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.


Advertisement

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.


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 29-April 3, 1997.  A montage of the new quarter. (#126)

“Now remember, Boz,” I said.  “When Brian finds out that you’re a Star Wars fan, he’s gonna test you and ask if you know the number of the trash compactor that Luke and the others almost got smashed in.”

“I don’t remember,” Boz replied.

“It’s ‘3263827,’” I said.

“‘3263827.’  I’ll remember that.”

I had just spent four days at my parents’ house for Spring Break, returning to Jeromeville on the Saturday morning before classes started.  Mom, my brother Mark, and his two best friends Boz and Cody followed me up for the day in a separate car.  Mom had gotten the idea that it might be fun for the boys to come visit, and with all three of them in high school now, it was never too early to start visiting universities.  We had met at McDonald’s for lunch, and now we were on our way back to my apartment.

“Hey,” Brian said when the five of us walked inside.

“This is my brother Mark, and his friends Cody and Boz,” I said to Brian.  “And you’ve met my mother before.”

“Boz?” Brian asked.

“Short for Matthew Bosworth,” I explained.

“Yeah,” Boz said.  “You can call me Boz.  Or Matt.  Either one.”

“Boz is as big of a Star Wars fan as you,” I said.

“I have a question I always ask Star Wars fans,” Brian explained, “to see if you’re a true fan.  What is the number of the trash compactor on the Death Star where they were stuck?”

“3263827.”

“Very good.”

“I have to admit, though, Greg prepared me, because he told me you would ask that.”

“Ah,” Brian replied.  “Do you have any obscure Star Wars trivia you ask people like that?”

“Sure.  Who is the director of photography?”

“I don’t know that one.”

“Gilbert Taylor.”

“Nice!  I don’t have all the obscure credits memorized.”

“I would just leave the credits on and watch the names sometimes.”

“That’s cool how each of us pays attention to different details,” Brian said.

The rest of the day went well.  I showed the boys around campus.  They came back to the apartment and played basketball in the common area.  I like to think that something from that day really made an impression, because Cody and Boz would both end up attending the University of Jeromeville after they finished high school.  My brother did not; he went to community college for a few years and then transferred to the State University of Bay City.


Sunday was Easter, my first since I began attending Jeromeville Covenant Church.  Church was more crowded than usual, but it was not as dramatic of a difference as Catholic Easter masses back home at Our Lady of Peace were compared to ordinary Sundays.

My first class Monday morning was not even on the University of Jeromeville campus.  I rode my bike along my usual route as far as the intersection of Andrews Road and 15th Street, then turned left on 15th and parked at the bike rack of Jeromeville High School.  I walked through the entrance to campus and found Mr. O’Rourke’s class toward the back of the school.  Mr. O’Rourke had told me to just sit at the table in the back, and I could help students work on problems later in the period.

Mr. O’Rourke was an older man with short gray hair and a no-nonsense personality.  After the students had arrived, he gestured toward me.  “This is Greg Dennison,” he said.  “He’s a student at UJ, and he’s going to help out in our class for the rest of the year.”  Some of the students turned around to look at me, intrigued; I waved at them.

As Mr. O’Rourke lectured, I looked around at what I could see of the class.  The class seemed very large to me; I counted forty-one students.  I was used to high school classes of around 30 students at most.  I would learn later that Mr. O’Rourke was semi-retired, only teaching the one class, and he was such a popular teacher that students would sometimes ask to be in his class even when it appeared full.

After Mr. O’Rourke finished explaining and demonstrating relationships between sine and cosine functions, I walked up to his desk.  “So, just walk around and help students now?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Mr. O’Rourke said.  “That would be good.”

My first few times up and down the rows in the classroom, no one asked me anything.  This was a precalculus class, so these were mostly honor students; maybe none of them needed help.  Eventually, though, I saw one student who was leaving most of the work blank on his paper.  “Do you need help?” I asked.  “Do you understand what to do?

“I don’t get it,” the student said.

“What do you know about sine and cosine?  Can I see your notes for today?”  I pointed out what he had sloppily written in his notebook and showed him what he could use to solve the problem in front of him.  I could not tell how well he understood.

“Is there anything else I have to do?” I asked Mr. O’Rourke when the bell rang.

“No, not really,” he said.  “At the end of the week, we’ll talk about how it’s going so far.”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As I walked toward the school entrance, past a row of lockers, I heard a female voice say, “Greg!”  I instinctively turned and looked, although as I did so I realized that I did not know anyone at Jeromeville High School.  This girl was probably talking to some other guy named Greg.  Maybe it was a student from Mr. O’Rourke’s class whom I just met this morning, but why would she need to talk to me now, outside of math class?  I saw a familiar face reaching into a locker as I turned around, and I realized that I did know someone at Jeromeville High School: Erica Foster from church.

“Hey,” I said.  “What’s up?”

“What are you doing here?” Erica asked.

“I’m doing a Math 197 tutoring class,” I said.  “I’m TAing in Mr. O’Rourke’s first period.”

“That’s awesome!  Everyone says Mr. O’Rourke is a great teacher.  I never got to be in his class, though.”

“He seems like the kind of teacher I would have liked.”

“So you want to be a teacher?  Is that why you’re doing this?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” I said.  “I’m looking at different options for the future.  One of my professors asked me if I had ever thought about being a teacher, and he set this up for me.”

“That’s cool.”

“What are you doing next year?  You graduate this year, right?”

“Yeah!  I’m going on a mission trip to Turkey for part of the summer, and then I’m still waiting to hear back from some schools, but I’m probably going to stay home and go to UJ.”

“That’s cool,” I said.

“I need to get to class, but it was good running into you.”

“Yeah.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”


A few hours later, back on campus, I had Data Structures, a computer science class.  A lower-division computer science class, Introduction to Programming, was a requirement for the mathematics major.  In addition to the upper-division mathematics units required for my major, a small number of courses in statistics and computer science, including this Data Structures class, counted in place of upper division math units.  As a kid, writing code in BASIC on a Commodore 64, I enjoyed computer programming as a hobby.  I chose against majoring in computer science, though, because my computer knowledge was out of date, and I did not want a hobby to turn into work.  But I wanted to take this class, so I could learn more about programming while working toward my mathematics degree.

Technology-related majors were very popular at Jeromeville, especially in 1997 with the Internet just emerging as a consumer technology.  Because of this, computer science and computer engineering majors had priority to register first for most computer science classes.  This was my third attempt at taking Data Structures.  The first time, I was number 19 on the waiting list, and the professor said that no new spots would open up.  The second time, I had moved up to first on the waiting list by the first day of classes.  I was hopeful, but the professor said that they had already expanded the number of spaces in class beyond what they should have.  The number of computers in the labs was too small to support this many students, so no new spots would open up.  For the other computer science classes I had taken, I did most of my work at home, dialed up to the campus Internet late at night so as not to tie up the phone line.  I suspected that lab space was not as much of an issue now that working from home was possible.  But the department had not changed their rules.

This quarter, the professor gave the usual bit about the class already being too full, and no one else being admitted from the waiting list.  But this time, it did not matter, because I already had a spot in the class.  When I called in to register last month, I expected to get put on the waiting list, but it said I had successfully registered.  This might have been my only chance to take the class, so I took it.  I told this to Eddie from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship at the retreat last week, and he said this was God opening up a door for me.  Definitely.

After Data Structures, I had chorus.  As I walked toward the bass section, Danielle Coronado, who lived down the hall from me freshman year, came up to me and gave me a hug.  “Greg!” she said.  “You’re back!”

“Yeah.  I wanted to do chorus last quarter, but it was the same time as Dr. Hurt’s Writings of John class.”

“That’s right.  Well, I’m glad you’re back.”

“Thank you.”

I walked toward the bass section and sat next to a guy I recognized from fall quarter when I was also in chorus.  “Hey,” he said.  “Welcome back.  It’s Greg, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  I did not know this guy, I thought he was a music major, and I did not know the music majors very well.  I was surprised that he recognized me.

About fifteen minutes into class, after explaining some procedural matters, Dr. Jeffs, the conductor, said, “The pieces this quarter are Schubert’s Mass No. 2 and Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder.  The sheet music is at the bookstore; hopefully you all have that by now.  We’ll start on the Schubert today.”  As he began playing and demonstrating part of Schubert’s Mass, Dr. Jeffs explained that Schubert was from Vienna, so we would be using Viennese Latin pronunciations instead of Italian Latin.  When performing Schubert, the word “qui,” for example, was pronounced “kvee” instead of “kwee.”  I had never heard of such a thing.  The Brahms piece was also entirely in German, a language I did not know how to pronounce.  I was sure I would get used to it.

The spring of 1997 was an unusual quarter for me; it was the only quarter that I did not have any actual mathematics classes.  Helping in Mr. O’Rourke’s class at Jeromeville High would go on my transcript as a two-unit math class, but I did not sit in a lecture or do homework out of a textbook.  Data Structures counted as a major requirement, but was not technically a math class.

This quarter was also my lightest load by number of units; I only took as many units as were required to maintain my status as a full time student.  But it certainly did not feel like a light load, because the two actual classes I was taking, besides Mr. O’Rourke’s class and chorus, were both extremely difficult and time-consuming.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had Philosophy and Social Foundations of Education.  I had not made a final decision about my future, but I was now seriously considering the option of becoming a teacher, so I figured it would not hurt to start working on prerequisites for the teacher training program.

I could tell after ten minutes of class on the first Tuesday that this class would be a lot of work.  As a math major, I was not used to classes with this much reading and writing.  But the subject matter looked interesting, investigating some of the difficult questions about why education is important in society, and why schooling is done as it is.  As a possible future teacher, it was important to answer these questions, and I had to take this class at some point if I were to become a teacher.  Good thing I took it in a quarter when I had a light schedule.


Wednesday evening I had The Edge, the junior high school youth group at church, for which I was a volunteer.  The staff and volunteers arrived an hour before the students, and the meeting before the kids arrived felt a little different because Taylor Santiago was not there.  Taylor had been my friend since Day 1 of freshman year, and he had encouraged me to get involved with youth ministry after he noticed some boys from the youth group take a liking to me after church.  He left last week for six months of inner-city ministry in Chicago; he would be back for the start of the school year in the fall.

As the students walked in, we usually had music playing, typically some Christian artist.  Having only been a practicing Christian for a little over a year, I was just scratching the surface of the vast world of Christian contemporary music.  Whatever this music was that played today, I found it intriguing.  It sounded like rock with horns.  I only knew of one other band that sounded remotely like this, although that other band was not Christian music; this was definitely not them.  At the Spring Picnic freshman year, I had been told to go watch a local band called Lawsuit that played there every year.  Lawsuit was a unique blend of rock with horns that some people described as “ska,” the first time I had ever heard that word.  I went on to see Lawsuit play three more times in the two years since.

I was checking in students at the entrance that day, along with Erica Foster, the girl I saw at Jeromeville High after Mr. O’Rourke’s class.  Her younger brother was one of the teen boys who had taken a liking to me.  “What is this music?” I asked Erica.

“Five Iron Frenzy,” she said.  “My brother has been listening to this a lot at home.”

“I don’t know them,” I said.  “I just got excited that there’s a Chrsitian band that sounds like Lawsuit.”

“Is this what Lawsuit sounds like?” Erica asked.  “I’ve heard of them but I don’t know anything about them.”

“Sounded like,” I corrected.  “They broke up.”

“Really?  I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah.  This last New Year’s Eve was their last show.”

“That’s too bad.  I heard they were good.”

“They were!  They sounded like nothing I’d ever heard.  But now I’m gonna have to check out this Five Iron Frenzy.”

Jeromeville had a small Christian bookstore, and I went there as soon as I was done with classes the next day to find that the Five Iron Frenzy album, called Upbeats and Beatdowns, was in stock.  I brought it home and listened to it while I replied to a few emails in my inbox.  In November, I was saddened to receive a flyer from Lawsuit announcing their breakup.  I did not attend their final show, on December 31; I was halfway across the country at the Urbana conference on that day, and the show was for ages 21 and up, which I would not be until next August.  But now I was excited to discover a Christian band that sounded like Lawsuit.

I learned a few songs into the album that I had been mistaken; Five Iron Frenzy did not sound particularly like Lawsuit, beyond being rock with horns.  They had a much faster and more aggressive sound, more like punk rock with horns, a genre called ska-punk that was emerging at the time.  But it was catchy, and I could hear references to Christianity in the lyrics, at least when I could understand lead vocalist Reese Roper’s high-pitched, fast singing.

 A few minutes later, a song called “Anthem” came on, and I immediately began to regret my decision to buy this album.  Reese called America a hollow country, and sang about how he did not care about the American notion of freedom.  If the members of Five Iron Frenzy were Christians, why were they spewing this anti-American liberal crap?  As far as I knew, Christians were conservatives who loved their country.  Maybe this was not entirely true, I realized, as Reese sang about true freedom being from Jesus Christ.  But I still loved my country and did not find patriotism inherently at odds with Christianity.  Two other songs on the album besides “Anthem” directly criticized the sins of the United States and the shallow nature of the American church, but if I must be honest, these criticisms were certainly justified.

I liked most of the rest of the album.  In addition to songs praising God, the album also contained some songs that were just silly, like one about the old TV show Diff’rent Strokes and one about how Jesus is better than superheroes.  Other songs explored deep philosophical topics of interest to Christians living in this world, like one about colorful characters waiting for a bus.

The album did eventually grow on me, although to this day I still always skip “Anthem.”  I have had a complicated relationship with Five Iron Frenzy over the years, one that has featured some very personal experiences.  I sang one line on Reese Roper’s solo album in 2004, and I had an hour-long personal conversation with saxophonist Leanor Ortega-Till in 2020.  And in addition to recording some of my favorite songs ever, Five Iron Frenzy has also recorded many other songs in the same vein as Anthem that I did not particularly care for.

Currently, I have mixed feelings about Five Iron Frenzy.  They released an album in 2021 of all angry political music, with none of the Christian or silly songs.  Ultimately, though, I have always said that Five Iron Frenzy did a great job of bringing together Christian and secular fans, liberals and conservatives, just by being real.  I understand now that Christianity is not by any means limited to Americans or conservatives, and it should not be.  Paul writes to the Corinthians that different people have different gifts that are all part of the body of Christ.  Just as Boz and Brian had discovered their different takes on Star Wars trivia when they met a few days ago, people with different cultural and political backgrounds have different experiences with Christianity.  I may not agree politically with all Christians, but we are still one in Christ, each with a role in the global Church.


Hello, readers!  What’s an obscure fact about your favorite movie that you like to remember and tell people about?

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, the Five Iron Frenzy music video below comes from an unofficial source on YouTube.  Just in case it gets taken down, I’ll include an official audio as well.


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.


January 19, 1997.  Hey, you!  Wanna go to McDonald’s? (#115)

Some of the major events of my life were the result of careful planning, such as getting good grades in challenging high school classes to prepare for university studies.  But other major events in my life came out of nowhere and took my life in directions I had never considered before.

As church ended, I stood up and turned to Taylor Santiago, standing next to me.  “What are you up to today?” I asked.

“Studying,” Taylor replied.  “Two weeks in, and I’ve hardly done any reading for any of my classes.  I’m so behind.”

“I have some of that to do too.  But with the holiday tomorrow, and no football to watch today, I should have enough time to catch up.”

“Yeah.  Who are you going for in the football championship next week?”

“I don’t really care,” I said.  “The Captains aren’t in it, and I can’t root for whoever is playing against the Toros because they aren’t in it either.”

“Good point.  I’m for Wisconsin.  Coach Mike Holmgren is a Christian, you know.  Noah and I met his kids at a church camp once.”

“Wow,” I said.  “I didn’t know that.”

“Well, I should get going.  Enjoy your day off tomorrow.”

“I will.  Thanks.”  I walked around after Taylor left, looking for someone else to talk to.  I wandered outside and saw a guy named Jim talking to three teenage boys.

“Come on!” one boy with light brown wavy hair said to Jim.  “Take us to McDonald’s!”

“I can’t,” Jim replied.  “I have work to do.”

“Maybe someone else will take us to McDonald’s,” another boy said.  This one was thin, with dark hair.

“Hey, you!” the third boy said, turning in my direction.  “Wanna go to McDonald’s?”

I looked behind me, trying to see who this boy was talking to; no one was there.  The boy was still looking at me.  He had shaggy dark blonde hair and a wide grin.  “Me?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but have we met?”

“My name’s Ted.”

“I’m Greg,” I replied.  “So why do you want to go to McDonald’s with me?”

“You seem like a cool guy.”

“Thanks,” I said, still a little confused.

“Let’s go!” the boy with wavy hair said.

“Okay.”

McDonald’s was in the shopping center on the corner of Andrews Road and Coventry Boulevard, just a few hundred feet from the church.  I learned on the walk over that the dark-haired boy was named Zac and the wavy-haired boy was named Danny.  “What grade are you boys in?” I asked.

“Eighth,” Danny said.

“Nice.”

“What about you?  Are you in school?”

“Yeah.  I’m a junior at UJ, majoring in mathematics.”

“Math!” Ted repeated.  “Eww!  Why?”

“I’ve always been good at math.”

“I hate math!”

“I always liked math,” Zac said.

“That’s because you’re weird,” Ted said.

“You’re not weird,” I told Zac.

We ordered and sat down.  Danny started talking about something called Winter Camp.  “Are you going to Winter Camp, Greg?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.  “I don’t think I know what that is.”

“We all go up to the mountains for a few days.  And we go sledding and snowboarding and have snowball fights.  And we learn about the Bible.”

“That sounds fun.  Who is ‘we?’  What group is this?”

“The Edge.  The junior high youth group.”

“I see.  That’s the group that Taylor Santiago is one of the leaders for, right?”

“Yeah!” Ted replied excitedly.  “You know Taylor?”

Taylor and I lived in the same dorm when we were freshmen,” I explained.  “Who are the other leaders for that group?”

“Adam is the youth pastor,” Zac said.  I did not know Adam.

“And there’s Noah, and Martin,” Ted added.  “And Courtney.  And a bunch of other people.”

“I know Noah and Martin and Courtney,” I told them.  “So are you guys out of school tomorrow too?”

“Yeah,” Zac said.

“What are you guys doing?”

“Sitting around all day playing video games!”

“Same,” Danny added.

“That sounds fun,” I said.  “I have homework to do.”

“Eww,” Zac replied.

As we finished eating, I realized that I had no idea where, or who, these kids’ parents were, or how they were getting home.  “How are you guys getting home?” I asked.  “Is someone going to come pick you up?”

“Danny and I were going to go to Ted’s house.  You wanna take us to Ted’s house?  You can see the raft.”

“I guess.  Do your parents know you’re going there?”

“We’ll call them when we get there.”

“Okay,” I said.  When I was growing up, it was normal to turn kids loose to go play at each others’ houses, especially by the time they reached eighth grade, so I did not question this.  The three of us walked back to my car, and I drove out of the parking lot toward Andrews Road.  Zac handed me what he said was a mix tape of Christian music and asked if I would play it. A song I did not know, something about a big house, came on. “Which way?” I asked.

“Left,” Ted said.  I turned onto the street, then he continued, “Turn left up here at the light?”

“At Coventry?”

“This street here at the light,” Ted repeated, pointing to the traffic light at Coventry Boulevard.  “I don’t know what it’s called.”  I thought it was odd that Ted would not know the name of one of Jeromeville’s major streets, particularly one on the route from his home to church, but I had realized over the previous few years that many people do not pay attention to details like street signs and maps the way I do.

“Who is this singing?” I asked.

“Audio Adrenaline,” Zac said. I did not know that band, but they had a cool name.

I turned left on Coventry, crossed Highway 117, and continued driving.  As we approached the four-way stop at Lakeside Avenue, the last intersection in the city limits of Jeromeville before the subdivisions gave way to fields and orchards, Ted had not given me any further instructions.  “Do I turn here?” I asked.

“No.  Keep going straight.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.  I live kind of far out.”

I hoped that Ted was right, and I did not entirely trust his sense of direction since he could not identify Coventry Boulevard by name earlier, but I kept driving west.  If Ted was correct, then he lived pretty far out in the country.

Almost four miles past Lakeside Avenue, Ted finally said, “Turn here, where you see that white mailbox.”  I saw the mailbox on the other side of an approaching bridge over a small stream; I slowed down and turned.  A dirt road followed the stream, curving around to the southeast.  Ahead of me, I saw a very old looking farmhouse, painted a distinct pale green color.  Three tall palm trees stood at the end of the dirt road in front of the house.  I walked past the trees and followed the boys to the front porch, which was up a set of stairs about five or six feet off the ground.  The boys walked in the door, and I followed them, looking for an adult.

“Hey, Ted,” I heard a man’s voice say from somewhere in the house.  “Danny.  Zac.  How’d you guys get here?”

“Our new friend Greg brought us,” Ted replied.

As I stood in the doorway, I heard footsteps approaching.  A middle-aged man with unkempt brown-gray hair and glasses walked up to me.  “Hi,” he said.  “I’m Carl Hunter.  I’m Ted’s father.”

“Greg,” I said.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Are you a leader with the junior high group?”

“No,” I said, “but some of my friends are.  I just saw these guys after church, and they asked if I wanted to go to McDonald’s with them.  And they said something about showing me the raft.”

“Really,” Dr. Hunter chuckled.  I did not know yet on that day to call him “Dr.,” but I would learn later that Carl Hunter was a professor at the university, with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.  “Do you go to the college group?  20/20?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, welcome to our home.  The raft is out back, by the slough.”

I walked across the house in the direction Dr. Hunter pointed, noticing several other children of various ages.  I found Ted, Zac, and Danny to my left as I stepped into the backyard, in the direction of the stream I had noticed earlier.  “Are all those kids your brothers and sisters?” I asked Ted.

“Yeah.  I have an older brother and four younger sisters.”

“Wow.  So what’s this raft you were talking about?”

“Here.”  Ted gestured toward a large piece of plywood with large chunks of plastic foam from the insides of packages attached to the bottom.

“Can that thing hold all four of us?” I asked.

“Probably not, but it can hold two of us.  My brother and I were in it together before.”

“Who’s going first?”

“You and me.  Come on, Greg.”

Ted and I dragged the raft down the bank of the slough, about a five foot drop in elevation.  Ted stepped on the raft, holding a long pole, and placing one end of the pole in the water all the way to the bottom.  The water was muddy, but it appeared to be only about a foot deep.  I stepped onto the raft with Ted.  I felt the raft sink a little, but it remained afloat.

“It works,” I said.  “You built this?”

“Yeah.  My brother and my dad helped.”

“Where are we going?”

“That way!”  Ted began using the pole to push and steer the raft upstream.  The water was relatively still, without much of a current.  The banks of the slough were lined with bushes and trees, many of which had lost their leaves for the winter.  We rowed upstream as far as the bridge where Coventry Boulevard crossed the slough, then Ted turned the raft around back toward where Zac and Danny were waiting for a turn.  “Hi!” Ted called out, waving to Zac and Danny watching us from downstream.  Zac and Danny waved back.  “So, Greg, how old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“When’s your birthday?”

August 15.”

“No way.  You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not.  Why?”

“Because August 15 is my birthday.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s so cool.”

“And my brother is August 14, and Zac is August 12.”

“That’s crazy.  So many of us with August birthdays.”

“I know!  Like, what are the chances?”

I thought about this, trying to answer Ted’s question seriously.  “I can’t do that calculation in my head,” I said.

“You’re such a math guy,” Ted said.

After we returned to where we started, Zac and Danny got on the raft, pushing it to the bridge and back just as we did.  I asked Ted, “So what do you guys do at youth group?”

“Well, we have fun, mostly.”

“I figured that.  I mean, like, what goes on in a typical youth group meeting?  I didn’t grow up with a youth group, so I don’t really know.”

“We play a game.  Then we sing.  Then we break into groups and learn about the Bible.”

“That sounds nice,” I said.  “I’m part of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship on campus.  It sounds kind of like your youth group, but without the game.”

“That’s too bad.  The games are the best part.”

“Yeah, but this is a group for UJ students, so they aren’t going to play kid-type games.  But a lot of times we hang out afterward.”

“That’s fun.”

I ended up staying at the Hunters’ house for about another hour after we got off the raft.  Ted showed me around the rest of the house, and I watched them play some racing video game.  I took a turn myself, but did not do well, since I was not used to the controls.  When it came time for me to leave, I asked Zac and Danny, “Do you guys have rides home?”

“If you can take us, that would be great.”

“You both live in Jeromeville?” I asked, slightly wary after discovering that Ted lived so far outside of town.

“Yeah.”

“Sounds good.”  I went to find Ted’s parents, to tell them that I was taking the other boys home.  “Thanks for letting me hang out here this afternoon,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” Dr. Hunter replied.  “You’re welcome here any time.”

“It was nice meeting you,” Mrs. Hunter added.

“You too,” I said.  “I’ll see you around.”

Danny lived in west Jeromeville off of Lakeside Avenue, and Zac lived off of Andrews Road about half a mile north of the church and fairly close to my apartment.  When I got home, Shawn was upstairs in our shared bedroom, sitting at his desk writing something.

“Hey, Greg,” Shawn said.  “How was your afternoon?”

“Weird,” I replied.  “But fun.  Three teenage boys from church, whom I’ve never met before, walked up to me and decided they wanted to hang out with me.  We went to McDonald’s, and then we went to one of their houses, which backs up a slough, and we got on the water in a raft.”

“Wow.  That is interesting.  Kind of random.”

“Yeah.”

I took my Bible, the daily devotional book I had bought at Urbana, and the notebook I was using as a prayer journal and sat on the couch on the landing on the top of the stairs.  I opened the devotional book and read the Scripture for the day.  I began writing in the notebook, thinking of things to pray for.  Seeking and knowing God’s will.  Wisdom to know where God wanted me to serve.  To come to terms with Haley’s rejection.

I started thinking about everything I had learned at the Urbana convention three weeks ago.  I had gone to that convention wanting to learn more about missions, but also seeking some specific role to play in the body of Christ.  What if this was an answer to prayer?  What if God was using Ted and Zac and Danny to show me my role?  Maybe God is calling me to youth ministry, I wrote in the journal.

Over the next few weeks, I kept praying about this.  I also hung out with those boys after church a few more times.  Sure, I was several years older than them, but they were fun, and they were interested in what I had to say.  They taught me some of their favorite video games.  I showed them my creative project, my comic-book-like stories called Dog Crap and Vince.

About a month later, in mid-February, Taylor approached me after church one day.  “Hey, Greg, I have a question for you.”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve noticed you’ve been hanging out with Ted and Zac and Danny after church lately.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m taking spring quarter off.  I’m going to be doing an urban missions project in Chicago for the spring and summer.  I told you that, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I was wondering, since you get along with those boys so well, that maybe you might want to take my spot as a leader with The Edge.  Those boys are all in my small group.  You could try it for the next month while I’m still around and do the small group with me.”

Thank you, God, for bringing another answer to prayer directly to me, I said in my head.  It was at least worth a try.  “Sure,” I said.  A month after that day with the raft, I began volunteering with the junior high group at church, which I would go on to do for the next four years.


Readers: Have you ever had a memorable moment hanging out with random strangers?

Also, if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out these two guest posts I wrote for other blogs, about two childhood Christmases. Merry Christmas!
December 23-25, 1985. A new family tradition born of immaturity and impatience (for Tall Blonde Tales)
December 25, 1986. The decorative candles (for My Days In Montana)