Memorable Classes: History of Motion Pictures

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What would all of these old college stories be without a few anecdotes from the actual classes I took?  Despite this blog’s focus on everything else, I genuinely was in this thing for the higher education!

History of Motion Pictures was my very first film class.  It was a three-hour once-a-week class, one of two that I took in my first semester.  Now these sound magical in theory and for the most part they are, but it was quite a departure from the consistently 50-minutes/class period high school classes and those were only a few months behind me in my rearview mirror.  Three hours is a long time to be doing anything.  Whether or not a class like this is convenient or unbearable solely rests on the professor’s shoulders.

It’s not like I ever had much of a choice in whether or not to keep scheduling myself for this style of course.  All film classes were three hours once-a-week so as to allow for screenings and discussions (or it would have if not for some of my professors’ predilection for extremely long films).

History of Motion Pictures was one of the few classes that I took that were taught by actual film faculty, rather than adjuncts and graduate students.  The gentleman teaching it, Bob Jones (no really, that’s not an alias), was probably the oldest member of the film faculty.  He was easily in his late sixties, possibly in his early seventies (or maybe he just aged very poorly).

Though his hearing aid suggested some deterioration with age, you never would have known it from his sense of humor and surprisingly decent lectures.  For those who believe that all history is boring, I encourage you to study film history.  It’s full of larger than life characters, sex, debauchery, and ruthless business moguls.  It’s like Game of Thrones:  Capitalism edition.

That being said, like most of my film classes in enormous lecture halls, I rarely stayed for the movies.  He didn’t start us off on the right foot in terms of keeping us motivated to attend the second half of the class.  Our first film was Sunrise by F.W. Murneau.  It wasn’t bad, but I quickly discovered my short-attention span for silent films, and this one was really pushing it.

The second film made my decision for me.  D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance was a sweeping, epic apology piece (he had just faced harsh criticism for his last film, Birth of a Nation, which depicted a heroic Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era south).  It was like Crash for the 1920s movie goer.  There were multiple story lines, spanning multiple eras all tied together by a theme preaching tolerance for our fellow man.  Jesus even showed up for one of the subplots.  The set pieces were massive, a true testament to Hollywood’s showmanship back then.  I couldn’t watch it though.  The film quality made too many characters look alike, which made the switching from plot line to plot line impossible to follow.

If you haven’t seen the Netflix season of Arrested Development, (for starters, what the hell are you doing with your life?) there’s a character that is “Face Blind” – he can’t distinguish one face from another, meaning he can’t recognize people, not even his girlfriend or his own mother.  Well, imagine suffering this guy’s affliction and trying to follow Crash.  I couldn’t tell if that lady on the screen was a Suffragette or Mary Magdalene.  I walked out.

Sometimes I look back and feel bad about passing up on so many opportunities to watch incredible classic films such as these, especially because so many of them are hard to come by.   Back then, however, I was simply following my professor’s lead.  He appointed ushers and left a teaching assistant to run the films.  And then he left the lecture hall and went back to his office.

The most memorable thing about Bob Jones was his microphone.  He had somehow developed a comfort zone with his handheld, wired mic.  Remember, he was old.  When some yuppie AV administrative lackey decided to force onto him a lapel mic (the ones that you clip onto your shirt), he wouldn’t have it.  Instead, he attached that dainty little microphone to his old bulky one with some cardboard and tape.  He looked like a hobo MC, but that never seemed to bother him.

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The Return of Heroes: Ordinary People with Extraordinary Abilities Doing Increasingly Ordinary Things

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With the recent announcement that NBC will be reviving it’s once-great drama about ordinary people discovering that they have extraordinary abilities (Heroes) for a miniseries in 2015, I’ve taken a deep breath before weighing in on the judgmentally -challenged network’s decision.

For those unacquainted with the show, the first season of Heroes is without a doubt the greatest season-long story arc I’ve ever seen accomplished in a television series.  The second season was promising, but crippled by the Writer’s Guild strike, and thus half as good as the first.  But still I kept my hopes up for the Monday night event that I looked forward to all week.

“Heroes” was a story told in Volumes, with the first two seasons being Volumes 1 and 2.  The second half of season 2 was meant to be Volume 3, but it didn’t happen because of the WGA strike.  The third season consisted of Volume 3 and 4.  Volume 3 started out promising with an interesting new focus on some of the more vile people who had developed superhuman abilities, but the character arcs began to circle back on themselves and become repetitive.  This problem persisted through Volume 4, which had a far less promising premise.

By the time season 4 of Heroes infected a dwindling population of American television sets, true fans of the show were ready to take the series out back and shoot it.  It truly hurt to watch such a great show suffer so much.  The character arc problems continued and the pace at which they repeated themselves quickened.  The mythology unraveled.  It felt as if new writers were brought in and given only Spark Notes on the show.  There was no pay off, and the plot kept getting worse and worse.

In the words of Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory:  “Heroes gradually lowered the quality season by season until we were grateful it ended.”

All of this has been an elaborate set up for my own abusive relationship with the series.  I tried Heroes for the first time when my mom went to Alaska to visit my older brother and I was left home alone for several days.  I was just a high school kid, bored, looking for something to pass the time.  The pilot had me hooked.  I stayed up all night watching the first 8 episodes all in a row and arrived at my high school classes the next morning exhausted and hungover from my bender.

By the time I picked up on the series, Heroes was on that hiatus that most shows take around Christmas.  It wasn’t but a few more days before I was caught up with the first 12 episodes and faced with a long wait for the show’s return in January.  I used the gap to peer pressure my friends into joining my obsession, and soon we were gathered around, poorly supervised at someone’s grandparents’ house every Monday night, losing ourselves in Heroes.  This was my senior year of high school.

Before heading off to college, I purchased Season 1 on DVD.  After so many initial lonely nights alone in my room, I began my first failed attempts at branching out.  They all centered around people that I already knew and getting to know their roommates.  It was the lamest entry into the second degree of separation anyone has ever attempted.

One girl who had been in a few of my high school classes, Catherine, was living in an apartment off campus.  Catherine and I never really hung out, more of just – around each other.  We had some similar friends, one of my closest swimming friends in particular.  Those first months of college, we went on road trips to Gainesville to see our mutual friend, and actually kinda got to know each other a little better.

Soon I was showing up uninvited at her apartment, leaving perverted stick-figure comics on her roommates’ communal dry-erase board, and forcing my Heroes problem down their throat.  Catherine and one of her two normal random roommates, Kalina, both bit.  Their other normal roommate, Connie, was shy and had a separate group of friends but also joined us at first.  She soon fell off our break neck pace though, and then there were only three of us and frequent joiner, Luis from back home.

We tore through that first season, often watching four episodes in one sitting.  It wasn’t much in terms of a fascinating social life, but it got me out of my dorm and off campus even.  It helped me become friends with Kalina and got me talking to people that I didn’t previously know before.  It was a small, disfigured step in the right direction I guess.  More importantly, it was the Beta version of my LOST and beer pong nights, which formed the core of my socialization a few months later.

On a side note, Catherine and Kalina had another roommate, Jessie.  Jessie was a hot mess, emphasis on the “hot.”  She was very attractive physically, but had the worst personality in the world.  There wasn’t much going on upstairs for her (her brain I mean, not her boobs – those were fine), and her biggest concerns all revolved around vacuous social functions.  Jessie wore her virginity like a first place ribbon that she used to taunt guys with as she dressed scandalously and flirted relentlessly, sending the complete opposite message.  She bragged about not drinking too, but that soon ended.  Jessie and Catherine were in the same sorority, yet ran in separate circles.  Being the messy roommate, Jessie would soon find herself at odds with the other residents of that apartment.  Eventually she took a page out of my roommate’s playbook and just stopped living at the apartment.

There’s a key anecdote that captures Jessie’s wild and often moronic spirit.  She didn’t like the taste of water.  I can’t explain that.  I can only state it as fact, the way that she always did.  Instead, she hydrated using Diet Pepsi.  How she still had teeth is a complete mystery to me.  Well as I said, after getting to college she traded bragging about not drinking for actually drinking.  Her “No H20” diet coupled with copious amounts of beer while tailgating before an early season football game in the ludicrous central Florida heat of August/September (they’re practically one 60-day long month down here) put her in the back of an ambulance.  This was before her falling out with her roommates, so she just vanished one weekend after failing to meet up with them at the game.

I know that it looks like I glorify binge-drinking with some of these stories, but you gotta stay hydrated kids!  Booze dries you out.  That’s why your head hurts the next morning.  Alcohol took the edge off of my social anxiety, and at the time I credited it more for my social accomplishments than I should have, but I’m not advocating that you go out and beer bong a six-pack right now.

Not until you drink plenty of water first.

Beer is important, but water is more important.

The Opposite of Belonging: Finding My Place on the Political Spectrum

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After realizing that college was a bit more than just a place where people high five each other into instant friendship, I began to hatch a plan that would allow me to meet likeminded people who would undoubtedly lead me to the parties, underage drinking, and copious fornication that I knew were the true meaning of higher education.

Beyond joining my dorm community’s Area Council, I also scoured the list of student clubs to compile a list of leads.  Luckily, there was some stupid fee tacked onto our tuition that provided an enormous budget for student organizations.  Well luckily for me, seeing as how the lottery enthusiasts of Florida were paying for my tuition rather than me doing it myself.  This treasure trove of resources produced organizations ranging from College Republicans and Democrats to the Rock, Paper, Scissors club.  It was a lengthy list of student organizations, but I narrowed down my leads to several and began scratching my head as to how to become involved.

The first group that I visited was Students for a Democratic Society.  They were grungy looking hippie kids that hung out at a table by the Student Union.  Unlike other groups that solicited you as you walked past, they didn’t seem to care whether or not you were curious as to what they were all about.  It was a unique marketing approach in that it wasn’t marketing at all;  just pure masochistic baking in the Central Florida sun for some higher ideal that they didn’t bother trying to tell you about.  I don’t know how I noticed them, but I was intrigued enough to ask for more information.

Now at this point in my life, I understood the American political spectrum to range from right leaning Fox News Viewers all the way to enlightened fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  I knew that the history books mentioned Communists and Socialists in America, but that they were mostly just the boogeyman that Joe McCarthy insisted was lurking under our country’s bed.  When I read “Students for a Democratic Society” on the banner, I thought to myself, “Oh, these people probably want to curb carbon emissions and bring the troops home from the War in Iraq.  Sounds like the place for me!”

The conversation in which I learned the date and time of their first meeting was forgettable in that it probably didn’t go any deeper than them telling me the date and time of the first meaning.  They were extremely committed to their apathetic marketing.

Within the first month of the Fall semester, I showed up at the pavilion near the Visual Arts Building for the meeting around 4 PM in the afternoon.  With this group, being on time made me extremely early.  As the clock ticked, more and more people showed up and soon we were out of space under the small pavilion.  On a side note, I’m not really sure why the University of Central Florida even has such a small pavilion given their 60,000+ undergrad population (which ranks second in the nation).

The two people running the meeting stepped forward and introduced themselves, explaining briefly that the organization was a very large tent under which a variety of ideologies co-existed to try and make a difference on campus and in the larger community.  Then they explained that we would be going around the circle, each person stating their name and the reason why they wanted to be a part of the club.

“Big Tent” was an understatement, but there was an overwhelmingly hard left lean to everyone in the group, even the ones who were dressed like normal human beings.  One person said that they joined the group because it was the only club on campus that accepted Anarchists.  Another was a reformed High School Republican Club President who saw the light and decided to abandon the dark side like Darth Vader chucking the Emperor down that hole in the end of Return of the Jedi (if you’re reading this from 1983, SPOILER ALERT).  One particularly articulate guy said he wanted to join the group, “to fuck shit up.”  This drew applause from leftists to my left and right.

We even had this guy who was way too freaking old to be coming to college club meetings on campus.  He was at least in his forties, and all of the members of the club who had participated in whatever it is that they do (I’m still not 100% sure) seemed to know who he was.  This old fellow was the organizer of “Cop Watch,” an organization that tails police officers and videos them so that they think twice before beating someone up for having the nerve to be a minority (this happens in Orlando, allegedly).

I don’t remember how I introduced myself.  It was probably some timid, moderate crap like, “I’m Brantley, and I think that there are too many loop holes in the corporate tax code!”

This meeting dragged on for over three hours.  I wanted to care.  I wanted to be one of these people.  I didn’t like cops ever since that time Officer Bacon (seriously, that’s his real name) gave me a ride home from that tiny high school party.  I loved Rage Against the Machine and Anti-Flag.  I totally read the Wikipedia page about Anarchy.  These should have been my people!  But they wanted too many different things and when you boiled it down, they didn’t want enough of any one thing to warrant an actual focus.

Schilling out your money to major record labels doesn't constitute commitment to a political stance.

I didn’t go to a second meeting.  Fighting the power was too exhausting.  That big tent got insufferably humid from all of the body heat.  Trumping all of the above stated reasons, I didn’t meet a single attractive girl in this club.  I had shown up assuming that there would be some liberated, sexy girl who wanted to show society that she owned her own body by having lots and lots of sex with me.  God, my imagination is magical.

They emailed me from time to time.  One time they invited me to protest Burger King’s poor treatment of the migrant workers that pick their tomatoes by doing something at the Burger King in the Student Union.  It was tempting, but this was back when they still served Chicken Fries and I loved those too much to wonder whether or not an employee spit on them because they recognized me as the guy who was being an asshole about farms or something.

The right to an at least mediocre fast food experience should not be infringed by exercises of free speech.

Another time, they printed out this gnarly, huge banner that spelled out the First Amendment one letter per 8 1/2” x 11” page.  They wanted to hold it up near the “Free Speech Lawn” in protest of the fact that there was a “Free Speech Lawn.”  “Shouldn’t we be able to hold these demonstrations absolutely anywhere on campus?” they argued.  They had a good point, sorta.

Needless to say, I had to take part in this free speech demonstration.  I kept reading the email.  They planned on starting this whole thing at 8 AM.  I set my alarm to go out and join them, but when it went off I rolled over and decided that I could live with limiting my first amendment activities to one patch of grass on campus.  Participatory democracy can be so uncomfortable.

The best time to stand up for what you believe in is no earlier than 11 AM.

The Awkwardest Lunch Conversation. Ever.

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Maggie is responsible for the most surreal moment that I’ve ever found myself in.  One strange turn of a conversation put a weightless feeling in my stomach and danced with the possibility of a full-on out of body experience, and all during lunch at the crappy sports bar in the student union!

When I first declared a major at the University of Central Florida, I chose the Film Bachelor of Arts program, Cinema Studies track.  The secondary reason* that I decided to go to this school to begin with was that my original choice, Florida State University, limited access to their film program.  I waffled on submitting a portfolio (I didn’t have one) despite having already decided that I wouldn’t get in, and then chose a different school that I felt confident would give me a shot at my desired course of study.  I was already living in Orlando and taking classes when I found out that there was a Bachelor of Fine Arts Film program at UCF that was limited access – and that they were the only ones who got to take all of the actual filmmaking classes and use the school equipment.

*Sadly, the primary reason I chose UCF over FSU was a rumor that I heard about the girls at FSU having a higher rate of STDs.  This was a game changer for high school Brantley, because I was absolutely certain that I would be having lots of sex with lots of different girls while I was earning my degree.

When faced with difficult choices in life, always opt for the one that doesn't give you crabs.

The first year or two of my Cinema Studies degree would be all general education requirements and pre-requisites for later film classes, which luckily happened to be the same as required by the BFA program.  The plan was to submit a portfolio to get into the cooler program before I fell behind.

At this point, I didn’t know how to write a script.  I had never shot anything.  I didn’t own a camera.  I had film editing software but my computer crashed every time I opened it.  I had no tangible evidence of artistic interests or talent.  All I had were some short stories, copious notes for a novel I would never write, and individual scenes of that novel in screenplay format (even though I didn’t understand how to put it in screenplay format, so it was completely wrong).

For so long I kicked myself for not submitting a portfolio before enrolling that first year, but now I know that it would have looked horrendous and would have made me the laughing stock of the film faculty (probably).

I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t find any useful information on specific things that the faculty looks for in a portfolio.  Desperate for information, I searched Facebook for UCF students in the Film BFA program.  I found a few, friend requested them and sent them a message explaining my need for direction.  Only one responded.

Maggie was encouraging and optimistic, even though she didn’t know anything about me.  She said that her portfolio was an assortment of random writings and other art projects and that none of it was even all that great.  I was relieved to find out that I could submit my writing, because as I said, I didn’t have any film projects to my name at the time.

We were in the midst of a weeks-long back and forth correspondence when I awoke bright and early to the fire alarm one day.  By “bright and early,” I mean 10 AM.  I reached for my cell phone, stupidly thinking that my alarm clock had been using steroids while I slept.  Yes, I was that groggy at 10 AM.

Then it dawned on me that a screeching noise was informing me that the building was on fire.  Or that it was a fire drill.  I scrambled out of bed disoriented and considered gathering my most prized belongings in case the building would soon by a big pile of ashes.  More importantly, I paced around my small dorm trying to decide whether or not pants were necessary.  If the building actually was on fire, nobody would judge me for escaping the inferno in my underwear.  If it was just a drill, I would be that guy who took it way too seriously – which would lead to ridicule (real and imagined) from the strangers that I was already too terrified to talk to.  Pants it was.

In life or death scenarios, pants are optional.

That morning, I saw a lot of future friends and acquaintances in pajamas.  One looked particularly familiar:  Maggie.  She lived in my building.  I told myself that I couldn’t be certain that it was her and thus justified not introducing myself in person.  I suppose I saved myself the joys of saying, “Hey Maggie.  I’m that stranger that found you on the internet.”  Instead I mentioned in my next message that I thought I saw her and asked if she lived in my building.

She confirmed that she did.  We made a plan to meet in person for lunch at the crappy sports bar in the student union.  It was January by now, so I was sure to count the encounter as progress towards my New Year’s Resolution to put myself out there and be a better person.

We discussed film stuff, figured out common people that we knew (including Mallory, who also lived on our floor), and just got to know each other in general.

Then.  It.  Got. Weird.

Being Facebook friends, I already knew that Maggie was the type who wasn’t shy in sharing her epic romance with her high school boyfriend with the entire world (whether anyone wanted to hear it or not).  They were so very in love.  It warmed my heart. Or maybe that was just indigestion.  There’s a fine line between sweet and nauseating.  Maggie was nowhere freaking near it.  This is how I knew that she was not single, rather, she was about as far from single as you can get without marriage.

Much like her social media habits, she was very candid with me about her boyfriend (and she was getting more and more candid by the second).  I got the full performance of how awesome their love for each other was.  They were so perfectly happy together.

“What about you?” she asked.

“Oh I’m single.”

“Well what’s your type?”

“I don’t know.”  (I guess at the time “girls with low enough standards to be interested?”).  

“Well surely you have a type.  What about girls like Mallory?”  (This was fair.  She was our only mutual acquaintance at this point, and it was also a bit prescient as Mallory and I would have a little absolutely-nothing-ever-developed later on in the semester.)

“Yeah, Mallory is pretty I suppose.”

“What about me?”

“Uhm…uh…” DOT DOT DOT.  “Yeah you’re pretty too.”  (It was weird, but I just figured that I wasn’t the only awkward person in the world – or even at this particular table for two).

If I found a magic lamp, one of my wishes would be used for a flawless memory.  (The other two would be infinite money and a Batmobile, but don’t get me sidetracked).  I don’t fully remember how the rest of the conversation went down, because the turn that it took made me feel like I finally was living in a movie.  It was a moment too strange, too bizarre for reality to have conceived.  This moment had to have been birthed by the perverse mind of a desperate screenwriter trying to make a name for himself through any means possible.

I was in two places at once for this exchange.  Part of me was mechanically going through the motions of the conversation just to get the check so I could get the hell out of there.  The other part was figuring out just which phone call I would make first when I left.  Everyone had to know about this.

“Well, can I tell you something?  You have to promise not to judge me,” her tone changed.

(I was already judging her).  “Umm, okay.”

Anyone who "promises not to judge you" is a liar. “And you have to promise not to tell anyone,” she continued.

(I already knew that this would be something that I needed to tell a lot of people).  “Okay.  I promise.”

“My boyfriend doesn’t mind if I get with other guys.”

(All of a sudden, her asking if she was my type has taken on an entirely different meaning).  “Oh.  Okay.”

“He actually…he actually kinda likes it.”

“Hm.”

“He likes when I call him and tell him about it.”

(I was running out of monosyllabic grunting noises to make).  “Oh.”

“In detail.”

“Oh…kay.”

“He likes it when I take pictures or videos too.”

(Check arrives)  “Well that’s interesting.”

I paid quickly, suddenly remembered that I needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else in the whole freaking entire world, and ran the hell away (observing as many courtesies as I could muster without ending up making a porno for this girl’s boyfriend to enjoy).

Within the hour, one person back in Pensacola heard the story over the phone, another had a tidy editorial bit delivered to her Facebook messages.  As for someone with feet on the ground in Orlando, a childhood friend from back home asked me the obvious question after hearing the story:  “Well, are you going to get with her?”

I’m not proud to admit that my answer was:  “I don’t know.”

Nobody had ever propositioned me like that before!  Any physical occurrences thus far had been products of a passionate moment, things that I kinda saw coming.  (I’m glad I don’t tell these stories aloud, because there’s an obvious double-entendre there that everyone in the room would have to stop and pat themselves on the back for identifying).

I was 19 years old.  Doing the math, 80% of my bodyweight was still semen (a decrease from a peak of 95% at age 14).  I knew that I wasn’t attracted to this girl.  I knew that I didn’t want to star in a nasty movie for some dude’s gratification.  The prospect of having a male audience of one enjoying my highlight reel had a very real limping effect.  Like I said, I’m not proud that I answered anything other than a resounding “NO!”

I did come around to that conclusion though.

Right after we finished.

 

Just because you can star in an amateur porno movie, doesn't mean that you should.

 

JUST KIDDING!

The Only Popularity Contest That I Ever Won

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Having heard stories from one of my brothers about the joys of being a Resident Assistant, once I was in college I knew that it was the job for me.  Looking back on it, I don’t particularly remember any specific thing that he told me about his experience that sounded fun.  I just knew that they got cheap/free housing and that it would probably look pretty good on a resume.  

Actions can be far more memorable than the motivations that precede them.

Being a freshman, I wasn’t eligible for the position that first year, but I knew that I needed to start getting prepared for the very competitive hiring process.  At the floor meeting of the beginning of the school year, I asked my RA for advice.  She was helpful in telling me some areas to get involved in that would look great on my application.

She was also an outstanding RA, striking that rare balance of putting forth the effort to make the floor look nice without being a fascist about the rules.  The next year, when I became her co-worker, she confided in me that she knew about the mischief I was up to in my room but always held back from busting me.

A great organization to be involved with, she told me, was the housing community’s Area Council.  It was almost like a junior RA club supervised by some of the Resident Assistants in the community.  They vented resident complaints that people felt more comfortable taking to their peers than to authority figures and housing employees.  They also put on programs (basically events with free food) for their residents.

The council was set up was like a parliament.  Each building in the community elected two representatives.  This freaked me out.  I’ve never won a popularity contest in my entire life, and I’m pretty sure that I never will.  But I really, really, really wanted this thing, so I made posters and put them up in our building.  Of course, most of them got vandalized, many of which in hilarious and creative ways (others with standard ‘draw a penis on it real quick’ expediency).

A girl on my floor, Sandra, was also running.  I jokingly talked smack about how I was clearly going to beat her.  In return, she delivered some outstanding news:  we were the only two people from our building running for these positions.  We were guaranteed spots!  My response:  “Well I’ll still get more votes than you.”  I meant it to be funny, and people who knew how little self-esteem I had at that point would have laughed themselves into a persistent vegetative state state.  This girl, however, knew nothing about me and predictably did not get the joke.

People that know nothing about you generally won't understand your self-deprecating humor.

Election day rolled around.  Along with candidates from other buildings, we made brief speeches about why people should vote for us to represent them.  It was an astonishingly low voter turnout.  Nobody knew it was going on, nobody cared.  It really didn’t matter.  Most people gained their positions by virtue of being the only ones interested.  Those who weren’t elected still got places on the council and many of them were more engaged than those sent by their constituents.

Within the council, we voted for each other for different responsibilities.  Knowing that my non-democracy related victory was probably the only election that I would ever win ever, I opted to go for a position with two spots.  I would be one of our community’s delegates to a larger council representing all of the housing communities.  My counterpart was Sandra.

All in all, the council was a hot mess.  The president lost interest halfway through the first semester, as did most of us.  By January, the unlikable Vice President (who just so happened to be the President’s roommate) orchestrated a bloodless coup by asking if anyone cared if she took over.  At this point, she could have asked if anyone cared if she declared war on another community’s council and the answer would have been the same resounding shrug.

The Resident Assistants supervising us were shuffled around as well.  The Area Coordinator (an RA’s boss) who was helping out got enormously pregnant and bailed on us.

I took my responsibility moderately serious for a little while, attending all of my Area Council meetings as well as the larger meetings as a delegate.  For an organization with such potential, it was a wildly forgettable experience.

Sandra and I went on to become close friends, though.  Also, her roommate thought I was asking her on a date that one time.  

Using my involvement on the Area Council in my interview to become an RA taught me a valuable life lesson.  If you know a healthy percentage of the details, you can get away with enormous exaggerations on your resume.

When you know enough of the details, you can get away with enormous exaggerations on your resume.

Ironically, once I became an RA, I was put in charge of organizing the Area Council for my community with the help of one of my co-workers.  Somehow or other, we totally kicked ass at it.  The residents that were involved were enthusiastic over-achievers that really took it seriously and made us look outstanding.  It was one of those beautiful dynamics where all you have to do is show up and be supportive and everything else falls into place.  I don’t know if it had any lasting effect that carried over to the next year, but the council that I supervised really raised the visibility and reputation of the organization within our community.

Of course if this was a job interview, I know enough that I could take all of the credit for that.

Democracy and the Greatest Drinking Game I’ve Ever Played

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One fateful day in late October, I was offered a life-changing opportunity in one of my Political Science classes.  

A public official was passing around a sign-up sheet for a paid opportunity to help work the polls on election day.  It was easy money for just a few hours of work, plus I would get the added intellectual bonus of peering behind the curtain to see the mechanisms of our great democracy!

Pole Dancing

Also, working the polls is exactly this glamorous.
Photo Credit: BoiseWeekly.com

I was available, so I put my name down on the list and was contacted a few days later with information on when/where to show up on that fateful night.

I apologize for how misleading this tale has been up to this point.  I don’t have any scintillating tales of what I saw when I peaked up our republic’s skirt.  Truthfully, it was an extraordinarily forgettable night.  Surrounded by many people my own age and many people at least triple my own age, we sat on folding chairs in a circle being very inefficiently managed.

Every so often we would be called for, just a few people at a time to move some boxes around.  Yes, this is how we elect the goobers that govern us.  We put stuff in boxes and then move the boxes around.  I just saved you a Civics course.  You’re welcome.

In the time in between rare bouts of labor I sat quietly, avoiding eye contact with these strangers and feeling very awkward in my own skin.  You see this election was a traumatic one for me.  Rick Scott was running against Alex Sink for Governor of Sex-Crazed Looney National Headline-Land (Florida for those who don’t realize the bizarre carnival that we risk our lives daily to inhabit).  It was the most transparent election that would ever be forced upon the public (hopefully).  A clear choice between the crook with a “(D)” next to her name or the crook with an “(R)” next to his name.  I couldn’t in good conscience contribute to the election of either.

Being a historically minded chap, I know that people have sacrificed so much for the right to vote.  Well, like, people other than white guys like me.  To not vote is to take a big pee on everything that those courageous individuals stood for.  The self-loathing made my skin crawl.  The feeling of my skin-crawling made my muscles crawl.  The ickiness of feeling my muscles crawl made my bones crawl.  I was spasming with contempt for myself.  Had someone thought to ask me which crook I voted for, I would have promptly thrown up on the floor, realizing that I had died a horrible death and was now sitting in my own personal hell.

Luckily, there were people my age in the room.  And like most people that age, they were talking about the important issues of the day (Tuesday, that is):  Getting drunk.  One fellow in particular was extremely bold and opinionated on the issue.

He was the Samuel Adams to our Constitutional Convention of strangers sitting on folding chairs in a dimly lit warehouse.  This analogy may or may not work.  I’m not sure whether or not Samuel Adams actually got the Facebook Invite to the Constitutional Convention.  As I understand it, he was a popular rabble-rouser in the bar who somehow drunkenly helped incite the American Revolution.  If this is incorrect, please don’t ever tell me because it makes my view of history at least 11x more awesome than the ones in the textbooks.

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams – totally hammered and ready to revolt as usual.
Photo Credit: TheFederalistPapers.org

This enlightened individual bestowed upon our group a fruit from the tree of intoxication (you know, the one from Genesis).  That gift, ladies and gentlemen, was DRUNK MARIO KART.

Simple facts about childhood:

1.  At a certain age (generally 105 years old), you begin to rant and rave to younger people that your childhood was exponentially superior to theirs.  Your childhood took place in the Golden Age of Childhood, and the whole world has been steadily deteriorating since you stopped being a child.

2.  There is no Golden Age of Childhood.  Shut up about it already.

3.  If you insist on continuing this argument, I will crush you with this all-important question:  Did you play Mario Kart on your Nintendo 64 when you were a kid?  If you answered, “No, Brantley.  I played with sticks and dirt like God intended,” then your childhood was rotten and your parents didn’t love you.  

Mario Kart 64 cartridge

I’d hit that. I’d blow it too. Anything that it takes to get these stupid cartridges to work these days.
Photo credit: The giant friggin watermark on the picture.

Mario Kart is a video game featuring popular Nintendo characters such as “Italian- stereotype (#1 and #2),” “Reminder-That-All-Women-Are-Just-Damsels-In-Distress,” “There’s-Something-Racist-About-This-Gorilla-You-Just-Can’t-Put-Your-Finger-On-It,” “Horrifying-Dinosaur,” “Adorable-Dinosaur,” and of course, everyone’s favorite:  “Jovial-Effeminate-Fungus.”  In the game, each of the above stated characters that probably make sense somehow in Japanese culture race each other in go karts.  They battle their way to the finish line using weapons such as turtle shells, heat-seeking turtle shells, presents that aren’t actually presents, electrocution as an enhanced interrogation technique, temporary invincibility, and banana peels.

I sincerely hope that banana peels don’t actually cause car accidents, because I chuck them out the window when I’m out driving all the time.  They’re biodegradable and you can’t make me feel bad about this.

Drunken Mario Kart is hands-down the Greatest Drinking Game ever conceived. 

The rules are simple:

1.  You must finish your beer before crossing the finish line.

2.  You cannot drink and drive.  Put your controller down to chug your beer. 

3.  Avoid cliche “Fight Club” references when listing out the rules of Drunk Mario Kart.

For those crunching the numbers, races only take around 3-4 minutes on average.  Even if you stop frequently to drink your beer, races still don’t exceed 5 minutes.  Power Hour is for sissies.

The key to avoiding alcohol poisoning is to make sure that you have more than 4 people playing.  I recommend at least 6-8.  After each round, the first and second place finishers get to play again, while the losers in third and fourth place surrender their spot to other people waiting in the wings.  This increases the amount of time before someone vomits on your rug.

Don’t be surprised that this becomes a game of varying strategies.

Some people choose to park at the starting line and chug as much of their beer as they can stomach.  Racers in third and fourth place get the best weapons from the randomized system, so starting off behind gives you the means and the time to catch up and take the lead.

Others throw down their controller every time they hit an obstacle.  In the first several rounds, most players don’t find enough chugging time to finish their beer before reaching the finish line using this technique.  Later on in the night, obstacles become much easier to hit and those moments when your kart is toppling through the air amount to enough time to finish that can.

A third approach is to park just before the finish line and then chug the entire beer before everyone else catches up.  It’s bold, it isn’t common, and it’s risky.  You are banking on draining that brew before your competitors can chew through the substantial lead that you’ve developed by not popping the top until those last inches before the checkered line.

If you haven’t finished your beer before crossing the finish line, you are disqualified and have to give up your controller.  It’s probably for the best anyways.  If you are no longer in a condition where you can casually chug a beer every 4 minutes, you should consider taking a break from your consumption.

As I stated above, the night was quite forgettable other than this particular nugget of wisdom.  Eventually, the ballots arrived in giant stacks of boxes piled high on wooden pallets and then shrink-wrapped into place.  My contribution to the unfortunate election of Governor Voldemort?  Moving those ballots from right here to over there.

Rick Scott Voldemort Comparison

But seriously, look at these two. They could be twins that take turns sharing a nose.
Photo Credit: Cheezburger.com

If you can top this drinking game, I will mail you a hand-made coupon for a six-pack.  It won’t be redeemable anywhere, but I will put like $10 in the envelope with it so we can just pretend that it is legit.

Parents Weekend

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Parents weekend snuck up on me every single year of college.  Luckily, my parents only chose to participate for Freshman and Sophomore year.

Being the decent, moral, religious folks that they were, I had thoroughly expected it to be a distressing weekend in which I tried to hide the byproducts of my debauchery from their judging eyes.  I was an adult and I didn’t need anymore of that “I’m so disappointed in you” crap.  In the days leading up to that weekend, I knew that I would need to clean up the beer cans, take down the beer pong table, and kick all of the beautiful naked coeds out of my bed.  Then I could feel guilt-free when I put on my best know-it-all teenager face seeing as how I wasn’t actually rubbing their noses in my sinful lifestyle, just walking around like the new man that it made me.

Given my well-documented social struggles, there wasn’t a ton of clean up necessary.  I hid my fancy bourbon and shot glasses away behind some stuff under my bed.  I folded up the barely-used ping pong table.  Most importantly, I hid my fake ID, which I never kept in the same place as my real license anyway.  Seeing as how they would be in my room and I didn’t want to leave it somewhere obvious like a drawer, I put it in the console of my car underneath a lot of other junk.

My family and I met up with some friends from back home at dinner the first night.  Our parents were friends from the swim team that their daughter and I spent so much time with throughout high school.  I felt like such a failure that I didn’t have anything to hide from the adults as we discussed our adjustment to college life.  Afterwards, my parents turned in early.  They wanted to be well rested for the football game the next day.

I picked them up from their hotel the next morning so that they wouldn’t have to pay to park on campus.  It saved them a huge nightmare of circling the garages on game day.  My dad mentioned that he needed to go to the bathroom, so we stopped at my dorm building and he and I ran up to my room.

At this point, I was sweating a little bit.  My mom had no reason to go through the console of my car, and I had my fake hidden in such a way that she would really have to dig to find it.  Still, it was stressful to picture her alone in the car with an item that could get me into deep trouble with my parents.  Granted, I would have done my best to pretend not to care that I was in trouble with them, but it really would have bothered me.

There's no shame in not wanting to disappoint your parents admitted no teenager ever.

My dorm was parent-friendly and my dad looked around before settling in at my desk chair.  This wasn’t the bathroom.  I wondered what he was doing.

“Your mother is under the impression that you have a fake ID.”

My performance must have been convincing enough, “What?!”

“I know.  I don’t know where she gets these things.”  He studied me.  “Give me your wallet.  I will just tell her that I looked through it while you were in the bathroom.”

I handed it over, thankful that the ID was in the car next to my mother, who was assuming that my father would find it in my room.

He didn’t find it.  The room got more comfortable.  He went to the bathroom and we went to the game, which he and I were more or less enjoying.

I knew that I would get under my parents skin if I joined the crowd chant of “Bullshit!  Bullshit!” when UCF was hit with a questionable penalty.  Naturally, I became one of the loudest voices in the student section.  My mother hit me and scowled.

But that was it.  It was all that she could do to me.  I was a grown-up now.  I couldn’t be grounded for using colorful language.

She didn’t want to stay for the second half.  She said she had a headache, and I wondered if I had shattered her heart with my profanity.

That was probably one of my dumber thoughts that weekend.

I’m proud to say that the UCF student section is insanely loud.  Brighthouse Networks Stadium is not a fun place for the away team.  We jump up and down on the metal bleachers, creating a racket that drowns out most communication on the field.  We howl during every defensive possession.  Fan forums love to boast about this, but I was always skeptical about the true impact of the ruckus until this year.

This season, my girlfriend and her business partner got press passes so that they could shoot pictures of the game.  They watched the home games from down on the end zones and she was shocked by how much of the student section’s cacophony polluted the field.  It’s no wonder my migraine-prone mother couldn’t handle a full 60 minutes of football.

The twelfth man actually does make a difference.

On a side note, Ben reached out to me a few days prior to parents weekend.  He let me know that his folks would be swinging by the dorm.  His solution to the fact that they were paying good money for a bed that he wasn’t sleeping in?  Well, he just figured he would put some sheets on it and lie, and he asked that I corroborate his story.  By now, I realized that the room was way comfier with him not in it, so I was thrilled to play along!

Do you have any awkward stories to tell about your college’s Parents Weekend?

Television Addiction: A Great Way to Make Friends – TBT

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Over the month-long semester break between Fall and Spring, I watched as my friends back home developed an all-consuming addiction that chewed up entire days and nights of their lives.

They discovered LOST, one of the greatest TV shows of all time ever.  At the time, ABC had every single episode on their website, where you could watch as many as you could stomach interrupted only momentarily by 15-30 second ads dispersed amongst each episode in about five places.

They lost themselves in it and they didn’t offer to take me along with them.  I would come over to a friend’s house, and there they were, huddled around a screen in a dark room, flailing violently in response to enigmatic plot twists as if they had completely lost control of their limbs.

The best plot twists have a devastating effect on the central nervous system.

Some nights I would pepper them with pesky questions about what was going on in the show.  “I thought their plane crashed on an island and they were castaways.  Why is there a cloud of smoke that is murdering people?”  “Why is he having sex with her?  I thought they were brother and sister.”  “You’ve already seen this.  What’s in the damn hatch?”

I tried so hard to stay away.  I told myself it would never be me, but then the teasers for Season 4 began airing.  The survivors were going to be rescued!

In January of 2008, I tried watching LOST for the first time.  I was immediately addicted.  Every spare minute of every day I spent in front of my computer.  I had to catch up before the next season began!

Homework fell by the wayside.  New Year’s Resolutions of getting out of my dorm room and making new friends were forgotten.  LOST had taken over my heart and soul.

Binge-watching will be the downfall of civilization.

I’m not proud to say that the addiction was cut off cold-turkey.  It wasn’t a decision of my own.  I just ran out of the stuff.  I had to wait until season 4 was aired, one episode per week.  Three seasons of 20+ episodes each and I had managed to chew through them in less than two weeks.

With my LOST addiction no longer occupying so much of my time, I actually did get around to that homework and friend-making.

LOST was moved to Thursday nights.  My Spring schedule gave me Fridays off from class.  I had a beer pong table, a fridge full of cheap beer, and an amazing TV show to celebrate my three-day weekends.  It was perfect.

It became a ritual for my new found friends, even ones who didn’t watch the show (they were put in the corner and shushed when they asked questions about what the hell was happening).  When those white letters popped onto the black background with a triumphant horn and percussion combination signaling the conclusion of that week’s episode, we would explode into speculation as we returned the couches to the common room and unfolded the ping pong table.

Arts and entertainment have tremendous power to bring people together.

Beyond just the incredible, intricate, philosophical journey that LOST took me on, it also served as an inauguration for weekends of binge drinking and getting out of my shell to make friends.  It wasn’t just a profound narrative experience, it was a big part of growing up for me.  For that reason, I will always hold the show dearly in my heart.

Do you have any TV shows or movies that you associate with important periods in your life?

10 Hammered Miles – TBT

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In honor of the marathon I will be running this weekend (my second), I figured I would share one of my odder encounters during college – and that’s saying something.  

It was senior year and I was training for my first ever half-marathon.  Things were going fairly well with the training, which involved routine runs just across the street from UCF’s campus.

I was in the home-stretch of a routine 5 mile run when I noticed a guy jogging on the other side of the road, which was grass rather than sidewalk.  It was two lanes each way with a large median between, so I had to squint to confirm that this college student in beast mode was running barefoot like a boss.  Beyond his sturdy feet, which I’m sure possessed Hobbit-like resiliency, he impressed me with his pace as he pulled out further and further ahead of me.  I wasn’t racing him by any means, so I let him fade into the sunset with no further concern.

When I caught up to him again, he was doubled over puking.  I was nearing the end of my run and I had half a bottle of water left, so being the good samaritan that I am, I crossed the road to check on him.

They say that humans are about 60% water.  Well this fellow was 60% vodka instead, so I suppose he wasn’t a human at all.  I asked him if he was alright and he was still drunk enough to insist that he was, but he accepted the water anyways and thanked me.  As we walked away, he told me about his fun day drinking at the pool on campus with the bros.  Several yards away from the vomit, I began to suspect that his sweat, breath, and skin were a stomach-churning 150 proof based on the Pig-Pen like cloud that he seemed to be living in.  I couldn’t help but picture him dissolving into a puddle of Skol lighter fluid like that Senator in the first X-Men movie.

x-men melting senator

But he felt bad about cutting my run short, so with all of the pleasantries out of the way, we started jogging again.  Seeing as how he would probably be dead from dehydration pretty soon, I let him set the pace.  We were going slow enough for me to carry on a conversation with him, which back then meant that we were running slightly faster than the ground beneath our feet.

“I’m jogging home!” he announced to me.  My own house was coming up soon, so I wondered if he lived in my neighborhood.  He didn’t.  Instead, he lived off of Dean Road.

I don’t expect that to mean anything to you, so allow me to explain.

That’s like 5 miles away, running along one super busy road, crossing it, running down another super busy road, crossing that one, all the while hoping that the soles of your bare feet are pale enough to persuade the insane drivers of Orlando not to splatter you into Jello shots with their cars.

jogging to dean road

He was drunk enough that I didn’t mind stating the obvious, “That’s a long way, man.  Were you planning on running that?”

“Yeah dude.  It’s fine.  I’ve run like 10 miles before and I was even drunker than this.”*

“Do you want me to call someone to pick you up?”

“Nah dude.  I lost my phone at the pool.”*

“I could call you a cab.”

“It’s cool man.  I’ll just run.”*

* I’m assuming this is what he was trying to say, but he was a once-in-a-generation talent at slurred words so I’m not 100% sure.

I didn’t know this guy well enough to get aggressive about his intoxicated well-being, so I stuck to my manners.

“Well, this is my neighborhood.  You should at least swing by and let me give you a bottle of water or something.”

He thought that was a cool idea, so soon we found ourselves in my kitchen.  He was throwing back glasses of water like it was the saddest happy hour in the world.

With his Vodka Body Mass Index or VBMI (if this isn’t a real thing, it should be) down in the 55-58% range, he decided to take me up on the offer to use my phone.  Luckily for him, a phone number was accessible to his brain through the haze of a black out drunkenness.  Unluckily for him, that number belonged to his boss.  He left a strange voice message.  It sounded like one very, very, very long word.

I asked if he wanted to try again, and the liquor figured it wouldn’t be worthwhile.  I didn’t have money to call him a cab, but I offered anyway.  He declined, seeing as how his wallet was with his phone, probably off somewhere planning an intervention for him.

I offered to drive him home if he promised not to puke in my car.  Being the stand up guy that he apparently was, he refused to make a promise he couldn’t keep.

With an abundance of “Tankyuuzz,” “Thansssmanns,” and “Baies,” and the bottle of water that I gave him, he staggered up the street, out of my neighborhood, and out into the world again.

His boss’s number was in my phone, so I called and left a voicemail in English.  He never called back though.

Seeing as how I read local newspapers religiously the following week and found no article about a human-shaped vodka vessel being hit by a car, I have no idea what happened to him.  I have to assume that he made it, whether it was that night or the next morning after he woke up in the bushes and then continued drunk-running home.

I feel pretty confident that nothing bad happened to him, because local news in Orlando lets us know anytime anything bad ever happens to anybody in Central Florida in the most terrifying fashion imaginable.  That is, of course, between our Casey Anthonys and George Zimmermans.

I told this story to some friends when we were tailgating a couple months ago.  The general consensus was, “You’re a much better person than I am.  I would have given up on that guy way sooner than you did.”

I guess that’s a good thing.

My Decision to Quit Being a Teenage Boy and Start Being an Actual Human Being – New Year’s Resolution TBT

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Towards the end of my first semester of college, I looked over the desolate wasteland that was my social life and came to an important realization:  Maybe I would have more friends if I wasn’t such a dick.

It's easier to make friends when you aren't a horrible human being.

I want to believe that it’s in my nature to be a good guy, but I was just trying so hard to be anything but that throughout high school.  I blame Maddox and The Ex-Girlfriend.

For those unfamiliar with Maddox and The Best Page in the Universe, it’s a website that has been around for probably over a decade by now (this makes me feel super old).  The author humorously shreds elements of pop culture and society in a cruel, unforgiving way.  It’s hilarious, especially to adolescent boys.  Maddox makes it cool and funny to be a jerk.  I decided I wanted to be like Maddox.

The missing part of the equation, however, is that Maddox is an anonymous guy on the internet who can revel in hate emails because he will never see those people in real life.  When you walk around the world mocking people to their face because you saw someone do it on the internet and it was funny, you don’t win any popularity contests.  Some people think it’s funny.  Most think it’s crappy and you give them no reason to believe that you are anything more than an ass hole.

So in December of 2007, I decided to quit being like that…next year.

The Ex-Girlfriend and I had an epic on-again-off-again teen romance that spanned from 8th grade sorta confusedly into high school.  She lived with her mom in Pensacola every Summer, and in Kentucky with her dad the rest of the year.  It was long distance, it was hard, it was fueled by a misguided notion that any of it was very important.  She was the first girl that I ever told, “I love you.”

In the end, the long distance killed it.  We broke up and didn’t get back together.  Months later, she moved down to Pensacola to stay year-round.  “We almost made it,” I thought.  Like any mature boy, I avoided her like the plague for as long as I could.  It was extremely conspicuous seeing as how we were both on the swim team and thus spent 3-5 hours/day together.  Eventually, things leveled out and we were cordial to each other again.

That’s when a close friend started talking to her and was cool enough to ask my permission to go out with her.  I told him yes, because I wasn’t remotely interested in getting back together with her until around ten seconds after I told him yes.

More time passed.  They broke up.  We started talking again, doing small stuff, hanging out, holding hands.  I cornered her and asked what it meant, because that’s my style:  be too afraid to say anything for a couple months, then suddenly work up the courage and make it as confrontational and uncomfortable for the other person as possible.

I wish I was joking about this, but she literally turned around and walked away.  We were at a swim meet and it was loud so I held out hope that she just didn’t hear the question.  I don’t even remember how it happened, but I think someone else told me that she did hear and she didn’t want to get back together.  We had been circling each other for like four months at this point and apparently it didn’t mean anything to her.

I was super hurt and angry, so I did the only rational thing that high school Brantley could think of:  held her transgressions against the entire female race and the concept of relationships.  The ensuing dating cold streak was unprecedented.  I wanted to be loved, but wouldn’t allow myself to love back.  That was how I got hurt and I had no intentions of ever doing that again.  Apart from a short-lived almost-something that I ruined by my refusal to dance and a short series of make out sessions with a girl that I would later abruptly stopped talking to, I didn’t have any more high school girlfriends.

And so I carried these negative attitudes with me into college, lamenting my failed fresh start despite the fact that I wasn’t committing to it by changing myself first.  With a miserable, lonely first semester behind me I vowed to let go of those bad feelings and negative habits in 2008.

I actually carried through with it too.  I started by sending a Facebook message to The Ex-Girlfriend apologizing for everything that I ever did wrong and for holding so much against her.  She wrote back and we forgave each other.  In the same fashion as the rest of the overblown relationship, her forgiveness meant everything to me.

Apologies and forgiveness are two of the strongest medicines ever invented by mankind.

With that monkey off my back, I was confident enough to meet new people.  I was a nice, decent human being to them and they liked me for that.  People started to think of me as a nice guy, even people that I had known me in those dark days of high school.

New Year’s Resolutions can be silly, frivolous things that we abandon by mid-February, but they can also be an excuse to make profound life changes that make you a better person inside and out.  (It’s also worth noting that I lost 40 lbs. in 2008).

New Year's resolutions can be silly and frivolous and easily abandoned, but they can also be profound life changes

Disclaimer:  I don’t actually blame Maddox.  He has every right to do his thing, and he does it very well.  I blame my silly teenage self for thinking that it would be a good idea to mimic such harsh negativity because I thought it would make me a cool kid.

Another Disclaimer:  I also don’t blame The Ex-Girlfriend.  She wasn’t perfect by any means, but the majority of the damage was self-inflicted.

For the most part, people can only screw you up as much as you let them.