The Problem with The Brantley Blog

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To anyone who is still here after my year long-hiatus from this blog, I feel like I owe you a big apology and an explanation.

The Brantley Blog was discontinued for two primary reasons.

Bad Feelings

What began as select drinking stories and misadventures from college slowly turned into a broader story arc of my coming of age after leaving home for the first time.  This was a natural evolution, but it came with a price.

I struggled with a lot of loneliness in my first semester of college.  During my second semester, I finally made friends and I got really close with a lot of people who didn’t have much in common with me other than our shared affinity for inebriation.  This didn’t end well.

Petty conflicts, jealousies, and certain individuals’ affliction of talking about people behind their backs led my group of friends to a boiling point.  We all met on top of a parking garage to air out our grievances with each other in a structured act of full disclosure.  We called it, I kid you not, a “Pickle Pow Wow.”   Instead of the kindergarten classroom tool of a “talking stick” with which speakers take turns so that they don’t end up shouting over top each other, we passed around a pickle in a pouch.

Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, bandaids applied to minor emotional scratches and wounds, but deep down we all knew that the group of friends was doomed to collapse in on itself.

I know that this is all incredibly stupid and “high school” dramatic, but it really genuinely mattered to me back then.  A lot of people that I cared about stabbed me in the back and friends that I tried to help resented my efforts.  It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Needless to say, the fun of mocking my youthful naivety and the joy of embellishing drinking tales were far preferable to describing how I lost numerous close friends over the course of just a few short months.  When the story that I was telling one blog post at a time reached this point, I suddenly found myself unmotivated to continue.  These events weren’t much fun to write about and I assumed that it wouldn’t be much fun to read.

I had it in my head that someone out there was piecing these individual posts together and reading them like a book; that this heavily foreshadowed climax was hotly anticipated.  I put a great deal of imaginary pressure on myself to get the story right.

Now I know that this was a silly thing to think.  I understand that blogs are typically consumed piece by piece rather than as a unit and that I could have neglected the hard parts of the story and nobody would have noticed.  But it was still enough to suck the fun out of The Brantley Blog for me.

Brantley:  The Great Disappointment

A recurring problem that I had with weaving my underage drinking stories was the looming presence of my parents in the back of my mind.  Both mother and father had recently joined Facebook and had dropped comments (Mom especially) here and there that made social networking lose its luster.  Thoughts of the shit storm that would arise should they find my blog and read about my youthful mistakes (most of which were intentional) prevailed over every revision and every edit of every post.

Over the last month or so, I’ve come to realize that it goes much deeper than fear of my parents finding out that I enjoyed being a little troublemaker in college.  A big part of my tendency to hold back in my writing has been knowledge of their inevitable disapproval of what I have to say.

You see, my parents are very religious.  As a kid, I remember my Dad making this objection throat clearing noise every time a character in a movie swore.  I remember him changing radio stations and calling certain pop songs “garbage.”  I remember my Mom forbidding me from seeing certain movies and how upset she was when she found out that I had used Napster to burn CDs with cuss words in them.

I, on the other hand, have more or less oscillated between atheism and agnosticism ever since the day that my parents decided that I was too old to get away with napping during church services.  I used to lay my head down in the pew every Sunday morning and rely on my family to wake me when it was all over.  Once that was no longer an option, I found myself increasingly uninterested in the entire body of rituals.

Every part of my worldview is so radically different from my parents that it makes for awkward silences during the holidays.  It would be stupid to let my political opinions alienate me from them, but at the same time, there are certain things that I feel very strongly about and it becomes really difficult to see any basic human decency in differing opinions on some issues.

Really, the worst part is that I get the feeling that they don’t even notice these awkward silences, these times that I shut my mouth in polite dissent.  It makes me feel like they probably don’t know very much about me and who I am, who I became once I left their house.

All of this is in the back of my mind during every keystroke, every sentence.  These things that I write, they are an extension of me.  To hate my writing is to hate me.  When it comes to my parents, that’s a lot of stress to handle every time I push that “publish” button.

It isn’t easy suspecting that a falling out with my parents will inevitably be a big part of my artistic journey.  Some days, it’s enough to keep my fingers from hitting any key other than “Backspace,” but I just can’t live that way forever.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m smart, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and patient (though I struggle with this one sometimes).  I’m stubbornly optimistic and I don’t want to accept defeat, not for myself, not for society, not for the human race.

I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my writing.  My parents should be too.  And if they aren’t, then that’s an issue upon which I can’t courteously keep my mouth shut.

From Here   

I plan on continuing to tell my stories, to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to me.  I plan on sharing my insights on petty injustices that I encounter in my day to day drudgery.  I plan on trying to make readers laugh or smile, to entertain a person or two if only for a few minutes out of their day.

I plan on doing these things on a wider level.  I’m going to share this blog with actual people that I know and if my parents find it, I hope they enjoy it.  No.  I hope that they can’t help but enjoy it, even though they disapprove.  I hope that they are just as proud of me as I am of myself.

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The Boner Policy

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Before delving into the collapse of my freshman group of friends from college, I think it’s important to describe some of the adventures that we had together so that you can mourn the calamity of our feuds as much as I did back then.

As I’ve said before, our common interest was partying.  In many cases, there was no further connection binding us together.

The group’s demographic skewed female to Jurassic Park levels.  There were basically three dudes, counting me, hanging out with like a dozen girls.  I loved the proportions at the time, but future events would make me question whether or not females are truly capable of empathy towards each other, or if any semblance of girl friendship is just a long con style intricate murder plot.

Bobby is one of those friendships that came out of our group (we called ourselves “K.I.T.T.” – short for Keep In Touch Tuesday) that actually made the enormous headaches that most of these people caused me feel worthwhile in retrospect.

The other guy, well, he had an emotional issue or two (or seven thousand).  We’ll call him “Tommy” because of his ongoing need for anonymity when it comes to the stories I have to tell about him.  Tommy was a quirky stoner with a lot of money and friends that liked to throw parties in their shitty apartments.

One such celebration of alcohol was The Lingerie Party.  Now 19 year-old Brantley had heard legends of lingerie parties, but was skeptical of their existence.  The concept was too awesome and it always seemed to happen to someone else.  I guess skepticism is the wrong word.  19 year-old Brantley thought of Lingerie parties as “winning the lottery” or “seeing a super majestic bald eagle doing its thing” – he knew that those things did indeed happen, but that they didn’t happen to many people despite everyone’s longing for them.

Well this time around, I was invited and I looked forward to the event with both excitement and trepidation.  You see, I was still self-medicating a lot of social anxiety at the time and if I didn’t get the dosage strong enough, I had a tendency to sweat like someone with a serious medical condition.  Being in nothing but my underwear, there was a strong chance that I would be making it rain on the whole party unless I somehow managed to attach the keg directly to my face.

I coolly suggested to Bobby that we grab some robes or like Hugh Heffner smoking jackets.  I also jokingly, but actually totally seriously, asked him, “So what’s the boner policy at lingerie parties?”  “Don’t get one,” he replied tersely.  Then the robes were more important than ever.

Helping Girls Shop for Lingerie

For some reason, Bobby and I accompanied a ton of the girls to the fancy mall so that they could go shopping for lingerie.  I thought the idea of being on hand to provide a male perspective to girls looking for skimpy underwear was a dream come true.  In reality, however, there are few responses that a slack-jawed 19 year-old boy can give to a lingerie-consumer requesting feedback (and none of them are particularly respectful).

Now at that point in my life, I wasn’t articulate enough to say things like:  “Women shouldn’t be viewed or treated like sex objects that exist solely for men’s amusement and gratification,” but something along those lines was clicking deep down inside of me.  I realized that these were more than just half-naked girls that I would soon be getting drunk with.  They were friends that I respected.  It was almost as if they were human beings equal to myself, you know?

After a few awkward moments of babbled feedback, Bobby and I absconded to the food court and ate meatball subs from Firehouse.

Bobby’s Weird Lime Chicken

The night of the party, the plan was for the boys to prepare dinner for the girls and then we would all part ways to get dolled up and go to this sexy underwear kegger.  Bobby took head chef duty, and we made this weird lime chicken that most people pushed around their plates politely before tossing into the trash.  Out of stubborn loyalty, I opted for seconds.  In a lifetime full of mistakes, this decision still stands prominently within the regret regions of my brain.

Unsurprisingly, Bobby and I were stripped down and ready to go to the party within minutes and the girls took much longer.  To be honest, I don’t remember all that much of the actual event once we got there.  I remember puking in the bathroom after just a few beers and being a good enough friend not to immediately blame Bobby’s Weird Lime Chicken.  I remember different scantily-clad girls sitting in my lap on the balcony next to the keg.  There really wasn’t any intra-KITT drama at that point, so it was a pretty tame affair as far as shit shows go.

The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery

Most importantly, however, I remember The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery ever to draw breath within our douche bag infested world.  He strutted around the small apartment with his chest puffed out and his arms held away from his sides like some kind of monkey with vertigo.  “I go to the gym a lot!” his body language shouted.  His hair was thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly gelled into spikes.  He wore sunglasses.  Inside.  At night.  Indoors.  At this nocturnal event.  Where there was no sun.  His heart boxers were cute but cliche.  But here’s the best part:  He wore about a half dozen Magnum condoms around his constantly-flexed bicep as a kind of arm band.  I wish I was a talented enough writer to make this up.

Naturally, I played him in beer pong.  Occasionally in a long-tenured beer pong career, you will encounter complaints that the cups don’t have enough beer in them.  The result is that they move around when the ball hits the side and the movement prevents the shot from going in.  It’s a real complaint, albeit an insulting one to make to someone far more interested in beer than pong.  The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery claimed that under filled cups were the cause of his beer pong mediocrity.  Every time.  After every shot that bounced off the cups and didn’t go in:  “Is there even any beer in that cup?”  I’m certain that if he acted this way at every party he attended, it was only a matter of time before someone’s fist decided that he had too many teeth in his mouth.

I don’t remember who won that game.  It doesn’t matter.  Pong is just a game.  Beer is a form of enlightenment.

I do remember my partner from the beer pong game sitting in my lap on the balcony later that evening.  The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery, who had been hitting on her and being brutally rebuffed throughout our entire game, strutted stupidly out to where we sat and asked her to grab him a beer.  She laughed in his face.  He grabbed his own beer and dumped it on her (and on me by proxy).  Everyone was on their feet and I don’t remember how I talked this girl out of altering some of his facial features.  I think I was standing in between the two of them and lightly shepherding the douche bag into the apartment, but I’m a pretty non-confrontational guy who totally panics in situations like that, so defusing this bomb was most likely entirely accidental.

The douche left eventually and we all kept partying and having a great time, despite Bobby’s weird lime chicken.

When Fate Graces You with an Apology

A few months later, The Purest Embodiment of Douche Baggery landed the task of going door to door in college apartment complexes for some reason or other.  I was hanging out with the girl that he dumped beer on when the douche knocked on the door.  He said his piece on whatever it was that he was doing and then awkwardly apologized for that night.  I laughed at it at the time, but now I know how rare it is to hear apologies from random shitheads that you cross paths with in life.  The potential divinity of the moment completely eluded me in that moment, but really, what are the odds of him knocking on that door in that apartment complex precisely at that moment when I was hanging out over there?

I wouldn’t be enlightened enough to see it this way for hundreds more beers.

Pen Pals and Taking People for Granted

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Throughout the more enjoyable parts of my second semester of college (which by no coincidence happened to be the parts that flew by the most), I dumped life updates on a girl from back home via Facebook messages.

Recently, I went as far back as Facebook allowed and dug up those messages (these are all 5-6 years old now).  I have no idea how this correspondence started.  The first message I was able to locate was referring to the turning point in an ongoing saga with a girl.  The way it was written indicates that this pen pal from back home, Jane, was up to speed before that fateful night.

The gist of it is this:  I really liked an unavailable girl.  She became available after ending a long relationship, but I didn’t want her to feel rushed into anything so I held back.  A forgettable jerk swooped in.  I ended up in the friend zone, desperate enough to confront her with my feelings and get turned down.  Just about all of our friends were mutual, so I couldn’t avoid her after having my heart kinda broken a little bit, etc.  Click some of those blue underlined words for the full story.

Jane was there, listening to the play by play, offering kind words and advice (most of which I didn’t take).  She was a few years younger than me, so she was a Junior in high school at the time.  We knew each other from a Drama 1 class that I took in Junior year that was heavily populated by freshman girls that thought I was so awesome just for the fact that I was a little bit older than they were.  I was kinda interested in Jane at the time, but didn’t want to put up with the inevitable teasing I would have had to endure for dating a freshman.  She was kinda interested too, but assumed that nothing would ever happen between us.  Honestly, we didn’t talk that much after that one drama class.  As I said before, I have no idea how this correspondence came to be, but it was an absolute life saver for me.

And yet I treated her like an interactive diary, something I wrote in purely for myself with no expectation or acknowledgement of a response.  All of our communication was extremely one-sided.  I dumped all of my drama on her and she responded almost exclusively to it without adding anything personal about herself.  On the rare occasion that she brought up her own baggage, it was always prefaced with an apology for talking about herself and then transparently framed as being relevant and similar to what I was going through.

The girl that turned me down, Mallory, was literally everywhere after she turned me down.  I didn’t want to lose her as a friend and I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to hold her disinterest in dating me against her, but I had a lot of trouble letting things go back to normal.

Jane was there for me through the whole process, and when it was all resolved with a heart to heart conversation between Mallory and me, I terminated our Facebook thread.  Literally.  I said, “I had a great talk with Mallory.  Everything is going to be fine now.  No more need for this message.  Don’t bother responding.”

Re-reading that part made me nauseas.  I don’t want to see myself as a self-centered guy, and I certainly didn’t see that in myself back then.  Those first years of college, I did everything I could to be there for people, especially when it cost me my own personal health and sanity.  I had some bizarre sense of showing love and compassion through self-sacrifice at the time:  If you truly love someone, show it by letting them make your life a living hell.

But none of that effort applied to Jane, who never caused me even the slightest inconvenience, let alone the full blown drama cyclone that my then-friends were brewing.

If my disregard for our friendship wasn’t self-centered enough, I consistently read between the lines that Jane was probably totally in love with me.  We had talked openly about how things never happened back in high school and I was always so insanely honest with her, so I brought it up.  She asked what I was referring to when I mentioned that some of the things she wrote made it sound like she was still interested in being more than friends.  I reread every word of every sentence and provided her with several instances.  She jokingly called me an egomaniac and I didn’t deny it in that moment.

Then she sent me an amazing care package to help me get over Mallory.  Seriously though, parents don’t love their own offspring enough to put together a care package this epic.  I lost count of how many baked goods there were.  Cookies, pastries, a whole damn pie, I think some kind of cake.  It was ludicrous.  And so, so delicious.

Beyond fattening me up with so much lovingly made food, she made me a very funny collage that moved from dorm to dorm with me for the next year.  At the time, I had a big crush on Hayden Panettiere of Heroes.  I joked that I was going to marry her when I moved to Hollywood and became a big shot after college.  Jane made a collage of Hayden photos next to photos of me with all kinds of goofy love messages (and Hayden’s name as a hyphenate:  Panettiere-Newton).  It was hilarious and creative and it made me smile every time I looked at it, which is why I put it right next to my desk to keep me company every time I did homework.

All of my friends from back home were convinced that Jane was madly in love with me (especially the ones in Orlando that I shared the sweets with).  I told them that she said she wasn’t and I took her word for it.  I have no idea how I would have pursued anything with this girl even if I had wanted to.  Starting off as a long-distance couple is crazy daunting.  Plus, she was underage and I was nineteen.  I don’t know the legal ramifications of that and it makes me feel icky even contemplating them.  Everything would have been extremely complicated, and it probably would have gotten in the way of where I was headed with the girl I was meant to be with.

About five failed girl pursuits later, I revived my correspondence with Jane.  We picked up right where we left off, as if I hadn’t told her to shut the hell up and stop being supportive when I whined to her several months ago.

I brought her up to speed on everything.  There was the drama queen girl that flirted while she tried to hide from me the fact that she was talking to another guy.  Then a girl that I was curious about but soon found out that neither of us were interested.  The love of my life was mixed in there too, but that wouldn’t develop into anything for several more months.  There was the blonde girl that I took out on the most magical first date ever in the history of broke college guys trying really hard to impress girls (she didn’t even let me kiss her good night and then she never returned my calls after that night).

Most catastrophically, though, was the last girl that I ever led on.  It started off as something with potential.  When I realized I didn’t want it to become anything, rather than being a man and telling this girl, I just said “Well you’re going home for Summer break, so no need to get involved right now!”  This completely blew up in my face.

Jane sat there and read my half-ass retelling of these events (seriously, I didn’t even bother with capitalization or proper punctuation).  I got a lot of enjoyment out of sharing them with her.  It made me feel super interesting.  She never really got a word in that wasn’t in direct reference to something that I wanted us to talk about.

We stopped talking for a while over the Summer.  She stopped returning my messages.  I think she was a counselor at a Summer camp, but I can’t know for sure because I never even tried to get to know her better.  To further emphasize how little I cared about her feelings, it never even occurred to me back then that she may be fed up with my crap and my selfishness.

By the time she responded again, my group of friends with nothing in common had bonded firmly and were now falling apart over everyone meddling in each others’ problems and relationships.  I, of course, insisted on trying to fix everything (remember – I had a twisted idea of love meaning self-sacrifice).  Jane told me that I couldn’t and that I was only stressing myself out trying.  I didn’t listen, I just wanted to be heard.  All of that blew up in my face, but I know that it could have been worse.  So many of my friends were complaining about each other to each other, spewing additional negativity and strife into the group.  I was puking all of mine onto Jane through our Facebook messages.  By using her as an outlet, I kept myself from pumping more bad stuff into an already toxic mix.

I can’t emphasize enough the extent to which this girl was there for me.  She never asked anything in return, and I never offered anything.

This part makes me the saddest:  I told her about Kaitlin, the love of my life, and how I had fallen for her over the Summer.  I detailed all of our first days of dating to Jane.  She was my cheerleader, that one little Jimminy Cricket voice telling me that I deserved something good when I was having difficulty valuing myself.

I told Jane details about my new relationship that normally would have been about a thousand miles outside my comfort zone.  I guess I thought about Jane so little that I never feared her judgement.  Maybe I just felt safe, safer than I have with any other friend before or since.

Our last messages to each other were in November of 2008.  I sent her a note on her birthday, which just happened to be ten days before mine.  It was nice for almost a whole paragraph, but then it became all about me and my drama again.  I wrapped up with a hollow mention about trying to see each other over Thanksgiving break.

She replied on my birthday with a message almost all about me, mostly responding to my self-centered rant in the middle of the birthday wishes I sent her way.  Just before all of this, she mentioned that she wasn’t doing anything for her birthday.  She was having trouble with her friends and would probably just be spending the day alone at home with her parents.  I didn’t ask for elaboration.  After everything that she was there for me through, I didn’t even ask her if she wanted to talk about it.

I vaguely remember something that she wrote on my Facebook wall some time later.  “Remember when we were friends?  Me neither.”  I don’t remember how much time had passed.  Somehow the harshness of it seemed an unprovoked mystery to me at the time.

If there’s one thing my dwindling population of friends in college taught me, it’s that decent folks are extremely rare.  If you find someone that genuinely cares about you and puts up with you at your worst, cherish them.  Realize how important they are to you.  For God’s sake, let them know!

I haven’t had many friends like Jane, and I’m not sure that I will find many more.  I truly regret letting her vanish from my life.

I know that this post refers to several instances that are just barely halfway described.  More details are coming, I promise!  Stay tuned for next week’s post:  ‘The Last Girl I Ever Led On’.

How It Feels To Be Famous

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Obviously I don’t really know how it feels to be famous.  I feel like we’re off to a great start here, reader who clicked this post because the title sounded interesting.

I have felt like the most interesting person in the room precisely twice in my life.  I figured I would share one instance with you before I get into the dirty details of just how catastrophically most of the friendships that I established in my first year of college came crashing down in the next several weeks’ posts.

After an ongoing successful execution of a New Year’s Resolution to be a better person, people that already knew me started to genuinely like me just a little bit.  People who didn’t already know me were a little less put off by my existence, making friendship an easier feat than it used to be when I wasn’t such a nice guy.

Being liked is a strange thing when it involves friends.  No, not “liked” that way (those of you using the middle school vernacular), but to be appreciated for your strangeness, individuality and contributions to a given friendship.

That’s weird to think about sometimes, because people put so much thought into their romantic pursuits and relationships.  They overanalyze every little nuance of their prey’s mannerisms in hopes of deciphering whether or not there is a reciprocal interest in maybe hanging out with no pants on sometime.

Friendship, on the other hand, is one of the most widely undervalued commodities in the human connection economy.  You can enjoy someone’s company tremendously without putting very much thought into whether or not they “get” you and all of your eccentricities, or if they would help you out if your car got towed while you were at an overcrowded Halloween Party.

That last bit was referring to Kalina, the roommate of an acquaintance from back home that I began hanging out with once I got down to college and struggled to make friends.  Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have judged her the type to drive my ass all over town to get my car back on such a rotten night.

All of this fluffy bullshit is building up to one particular moment.  Kalina had some friends from High School drive down to party with us one weekend.  They were from an area somewhere near University of Florida (home of countless insufferable sports fans).  These friends were  either two memorable girls or two memorable girls and a totally forgettable third.  I truly don’t remember if they were a duo or a trio, but if they were the latter I can’t picture this hypothetical third female’s face or recall a single thing about her.

Kalina had told me on multiple occasions how much she was looking forward to the weekend, so I was hanging out at her apartment when the friends arrived.  As they excitedly bounced up and down and hugged each other and shrilled like little girls at a sleepover, I stood back comfortably awkward as I awaited an introduction.

That’s when this bizarre feeling hit me.  “You must be Brantley.  Oh my God!  We’ve heard so much about you!”  I needed no introduction.  These girls already knew who I was.

That’s what it feels like to be famous.  The first time in my entire life that I ever saw these people, they knew who I was, had a few humorous anecdotes that they felt summed up my identity, and were happy to see me despite the fact that I had never intentionally or unintentionally done anything impressive within a 100 mile radius of them.

I don’t remember how I responded.  I was too cool to settle for the cliche “I hope you’ve only heard good things” line, but I also get sneaking suspicions that I was more clever back then, so maybe I nailed the response and immediately confirmed all of the nice things that Kalina had told them about me.

It was a bizarre out of body experience, similar to the time that girl wanted me to sleep with her for her boyfriend’s amusement.  I probably blushed and felt a sudden urge to drink heavily, but these girls liked me and thought I was cool and I didn’t have to do a damn thing to give them that faulty impression.

Anyways, I just wanted to share this upbeat moment that was one of my biggest social triumphs in this first year of college.  Some of the stories that happen next are going to get a little dark and frustrating.  I’ll do my best to keep them funny and I will definitely pepper in some lighthearted stuff as I go, but a lot of ravaged friendships really messed me up for a while and I’m just now getting to where I can laugh at them again so we will see how I do in recounting the crap carnival that is this blog’s destiny.

Stay tuned.  It’s about to get uncomfortable but interesting.