The Surprise Party

My wife and I don’t agree on everything in our marriage, but we do agree on the most important aspect of it; under no circumstances are we to ever organize and throw a surprise party for each other. Does anybody really like surprise parties? You’re expecting a nice quiet evening at home, and then bam(!) your night has changed dramatically because there are a bunch of people in your house. And don’t you kind of resent the person who set the party up for you, manipulating you and lying to you about what was going to take place so that you don’t see the surprise coming? I had a surprise party once, and while it was planned with the best of intentions, it caught me on a bad night, and it was then and there that I made the decision that I didn’t want to have a surprise birthday party again, which is something you don’t really think about having to clarify until it actually happens.
It was in high school, I believe my senior year, and it was a Friday night in early September. Our school had a football game that night, and like most people in high school, that seemed like the most important thing in the world that night, which is funny to think about how quickly I went from loving high school football to not caring at all about it the fall after my graduation, but anyway, me and all my friends were at the game, some playing, but most of them in the stands with me. It was a rivalry game, and we lost; the team and most of the fans were disappointed, but all my friends were going to something at the church that night, a video game night where they linked a bunch of Xbox consoles together and the once popular game, Halo, would be played all night. It was something that occurred a couple times a year at my church, and usually I was up for it, despite being utterly terrible at the game, but this particular night I wasn’t much feeling like an overnight video game session. For one, spending several hours around a bunch of people at the football game, I really just felt like being alone for a while, something over the course of my life to be essential in buoying and rejuvenating my spirit, and secondly because I had to work the next day, and staying up all night to play video games the night before would have undoubtedly left me sleep deprived and feeling terrible the following day. I had made my mind up near the end of the game that I wasn’t going to go, I just didn’t want to, and I even resisted when some of my friends tried to convince me that it would be a night full of great fun. I called my mom after the game and told her I was on my way home, that I didn’t feel like going to the video game thing anymore, and to my surprise, she was noticeably unhappy about it.
    Why would my mom care whether or not I went and played video games all night? Now I don’t have kids so I’m certainly not an expert, but I would think most parents would prefer their children didn’t stay up all night virtually killing people for sport. It’s not like my mom was some champion of video games, in fact it was quite the opposite. Growing up she would limit the amount of time we could play in a single day, at one point even completely banning them at all during the week, so you might see why I found it odd that my mom was pushing for me to go spend my night playing violent video games. She told me I had to go. I HAD to go, and no matter how much I tried to explain, she wouldn’t hear it, so finally, against my will, I pulled up to the church, intent on spending just an hour or two playing Halo before going home to the comfort and serenity of my dark bedroom. I walked in and a party was taking place. A few people said “surprise” in my direction, though it took me a minute or so to realize that the party was for me. I wasn’t going to be leaving anytime soon.
    It was a combined surprise party for me and a friend that had a birthday two days after mine. When we were much younger, like elementary school, we used to have birthday parties together, but that hadn’t happened in years, which was why it was so unexpected, which coincidentally is a staple of the surprise party. A lot of my friends were there, but there were also some people from school who I couldn’t stand, so I’m not really sure who was put in charge of the guest list. Although I didn’t want to be there, it was much more apparent on the face of the friend who was sharing the party with me, a member of the football team who was visibly bitter at that night’s loss. All in all the night was okay, and while it turned out completely different than I expected, it was a nice effort on the part of our mom’s who were just trying to do something nice for us, however I was completely exhausted at work the next day.  Some people live for the unexpected, can just go with the flow wherever that may take them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.


Losing a Good Friend

    At some point during my senior year of high school I thought it was a good idea to get a pet fish. I can’t quite explain what drove me to that conclusion, because since that time I never again felt the desire to get one, even though our time together, albeit brief, was filled with fun memories. I bought it at PetsMart in Little Rock, along with all of the necessities that a goldfish should have, including a home, a plastic container with a handle so that it could be a traveling goldfish, not confined to a countertop like most of his relatives. He would go with me on adventures, see the world, maybe even write a book about it, which is why I gave appropriately named him John Grisham, after one of my favorite authors at the time, thinking that perhaps the name would instill in him the confidence needed to achieve the goals I had set forth for him. Also in an attempt to start the relationship off on the right foot I bought him some plastic foliage and some oval shaped see through stones to bring some life to an otherwise boring environment, and he seemed to really like it all, swimming around carefree and looking at the big wide world through the glass, imagining all of the adventures he would have.
    After I got the little guy also situated and he had a good night’s sleep, we both awoke the next morning refreshed and ready for the day ahead. It was a big day for John Grisham, he was going to school for the first time in his young life, so it would have been understandable if he had been nervous but he was completely cool and unworried whatsoever. We strolled into my high school like the two most awesome beings in the universe, which we were, and as you can imagine, John Grisham was instantly popular. Everybody wanted to look at him and I even passed him around class so that my classmates could use his magical wish granting powers that I had imagined him to have by dropping donations into the portable container with him. He was now John “the wish fish” Grisham and everybody was eager to drop some of their dirty change into his formerly clean bowl of water for the chance to make dreams come true. In hindsight, that’s probably what killed him a few days later, but goldfish don’t really have really long lifespans to begin with so it’s completely plausible that it happened from natural causes. Or maybe it was the fact that I didn’t buy the special goldfish water that the PetSmart people told me I needed, but rather saved my money and opted for tap water that I had survived on for the entirety of my life. If it was good enough to keep me alive then surely it would be good enough for John Grisham, but then again, maybe it was not. Maybe there were some chemicals used for cleaning the bathtub that hadn’t completely been washed away that he came into contact with the time when I filled up the tub and let him swim free of the confines of his much smaller container, but probably it was the dirty coins. It was a short life but we cherished the time we had together and I wouldn’t trade those memories that we shared for anything.
    We had a nice funeral service for John Grisham, held in the teachers lunchroom, a small walled off portion of the cafeteria and it was filled with old friends of mine and new friends of his. Elton John’s voice filled the little room as Candle in the Wind gave the little guy a proper sendoff. I thought I’d gotten permission to use the room, or maybe in my grief stricken state I had neglected to do so, believing that anyone with a heart would want John Grisham to have the exclusive room for his funeral and had just taken it upon myself to use the room without asking. Whatever events led up to me hosting the funeral of my beloved best friend, but the end result was the funeral ending early after the school principal yelled at me and kicked everyone out of the teacher’s lunch room, so all in all it was a pretty tough day on all  fronts. Nine years later and the loss still stings, but at least he’s in a better place now, floating somewhere in the sewers below Central Arkansas Christian school, as peaceful as can be.

A Forgotten Song Bringing Up Old Memories

Music has the power to bring back memories that have long been forgotten, taking you back to the exact moment and bringing back feelings in an instant that were first experienced more than a decade before, which is why I found myself about to break down crying when a random song came on my car radio. The other day I was headed to the grocery store with my wife. it was after work and I was feeling good as we cruised down the road listening to the music playing on one of the local alternative stations, and then the song switched, a light strumming of a guitar and a rush of emotion coming back to me. Before any words were even sung I felt my eyes began to tear up. It had been more than ten years since I’d heard this song, but I was immediately taken back to that dark movie theater in Little Rock where I received the bad news. It was a Sunday afternoon and my dad was visiting me from Memphis. I was in the tenth grade, sixteen years old at the time and we were at a movie that I’d already seen, “Stranger than Fiction”, and I had enjoyed it so much the first time that I was more than happy to see it again. Truth be told, it might very well be in my top ten favorite movies of all time, but since that day I think I’ve only watched it on one or two other occasions, unable and unwilling to bring back the sad memories that this particular movie conjures up for me.

There’s a scene in the movie when Will Farrell first kisses Maggie Gyllenhaal on the couch in her apartment, a turning point, the optimistic beginning of a relationship between the lonely IRS agent and the local bakery owner. A song starts playing by Reckless Eric called “Whole Wide World” and it’s a beautiful moment set to the tune of a perfect song. It was in this moment, during the kiss while the song was playing that I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket and I pulled it out in the dark movie theater to check the message. It was from my mom and contained some of the most devastating news that I have received to this day; Coach Brady was dead.

Coach Brady was without question one of the greatest teachers that I ever had, teaching me math both my eighth and ninth grade years, a subject that was my least favorite throughout my entire scholarly career, but for those two years it was my favorite class, solely because of the teacher. He had a knack for storytelling and on those lucky days he would breeze through the lessons, imparting the necessary knowledge that the job required then for the rest of the class would tell us stories from his life that would oftentimes make me laugh so hard that it hurt. It didn’t matter what particular story he would tell us, he would make the classroom shake with laughter as naturally as another teacher might assign homework, which is why I relished the fact that I could make him laugh too and would do so as often as I got the chance. Coach Brady was the first teacher that I ever felt really thought I was funny and appreciated that fact, which gave me the confidence and courage to be more outspoken. He made me want to share my sense of humor with others, which is something to this day that I consider one of my best attributes, and for that I will be forever grateful. I wish things would have happened differently, that he would have gotten better and I never would have received that horrible news, but things don’t always turn out the way that we would like. Although I only knew him for a couple of short years, Coach Brady left me something that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life, and even though he is gone, he will never be forgotten.

My Opinion of Graduations

Graduation is one of the single worst experiences we subject ourselves to willingly, whether we are the graduates attending our own ceremony or there to support someone we care about. I haven’t been to a graduation ceremony since my own, seven years ago, except for my sister-in-law’s, and unless I have kids and they are smart enough to make it through school, which isn’t a given if they inherit my passion for school, I might not attend a graduation for the rest of my life. I was living in Florida while my two brothers graduated from high school in Arkansas, so I missed those, and when they graduate college, I don’t expect them to subject themselves to a multi hour ceremony of mostly other people’s names being called, so I won’t have to go to those either. My cousins who are graduating high school, at least so far have urged me not to attend the ceremony, whether it be because they don’t want me to waste my evening sitting there, or they are embarrassed by my presence, I’m not sure, but nonetheless I’m very grateful for them not wanting me there.

For some people I’m sure graduation is a big deal, and something they will remember forever, but I’m not one of those people. I don’t even really remember anything from my own graduation, not the speech that was given or how I felt walking across the stage, nothing at all, except for the purple robe that I wore which I only remember because of the pictures that were taken. In the very unlikely event that I’m ever asked to give the commencement speech at a graduation I’ll have to decline, because honestly I can’t think of much else that interests me any less than speaking to a group of strangers and pretending that I have some profound knowledge to impart on them throughout their life’s journey. If someone thinks I have any kind of useful advice to give a younger generation of graduates, I’ll write a blog that they can read, and my effort will stop there.

I’ve been to my fair share of graduations over the years, for family members, and I’m happy for them at having accomplished their goals, but the only thing I can remember about any of these ceremonies is how bored I was, and how thankful I was when they finally ended. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but it’s hard for me to believe that anyone actually enjoys the entirety of a graduation ceremony. Each person in attendance is there to show their support for a single person or a select few individuals, and every other name called is vastly ignored waiting for the graduation to end. Perhaps principals or teachers enjoy watching a class leave their school forever, but I bet that is probably because they see it as a celebration at never having to see this group of people in the same room again. Life can be pretty monotonous as it is, so there’s no reason to subject yourself to anymore than is absolutely necessary, hence my opinion why you should, at all costs, avoid going to a graduation ceremony.

Not Quite a Track Star

I’ve never been that athletic which is why it might surprise you that I was on the track team in high school. I wasn’t the type of person who enjoyed running, yet I was participating in a sport that for the most part revolved around the excruciating cardio exercise I had tried to avoid most of my life. I also hate loud noises, which is one of my greatest fears, so looking back it didn’t make much sense for me to voluntarily go to track meets where a starter pistol was fired all afternoon. I guess when I signed up to join the team I hadn’t really thought it through completely.

On the first day of practice I was smart enough to choose the shot put as my event rather than the much more exhausting running and jumping competitions, although I’m sure based on my appearance, the coaches would have made the choice to keep me away from the more strenuous activities for me anyway. If I’m being completely honest about it, the only reason I wanted to join the track team in the first place was because on days when there was a track meet, the whole team got to leave school early, sometimes a few hours sooner than usual. This was very appealing to me, although I probably should have realized that the reason the meets started so early was because they were so freaking long.

Much worse than sitting in school with your friends, sitting in metal bleachers under the hot afternoon sun in the late Spring is absolute torture. I would compete in the preliminaries for my event, perform so terribly that I probably should have been embarrassed, then sat in the bleachers, sweating away the desire to live, and feeling thirties than I ever had in my entire life. It seems like the track meets would last forever, sometimes five or six hours, starting in the early afternoon and going past dark. It’s possible that I am remembering incorrectly and I’ve built track meets up in my mind to be much longer than they actually were, but every single one felt like a lifetime. It was the kind of experience where you think, “if I ever make it out of here alive I’m really going to make some changes to my life.” But at least I got out of school early. This flawed reasoning and decision making kept me in a sport that I despised for multiple years. At first I tried, I really did, thinking that perhaps with the perfect form and the right amount of effort I could be the next great olympian, never mind that I was consistently the worst shot putter on the field. Hours were spent in the living room, practicing my form, and looking like an idiot rather than trying to build up strength in order to toss the heavy ball more than a few feet. I’m quite certain that if shot putters, like figure skaters were judged on technique and form, I would have won every single time I competed. If there is a moral to this story it is this; don’t play a sport you hate just to miss a little bit of school. Pretending to be sick is a far better option because then you get to miss the entire day of school, watch TV, play video games, and the best part is you get to do so in the cool comfort of your air conditioned home.