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By Scott MacDonald

Chapter 1 – The Struggle

“Am I going to have to yell at them? What if I have to argue with her in front of her friends? I don’t even know how these kids will regard me. I’m too old to be one of their friends, but I’m too young to seem parental. I…think…” Questions rushed through my mind, a torrential downpour that threatened to drown me. “I wonder how many chaperones there are…shit, how many kids do I have to watch?” I rolled over in bed to reach for my phone, the second time that night. “…1:30…shit, it’s one-thirty! I have to be up in an hour and a half! Ugh…” With a heavy sigh, I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling. “Stop thinking…stop thinking…”

I jumped out of bed as if someone poked me with a cattle prod. My phone screamed at me to awaken. I silenced it and stood, too quickly. Blood rushed to my head while I tried to take the first few steps of the morning. I lost my balance and fell into the wall with a loud, dull thud. “Dammit,” I muttered. I felt along the cold walls to the bathroom. Everything suddenly turned red. Four stars went supernova as I turned the light on. As my eyes adjusted, I focused on the figure before me – a tall man with long tangled hair, blood shot eyes and enough baggage under those eyes that he could have used someone to help him carry it all.

I took a deep breath. My shoulders and chest rose briefly before I deflated with a sigh.

I splashed cold water on my face, but the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood tall like I jumped into the lake. A drop of water fell gently from the spigot. It rippled calmly across the surface of the water before it rippled through me. I shivered. I smeared a thick layer of shaving cream across my face and neck. The razor yanked at every hair as I drew it slowly across my face. “Ah…what the hell…?” I asked the razor. Little red specks of blood popped up across my neck. I tried to go slower, but more spots appeared in the razor’s wake. Out of ideas, I painfully finished the job and washed the blood off my face. “That’s what I get for shaving two days in a row. I did it to look professional…” I told myself.

I expected to see Max at the door when I ascended the stairs. His furry yellow figure, with his tongue hanging out of his face, usually met whomever awoke first. It was even too early for him to be awake, though. The fluorescent kitchen lights buzzed and disrupted the tranquil house. I grabbed a bowl of Lucky Charms and threw myself in the recliner. It rocked back and forth, squeaking loudly. I ate all the boring oat pieces and then devoured the sugary marshmallow bits. It’s the only way to eat cereal.

My mom entered the room. “Hey,“ she said. I echoed her monotone greeting with a grunt. I recalled that I should mix up a protein shake. I didn’t want all my hard work at the gym to go to waste, even though I still had nothing to show for it.

The white chalky liquid shifted thickly back and forth in the glass. Small globs of white powder floated to the surface. I vigorously stirred the globs back from whence they came, but to no avail. I lifted the glass to my lips, paused for a breath and chugged the mixture.

I took a deep breath. My shoulders and chest rose briefly before I deflated with a sigh.

My mother kindly escorted us across town. If I was her, I’d have made us pay for it.

Outside the lifeless high school, a giant purple bus bustled with life. The side compartments were open, the skeletal insides stuffed with backpacks and instruments. My mom said something that sounded like utter gibberish. “Wha…?” I said. “Nothing. I just said I love you guys and have fun.” she said. “Oh…well, love you, too…”

I slowly opened the car door and headed for the bus. We headed toward the back where the only two open seats remained. As soon as I sat down, conversations began to flow through my ears. The word “like” filled the air. I strained my ears to hear something else, anything else, but “like” choked and smothered all other traces of language.

“Are you, like, a chaperone?” a female student said. She cocked her head to the side, much like Max does when I put a doggie biscuit in front of his face and then hide it behind my back. “Uh…yeah…” I said. “Wow. I thought, you were, like, a student, or something.”

Her curiosity satiated, she turned to her friend. “Oh. My. God. That guy from G.I.Joe, is like, so hot.” The high pitch of their giggles could have given a dolphin a migraine. As the lights went out, the  bus rumbled to life.

I took a deep breath. My shoulders and chest rose briefly before I deflated with sigh.

Our journey had begun.

Chapter 2 – Through the Darkness

Multiple televisions hung from the ceiling. Some of the students had brought DVD’s. The orchestra conductor, Mr. Johnson, read the titles over the intercom – “Raise Your Voice,” “Hannah Montana,” “Up…” his voice faded momentarily as I turned to my sister. “Linda, if I have to watch anything with Hilary Duff or Hannah Montana I swear to God I will throw myself from this bus,” I said. “Yeah…can you take me, too?” she asked. “Of course. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t?”

Someone settled on “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” It seemed like an arbitrary choice since the kids screamed the same for every option. I like animated movies, though, and it wasn’t Hilary Duff, so I didn’t complain.

As we reached the other side of Boise, we left civilization behind. Save for the occasional truck or street light, darkness completely surrounded us. The path to Mountain Home is a vast desert wasteland, often plagued by high winds and dust storms, though, the wind did not yet attempt to shove us off the road. The bus’ headlights illuminated directly in front of us, and nothing more. This darkness is known only to the reaches of space. Specks of light twinkled in the distance.

The night caused the warm glow of the televisions to reflect off the windows like mirrors at a circus funhouse. The girl next to me, the one I amazed with my chaperone status, tapped her foot to a song only she could hear.

Silos, their contents known only to them, appeared out of nowhere. Their hulking masses and skeletal frames reached longingly out of the darkness. Without the light of the bus, the night consumed them once more.

Buses and planes of all kinds were not built with me in mind. My lanky legs forced themselves into the seat in front of me. My muscles burned angrily. To appease them, I slid my legs out into the aisle, even though I knew that the first poor bastard to try to walk by me would trip. I accepted the risk.

“Grrr…” my stomach growled, just as I finally fell asleep. To placate the beast, I tore into a chocolate protein bar. The grainy texture and bitter taste did not do the name of “chocolate” justice. I scarfed it down to avoid the taste.

Light blue rays finally graced the horizon, a signal to the end of the all-consuming darkness. It slowly mixed and lightened the night – an eternal battle for dominance.

I haven’t been awake for a sunrise since graduation. I stood on the balcony at my apartment that day, in the blinding light, in this blinding light. Everything seemed so clear, so tangible, that day. But of course it was just a sunrise, just like this one.

Green, yellow and orange rays of light began to mix with blue. Orange birthed pink just as the sun crested the mountains. Light gently poured down the mountainsides and across the desolate farmland. In the words of Simon Belmont, in Castlevania II, “The morning sun has vanquished the horrible night.” While I didn’t have to contend with Dracula, I was surrounded by zombies – or something much worse. And they had just begun to stir.

Chapter 3 – Like This, Like That

Moans and groans filled the bus. A few students popped their heads over the seats, like gophers pop out of holes, to see if their friends were awake. “Gooood morning,” a girl behind me said. A guy completely covered by a blanket shifted restlessly back and forth before he muttered something about how it wasn’t yet morning. “I know. Like, my parents, like, totally make me go to school, even if I’m, like, dying,” a girl’s voice up front said. And suddenly, the word “like” had returned once more to drown out all semblances of rational conversation. Outside, the sun fully crested the horizon and vanquished all traces of night.

A group of girls a few rows ahead of me began to exchange stories of their “troubles” at home. “Like, I know!” one girl said. “My parents, like, totally make me go to school, even if, I’m like, dying.”

“Kung Fu Panda” began to play in the background as a scrawny kid with short dirty blond hair joined the group. A small gold key dangled gently off a thin gold chain around his neck. It swung back and forth and bounced off his smooth chest and boney collarbone as he sat down. He searched through his duct-tape covered wallet – a silver chain connected it to his skin-tight blue jeans – as the onscreen panda said “There’s no cost for awesomeness…or attractiveness.” He repeated the line, but unlike the light-hearted panda, he spoke it like he lived it. His salient Adam’s Apple slid up and down his thin neck as he spoke.

Thick layers of snow replaced the barren desert landscape. A thick haze quickly rolled in and choked off the sunlight – a sickly mix of gray and green.

“Are we, like, going to go swimming?” a girl in the group asked. “I, like, don’t want to smell like chlorine for the symphony. We should just, like, chill in the hot tub.”

Surrounded by a flurry of “likes” and intelligent discussions such as “Oh. My. God. He‘s so hot,” I managed to pass out. It could have been the content that did it, but it’s hard to say.

I awoke with a start as the bus shifted. “Hot tub” girl, distracted by her iPod, had stood at that moment and smashed her head into the overhead bin. “Ouch! My head!” she shouted, as she rubbed the sore spot. I smiled and glanced at my sister. “Am I enjoying that too much?” I asked. “No, not enough. Maybe we’ll get a replay,” she said with a smirk. “Well, hell, I’ll get the camera.”

As we approached the theater, Mr. Johnson handed out lists of students to the chaperones.
“It would be really funny if you had Dustin,” Linda said.
“Why, which one is Dustin?” I asked.
“He’s kind of weird. He’s that skinny kid up there.”
“You mean the blond scrawny guy with the tight pants?”
“Yup, that’s him.”

I glanced at my list. The first name was “Dustin Bly.”

Chapter 4 – Introductions

I stood outside the Hale Centre Theatre in the sharp cold wind calling names. “Richard, Garrett, Joe and…Dustin…you’re with me,” I called. A kid bounded over to me. The hood of his black “Vancouver” titled hood flopped wildly behind him. “I get to go with the guy with long hair? Cool!” he said. “I’m Richard. You have great hair. I had mine long but my grandma made me cut it.” The other three just nodded at me. “Um…that’s…neat,” I said. “OK guys, let’s go inside.” As I turned, the wind whipped my hair to the side like a model in a shampoo commercial.

We were ushered into the theatre’s parlor, a sophisticated room full of brown sofas and chairs with an antiquated floral pattern. Bright yellow flowers and old portraits of the previous owners adorned the circular room.

“Good morning and welcome to the Hale Centre Theatre. We are pleased to have you here,” theater employee Rosalie Richards said. She held her hands in front of her like an opera singer and pronounced “theater” as “thee-a-ter,” with an almost British accent. As she began her 45 minute lecture on the history of the theater, many kids rested their heads on their hands. Others looked at the floor or out the window.

To explain the idea that tone effects character, Richards led us to a practice room.

After another lengthy discussion, she asked for volunteers to illustrate the concept.
No one looked at her, myself included. “Oh come on guys, it will be fun!” she said. A group of four of the scrawniest guys, Dustin included, hesitantly approached her at the front of the room. “Alright boys, I want all of you to act like male models,” she commanded. “And…GO!” Two of them looked at the floor, Dustin stared at the ceiling and the last stared at her, his eyes so wide they could have popped out of his skull. “Remember, a supermodel is just a glorified hanger!” she bellowed. With a breath, Dustin walked forward, as if on the catwalk, and spun at the end with his hands on his hips. His mustard-yellow and blue plaid jacket slipped down to his shoulders as he sauntered back and spun again. The others floundered about, unsure of what to do. “Good guys,” she said. “Next, I want you to be body builders at a competition. GO!” All four immediately flexed their biceps. A thunderous roar of laughter erupted from the crowd. Their arms shook as they tried their hardest to show off muscle that simply wasn’t there.

Richards led us by the dressing and storage rooms on our way to the stage.

 The tape pattern found on the practice room’s floor matched the size and design of the stage. “We put that tape down so the actors can work on their blocking without being on the actual stage and in the way of the designers,” Richards said. She explained the expense and fragility of the stage’s machinery and their insistence to use it only for productions.

Chapter 5- Rehearsal

Back at the hotel, the orchestra ceased to exist. Only individual musicians remained. Each played a different instrument and a different scale, all at different times. The cacophony reverberated off the conference room’s walls and echoed. Sound – not music – filled the room. I took a seat on the floor the farthest from the chaos I could.
“Dude, see that blonde?” Richard asked as he tilted his head in the direction of a girl across the room. “I just sent her a text that said ‘I just made you vibrate!’” A loud guffaw surged from him as he tipped to his side, grabbing his stomach. In front of me, Dustin and Garrett played floor hockey with their phones. They alternated, sliding their phones from between their legs at high speed. Their laugh, a short breathy “ha,”  grew louder and their smiles wider the closer they came to hurting each other. It seemed like a recipe for disaster. I readied my camera.


Richard began to slide his phone across the floor, too. “Dude, mine slides, like, six-inches and stops,” Richard said to Garrett. “Well, yeah,” I said. “With that…rubber-thingy on it.” Richard suddenly grabbed his phone, stood and held it in the air. With an emphatic “Ha!” he had an epiphany.
“Dude! It has a rubber! Six inches and it stops!” he shouted to me.
“That’s what she said?”
“Nice one, dude. It’s a black condom…for white guys that want to feel black!” He laughed and grabbed his sides as he slid down the wall to the floor. I stared at him momentarily. “Do you even hear yourself speak?” I said. “Not really,” he shouted as he ran off to share his joke.

Mr. Johnson gathered the students together to begin the actual practice session. Afterward, Richard ran up to me with a wide ear-to-ear grin. “Dude. Did you see me play?“ he said. “My phone vibrated so hard I thought it would rub my nut sack off.” He promptly ran off and left me to digest that informational bit. A smaller section of the orchestra continued to play while a hotel employee brought in a large red bag with 10 pizzas in it. Dustin watched with his mouth agape. Another employee brought yet another bag with even more pizzas. “Dude!” Dustin shouted. “They brought another bag.” Garrett turned around and greeted the sight with a toothy grin. “Duuude…” he said, as the two bumped fists. I grabbed a square of cheese pizza off the table and headed to where Dustin and Garrett stood. “So, dudes,” Dustin said. “Why don’t women need a driver’s license?” Garrett and I thought for a moment before Dustin said, “because the only road they take is between a man’s bedroom and the kitchen.” I quickly swallowed my pizza as I laughed to avoid choking or spitting it everywhere.
“OK, ok,” I said. “Why don’t women need a watch?” Dustin and I shouted the answer together, “because there’s a clock on the stove!”
“Damn man, I should be, like, a comedian,” he said, muffled, his mouth full of pizza.

Chapter 6 – Performances

The gilded proscenium arch of Abravanel Hall shone triumphantly between the dim auditorium and the luminous stage. Countless rows of blue-clothed seats lined the room and extended up into the three stories of ornate balconies above. Four rows of spotlights adorned the polished surface of the stage ceiling. Light bounced off the walls, the floor and the students’ instruments, and gave the stage a warm and welcoming glow. A semi-circle of chairs and music stands surrounded the conductor’s podium. The students wormed their way into the auditorium, breaking the solitude with their clamorous entrance. I surreptitiously headed for the back row away from the pandemonium.

As I rested in the relative silence, several students appeared out of nowhere. A guy in a white sweater, with short black gelled hair, threw himself in the chair next to me. His blue eyes shown surprisingly bright, like a Siberian husky’s. I recalled his name was Warren. He could always be found surrounded by a group of girls. “So, hermaphrodites. Did you know they can either be super straight or super gay?” he said matter-of-factly. “It all depends on the parts and where you put ‘em. So, they can be super straight, straight, gay or super gay.” I stared at him. “Well…um…I guess that makes sense.” I said. “I never really thought about it before, but I guess so.” A member of his all-female retinue barked at him from the corridor. He left without another word.
As the orchestra began to play with the coach, a member of the Utah Symphony, I moved to the front of the house to record bits and pieces of the several-hour long session. In between songs, I turned the camera off. I unintentionally fell asleep between each session, but awoke in time to film the next. The other chaperones glared and pursed their lips at me every time I awoke.


Back at the hotel, I languidly rode the elevator to my room to change for dinner and the upcoming symphony. I changed into my white long sleeved button-down shirt, my nicest pair of dark blue jeans and my black Vans. It wasn’t fancy, but I hoped it would be enough.
I walked into the foyer just in time to see Richard point at me. “I have to go with that guy,” he told a girl next to him. Her eyes squinted.
“Wait, like, how old are you?” she said.
“24,” I said dryly.
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“It’s nice?”
“Yeah, it’s nice.”
Her monotone voice failed to support her assertion. The girl next to her chimed in.
“I just assumed you were one of the bass players,” she said.
“Nope.” I said.
“Huh. Neat.”
“It’s neat?”
“Yeah, it’s neat.”
Her tone mimicked that of the first. I stared at the pair, vexed by the utter stupidity I just endured. “Can I go with Mr. Johnson to the mall?” Richard asked. “Yeah, OK, whatever. I said. “Are Dustin, Garrett and Joe with you? Good.” My sister finally exited the elevator. Before she could interject, I said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

After dinner, we headed back to Abravanel hall for the Utah Symphony performance. Fatigue wrapped itself around me in the warmth of the Hall. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t gather the energy to keep my eyes open. I became a human-sized bobble head. My head tilted forward, which woke me and caused me to snap back. Then it tilted farther back and snapped forward again. I awoke, confused, to loud applause as the musicians stood. I joined in the applause as a matter of politeness.

At intermission, I left the crowded, boisterous auditorium to stretch. Amidst hundreds of formally dressed symphony patrons, I stood with my sister and Dustin. Her faded blue jeans had holes and he still wore his mustard-yellow and blue plaid jacket. “Are you the ‘don’t touch this’ security dude?” Dustin said to the lone man by the sculpture in the room. He shook his head once to say “no,” but he remained stoically in position nevertheless. He held his arms behind his milky white suit and continued to stare forward. Regardless of the man’s true purpose, a tangled mass of orange and red colored tubes snaked their way around each other and toward the ceiling.

As the suits began to pile back in, Linda and I took seats in the back away from the crowd. If I became a bobble head again, I wanted to be away from the condescending eyes of the sophisticated masses. “You know, we can always leave,” Linda said. “No, no. I’m awake and I want to watch that famous pianist or whoever she is play.” I said.

Classical pianist Yeol Eum Son walked onto the stage to calm and reserved applause. Her long purple gown flowed behind her and shone brilliantly like a sea of amethyst in the warm glow of the stage light. A silver medal winner at the 13th International Van Cliburn piano competition, she gently took her seat and began to play a soft melody, accentuated by the orchestra. She gradually grew louder and faster. The orchestra drew quiet as her music took center stage. She lifted off her seat as she pounded her fingers down on every key, from left to right and then back again. She moved quickly and with certainty, the way water flows in a narrow, rocky creek. Music soared from the piano and captivated the now silent audience. The way she could hit the keys – so adeptly and beautifully – enthralled me…at least until I fell asleep.

I awoke to thunderous applause. Most of the audience had engaged in a standing ovation. I stood, whipped my hair out of my face and joined. I liked what I had heard…even if it had only been about 10 minutes worth.

The tranquil night and cool crisp air collided with me as I left the crowded foyer. Suits and their wives glanced up and down me as they whispered amongst themselves. The pretentiousness palpable, I walked down the street toward Dustin, who walked up a cement ramp that served as a fountain’s barrier. “Hey,” I said, as he jumped a few feet down to the street.
“Hey dude,” he said.
“So…what did you think?”
“Eh, it was kind of boring.”
After a moment of silence, I said, “Look, to be honest, I don’t really care what you do as long as you don’t get in trouble.”
“Ha, well, I can’t get in trouble. I’m an adult. After graduation, I have to move out. I already pay for my own food…”
“Well, it’s good you can do that. You have to do it later anyway.”
“Yeah…”
“So, I guess…don’t stay out all night partying and don’t get arrested.”
“I was out all night last time.”
“Oh…doing what?”
“Just…walking around.”
He ran ahead and jumped onto a gray flat stone that served as a bench. He leapt from stone to stone. His hair and open jacket whipped through the air as he leapt off the last stone and spun through the air. The key that still dangled loosely from his neck spun in circles along with him. I imagined him on a skateboard.
With a deep breath, I slowed to a stroll. By the time I exhaled, the other students had already caught up. Groups of them ran back toward the hotel. Five or six students pushed their way into each triangular section of the revolving door until it couldn’t move. Hands banged, feet pushed and voices grew louder. The door failed to move. A few students lingered on. They glanced at me and then the door. “Nah, go ahead,” I said. “Trust me, I’m in no rush.” And even though a giant mass of bodies, writhing appendages and stylish clothing clogged the door already, they couldn’t help but squeeze in, too. Another entrance stood, neglected, a few feet away.

Chapter 7 – Geekin’ Out

The next morning…

We arrived right as it opened. Only a single employee could be seen in the deserted arcade. Rows of machines lined the walls – they stood, lonely, waiting to be played. Each had a different set of flashing lights and music, all designed to lure in gamers of all kinds. I certainly couldn’t resist their allure. I even dressed for the occasion – my green Zelda shirt with the 1987 logo in white, and my black and gold Triforce belt buckle from 2006’s “Twilight Princess.” My gamer credibility established, I walked in with my head held high. There was nothing to fear – I was legit.
A “Dance Dance Revolution Extreme” cabinet stood by the door. I played this version for the first time four years ago in Boise State’s Student Union Building. All the requisite genres were represented here – side scrolling fighters; “Tekken” and Capcom’s versus series, old school holdovers; Skeeball and Hoop Fever, and music; “GuitarFreaks” and even one I hadn’t heard of – “Keyboard Heaven.”


After my initial perusal, Linda and I headed for the keyboard. If Guitar Hero and a keyboard mated and had a child, this would be it. Instead of five buttons, players had an octave of keys. We chose a level two song, which I assumed would be easy even though we didn’t know it. The screen flashed read within 30 seconds. The game showered us with its magnanimity, though. It didn’t flash “FAILURE” in our faces and allowed us to finish the song. It even gave us a letter grade of “E,” which was clearly the lowest score possible, but it wasn’t an “F.”
Linda and I decided to move on to something else, preferably something we wouldn’t fail awesomely at. I stepped onto the metallic DDR pad. The plastic top flexed gently under my weight as I inserted a few quarters.
“Do you care what song we do?” I said.
“Nah…you pick it. I don’t know any.” she said.
“OK, well…we’re gonna gallop then.”


Arrows flooded the screen as the song began and a female voice sang, “I’m a cowgirl. And I’m ridin’ on my horse. Ba-bang, b-b-bang! And I’m shootin’ my guns.” I galloped up and down the arrows as the pattern rotated. My wide grin reflected in the machine’s screen. “Hey…I think I need…a cowboy hat… to do this properly,” I said as I tried to catch my breath, jumping. (I unfortunately don’t have video of us dancing to it, but what we did is below).


After two more songs, I rested on a bench near the pool table. My legs burned, my lungs ached and beads of sweat ran down my face. “Guess I’m a bit rusty,” I thought to myself. A loud clack echoed across the noisy arcade as Linda knocked the cue ball into the six ball toward a corner pocket. It missed. She glared at the six ball momentarily, as if to upbraid it, before she clicked her cell phone open to text.
Meanwhile, Garrett tightly gripped his sniper rifle, his eye to the sight, at the “Silent Scope 2” cabinet. The onscreen character asked, “Who is he? Is he a freelance sniper?” Garrett promptly shot him from his advantageous position on a bridge. His nondescript body toppled into a heap. Seconds later, the screen’s image shattered like a bullet through glass. “Really aren’t so quick, are ya?” another sniper asked, as the words “game over” flashed onscreen.

Dustin walked toward the DDR machine, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to play with someone else.
“You mind if I join you?” I said.
“Nah, dude.”
I set the difficulty to “heavy.” “Is that OK with you?” I said.
“Should be fine. I was in competitions. I don’t know any of these songs, though, man, so you pick.” he said.
I hesitated for a moment, but chose “Candy.” Previous experience taught me that most people handled faster songs better than slower ones. (Top video is Dustin and I dancing, Garrett watching. Bottom video is the song.)


I clearly thought wrong. It’s no fun if the other person can’t keep up with me. I chose something easier – “Cowgirl” again. He couldn’t quite grasp the gallop move, so he failed again. “Alright, fine,” I thought to myself. “If you can’t keep up…then we’ll both fail.” For our final number, I chose “A,” a song that started deceptively slow and then jumped to an insane speed in an instant. It worked perfectly. “Failure” in bright red letters shown across the screen within a minute. I leaned forward, my hands on my knees, and gasped for breath. Dustin simply stepped off the pad and toward a group of guys, one of whom had a guitar. “Dude, you got a pick?” Dustin asked. He began to gently strum as I walked outside, still gasping.
The rest of the students and chaperones lingered in other stores in the mall nearby, and with our time short, we all left for the hotel. In the street parallel to me, the driver of a gray SUV slammed on his brakes in the intersection. The tires squealed. The horn screeched. The SUV clipped the right back corner of a silver car with a loud crunch. Shards of plastic splintered off from the car. They bounced, skidded and crashed to the ground in front of me as the car sped through the crosswalk. I clenched my fists. I held my breath. The world stopped.

Chapter 8 – Movement

A gentle wind blew the hair out of my face. I remained, stationary, while students and other chaperones walked around me. And then, as if someone had pushed “play,” I began to walk once more. I exhaled. “Dude, if I had been, like, another two feet ahead, I would have got hit,” Richard said to himself, ahead of the group. He had only been arms length away from me when the car zoomed by us. “I like that his response is ‘har-har, I could have been splattered all over the road,’” I said to Linda. The driver of the car had parked on the side of the road near us. His subwoofer bellowed and his speakers blared. The music vibrated off me. He began to text on his phone. I thought to myself, “It probably starts with ‘OMG’ and is full of ‘likes’ and ‘dude.’”
“Dude, I wish I could tell him to come to our place. I could fix that for, like, 40 bucks,” Dustin said. “I could be, like, ‘Dustin Bly: The Traveling Repair Guy.’ The advertising writes itself. Our name rhymes with, like, everything.” Mr. Johnson began to do just that. “Fly…cry…” he said. Before he could name another, Dustin interjected. “Yeah, even die,” he said, drowning out whatever rhyme Mr. Johnson had concocted. “So, dude, like, what do you do?” I explained that I graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism, but currently wandered aimlessly without a job. “Oh, well that explains the notebook,” he said. “I could have my welding certificate in a few months.”
As we came upon the hotel, the students approached the revolving door in bunches. I walked through the student-free door to the right as they clogged the entrance. The dull thuds of their hands smacking the glass and their chaotic laughter could be heard past the registration desk and down the hall.

Chapter 9 – Low Expectations

A crowd of people lingered outside the Hale Centre Theatre as our bus parked out front. An austere wind blew. I shivered and she caught it as I walked in. She tapped my arm with the back of her hand. “Where is your coat, young man?” the elderly woman said. “You can’t go out in wind like this without a coat. You need a coat. Where is your coat?” The wrinkles around her eyes gathered in bunches as she squinted at me. She held her hands to her chest, as though the wind chilled her, too, though she wore multiple jackets. I tried to explain that I had just left the bus parked in front of the building and I didn’t need it, but she cut me off. “It’s too cold to not have a jacket.” She turned to someone behind her to continue the tirade. I slipped into the crowd, as much as a person of my height can, as soon as she turned her back.
Linda and I took our seats in the crowded house as the lights dimmed. A lone man stood on the archway of one of the stage exits and began to play his violin.
I had never seen “Fiddler on the Roof” before and every part of the production won me over. A two story house had been rigged above stage and descended every time the scene was set at home. The outer and inner rings of the stage rotated in opposite directions for many of the dances. Triangular sections of the stage raised and lowered during the nightmare sequence, while characters taunted from the spinning rings of the stage. A woman “flew” in from wires attached to the ceiling, dressed as a spirit of a deceased relative. My skin literally tingled through each song. The production values were far higher and impressive than I gave a theater in Utah credit for.

Oh, and if I were a rich man, I would have stopped Gwen Stefani from ripping that song off.

Chapter 10 – Departure

“Dude, that was awesome,” Richard said, as we headed for the bus. The students praised every part of the production – from the stage design and script, to the music and dancing. I headed for a seat in the back. Linda took a seat behind me. Our journey back began under a gray sky. Mountains, their snow covered summits dotted with black specks of trees, ran along both sides of the highway. Long, deep valleys meandered their jagged faces in sets of three or five, as if some great creature tried to claw its way through. Long stretches of barren fields ran the length of the foothills to the highway. Several bunches of sagebrush poked their branches above the snow to prove that something had indeed survived the inclement weather.
Alex, a guy with large brown-tinted glasses, a gray hood and skin tight jeans, walked fastidiously down the aisle. He held his arms above the seats, his hands limp, for balance. He took each step delicately, like he might have fallen through the floor if he moved too quickly. Dustin walked behind him and quickly filled each gap Alex made between them. Alex gently opened the bathroom door and clicked it shut. “I’ll let ‘em go first,” Dustin said to me. “He’s closer to a girl than I am and…ladies first.” He leaned with his elbows on the seats. His key swung back and forth again.
“OK, look, I have to ask this,” I said. “What does the key mean?”
“Aw, it’s the key to my heart,” he said, a goofy grin plastered on his face. “Quick one-liners. That’s the only way to live.” His smile disappeared. “Like, if you want to be charming, then, like, you say ‘what’s that on your face? It’s beautiful,” he said. His hand cupped some imaginary face in the air His thumb gently caressed the cheek. “Or, if you want to be rude, then be like ‘Nice boots, let’s fuck!’” He shrugged and left for the bathroom.
A sliver of sun broke the cloud cover for a moment, but a mountain slowly slid in front of it and blocked its valiant attempt to illuminate the darkened area. A taller ridge blocked out what light tried to reflect and ensured no sunlight would reach us. Shadows swallowed us as we passed a sign. It read “Welcome to Idaho.”
We were consumed by the night within 20 minutes. In the back, a group of three girls stood by the bathroom. “Oh. My. God. Have you, like, tried this?” one said. “It’s like, sooo hard.” She placed one hand on her stomach and one on her head. She attempted to rub her stomach and pat her head at the same time. The other girls tried the arduous feat with her. All three ended up patting both or rubbing both, never one of each. They continued until the bus hit a pothole. It rocked back and forth and sent all three tumbling into each other and the bathroom door. Their high pitched squeals and laughs filled the still air of the bus.
The sky and the ground became one. Stars – lights – twinkled in the distance light-years – miles – away. An entire constellation – a distant gas station – flew by. Reality and illusion mixed. Each light had another light that shone above it – a reflection – and each reflection had its own reflection. 23 screens, their size and image distorted, glimmered around the bus.
“…yeah, and now, like, my mom won’t, like, trust me,” a girl’s voice said from the darkness ahead of me. “She was all, like, ‘How do I know you won’t buy weed with it?’ And I was, like, ‘Mom, it’s, like, four dollars.” The voice dissipated as quickly as it had arrived. I rose from my seat and headed for the bathroom.

Chapter 11 – Egregious Error

It should be an Olympic sport – peeing while standing in a moving bus. It takes far more concentration and skill than is logical.

“How was the bathroom?” Samantha said, sitting next to Linda, as I returned to my seat.
“Exciting.”
“Yeah, I bet, what with the door opening…and the flushing…”
“Yeah, I meant the standing part.”
“Oh…I…bet.” She looked away.
“Dude, I don’t sit to pee,” Dustin said. “Only if I have to wipe.”
“Uh…me neither.”
“Dude, it’s like our God given right.” He shook his fist in the air, a threat to whomever dared to counter his argument.
“Wow, Dustin. Thanks for the…profound insight.”

An hour or so passed in silence. Students either slept, listened to music, or sent texts. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson peered in through the windows. I tried my best to ignore the god-awful “Escape from Witch Mountain” remake someone had subjected us to, but he kept staring at me. I closed my eyes.

Linda and Dustin‘s laughter came in sharp bursts. I popped my head over the seat. They jabbed at each other with their index fingers. “Oh yeah?” Dustin said. “Well take this!” He licked his finger and rubbed it across my sister’s cheek. My left eyebrow raised. “Dustin, if you gave her gonaherpesyphilees, I will hunt you down,” I said. Note: It’s a combination of gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis. It‘s a great portmanteau. “Huh…” he said. “Well, now you’ve got AIDS!” He repeated his transgression. Linda turned her head and flapped her hands at him. She broke into song. “You’ve got AIDS. You’ve got the AIDS!” she sang. “Not HIV, but full blown AIDS!” I’m never one to miss a Family Guy reference, so I joined in. “What the hell was that?” Dustin said, our random song sung. “Eh, it’s an inside joke,” I said with a shrug.

Her composure regained, Linda reached over and pinched the inside of Dustin’s thigh. I had seen that move before. Our mother would do that anytime our father said something snarky or back sassed her. “Ouch!” he cried out, squirming in the seat. “Come on, Linda,” I said. Don’t be so mean. Stop…” My brain froze. I desperately searched for the word. “Touch” wasn’t it. Instead, I told her to stop molesting him. “Molest, huh?” he said. The smile faded from his face. He pulled his knees to his chest and looked away. “Reminds me of group therapy at church,” he said under his breath. I bit my lip. That was not what I had meant to say. I never joked about that sort of thing. “I…uh…yeah…” All I could manage, in the words of our father, was “diarrhea of the mouth.” Neither Linda nor Sam caught my comment. Their phones made soft clicking sounds as they both sent texts.
Before I had a chance to say anything intelligible, someone brought up music. I didn’t catch who said it. I stared at the seat.
“You know, dude, you’re like Weird Al,” Dustin said. He regained his halcyon demeanor.
“Uh…what…how’s that now?” I said.
“You are white and nerdy,” Linda said.
“True, but I have way better hair.”
“Yeah.”
“Dude, I wish I had a segue.” Dustin said, in reference to Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” music video. “Dude, they go, like, 40 miles an hour. I’d be haulin’ balls down the freeway.” He gripped imaginary handle bars in front of him and leaned left and right making sounds like a toddler does with a toy car.
“I should at least apologize,” I thought to myself. “Dammit…” Dustin had already returned to the front for his stuff by the time I decided to speak. I could see him in the distance. I could have called him back. I could have approached him.

I remained in my seat. I said nothing.

Chapter 12 – Lost Opportunities

I stepped off the bus into the cool air.
“Did you have fun?” I said.
“Yeah, it was fun.” Linda said. “You?”
“Yeah…it was a bit strange, but certainly fun. You’ve got some…interesting friends.” Our father drove up in his truck; the windshield still cracked. We threw our stuff in the back.
“Hey, Josh, David and I are going to go hang out,” I said.
“Alright,” my dad said. “Have fun.”
The rain began to gently fall.
“OK, give me a hug,” I said to Linda. I pulled her to my chest. I could feel her heart beat, slightly faster than mine. I thought about our trivial arguments. Our misunderstandings. My broken trust. I went on this trip for her – for us. I wanted to say that what had happened was in the past. I wanted to say we both had made mistakes. I wanted to say everything would be OK, even if I didn‘t entirely believe it.

I closed my eyes.

“I love you,” I said.
“I love you, too.”

I let go.

“…OK, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yup.” She climbed into the front seat and slammed the door.
“You ready?” Josh asked. I watched as they drove off into the darkness. Above, the moon shone brightly in the cloudless sky. “Yeah…” I said. “Yeah, let’s go.”

By Reid Wright 

It was a calm night down at the fire station when a tone went out through the speakers. 

“Carlsbad EMS, please respond to 311 North Main — we have reports of a male in the street unconscious and not breathing — apparent hit and run.” 

The EMTs strode briskly to the ambulance, joking along the way. To them, it was just another night. 

I was surprised when Jason asked if I wanted to tag along. 

On the way, I sat in the back of the back of the ambulance with Casey, leaning into the turns as I talked to him about his equipment. 

When we arrived at dark section of street, the police had blocked off the street and the first ambulance crew was already on scene, working on a Hispanic male lying in the street. 

His shoe was several feet away. 

People in their homes nearby reported hearing a car horn and then two thuds. The vehicle had apparently fled the scene. 

EMTs had begun chest compressions and using a bag valve mask to pump air into the fallen man. CPR continued as he was loaded onto a stretcher and hoisted in to the ambulance. All six EMTs from both ambulance crews went to work on the man as his stretcher was locked into place on the stainless steel floor. The batwing doors were clicked shut and the ambulance surged forward. 

I sat in the corner and took notes, trying to stay out of the way. 

The paramedic was having difficulty opening an air passage to the man’s lungs. 

“His stomach is rising,” he said. “Somethings leaking.” 

They hooked up an IV drip and tried again to get an airway, as the man’s lips began to turn blue. 

“Bag … Bag … Bag,” the paramedic shouted as another EMT squeezed the rubber bulb to pump air into him. 

“It feels like mush,” said another EMT as he thrust his palms into the man’s shattered rib cage. 

Casey cut his pants off with a pair of scissors, revealing a bulge in his thigh where his femur had fractured and pushed against the skin. 

“I’ve got trauma here,” he said. 

“I need an airway,” the paramedic shouted to an EMT preparing another IV drip. 

A hole was poked in the man’s chest to release air building up between his lung and chest wall. 

“Carlsbad, this is medic three,” Jason said over the radio. 

“Go ahead medic three.” 

“We’ve started chest compressions. The gentleman has massive trauma to the chest and legs.” 

As the ambulance backed up to the emergency room doors, Jason unlatched the doors. When we lurched to a stop, I jumped out and held the door open as the man was unloaded and wheeled into the ER where he was surrounded by people in pastel colored paper suits. One by one, the fire department EMT’s in their blue polo shirts relinquished their posts at the mans side as doctors and nurses replaced them. 

Jason emerged with a heavy sigh, his eyes were downcast and his head shaking. 

A small group of hospital personnel and a city police officer gathered outside the ER, watching as CPR continued. 

A woman in scrubs approached Crpl. Davis and asked him to take a phone call. 

It was the victim’s mother. 

I found out later the man’s cousin lived in one of the houses near the scene of the incident and had found him in the street. He called 911 and then notified the family. 

Davis took up the phone and listened. 

“I don’t know at this point,” he said. He listened for a while longer, looking concerned. “What other taboos does he have?” 

Davis slipped inside the ER and looked at the man’s chest for identification. He emerged slowly, looking sad and tired. 

A faint pulse had been reported. CPR continued. The tones of monitoring equipment carried softly over the bustle of hospital workers. 

beep beep beep beep … beep beep beep beep … 

Tone. 

Outside, the EMTs had quietly begun the long process of cleaning the inside of the ambulance, which would be out of commission for a few hours until properly sterilized. Another call had gone out for a man with a heart attack and the other crew had already left. 

The shriek of a woman pierced through the hospital wall. 

“Oh my GOD! MY BROTHER … NO!” she wailed. 

We loaded up, and left for he station. 

In that moment, I was grateful. 

Seeing a man die was not tramatizing and it was not an affirmation of the value of life. But it was real. 

Every day, we watch fake shows, fake news and give each other fake smiles. 

Through the filters of television and computer screens, we shield ourselves from the simple realities of life, death, pain and loss. We pay others to deal with these things so we dont have to. 

Police, firefighters, EMTs and soldiers know what’s real. The frustration comes in trying to explain it to the rest of us. 

Through the everyday haze of hairspray, cosmetic surgery, deep lies and shallow truths, something real was revealed. 

That night as a real moment. 

And because of it, the world will never look the same. 

By Reid Wright

I made a deal with the Devil.

He said I misquoted him.

I said I’d come down to hell and watch the speech on TV.

Because I don’t have cable.

If he spoke true, he could collect his due.

So I drove down there after work. It reeked of cigarettes cheap beer that erodes away at the liver, kidneys and essence — flushing souls away through the urine stream.

We sat, the Devil and I. We drank. We waited.

I know that somewhere in the catacombs of that run-down bar he has a secret room covered floor to ceiling with thick plastic tarps to catch the blood splatter. Eyes watched me from behind closed circuits.

We sat, the Devil and I. We drank. We waited.

I risked it all by coming down here. But I had to know.

A lie is an open wound — bleeding into a flat-line horizon.

The truth is an antiseptic. It hurts, but it heals.

There was something wrong with the television station. The devil sent a messenger to fetch a DVD.

We sat, the Devil and I. We drank. We waited.

Night fell. The wraiths stirred then thundered down twisted alleys on stallions of steel and chrome, brandishing their colors of black, red and gold.

The one percent.

I’d sacrificed their honor on the front page. They hunt me. And it is here, in this rotting bar, that they come to play.

We sat, the Devil and I. We drank. We waited.

He spoke of politics and better times. He probed me with questions and his eyes burned my skin.

He summoned his laced-up bar maiden for another round.

“I think I may trust you,” he said, drowning another cigar stub in a plastic cup of putrid tobacco tea. “When this thing comes, we’ll see.”

We sat, the Devil and I. We drank. We waited.

A wraith drifted in through the smoke, wearing his colors and flashing a yellow grin. Then another. They circled, the  green felt reflecting off their dark glasses.

The room grew smaller, the stale smoky air grew thicker.

We sat, the Devil and I. We drank. We waited.

At last, a messenger arrived with the disk. I snatched it and made for the door.

But the Devil cut me off.

“Hey Stinger,” he said. “Come here, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

A burly wraith strode over with grey eyes and a squint dried by a thousand years of desert wind.

On his vest the word “President” was stitched with threads of red and gold.

“You remember that article about you guys? — He wrote it,” the Devil said, scornfully thrusting his tobacco-spotted finger my way.

I took a half-step back. My exits were blocked — my fight already lost.

So I shook Stinger’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

He flashed a smile and chuckled.

It was all a joke.

I left the room and watched the disk. I had misunderstood the Devil, but only because his silver tongue had slipped. I owed him an apology, but not my soul.

He accepted.

I also told Stinger I was sorry. I’d wronged his men and I knew it.  He smiled and said his clan had moved on since the days of brawls and bloodshed.

Just then, a tattooed bar doll walked up.

“Stinger, there’s some guys down at Lucy’s talkin bad about you guys,” she said. “I just thought I should say something.”

A smirk reached for my lips, but I stopped it dead.

I’d pressed my luck far enough for one night.

I nodded at the Devil and walked out of hell with my life and soul.

He believes he’ll  use me — on the surface.

By Reid Wright

I work in a town where trees are wrapped in tin-foil and pigeons fall dead from the sky. These are some the people, places and events I try to wrap my mind around on a daily basis.

Radio-controlled boat races

I heard a strange sound from the park one day.

 

Boats can cost about $2000 each and get up to 60 mph. Needless to say, the ducks were terrified.

 

Trailer fire


There’s nothing quite like the smell of burning trailer park.

Mounted shooting competition

16-year-old Kathy Hollmann is a women’s world champion mounted shooter. Last year, she won a pickup competeing, even though she wasn’t yet old enough to drive. Here she knocks over a target, but is able to come back and pick it off for full points.

Pigeon Show

Thousands of beady black eyes staring at me silently from cages as I pass. They want my blood.

Karate demonstration

There is no board.

Hydrogen fuel cell gas-mileage competition


The winner demonstrates his home-made hydrogen fuel-cell system. Hydrogen is known to be unstable, even explosive. When I took this photo, my flash went off and scared the begesus out of everyone in the room.

Bat hunting


We didn’t catch any bats. But the night-vision goggles were freakin sweet.

Old lady with a sawed-off pool cue



Sorry for the blurry photo, I was afraid to get any closer.

Tai Chi cactus

Urban smurf village


When their habitat was destroyed, the smurfs were forced to adapt.

Where the sidewalk ends


Authors note: For those who would still want to press charges after all these years, I’d say this was a work of fiction. For everyone else, I solemnly swear the following events are true to the best of my memory.

By Reid Wright

It was the crisp and colorful fall of 1999 — our junior year in high school.

Back then, my generation was a dangerous concoction of brains, hormones and rebel spirit. We weren’t malicious in our actions, we just loved to have fun as much as we loathed authority.

The four of us were a motley bunch of friends — a kind of a social asteroid formed from the leftovers of all the other high school cliques.

We often threw parties out in the boonies with enough booze for 50 people. No one would show up, so we’d drink it all ourselves and wake up in our sleeping bags covered in frost and vomit, unable to piece together the previous night’s events.

Cody chased pretty girls with the fervor of the young track star he was (and for reasons that baffled the rest of us, he often got them). Joe was always in search of enlightenment and new ways to freak the shit out of the rest of us with his wicked-smart antics. Russell sought notoriety and popularity at his new school in a larger town nearby. I guess I was just along for the ride.

We always wanted to throw an epic party that would go down in the history books. That Halloween, the winds of chaos shifted in our favor and we got our chance.

We gathered our customary shopping cart full of liquor and headed out to a local haunted house located miles out of town where the bean fields drop off into the dusty canyon of the ancients.

The abandoned house was massive but only halfway built. Rural legend had it that a man was building his dream home on an ancient Indian burial ground. In the midst of construction, he was driven mad by Anasazi spirits. He slaughtered his family and hung himself from a beam inside the house.

I liked a good ghost story, but I didn’t buy it.

As the sun went down, we set up the bar and chatted with a young cowpoke who happened to be there nursing his own bottle. He said he and his buddies sometimes used the house as target practice, returning a few days later to discover the bullet holes in the stucco walls had healed up. At night, sounds of construction could be heard coming from the house.

It grew dark, and we drank on, not really expecting anyone to show up. We were surprised when a pair of headlights emerged over the distant hill. Then, another pair and another.

We climbed up to the second floor and began counting. 60 cars full of high school kids showed up. Even the cheerleading squad was there.

We cranked up the music and passed out the drinks. It turned into a hell of a good time. I even had a cheerleader coming on to me.

The girls got cold and Russell the backpacker decided it would be a good idea to build a campfire inside the house. Sure, red flags went up and I thought it was a bad idea, but then he and Joe drug over some bags of dried concrete and dumped them out on the wooden floor to build the fire on top.

The room warmed up with an orange glow. I went back to my cheerleader and was thrilled when she leaned across me to get a better look out the window and her breasts touched my leg.

The fire quieted down to coals and Russell leaned in to poke it with a shovel. It collapsed through the  floor, an enormous  hole opened up, and an angry inferno erupted from it — as if hell itself were rising to swallow us whole.

60 cars full of high school kids vanished.

The four of us were left to fend for ourselves in the blazing smoke of the nightmare house. We stumbled around shouting out to each other.

“Get the stereo!”

“Someone called the cops!”

“Where the fuck is Cody?”

“Save the booze!”

Joe tossed the stereo out the window and Russell caught it. I dragged a case of beer out in threw it in my car. Cody was nowhere to be found.

For some reason, we had all brought our own cars. We decided to split up and run for it.

I was one of the last to leave and more than a little buzzed as I bounced down the dusty double track road in the sagebrush.

I’ll never forget looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing the house completely engulfed in flame. I thought I saw a figure standing in the upstairs bedroom window, silhouetted against the flames — watching me leave.

I drove like hell, winding through the gravel backroads of farm country. It was the only time in my life I’d driven drunk and it terrified me so much I’ve never done it again. Suddenly a figure appeared in my headlights, dashing out into the road and waving its arms.

Had my reflexes been any better at the moment, I probably would have pissed myself.

After slamming on the breaks and finally skidding to a halt, I figured out it was  Russell trying to get my attention. I followed him to the lake, where we spent the night.

As always, it was poor Joe who got caught. After driving into a fence, Joe was cornered by a woman from the fire department until the police could arrive.

The cop asked Joe how much he had to drink. Being the honest guy he is, Joe proceeded to give the cop a complete inventory of drinks for the night — four bottles of this, six shots of that, ect.

The cop just shook his head and said, “He’s clean,” and let Joe go. I guess he didn’t want to fill out the paperwork on an underage drunk driver who had potentially just committed arson.

The next day the fear had finally subsided. We met up and learned that Cody, the rat bastard,  had been rescued and  pampered by the cheerleaders. Joe’s parents had heard about the incident on the police scanner. After laughing and teasing him mercilessly, they grounded him indefinitely.

Against our better judgment, we returned to the scene of the crime a few days later.

The house stood completely intact and uncharred.

Steven Nix works as bilingual support for Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft 

By Steven Nix

 

What’s it like to work for a company who’s central core of beliefs start with “Embrace your Inner Geek”? Intimidating, in a word. Those I work with, and those I assist are beyond my level. I had long thought of myself as a geek, that general catch-all for any of those “uncool” outcasts at school. I never played D&D, I never collected comic books, but I did love the video games. I had my specific tastes in those early days, but as I grew, so did the range of my titles.

Video games were always the security blanket growing up. Whatever problems I had in school or in life, I could always disappear in that world of make-believe and let my problems disappear for a while. Please don’t mistake me, I loved to read (and still do), but video games were interactive, immersive, and required an amount of skill to succeed at. Some were educational, but all were fun.

As college came and I was exposed to a wider range of people, I began to find the hardcore gamers; those people who have some vested interest in the game they play and all but spontaneously combust if they should happen to lose once. This was new to me. Sure, I would get upset now and again, but there was always the knowledge that it’s just a game. I have the option to turn it off and walk away.

That option is non-existent for many players. With the advent of the MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game), people are able to connect at any time and place to a wide cross-section of humanity all bound by their love of the game. There are a wide variety to chose from, but World of Warcraft stands tall above the rest, dwarfing all others in scope, playability, and size of player base. Eleven million people play World of Warcraft…and the number grows daily.

The concept is simple and amazing and should herald praise and adulation for this amazing age in which we live. Unfortunately, due to the anonymity and instantaneous communication of the Internet, all manner of civility is now gone, replaced by suspicion and a severe lack of empathy for their compatriots. Players are forced to work together toward a common goal. All but a few do so grudgingly. Combine this with the intense anger and angst one finds in most teenage men and women and you have a virtual powder-keg of emotions ready to explode at any moment.

 

They have become addicts; trapped in this world, unable to leave, unable to enjoy themselves any longer. To lose a virtual fight, lose their virtual currency, or miss their chance at grabbing a virtual item becomes a singular obsession. Day in and day out I see this trend growing ever larger, sometimes reaching a frenzied pitch totally incongruent with the virtual rewards one can receive.

 

And yet they are branded as geeks, one and all.

 

Sadly, these ideals have passed on to a newer generation. Where video games once were about individuals, now there is a push towards family gaming. World of Warcraft creates a forum where parents feel they can connect with their kids, but the end result tends to be the opposite. We get many parents asking us how to get their child to stop playing the game as much. While we cannot, legally, offer any advice, many times I simply want to say, “Be a parent.”

 

These children are the biggest concern. What is a person supposed to think when they receive a suicide threat because they cannot find an item the player supposedly deleted. Thankfully, we have methods and contacts with police departments to check on them, but it’s disheartening to hear. We tend to live now in a world of self-entitlement where we are owed things, whether we eared them or not. We play and we pay for the game, so they owe us whatever we desire.

 

Is this the new standard? If one wishes to willingly brand themselves as a geek, is this the bar we must pass? It seems that it might be. Video games are no longer a niche, reserved for the meek and the unsocial, but are for the masses. This is a world of ‘geekiness’ I have never before experienced. To effectively help them, I must be of them and understand their plight. It’s uncharted territory for me and I know not what I will find along the way.

 

I will embrace that geek within, but I tread cautiously.

By Reid Wright

It’s quiet now. No cars pass on the road and no trains rumble and click on the intersecting tracks. Only  the chatter of insects and trickle of water in the murky irrigation ditch can be heard. An old cottonwood tree sags nearby, snaking it’s thirsty roots into the ditch. Under its canopy, fluttering plastic flowers are wired to a stump next to a faded baseball cap and a lonely white cross with the name Joseph Angel Garcia.

It was here, last fall where 15-year-old Joseph was taken by his friend John Gamble, 16, who beat him with a rifle until it cracked and splintered into pieces. John then doused Joseph’s slender body in gasoline and lit him on fire. Joseph’s body had to be identified by his dental records.

John left a white bandana with a gang slogan near his dead friend to let everyone know it had been a retaliation killing for when his friend told police on him for a break-in earlier that year.

Just after his 17th birthday, John was tried as an adult and found guilty of first degree murder, kidnapping and retaliation against a witness. He will now likely spend a good portion of his life in jail.

It’s not my place to judge, that’s the jury’s job. But when I was that age, we would settle disputes with a scuffle in the dirt after school, or an exchange of insults that began with “your mamma’s so fat …”

Now I visit the juvenile detention center and see  crayola pictures on the wall with smiling stick figures in front of school houses. Only these stick figures have glocks  and AK-47s in their hands.

What is this kingdom of fear we have built for our children?
Every night, John went to bed on a pillowcase with gang slogans scrawled on it. His father was working all day and his mother was in a wheelchair, unable to get into john’s room, where he kept the .22 rifle and a small hand gun.

Joseph’s single mother worked long hours to buy nice things for her boys. On the night he was killed, she got home late and went to bed because she had to work early the next day.

Philosophers from Aristotle to Sitting Bull have dreamed of the possibilities of how far humanity could go if we just focused our effort on making each generation of children a little better than the last. Instead, we focus on making money and chasing false Idols.

There’s no more heroes.

If you meet a kid who needs a friend, spend a little time with them. Let them know there’s more to life than crime and death. These kids idolize so-called gangsters and respect people who do crime and go to jail.

I read the police reports every day, and people go to jail over the stupidest shit: not showing up to court, not paying a $30 fee, taking a lunch break during their trial and not coming back. And once you’re in the system, it’s REALLY easy to get stuck there.

There’s nothing gangsta about this shit.

Anyway, please spend some time with a kid. It’ll mean more than you know.

By Reid Wright

There comes a time when a man just needs a drink — an unstable concoction to strip away his mental armor so he may look deep into his glass and deep into his soul to find the greater truths that lie beneath.

It had been a long, grueling week and this was clearly one of those nights.

I sought sanctuary at the Blue Cactus Lounge — scoffing when Romero, the bartender, told me the place got crazy at night. I’d found previous ventures to the lounge to be quite boring. The only other person sitting at the bar was a silent old cow-poke with a handlebar mustache who was periodically told in jest to shut the hell up.

Little did I know the Fairy God Mother of Fucked-up showed up at midnight to turn the blue cactus into a forgotten corner of Dante’s Inferno.

“We’ve only got three people working behind the bar tonight,” Romero said. “I’ll be fine, but I don’t know about the other two.”

Whatever. I went back to my Bud Light.

This far out in the desert, good beer is hard to come by. I was mortified at the gas station earlier that day, where the 30-foot-long beer case was comprised of only two colors, red and blue, or Budweiser and Bud Light. At that moment, my inner beer snob screamed and died an anguished death within my chest.

So now I drink Bud Light, or at least I did until Willy showed up with his wife. Willy is a stout 50-ish man who makes a killing working HR at the nuclear waste disposal plant. He found out I worked at the paper and rumbled with a deep laugh.

“Romero, get this boy a drink,” he said. Then he pulled me aside and said quietly, “This is my place.”

Romero returned with two glasses of straight Don Julio tequila, explaining it was his favorite. After drinking the foul yellow water that is Bud Light, Don Julio felt mighty good sloshing over my taste buds and warming my stomach.

Willy handed a thick wad of bills over the counter and the drinks kept coming. Apparently he had a reputation for throwing down large sums of money on a whim. Romero happily helped himself when the security camera panned away. I should have been suspicious of a stranger trying to get me wasted, but I was headed for the bottom anyway, might as well accept the hospitality.

At some point, Willie’s wife taught me how to do the two-step to country music. I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a dance so easy, a three-legged bull with mad cow disease could do it. Clearly, it was a dance specifically tailored for the Caucasian male.

We had our jolly time and the older couple left. I wound up at a table of young outcasts. No matter where in the country I go, no matter how mundane I dress, the freaks see right through my leave-it-to-beaver façade and recognize me as one of their own.

And I love them for it.

Emily was a slender girl with dark hair and a skull t-shirt. Kim, a stout girl with broad shoulders and spiked hair, was quieter and more reserved. It didn’t take me long to figure out the two were a couple. Also at the table, Leslie and Marco are an older couple. Marco works out at the wastewater treatment plant. He happily explained he’d just been promoted from “Turd-herder” to “Turdologist.”

We went out to smoke. Emily explained to me, as if it was in dire need of explanation, that just because she was a lesbian, did not mean she wanted to sleep with every girl she met.

I wandered around the corner to discover Romero, still in his work shirt, passed out in the fetal position on a concrete bench with a soft smile on his face — the curse of Don Julio claims another victim.

The Blue Cactus Lounge is now down to two bartenders.

On the way back in, Emily said homosexuals in Carlsbad were terrified of publicly coming out and even more afraid of showing up at pride events, for fear they might wind up in the newspaper. I was just about to find out how hostile the environment really was.

The girls stood up to dance. By then, a good number of people had showed up and the place was alive with music and movement. Through the tequila haze, it was really quite beautiful.

Suddenly, a melee erupted on the dance floor and the bouncers dove in head first. Leslie staggered out with blood gushing out of her nose and onto her shirt. A thrashing Kim was pulled out of the pile. I’d never seen such fury. It took three bouncers to get her outside, where she was subdued by Emily’s touch.

What looked like a methed-out Malibu Barbie was escorted out to join her Ken doll at his car. Kim had to be held back again as the two lurched away.

Leslie walked out in a daze, unaware of the blood on her face. Her nose looked broken. All I could do was stupidly hand her some bar napkins. She pushed them away.

Kim said the girl had swung at her and accidentally hit Leslie. She wouldn’t say what provoked the attack, but I sensed a long history.They rushed Leslie off into a car and drove away.

 At that point, I just wanted to go home.

(The names in this post have been changed)

By Reid Wright

Hawgfest announced itself to the otherwise quiet night with a burnout contest. Note the elbow tattoo of the guy in the white shirt.

“You should get this,” a dolled-up chica in porn-star heels said, handing me a shot glass from the display table with the word “Teabagging” on it, with an explicit cartoon of the sexual act. I asked if I could get one for my mother. She thought I was joking.

I left the vendor’s booth and sat down, trying to ignore the young lesbians noisily making out behind me. A portly biker woman chomped at a dangling hotdog with her teeth from the back of a rolling motorcycle. The crowd cheered.  It’s a cultural experience, I told myself.

A wet t-shirt contest is also a cultural experience.

In my mind, I was working for National Geographic on assignment in Zambia, studying some remote tribe. Strictly professional.

But as the water came down and the t-shirts came up, I could only think one thing.

God bless America.

After all, in what other country could lawyers, dentists, receptionists and information techs strap on leather chaps and saddle up their motorcycles to head a few towns over for a weekend to drink booze, roast their tires and flash their naughty parts in mockery of the civilized world?

These are freedoms worth fighting for.

But then again, in what other country would they need to behave this way? All the hours Americans spend bound in undisruptive clothing, working undisruptive jobs and saying undisruptive things — it’s no wonder they behave like animals when given the chance.

Americans have become cows — plain brown cows. Too timid to do anything uncivilized or not politically correct, they graze though life without ever trying to escape their pasture or unleash the kung-fu killer instinct locked away somewhere in a forgotten strand of DNA. 

In the end, they obediently line up at the slaughterhouse and wonder why their life meant nothing.

In striving for a perfect humanity, we forgot  that we are in fact animals —aggressive, loud, sexual, violent, crude, passionate animals.

How long before letting ourselves go on the occasional weekend isn’t enough? How long until the animal within snaps and stampedes through our civilized mind and unleashes its long pent-up fury? 

If you read the news — and read between the lines — it happens every day.

Photos by Reid Wright