nine things to know before moving to hawaii

After twenty three mostly uneventful years in the Midwest, I was given an opportunity most people could only dream of: the chance to move to Hawaii. I’m in a time zone four hours away from the one I’m comfortable with and experiencing 70 degree days in February. Every day’s another day in paradise, but it’s not all perfect. At the same time though, before moving, I heard a whole slew of negatives that made me almost afraid of moving. I can’t speak for everyone, but if someone has any desire to move here, here’s what I’d tell them.

1. Rent is just as high as you might expect

Among the Hawaiian horror stories, there is nothing more famous than that of the cost of living here. Everything’s more expensive. Milk, eggs, juice, and pretty much everything regularly purchased is more than it is back on the mainland. But these are nothing compared to rent. In Hawaii’s defense, it won’t set you back any more than a rental in a hot city on the mainland, but it’s when rent is combined with these other factors that it becomes hard to handle. And don’t even think about buying a house. Not that millennials are buying houses or anything, but if one is planning on coming here for the long haul and thinks it might be wise to invest in real estate, good luck. The median price of a house on Oahu is more than $700,000. With these astronomical prices, it is no surprise that homelessness is an epidemic here. All of this being said, it’s not impossible to find a decent apartment. Thanks to the finesse of my my girlfriend, we were able to find a place with a decent price tag, ample space, and a view that’s just as breathtaking a few months in as it was the first time I saw it. Ideal living situations are hard to come by in Hawaii, but they aren’t impossible.

2. Jobs are here, but they’re tough

It should come as no surprise that the number 1 industry in Hawaii is tourism. Entire spots on the island of Oahu are almost entirely built for hotels and resorts. Outside of tourism though, it can be hard to find something that fits. Be prepared to work odd jobs until you land that lucky position in the field you’re looking for. I’ve been a tutor, a dog walker, and I’m training to be a substitute teacher since I’ve been here. Fortunately, my girlfriend, a journalist, found her job before we moved. I can’t say that moving here on a whim is a bad idea, but I personally recommend finding a source of income before moving.

3.Potlucks are the Hawaiian love language, and Ohana is real

Wow those first two were kind of bleak, huh? I promise Hawaiian life isn’t just worrying about how to pay for rent. Even though the day I moved was my first day ever in Hawaii, I was lucky to move with someone who had previously lived island life. My girlfriend was a decade removed from her last time on the island, but she still had a built in network of family friends from the church she attended as a kid. Anyone whose seen Lilo and Stitch knows the Hawaiian concept of Ohana, a word that means family but encompasses much more than what we think of it on the mainland. Being part of the Ohana means that I’ve never felt alone on the island. Even though I was a stranger, I felt welcomed by “aunties” as soon as I arrived. Potlucks are commonplace in Hawaiian life, and apart from the rich feeling of inclusivity found at these gatherings, the food alone makes these events worth going to. Hawaii boasts a unique mix of local cuisine, Japanese food, and other specialities. Having the chance to mind a new social network while also getting to eat foods I have never tried before has been a great way to spend time on the island.

4.Even fast food is better

Now that I’m thinking about food, I need to talk about an unexpected joy of island life: the fast food. Hawaii has a few chains unique to the state. Zippy’s is found all over Oahu, and they serve standard fast food fare with the additions of Japanese food AND macaroni salad that I cannot praise enough. These are nice, and I doubt the novelty of them will ever wear off. But I’m talking about the real stuff: normal fast food chains with Hawaiian flair. McDonald’s is the best example. I fancy myself a bit of a McDonald’s connoisseur, and Hawaiian McDonald’s is my playground. Hawaiian McDonald’s is home to unique menu items, like bacon cheese fries. They also recently added a delicious teriyaki hamburger known as the McTeri. This next thing might not appeal to everyone —in fact, I know it won’t appeal to everyone— but spam is extremely popular in Hawaii. Like, more popular than you would ever believe. As a result Hawaiian McDonalds even serves spam and rice. Again, it won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s worth trying.

5. Get ready for traffic

From what I’ve seen from island virgins looking to make the move to the Aloha State, one thing they don’t account for is transportation. What locals already know, and what anyone who moves here will find out in good time, is that Hawaiian traffic is notorious. There are way too many cars for the amount of road on Oahu. My girlfriend told me about a time when she lived here before when there was a traffic jam in the evening that kept drivers on the road for more than six hours, unable to simply commute home after work. Thanks to my girlfriend’s car combined with our amazingly convenient location, we don’t have that hard of a time getting around, but it’s easy to see how many people in Oahu have issues getting around. Additionally, parking is abysmal. I’ve been lucky in being able to avoid the worst of the traffic, but parking can’t be avoided. Once again, there are just way too many cars here. If you want to move here, don’t plan on bringing your car unless you’re dedicated to driving. Odds are you’ll have a hard time adjusting to Hawaiian driving. I personally recommend the Hawaiian method of transpiration: the moped. Moped are all over the place here. They’re easy to ride, and they get to avoid a lot of the parking difficulties other modes of transportation face. Alternatively, Oahu has an island-wide bus system simply called “TheBus.” It’s not the fastest way around, but it’s cheap and it gets the job done.

6. Tourists are annoying

Who doesn’t want to vacation to Hawaii? The weather is perfect and the views are breathtaking. Well, that’s the problem. EVERYONE wants to vacation here. There are entire sections of Oahu that are basically inaccessible to the general public because tourists clog them up. A nice day at the beach can be ruined because it just so happens to be spring break, and everyone from Kappa Kappa Gamma came to spend the week. Tourism is absolutely necessary to Hawaii. If it suddenly stopped, the most profitable industry in the state would be gone. Just like that. And Hawaiians tolerate the tourists for that exact reason. But the question has become more prominent in recent years: how much is too much? If you’re someone who experiences occasional white guilt like I am, then this becomes doubly concerning the more I explore Oahu. Tourists in their big sun hats and fanny packs become more than mildly annoying when contrasted with the high percentage of locals who live in homeless camps, unable to keep up with the high cost of living and limited economy. The trolleys that transport hordes of tourists from spot to spot are less innocent when in the context of the overcrowding of Hawaiian roads.

7. Really though, everything is just as beautiful as the postcards

Regardless of the housing costs, the difficulties in finding work, and every other negative I can say about Hawaii, there is one thing that tops everything else. Hawaii is built up as an almost mystical land filled with rainbows, volcanos, and the bluest waters on Earth. And this is exactly what it’s like in real life. Even walking past the same locations daily, I find myself noticing new plants while birds I hadn’t seen before fly over my head. Sure there’s a city skyline in Honolulu, surprisingly similar to a skyline in any “regular city,” but it’s just a small part of the island. And sometimes if I go a certain direction, I’ll come across a tent city or a smaller homeless camp around the island, and it briefly makes me forget about the beauty that fills the island. But these lapses are few and far between. The beauty found in these islands cannot be overstated.

8. Sometimes Hawaii feels like its own country

If it weren’t for the high military presence, it might be easy to forget that Hawaii is part of the United States. People here have a lot of pride in being Hawaiian, and there are plenty of statues that honor the former Kingdom of Hawaii and buildings standing that mark important moments in the history of independent Hawaii. When flying into Hawaii, you even have to fill out a customs form to ensure you aren’t smuggling any contraband into the state. This all might sound intimidating, being in one’s home country while also feeling foreign, but it’s quite a cool feeling, honestly. Travels around Oahu often feel like exploring abroad, but at the end of the day, it’s still part of my home country.

9. Have some respect

I mentioned a little bit about white guilt, and that’s definitely a part of my life as a non-native living in Hawaii. Remnants of colonialism are present all around the state, from the plentiful US military bases, to the wealth inequality among ethnic groups. Another horror story I frequently heard before moving was how the native Hawaiians treated white residents, and honestly I kind of worried. Would employers take me seriously? Would I get served at restaurants? It’s silly to think of, a white man worrying that he might not receive fair treatment, but with the picture that was painted for me, I was kind of worried. But since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced nothing of the sort. I know people who have had bad experiences, but I certainly have felt nothing but welcome here. My tip to get the same result? Be respectful. Understand that this island was someone’s home long before it was yours. This small landmass is still considered sacred by a large number of people, and all that most of them ask is that you give it the same amount of respect. It’s not just a backdrop for a quality Insta post. It’s special. I was recently at a Jamba Juice in a crowded mall that’s popular among rich tourists. The cashier gave me a special deal on smoothies because I was “happy and polite.” If you decide to move here it means one of a few things. You might be the sort of nature freak who exclusively buys from Whole Foods, or you’re rich and want to live in a constant vacation. Whoever you are or whatever your reason is for coming here, just have respect. Everything will go smoother for you if you do this simple little thing.

There are pros and cons to island life, just as there are to basically every place a person could live. But if you’re willing and ready to deal with the high cost of living and cultural boundaries, then it is while you’re young and able, it might be a risk worth taking. It gets hard, but there will always be someone around to show the Aloha spirit and make everything at least a little better.

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The Dog Sitter

Welcome to a new series of short stories! The Dog Sitter is the story of Danny Warner, a nobody staying in an unfamiliar city for an internship. After meeting someone, Danny gets a crazy idea to ditch his apartment and live as a nomad of sorts, taking care of dogs and staying at people’s houses while they’re away.

The Dog Sitter is inspired by a true story and is dedicated to the best girlfriend on the planet, Carlie. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

DOG SITTER AVAILABLE

Would Fido prefer to stay at home rather than be boarded in a cramped, expensive vet’s office? Young, able-bodied, experienced sitter looking to care for dogs in the Dallas area. Available to stay overnights for extended periods. Caring and available to work with a variety of dogs, great and small. Take the stress out of traveling by ensuring that your best friend gets the same love and care as you would provide.

Danny Warner is an experienced dog sitter. He brings with him eight years of experience. His soft tone and and caring nature works well with dogs, even those who don’t often respond well to strangers. He additionally brings with him a liberal arts degree. His plans were to become a writer, the sort of pipe dream romantic types with no real ambition or plans have. That plan is currently on hold, but he is working an internship right now, if that helps.

Danny is not a native to Dallas, nor should he be here. No one has ever thought of Dallas as a literary city. The internship he took was low-level, not something prestigious. He spends most of his days reading shitty poetry submissions from high schoolers for a big journal no one reads. But Dallas seemed important to Danny.

See, Danny had this friend, and then the friend died in a car accident, and now Danny is struggling to come to terms with that. Back when the friend was still alive though, he told Danny that there’s something magical about Dallas. That was probably just because the friend liked the Cowboys, but Danny got so hung up on those words that he shifted his career and life goals to include a trip to supposed Promised Land. And so far all he’s found has been disappointment and more questions.

Anyway, Danny is ready to care for your dogs, and he asks for almost nothing in return. All he wants is to stay at your place while caring for your companion! He will provide excellent 24/7 care when you’re away! Well, 24/7 minus the times he’s at his internship or out trying to make sense of his life. Call now because spots are filling fast! And if you don’t call, Danny might not have a definite place to spend the night.

He’s not trying to blame anyone for his problems. Honest. Danny did have a sublease on a shitty apartment, and he could’ve comfortably stayed there all summer before returning home with no additional career or life experience. But then he met this girl. She was far more successful than Danny, stood with the poise of someone years older than Danny. He only saw her once, and he can’t remember her name because he wasn’t in the right state of mind when he met her, but she was something else. You’ll have to take his word for it. She was the sort of girl you’d go way out of your way to find again. The girl, the Dog Sitter, was doing this thing that Danny found fascinating. She was staying in Dallas for an internship, much like Danny, but she had come up with a method to never have to pay for housing. She was staying at people’s places and taking care of their dogs. And she was free. She did what she wanted when she wanted. She was going to clubs and meeting people, dancing with groups she barely knew. And she seemed to be having fun, which Danny doesn’t believe a lot of people do anymore.

So when Danny met her, he decided he’d try to do the same. It wasn’t like he was happy before or anything. He was living with two roommates whom he hated before. They were filthy, far filthier than any dog could be. And he had a routine he hated. He went to work, played video games, and went to sleep. Sometimes he’d eat irradiated food. He’d tell himself he’d take the train somewhere noteworthy, but normally he wouldn’t. So apart from slight homelessness, there was really nothing to lose trying this.

And hey, if he somehow ran into the Dog Sitter somewhere along the way, he wouldn’t complain. He wanted a chance to show her that there was someone else who was almost on her level of enlightenment. He wanted to be able to say that he knew where she was coming from. Maybe she’d be impressed that someone else was able to do what she was doing, or maybe she’d appreciate that they cared.

Whatever. The main point is that I’m doing dog sitting. If you have an offer, feel free to call or email or text. I’m not that busy, and I’m pretty lonely, so I’ll respond pretty quickly. Can’t wait to meet your dog!

 

 

The Dog Sitter

I first saw the Dog Sitter dancing with a dude who wasn’t me at a rave in Deep Ellum. She looked happy there, happier than almost everyone else in the club, the variety of substances on display hitting her with better vibes than most of the patrons. I liked her smile. It was small, and a lot of it was shown in her lightly closed eyes. I wished that the guy she was with appreciated it. I had no idea if he did.

“Didn’t I tell you Zume was great?” That was Cory, the intern I liked the least. He had this gross undercut he kept his hair in and wood-rimmed glasses that tied his unsubtle style together. Zume was the DJ of the night. He was the entire reason we came out. Cory had been talking him up since our internship started, and I had used up all of my excuses for avoiding other team bonding since I got to Dallas.

I really had no idea how good Zume was. It should go without saying that this was my first rave. Really I didn’t even know how exactly to define a rave. I always envisioned them in the woods with ecstasy-fueled young people dressed outrageously in neon flailing their limbs to electronic noise. The scene I was in sort of fit the notion. It was indoors in a more intimate club than I expected, and the people were dressed more normally than I envisioned. There was still a lot of drug use though. I had to piss soon after getting there, and I had to wait to wash my hands because five guys were waiting for their turns to do lines off of the counter. I was worried there wouldn’t be any breathing room, but the club was just spacious enough where our group was able to have space to move our elbows. Zume’s music might have been good. It was really loud, hard for me to gather my bearings to judge the quality of the DJs beats. Everyone at the party seemed into it though, so I guess that’s a good sign.

“Totally,” Krista said a fairly long time after Cory asked his question. Krista was a chubby girl dressed like a librarian. We had bonded in the internship so far over both being embarrassingly socially inept. I think she was like me, there because she didn’t have a good reason not to be.

The fourth and final member of our team of interns, Rae, was off flirting with a group of guys dressed like the prototype of a fraternity brother. Rae wasn’t used to raves either, but she was better at adapting than I was. I had low-key hoped I would get my shot with her that night because I was the hopeless romantic type, and she was the prettiest girl in the workplace by far. She came off as the type who wanted to be into partying and the sort but obviously wasn’t.

Sometimes the bass took a drop, and the surprise of it caused me to jump just enough to spill a few drops of my drink onto myself. I’m pretty sure Cory kept commenting on Zume or other DJs he liked, but it was kind of hard to hear him, and also I didn’t care that much. Most of my attention was focused on the girl I’d call the Dog Sitter later on. Sometimes I’d catch how creepy I was staring unblinkingly at her, and I’d look away for a few seconds only to worry that I’d never see her again if she got lost in the waves of ravers, so my attention went back to her. She kept dancing, kept smiling. It was like a machine or something. I mean, it was drugs. That’s how these things went. But in the moment it looked a lot more magical.

I grew to hate the dude behind her though. I know I don’t really have that much to complain about since it wasn’t my place to intervene –I knew nothing about either party involved, judged based on completely circumstantial feelings, whatever– but feelings hurt, especially when it’s obvious that I’m not going to do anything about them. I’m a jealous person, okay? I hate that others can just act out when they want to.

The bass took another drop, and my hand flinched in a way that sent my entire drink onto my t-shirt.

“Whoops, party foul!” Cory chided. It’s easy to joke when one’s not wearing a cocktail as an accessory. I tried to laugh it off to show that I was cooler than I was, and then I excused myself to clean off best I could in the bathroom/coke room.

Zume’s beats continued to guide the ravers whom I had to push my way through to get anywhere. It was easy to get lost in the rapidly flashing rainbow lights. Health class taught me this myth that people in raves liked to stick strangers with AIDS-infected needles, so I kept myself on the defensive whenever a person’s flailing arm got too close. The bathroom was a lot emptier than before. The floor was covered in toilet paper and paper towels with occasional condom wrappers and dime bags strewn in to keep things interesting. I tiptoed my way to the sink avoid the germs almost certainly mixed into the floor. The mirror was covered with carved messages from patrons who thought they were much funnier than they were, but at least it was still intact for me to get a glimpse of what my half-hour at the rave had done to my person.

My eyes looked sadder than usual, a little bloodshot too, but that was normal. I chalked that up to being in yet another environment in which I didn’t feel like I fit in. My hair was ruffled to a degree that fit in with the chaotic nature of the club floor. I had put styling cream in it earlier that night to give it that exact look. As for the damage I came to check, my grey t-shirt, which I thought was the closest thing in my closet to what I thought people wore to raves, was sticky and stained with the amaretto sour I spilled thanks to Zume’s infamous bass drops.

I wish I knew what made up an amaretto sour. I always ordered them, but I didn’t know what was in them. A friend in college got one once, and I thought he looked cool ordering it, so I followed suit.

The hot water faucet didn’t work. It never does. Anywhere I go, the cold water always works without fail, like life is giving me almost what I want, but never quite what I needed. I reached for a paper towel, the last in the dispenser, and did my best to replace the unpleasant stickiness in my shirt with a slightly less bothersome wetness. I rubbed and scraped as though the increasingly unuseable, moist paper towel could do more than its designed purpose while my shirt took more damage than necessary.

“You okay, buddy?” a voice interrupted my bizarre struggle with myself.

I turned around to see a guy who might’ve been familiar. Everyone in the club looked mostly the same. They were all white, and white guys of a certain age do as little as possible to distinguish themselves from one another. But I was almost positive that this guy was the one dancing with the girl. He had green eyes that were half glazed over, and his light hair was taller than it was long. He was dressed similarly to me in a t-shirt and jeans.

“Yeah,” I responded hastily. “Just spilled a little on myself. You know how it is.” That sounded a lot less cool than I wanted.

“It’s a party man,” he responded as though we knew each other. “Let loose. Everyone here’s gross, and they’re all out there, not in here.”
I was almost insulted that this guy I didn’t know, whom I had a hidden jealousy for, was trying to give me advice like he somehow knew how to be happy. I mean, he probably did understand it a lot better than I did, but still.

“I’ll be out in a minute,” I answered. I rolled my eyes while attempting to feel superior to him. At least I didn’t feel the need to criticize others’ life choices in rave bathrooms.

“Seriously, you’re already here,” he continued his no-audience philosophy. “Lighten up. Nothing’s going to ever get better if you keep sweating tiny details like a stained shirt.” He dramatically lifted his arm up to reveal a hole that showed off his hairy armpit.

“I get that that works for you,” I said. I guess the frustrations of the night were taking their toll. “But not everyone can just dance it out and have fun and act like their problems don’t exist. Some of us are stuck in the real world, and it fucking hurts.”

His expression didn’t change a bit. He was still looking like a blank philosopher, a little smug about what he perceived as life experience. “Look, bro,” he started, scratching an itch on his scalp and then adjusting his hair to make up for the damage. “This is clearly your first time. Take this. Let loose. Enjoy your night.” The raver then stuck his hand in his pocket and carefully dropped the content of his hunt onto the counter. Without saying another word, he gave me that sort of half-nod people give each other when they don’t know each other and then left to return to his fun.

With a skeptical eyebrow I glanced at the counter and saw what the mystery man had left for me. It was a little pill colored peacefully green. A mind only slightly naiver than mine would’ve thought it was a kids’ vitamin. I was going to leave the pill where it was. If I was going to try anything, it certainly wouldn’t come from some stranger in a rave bathroom. But the pill spiked my interest. I didn’t realize they were so, well, cute looking. I know, that’s probably what the evil drug dealers intended, but still, it looked less intimidating than I thought. So, I went ahead and threw judgment to the side and used my thumb and index finger as a claw to grab the pill. Up close it had a little design on it, a curly lower-case m with an arrow coming from its tail.

It couldn’t be too harmless, could it? And besides, I kind of wanted to be on the same

level as everyone else at the party. They were having fun. They seemed happy. I wanted to be a part of that.

I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take it. I tried to search online for methods, but I had no service in that bathroom. Did I let it dissolve in my mouth? Swallow it? Chew it? I contemplated and decided I’d go ahead and just swallow it. I hurried threw the thing into the back of my throat and used the faucet to give myself a handful of water to chase it with.

Start time isn’t really something I thought about when it came to drugs. The movies always made it seem instantaneous. Ingestion, trip. A few seconds. Bang. But as I stared at myself in the mirror waiting for my eyes to change colors, I instead found myself with nothing. Much like a lot of things in life, drugs were quite disappointing. Oh well. At least I could now say I tried it. Time to return to the group.

The three other interns were huddled together just outside of the main life of the party. Rae, having apparently struck out or lost interest with the guy she was flirting with, was slightly dancing while Cory and Krista were holding drinks with their arms crossed as they spoke to each other, yelling to overcome Zume’s volume. They reacted to my return as though I was only gone for a few minutes, so my bathroom excursion must not have been as long as it was in my head.

“I’m trying to settle something here,” Cory yelled to me. “Have you heard of Adrestia?”

I fought my eyes from their natural reaction of rolling. Who the fuck was this?

“Can’t say I have,” I said, giving a little wink to Krista to show that I understood the stress she had gone through in the last few minutes.

Cory dramatically threw up his arms and let out a moan. “You guys are killing me!” He went on to rant about Adrestia being another DJ he loved. He saw her perform on like a monthly basis or something.

While he went on his spiel, I tried to figure out the social structure of raves. It was chaotic and colorful, but there were rules, a class system. Closest to the the DJ were the true ravers, the ones that rave virgins drum up in their heads when they think of the parties. They dress like personified ecstasy and are the loosest of the partygoers. Outside of them are the casual ravers. They’re still partaking, still going at it, but a little calmer in dress and action. Another level out were the rave connoisseurs. They all looked like variations of Cory. These were the types who didn’t seem to really care about the drugs or the dancing, but whenever the DJs did something with the bass or the lights, they would light up like they reached Nirvana-level orgasms. They probably cared the most about the raves, but they also seemed the least in-tune with the whole idea of it all.

The Dog Sitter was in a fringe group, somewhere between the first two groups. Oh yeah, I managed to spot her after I returned to the group. I was initially a little worried; she wasn’t with the dude who gave me the pill. But then she was actually quite easy to spot. She was with a bigger group. They were all dancing, but she was putting the most effort into it. Her dark, wavy hair was rhythmically moving with the music while her limbs matched the intensity of those closest to Zume. I liked the way she danced. It wasn’t trying to be sexy, -even if it’d be a lie for me to say that’s not an adjective I’d use for her- but it was fun. That’s something I don’t think a lot of people seemed too interested in. Her friends seemed to take their energy from watching her. When she’d move closer to one of them, they’d light up a little more than before. The guy, whom I gave the temporary descriptor of the Supplier, was in the group. I hated that he was the sort to give me advice. He looked the least alive out of everyone in the Dog Sitter’s group. Still, sometimes he’d wrap his arms around the girl’s waist, and she’d entertain him for a few seconds.

I wish I knew when people were happy, or what made them happy. It’s hard to tell. There’s that cliche about people who smile the widest being secretly the saddest. I don’t know if that’s true, but faces sure as hell don’t do enough to tell the truth. I wanted something to tell me that the Supplier wasn’t happy. I didn’t want his advice to be sound. And he wasn’t smiling or anything. Of course, that was probably the drugs to some degree, but still. Why did he look more fulfilled being unhappy than someone like Cory did while he was smiling up a storm in an environment he had no idea he was not meant to be part of. And then there was the Dog Sitter. Was she happy? And then there was me? Was I happy?

Maybe Cory was right about Zume after all. There was definitely something about his music that was growing on me. He must’ve saved his better stuff for later in the set. The bass drops started feeling less like earthquakes to the inner ears and more like waves that resonated through the body with a tingling sensation throughout. Come to think of it, the lights were getting better too. They stopped being almost seizure-inducing, and the colors sparkled in the way I’d expect an idealized rainbow to look.  

“Are you finally feeling it?” Cory looked ecstatic that I had been converted.
“I think so,” I said, unable to really explain what I was feeling. Zume must’ve been a magician because I was feeling like every happy thought I had ever had was being fired off at once. My hands started twitching. Then the rest of my arms. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was my body telling me to do more. So I embraced the twitch. I threw my arms up like I was praying in a crazed Appalachian church. I started swinging my hands in a predicted rhythm with Zume’s beats. I felt like Zeus, lightning bolts shooting from my hands with each flail. I let myself close my eyes, and the colors were still there, a kaleidoscope in my head.

“Woo!” Cory cheered like he had any idea what was going on. When I opened my eyes I saw that Krista and Rae were standing next to him. Each of them looked at me with the same smile, like they were parents watching a child grow up in front of them.

“Someone’s finally letting loose,” Rae said, still oblivious to the fact that she was only two drinks in and going home alone later.

“Yeah,” I said, in a tone that was two parts excited and one part spacey.

Without another word I shifted my eyes to the direction of the Dog Sitter. There were people in between me and her, but I moved in a straight line. I don’t remember shoving them out of the way. It felt like I was moving continuously forward, unobstructed. Maybe they parted for me, or maybe I used the energy I was harnessing to phase through everyone. My feet never felt like they moved. In my mind I was gliding across the floor, whose disgusting surface I had completely forgotten about.

“Hi,” I said, less than a foot away from the Dog Sitter, who at this point was still just a girl I had seen at a rave.

Everyone in her group except the Supplier gave me a raised eyebrow or their equivalent of the expression. The Supplier knew what was up; one corner of his lip was wrinkled upwards. I waited for someone to say something. In my head it was going to be the Dog Sitter. Of course it would be. She was the person I had been mildly stalking all night. My awkward silence was cut short when the music called me again. I felt that tingling up and down my arms again, stronger this time, taking over more than just my arms. Like a madman in front of a group of about eight, I threw my arms up and flailed them around while my head did a similar thing on its own axis. A few of the people laughed; others were just confused.

The Dog Sitter was smiling, but it was likely out of some level of confusion. The Supplier leaned in and whispered something into her ear. She then changed her expression to somewhere between amused and mildly concerned.

“Are you okay?” a voice said. It was initially tough to tell where the voice was actually coming from. I wanted to believe it was coming from the Dog Sitter. And now I can say that I’m pretty sure it was.

“Does anyone want to dance?” I said, paying no attention to the question given. I extended a noodly arm to where I thought the Dog Sitter was standing.

The Dog Sitter shook her head. I could tell that much. But still, she grabbed my hand and joined me in the arm flailing that I called dancing. It was magical. I felt like the lights were spinning in circles around us. I could see every glimmer of sweat on her nearly perfect face. She did that little closed-eye smile I saw her do when dancing with the Supplier earlier. The dancing could’ve gone on for a minute or an hour. I didn’t know. But I never wanted it to end.

She stopped dancing at one point and cuffed a hand around my ear. “What’s your name?” she asked.

I tried to put my dancing on hold. “My name’s Danny,” I said. “What’s yours?”

She answered, but I didn’t catch it.

“Nice to meet you,” I said. I was too nervous to ask her to repeat it. It might make it seem like I didn’t care.

Soon other members of her group opened up more to me too. They took turns introducing themselves. I lost track of the Supplier. He disappeared somewhere. It was hard to keep track of everyone. I couldn’t stop dancing. But I kept track of the girl. I didn’t want to lose her.

But then, as all good things apparently do, the lights started dying down, the music got quieter. Then the music changed to the sounds of a man’s voice. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” this must’ve been Zume. “That’s all I’ve got for you tonight. Hope you’ve had fun. Get home safe!” When the music stopped, it’s like my energy went with it. Suddenly my arms and legs were made out of lead.

Some of the people in the group said their goodbyes and left. I found myself still next to the Dog Sitter, but I couldn’t really move.

“Do you have a ride home?” she asked.

“I take the DART,” I replied confidently. She seemed like the type of person who valued someone who knew what they were doing.

“Does the DART run this late?” she questioned. I liked her tone. It was firm, but also it seemed to come from a place of caring about me.

“I think so,” I answered. I didn’t know. It didn’t, by the way. I learned later that the DART stopped at midnight. It was well past that.

“Come on,” she said. I could she her eyes roll. “I’ll take you home.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to hide my uncertainty. “Okay.”

School taught me that you should never drive under the influence or ride with someone who is. But I had to put this fear on the backburner. I wanted to spend more time with her, and I guess I also needed to get home. Quickly my fears were put aside. Her driving was unbelievably good. She drove like most people walk. It came naturally. Turns were already mapped out in her had before they happened. Slow cars were passed with satisfying grace. If I wasn’t already attracted to the Dog Sitter, this would’ve done the trick.

“Did I tell you my address?” I asked. She just made a sound of affirmation in response. I’m pretty sure I already asked that like twelve times.

“Where do you live?” I asked. Was that creepy?

She took a second. “I dog sit,” she said eventually.

“Huh?” I asked. I meant to keep that in my head but couldn’t.

“There are a lot of people here who need people to look after they’re dogs,” she made it sound so simple. “So I stay at their places while they’re gone. It’s a great system. I stay in rich people’s houses. There’s no rent. It saves a lot of money.”

“Wow,” This all came so naturally to her. I couldn’t tell if she realized just how impressive this was. “So you don’t have an apartment or anything?”

“Nope,” she said. “I’ve gotten by just fine doing this.”

“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said. I really was in awe of this.

She shrugged. “It’s whatever.”

It was much more than whatever. She was living the life I imagined she lived when I first saw her at the rave. She was free. She was not just living life. She was redefining the ways in which a person could live. I wanted so badly to say more than just “That’s cool” or “Wow,” but I couldn’t put the words together. This was an important thing she was doing, and I wanted her to know it.

Just then, I felt the car stop. “Well, here you are,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed with me or not.

“Oh,” I was a little jostled that we were already at the apartment I didn’t want to go back to. “Thanks. I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Have a good night.”

And then I left. I waved when she drove off, but I don’t know if she saw that. My limbs still felt as heavy as lead. I couldn’t move.

More importantly though, I couldn’t get the Dog Sitter out of my head. I wished she was there, but she had already driven off. And I didn’t even know her name.

 

 

loveless summer part 2: initiative and inactivity

(This is the continuation of a not-so-exciting saga! Click hereto get caught up on all of the not-quite scandalous action from part one!)

I thought before I went into the actual story I’d take a minute to dwell on what it’s like to write something of personal significance and how the significance of the narrative shifts while putting it into words. While writing, revising, and rewriting this thing, I realized that the story, which I already thought had almost no meaning, was more meaningless than I initially thought. I came to realize that an ambiguous moment alone with one’s crush that felt so close to being something when it happened can only feel so real in writing. I did my best to fully create a case for why the Loveless Summer was important, and when I read back through it, it seemed less relevant Anyway, onto the story.

Summer 2013. School let out a week ago. It’s my first summer with a driver’s license. It’s my last summer before I have to transition to pseudo-adulthood. Oh, and my crush is now single. Let’s have some fun, shall we?

Karen and I didn’t talk much in the first few days immediately after she and Craig broke up. I was still going for that foolproof plan of waiting for something to develop naturally between us without taking any initiative. Plus, I had logic to justify my choices because, like Max told me, I needed to give it some time post-breakup. Moving in too soon would make me seem like a douche. Luckily, giving things time was one thing I was really good at.

So that’s what I did. And it didn’t take too long before my waiting seemed to pay off. “You are cordially invited to Sofia’s graduation/sendoff shindig this Friday,” Karen messaged me not too long after the breakup. She used that over-the-top, jokey formal tone I liked. Sofia was her Italian foreign exchange student. The optimist in my head got excited because this, by extension, meant that I had the opportunity to naturally see Karen. And she was the one to invite me! I mean, it’s just a graduation party, and I was sort of a friend of Sofia’s, but still! Hey, even if I was drawing crazy conclusions, at least now Karen was single, so everything seemed a little more realistic, didn’t it?

Sofia’s party was fun enough and, spoiler alert, it led to the closest Karen I would get to actually doing anything explicitly romantic (I think). The air of the whole event was bittersweet. We were celebrating Sofia graduating while simultaneously sending her off. But still, all of her host family and friends were laughing and having a good time, turning a blind eye to the idea that they probably would never see her again. The adults were sipping adult beverages, the minors were sneaking said beverages and getting their last moments with Sofia. And there I was looking to get any moment I could with Karen, alone if possible.

“He was just really, really clingy,” Karen said to a circle of girlfriends and me. Obviously someone was going to address the elephant in the room, that being her less-than-a-week-old breakup. “He would get mad if I took like a minute to reply to his texts. Oh, and he has left at least ten crying voicemails since we broke up.”

My innocently devilish side internally chuckled at that considering on multiple occasions she wouldn’t have responded to his texts because she was with me. I also liked how everyone unanimously seemed to chew Craig out. No one was talking about how cute of a couple he and Karen were anymore. No risk of them getting back together. From this point on, whenever Craig’s name came up, it was Karen expressing how unhappy she was with him. Nice.

Max and I met Sofia thanks to the club he and I started at our school, so we gave her a framed picture of everyone at the club. She liked it, and my selfish ass hoped that Karen saw us giving her the gift. That would give me some nice brownie points.

I apparently was one of Karen’s most reliable friends at the party because she asked me if I wanted to help her carry food in the house. It certainly wasn’t that I was one of the strongest people there; I was a twig. I was really good at grasping for reasons to assume she wanted to get close with me, if that wasn’t already obvious.

“Wanna take a walk?” Karen asked after we had finished our chore. I think she wanted a break from the hustle of being a party planner, but I liked the chance to get one-on-one time with her.

So we went side-by-side down the block through Karen’s aggressively middle of the middle class neighborhood. “I’m just going to say it,” I started. “I don’t think Craig deserved the Best Supporting Actor Award.” I had planned that risky joke for a while. Wasn’t sure if she would find it funny yet. She did, or at least she laughed. I mentioned this before, but that was one thing I liked about her. Even if I wasn’t funny, she still humored me.

“Yeah, he basically begged us to be in the movie,” Karen said, rolling her eyes. That was reassuring. She asked me to be in her movie; Craig asked her.

She went on to open up about Craig. He wanted to move their relationship forward way too quickly, which was evident from them going Facebook official a day after prom. He’d ask to come over every other day, and then he’d accuse Karen of making up excuses for why he couldn’t. That’s not to say she wasn’t making up excuses, but she was justified in doing so. When she was hanging out with friends, he’d ask why she wasn’t with him. Yeah, that was a little funny when I consider that sometimes that meant she was with me instead of him. Basically, there was nothing pleasant about dating Karen. She never gave any indication that she actually liked him, and my hopeful sentiment was that that was because she never liked him to begin with.

In case anyone’s curious about what became of Craig, he went clinically crazy in the next few years, got awful forearm tattoos that I think consist of an entire monologue from some Star Wars Extended Universe novel, and then knocked some poor girl up. For the purpose of this story though, his relevance pretty much ends here. There was never a risk of Karen getting back together with him.

Our walk came to a close when we had successfully completed a circle that led us back to Karen’s house. Karen led me to the side of her house, a shortcut to her backyard where the party continued on as though we had never left. In the slightly overgrown, narrow, and isolated space between her house and the fence, Karen stopped midway and turned back to me. She didn’t say anything, and her lips curled to a slight smile. We were really close to each other, close enough where she probably could feel the reverberations of my anxious heartbeat.

“Shit. Is this happening?” I thought. It’s not that I didn’t want to make out with her by the side of her house, less than twenty feet away from where about thirty people were gathered. On the contrary, I wanted to make out with her everywhere. But the thought of actually doing it terrified me.

And that fear took over and changed the narrative. Nothing Karen was doing was explicitly saying that she wanted me to do anything. It was very possible that she just wanted to give a good friend a pleasant smile. A smile that she had to give in private. And required both parties to be closer than they allow you to get at a Catholic school dance. Just a smile.

I don’t know how long we stood there, Karen smiling at me, me noticeably panicked. In my head it was minutes, like in a video game where the player is given the option to pick a line of dialogue, and everyone else in the game has to just stay still until the choice is made. Realistically it was only a few seconds. Karen didn’t make any further movements, and I didn’t initiate anything.

We were both broken from the stupor by the sound of sudden applause from the party. We looked back at each other and started walking to join the partygoers. The excitement was caused because Sofia had started a fire in a trash can and was ceremoniously throwing all of her schoolwork from her time in the US into the flames. There’s probably something symbolic about my potentially-almost first kiss getting interrupted by an actual trash fire.

There would be a lot of moments kind of like this between Karen and I as the summer went on, but it was never this close. It also continued the wonderfully fun trend of ambiguity between us. I beat myself up over this pretty badly for some time. If I made some sort of move I would have at least had answers. But I didn’t, so I got to spend nights lying awake wondering what a smile meant, which actions were normal of friendships and which ones were not.

Anyway, the rest of the party went by without much spectacle. We said our goodbyes to Sofia, and that was it. I was pleasantly surprised when Karen texted me soon after the party. I think opening up about Craig took away any awkwardness from the air, and we were able to resume texting at the same frequency as when she and Craig were in full swing. From a friendship standpoint, I was glad to have someone to consistently talk to. I was fairly lonely, and it was nice to have someone who was into the same pseudo-deep conversations I was. And from the standpoint of me having a crush, it was nice to know that I wasn’t just being kept around while she was putting up with Craig.

If I were a man with a backbone I would have given myself an ultimatum here. It sure felt like Karen and I liked each other. I didn’t feel like that was a crazy thing to think. If I was going to do something, it had to happen soon. There was no point in playing this game if it wasn’t going to turn into anything. I had no excuse. She was single. Sure, I wanted to be respectful and wait for her to get over her last relationship, but she obviously didn’t want to be in a relationship with Craig, so that wasn’t an excuse. The next time I saw her, I was going to make a move. I didn’t know what it meant to “make a move”, but I was going to do it.

Yeah, right.

Our next rendezvous came for another grad party for another foreign exchange kid. This party was a lot more fun. The student, Fabricio, had a host family admittedly more exciting than Karen’s. They lived outside of city limits and had a fun amount of land. Fabricio was another member of the Hantis Club. For some reason we were really popular among foreign exchange students. Karen was invited since we all rolled with the same crowds. I tried to sound more excited than usual over text about her being there. I said something to the effect of, “Can’t wait to see you at the party!” This was an awkward thing for me of all people to say because I tried to put forward an image of myself as someone who was never excited. But this was me getting my toes in the water, testing myself before fully jumping in.

The clock-like reliable feeling of uneasiness I got while driving came at me hard while I fumbled my way to Fabricio’s house. He lived past a series of roads I had never seen before. And the parking was confusing. From movies I knew that it was polite to get to parties late, but by the time I got there it seemed like 90% of the crowd was already in full party swing, including Karen. I wasn’t that late, but it was enough to shake my already shaky confidence. I immediately found Max because if I was going to have any sort of confidence, I was going to need my wingman. Again, that was what movies taught me. I had no idea what I actually needed.

Karen looked happier that night than she had in a long time. That was the first thing I thought when I saw her. She had curled her shoulder-length light blonde hair, a trend that would continue for the rest of the summer. When I look back on this summer I feel a little guilty for how selfishly I view it all. I don’t think I ever really acknowledged Karen’s feelings in all of this, even if theoretically I spent the entire summer wondering how she was feeling. She changed her look and let herself be happy. Was this all because she let go of the person who was holding her back? I don’t know. That’s what I told myself. It helped fit the narrative that Craig was just a dark spot in the timeline of her life and that she put herself through it to get with the person she was really meant to be with.

At the time though I thought, “Oh, she looks happy. Great! It’s a good time to ask her out.”

“You missed the ceremonial lighting of the bonfire,” Karen said jokingly. The nice thing about crushing on a friend is that one never feels awkward in talking to their crush. It’s nicely designed into daily life.

“The bonfire was actually lit to summon me,” I said in a vaguely offensive pseudo-Native American accent, another thing that Karen didn’t actually like but still laughed along with anyway.

I took a seat next to her on a log while Max went off and socialized with other friends and acquaintances. Karen and I talked about how much of a bummer it was taking Sofia to the airport and watching her take off for another continent. Her parents were acting weirdly too, the weight of suddenly having the number of kids in the house drop by fifty percent got to them. I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation, but I am, if nothing else in this world, a good listener. It’s how I got through a lot of school.

Fabricio’s host brother, Adam, added some more fuel to the fire, which caused the expected chemical reaction of an intimidating fireball. Karen and I both flinched inwards so that we were essentially hugging. We were laughing the sort of laughter teens have when they could have died but didn’t. I would’ve greatly appreciated being in that hug for an extended period of time, but we pulled apart simultaneously once the fire died down to comfortable levels.

“Ethan!” Fabricio came up to me excitedly. Oh yeah, I was there for someone’s going away party. I feel guilty about that too, using people’s parties and important life events to get closer to a girl. Fabricio was a good guy, another Hantis Club member. We’re still Facebook friends. He mostly posts memes that look funny but are in Spanish, so I can’t verify.

Anyway, I used this as the excuse to stop any progress I was making with Karen. After talking to Fabricio, Adam set up fun activities for the partygoers. Since they lived in the country, I got to do things not readily available in my comfortably “city” life (if you can call a town of 75,000 a city). I don’t think knife throwing is the sort of thing that Karen really cared about, and yet I still used the knife throwing as a warped opportunity to show off in front of Karen. Oddly enough, out of every one of the teens at the party who tried it, I was the best. I don’t have many talents, but apparently knife throwing is one of them.

I should have just asked Karen out. Obviously. I didn’t though, if that’s a surprise to anyone. My fear of girls combined with my fear of driving, and I came to the decision that I absolutely needed to drive home before it got too late. Once again though, Karen didn’t stay out of my life for too long though. She asked if I wanted to go through with an idea we had with a few other friends of ours to have a bad movie day where we’d watch such classics as Birdemic and The Room. My romantic heart got excited, even if it wasn’t a one-on-one date because she definitely wanted to keep seeing me.

That party happened the next week, and the quality of the movies was tragically higher than intended. Birdemic was taken off of Netflix before I arrived, and the person who was supposed to bring The Room dipped, so all that we had was this shitty weather DVD I got for free in elementary school. It lived up to the reputation of bad, but it wasn’t that noteworthy. Max came. He didn’t have any bad movies to speak of, but he did have The Princess Bride, so that’s what we watched.

There were only four people at the “party.” Karen brought a friend, and I brought Max. I didn’t know what to make of this. Obviously I would’ve preferred to just be with her, but was this just as a formality so that it didn’t seem like Karen was having one guy over at her house? I wasn’t sure. So rather than watch The Princess Bride, I analyzed the seating arrangement of the house. Karen was sitting on the love seat with her female friend, and Max and I were sitting in adjacent recliners perpendicular to the couch. Karen was sitting in the seat nearest to me. Did that mean anything? No of course it didn’t. After The Princess Bride, Max had to leave, and Karen’s friend was close behind. I was still committed to asking her out, and I told myself I’d do it, and the perfect opportunity would be with us one-on-one in her house. I was already proud of myself for not being the first one to leave the party for once.

So Karen and I did what we always did: talk. We talked about movies we wished that we got to see that day and about plans for senior year. Karen was a spiritual person. She liked to talk about religion and concepts of God. She never wanted to convert anyone, and she didn’t seem like she herself had strong faith in any particular direction, but the idea of a supernatural other was always fascinating to her. I never really thought about these things on my own, and I liked that someone pushed me into actually thinking about things that made me slightly uncomfortable. I liked having someone I could talk about this sort of deep stuff with.

“Hello, you two,” an adult voice broke up our conversation. Karen’s mom had gotten off of work. She was a librarian, which made sense given Karen’s artsiness. I blushed. Movies taught me that it was embarrassing for co-eds to be caught together. Not that we were doing anything, but the implication was still there. Karen acted normally though.

I excused myself after a while. I knew that if I was going to ask her out or bring up my feelings, it wasn’t going to be with her mom around.

I’ll spare you the details of the next few weeks because they were at best repetitive and at worst painfully boring. Karen was in and out of town due to vacations, a mission trip, and some art thing. Each time it happened I felt worried she was going to lose interest in me. Who wants to be with a loser who won’t take initiative? But no, it makes sense that someone won’t constantly keep in contact when they’re on actual adventures. I kept telling myself that between bouts of self-doubt. When she was in town, we’d hang out every now and then. Sometimes it was just us; other times others were there.

How do you know if something’s a date? I asked myself this with essentially every girl I’ve talked to because the world works in ambiguities while I’m over here looking for concretes. Two people of opposing genders hanging out together with just themselves seems like a date. But it could also just be a hangout. Later in life once I got on Tinder I called every meet-up a date, but who knows what the other party thought. Hell, my girlfriend, who is objectively better on all fronts than Karen, was hesitant to call our first meet-up a date. Can meet-ups turn into dates if something happens? I really don’t know. And I think that’s what really frustrated me during my summer with Karen. I just wanted some sort of an answer, but I was never going to ask for one because I have no backbone.

Once Karen was back in our hometown for good, roughly in mid June, out get-togethers became regular once more. She was a vegan, which made it hard for me to come up with good date -or not date- ideas, but this was made up for because Karen came up with things for us to do. I always appreciated how she was willing to put up with how little life experience I had. Most of the time we’d just go around town doing nothing in particular. I completely let myself down as far as professing my feelings or anything like that, but y’know what? I was content. This was a good relationship. So what if I didn’t get to make out with someone or anything? We spent a lot of time together, had a lot of deep conversations, and knew almost everything about each other. I got about 70% of what I hoped for from a relationship. I never settled for C’s in school, but in life, C’s ain’t half bad.

We had another almost-romantic moment when she asked me to go to a musical with her. The local university was putting on a production of Miss Saigon, and Karen had free tickets because of course she did. We weren’t the only ones there; Karen invited a few other friends. But in the theme of things, she spent most of her time leading up to the show talking with me, and we sat next to each other. My dumb mind kept thinking that maybe we’d get to be like a cute couple in a movie. We’d hold hands on the armrest at some point, kiss when the musical’s couple kiss.

Yeah, Miss Saigon’s not that kind of musical. It’s about the Vietnam War. The first scene involves a lot of strippers, and the show ends with one of the two protagonists committing suicide. I was the king of coming up with excuses for not taking action, and it’s easy to make up excuses when an entire scene of the show is a character singing about the American Dream, which audiences realize he is never going to have the chance to achieve.

But after the show we had a chance to make something happen! It was the day after Independence Day, so they had a fireworks display outside because everyone in America has leftover fireworks. Karen and I were once again standing closer than I imagine most friends would, and I fought a battle in my head over grabbing her hand or doing something. Instead we just kind of smiled at each other, like friends do. And that’s how the night ends. Not with a bang, but with a smile.

Max warned me more than once than inaction was the worst thing I could do. That might not have even been referring to Karen; it could’ve been a lot of things I was doing at the time.  It was most applicable to Karen though. If she was waiting for me to make the first move, which if she did in fact like me was definitely what she was doing, then obviously the only sensible course of action would be to actually do something. And if she didn’t like me like I liked her, then there was nothing to be gained from just waiting it out. Action was the only thing that would give me an answer. Even if it was an answer I didn’t like, that was better than what I was getting, nothing.

The worst potential consequence of inaction is faded interest. If Karen wanted me to act, it’s easy to imagine how my lack of action would’ve changed her mind. Maybe after some time she just realized that I wasn’t going to do anything, thought I might not have liked her, and moved on. I may just be making that up, but it seems like a reasonable train of thought, and it makes sense given what happened.

“Would it be okay if Eva Layton came geocaching with us?” Karen asked the day before we were supposed to hang out. I came up with the idea of a geocaching trip. I had done the odd urban scavenger hunt before, and it seemed like something she would like.

But who was Eva Layton? She was a friend of Karen’s whom I had never really met. I didn’t see why Eva Layton had to come on this particular outing since, again, I didn’t know her. Karen also did this thing when referring to Eva Layton. She was never just Eva. Her name was always her full name. Without fail. So that’s what I’ll call her too.

Like the good, subtle friend I was, I said, “Sure!”

First problem I experienced with Eva Layton: transportation. Karen always drove us. That was how it went. I couldn’t drive all that well, and Karen liked driving. But when I waited for Karen, Eva Layton pulled up to my house, and I was relegated to the backseat.

“Ethan, this is Eva Layton,” Karen said when I got to the car. And then we spent the remainder of the car ride getting introduced. I had the Geocaching app opened up with geocaches in the area that seemed fun to find. Eva Layton didn’t seem too interested.

“I love this song,” Eva Layton said as she turned up the radio to a song I didn’t like from a band I didn’t understand. She was listening to 96.5 The Buzz, Kansas City’s alternative station. A lot of people liked it, but I associated it with every girl from my high school who wanted to seem edgy. They listened to The Buzz in place of having a personality.

When we finally got to our destination, Karen said, “I’ll sit this one out. You two crazy kids can find it.”

Crazy kids? What was this? I had thoughts since I heard Eva Layton was joining us, but I passed them off, but this was getting odd. Still though, I went along with it because I’ll do most things to avoid conflict.

“So do you do this often?” Eva Layton said nervously. I hated the feelings I was getting. She was trying to flirt with me. Did Karen bring a girl along to hit on me? What?

“I’ve done it a few times,” I tried to be nice, but it was hard to keep up a happy facade when I was confused and generally less than happy.

We didn’t find the geocache. I didn’t look too hard. It was hard to be motivated when the person I was trying to show off to was chilling alone in the car.

Geocaching didn’t last as long as it could have. Eva Layton got a call from her dad, and she had to go do something. Mercifully she dropped me off at my house first. I worried about what would happen if she dropped Karen off, and the two of use were stuck together.

I wish I could say that this was just a one-time thing and that things went back to normal between Karen and me, but that wasn’t what happened. After that day, Eva Layton was a regular part of our get-togethers. I hated it. We always had to listen to The Buzz, I always got the backseat, and I couldn’t be as open as I was with just Karen. I hoped Karen would notice how unhappy I seemed with Eva Layton around. She didn’t.

But the more we all were together, the more it was obvious Karen was trying to be a matchmaker. Karen wasn’t as open in her texts anymore, and the one-on-one time we got before was gone. I didn’t want to be with Eva Layton though. She wasn’t as interesting as Karen, not as deep -or what I perceived as deep-, and certainly not as pretty. I wanted to be with Karen. This was how the Loveless Summer of 2013 finished though. It was August by this time. School was starting soon. All summers end; most summer romances end; and summer pseudo-romances inevitably end.

I had so many questions though, and I never got the answers to any of them. Did Karen ever like me? She had to at one point, right? It all just seemed too strange, especially if she didn’t like me. But then where the fuck did Eva Layton come from?

Inaction. To this day I believe inaction was the culprit here. Because I’m 90% certain Karen did like me at one point. I just never acted on it. And that was the ultimate issue. It doesn’t fully explain why Karen decided Eva Layton and I would make a great couple, but it’s a start.

As the school year started, all relations between Karen and I faded. I had a fairly negative view of her thanks to how things “ended,” warranted or otherwise, and frankly I didn’t want to spend any time with Eva Layton. Senior year of high school was a stressful time, and I didn’t want this to occupy any more of my time.

If I were a smart man, this would be the end of the story. Loveless Summer would have lasted a summer, and that would’ve been it. But it’s not. Loveless Summer is not a season; it’s a feeling. It’s a time when things should have been romantic but weren’t, should have been relaxing but were just confusing and stressful. It took a while, but I let my guard down again. That’s a story, or stories, for the final part of this frustrating trilogy.

xoxo: what in the world is the gossip girl finale?

Okay this is one of the most random things I could be writing about considering it’s a show that ended six or so years ago, but I just finished it, and I have thoughts, and this is my blog, so I can talk about whatever trashy show I want to talk about.

Gossip Girl is a treasure of a show that aired on the CW from 2007 to 2012. It caters very nicely to my niche interests in 2000s teen culture. Watching the iconic Chuck Bass turn from chauvinistic, literally-a-sex-offender high schooler into a suave adult billionaire with his equally iconic partner Blair Waldorf is a treat. Watching Nate Archibald struggle to do any task that requires an IQ of greater than 5 is a treat too, sometimes probably not as the showrunners intended, but still. And it was all tied around the titular Gossip Girl, the name of the blog that spread gossip about all of the trust fund kids in Upper East Side Manhattan. The show had its ups and downs over its six seasons, but it all ended in a finale that had loyal viewers like me saying, “…meh.”

To start off, the finale had one big task to check off. Sure, lots of characters were in predicaments that needed settling, but the one major thing that lingered from day 1 was still there: who is Gossip Girl? And the answer we got? Dan Humphrey. Dan is presented as an outsider to the rich students at his fancy Manhattan private school. His single father wasn’t rich, he lived in Brooklyn, he didn’t own anything expensive or exotic, etc etc. He is introduced into the world of the Upper East Siders because of his interest in Serena Van Der Woodsen, who I guess gets the title of protagonist out of the ensemble cast. Throughout the series he never really gets accepted into the world of the bourgeoisie, but he’s friends/off-and-on lovers with them, and he writes successful stories about them, so that’s something. The revelation that he’s Gossip Girl is dumb, yes, but it’s also illogical. There are NUMEROUS moments throughout the series where Dan is seen reading Gossip Girl stories (by himself, no less) and being visibly shocked at what he’s reading. Gossip Girl also released stories about Dan’s sister’s sex life, which would be creepy as hell if it were coming from Dan himself. From a poetic standpoint, it does k i n d o f make sense when seen as Dan being stuck with his outsider persona while also desperately wanting to be on the inside. But then again I don’t think the show was smart enough to present it like that. In reading what the Internet’s consensus on the big reveal was, I came across a few quotes from one of the show’s creators that claimed that the plan was always to have Dan be Gossip Girl, but I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like that’s how it was supposed to be. There were a few moments in the last two seasons that made sense through the lens of Dan being Gossip Girl, but other than that the reveal just didn’t seem right for the show.

Similarly but also different, another off part of the finale came from how every other character in the show took the Gossip Girl reveal. Dan confessed his alter ego through a piece published on another website in the show, which all of the characters read at once. Only one of them, Blair, was actually upset about it. Gossip Girl had spent years spreading rumors about them, so how could they not be upset to learn who it was? Even stranger, Serena, whom Gossip Girl targeted most often, loved Dan after the reveal. The final scenes in the finale show them getting married five years later. What? Imagine learning someone has been anonymously writing about the intimate details of your life for half a decade. Would you: a)want to get as far away from them as possible or b)marry them? I can’t imagine ever picking the former, but that’s what the Gossip Girl writers wanted. Bottom line: Dan as Gossip Girl doesn’t work, and if it did, he would’ve gotten a lot more hate from the other characters.

I briefly mentioned Chuck and Blair earlier. Their plot got a messy, rushed finish. Throughout the entire series, they play the part of the couple everyone wants to end up together in the end. Their chemistry really is unmatched. By the end though, Chuck’s evil, mogul father Bart, who supposedly died much earlier in the series, comes back to the show after apparently faking the death. He goes on to ruin everyone’s life, and then in a dramatic scene in the episode before the finale, Chuck and Bart fight it out on the roof of a skyscraper. Almost comedically, Bart throws a punch that doesn’t land and flings himself over the side of the building. Chuck doesn’t help him back up, and Bart falls to his real death. This came after Bart previously tried to kill Chuck, but I don’t think it was necessarily self defense at this particular moment. The legality of it seems like it would get fuzzy. And with 40 minutes to resolve everything, the writers didn’t have the time to give this the proper sendoff it deserved. Chuck and Blair had to get hastily married so that Blair wouldn’t have to testify against Chuck. I loved this scene because the hasty wedding was exactly what the two of them would’ve wanted. They never wanted to have a boring romance, and what’s less boring than a quick wedding with the cops taking them away a second after the I dos. But then, right before the Gossip Girl/Dan reveal, Chuck and Blair walk into the room and announce that they won’t be charged because of a lack of evidence or self defense or something. It’s obvious that the writers just wanted to give them a happy ending, but they didn’t have the time to properly give them one, so that’s what we got. Not that I wanted them to end up in prison, but if the last we saw of them was them getting hauled to jail after the wedding, that would’ve been a perfect sendoff. Instead, we got… meh.

Speaking of meh, the finale really pointed out a problem that I had had but couldn’t quite identify throughout the series. The villains never really get their comeuppance. Either they get caught and then immediately disappear, or they have a change of heart, or the show mildly punishes them but ultimately does nothing about it. I guess Bart got killed, but that was the closest they got. One character, Ivy Dickens, who basically scammed her way into the Upper East Side, had been terrorizing the show for two seasons. By the end, her literal crimes still had never seen punishment, and apart from a slight embarrassment, she still never got arrested, or kicked out, or saw any really punishment.

There are probably some more things that didn’t work, but frankly I’m tired, and these concerned me the most. I attribute some of the issues with the finale to be due to the fact that the final season was only ten episodes long, about 14 shorter than a standard season. They had a lot to cover and not a lot of time to do it. The writers also probably wanted to make the Gossip Girl reveal to be something people talked about, so they picked a character that only sorta worked. Or maybe no one knows how to end TV shows. What do I know? I’m just a mediocre writer for a blog two people read.

You know you love me,

X.O.X.O.

Ethan

loveless summer part 1: brightsides and question marks

This is not a love story. The two characters don’t spend a whirlwind summer in love. It’s not even a sex story. Or a kiss story. It might not even have been a hug story. It is the story of a dumb 17-year-old boy with a crush on a girl. The boy was too anxious to actually do anything about the crush. The boy and the girl spent a summer together going on what might have been dates until whatever heat existed between them fizzled out. Then they did the same thing off-and-on for the next two years. The boy never told the girl how he felt. The girl might not’ve felt anything.

This anti-love story began in spring 2013, when the boy, yours truly, found himself in a sociology class with a girl he had known for a decade. Her name is Karen for the sake of the story, but her actual name was a lot prettier. Karen went to my elementary school for a few years before transferring. We went to middle school together but never interacted, and the same was true for the first two-and-a-half years of high school. Our friend groups vaguely interacted, so when I walked into sociology on the first day of the semester, I took the desk sort of near her. To paint myself as a douchebag for a second, Karen only vaguely resembled the person I knew as a kid. She had slimmed down to a frame that appealed to my dumb boy tastes, and the strangeness she exhibited as a child evolved into artsiness that seemed deep and intriguing to me. I was always weird and unnecessarily romantic, even with no experience to justify me being so, and when I developed a crush, I crushed hard. Very quickly I realized I was crushing on Karen.

My version of “doing something” about my crushes was getting close to my crush without ever remotely mentioning that I was interested in them. I hoped that if they liked me back, they would make the first move. I was too nervous about rejection to risk making any moves by myself. It was a terrible strategy with a success rate of none percent. But naive little me went with this and sought to get as close to Karen as I could. She did seem vaguely interested. By that, I mean we spent most of sociology chatting with each other about this or that, and she seemed to like me. I worked up the courage to move from a  seat near her to the seat next to her, and sociology became the spot where Ethan and Karen spent an hour and a half every other day together. It was barely a class, so we had a lot of time to socialize.

I then considered doing something brash, something that skyrocketed my heartbeat. Junior prom was just around the corner, and what more natural of a time would there be to ask someone out? Everyone was doing extravagant “promposals,” but I was hoping I could even get myself to pull the trigger. It wasn’t romantic (or whatever people considered promposals), but I planned to pop the question one day after sociology. It wouldn’t be hard. “Will you go to prom with me?” Seven words. A single sentence. If she liked me like I liked her, it would be an easy yes. But I kept delaying it. There was always a reason to not do it. She seemed tired one day. I needed to walk the other direction the next. There was always a reason why not.

“Did you hear Craig asked Karen to prom?”

My friend Max gave me this rough news that he didn’t realize was rough news one morning. Craig was sort of part of the mutual friend groups between Karen and me. He was appropriately as artsy as she was and was far more outspoken than me.

My not-quite-adult heart sank in that moment. Max didn’t know how I felt about Karen. Telling others how I felt was not part of my convoluted plan. I knew it was my fault for never remotely making a move, but wow that didn’t feel great.

“Oh they will make such a cute couple,” I said eventually, using whatever acting skills I had to balance out my deep disappointment. I had to hear that exact line often from others too, “such a cute couple.” The overwhelming consensus was that Karen and Craig were cute together. I obviously disagreed, but that was a secret known only to me.

I considered skipping prom for a while. I never liked dances anyway, and what was the point without a date? Well, Max didn’t have a date either, and the two of us talked about it and decided that we’d go ahead and go with a group of single friends. It was probably for the best. Prom’s one of those things John Hughes movies remind us are important, and I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t miss out.

Prom night came, and I was dressed in a hideous color combo of black and dark blue. Our small group was supposed to meet up with a larger group for dinner, but Max messed up the dinner reservation, so instead we had to drive across town to an Italian place that’s closed now. I guess I’m grateful for Max’s mess-up because the group that we were going to meet up with included Craig and Karen. Oh well. But I did like the idea of keeping tabs on them, which I now realize sounds hella creepy. Anyway, I got to enjoy overpriced chicken parm with a few dudes who knew we weren’t getting laid that night.

Prom was vaguely themed that year. It was called “Moonlight Mirage,” or as its known colloquially “Vaguely Arabian Nights.” Due to the dinner mishap, we got there later than most people, which meant parking was a bitch. Inside, prom was a boring event for someone who didn’t like talking to people. There was a circle close to the DJ comprised of people dancing and grinding, and the further out you got from the circle, the angstier the people became. The group we were going to get dinner with was stationed at a table that we joined. Each of the singles in the group asked each other to dance at various points. I never did due to the whole “frustrated and angsty” thing. Subtly I kept an eye on Karen and Craig throughout the night. Part of me hoped that this would be my own John Hughes movie and that at some point, when Craig was off at the punchbowl, I could slip in and make my move. I knew that wasn’t actually going to happen, but fantasies help when real life isn’t what I want it to be. Instead my night consisted of going through the stages of grief and accepting that Karen being with Craig was the reality.

By the end of the night I had forced myself to accept that Karen and Craig indeed were cute together. As long as I didn’t think about what they were going to do after prom, all was well. I mean, I was still jealous, but whatever. Some things aren’t meant to be. That’s just how it goes. Did I want to rewrite “Mr. Brightside” with lyrics relevant to my situation? Of course! Did I do it? Of course not! So I drove home, watched SNL while arranging my tuxedo back in its bag to be returned the next day, and went to bed.

Karen and Craig turned out to be the rare instance of prom being the start of a relationship, and all I heard about on the following Monday was that they were a couple. But it was fine. I was fine. There were plenty of girls out there.

Oddly enough though, Karen never really talked about him. When she did, she referred to him by his full name as though he were unfamiliar. I had to shake myself from thinking too hard on that detail.

But then other things happened. Okay, I’m going to sound crazy going over these, but there were just enough oddities that occurred just frequently enough that I had to ask questions. Sometimes it wasn’t even an oddity, but enough things occurred to make me think, “What if she does like me?”

First off, she started texting me. I get it. It’s not the 1500s. A girl is allowed to talk to guys other than her boyfriend. Whatever. But we never texted back when she was single. No, her first message to me was something to the effect of, “This is Karen. Did anything interesting happen in sociology?” after she missed class one day. It was a totally innocent message, and nothing about it said, “Hey I know I’m dating Craig, but I also have feelings for you.” But to me this meant she wanted our relationship to extend beyond the classroom. It was a crazy train of thought, but I was a crazy guy. And the worst thing that can happen to a crazy guy is for his conspiracy to be even slightly validated. Because I told her about sociology, and then we just started talking. Our texts were longer than texts I had with anyone else, which meant a lot to a bored boy like me. She went from sociology to asking how I was doing, and I asked her the same thing. We talked about our parents and hobbies, sorts of normal things young folks talk about. We started having running jokes. I appreciated the friendship because I was generally a lonely boy, but also the part of my head that hoped this was a sign of her interest in me was nicely nourished. I liked how I could go to class, and one of us would be able to reference something the other had said over text. Oh, and Craig was still nowhere to be mentioned. Sometimes I wondered if she was with him and messaging me. My active, excessive imagination sometimes drew up scenes of them making out or whatever and then her turning over and answering my texts. I was boring and innocent, and the idea of being even remotely scandalous was kind of fun if I’m being honest.

And then she sent me a message that opened a new rabbit hole. “Dear sir, I am producing a film for class and wondered if you would be interested in taking part.” I remember her text almost verbatim, the old-timey tone was a running gag between us. Again, it was innocent, but it felt weird. I of course said yes because apart from like-liking Karen, I also liked her. It wasn’t just Karen’s film either. She was working on it with a group of people from the school’s gifted class. I knew her friends. Another one of them could have suggested me. But it was Karen who reached out. Again, this didn’t mean anything. It just felt a little like it could mean something.

Karen picked me up to film with her group. She knew that I could drive but didn’t like to. There was another girl in the car, so it wasn’t just us. Karen gave me a purple Veronica flower for helping out. My first thought was, “Oh, great. I’m the girl in this relationship.” I then spent all car ride wondering what kind of flower it was. Was it a thank you flower? A romantic flower? A flower she found on the ground and gave to me instead of a compost pile? Is it normal to give flowers to friends? I genuinely didn’t know.

The movie left a lot to be desired from the standpoint of a wannabe writer. It was about a karaoke contest or something. My part was not super important. I played a background person at a party, and most of my job was to pretend to have conversations and to cheer when someone’s karaoke routine was done. It’s a good thing I wasn’t written as Karen’s love interest or else this would’ve been even more complicated. Craig wasn’t there, by the way. He was in the movie in another scene, but he was absent from this filming session. I still have no idea how relevant any of this was, but it just felt weird. Especially since Karen and I talked between most shots. I wondered if it looked weird to anyone else, but I of course didn’t ask anyone. “Hey do you think Karen wants to cheat on her boyfriend with me?” is a question that would spark a number of issues. When it was all said and done, Karen drove me back home, and that was the end of that. I know talking about the “friend zone” is not really cool anymore, but I really wondered if I was friend zoned hard  or if Karen was keeping me around as a backup plan or something. I really couldn’t tell.

I held on to that flower. It was pretty and smelled good, and it made my dumb romantic mind think of Karen. It became a custom to spin the flower between my fingers and question what she felt about me. Nothing productive would ever come from this of course. I also wondered if I would get another chance to hang out with Karen. I might’ve been picked for the movie because she knew I’d say yes, but would she ask me to do anything else?

Karen’s family had a foreign exchange student that year, and she was throwing a surprise party for Karen’s birthday. I was invited at the last minute. I know it wasn’t Karen’s plan, but it still felt like part of the weird chain of occurrences. Karen just kept coming back into the picture. I wasn’t of the mindset of, “THIS IS DESTINY!” or anything, but it all felt weird. Oh, it also felt weird when I had a mild fender bender while getting her birthday present on the day of the party. I was stressed about coming across too strongly in my card to her and worried that my gift wouldn’t be good enough. What if she wanted something special from me? What if it seemed like I was hitting on her? What if I had to interact with both her and Craig at the party? Crunch. I saw the car in front of me, but the stop came quicker than I expected, and I bumped their bumper. No damage whatsoever, but the other driver locked her keys in the car. Yep, so I had to sit on an incredibly busy road during rush hour while this lady figured out her key situation. First I was worried about missing the party, then I was worried that my parents wouldn’t let me go to the party, and then I wondered if I wanted to go to the party at all. Since it was a harmless incident, my parents encouraged me to go, and Max drove me.

The party itself mostly wasn’t that exciting. Her parents were there, so it didn’t resemble a fun party scene from a movie. I was kind of hoping Karen and I would have some scandalous moment together, but that didn’t happen. On the other hand I was glad it didn’t. Maybe I was just a friend. Friends get invited to birthday parties. Max was invited. He was just a guy friend to her.

I couldn’t actually enjoy the party due to the internal disappointment and embarrassment I felt about the fender bender earlier that day. I could, however, fight a proxy war with Craig over a game of ping pong. He asked if I wanted to play, probably assuming that I wasn’t low-key crushing on his girlfriend, and I said yes, as though owning him at ping pong would win Karen’s affection. She and Max were standing behind us respectively, like trainers in boxers’ corners. Being the creep I was, I tried to get a read on how Karen and Craig interacted. It really wasn’t romantic. I know most couples aren’t going to just bang in front of you, but I typically expect a slight change in characteristics when two people are in a relationship. Anyway, I got crushed at ping pong, so I never got to see if winning ping pong would break the two of them up. But the game had the additional effect of getting me to realize that I kind of hated Craig. Like, he was just obnoxious. I don’t think I ever heard him say anything that wasn’t a joke or in a joking tone. And Karen didn’t seem that amused by his act either. The party then came to a close without anything interesting happening, and Max drove me home.

That night, still hating myself over the fender bender ordeal, I came to a pact with myself. I was going to give up on Karen. This wasn’t healthy for me. I was never going to act on my feelings, and I could never be a good friend to her because I would feel attracted to her regardless. It was a waste of my time. I was done. I’d respond to her texts to be polite, and I’d still sit with her in sociology. Other than that, I was done. It wasn’t worth getting in a car accident over.

“You’re coming to the TAGademy Awards, right?” she messaged me. TAG was short for Talented and Gifted, and the semi-clever pun was the name of their annual, end-of-year movie screening and awards ceremony.

“Oh, of course!” I answered immediately. Pact, broken. But, I mean, I was in the movie. I did have reason to be there. And again, asking me to come did nothing to imply that she had feelings for me.

At the TAGademy Awards, I sat with the crew of the movie I was part of. I don’t remember the name of the movie, which is a pretty accurate way to sum up how good it was. Craig was there, and he sat justifiably next to Karen. Craig’s role in the film was as a wise fisherman whom the protagonist gets advice from before the climax. His moment got reasonable laughter from he audience. In fact, Karen’s movie won one (1) TAGademy Award: Best Supporting Actor for Craig. Being the jealous type that I was, this didn’t sit well. He was in the movie for like twenty seconds! And not to brag, but I was a pretty damn fine partygoer in my scene if I do say so myself. Where was my award? Oh well. If this was another battle in the fictitious proxy war, the score was 2-0 Craig.

After the awards were done and the audience dismissed, I said my goodbyes and made my way to my mom’s rusted Jeep that had only a week before been victim to my inattention. I tried to be one of the first to leave because busy parking lots scared me.

And then I got my rom-com scene.

Karen followed me out of theater and caught me before I got to my car. “What’d you think of the movie?” she asked.

I responded in a way that mocked one of the “critics” that was brought in to judge the films. I could never tell if Karen liked when my humor revolved around making fun of people, but she went along with it anyway, which I always appreciated.

“Hey, we’re going to IHOP to celebrate,” she spoke up after we exchanged a few more lines of smalltalk. “Care to join us?”

At that moment, Craig popped up like a Kramer-esque sitcom figure next to Karen. I looked over at him and then made eye contact with Karen with a disappointed look that said something to the effect of, “I wish.”

“Oh,” she said. Her face mirrored mine. “Thanks for coming out tonight.”

“Of course!” I said. And then we went through our goodbyes, and I drove off. For the rest of the night though, I thought about that last exchange we had. I knew I was crazy. That wasn’t a secret to me. But that look she gave me was the exact one I gave her. It wasn’t just, “Darn, wish I could go out tonight.” It was a deeper sadness, like a longing for a universe where it all could work out. I knew I liked Karen. I’m of the opinion that one simply can’t stop liking someone. There’s no way to just turn off feelings for no reason. I had tried to make a deal with myself to get out of Karen’s life, but I know I didn’t really want that. And did she want it either? I genuinely couldn’t tell. And, again, I didn’t want to be a homewrecker, but also the idea of it was kind of fun.

TAGademy was held the Friday before the last week of school. Part of me was looking forward to the summer and not having to think about Karen constantly. Another part of me was not wanting to give up our sociology chats together. What if she forgot about me? What if I wasn’t able to get her out of my head? At this point she wasn’t texting me as often as before. My anxious, self-loathing side thought that meant she was over me or pushing me away to be with Craig. A logical side told me that she was busy, which made sense considering she was in and out of class due to various end-of-year art things. But I hated that that was the logical side because it catered to my belief that maybe Karen and me could be a thing.

And then came the last day of class. We had already signed each other’s yearbooks, and I played it safe to ensure nothing ambiguous could be made out. Her note to me was fun but equally tame. I wondered what our last goodbye of the school year would be like. I knew I was being dramatic. We would probably see each other over the summer in some form or another, but it was still a big moment for me. I sat in my usual spot… and she never showed up. Me and my unhealthy crush were disappointed in the symbolism of this. As it turns out she was at a student art show, which, again, made sense. But I wasn’t going to get my chance to say goodbye, which meant I wasn’t going to have closure in this crush, get the chance to put it to bed before going into the freedom of the summer. Oh well.

Max was always bummed by my lack of progress in my love life. I still hadn’t told him about my crush on Karen or the weird ways we kept being in each other’s lives. I loved the guy to death, but that was just the sort of thing I felt needed to be kept to myself. He and a few mutual friends decided to kickstart the summer by setting up a blind date for me. It wasn’t really a “blind” date necessarily because I met the girl, Lindsey, while filming Karen’s movie. We hit it off pretty well there, but, as the last 3,700 words have stated, I was focused on someone else at the time. But I was excited to really meet Lindsey. Dating in general seemed like a fun idea. If I learned anything from my whole ordeal with Karen, it was that I needed to not be afraid to speak up. If I just asked Karen out when I originally wanted to, I wouldn’t have spent three months in a state of unhealthy limbo. It would be good for me to start going on dates and seeing what happens.

The day came for my date with Lindsey. What did people wear on dates? What was protocol for anything on a first date? How do people keep conversation up without  awkward periods of silence? These were the questions I was stressing myself out with. I really did give excessive weight to everything. Unfortunately for my self growth, but fortunately for the short-term stress I was feeling, a few hours before the date, I got a call from Max.

“Hey bud,” he started. I knew this was not a good thing. His voice had this tone whenever bad news was coming. “Bad news: Lindsey asked to cancel. She said she’s not really looking to date anyone right now.”

I was a little disappointed, but also I was happy to know that I wasn’t going to have to go through the stress and potential embarrassment of a first date. “Don’t worry about it!” I said, sounding enthusiastic from my relief. Max initially sounded puzzled by my positive tone there, but then we kept talking for a while.

“Oh, and here’s my second big piece of news,” Max said with no clue of just how important that news was going to be for me. “Karen and Craig broke up.”

Any sadness from the abrupt cancellation of the date immediately flushed away and renewed, irrational hope filled its absence. The timing of this was just odd. Lindsey was friends with Karen. What if Lindsey was stepping aside for Karen? I mean, I know it’s a little farfetched, but I was working with a lot of coincidences.

“Want to get lunch?” I asked Max. I had to tell him everything. I needed someone to hear my story and tell me that I wasn’t looking too far into what was going on. And that’s what I did. I spilled every bit of the last semester to Max. He found my theory of Karen keeping me around for when she and Craig broke up to be a realistic possibility, and he told me that it would be completely realistic for me to make a move on her. After giving her some time to recover from the breakup, of course.

“So, are you going to ask her out?” Max asked.

“I want to,” I said. “We’ll see. I don’t know if she even wants to keep talking to me.”

It’s adorable how naive I was. I now know how the story ends, and it would take another two years for Karen’s chapter of my life to conclude, but at the time, I wasn’t sure if she’d still want to talk to me or if we were just school friends. I was in for a summer of unresolved questions.

But that’s a story for another day. Stay tuned for the frustrating part 2 of Loveless Summer!

bandersnatch- choose to watch something else

Log in to Netflix and fire up Twitter for your response because the folks across the pond are back again with another edition of the sci-fi anthology phenomenon, Black Mirror! Rather than an episode though, Black Mirror’s newest project comes in the form of a choose your own adventure movie called Bandersnatch that gives viewers the chance to choose between different paths at various points throughout the story. It’s a cool idea on paper, but I don’t know man. Ultimately I felt like it was far more gimmicky than it was actually enjoyable. The main idea of Bandersnatch is what holds it back the most and prevents it from being as deep or interesting as many of the other episodes in the series.

Black Mirror is one of the most unique shows on television right now. It’s often compared to The Twilight Zone for its anthology elements and uses of storytelling to portray contemporary issues. If I had one big criticism of the series, it’s that almost every episode boils down to “technology is bad.” The ways that this message is portrayed vary drastically from episode to episode, but the message is mostly the same. When I’m feeling more cynical I sometimes wonder if Black Mirror is actually that deep at all, but then I ultimately decide that even if it’s not, the series is so well-conceived and produced that the complaint isn’t even that valid if it were true. One thing I personally love about the series is how everyone has their own choices for which episodes are the best, and there’s really no reason for anyone to be more correct than anyone else. My personal favorite is Fifteen Million Merits. Its world is wonderfully terrifying underneath its colorful screen-filled future, and the ending is so frustratingly unsatisfying and ironic. But I don’t necessarily think it’s objectively the best episode. I really don’t know if there is definitely a Black Mirror that’s better than the rest (apart from The Waldo Moment, which is definitely not the best don’t even try to argue for it).

All of this is to say that when I say that I really only felt “meh” about Bandersnatch, I honestly have no idea how valid that is. Judging by public reaction online, there are people who seem to really enjoy it or at the very least feel dedicated to mapping out the various pathways the movie can take and uncovering every ending and storyline possible. But at the same time, most of what people are talking about goes back to Bandersnatch’s interactivity rather than its actual story, and I think that’s very telling of the quality of the movie as a whole. Its concept is far more intriguing than its final product.

So what is the final product? Set in 1984 (hehe get it?), Bandersnatch follows an aspiring video game developer named Stefan who is in the process of writing Bandersnatch, an adaptation of a book of the same name. It’s an ambitious game because for it to succeed it relies on branching paths (get it? like the show? so clever!), a concept difficult with the limited technology of the time. As the story goes on, it is revealed that the writer of the original Bandersnatch book murdered his wife after seemingly going insane from writing the book, and it seems that a similar fate is going to follow Stefan. Paths explore mental health, the concept of a sort of Big Brother-like figure, and even breaking the fourth wall, as Stefan realizes an external figure is controlling his actions.

One of the biggest issues I have with the movie is that if the interactivity is taken away, Bandersnatch is actually really pretty simple. That’s not to say that Black Mirror has never been simple before. One of the, if not THE, most highly regarded episodes in the series is The National Anthem, a very simple episode in which the English Prime Minister has to perform sexual acts on a pig on live television in order to save a princess from a terrorist. It’s simple, tense, and terrifying. And yet, despite being simple it has a lot to say about society’s addiction to media and how people have become desensitized to   disturbing content. Bandersnatch on the other hand is simple, but it doesn’t really have much to say. You could spend hours combing through its endings, but there’s never anything that productive being said. Technology is bad, there may be someone somewhere controlling our actions, and that’s it.

It becomes especially frustrating because the options given were never particularly satisfying, and often it felt like they didn’t have enough weight in the general story. For example, the first big choice you get to make is regarding how Stefan will go about working on his game. He could either work in the office of a game studio, which will provide him with resources to finish Bandersnatch but on a strict deadline, or he could continue to work on it from his bedroom. Rather than opening up the possibility for two completely different stories, the first option signals an immediate end to the story. Bandersnatch is released, but it’s an unplayable mess, and viewers are sent back to the option back at the game studio. Out of curiosity I picked to work in the office again in the slight chance that the movie would reward messing around with it, but no, it gave the same ending and booted me back to the office. Most of the choices in the movie boil down to this. If you want to break off from the path the movie wants you to travel down, the results will be unsatisfied and you’ll get sent back down the preferred path. For example, Stefan goes to his therapist, who asks him to talk about his mother. If you answer no, the story will briefly continue only for another unsatisfying ending to occur. It’s then only possible to go deeper into the story by talking about the mother. The element of choice is in Bandersnatch, but not really.

“Psh, you foolish pleb,” you might already be typing. “That’s the point of the episode! Choice is an illusion! Nothing will ever be as satisfying as you want it to be! The choices you have in life are tragically limited, and Bandersnatch represents that perfectly!”

Don’t worry, I’ve already thought of that and disregarded it as pretentious and wrong. Bandersnatch brought out some of my more cynical views on Black Mirror because I really don’t think it’s that deep. I don’t think its lack of impactful choices represent the lack of choices we have in life. I think it represents the lack of resources they had to make a movie with endless possibilities. And it’s silly to believe that all roads truly lead to “kill dad,” as Bandersnatch might lead you to believe. I really do think that they had a good idea for a concept, but relied so heavily on said concept that the actual content they made was just mediocre.

There was one moment that built my hopes that this episode would turn into something great, but like all choices in the movie, it led to quick endings that sent the viewer back to a previous scene. Rather than choosing to see a doctor at one point in the story, viewers can send Stefan to to Colin’s apartment. Colin is another video game developer, and he and Stefan take hallucinogens together. Colin uses the experience to tell Stefan that their lives are being controlled by someone else and that their own choices are meaningless. The scene ends with the choice to throw either Stefan or Colin over the apartment’s balcony to his death. I hoped this would lead to some deeper layers of a Black Mirror acid trip, but that didn’t happen. If Stefan goes over, Bandersnatch gets released posthumously and the movie ends. If Colin goes over, Stefan sees a monster and the movie ends. Moments that could be interesting turns in the story, but they just never pan out like they should, and the experience Bandersnatch wants you to have instead is far less interesting.

I’m glad I watched Bandersnatch because it really was one of the most original concepts for a show I’ve ever seen, but this was done at the expense of coming off as gimmicky and ultimately a lesser Black Mirror experience. People have found enjoyment out of Bandersnatch, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a desire to watch it again. I’ve seen all the endings that I know of and was occasionally entertained. If someone finds a secret ending or path that makes Bandersnatch more interesting, my opinion might change, but for now, it really was just meh. It serves as a lesson that not all good ideas produce good products.

Or, in terms the movie would understand, 2.5 stars out of 5. Kill Dad.

life-size 2- a life-sized disaster

Freeform’s Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve might very well be the best worst thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a true 80-minute travesty of absent direction, lazy acting, half-assed messages, and this dumpster fire is available for streaming on Hulu right now. My ribs still hurt from laughing so hard at this mess that it gets my full endorsement. Gather ’round the TV this Christmas and make it a new tradition. Watch with your friends, neighbors, and everyone else. Share the joy of Life-Size 2 this holiday season.

Okay, so I’m going to give a brief rundown of the p l o t before I tear into this one because it’s so nonsensical and half-written that a synopsis is essentially a replacement for commentary. Life-Size 2 is the sequel to 2000’s Life-Size, which starred a young Lindsay Lohan and Tyra Banks. The sequel follows a new protagonist, Grace Martin, a young woman who becomes CEO of Marathon Toys after her mother, the company’s founder, is sent to jail. The board of directors is considering discontinuing the company’s popular “Eve” doll, essentially a Barbie doll, due to waning popularity and the company’s difficulties with competition from online retailers. Grace, being a young party girl with no business experience, goes along with the plan because Eve doesn’t really matter to her. However, Grace’s young neighbor, Lex, wants Grace to reconsider the decision, and the two of them attempt a magical spell to save the company. This spell brings Grace’s own Eve doll to life. Life-size Eve (played by Tyra Banks) quickly teaches Grace to accept her inner child and understand the importance of  Eve dolls. It is revealed that an evil member of Marathon Toys’ board is attempting to take power away from Grace, but I don’t remember that guy’s name because the movie doesn’t care either. Eve wants to save the dolls because all of the dolls actually live in a  world called Sunnyvale, and the discontinuation of the toy line would bring about an end to Sunnyvale. When Grace realizes the importance of the dolls, Lex suggests that what they need to do is modernize Eve. The movie reaches its climax at the Marathon Toys shareholder meeting. Evil board member planned to use the event to take over as CEO, but lo and behold! Grace and Eve show up and unveil the new modern Eve dolls in a big rap number. We are gifted with Woke Eve, Love is Love Eve, Thicc Eve, Quarterback Eve, and CEO Eve to truly capture the five different flavors of women. Evil man is arrested for fraud and framing Grace’s mother, Grace’s mother is released from prison, Marathon Toys survives under the new line of dolls, and Grace hooks up with some dude named Calum while Eve brings a chef named Hyde back to her doll world.

Any details that seem vague in that summary are basically as vague as the movie presented them. To start off, the jail plot. We learn early on in the movie through a horribly low-budget news segment that Grace’s mom is in jail, but they never actually specify why that is. Did she murder someone? Is she a drug smuggler? It’s up to your imagination. At the end it’s revealed that her mom was framed by a scheming board member, but until that board member bluntly states, “I framed her mother!” late in the movie, it’s never mentioned. Grace doesn’t ever act like she suspects her mother is innocent. Until sketchy businessman blatantly states that he set her up, there’s no reason for viewers to believe anything other than that the mom’s innocent until then. Then we get a scene of Grace and her mother from jail. They speak Spanish to each other at various points, and it doesn’t give subtitles. Don’t get tricked into thinking this was an artistic statement. I doubt the people behind Life-Size 2 really thought that much.

To break up the monotony of complaining, it’s time to give credit where credit is due: Tyra Banks was definitely Tyra Banks. It’s not like she’s a fantastic actor or anything, but she puts 1000% into everything she does. No one in this movie can really act, but Tyra delivers real energy in every scene she’s in. Sometimes I don’t even think they gave her a script. One scene boiled down to a fashion show with Eve, and Tyra looks like she’s having a lot of fun with it. Tyra’s talent didn’t make the bizarre rap number any better, but at least she put some effort into Life-Size 2, which is more than anyone else involved could say.

Oh yeah, here’s something terrifying the movie did. After coming to life, Eve develops a relationship with a human chef named Hyde. The chef comes on to Eve because Eve ordered a ton of food from his restaurant and ate a stick of butter. That’s not a joke; that’s the plot. Anyway, they get romantically involved, but at the end of the movie, when Marathon Toys is saved, Eve has to return to Sunnyvale. Chef Hyde makes the decision to leave his life behind and go with Eve, and we see as they magically get transformed into dolls. Then in one of the final scenes of the movie we see Chef Hyde and Eve in the world filled with Eve dolls as Hyde attempts and fails to make food out of the plastic in the Barbie World. This is some real Twilight Zone shit here. He’s a chef trapped in a world where he can’t cook. And imagine what his family and friends would be thinking! He disappears without warning, and the only clue is a doll that resembles him. Can he come back to the human world? I’m genuinely concerned about the fate of Chef Hyde. And don’t say that he found true love. Eve is mentally a young girl, and they knew each other for a few days before he decided to abandon his life for her. This whole plot line is terrifying, and the logistics of it are giving me a headache. Next complaint.

Thinking of that odd relationship, this movie is bizarrely sexual. Not that I’m a prude or anything, and this movie was definitely written for an older audience, but like… why? Why did they think that a movie about a doll coming to life and a girl inheriting a company and saving a toy company needed middle school quality innuendo? The scene that introduces Eve first finds her in bed with Grace and Grace not realizing who it is. Grace assumes Eve was a drunken hook-up while Eve naively replies with seemingly sexual responses. It’s less funny and more awkward cringey. Plus I just can’t get over how dumb it is that someone genuinely got paid to come up with the idea, “Let’s make a sequel to that family comedy from eighteen years ago, except now the characters bang.”

Oh, this anecdote is less about the movie itself and more about public response I found while searching around on Twitter. There have been several (low quality) think pieces praising Life-Size 2 for its LGTBQ inclusion. Because of the hook-up mix-up scene, it seems that Grace’s character was written as bisexual. It’s never really addressed again, and it’s used mostly for laughs in the one (1) scene it’s in, but it is in there. Also there’s a little boy who’s presented as gay. It is kinda cool that this isn’t a major plot point. Rather it’s merely a normal part of the movie. But at the same time, this movie is a lazy mess, and if it includes anything progressive, it’s done solely so that D-list Twitter verifieds will praise it. Hollywood is a cynical place. They don’t care about you. They care about money. And when a movie is as lazy as Life-Size 2, there’s no reason to believe that the single thing they cared about was inclusion for inclusion’s sake. The bottom line: don’t fall for Hollywood slacktivism. Strive for actual inclusion.

And now, Christmas. If you remember back to the start of our journey through this quality program, I first called this movie Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve and haven’t mentioned Christmas once since then. I hear a lot of people these days debating whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and I think that’s the lesser Christmas movie debate. I want to know if people think Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve is actually remotely a Christmas movie. The poster for the movie sure doesn’t make it look like one. Life-Size 2, final poster.jpg                                https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59272022

Sure some of the scenes have Christmas trees in the backgrounds, and one scene definitely takes place in some sort of Christmas market thing, but other than that, there really is nothing about Christmas in this movie. About halfway through the movie I realized I forgot it was a Christmas movie and I came up with a conspiracy theory: Christmas was added in the last minute. At the end of the movie, when it’s announced that Grace’s mom will be released from prison, someone says “She’ll be out before Christmas,” and I think from that throwaway line made the writers realize, “Oh we can just throw some Christmas things in, release this in December, and boom: Christmas movie.” If I cared enough, I would rewatch the two definitely Christmas scenes to see if they have any differences in character hairstyles or other small details than the rest of the movie, but I’ve probably already spent enough time talking about a movie five people watched and three people cared about. Regardless, is it worthy of its Christmas subtitle? Not at all. Am I going to force everyone in my life to watch it with my every December? You bet!

Life-Size 2 unintentionally made me laugh harder than almost every intentional comedy I’ve ever seen, and I highly recommend you watch it. Sure it’s already past Christmas season, but it’s barely a Christmas movie, so you’re fine. How many movies end with a Tyra Banks rap? That’s right. One (1). This one.

Also, I didn’t really know where to put this, but Lil Yachty shows up and beatboxes for like ten seconds. So that’s a thing.