August 1, 1997. Oh, how I wish that I might be the one. (#140)

While I was in Oregon that summer, away from all of my friends and with less of a social life than I had in Jeromeville, my mind had plenty of time to explore some creative ideas.  Since I did not have my computer with me, I could not make any new episodes of Dog Crap and Vince.  I also could not work on Try, Try Again, a novel I had begun a year and a half ago about a high school student who needs a fresh start, but is not ready to move on to the next stage in life, so he runs away and fakes his age to get a few more years of high school.  That manuscript was saved on the hard drive of my computer back in Jeromeville.  By now I had lost interest in finishing Try, Try Again; I had moved on from whatever thoughts had inspired its creation.  I never worked on it again; it remains unfinished to this day.

I was playing with an idea for a multi-part science fiction story, inspired by my recent rediscovery of Star Wars.  My story began with humans living on another planet, ruled by another race.  Their rebellion against their overlords would take up the first three stories.  Then, hundreds of years later, in the next episode, it would be revealed that the alien overlords had been secretly living among the humans, plotting to reconquer their planet when the time was right.  Unlike Star Wars, I was not going to leave my readers hanging with just the middle of the story, waiting to get the beginning and end of the story in movies that would never be made.  My story had not only a beginning and a middle, but also an ending, in which hundreds more years would pass, and the humans would battle their overlords again, winning once and for all.  But then I would write one more story, in which the conquering race would reappear.  They could never truly be defeated.  This idea never made it farther than an outline in which I would summarize each of the ten tentative episodes in one sentence each.

I had no computer in my room, so if I wanted to write for an extended period of time, I either had to write by hand with pencil and paper, or walk all the way to Keller Hall and use the computer in room 202, the study room for the other students from the summer math research program.  Writing in 202 Keller carried the risk that one of my classmates would ask me about my writing.  I did not feel particularly comfortable with the idea of sharing my writing with those people.

Also, with no computer in my room, I had to do all my emailing from 202 Keller.  My mother wrote almost every day.  I also had a few girls I met flirting in chat rooms who emailed me occasionally, and a few of my friends from Jeromeville actually checked their email during the summer when school was out.  Many of my friends were currently on summer mission trips with churches or Christian ministry organizations; although they did not have frequent access to email, some of them occasionally sent out mass emails to their supporters.

I got one such email today, from Erica Foster.  It was Friday, I was tired, and I decided in the late morning while sitting frustrated in front of a computer in 202 Keller that I was done doing math research for the day.  Keith and Marjorie were sitting on a couch across the room, talking about things that were not math.  Ivan and Emily, the other students working on the same project as me, each had their own things to work on, so I was not hindering their work by taking the rest of the day off.  I closed the window in which I was writing scripts with the math software Mathematica and opened another window where I could get to my email.

This email was the first time I had heard from Erica since I left Jeromeville in mid-June.  Erica, like me, was a youth group leader at Jeromeville Covenant Church.  She was three years younger than me, having just graduated from Jeromeville High School; she would be joining me and most of the rest of the youth leaders at the University of Jeromeville in the fall.  Her younger brother, Danny, was one of the kids in the youth group at J-Cov.  Danny and his friends were a big part of the reason I got involved in youth ministry, after they randomly brought me with them on an adventure after church one day six months ago.

Erica was in Turkey for the summer, volunteering as a nanny for a family of full-time missionaries that J-Cov supported.  The concept of mission trips and full-time missionaries was relatively new to me.  I grew up Catholic, where missionary work looks a bit different from that of evangelical Christians.

In Erica’s email, she told all about the three children of the family she was helping, what they were learning in school, their hobbies, and what she had been teaching them weekly in place of a proper Sunday school.  She also talked about helping their parents with the Bible study they had started in their community, and about some of the locals who had made a decision to follow Jesus or were asking questions indicating interest in doing so.  At the end of the message, Erica had mentioned that the Turkish word for turkey, the animal, was the same as the Turkish word for India.  “I wonder what they call turkeys in India?” she wrote.  I laughed.

Erica was truly a woman of God.  It took a huge leap of faith to go overseas and do God’s work, and as much as I supported the concept, I could never see myself as the one to actually go overseas.  This trip seemed like the perfect experience for her; she had a very motherly side to her personality, suited to nannying, and having grown up at J-Cov, she had known this family that she was working with for many years.  I needed to find a woman like that for myself, one who showed through the way she lived her life that she truly loved God.

Every once in a while, a poetic phrase will pop into my head regarding whatever, or as the case usually is, whoever is on my mind at the moment, and if the right words come, I will build a poem around that phrase.  I was still thinking about Erica when I walked back to Howard Hall to warm up something in the microwave for lunch, and in my mind, I kept saying to myself, Reflected in her face, I see the Lord.  Iambic pentameter, just like Shakespeare.  This could work.  By the time I got back to my room, I had a second line: Each move she makes the love of Christ reveals.

I would occasionally hide secret messages in my stories and poems.  A few months ago, when Haley Channing told me she did not like me back and I was in the process of getting over her, I wrote a story in which the first letter of each paragraph spelled her name.  Conveniently enough, “Erica Ann Foster” had fourteen letters, and a Shakespearean sonnet had fourteen lines.  And the first two lines I thought of for my poem started with R and E, which were the first two letters of Erica’s full name spelled backward.  I could hide her name in the first letters of each line, but spell it backward.

I wrote down the start of the poem as soon as I got back to my room.  After I ate lunch, I went for a long walk around the Grandvale State campus, composing poetry in my head and occasionally taking a piece of paper out of my pocket and writing something I wanted to make sure to remember.

Erica had done another short mission trip over spring break, to northern Mexico, as part of the high school group at J-Cov.  That was a big trip with hundreds of students from all over the West, organized by a Christian university in California.  The students on that trip got a t-shirt that said “Be The One,” with a Bible verse on the back, saying to be the one that God sends out to spread the Gospel.  I wrote that down, making a note in my head to incorporate that phrase into the poem somehow.

What was I doing?  Was I developing a thing for Erica, falling for her?  This could never work.  We did not really have much in common other than being youth leaders at J-Cov.  And what if Erica did become a full-time missionary someday?  If something serious did happen between us, and we got married, I would have to follow her to some faraway land.  Should I even be letting these thoughts into my head enough to write a poem about it?

Or, perhaps, could I incorporate these thoughts into the poem itself?

Somewhere around the seventh line, I got stuck; I could not make the poem sound like I wanted while making the line start with N, to fit the secret message.  The line I had in mind started with I, and Erica’s name did have an I in it, but not at line 7.  I decided to give up on making the first lines spell Erica’s name backward, opting for the simpler task of making the first letters of each line an anagram, unscrambling to spell “Erica Ann Foster.”  This way, I would not have to change the first six lines that I had already tentatively written.

After I got back from my walk, I got out my copy of Needful Things by Stephen King, a long novel which I had been reading off and on all summer.  I was near the end.  I took a break from reading every once in a while to continue thinking about my poem.  I warmed up something in the microwave again for dinner, and by about ten o’clock I had finished the poem.  At some point, the pronouns in the beginning of the poem had changed, so that I wrote as if I were addressing the woman directly instead of writing about her.

“That I Might Be The One”

Reflected in your face, I see the Lord,
Each move you make the love of Christ reveals;
Through you, His love on everyone is poured,
Such strength in Him no worldly thing conceals.
Oh, how I wish that I might be the one
For which you save that special love, so dear,
In all your smiles I feel the shining sun,
No worries trouble me when you are near.
Now always will these dreams go unfulfilled,
Can bridges cross the years and miles between?
And we’ve no common ground on which to build
Except for Christ, Whose blood has made us clean;
Regarding this, I put my dreams aside,
And lift my cross, and let Him be our guide.

Fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, with the Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme, and the first letters of each line unscrambling to spell Erica Ann Foster.  It was perfect.


After my poem was done, I walked back to Keller Hall and went straight to room 202.  This was exactly the kind of quiet, boring night that seemed perfect for logging on to Internet Relay Chat and finding strangers to talk to, particularly girls.  I certainly was not meeting any girls here, and all the cute girls I knew back in Jeromeville were not keeping in touch regularly this summer.

A girl named Valerie whom I had seen off and on in this room for a long time was on tonight.  We had talked some over the last year or so; sometimes she was friendly and sweet, but other times she seemed too busy for me.  A girl who was outgoing and friendly and claimed to be young and pretty would be really popular in any Internet chat room, probably inundated with messages from lonely, horny guys like me.

gjd76: hey
sweetgirl417: hey u! what’s up ;)
gjd76: not much, bored tonight.  i told you i was in oregon for a research internship this summer right?
sweetgirl417: no! how’s that going?
gjd76: i really don’t like it.  math research is weird.  and i don’t have anything in common with the other students in the program.  i really can’t wait to get back to jeromeville
sweetgirl417: oh no :( when do you go back?
gjd76: i leave grandvale august 15, which is also my birthday.  then i’ll be with my family for two weeks.  then back to jeromeville.
sweetgirl417: happy early birthday ;)
gjd76: thanks :) i just keep telling myself it’s almost over… i’ve been telling myself that for a month now though
sweetgirl417: too bad your program isn’t here in missouri, then you could hang out with me ;)
gjd76: that sounds nice ;) i wish
sweetgirl417: so did you ever find a girlfriend? ;)
gjd76: no.  there are four girls in the math program, they’re not my type.
sweetgirl417: anyone you like back home?
gjd76: kinda.  i wrote a poem earlier today, it’s about someone i know back home who is a great girl but it just wouldn’t work between us
sweetgirl417: can i read it?

I sent Valerie my poem; she said it was really good.  I did not tell her about the secret message, and she never found it.  She asked me why I did not think things could ever work out with Erica, and I told her everything that had been on my mind lately.  Valerie then messaged me a winking face and told me again to come to Missouri.  I asked her if she had a boyfriend; she did not.  She had gone through a breakup a few months ago and had not met anyone else, and the only guy interested in her was kind of a creep.  I told her that she should come out west to see me.

After a couple hours of small talk, with lots of winking faces and some jokes about what it would be like if I went to Missouri to meet Valerie, and some talk of kissing, I asked Valerie what she was wearing.  She said a tank top and pajama shorts.  I looked around the room, hoping that, since it was almost one in the morning by now (and two hours later for Valerie in Missouri), no one would come to 202 Keller and ask me what I was doing up so late.  I attempted to take the conversation in a much more intimate direction, and I was pleased that Valerie reciprocated.  The flirty messages soon became overtly sexual, with a lot of touching myself on my end, and at one point I had to tell Valerie that I would be back in a few minutes, since I had to go to the bathroom and take care of something.  I really hoped I was alone in the building, and that no one would question an obviously aroused undergraduate wandering the halls.

I had the sense to log out of the computer before I stepped away from it, just in case anyone else came to 202 Keller while I was gone, and when I returned a few minutes later, I logged back into IRC and typed to Valerie with my recently-washed hands that she was great and that I had had a wonderful time, but I should probably go to bed.  She agreed, since it was even later for her.  I told her that we would talk soon.

I always felt ashamed of myself for having these feelings and acting on them.  My freshman year in the dorm at UJ, I had made the Walk of Shame back from the bathroom after taking care of myself in this way many times.  Tonight, the Walk of Shame was much longer, walking all the way from Keller Hall across the Quad and down the street to Howard Hall.  I was a follower of Jesus, and Jesus said that lust was a sin.  I should be stronger than this; giving in to these moments made me feel weak in my faith.

About a third of the way across the Quad, I saw someone else approaching on the same path.  Whoever it was, I hoped I was not going to have to interact; I was not in the mood.  As the thin figure approached, I realized in horror that it was Marcus Lee, one of the other students from my math program.  Now I was going to have to explain why I was making the Walk of Shame in the middle of the night.  The Quad was wide open, I was over a hundred feet from the nearest tree or any other object that I could hide behind, and Marcus was only about twenty feet away now.  There was no avoiding this interaction.

I looked up at Marcus.  “Greg?” he said.  “What are you doing out so late?”

“I was bored.  Just doing stuff on the computer in Keller.  Emailing people back home.”  I was not lying; early when I was first catching up with Valerie, telling her about the math program, I had my email open in another window, and I had replied to one message.  “I need to get to sleep.”

“Yeah, it’s late,” Marcus replied.  “Hope you sleep well.”

“Thanks.”

I went straight to bed when I got back to Howard Hall, but my mind was so full of guilt and shame that it took a long time to calm down enough to sleep.  Eventually my mind went back to the poem I wrote earlier.  Oh, how I wish that I might be the one.  Erica was a Godly woman who would never want to be with someone who talked dirty with strangers from the Internet.  And neither would any other Christian girl I would ever be interested in.  I was only making things worse for myself.

I never did find out why Marcus was out so late himself.  Could he also have been sneaking off to do something he wanted to keep secret?  Was he just out for a walk?  Or was he going to work on math all night, since he was so focused on his career?  I did not ask; it was none of my business, and if I did not want people to know where I was at night, it was not my place to care where anyone else was.

After tossing and turning for almost an hour, I read Psalm 51.  “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.”  I knew that God was a God of love, and that he sent Jesus to Earth to atone for my sin.  I knew that no one was perfect, and that the fact that humanity needed a Savior just indicated that no one was perfect.  Psalm 51 was written by King David after he slept with another man’s wife and got the other man killed to cover up the affair.  I often read this psalm on nights like this.  I prayed for a while, that God would create a pure heart in me, just as David had asked.  I did eventually get some sleep, but not much, and I woke up with a headache.  I was tired of being alone, I was tired of all the good Christian girls passing me up, but I still had no idea what to do about any of this, so I felt stuck as I drifted off to sleep, consumed by darkness.


Readers: Have you ever written anything with a secret message hidden inside? Tell me about it in the comments.

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July 22-23, 1997. Hanging out and making the most of things. (#139)

“Any other final thoughts from Matthew 20?” Joe Ferris asked the group.

“To be completely honest, I never really liked this passage,” I said.  “It seems unfair.  The workers who got there early should be paid more.”

“So you think that people who became Christians earlier in life and served God for longer deserve a better heaven than those who came to Jesus later in life?” Jonathan B. asked.  “That’s basically what the grumbling workers thought.”

“No,” I replied.  “I’m a new Christian myself.  And I understand what Jesus is trying to say here.”

“It’s not a perfect analogy,” Jonathan G. said.  “Just for salvation and grace.”

“I know.  It’s not meant to explain how we should pay workers.  It’s just making the point that God’s grace is for everyone who comes to him, no matter what we were like before that.” As I said that, I thought of something else, so I added, “And, also, none of us received God’s grace because of anything we worked for.”

“Good point!” Alison said.

“On that, it’s time to close,” Joe announced.  “Any prayer requests?”

“I’m really missing home this week,” I said.  “Pray that I’ll be able to get through the rest of the summer.”

“How much longer does your research program go?” Jonathan G. asked.

“This last weekend was the halfway point; this is week five out of eight.  Then I have two weeks at my parents’ house after that.  Then I move into my new house in Jeromeville, and I have a few weeks there before school starts.”

“You guys start late,” Alison commented.

“We’re on the three-quarter system.  So Christmas comes one-third of the way through the year instead of halfway.  We start at the end of September and go until the middle of June.”

“That’s kind of weird,” Jonathan B. said.

After we prayed for each other, I rode my bike home from the Ferrises’ house back to Howard Hall on campus.  It was close to nine o’clock, and the sun was just setting.  Grandvale, in western Oregon on the Willamette River, was the farthest north I had ever lived, and I was not used to the sun staying up this late.  I had brought my battery-operated bike headlight just in case it got dark, but I did not need to use it.  I had not used the headlight for the entire month I had been in Grandvale.

I always looked forward to the weekly Bible study for the college and career group at church.  With how out of place I felt among the other math research students, it was nice to at least have one time a week around people who believed the same thing I did.  Two times per week, actually, because some of them came to church Sunday morning as well.  I did not see them enough to build a strong social life around them, though, and the group was mostly guys this summer, so I was not meeting any girls.  I felt closest to the two Jonathans and Alison, but Alison was twenty-nine years old, not really a romantic option for my twenty-year-old self, even if my birthday was coming up in a few weeks.

“Hey, Greg,” said Marcus, one of the other math students, as he saw me getting out of the elevator on the third floor of Howard Hall with my bike.  “Where’d you go?”

“Bible study,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s right.  What did you say you were studying?  Proverbs?”

“Parables,” I replied.  “The stories Jesus told to make illustrations.”

“That’s right.  I was close alphabetically, at least.”

“True.”

“We’re all in Emily’s room hanging out if you want to join us.  I’ll be back in a while.”

“Sure,” I replied.  “Let me drop off my bike.”


When I was a freshman at the University of Jeromeville, I lived in a tiny single room in a dormitory that was reserved for students in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  It was the perfect situation for me, because I had a built in community.  If I wanted to be around people, I could just wander up and down the halls and see what people were doing, and if I did not, I could just go back to my room and close the door.  Unfortunately, student housing at Jeromeville was so full in those years that students were only guaranteed one year of living on campus, so I did not have the opportunity to live in a dorm for any of my other years at Jeromeville.

Being in the summer mathematics research program at Grandvale State University gave me another opportunity to experience dorm life.  Howard Hall was normally the dorm for graduate students.  All of the rooms, at least on my floor, were single rooms, and they were much bigger than my freshman dorm at UJ.  Being in a dorm again, I reverted back to my old habit of wandering the hall to see if anyone was doing anything, just to make conversation and not be alone in my room all the time.  Emily’s room had become the one where the math research students often hung out.  Tonight, Emily, Ivan, Julie, Marjorie, and Kirk were all there, along with Jason, a tall blond guy who was one of three students on our floor not from the math program whom I had met.  I poked my head in the door and waved.

“Hey, Greg,” Emily said.  “Come on in.”

“How are those research projects coming along?” Jason asked.

“Good,” I said.  “We’re making progress.  Ivan and Emily and I are on the same project.  I wrote code to do the Monte Carlo integration that we’re studying.”

“I’m working alone, but on a very similar project as Jeannie,” Marjorie said.  “There’s a lot of stuff out there on punctured toruses, but I decided to look at toruses with one puncture, and Jeannie is doing two punctures.”

“‘Toruses?’” I asked.  “Or would that be ‘tori?’”

“Tori,” Ivan repeated as Marcus entered the room and sat next to me.  “I like that.”

“Man, I’m an engineer, I’ve taken a lot of math, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jason said.  “This math research stuff is out there.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I feel the same way.”

“Speaking of which, I need to go work on stuff.  I’ll see you guys later?”

“Bye, Jason,” Ivan said.  We waved as Jason left the room.

“Every time I read about what research my professors back home are doing, I feel like it doesn’t make any sense to me,” I said.  “And that’s one thing I’m worried about if I do end up going to grad school in math.  Like, maybe it’ll be too complicated for me.”

“I don’t think you’re alone in that,” Marcus replied.  “You’ll spend the first two years taking more advanced classes and learning about those things.”

“I guess.”

After the conversation reached a lull, Emily said, “You guys want to play Skip-Boo?”

“Sure,” Ivan answered, and the rest of us gave assenting replies too.  Emily had brought with her to Grandvale a Skip-Bo card game, a longtime favorite in her family, except she always pronounced it like Skip-Boo.  She said that that was how they always pronounced it back home in upstate New York; I wondered if it was a regional dialect thing, since she did pronounce other vowels differently from how those of us in the western United States did. I grew up playing Skip-Bo with my grandmother, but I had not played in probably close to a decade before meeting Emily.

Skip-Bo was a simple game, in which players had a stock pile that they were trying to get rid of, along with cards in their hands.  Cards were played on piles in sequence from 1 to 12.  I drew a 1 on my turn and started a new pile, but that was all I was able to do.  It was not until my third turn that I was finally able to play off of my stock pile.  Jeannie walked in at that moment.  “Skip-Bo,” she said.  “Can you deal me in?”

“Sure,” Emily said.  “Who has the biggest pile right now?”

“I’ve only played one,” I said.  Emily dealt Jeannie the same number of cards in my pile, so that she would not start with an advantage.

When my next turn came; I was able to play two cards from my hand, but nothing from the stock pile.  I put down my discard, and the turn passed to Marjorie.  She drew cards until she had five in her hand.  “I can’t play anything!” she said, frustrated, as she put down her discard and ended her turn.  “These cards are, like, so bad!”  She drawled out the word “so,” holding the O sound for about a full second.

“Like, sooooo bad,” Ivan said, playfully mocking her pronunciation.  “Yep, you’re totally from California.”  The others laughed, and Marjorie blushed.

“Want to play again?” Emily asked.  “Or play something else?”  The others seemed to want to play again, so Emily handed parts of the large deck to me and to Julie to help shuffle.

“I was thinking earlier, does anyone remember how to play that card game where one player is the President, and one player is the asshole, and stuff like that?” Kirk asked.

“No,” Julie replied.  No one else remembered either.  I did not know the game Kirk described.  (A few years later, I would learn a game that was probably the President-Asshole game Kirk was describing, but I have since forgotten it again.)  Hearing those two words in the description, though, I said something that I thought was hilarious: “I don’t know that game, but these days, the President is an asshole.”  Everyone in those days made fun of President Bill Clinton, and he was an arrogant elitist who looked down on common people like me and stood against everything I believed about how to run the country.

No one laughed.  Ivan said, “I voted for the President.”

“Me too,” Marjorie added.

“I did too,” Jeannie said.

“So did I,” Kirk said.

“I did too,” Emily said.

“Me too,” Julie said.

After a pause of a couple seconds, Marcus added, “I voted for Ralph Nader.”

Emily drew five cards and took her turn, playing three cards from her hand before discarding.  “I voted for Bob Dole,” I said, somewhat angrily and proudly.  Apparently I was the only one in this room not responsible for the moral decay and high taxes in this country, yet this made me feel even more out of place among the six Democrats and the Green Party radical in the math research program.  The conversation turned back away from politics as the game continued, but I did not say much the rest of the night.


Dr. Garrison, the professor in charge of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, had scheduled a meeting with me the following afternoon.  In his email, he said that he was meeting with everyone this week, now that the program was half over, just to touch base on things.  It did not sound like I was in trouble or anything, but I was still a little nervous as I entered his office.

“Hi, Greg,” Dr. Garrison said.  “Come on in.  Sit down.”  I sat in the chair facing his desk, and he continued, “So how is the program going for you so far?”

I took a deep breath, trying to decide exactly how much to tell Dr. Garrison.  I decided to just be honest and tell the truth.  “I feel like I don’t fit in with the other students,” I said.

Dr. Garrison paused, probably not having expected me to say that.  “Why do you say that?” he asked.

“I don’t have anything in common with them,” I said.  “I’m a Christian.  Most of my social life back in Jeromeville is church activities.  And these guys talk about drinking and partying and… stuff like that.”  I could not bring myself to say sex out loud.  “And I really miss my friends back home.”

“Well,” Dr. Garrison said, “the REU program always brings students from all different backgrounds.  It’s natural that some people might not get along.”

“I really don’t think they’re trying to be hurtful on purpose.  I’m just different.”

“Well, if that’s the case, just look for any common ground you might be able to find.  Have you had any good experiences with the other students?”

“Yeah.  Tonight I think we’re going to Dairy Queen.  We’ve done that sometimes.”  I also told Dr. Garrison about playing cards in Emily’s room, and about our trip to the coast.

“There you go.  Just make the best of those moments.”  Dr. Garrison then asked, “How do you feel about the math you’re working on?  You’re doing the quasi-Monte Carlo integration project with Ivan and Emily?”

“Yes.  It’s been interesting.  I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still not sure about my future.  One professor back at Jeromeville told me about REU programs, another professor thinks I would make a good teacher, and I’m kind of using this summer to figure out if grad school is a real option, or if I should focus on being a teacher.”

“I see.  Just remember this.  If grad school isn’t for you, it’s better to learn that now than after you’ve given years of your life to a Ph.D. program.”

“That’s a good point.”

“I think you’re doing fine.  And I think this is still a valuable experience for you even if you do end up a teacher.  Most kids will never have a teacher who did math research.  You’ll be able to bring them a different perspective on math.”

“That’s true.  Good point.”


The walk from Howard Hall to Dairy Queen that night took about half an hour, a mile and a half straight down Pine Street.  Dairy Queen was in downtown Grandvale, a few blocks from where we saw fireworks on the Fourth of July.  We had made this walk as a group a few times already this summer, and on our last Dairy Queen trip, Ivan and I had found a way to pass the time while we made this walk.

“Michael Jackson guest-starred, they couldn’t put his real name in the credits, so what name was he credited as?” I asked.

“John Jay Smith,” Ivan replied.  “That name just sounds fake.”

“I know!”

“What’s Nelson’s last name?”

“Crap, I should know this one,” I said.  In all my eight years of watching The Simpsons, how could I not know one of the major recurring characters’ last names?

“Yes, you should,” Ivan said.

“But I don’t.”

“Nelson Muntz.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Your turn.”

“I know, I’m thinking.”  I needed to come up with a good one to redeem myself for having missed the last one.  “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”

“That’s Bob Dylan,” Jeannie said.  “Not The Simpsons.”

“Yeah.  That’s a Simpsons trivia question?” Ivan asked.

“Yes, it is,” I answered.

“Wait.  Did Homer try to answer that question?”

“Yes.” I laughed.

“I don’t remember what he said, though.”

“‘Seven!’ Then Lisa told Homer it was a rhetorical question, and he goes, ‘Hmm… Eight!’  It was the episode where Homer’s mother comes back.”

“Oh, yeah.  And she was a hippie.”

As we stood in line waiting to order, Ivan asked me, “What does your shirt mean?”

I looked down to remind myself which shirt I was wearing today; it was a white t-shirt that said “Man of Steel” in green writing, with pictures of a Frisbee, a taco, and playing cards.  “The Christian group I’m part of back home, the guys have a competition every year, with disc golf, a taco eating contest, and poker.”  I turned around, so that Ivan could see the words on the back of the shirt: FRISBEE, TACOS, POKER, FAITH.

“That sounds awesome,” Ivan said.  “And hilarious.”

“How’d you do?” Jeannie asked, having overheard the conversation.

“Not great.  But the year before that, I was second to last, so I’m improving.”

“Maybe you’ll win it all next year,” Ivan said.

“I can’t throw a Frisbee straight, so I’d just need a lot of luck, I guess.”

I had not eaten dinner yet, so when I got to the front of the line, I ordered a cheeseburger along with my ice cream Blizzard.  Music played in the background.  When they called my number, I got up to get my food, and as I returned to my seat, the song “Lovefool” by the Cardigans came on.  Emily quietly sang along to every word.  I had never listened to the whole song all the way through, because I always found it annoying.

“This song is really kind of sad,” Jeannie said.  “The guy is obviously not into the relationship, but the girl just can’t leave him.  She deserves better.”

“I always thought it was kind of making fun of girls like that,” Emily replied.  Granted, this was my first time hearing the whole song, but it did not sound mocking to me.

“If the guy is good enough in bed, I’d stay with him,” Julie said.  “Who cares if he’s not the perfect romantic?  He’s got it where it counts!  Gimme some action!”

“Yes!” Emily exclaimed.  The two girls laughed loudly.

“How’s your burger?” Ivan asked.

“Really good,” I answered.  “A nice change from microwave food.”

“I know!”

“I tried the dining hall food here a couple times too the first week, I was thinking about buying a meal plan.  But it wasn’t really worth it.  It’s more expensive than fast food and just as mediocre.”

“Yeah, really.”

“This Blizzard is so good,” Marjorie announced.

“How good was it?” Jeannie replied, laughing.

“Sooooo good!” Marjorie said, exaggerating the word “so,” intentionally this time.

As we walked back home in the nine o’clock twilight, I came to realize that Dr. Garrison was right.  I may not have a lot in common with these people, but I was still starting to build a social life with them, between the card game nights, these walks to Dairy Queen, and the outings we had taken as a group.  We had started to develop inside jokes with each other, including Emily’s unusual pronunciation of “Skip-Boo” and Marjorie’s California beach bum accent.  This was my group for the next twenty-four days, and I was a part of it, whether I felt like I fit in or not.

As I got back to my room, with Lovefool still stuck in my head, I thought about how God had put these people in my life for a reason.  Maybe some of them had never really known a practicing Christian before.  Maybe just by being honest, like telling Marcus about Bible study yesterday, or telling Ivan and Emily about Man of Steel, God would be planting seeds in their lives.  Or maybe God had something to teach me about what the world was like outside of my Christian bubble.  I spent some time before bed praying for my new friends in the REU program, praying that Jesus would find a way to reach them.  I prayed that Emily and her boyfriend that she talked about often would make good choices in their relationship, and I prayed that Julie would find more meaning in her relationships beyond whether or not the guy was good in bed.  And I prayed that God would lead me in making the most of my last twenty-four days here.

I did not pack a whole lot of clothes for that summer, so I really did wear that Man of Steel shirt often.

Readers: Have you ever been part of a group where you just felt different from everyone? How did you deal with it? Tell me about it in the comments!

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July 12-13, 1997. A weekend that felt less lonely. (#138)

It was ten o’clock in the morning, but since it was Saturday, Howard Hall was still quiet, with many students sleeping in.  I noticed that Marcus’ door was open as I walked past; I looked inside and waved.

“Hey, Greg,” Marcus said.  “What’s up?”

“I’m gonna see my great-aunt and uncle today,” I explained.  “They’re on their way here to pick me up.”

“Do they live near here?”

“Salem.”

“Oh, that’s not too far.  Like an hour away?”

“Not quite an hour, she said.”

“Well, have fun!”

“I will!  Thanks!”

I sat outside Howard Hall, hoping that Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy knew how to find it; after all, it was 1997, the cell phones owned by only a tiny percentage of the population could not access the Internet, and no one had a GPS in the car.  But I had given detailed directions, and they had suggested that they knew their way around Grandvale, at least the major streets and landmarks.  Auntie Dorothy had called me earlier this week to plan this visit; I was expecting to hear from her at some point during my summer in Grandvale.  

I also hoped that I remembered what they looked like, and that there were no senior citizen couples roaming the Grandvale State campus that morning looking for naive university students to kidnap and sell into forced labor.  I only remembered having met them twice. When I was 11, we went to Salem for a family reunion of my mother’s paternal relatives, the Weismanns, and they came to visit my grandparents when I was 14.  Uncle Lenny Weismann was my grandfather’s younger brother, and I remembered the two of them looking alike, so I just needed to watch for someone who looked like Grandpa.

I had no trouble recognizing them when they arrived, and they had no trouble recognizing me either.  “Greg?” Auntie Dorothy said after she rolled down the window.  “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said, getting into the car.

“How are you?” Uncle Lenny asked.

“I’m doing okay,” I said.

“So what exactly is this program you’re in?”

“It’s a math research internship.  Students from around the country apply to these programs held at different universities.  I got into two of them, and the one at Grandvale State was the closer of the two.  I’m working with a professor and two other students, they’re from two different parts of New York, and we’re studying quasi-Monte Carlo integration using low discrepancy sequences.”  I paused, then continued explaining, hoping that I was assuming correctly that Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy did not know what quasi-Monte Carlo integration was.  “Basically, we’re looking at ways to do certain calculations that can’t be calculated directly, and studying how accurate and efficient these approximation methods are.”

“Oh, ok,” Auntie Dorothy said.  “That sounds interesting.”

We continued to make small talk for the fifty-minute drive from Grandvale to Salem, driving past the green rolling hills and farmland of the Willamette Valley.  Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy told me about their children and grandchildren, whom I did not know.  I had met some of them at the family reunion in Salem, but that was nine years ago now.  I told them about everything that happened to me in the last several months back in Jeromeville, including performing with University Chorus, my trip to Urbana, working with the youth group at church, and assisting in a high school classroom.

“A classroom,” Auntie Dorothy repeated.  “You’re thinking of being a teacher?”

“Well, that’s part of the reason I’m here this summer,” I explained.  “Trying to figure out if I’d rather go into teaching or math research.”

“What kind of work would you do with math research?”

“Get a Ph.D. and be a professor, proving new theorems and making new discoveries.  Probably also teaching university students and mentoring future Ph.D. candidates.”

“I see.  I could see you being good at either of those.”

“Thanks.”

When we got to Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy’s house, Auntie Dorothy made sandwiches for all three of us.  “Do you remember those comic books you used to draw the last time we saw you?”

“Yes!” I said.  “I stopped doing those around the time I started college.  I just didn’t have time anymore.  But then last summer I was teaching myself to make websites, and I started a new series, kind of like an online comic book.  It’s called Dog Crap and Vince.  Can you get the Internet here?”

“We have America Online.  Will that work?”

“It should!”

“I’ll go turn on the computer when I’m done eating, and you can show me.”  After we finished our sandwiches, I followed Auntie Dorothy to the computer, which whistled and hummed and buzzed as it connected to the Internet through telephone lines. I opened my Dog Crap and Vince website for Auntie Dorothy, with Uncle Lenny watching from behind.  “‘Six-O-Five Productions presents Dog Crap and Vince,’” Auntie Dorothy read.  “That’s you?  Why is it called ‘Six-O-Five Productions?’”

“I always abbreviate Dog Crap and Vince as ‘DCV,’” I explained.  “And DCV is also Roman numerals for 605.”

“That’s clever.”  Auntie Dorothy clicked through the site and read the illustrated story out loud, so that Uncle Lenny could hear also.  “So this guy is named Dog Crap, and this is Vince?  Why is his name Dog Crap?”

“I don’t know.  I just wanted something silly.”

“And why is their hair like that?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve never explained their hair.  Just kind of random and bizarre.”

Auntie Dorothy continued reading the most recent episode of Dog Crap and Vince, called “What’s Cooking,” which I had written and drawn during study breaks while preparing for finals last month.  The two boys kept making a bigger and bigger mess in an ill-fated attempt to bake cookies, while Vince kept getting catchy and annoying songs stuck in his head.

“That was good,” Auntie Dorothy said.

“There are seven other episodes you can read later,” I said.  “You can email me, and I’ll send you the link so you don’t lose it.”

“Okay.”

“Greg?” Uncle Lenny asked. “Have you ever been to Salem before?”

“Just that one time when I was eleven, when we had the family reunion here.  But all I saw was your house and the park where we had the reunion.”

“We were talking earlier,” Auntie Dorothy said.  “Would you like to take the tour of the Oregon State Capitol?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’ll be interesting.”

Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Lenny lived in an older neighborhood only about a mile from the Capitol, so it did not take us long to get there.  From the outside, the building looked different from what I expected a Capitol Building to look like; a cylindrical structure stood in the center where I expected a dome to be, with a gold statue on top.

“We don’t have a dome,” Uncle Lenny explained, noticing me looking at the statue.  “We have a pioneer instead.”

“Interesting.”

We bought three tickets for the tour and walked inside.  A tour guide showed us around the building, explaining what function of state government happened inside each part of the building.  She also pointed out the artwork in the different parts of the building and explained the stories from the history, culture, and state symbols of Oregon that the artwork depicted.  At one point, I told Auntie Dorothy, “I was just thinking, it’s kind of funny, I’ve toured the Oregon State Capitol, but I’ve never been inside my own state capitol building.  And it’s only 15 miles from Jeromeville.”

“Well, then, you’ll just have to go tour there sometime,” she replied.  (I did eventually, but not for another nine years.)

After the tour, Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy brought me back to their house for more catching up and small talk.  At one point, Auntie Dorothy asked, “You said you volunteer with a church youth group?  This is a Catholic church?”

“No, actually,” I said, a little hesitantly because I never knew how my mother’s Catholic relatives would react to my recent faith journey.  “A couple years ago, I started going to a nondenominational Christian group on campus with some friends.  That’s where I really learned what it means to follow Jesus.  But I kept going to Mass at the Newman Center, because I didn’t want to turn my back on Catholicism.  The different branches of Chrsitianity have a lot more in common than the little things they argue about.  I realized that a lot of students at Newman weren’t really serious about what they believed, they only went to church because it was part of their culture.  I wanted to learn more about Jesus and the Bible, so I tried my friends’ church.”

“What kind of church is it?”

“Evangelical Covenant.  They believe in the Bible but don’t make a lot of statements about doctrine besides the basics about Jesus dying for our sins and coming back someday.  I’ve heard someone say they’re almost like a non-denominational church.  And in Grandvale, I’ve been going to a Baptist church, just because they’re close to campus and I don’t have a way to get around.”

“God always finds a way to reach those who seek him,” Uncle Lenny said.  The Weismanns had always been Catholic; even before they came to the United States, in the German-speaking world not far from where the Protestant Reformation began, the Weismanns were Catholic.  Uncle Lenny and Grandpa had two sisters who were Catholic nuns.  So I was relieved that I was not about to ignite an argument of Catholicism versus Protestantism.

Late in the afternoon, we returned to Grandvale and stopped at the grocery store before they dropped me off at Howard Hall.  When Auntie Dorothy called earlier in the week, she asked if I wanted to go grocery shopping, knowing that I had no car; I of course said yes.  It was definitely one of the more pleasant days of my stay in Grandvale.  My grandparents both came from large families, so my mother grew up with many aunts and uncles on each side.  Five years ago, the time I gave Auntie Dorothy my comic books, I remember Mom saying that Auntie Dorothy was always her favorite aunt, because she was always so interested in whatever Mom was into.  I had noticed the same thing, five years ago with the comic books, and now today with Dog Crap and Vince.  And now I had their email, so we could plan another visit later in the summer.  “Thank you for everything,” I said, lifting my groceries out of the trunk outside of Howard Hall.

“You’re welcome.  It was good seeing you, Greg,” Uncle Lenny said, shaking my hand.

“We’ll see you soon,” Auntie Dorothy added, giving me a hug.

“Yes.  Take care.”


The next afternoon, after I finished a sandwich made from bread I got at the store with Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy, I sat at the desk in my room and took a deep breath.  I picked up the telephone handset, then hung up before I dialed.  Why was this so difficult for me?  Why could I not just use the phone like a normal person?  I took a deep breath and lifted the handset again, then hung up quickly.  I was being ridiculous.  It wasn’t like I was calling a cute girl and I did not know if she liked me or not.  It was a guy on the other end, and he was not going to judge me for calling him, especially since he told me I could in his last letter.

But was this his own phone?  Or was this a number that he shared with the people he was with?  Why did it matter?  The other people had no idea who I was, and I would probably never see or talk to them again.  As I had done so often when making phone calls, I picked up the handset again and dialed the eleven digits needed for a long distance call quickly before I had time to talk myself out of it.

“Hello?” I heard a familiar voice say on the other end.

“Taylor?” I asked.

“Greg!” Taylor replied enthusiastically.  “What’s up, man?”

“Not much,” I said.  “It’s Sunday, so I’m taking the day off from math.  I have relatives who live not too far from here; I saw them yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s good that you got to see family.  Who was it that you got to see?”

“My great-aunt and uncle.  My grandpa’s younger brother, and his wife.”

“Oh, ok.  What’d you guys do?”

“We just hung out and caught up.  They also took me to see the tour of the Oregon State Capitol, and we went grocery shopping.

“Nice!  Was the State Capitol interesting?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I told him about the pioneer statue and the lack of a dome, as well as what I remembered from the artwork inside.

“How’s your research going?” Taylor asked.  I explained quasi-Monte Carlo integration to Taylor using similar layperson’s terms that I had used with Auntie Dorothy yesterday.  “Interesting,” he said.  “And where would that be practical?”

“Anywhere you’d need to calculate an integral,” I explained.  “Areas and volumes of curved surfaces.  An average value of a set that isn’t just a finite number of things you can add and divide.  Measurements that involve multiplying, but one of the terms isn’t constant, like distance equals speed times time, so you’d need integrals if the speed is changing.”  Integrals were taught in calculus; I could not remember if Taylor had ever taken calculus.  “What I’m doing gives an efficient algorithm for approximating integrals that can’t be calculated directly.”

“Oh, ok,” Taylor replied.  I could not tell how much of that made sense to him.

“How’s your summer going?”

“It’s a lot of work.  I’ve been here since March now, and I’m getting tired.  I’ve been sleeping more than I usually do.”

“Sleep is good if you’re tired, I guess.”

“Yeah.  But I’m ready to go home.”

“Me too,” I said.  “I’m not even halfway through the program here, and I feel like I’m already counting down the days left.  It’s 33.”

“You don’t like math research?”

“It’s okay, but it’s not as interesting as I thought it would be,” I said.  “And I really miss everyone back home.  I don’t have a lot in common with the other students in the program.”

“Oh yeah?  Why do you say that?”

“Mostly because they aren’t Christians, and they’re into partying and stuff.  But there is one guy who really likes The Simpsons, so at least there’s that.”

“Nice,” Taylor said.  “Have you found a church or anything like that?”

“I’ve been going to a church right across the street from campus, and they have a college and young adult Bible study.  I only see them once or twice a week, though.  Better than nothing, though.”

“Yeah.  But being around Christians all the time isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Oh yeah?  Why do you say that?”

“I’m 20, I’m younger than average for the staff here, but I feel like I’m older spiritually than most of them.  I’ve been through a lot in life.  I’ve been on a mission trip to Morocco.  I’ve been a youth group leader for a long time.  I’ve just had different life experiences.  And when I can sympathize, I sometimes I have to tell myself not to step in with advice, because I don’t want to sound like a young know-it-all.  And the kids that we’re here to work with, new groups come and go every week, so it’s hard to bond with them.”

“That makes sense.  Hopefully you can find common ground with the other staff.”

“Yeah.  And hopefully you do with the other math students.”

“Yeah.  Emily, she’s working on the same project I am, a few nights ago we were all in her room playing Skip-Bo.  She brought a Skip-Bo game with her.  I hadn’t played that in years; I used to play that with my mom and grandma when I was a kid.  That was fun.”

“Nice!  I’ve played that, but it was a long time ago.  Hey, did I tell you I went to a Chicago Cubs game last month?”

“I don’t think so.  That’s fun!”

“Yeah!  The first interleague game in Cubs history, against Milwaukee.  The Cubs lost.”

“Wow.  You got to see history.  It’s still kind of weird to me to think that National League teams are playing against American League teams now.  But exciting too, you get to see new team combinations.”

“Yeah.  It’s interesting to see if this will stay a part of baseball.”

“I haven’t really been following baseball,” I said.

“Well, there isn’t a Major League team in Oregon, so it’s a little harder to follow there.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”  I had actually stopped following Major League Baseball three years earlier, when the last two months of the season were canceled because of a players’ strike, denying one of my favorite players the chance to chase the single season home run record.  My frustration at that situation had died down a little over the last few years.  I knew about the rule change that National League teams would now play against some American League teams each year.  In hindsight, it was ironic that the historic Cubs game Taylor saw was against Milwaukee, because the following season, Milwaukee would move from the American League to the National League and play against the Cubs every year.

After catching up a while longer, Taylor asked, “Are you going straight back to Jeromeville after your program is over?”

“I’ll spend the rest of August with my family, then go back August 31 to finish moving out of the old apartment and into the new one.”

“Are you going to the youth leaders’ retreat in September?”

“Yes.  I’ll be coming right from JCF Outreach Camp.  Two retreats back to back.”

“Busy!”

“Yeah, but I’m not doing anything else the week before school starts.”

“That’s true.  I should get going now, but I’ll see you at the retreat, if I don’t see you before then.”

“Yeah!” I replied.  “It was good talking to you!”

“Thanks for calling!  It’s good to hear a familiar voice.”

“Yeah.  Good night.”

“Good night, Greg.”

I hung up.  It was a little comforting to know that I was not the only one away from home and unable to connect with colleagues.  Taylor’s situation was different, of course, but he was away from home too.  I had thirty-three days left in this metaphorical wilderness of mathematics.  I knew that the Bible had several examples of people being lost in a wilderness for an extended period of time.  God always gave his people what they needed to get through that time, and these exiles in the wilderness always served some higher purpose.

I had Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy not far away, though.  I normally thought of my Dennison relatives as distant and my Santini relatives, my mother’s maternal family, as a bunch of overly dramatic busybodies.  But Mom’s family also included the Weismanns, who were all very nice, from what I knew of them.  I just did not see the Weismann relatives as often I saw the Dennisons or Santinis.  But my day with the Weismanns yesterday, as well as the phone call with Taylor today, certainly helped this weekend feel less lonely.


Readers, what are your extended families like?

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June 28 – July 4, 1997. Outings with my new classmates. (#137)

On my second day in Oregon, when I had to make the half hour walk carrying as many full grocery bags as I could hold from the store back to my dorm room, I realized that I really should have brought my car.  I could have made the drive from home to Oregon in a day, and then I would not have to lug around these bags of groceries every few days, plus I would have a way to explore my surroundings. I chose not to drive because, shortly before I found out about this program, I had just had my first airplane trip, at least the first one that I was old enough to remember, and I wanted to go somewhere on an airplane again.  The airplane ride was fun, but had I thought things through more, I probably would have brought my car.

Of the eight students in my Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, only Marcus drove here; his trip was about as long as mine would have been.  Kirk and Jeannie, who attended Grandvale State year round, did not have cars, and the others came from farther away.  Unfortunately, Marcus’ vehicle was a small pickup truck.  So when someone suggested taking a weekend trip up to nearby Grand Mountain, then continuing over the mountains to the coast, the only way we could make it work was for most of us to pile in the back of the truck bed. 

“Is that legal here?” I asked, knowing that the laws governing motor vehicles sometimes varied from state to state.  I grew up being told it was illegal, although when I was learning to drive, I thought I saw that it was legal in my state in certain settings, even though seat belts were mandatory and pickup truck beds did not have seat belts.  This did not make sense to me, and I never did figure out exactly what the law said in my state. But knowing this was never a priority for me, since I never planned on riding in the back of a pickup truck until today, and I never have since.

“I don’t know,” Julie said dismissively, as if she did not care.

“I’ll drive extra carefully if there are people in the back,” Marcus said.  “And if I do get in trouble for it, it would be me, not you.”

“I guess,” I said, not thrilled with the idea of riding in the back, but also not wanting to miss out on this day out with my new colleagues and friends.

On the morning we left, it was mostly sunny with some clouds scattered across the sky, mostly coming from the west, the direction we would be going.  I wore long pants and brought a sweatshirt.  Back home, the weather on the coast can often be much cooler than the weather inland, and I needed to be prepared for anything.  Marcus, Emily, and I sat in the cab of the pickup truck, with Marjorie, Ivan, Julie, and Jeannie in the back.  Kirk was a local and had seen these places many times, and he had made other plans for the weekend, so he stayed behind.  We planned to take turns who would be sitting in the cab.

About five miles west of Grandvale, the road to the coast split in two, one heading west toward Baytown, the other southwest toward Forest Beach.  We turned southwest and followed that road for another five miles, then turned onto Grand Mountain Road.  A sign said that the peak was another nine miles up that road, and it became quickly evident that those nine miles would be full of sharp turns with barely enough space for two cars to pass each other.

“I like this view,” Emily said.

“Yeah,” Ivan agreed.  “Very different from back home.”  Ivan was from New York City; he probably saw forested mountains in his day-to-day life much more infrequently than I did.

It took about forty-five minutes to drive to the peak of Grand Mountain.  We parked at the small parking area at the end of the road, then walked a trail leading about a quarter mile through a grove of trees to the peak.  Two radio towers with antennae and satellite dishes stood behind a fenced-off area at the peak, with a few picnic tables just beyond this.  We walked to the picnic tables and sat, facing toward more mountains away from the radio towers.

Grand Mountain was the highest peak in the region, but from this viewpoint, it seemed to be surrounded by a sea of other mountains.  Normally, with a view like this, I would have wanted to look down on Grandvale and identify roads and landmarks, and see if I could pick out Howard Hall.  But the direction we faced from these picnic tables did not have a good view of all of Grandvale.  I could see the Willamette Valley opening up below through a break in the mountains, but from this exact spot, I mostly only saw fields in the valley.  Even if I had had a good view of the Grandvale State campus, I probably would not have been able to pick out Howard Hall to begin with, since I did not know my way around Grandvale well enough yet.

The surrounding mountains were green, thickly forested, with grassy clearings scattered throughout.  Normally, in my experience, trees on the edge of a forested area have branches covered with needles all the way up their trunks, but these trees had tall, bare trunks with a much smaller cluster of green needles at the top. It looked as if they had grown in the middle of a forest, and the adjoining half of the forest had suddenly been removed. I thought about this for a bit, then I said, “Why are there those clearings like that, with trees with no needles on the sides?  Is it because the trees next to them have been cut down?”

“I think so,” Marcus replied.  “Something like that.”

“Clear-cutting is so sad,” Julie added.

“At least they don’t cut down the whole forest,” I said. “They spread out the areas they cut down to make it easier for the trees to grow back eventually. That seems like a good way to do it.”

After we sat admiring the view for about half an hour, we drove back down the mountain and continued driving away from Grandvale toward Forest Beach on the coast.  A sign indicated that we would be passing through a town called Spruce Creek before we reached Forest Beach, and Marcus commented that he would probably have to stop there for gas.  As we arrived in Spruce Creek, Marcus said, “Looks like we don’t have much of a choice for gas,” as we drove up to one of the two gas pumps at the one general store in this town of less than two hundred people.

“This is a town?” Ivan said after we stopped.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a town this small.”

“I know they exist, but yeah,” I said, although I had not grown up around towns this small either.

After we finished getting gas, Jeannie and Julie took the next turn in the cab; I got in the back with Ivan, Emily, and Marjorie.  Five minutes later, the truck slowed to a halt.  This certainly did not seem like the kind of road to get much traffic.  I stood up to look ahead and saw a long line of cars in front of us, then just barely in the distance, as the road curved, I saw a large, newly fallen tree across the road.

“What’s going on?” Marjorie asked.

“Tree fell on the road,” I explained.

“Can we get through?”

“I see cars coming in the other direction.  There’s probably one lane open, and we take turns.”

Just as I sat back down, I felt drops of water on my head, and within about a minute, the drops had grown to a light but steady rain.  “Great,” I said, not dressed for rain.

“It didn’t look rainy when we left,” Emily observed.

“With the mountains right on the coast, the weather can probably change a lot in a short distance,” I explained.

By the time we finally got to Forest Beach, the rain had softened to a light drizzle, still wet enough to be uncomfortable considering that my clothes were already wet.  We found a place to park, for a small fee, and walked to the beach.  The gray sky made the choppy water also look gray, and the lack of sun just made the whole experience, although scenic, feel gloomy.

“Here we are,” Jeannie said.  “The Oregon coast.”

The seven of us walked down to the damp sand.  Some of the others took off their shoes and socks; I did not.  I did not want to deal with the mess, especially with my clothes already so wet.  I saw a very small but recognizable stream trickling across the sand, less than a foot wide and easy to step over.  We spent about half an hour walking up and down the coast.  Ivan was talking about something that had reminded him of some movie I had not seen, and Julie had gotten onto the topic of her favorite sex positions, and with nothing to contribute to either of those conversations, I held back a bit and did my best to enjoy the view.

By the time we got back to Marcus’ truck, the drizzle had let up slightly.  We drove back the other way, fifteen miles up the coast to Baytown and then inland on the other road leading to Grandvale.  The other road was presumably a better road, more well-traveled, and we would not have to deal with the delay caused by the fallen tree. I approved of this decision; it would give me a chance to see different scenery on the way back.  The scenery looked very similar to what we saw on the westbound trip, thickly forested mountains with clearings where logging had occurred, but it was still nice to see something new.


The Friday after our beach trip was July 4, Independence Day.  The university was closed for the holiday, and we did not have class.  After a long week of researching quasi-Monte Carlo integration and low discrepancy sequences, I was ready to take a break from mathematics today.  I spent most of the morning reading and catching up on emails, and I went for a short bike ride around campus.

After I ate a microwaved chicken sandwich in my room for dinner, I met the other seven students from the REU program. Grandvale was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century on the west bank of the Willamette River, and since then it had grown from that original downtown, mostly to the west and north, with the east side of the river remaining undeveloped farmland. The seven of us walked a mile and a half from the campus to the river, where the city’s Independence Day festival was happening today. Grandvale was far enough north that the sun would not set until after nine o’clock, so we had a few hours until it would be dark enough for fireworks.

A park extended for about the length of five city blocks between River Street and the actual river, bisected by an old truss bridge carrying eastbound traffic out of town.  A newer, wider bridge had been built parallel to this one about half a mile to the south; I could see that one off in the distance in that direction.  River Street had been blocked off to traffic for tonight, and numerous food booths, community organizations, and people trying to sell things had set up tables along the side of the street.  Large crowds roamed River Street, whic had been decorated with United States flags and various banners with a similar stars-and-stripes theme.

I saw just ahead of me a girl who looked no older than twelve or thirteen, wearing a patriotic outfit and theatrical makeup.  She pressed Play on a small boombox-like device that had a microphone attached; as music began playing, the girl started singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag.”  That seemed kind of strange, just out of nowhere, but at least the song was fitting for today.  After that, she started singing other songs, mostly old rock-and-roll standards.

“I never really understood the Fourth of July,” Jeannie observed.  “It’s nice to have a day off, but what are we really celebrating?  We’re not exactly the greatest country in the world.”  I wisely held my tongue as she continued.  “And why fireworks?  It seems like there must be something better to celebrate our nation than explosions.”

“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it,” I said, in a fake accent to match that of the man who said that to Homer Simpson as he sold him illegal fireworks. That episode, the season finale from a year ago, was one of my favorites.

“Yes!” Ivan replied.  “The M-320!”

“What?” Marjorie asked.  “Is that from The Simpsons or something?”

“Yeah,” I explained.  “The family used the Flanderses’ beach house for the Fourth of July, and Homer went to buy illegal fireworks.  And he ended up blowing up the kitchen.  And Lisa made some new friends in the beach town.  Now that I think about it, it’s probably the only one of my favorite episodes that primarily focuses on Lisa.  Usually Lisa can be pretty annoying.”

“What?” Julie said.  “She’s the only sensible one!  The rest of the family is annoying.”

“But she can be kind of self-righteous and snobby, I think.”

“You prefer Homer the buffoon?”

“Yes!  He’s funny!”

At this point, we walked past the singing girl again, in the other direction.  I noticed that she sang the same four songs over and over again, and that she had a hat in front of her for tips.  Since she sang the same songs, I could not tell if she was actually singing along to recorded background music or just lip-synching.  I had never seen a street performer this young before, and something felt a little odd about her.

“I had actually never seen The Simpsons until last week when I watched it with you guys,” Jeannie said.  “It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be.”

“‘Wasn’t quite as bad,’” I repeated.  “I see how it is.”

“Well, I used to not watch it on principle.”

“On principle?”

“Yeah!  Watching The Simpsons is like watching Beavis and Butthead.”

Great, I thought.  Insult one of my favorite shows by comparing it to one of my other favorite shows.  You probably also agree with Julie that Lisa, the intellectual snob, is your favorite.

As the sun started to set, the eight of us found a permanent place to sit for the night, on the packed dirt bank of the river facing the other shore.  Kirk had been here before to watch fireworks, and he said that they launch from across the river, so we should have a good view from here.

“Most of the fireworks I’ve watched have been at Disneyland,” Marjorie said.  “We have annual passes.  We’re gonna go as soon as I get home.”

“That’ll be fun,” Ivan said.  “I’m not doing anything when I get back home.  School starts right away for me.”

“I’m not going straight home.  I’m spending the weekend after the program at my boyfriend’s house in Ohio,” Emily explained.  “I was talking to my sister today, and she said, ‘Mom asked me, “Do you think Emily and Ryan are having sex?”’ If my mom wants to know so bad, why doesn’t she just ask me?  It pissed me off.”  They probably were, I thought.  I knew that the norm for people my age was not the Christians I hung out with who believed in saving themselves for marriage. At least they said they believed that.

“What about you, Greg?” Emily asked.  “What are you doing after this?  When do you start school again?”

“Jeromeville is on the three-quarter schedule, so we don’t start until the end of September, but then we go until the middle of June.  So I’m still gonna have a month of summer left.  I’m going to spend two weeks at my parents’ house, then move into my new house in Jeromeville, then I’m going on a retreat the week before school starts.”

“With that church group?” Ivan asked.

“Yes.”

Around ten o’clock, when it was finally dark, a hush fell over the crowd as the first firework launched into the air, then exploded into a brilliant multi-colored sunburst.  People cheered.  The fireworks continued on for almost half an hour, with recordings of marching bands playing patriotic music in the background.  At the end of the show, several rockets launched at once, briefly illuminating the sky in bursts of color reflecting off of the smoke of so many previous fireworks.  After this, everything went dark and silent as the crowd cheered, then the lights of the surrounding park came back on about ten seconds later.

“That was fun,” Ivan said as we stood up.

“That was amazing!” I added.  “I really didn’t grow up watching fireworks.  The fireworks in Jeromeville last year were really the first fireworks I remember seeing.  And this show seemed a little longer.”

“Why didn’t you watch fireworks?” Jeannie asked.

“I don’t know.  We just never did.  And sometimes it’s too foggy for fireworks.”

“Fog?  In July?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale is close to the coast, so kind of like what we saw on the coast last weekend.”

“I guess.”

“And home fireworks are illegal in both Plumdale and Jeromeville.  So fireworks are still a new experience to me.”

I was still on a high from the fireworks as we walked the mile and a half back to Howard Hall in the dark.  Marjorie was talking more about growing up going to Disneyland multiple times per year, some of the others were talking about graduate school plans, others were sharing stories about partying, and I mostly felt left out of the conversation. I walked along the same road as them, but I was in my own little world, comforted by thoughts of fireworks and explosions and celebrating freedom.  This was a familiar feeling to me; I often felt left out when others my age talked about normal life experiences that were foreign to me.

My story was unusual in that I grew up in the United States of America without watching fireworks.  And hearing others talk about things I could not relate to, or experiences I wished I had had, always made me feel rejected.  But instead of getting angry about it, maybe I should look on the bright side. Since fireworks were missing from my childhood, I still was able to enjoy fireworks as an adult, and I had not yet become bored or jaded by fireworks shows.  This trip to Oregon was only the second time I remembered being on an airplane, so riding in an airplane was still fun and exciting in and of itself, rather than a hassle to be endured before the rest of the trip.  And even though Marjorie got to go to Disneyland as many times in a year as I had ever been in my life, this just meant that Disneyland would be fun and new to me when I finally made it back there at age thirty-one.


Readers: Is there anything your friends often talk about that you’ve never seen or done? And do you ever wish you had?

Just so you know, it is possible I might be taking a week off from writing here and there over the next few months. Life is going to be unpredictable. Thanks for being patient with me. Make sure you are subscribed, so you don’t miss an episode.

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.


June 22, 1997. My arrival in Oregon. (#135)

Hello, readers! I’m back! Welcome to Year 4!


“Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant said.  “Would you like to move up to first class?”

I looked around to see who this privileged flier was to whom this opportunity was being offered; I saw no one else nearby.  “Me?” I asked.

“Yes,” the flight attendant replied.  “The flight is really empty, so we’re letting people move up if they want.  There’s plenty of room.”

“Sure,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and following the flight attendant to the front of the plane.  We had been in the air for about ten minutes, and the first thing I had noticed was how empty the flight was.  I understand why normal people would not want to wake up early on a Sunday morning to catch a six-o’clock flight, but if the airplane was this empty, why not just use a smaller plane, or not offer a flight at this time at all?  The plane had around a hundred and fifty coach seats and twelve first-class seats, and with only nine passengers on the flight, we all fit in the first-class section.

I stretched my legs out, since I had more room to do so in first class, and began to nod off again, since I had only slept for four and a half hours.  My first (and, to this day, only) first-class flight lasted around an hour and a half, and the announcement that we were descending into Portland woke me from my nodding-off for good.

The Portland airport appeared to be undergoing some sort of expansion or renovation; evidence of recent ongoing construction was everywhere.  I managed to follow the signs to baggage claim with no trouble, however.  After I got my bag, I found a comfortable seat and began reading, since my bus would not leave for another hour.  I had just begun reading Needful Things by Stephen King; it was a fairly long book that should get me through a good portion of this summer.

About fifteen minutes before my bus was scheduled to leave, I followed the signs to ground transportation.  A small bus that looked like it would hold about twenty passengers was parked among several others; the side of this bus said TONY’S AIRPORT SHUTTLE – GRANDVALE – PDX.  I walked up to the Tony’s bus, and the driver asked me, “Name?”

“Gregory Dennison,” I replied.

The driver looked at his clipboard and said, “I’ve got you here.  Go on in.”

Tony’s Airport Shuttle was a private company running buses several times daily between Portland International Airport, the largest in Oregon, and the university town of Grandvale ninety miles away.  When I had been accepted into the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program for mathematics at Grandvale State, I was sent a packet that included travel information, including the telephone number for Tony’s Airport Shuttle.  I had made a reservation for this bus trip over the phone while I was at my parents’ house in Plumdale last week.

I watched rolling hills pass by out of the bus window.  Three other passengers were on this bus, and the ride lasted almost as long as the airplane trip did.  This part of Oregon was much more green than the world I was used to.  Back home in Plumdale, the green hillsides of spring were already starting to dry out, and in the hot inland summer of Jeromeville, where I went to school the rest of the year, the hills in the distance had been brown for a month already.  It made sense that Oregon would be more green, since much of the Pacific Northwest was known for being rainy.  One time several years earlier, I was playing a game on the Super Nintendo, stuck on a level where it was raining.  The game played rain sound effects continuously in the background, occasionally punctuated by thunder, and my mother, who was within earshot but not paying close attention to me, said, “What is this level you’re on?  Oregon?”

Today was a beautiful day, however, sunny with a few puffy white clouds sprinkled across the sky, and the temperature was just right when I got off the bus at the Grandvale bus depot.  I had told Dr. Garrison, the professor in charge of the REU program, which bus I would be on, and he said that a mathematics graduate student named Karen would be picking up students from the bus station as we arrived.  Dr. Garrison had emailed a photograph of Karen, so I would know who to look for, and I had a printed copy of this email with me.  The photo was black and white, but I remembered enough of what the actual color photograph looked like to identify an oddly-shaped woman sitting in the waiting area as Karen.

“Are you Gregory?” Karen asked me as I approached her.

“Yes,” I replied.  “You can call me Greg.”

“Hi!  I’m Karen.  It’s nice to meet you.  Are you ready?  You have all of your things?”

“Yes,” I said, following her to her car and putting my bags in the trunk.

Karen made small talk as we drove toward the campus.  “Which school are you from?” she asked me.

“University of Jeromeville,” I replied.

“I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard it’s nice.  That’s the school where everyone rides bikes, right?”

“Yeah.  Jeromeville is a great place to go for a bike ride.”

“You might be able to find a used bike here.  Grandvale is a college town with a lot of bikes too, but probably not as many as Jeromeville.”

“I’ll look into that.”

“You’re studying math?  Do you know what you want to do when you’re done with your degree?”

“Not really,” I explained.  “That’s kind of why I’m here, to figure that out, and see if math research is an option.”

“Well, I hope you have a great experience!  This is my second year working with the program, and I really enjoyed it last year.  Of course, I won’t be able to be part of it for the whole eight weeks, because this little guy will be coming sometime in July.”  Karen patted her rounded belly, and I realized then why I had found her to be oddly-shaped earlier: she was pregnant.  It was obvious now; I did not know why this did not occur to me when I first saw her.


Apparently, motor vehicles were allowed on more parts of the Grandvale State campus than on the Jeromeville campus, because Karen drove me through part of campus right up to a dorm called Howard Hall.  “This is it,” Karen said.  “The RAs are here handing out keys.  They should be expecting you.”

“Thank you for the ride,” I replied.

“I’ll see you tomorrow in class.  Nine in the morning.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll see you then.”

I carried my bag and backpack into the lobby of Howard Hall, where a guy with long hair and stubble on his face sat at a table.  “Are you moving in here?” he asked me.  “What’s your name?”

“Greg Dennison.  Room 312.  I’m with the mathematics REU program.”

“I’m Mike,” he said, looking at a paper on a clipboard.  “You’re in the right place.  Let me get you your key.”

“Thank you,” I said as Mike handed me an envelope.  I walked toward the elevator.  The dorm I had lived in freshman year at Jeromeville, Building C, was three stories high and had no elevator.  Howard Hall was five stories high, making an elevator more necessary.  I pressed the button for the third floor, and when the elevator arrived, I walked down the hall to find my room.

Howard Hall was a brick building, and the outer wall of my room was brick, interrupted by a window in the middle.  On the left wall were two large wardrobe-size cabinets, with drawers underneath, and in between them was a desk with a bulletin board above it.  On the right side of the room were a bed and a small refrigerator and microwave.  Howard Hall housed graduate students during the year, and this room looked like it was meant for one, but it was more spacious than my single room from Building C freshman year.

After I unpacked my clothes into the left wardrobe cabinet, I plugged in the telephone and called my mother, so she would know that I had arrived.  She asked me all sorts of questions about the other students and professors in the problem, and what exactly I would be researching; I told her repeatedly that I did not know any of this information yet.  Next, I decided to take a walk and get to know this campus better, since I had nothing to do the rest of the day.  I brought a campus map with me on my walk and began walking east on Pine Street.  The streets in Grandvale running east-west were named after trees, the north-south streets were numbered, and it appeared that most streets that crossed from the city into campus kept their names.  I turned left on 27th Street and passed a building called the Memorial Union, with a grassy area called the Quad just past it.  I thought this was curious, since Jeromeville also had a Memorial Union adjacent to a Quad.  I walked diagonally across the Quad to Keller Hall, the building that housed the mathematics department, so that I would know how to find my class in the morning.  It seemed easy to find.

Grandvale State was an older campus than Jeromeville, with more stately brick buildings, but with numerous other architectural styles represented.  As I walked east past a few more buildings, I saw Maple Street, the northern boundary of campus, across a field to the left.  I walked east along Maple Street, past campus buildings on the right and a mix of fraternity houses, businesses, and apartments on the left.  As I headed farther east, approaching the end of campus and start of downtown, I noticed a Baptist church across the street with a sign showing the service times.  They had a Sunday evening service at six o’clock; maybe I would have to try that tonight.  I would only be in Grandvale for eight weeks, I would not have time to search exhaustively for a church, but I wanted to go to church somewhere.  I attended an Evangelical Covenant church in Jeromeville, but there was not one in Grandvale; I had checked.

The blue sky that I had seen leaving Howard Hall had become cloudy, and just seconds after this thought registered in my mind, it began to rain.  The rain came down hard, I was at the point of my walk farthest from the dorm, and I wore nothing but a short sleeve t-shirt and shorts.  Go figure.  There had been no sign of rain twenty minutes ago, and while I knew that this part of Oregon was rainy, I expected late June to be the dry season.  Apparently I was wrong.  I started walking back toward the dorm, first south until I hit Pine Street, then west toward Howard Hall, past the large brick library and numerous other buildings.  By the time I got back to the Memorial Union, about ten minutes after it had started raining, the rain stopped just as suddenly.  The sky was blue again by the time I got back to Howard Hall, with no sign anywhere of the massive downpour I had just experienced.

I reached the elevator at the same time as a tall, thin Asian guy with glasses.  “Looks like you got caught outside at the wrong time,” he said, observing my wet clothes.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I’m not used to this weather.  I’m not from here.”

When he saw me press the button for the third floor, he asked, “Are you one of the math REU students, by any chance?”

“Yes.  I’m Greg.”

“Me too.  I’m Marcus.  Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” I said.  I recognized the name from the program information that I was sent in the mail, which included a list of the students and the schools we represented.

“You’re from Jeromeville, is that right?” Marcus asked, obviously also recalling information from this same list.

“Yeah!  And you’re from somewhere in Minnesota?”

“Yes, Lakeview College, I’ll be a senior this fall, but I’m not from there originally. I grew in Los Montes, not far from you.”

“Oh!  Yeah, I know where that is.”  Los Montes was about an hour car trip down the Valley from Jeromeville, on highway 9 between Stockdale and Ralstonville.

“Jeromeville was actually my second choice, if I didn’t get into Lakeview.  There’s an abstract algebra professor at Lakeview that studies exactly what I want to do in grad school eventually.”

“I see,” I replied.  “I guess I chose Jeromeville because it was far enough from home to feel like I was on my own, but still close enough to go home on weekends.  And they offered me a scholarship for my grades.”

“Where is home?”

“Plumdale.  Santa Lucia County.”

“Oh, ok.  So was this a Regents’ Scholarship you were talking about?”

“Yeah.  And I was invited to the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  I got invited to a preview day for that, and I really liked what I saw.”

“I was there too.  I would have been in the IHP if I hadn’t gotten into Lakeview.”

“Wow,” I said.  “Funny.”

At this point, we were standing in front of Marcus’ door.  “It was nice meeting you,” he said.  “I’ll see you tomorrow in class?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “If not sooner.”  I walked back to my room, thinking about this odd coincidence that Marcus and I were almost in the same dorm freshman year at Jeromeville, had he not gone to Lakeview, and yet we ended up crossing paths three years later in another state.  Marcus had made it clear that he knew his future mathematics career path in great detail.  I did not, and I wondered if that would make this program a poor fit for me.  I tried to remember that I was here to explore career options, and that it was okay not to know at this point.


I walked outside again around 5:30, having changed into dry clothes and hoping it would not rain, in order to walk to Grandvale Baptist Church in time for the evening service.  When I explained to the greeter who I was, that I was in town until mid-August for a research internship, she asked for my contact information and said that she would forward it to the pastor who ran the college and career group.  I looked forward to getting involved with that.  The music was a bit more traditional than what I was used to at Jeromeville Covenant, but I liked classic hymns as well as contemporary worship music.  I liked this church well enough so far.

I had no food in the dorm room, and I had not purchased a meal plan, so I found a sandwich shop near the church that was still open, and ate the ham sandwich I bought from there on my walk back to my room.  I would have to find a grocery store tomorrow, and I would only be able to buy enough that I could carry on foot back to the dorm.

A while after I returned to my room, at eight o’clock, I walked down to the end of the hall, where there was a common room with couches and a television.  I was hoping to watch The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and The X-Files in peace, but two people were already watching television: Mike, the resident advisor I had met earlier, and a guy with a shaved head.  “What are you guys watching?” I asked nervously.

Simpsons,” Mike replied.

“Good,” I said, relieved.  “Can I join you?”

“Sure,” the guy with the shaved head said.  “I’m Ivan.”

“Greg.  Are you the Ivan in the math REU program?”

“Yeah!  Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

The Simpsons was a rerun, as were most shows in the middle of June.  In the show, the recurring villain Sideshow Bob was released from prison and sent to live with his brother.  “Sideshow Bob episodes are always so ridiculous,” Ivan commented.

“Yeah,” I replied.  I mimed stepping on a rake and getting hit in the face, a reference to an earlier Simpsons episode in which this repeatedly happened to Bob.  “Whack!  Uhhhh,” I said, imitating the rake sound effect and Bob’s grunt.

“I love that rake scene,” Ivan commented.

“So, is Bob’s brother played by a famous guest star?” Mike asked.

“Bob is Kelsey Grammar, from Frasier,” Ivan explained.  “And his brother is the actor who plays his brother on Frasier.

“I don’t know if I knew that,” I said.  I was impressed with Ivan’s Simpsons knowledge.  He may even be more knowledgeable about the show than me.

When The Simpsons ended and King of the Hill started, Ivan and Mike got up and headed back to the hallway “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Greg?” Ivan said as he was leaving.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Have a good night.”

I spent the next ninety minutes watching King of the Hill and The X-Files by myself; these were also reruns that I had seen once already.  When the shows ended at ten o’clock, I went back to my room, where there was nothing to do but read.  Mom had told me earlier to let her know if there was anything I needed her to send me.  I could probably make do without a computer in my room, as long as I found a computer lab on campus, and a television was not necessary since there was one in the common room.  But I definitely wanted my stereo and some CDs, if possible.  I had no music here.  I would call Mom again in the next couple days, after I thought of more things for her to send.

I read my Stephen King book for about another hour, then went to bed.  As I lay on the bed falling asleep, I felt uncertain about the next eight weeks.  I was definitely in an unfamiliar situation and place, and the thought of not seeing my friends in Jeromeville, or having the familiar comforts of home, made me uneasy.  Hopefully I would be able to find a used bike for the next eight weeks.  And I really hoped that today’s sudden downpour was not typical of the weather in Grandvale in the summer.  Some people actually liked this rainy weather, and I would never understand those people.  Gray skies made me sad, and water falling in my face getting things wet and dirty while I was just trying to get from one place to another made life more stressful and overwhelming than it already was.

On a positive note, I had already met two people in the math program, and Ivan and I shared The Simpsons as something in common.  I also had a lead on a group at church to get involved with.  Maybe the other math students, and any church friends I would make, would end up being lifelong friends, like the other students in the IHP my freshman year.  Or, for that matter, maybe I would not end up liking these people; I did not know.  The next eight weeks would be an adventure, and if the rainstorm this afternoon taught me anything, I would have to be prepared for the unexpected.

Howard Hall, 1997

Author’s note: What are your thoughts about the story moving from Jeromeville to Grandvale for the next several episodes? What do you think will happen to Greg in Grandvale? Does anyone want to make any bold predictions for later in year 4?

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.


June 13, 1997. Brian’s going away party. (#134)

I walked to the front door of the Staff House and knocked.  This time of year, it was still warm and light out at seven in the evening.  Cheryl opened the door and said, “Hey, Greg!  Come on in!”

“Here’s my letter,” I replied, handing Cheryl the piece of white paper in my hand.  I had outlined a large letter E in black marker, and inside the E, I had printed pictures of Star Wars characters that I found on the Internet.

“Give that to Alexa,” Cheryl said.  “She’s making the sign.”  I walked into the living room, where a brown-haired senior girl named Alexa Lafferty sat in a chair.  She stood on the chair and taped my E to the wall, about seven feet above the ground, next to a brightly colored S, with a red R some space to the left and another R below the other letters with a high jumper vaulting his body over the middle of the R.  Janet McAllen, who lived in this house with the other Jeromeville Christian Fellowship staff, had called me a few days ago.  She explained that, for Brian’s going away party, we would be making a sign on the wall that said YOU’RE A BLESSING, BRIAN.  Each guest would be assigned a letter from that phrase to draw and decorate, and the letters would be hung on the wall as we arrived.  Some people, like me and whoever drew the high jumper, drew specifically Brian-themed decorations, and others just made designs or patterns.

“Hey, Greg,” Brian said, emerging from another room.  He looked up at the sign, now with my letter added.  “Nice!” he said.  “But you know I’m gonna have to quiz you now.  Who’s that?”  Brian pointed at one of the characters on my letter E sign.

“Han Solo,” I replied.  Although I had some knowledge of Star Wars before living with Brian for a year, I was new to being a true fan, and I had seen Return of the Jedi for the first time just three months ago.

“And him?” Brian continued pointing to characters on my sign.

“Yoda.”

“And her?”

“Princess Leia.”

“And here’s a tough one.  What’s that thing Luke is riding?”

“A Tauntaun, I think it’s called.  Is that right?”

“Very good.  You will be a great Jedi Master someday.”

As more people trickled in, and Alexa added to the letters on the wall, Brian kept making comments out loud, trying to figure out what it spelled.  Lorraine Mathews arrived with the letter O, and like me, she chose a Star Wars theme.  Lorraine had drawn the O as the Death Star, with Luke Skywalker’s X-wing, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, and a few TIE fighters flown by Darth Vader’s minions flying around it.  “YEAH!” Brian shouted excitedly when he saw it.

“Dude!” Lorraine replied, high-fiving Brian.

Eddie Baker and John Harvey arrived next, bringing the I in Brian and the apostrophe in YOU’RE.  “Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.  “What’s up?  Glad to be done with finals?”

“Yes.  What about you?”

“I had a long paper to write, but it’s done.  Now I’m in the middle of planning for China.”

“When do you guys leave?”

“Next Thursday.  Six days.  It’s exciting to see how God will move.”

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m looking forward to hearing about it.”

John spoke up, asking me, “You’re going somewhere this summer too, right?  To do research, or something like that?”

“Yeah.  Oregon.  An undergrad research internship with the math department at Grandvale State.”

Lars Ashford had walked in during my conversation with Eddie and John.  “You’re going to Oregon?” Lars asked me.  “I love Oregon!”

“Where is Grandvale State?” John asked.  “Like, how far from Portland?  That’s all I know in Oregon.”

“About ninety miles,” I replied.  “South.”

“How exactly do you do math research?” Eddie asked.

“Yeah,” Lars added.  “I hear math research, and I think of something like, ‘Today we’re gonna research the number three.  What else can we learn about the number three?  Where does it come from?  Why is it called three?  And when we’re done with that, we’re gonna research the number seven.’  But what is it really?”

“Not that,” I chuckled.  “I’m not really sure myself.  That’s why I’m doing this, to get a feel for what grad school will be like, if I decide to go to grad school.  I think math research is, like, proving new theorems.”

“What new theorems need to be proven?  I remember all the math I had to take for engineering.  It didn’t seem like there was a lot more to discover.”

“There are a lot of open questions to research in mathematics,” I explained.  “But it mostly has to do with really advanced theoretical stuff, the kind of stuff that wouldn’t apply directly to engineering.”

“But—” Lars continued.  “I don’t get it.  Why research something that isn’t relevant to the real world?”

“Because you never know what connections might be made someday.  I heard a good example once.  The ancient Greeks knew about the reflecting properties of parabolic surfaces.  But they had no idea that these same properties would be used centuries later to invent satellite dishes.”

Lars stared off in the distance.  “Wow,” he finally said.  “That’s deep.”

“So what exactly will you be researching this summer?” Eddie asked.

“I’m not really sure,” I explained.  “I think I’ll find out when I get there.  There are three professors working with the project, and the students will be put in groups to work on three different projects.”

“Is that for sure what you want to do with your degree?  Math research?  Weren’t you also thinking about being a teacher?”

“Yeah.  I helped out in a high school classroom this quarter.  I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do.  I’m exploring options.”

“That’s a good way to look at it.”

More people arrived: Kristina Kasparian.  Joe Fox.  Chris, the 1997 Man of Steel.  Melinda Schmidt.  I noticed that the party guests mostly seemed to be juniors and seniors.  This made sense, since these people knew Brian the best.  Brian had graduated a year ago, so he was the same age as current fifth-year students, a year older than current seniors, and two years older than me.  Also, most freshmen had probably either left Jeromeville already, or were busy packing tonight since the dorms closed tomorrow at noon.  I was disappointed to realize that this meant that Carrie Valentine would probably not be at this party, and neither would Sadie Rowland.

Scott Madison and Amelia Dye walked in next.  They handed Alexa two exclamation points.  “I like the way you made signs for punctuation,” I told Janet.

“We already had enough people for all the letters, and more people were coming, so we had to include them too.  So we made lots of exclamation points,” Janet explained.

“That works.  But I wonder if there was any other punctuation you could have used.  Like maybe, put it in quotes.  ‘You’re a blessing, Brian,’” I said, making air quotes with my fingers.

Janet thought about this, then started laughing.  “I thought you meant, like, ‘You’re a “blessing,” Brian.’” She paused and made air quotes, with a suspicious grin on her face, during the word “blessing” only.

“Greg?” Scott said after Janet and I were done laughing.  “How did finals go?”

“I think I did well,” I said.  “I only had two actual finals, plus a paper to write.”

“That’s a pretty easy schedule.  Did your family enjoy the chorus performance?”

“Yes,” I said.  “They brought Grandpa too.  He really wanted to hear me sing.  His hearing isn’t what it used to be, but Mom said he said we sounded really good.”

“That’s good.  My family didn’t come for this one, but they’d seen other ones before.”

“How were your finals?  I forget, are you graduating this year?”

“No.  I’m definitely going to be here a fifth year.”

“Me too,” Amelia added.

“Well, that’s good.  I get to see you guys around for another year.”


After about an hour of mingling, as more people trickled in and Brian figured out what the letters spelled, Brian, the McAllens, and Cheryl attempted to get everyone quiet for a few minutes.  “Brian has a few words to say,” Cheryl announced.  All the chairs and couch spaces were taken, so I sat on the floor to listen to Brian.

“So,” Brian began.  “Thank you all for coming tonight.”  Brian often punctuated his speech with notable pauses, then spoke his sentences quickly in between the pauses.  He gave the talk at JCF a few times this year, speaking this way, and last year, when we were making plans to get an apartment together, he left a few long rambling messages like this on my answering machine.  “Some of you have known me since freshman year… I was a new Christian then.  And God led me to get more involved in JCF… I started leading Bible studies.

“But if my life had gone to plan… I wouldn’t be here at all right now.  I took the MCAT and applied to medical school last year… and I didn’t get in.  But that allowed God to open the door for me to stay here… and go on staff with JCF.  And…” Brian gestured toward the letters on the wall.  “Your sign says that I’m a blessing… But you have all been a blessing to me too.  You’ve encouraged me when things didn’t work out the way I expected… You encouraged me to keep trying medical school.  And God opened another door.  So… as you know, I’m headed to New York Medical College in the fall.  So thank you so much… Come visit me if you’re ever in New York.  And save the date… because I’ll be out here for the New Year’s party!”  A few people cheered at this.  I was not sure what Brian was referring to, about the New Year’s party, but Brian told me earlier that he would be emailing all his friends periodically, so hopefully I would find out more as the end of 1997 approached.

After Brian finished speaking, Janet got back up in front of everyone and announced, “We’re gonna play a game now,” Janet explained.  “We’re gonna play Telephone Charades.  You’ll be in groups of five.  You’re all gonna go in the other room, except for one of you.  We’ll tell the first person something to act out.  Then the second person will come out from the bedroom and watch the first person acting it out.  Then the third person will come out of the bedroom, and the second person will act out the scene for the third person.  Then the fourth person will watch the third person act out the scene.  And we’ll keep going until we get to the last person.  And the last person will have to act it out for Brian, and we’ll see if he can guess what you’re doing.”

Janet explained again, because someone did not understand.  My group went first; I went into what appeared to be Dave and Janet’s bedroom with Alexa, Eddie, and Lars.  Brian came with us, since he had to be part of every group and go last.  Amelia was also in our group, but she stayed in the living room.  Amelia came to the bedroom to get Lars a minute later, and after another three or four minutes or so, Lars came to get Eddie.  Next, Eddie came to the bedroom to get me.

Eddie began acting his scene for me when I got back to the living room, with Amelia, Lars, and everyone not in our group watching.  Eddie mimed sticking something to his shirt; I thought maybe it was a name tag.  Then he sat in a chair.  Suddenly he stood next to the chair, his mouth moving, and his arms extended up above him slightly at an angle.  Eddie then sat back down, looking up at the place where he had stood a few seconds before.  What was going on here?  Was Eddie portraying someone who was sitting down and standing up every few seconds?  Or was he playing two characters, the seated character looking confused at the standing character?  The way Eddie held his arms while standing reminded me of the way some people stand and raise their arms while singing worship music, but I did not understand what the part about sitting in the chair meant.

Next, Eddie just sat in the chair, looking more and more bored, his eyes starting to close.  Eventually he appeared to fall asleep entirely, then he jerked back and sat upright in the chair.  Eddie then repeated the whole thing, as if his character nodded off a second time.

I started at Eddie after he finished.  “I have no idea what I just saw,” I replied.

“Oh no,” he replied.  Others watching seemed to react as well.  I walked to the bedroom, feeling like I was going to let my team down, then came back out to the living room with Alexa.  “I apologize in advance,” I told her.

“Uh-oh,” she replied.

I attempted to act out everything that I saw.  I did the same thing Eddie did, alternating between sitting in the chair and standing next to it, moving my mouth and raising my arms.  I did this a few times, then I sat in the chair and pretended to nod off and wake up.

“Okay,” Alexa replied.  She then performed what she saw me doing for Lars, and Lars performed the same thing for Brian.  Lars’ performance had not changed much from mine, although his portrayal of the guy standing next to the chair with his arms raised was a bit more animated than mine.

“I don’t know,” Brian said.  “I’m thinking maybe I’m doing The Wave at a football game, then falling asleep because it’s a boring game?”

“No,” Janet said.  “Actually, it’s Brian’s first time at JCF.”  I made a note that I was correct in connecting the guy raising his hands with singing worship songs.  “A lot of new people at JCF think it’s weird when people raise their hands in worship.  And you told that story about the time you fell asleep because you thought the talk was boring.”

“Oh!” Brian replied.  “That makes more sense.”

“Is the next group ready?” Janet asked.  “The next group is Lorraine, John, Scott, Kristina, and Joe.”  Lorraine stayed in the living room, and after the others went to the bedroom, Janet said, “You’re doing the scene from Star Wars where Darth Vader fights Obi-Wan, and Luke sees it.”

“Oh yeah.  I got this,” Lorraine proclaimed confidently.  She went to the bedroom to get John, then she began performing.  Lorraine acted Obi-Wan’s part, walking into the scene, then pausing.  She pantomimed switching on a lightsaber, then she swung her arms around to fight Darth Vader with it.  After a few swings, she turned toward the people watching, with a knowing look on her face, making eye contact with an invisible Luke.  She then raised her hands in front of her face and crumpled to the ground as the imaginary Vader struck her down.  Lorraine stood back up in the place where she had looked before, now performing as Luke.  She opened her mouth widely as if to scream, then began shooting an invisible blaster.  After a few seconds, she paused to hear Obi-Wan speak to her from beyond the grave, then ran to the far end of the living room.  Everyone cheered at her flawless acting.

As the successive contestants acted out the scene, it became corrupted and less recognizable.  I was not sure if the others were unfamiliar with the scene from Star Wars, or if they just did not know the scene from memory as well as Lorraine.  By the time Brian saw Joe acting, the lightsaber fight looked more like dancing, and after Joe fell to the floor, he just ran away, shooting, no longer clear that he was now a different character.

“Huh?” Brian exclaimed.  “What was that?”

“Lorraine?” Janet asked.  “Will you act out yours again?  Because I think Brian might know it if he sees you do it.”

“Sure,” Lorraine replied.  She stood up and performed exactly the same way she did earlier, and I could tell from the excited look on Brian’s face that he knew what she was acting out.  When she got to the point where Luke paused and heard Obi-Wan’s voice, Brian shouted, “Run, Luke, run!  That was great!”

“Yes!” Lorraine replied.


There were no more structured activities for the rest of the party. I stuck around and hung out and mingled until around 11:30.  When I left, only a few guests remained besides Brian and the hosts. My plan had been to stay up late, start packing, and leave for my parents’ house early in the morning.  But that did not happen; I was ready for bed when I got home from the party.  Brian had driven separately, and he arrived home after I was asleep.  The next day, I wasted a few hours on Internet Relay Chat and answered emails before I started packing, and I took a break and went for a bike ride before I finished.  I had much more to pack than I usually do for a quick trip to my parents’ house, since I was leaving Jeromeville until late August, so I did not finish until late afternoon.

“Have a great summer, Greg,” Brian said, shaking my hand, as I was leaving.  “Keep in touch.  I’ll see you at New Year’s?”

“Sounds good,” I replied.  “Good luck in medical school.”  Turning to the other housemate who was home, I said, “Shawn, good luck with the running store.”

“Thanks,” Shawn replied.  He also shook my hand.  “So you’ll be back up here at the end of August to finish moving out?  Is that right?  We’ll clean up our parts before we leave.”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Have a good summer,” Brian said.

“I will!  You too!”

Brian sent mass emails periodically for the next few years to update his friends and family on his life.  He eventually decided to specialize in pediatrics, and after completing medical school in 2001, he moved to California to begin his residency at a large, well-known children’s hospital.  At some point a couple years into his residency, Brian got too busy to send the emails regularly, so we lost touch for about a decade.  I found him on Facebook years later, when Brian was a groomsman in Shawn’s wedding.  Brian does not post often, though.

To this day, I have only seen Brian in person six more times.  Brian’s New Year parties were a long tradition going back to his high school years, and he continued this tradition for a few more years, when he returned to Valle Luna to visit his parents over the winter holidays.  I attended three New Year parties with Brian.  He also came back to Jeromeville for Scott and Amelia’s wedding.  (Oops, I guess that was a spoiler… Scott and Amelia did end up getting married.)  In 2002, I went on a long road trip to California and visited a few people I knew there, including Brian.  And both of us were in Jeromeville in 2017 for a JCF 1990s reunion.

By the time Brian got to California, Alexa Lafferty had gotten a job not far from where Brian was.  Alexa and Brian started spending more time together in person, and this eventually became a romantic relationship.  They got married and had two children.  And just as Brian had said years earlier, he did multiple mission trips over the years.

It was warm as I drove west on Highway 100, the sun still a little too high in the sky to be directly in my eyes.  I turned south on Highway 6 to San Tomas, where it ended and merged with Highway 11.  After a week with my parents in Plumdale, I would come right back here to San Tomas to board an airplane to Oregon.  I could have driven to Oregon in one long day and brought the car, but I did not particularly need it, since I would be spending most of my time on campus.  Also, after finally getting to experience flying on the Urbana trip, I wanted to fly again.  Airplanes were fun, and air travel was fitting for a new adventure.

Disclaimer: This photo is a reconstruction that I just made as I was writing this. I know that I did not have a color printer in 1997. I do not know the whereabouts of the original letters today.

Author’s Note: This is the end of Year 3, so I will be taking a break for a while. But I will have a year 3 recap post next week, and I have a few more posts I want to write before I start year 4. Make sure you are following my other projects, Greg Out Of Character and Song of the Day, by DJ GJ-64.

What was your favorite moment of Year 3? Let me know in the comments!

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

Disclaimer: All Star Wars properties are trademarks of Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC. Lucasfilm was not involved in the production of this story.


May 30-31, 1997. The silly game show and the 13th annual Man of Steel Competition. (#133)

Eddie Baker and Raphael Stevens walked into room 170 of Evans Hall as Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s weekly meeting was about to start. “Hey, Greg,” Eddie said when he saw me.  “Ready for tomorrow?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I replied.  “I just hope I don’t do horribly like I did last year.”

“Dude,” Raphael replied.  “Don’t worry about that.  Just have fun.”

I mingled and said hi to more people as they arrived, and I eventually sat down when the band started playing, in a seat on the aisle.  Sarah Winters and Liz Williams, whom I had been friends with since my first week at the University of Jeromeville, sat next to me a few minutes later.  When the second-to-last song began, I walked up the aisle and out of the room, hoping that Sarah and Liz would not ask where I was going.  I wanted this to be a surprise.  I walked to the table in the lobby where Amelia Dye and Melinda Schmidt were filling out name tags.  I had hidden a garment bag under their table, which I asked Amelia to retrieve for me.  She handed it to me, and I took it into the bathroom and changed.  The garment bag contained the only nice clothes I owned, the tuxedo I wore for chorus performances.

“You look nice,” Melinda said when I emerged from the bathroom.

“Thanks,” I replied.  I stood in the lobby next to Darren Ng, Lars Ashford, and John Harvey.  Darren wore a mask of Mr. Clean, the mascot from the eponymous brand of cleaning products, but his face was painted green underneath.  Lars wore a tight-fitting sleeveless shirt, and John wore a suit.  Someone announced, “And now it’s time for another episode of ‘What Would You Do!’”  John, in his best game show host persona, walked to the front of the room and introduced the contestants, played by Todd Chevallier, Kristina Kasparian, and Autumn Davies.

“Now, let’s meet our celebrity judges,” John continued.  That was my cue.  “First, we have actor and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger!”  Lars walked out in his muscle shirt as the crowd cheered.  John continued, “Next, we have one of the richest businessmen in America, Donald Trump!”  I walked out in my tuxedo as the crowd continued cheering.  Finally, John said, “And our last judge is Mr. Clean!”  Darren walked to the stage with no explanation of why his face was green under the mask.

Playing Donald Trump in a skit in 1997 did not elicit the same reaction from students at a liberal secular university as it would today, after his term as President of the United States.  Back then, Mr. Trump was mostly known as a businessman, not a controversial political figure.  I also had not put a lot of effort into my costume.  I did not attempt to color my skin or style my hair exactly like Mr. Trump, nor did I impersonate his voice; I just wore formalwear and got introduced on stage as Donald Trump.

“It’s time for our first question!” John announced.  “You are driving down the street, on the way to an important business meeting, and you see your friend stopped on the side of the road, trying to change a flat tire.  He seems to be struggling with it.  What would you do?”

“I’d wave and keep driving,” Todd said.  “I don’t want to be late.”

“I’d pull over and help him,” Kristina said.

“Well,” Autumn explained, “I’d probably be wearing nice clothes, and I wouldn’t want to get them dirty.  So I’d just let him wait for a tow truck.”

“Judges?” John asked us.  “What do you think?  Who gave the best answer?”

“Todd,” Lars said, imitating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent.  “Your friend can’t change a tire?  He’s a girly man.”

“I also pick Todd,” I added.  “You can’t be late to a business meeting!  Your million dollar deal might fall through!”

“I think Autumn gave the right answer,” Darren said, in character as Mr. Clean.  “Because she wants to stay clean.”  Kristina looked indignant that no one chose her answer.

This continued for two more rounds.  As judges, we gave points to Todd and Autumn for ridiculous reasons.  Kristina gave answers consistent with how followers of Jesus Christ should treat each other, and she got no points.  As Mr. Clean agreed with Autumn that she should not lend power tools to her neighbor, because she might fall in mud in the neighbor’s yard, a loud voice in the back of the room shouted, “Zoinks!  Like, that’s not Mr. Clean!”

Brian Burr, my roommate who was on staff with JCF, stood in the aisle, wearing his costume from a previous skit in which he played Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, and carrying the cardboard Mystery Machine van from that skit.  The crowd cheered as Brian walked to the stage.  “Like, let’s see who you really are!” Brian said, removing Darren’s Mr. Clean mask.  Darren’s green painted face emerged, and long pointy cardboard ears that had been tucked out of sight now pointed outward.

“Yoda!” the three contestants gasped in unison.

“What is right, you know,” Darren said in the voice of Yoda from the Star Wars movies.  “Help your friends, you must.  Hmm.  Show Jesus’ love, you will.”

The skit naturally led into a talk about showing Jesus’ love through serving others.  I stayed in my tuxedo for the talk, since I did not want to miss it.  I changed during the closing song and slipped back into my seat next to Sarah and Liz just in time.

“You did a good job as Donald Trump,” Sarah told me, laughing.

“Thanks.  Brian wrote that a few days ago; I was there when he was working on it.  The part with Shaggy and Yoda was so random!”

“I know!” Liz replied.  “I loved that!”

“You got to be in a skit,” Sarah said.  “I guess that’s a perk of living with a staff member.”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“What are you up to this weekend?”

“Man of Steel is tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s right!”

“I did pretty bad last year.  I’m hoping to do a little better, although I don’t think I have any chance of winning.”

“You never know,” Liz said.

“Yeah, but I’m pretty bad at Frisbee golf,” I explained.

“Maybe the wind will carry your Frisbee just right.”

“Maybe.  Who knows.”


The 13th Annual Man of Steel Competition began at ten o’clock on Saturday morning, at the house where Eddie, John, and Raphael lived in south Jeromeville.  When I arrived, Eddie checked off my name on a list, and I sat in the living room, waiting for further instructions.  “We’ll start sending people out for Frisbee golf at around 10:30,” Eddie explained.

John, who was absent when I arrived, walked in a few minutes later carrying a large number of bags and boxes from Taco Bell.  “Wow,” I said.  “How many tacos is that?”

“A hundred and ten,” John announced proudly.  “I hope that’s enough.”

Some time ago, a group of men from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship held an all day event called the Man of Steel Competition.  The event consisted of disc golf, a hamburger eating contest, and games of poker.  When the founders of the event graduated, they passed on the hosting duties to their younger friends, and the tradition had continued, being passed from Brian’s house last year to Eddie’s house this year.  

This year’s event was slightly different.  In the hamburger eating contest, competitors were given progressively less time to eat each hamburger, beginning with one minute and decreasing by five seconds with each hamburger.  Last year, Mike Kozlovsky had gotten a perfect score in the eating competition, shoving a twelfth hamburger into his mouth in five seconds, then spitting out a wad of half-chewed hamburgers the size of a softball.  Mike had graduated, but his thorough conquering of the eating event had prompted the change from cheap McDonald’s hamburgers to cheap Taco Bell soft tacos.

I got assigned to a group with Lars, Todd, and a guy named Chad, one of Todd’s roommates whom I did not know as well.  Each group got instructions for eighteen “holes,” specifying where to begin the first throw, and where the disc had to land or hit in order to complete the hole.  The first hole was to hit a garbage can in a park down the street.  I waited for a car to move out of the way, then launched my disc as hard as I could throw it.  It sailed straight and landed in front of the park.  “Dude!” Lars shouted.  “Sweet throw!”

“Thanks,” I replied.  My second throw was not on target, but I managed to complete the hole with my third throw, tying Chad for the lead so far.  Lars completed the hole in four throws, and Todd in five.

This park connected to the south Jeromeville Greenbelts, and the second hole was a few hundred feet down one of these trails.  As the game continued, we crossed Willard Avenue to a larger park, which was also part of last year’s course.  My lead did not hold; I began throwing the disc erratically more often as the day went on.  But I definitely did a little better than last year.  After our group returned to the house, I tried to pay attention to the others’ scores, to get an idea of whether I was in last place.  I did not see every score, but I did notice that a sophomore named Rob had more throws than me.

Eating, my strongest event from last year, came next.  Todd, Lars, Chad, and I gathered around the kitchen table with a big pile of tacos in the middle.  The rules were the same as for last year’s hamburger competition: sixty seconds for the first taco, five seconds fewer for each successive taco, and lips must be closed when time ran out.  I noticed last year that many of the serious competitors would get their hamburgers wet before eating; I suspected this strategy may not work as well with tacos, since tortillas did not absorb water as well as hamburger buns.

“Ready… Go!” Eddie announced, looking at his watch.  I took large bites of the first taco and was able to finish it easily in the time limit, with plenty of time left to swallow and breathe.  The challenge felt easy until the fourth taco, which I had forty-five seconds to eat.  When time expired, my lips were closed, but I had not swallowed the last bite.  I needed to eat faster.  I finished swallowing the fifth taco just as time expired, but I was taking larger bites, and my mouth and stomach were filling up faster.  From what I remembered from last year, my body reacted in a similar way to the hamburgers.

Both Todd and Lars were unable to eat the fifth taco, and Chad did not finish the sixth.  I was surprised; I remembered Lars lasting much longer in the hamburger competition last year.  I had outlasted the rest of my foursome, and this felt like a major accomplishment.  “Taco seven, thirty seconds, go!” Eddie announced as I took large bites of a seventh taco with half of the sixth taco still in my mouth.  I tried swallowing small bits of taco, but I knew that the end was near.  Fortunately, though, I managed to fit all of the seventh and eighth tacos in my mouth and close my lips before the time limit.  I continued trying to swallow, but it was too much.  With only twenty seconds to eat the ninth taco, and a mouth full of multiple half-chewed tacos, I only managed one bite of taco number nine before time ran out.  John walked up to me with a garbage can, but I shook my head.  From behind the mass of unfinished taco in my mouth, I made sounds that resembled the words “I wanna finish.  I’m hungry.”

“Okay,” John replied.

“Todd and Lars got four, Chad got five, and Greg jumps out to an early lead with eight,” Eddie announced. The others in the house applauded.  John, Darren, Rob, and Raphael went next, eating their tacos while I finished swallowing all of my unfinished tacos.  No one from that group beat my score of eight; Raphael came the closest with six.  A quarter of the way through the competition, I still had the lead.

After one more group went, Eddie walked up to me.  “Hey, Greg?” he asked.  “We’re gonna need more tacos.  Can you go get some more, since you’ve gone already?”

“Sure,” I said.  I kind of wanted to watch to see if anyone would beat me, but I also liked the idea of feeling useful.

“Get as many as this will buy,” Eddie said, giving me a twenty-dollar bill.

“Sounds good.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Taco Bell was about a mile and a quarter from Eddie’s house, just off of Highway 100 at the Bruce Boulevard exit.  Two people were ahead of me.  When I got to the front of the line, I handed the cashier Eddie’s money and said, “Can I get as many soft tacos as this will buy?”

“Yes,” the cashier replied.  She pressed some buttons on the cash register.  “That’ll be twenty-three tacos.  But you might have to wait a minute.  We had an order this morning for a hundred and ten tacos, so we don’t have as many ready as we usually do.”

“I’m with the same group, actually,” I said.  “We’re almost out of the hundred and ten.”

“Really,” the cashier replied.  “What are you doing with all of those tacos?”

“An eating competition.”

“That sounds intense.”

I had to wait about twenty minutes for my tacos.  By the time I returned to Eddie’s house, the taco competition had paused, with two groups left, because they were almost out of tacos.  My score of eight tacos ended up being second overall; Chris, a senior who had been my Bible study leader when I stayed in Jeromeville last summer, ate nine.

We all took a break of about twenty minutes to digest our tacos, then began the final event, poker.  We each started with a hundred chips and took turns dealing, with the dealer getting to choose the type of poker for each round.  Anyone who ran out of chips scored zero for that round and did not play any more.  I knew the mechanics of how to play poker, but I was not good at the strategy of deciding how much to bet, or whether or not to stay in the game at all.

It was my turn to deal first.  “Just regular five-card draw,” I said.  That was the first kind of poker I learned.  I had no good cards, so I bet one; when Lars raised the bet to three, I folded.  I was not happy about losing my one chip, plus the ante, but it could have been worse.

About twenty minutes in, with about half my chips gone, I had an incredible stroke of luck.  Lars was dealing a hand of seven-card stud, where each player has some cards face down and some face up, with four rounds of betting as more cards appear.  My two hole cards and my first two face-up cards were all clubs; I had a fair chance to get a flush.  My fifth card was the nine of diamonds, not a club.  I also had the nine of clubs showing face up; with a pair showing, I got to bet first that round.  I pushed three chips into the pot, hoping that that would not scare anyone enough to fold.  Todd folded, but Lars and Chad remained in the game.

The sixth face-up card I got was another club.  I had the flush.  I bet five chips this time.  Chad folded, but Lars raised the bet to ten chips.  I looked at Lars’ cards.  Five of spades, eight of hearts, two of diamonds, and jack of clubs.  It was not possible for him to have a flush, a full house, or four of a kind with those cards showing, and any other hand would lose to me.  Why was he staying in the game?  I raised the bet to twenty, and Lars raised again, forcing me all in.  If I lost, I would be eliminated.  We each received one more face down card, and then made the best hand we could from our seven cards.  “Three of a kind!” Lars said, revealing his first two face-down cards to be jacks.  “Jacks beat your nines, unless you have all four nines.”

“No,” I replied, “but I have a flush.”  I showed him the two clubs I had face down.

“Wow,” Todd remarked.  “Well played.”

“Aw, man!” Lars exclaimed as he pushed the pile of chips my way.  “You started betting big after you got the nine, so I thought for sure you had a third nine down there, and my jacks beat your nines.  I didn’t even think about a flush.”

My luck at poker did not continue for the rest of the afternoon, but that one big win gave me enough chips that I could go back to my typical conservative wagers and still have some left at the end of the hour.  I was getting frustrated by then, but I finished with forty-two chips, and several people had lost everything.  I really did think that I improved this year.

While we waited for Eddie and John to tabulate the scores, Raphael passed out this year’s T-shirt.  Last year’s shirt had a sentence and image comparing Superman with Jesus, and a Bible verse, but this year’s was a much simpler design.  On the front, it said “Man of Steel,” and on the back, “FRISBEE, TACOS, POKER, FAITH.”  I loved that shirt, and I wore it for years until it wore out and started to tear.

Chris, the guy who ate more tacos than me, was the overall winner; he placed near the top in the other two events as well.  Rob, the guy who definitely did worse than me in disc golf, finished in last place after eating only three tacos and losing all his chips in poker.  Rob was given the title Weenie of Steel and an extra small T-shirt, the traditional prize for the Weenie.

“Thanks for your help with getting more tacos,” Eddie told me after the winner was announced.  “I think you did better this year.  You were near the middle overall.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I did too.”

“I have to be honest with you.  Last year it was pretty much a toss-up between you and Dan Conway for the Weenie.  We gave it to Dan, because he was a senior, and we thought he’d get a good laugh out of it.  And I didn’t think you should be singled out like that.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “I really appreciate that.”

“But you definitely weren’t the Weenie this year.  If we had a Most Improved award, you’d be in the running for that.”

“Wow.  Thanks.”

I was in a good mood as I drove home a bit later, across the overpass with trees in it.  This year had been a struggle in some ways, with all the cliques I had run into at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  But at times, I also felt much more included at JCF now than I had a year ago.  I had a defined job at the weekly meetings, as the worship team’s roadie.  I had performed in two skits this year, as the resident director for the Scooby-Doo gang’s dorm, and as Donald Trump.  And Eddie was good at making me feel included.  He trusted me to get more tacos for Man of Steel, and he made sure not to humiliate me with the title of Weenie.

I had accepted the fact that I would probably not be in the running for Man of Steel, ever.  I was content being near the middle of the pack overall.  Hopefully, next year as a senior I would do a little better.

Next year, as a senior.  Saying those words to myself just felt surreal.  In two short weeks, I would be finishing my third year at the University of Jeromeville.  Pretty soon I would be graduating and getting an adult job, or maybe going on to graduate school.  What would my life be like then?  As if on cue, this annoying but catchy song I had been hearing a lot on the radio came on.  Some girl sang hard-to-understand lyrics seemingly about how things and people pass in and out of lives quickly.  I could not tell if that was really the message of the song, though, since the chorus degenerated into nonsense syllables.

I wondered about that for myself.  Eddie, John, Sarah, Liz, all of my friends who were also going to be seniors next year, would they still be a part of my life, or would they gradually disappear like my high school friends had?  These moments at UJ would not last forever.  I would finish school someday.  I would perform in my final JCF skit someday.  I would compete in my final Man of Steel and attend my final JCF large group meeting someday.

Of course, I had no idea how my life would turn out.  Maybe some of these friends would stay in my life forever.  Maybe I would go to graduate school, or maybe I would become a teacher.  Maybe I would have the best Frisbee-throwing day of my life, and have a streak of amazing luck, and win Man of Steel next year.  Not knowing the future is part of what makes life interesting.  After all, two things from this stream of consciousness already turned out differently from how I thought: I had already performed in my final JCF skit when I played Donald Trump last night, and the person singing all of those nonsense syllables on the radio was not a girl.

Chris, the 1997 Man of Steel, and Rob, the Weenie.

Readers: What’s the most ridiculous huge meal you’ve ever eaten? Tell me about it in the comments!

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May 23-25, 1997. Canceled plans and a trendy haircut. (#132)

For the last few months, I had been volunteering as a leader with The Edge, the junior high school youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church.  Every year, the students go to Winter Camp over a weekend in January or February, and Adam, the youth pastor, gives them all a mixtape of Christian music from many different artists and genres. Back in 1997, there was no Spotify or YouTube for people to share their favorite music with friends. Instead, we Generation X-ers would play songs from compact discs or cassette tapes, one at a time, and record them on blank tapes. I had begun volunteering with The Edge shortly after Winter Camp that year, so I did not get a copy of Edge Mix ’97, but I borrowed it from the youth group music library and made a copy for myself.  I discovered many Christian bands and musicians through Edge Mixes over the years.

One of the more intriguing songs on Edge Mix ’97 was called “Hitler’s Girlfriend,” by a band based in Bay City called the Dime Store Prophets.  It was a slow rock song, with lyrics that I found a little mysterious.  The chorus said, “I’m not myself until you are you, if I close my eyes, I’m killing you.”  I thought the song had something to do with lamenting the un-Christlike tendency to look away when others were in need. The song also contained the line, “I feel like Hitler’s girlfriend, I’m blind to this and numb to that.”  Some have suggested that Eva Braun, the real-life Hitler’s girlfriend, lived a sheltered life and did not know about the Holocaust, although other historians find this unlikely.

I played that song three times last night while I did math homework.  Although it was the only Dime Store Prophets song that I knew, I wanted it to be fresh in my mind, because the Dime Store Prophets were playing a free live show right here at the University of Jeromeville today, outdoors on the Quad.  University Life, the college group from a large church nearby, not the church I attended, had put this show together, and they had been promoting it at all the local churches and college ministries.  Nothing was going to stop this from being the best day I had had in a long time.

Except maybe for pouring rain.

I did not expect rain this week.  Last Monday had been the first day of hundred-degree heat for 1997, and it felt like the hot, sunny, dry weather of summer had arrived for good.  But today was cool with heavy rain.  A dramatic cooling trend in late May was rare for Jeromeville.  As I rode the bus to school, and sat through my early class, the rain continued to fall, the thick gray sky showing no signs that the rain would clear up any time soon.   Would I have to stand in the rain to watch the Dime Store Prophets?  Was the band even coming anymore?  Would the show be moved indoors?  None of those sounded preferable.

After class, I walked to the Memorial Union to find a place to sit.  The tables were crowded, as was usually the case on rainy days.  Alaina Penn and Corinne Holt from U-Life were sitting at a table with empty seats; I walked over toward them and sat down.

“Hey, Greg,” Alaina said.  “What’s the capital of Morocco?”

“Rabat,” I replied.  I was about to ask why she wanted to know when I saw the campus newspaper, the Daily Colt, on the table in front of her, opened to the page with the crossword puzzle.  Alaina started filling in letters in the puzzle, then paused.  “How do you spell that?”

“R-A-B-A-T,” I said.  “Hey, is the Dime Store Prophets show still happening?  You guys were putting that on, right?”

“It’s canceled,” Corinne answered.  “They canceled yesterday when they heard it would rain.”

That’s right, I thought.  Some people check weather reports in advance to find out if it will rain, so they would be less surprised than I was right now.  “Bummer,” I said.

“What are you up to this weekend, Greg?” Alaina asked.

“I was gonna see the Dime Store Prophets, but now that’s not happening.  So just studying, I guess.”  I could tell that the irritation in my voice was showing.

“JCF meets tonight, right?”

“Yeah.  I’ll be there.”

“See?  You are doing something.  Enjoy that.”

“I will.”




The rain had lightened up a bit by the time I got home from campus, and it was not raining at all when I got to Evans Hall in the evening for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  The worship team was about to begin playing, and I had not yet decided where to sit, since I had been mingling and talking.  I looked around and saw Carrie Valentine sitting alone not too far from me.  My brain began overthinking, trying to decide if asking to sit with her was too forward, if it sent the wrong message, if I was setting myself up for disappointment. I thought about what I would say to save face if she said no.  I took a deep breath, told my brain to shut up, and walked toward Carrie.  “Hey,” I said.

“Greg!  Hi!” Carrie replied.

“Mind if I sit here?”

“Go ahead!”

Carrie was a freshman; I had seen her around JCF for much of the year.  Two weeks ago, we had had a long conversation at a party after JCF, alone in someone else’s house while we waited for the rest of the partygoers to return from the grocery store.

After the opening song, announcements, and a few more songs, Liz Williams walked to the stage and mimed turning off an alarm clock.  A skit.  I liked skits.  JCF’s skits had been unusually good this year.  Liz looked at a Bible and said, “I need to read the Bible and spend time with God, but I’m gonna be late for class!  What should I do?  I’ll just take the Bible with me and squeeze in some time between classes.”  I definitely resonated with what Liz’s character was feeling.

I got excited when Ajeet Tripathi and his roommate Darren Ng entered the stage, dressed in suits and ties with dark glasses.  These were recurring characters who had appeared in several other JCF skits this year.  They called themselves Angels of the Lord, but they dressed and acted more like secret agents.

“Time to help her out?” Darren asked.

“Affirmative,” Ajeet replied.

Brent Wang walked past the Angels of the Lord, carrying books and notebooks.  Ajeet and Darren lightly tapped his back.  Brent started coughing and said, “I’m not feeling well.  I need to cancel my class.”

Liz’s character returned to the stage area and looked at the wall, as if reading a note.  “My professor is sick and had to cancel class,” she said.  “Now I have time to do what I’ve been meaning to do all day!”  Liz searched through her backpack, but instead of getting her Bible, she pulled out a folded copy of the Daily Colt.  “The crossword puzzle!” she exclaimed excitedly.  The crowd chuckled at this humorous turn of events.  Liz sat down looking at the newspaper, holding a pencil, as Eddie Baker walked by.  Liz looked up and asked Eddie, “Hey, what’s the capital of Morocco?”

I laughed loudly, remembering my conversation with Alaina earlier, but then stopped suddenly when I realized that this quote was not as hilarious to everyone else.  Carrie looked at me, wondering why I found this so funny; I wanted to explain, but I did not want to interrupt the performance.  Now was not the time.

The skit continued, with Liz continuing to make excuses not to read her Bible.  This led into a talk by Dave McAllen, one of the full-time staff for JCF, giving a talk about making time to be with God.  He referenced Luke 5:16, in which Jesus, despite being God in the flesh, still made time to get away from the crowds and pray to his Father.

I turned to Carrie after the final song.  “That was a good talk,” I said.

“I know,” Carrie replied.  “It’s so easy to get caught up in everything you have to do and forget to read the Bible.”

“I’ve been doing a little at this lately, at least during the week.  I take my Bible to the Arboretum every day after my first class and read and pray for a while.”

“That’s so cool!  I should find a spot like that.”

“It’s a peaceful little spot in the middle of God’s creation,” I said.  “But, yeah.  The skits have been really funny lately.  This morning, I walked up to some friends who aren’t from JCF, and one of them was doing the crossword puzzle, and when she saw me walk up, the first thing she said to me was, ‘What’s the capital of Morocco?’  So I laughed when they put that same clue in the skit tonight.”

“Oh my gosh!  That’s hilarious!  I don’t usually get very far when I try to do the crossword puzzle.”

“I can usually finish most of it,” I said.  “But there’s usually a few letters at the end that I can’t get.  I finish the puzzle maybe once every week or two.”

“Wow!  That’s good!”

“Ajeet and Darren are funny when they play the Angels of the Lord.”

“I know!  Remember the one where they shaved Todd’s head?  I had no idea they were gonna do that!”

“Me either!  That was amazing!  And remember that series of skits they did at the beginning of the year, where Brian or Lorraine would interrupt and put up a sign with the night’s topic?”

“Yeah.  Kinda.”

“And at the end of that series, when they both started appearing with signs.  I thought that was funny.”

“I think I missed that one.”

“There was one where Brian put up the sign, then a few minutes later Lorraine walked out to put up the sign, and she tore down Brian’s sign and put up her own.  Then the next week, they both showed up with signs at the same time.  They saw each other, and they started fighting with lightsabers.”

“Whoa,” Carrie exclaimed.

“Yeah.  They were fighting, then they stopped and looked at each other, and they embraced and made out.”  Carrie gave me a horrified and confused look as I said that last part, and I realized that I had misspoken.  “Made up!  I meant made up!” I hurriedly explained.  “Like they weren’t fighting anymore!”

“Oh!” Carrie replied, laughing.  “I was gonna say, this is a Christian group; they did what?”

“Wow.  That was embarrassing.”  I hoped that Carrie would quickly forget that part of the conversation.  “What are you up to tonight?” I asked.

“I should get home,” Carrie said, slumping her shoulders.  “I have so much to do.  I have a paper to write this weekend, and I haven’t started it.”

“Good luck.”

“But I’ll see you soon, okay?”

“Yes.  Take care.”  I looked into Carrie’s dark brown eyes and smiled, and she smiled back.  Whatever I did tonight after JCF, it would not include Carrie, but at least we got to talk again.  Hopefully my accidental statement about making out would not do lasting damage.


Head-shaving had suddenly become all the rage over the last few months.  It seemed like every week or so, another one of my guy friends had shaved his head.  My brother Mark started shaving his head that year.  Even Lorraine had shaved her head.  A few weeks ago, Ajeet and Darren’s Angels of the Lord characters had appeared in another skit.  Todd Chevallier, a third roommate of theirs, played a character who knew that a girl who really liked him, but he did not like her back.  Todd prayed before he went to bed that God would make that girl realize that he was not the one for her.  As Todd lay supposedly sleeping, Ajeet and Darren appeared in their secret agent costumes.  Todd awoke and asked, “Who are you?”

“We are Angels of the Lord,” Ajeet replied.  “The Lord has heard your prayers.  We have come to make you ugly.”  Darren pulled out an electric razor and shaved an asymmetrical stripe across Todd’s hair as the hundred-plus students in attendance gasped and cheered.  Todd’s character woke up the next morning; the girl who liked him saw him, then ran away screaming.  After the talk at the end of the night, Ajeet and Darren finished shaving the rest of Todd’s head, right there in 170 Evans in front of everyone.

On Sunday at church, two days after the rained-out concert, the high school youth intern, a guy named Kevin, got up to make an announcement.  “Last week, the high school group had a car wash, to raise money for a mission trip this summer.  I told them that if we made two thousand dollars, they would get to shave my head.  Well, guess what?  We shattered that goal and raised over three thousand dollars.  So you can watch a bunch of high schoolers shave my head right after the service.”

Of course, I thought.  More head shaving.  At least this one was for a good cause.  I hoped, as a youth group volunteer with the junior high school kids, that I would not get chosen to have my head shaved at any point in the future.  I had read a column once by the humor writer Dave Barry, who wrote that black guys with shaved heads looked cool, but white guys with shaved heads looked like giant thumbs.  I definitely did not want to look like a giant thumb, and I had no plans to follow everyone else into this shaved head craze.

Despite that, though, I was not opposed to watching others shave their heads.  I wandered into the youth room after church, where Kevin sat in a chair in the middle of the room, and four high schoolers took turns running electric razors across his head, watching random clumps of hair fall to the floor.

A friendly and chatty girl from the junior high group named Samantha waved at me.  I walked over to her, and she looked up at me and said, “You’re so tall.”

“I know,” I replied.  “You say that to me a lot.”

“You should shave your head!”

“No, I really shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

I had a lot of reasons why not.  Instead of telling Samantha about the giant thumbs, I told her about something that had happened two months earlier.  “When I went home for spring break, my brother had shaved his head, and I told my grandma about how all my friends were shaving their heads.  And Grandma told me I better not shave my head.”

“Oh!” Samantha said, an understanding smile breaking out on her face.  “So you have to wait until she dies!”

Wow, I thought.  Out of the mouths of thirteen-year-olds… “That’s not exactly what I was thinking,” I replied.  “Wow.”  I turned back to watch Kevin as the kids finished shaving his head, not really sure how to follow up Samantha’s comment.

When I got home after church, I turned on music while I finished my math homework.  Edge Mix ’97 was currently in the stereo; I left it in and pressed Play.  The Dime Store Prophets song came on midway through the second side, and hearing that song made me feel disappointed all over again that I had not gotten to see them.  The weather that led to the show’s cancellation was just strange.  Two days later, the weather turned sunny and warm again, like it was at the beginning of last week.

The opportunity was not lost forever.  The band rescheduled their show and came to Jeromeville in September, the first weekend after classes started, and I saw them a second time later that school year.  In my late twenties, two counties away, I attended a church where one of the former band members was the worship leader.  I found a box of old Dime Store Prophets CDs when I was helping him throw away old things he did not need anymore, and he let me keep one of each album.

The conversation with Samantha, about my grandmother not wanting me to shave my head, had an odd postscript.  I would soon learn that my grandmother, whom Samantha had practically wished death upon, shared a birthday with Samantha, sixty-three years apart.  And although I never shaved my head completely, as my brother and many of my friends had, I did start gradually getting it cut shorter as I got older.  I typically would go to one of the cheap walk-in haircut places, and depending on who was available to cut my hair, some would cut it shorter than others.  Once, in 2021, my hair got cut longer than I wanted, so the next time I went to get it cut, I got brave and tried having it cut with clippers.  This was the closest I had ever come to shaving my head. And my grandmother died a few hours later.

I made the connection between Grandma’s death and using clippers on my hair later that week, as I was thinking about everything that had happened.  Of course, it was a complete coincidence; I do not blame my grandmother’s death on my use of hair clippers or on Samantha’s statement twenty-four years earlier.  My grandmother was one hundred years old, her health had been declining for quite some time, and sometimes a body just gives out after such a long life.  But the coincidence still stuck out in my mind.


Author’s note: Have you ever gone along with a hairstyle that was trendy for its time? Share an interesting story about that in the comments.

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May 15-16, 1997. The early demise of Evan’s Bible study. (#131)

My roommates Shawn Yang and Brian Burr had started a quote board for our apartment last week.  I had seen quote boards at friends’ houses before.  To me, a quote board appeared to be simply a list of funny things people said, often taken out of context as much as possible for humorous effect.  Brian had a more strict view of quote boards; he felt that the quotes should be more sophisticated than just things that sounded dirty.

When I was young, I often saw commercials during children’s cartoons on television encouraging children to drink milk, touting the health benefits of doing so.  Before the “Got Milk?” slogan spawned countless parodies for decades, the previous slogan was “Milk: it does a body good.”  One day last week, Shawn got home from a run while Brian was watching television and I was eating.  It was a warm day, and Shawn was wearing nothing but running shorts and shoes.  “While I was out running,” Shawn told us, “this carload of girls drove past me.  They rolled down their window, and one of them shouted, ‘Hey!  Do you drink milk?  Because it did your body good!’”

I laughed loudly.  “That’s great!” I said.

“We need a quote board,” Brian announced.  “Like we had at our house last year.  And that needs to go on it.”

A week later, I was again eating at the dining room table around the same time of night.  Shawn was making something in the kitchen, and Brian had just come downstairs.  “So I was reading something the other day about this Christian astrophysicist,” Brian said.  “He has this theory that the universe actually has ten dimensions, and we can’t perceive the other seven.  He thinks that God and heaven exist in those other dimensions.

“Interesting,” Shawn replied.  “Ten dimensions, huh?”

“The universe has ten dimensions,” I said.  “Let’s see, they are…” I began counting on my fingers.  “Length, width, height, time, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.”

“YES!” Brian shouted, laughing.  “That’s going on the quote board!”  Brian wrote my quote with a black permanent marker, underneath the random girl’s quote about Shawn’s body.

“Is Josh okay?” Shawn asked.  “I haven’t seen him all week.”

“I saw him yesterday,” I replied.  “He said he had to cover someone’s shift in addition to his usual night shift tonight.”

“You’re gonna live with Josh again in a house next year, right, Greg?”

“Yeah.  And Sean Richards, and Sam Hoffman.”

“That’s cool.  Meanwhile,” Shawn explained, “I have an opportunity back home in Ashwood.  One of my friends back home is opening a store to sell running shoes, and clothes, and accessories, and I’m gonna be his business partner.”

“Nice,” I said.  “So you’re for sure not going into teaching?”

“Nah.  I still enjoy the kids, but the master teacher I was working with this year made me realize I just can’t work with people like that.  And all my classes and paperwork for teaching are done if I change my mind within the next five years.”

“That’s true,” I said.  I wondered if Shawn’s thoughts on this subject would impact my future at all, now that I was considering education as a career option.  I hoped that I would not end up with a master teacher that bad.  I had been assisting in a math class at Jeromeville High School this quarter, and I really liked the teacher from that class, Mr. O’Rourke.

“And I’m off to New York next year,” Brian said.  He had been applying to medical school, and after many rejections and a few waitlists that never materialized, he had been accepted at New York Medical College, in Westchester County just outside of New York City.

Brian and Shawn both went back to their rooms a bit later.  I stayed downstairs, because it was Thursday, and I hosted a small group Bible study through Jeromeville Christian Fellowship at my apartment; people would be arriving soon.  The group had steadily shrank over the course of the year, and one of the leaders had stepped down under mysterious circumstances.  There had only been four or five of us for most of this quarter.

Evan Lundgren, the remaining leader, arrived on time and began setting up, getting out his notes and his Bible.  “We might have a really small group tonight,” he said.  “Jonathan told me he wasn’t coming.”

I nodded.  “So do you know who is coming?”

“I know Jill has been really busy with school.  And Amy hasn’t been to this group in a while.  I haven’t talked to either of them this week.”

“So it might just be us two tonight?”

“Maybe.”

I sat on the couch, feeling uneasy about a Bible study of two people.  Evan did not make me uncomfortable, but I had never been in a Bible study with just me and one other guy.  What would we talk about?  Who would answer when I did not have a good answer?

“So how are classes going?” Evan asked me.

“Good,” I said.  “A lot of work.  I’m only taking twelve units, but it feels like the hardest quarter I’ve ever had.  The computer science class is so much work, and Foundations of Education is a lot of reading and writing.  I’m a math guy; I’m not used to that much reading and writing.”

“Yeah,” Evan chuckled.

“What about your classes?”

“They’re pretty tough, about what I’m used to.  I’m taking this Ancient Greek class that’s really hard.”

“Sounds like it.”

Evan and I continued making small talk for another twenty minutes or so.  I thought I heard a few cars pull up during that time, but none of their drivers or occupants knocked on my door.  “I don’t think anyone else is coming,” Evan said eventually.

“I was thinking the same thing,” I replied.  “So what are we gonna do?”

“I don’t know.  We could try going through what I had planned, but the discussion wouldn’t work very well with just two of us.”

“Yeah.”

“Or we could just cancel and hope someone shows up next week.  But with everyone busy right now, I don’t know if anyone will show up next week either.”

As I thought about how disappointing this was, a thought came to me.  “If you’re gonna cancel, I know Joe Fox and Lorraine’s small group meets at the same time as ours.  I might just go check out their group instead.”

“You’re gonna go there tonight?” Evan asked.  “Can I come with you?”

“Sure.”


Evan and I took two cars to Lorraine’s house, since his apartment was in a different direction from mine.  Taking two cars would be easier than having to take Evan back to his car at my apartment.

I had been to this house once before, but no one was supposed to know about that.  Shortly after Brian and Shawn and I moved into our apartment, we had pulled a prank here, toilet-papering Lorraine’s yard while she and her friends were home, watching a movie.  Brian swore me to secrecy, and I had told no one about that night.  About a month ago, I mentioned that night to Brian, and he admitted that he had eventually caved and told Lorraine about his involvement, but he had not implicated me or Shawn.  I found it noteworthy that I had not caved and the mastermind of the plan had.  I realized as Evan and I walked up to the front door that I had just now told Evan how to get to Lorraine’s house; I hoped that it had not seemed suspicious that I knew this.  Evan did not say anything about it.  I knew Lorraine and some of her roommates from JCF, so I very well could have hung out there sometime before.  Maybe this was not as suspicious as it seemed to me.

I knocked at the door.  Lorraine opened the door a few seconds later.  “Greg!  Evan!” she said.  “What’s up?”

“You mind if we join you?” I asked.  “Our Thursday Bible study kind of fell apart.”

“Sure!  Come on in!  What do you mean, fell apart?”

“We’re the only two left,” Evan explained.

Evan and I followed Lorraine back to the circle of about ten people, most of whom I recognized, in the living room.  There were no open seats, but some people were sitting on the floor.  Evan and I sat on the floor, next to Abby Bartlett and Sean Richards.

I looked over at Abby’s Bible, open to the letter of James, chapter 4.  I opened my Bible to the same place and found the verses that the others were discussing.  I quickly read the verses to myself, then listened to what others were saying for a while.

“Does anyone else have any thoughts about this verse?” Joe asked.  “‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you?’”

“It seems straightforward,” Abby replied.  “To get the devil to flee, walk away from tempting situations.  Your action of resisting makes the devil flee.”

Your action.  Something about Abby’s words stuck in my mind.  When I first became more serious about my faith last year, I heard a lot about how I was saved by Jesus’ death on the cross, not through anything I had done.  But then I read James at one point, and the verse “faith without works is dead” seemed to contradict the idea of salvation by faith alone.  Maybe these concepts were not contradictory after all.  I raised my hand.  “Yes, Greg?” Joe said.

“There’s that verse earlier in James that says something like ‘faith without works is dead.’ Is that right?”

“Yeah.”

“James is saying here that if you resist the devil, he will flee from you.  You want the devil to flee, but you have to back that up by actively doing something to resist him.  That made me think of the other thing, where if you really have faith, it has to be backed up by your actions.  That’s what shows that your faith is real.”

“That’s a great point,” Joe said.

“Yeah,” Lorraine agreed.  I smiled.  Maybe I would fit in with this small group.

As the study continued, I contributed to the discussion a few more times, as did Evan.  Evan’s group had become so small that there had not been much discussion the last few weeks.  Evan had to do a lot of leading in order for us to make good points.  Joe and Lorraine’s group did not seem like that at all; enough people shared openly to keep the discussion going.

After we finished discussing the Scripture, Joe and Lorraine asked for prayer requests.  We took turns praying for each other, then a few people went home right away while the rest stayed in Lorraine’s living room to mingle.  “Hi,” one guy I did not know said, offering his hand for me to shake.  “I’m Dave.”

“I’m Greg,” I replied, shaking his hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Greg will be one of my housemates for next year,” Sean explained to Dave.  I noted in my head that I would be going from sharing the large bedroom with someone named “Shawn” to sharing the large bedroom in a different house with someone named “Sean.”  Interesting coincidence, probably meaningless.  “What brings you guys here anyway?” Sean asked me.  “Looking for a new Bible study?”

“Weren’t you in a Bible study that met at your house?” Abby asked.  “I thought that’s what Josh said.” Abby’s boyfriend was Josh, my roommate who was working tonight.

“Evan led that group,” I said.  “But the other leader quit, and people stopped coming, and now it’s down to just us.  So we came here instead.”

“That makes sense,” Sean replied.

“Greg,” Joe said, walking up to us.  “You’re gonna be in my small group next year, right?”

“Yes.”

“Great.  I’m just trying to figure out how many we’re gonna have.  It looks like it’s gonna be a really big small group.”

“That’s kind of an oxymoron.”

“Yeah.  But we’ll find a way to make it work.  Thanks for coming tonight.”


The next day was Friday, and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship met in the evening.  Janet McAllen, one of the full time staff from JCF, made an announcement at the beginning about small groups for next year.  I did not need to sign up for one, since I had already told Joe that I would be in his group.

After the night ended, I stood up and looked around for someone to talk to.  A freshman girl named Sadie, whom I had spoken to a few times before, was sitting behind me.  “Hey,” I said after she made eye contact with me.  She had blue eyes, which contrasted with her medium brown hair.

“Hi!” Sadie replied.  “How was your week?”

“It was okay,” I said.  I explained to her what happened last night with Evan’s disappearing small group, then asked, “Do you have a small group for next year?”

“Yeah!  I’m gonna be in one of those groups to train future leaders, with that Greek name.  I don’t remember what it’s called.”

“Kairos group?”

“Yeah!  That’s it.”

“I really don’t like the way they’re doing small groups.  Kairos groups are invitation only, and I was never invited to be in one, and there’s gonna be something like five of them next year.  And next year there are two groups just for women, and two groups just for transfer students, and one group just for Filipino students, and it feels like I don’t fit into any of those categories.  There’s only one group left for the rest of us living off campus, Joe Fox and Lydia Tyler are leading that, and Joe said it’s gonna be huge.  Hopefully someone will learn from that, and they’ll stop making all the groups so specific.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Sadie said.

“And something just feels wrong about that Filipino group.  Next thing you know, they’ll have separate groups for Black students, and White students, and Latinos.  The people who claim to be against racism seem to want to segregate people the most.”

“I know!  It’s so messed up!  Last summer, someone campaigning against that initiative to end affirmative action showed up at our doorstep, and my dad went off on him!  Pretty sure they’re not gonna send anyone to our door ever again.”

“Good!  I mean, yes, racism is an ugly part of our history, but more segregation isn’t the answer, and neither is turning it around and being racist against white people.  That just creates more division, which is the last thing this world needs.”

“I know!”

“I saw graffiti on campus last year that said, ‘Initiative 119 = Genocide.’  How is it that the people who claim not to be racist believe that some races will die without special favors from the government?”

“Wow,” Sadie said, shaking her head.

“I’ve told people that I’m glad I didn’t do more research on Jeromeville before I came here, because if I had known how liberal it was here, I probably would have gone to school somewhere else, and I never would have met my friends here.”

“I feel the same way!  But God puts us places for a reason, right?”

“Exactly,” I said.  “How was your week?”

“Great!  I found out I got picked to write for the Daily Colt next year!”

“Cool!  Congratulations!”

“Yeah!  I was really hoping I’d get that.”

“What are you up to tonight?”

“I need to get home and go to bed.  I have a lot of studying to do.”

“Well, good luck.  I should probably go help the worship team load up their equipment.  That’s my job here.  Have a great weekend!”

“You too!”

I took a deep breath.  That conversation could have gone badly, considering how controversial issues of race can be, but now I knew that Sadie was a safe person with whom to share my conservative leanings.  It was nice having outspoken conservative friends here at a liberal secular university.  I was glad she would be writing for the school newspaper next year; they definitely needed more conservatives on their staff.


Evan and I attended Joe and Lorraine’s Bible study for two more weeks.  After that was the final week of classes for the year, and Evan was able to get Jonathan, Amy, and Jill to join us one more time for an end-of-year potluck.  We just hung out that night  and did not do any actual Bible study.  Five people still seemed small compared to the ten or so that our small group had at the beginning of the year, but it was good to see the others again.

I expressed my concerns about the niche-specific small groups with several people in leadership roles with JCF.  Typically, these people would respond defending the niche groups, since different people in those categories have different backgrounds that affect their spiritual walk differently.  That may be the case, but I felt left out, and that I knew there were others who did not fit into the categories that the small group leaders had chosen to cater to.  The others would tell me that I had nothing to worry about, because Joe and Lydia were leading a group open to all.  I eventually gave up trying to have this discussion; I would just wait until next year and let these people see for themselves how unmanageably large Joe and Lydia’s group would be, because of JCF’s poor choices about running a small group ministry.

Despite all my complaints about JCF’s small groups, I was not planning on leaving the group.  These people were my friends and my spiritual mentors.  I tried out a new group a few times earlier this year, and I had made some new friends there.  I went back to JCF, though, because I did not want to spread myself too thin and be involved in too many different things.  I had a group for next year, and hopefully the small group ministry would change from the inside when people saw that the current methods were not working.  I did correctly predict the eventual fragmentation of JCF into groups for specific cultures, but that happened many years later, and that is not a story for now.


Author’s note: Happy Easter/Resurrection Day! Jesus is risen!

Have you ever been part of a group that just kept getting smaller? What kind of group was it, and what happened to your group? Tell me about it in the comments.

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May 9, 1997. Maybe here’s where the new story begins. (#130)

“So my cousin is getting married on the beach this summer,” Lars said in his usual boisterous voice as he adjusted the heights of the microphones at the front of 170 Evans Hall.  “She wants everyone to wear beach clothes.  That just seems weird for a wedding.”

“Yeah,” Tabitha said as she plucked strings on her guitar, paying attention to a battery-operated tuner and tightening or loosening the strings accordingly.  “You don’t wear beach clothes to a wedding.”

As the worship team’s roadie, I arrived early each week to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, to help Lars, Tabitha, Brent, and the others on the worship band set up their equipment.  I got this position by virtue of having a big car, a 1989 Ford Bronco, that could fit a lot of instruments and amplifiers in the back.  We used to pull my car right up to the building, someone told me at the beginning of the year that it would be okay, but a few weeks ago I got a a parking ticket for having done so.  Since then, I had parked in the nearest legal space, about two hundred feet away, and we had had to carry the music equipment a much farther distance.  I felt annoyed every time I drove into that parking lot and paid two dollars for evening parking, because it reminded me of the time I got a ticket, so far the only ticket I had ever received.

“So are you gonna wear shorts and flip-flops to the wedding?” Brent asked.

“I don’t know,” Lars replied.

“I’m gonna ask people to wear jackets to my wedding,” I said.  Brent, Lars, and Tabitha looked at me confused.  “Because hell will have frozen over if I ever get married.”

After a second, the others chuckled and groaned.  “Come on, dude,” Lars said.  “Don’t say that.”  I shrugged.  These days, it certainly did feel like I would never meet anyone special.  It had been five months since Haley Channing rejected me, and nothing had happened to give me hope that things would change any time soon.  I had great friends, I was enjoying being a youth group leader at church, but I had not met any girls who seemed interested in me that way.  The University of Jeromeville was full of cute girls; they either did not like me back, or they already had boyfriends.  I saw graffiti on a bathroom wall a few days ago that said, “Jeromeville girls are like parking spaces: the good ones are either taken or handicapped.”  I had never before resonated so well with bathroom graffiti.

A few hours later, after JCF ended, I was helping the worship band unload equipment to its usual storage place, Lars’ garage on J Street.  Tabitha said, “Are you guys going to Dave and Janet’s tonight?  They’re gonna hang out and play games.”

“I’m going,” Brent replied.

“I hadn’t heard,” I said.  “But that sounds like fun.  Sure, I’m in.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Lars added.  “I need to be up early tomorrow.  Gonna go to the Great Blue Lake with Armando for the day.”

“That sounds like fun!” I said.  The Great Blue Lake attracted tourists from around the world.  I was about a hundred miles away, and I had never been there or seen it.  Hopefully someday.

“It looks like we’re done,” Tabitha said, looking at everything in the garage.  “I’m gonna head to Dave and Janet’s now.  Greg, you’re coming?”

“Sure.  But I’m gonna go in and use the bathroom first.”

“All right.  See you there!”


Dave and Janet McAllen were older than me, around thirtyish.  They worked in full-time ministry as the lead staff of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, overseeing the campus group along with a few other recent graduates who were paid part time.  In addition to their duties as leaders of an organization, part of their job also involved building relationships with university students, as a way to create a welcoming organization where students could learn about Christianity and Jesus Christ.

I talked to Xander, one of Lars’ housemates, for a few minutes before I left, then I drove to the McAllens’ house on West 15th Street.  It was almost ten o’clock by the time I finally got there.  I walked to the door and knocked.

After almost a minute, someone opened the door, but it was not either of the McAllens, or Tabitha, or Brent.  A freshman girl named Carrie Valentine stood on the other side of the door, wearing blue denim overalls with a light purple shirt underneath.  Carrie was somewhat tall, with straight brown hair extending a little past her shoulders and dark brown eyes that smiled at me.  I had met Carrie a few times before, but I had not talked to her much.  Music played faintly in the background.

“Hi, Greg!” Carrie said, smiling.  “Come on in!”

The McAllens lived in half of a duplex with roommates, including Cheryl who was also on JCF staff; this house was commonly referred to as the Staff House by JCF students.  The front door opened into a hallway, with bedrooms on the left and the living area to the right.  I followed Carrie toward the living room and kitchen and looked around.  The music was coming from a stereo in the living room, playing a local radio station.  The house appeared empty except for Carrie and me, which surprised me.  I was under the impression that a large group of people would be there.  Tabitha and Brent had left Lars’ house about five minutes before me, and many others had left JCF earlier and not had to unpack music equipment.  Surely they should be here by now.  “Where is everyone?” I asked.

“They walked to the store to get snacks,” Carrie explained.  “They just left a minute ago.  I said I’d stay back in case anyone else showed up.”

“That makes sense,” I replied.  “So how’s your quarter going?”

“Hard!  But it’s good.  I’m taking this really fun class for my major.”

“What is your major?”

“Design.”

“That’s cool,” I said.  Carrie was the first design major I had ever met, and I was not sure exactly what that was, other than that it probably involved designing things.

“What about you?” Carrie asked.  “What’s your major?”

“Math.”

“Eww.  I was never very good at math.  I take it you are?”

“Yeah.  It just makes sense to me.”

“Do you know what you want to do with your major?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” I said.  “I always thought I didn’t want to be a teacher, but one of my professors thinks I would make a good teacher, so he set me up with an internship helping out in a high school class.  I’m doing that this quarter”

“That sounds so cool!  What’s it like?”

“It’s been good so far.  I’m just walking around helping students when they have questions.  And I’m taking notes on how the teacher teaches, because I’ll have to write a short paper at the end of the year.”

“So do you think you want to be a teacher now?”

“I don’t know.  I want to look into all the options.  Another professor told me about these summer research internships that other schools offer, and students from anywhere in the country can apply to, where you do research in small groups with a professor supervising.”

“So, like, math research?  How does that work?”

“Proving new theorems and stuff like that, I think,” I explained.  “I’ll find out.  I’ll be going to Oregon for eight weeks this summer.  I applied to four of these programs, I got into two of them, and I chose the one at Grandvale State University because it’s closer.  And also my great-aunt and uncle live nearby.”

“That’s so cool!  Oregon is nice.  Are you excited?”

“I am.  I’ve been to Oregon twice before, but I haven’t been to Grandvale specifically.  It’ll be nice to be somewhere new.  And it’ll be nice to learn more about what grad school in math will be like, to know whether or not that’s what I want to do.”

“Yeah!

“Do you know what you want to do with your design degree?”

“Interior design,” Carrie answered.  “I’ve always been interested in how other people’s houses look.”

“That’s cool.  I’ve never really thought about what kind of education goes into that.”

I was vaguely aware of the music still playing in the background.  The song on the radio changed to a familiar-sounding song that opened with a guitar, strumming back and forth between two chords, including a note that did not usually harmonize with the other notes in those chords.  A female voice began singing.  Whatever this song was, I knew I had heard it before, but not in some time.  “Eww, I hate this song,” Carrie said.

“What is it?” I asked.  “I know I’ve heard it before, but I can’t place it.”

“‘Here’s Where The Story Ends,’ by the Sundays.  Something about it just always bothered me.  I can’t really explain it.”

Right after I heard Carrie name the song, I heard the girl on the radio, who I would learn years later was named Harriet Wheeler, sing the line containing the title, followed by the line “It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year.”  “Okay, I remember the song now,” I said.  This part sounds familiar.”

“I never liked her voice.  And I could never tell what she was saying.  It sounded like ‘telephone ear’ to me.”

“Telephone ear,” I said.  “That’s a good one.  What is she saying, anyway?  ‘Terrible year?’”

“I think that’s it.  Seriously, do you mind if I turn it off?  I really don’t like it.”

“Okay,” I said, although now that I recognized the song, I realized that I never particularly disliked it.  It was kind of catchy.  Carrie turned the music off entirely.  “What about you?” I asked.  “Are you doing anything exciting this summer?”

“Just going home.  Probably getting a job.”

“Where are you from?”

“Westridge.  It’s between Bay City and San Tomas.”

“Oh, yeah, I kind of know where that is.”

“Nothing exciting like you going to Oregon, though.”

“Thanks!  I hope it’s exciting.  I’m kind of nervous, too.”

“Why?”

“Just because it’s something new.  And I’ve made a lot of new friends here this year, and I won’t be around them.” 

“Yeah.  But you’ll make new friends there, right?”

“I hope so.”

I heard a knock at the door a minute later.  “Come in!” Carrie called out.  Todd Chevallier and Ajeet Tripathi walked in.  Carrie said hello to them, and as all of them started talking, I felt a bit of disappointment that my time to talk to Carrie alone was over.  A minute later, Dave and Janet McAllen, Cheryl, Tabitha, and several others returned carrying grocery bags full of snacks.

“We’re back,” Dave said as the group sat in the living room.  “Hey, Greg,” he said, noticing that new people had arrived.  “Ajeet.  Todd.’

“Hi,” I said.

“So I was thinking, maybe, let’s play Pictionary first?” Janet suggested.  That’s a fun, easy game.  And then we can play something else later if we get tired of that.”  People responded in the affirmative.  Janet got the Pictionary box and placed it on the coffee table.  “I need to go find pencils and scratch paper,” she said.  “You guys divide into teams.”

Pictionary was a fairly simple party game in which one player would have to draw something, silently, without speaking or writing words, and that player’s teammates would have to guess what was being drawn in a certain amount of time.  I looked at Carrie, since she was still standing next to me, at the same time that Tabitha and Brent looked at us.  “We’re a team?” Tabitha suggested, pointing at the four of us.

“Sure,” I replied, nodding.

After Janet finished setting up the game, we rolled the die to see who would go first.  The team consisting of Dave, Eddie Baker, Autumn Davies, and a freshman girl whom I had not met went first.  Dave drew a stick figure with a very prominent ear; he kept circling the ear and pointing.  “Ear!  Earring!  Ear wax!  Eardrum!” others on his team shouted; none was correct.  Time ran out, and Dave’s team did not get to advance on the board.

“Earlobe!” Dave said.  “Come on!”

“Oh,” Autumn replied.  “It looked like he was wearing hoop earrings!”

“It’s our turn,” Tabitha said.  “Who’s gonna draw for us?”

We all looked at each other.  Carrie’s deep brown eyes met mine, and I looked away quickly.  “I’ll draw,” I said, almost immediately wondering if I would regret having spoken up.  I took the pencil, drew a card, and silently read the word I had to draw.  Sheep.

Brent turned the timer over, and I drew a circle for the head, then a fluffy body.  “Cloud,” Brent said.  As soon as I put four legs on the fluffy body, Carrie shouted, “Sheep!”

“Yes!” I said.  Carrie smiled excitedly, and I gave her a high five.

“How did you two get that so fast?” Tabitha asked.

“It’s clearly a sheep!” Carrie explained, gesturing excitedly to the drawing.  “It’s got all the wool, all curly like this, and it has legs!”

“Thank you!” I said, smiling.  Carrie smiled back.  I rolled 5 on the die and moved our piece ahead five spaces.  Pictionary was not normally my best game, but our team worked together unusually well that night, and we ended up winning.

A few people left after we finished Pictionary, and not too long after that, Carrie said that she was leaving too.  “I have a lot of homework to do tomorrow, and I don’t want to be up too late,” she said.  “It’s already almost midnight.”

“Good luck with that,” I replied.  “It was good talking to you earlier.”

“Yeah!” Carrie replied, smiling.  “I’ll see you before you leave, but I hope you enjoy Oregon!”

“Thanks.”  I smiled back.  “Have a good weekend!”

“You too!”


I stayed at Dave and Janet’s house for a while after Carrie left.  Janet asked me what Carrie meant when she mentioned Oregon, so I explained about my internship to the others.  I had mentioned to some of them that I was applying to these programs, but I had not told everyone that I had been accepted.

Several of the people at the party would be going to China for a month this summer, on a mission trip sponsored by Intervarsity, the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  Someone asked how fundraising was going.  I had received several prayer letters about this trip over the last few weeks, from many of the students going on the trip; since I knew all of them, I made one lump sum donation of $118.24.  In the memo line of the check, I had written, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Psalm 118:24.”

“It’s funny, Greg,” Eddie said.  “At the last meeting for the China trip, we were going over fundraising totals, and every time we look at the numbers, it’s always, like, whatever dollars, and twenty-four cents.”

“Because of me,” I said, laughing.

“Yeah.  I’ve never seen anyone do that before, with the Bible verse.”

“It just came to me.  I was trying to decide how much to give, and I had read that verse recently.”

“That’s cool.  That’s why you’re a math guy, always seeing numbers.”

I eventually said goodbye to everyone and left the party around 12:30; things seemed to be winding down by then.  I had a midterm in my computer science class Monday that I needed to study for at some point over the weekend.  I had the radio playing as I was driving home, but as I lay in bed, the song playing in my mind was Here’s Where The Story Ends, not anything I had heard on the drive home.  I did not know every word and every sound of the song, so the same few lines I did know, like the part about the terrible year, kept playing over and over in my head.  I kind of wanted to hate the song now that I knew Carrie hated the song, but I also found it too catchy to hate that much.

A lot of great things had happened this school year, but it also felt like a terrible year in some ways.  Haley had rejected me, I had often been left out of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to realize that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my mathematics degree.  But maybe things were turning around.  I had been invited to hang out with those people tonight, so I was not completely on the outside.  I was exploring options for my career.  I was making new friends in different places, and maybe one of these new connections would lead to something special.  Maybe it would involve Carrie.  Maybe here was not where the story ends; maybe here was where the new story begins.  Maybe this was not such a terrible year.  Or not such a telephone ear, whatever that means.


Author’s note: What’s a song you absolutely can’t stand?

I’m not going to name mine, but I will say that there is a certain band that was very popular during the time in which DLTDGB is set which I have never mentioned once in any episode, because I really can’t stand them. I feel like their lack of existence makes DLTDGB a little inauthentic, but I justify it by saying that DLTDGB takes place in an alternate universe where this band never made it big.

Also, I have a new out of character post about some thoughts from behind the scenes while writing this episode.

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.