May 3-5, 1996. Well, aren’t you just the little social butterfly.

“We have a big announcement tonight!” said Cheryl, one of the staff members of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  The projection screen began descending, and the lights went out a few seconds later.  What was this?  I had been attending JCF since October, and we never watched videos.  Some of these meetings included a silly skit after the first worship song; I wondered if that was what was happening here, but with the skit on video.  But as I watched the first few seconds of the video, it quickly became clear that this was something professionally produced.

The video was about two minutes long, full of large groups of students singing worship songs and praying, adults lecturing, and scenes from other countries of people being fed and churches being built.  Music played throughout the video, and text indicated that this was a promotion for some large event called “Urbana,” sponsored by Intervarsity, the parent organization of JCF.  By the end of the video, it had become clear that this “Urbana” was a large convention where students and young adults could learn about Christian missions and service projects.  The convention was held during winter break every three years, in Urbana, Illinois, with the next one this coming December 27-31.

A few days ago, Xander had asked me for my address, so he could send me a prayer letter.  He would be going on a mission trip to India for part of this coming summer.  Having grown up Catholic, concepts like “prayer letters” and “mission trips” were very new to me, and now that I was taking my Christian faith seriously, I felt more of a desire to learn about the subject.  Maybe this Urbana convention would be a way to learn more about that.  But the whole idea of traveling to Illinois, two-thirds of the way across the country, just to learn about traveling even farther away to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to other countries, seemed geared toward super hard-core Christians who were actively searching to do a trip like that.  Getting to Illinois would require riding in an airplane, and I had never been in an airplane.  I had no idea how to get airplane tickets, or what to do once I got to the airport.  The convention itself would cost three hundred dollars to attend, and I was not sure I wanted to spend that much money on something that might not be right for me.

Eddie was sitting next to me that night at JCF.  He and Xander were housemates, and their whole house seemed like the kind of hard-core Christians who would be attending Urbana  Surely enough, when the night ended, the first thing Eddie did was turn to me and ask, “So what do you think about Urbana?  Are you gonna go?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I think it would be good to learn more about missions, since I didn’t really grow up around that.  And now, like, Xander is doing that trip to India this summer.  And Taylor and Pete and Charlie are going to Morocco.  So it would be cool to learn more about missions.”

“It would!”

“But I don’t know if I want to spend that much money.”

“That makes sense.  You have a while to think about it and save up for it.  The price goes up in July, but registration is open through November.  Think about it.”

“I will.  Are you going?”

“I’m planning to.  Someone I knew from my church back home went to Urbana ‘93 and spoke about it.  It sounded really great.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Eddie went to go look for someone he needed to talk to, and I continued wandering around looking to see who was around.  I saw Melinda Schmidt and Amelia Dye, two junior girls, sitting behind me talking to a few other people whom I did not know well.  Melinda saw me first and waved.  “Hey, Greg!” she said.  “How was your week?”

“It was good,” I said.  “I have a paper coming up that I need to start working on.”

“I just finished one.  I hope I do well.  Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Nothing.  Why?”

“Come over!  Amelia and I are having a birthday party for our cat, Alvin.”

“A cat birthday party,” I repeated.  “How does that work?  Do I bring a present?”

“No.  Just bring yourself.”

“I should be able to make that.  Where do you live?”

“Pine Grove, number 202.  Do you know where that is?”

“Pine Grove Apartments?  Yeah, I know where that is.”

“Great!  Come over any time after six.”

“I’ll be there!  Sounds good!”


A year ago, when I was looking for an apartment for sophomore year, Pine Grove was my second choice.  The studio apartment at Las Casas Apartments, where I lived now, was less expensive than the one-bedroom apartment at Pine Grove, although it was also smaller.  Also, thirteen of my friends from Building C freshman year lived within walking distance of Las Casas, and I did not know anyone near Pine Grove.  This had been a deciding factor for me.  But as I got to know people from JCF this year, I had met at least three households of JCF regulars in Pine Grove, and because of this, I somewhat regretted not having chosen to live there.

Pine Grove Apartments was on at the end of a cul-de-sac about a mile south of me, backing up to Highway 117 and just across Fifth Street from the outer reaches of campus.  I found a place to park on the cul-de-sac and walked around the apartment grounds until I found number 202.  I knocked at the door, and Amelia answered.

“Greg!” she said.  “Come on in!”

I was one of the first ones to arrive, as usual.  Scott Madison, who was Amelia’s boyfriend, and Scott’s roommate Joe Fox were the only other people in the apartment besides the girls who lived there.  Scott and Joe also lived in Pine Grove.

“What’s up, Greg?” Scott asked.

“Not much,” I said.  “I got all my homework done for the weekend.  But I have to start thinking about my anthro term paper.”

“When’s it due?”

“Not until the 29th.”

“Then why are you thinking about it now?”

“I have to study a group of people the way an anthropologist would.  That’ll take time.”

“Yeah, but you have the whole month.  It’s not going to take that long.”

“You’re going to be an anthropologist?” Joe asked.  “That sounds awesome!  Is that your major?” 

“I’m a math major.  I’m taking Intro to Cultural Anthropology as a general ed class.  And I know the professor.”

“Still, that sounds like a fun project.”

“I hope so.  Tabitha is in that class too.”

“What?” Tabitha said.  She had walked in a couple minutes earlier.

“I was talking about the anthro project.  I said you’re in that class too.”

“Oh, yeah.  Do you know what you’re going to write about yet?”

“I was thinking I might do a chat room on IRC.  That way, when I’m wasting time on the Internet talking to strangers, I can tell myself I’m doing homework.”

“Smart,” Tabitha said.  “I was thinking I might do University Life.”

“That would be funny,” Joe said.  I did not understand at first; I thought she meant that she was going to do a project on the life of a university student.  That seemed too broad for the scope of this assignment.  What I did not realize at the time was that University Life was the name of another large Christian student group, affiliated with the Baptist church in Jeromeville, and that University Life had a bit of an ongoing friendly rivalry with the nondenominational JCF.

Over the next hour, more people trickled in.  I recognized most of them from JCF; some of them I knew better than others.  Many of them were juniors and seniors, but a few sophomores were there too: Tabitha, Eddie and his housemate John, and a girl whose name I thought was Alyssa.  There was also one guy whose grade and age were unknown to me.  As I ate chips and pizza and talked to people, I noticed someone who was conspicuously missing: the birthday boy, Alvin the cat.  I turned to Melinda and asked, “Where’s the cat?”

“He’s in my room.  He gets kind of shy when we have a lot of people over.”

“But this is his party!”

Melinda turned close to me and lowered her voice.  “That was really just an excuse to have a party.  We’re not even really sure exactly when his birthday is.”

“Oh,” I said.  That thought had honestly never crossed my mind.  I was seriously expecting a cat birthday party, not just an informal get-together.

Some people started a game of Uno at the table, and I joined them.  After we got tired of Uno, we played Taboo, and I was complimented for my ability to give clues and get people to guess correctly.  My favorite part of Taboo was holding the little buzzer, so I could buzz people from the other team who say words that are not allowed.  Others generally found the buzzer annoying.

Even though Alvin the cat’s birthday was just an excuse to throw a party, according to Melinda, she did bring Alvin out for a few minutes later in the evening.  He had mottled black and white fur and blue eyes, and he clearly seemed intimidated by the sixteen additional people in the apartment.  Amelia went to the kitchen and emerged with a cake with white frosting and the outline of a cat drawn in black frosting.  She led us all in singing “Happy Birthday.”  As the song ended, Alvin began squirming; he broke free of Melinda’s arms and darted back to her bedroom.

“Well, I tried to bring the birthday boy out,” Melinda said.  “Who wants cake and ice cream?”  Hands went up and people said “Me!” as Amelia cut the cake and Melinda scooped the ice cream.  Eventually they handed me my plate, and I began eating.  I overheard Scott ask something about music, and shortly afterward I became vaguely aware of music playing in the background.

When I finished the small slice of cake and single scoop of ice cream on my plate, I asked Amelia if it was okay to get seconds.  “Sure!” she replied.  “There’s plenty.”  I got my second, larger plate of cake and ice cream and brought it to the living room, sitting on the floor and listening to the conversations around me.  A few minutes later, a familiar song came on: “Thank God You’re Doing Fine,” by the local independent band Lawsuit.  “I love this song!” I said enthusiastically.

“You like Lawsuit?” Scott asked.  “I made this mixtape for this party.”

“Yes.  I discovered them at last year’s Spring Picnic.”  I started singing along when the vocals came in, but stopped after one line when I noticed no one else was.

A few minutes later, Melinda approached me holding an envelope.  “Greg?” she asked.  “Can I ask you something?

“Yeah.  What is it?”

“I’m going to be going on a mission trip to Russia for three weeks this summer.  I wanted to give you a copy of my prayer letter, so you will know how you can be praying for me.  Also, if you want to give to my trip, it has the information for that.”

“Sure,” I said.  It sounded like this was the same kind of thing Xander wanted to send me for his trip to India this summer.  I continued, “I don’t know a whole lot about mission trips, being a new Christian and all, but I want to find out.”

“Are you going to Urbana?  You’ll find out a lot there.”

“The video last night was the first I had heard of this.  I’ve never traveled that far before, and it’s a lot of money.  I don’t know.”

“I’ve heard it’s worth it!”

“I know.  And it would be good to learn more about what opportunities are out there.”

“Totally!  Here’s the letter,” she said, handing me the envelope.  “I mailed these a few days ago, but I didn’t have your address.”

“Thanks,” I replied.  “I’ll read it.”

U2’s “One” was the next song on Scott’s mixtape.  I continued eating cake and ice cream as I watched people talking and eating around me.  Bono, U2’s vocalist, began singing higher notes toward the end of the song.  The conversations in the room all seemed to reach a simultaneous lull, and I happened to make eye contact with Scott as Bono sang “Haaa-haaah!” for the first of four consecutive times.  We  shared an unspoken moment in which the same idea passed through our heads.

“Haaa-haaah!” Scott and I sang along, loudly and in a bad falsetto.  Everyone else in the room looked at us and started laughing.  When Bono sang “Haaa-haaah!” for the third and fourth time, the entire room sang along with us.

“That was awesome,” I said, extending my hand to give a high five to Scott.  He smiled and returned the high five.

As I looked around that room, I realized something.  None of the others at this party were people whom I had lived with last year in Building C; they were all new friends and acquaintances I had made through Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  (I knew Tabitha to say hi to last year, but only because we had mutual friends who attended JCF.)  I wondered if this signaled a coming shift in my social life away from my Building C friends, or if there was room to expand my inner circle to include these new friends.  By the time I got home that night, I was feeling a little worn out from all the socializing, but also excited to have made so many new friends this year.


The next day, Sunday, after singing in the choir at church, I went to lunch at Bakers Square with some of the others from choir.  Danielle Coronado, one of the people from Building C last year who remained in my inner circle, sat across from me.  “We should have gotten Mexican food,” she said.  “It’s Cinco de Mayo.”

Claire Seaver was a year older than Danielle and me.  “I really haven’t found a good Mexican place in Jeromeville,” Claire replied.  She had been around Jeromeville longer, so she would know more about the Mexican food here.  I had not looked for Mexican food other than Taco Bell and the Tex-Mex Grill in the Coffee House on campus, so I had no opinion on this yet.

“How was your weekend, Greg?” Danielle asked.

“It was good,” I said.  “Some people from JCF had a party last night.”

“Was that the one at Pine Grove Apartments?  I don’t remember the people’s names.”

“Yeah.  Amelia and Melinda.”

“Pete got invited to that, but he decided to come over and watch a movie instead.

“‘Watching a movie,’” Claire teased.  “I’m sure that’s not all you were doing.”

“Shut up!” Danielle said, playfully slapping Claire.  “We were just holding hands.  Anyway, Greg, were you at JCF on Friday?  Because Pete was telling me about that big conference coming up.”

“Urbana?  Yeah, I saw the video.  I don’t know if I’m going to go.  It’s a lot of money, and farther away than I’ve ever been before.  But I would like to learn more about mission trips.”

“Yeah, that’s it.  Pete’s thinking about going.  He has the Morocco trip coming up too.”

“Greg?  What are you gonna do for your anthro project?” asked Claire.  She was also in my anthropology class.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  “I was thinking I might do the IRC chat room where I hang out a lot when I’m bored.”

“That would be interesting!  Timely, too.  Chat rooms haven’t been around long, so their culture probably hasn’t been studied.”

“True.  What about you?”

“I’m not sure.  I have a few things in mind, though.”

I ate quickly, and I felt a great sense of relief when I got back to the car.  Although I was enjoying these once-in-a-lifetime moments with friends, I was exhausted by this time and looking forward to a night of sitting at home by myself.  When I got home and entered my apartment, I noticed I had a telephone message on the answering machine.

“Hello,” the disembodied robotic voice said when I pressed the button.  “You have one new message.”  The machine’s voice was replaced with my mother’s voice, asking me to call her when I got home.  I dialed the numbers and waited.

“Hello?” Mom said on the third ring.

“Hey,” I said.  “It’s Greg.”

“Hello!  Where were you?”

“I went out to lunch with some people from church.  And yesterday some girls from JCF invited me to a birthday party for their cat.”

“Well, aren’t you just the little social butterfly,” Mom said as I rolled my eyes.  “And how exactly do you have a birthday party for a cat?”

“They said it was really just an excuse to have a party.  The cat didn’t like crowds, and I only saw him once.”

“I see.  And you said these are people from JCF?  That’s that Christian group you’re part of?”

“Yeah.”

“So these are new friends this year, not the same people you hung out with last year.”

“Yeah.”

“Good for you.  I’m glad you’re making friends.  See?  I knew you could do it.”

“Thanks,” I said, rolling my eyes again.

Mom and I continued catching up and making small talk for about another twenty minutes.  Even though I rolled my eyes, Mom was right; I was making a lot of new friends this year.  By getting involved with JCF over the last seven months, I came to faith, but I also found a social life.  But even though I was new to practicing my faith, I already understood that I should be focusing on Jesus rather than on my social life.  Nothing was wrong with having a social life, and it was a nice added bonus that came with being part of a new group.  But my social life should never become the main reason I attend JCF or church.  This tension between being part of a community of believers but putting Jesus above my social life would become a recurring theme throughout my life  But no matter what happened, I knew that my new friends were a blessing from God.

April 20, 1996. Working a table at the Spring Picnic.

I biked to campus full of anticipation on that cool, cloudy Saturday morning.  Today was the Spring Picnic.  In the last three months, I had made a new group of friends and taken an overnight trip with them, and I had discovered my purpose in life, but if this year’s Spring Picnic was anything like last year’s, it would rival those days as one of the best days of the year. (I should point out that I had no idea in 1996 of the fact that today’s date, April 20, meant something to marijuana users. My day had nothing to do with marijuana.)

Last year, I had heard some older students say that it always seems to rain in Jeromeville on the day of the Spring Picnic, but the weather last year was perfect.  Today rain looked a bit more likely, but I was determined that even the ominous sky would not ruin this day for me.

I arrived early, parking at a bike rack next to Wellington Hall a little after nine o’clock.  I had stopped to pick up a schedule of events on the way in.  I turned the pages to see what was happening this early, and to my dismay, there was not much.  The alumni breakfast was for alumni only and required a ticket purchase.  The Chemistry Club show was later in the day, but people were lining up for distribution of tickets already.  I had heard good things about that, but spending a long time in line to get a ticket did not appeal to me enough to actually do it, at least not this year.  Other than that, not much was happening this early.  The opening ceremony was at 9:30 not far from here, which led into the parade; maybe I could find a good seat for that.

I walked north to the end of the block, where a grandstand had been set up just around the corner from the Quad.  It was full, but not completely full, so I found an empty seat and looked through the schedule again as I waited.  I read the article on the history of the Spring Picnic, about how in 1909, the small group of professors and the newly founded university’s student body of about a hundred invited the public to a picnic, so they could display their research and show off a new building.  Thousands of guests flooded the campus, and a new tradition was born, growing into a major open house event for the university.

Many musicians, bands, and performing groups play the Spring Picnic every year, and last year I had discovered a band called Lawsuit, with some members who had roots here in Jeromeville.  I read an article in the Daily Colt this week about highlights of this year’s Spring Picnic, and it specifically said that Lawsuit would be playing on the Quad Stage at 3:30.  I looked in the schedule to confirm this and found it quickly.  That was definitely the one part of today that I did not want to miss.  I would be busy for part of today, though, and I specifically scheduled that so as to be finished by 3:30.

At 9:30, someone came on stage and took a few minutes to introduce the grand marshal of the parade, gushing on and on about this woman’s academic accomplishments, whoever she was.  The grand marshal spoke next, talking about passing on traditions, and history, and also finding a way to work in a bunch of politically correct mumbo-jumbo. Go figure.

The parade began after that, and I followed along in the schedule of events to see who the groups were.  The Spring Picnic parade featured numerous student clubs, academic departments, and fraternities and sororities, as well as local businesses, community organizations, and a few high school bands from all over the state.  Parades are inherently fun, but part of the fun of the Spring Picnic parade is looking to see who all the different groups are and where they come from, like the giant cow on the float I saw approaching now.  I looked in the schedule; it was Alpha Gamma Rho, the fraternity for agriculture students.

About half an hour into the parade, the Campus Tour Guides marched through, walking backward.  That made me laugh; walking backward is an important part of being a tour guide after all.  Haley Channing, the girl from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship whom I secretly had a crush on, was a tour guide; I spotted her walking backward in the side of the group farthest from me.  I called out to her and waved, but she did not see or hear me.

The Interdisciplinary Honors Program marched in the parade this year, carrying a sign and wearing graduation caps.  I wondered how this year’s IHP got into the parade, because I was in the IHP last year and no one ever talked about being in the parade.  I knew one of this year’s IHP students, a girl named Yesenia; she was easy to spot, with hair almost all the way down her back.  I had better luck getting her attention than I did with Haley, because she was walking closer to me.  “Yesenia!” I called out as she passed by.  She looked up, saw me waving, and pointed at me.  “Greg!” she shouted, waving back.  I smiled and continued waving.

By 11:00, I had been watching the parade for an hour, and I decided to go do something else.  I wandered down the west end of the Quad, following the parade route, crossing Shelley Avenue at the south end of the Quad and entering the library.  The library’s Spring Picnic exhibit was always something out of the Special Collections; this year it was photographs from the early days of the University.  The campus had changed so much since the early twentieth century; I only recognized one building in the pictures.

I left the library a bit later walking in the opposite direction from where I came.  The art building was open with a sign out front, so I walked in.  The lobby and a hallway were lined with paintings and sculptures made by students.  Some of them were fairly recognizable, like portraits of human beings and landscapes.  Others were much more abstract: lumps of clay that made no recognizable shape, multicolored lines crossing and intersecting across a canvas, and splashes of color that looked like something that someone dropped a bunch of paint on a white piece of fabric but was still considered art, probably because of the statement they made or something like that.  It was still interesting to look at everything.

I had somewhere to be at noon.  I had about twenty minutes to walk back to the Quad, eat, then head to the walkway between Wellington and Kerry to the table I would be working.  The east side of the Quad was full of student organizations selling food; many were cultural organizations selling food from their parts of the world.  I got in line for the Filipino Club’s lumpia table, but the line moved so slowly that it soon became apparent that I would not get my lumpia in time.  By 11:55, there were still seven people ahead of me, so I left the line and walked back across the Quad toward the table where I was working a shift.

Four long folding tables had been arranged in a line next to the entrance to Kerry Hall.  A handmade sign on poster board that said MATH CLUB AT UJ stood propped up on one of the tables.  The tables held various math puzzles and games.

“Hey, Brandon?” I asked a tall blond guy standing behind one of the tables.  “I’m here.  What do I do?”

“Just pick a table and talk to people.  If you need solutions to any of the puzzles, if you can’t figure out how to explain it to someone, it’s in that box there.”

“Okay,” I said.  I walked to the table on the end farthest from the Quad, with a cardboard model of the Monty Hall problem and a Towers of Hanoi puzzle.  I had studied the mathematics of both of these puzzles extensively and felt qualified to explain them to passersby.

“Hey, Greg,” a junior girl named Susan said.  “How are you?”

“I’m good.  I didn’t do much today.  Saw the parade, and the old pictures in the library, and the art department exhibit.  What have you done so far?”

“I went to the Chemistry Club show.”

“What’s that like?” I asked.  “I’ve heard about it, but I’ve never been.  I don’t want to stand in line to get tickets.”

“It’s so worth it!  You should!  Lots of cool demonstrations.”

“Maybe next year.”

I started attending Math Club meetings off and on last year, although I have not been very active in the club.  I knew Brandon and Susan and some of the others to say hi to, and some of the younger people in Math Club I had been in classes with, but I was not particularly close with any of them.

“Hi,” I said as a boy walked up to my table, looking at the Monty Hall problem poster.  “What’s this?”

“The Monty Hall problem,” I said.  “Have you heard of this?”

“I don’t think so.”

I set up the game, putting a card representing a new car behind door number 2.  “Suppose you’re on a game show.  Behind one of these three doors is a new car, and the other two have a goat.  You choose one.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah.”

He thought for a few seconds, then said, “Number three.”

“So before we say where the car is, I’m going to open door number 1,” I said.  I showed him the goat behind the door.  “Now, do you want to stick with your answer of door number 3, or switch to door number 2?”

“Hmm,” the guy replied.  “I’m going to stick with my original choice.  Door number 3.”  I opened door number 3 to show the goat.  “Aww,” he said, as I revealed the car behind door number 2.  I wrote the results of his game on a scoresheet we had made for that purpose.  “What’s that?” he asked.

“We’re keeping track of everyone who plays today, whether or not you switched doors, and whether or not you won.  Mathematically, you actually have a better chance of winning if you switch doors.”

“Really,” he said.  “How does that work?”

I had a small poster explaining the problem mathematically that I was instructed to keep covered until after the contestant had played; I showed it to him now.  “Basically,” I said, “you had a 1 in 3 chance of being right when you said door number 3.  I opened a door that I know is wrong, but that doesn’t change your 1 in 3 chance of being right.  So if you switched, knowing that door number 1 was not the prize, you would have a 2 in 3 chance of being right.  At the end of the day, you can come back and look at the score sheet, to see if the people who switched were actually right more often than the people who didn’t.”

“Interesting,” the guy said.  “Why is this called the Monty Hall problem?”

“He was the host of Let’s Make A Deal.”  The guy gave me a blank stare, so I added, “That was a classic TV game show that inspired this problem.”

“Oh,” he said.

“I remember when it stirred up controversy in Marilyn Vos Savant’s column.  Do you know about that?”  He shook his head no, so I continued explaining.  “Marilyn has one of the highest known IQs of anyone, and she writes a newspaper column.  She wrote about this problem a few years ago, and all sorts of people, some of them claiming to have math degrees, wrote to her telling her that she was wrong.  But she wasn’t.”

“Whoa,” the guy said, looking unimpressed.

“Enjoy your Spring Picnic!” I said as he walked away.  I had learned more and more these days that my peers just did not read news in print like I did, nor did they grow up watching game shows.

“Greg!” a familiar voice said a while later.  I looked up to see Sarah Winters, whom I had known since my first week at UJ.

“Hi, Sarah.  How are you?”

“I’m good!  How are you?  Did I tell you I’m changing my major to math?”

“No!  When did this happen?”

“I want to be a teacher, I’ve known that for a long time.  I decided that math is what I like teaching best.”

“Nice!  Maybe we’ll have some classes together someday.”

“Yeah!  What’s this thing?” Sarah asked, pointing to the Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

“You have to move all five discs on this spindle to one of the other two spindles,” I explained.  “But you can only move one at a time, and you can only put a smaller disc on top of a larger disc.”

“I see.”

“It’s significant because it’s an example of recursion.  Each time you get to the next bigger disc, you have to solve the same problem for one fewer disc.  And the number of moves you need follows a nice exponential growth pattern.”

“I see,” Sarah said, playing with the Towers of Hanoi puzzle, trying to move the discs accordingly.  “So you’re part of the Math Club?”

“I go to most of the meetings,” I said.  “But this is the first time I’ve ever done anything for Math Club.”

“What kind of things do you do in Math Club?”

“Math games, outreach, talking about careers in math, stuff like that.”

“I might have to check it out sometime!”

“That would be cool!”

“What else are you doing today?” Sarah asked.

“I’m going to go see the band Lawsuit after my shift here.”

“That’ll be fun.  I need to get going, but it was good seeing you!”

“You too!”


My shift ended at three o’clock, and I still had not eaten.  At one of the tables, we were giving out candy to people who could solve the puzzles, and I had been sneaking candy when no one was looking for the whole three hours I was there.  When I got back to the Quad, all the student-run food booths had shut down, but a truck with typical fair and festival type food was open on the far corner of the Quad near the library.  I went there and bought a hot dog.  Not as exciting as lumpia, but I was hungry.

I crossed to the east side of the Quad, across the street from the oldest buildings on campus, and watched a band finish playing.  I looked through the schedule of events while that band took their equipment and instruments down and Lawsuit set up, looking for something to do after their show.  Most of the events and shows would be shut down by then; the only thing going on that late was the Battle of the Bands, where the marching bands from UJ and several other universities in the region play on into the night.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” someone finally said on stage around 3:45, “the name of this band is Lawsuit!”  Paul Sykes, the lead singer, began rapping while the rest of the band played the background music of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” a song from the 1970s that had become popular again recently because it was in the movie Pulp Fiction.  This segued into “Thank God You’re Doing Fine,” the song they had opened with when I saw them last year.

Lawsuit was a difficult band to categorize.  Their music crossed the boundaries of rock, pop, reggae, jazz, and something called “ska” which apparently meant rock with horns.  The band had ten members, and during a long guitar and bass solo, the members of the horn section did a strange dance.  I sang along quietly, since I knew this song, and cheered loudly at the end.

Lawsuit played for almost an hour.  I knew about half the songs, since I now had a bootleg tape of their newest album that I had copied from someone in my dorm last year.  Last year I knew nothing of their music, but this year I knew around half of the songs from that tape.  The others, mostly older songs of theirs along with one that they said was from a new album coming this summer, included one about a couch and one about Einstein.  One thing I always noticed about Lawsuit was that their music felt at times like one giant inside joke that I was not in on, but I enjoyed it anyway.  I had been looking forward to this show since the moment that Lawsuit’s show at last year’s Spring Picnic ended, a year ago.

“We have one more song for you,” Paul said after they had been playing for a while.  “Before you go, make sure you sign up for our mailing list, and we also have CDs and merch.”  He then went into a song from the tape I had called “Picture Book Pretty.”  In the middle of the song, I noticed that he sang “one thousand red roses would not be quite enough,” instead of “one dozen red roses” like he says on the album.  I was not sure why he changed it.

After the show, I walked to the table in front and put my name and address on the mailing list.  This was how bands stayed in touch with their fans in 1996; there was no social media or YouTube back then, and email and websites were themselves brand new technologies just beginning to break into the mainstream.  By filling out this mailing list, I would get a postcard in the mail every month or two from Lawsuit.  They did also have an email list, though; I signed up for that too, even though the postcards and email would probably say the same thing.

“Hey, Greg,” someone said as I turned to leave the merch table.  I looked up; it was Christian Channing, a senior whom I knew from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and the older brother of Haley, my tour guide friend whom I wanted to be more than a friend.  “I didn’t know you liked Lawsuit.  Is this your first time hearing them?”

“I saw them at last year’s Spring Picnic.  They’re so good!”

“I know!  My little brother, he’s 15, I gave him a tape of Lawsuit last year, and now he loves them too.  Last summer we went and saw them when they played back home.”

“That’s awesome.”

“Hey, I’ll see you Friday at JCF?”

“Yeah.  Have a good one!”

I walked to the lake in the middle of the Arboretum near Marks Hall, where the Battle of the Bands was, and stayed there for about another hour.  The band visiting from Walton University always played a song that was about forty minutes long; I left around six o’clock in the middle of that song dragging on and on.  Seeing Lawsuit was great, and working the Math Club table was something new, and it did not end up raining. But despite all that, this year’s Spring Picnic felt disappointing.  Because I had volunteered three hours of my time, I missed out on my favorite part of the Spring Picnic: walking around campus looking at random exhibits.  The University of Jeromeville was so huge that no one could possibly see everything, so there would always be new things to see every year at the Spring Picnic. I got to see very little of that this year, since I spent so much time at the Math Club table.  I learned my lesson from this, though; this was the first Spring Picnic for which I volunteered for something, and it would be the last.

This was also the last Spring Picnic that Lawsuit played, although I would see Lawsuit play live again.  But that is another story for another time.


Note from the author: When I wrote about the previous year’s Spring Picnic, in December 2019, I said that I would be spending the entire day at the 2020 Spring Picnic in April.  That prediction did not age well; the 2020 and 2021 Spring Picnics were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Not having the Spring Picnic for two years in a row has been difficult for me…

April 12-13, 1996. The road trip to Bay City and Moonlight Cove.

“What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak?” the voice on the car stereo sang, followed by some other mumbling words and then guitars and more words.  At least it sounded like those were the words, although it seemed like an odd choice of lyrics for a rock song.  The song contained that exact line several more times.

“Who is this singing?” I asked Eddie.

“DC Talk,” he replied.  “I made this mixtape of Christian music for when I’m in the car.”

I nodded.  I had once seen another student at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship wearing a t-shirt that said DC Talk, but I had no idea what that meant.  Apparently DC Talk was a band that sang Christian music.  Other than stuff we sang in church, the only Christian music I was aware of was this Christian soft rock adult contemporary radio station back home in Santa Lucia County, which I never listened to.  But this Jesus Freak song was awesome.

For the first forty minutes after we left Jeromeville, headed west on Highway 100, we passed orchards and pastures and fields interrupted by a few small and medium-sized cities, Silvey, Nueces, Fairview, and La Yegua.  After Fairview, the flatlands of the Capital Valley gave way to grassy rolling hills dotted with oaks.  Eddie had offered me the front seat, since I was the tallest of the five of us; Sarah, Caroline, and Raphael were in the back.  Just past La Yegua, we crossed a bridge over the mouth of the Capital River where it empties into the Bay.  “Hey,” Sarah said when we were halfway across the bridge.  “There’s the other car.”

I looked to the left, in the direction Sarah was pointing.  A small sport-utility vehicle passed us with Tabitha looking at us through the window in the back seat, grinning, and Xander making a funny face over her shoulder.  Haley sat in the front seat, smiling and waving.  Five of the ten people on this trip were neighbors on Baron Court, and the rest of us met there to carpool.  I had hoped that I would end up in the same car as Haley, but I did not want to be too obvious about it.  Since Eddie had invited me on this trip, it had seemed more natural to be in his car.  Kristina drove the other car, and I could see a silhouette of John behind Xander in the back seat.  I waved, although I was not sure anyone could see me from the front passenger seat.

We continued driving through the hills lining the shore of the Bay, through an industrial area, then through several cities and towns that all ran into each other.  In Oaksville, Highways 100, 150, and 88 all met at the entrance to another large bridge.  Eddie drove across the bridge as we saw the lights and buildings of Bay City approaching.

“This is such a great view,” Sarah said.

“Yes,” Raphael agreed.  “One of the greatest cities in the world.”

“I’m not used to seeing it from this side,” I said.  “When we came to Bay City, we always came up 11, and usually it was for Titans games on the other side of the city.”

“Have you never seen downtown Bay City before?” Eddie asked.

“Just twice.”

“It’s pretty awesome.”

We turned onto Highway 11 north, which became a city street, Van Winkle Avenue; the freeway was never completed across the city.  About two miles up Van Winkle Avenue, Eddie pointed across the street and said “There it is.”  I saw the sign for the Hard Rock Cafe, on a building on the corner.  We found a nearby parking garage and walked to the entrance, where the group from the other car waited for us.


The Hard Rock Cafe was loud and crowded.  The walls were covered with music memorabilia, and music played loudly over speakers.  While we waited to get our seat, I read a sign on the wall telling the history of the Hard Rock Cafe.  Two Americans living in London in 1971 started the first Hard Rock Cafe as a place to serve American food and listen to great music.  Eric Clapton became a regular customer, and he hung a guitar on the wall above his favorite seat.  The restaurant incorporated this into their decor and soon opened other locations in big cities and tourist traps worldwide, with music memorabilia on the walls of all of them.

I got up to use the bathroom and took my time getting back to my seat, admiring photographs, posters, guitars, and fancy costumes on display, each with a plaque explaining whom it belonged to and its significance.  I also saw a sign saying “No Drugs or Nuclear Weapons Allowed.”  I rolled my eyes… hippies.  I could not find my friends in the lobby when I returned, so I walked around the restaurant, looking to see if they had been seated and admiring more rock memorabilia as I looked for them.  When I found them, I smiled nervously at my good fortune; the seat that they had left open for me, coincidentally, was next to Haley.

“Hey,” Haley said when I sat down.  “You found us.”

“Yeah.  I was just looking at stuff on the wall.  It’s really cool.”

“Have you been here before?”

“No.  Have you?”

“Not this one.  But I’ve been to one in Hawaii, on vacation with my family.”

“Nice.  I’ve never been to Hawaii either.”

“I’ve only been once.  It’s so beautiful!”

“I can imagine,” I said.  “So how are your classes this quarter?”

“They’re definitely keeping me busy.  I’m taking a lot.”  Just then the server came and interrupted our conversation.  I ordered a cheeseburger, nothing too adventurous.

All of us talked more about life and classes and things while we waited for the food to arrive.  At one point, Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” came on; I thought this was the Hard Rock Cafe, not the Hard Rap Cafe, but I did not complain.  Kristina started rapping along with Coolio.  “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” she began.

“That’s in the Bible, you know,” Eddie said to no one in particular.  I did not know the first time I heard the song, but I did now; it was from Psalm 23, one of the more famous passages in the Bible.  The song was from the movie Dangerous Minds, and I still had a negative memory of that movie, because of what I saw a few rows in front of me when I watched it.

By the time the food arrived, I was starving.  I ate my cheeseburger quickly.  I looked around; Haley was eating a chicken salad, and John, on my other side, had the same cheeseburger I did.  “How is it?” I asked Haley.

“It’s really good,” she said.  “You must have liked yours.  You ate it fast.”

“I did.  And I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten since noon.  It’s after nine o’clock.”

“Yeah, we’re eating late.  Do you know about this place we’re going next?”

“We’re going to sleep on the beach next, aren’t we?”

“Apparently we’re going somewhere else first,” Haley explained.  “One of the guys’ other roommates told us we have to see this thing, but Eddie said it’s a surprise.”

“He didn’t tell me.”

Eddie jumped into our conversation.  “Seriously, it’ll be worth it,” he said.

When the waiter brought our checks, he also gave us each a small button with the Hard Rock Cafe logo in flames.  “1971-1996, 25 Years of Rock,” it said.  Kristina pinned hers to the strap of her purse.  I did not know what I would do with mine; stick in a box somewhere, maybe.

And then 25 more years will pass, and I’ll write about that trip and remember exactly where I put that button.



After we finished paying for the meal, we went back to our cars.  Eddie worked his way southwest across the city, and at a red light he handed me an unfolded map.  “I need someone to help me navigate; I have to watch the road.  This is where we’re going,” he said, pointing at a green spot on the map labeled Bosque Hill Park. “Can you read maps?”

I grew up fascinated by maps, and up until that moment of my life, it had never occurred to me that some people could not read maps.  “Yeah,” I said.  It was a strange question to me.  I was reminded of those first few days of freshman year in Building C, talking about my fascination with maps.  I looked over my shoulder at Sarah in the back seat, grinning; she made eye contact with me and started laughing loudly.  I laughed too. She was thinking of the same thing.

“What’s so funny?” Eddie asked.

“At the start of freshman year, the day I met Greg,” Sarah explained, “someone told me that he loved maps.  So he made me tell Greg the highways near my house, to see if Greg could guess where I was from.  And he was right, and Greg and I have been friends ever since.”

“Good job!” Eddie said.

We arrived at Bosque Hill and parked on the street.  Street parking is usually scarce in Bay City, and when Raphael saw another spot open, he suggested we stand there and save the spot for Kristina’s car.  I wondered what was so special about Bosque Hill.  I had seen it on a map, and I had read that it was the highest natural elevation in Bay City, around 1000 feet.  I guessed that the surprise would be a spectacular view of the city lights at night.

After the other car arrived, we began climbing the hill on a well-worn dirt path.  A few people carried flashlights.  The path was surrounded by trees and brush on both sides, and the chirps and buzzes of bugs intertwined with the distant dull roar of the city.  A few times, I could see sweeping views of city lights below, but that was not the surprise Eddie was showing us.

The path turned a corner, and I could see the top of the hill, where a giant cross stood, towering over us, taller than the six-story building where my mathematics professors’ offices were.  What was this?  Why was it here?  I walked closer and read a plaque, identifying this cross as a memorial to pioneers who came from around the world and settled the area.  I looked up and saw that all my friends had adopted postures of prayer, so I did the same.  I looked up at the cross and prayed silently.  Jesus Christ, I thank you for this reminder that you died on the cross to save me from my sins and bring eternal life.  I thank you for the beauty of your creation, even here in the middle of the city.  I thank you that these friends, these brothers and sisters in Christ, invited me on this trip, and I pray that we will have safe travels.  No one spoke for about ten minutes.  I wondered how long we were going to stay here, but I did not want to interrupt everyone’s prayers, so I just kept praying until I saw people start to walk downhill.

“That was pretty cool,” I said when we were back in the car.  Eddie was driving toward the coast on the west side of the city, along the open ocean.  “I had no idea it was there.”

“I was thinking on the way down,” Caroline said.  “When we’re all standing there praying to a cross, couldn’t that be considered idolatry?”

“Hmm,” Eddie replied, thinking.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily idolatry,” I answered.  “We’re not praying to the cross.  We’re praying to Jesus, and the cross is a symbol reminding us of him.”

“That makes sense,” Eddie said.

“Good point, Greg,” Sarah added.

“Thanks,” I replied.

The coast south of Bay City was rugged and hilly, and we drove along the road that hugs the shore for about half an hour, to a town called Moonlight Cove.  I had never been this way before.  The town must have been named on a day unlike today, because tonight it was cloudy and no moon was visible.  “How does this work?” I asked, being completely unfamiliar with the concept of sleeping outside.  “Do we just put down our sleeping bags and sleep on the beach?”

“Pretty much.”

Kristina’s car had beaten us here by a few minutes this time, and we parked next to them.  “Look,” I said as we were unloading.  “That sign over there says ‘No Camping.’  Isn’t that what we’re doing?”

“Yeah, but they never check,” Eddie explained.  “My friends and I in high school came here and slept on this beach a few times.”

“My family lives just over those hills,” Caroline added, “and we came to this beach all the time.  We never spent the night, but I don’t remember anyone patrolling the area or anything.”

“If you say so,” I said, still dreading the fact that we were doing something illegal.  After staying up talking for a bit more, someone pointed out that it was almost midnight, and we decided to go to sleep.

Today, as an adult, I recognize the value of experiences, and I have stayed up all night enough times to know that doing so will not kill me.  But in 1996, I felt like I desperately had to sleep, so when people kept talking as others drifted off to sleep, I felt a need to move somewhere out of earshot.  I quietly told them so, and I dragged my sleeping bag inland about a hundred feet to a slightly more secluded spot near some large rocks.  If the police caught us camping and hauled us off to jail, maybe they would not see me.

Even in my new spot, though, sleep eluded me.  I always had a hard time falling asleep in an unfamiliar place, and I was uncomfortable sleeping on sand with the ocean roaring nearby and the wind blowing.  After tossing and turning for a long time, I realized that I had to pee, but there was no bathroom.  I carefully walked behind the rocks, relieved myself, and returned to the sleeping bag.  I looked at my watch; it was 1:29.  I tossed and turned as my mind raced.  I felt somehow inferior to the others since I could not sleep outside, and since my life did not include sleeping outside in any childhood experiences.  I also had homework to do at home.  I tried to think happy thoughts.  Eddie inviting me on this trip.  Sitting next to Haley at the Hard Rock Cafe.  Driving places I had never seen before.  Haley’s pretty blue eyes.  Hiking to the top of Bosque Hill.  The way Haley’s whole face lights up when she smiles.  I got up to use the rocks again at 2:11, then I began praying like I did at the top of Bosque Hill.  I thanked Jesus Christ for all he had done for me and tried to listen to see if he was speaking to me.  I closed my eyes.


The next thing I knew, it was light out.  My watch said 7:02.  I had slept for almost five hours, and given the circumstances, that was probably as good as it would get.  As I returned from using the rocks as my toilet again, I noticed that no one else seemed awake.  I lay in my sleeping bag, enjoying the view, for about forty-five minutes, until I saw Eddie clearly moving around.  I walked back out of sight of the others and changed into the other clothes I had brought, then rolled up my sleeping bag and walked to the others.

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie whispered.  “You sleep well?”

“Eventually, but it took a long time to fall asleep.  I never sleep well in unfamiliar places.”

“But you did sleep.”

“I did.”

“Hey, guys,” John whispered, joining the conversation.

Everyone else woke up over the next fifteen minutes as we spoke in whispers.  Once everyone was awake and speaking at a normal volume, Sarah asked, “What’s for breakfast?”

“I was thinking we could go into town and just pick up a few things at Safeway,” Kristina suggested.  “Anyone want to come with me?”

“Sure,” Haley said, getting out of her sleeping bag.

This was my chance.  “I’ll come,” I said.

“Great!” Kristina said.  “Ready?”

As I walked with Kristina and Haley to the parking lot, I realized that I had not showered or brushed my teeth or put on deodorant.  This may not be the best time to be talking to Haley.  But, then again, she probably had not done any of that stuff either.

“I was thinking, get some bagels, and fruit, and juice.  And we need cups for the juice.  Does that work for you guys?” Kristina asked.

“Sure,” Haley said.  I nodded.

We arrived at the store, took a cart, and walked through the aisles together.  After Kristina walked forward to look at different kinds of bagels, Haley asked me, “So did you ever figure out where you’re going to live next year?”

I’m going to live with Shawn Yang and Brian Burr.  Shawn is going to be student teaching, and Brian is going to work with JCF part time and apply to medical school.”

“Oh, wow.  Older guys.  Isn’t Brian applying to medical school right now?”

“Shawn said he didn’t get in.”

“Really.”

“He’s on a waitlist at one place, so plans might change if he does get in, but right now he’s planning to live in Jeromeville another year.  And there’s a fourth guy, Josh McGraw, he’s Abby Bartlett’s boyfriend, and he commutes to Jeromeville now and wants to move into town.”

“I don’t know Josh, but Shawn and Brian are great guys.  You’ll like living with them.”

“You’re living with Shawn Yang and Brian Burr next year?” Kristina said, putting bagels in the cart.  “Awesome!  Where?”

“We don’t have a place yet.  We’re going to get together sometime soon to make plans.”

“That’s cool!”

We returned to the beach with the food a few minutes later.  This was not my usual routine of cereal in milk for breakfast, but it was food and that was the important thing.  After we finished eating, Xander walked to the parking lot and returned with a guitar.  “I’ve been learning some worship songs,” he said.  He started playing some of the songs we sang at JCF large group, as well as a few that I did not think I had heard before.  Tabitha asked for a turn with Xander’s guitar, and she played and sang a few songs too.  We all just sat there for over an hour, praising God through music and enjoying the beauty of his creation.

In the early afternoon, we packed everything up and got ready to head back to Jeromeville.  “What are we doing for lunch?” Kristina asked.

“I know this great sandwich place where I used to go with my family when we would come here,” Caroline said.  “Does that sound good?”

“Sure!”

We got back into the cars, and Caroline directed Eddie to the sandwich shop in Old Town Moonlight Cove, about two miles from the beach where we were.  The others followed in Kristina’s car.  This place was much smaller, quieter, and less flashy than the Hard Rock Cafe, unsurprisingly.  I ordered a turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese; it was very, very good.

“I like this place,” I said to Caroline.  “Good suggestion.”

“So what was your favorite part of the trip, Greg?” Eddie asked me.  He had been asking everyone this.

“Probably the Hard Rock Cafe,” I said.  “I liked all the music stuff on the wall.”

“Do you play an instrument or anything?  You said you sing, right?”

“I sing at my church.  And I’ve always liked listening to music.”

“You seemed to like my mixtape too.”

“Yeah.  I haven’t really listened to a lot of Christian pop and rock music.”

“You should.  I think there’s some stuff out there that you’d like.”

After lunch, we got back in the cars and began the two hour drive back to Jeromeville.  Eddie put on a different mixtape of Christian music.  As we crossed back east over the Bay City Bridge, leaving the city, I heard familiar guitar chords coming from Eddie’s mixtape.  “Rain, rain on my face, hasn’t stopped raining for days,” the voice sang.

“Hey, I know this song,” I said.  “I’ve heard it on the radio before.”

“Jars of Clay,” Eddie replied.  “I know, I’ve heard it on 100.3.  It’s cool to hear Christian music get played on secular radio stations.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I had not listened to the lyrics closely enough to recognize it as Christian music, but it all made sense now.  “Lift me up when I’m falling.  I need you to hold me.”  

Somewhere around Nueces, Eddie’s mixtape ended, and he put on the first mixtape with Jesus Freak again.  I was definitely going to look more into this Christian music.  We arrived back at Eddie’s house in Jeromeville in the late afternoon.  Kristina’s car arrived a minute later and parked nearby, and everyone who did not live on Baron Court began unloading and moving their things to their own cars.

“Thanks for driving, Eddie,” I said.  “And thanks for inviting me.”

“Thanks for coming!” Eddie replied.  “Have a great rest of the weekend!”

“I’m glad you could make it, Greg,” I heard Haley say.  I turned to her and saw the smile I had been thinking of earlier.  She stepped forward to hug me, and we embraced.

“I’m glad you went too,” I said.  “Have a good rest of the weekend.”

After everyone said their goodbyes, I drove back to my apartment in north Jeromeville. This was the best weekend I had had in a long time.  Once I got inside with the car radio off, that Jesus Freak song started going through my head again.  This was my life now.  I was a Jesus Freak.  The despair of the past was behind me, and I was following Jesus with a supportive group of brothers and sisters in Christ.

I knew that the point of following Jesus was not about being part of the in-crowd, but it still felt good that the in-crowd was including me.  I had a group of friends who genuinely cared about me, something that I had not had for most of my life, and I was going to be living with cool older guys next year.  Of course, God had a lot to show me about how life really works over the coming years, but for now, life was good.

September 2-3, 1995.  Moving back to Jeromeville for sophomore year.

I had made this trip enough times in the last couple years that it had become familiar by now.  I left Plumdale on a Saturday morning heading north on Highway 11, my 1989 Ford Bronco full of boxes and bags.  I passed through many different landscapes on the two and a half hour drive.  Plumdale’s hills dotted with live oaks, covered by golden-brown grass that sprung up during the spring rains and had long since died in the dry sun of late summer.  A long stretch of flat farmland surrounding El Ajo and Morgantown.  The sprawling suburbs of San Tomas, where I turned onto northbound Highway 6.  Another stretch of brown hills.  Thirty miles of hilly suburbs that all run into each other: Sullivan, Danielsburg, Los Nogales, Pleasant Creek, Marquez, and others.  The Marquez Bridge.  Ten miles of marshy grassland.  Fairview, where Highway 6 ends, merging into eastbound Highway 100.  Another long stretch of flat farmland broken up by the city of Nueces.  And, finally, the exit for northbound Highway 117, with the University of Jeromeville water tower visible in the distance.

I instinctively merged to the right lane, getting ready to take the first exit, Davis Drive.  I caught myself just in time and drifted one lane back to the left.  Davis Drive was not my exit anymore, because I did not live in Building C anymore.  I passed Davis Drive, I passed Fifth Street, and I took the next exit, Coventry Boulevard.  I turned right on Coventry, left on Andrews Road, and into the back parking lot of Las Casas Apartments on the corner of Andrews and Alvarez Avenue.

Mom and Dad were on their way with the rest of my stuff in Dad’s pickup truck.  I left Plumdale a few minutes before they did, and we made no attempt to stay together.  Trying to stay in a caravan is not worth it, especially when everyone involved knows where to go.  Mom is good with directions, and she had been to the apartment before; she should be able to find it.

I realized that I did not have a key to the apartment.  Nowadays, if this happened, I would just be able to send Mom a text and say that I was going to the apartment office, but texting did not exist in 1995 and none of us had cell phones.  I just had to hope that Mom would be smart and wait for me.  By the time I got back from the office with the key, Mom and Dad were just arriving.

“I just got the key,” I said as Mom got out of the truck.

“Good,” Mom said.

“Well?  Let’s see inside,” Dad added.

I opened the door and walked into Apartment 124.  It was a studio apartment, with one large combined living room and bedroom.  On the right was a closet with three sliding doors.  The closet stuck out into the living space, leaving a small nook in the front of the room to my right.  “That would be a perfect place to put the chair,” Mom said, pointing to the nook.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “And the TV can go over here.” I pointed to my left, across from the nook, in the direction my eyes would point when I would sit in the chair.

The door to the bathroom was in the back on the right, and a small kitchen opened into the room in the back to the left.  Mom walked into the kitchen and looked around.  “No dishwasher,” she said after about a minute.

“I didn’t even think about that,” I replied.  “But I lived for 19 years without a dishwasher, so it’s no big deal.  And you’ve lived for even longer than that.”

“True.”

There was a dishwasher in our house in Plumdale, but it did not work for my entire life.  I never knew why.  We stored things in it.  It was not until sometime in the middle of elementary school when it occurred to me that the cabinet with the weird racks and pull down door was called “the dishwasher” because its actual intended purpose was to wash dishes.

“Are we ready to get started?” Dad asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

I began carrying boxes toward the general vicinity of where each box belonged.  Toiletries went to the bathroom.  Clothes went to the closet.  I left books against the wall between the kitchen and bathroom; that would be a good place for a bookcase.  As Mom carried a box of plates and bowls toward the kitchen, I noticed that Dad had finished removing the straps holding the furniture to the truck bed.  As he maneuvered the mattress out of the truck, he asked me, “Can you grab the other end?”

“Yeah,” I said.  This was a brand new mattress, and it was heavy.  Dad and I carefully maneuvered it between Dad’s pickup truck and the Bronco and almost tripped when I failed to notice the curb at the edge of the parking lot.

“You got it?” Dad asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

Dad and I carried the mattress through the front door, where it bumped against the top of the entryway and I bumped into it.  “Ow!” I shouted.

“Lower,” Dad said.

I squatted down and carefully attempted to keep my balance while pushing the mattress through the doorway.  As I was stepping over the threshold of the door, Dad turned, and the mattress turned with him, pinning me against the side of the doorway.

“Ow!” I said again.

“Where do you keep the dishes?” Mom asked from the kitchen.

“I don’t know!” I shouted.  “I’ve only lived here for ten minutes!  And I can’t move right now!”

“Huh?  You can’t move?”

I made some unintelligible noises as Dad moved the mattress away from me.  I dropped it; at this point it was in the apartment and could be pushed.  Mom stood there looking at me.  “Where do you keep the dishes?” she repeated.

“I told you, I don’t know yet!” I shouted.

“You don’t have to yell at me,” Mom said indignantly.

“I was getting slapped in the face and pinned to the wall by a heavy mattress.  I’m sorry, but where to put the dishes is not exactly my priority at the moment.”

“Well… I couldn’t see that.”

“That’s what happens when you’re moving furniture.  But I’m sorry I yelled.”

“Are you hurt?”

“Not really.”

I hated carrying furniture.  It felt like sensory overload to me.  I was trying to make sure I did not drop or break whatever I was carrying, and that I did not hurt myself, and I had to work hard to tune out distractions like Mom.  Carrying large pieces of furniture was exhausting both physically and mentally.

In hindsight, this day of unpacking took less time than any of my future moves, because I had not yet accumulated as much stuff as I would in the future.  But it still felt exhausting.  By early afternoon, the cars were empty, although the inside of the apartment was full of unpacked boxes and the furniture was not all in its proper place.

“Is it time to take a break for lunch?” Mom asked.

“Sounds good to me,” Dad said.

“Where do you want to go for lunch?  Are we going to go to our usual McDonald’s?”

“Sure,” I said.

 

We got back from McDonalds about an hour later.  McDonald’s was on the other side of Jeromeville, about a ten minute drive each way.  I did not yet have much experience with local restaurants.  I knew Murder Burger from that one time last year, but that was almost as far away, and I liked McDonald’s.

As we headed west on Coventry Boulevard back toward the apartment, Mom said, “We’re also going to take you grocery shopping before we leave.  Our treat.”

“Right now?”

Mom paused for a second.  “Sure, if you want.”

“Sounds good.”

“Where are we going?”

I could see the intersection for Andrews Road approaching.  “U-turn here,” I said.  “Then make an immediate right.  Lucky, right over there.” I pointed in the general direction of the Lucky grocery store, across the street from where we were at the moment.

We spent well over a hundred dollars at the store that day.  We went up and down every aisle, and I placed in the cart everything I saw that I would probably eat.  Bananas.  Mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup.  Bread.  Sandwich meat.  Saltine crackers.  Cereal.  Milk.  I had an empty refrigerator; I needed everything.

“Do you like these?” Mom said in the middle of the frozen food aisle, gesturing toward a frozen chicken pot pie.  “That’s something easy you can make for dinner, at least for now until you try cooking more things.”

“Sure,” I said grabbing a few chicken pot pies.  I eyed the shelf of Hungry-Man frozen dinners next to them and said, “What about these?”

“Yeah, those too.”  I got one of turkey and mashed potatoes and one of fried chicken and put them in the cart.  I ate way too many Hungry-Man dinners that year, and after I moved out of that apartment into another apartment with roommates, I don’t think I ever ate a Hungry-Man dinner again.

After we got home, I set up the computer while Dad built the new bookcase, which we brought to Jeromeville still in a box.  When he finished, I put the bookcase against the wall between the doorways to the kitchen and bathroom, as I had planned to earlier.  Mom and Dad and I visited for a while as Dad was putting the bookcase together.  Mom asked a lot of questions about school and my friends from last year; I did not know the answers to all of them.

A while later, in the late afternoon, Mom said, “Well, if you have everything under control here, it’s probably time for us to go.  I think you can probably finish unpacking.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Thank you again for everything.”

“Here,” Mom continued, writing a check and giving it to me.  “In case you need anything more.”

“Thank you.”

“Enjoy the new apartment,” Dad said quietly.  “Dad loves you.”

“You too,” I said.  “Drive safely.”

 

After Mom and Dad left, the first thing I did was connect to IRC chat and go to the room where I always used to chat last year.  I scanned the list of people in the room and recognized someone, a girl from Georgia named Mindy Jo (that name sounded very Southern to me) whom I had kept in touch with off and on by email but had not actually chatted with since moving out of Building C in June.  I messaged her.

gjd76: hi
MindyJoA: greg! you’re back!
gjd76: yes! i moved in to my new apartment this afternoon
MindyJoA: yay how is it?
gjd76: i like it so far.  mom and dad took me shopping
MindyJoA: that was nice of them.  you said you live by yourself?
gjd76: yeah
MindyJoA: have your friends moved back yet?
gjd76: i don’t know. i don’t think so.  i still have another three weeks until school starts.
MindyJoA: why’d you move back so early?  last year when i moved home for the summer i didn’t go back to school until the night before my first class
gjd76: because it’s boring back home.
MindyJoA: yeah, that makes sense

I stayed up until past midnight talking to Mindy Jo and a few other people in the room, and catching up on the Pink Floyd Usenet group, which had died down in general since it had been three months since new music was released and there were no more Publius Enigma posts.  The bed was right next to the computer table in the large main room, and while it took me a while to fall asleep, as it often does in a new place, I slept fairly well after that.

 

“Greg!” Sister Mary Rose said when she saw me walking into the Newman Center the next morning for Mass.  “Welcome back!”

“Thanks.  It’s good to be back.”

“School doesn’t start for another few weeks, right?  Are you in summer session?”

“No, I was just bored at my parents’ house, so I moved here as soon as my lease started.”

“Was your summer good, even if it was boring?”

“Yeah.” I told her about the bookstore, watching roller hockey games, and Catherine and Renee’s Voices of Austria show, until she had to go get Mass started.

I looked around during Mass and noticed that, while I recognized some faces in the congregation, most of the people here whom I actually knew well were not here.  I was hoping they might be.  I knew Danielle was not moving back to Jeromeville this early, and I suspected many other students had not moved back yet as well.

After church was over, I stood watching people leave.  Normally now was the time I would go talk to people I knew, but with most of the people I knew not in attendance today, I decided after a minute to just go home.  When I got home, I made a sandwich with the groceries Mom and Dad had bought last night while I answered a few emails.

Later that afternoon, I went for a bike ride.  I had been waiting a long time for this.  My bike had been pretty much sitting in the garage the whole time I had been home.  Plumdale is hilly, with many curvy roads where people drive fast, the polar opposite of Jeromeville as far as ease of cycling is concerned.

I rode south down Andrews Road across Coventry Boulevard.  The weather was sunny and hot, around ninety degrees.  By the time I crossed Fifth Street onto campus, about a mile south of my apartment, I was sweating, but it felt good.  I continued south past the Rec Pavilion, and I stopped at a red light at Davis Drive next to the recreation pool, which Dad had nicknamed Thong Bikini Hill.  I turned, trying to look at the sprinkling of sunbathers on the hill, but staring felt inappropriate, and I did not have a good view from where I was.  When the light turned green, I continued south, past the dairy, all the way to the oak grove at the west end of the Arboretum.  The campus looked quieter and more deserted than usual; I figured this was probably normal for summer.  The campus had also looked more deserted than normal when I was here in July with my cousins, and most campus activity would be in the older part of campus to the east anyway.

My route that day was very familiar.  I rode east through the Arboretum and emerged downtown on B Street.  I headed north on B Street to Community Park, to the pedestrian and bicycle overpass over Coventry Boulevard, and into the Greenbelts.  I had been here a few times before last spring, but after being away for almost three months, it felt new all over again.

About a mile north of the pedestrian overpass, I passed the pond and crossed Andrews Road, which curved to run east-west through this neighborhood.  I continued down a residential street; I discovered last spring that this street connected to another greenbelt and bike trail running along the northernmost edge of Jeromeville.  I stopped to drink from a water fountain next to a small playground that intersected another bike heading south.  I looked north, through the chain link fence that ran along the edge of the trail.  A drainage ditch ran parallel to the bike trail, with fields spreading as far as the eye could see on the other side.  The neighboring city of Woodville was about eight miles to the north, and Bidwell, where my dad was born and some of his relatives still lived, was about ninety miles in the same direction.  I wondered what else was out there in the North Valley.  I had seen roads and towns on maps, but I was not very familiar with any of them up close.

The trail continued next to the drainage ditch for a while, until it turned southward through a park tucked between two neighborhoods.  This park had a playground and basketball court at the north end, closest to the ditch, then a long grassy area and a sculpture that looked like dominoes at the other end.  Public works of art were strange sometimes, and Jeromeville had no shortage of them, being a university town.  These dominoes appeared to be permanently frozen while falling, although not in the usual configuration of falling dominoes.  The thought of falling dominoes got me thinking about how one small decision could affect so much, just like how pushing one domino could lead to many others toppling.  What if I had decided to go to Central Tech or Bidwell State instead of Jeromeville?  What if I had not accepted the invitation to the Interdisciplinary Honors Program last year, and had not made that group of friends in the dorm?  What if I had decided to run away and quit school that night that I got so upset?  What if I had paid more attention and found a roommate for this year, or decided to answer an advertisement and room with a stranger, instead of getting a little studio apartment?  My whole life could be different.

 A little way past the dominoes, I turned off the trail onto a path which I knew led directly to the Las Casas Apartments.  I locked my bike and headed straight for the shower.  I had been outside in hot weather for 45 minutes, and I was sweaty.  I showered in mostly cold water, then I got dressed.  I turned on the stereo, now on top of the new bookcase next to the kitchen, and played the Hootie & the Blowfish CD as I put a Hungry-Man fried chicken dinner in the microwave.

All was starting to feel more right with the world.  I may not have understood exactly why my dominoes fell in the direction they did, but they did, and now I was back in Jeromeville where I could start moving my life forward again.  I grew quite a bit freshman year, and I was ready to build on that growth, and maybe push over a few more metaphorical dominoes in the process.

dominoes

2020. A note from the author.

Hello, friends.  I started this project fourteen months ago, and now that I have reached a natural stopping point in the story, I will be taking a break for a few weeks, maybe more; we’ll see.  Life is busy.  I need to plan what I’m going to write about for the next school year in the story.  I also have a few related tasks I’m going to work on; for example, I need to organize some notes to myself, so I can stay consistent with characters’ names and such.  There are already at least three Mikes, two Jennifers, and three Kims in the story (although to be fair those were common names for people my age).

This is not a regular post.  If you are new to DLTDGB, it is an episodic continuing story about a university student in the western USA in the 1990s.  Scroll down to other posts to read some of these stories. Or if you are in this for the long haul, click here to start from the beginning.

One of the related tasks I’ve been meaning to do is complete: I made a playlist of all the music I used in year 1 of DLTDGB (42 songs).  It is mostly early and mid-1990s “alternative rock” and pop-rock, along with some classic rock, because that is what I was listening to at the time period I am writing about (and I was going through a big Pink Floyd phase at the time, so they’re in there several times).

 

Anyway… I definitely want to thank you all so much for your support.  I have enjoyed getting to know those of you who have interacted with me and shared this journey through my past.  Hopefully you have found something in my story that has influenced you positively.

But I want to hear from you.  I have a lot of thoughts about this.

Do you have any comments or suggestions on this project?  How am I doing? Is it easy to follow, or is my storytelling too confusing?  Are the episodes too long? Too short? Just right? Does it depend on the story I’m telling?  

Should I change the title of the blog?  I took the title from a song lyric from the time period I am writing about, but I did so without permission from the artist, so if this blog gets too big I might have to change it.

I wonder sometimes if I have too many characters.  I’m not really sure how I can do this project without a lot of characters, though (and this is why I included a dramatis personae page).  But do I need more character development for the minor characters, or does that not really work well for short episodes told by me?  Should I name other characters by just their first names, or would it make it easier to remember if I referred to more people by first and last names at least once per episode?  Do I need more physical descriptions of what the other characters look like?

Of course, DLTDGB is based on true stories and real people, but I have taken liberties with many of the details, particularly conversations.  I don’t remember every word of every conversation from 25 years ago, obviously. I also made some minor changes for artistic reasons.  For example, I know I did not actually listen to Bush on the way home from my last day in the dorm because I never owned that album until I got it at a used music store in my late 30s. I wrote that in because I want to end every school year with the song that this blog is named after, but that song was not released to radio until early in my sophomore year, so the album was the only way I could have known the song by the end of freshman year.  Another obvious example: the episode about the “football championship” did not use any actual NFL team names or trademarks, and the real life events that inspired that story happened during a regular season game, not the championship game.)

But I still wonder, how much should I deviate from the truth?  Should I keep it mostly true in broad strokes as much as possible and just fill in the details, as I have been so far?  If I have a story from another time in my life that would make a good DLTDGB episode, can I adapt such a story and pretend it happened in Jeromeville in the 1990s?  Or would that take away from the integrity and truth of this project? I suppose ultimately only I can answer this question, since this is my writing project, but I am curious what people think about this.

I am also unsure exactly when to end the project.  My original thought was to go up through December 31, 1999, since that is the last day of the 1990s, and then tie up a few loose ends with some “epilogue” stories set in 2000 and later.  I am still leaning toward doing this.  I also considered continuing the main narrative up to July 2001, since that is when I actually moved away from Jeromeville, but it seems like most of my most interesting stories happened before then, and if I deviate from the truth slightly, as I mentioned before, the most interesting stories from 2000 and 2001 I can probably rewrite as if they happened earlier.

So, yes, please share if you have any thoughts about any of the above, or about anything else, or if you just want to say hi.  I can also answer questions about anything you read on here, although I might give incomplete or evasive answers if answering your question would give away major spoilers for future episode.  (I know, for example, multiple people have asked me what my career is as an adult.  I have not answered that question, because I will eventually write about experiencing the process of exploring and discovering careers throughout most of 1997, and since I am still today in the same career field that I settled on before finishing my undergraduate studies at UJ, answering this question would give away things that I will write about later.)