The Greatest First Date Ever

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Somehow or other, I managed to bounce back from the catastrophe of The Last Girl I Ever Led On relatively quickly.  And by “bouce back,” I mean “found another girl.”

Before I get into all of that, however, I have to explain my headspace after Spring Semester ended that first year of college.  I had overcome a lot of my own faults and had managed to finally make some really close friends.  This triumph was tempered by several romantic failures.

Somehow, my failures in the girl department accompanied by my victories in the friend department made me feel like a good guy that no one was giving a chance.  In short, I felt mopey and “unlovable.”  This was exacerbated by the departure of the vast majority of the on-campus population for the first half of the Summer semester.  It was a lot of time alone in my own head.

I felt like I was probably a catch and I wanted girls to notice how much of a keeper I was, so naturally I decided to develop flashy skills to impress them.  Why couldn’t I meet a nice girl?  Because I didn’t know how to give proper massages, I reasoned.  Why weren’t the pretty ladies that I was so kind to interested in more than friendship?  Because I wasn’t yet a master chef, of course.

Summer-long projects that began immediately after I said farewell to my friends included:  learning to cook, and teaching myself the basics of massage therapy.  I read an entire freaking textbook on massage and learned legitimate techniques and terminology.  Then, I christened my new Resident Assistant apartment with some cheap kitchen equipment and started trying to recreate the meals that my mom raised me on (which of course she had no recipes for because she memorized the directions and eyeballed all of the measurements).  These new skills would undoubtedly make me a lovable dude.

That’s when I met Meryl (not her real name, of course).  She was a friend of my friend Wendy (who was part of my doomed group of friends).  Both girls lived in Orlando, but Meryl went to school in Tampa (an hour south of Orlando).

After hanging out with Wendy, Meryl, and another girl one night, I got some phone numbers.  These would come in handy once Wendy left for a Summer-long internship elsewhere.

I decided to test out my cooking progress by inviting Meryl and the other girl over for dinner one night.  It wasn’t a date (though that would have been cool because it was two girls).  We ate dinner, made dessert, and watched a movie.  Other girl dozed off and eventually ended up sleeping in my bed (this was a studio apartment).

Meryl and I stayed up until like 6 AM talking while I massaged her.  There was no booze, or sexy time hullabaloo involved, just pure conversation.  Meryl seemed like an interesting girl and she was fun to look at, so that didn’t hurt either.  Eventually they departed that next morning and I was all gooey and infatuated.

The next weekend, I went home to Alabama to see my family before the full swing of all things Resident Assistant began that semester.  At one point during that trip, my grandmother randomly gave me a $100 bill for absolutely no damn reason whatsoever.  I was so excited about it that I forgot to ask my mom if my grandmother was sick or gonna die or something.  That’s how random this $100 bill was.  Mom confirmed that everything was cool, and to this day my grandmother’s rationale for giving me that money is a mystery.

That’s not really what this story is about, though.  With that Big Face Ben Franklin hot in my pocket, I decided to ramp up my courtship of Meryl.  I was gonna drop that whole bill on one magical night to impress this pretty girl.  Then she would HAVE to admit that I’m not “unlovable” (my word, not anything she ever said).

I began doing my research, finding out her favorite foods and flowers from Wendy and asking my guy friends for recommendations on where to take her.  I was lucky enough that she agreed to let me take her on a date to begin with, so I knew that I had to really do it right so that maybe I could get a second date out of it.

For starters, I spent a solid chunk of my first paycheck as an RA to get my car washed and detailed.  I went all out and did it big.  Somehow it cost me $80, which is madness, but I was younger then and probably got hustled.

Now, let me lay out for you how the date proceeded:

I arrived at Meryl’s mom’s house dressed as well as I did back then (probably like khakis and a short-sleeved button down).  As Meryl answered the door looking way better than I did, she was greeted by a big, beautiful Sunflower (her favorite).  Looking back on it, I wish she had a different favorite flower.  Sunflowers tend to come in pots of dirt (because they are big and ridiculous so they make for strange bouquets).  She smiled, thanked me, took the enormous-flower-and-dirt-bucket-combo and put that sucker inside so that we could continue on our merry way.

We had early dinner reservations because those were all that were available at the California Grill atop Disney World’s Contemporary Resort.  This place was NICE.  Had I been able to make my reservations for later at night, we could have watched Magic Kingdom’s closing fireworks show as we dined on fancy food.  Instead, we just enjoyed the awesome cuisine and atmosphere and I picked up the enormous check.  If we had been over 21 at the time, I would probably still be paying off that bill today, but since we couldn’t order booze it wasn’t all that bad.  This restaurant was recommended to me by my best friend, Bobby (shout out).

After dinner, we went to her favorite ice cream place.  I think it was called “Twisty Treat.”  I don’t really remember.  It’s the chain that has buildings shaped like giant ice cream cones.  You can’t miss it.

Once we finished our ice cream, I drove her out to Shaq’s neighborhood and we hung out on a playground in an enormous neighborhood of McMansions.  It wasn’t technically a “fancy” thing to do, but I thought it was neat and she humored me.

Now, you may not think that this sounds all that extravagant.  I have to remind you that I was 19.  I’m not a terribly “together” person when it comes to things like this.  I’m more the type of guy that sometimes forgets to put on pants.  This was a big freaking deal for me, and Meryl seemed to notice and appreciate that every step of the way.

Until I went to drop her off.

I walked her to her door, she told me that she had a great time.  I leaned in for a kiss and she dodged me, mumbling something of an apology as she countered with an awkward hug and then went the hell in her house and shut the door.

I was totally confused.  I really thought that I was doing well the whole night.  Meryl was a semi-religious girl, so I figured maybe she doesn’t kiss on first dates.  Maybe she likes to take things slow.  Like really slow.  Really, really, really slow.

I was probably misogynist for thinking this way, but I really felt like I earned a kiss after that date.  She didn’t even have to like me or ever go out with me again.  I just needed that kiss first, then she could feel free to bring on the rejection.

I called her a couple times after that, and she never responded again.  Wendy told me to give her space.  Whatever happened after that was never really explained to me.  We just never talked again. She had probably forgotten about me by the time that flower wilted, a symbol of our date – big, extravagant and impractical but destined to wither into nothing, leaving only a plain old pot of dirt.

It certainly didn’t chase away that feeling of being “unlovable!”  I mean this was the best game that I had to offer at the time and it STILL wasn’t good enough.  To this day, I still have her Elephant Man and It’s a Wonderful Life DVDs for some reason.  Those are some decent films, but I’d be willing to give them back should she ever come around with an explanation for why I didn’t get a kiss after that $100 date.

On a side note, I was experiencing technical difficulties with my phone during this short courtship.  It was a Motorola Razor.  You know, the ones that are only seconds away from breaking irreparably the moment you take them out of the package.  The hardware problems really forced me into some strange situations creatively.  You see, the 2 key didn’t work and these were the olden days of texting.  You texted by pushing 2 once for “a,” twice for “b,” three times for “c” and so on and so forth with the other keys and other letters.

Try texting someone without using the letters A-C.  It gets weird.  Quick.  One time I wanted to ask her if she wanted me to come over and give her a massage.  I did my best without those letters, ending up with:  “Rub you in your house?” – only that didn’t work either because of the “b” in “rub.”  Instead I opted to called her – but had I actually sent that text, I would at least know why she stopped talking to me!

 

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The Last Girl I Ever Led On

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Sometimes I look back on my adolescence and wonder if I was a budding sociopath.  I wasn’t killing critters or anything, but throughout middle school and high school I had a bad habit of leading girls on.  Sometimes it was by accident.  Other times I knew exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t quit because I enjoyed the attention – despite the fact that I wasn’t interested in the girl giving it to me.

It’s horrible.  I don’t condone it.  I’ve considered writing a series of posts apologizing to each and every one of these girls.  If The Brantley Blog has one purpose, it’s for me to take a good hard look at the steps I took to grow up, even (and especially) the embarrassing ones.

This story begins in the awkward aftermath of my Mallory saga.  After the dust settled and the permanence of the friend zone was established, I was hesitant to get my heart set on any one girl in particular again for a little while.  I tried to be a little more guarded with my love disbursement.

This led me to pursue four girls at once all at half speed, rather than one at full speed.  Not to diminish the unique character of each of these lovely ladies, but I will list them (in no particular order) A-D because most of them come back around and feature prominently in later points of my journey.

Girl A:  A social butterfly semi-interested in me but devoting a lot of attention to masking her penchant for drama.  I overheard her telling an acquaintance about the other guy that she preferred over me.  This is prime, Grade-A Brantley that we’re talking about here, ladies.  Even amidst my self-esteem struggles, I wasn’t interested in being the backup plan boyfriend.  Most telling of the whole experience was the look on her face when I asked about the other guy.  Talk about caught red-handed!

Girl B:  The most amazing girl in the entire world, The One…only not just yet.

Girl C:  A girl that became less attractive the more I got to know her, the lack of interest was mutual, though we remained friends.

Girl D:  The Last Girl I Ever Led On.

These lovely ladies weren’t necessarily listed in order of importance (duh), but Girl D was Girl D for a reason.  I was least interested in her.  So naturally, she was the most interested in me!

A petite girl with big blue eyes and an innocent sense of humor that betrayed her immaturity anytime she tried to make a dirty joke, Girl D and I met through her roommate Maggie – Star of one of my favorite posts:  The Awkwardest Lunch Conversation.  Ever.

D was involved with the Campus Activities Board movie club, which hosted almost weekly screenings in the Pegasus Ballroom (seriously, I have no idea why anyone would go to a school other than UCF).  The club also distributed passes to sneak previews of movies at the nearby multiplex.  At the invitation of Maggie and Mallory, I began attending these events regularly because they were equal parts free and awesome.  D and I got to know each other in this way, and despite her initial periphery within my burgeoning and doomed group of friends, she and Maggie eventually became regulars at all of our shenanigans.

With only about a month before Summer, I began spending time alone with D.  She was from up north and she didn’t have a car, so I chauffeured her around and relished in her boredom when neither of us felt like leaving campus.

The first whiffs of crazy came when I overheard her talking to her parents on the phone.  She reverted to full blown 13-year-old bratty teenage girl caricature within just a few sentences from her dad.  It wasn’t attractive.  At all.

Further emphasizing this immaturity was her picky toddler eating habits.  Our group of friends would have a meal together and she would always have to be accommodated, because she pretty much only ate chicken tenders and plain pasta with parmesan cheese.

This is where my tendency to lead girls on reared its ugly head.  I should have bailed, either telling her I wasn’t interested (like a grown up), or just avoiding her and pretending like she didn’t exist anymore (like a 19 year-old Brantley).

Instead, I went to SeaWorld with her.

And her parents.

It was miserable.  She bickered with her dad the entire time.  Right in front of me.  Right in front of everyone at SeaWorld.  Constantly.

At this point, you might be picturing her parents as evil-ass people.  They weren’t.  They were regular-ass parents.  Her dad would tease her and pick at her, not in a cruel or pointedly mean way, but it got perfectly under her skin every single time.  Maybe he was a bad person, because that never stopped him from continuing to do it to my sole embarrassment (I don’t think that she or her family bothered to become self-conscious).

Another enormous red flag was that night at mini-golf when I was joking around with Girl B:  The One.  It was harmless (or so we thought), but we always flirted all the time every single second that we were within flirting range of each other.  This didn’t go over well with D, but I didn’t even realize it at that particular moment.  See, she had been on and off the phone with her parents that night, so I assumed that her dad was making her upset, not me.

Don’t worry, D and I talked it through…after she sulked silently in the back seat of my car the entire drive home (30 min+) to the palpable social discomfort of the other two passengers and me.  As we approached campus, sobs began to bubble forth from that little perpetually sad place inside her.  By the time I parked, she bolted out of the car as tears started to pour from her eyes.  Remember, I had no freaking clue what this was about.

I was in a bad spot.  I didn’t want to be a bad guy, so I kept trying to repair this girl and make her happy again even though I really, really, really, really, really didn’t want to be with her.  Eventually, we had to sit down and talk about the whole mess.

Summer was fast approaching, and soon she would be on a plane headed north and I would be moving across the street to a different dorm.  I figured, “Why bother treating this girl like a human being and telling her I’m not interested?  That would be kinda uncomfortable and grossly mature.”  So I told her, “Summer’s coming up, so let’s not do this right now.  Maybe next Fall?” with absolutely no intention of maybe revisiting this next Fall.  She agreed.

That settled it.

NOT.

We parted ways, the whole group of friends committing to stay in contact through Facebook and AOL Instant Messenger (God I feel old right now).

D lurked on AIM, day and night.  She waited for my screen name to pop up.  Once it did, she ambushed me within 3.5 seconds of me signing on.

We weren’t in a relationship.  I never kissed this girl or did anything that I couldn’t take back or anything that would complicate me not dating her.  I thought Summer would give me a clean break.  It did not.  She still came to me with her problems and I talked to her but I never knew what to say.  She was always determined to stay upset.  There was no cheering her up.  Ever.  Eventually, I started responding to her messages less and less.

That’s when she started harassing our friends about us.  Soon after, I was bullied by just about everyone I knew to cut her loose rather than leaving her hanging for the next three months.  It was that obvious that I didn’t want to be with her.

And so I manned up and let her know that I wasn’t interested.  Through AOL Instant Messenger.

Totally not cool, I know.  I was a coward.  I stopped using AIM for a long time after that.  Without a Brantley to take out her incessant upset-ness on, D started bashing me to our friends.  And I mean bashing.  You have to remember the immaturity factor.

Examples of how I ruined her life:

She could no longer find joy in SeaWorld.  I ruined that for her because we went there with her parents that one time.

At the time, I wore cheap flannel jackets when it was cold out.  I called them “Lumberjackets.”  She promptly developed a hatred of that pattern.

She once cried when she saw a Dr. Pepper commercial (this beverage was quite the vice for me for a long time).  Cried.  Tears spewed forth.  From an emotional response.  To a Dr. Pepper commercial.

D had crafted a strange collage of every semi-interesting or clever thing that I ever said in her presence.  It was now practically ruined by salty, heartbroken, malicious, confused tears.

Most of these things she spewed to The One, who eventually decided she had had enough.  “Brantley’s a good guy.  You’re being crazy,” she told D (I’m totally paraphrasing, but this is probably accurate because my girl is the kindest person on the planet).  Soon D was complaining about both of us to all of our friends as she concocted conspiracy theories about how our flirtation was far more insidious than it actually was at the time.

Girl D was the last girl I would ever lead on.  I decided that even before realizing that I already knew the love of my life.  What seemed to be crazy behavior at the time looks even more insane now.  I think that if this had happened to me today, I would now have enough sense to fear for my life.

I shouldn’t be so harsh about her.  She certainly had a lot of issues, but I was somehow managing to exacerbate all of them.  It was one part god-complex (determination to cheer her up and fix her) and one part cowardice (too chicken shit to let her know the truth – that I didn’t want to date her).  What started off as an amusing, albeit manipulative game on my part landed me in exactly what I deserved:  a lot of freaking social turmoil.

Next Post:  A rebounding Brantley finds $100 in his pocket and concocts a foolproof plan to impress a girl.  

 

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’.

Memorable Classes: Script Analysis

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Peg was a strange bird and she taught a variety of somewhat-dry classes with all of the flair and drama that you would expect of someone with her stage acting credentials.

If the word pairing “Script Analysis” doesn’t conjure boredom for you, let me elaborate.  The class covered three units, three schools of thought on storytelling.

The first followed Aristotle’s Poetics, a breezy read that emphasized the importance of Plot (yes even above Character).  It was supposedly the first book about storytelling ever written, though being the loquacious type that he was, I’m sure Aristotle opted to go around talking about his ideas rather than shutting his trap long enough to jot them down himself so there was probably an unpaid intern that deserved a little bit of credit too.

The second unit delved into Lajos Egri’s Art of Dramatic Writing.  It was a dusty old book that you can buy for a nickel on Amazon.  Written in the mid 1940s, Egri’s book focused primarily on stage plays as his source work.  Regardless of the minor irrelevances for my film education that this bred, his notion of character-driven storytelling was revolutionary at the time and is still what we pretend to be aiming for with our screenplays and novels to this day.  Granted sometimes as writers we have to indulge a little bit and make the T-Rex inexplicably kill the Velociraptors.  Sure it’s Deus Ex Machina, but “Forget it Jake, it’s dinosaurs.”  <- Sorry, but we read the script for Chinatown in this class too.

The third unit was based on a blustery tome written by a pretentious windbag:  Story by Robert “Deuce Muffin” McKee.  That’s not his real middle name.  Well it might be, but I doubt it.  By the way, a “Deuce Muffin” is a muffin that is poop.  It’s probably not a real thing.  I might have made it up just now.

If you’ve seen the brilliant film, Adaptation, then you know Bob McKee as the man that killed that movie’s extremely engaging voiceover.  His work was very film-centric, and while it was good and useful, his tone was haughty and he liked to pretend that all of his rules and tips and guidelines were laws of physics that couldn’t possibly be defied by mere mortals such as you and me.

The spinal cord of the class was a series of criticisms that we had to write about a specific script that we chose at the beginning of the semester.  I chose 25th Hour, by David Benioff (currently of Game of Thrones fame, but this was long before that).  It had been produced and directed by Spike Lee, one of my favorites at the time.  The story chronicles the missteps of Monty Brogan as he wraps up his affairs in his final 24 hours of freedom before reporting to jail for an enormous drug sentence.  The script is powerful, the film beautiful, the performances stunning (Edward Norton playing Monty, Rosario Dawson as his wife, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his dweeby teacher pal and Barry Pepper as his brash stockbroker friend).  Let’s not get sidetracked here – unless you need to step away from the computer to go watch this movie.

This was one of three classes where I began to notice certain familiar faces and made friends accordingly.  Johnny (of Evil Beer fame) chose either Donnie Darko or Edward Scissorhands.  I don’t remember which, only that I was insanely jealous because those are two of my absolute favorite movies of all time ever.

Elle (of the doomed imploding friendship) chose My Own Private Idaho – a film so masturbatory that anyone other than Gus Van Sant claiming to have enjoyed it is either:  A.  A Liar  B.  Gus Van Sant in disguise.  I’m sure there is a great deal of meaning in the flick, but to this day my friends and I only mock a handful of scenes in this bizarre tale of male prostitutes starring River Phoenix and Keanu “I Know Kung Fu” Reeves.  The point is this:  Elle wasn’t very smart, so she should have picked something a little more straight forward like Ice Age 2 or something.

Forcibly trumping the relevance of all of our academic endeavors as they pertained to this class was Midnight Cowboy.  Now I know what you’re thinking, “Brantley, that guy has a name.  Surely his parents didn’t name him ‘Midnight Cowboy.’  That can’t possibly be on his birth certificate.”  And you may be right about that, but I’m telling the story and I haven’t given you enough information to produce documents to prove that this isn’t his name, or even that he was born in the United States as opposed to say, Kenya.

Well, Midnight Cowboy was writing his papers on, you guessed it, Midnight Cowboy.  (Trivia Aside – Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards).  He sometimes had a little bit to contribute to the weekly class discussion, but most of the time he had everything to contribute to the weekly class discussion.  Don’t get me wrong.  He chose a rich film to write essays about, but I wasn’t being graded on his essays so listening to his oppressive hogging of one of my favorite professors got old.  Quick.

Anyways, I managed to squeak out an A in the class after rebounding from a C on my first for-real college paper.  Apparently Aristotle and I didn’t get along.

But the highlight of the class was Peg and her grand sense of characters and symbolism and metaphor and freaking everything in life.  Yes, even that model plane advertising the aviation museum where her husband worked.  It was grand too!  She was like Sally Bowles as played by Liza Minelli, only she didn’t provoke a bubbling rage within you every time she opened her mouth.

Years later I would watch Peg go HAM as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the most microscopic black box theater in the world.  Seriously, this thing was like those Mighty Max and Polly Pocket play sets with the little figurines that you always lost immediately.

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.

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 Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

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Disclaimer:  I actually didn’t do any of the illegal things described below because those illegal things are illegal and I’m a law abiding guy.  This isn’t a confession to crimes committed, just an entertaining story that totally never actually happened, okay?

Freshman year of college, I was walking home from a 6pm-9pm class one night.  The sun had already set and being the invincible still-teenager that I was, I made sure to take all of the darkest, sketchiest alleyways to get back to my dorm.  This was, after all, nearly a full year before I was robbed at gun point.

Lurking in the shadow of the Counseling building that was just yards away from my dorm community were two figures, a guy and a girl.  Rather than assuming they were up to no good, I decided I would ask them what they were trying to accomplish in such a poorly lit spot.  When they both nearly jumped out of their skin, well, then I assumed they were up to no good.

He was a typical fratty guy in a polo with too much gel in his hair.

Busty doesn’t adequately describe her.  I think I vaguely remember that she had a pretty face, but it wasn’t something that I noticed until we became Facebook friends.  It’s a miracle I didn’t keel over from a boob overdose right then and there.  When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration runs through the entire alphabet when naming hurricanes in one season, they resort to the greek alphabet.  I suppose she had Omega cups.

I’m not the type of guy who goes on and on about this stuff anymore, but I was back then and this story takes place in the past, so humor me when I detail how enamored I was with her knockers.  Guys of a certain age just aren’t that smart, okay?

It’s a miracle they didn’t throw the Earth off its axis and send us spiraling into the sun.

The teenage male's mind devotes an inordinate amount of memory to encounters with boobs.

Seriously, I’m done talking about this girl’s breasts now.

As I said, the guy seemed to be a Fraternity-type so with his fake swagger cranked up to eleven, he emerged from between two maintenance golf carts in the darkness to share with me an intriguing fact that was whispered to him.  He didn’t say by whom.

Our tiny, dorm-community mailbox keys were rumored to be capable of cranking up the maintenance golf carts.

I asked him if he had any luck and he said that he hadn’t tried before I came up on him and started asking questions.  I laughed at how ridiculous this all sounded and went on my merry way.

A few beers into the post-LOST festivities that night, I recounted the bizarre encounter to my compatriots.  The consensus was universal.  We had to test this theory.  It probably wasn’t true, but we had to know.  “No, no,” I told them.  They handed me another beer, then another, then another.  After I emptied the bottles into my belly, the conversation returned to this topic.  “No, no,” I repeated, but by now the dissent was laced with drunken chuckles.  More beers were handed to me and I consumed them.

The next time this rumor came up, the conversation was different:

“How many beers do you need to drink before you are willing to try this, Brantley?”

“At least ten.”

The Empty Bottle (EB) is the international measurement of bad ideas.

It wasn’t long before ten of the empty bottles that crowded every open surface in my dorm were accounted for by me.

Without much fuss leading up to my ruling this time, I informed them:  “Maybe like two more.”

After a dozen beers, I found myself standing back as I watched a handful of friends no more sober than myself fumbling with the golf cart ignitions in the dark.  Somehow, someway, my liver manned up enough that I was still the most prudent of the group.

This is how I ended up in the rear-facing back seat instead of driving, because

IT.

FREAKING.

WORKED.

Drunken courage and disregard for rules doesn’t equal coordination or control of your body, so two golf carts swerved all freaking over campus that night.  At one point, our driver took a turn as tight as he could.  The blonde, burnout girl sitting next to me on the back seat of the cart quit being on the back seat of the cart after succumbing to inertia.  She tumbled through the grass as she was thrown off.  It was almost the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my entire life.

Drunken courage plus disregard for rules does not equal hand-eye coordination or basic motor function.

But then she was crying.  She scraped her hands and hurt her ankle.  Or knee.  I don’t remember because I was twelve beers into the night so my retention reserved itself for the inebriated joy of the wind in my hair as we tore through the night air in those stolen vehicles.  Regardless of which joint she hurt, it killed the night and we brought the golf carts back to where we stole them from and went back up to my room to hang out for a bit more before parting ways to sleep it all off.

It wasn’t an isolated occurrence and it wasn’t a secret that we kept very well.  It required boasting.  A lot of it.

We stole those golf carts probably two or three more times.  Each theft required a prerequisite game of “How many beers does Brantley need before this becomes a good idea?”  There was a bit of a sliding scale, but usually the magic number fell between 10 EB and 12 EB.

One night, we didn’t exactly return them in one piece.  A FedEx drop off mailbox leaped into the path of our cart and we couldn’t swerve (or stop swerving probably) in time to avoid it.  We crashed into that big metal box and knocked it about five feet from where it was bolted into the freaking cement.  We were cautious enough to only allow ourselves about 45 seconds of uninhibited laughter before we got the hell out of there before we found out exactly what the consequences of all of this would be.

Eventually we did find out exactly what the consequences of all of this would be.  It’s a total miracle that it wasn’t the hard way.  The rumors that circled the community took on a new tone.

The Fraternity-type and his enormously chesty girlfriend were caught on a stolen golf cart.  Campus police threw the book at them.  Both were hit with Grand Theft Auto.  Fratty-Polo guy was driving, so he got a complimentary DUI with it.

Learning from someone else's mistakes trumps felonies every time.

Looking back on all of this, these rumors were probably living up to the reputation of rumors.  Legendary things become legends pretty easily when drunken coeds are involved.  Stories that are passed around orally by people who only half-remember them evolve over time and truth  fades away into obscurity as the tales morph into outright lies.

Half-remembered stories orally passed around evolve over time, and truth fades away into obscurity as tales morph into outright lies.

The basis of this particular gossip seems believable enough though, even now.  We never stole golf carts again after that.

Moments of terrible judgement form the core of many great stories.

Oh yeah, like I said, this never happened.  I didn’t do any of this.  It’s illegal.

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!

Parents Weekend

Standard

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?