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?”


“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?”


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.


October 14-15, 1994. The first trip back to Plumdale. (#9)

My last class on Friday got out at 3:00.  I went straight back to Building C, locked my bike, and climbed the stairs to Room 221, where a mostly packed duffel bag sat on my bed.  I checked to make sure that everything I needed was inside and grabbed the things I hadn’t packed earlier. I put my notes and textbooks for my math class in my backpack; I had a test coming up, and I figured I could get some studying in over the weekend.  I also grabbed my book for Rise and Fall of Empires, the class I was talking as part of the IHP. I had some reading to do that I hadn’t done yet.

Liz was walking down the hall as I carried my bag to the stairs.  “Hey, Greg,” she said. “Heading somewhere for the weekend?”

“Back home to Plumdale,” I said.

“Nice!  Is this your first time going back home since you’ve been here?”

“Yeah, it is.”

“Have fun!  Do you have any plans?”

“Tomorrow is Homecoming at my high school.  I’m going to go to the game. I might go to the dance too if I’m not too tired.”

“That sounds like fun!”  Liz paused, as if she had just thought of something.  “The Homecoming game is on a Saturday?”

“Plumdale High doesn’t have lights.  So our football games are always on Saturday afternoons.”

“I see.  Did you play football?”

“No,” I said.  “People tell me I’m built like a football player, but I don’t have much athletic talent.  I worked out with the football team the summer between freshman and sophomore year, but I quit after the first day of practice.  I was out of shape and in over my head.”

“I see.  Well, drive safely and have a great weekend!”

“Thanks!  I will!”

I spent the next three hours in the car.  I went a slightly longer way home, heading south down the Valley and cutting over through the hills on Highway 122, which joined Highway 11 just a few miles north of Plumdale.  According to the map I had (you know, that big folded paper thing that I’m fascinated by but most people don’t pay attention to, and even fewer people now in 2019 pay attention to), this route was 22 miles longer.  However, it was Friday afternoon, and this route avoided San Tomas and all the other populated areas between Jeromeville and Plumdale, so it was considerably faster when Friday commute traffic is involved. When I came back to Jeromeville on Sunday morning, I would go the regular way, through San Tomas.

Before I left, I had called Mom and told her I would be home for dinner, a little after six.  I got home around 6:30, and before I could put my key all the way in the front door, Mom opened it from the other side, as if she had been watching and waiting for me to get there.  My key stuck in the keyhole and pulled out of my hand.

“Hey!” I said, trying to grab my key back as Mom opened the door.

“Hi,” Mom said, giving me a hug, which I awkwardly attempted to return as I dropped my bag and continue to try to take my key back from the door.

“Hi,” I said.  “Can I get my key back?”

Mom looked confused until she saw me grabbing toward the keyhole.  “Oh,” she said. “Sorry.” Mom handed me the key. “How was the drive?”

“Good.”  I climbed upstairs to put my things in my room.  I heard Mom climbing the stairs speaking in a high-pitched baby-talk voice.  She stepped into the door, holding Davey, a large fluffy long-haired gray cat.

“Your big brother is home!” Mom said to Davey.  Davey said nothing in return. Mom handed Davey to me.  I took him and scratched his head, and he ran off.

“Are you hungry?” Mom asked.  “I made chicken.”


I came back downstairs and ate dinner, conscious of a sports highlight show in the background that Dad and Mark were watching.  Mom told me some things about some people she knew from church and some of her coworkers. I don’t remember what any of that was about, because I didn’t know any of those people.  Eventually I heard her ask something about homework.

“I have some reading to do for that Empires class.  And I have a math test coming up.”

“How are your classes so far?”

“Not too bad.  This math class is easy, because about half of the material I already did last year in AP Calculus.”

“That’s good.  Mark is really having trouble with math so far.  Maybe you can help him.”

“I’m fine!” Mark shouted from the other room.  “I don’t need help!”

“Sounds like he doesn’t need help,” I said.

“So you’re going to the game tomorrow,” Mom said.  “Are you going to the dance afterward too?”

“I’m thinking yes, but I might change my mind and come home early.”

“That’s okay.  Whatever you want to do.”

Jeopardy! came on at 7:00.  I was a trivia buff, and so was Mom.  After Jeopardy!, I got pretty bored. I left my computer in Jeromeville, so I couldn’t check my email or look for chat room girls to flirt with.  I went upstairs and read and studied for a while. At 9:00, I went back downstairs to watch The X-Files. Dad had gotten into this show the year before, when it was new, and the rest of us had started watching it regularly by the end of the season.  It was about two FBI agents who investigated cases involving the unexplained, and there was all this stuff about government coverups and aliens. I had a very small TV in my dorm room with a rabbit-ear antenna, and The X-Files was one of the few shows I was keeping up with.  After the show was over, I went upstairs and did some more reading before bed.


As I walked toward the football field at Plumdale High on Saturday afternoon, I realized that I had built up the thought of Homecoming in my head to the point that the actual Homecoming itself was a bit anticlimactic.  After all, I was just here three weeks ago, and there had not been another home game since then. So, up to this point, I had been to every football game at Plumdale High so far this year.

A large tent had been set up with cake and punch and other goodies for alumni.  I went and hung out in the tent for a while.

“Greg Dennison!” I heard a voice say.

I turned around, although I recognized the voice.  “Hi, Mr. Pereira,” I said. He had been my physical education teacher freshman year.

“Where are you this year?  What are you studying?”

“Jeromeville.  I haven’t declared a major yet, but I’m thinking something math or science.”

“Good for you!  Mr. Peterson is around here somewhere today.  He went to Jeromeville too.”

“I know,” I said.  “I saw him right before I left for Jeromeville.”

“You like it there so far?”

“I do.  How’s your year going?”

“Same old same old,” he said.  “Still teaching PE. I need to go check on something, but hey, it was good to see you.  Have a great year!”

“You too,” I said.  I hated PE. Although I loved watching sports, I had no athletic talent of my own.  Mark got all the athletic talent in our family, and I worked the snack bar and scoreboard at his baseball and basketball games.  And with the way general freshman PE was graded at Plumdale High, you couldn’t get above a B if you weren’t fast enough or strong enough, and that messed up my 4.0 all through freshman year.  However, I loved Mr. Pereira. He was nice, he was funny, and although he had that tough guy coach persona, I could tell underneath that he believed in me. It’s interesting how the teacher from the class you hate can become one of your favorite teachers.

“Hey, you!” I heard a voice say to me a few minutes later.  It was Kim Jensen. She had slightly curly hair, pretty blue eyes, and a nice smile, and I had had a big crush on her for pretty much the entire first half of high school.  Unlike the stereotypical crush on someone out of one’s league, she knew I existed, from having had a few classes together, and she was always nice to me. But she had her life of being a cheerleader and dating older football players, and I had my life of doing homework and not knowing how to tell girls I liked them. So in that sense, it was pretty hopeless.

“Kim!” I said. “How are you?”

“I’m great! How are you? Where are you now?”

“Jeromeville. I really like it so far.”

“Good! I’m at Valle Luna State.”

“That’s what I thought. How is it?”

“My classes are kind of hard, but I’m having fun! Hey, I have to go, but it was good to see you!”

“You too!”

As Kim walked away, I found a seat to watch the game. It was an overcast day, and I was starting to get cold, so I put on my sweatshirt. I had just bought it at the university bookstore a few days earlier; it was gray, with JEROMEVILLE written across the front in a typical college sweatshirt front, and the university seal below it.  The writing was dark blue with a gold outline, UJ’s school colors.

Rachel Copeland walked up to me a while later.  “You’re still here!” she said, just as she had three weeks ago at the last football game the day before I left.

“I just came home for Homecoming,” I said. “I’ve been at school for three weeks.”

“I know,” she said. “How do you like it?”

“It’s been really good so far.  And my classes aren’t too hard. How are you? How’s senior year going?”

“Great!  I love all my classes so far. Especially AP Spanish.”

“I enjoyed that class last year. Is Señora Rodriguez still teaching it?”

“Yes. She’s so good.”

“Do you know what you’re doing next year after you graduate?” I asked.

“I’ve been looking at colleges, but I’m not sure where I’m going yet.”

“That’s ok. You have time.”

I watched the game for a bit without talking. The opposing team, North Gabilan High, scored a touchdown. After a few minutes, Rachel asked, “Who all from your class is here?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I saw Kim Jensen earlier, but I haven’t heard from anyone from my usual group of friends at all.”


“Yeah. I gave them all my address and phone number and email, but I haven’t heard from any of them yet.”

“I’ll write to you. Give me your address.”

“Sure!” I got a pen out of my pocket, tore off a piece of my program from the football game, and wrote my address, phone number, and email, and gave it to Rachel.

At halftime, the game was tied 14-14.  The parade of class floats drove around the field, and the winners of Homecoming King and Queen were announced. The Queen was Sandra Soto; we were in Señora Rodriguez’s Spanish class together the year before.  She was nice. The King was a guy named Matt Ewing, who had just come off the football field and was wearing his jersey and helmet. I didn’t know Matt well, but I knew who he was. He was dating a girl named Annie Gambrell, a junior this year, who I knew from a class project.  I took a Video Production class my senior year, and one of our assignments was to film some presentations that another class was doing, and Annie was part of the presentation that I was filming. Annie was really cute, which meant that I wished Matt didn’t exist, in one sense.

It seems like so many of these stories from my past involve really cute girls who I never had a chance with and didn’t know how to communicate to.  To be honest, that’s pretty much just who I am. That’s the story of my life.

Anyway, I didn’t know if Annie and Matt were still together, but regardless, I always thought it must be weird to be Homecoming King, or Queen, or any of the younger class Princes and Princesses, and to have a significant other who isn’t the person who won the title for the other gender.  But that was never my concern. I wasn’t the type of person who was ever nominated for Homecoming King or Prince.

During the third quarter, Rachel went off to sit with some other friends. I got up to go to the bathroom.  On the way back, I said hi to a girl from my class who still lived in Plumdale. Plumdale High scored another touchdown late in the third quarter, and that score held for the rest of the game.  Plumdale won, 21-14.

As I was getting up, walking toward ground level at the top of the bleachers, I saw Annie leaning against the rail looking out toward the field.  “Hey, Annie,” I said.

Annie looked up.  “Greg! Hi!” she said.

“How are you?”

“I’m good!  Just waiting for Matt to get off the field.  How are you?” I made a mental note that Annie and Matt appeared to still be together.  Annie pointed to my shirt. “Jeromeville? That’s where you’re going now? How do you like it?”

“It’s great so far,” I said.  “Being out on my own is nice. And my classes aren’t too hard yet.”

“My brother goes there.  Ryan Gambrell. He’s a sophomore.”

“Oh,” I said.  I didn’t know that Annie had a brother.  I didn’t remember that name at PHS.  Maybe he went to a different school, for some reason. “I’ll remember that if I ever meet him.”

“Are you gonna be at the dance tonight?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Great!  I’ll see you there!”

“Yes.  See you there,” I said.  As I walked back to the car, I wondered if I should have asked Annie to keep in touch, as I had asked Rachel earlier.  She had a boyfriend, though, and I didn’t want it to be weird. And I didn’t know her as well as I knew Rachel.

I went home, ate dinner with my family, changed into nicer clothes, and got to the dance about 10 minutes after it started.  It wasn’t very full yet, but people would probably be trickling in. I didn’t see anyone I knew yet, although there were a few familiar faces.

None of my close friends seemed to be home this weekend for Homecoming.  I didn’t know, though, because none of my close friends had actually communicated with me at all.  It was a little frustrating. During the last year and a half of high school, I finally started to feel like I had friends, and now they all abandoned me.  Of course, it wasn’t all their fault; we had all gone away for college, and we were busy and had new lives now. I still wished I had heard something from them by now, though.  I had Melissa’s address, and I had written to her, but she hadn’t written back.

A girl named Lisa, who had stayed in Plumdale and was attending Santa Lucia Community College, arrived at the dance soon after I did and asked me to dance.  We had had many classes together going back to middle school, and I felt a little less awkward than usual dancing with her because I had danced with her at many school dances before.  I gave her my contact information and asked her to keep in touch with me.

“Greg!” someone called as I was walking around the edge of the dancing area.  I turned around and saw someone in a fancy-looking black dress. She had dark extensively styled hair.  It was Sandra Soto.

“Sandra,” I said.  “How are you? Congratulations on being Homecoming Queen.”

“Thanks,” she replied.  “How’s college? Where are you now?”

“University of Jeromeville.  So far I love it. Classes aren’t too hard, and I’ve made friends in my dorm.”

“Good!  I’m glad to hear that.  I’m thinking of applying there.  I don’t know if my grades are quite good enough, though.”

“It doesn’t hurt to try.”

“That’s true.  Hey, you wanna dance?”

“Sure!” I said.  We walked out to the dance floor.  It was a slow song. Sandra put her arms on my shoulders as we gently swayed and turned to the music.  A slow dance with the Homecoming Queen… not bad for a nerdy outcast kid. Although I was never one of the popular kids, I found that quite a few of the popular kids knew me and were nice to me.  My experience with cliques and bullying in high school wasn’t nearly as bad as the stereotypes and stories I’ve heard.

I didn’t really dance a whole lot the rest of the night.  I did see Annie Gambrell, and she danced with me. So did Rachel Copeland, and one other girl who I had been in classes with.  But it wasn’t really all that fun. I actually left about 20 minutes early. I was getting tired. Was it possible that high school dances just weren’t fun anymore now that I was out of high school?  For that matter, a lot of times they weren’t all that fun when I was still in high school. I didn’t really know how to dance, I was still a little self-conscious about that, and a lot of times I’d get turned down when I asked someone to dance.  I kept going, I guess, because I hoped that someone actually would dance with me. Sometimes it happened, sometimes it didn’t. Tonight it happened a few times, but for some reason, it just didn’t seem as exciting.

I quietly walked into the house.  Mark was watching TV, and Mom had fallen asleep on the couch.  I waved to Mark and tiptoed across the living room, but Mom heard me.  “Oh, hey,” she said groggily. “I’m watching a show about making boats.”

“No, you’re not,” I said, as I clearly saw the TV playing the sports talk show that Mark was watching.  “You’ve been asleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”


I climbed the stairs to my bedroom.  I wasn’t quite tired yet, so I lay on the bed, thinking about the day I just had.  I pulled my yearbook from senior year at Plumdale High off the shelf, feeling a little sentimental, and started reading what people wrote to me.

Dear Greg,
You are a very interesting guy.  Believe in yourself. Good luck in college, and best wishes on your future plans.
K.I.T. 555-0116
Love, Rachel

Greg –
Well I didn’t really see ya much this year, but it was a great senior year!  I hope you have a great summer! Make it the best!
Kim Jensen

Hey, thanks for doing such a great job on my video production at the beginning of the year.  I am glad that I met you. I think that you are going to go very far in life, so I wish you all the luck in the world.  Keep smiling, ‘cuz it makes everyone happy.
Stay sweet.
Annie =)

Hello!  This may come out really backwards but you’ve improved SOOOOOO much from the first time I met you.  Actually I can remember when I met you. It was in 8th grade math class. You were so uncertain of yourself.  But you’re so much more relaxed now, in and out of class. You have a good smile and even though you have been using it more lately, I’d like to see it a lot more!  Have a great summer!

You’re a really sweet & very funny guy that I got to know this year.  Hope you had fun in Spanish class. Good luck in the future. I know you’ll do great!  Just let everyone see the true & funny you.
Love, Sandra Soto

There were many other encouraging notes from people I didn’t see today, of course.  And they weren’t all from girls; I just tended to remember the girls more because I was a teenage boy.  But as I drifted off to sleep, thinking about what people wrote to me, I kept noticing a recurring pattern of people telling me to believe in myself, to be confident, and to smile.  I really needed to take that advice. If only it were that easy.

I brought my yearbook from senior year back to Jeromeville with me.  But of all the people I saw at Plumdale High’s Homecoming, only one of them stayed in touch with me consistently (spoiler alert: it was Rachel).  I would randomly cross paths with one more of these people in 1995 (spoiler alert: it was Annie), and I would see one of these people again about ten years later, plus I hear from her every once in a while now in the social media era (spoiler alert: it’s Lisa).  But high school was over. I had these memories to hold on to, but they were just that, memories. This wasn’t my life anymore. It was time to learn from this and keep moving forward.  Tomorrow, I would get back to Jeromeville, ready to show Building C the true and funny me, like Sandra said. And as I drifted off to sleep, I was smiling, because Annie said it made everyone happy.

And one other thing: to this day, Mom doesn’t remember talking about making boats in her sleep.  That has been an inside joke in our family ever since.

1994-10-15 yearbook small