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How to Climb a Mast - January 9, 2014

You know how in suspenseful movies there are scenes that cut back and forth between someone doing something dangerous and a piece of equipment involved in that dangerous activity? Like someone walking across a bridge, with cuts to a fraying piece of rope which the whole bridge is dependent on. Well, in the film that is my life that happened to me.

The adventure happened while sailing, so I’m going to provide some definitions to make this story as concise as possible. You probably know that a sailboat has a mast, that’s the really tall pole which the sails are attached to. The sails are attached to the mast by ropes, known as halyards, that run up through pulleys, called blocks. This makes it easy to raise and lower the sails. The sail in the front of the boat (the bow) is called the jib, the sail at the back of the boat (or stern) is called the mainsail. The mainsail is attached to another large pole perpendicular to the mast called a boom. The boom is how you change the direction of the mainsail. The mast usually has other devices attached to it such as cleats for securing halyards, and possibly a winch for aid in raising the sails. Usually near the top of the master there are spreaders which form a cross near the top of the mast, a couple lines, known as shrouds, run down on either side through the spreaders to stabilize the mast.

The events occurred while approaching the Bay Bridge.
With that out of the way. Here’s what happened. Our crew consisted of three: Adam, the skipper, me, the first mate, and our friend Celeste. We motored out of the port and into the bay. Once we were a ways out, approaching the Bay Bridge, it was time to switch to wind power. So we went on deck to raise the sails. I worked on the mainsail while Adam went to the bow to get the jib up. While I was untangling some lines, Adam called back to me and said that the jib’s halyard was down. And I was like, What? And he was like, The line to lift the jib, it’s down here, it’s not up the mast. You’re going to have to climb up there and put it through the pulley.

It took a few seconds for what he meant to set in. Neither one of us was very experienced, so our vocabulary was definitely wrong, but I eventually figured out the gist of what he meant. We had no way to raise the jib. Then the last thing he said struck me. I was going to have to climb up there? Surely you jest, I said. Okay, I didn’t really say that exactly, but part of me thought he was just kidding around. It occurred to me that we really only have two options. Either I was climbing up there or we were going to motor back to port and call it a day. There was no way I was going to call it a day, so I made my resolve.

The plan was simple. I climb up the mast with the halyard, run it through the block. Then jump off the top of the mast and land in the water. In retrospect, the cliche, easier said than done, comes to mind. I decided to go barefoot so that I could use the friction between my feet an the mast to get leverage, and changed into a swimsuit for the quick dive back down.

To aid in the climb, Adam mentioned that he had a harness. Now I’ve been rock climbing, so I know what a harness is. It features a belt loop and two leg loops. It’s designed to keep you upright. What Adam retrieved from stowage didn’t resemble anything I’d call a harness. It was basically two strips of webbing with a buckle on one of them. Apparently this is standard gear for climbing a mast, but we didn’t really know how to use it, so I just tied one of the strips around me, and attached the halyard for the mainsail to it, and wrapped the other strip around the mast. The idea was that Adam would belay me with the mainsail’s halyard as I top-roped up the mast. I also tied the halyard for the jib to the harness, so that I could bring it up with me.

Climbing a pole isn’t easy. In fact, it’s basically impossible. I might as well admit right now that the title of this post is a little misleading, because if you saw what I was doing you might not describe it as climbing.

Well, for the first six feet, you could call what I did climbing. I used the boom. I stood on the winch, I stood on the cleats (and let me tell you, standing on a cleat barefoot is not pleasant). All the while Adam used the winch to belay me. At that point there was really nothing more to stand on, and there wasn’t much friction between my feet and the mast. After struggling for a few minutes Adam decided to do all the work. The winch worked wonders as I was dragged up the mast. This is the part where the camera crew of my life was cutting to the block. Probably looking directly at the axle of the pulley and the bolts that attached it to the mast. Probably they were coming loose.

About fifteen feet later I was up to the spreaders. I grabbed onto them and pulled myself up. At least I tried to. Remember that I didn’t know how to use the harness so I had tied it around the mast, and there was basically no way to get it past the spreaders without taking it off. So I had to remove the harness for a few seconds, and tie it on again above the spreaders. I did this. (As I’m writing this I can think of so many ways I could have done things better). So I’m sitting on the spreaders. My hands are shaking because it’s so cold, and that’s the point where I looked down for the first time and realized that I’m about twenty feet up, and while falling and hitting the deck might not kill me, it would be rather unpleasant.

I realized then, that there was no way I’m diving off the mast to get back down. There was no way I could control a fall. There was really nothing to jump off of.

So I got the harness attached to the mast again, and I stood up on the spreaders. It was still about ten feet from the spreaders to the top of the mast. So I had to go up about six more feet to reach the block. I was tired. Adam had to lift me again. I made it to the top. Since Adam had been lifting me, the harness had been pulled up to the point where it was wrapped around my chest and upper back, lifting me by the shoulders. I could barely breathe. Also, we’re at sea, so the boat was rocking back and forth. My hands were shaking so badly that I had trouble untying the jib’s halyard from the harness. I was worried about dropping it. I didn’t want to go back down and bring it up again. I held the halyard in my mouth so I wouldn’t drop it. I was cold, though, so my teeth were chattering. I got it loose and ran it through the block. I quickly tied it back to my harness so I could bring it down with me and told Adam to lower me.

I climbed a mast! You can see the Bay Bridge above me.

It wasn’t easy for him to lower me. The winch is designed to pull the halyard one way. So he needed the rope loose in order to lower me. I had to climb up about four inches so that he could lower me one foot. I held onto the shrouds for support. I held onto anything I could. I was shaking. I got down to the spreaders and sat on them.

Adam shouted at me. I couldn’t hear what he said. He shouted more. He told me I had to go back up. I thought he was joking. He shouted some more. The jib’s halyard had come loose from my harness and it was blowing in the wind. I looked up and saw it. Crap, I thought. I really did have to go back up. I told him I needed a break. I was so tired. I waited for what seemed like ten minutes to regain strength. I felt like Luke Skywalker when he was hanging on the antenna below Bespin. I just wanted to fall down to the Millennium Falcon, and have my hand sewn back on. Then I realized I still had my hand.

I stood up and told Adam to belay me again. I made it to the top. This time I tied the halyard to my harness with a square knot. I had to go through the same ordeal as before. Climbing up four inches so that Adam could lower me one foot. I made it to the spreaders again. I went through the same awkwardness coming down as I did going up, getting the harness below the spreaders. I got lowered some more. I ran into an issue where the halyard was on the wrong side of the spreaders. I had to go up again, adjust it, then get lowered again.

The whole ordeal was more than thirty minutes. It seemed like forever, but once I was on the deck I felt like everything was going to be alright. I collapsed. I couldn’t stand. I didn’t want to stand. I crawled into the cabin to put some warm clothes on. I was freezing. Adam said, You’re a real man now. After I collected my senses, we raised the sails. And that’s how you climb a mast.

Thanks to me we could set sail!

That Was a Dumb Game: The Graveyard - December 27, 2013

I was introduced to Tale of Tales, a video game making company, through the game The Path. The Path wasn’t a particularly fun game, most of the time it was downright boring, but it was at least thought provoking enough for me to write a post on the subject of art and video games. It was interesting enough that I thought I’d check out some of Tale of Tales other games. I just completed their 2008 game The Graveyard.

It was dumb. It was stupid. It could be on of the dumbest games I’ve ever played in my life. I wasn’t even planning on writing a blog post about it, but it was so bad that I just had to. The world needs to know how dumb this game is. This is the developer’s description of the game:

The Graveyard is a very short computer game. You play an old lady who visits a graveyard. You walk around, sit on a bench and listen to a song. It’s more like an explorable painting than an actual game. An experiment with poetry and storytelling but without words.

This is the description you’d read before buying the game. This description, combined with the screenshots give away the whole game. There are no surprises to be had after having read that description. Literally nothing else happens.

The Graveyard. This is the whole game. There is nothing else to see. Literally.

When I originally wrote about The Path my argument was that video games are not art. That video games don’t need to be art, because they are already an important part of the humanities. They are games. Much like the Olympic Games of the Ancient Greeks and the NBA playoffs of today, video games shape our culture and our heritage as members of the human race. Some argue that that isn’t enough, that video games must be art in order to matter. Some say that unless we can attach the same connotations to video games that Michelangelo attached to sculpture, that video games will only be the playground of losers and dorks. To that I say, Nay. I say that those of us that play video games are no different from the gladiators of Ancient Rome. Okay, well, maybe a little different. In any case my argument is that a little bit of video game playing isn’t a waste of time, any more than any other form of entertainment or sport is a waste of time. I digress.

Attempting to make the old lady do some exploring. (The old lady is to the right of the screen.) There really isn’t any point in doing this. There’s nothing over there, and the camera angle doesn’t change.
The Graveyard was a waste of time. The Graveyard was trying to be art. The Graveyard was trying to be something that a video game shouldn’t be. Recall the description. The developers call it an explorable painting. That’s basically a lie. When I read the description, I thought that you could spend some time walking around the graveyard, looking at some tomb stones, reflecting on things, then take a moment to ponder. You can’t. All you can do is walk towards a bench and sit on it. The camera doesn’t even change. It just zooms in. If by explorable painting they meant that you can stand far away from a painting, and then walk closer to it to make it look more zoomed in, then walk away to make it look less zoomed, then sure it’s an explorable painting, but then every painting is explorable by that definition.

Probably one of the worst parts of the game is that you can’t even finish it. The lady usually dies. From the description of the game, you’d think that she only dies sometimes, but she dies pretty much every time. And after she dies, you can’t quit the game. You heard me right, there is no option to quit the game. You are stuck playing the game forever. As a joke, someone on the support forums said that that was part of the game, and if you wait long enough she eventually decomposes. That was good for a laugh, but seriously, you should be able to quit a game from an in-game menu.

I know the the game is supposed to be metaphor, it’s supposed to be poetry. That pretty much seems like a load of crock to me. I read one critical response stating that it’s frustrating how slow the old lady walks, but then maybe that brings insight into how frustrating it must be to be old. Where everything you do is slow and not by choice. I’ll grant the game that one. I actually think that is one merit of this game. How frustrating it must be to be old. But honestly, who hasn’t played a game, that was mostly fun, that didn’t have some frustratingly slow parts. I remember when I played Mass Effect, I had to wait in the elevator for a frustratingly long amount of time in order for the game to load. And who hasn’t experienced a checkpoint right before a long unskippable cutscene. I’ve already experienced frustration in games. I don’t want to play a game this is basically just standing in an elevator and waiting for it to get somewhere.

You listen to a song in The Graveyard. It’s not a very good song. It’s downright bad. Annoying, even. I don’t know if it is an original song for the game, or one that was just picked as the soundtrack, but it doesn’t matter, it’s still not good. The movie Wristcutters: A Love Story also has a really bad song in it, but the fact that the song is bad is part of the narrative of the film, and that makes the song good on a cerebral level. The song in The Graveyard is probably supposed to be sentimental. It seemed to be about a lot of sad things, perhaps the old lady’s history, but it was hard to care about that with how ear-wrenching awful it is.

They sell this game for five bucks. That’s shocking to me. When I was sixteen, I worked a minimum wage job for five bucks an hour. I would expect that five bucks would give me one hour of entertainment. This game is worth maybe one dollar. The longest you can really play it for is about six minutes. You can complete it in as short as 6.8 seconds. I know, because I completed it that fast. (I played it multiple times hoping to find something more in the game than was presented at first glance. There isn’t anything more.)

I played Dear Esther as well. Which has little narrative, and the gameplay basically amounts to walking around, the same as in The Graveyard and The Path. Something about Dear Esther made it volumes better though. A more beautiful environment maybe, a better soundtrack perhaps. I don’t really know, but what I do know is that it’s possible to make a game, where all you do is walk around, that is entertaining. Dear Esther is entertaining enough that I played it multiple times. Entertaining enough that I will still go back and visit Dear Esther from time to time. I’d never replay The Graveyard again. The Graveyard is the kind of crap that a gamer might play to say he is cultured, but I’m pretty sure that no gamer is saying they are cultured after playing this game, because it’s a dumb game. Oh well, now I’m off to play one of Tale of Tales other major releases, Fatale.

Categories: Video Game Reviews

I'm Ashamed to Admit It: I Ruined a Kid's Christmas - December 9, 2013

You know how every now and then you do something so bad that you just wish you had a time machine so you could go back and undo what you’ve done? I’ve had quite a few of those experiences, and, oddly enough, most of them involve having done things where I wasn’t actually sure how bad they were. Today I’m going to discuss one such thing, and then speculate on what might have happened. I also want to say that even though at times I humorously reminisce about my experiences, I actually am legitimately ashamed of what I’m about to tell you. This is something I’ve carried for a long time, always wondering if I seriously screwed up, but never really knowing. Basically, I think I might have ruined some kid’s Christmas. I don’t know that I did, but I think I did. This story is from when I was about 14 or 15.

You know how children write letters to Santa Claus? How they address them to the North Pole, put a stamp on them and send them off? Did you ever wonder what happens to those letters? I know what happens to them. The post office collects them all together, and then charity groups claim them and write responses, or if it’s someone in need they might do something special for them. I happened to be involved in such a charity through school. It basically went like this, the teacher said we were going to answer letters to Santa, and he read one particular letter from a needy family, and said they’d do something special for them, but as for the generic, I want a Barbie doll, letters, us teenagers could read them and reply. The rules were pretty simple. If there was no return address, throw it out. If they asked for anything specific, don’t make specific promises. And of course it was assumed to not write anything vulgar or offensive.

I was excited to do this. I don’t think I ever wrote any letters to Santa. Seeing him in the mall was good enough for me, but I knew that writing letters to Santa was a thing that little kids did, and I had a strong belief in Santa when I was a kid, so I thought it would be fun to respond to a like-minded child, and maybe bring some joy and happiness into his or her life to know that Santa cared enough about them to respond. (I do want to say that I am currently against the idea of teaching children that Santa is real, but at the time I responded to the letter I was still in favor of sharing the myth.)

I don’t exactly remember what the kid wrote in the letter, except that I do remember he asked for a computer. I’d been in exactly the same shoes when I was a kid. I wanted a computer so badly for Christmas. It was after I stopped believing in Santa, so I wasn’t asking him for one, but I still understood the feeling. One year I thought we were going to get one. My mom had put a present under the tree that was big enough to be a computer, and she wouldn’t tell us what it was, but my hopes were high! On Christmas morning I was disappointing to see that it was a vacuum cleaner. A vacuum cleaner? We already had a vacuum cleaner. What I’m saying is that I totally understood this kid. I’m pretty sure his family already had a computer, and he wanted his own, but I knew that feeling. Of course, I couldn’t promise him he’d get a computer, that was up to his parents.

So the title of this post implies that something happened that I’m ashamed of, and you’ll probably guess that I’m ashamed of what I wrote back, and you’re only partly right. I’m not proud of my response to the kid, but it also wasn’t the worst possible response. I basically told the kid to be sure to mention to his parents what he wanted for Christmas. I also gave some lame excuse as to why he needed to tell his parents what he wanted. I don’t really feel badly about that, but it’s definitely possible that my response ruined the kid’s Christmas. Follow me for a minute on one possible chain of logic that the kid may have reasoned:

Hmm? Santa is asking me to tell my parents what I want. My friends at school have been telling me that Santa Claus is my parents. Maybe Santa is implying to me that he is my parents. But then the paradox is that if my parents are Santa Claus then they’d already be reading this letter and so why would they be telling me to tell themselves what I want? In conclusion there must be something bigger going on than both my parents and Santa combined can even fathom.

So basically my answer to this letter was going to open a can of worms. But what else are you supposed to say? If the kid’s parents didn’t know what he wanted, how could he possibly get it? That’s why I wrote what I wrote, but I don’t really regret that. No. I’m not really too worried about prose of the letter, that’s just speculation. It is actually the presentation of the letter that I’m ashamed of.

I have bad handwriting. Terrible handwriting. It’s pretty much unreadable when I write quickly, and not very pretty when I write slowly. I probably wrote this letter somewhere in the middle. I’m pretty sure it was readable, but it looked terrible. I don’t think the paper I wrote on had lines either, so the writing was slanted and curving on the page. Just imagine it. You’ve written to Santa Claus, probably the most kind and caring person in the world, and he writes you back, and it is the ugliest hand writing you’ve ever seen in your life. I mean the North Pole is full of polar bears, mittens, and candy canes, and here is this letter, ink on paper, and it’s barely legible. I’d be shocked. I’d be like, This is Santa’s handwriting? I wouldn’t believe my eyes.

Okay, so at this point you might be thinking that that’s nothing. I was 15 years old, of course my handwriting was bad, and probably the kid’s handwriting was worse, so when he read the letter he wouldn’t even notice. That might even be true. But that’s because I haven’t actually shared with you the worst of it all. Yes indeed, there’s a real kicker to all this. There’s a climactic be-all-end-all to how I ruined this kid’s Christmas.

I sketched a picture of Santa, his sleigh, and reindeer on the back of the letter. Yes, that is it. That is definitively how I ruined this kid’s Christmas. I drew a picture on the back of the letter, and it wasn’t good. My handwriting was bad, and my sketching skills weren’t up to par either. I remember specifically that the reindeer were way to small compared to the size of the sleigh, and that the perspective on Santa’s hat was inconsistent with his body. Basically it was one of the worst sketches of Santa ever made. It was no Norman Rockwell is what I’m saying. It was basically the kind of doodle you make when you’re bored in school, and here I was putting it in a letter to a kid as if it were from Santa! You may not believe me on how terrible this drawing was, but my friend Nick also saw it, and he confirmed that it was bad, and asked me if I was seriously going to send it.

Of course I had to explain the drawing to the kid, so I wrote, I’m including a drawing of me that one of my elves did. Yeah, that was the explanation of this absolutely terrible drawing. You really need to picture a creepy looking Santa Claus to understand why I’m so ashamed of this.

And so I mailed it. I knew at the time I shouldn’t have mailed it. I know that I knew at the time, because when I went to get the stamp from the teacher he asked me if everything I wrote was okay. He wasn’t asking everyone else that. Just me, because he could tell by the expression on my face that there was something screwy about my letter. Of course I told him it was fine, and he took the letter and put a stamp on it. And as far as I know it got mailed. This terrible portrait of Santa got mailed!

I actually pray that when my teacher realized there was something screwy about my letter, that he opened it to make sure everything was kosher, then threw it out when it wasn’t. I don’t think he did. As it stands now, I’m pretty sure that that letter got mailed, the kid read it, saw the picture and went crying to his parents. He probably told them that Santa sent him a terrible drawing that one of his elves did. At which point his parents had to explain to him that Santa wasn’t real, and that they didn’t know where the drawing came from. So the kid inevitably must have believed that he accidently wrote Satan and not Santa or something weird like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure he’s a serial killer now, and it’s basically my fault.

Okay, so I’ve joked around a little about this, but that’s because I have to. I really am ashamed of what I did, and all I can do to cope with it is try to imagine the worst possible scenarios. I know that if I had seen a drawing as bad as the one I did, with the assumption that it had been by one of Santa’s elves, I think I’d forget magic of Christmas right then and there. Yes, the drawing was that bad.

I really do hope that the letter never made it. So many things may have prevented it from getting to that kid. It’s possible my teacher threw it out. It’s possible my handwriting on the envelope was so bad that it never got delivered. It’s possible the kid’s parents opened it and threw it out. All I can really do is hope. And if he did read it, hopefully he didn’t really become a serial killer, or have some weird obsession with Santa. I’d kind of like to meet the kid. To tell him I’m sorry. To find out if it did have any effect on him. I’m going to end with a plea that if your kids ever get a reply from Santa, please read it before them, just to make sure everything is okay.

Categories: 1999-2001 High

I Hacked a Computer in High School! - November 26, 2013

High school, the year 1999, Word Processing class, I hacked a computer. It was awesome.

I started relatively late on the whole computer thing. I was 12 years old when my family got our first computer, so I didn’t really know much about them. In fact, in elementary school, we’d have computer lab every Friday, where we got to use the next generation of computers, the Apple IIe, and I was so dumb with computers that I didn’t even know how to turn them on. The story is that I had been using the computer, and it turned off, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it back on, and then the teacher got mad at me for hacking around with the computer, and I had to sit out the rest of the day. I was devastated. I mean, I only got to play Oregon Trail once a week, and this time I wasn’t going to get to play it at all. You know what too? I wasn’t even the guy that turned off the computer, it was my buddy Kyle that turned it off, he had been pressing buttons on my computer, and he pressed the right buttons to shut it off. So it wasn’t even my fault it turned off to begin with.

Well I showed them! After getting a computer in 1997, I learned the fundamentals. I learned about booting in safe mode, and the command prompt, and booting in safe mode with command prompt. Yeah, I knew about things! By 1999, most people were using Windows 98 or Mac OS or some such other thing where they could point and click their way through their computing needs, but I knew more than that.

The Novell interface only gave you access to a limited number of applications like WordPerfect and Notepad. No access to the start menu or My Computer was provided.
When I was in high school computers and the internet were all new and powerful, and kids wanted to use them, and not necessarily for school related stuff, so you had to restrict their ability to use them. My high school used Novell Netware to do just that. Novell limited the Windows interface to a few applications. There was no start menu, no My Computer icon. No access to the CD-ROM drive or hard drive. In my word processing class we got WordPerfect and Notepad, and a few other pieces of software. Nothing really that interesting. Nothing fun.

Now let me tell you about word processing class: It’s basically an easy A class. That’s the only reason you take it. If you want an A on your transcript, you take word processing. All you do is show up, process some words, then leave. If you do all your work, you get an A. There isn’t much to word processing, and you have half a year to do it, so basically you could spend 10 minutes a day doing the assignments, then you had 40 minutes to do anything you wanted. Or you could do 5 days worth of assignments in a single day, and have the rest of the week free. There was no homework. There couldn’t be. Not everyone had computers, and no one was expected to purchase WordPerfect.

Most kids would skip the class. Or at least show up for role call then leave. I was too good a student to skip class, in fact I only ever did it once my senior year, so instead I’d just sit there, bored out of my mind. Wondering how I could possibly unlock the potential of these computers. But all I could do was run WordPerfect and Notepad. Sure I could maybe write a story or something, but I wanted more.

The advanced boot options menu, including Safe Mode with Command Prompt.
Then one day as I was booting the computer, I had an epiphany. I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind! The sign was the bootup text that windows has that said, For troubleshooting and advanced startup options for Windows 98, press F8. So I pressed F8, and sure enough it let me boot up in Safe Mode with Command Prompt. Command prompt! I knew about command prompt. I knew commands for command prompt! Everything came full circle.

Remember how I said the Novell client gave us access to a few programs, and one of them was Notepad? If you aren’t familiar with Windows, Notepad is a text editor that resides in the Windows directory. You know what else resides in the Windows directory? A very powerful tool called Windows Explorer. Let me show you the commands I typed when I got to the command prompt:

cd windows
ren notepad.exe notepad.exe.bak
copy explorer.exe notepad.exe

I then restarted the computer. Now some of you will know what those commands do. Some won’t, so I’ll explain: An application is stored in a file, the file has a name. The Notepad application is stored in a file called notepad.exe. The Windows Explorer application is stored in a file called explorer.exe. Those commands make it so the Windows Explorer application will also be stored in notepad.exe. Notepad was accessible from the Novell interface, but the Novell interface didn’t know I renamed the file, so, voila, I could now access windows explorer from the Novell interface, and once you can do that, the world is yours. Because Windows Explorer gives you access to everything, it gives you access to the hard drive, to the CD-ROM drive, you can run applications you can install applications. Almost anything you want to do, you can do. Including what everyone in a word processing class wants to do, play games!

Indeed, I got the Quake demo installed on that machine and I’d play all day. Then some kids found out what I was doing. At first they’d watch me play, and ask me what I was playing, then later they wanted to play games too, so I helped them hack their computers as well. Of course I kept it on the hush-hush. I didn’t want the teacher to know what was going on. So there was only a small collective that knew how to hack the computers.

What’s truly weird though. Is I must have not been the only person to have been hacking these computers, because one of the guys whose computer I hacked, found a football game, Tecmo Super Bowl, on the computer, and he thought I had installed it on his computer, but I hadn’t, it was just there. Someone else had put it there. Then the others in the collective were asking me how to put the football came on their computers, but I didn’t know how because I didn’t know anything about transferring files over networks, so I told them they needed a CD or a floppy disk to copy the game onto, then they’d be good. But that kid kept telling people I installed that football game for him, and I thought it was hilarious that he thought that because I had only ever touched his computer to show him the commands to get into Windows Explorer.

Ultimately I got kind of bored of playing games, so I only hacked the computers a few more times, and then I just sort of felt bad about playing games at school, so I’d spend my hour in word processing class shooting the breeze with my buddy Kenny, and he told me all about how to impress the ladies, using such techniques as wearing cologne and stuff, but I was like, I don’t want to be a tool and wear cologne because I’m 16 years old! So I never wore cologne much in high school, but I did on a couple of occasions.

To make a long story short, I had come a long way from not knowing how to turn a computer on when I was in 5th grade, to hacking one in 11th grade. By which I mean, while I got caught with my computer turned off in 5th grade, the teacher never knew I spent the whole hour playing video games in 11th grade. Indeed my covert abilities had increased tenfold! I got an A, by the way. It was an easy A too.

Categories: 1999-2001 High

Here We Go Teachers! Here We Go, Down the Drain! - October 6, 2013

I was a little hesitant to use the title I did for this post, because I thought it might sound like I was writing some political propaganda about the education system in the United States, or some such nonsense. But I couldn’t resist, because that was the chant, He we go teachers! Here we go, down the drain! That is, this was the chant for the 6th Grade vs Teachers softball game at my Elementary School.

For me the stretch between Kindergarten and 6th Grade was probably the longest six years of my life. Ever since I started school I looked forward to 6th Grade. It was the final year of Elementary School. It was the year where you could join Safety Patrol. It was the year where you got to BE a 6th Grade Buddy (Kindergarteners had 6th Grade Buddies, but I was more interested in being a buddy, than being buddied by someone else, if that makes any sense). Most importantly of all, though, it was the year of the 6th Grade vs Teachers softball game. I must have heard that chant, Here we go Teachers! Here we go, down the drain! six hundred times. A hundred timer per year for six years.

Actually, in preparation for 6th Grade vs Teachers game, there was also the 5th Grade vs 6th Grade game a few weeks in advance, but the 6th Grade vs Teachers game was really the All-Star game of the season, the season consisting of only two games. I don’t really remember much about the 5th Grade vs 6th Grade game because I wasn’t in it, and I don’t even remember if I watched it. Surely I did, but I have no memory of it.

When I finally made it to 6th Grade, though, my memory of those events would last my entire life.

In preparation for the game, we had tryouts, and here’s how they went: Everyone in 6th Grade went out to the school’s softball field, and all the boys got to swing at three pitches, then the students would vote on who would be on the team. Yes, you heard me right, only boys could be on the team. You got to remember it was a more sexist time back then, so don’t go too crazy in your comments.

As I was saying, all the boys took some swings at some pitches. Naturally, I, the inept athlete that I am, didn’t hit anything. Didn’t expect too. In fact, I told the teacher in charge of the whole debacle, Mrs. Bankhead, that I didn’t even want to try. She made me, though. So I got up, missed my three pitches, then went back with the others. I’m not sure that I was the worst of the athletes in my Elementary School. I remember this kid Troy and this other kid Jimmy were pretty bad too. After the tryouts, we all went back inside, and each student was given a slip of paper, and we were to write our top three choices for the team. I hopped on the bandwagon and voted for the kids that everyone was saying they were going to vote for, this kid Cory and this other guy Trent, and I don’t remember who the third was, but definitely a name I’d heard from someone else.

A day or so later the results were tallied and Mrs. Bankhead announced the roster. I don’t know if it is dweeb intuition or what, but I had this weird feeling that I was going to be on the team. The roster was announced in order of the most votes to the least. Cory was named first. Then Trent. Then a bunch of other athletic to semi-athletic guys. The whole time I was praying that I wouldn’t be named. The last thing I wanted to do was get out on a softball field and embarrass myself in the most important game of the year. It must not have been more than a minute before the nine man roster was set. I was relieved that I wasn’t on the team. Though, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. I mean, I had had a feeling. In addition to not having athletic skills, did I also have no sense of intuition? Was I even a man at all? The answer came to me quickly, Of course you’re not a man, you’re 11 years old. Okay, joking aside, what happened next was that Mrs. Bankhead said, ... and the back up player is ... I heard my name, and my heart swelled with joy! I made the team, sort of! I was the backup player. Basically, what that meant to me was that I was on the team, but I didn’t have to play!

I now want to admit that I kind of omitted some details about why I had a feeling I was going to be on the team. Basically in 6th Grade, a posse of young ladies had sort of taking a liking to me. Namely this girl, Brianna, and by extension her best friend Charisse and another of their friends, whose name I don’t recall, so I knew I had three votes. And I knew that three votes was very likely to get me on the team, because I knew that everyone was going to do exactly the same thing I did and vote for Cory and Trent. That meant that most people only really had one vote to give out, and with maybe 50 boys to choose from, plenty of them semi-athletic, the votes would be all over the place. With these three ladies, though, I pretty much had it in the bag. That’s all I cared about, though, what these ladies thought of me. If I hadn’t made the team, I would have just assumed they didn’t really like me and gone into a heavy state of depression. Either that or play some Nintendo games or something. In any case, it had been confirmed to me that these girls really did like me, and that gave me enough confidence to be the Star Player ... I mean Star Bench Warmer.

Naturally, my plan was to sit out the game. Being voted in was all that I wanted. I didn’t actually want to play. Fate frowned on me, however, the game was after school, so one of the kids on the team dropped out, and I was in. I was going to have to play. So I went home and told my mom that I had made the team. Now this is a bit weird, and I never really understood why, but my mom would never let me wear shorts, but I begged her to let me wear shorts for the game, and she agreed, but said I could only wear them during the game.

Now being that I had enough logic in my mind to figure out that I was probably going to get voted onto the team with a mere three votes, one thing I couldn’t figure out, was how I could possibly change into shorts right before the game. It didn’t even occur to me that I could change in the bathroom. So I wore the shorts underneath my pants. The plan was to take my pants off right before the game, and slip them on again afterwards. Unfortunately, I was way too embarrassed to be seen taking my pants off, so I didn’t, and with two layers of pants I could barely move. Also, I had never actually played softball before, so I didn’t have a mitt, and for whatever reason there were no spares, so they stuck me in right field and said, Try to catch it with your hands.

Do you remember how I was praying that I wouldn’t be on the team, but secretly hoping I would be? I was praying again, this time that no fly-balls would come my way.

We were getting killed. This wasn’t unusual. The 6th Graders pretty much got killed every year. The worst part of it, though, was my last time up at bat. You’ve probably heard the old story of someone being up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. I was actually in that position in that game. I begged for the team captain to have Cory take my place at bat, but that wasn’t allowed. I had to bat. There’s no great ending to this story. No miracle hit. I struck out. The one redeeming thing was that we never really had a chance. I wasn’t dragging the team down, because we couldn’t get any lower. I mean the game is win or lose, and it didn’t matter how good the athletes were because the teachers were bigger and stronger. Normally you’d think that that would be a depressing thought, but when you don’t want to be the guy that made the whole team lose, it’s a pretty good one.

Of course, the joy of it all was hearing the chant. Here we go teachers! Here we go, down the drain! Yeah, all the students of the school made that chant. When I was out in right field I made that chant with them. It’s unfortunate, though, that when enough people chant it doesn’t determine the outcome of the game.

Categories: 1988-1995 K-6

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