 9, in 2001-02, was the final season of the original run of The X-Files, although one more feature film was released in 2008, and the series was revived twice for short seasons in the 2010s.  I stayed with the show even through those revivals.  I definitely made the right decision to watch The X-Files at the De Anza house that night.  In addition to being an enjoyable show, The X-Files provided me with lots of great memories of socializing with some of the best friends I had in those days.  I was confident that I had way more fun there than I would have had if I had gone swing dancing.  I have more to say about swing dancing, but that is another story for another time.

The De Anza house, as it appeared in 2016

Readers: Did you ever have a tradition of watch parties, or watching a certain show with certain people? Tell me about it in the comments.

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January 23, 1998.  An almost perfect Friday. (#161)

In the winter of 1998, I began every school day with my internship in Mr. Gibson’s class at Jeromeville High School.  I was starting to feel like I was learning more about what not to do when I was a teacher someday.  Jeromeville was a university town, the locals placed a high value on education, and parents often bought their students fancy, expensive graphing calculators for math class.  The predominant model at the time was the Texas Instruments TI-82.  In those days, the Internet was emerging as a mainstream technology, and the kids all knew either how to download games onto their graphing calculators or copy games from their friends’ calculators.  Mr. Gibson’s teaching style was lecture-based and kind of dry, and half the class was tuned out, playing games on their calculators.  That just made me sad.  I thought about telling this to Mr. Gibson, but as a 21-year-old undergraduate intern, I did not feel right questioning a veteran teacher on his teaching style.

 As I was leaving, I passed by Jeromeville High students on their way from first to second period.  I saw a familiar slim brown-haired girl with glasses approaching; she was a senior named Sasha Travis, and she and her family went to my church.  I usually saw her in passing as I was leaving the high school after Mr. Gibson’s class, and I knew her well enough to wave and say hi.

“Hey, Greg!” Sasha exclaimed.  “How are you?”

“Pretty good.  Glad it’s Friday.”

“Me too!  Have a good weekend!”

“Thanks!  You too!”

I went straight to the university campus after I left Jeromeville High, as I always did.  I parked my bike near the Memorial Union and walked inside.  With almost an hour before my next class, I had time for one of my favorite daily rituals: reading the school newspaper, the Daily Colt.  At some point in my childhood, I started reading the local newspaper regularly every day, and I have done that ever since.  Jeromeville has a local newspaper, but my roommates subscribed to the nearby big-city newspaper, the Capital City Record, before I had any input into the issue, so these days I read the Record every morning before I leave the house.  That was how I got most of my news on the major issues of the day.  Then at some point during a break between classes, I would read the Daily Colt to get campus and local Jeromeville news.

I did not always read every story; I skimmed or outright ignored the ones that were less interesting.  I saw a story buried on page five about some plant pathology professor who had won some award, which I was about to skip until I noticed the by-line under the headline: “BY SADIE ROWLAND, COLT CAMPUS WRITER.”  Sadie was my friend, so I always read her articles.  I might see her tonight at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and if I told her I read her article, maybe she would like that.  It would give me something to say to her, at least.

After I read Sadie’s article, I found Joseph Tomlinson‘s weekly column. The Daily Colt was published Monday through Friday, and each of the five days of the week featured a different student columnist.  Typically two of them wrote about political issues, one from a liberal perspective and one from a conservative perspective, and the other three just wrote about their lives as students at the University of Jeromeville.  Joseph Tomlinson was in his second year of being the conservative columnist, and his column this week was on Jeromeville’s obsession with “small-town feel.”

The Jeromeville City Council had a distinct anti-corporate bias in those days, which is still the case today.  A running joke among Jeromevillians was that one cannot buy underwear in Jeromeville.  The local leaders believed that large chain department stores did not belong in a small town like Jeromeville.  While I saw the value in supporting small, locally owned businesses, I was hesitant to support government interference in the free market.  Also, this position was built on false pretenses to begin with, because whatever it was once, Jeromeville was not a small town anymore.  Sixty thousand people lived in the city limits, and another eight thousand lived on campus just outside the city limits.  And with no clothing stores in Jeromeville, people had to drive eight miles north to Woodville or twenty miles east to Capital City to shop, putting more pollution in the air.  The chain stores all went to Woodville instead, even though Woodville had only three-fourths the population of Jeromeville.

Recently, the corporate chains won a rare victory in Jeromeville with the opening of Borders Books.  This upset many people, but a bookstore was classy enough that it did not anger Jeromevillians as much as something like Walmart would have.  Joseph Tomlinson pointed out in his column that one of the City Council members owned a bookstore, so he should have recused himself from votes related to Borders because of a conflict of interest.  I agreed.  “Vote no on Small Town Feel,” Tomlinson concluded.  “Small Town Feel violates the American concept of freedom.”  I always do, Mr. Tomlinson.  I always do.

On Friday nights, I attended the large group meetings of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, back on campus.  When I arrived that night, I found an empty seat and sat down.  A guy with bushy blond hair wearing a collared shirt, slacks, and a flat gray driver cap sat next to me a few minutes later.  I had seen this guy around JCF before; he always stood out to me because he was more well-dressed than the typical university student, and because he wore cool hats.  “Hey,” I said as he sat down.  His name tag said “Jed.”

“Hi,” Jed replied.  “What’s up?”

“Not much.  Just glad it’s the weekend.”

“I know!  What was your name again?”

“Greg,” I said.  Then I pointed to his name tag and asked, “Jed?  I know I’ve seen you around before.”

“Yeah.  Jed.  It’s nice to meet you.” Jed shook my hand.  “What year are you?”

“I’m a senior.  You?”


“They’re starting, so we should probably be quiet,” I said in a loud whisper as I heard the worship team start playing. “But It was nice to meet you.”

“You too!” Jed replied.

As I stood and sang along to the music, I turned around and saw that, while I had been talking to Jed, Sadie Rowland had arrived, sitting in the row behind me.  I smiled and waved, and she waved back.

An hour and a half later, after the talk and more worship music, I still had no plans for afterward.  I was about to ask Jed if he was doing anything, but he spoke first.  “I need to get going,” he said.  “I’ll see you next week?”

“Sure,” I replied.  “Have a good weekend!”

I turned around, hoping that Sadie was still sitting behind me; she was.  “Hey,” I said.

“Hi, Greg!  How are you?” Sadie asked.

“Good.  Just been busy with school.  How are you?”

“Same.  I had a paper due today.  I finished it at the last minute.”

“You finished it.  That’s what’s important.”


“Hey.  I saw your article in the Daily Colt today, about that professor who won the award.  It was good.”

“Thanks!” Sadie replied.  “It was interesting researching and writing that story, but I’m hoping to get moved to local politics next year.  That’s really what I want to write.”

“I know.  They need a conservative voice on the Colt, even though they probably don’t want one.”

“Yeah, really.”

“I guess they have Joseph Tomlinson, but he’s just a columnist, not a reporter.”

“Joseph Tomlinson is great!”

“Yes!” I agreed.  “He’s hilarious, and insightful too.  I loved his column today on Small Town Feel.  Jeromeville can be pretty ridiculous.”

“I know!  You’ve been here two years longer than I have, so I’m sure you’ve seen more of the Jeromeville ridiculousness.”

“Definitely.  Like the ‘historic’ muddy alleys where mosquitoes breed, but they won’t pave them because of the neighborhood’s historic character.”

“Wow,” Sadie said, rolling her eyes.

“And you know about the frog tunnel, right?”

“Yeah.  That’s so weird.”

“I know.  One City Councilmember was quoted as saying she wanted to build connections to the frog community.”

“Like the frogs have any idea what’s going on,” Sadie added.  “But, yeah, the media is so biased.  The newspaper back home keeps calling our house trying to get us to subscribe, and my dad is like, ‘Stop calling me.  I don’t want to read your Commie trash.’”

I laughed.  “That’s a good one.  I should try something like that next time someone calls me trying to sell me something.”

“That would be funny.”

“Yeah.  So how was your week?  What else did you do?”

“We had Bible study yesterday.”

“Nice,” I said.  “My Bible study is huge.  We do a few worship songs together, then we split into three groups to do the actual study part.  We come back together for prayer requests at the end.”

“Which one is that?  Who are the leaders?”

“Joe Fox and Lydia Tyler.”

“How big is huge?”

“We average probably between twenty and twenty-five each week.”

“Twenty-five!  That’s too big for a study group like this.  Why is it so big?”

“It’s exactly what I said was going to happen. JCF has moved so much toward groups for specific populations.  You’re in a Kairos group, right?”


“Those are handpicked by their leaders, and people like me never get included. And there’s the group for transfer students, and the group for student athletes, and the two groups just for women.  All of us who don’t fit those categories only had one group left to choose from, so that group ended up huge.”

“I don’t think the Kairos ministry is supposed to be about excluding people, but I get what you’re saying,” Sadie observed.

“I’m concerned with the direction JCF is going.  There’s also a group specifically for Filipinos, and I’ve heard someone say that next year they want to make more groups specifically for people from certain cultural backgrounds.  How is that not racist?  Aren’t we supposed to treat each other equally and not be segregated by race?”

“That’s messed up.”

“I know.  Paul said in Galatians that there is no Jew nor Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”

“Exactly!  Maybe you should tell Dave or Janet or one of the leaders your concerns.”

“I have.  Didn’t do any good.”

“That’s too bad.  What are you guys studying?”

I told Sadie that we were going through Romans, and I tried to remember specifically what insights I had that I could share with her.  She told me about her Kairos group and everything that they had learned.  Her group seemed to have the same kind of studies as other groups, but with a specific focus toward preparing student leaders, which was the stated mission of the Kairos ministry.

“You have any exciting plans coming up?” Sadie asked me a bit later.

“Not this weekend.  But in a few weeks, I’m taking the basic skills test I need to get into the teacher training program.  And then I’m going straight from there to meet up with the kids from church at Winter Camp.  I’ll be joining them a day late.”

“Winter Camp sounds fun!  What is this test?”

“It’s required for anyone wanting to be a teacher, or a substitute, or anything like that.  It looks like it’ll be pretty easy.  It’s just meant to show that you have the equivalent of a ninth grade education.”

“Really?  Only ninth grade?”

“Yes.  And a lot of people are complaining that teachers shouldn’t have to take the test.  They say it excludes people who would otherwise be good teachers.”

“How?  How can you be a good teacher without a ninth grade education?”

“I know!  They say it’s racially biased.”

“Of course.  Everything is racially biased these days.”

“If I had kids,” I said, “I wouldn’t care what color skin their teacher had, but I certainly would insist on a teacher who could do ninth grade reading and math.  If you’re a teacher, you need to understand more than just the material you’re teaching.”

“And that’s why you’re gonna be a great teacher.”

“Aww,” I smiled.  “Thank you.”

“We definitely need good teachers.  A lot of my teachers in high school were ready to retire and just there for the paycheck.  And, of course, I had a history teacher who was really liberal.  He and I used to get into arguments all the time.”

“That would have been fun to watch.  I wish I had been in your class to see that.”

Sadie laughed.  “I could have used your support.  I did have one other friend who used to jump into those arguments and take my side.”

“That’s good.  I had a friend kind of like that in history class, but he usually started the argument with our teacher, and I’d join in.  He was kind of annoying, but we had a lot of classes together, and I liked having a conservative friend.”

“Annoying how?”

I told Sadie about Jason Lambert and how he could be kind of loud and argumentative, and also about the time he asked out the girl that I wished I had the guts to ask out.  But I also told her some good things about Jason, like the project we did in Spanish class where I was a bully taking his lunch money.  Jason’s character used a magical growth drink called La Leche de Crecer, at which point we paused the recording and replaced Jason with a six-foot-seven football player, who proceeded to take revenge on my bully character.  Sadie told me about some of her more memorable high school friends, and some of the parties she had gone to with them.  She had a bit more active social life than I did in high school, apparently.

“Hey, did I tell you I’m going to Washington, D.C. for the spring and summer?” Sadie asked after the conversation about high school reached a lull. 

“I don’t think so.  What’s this for?”

“An internship with my Congressman from back home.”

“That’s great!”

“Yeah!  I’ve met him a few times.  My dad volunteered for his campaign.”

“That’ll be good experience for you.  When do you leave?”

“April.  I’ll go home for spring break, then stay there for two weeks, then I’ll be gone until the middle of September.  I’m going on planned leave for spring quarter.”

“That’s exciting!  I’ll miss seeing you around spring quarter.”

“I know!  I’ll miss everyone here.  And I’ll miss Outreach Camp.  I had so much fun there this year.”

“I know.  I have to miss Outreach Camp too, because I will have started student teaching by then.  The school where I’m teaching will start earlier than UJ.”

“Do you know where you’ll be student teaching yet?”

“No, but probably not Jeromeville High.  The professor who runs it says the student population in Jeromeville doesn’t reflect what we’ll see in the average teaching position around here.  Jeromeville families tend to be wealthier and more educated.”

“That makes sense,” Sadie observed.

“Greg, Sadie, time to go, you two,” I heard Tabitha Sasaki’s voice call out from across the room.  I looked up, confused.  The room was empty, except for me and Sadie, and Tabitha, who was carrying the last of the worship band’s equipment toward the door.  I looked at my watch.  Sadie and I had been talking for over an hour, long enough for all of the hundred or so others to go home and the staff and student leaders to put everything away and clean up the room.  And I had not noticed any of this.

“I guess we have to go now,” Sadie said.  “I should get home and go to bed anyway.”

“Did you drive here?  Where’d you park?”

“I’m over in the lot by Marks.”

“I’ll walk you to your car,” I said.  I grabbed my Bible, Sadie grabbed hers, and we walked out into the dark but clear night, with no moon and only a few stars visible beyond the streetlights lighting the path we walked.  “You said you just turned in a paper?  Does that mean this will be a relaxing weekend?”

“Unfortunately, no.  I have a midterm Monday.”

“That sucks.  But good luck.”


We had arrived at Sadie’s car by that point.  “It was nice talking to you,” I said.

“You too!  I’ll see you around.”


“Good night, Greg.”

“Good night.”

I walked toward my car, but before I unlocked my car, I watched Sadie drive off.  I got in the car and began the trip home a minute later.

If I could live my university years again, knowing what I know now about life as an adult, I would take more chances.  I would not have wasted this opportunity, getting thoroughly lost in conversation with a cute girl, and walking her to her car, only to watch her drive off without attempting to make some kind of future plans.  I did not know exactly what to do; I was always just trying to be a good Christian and be friends first and not rush into dating.  But this did not work for me, because I did not know what to do once I was friends with a girl.  As a student, I was surrounded by others in more or less the same stage of life as me.  I did not come to realize until my thirties that life would never be like that again.  As I write this in my mid-forties, I have grown apart from many of my friends, and I have found it difficult to meet people and  make new friends.  If I had been able to see the future on that winter day in 1998, if I had known the directions that mine and Sadie’s lives would take, I would have done everything imaginable not to let her just drive away that night.  Things might not have worked out between us, but at least I would have known that I tried my best.

Readers: Tell me in the comments about a night you wish could have ended differently.

I updated the Dramatis Personae. Some of the entries were badly out of date. And Sadie didn’t even have an entry; she was just listed, with no last name, under “Others from JCF.” If anyone is looking for hints of what will happen in the rest of Year 4, it is noteworthy that two characters who were just briefly introduced in this episode now have their own entries already…

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.

January 16, 1998.  A fresh cheeseburger, and a fresh take on relationships. (#160)

A few days before my high school graduation, our class took an overnight trip to Disneyland, in California.  For a few designated days in May and June, the park closes early to the general public and stays open late for these all-night graduation trips.  On the way home the next morning, near the start of the long all-day drive, we drove past a fast food restaurant on a frontage road within view of the freeway.  The restaurant had the familiar white and red building, and red and yellow sign, used by many fast food establishments, but the name on the sign was one unfamiliar to me: IN-N-OUT BURGER.

“That place looks like such a total ripoff of McDonald’s,” someone on my bus said.

“No way!” someone else replied.  “Have you ever been to In-N-Out Burger?  It’s way better than McDonald’s!”

I would learn eventually that In-N-Out Burger had been a southern California mainstay since the late 1940s, when they opened their first location based around a concept that was new for the time period: the drive-thru lane.  The earliest In-N-Out Burgers only had drive-thru lanes, a walk-up window, and a couple of picnic tables; indoor seating came eventually with future locations.

On that day I first heard the name In-N-Out Burger, they had around ninety locations spread out throughout southern California.  Unbeknownst to me, in the last couple years, In-N-Out Burger had begun expanding beyond southern California, and a month or so after that graduation trip, I would learn that In-N-Out Burger had a location under construction not far from my house.  I never got to eat there, though, because I moved to Jeromeville for school the same weekend that it opened.  My parents went there a few months later, and Mom said she liked the burger but the fries were not very good, so I spent the next three years thinking that In-N-Out Burger was not a big deal.

A few months ago, early into my senior year at the University of Jeromeville, I started hearing people say that a new In-N-Out Burger was under construction in Jeromeville.  My friends who had grown up in places with In-N-Out Burger locations all seemed excited.  In November, I took a road trip in the church van to a convention for church youth group leaders in San Diego, with the youth pastors and a few other volunteers.  On that trip, when Taylor Santiago found out that I had never eaten at In-N-Out Burger, he insisted that we go to In-N-Out Burger on the way home, so I could experience this cheeseburger.  I was instantly hooked, although by now, two months after that trip, I had only eaten In-N-Out Burger one other time, at a different location on the way home from winter break.

The last few times I had driven past In-N-Out Burger in Jeromeville, the building had looked complete, but it was clearly not open yet.  One day earlier this week, I took a walk there between classes and saw an employee outside of the closed building.  I asked him when it would open, and he said Friday, at 10:30 in the morning.

Last Wednesday, I was at church in my role as a youth group volunteer, and I mentioned to the others that In-N-Out Burger opened on Friday.  “I want to eat there as soon as possible,” I said.  “It’ll probably be crowded, but it would be fun to go on the first day.”

“I can’t go Friday,” Noah Snyder, replied.  “I’m busy all day.  And I’ve heard the lines can be pretty long on the first day.  Last year, someone I know back home drove up to Valle Luna to eat at the one there on the day it opened, and he said he had to wait almost two hours.”

“I’ll go with you,” Taylor said.  “What time are you free on Fridays?”

“I have a three-hour gap from 11 to 2.  So even if there is a two hour wait, we should make it back in time.  Hopefully if we get there early, though, the wait won’t be that long.  The guy said they open at 10:30.”

“Sounds good.  You want to walk over from campus?”

“Yeah.  That works.  Where should I meet you?”

“The flagpole at 11?  Does that work?”


On Friday morning, I had my internship in Mr. Gibson’s geometry class at Jeromeville High, then I returned to the UJ campus for Abstract Algebra.  I had trouble concentrating that whole time.  It was Friday, I had Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that night, and I was looking forward to relaxing and catching up on studying over the weekend, but right now all I could think of was In-N-Out Burger.  I just wanted that hot and fresh hamburger, dripping with melted cheese and soaked in special sauce, in my mouth right now, accompanied by the hot French fries that my mother did not like for some reason.

When Abstract Algebra got out, I walked across the Quad to the flagpole outside the Memorial Union.  It was a cool and cloudy day; I was wearing a jacket, the big one that I had gotten a year ago for the trip to Urbana.  I looked around; Taylor had not yet arrived.  I stood near the flagpole, slowly pacing and looking in different directions, unsure from which direction he would be coming.  A number of other people were standing around the flagpole, presumably waiting for their friends also.  The flagpole was a common meeting point on campus, particularly in 1998 when the technology of text messaging was in its infancy.  Most university students did not have cellular phones, and the phones and phone services available in 1998 typically were not capable of sending text messages. Students looking to meet face to face had to agree on a location and a time in advance.  I started to get nervous that Taylor would not show up, or that I had misunderstood and arrived at the wrong time.  Maybe Taylor had left already and was going to In-N-Out Burger without me.  What would I do if that were the case?

It was not.  Taylor showed up around 11:10.  “Hey, man,” he said.  “You ready?”

“Yes.  Let’s go.”

Taylor and I walked diagonally southeast across the Quad, toward Orton Hall, passing Old North and Old South Halls on the left.  We turned left, to the east, on the street in front of Orton Hall, called Shelley Avenue, which then became First Street off campus.

“So how are classes this quarter?” Taylor asked at one point.  “You’re graduating in June, right?”

“Yeah, and I don’t need to overload my schedule in order to complete everything.  I’m only taking 14 units.  Two math classes, Ed Psych, and interning at Jeromeville High.”

“How’s that?  You did that last year too, right?”

“Yes.  This class isn’t all college-bound students, like the one from last year was. It’s a different experience.  A lot of them are tuned out during class and don’t do their work.”

“That would be me if I were in that class,” Taylor said, laughing.

“Ha,” I replied.

“You’re not taking the Paul class with Hurt this quarter?”

“No,” I replied.  “I couldn’t fit it into my schedule.”  I had really enjoyed all of Dr. Hurt’s other Religious Studies classes on the New Testament, but the Paul class was at the same time as Abstract Algebra.  “I’ll be able to take Christian Theology next quarter, though.”

“That’s a good one.  I took it last year.  So what will you be doing next year?”

“I’m staying at UJ for the teacher certification program.”

“Oh, good!  You’ll still be around.”

“Technically I haven’t heard yet if I’m accepted, but I know the professor who runs it.  He’s the supervising professor for my internship at Jeromeville High.  And he said he doesn’t see any reason I wouldn’t get in.  What about you?  Are you graduating in June?”

“December.  I’m gonna need one more quarter.”

“And your major will be Religious Studies?” I asked, uncertain because Taylor had changed his major multiple times in the last three and a half years.


On our left, across First Street, we walked past hotels, old houses made into office buildings, and a couple of fraternity houses.  On the right, our side of the street was lined with olive trees.  When I started at UJ, a vacant field of dirt, technically part of the university, sat between these olive trees and the eastern end of the Arboretum, but last year a new housing development, around thirty small houses specifically for university faculty, opened on that lot.

“Last week,” Taylor said, “I was hanging out with Brent one night, and we were thinking of taking a road trip this summer to go to every In-N-Out Burger.”

“That’s awesome,” I said.  “How many of them are there?”

“Like a hundred and twenty, or something like that.  But they’re only in a few states, so we wouldn’t be going all the way across the country or anything.  We’d probably take about a month for it.”

“That’s still averaging four In-N-Outs every day.”

“It’s pretty intense, but it can be done.  It’ll be a memorable experience.”

“That sounds fun,” I said.  Part of me wanted to be invited along, but another part of me did not want to give up the summer after my graduation, a shorter summer than usual since my student teaching placement next year would not be on the same schedule as UJ, to eat the exact same thing multiple times per day.

“I’ve been hanging out with Brent a lot lately.  We stay up all night talking.”

“That seems exactly like something you two would do,” I said.

“Really.  Like another time recently, we were talking about women, and dating.  And how, you know, at church and at groups like 20/20 and JCF, all they ever teach you is to wait until you’re married and not rush into things.  But they never teach you the right way to form relationships.  So, we said, it would be nice if there were a group that encouraged emotionally and spiritually healthy dating among Christians.”

“That would be helpful,” I said.  “That’s a good idea.  I know I could use some guidance on that.  I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“We were talking about all these ideas, how the married couples could mentor the newly dating couples.  And everyone could encourage the singles.”

“I wonder if a real group like that could ever happen?”

“Oh, yeah, then we were talking about what you’d call a group like that.  I told Brent, ‘We should name it after you.  The Brent Wang Fellowship.’”  Taylor laughed.

“That’s hilarious!” 

“Yeah, and I told Brent we could make t-shirts with his face on them.”

“Ha!”  I laughed loudly.  “That would be awesome!”

“So we can count on you to be a member of the BWF?”

“The BWF,” I repeated.  “You even have an acronym.  Yes.  I’m in, for sure.”

By now, we had turned right onto Cornell Boulevard, under the railroad track, and we could see In-N-Out Burger across the street on the left, between the railroad track and Highway 100.  Murder Burger, an independent restaurant that had been an institution in Jeromeville for a decade, was on the right.  Many of the locals complained about In-N-Out’s proposed location, right across the street from an established local competitor, and portrayed them as a big chain store trying to put the little guy out of business.  Murder Burger countered by expanding their menu, which already offered more variety than the minimalist menu of In-N-Out.  This is the proper response to such a situation in the business world, rather than the regulations seeking to rig the system that many Jeromevillians support.

As we crossed the street, I could see a long line of cars in the In-N-Out drive-thru and a line of people extending out of the building into the parking lot.  It was long, but not as long as I had feared.  I would make it back to campus in plenty of time for my class at two o’clock.

“How is dating going for you anyway?” Taylor asked.  “Any women in your life?”

“No,” I replied dejectedly.  “I got brave and asked someone out at the end of last quarter.  She said no.”

“Aww.  Who was it?”

I hesitated.  I never liked to tell people who I liked.  I had a history of being made fun of and embarrassed on the few occasions when I did.  I trusted Taylor, though.  “Carrie Valentine,” I said in a slightly hushed voice.  “Do you know her?  She goes to JCF.”

“I’ve heard that name, but I don’t think I know her.  Sorry, it didn’t work out, man.”

“I don’t know.  Nothing about dating makes sense to me.”

“That’s why the world needs the Brent Wang Fellowship!”


We waited in line for about half an hour, but the wait for the food once we ordered was much more reasonable, about ten minutes.  It appeared that In-N-Out Burger had anticipated the large crowds and scheduled more people than usual to work today, so that all of the customers would receive their food quickly.

I sighed happily as that first bite of cheeseburger hit my taste buds.  The French fries were unusually hot as well.  I would realize over the next few months, as I made more visits to In-N-Out, that their fries have a very short half life.  They are wonderful when you eat them fresh, but they quickly become cold and turn into what are basically long potato chips.  I reasoned that this must have been why my mother did not like In-N-Out fries: they probably got cold by the time she got home and ate them.

We were done eating by 12:30.  There were many people wandering the restaurant waiting to take our table, so we went back to campus and let someone else sit in our spot.  As we were leaving, Taylor asked if we could take a picture.  He handed his camera to someone just arriving, who stepped back and took a picture of both of us outside the restaurant.

When we got back to campus, Taylor had other things to do, so we parted ways back at the Memorial Union.  I walked inside and sat down, finding a copy of the Daily Colt and turning to the crossword puzzle.

The rest of the day was a typical Friday, although I kept thinking of that wonderful lunch.  I had Educational Psychology at two o’clock, then I took the bus home and took a nap.  After I made a plate of spaghetti for dinner, I went back to campus for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  I arrived about ten minutes early and walked into the room, still mostly empty.  The first person I saw was Brent Wang, who was always there early because he was in the worship band.

“Hey, Greg,” Brent said.  “How was In-N-Out?”  It was no surprise to me that Brent knew that Taylor and I had gone to In-N-Out for lunch, since Brent was one of Taylor’s best friends.

“So good!” I said enthusiastically.

“What’s so good?” Scott Madison asked, walking up behind me.  He was with his fiancée Amelia and two freshmen from the dorm-based Bible study he led, a cute curly-haired blonde girl named Brianna and a tall, messy-haired guy named Blake.

“My lunch today,” I replied cryptically.

“Where’d you go?” Amelia asked.

“I know!  I know!” Brent exclaimed, smiling slyly.

“Did you make something or go out somewhere?” Amelia said.

As Brent continued, I realized what he was doing.  He was not saying “I know”; he was actually saying the letters “I-N-O,” the initials for In-N-Out Burger, in a way that intentionally sounded like he was saying “I know.”  “I-N-O!  I-N-O!”

“Taylor and I went to In-N-Out Burger,” I explained.

Brianna then joined the conversation, blurting out excitedly, “It’s open?”

“It opened today.”

“No way!  My roommates and I need to find a time to go!  I used to go to In-N-Out back home all the time!”

“That sounds delicious,” Amelia said.  “Glad you were able to make it.”

“We’ll have to go this weekend,” Scott added.

Taylor and Brent never did their In-N-Out road trip.  But that conversation planted a seed in my mind, a new ongoing goal in life: eat at as many different In-N-Out Burger locations as possible.  I started looking up In-N-Out Burger locations nearby every time I went on a road trip, so that I could go to one that I had never been to before.  Within a few years, I was having to make side trips or take less direct routes in order to find In-N-Out Burger locations new to me.  Sometimes, I have traveled through areas with In-N-Out Burger locations where I do not often go, stopping at multiple In-N-Out Burgers for the same meal, getting a cheeseburger at one place, French fries in the next town down the road, and a drink still somewhere else.

After a quarter-century of keeping track of all the In-N-Out Burgers I have been to, my total today, in the spring of 2023, stands at 125.  In-N-Out has been expanding steadily, now with almost 400 stores across seven states and plans to expand to two more states.  In-N-Out’s roots are in California, and most of their recent expansion has been focused on the states where Californians have fled in great numbers, as California’s quality of life has declined sharply in the 2010s and 2020s.  This is a brilliant marketing strategy, giving them a built-in fan base in their new cities.  On the average, they have opened about three new locations for every time I add one to my list.  I will likely never eat at every In-N-Out Burger in my lifetime, but this goal of finding In-N-Out Burgers new to me will nevertheless give me adventures to go on for years to come.

Taylor and Brent’s ideas for the Brent Wang Fellowship seemed silly at the time, something that a couple of girl-crazy but single university students might come up with.  But the more I thought about this over the next few weeks, it actually made a lot of sense.  Taylor was exactly right; there is a lot of discussion in church youth and college groups about what not to do as far as dating and relationships are concerned, but very little discussion about what to do.  I needed this kind of guidance.  No one had taught me anything about relationships in childhood or my teens, so I had no concept of how to express interest to a girl, or how to go on a date, or what kind of activities constituted a date and what did not.

I had not yet driven myself crazy with another unrequited crush, but there were a few girls I kind of wanted to get to know better.  Like Sadie Rowland from JCF.  I had not talked to her in a few days, she was not at JCF that week, but when we did talk, the conversation just seemed to flow naturally and effortlessly.  Or Brianna Johns, the curly-haired blonde freshman.  She had gotten excited when I said that In-N-Out Burger was open, so we definitely had one thing in common right there.  Yet something told me that if I had asked her on a date and chosen In-N-Out Burger as the destination, this probably would not be seen as particularly romantic.  But I did not know any romantic date restaurants, nor did I know what did and did not constitute a place to ask someone on a date.  This was all so confusing, and thinking about it just made me discouraged.  Maybe one day I would actually meet someone in a way that I would not have to worry about doing something stupid.

Readers: Have you ever been to In-N-Out Burger? Do you have any chain restaurants specific to your part of your country that you love? Tell me about it in the comments!

Also, this is not a sponsored post. In-N-Out Burger is not paying me to say any of this.

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.

January 7-8, 1998.  A silly new word for a new quarter. (#159)

For reasons I would never find out, whoever was in charge of scheduling at the University of Jeromeville did something different for the winter and spring quarters of 1998.  Winter classes began on a Wednesday instead of the usual Monday.  I did not have a problem with that, but pushing everything back two days like that had a ripple effect on the rest of the academic year, leading to a very annoyingly inconvenient schedule for spring break and spring quarter.  But that is a story for another time.

I had to get up early five days a week now for a class at eight in the morning, but the class was not on the UJ campus.  I locked my bike in the bike parking at Jeromeville High School, which was much larger than the bike parking I had ever seen at any other suburban school.  Jeromeville touted itself as a bicycle-friendly community, and this local culture trickled down to all ages.  I walked to room E-3; I knew my way around the E building, where the mathematics classes were, because I had done this same thing before last year, only with a different supervising professor back at UJ.  I arrived about ten minutes before the scheduled time for class; the door was open, and a few students were sitting in desks, talking.  A middle-aged man with graying brown hair and a mustache sat at the teacher desk.  He was of averageheight, slightly on the heavy side, with graying brown hair and a mustache.  He wore a dress shirt with a tie.

“Is this geometry, with Mr. Gibson?” I asked.


“I’m Greg, the intern from UJ.”

“Yes!  Greg!  Nice to meet you.”  Mr. Gibson shook my hand.

“So what should I do?”

“For today, you can just sit in the back and watch how things work in class.  If you feel ready, you can start walking around and helping students at the end of the period when they start homework.”

“Sounds good!”

After the bell rang, Mr. Gibson read the morning bulletin to the class.  “If you look in the back of the room, you will notice someone new with us,” he announced.  “This is Greg.  He’s a student at UJ, he’s studying to be a math teacher, and he’ll be helping out in our class for the next few months.”  I waved as the students in the class turned around to look at me.

As Mr. Gibson began his lecture, explaining relationships between angles when two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, I looked around the classroom.  Many of these students looked bored.  Mr. Gibson was standing at the front of the room lecturing, and some students were occasionally copying things from his lecture into their notebooks.  I took some notes of my own while Mr. Gibson lectured, but instead of writing down theorems about parallel lines and angles, I wrote my thoughts on Mr. Gibson’s teaching style and how students responded.

I had done an internship like this the previous school year, in Mr. O’Rourke’s precalculus class.  My professor of record last time was Dr. Samuels of the mathematics department, and this internship was set up through Dr. Van Zandt of the education department, so it would show up on my transcript as Education 197 instead of Mathematics 197.  I was told that this internship would essentially be the same thing, although I could see a few subtle differences in the classes themselves already from the first day.  Mr. Gibson’s lecturing style seemed more bland to me than that of Mr. O’Rourke, who was funny and had more interaction with students.  Mr. O’Rourke was older than Mr. Gibson, but he did not fit the stereotype of older teachers being boring.  Also, typically only college-bound students took precalculus.  A geometry class had a mix of college-bound younger students and upperclassmen who were behind grade level in math.  The best students that Jeromeville High had to offer would never even be in this geometry class.  They would have finished geometry before even getting to high school, two grade levels above state standards.  That option, apparently commonplace in a university town like Jeromeville, was never available to me growing up in working-class Plumdale.

Students began their homework with about fifteen minutes left in the period.  Mr. Gibson addressed me at this time.  “You can walk around answering students’ questions,” he said.

“I’ll do that,” I replied.  I began circulating up and down the rows of desks, watching to see what students were writing.  I did not engage any of them in conversations yet, although I thought about doing this sometime soon after I was more comfortable in this new position.

At one point, one of the students raised his hand as I walked by.  “Hey, can you help me with this?” he asked.

“Sure,” I replied.  I looked at the top of his paper, where he had written his name.  “Matt,” I replied.  “I don’t know everyone’s name yet.  What was your question?”

“This one,” Matt said, pointing at a diagram with two parallel lines labeled l and m.  A third line labeled p intersected both lines, with the acute angle between p and m labeled 37 degrees.  The question asked to find the obtuse angle between lines p and l.  “What did you learn about this today?” I asked.

Matt turned back a page in his book and recited from it.  “‘If two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, the alternate interior angles are equal.’”

“The angle you know, and the angle you’re trying to find, are they alternate interior angles?  Look at the diagram.”

“I don’t know.  They don’t look equal.”  Matt studied the diagram.  “I don’t think so.”

“They’re not, because they’re on the same side of line p.  So did you learn something about angles on the same side of the transversal?”

Matt turned back to the page with the theorems on it and continued reciting.  “‘The angles on the same side of the transversal are supplementary.”

“Are those angles on the same side of the transversal?”

Matt looked at the problem again.  “Yeah.”

“And what does supplementary mean?”

“Isn’t it, like, the angles add to 90, or 180, or something like that?”

“Yes.  180.”

“So to find the angle, I would do 180 minus 37?”

“Exactly.  Good job.”

As I continued walking around the room, it occurred to me that maybe I should have asked Matt to look up the definition of supplementary himself.  But I think that was a positive interaction.  Matt figured out most of the problem himself.

After the bell rang, Mr. Gibson asked me, “So what did you think?”

“It was good,” I said.  “It’ll be good to see your teaching style and compare it to others I’ve seen.”

“Have you worked in a class here at Jeromeville High before?”

“Yeah.  Last year, with Mr. O’Rourke.”

“I’m a little different from him.  He’s good, though.”

“It’ll be good seeing a different perspective.”

I rode my bike from the high school to the Memorial Union on campus, a distance of about a mile.  I arrived a little after nine, giving me almost an hour until my next class.  I had no homework yet on the first day of classes, so I grabbed a copy of the Daily Colt, found an empty seat, and read.  My friend Eddie Baker was a writer for the Daily Colt, and he had written a fluff piece in today’s issue about made-up slang words and what some would call the butchering of the English language.  My eyes landed on a pull quote in the middle of the article, in bold font and slightly larger printing:

“I have a roommate who always says ‘buttass.’  It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jason Costello, senior

I laughed out loud.  Buttass.  That was hilarious.  Something clicked in my brain after a few seconds.  I knew Jason Costello; he was one of Eddie’s roommates in that big house on De Anza Drive.  I knew all of their other housemates too: Ramon, Lars, John, and Xander.  I had never heard any of them say “buttass.”   It was probably Lars. “Buttass” totally sounded like a Lars thing.

After skimming the rest of the articles, I folded the paper over so that the crossword puzzle was showing.  I finished it in about ten minutes, so I tore the puzzle out and put it in my backpack to put up on my wall back home later, next to the other puzzles I had finished.  Today’s puzzle seemed fairly easy, compared to others I had done.  Buttass easy, I thought, giggling to myself.

My next class was Mathematics 150B, Introduction to Abstract Algebra.  This class was a continuation of 150A from last quarter, except that the same professor did not teach it.  This new professor, Dr. Lisitsa, was a large gray-haired Russian man whom I could understand although English was clearly not his first language.  Many of the same familiar math majors from 150A last quarter were in this class, including Katy Hadley, Jack Chalmers, and Melissa Becker.  Most of 150A was easy, but it had started to get difficult toward the end of the quarter, so I was a little apprehensive about this class.  By the end of the first day, though, I was still following along with everything just fine.

After Abstract Algebra, I felt like a change of scenery, so instead of going back to the Memorial Union, I walked to the library.  The library had been expanded several times in the history of the university, to the point that it had become a rectangular ring with three distinct architectural styles surrounding a courtyard.  Behind what was now, but had not always been, the main entrance, a wall of windows three stories high looked onto the courtyard, with stairways in different directions leading to the basement, second floor, and third floor.  Part of the building had a fourth floor as well, but it was not accessible through these front stairways.

I climbed all the way to the third floor on my left.  I could have used an elevator, but I felt like climbing the stairs.  At the top of the stairs, I turned right toward the back of the building and walked along stacks of books on my left and windows on the right.  The wall was almost two feet thick, and the windows were recessed, flush with the outer wall facing the courtyard.  This created a rectangular cubbyhole-like space in front of each window, about five feet long, where students could sit and study.  I sat parallel to the walkway, with the walkway and book stacks on my left and the window on my right, my legs stretched out as far as they could.  I read through the section of the math book that we started in class today, then began working on homework.  With a three-hour gap between classes, I may as well get an early start on the quarter.

A little after twelve, I was hungry, so I walked back to the MU and got in line for a burrito. I walked to the tables, looking for a place to sit, and found Sarah Winters and Caroline Pearson, whom I had been friends with since the first week of freshman year.  “May I sit here?” I asked, gesturing toward an empty seat at their table.

“Sure!” Sarah said, smiling.

“Hey, Greg,” Caroline added in her Australian accent, slight now after having lived in the United States for a decade, but still noticeable.  “How are your new classes?”

“Good.  I’m TA-ing at Jeromeville High again in the morning.  Then today I had Math 150B, and I have Ed 110 later this afternoon.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m TA-ing again, and then Math 131.  Probability.”

“I took 150A and B last year,” Sarah said.  “I thought 150B was kind of hard.  But I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“You’re a teacher’s assistant at the high school?  Is that for a class?” Caroline asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Education 197, for two units.  I did something similar last spring.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that.”

“When is your next class?” Sarah asked.

“Not until two,” I replied.

“Do you have that big gap in your schedule every day?”

“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It’ll be a good time to get work done.”

“Are you tutoring for the Learning Skills Center, like you did before?” Caroline asked.

“Not this quarter.  I didn’t want to overdo it.”

“Good idea,” Sarah said.  “Now, you can have meet someone for lunch at eleven, and meet someone for lunch at twelve, and meet someone for lunch else at one.”  She smiled.

“Haha.  I guess I can.”  I’d probably run out of people to have lunch with quickly, though, I thought.

“How was your winter break?” Caroline asked.

“It was good.  I made a silly movie with my brother and his friends.  And I went to Valle Luna to see Brian Burr, for his New Year’s party.”

“How is Brian doing?  Where is he now?”

“New York Medical College.  He seems to like it.  What about you?  What did you guys do for your break?”

“Just hung out with family.  We went to the snow for a weekend.”

“Nice!  Sarah?  How was your break?”

“It was good. I had Christmas with family.  Saw a couple of my friends back home.”

“That’s nice.”  I thought about how I did not have friends left back home, except for my brother’s friends Cody and Boz, but I decided not to bring up that topic.

By one o’clock, Caroline and Sarah had both left for class.  I still had another hour free.  This three-hour gap between classes would take some getting used to, but within a few days, the workload would ramp up and I would be buttass busy, with plenty to do.

Today, though, I was done with homework, I had read the Daily Colt, and I had eaten lunch with friends.  I walked south to the Arboretum, which ran for a mile and a half from southwest to northeast along a creek bed which had been filled to become a long, narrow lake.  I sat on a bench amidst trees from all over the world and took out my Bible.  I opened to the back, where there was a plan to read the Bible in one year by reading three passages per day.  I turned to the chapter and verse that was listed for September 15.  I started in January of 1997 with the passages for January 1, but I had fallen behind by a few months at this point, since I only read four or five times per week.  After I read, I prayed.  I thanked God for this beautiful nature area right on campus, and I asked God that I would do well in my classes and not feel overwhelmed.

When two o’clock approached, I walked toward Orton Hall and my Educational Psychology class.  The course catalog listed Psychology 1, which I had not taken, as a prerequisite.  Josh McGraw, one of my housemates, had taken both of these classes, and he did not remember anyone checking to see if everyone had passed Psych 1.  He thought I would be fine without it.  Josh gave me his old textbook for the class too.  After the first day, I was still keeping up with everything.  So far so good.  This was a class based more on reading and writing than mathematics, which was not particularly my strong point, but I had done fine in classes like that before.

The internship in Mr. Gibson’s class was five days a week.  On Thursday morning, the second day of the quarter, it was pouring rain outside.  I took a bus to Jeromeville High School, and later I took a different bus from there to the university, both new bus routes for me.

Lars Ashford was on that second bus I rode after Mr. Gibson’s class.  “Sup,” he said when he saw me.

“Can I sit here?”

“Sure, man.”

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you.  Yesterday in the Daily Colt, I read Eddie’s article about made-up slang words, and Jason said one of his roommates always says ‘buttass.’  Is that you?”

Lars laughed.  “Yeah, dude, that’s me.”

“‘Buttass’ is a great word.  I’m gonna start using it.”


I was a little bit intimidated after the first day of probability class.  The professor, Dr. Craig, said from the start that he usually only works with graduate students and does not often teach undergrads.  I got the impression that he thought we were beneath him.  His teaching style was very lecture-based, as seemed to be the case with many professors who only work with upperclassmen and graduate students.  I was following along okay, I would probably do okay, but that kind of teaching style does not work for all students.  I was starting to see that in Mr. Gibson’s class, where some of the students got easily bored.  They needed a more interactive experience, like Dr. Samuels from Euclidean geometry last year.

By the end of the class, though, I felt a little more comfortable.  When Dr. Craig dismissed us, I got up to leave the room, but a guy who was sitting a few desks away walked up to me first.  He said, “You look familiar.  Do you go to U-Life?  Or did you used to?”

I paused, trying to remember if I knew him.  University Life was the college group affiliated with the First Baptist Church of Jeromeville, which was not my church, but I knew some people from there.  “I did a few times last year,” I said.  “I usually go to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, but I was kind of frustrated with them for a while, and I had made some friends at U-Life and they invited me.  Ben Lawton, Alaina Penn, Corinne Holt…”

The poetry reading!  At Alaina and Corinne’s house!  That’s where I remember you from.  You got up there and said a bunch of math stuff.”

“Yes!  That was me!  I don’t remember your name, though.”


“I’m Greg.  Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too!”

I shook Mike’s hand, and we made small talk all the way to his next class while I attempted to hold an umbrella in the wind.  It was buttass wet outside.  I was done for the day, so I found a dry spot inside the MU to eat the sandwich I had packed.  When I finished eating, I went to my spot next to the window in the library and did my Bible reading for the day.

The first two days of the quarter were complete.  So far, so good.  Mike from Math 131 seemed like a nice guy; I had to think of him in my mind as “Mike from Math 131,” because I knew so many other Mikes and Michaels and I did not know this Mike’s last name yet.  I was enjoying helping Mr. Gibson’s students so far.  And Ed Psych did not seem too difficult yet, although I was going to have to write a buttass long term paper later in the quarter.  The rain was starting to let up by the time I got off the bus, but I still had to walk a few minutes to my house.  When I got home, I took off my backpack and lay on my bed.  It was time for a nap. I’m tired, I thought to myself. Buttass tired. This was going to become my new favorite word. Of course, some would disapprove of making up new words like this, but that is all part of how language and communication evolve. Some new words bother me, yet I have been known to make up new words myself. It probably has more to do with what the new word is. New words that bother me tend to be related to things I already do not like, whereas new words like “buttass” just make my inner potty-humor-loving child happy.

The tree in the library courtyard would not have been so green in January. I took this photo in 2022 at the Spring Picnic.

Readers: Do you and/or your friends have any buttass silly words that you made up? Tell me about them 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.

December 31, 1997. Brian was known for throwing amazing New Year parties. (#158)

I packed my sleeping bag and pillow in the back of my Ford Bronco, along with a bag containing my toothbrush and toothpaste.  I had considered bringing the sweat pants I wore for pajamas and a full change of clothes, but realized I was overthinking.  I would only be staying long enough to sleep, so as not to have to drive home in the middle of the night, and leaving first thing in the morning.  I could handle sleeping in my clothes for one night.

I started the car and headed out of Jeromeville south on Highway 117, merging onto Highway 100 west toward Bay City two and a half miles down the road.  The weather was cool and cloudy but dry, typical for an afternoon in December.  It was only four-thirty in the afternoon, but the sun would already be setting soon, also typical for December.

This first part of the drive was extremely familiar to me, since it was the same drive I made every time I went back home to see my family.  I had just been this way yesterday morning in the opposite direction coming home from winter break.  I watched the fields and trees pass by as I continued heading southwest across the short dimension of the Valley at sixty-five miles per hour.  The cities of Silvey, Nueces, and Fairview passed by me as I passed slow trucks and reckless drivers passed me.  Just past Fairview, about thirty miles past Jeromeville, I started to merge into the right lane, to get on Highway 6 southbound toward San Tomas, when I realized that I was not going that way.  Almost every other time I had made this drive, I had taken 6 south, headed toward home, but today I was going somewhere else.

I took the next exit, Highway 212 west toward Silverado and Redwood Valley.  The rest of my drive would not be a straight shot down one road, and much of it would be on roads with one lane in each direction, winding through hills covered with vineyards and cow pastures.  It would be much more fun making this trip in the other direction tomorrow morning after the sun came back up, so I could actually see the beautiful countryside and the road ahead.

I crossed the Silverado River on a high bridge and followed the highway around a curve to the right, toward the city of Silverado, only to turn left at a stoplight and head away from the city on a road with just one lane in each direction.  I was trying not to drive too fast, since I had only been this way twice before and did not want to miss a turn in the dark.

I found the turn I was looking for, Highway 164 to Hillside, a few miles before Redwood Valley.  Highway 212 went directly to Valle Luna, but Brian’s directions said that there was a faster way to get from Jeromeville to Valle Luna.  I was not familiar with this area, so I took his word for it.  I had gone this way two years ago when I went to visit Renee Robertson at Valle Luna State, but the university was south of 212 so in that case it made sense to take 164 and not backtrack.

At around 5:50, I got to Hillside and turned onto Highway 11 northbound for another fifteen miles into Valle Luna, a good-sized city of about two hundred thousand residents.  Highway 212, which I had turned off of earlier, crossed Highway 11 right in the middle of Valle Luna.  I turned on 212 west and drove to what appeared to be the extreme western edge of the city, as fields opened up against the hills to the west that separated Valle Luna from the coast.  I turned right at a stoplight which took me back into residential neighborhoods, and about two miles north of 212, I turned into the Burrs’ neighborhood.

Brian Burr, one of my roommates from the previous school year, was two years older than me, having graduated from the University of Jeromeville in 1996.  His goal was to be a doctor, but he had not gotten into any medical schools.  He spent the 1996-97 school year working part time on staff with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, where I had met him, and also retaking all the entrance exams and reapplying to medical school.  Last fall, he moved across the country to attend New York Medical College, just north of New York City in Westchester County.  He had just finished his first semester, and he was back at his parents’ house in Valle Luna for winter break, where apparently he was known for throwing amazing New Year parties.

Brian’s parents lived on a cul-de-sac just a little way off of the main road.  It was only 6:14, still hours before midnight, but I could already tell that parking on the cul-de-sac would fill up quickly.  I parked my car in one of the last remaining free spaces and knocked on the door.

“Hi,” a middle-aged man said.  “You’re looking for Brian, right?”


“You look familiar, but I don’t remember your name.”

“I’m Greg,” I said, shaking Mr. Burr’s hand.  I had only met Brian’s dad once before.  “Brian and I were roommates last year, at the apartment on Maple Drive.”

“Oh, yeah!  Is this your first New Year’s party here?”


“Welcome to our house.  It’ll be a lot of fun.”

“That’s what I hear.”

“So Brian said you’re younger than him, right?  Are you still in school at Jeromeville?”

“Yeah.  I graduate this spring.”

“What are you studying?”


“Greg!” I heard Brian’s familiar voice say.  “How you been, man?” he asked as he pulled me into an embrace.

“Good,” I said.  “How’s medical school?”

“It’s a lot of work.  But it’s good.  What about you?  You went away to Oregon or Washington or something for the summer to do research, right?”

“Yeah.  Grandvale, Oregon.  I’m glad I went, but the biggest thing I learned was that I don’t want to do math research as a career.”

A tall blond guy around Brian’s age walked into the room.  “Greg!” he said.  “What’s up?”

“Hey, Mike,” I said.  Mike Kozlovsky had graduated from UJ the same year as Brian.  He was also from Valle Luna, and he had moved back home after graduation.  “I was just talking about last summer,” I continued.  “I did a math research internship in Oregon, and I learned that I didn’t want to go into math research.”

“Aww, bummer,” Mike replied.

“Better to learn this now, rather than after I gave three years of my life to a Ph.D. program,” I said.

“That’s a really good point,” Brian said.

“Why didn’t you like it?” Mike asked.

“Math research is weird!” I explained.  “All the things being researched are so abstract and advanced that I can’t understand them even when I’m about to finish a degree.  It’s just not interesting.  And I also just didn’t really click with the others in the program.”

“So what do you want to do now?” Brian asked.

“I’m gonna be a teacher.  Probably for high school.”

“Will you be in the same program Shawn was in?”

“That’s the plan.  I’ve applied to that.  I also thought about applying to the program at Capital State, but it’s kind of confusing how theirs works, and it won’t really be any advantage for me to do that one.  I just want to get into a classroom as soon as I can at this point.”

“Hopefully you don’t end up with the same master teacher that Shawn hated.”

“Didn’t Shawn quit the program, or something?” Mike asked.

“He finished all the classes, but he didn’t apply for any teaching jobs,” Brian explained.  “He moved back to Ashwood and opened a running apparel store with one of his old running buddies back home.”

“That’s right.”

“Is Shawn coming tonight?” I asked Brian.

“No.  He really wanted to, but he’s too busy with the store.”

“I get that.”

I walked inside and sat next to a bowl of tortilla chips as Brian mingled with people I did not recognize.  A large amount of pizza arrived about an hour after I did, and I piled about five or six slices on my plate and began eating.

As I watched people trickle in, and waved and said hi to the ones I knew: Kristina Kasparian, Lars Ashford, Lorraine Mathews, John Harvey, and several others.  But I also realized that Brian had a lot of friends whom I did not know.  I met Brian two years ago through Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, when Brian was a senior and I was a sophomore, but I did not know him well until that next spring and summer when he and Shawn and I made plans to live together.  Brian had been at UJ for two years before I started there.  He had probably made friends with people who ran in different circles, or had graduated, by the time I met him.  Brian also was at his parents’ house, in Valle Luna, where he grew up, so some of these people whom I did not know were probably Brian’s childhood or high school friends.

Eddie Baker and Tabitha Sasaki had arrived separately, about half an hour apart, while I was eating chips and pizza. I had said hi to both of them, but we had not actually talked yet, so when I was done eating, I walked to where they were sitting.  “Greg!” Tabitha said, smiling and motioning to the empty couch seat on her left.  Eddie sat on her right.  “Come sit down!”

“Hey,” I said, a little louder than I would have liked since there was now music playing.  I did not recognize the song.  “What have you guys been up to?  How’s your break going?”

“Good,” Eddie said.  “Mostly just been hanging out with Tabitha.”  Eddie and Tabitha did not know each other before coming to UJ, but their families lived fairly close to each other in two neighboring suburbs of San Tomas.

“Did you go home to Plumdale?” Tabitha asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “My cousins who visit every Christmas were there.  And last weekend I made a silly movie with them, and my brother, and some of my brother’s friends.”

“That’s great,” Eddie said.  “Kind of like the Dog Crap and Vince movie you made with the kids from church?”

“Exactly!  My brother saw that when I brought it home for Thanksgiving, and he wanted to make a movie with me too.”

“How are things going as a youth leader anyway?”

“Good!  I’m going to Winter Camp in February.  That’ll be fun.”

“It will be!  Make sure you bring snow clothes.”

“I know.  I’m going to need to do some shopping.”

“What was your movie about?” Tabitha asked.

“We have this game we kind of made up called Moport.  It’s like a cross between soccer, football, and hockey.  In our movie, this bad Moport team accidentally drafts the wrong player, and he’s really weird, but they find ways to win.  And this other guy tries to sabotage the team.”

“That sounds silly.”

“Very silly,” I agreed.  

After I finished catching up with Eddie and Tabitha, I watched Brian and some others dancing to some song I did not know, with lyrics in Spanish.  Scott Madison and Amelia Dye were sitting in chairs next to the snack table.  I had not talked to them yet, so I sat down in another empty chair at the table.  “Hey,” I said.

“Hi, Greg!” Amelia said, smiling.

“Greg Dennison’s Chili,” Scott added, shaking my hand, using the nickname he had recently come up with for me.  I had had a few people over the years ask me if I was related to the people who made Dennison’s brand chili (I was not), but Scott was so far the first to use that as an actual nickname.

“How’s your break going so far?” I asked.

“Pretty good.  Just doing a lot of wedding planning stuff,” Scott explained.

“And working on med school applications,” Amelia added.

“When is the wedding?”

“June 27,” Amelia explained.  “We’ll be having the ceremony at J-Cov, then for the reception we’ll all caravan across the Drawbridge to the Capital City Downtown Ballroom.”


“Hey, guys,” Brian said, joining us.  “What’s up?”

“Oh!  Brian!  Guess what I’m doing in three weeks?” Amelia said excitedly.  “I have an interview at New York Med!”

“Nice!” Brian said.  “That would be cool if you two ended up moving to New York with me.”

“Yeah!  We’d know someone already there.”

“How is medical school going?” I asked Brian.

“It’s good.  So far it’s just classroom work, so not that different from what I experienced at Jeromeville.  But it was hard to get back into the routine of being in school again, after taking last year off.”

“I bet,” I said.

“We had an end-of-semester social event for all the first-year med students a couple weeks ago.  It’s a little weird that they serve alcohol at school-sponsored socials.  They just assume everyone in med school is old enough to drink.”

“That makes sense,” I said.  “Because everyone is.  Amelia?  Where else have you applied?”  Amelia listed numerous other medical schools around the country.  Much like Brian had the previous year, Amelia really had applied all over, but apparently New York Med was one of her top choices.  That would be nice if Amelia and Brian ended up at the same school.

As the night went on, the party got louder.  A few people seemed a bit tipsy, and Brian had had a few drinks, but many of Brian’s friends from Jeromeville were Christians and did not drink to excess.  At one point, someone pulled out a karaoke machine, and Brian sang “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, one of his favorites.  I had been in University Chorus three times now, but I still did not like singing solo in front of people.

Later, after the karaoke machine had been put away but with music still playing, another ABBA song came on, “Take A Chance On Me.”  Brian jumped up and began dancing with his arms in the air.  One time when we lived together, I came home from class, and as soon as Brian saw that I was home, he put on Take A Chance On Me and started doing this same silly dance he was doing now.  

A few minutes after Take A Chance On Me finished, people started saying it was time, and someone turned off the music.  It took a few seconds for me to figure out what was going on; after I remembered the occasion of this evening, I looked at my watch surprised to see that it was already close to midnight.  The night went by fast.  Someone turned on the television to one of the major networks’ New Year broadcasts, and when the countdown to midnight displayed on the screen reached thirty seconds, everyone stared at the screen and began counting out loud.  Numbers that large were difficult to count down at a rate of one per second, so I did not join in the countdown until ten seconds were left.

“Ten!  Nine!  Eight!  Seven!  Six!”

By now, people were excited enough that the counting was no longer synchronized to the clock on the television, or to each other.  As much as it bothered me to be inaccurate, I tried to stay synchronized to the majority of the people counting.

“Five!  Four!  Three!  Two!  One!  Happy new year!”

I heard those loud little confetti poppers being popped across the room.  Someone handed me one; I pulled the string and watched a small amount of confetti explode upward away from me.  Those who had drinks in glasses clinked their glasses together; Scott and Amelia were closest to me, and I clinked my aluminum Coca-Cola can to their glasses, saying “Clink!” out loud since my can did not make a clinking noise.  Scott laughed.

I stayed up for at least another two hours, talking, watching people dance, and occasionally snacking.  This kind of thing happens to me every New Year’s Day, but I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it was 1998 already.  I was going to graduate in 1998.  That was only six short months away, and a few months after that, I would be student teaching in a high school math classroom somewhere.  As I got older, as the year number on the calendar kept going up, life just seemed to move faster and faster.

Around two in the morning, I walked out to my car and got my sleeping bag.  Brian had said to bring a sleeping bag, that we were all welcome to sleep on the floor and leave in the morning.  The party was starting to quiet down by then, since many of the locals had gone home.  It was still noisy enough that I was not expecting to fall asleep, but I was tired enough that I nodded in and out of consciousness for the next hour and a half.  I woke up having to use the bathroom at 3:30, and by then, the living room was dark, with several other people asleep in sleeping bags on the floor.

I woke up again at 7:42, and could not go back to sleep.  Everyone else was still asleep, and I did not want to wake anyone.  This kind of thing often happened to me when I was sleeping away from home in a group, where I was awake far earlier than everyone else, so I packed a book to read just in case, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham.  The lighting was not ideal for reading, since the sun had just come up and the drapes were closed, but I could see well enough.

A few people gradually woke up as I was reading; I waved hello and occasionally whispered when necessary.  I hated sleeping in a strange place with other people in the room, but I did not want to leave without saying goodbye to Brian.

Brian finally appeared around 9:15.  I stood up, still fully clothed from the night before, rolled my sleeping bag, and went to the bathroom, also brushing my teeth this time.  Then I walked toward Brian at the kitchen table.  “I’m going to head home now,” I said.

“Okay,” Brian replied.  “Thanks so much for coming.  It was good seeing you.”

“You too!  Thanks for inviting me!  Keep in touch.  Good luck with school.”

“Thanks.  And good luck with being a teacher.  I think you’d make a great teacher.”

“Wow.  Thank you.”

I said a quiet goodbye to everyone else who was still at the party and awake.  Some of them I would not see again for a long time.  Others who were still students at UJ I would see in a few days at most.

The drive home through the hills between Valle Luna and Silverado was, as I suspected, beautiful in the daylight.  It had rained enough over the last month that green grasses were growing in empty fields.  Many of the hillsides were planted with grapevines, which were bare this time of year, without leaves, but there was something calming about the parallel rows of grapevines and lattices covering the countryside.

As would often happen at the beginning of a year, I drove toward Jeromeville with a feeling of hope and promise.  This year had positive things in store.  In addition to graduation and starting a new phase of my education, I also had Winter Camp to look forward to.  And I was sure that the year would be full of unexpected surprises, some good, some bad.  Maybe this year would be full of new experiences.  Maybe the love of my life would be waiting just around the corner.  Who knows?

Readers: How do you usually celebrate the New Year? What’s your most memorable New Year story? Tell me about it in the comments.

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December 26-29, 1997. I made another movie. (#157)

Author’s note: I’m back.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to post weekly, like I’ve always tried to. I don’t want this project to become stressful. But I’ll do the best I can, and hopefully my small handful of loyal readers will stick with me even I take a week off here and there.

A month ago, when I went home to Santa Lucia County for Thanksgiving, I showed my family the Dog Crap and Vince movie that I had made with the kids from the youth group at church.  I first created the characters from Dog Crap and Vince when I was still in high school, with a lot of input from my brother Mark, and I have always credited Mark as a co-creator of Dog Crap and Vince.  They all enjoyed the movie.  Mark said that when I came home for Christmas, we should get together with his friends Cody and Boz and make another movie.

We did not own a video camera.  I had always wanted one growing up.  I had tons of silly ideas for TV shows and movies, sometimes Mark and I and some combination of his other friends would even act them out and even record the audio, but we never had the capability to record video.  Video cameras cost a lot of money back then, and it was never a priority for my parents to have one.  But Mark said that Boz had one we could probably borrow.

It was now the Friday after Christmas.  I was planning on driving back to Jeromeville either Monday night or Tuesday morning.  I was getting bored at home.  Three and a half years after graduation, I had lost touch with all of my high school friends.  There was not much to do at home except hang out at home.  The closest thing I had to friends at home were Mark, Cody, and Boz.  I was going to graduate from the University of Jeromeville in six months, and they were sixteen, still in high school.  This was less of an age difference compared to when I was seventeen and they were twelve, but they still did not feel like a primary social group for me.

Despite how bored I was, I had made no progress on this movie that Mark and I were supposedly going to make.  I had not done much of anything the whole time I was home.  We had our family Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa and the Lusks, who were in the area for the holidays.  Jane Lusk was my aunt, my mother’s younger sister; she visited every Christmas with her husband Darrell and their children, nineteen-year-old Rick and seventeen-year-old Miranda.  Uncle Darrell’s family was also in Santa Lucia County, so they spent a week going back and forth visiting both sets of their relatives. 

Mark had a new game for Nintendo 64, GoldenEye.  The game follows the story of the James Bond movie of the same name, which I had seen once.  The most well-known feature of this game was a multiplayer free-for-all mode, in which two to four players battle each other.  Rick and Miranda and Mark and I spent many hours of that winter break playing GoldenEye, as well as Mario Kart.  In both games, Mark almost always won, and Miranda almost always came in last place.

In those days, Mark would often record what he was watching on television on a VHS tape, so he could watch it again.  He watched Saturday Night Live regularly, because in the 1990s it was actually funny much of the time.  Whenever the show would run a sketch that was not worth rewatching, he would back up the tape during the next commercial and record over it immediately.  Whenever I would go home, Mark would share with me his Saturday Night Live highlights.

Saturday Night Live had been in the news recently because Chris Farley, a cast member on the show a few years earlier who was also in a few movies after that, had died of a drug overdose a couple of weeks earlier.  Two months before his death, Farley had returned to SNL as the weekly guest host, and Mark saved that entire episode.  Earlier that week, I had watched Farley reprise many of his past recurring characters.  He also portrayed an exaggeratedly intoxicated Hank Williams Jr. and the weather phenomenon El Niño, acting like a professional wrestler.  Throughout the whole time Mark and I watched the episode, Mom kept interrupting, commenting on Farley’s visibly poor health.

The next day, Mark and I watched other things he had recorded since then.  We watched what was then considered the final episode of Beavis and Butthead, although unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the show would be revived in the 2010s and 2020s.  After this, we watched another SNL in which a Bill Gates character announced that Microsoft had bought Christmas, and that Mac users were now Jewish.  Bill Gates then proceeded to spy on Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was dancing to the song “Tubthumping.”  Oddly random, but hilarious.

Mark got home from basketball practice while I was eating dinner Friday night.  Mark got all of the athletic talent in our family.  He also had a great deal more artistic talent than me, and he and some of his teammates had begun a new tradition of drawing temporary tattoos on each other with permanent marker.  “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the tattoo that someone had drawn on Mark today.

“A polar bear,” Mark explained.  “John McCall drew it.”  The polar bear on Mark’s arm was floating on a piece of sea ice, with the letters POLAR BEAR underneath in a style imitating the Old English blackletter font.

“And why do you have a tattoo of a polar bear?” I asked.

Mom and Dad were in the room with us.  “That’s the nickname the others on the team have come up with for Mark,” Mom said.

“And why is Mark’s nickname ‘Polar Bear?’”

Dad answered this time.  “Because he’s big and white!”

I laughed.  “That does make sense.”

Later that night, Mark and I were playing Mario Kart, and Mark said something that reminded me of something from Dog Crap and Vince.  As my brain started thinking of related things, I said out loud, “We never made that movie we were going to make while I was home.  Do you still want to?”

“I don’t know,” Mark replied.  “Do we have time?  How long are you gonna be home?”

“I’m leaving probably late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.  So we’d have about 72 hours.”  As I continued steering Luigi around the course, throwing banana peels behind me, I got an idea.  “I think this sounds like a challenge.  We have 72 hours to make a movie.  And we’ll call our production company ‘72 Hour Films.’”

“Sounds good.  I’ll ask Boz in the morning if we can go get his camera.  Boz was probably going to come over this weekend anyway.”

“Great!  And if Rick and Miranda are around, we can get them in our movie too!  So what’s it going to be about?”

“I don’t know.  This was your idea.”

“Well, you’ve been saying this whole time that you want to make a movie.”

“I do, but I don’t know what it’s about!”

I saw the GoldenEye cartridge sitting next to the Nintendo console.  “What about a spy movie?  Like GoldenEye?”

“Maybe, but it seems like that might be too hard if we only have 72 hours.”

I thought about other things I had done at home during previous school breaks, and suddenly it came to me.  “Moport,” I said.  “Let’s make a sports movie about Moport.  Like, maybe, there’s a Moport team that’s terrible, they finish last in the league, so they get the number one draft pick, but the player they draft ends up just making things worse.”

“That could work.”

“Ooo.  Better idea.  They accidentally draft the wrong player.  Like, the general manager gets the name wrong at the draft, and the player they pick is this weird crazy goofball.”

“But all the goofy stuff he does is so crazy, they still end up winning!” Mark said.

“Yes!  Perfect!”

“As long as we get Boz to play the goofy guy.  He’d be great in that role.”


Moport was a game my brother and I invented, based on a game I played in PE class in high school.  The game I learned combined elements of football and soccer; Mark and I added hockey sticks to the mix, and Moport was born.  For the last few years, we had held a two-on-two Moport tournament in the front yard with Cody, Boz, John McCall, and some of Mark’s other friends.

By the time Mark and I went to bed that night, we had a workable script, and we had decided to title the movie #1 Draft Pick.  I suggested that the team in the movie have a geographically appropriate, yet ridiculous-sounding name, like many actual low-level sports teams.  The Gabilan Valley in Santa Lucia County is known for growing vegetables, so we named our team the Gabilan Fighting Salads.  The movie would open with the Salads losing badly, finishing in last place again, giving them the number one draft pick for the following year.  After drafting the wrong player, as we had previously decided, we would show scenes of this player, whom we had named Evan, practicing and playing and still somehow finding ways to score.  We added implied references to Evan being on drugs.  I suggested that Evan played college Moport for North Coast State, because that was a well-known hippie stoner school, and it was also where Rick went, although Rick was not at all a hippie or stoner.

After the Salads’ first win, the team practiced the next day, and Evan accidentally kicked a ball that left the field and hit a supervillain-like bystander in the face.  The villain vowed to get revenge on the Salads and sabotage their season.  He sent a henchman to break into the locker room and plant drugs on Evan.  When Evan’s name was cleared, the villain hired another henchman to shoot Evan.  Mark and I both agreed that Rick should play this other henchman, since Rick’s side of the family were gun enthusiasts.  “But we should use the Nintendo Zapper as the prop gun,” Mark suggested.

“That would be hilarious,” I replied.

We continued brainstorming the ending of the movie.  Evan survived the shooting, so the villain drove his car onto the field and ran over Cody’s character, whom we named Bob.  Cody did not look at all like someone who would be named Bob, so we thought that was funny.  Bob needed to play injured since the Salads were out of replacement players, and they managed to score a goal on a ridiculously improbable shot.

“Then we should end by showing Fidel Castro dancing,” Mark said, laughing, referencing Saturday Night Live.

“Let’s name your character ‘Castro,’” I suggested.  “And at the end, you’re not there, and Evan and Bob talk about how you went to visit your Uncle Fidel in Cuba.”


My least favorite part of doing a creative project with other people involved is getting everyone together at the same time.  Fortunately, the Lusks were already planning on coming over today, as was Boz.  Mark called Cody, and he was free to come over as well.  Ronnie and D.J. Lusk, Rick and Miranda’s other cousins on their dad’s side, lived about an hour drive away, and they were also in town for the day.  That gave us two more people to use as extras in the movie; Ronnie and D.J. played one of the opposing teams.

“Dad?” I asked as we started filming Saturday morning, shortly after Boz showed up with the camera.  “Can you be in our movie for one scene?”

“Ahh,” Dad grunted as he got up from the couch, faking being annoyed although I knew he was going to enjoy helping out.  “What do I have to do?”

“You’re the general manager of the Salads, but you get the player’s name wrong at the draft,” I explained.  I placed the script on the table where he would be sitting in the shot, so that he could glance down at his lines if he needed to.

I sat next to Dad, in character as Coach McAfee.  Mark and Boz faced us, with Boz holding the camera.  “Where’d you get the camera?” Dad asked.

“We’re borrowing it from the Bosworths,” I explained.

Dad turned to Boz and asked, “That’s your camera?”

“Yeah,” Boz replied.

Dad played his part perfectly, speaking in an absent-minded manner that would make it believable that he would select the wrong player.  As an added bonus, he called his own team the Lettuce instead of the Salads.  To this day, I do not know if that was intentional, adding to the mood, or if that was just Dad being Dad and actually getting the name wrong.  After Dad called Evan’s name, Boz ran into the scene, in character as Evan, doing a silly dance and hugging Dad’s character.  Evan wore a sleeveless top with his arms covered in tattoos, drawn by Mark with a permanent marker.

Next, we went outside and set up the Moport field in the front yard, with the same scoreboard and goals that we used for the actual Moport tournament.  When we got to the part with the supervillain getting kicked in the face, we filmed Boz and Cody, in character as Evan and Bob, kicking the ball around in practice.  Evan then kicked the ball so hard it flew off camera.  My plan was to have the villain, played by me in a different costume from Coach McAfee, looking out of a second-story window with the ball coming in from off screen to hit me in the face.  But I had to change clothes for this.

“What are you gonna wear?” Mark asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me go look.”  I went inside to the closet in my old bedroom and dug around, not really sure what I was looking for, but hoping I would know when I found it.

In eleventh grade, five years earlier, I had to do a group project for history class, a presentation on one decade in American history.  My group got the 1950s.  We talked about President Eisenhower, the war in Korea, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.  We also included some references to the culture of the 1950s, which my classmates decided would include getting me to dress up as Elvis Presley and lip-synch and dance.  Mom got in on this, decorating an old thrift store shirt with fringe and sequins for my Elvis costume.  When my classmates recorded me for the class project, I could not keep a straight face for more than ten seconds, but we decided that would be enough, because the stuffy 1950s father would turn off the television after ten seconds and refuse to let his children watch that garbage.

I found the Elvis shirt in my closet, along with a trucker cap printed in a cow pattern, which Dad had gotten from a local auto parts store, and a pair of oversized sunglasses.  I walked to the window where my villain character would get hit in the face and opened it.  “I’m ready,” I said to Mark, Cody, and Boz, still outside below.

“What the hell are you wearing?” Mark shouted.

“It’s my villain costume,” I replied.

“How is that a villain costume?  You look ridiculous!”

“Hey, we’re not exactly trying to win an Academy Award for costume design.  I was going for something that would look different from my coach character.”

After we finished, I went downstairs, taking off my villain costume as I walked outside.  “Is that the Elvis shirt?” Dad asked as I walked past.

“Yeah.  You’ll just have to see the final movie when we finish.”

We had just as much ridiculous fun for the rest of that Saturday and Sunday as we finished filming.  For the scene where Rick’s henchman character shoots Evan, Rick wore a black cowboy hat and boots, with an actual holster on his belt.  We all had a hard time keeping a straight face as Rick, trying to be serious, pulled the Nintendo Zapper, the gun from the old Duck Hunt game, out of his holster, complete with cord dangling from the bottom.

Although we kept the plot basically the same, we added two scenes that were not in the original script.  In one, Boz, in character as Evan, wakes up in the middle of the night and has a vision of two-time Moport champion Mark Dennison giving him encouragement.  Mark Dennison was, of course, just Mark playing himself, wearing his Ice Monkeys uniform from the Moport tournaments.  Since this was an extremely low-budget film, many of us were playing multiple roles, and the audience would just have to accept the fact that Mark Dennison looked exactly like Evan’s teammate Ben Castro.  Although Mark Dennison had some encouraging words for Evan, he acted kind of obnoxious, eating Evan’s food and sitting right on top of him on the bed.  Pee-Wee the cat was in the room at the time, and Mark picked her up and started petting her.

The other scene that we added happened after the villain’s plan to plant drugs on Evan failed.  Boz played a double role as the henchman who planted the drugs, and only Boz and I were in the room when we filmed this scene.  The camera did not need to move, so I just placed it on a table.  On Monday morning, when I had finally finished editing, I watched the final cut of #1 Draft Pick with my family and the Lusks, and I had not yet realized that none of them had seen this scene, not even Mark.

“The plan didn’t work!” Boz’s hunchbacked henchman character shouted on screen.  “Evan was proven innocent, and he’ll be playing in tomorrow’s game!”

On the screen, in character as the villain with the Elvis shirt, I looked directly toward the camera and said, “Then it’s time for Plan B.”  The henchman walked off screen, tapping his fingers together.  A few seconds later, the villain reached over and pressed Play on a portable CD player.  Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” began playing as the villain began doing some kind of dorky, ridiculous dance.

As my family watched this scene, hysterically laughing, Mark looked at me, confused.  “That’s Plan B?” he shouted.  “What is going on here?”

“I don’t know,” I said, laughing so hard I began crying.  “I was just doing something weird.”

“But… really?  That’s your Plan B?”

Mom and Dad laughed particularly hard at later scenes in the movie, like when Rick’s character shot Evan with the Duck Hunt gun, and when the villain drove his car onto the field.  “So that’s why you drove on the lawn the other day,” Dad said.  As the final scene played, with Mark and I in character as Ben Castro and Uncle Fidel, dancing to Tubthumping, then transitioning to the credits, I looked around the room to see everyone’s reaction.  “That was very good,” Mom said.

I made a copy of #1 Draft Pick to leave with Mark and packed the other one that night to bring back to Jeromeville with me.  Mark showed the movie to Cody and Boz the next time he saw them, and they both enjoyed it.  I showed it to a couple of my school friends over the years, but not nearly as many people saw this one compared to my earlier Dog Crap and Vince movie.  But, considering how quickly we had to put everything together, it turned out fairly good.  This was definitely the highlight of my winter break that year.

And of course, to this day, my family still laughs whenever we hear the phrase “Plan B.”

Rest in peace, Uncle Darrell. He lost his battle with cancer in 2023 as I was outlining this episode.

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(February 2023. Interlude:”Why Must I Take The Time”)

My planned hiatus has lasted longer than I thought it would. So I put an old poem on the other blog, and I’m sharing it here so you can have something to read. Let me know what you think… I remember this one getting an interesting reaction when I first wrote it.

Also, I think when I do get back to writing, I’m not going to stress about posting every week.  I have a lot going on in real life, and I want DLTDGB to stay fun and not become more stress.

Greg Out Of Character

My planned hiatus from DLTDGB is extending into a third month. I started episode 157 about a week ago, but I only got a few paragraphs in. I’ve been busy. I don’t want to leave my tens and ones of readers empty-handed, though, so I dug up this poem from 2008.

Since I’m a very unconventional poet, my favorite part about writing poetry was always allusions to other works (not necessarily fancy literature) and cryptic references. And this poem has both. (I didn’t hide a secret message in the usual place, though.)

I remember sharing it on Facebook, maybe Myspace and Livejournal too because 2008, and I remember a few people commenting on one line in particular, wondering what it meant. I won’t say anything more. Here you go.

“Why Must I Take The Time”
Gregory J. Dennison, November-December 2008

Why must I take the time to mourn the loss

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(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…

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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?”


“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.”


“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.”


“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?”


“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.”


“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.

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