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

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

“What?” I asked.

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

“Why?”

“Company policy.”

“But why?”

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

“That’s dumb,” I said.

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

“What?” Erica replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“I know!” Taylor said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Eight,” I replied just as quickly.

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

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

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

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

“What?” Brody mouthed silently.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“That’s amazing!”

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

“I think that was Brody’s idea.”

“Sounds like a Brody thing.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Have any of you been drinking?”

“What?  No, we haven’t.”

“Step out of the car, please.”

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

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

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

“What else?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Should we only do one of their houses?”

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

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


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

“It was good,” I said.

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

“I see,” I said, chuckling.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

“I forgot.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Sure!”

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

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

“Go get Danny,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Sounds good!”

“Do you need me again?” Shawna asked.

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

“Great!  I’ll see you tonight!”


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

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

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

“Boyfriend?” Dog Crap said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fish Boy!  You seek Fish Boy!”

“You know Fish Boy?” Dog Crap asked.

“Take you to him, I will!”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Late September, 1997.  The retreat with the youth group leaders and a step outside my comfort zone. (#146)

Life is full of difficult and seemingly impossible tasks.  Sometimes such tasks require hard work to complete, and sometimes I just never get motivated enough to do difficult things.  But every once in a while, everything I need to accomplish something difficult just falls into my lap, leaving me to just take the final step.

I had just spent five days away from home at Outreach Camp, the retreat for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship where we plan for the upcoming school year.  I did not go straight home to Jeromeville after that, though, because I had another retreat for the weekend, this one with student ministries for Jeromeville Covenant Church.  This encompassed youth groups for preteens, junior high school, and high school, as well as the college group.  I was a leader with The Edge, the junior high group.  The leaders for the preteen youth group were high school students, and almost all of the leaders for all of the other groups were University of Jeromeville students, like me.

Outreach Camp ended at 1:00, and the other retreat started at 6:00, and it did not take five hours to drive between them, even on curvy mountain highways, so I was the first one to arrive other than the paid church staff.  I mingled and helped them set up as others began arriving.

“Greg!” Taylor Santiago said when he saw me.  He and Pete Green, who played guitar for the college group, arrived together.  I had known them the longest of anyone on this retreat; we were all in the same dorm freshman year.  Taylor gave me a hug.

“Good to see you again,” I said.  “How was the rest of your time in Chicago?”

“Tiring, but really good.  It’s pretty intense, seeing what some of those people are going through.  It’s a world away from our kids at The Edge.”

“I’m sure it is.”

Josh, my housemate back in Jeromeville, and his girlfriend Abby showed up shortly afterward.  They pulled me aside as if they wanted to talk to me about something.  “You should know this, because you’re my housemate.  We’re gonna announce it to everyone later tonight,” Josh said.  “Last night, I asked Abby to marry me.”  Abby held up her left hand, showing off her new engagement ring.

“Wow,” I said.  “Congratulations!  Does that mean you’ll be moving out and we’ll need a new roommate?”

“No,” Josh explained.  “The wedding won’t be until summer.  So you won’t need to find someone in the middle of the school year.”

“Good,” I said.  “I don’t know if you heard, but Scott and Amelia just got engaged too, during Outreach Camp.”

“They did?” Abby said.  “Good for them!”

We all went into the main building of this retreat center to eat after everyone arrived.  After dinner, Pete and a few others led us in a time of worship music, then we had free time to hang out until it was time for bed.  “Do you know how to play poker?” Taylor asked me.

“I’m not great at it, but I know the basics.”

“I brought a poker set.  We aren’t playing for real money, of course.  Are you in?”

“Sure.”

Taylor, Abby, Josh, and I sat in a circle, along with Noah Snyder, the junior high group intern and Taylor’s best friend from high school; Adam White, the youth pastor; and Nick Hunter, a sixteen-year-old leader with the preteen youth group whose younger brother Ted was one of the junior high students I knew well.  A few hands in, I was dealt a full house, and I managed to bet big enough to get a big return but not so big that everyone else dropped out.  It did not take long for me to lose the rest of that money, though.




Most of the serious work of the retreat, specifically the things related to running the youth groups, happened on Saturday.  The leaders met in groups separated by which group we worked with, so that I was with The Edge leaders: Noah, Taylor, Abby and Josh, Martin Rhodes, and Courtney Kohl and Brody Parker, a sophomore couple who first met as Edge leaders last year.  Adam, as the youth pastor, was in charge of three of the four groups meeting here this weekend, but he met with us tonight.  Before he had a paid position at the church, he had been a volunteer with The Edge, and he had something specific to our group to talk about.

“This is it so far this year,” Adam said.  “James and Kate are going to be doing high school.  Charlotte isn’t going to J-Cov anymore.  And everyone else was either busy or too involved in other things.”

What about Erica?” I asked.  I had noticed that Erica Foster was not here this weekend.  I wondered if this meant that she was no longer a leader with The Edge this year, or if she just had other commitments.  She had been in Turkey this summer living with a family of missionaries that J-Cov supported, but I thought she must be back by now, especially with school starting soon.  I did not want to ask earlier, I did not want anyone to think it was weird that I was asking about Erica, but this time I just blurted it out without thinking.

“Oh, you’re right,” Adam replied.  “Erica is still doing The Edge.  But still, we lost six leaders this year.  Considering how many kids show up each week, we definitely don’t have enough leaders as we should have.  So, I’m proposing a challenge for all of you.  I want you to prayerfully consider, at some point this year, recruiting someone to join the Edge team of leaders.  If you know someone around church, someone in the college group, whoever, who might make a good Edge leader, invite them to come check it out.”

My heart sank.  Being a leader with The Edge was supposed to be fun.  I got to hang out with fun, energetic young teenagers, playing games with them and teaching them about Jesus.  It was not supposed to involve me having to awkwardly ask my friends to make a commitment.  I knew in my head that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for my sins, and that my own good works were not what got me into Heaven.  But I often felt pressure to be a better Christian because I was not constantly out there doing things.  Taylor’s mission trip to Chicago, Erica’s mission trip to Turkey, I had never done anything big like that.  And I also felt the constant pressure to reach out and invite others to church, to Bible study, and the like.  I was not good at inviting anyone to anything.  The frequent reminders at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship to invite all of our non-Christian friends just made me feel like there was something wrong with me.  I did not have many close non-Christian friends, since I had little to nothing in common with most non-Christians.  I understood well the value of inviting non-Christians to Christian events; I first got involved with JCF when my friends from freshman year invited me, and this led to me making my faith my own.  But I hated that pressure, especially since inviting people to stuff did not come naturally to me.

Of course, recruiting friends to work as leaders with The Edge was a little different.  I was looking for people who were already Christians, looking for somewhere to serve; they would not interpret my invitation as asking them to change their religion.  Still, though, any sort of conversation where I had to ask someone to do something always felt forced and unnatural to me.  It always felt like I was only talking to the other person because I wanted something.  However, I knew plenty of Christians, and I talked enough about being a youth group leader that it was certainly possible for it to come up naturally in conversation.

I woke up fairly early Sunday morning.  I put on a sweatshirt, since it was cold outside, and brought my Bible to a bench where I could sit and read Scripture and enjoy the view of God’s creation.  When I went back to the cabin, Noah was awake.  “How’s it goin’, Greg,” he said quietly.

“Okay, I guess,” I replied.  “I’m just stressing about having to recruit another leader.  I’m not good at inviting people to things.”

“Don’t feel any pressure.  Nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t.  Just think of it this way.  Keep it in mind in case it ever comes up in conversation.  If you know someone who might be interested, tell them.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t let this get you down.”


The drive down Highway 52 to Capital City was full of mountains and rocks and pine trees.  The first fifty miles went relatively slowly, with only one lane in each direction and lots of traffic from people who came up to the mountains for the weekend.  As the road gradually widened approaching Capital City, traffic began moving faster. It took close to two and a half hours to get down the mountain, across Capital City, and back to my house in Jeromeville.

Despite the usual dread about having to get up early again for classes, the beginning of a new school year always felt hopeful.  I would have new friends to make, new professors to meet, new things to learn.  For all I knew, maybe one of those new friends I made would be my future wife.

I spent Monday running errands around campus.  I stood in a long line to buy my books.  I had told the Learning Skills Center that I was available to work ten hours per week this quarter as a tutor, so I also checked to see when I would be scheduled to work this quarter.  While I was there, the woman at the check-in desk mentioned that they needed proctors for the mathematics placement test they would be giving the next morning, so I returned to campus on Tuesday morning and got paid to work a couple hours by standing and walking around a room as incoming students took this test.

Tuesday night I went back to campus for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s Welcome Mixer.  This year it was held in the Arboretum Lodge.  The Arboretum was possibly my favorite part of the University of Jeromeville campus, a park-like collection of plants from around the world running a mile and a half along a long, skinny lake made from a formerly dry creek bed.  Near the west end of the Arboretum was a grassy field surrounded by tall oaks, pines, and redwoods, with an event room called the Lodge at one end of the field.  I had only been inside The Lodge once, three years ago this week, for a similar beginning-of-year party for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program that I was part of freshman year.

I was working a shift for the first hour of the night at the welcome table, filling out name tags and directing students to leave their contact information so that JCF could be in touch with them.  I was proud of myself for knowing many students’ names, but of course there were many new students to meet.  JCF had used all of their usual outreach techniques during the last few days: students lingering around freshman dorms randomly helping people move in, a table on the Quad during busy times with information about our group, and lots of signs and flyers around campus.  Last week at Outreach Camp, when they asked for volunteers to sign up for those events, this one hour shift at the name tag table was all I signed up for, since I knew I would be gone on the youth leaders’ retreat while everyone was moving in.

It would take me a while to learn all of the new people’s names, but by the time my shift was over, a few already stood out to me.  Being the secretly girl-crazy guy I was, cute girls stood out in my mind the most. I remembered in particular an attractive, bubbly girl named Brianna with curly blonde hair, and a short girl named Chelsea with light brown hair and bright blue eyes.  I looked around the room, but I did not see Brianna or Chelsea.  Among the guys, the one who stood out to me most was named Tim; he had brown hair, black Buddy Holly glasses, and a t-shirt that said “Nobody knows I’m Elvis.”  I had no idea what that meant, but this Tim guy surely was quirky, in a fun kind of way.  I saw Tim and another new guy talking to Scott and Amelia.

“Hey, Greg,” Scott said as I approached.  “Have you met Tim and Blake?  They live in the Forest Drive dorms, so they’ll be in my Bible study this year.”

“I saw you guys come in,” I said.  “I was at the name tag table.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tim said.  “Nice to meet you, Greg.”

“You too.  Where are you guys from?”

“I’m from Sullivan,” Blake said.  I knew Sullivan; it was on the drive from Jeromeville to my parents’ house in Plumdale, about halfway.

“I’m from Seger Ranch,” Tim said.  “I bet you don’t know where that is.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Scott explained.  “Greg has a reputation for knowing his way around really well.”

“This time, Tim wins, though,” I said.  “I don’t remember where Seger Ranch is.”

“Ha!  I have stumped the master!” Tim exclaimed.  “It’s down the Valley a few hours, about half an hour outside of Ashwood.”

“Oh, okay.  I bet you don’t know where Plumdale is.”

“Nope.  Is that where you’re from?”

“Yeah.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“I know Santa Lucia.”

I made small talk with Scott, Tim, and Blake for a few minutes.  When they dispersed, I continued walking around the room, next introducing myself to a girl with short brown hair whose name tag said “Hannah,” in handwriting that was not mine.  John Harvey had been working the name tag table at the same time as me; he must have filled out Hannah’s name tag.  I would have remembered, because it would have stuck out in my mind that the name Hannah is a palindrome, reading the same forward and backward.

“Hi,” Hannah said, noticing me approaching.  “I’m Hannah.”

“I’m Greg,” I replied.  “Are you a freshman?”

“Yeah!  What about you?”

“I’m a senior.”

“Cool!  Have you always been part of JCF? Since you were a freshman?”

“I started at UJ as a freshman, but I didn’t get involved with JCF until sophomore year.”

“Oh yeah?  Why’s that?”

I paused.  “It’s kind of a long story.  Do you want to hear it?  I can try to make it short.”

“Sure!”

“I grew up Catholic.  My mom’s family has always been Catholic, but it didn’t really mean a lot to me personally.  So I was going to Catholic Mass at the Newman Center.”

“Newman Center?”

“It’s like the Catholic student club at secular schools.  I lived alone sophomore year, and I had some friends from freshman year who went to JCF, so I started going just to stay close to my friends.  And the more I started meeting people at JCF, the more I realized I didn’t really know Jesus personally.  So I made a decision for Jesus that year.  I still went to Mass for a while, because I didn’t want to turn my back on my family heritage.  But eventually I felt like I needed to find a church where people were serious about learning about the Bible and not just going because that’s what you do.  So I stopped going to Mass about a year ago.”

“That’s cool, how God found you through your friends,” Hannah said.  “My story isn’t that complicated.  I grew up in a Christian family.  We’ve always been involved in church.”

“That’s good too.  You got to experience church life as a kid in ways that I didn’t.”

“I’m looking for a church in Jeromeville too.  I think someone said JCF isn’t connected to one church, right?  Is there a church where a lot of people here go?”

“I go to Jeromeville Covenant Church now,” I said.  “There’s a lot of JCF people who go to J-Cov, including the McAllens, the couple who are the head staff of JCF.  And I know some people here also go to First Baptist Church of Jeromeville, and some go to Jeromeville Assembly of God.”

“I’ll try those out,” Hannah replied.  “You like Jeromeville Covenant?”

“Yeah.  They’ve got a good college group. I like the way the college pastor teaches.  And I got involved as a junior high group leader toward the end of last year.  That’s been a lot of fun, getting to work with younger kids, and getting to know their families.  It makes me feel more like part of the community.”

“That does sound like fun!  I taught little kids’ Sunday school back home, and I was thinking it would be nice to get involved with something like that.”

I felt like pieces were suddenly starting to come together in my head.  Before I could pause and overthink and talk myself out of it, I asked, “Do you want to come to junior high group sometime and see if you’d be interested in being a leader?  The youth pastor was just talking about how we needed more leaders.”

“Sure!  When is it?”

“We meet on Wednesdays, so tomorrow night would be the next time.  But really, any Wednesday.”

“Yeah!  I think I’m free tomorrow night.  How far is it?”

“About a mile past campus, on Andrews Road.”

“Can you give me directions?”

“Sure,” I said.  I wrote directions from campus to church on the back of a flyer; I also wrote the church phone number and Adam and Noah’s names, so that she could ask someone who actually worked at the church if she had any questions.

“Thanks!  I’ll see you tomorrow night, then!  It was nice meeting you!”

“Yeah!  Good luck with everything this week,” I said.  Could it really be that easy?  I just possibly recruited a new leader, the thing I had been scared of just three days earlier.  Now, hopefully, Hannah would actually show up and stick with it.


“We have two possible new leaders tonight,” Adam said on Wednesday night as the leaders for The Edge met to discuss the night.  “Why don’t you introduce yourselves.  Hannah, you go first.”

“I’m Hannah, and I’m a freshman.  I grew up in a Christian family, I taught Sunday school when I was in high school, and I just got to Jeromeville on Sunday, so I’m looking for a church.”

“Welcome,” Adam said.  “And how’d you find out about The Edge?”

“Last night, at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s welcome thing.  Greg told me about it.”

I looked up and noticed that Noah was smiling at me.  He must have been remembering when I was feeling uneasy about having to recruit a new leader.  And today, I had recruited a new leader.  Mission accomplished.

“I’m Cambria,” the other new leader said.  “I was talking to someone at church last week about wanting to get more involved, and working with junior high kids was one of the options, so I’m checking it out.  I’m a sophomore.  I recognize some of you from JCF. Like I know Greg.”  I waved at Cambria when she said my name.  I did not know that she would be coming to The Edge tonight.

“Welcome,” Noah said.

“I hope you enjoy the night,” Adam added.

Both Hannah and Cambria stayed with The Edge for the entire school year.  Hannah volunteered with the youth groups at J-Cov for the entire four years she was in Jeromeville, two years with The Edge, then two years with the high school group after her small group moved on to high school.  I had been afraid of recruiting a new leader, and Hannah was the only new leader that I ever directly invited in four and a half years of working with The Edge, but I still did what I was afraid of, and that is important.  No one I met that year became my future wife, but with classes starting tomorrow, I still had a good feeling about this year.  And it did end up being a memorable year.

By the way, two of my friends did end up meeting their future wives in this story, but I’ll get to that another time.


Readers: Has there ever been a time you had to do something scary to you that wasn’t as hard as you ended up thinking it would be? Tell me about it in the comments.

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


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 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.


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.

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.


April 27, 1997. A legendary prank for Erica’s 18th birthday. (#129)

The Internet was a much simpler place in 1997.  For one thing, the Internet was just beginning to emerge into the mainstream and had not yet taken over every aspect of everyone’s lives.  Also, most network communication was done through dial-up modems and telephone lines, which did not transfer data fast enough to make videos, high-quality sound, and large numbers of photos feasible for everyday Internet usage.

In the days before profile pictures, people would personalize their Internet experiences with email signatures.  People still do this in business today, where they will end every email with their name, job title, phone extension, and website.  But back in 1997, some people would add a signature to their personal email, featuring a sentence about themselves or their favorite quotes.

My email signature was usually a Bible verse, and I would change it every few months as I discovered new verses that spoke to me.  Last quarter at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, Janet had delivered a talk about being patient in romantic relationships, and seeking God’s will in that.  Janet organized her talk around the verse that appears three times in the Song of Solomon: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

I wanted a girlfriend badly, but I knew that seeking God’s will and not rushing in would be best in the long run.  My recent attempts to get to know cute girls better had all ended in failure, so that talk felt like exactly what I needed to hear.  I made that verse my email signature, not realizing the unintended consequences that doing so would bring.

I had been volunteering with the junior high school youth group at my church for a couple months.  Last week at youth group, I was talking with Danny Foster, one of the boys I knew fairly well, telling him about Dog Crap & Vince, a silly web comic I started drawing last year.  I sent him the link to my website in an email, and my email software automatically attached that Bible verse to the end, as it did with all emails.

The following Sunday, Danny sat next to me at church.  As I was listening to the announcements at the beginning of the service, Danny nudged me to get my attention.  He held an open Bible, and he was pointing at something inside.  I read the verse he was pointing to, Song of Solomon 4:5: “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”  Danny looked at me and giggled; I smiled and nodded before turning my attention back to the announcements.

“Shh,” I whispered to Danny.

Later, a few minutes into the sermon, Danny nudged me again.  He was giggling, just like last time, but now he was pointing to Song of Solomon 7:7: “Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.”  A few minutes later, Danny did the same thing, pointing to Song of Solomon 8:8: “We have a young sister, and her breasts are not yet grown.”  Danny did have a sister, Erica, and her breasts were smaller than average, but she was older than him.  I tried to suppress laughter as I pictured Erica Foster as the young sister in Song of Solomon 8:8.

The Song of Solomon describes love in a way that includes some very colorfully descriptive language of the bodies of the two lovers and the interactions between them.  It is also often said to be a metaphor for God’s love for his people and Jesus Christ’s love for the Church.  After the service ended, after Danny had pointed out a few other instances of the word, I asked him if this was the first time he had read Song of Solomon.

“Yeah,” he replied.  “I looked up the verse you quoted in your email.”

I was suddenly horrified to realize that I had been the cause of Danny’s distraction at church today.  Danny had taken it upon himself to look up a verse in the Bible, to read the Word of God, and to me, as a youth group leader, this should feel like a major victory.  But I had inadvertently led Danny directly to the one part of the Bible that would make any boy in his early teens think of things that were anything but Godly.  But the Song of Solomon was still part of God’s Word, and hopefully Danny would understand it eventually.

As I left, Noah, one of the other junior high group leaders, pulled me aside.  “What are you doing tonight?” he asked quietly.

“Nothing,” I replied.

“It’s Erica Foster’s 18th birthday.  We’re gonna prank her room tonight.  She’ll be at church for teen choir practice, then high school group.  Are you in?”

“Sure,” I said.  I always loved a good prank.  “Do I need to bring anything?”

“Bring some toilet paper.”

“I will!  I’ll see you then!”


I pulled up to the Fosters’ house in west Jeromeville a little after six o’clock.  I had been here a couple times before, hanging out with Danny and his friends after church and dropping him off.  Erica was the youngest member of the junior high youth staff.  She was graduating from Jeromeville High School this year, and she had told me that she was going to stay home and attend the University of Jeromeville next year.

The teen choir and high school youth group both met on Sunday nights, so Erica had been at church since five o’clock and would not be home until close to nine at the earliest.  This gave us well over two hours to work safely; we probably would not need that much time.  I knocked on the front door with one hand, precariously holding a large case of toilet paper in the other.  Mrs. Foster opened the door.  “Hi, Greg,” she said.  “They’re in Erica’s room.  Down that hall, last door on the right.”

“Thanks.”

“Looks like you’ve got a lot planned.”

“I didn’t make the plans.  They just told me to bring toilet paper.”

As I turned toward the hallway, I saw Danny in the living room, playing a Nintendo 64 game I did not recognize.  “Greg!” he said.  “This is gonna be so cool.  My sister doesn’t suspect anything.”

“Good!” I said, continuing down the hall as Danny turned his attention back to his game.  Noah Snyder and Martin Rhodes were already in Erica’s room when I got there.  “Hey, Greg,” Noah said.  “Good, you brought more toilet paper.”  Noah motioned for me to put it next to the toilet paper he already brought, about twice as much as what I had.  It seemed like an excessive amount of toilet paper to decorate one bedroom, but when performing a prank of this magnitude, you can never have enough toilet paper.

Erica’s room appeared to have been the master bedroom of this house at some point, since it had an attached bathroom.  I had been inside this house before, and the house appeared to have been added onto at some point in the past.  The addition probably included a larger master bedroom for Mr. and Mrs. Foster, so Erica, as the oldest child, got the next largest bedroom, which also had an attached bathroom.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked.

“We’re gonna wait for Courtney and Brody,” Noah explained.  “They’ll be here in a few minutes.  But we’re definitely gonna TP this room as much as we can.”

“I also said we should take some piece of furniture and put it in the shower,” Martin suggested.  “Like that file cabinet over there.”

“That’s awesome,” I said.

Brody and Courtney walked in just then, both sipping on fruit smoothies in plastic foam cups from a smoothie place downtown called Green Earth, giggling about something.  I noted the irony of a place with an environmentally friendly sounding name using plastic foam cups.  I also noticed that Courtney and Brody looked very much like a couple.  I had been trying to figure out for months if those two were romantically involved, and lately it had seemed very obvious that they were.  Courtney was really pretty, with long blonde hair, but I had not attempted to get to know her better as a love interest.  In the fall, she and Mike Knepper had been spending a lot of time together, and I did not want to compete.  I did not know that Mike was out of the picture, though, until the last couple months when I had seen Courtney and Brody together often.

“Hey, Brody,” Martin said.  “Can you help me carry this file cabinet into the shower?”

“Sure,” Brody replied, laughing.  “Why?”

“No reason.”  Martin and Brody lifted Erica’s file cabinet and began carrying it carefully into the bathroom.  Courtney and Noah had opened the toilet paper; I helped them string it through the curtain rod up and down the wall.  Since I was tall, they kept handing me rolls of toilet paper to attach to things on high shelves, so that toilet paper ran across the room several feet off the ground, like streamers at a party.  I used tape to anchor the toilet paper to high spots on the wall a few times.

I went to look at the file cabinet in the shower.  A set of Magnetic Poetry, small magnets with words on them that could be rearranged into abstract poetry, was stuck to the cabinet.  I had seen these before on others’ refrigerators.  I looked to see if I could spell anything funny.  Some magnets only had prefixes and suffixes, like “er,” “s,” and “ing,” intended to be added to existing words.  I put the word “I” next to “er,” then found “can,” intending to cover the N in “can” with the next word, so that those three magnets would spell “Erica.”  “Smell” was the first funny verb I found.  After a couple minutes, I arranged the magnets to spell “er-I-ca-smell-s-like-puppy-tongue.”  I was not sure what it meant that Erica smelled like puppy tongue, but I did not have a great selection of words to choose from.

“We should do something with these stuffed animals,” Noah said as I walked back to the bedroom.  I was a little surprised to see stuffed animals in Erica’s room; most of my friends did not bring their stuffed animals to college.  But Erica was still in high school, for another month or so, and still in her childhood bedroom at her family’s house, so it made sense that she would have stuffed animals.

Brody carefully stepped around the toilet paper, ducking so as not to make it fall to the ground.  He picked up a stuffed bear and put a strip of masking tape over its mouth, then bound its wrists behind its back with masking tape.  “That’s perfect,” I said as Brody taped the bear’s ankles together.  I took an oversized stuffed mouse and taped it to the underside of a shelf that stuck out from the wall several feet from the ground; I had to use a lot of tape to get it to stay.

“There’s a bunch of empty plastic water bottles over here,” Martin observed from across the room.  “Like thirty of them.  Is she saving them or keeping them to throw away, for recycling?”

“I don’t care,” Brody replied.  “But you should totally fill them up.”

“Great!  I’m on it.”  Martin carried the entire pile of water bottles into the bathroom; it took him three trips.  I repeatedly heard water turn on and off for the next several minutes.

“Hey, Greg?” Courtney said.  “Can you tape this toilet paper to the ceiling?  You’re tall.”

“Sure,” I said.  After doing that, I handed the toilet paper back to Courtney, who weaved it between other elevated strands of toilet paper.  It was becoming very difficult to walk in here as we covered everything in toilet paper.

I heard a noise, a clear note, as if someone was blowing into a musical instrument.  I looked up to see Brody playing a round pitch pipe, the harmonica-like device used by vocalists to determine what note to begin singing.  He blew into the holes for several different notes, then stuck the entire pitch pipe in his mouth.  I took a picture of Brody with the pitch pipe completely in his mouth.  “Someone should show that picture to Erica in a few months, after she’s used the pitch pipe many more times,” I said. 

“Eww!” Courtney replied as everyone laughed.

I continued using masking tape and duct tape to bind and gag some of the stuffed animals and tape others to the wall and to furniture.  Martin finished filling the water bottles, reentering the bedroom just as Noah, Courtney, and Brody finished stringing the last of the toilet paper across Erica’s furniture.

“Dude,” Brody said, pointing at a telephone and answering machine.  “We should leave a greeting on here.”

“Yeah!” Courtney said.  “And then call her from a different phone and leave a message with all of us wishing her happy birthday!”

“Yes!” Noah replied.  Apparently Erica had her own phone in her room, separate from the phone line for the rest of the house.  Lucky.  I wanted that so badly when I was that age.  I wanted to talk to friends from school, particularly girls, without worrying about my parents eavesdropping or wondering who was calling me and making a big deal of it.  Mom always said no, that I rarely talked on the phone anyway, so it was pointless to spend money on a second phone line.  I made the counterargument that I would use the phone more if I had that kind of privacy, but this did not win over my parents.

“We should record ourselves singing something weird, and use that as the greeting that people hear when they call Erica,” Martin suggested.

“What song?” Noah asked.

I tried to think of a song, but nothing came to mind.  After a few seconds, Brody said, “I don’t know why, but I keep thinking ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.’”

“Let’s do it,” Martin said, laughing.

Brody walked over to the answering machine and looked at it, trying to figure out how to record a new greeting.  “I think this is it,” he said, pressing a button.  After the machine beeped and clicked, he announced, in a deadpan tone more exaggerated than his usual voice, “Hi.  You’ve reached Erica’s phone.  Leave a message.”  Brody then motioned for us to start singing.  Everyone looked around, not sure what to do; Courtney started laughing after a few seconds.

“You’re supposed to start singing!” Brody said.  He recorded his announcement again, and when it was time to sing, everyone paused again.  “You never close your eyes anymore,” Brody began singing.

“When I kiss your lips,” Martin joined in.  The rest of us all looked at each other, and Courtney started giggling again.  “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” was an old song, originally released in 1964 by the Righteous Brothers.  Daryl Hall and John Oates famously covered the song in 1980, early in my childhood.  I had heard the song before, but I only knew the chorus; apparently there was a verse before that, which Brody and Martin were singing now.  Brody sighed, stopped the recording, and reminded us all of the lyrics.  I did not know the tune of the verse, but I had a feeling that singing the wrong tune would be just fine for our current purposes.

I suddenly had an idea.  “Before we all start singing, you should play a note on the pitch pipe,” I told Brody.  “Like we’re a real choir or something.”

“Yes!  I like it!”  Brody pressed Record one more time, then announced, “You’ve reached Erica’s phone.  Leave a message.”  Brody then played a note on the pitch pipe, nowhere close to the actual note we started singing.  The five of us began singing the verse to You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’; I sang quietly, since I did not know it well.  But by the chorus, I belted it out along with everyone else.  “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’, whoa that lovin’ feelin’, you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’, now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh…” we sang.

Brody stopped the recording at that point.  “I think that’s good,” he said.  “Besides, we need to finish up soon, so we can get out of here in plenty of time before Erica gets home.  Let’s go call her from the house phone.”

The five of us stepped carefully through the intricate web of toilet paper and walked down the hallway to the living room, where Mrs. Foster was loading the dishwasher.  Brody picked up the telephone in the refrigerator and called Erica’s number; we could hear Erica’s phone ringing down the hall.  After four rings, we heard ourselves singing, all five of us snickered quietly.  After the beep, we all shouted into the phone, “Happy birthday, Erica!”  Brody hung up.

“I heard you guys singing in there,” Mrs. Foster said.  “She’ll love that.”

“Don’t tell her we changed the greeting,” I said.  “She can discover that for herself.”

“Okay.”  Mrs. Foster chuckled.

“Thanks for letting us do this,” Noah said.

“No problem.  You guys have a good week.  Drive safely.”

“We will,” I replied.


My first class the next morning, Mathematics 197, was not a class at all; I was assisting in a precalculus class at Jeromeville High School, in order to get a feel for whether or not teaching high school was a viable career option for me.  After this class, I walked past Erica’s locker on the way to where my bike was parked, and Erica was usually there.  Today, when she saw me, I waved, and she started laughing.

“I can’t believe what you guys did to my room last night,” she said.  “That was hilarious!”

“Thanks,” I replied, chuckling.  “Happy birthday.”

“What happened?” asked one of Erica’s friends standing next to her.”

“My friends from church decorated my room for my birthday,” Erica explained.  “They filled up all my water bottles!”

“All those water bottles?” the other girl asked.  “That must have taken forever!”

“Someone else did that while I was working on the toilet paper,” I said.

“And those poor stuffed animals!” Erica exclaimed.  “I’m just going to leave them like that for a while.  How did you get the file cabinet in the shower?  That thing is heavy!”

“It took two people.”

“And I guess someone called me right after you left, before I got home.  She left a message, laughing, and she said, who was that singing?  I didn’t know what she was talking about until I called her back, and then I played your greeting.  That was great!  I’m gonna leave it like that for a while.”

“Perfect,” I said, laughing.

“I need to get to class.  But thanks again for all the laughs.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.  “I hope you had a great birthday!  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes!  Have a good one!”

Being a youth group leader had the obvious benefit of getting to be part of the lives of the children in the group.  But, at least in the case of our group at Jeromeville Covenant Church specifically, the youth leaders all seemed to be close friends with each other.  I had only been part of this group for a few months, but so far they had all welcomed me with metaphorical open arms.

I arrived on the UJ campus a few minutes after I left the high school, still thinking about my different overlapping circles of friends.  On the periphery, I had my friends from the freshman dorm and people I knew from classes.  My friends from church and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship formed a closer circle, with a few people in closer circles.  I felt like the other youth leaders from church were now becoming one of those closer circles.  Erica would be graduating from Jeromeville High this year, but staying in Jeromeville and attending UJ next year.  I was glad she was in my circle, and I was glad I had finally found a specific ministry to be involved with.


Readers: Tell me about a prank you’ve been part of, either as the one pulling the prank or as the victim.

If you’re curious about how all these people are connected, or if you just like following every little detail of the story, I updated the Dramatis Personae. I’ve been way behind on that; there have been a lot of new characters, or characters taking on bigger roles, since the last update. I added entries for Ajeet, Autumn, Brody, Cambria, Courtney, Erica, Evan, James, Lars, and Dr. Samuels, and removed some from characters who are not important parts of the story anymore.

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.

Also remember to check out my other projects:
Greg Out Of Character – a personal blog where I post every once in a while
Song of the Day by DJ GJ-64 – music every day, from many different genres and eras
Cow Chip & Lance – a project by some friends of mine that was the inspiration for “Dog Crap & Vince,” mentioned in this episode. There hasn’t been much new content in a while.


March 22-24, 1997.  Spring Breakthrough, or whatever that retreat with the foosball table was actually called. (#125)

I put my suitcase and sleeping bag in a corner of a meeting room at the First Covenant Church of Stockdale.  I looked around, a little apprehensive about sleeping on the floor, in a sleeping bag, with eight other guys in their sleeping bags in the same room.  I did not sleep well in unfamiliar places, particularly with other people in the room who might be snoring or making noise or breathing.  But if I was tired enough, I would probably be fine.  After all, last year I almost got five hours of sleep camping illegally on the beach in Moonlight Cove, so I would probably be able to handle this.

This retreat was called Spring Breakthrough.  Or maybe it was Spring Breakaway, or Spring Breakout, or some other pun based on the retreat being during spring break.  Instead of driving up to the mountains, like we had on the other retreats I had been on with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, we were just hanging out at a church in a nondescript suburban neighborhood in Stockdale, about an hour drive down the Valley south of Jeromeville.  I would learn later that the McAllens, the head staff of JCF, had a connection to someone at this church, which is how we got it for our retreat.

Spring Breakthrough was also open only to second-year and older students.  Freshmen had their own retreat somewhere else for these same three days, called by a different one of the aforementioned cheesy names.  I forget which.  Because it took up three days of a relatively short Spring Break, and because freshmen had their own retreat, Spring Breakthrough had fewer students attending compared to other JCF retreats I had been on, around twenty.

We arrived on Saturday evening, right after winter quarter finals, and for our first meeting, Brian Burr had set up a television and VCR.  Brian, one of my roommates, was on staff with JCF part time, and he was leading this retreat along with the McAllens, the adult couple on staff full time.  I knew exactly what we would be watching, because I had seen Brian working on this video earlier in the week.  Before he started the video, Brian spoke about discipleship, the theme for this weekend.  “Discipleship is intentional by nature,” Brian explained.  “When you disciple someone, you become a part of their lives, to help lead their spiritual growth.  To start you thinking about discipleship this weekend, I have prepared a video showing a very famous discipleship relationship among certain well-known characters.”  I giggled at Brian’s description of his video.  “Pay attention to what you see about the discipling relationships depicted in this video,” Brian continued.

Autumn Davies sat next to me, and when she heard me giggling, she whispered, “What’s so funny?”

“Just laughing at the way he described that,” I said, “because I know what the video is.”

“What is it?”

It’s Brian.  I’ll give you one guess.”

“Oh!” Autumn said, a look of recognition passing over her face.

Brian pushed the VHS tape in the player and pressed Play.  The opening music and scrolling backstory of Star Wars showed on the screen, and for the next hour, we watched an abridgement of the movie trilogy, containing all of the scenes related to discipleship.  I watched Obi-Wan teach Luke about the Force.  After Obi-Wan’s death, his Force ghost led Luke to Yoda, who took Obi-Wan’s place in Luke’s discipleship.

After the video, which in our abridged version ended with Luke seeing the three Force ghosts, we got into groups of three or four to talk about what discipleship meant to us, and to share stories about someone who had discipled us.  Autumn, Janet McAllen, and Evan Lundgren turned their chairs toward me.

“So what did you guys think?” Janet asked.  “Who has discipled you?”

After a pause, in which everyone seemed to be debating whether or not to go first, Autumn spoke up.  “For me, really, it was Leah, and everyone in my Bible study freshman year.  I grew up going to church on Christmas and Easter, but it didn’t really mean anything until I got here.  I met Leah our first day in the dorm, and she invited me to Bible study a couple weeks later, and I made a decision for Jesus after a few Bible studies.”

I did some quick mental math.  If Autumn became a Christian a few weeks into fall quarter her freshman year, which was my sophomore year, that means that she had only been a Christian for a month at the most when I met her, when our group failed so hilariously badly at the car rally.  I never would have guessed this, since Autumn always seemed so intense about living for Jesus.

Evan and Janet told their stories next, and finally it was my turn.  I did not want to share.  I was a little embarrassed.  “I feel like it’s hard to talk about,” I said.  “I don’t know if I want to share out loud, because the person who first comes to mind is in this room.”

“Brian,” Janet said with a look of recognition.

“Actually, I was thinking Eddie, last year when I was having a rough night, and he took me in and invited me over.  But, yeah, Brian too.  And all of you guys.  You, when you told me about sin and Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And Sarah, and…” I looked around, trying to remember if any of my other Building C friends were on this retreat; they were not, Sarah Winters was the only one.  “And my friends from my dorm, who accepted me for who I was.”

“Wait,” Autumn said.  “So you’re a pretty new Christian too?”

“Yeah.  I made the decision to follow Jesus a little over a year ago.”

“I didn’t know that.  You always seem to me like you must have been a Christian for a long time.”

“Funny you should say that.  I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

“That is funny,” Autumn said.  “I guess sometimes the Lord just finds you, and lights a fire in your heart.”

“Yeah.  Someone else said that about me once.”

We shared prayer requests, then returned to the rooms where we were sleeping, Janet and Autumn to one room with the women and Evan and I to the room with the men.  It took me a bit longer than usual to get to sleep, to get used to the unfamiliar noises and sounds, but I ended up sleeping fine after that.


We were staying at a church, and the next day was Sunday, so we all attended the service together.  The pastor of the church introduced us at the beginning of the service; people turned around to look at us, and we all waved.  

After church, we went back to the youth room, where our meetings were being held.  Eddie Baker, John Harvey, Lars Ashford, and Xander Mackey had discovered the foosball table on the opposite end of the room from where we were sitting last night.  I walked up, trying not to interrupt, since they were focused on an intense competition.  

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.

“What’s up?” Xander asked.

“Nothing,” I said.  “Can I watch?”

“Sure, dude,” Lars replied.  I watched as the four boys made the ball fly across the table with amazing precision that I never had known to be attainable on a foosball table.  I had played around on foosball tables off and on over the years, but I was never anywhere near this good.  As with most actual sports, everyone around me was better than I was.

John gestured out the window, where Brent Wang and a few others were throwing a Frisbee.  “I’m gonna go outside and play Frisbee with Brent,” John said after their game ended.  “Greg?  You want in?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I grabbed the handles for the defense side of John’s team, even though John had been playing offense; I hoped that Eddie would not mind playing offense.  I did not want to speak up, since that would require admitting that I was not very good at foosball, and blocking shots seemed slightly easier than flicking my wrist and sliding the handles the way the others had been in order to score.  Eddie grabbed the handles for the offense players without questioning this arrangement.

“So I found a foosball table for our house next year,” Lars said.  “It’s used, but I got a good deal on it.”

“That’s awesome,” Eddie replied.

“You guys are living together next year?” I asked.  The other three at this table had lived together last year, but this year Lars and Xander lived in one house and Eddie in another, along with John, who had been playing earlier.

“Yeah,” Xander said.  “Us three, John, and Jason and Ramon.  We got this really nice four-bedroom house on De Anza Drive.  It’s two-story, with a balcony.”

“That sounds cool,” I said as I successfully blocked Lars’ shot.  I was a little disappointed to hear that I had been excluded from The Cool House yet again, although I was not surprised.  I had been reminded so many times this year that I was on the outside of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to accept that.  I realized that I had not yet made plans for housing for next year, and while I had a feeling I would still be able to find something, I also began to panic in my mind.  This distracted me enough that Lars’ next shot went streaming past my goalie.  “Crap,” I said as Xander moved his team’s score counter up.


We had another talk about discipleship Sunday night, and another one Monday morning.  Word spread quickly that there was a foosball table in the room, and most of our free time was spent around that table, playing, watching, or waiting our turns.  Even Brent, who always seemed to bring a Frisbee wherever he went, had eschewed his Frisbee for foosball.

I finally got a win Monday afternoon.  I was playing with Autumn on my team, and Tabitha Sasaki and Evan Lundgren on the other side of the table.  None of us were particularly skilled at foosball, and Autumn and I won by a score of 10 to 8.  After that game, I stepped aside to let the more skilled players back in.

A little bit later, shortly before our final session on discipleship, I left the foosball table and wandered across the room to where we would be meeting.  Janet was writing a table of numbers on a large pad of paper attached to an easel.

Preaching to 100Discipleship of 1
1 year1002
5 years50032
10 years10001024
20 years20001048576
30 years30001073741824

“Exponential growth,” I said.

“Yes!” Janet replied.  “You get it, because you’re a math major.  Isn’t it amazing how effective discipleship can be, when people get discipled and go on to disciple others?”

“Yes.”

About ten minutes later, Janet and a few others walked around the room to gather everyone together for the talk.  When we were ready to begin, Janet announced, “Turn to the person next to you, and tell them, what do you want to take home from this weekend?”

Xander was sitting next to me.  As I tried to think of a deep answer, something I had learned this weekend that I wanted to put into practice in my life back in Jeromeville, Xander said loudly, “I wanna take home the foosball table!”  I laughed at this, as did everyone else within earshot.

“I’m still figuring out what to take away from this,” I said.  “I feel like discipleship isn’t something I’m naturally good at.”

“That’s okay,” Xander replied.  “Sometimes it’s just about how you live.  Spreading the gospel isn’t just about preaching.  People see you helping out, volunteering to help the worship team set up their equipment, stuff like that, and they can see you showing the love of Jesus.  And didn’t you say you’re doing something with the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Those kids are gonna remember you.  That’s a kind of discipleship too.”

“That’s true.”

After everyone finished, Janet spoke to the group.  “I made a table here,” she said, gesturing to the easel.  “This column shows how many people get reached for Jesus if you preach to a hundred people every year.  But this column over here shows how many people you reach if you disciple one person for a year, and then each of them disciples someone else for a year, and then each of them disciples someone, and so on.  Notice how fast the number grows through discipleship.”  I smiled and nodded, thinking about having learned this in math class, as Janet continued, “And Greg can tell us why.”

What?  Me?  This was unexpected; I was not prepared to speak.  But this was math, and I knew exactly what to say.  I nervously stood up, and after no one told me to sit back down, I began.  “Preaching is a linear function.  The rate of change is always the same, so the same number of people get reached every year.  But with discipleship, the more people who get reached, the more new people they will reach.  The rate of change is proportional to the number of people reached.  That describes an exponential function.  The number of people reached grows faster and faster as more people get reached.”  I sat back down, and all the other students clapped.  I hoped that they actually learned something from my explanation, something about math and about Christian living, and that their applause was not just humoring me as I got an opportunity to use big math words.

As Janet continued talking about discipleship, I kept thinking about what I told Xander: discipleship did not come naturally to me.  I often felt like I was not a very good Christian because I was not good at inviting people to JCF or telling strangers about my beliefs.  But Xander did make a good point; living a life for Jesus can take many different forms.  I seemed to be finding a niche as a youth group leader at church.

The last thing on the schedule tonight was dinner, and we would all be headed home to our respective spring breaks tonight.  Before we went to dinner, though, Autumn suggested, “We should get a group picture!”

“Yeah!” Janet replied.  “Where should we go to get a good picture?”

“Around the foosball table,” John suggested.  “That’s pretty much what we did this whole time.”

Everyone liked John’s idea.  We all gathered around the table and gave our cameras to Dave, Janet’s husband; he took the picture many times, on everyone’s camera, and then handed our cameras back to us.

After dinner, I packed and said goodbye to everyone.  My spring break was only a week, so I would see them again soon.  I had a two and a half hour drive home, plenty of time to think about all I had learned.  I stopped at the first gas station to fill up, and while I was there I used the pay phone to call Mom with an estimate of what time I would be home.  Before I left for the retreat, I had told Mom I would be home Monday night, but I did not know yet what time.  I would not be getting home until after ten o’clock tonight; Mom told me to drive safely, and that she might be asleep on the couch by the time I got there.

I put in a new CD I had recently bought at the Christian bookstore in Jeromeville, by a new band from Georgia called Third Day.  I had heard Eddie and John play this CD the last time I was at their house, and I liked what I heard.  I still had nowhere to live next year.  Neither Brian nor Shawn, my current roommates, would be in Jeromeville next year, so living with them was not an option.  Fall quarter was six months away, but the housing market in Jeromeville was so tight that I needed to make a plan quickly.  Living in The Cool House with Eddie and those guys would have been nice, but that ship had sailed.  I knew enough people by now that if I started mentioning my need for a place to live and roommates for the 1997-98 school year, there was a good chance that someone would know something.  I put the thought out of my mind as I drove; it would be a spring quarter problem, after I got back to Jeromeville in six days.  I had a fourth roommate, Josh, whom I did not see as often, and I did not know if he would need a roommate next year.  I had gotten closer to him lately, though, since he was also a youth group leader at church, and he would be the one who led me to my living situation for the following year.  But that is a story for another time.

Much of the ministry model of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship was based on students inviting their friends to group meetings, Bible studies, or retreats.  This was how I got involved in JCF, and how I learned what it meant to follow Jesus.  But I just was not good at inviting people to things, and sometimes I felt like I was not a good enough Christian because of that.  I knew that God had a role for me in his kingdom, and at least for now, being a youth leader was part of it.  I was still trying to figure out exactly what form my acts of discipleship would take, and sometimes it was difficult to know if I was actually doing God’s will, or just doing what I wanted.


Hey, readers! Tell me about someone who mentored or discipled you in a memorable way.

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February 13-14, 1997.  Fall away. (#119)

I clicked Print and watched the printer run, then I stapled the three pages of my story together.  I glanced over it, proud of my little creation, feeling especially clever since I had hidden a secret message in the story.


“Fall Away”
by Gregory J. Dennison, February 1997

Here we go again, I thought, as I opened the door and saw her sitting there, her hair gently blowing in the light breeze.  She was talking with someone I did not recognize.  I wondered how I should react.  It seemed like a little devil and a little angel had appeared on my shoulder, as if in a cartoon.  The former told me to walk on by and say nothing, and the latter told me I should try to be friendly and at least say hello.  I wasn’t sure how to act, since I still had trouble dealing with the time she rejected me.  I have tried my hardest not to be bitter.  I watched her as I walked by.  She did not see me, so I kept right on walking.

Also, over the past few weeks, it seems like she and I have been drifting apart.  We were once such good friends, and I had hoped so much that our friendship would turn into something more.  When I finally got brave enough to ask her out, she rejected me.  It was a friendly and sympathetic rejection, but a rejection nonetheless.   A movie was playing on campus that night, and we had mentioned that we both wanted to see it.  I asked her if she wanted to see it with me, and she said she would, but she had to get up early the next morning.  She did not want to stay out late.  That was kind of the last straw for me.  A couple weeks later, I told her how I felt about her, and she told me she did not feel the same way back.  I decided, though, that our friendship seemed too important to throw away, so I would try to stay friends with her rather than avoid her.

Love never works like that, though.  Another month had passed, and my feelings for her were coming back.  In light of this, I became hesitant to pursue our friendship, because I feared that my feelings would get in the way like they did before.  Also, in the past month or so it has seemed like she and I have naturally drifted apart.  When she and her friends are all together, it seems like they stick together and don’t really include me as much.  I would still consider them my friends on a one-to-one basis, but as a group they seem kind of exclusive.

Every table seemed full as I scanned the room for a place to sit and eat lunch.  I spotted two of my friends next to an open seat, but it looked like they were busy talking about something serious, so I didn’t want to bother them.  I continued looking and saw someone else I recognized, but I heard someone calling my name first.  I looked up and saw a girl who I had met about a month ago, sitting with a bunch of her friends who I barely knew.  She asked me if I wanted to sit down, so I did.

“You look tired,” she said.  I agreed.  I proceeded to get out the lunch I had packed, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of tortilla chips.  After saying a short prayer, I began eating.  I thought about the situation.  I looked at the people around me at the table.  I didn’t really know them well, but they seemed really friendly.  This was also the second time this week that I had sat with them at lunch time.  Maybe this group was destined to become my new friends.

Curious to see what was happening around me, I looked up.  I saw the girl I saw earlier that day, the one who had rejected me.  She was talking to the two friends I had almost sat with.  I looked down, unsure of what to do.  Friendship is a valuable treasure, and I really hate to lose a friend.  But ever since that day she turned down my offer for a date, I have found it so difficult to connect with her.  We had talked a few times in the weeks since that happened, but it never seemed the same as it was before.  We rarely hung out together anymore, and when we talked, it was rarely anything more than hi and how are you.

Her pretty blue eyes looked in another direction, away from my table, as she began walking toward me.  I quickly moved my head down and looked intently at my food for about thirty seconds, so that when I looked up again I could be sure that she was gone.  I began to regret my decision after it happened.  I felt like a really unfriendly jerk.  I wondered what had come over me.  I’m not exactly the most friendly person in the world, but I have never noticed myself consciously avoiding a friend either.

Although I convinced myself after the rejection that nothing would ever happen between us, and I was comfortable with this decision at first, I seemed to feel worse about it every day.  Something had gone wrong.  I had wanted to remove my desire for a romantic relationship with her in exchange for a continued friendship.

Nothing I tried was working, though.  I had discussed my feelings with a close friend of ours.  He had felt the same way toward the same girl at one time.  He finally told her the truth, and although she did not feel the same way toward him, they had grown closer as friends.

None of this happened in my case.  I never told her how I felt about her, but more importantly we have not stayed friends.  I have a really hard time carrying on a conversation with her.  Maybe I should just have a long talk with her, apologize for avoiding her, and let her know that I wish we could talk more like we used to.

I finished eating and decided to go to class some time later.  I made up my mind that I would deal with this situation again as soon as I had an opportunity to talk to her.  A friend is a terrible thing to lose.  God would want me to face my problems and not run from them like this.  

Now, though, might not be the time to stay friends.  It would make it harder for the feelings to go away, for me to get over her rejection.  I did not know what I should do.  As I walked along, thinking about what I really felt toward her, I saw her, sitting at a table eating lunch.  She did not see me.  I started to go talk to her.

Going that way suddenly felt like a bad idea; I took one step toward her and chickened out.  I looked at her, to see if her eyes would drift up in my direction.  They did not.  I had run away from her again, the third time that day.  And somewhere, off in the distance, a rooster crowed.


It was late afternoon on Thursday, and I had been working on this story off and on for a week.  Most of the events in the story actually happened to me.  One day last week, I saw Haley Channing three times during my lunch break at the Memorial Union, and I just could not bring myself to talk to her.  I thought that telling her how I felt two months ago was the best course of action to get over her.  There was an outside chance that she liked me too, but if she did not, at least I would know.  It hurt to hear that, but some things have to hurt before they feel better, like ripping off a bandage quickly.  Things had not gotten better; now I just felt awkward around her, and my rejection felt like another painful reminder of the cliques at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and my position on the outside.

After the third time I ignored her, I thought about Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed.  The title of the story was taken from Jesus’ words preceding this incident: “You will all fall away.”  Peter insisted that he would never do such a thing, but he did, and he heard a rooster crow afterward.  I had just denied Haley three times, and I added the part about the rooster at the end of the story to allude to Peter’s denials.  I did not actually hear a rooster in real life.

The new friend who called me over to sit with her on that day was Alaina from University Life, the college ministry of a different church from the one I went to.  A while back, on another crowded day in the Memorial Union, I was looking for a place to sit.  I saw Ben, an acquaintance who was involved with U-Life but also attended JCF sometimes, and he was sitting with Alaina.  Since then, I had often seen one or both of them at lunch, and I had met some of their other friends.

Two days ago, I took a significant step closer to this other group.  I headed to campus in the evening and paid two dollars for a parking spot in the public lot on Davis Drive near the Barn.  I hated paying for parking.  A daily parking permit cost one dollar my freshman year.  The following year it increased to two dollars for the day, but still one dollar for evenings for people arriving after five o’clock.  This year the price increased to three dollars for the day and two for the evening, and I heard next year it would be three dollars any time.  The cost was increasing much faster than inflation, tripling in three years.  If this exponential increase continued, the cost of a daily parking permit in the year 2021 would be $19,683.  (The actual cost of a daily parking permit in 2021 was twelve dollars, increasing twelvefold in twenty-seven years; I still found that outrageous.)

I crossed the street and walked into Harding Hall, looking for the big lecture hall inside.  I followed the faint murmur of voices down the hall.  As I approached the room, I saw a large sign that said WELCOME TO UNIVERSITY LIFE with a large Christian cross on the left.  The setup looked very much like that of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, with people filling out name tags near the entrance and a live band in the front, probably to play worship music.

“Hi,” the guy with the name tags said.  “What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

The guy wrote my name on a name tag, unpeeled it, and handed it to me.  I stuck it on my shirt in the center of my chest.  I walked into the large lecture hall, looking around for a seat, but before I sat down, I heard someone calling out, “Greg!”

I looked around and saw Alaina waving at me.  “Hey,” I said, walking toward her.

“You made it!  Come sit with us!”  Alaina led me to a seat near the center of the lecture hall, next to her roommate Whitney, our friend Ben, and a few others whom I had met but needed to look at their name tags to remember their names.

The rest of the night at U-Life was structured much like JCF; I would not have been able to tell the difference, other than the presence of different people there.  The group was led by an adult, the college pastor from the church that ran U-Life.  The band played a few worship songs, someone made announcements, the pastor gave a talk about something from the Bible, and they finished with more songs.  I saw a few other familiar faces around the room.  Carolyn Parry, whom I knew from being in chorus last quarter, was in the worship band.  I also recognized another math major named Melissa Becker, several people from my Introduction to New Testament class last quarter and New Testament Writings of John class this quarter, and Rebekah Tyler from my freshman dorm.

I enjoyed U-Life, with the intent to come back some other time.  But I did not want to give up on JCF, even though it was cliquish and I would run into Haley there.  Yesterday, the day after I went to U-Life, I finished writing my story, “Fall Away,” which I had been working on over the last week.  I printed it just now, when I got home from class.  I was still holding the printed copy of Fall Away when my roommate Shawn walked into the room.

“Hey, Greg,” he said.  “What’s that you’re reading?”

“I wrote a story,” I replied.

“Really?  What’s it about?”

“Something that happened to me last week that I thought would make a good story.”

“Can I read it?”

I debated whether or not to let Shawn read the story.  My desire to share and discuss my work won out over wanting to keep the details of my romantic pursuits private.  I handed Shawn the story as I got out my textbook for Euclidean Geometry and began working on homework.

“‘By Gregory J. Dennison,’” Shawn read aloud.  “What’s the J for?”

“James.  It was my dad’s brother’s name.  He died in an accident before I was born.”

“I’m sorry.  But you have a story to go with your name.”

“Yeah.  And Gregory was after one of my dad’s good friends.”

“That’s cool,” Shawn said.  “My parents named me Shawn because they liked the name.  And they spelled it right too.  None of this ‘Seen’ stuff.”  Shawn had intentionally mispronounced the traditional spelling of Sean as if it rhymed with “mean,” and I chuckled.  “I mean, I know it’s Irish, but hey, do I look Irish to you?”  Shawn definitely did not look Irish; he was born here in the United States, but he was of Chinese descent.  This made me laugh even harder.

Shawn continued reading my story as I turned back to my math homework.  A few minutes later, he said, “That was pretty good.  So there’s a girl you liked, and she didn’t like you back, and you can’t get her out of your head?  And you didn’t want to say hi to her?”

“Pretty much.

“Is it someone I know?”

“Maybe.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t want to say.”

“Come on, you can tell me.”

I had a feeling Shawn might want to know whom the story was about.  I could have told him I did not want to reveal this information, but I had a feeling he would keep bugging me about it.  Besides, my story had a secret, which could make this fun.  “Promise you won’t tell anyone.  Or make fun of me.”

“I promise.”

“I hid a secret message in the story.”

“What?” Shawn said.  I put my math homework aside, watching Shawn’s reaction as he searched for the secret message, looking carefully at the words on the page.  “I can’t find it,” he said finally.

“Read it out loud,” I said with a mischievous grin.

“‘Here we go–’”

“Stop,” I interrupted.  “Now go to the next paragraph.”

“‘Also, ov–’”

“Stop.  Next paragraph.”

“‘Love ne–’”

“Stop.  Next paragraph.”

Shawn looked over the entire story, then began reciting the first words of each paragraph.  “‘Here, also, love, every, you, curious, her, although, nothing, none, I, now, going.’  I don’t get it.”

“Try again.  Start from the beginning.

“H–”

“Next paragraph,” I interrupted, as soon as I heard Shawn make a sound.

“A–”

“Next paragraph.”

“L– Oh, wait a minute.”  Shawn flipped the three printed pages back and forth quickly, with a look of understanding on his face.  He had figured out that I was trying to tell him to look at only the first letter of each paragraph, not the first word.  “Haley Channing,” he said.  “It’s too bad she didn’t like you back.  She’s a cutie.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“You know what they say.  Women… can’t live with ‘em…”

“Can’t live without ‘em?” I added

“Can’t shoot ’em,” Shawn replied, finishing a famous comedic quote.

I chuckled.  “I’ve never heard that.”

“Women are always trouble.  If it weren’t for women, O.J. Simpson wouldn’t be in the news all the time.  You heard he lost the civil case, right?”

“Yeah.  And now he owes the families millions of dollars.”

“He totally did it.  He should be in jail.”

“Yeah.”

“Seriously, though, don’t give up.  If something was meant to be, God’ll make it happen somehow.  And don’t let it get you down.  Just live your life.”

“I know.”


Despite Shawn’s advice not to let my romantic failures get to me, I still decided to wear black for Valentine’s Day the next morning.  I did not wear solid black, though; I wore faded blue jeans with the black t-shirt from Urbana that said “What have you seen God do lately?”

The bus was crowded today; the air was damp, the sky was gray, and the weather forecast called for rain by mid-morning at the latest.  No one I knew got on at this stop, although I recognized some people from previous bus rides: a pale-faced guy with a big blond beard, an Asian guy with unkempt hair, and a pretty girl with wavy brown hair and big brown eyes.  When the bus arrived, I was one of the last from our stop to board.  Even though this was only the second stop on the route, the 8:35am bus on a cold, rainy day filled up fast, with over half of the seats already taken.

I looked up and breathed in sharply when I saw the pretty brown-haired girl right in front of me, next to an empty seat.  “May I sit here?” I asked her.

“Yeah!” she replied.  She smiled.

“Thanks.”  The bus stopped once more on Maple Drive, then turned left on Alvarez Avenue and stopped twice more.  I looked up and saw that the girl next to me was looking in my direction, so I turned and made eye contact.  “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Pretty good.  How are you?”

“I’m okay.  Glad it’s Friday.”

“Yeah.  Me too.”

Trying to think of something else to say, as we headed south on Andrews Road, I asked, “What class are you headed to?”

“Bio 101.  It’s really hard.”

“I’ve heard.”

“What about you?  What classes do you have today?”

“Advanced calculus, Euclidean geometry, and New Testament Writings of John.”

“How is that John class? I’ve heard good things about it.”

“It’s good.  I have a lot of friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship in that class too.”

“My roommate and I were talking about looking for a church.”

“I go to Jeromeville Covenant,” I said.  “The one right back there, on the right.  And Jeromeville Christian Fellowship too, but that isn’t affiliated with a church.”

“Maybe I’ll check those out sometime.”

“Yeah.  That would be cool,” I said.  “Hey, what’s your name?  I know I’ve seen you on the bus before.”

“Tara.”

“I’m Greg.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Tara said, motioning to shake my hand.

“Nice to meet you too,” I replied as I shook Tara’s hand.  She smiled, and I smiled back.  Maybe this Valentine’s Day would not be so bad after all.


Author’s note: Did you find the secret message? Have you ever written something with a secret message hidden inside?

“Fall Away” is an actual story I wrote when I was younger. I hope I have grown as a writer since then, because reading it again now, it really wasn’t that good. I only made minimal changes to it for inclusion in this episode, in order to resolve continuity errors between the original story and the way I have told the backstory now.


February 5, 1997. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. (#118)

I walked toward the church and entered the fellowship hall building, which was called The Lamp.  The building was quiet and empty, much different from Sunday mornings when 20/20, the college Sunday school class, met here.  A small group of people around my age sat in a circle near the middle of the group, reading what appeared to be copies of the same paper.  I recognized most, but not all, of the people in the circle from the college group.

“Greg!  You made it!” Taylor Santiago called out from the circle, motioning me over.

“Yeah,” I said.  “So what do I need to do?”

“Just hang out.  After everyone gets here, we’re going to go over the plan for the night.”

I sat in the circle in between Taylor and a girl with bushy light brown hair whom I did not know.  Taylor handed me my own copy of the paper; it said THE EDGE, 2/5/97 at the top.  Below this was a schedule for the night, along with a discussion outline for small groups at the end of the night, and a list of which students would be with which leaders in these small groups.  I noticed that one group was listed as “Taylor/Greg,” and that this group included Ted, Zac, and Danny, the three students whom I knew.  Taylor had told whomever made this schedule that I would be coming tonight.

“How’s it going, Taylor?” Noah Snyder asked.  I knew Noah from the college group; he and Taylor had been friends since their early teens, before they both came to the University of Jeromeville.  I had also seen his name in the church bulletin with the title “junior high intern”; I thought that meant that he actually got paid part time to have a leadership role with The Edge, the group for junior high school students here at Jeromeville Covenant Church.

“I’m doing okay,” I said.  I was vaguely aware that someone else entered the room during our conversation, but I did not pay attention until I heard a familiar female voice say, “Greg?”

I looked up and saw a girl with straight dark blonde hair standing next to her boyfriend, a stocky, muscular guy a little bit shorter than her.  “Hey, Abby,” I said.  “Josh.”

“Greg?  Are you gonna be an Edge leader?” Josh asked.

“Maybe,” I replied.  “I’m checking it out.  I might be taking Taylor’s spot when he leaves spring quarter.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy it!”

“It’s so much fun!” Abby added.

Across from me in the circle was a tall guy who looked older than me, maybe around twenty-five.  He had short, almost buzzed hair, and a toothy grin; I knew from having been around J-Cov the last four months that this was Adam White, the youth pastor.  “You two know each other?” Adam asked when he saw Josh talking to me.

“Yeah,” I said, although the fact that Josh lived under the same roof as me, and I had no idea that he was an Edge leader, made me wonder if I really knew him at all.  I did not say this, though, because I really did feel bad that I did not know this.  I did not know that Abby was an Edge leader either, and I had known her even longer than Josh.  “He’s my roommate.”

“That roommate you never see who works weird hours?” Taylor asked.  “That’s Josh?”

“Yeah!”

“I never knew that!”

A few minutes later, after everyone had arrived, Noah gathered us to begin the night.  “We have a new leader,” he said.  “Greg, why don’t you introduce yourself?”

“I’m Greg,” I said.  “I’m a junior, a math major.  I’ve been going to J-Cov and 20/20 since October.  But I know a lot of you from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and Taylor was in my dorm freshman year.  Three boys from The Edge decided they wanted to hang out with me a few weeks ago after church, so I’ve been getting to know them.  Taylor told me about how he’s going away for six months, and since I’ve been hanging out with those boys, he asked if I’d be interested in trying out The Edge and taking over his small group for the rest of the year.”

“So they just decided they wanted to hang out with you?” Noah asked.  “Who are they?”

“Ted Hunter, and Zac, and Danny,” I said.  “I don’t know the others’ last names.”

“Danny Foster,” the bushy-haired girl next to me said.  “That’s my brother.”

“Oh, okay.” 

“That’s hilarious that the kids just went out and found you to be their leader,” Adam said.  “I’m Adam.  I’m the youth pastor.  Who else here do you know?”

I looked around the circle, pointing at people.  “Taylor, Noah, Martin, Courtney,” I said.  “Abby and Josh.  And James,” I added, purposely not calling him Barefoot James to his face.  I knew these people either from rom JCF or 20/20, or both, but some of them I did not know were Edge leaders.  The others introduced themselves next; Danny Foster’s sister was named Erica.  A scruffy-looking guy I had seen at 20/20 but did not know was named Brody, and a girl with long dark hair was named Kate.  Finally, a girl with short, chin-length blonde hair introduced herself as Charlotte; I had never seen her before.

“Nice to meet you guys,” I replied.

Noah then discussed the plan for the rest of the night, and when we finished this, he asked if there were any prayer requests.  “I have one,” I said.  “Pray that I will seek God’s will for my life, that I’ll know if working with The Edge is part of it.”

“That’s a good one.  Anyone else?”

Each person in the circle shared a prayer request.  Some were specific, like Taylor’s upcoming mission trip, Charlotte’s midterm, and Kate’s sick uncle; others just asked to thank God for a good week.  We each then took turns praying for the person on our left.  When my turn came, I said, “God, I thank you that Taylor has this opportunity to go to Chicago, to serve you.  I pray that all of those around him will see your love and your message of salvation through his actions and his attitude.  I pray that you will bless him with safe travel, and a good adjustment to a new living situation.”

After everyone finished praying we all looked back up.  “Go love those kids!” Noah said in a way that suggested that he said this every week at this point.

“So what do I do now?” I asked Noah.

“Just hang out.  It starts at 7, but kids will gradually trickle in, and we’ll do announcements at 7:15.  If kids ask you who you are, just tell them.”


Over the next twenty minutes, the room gradually filled with twelve- through fourteen-year-olds of all shapes and sizes.  Of the boys I knew, Ted was the first to arrive.  “Greg!” he shouted when he saw me.  “You’re here!”

“I know!  And I’m going to be in your small group with Taylor.”

“Great!”  Ted saw Danny walk in and motioned for him to come over.  “Danny!” Ted exclaimed.  “Look!  Greg’s here!”

Zac arrived a minute later, and the boys moved on to do something else a minute after that.  I walked around, trying to take in the atmosphere.  Music that I did not recognize played on the speakers, something that sounded like the typical girl-rock of that era, but this singer had a distinct voice, a little bit like that girl from the Cranberries, but not really. The lyrics, and the fact that we were at church, made me think this was a Christian singer.

“Who is this singing?” I asked Taylor.

“Sarah Masen,” he answered.  Yeah, I did not know that one.  Working with The Edge, I learned quickly that there were many, many Christian singers and bands that I did not know.

“Are you a new leader?” I heard a voice say next to me.  I turned and saw a small girl with blue eyes and brown hair looking up at me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m just checking it out for now.”

“You’re tall.”

“Yeah,” I chucked.  “I know.”

“What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

“I’m Samantha.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said.

At 7:15, Adam called everyone to attention, speaking through a microphone.  Around forty students were in attendance.  “Is there anyone new here tonight?” he asked.  Two students walked up to the stage.  I saw Taylor motioning for me to follow them, so I did.

After Adam introduced the new students, he came to me.  “Greg, what’s your name?” he asked.  He had done this for the new students as well, using their names while asking for their names, and the first time, students laughed at this.

“Greg,” I said.

“Where do you go to school?”

“University of Jeromeville,” I answered.  When the new students named their schools, students from that school cheered, but for me, everyone cheered for UJ.

Adam asked the new students a silly would-you-rather question next, and I was no exception. “Would you rather wear shorts in freezing weather or long pants in hot weather?”

“Neither,” I said.  “But if I had to pick, probably long pants in hot weather.”

“Everyone, welcome Greg!”  The students cheered for me again..  When the room got quiet, Adam said that it was time to play a game.  “Tonight, we are going to have a giant rock-paper-scissors tournament!”  Some of the students made excited cheers, while a few groaned in disappointment.  “You just walk to someone, count one-two-three, and then make the sign for rock, paper, or scissors.”  Adam demonstrated the three hand signs, a fist for rock, all the fingers lying flat next to each other for paper, and two fingers extended for scissors.  “Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock.  If you lose, go to the back of the room.  If you win, find someone else who won, and play again.  We’ll keep playing until there are only two people left, and the winner of that final game gets…” Adam trailed off as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the grand prize.  “A five dollar gift card to Lucky!”  During our meeting earlier, I wondered aloud if students would really be motivated by a grocery store gift card; Noah assured me that, to junior high schoolers, the thought of being able to spend five dollars on junk food was major excitement.  The reaction from the crowd when Adam showed them the gift card confirmed Noah’s statement.

A few minutes of mass chaos ensued as students ran off to find opponents.  As a leader, my job was to watch for students who had lost and were trying to jump back into the game.  I noticed one, and when I told him to go sit in the back, he refused, but he lost his next match anyway.  Finally, the group had been winnowed to two: Ted Hunter and a girl named Shawna.  The rest of the students had gathered around either Ted or Shawna, with most of the boys cheering for Ted and most of the girls cheering for Shawna.

“Here we go,” Adam announced.  “This is the final game, Ted versus Shawna.  Ready?  One, two, three!”  Ted placed his hand in the rock position, and Shawna chose paper.  Paper covers rock.  Shawna made an excited exclamation, and her supporters cheered wildly as Adam presented her with the grocery store gift card.

Courtney and Brody took the stage next for announcements, most of which involved the upcoming Winter Camp.  A week from Friday, many of the students would be traveling up to the mountains for the weekend.  In addition to fun activities and Bible lessons, some of the students would visit a nearby ski resort on one of the days, with everyone else staying behind to play in the snow.  In this part of the United States, only high elevations got snow, and most of the population lived in low-lying valleys.  I did not travel to snow regularly growing up, and I had only seen snow three times.  Winter Camp sounded like fun; maybe if I was still volunteering with The Edge a year from now, I would go to Winter Camp.

Adam brought a guitar on stage next for worship, and Abby joined him, along with Courtney and Brody who were already there.  The first worship song was one that I did not recognize; it sounded much more like a children’s song than the worship songs we sang in the college group or at JCF.  Courtney and Abby got on stage to lead the students through hand motions during the refrain of the song.  Many of the students got excited to do the hand motions.  Personally, I thought the hand motions were dumb.  I stood in the back and sang without doing the hand motions.  I had never spent time around Christian youth group kids, so it was surprising to me that these students enjoyed the hand motions and did not find them corny and distracting, like me.  I was glad that they were having fun, though.

After the third song, Adam stayed on the stage, alone, with the microphone.  “How many of you have ever experienced getting picked last for a team?”  A few hands went up.  “How many of you always get picked first?”  A few other hands went up, with murmurs of arguments from some who seemed to disagree with those students’ assessments of themselves.  Adam then read from the First Book of Samuel about God sending Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem, to choose a King of Israel from among Jesse’s sons.  Samuel saw seven good-looking young men pass by, but God instead chose David, the youngest, who had not been invited to meet Samuel.

Adam then read names of students and told them which small group they were in.  I assumed that someone adjusted the list as students were arriving, since the boys Taylor and I got did not exactly match the list I received at the beginning of the night.

Taylor and I walked with Ted, Danny, Zac, and three other boys to one of the children’s Sunday school rooms, in another building closer to the parking lot.  The boys sat in small child-size chairs around a table, and Taylor sat in an adult-size chair, facing them.  I could not find another adult chair, so I sat uncomfortably in a child chair next to Taylor.

“Have any of you ever been picked last for something?” Taylor asked.

“I hate when they have students pick teams like that,” Zac replied.  “One time, in, like, fourth grade, we were playing basketball in PE, and I got picked last  But I ended up scoring the winning basket.  It was awesome.  It was my only basket too.”

“Was that the game where you accidentally tripped Jonathan?” one of the other boys asked.

“Yeah!  And he got a bloody nose!”

“Why do you think David’s dad didn’t ask him to come meet Samuel?” Taylor asked.

Zac, whose Bible was actually open, said, “Because the rest of his family probably thought there’s no way he would be the king.”

“Yeah.  Pretty much.  David was the youngest.  They just thought he was only good for feeding the sheep.  But what did God see in him?”

None of the boys said anything, so I decided to jump in with a hint.  “It’s right there in the Bible passage we were reading.”

“The Lord looks at the heart!” Danny exclaimed excitedly, pointing at those words in his Bible.

“Good!  Now turn near the back of the Bible, to First Timothy 4:12.  Does anyone want to read?” Taylor asked.

Zac and Ted argued over who would read, then they began reading together.  “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

“Paul wrote this to Timothy, but he could have written it to you,” Taylor explained.  “Just because you are young, it doesn’t mean you can’t influence the world around you for Jesus. 
King David was young too, and he led the nation of Israel and wrote a bunch of the Psalms.”  

The small group met for a total of about twenty minutes.  We discussed more about God looking at what is on the inside, and young people making a difference for Christ.  We got more distracted as the night went on.  Taylor asked me at the end of the small group time if I would close the night in prayer.  I was not prepared for this, but I figured I could easily wing it.

“Jesus,” I said.  “Thank you for this opportunity to be a leader with The Edge.  Thank you for all of the wonderful students I met tonight.  I pray that all of us will realize that, even though we are young, we still have a role to play in the Kingdom of God.  I pray that we will remember this as we go through the week.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.”


The students and leaders mingled in the fellowship hall after small groups finished. Parents came to pick up students, and when the crowd had thinned significantly, we began putting things back in closets and cleaning the fellowship hall.

“So what did you think?” Courtney asked me as we moved a folding table to a closet.  “Are you gonna come back next week?”

“Yeah!” I said.  “This was a lot of fun!”

“Good!” she replied.

The events of the night replayed in my mind as I drove home, around nine o’clock, and as I worked on math homework for the rest of the night until bedtime.  If The Edge became a permanent activity for me, I would not have time to be a Bible study leader with JCF, as I had thought about doing over the last couple months.  But maybe that was a good thing.  Maybe God wanted me here, working with junior high school students and this friendly group of youth leaders at J-Cov, instead of navigating the cliques that seemed to dominate JCF.  

Since Jeromeville is a university town, many students spend all of their time there interacting almost exclusively with people affiliated with the university. But when I went to church the following Sunday, I realized that I recognized some of the students from The Edge at church.  Danny and Ted sat next to me, and as I was leaving, I saw Samantha, who told me again that I was tall.  I reminded her that she had just told me this on Tuesday, and she replied, “I know.  I’m just in awe of your height.”  I smiled.  At six-foot-four, I towered over this petite young teen by more than a foot, so I guess that was pretty impressive to her. If Samantha wanted to remember me as the tall guy, that was fine with me.  Certainly I could have been remembered for something worse.

I was looking forward to being a leader with The Edge for the rest of the school year, and possibly for longer after that.  I had only been attending Jeromeville Covenant for four months, and I was already making connections beyond the college group, on the other side of Jeromeville not associated with the university.  J-Cov was starting to feel like my new home.


Readers: Are you, or were you ever, part of a church youth group? Or any other type of youth group? What was your favorite thing about your youth group? Tell me in the comments.