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Backwards Compatibility January 17, 2009

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I don’t really read that many blogs, but there are a few that I occassionally visit just to check in and to see how people are doing.  By which I mean to see if they’re stumbling as badly as I am.

I’m lazy when it comes to webpage navigation, so I generally just start at the newest entry and work my way backwards.  Funny how this tends to result in the desired effect: I’m the sole witness as their lives continue to deteriorate.

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Epitaph September 17, 2008

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The day we brought her home, she was so small that she could fit snugly in my ten-year-old lap. We took her from a disgusting, beat-up house and she cried almost the entire way back before falling asleep. Just before we arrived at my house in Bell Canyon, she woke up and promptly vomited on me. I then proceeded to punish her by saddling her with the name “Trini,” after the yellow Power Ranger.

She was a very strange dog, and even as a puppy didn’t have a great desire to run and play and do the things that a kid would expect. She was stubborn and smart and basically just always did her own thing, whether that entailed digging holes in the backyard and barking into them at all hours of the night or jumping over fences and ducking under the front gate just to get out and explore the neighborhood. It felt like we were a step behind her and constantly running to catch up. It was pretty ridiculous, even up until last week when she somehow managed to squeeze out the doggie door wearing a giant cone around her neck. This should not have been physically possible, but as always, she worked it out somehow.

She used to do this crazy thing where if I riled her up enough, she would run back and forth and back and forth in circles for about 20-30 seconds before lying down like nothing had ever happened. She also had an uncanny way of settling down right where you needed to walk, especially in the dark. It was a gift.

Overall I have tried not to get too worked up over her, because the nature of having a dog means that the dog will most likely die before its owner. Plus she had a good life and lived much longer than I thought she ever would.

Last night I went downstairs into the kitchen around midnight. It was very dark and I found myself trying to avoid stepping on her as I fumbled for the light switch, forgetting that it was something I didn’t have to do anymore.

The deep sea. September 2, 2008

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It’s something that I’ve been playing around with in my head for a while but I just can’t seem to put a coherent shape to it. I have lines of poetry but nothing that intersects and connects and gives it just that right tone of resonance.

But I’m thinking about the water and our fascination with it, this vast body of nothingness that stretches between you and me. And I remember she said to me once that driving back and forth between Santa Barbara and home, she looked out over the beauty of the water every day and was so tempted to just turn her wheels west, crash through the barriers and tumble into the sea and find out for herself what would happen next.

And these are similar times, not halcyon days by any means; instead, this sort of mid-twenties crisis, a vast expanse of nothingness, a black hole, the ocean.

So I keep thinking maybe we’d take a car through the canyons and end up along the shore of the Pacific, climb up to the top of a lifeguard stand and share a bottle of something even though I never touch the stuff, but why not heap oppression on top of oppression and if not now, when?

And I’d tell you all about the fall of my optimism because nobody ever believes me but I used to be quite the optimist, especially about certain things. I’d describe how I feel like every part of that has been wrenched away, and I’d feel stupid at the same time because “what are my problems when people are starving?” or whatever it is that they say. But it’s true that everyone has their individual cross to bear regardless of the situation.

So I get to the point, finally, that all the optimism has been drained out of me and this is what I’m left with, and that tiny piece that I’d been clinging to ridiculously, that you can be totally open and honest with another human being sometime, somewhere…

I’d trail off into nothingness and look out across that same nothingness, the distance between us, the darkness, across the waves. And it would be like our eyes meeting except on a certain same point in the distance as the tide rolls in, recedes, rolls in and recedes again, with nothing but silence and slow measured breaths for accompaniment.

Until the water rolls out and doesn’t return, not for long while, when suddenly the ground quakes and towering over us is a wave of epic proportions, smashing through the lifeguard tower and burying us under the massive weight of all that water, our burdens, our crosses.

Before I know it I’m already fading, failing, and as I’m looking around me I can just imagine all the ghosts of the girls I’ve known, from Gaia to Autumn to Tessa and everything in between, these silly names I’d conjured on the page for very real people.  It’s something like the old question of if you had to pull only one person out of a fire, who would it be? Except this time it wouldn’t be anyone and all of them without exception are caught up in the same rush, the same disaster, inhaling the salt and the sea into their lungs and slowly disappearing underneath the water.

And as they’re all sinking and twisting through the chaos, the silver and gold jewelry laced around their necks floats toward the surface, ineffectual buoys against lifelessness and gravity. A stream of steady moonlight flows into the water, and when it hits the necklaces at just the right angle, it causes them to glimmer, just for a moment, before being obscured by tangled messes of black or auburn hair. So the reflection shimmers in and out of view, sparkles and fades.

It’s a meteor shower for those looking up from the deep sea floor.

The Wonderful Future July 12, 2008

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I feel like I keep getting older and I continue to accrue more regrets. And the actions that I take seem eminently reasonable now, but in hindsight turn out to be the wrong ones.

It’s less about the subjectivity of right and wrong than it is about the path you choose and whether or not it’s right for you. But the fantastic thing about living in the present tense is that your choices are like doors, but they function both ways. So if you take a turn somewhere and don’t like it, you can always go back and see what the other road is like. That’s how you hone your “filter” and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

I mean I guess that makes sense. I was watching a baseball game on TV the other day, the batter hits a routine ground ball that goes straight through the third baseman’s legs. The announcer says “it’s a shame, but that’s how these young guys learn to play, by making mistakes.”

I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about, but the sentiment seems to coincide.

There’s nothing wrong with doing something wrong every so often. But where the problem comes up is in how I judge myself afterward.

The guilt you feel.

It’s not guilt, exactly. And it’s more of a long-term thing. Like I’ll take an event that happened ten years ago and think about how stupid I was back then.

Without accounting for the paradigm shift that happens over time.

Sure. It has to do with age more than anything else, I think. Age and experience. Because I think…I mean, I didn’t realize it back then, but damn, you only get one shot at this. So I think about ten years ago, what was I? Fourteen? And I think, how could I have liked this girl or that girl and never have done anything about it? When my life is so short to begin with?

It must seem that way to you.

So here’s the important question: do you look at me and think “how could I have been him?”

I see you more as an amalgamation of experiences. I’m simply the continuation of that cycle. So when you say you accrue regrets what you’re really saying is you’re closer to becoming a wiser person.

Now that I think about it without all of the dramatic posturing, there are really only a couple of regrets that really get to me. And more because I wish I could have contributed to these certain people’s lives and they wouldn’t allow me, for one reason or another.

Emmy Lepp from the first grade.

No, not her, although incidentally I looked her up the other day and I think she’s found God or something. Or maybe I’m confusing it entirely. Either way, we both know the people I’m really referring to, so I’d prefer not to discuss them now if you don’t mind.

Or you could write it all out on your blog.

It’s an interesting line to toe between what I really feel and what I feel is acceptable to put down there. Without a doubt I tend to err towards the side of writing everything regardless of the consequences, because I just feel like if I’m going to censor myself then it causes the writing to become irrelevant, both as an art form and as some kind of personal record-keeping. So maybe my attempt at truth somehow makes up for me being that guy who loves every girl he’s ever been close to, or for being that guy who breaks up with and gets back together with the girl three or four times.

But you must realize that, logically, it ceases to be a give-and-take proposition at some point.

Still. I’m “that guy” in a lot of ways.

That won’t always be the case. Maybe you’ll learn to accept it. And maybe accept that regret, or that guilt, or whatever it is, as well. It’s not always about the Emmys and Laurens and Kristys of the world. If you let go of it you could become someone else entirely.

Become you, is what you mean.

It’s hard to say. I know you’ve been conditioned to think of time as a straight line but it doesn’t really work that way. It’s more like…a tree that stretches to infinity in all directions.

So if I were to jump in front of a bus right now…

It wouldn’t accomplish anything. I’d still exist, but there would be a separate, parallel branch of time in which you died. So you would continue to both exist and not exist. I think maybe that’s why I didn’t understand your earlier analogy. Things like games and competition become rather meaningless when you can travel between planes of existence, wouldn’t you agree?

I don’t think I have the proper frame of mind to comment. I’m going to let it sort itself out and see what comes to pass.

Paper Crane June 27, 2008

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Her voice is not what I expect. And after the fury of the day leaves me fraudulently exposed, I’m not sure how good of a thing that is. I’m thinking about superimposition, if that’s even a word, and if it is it’s what I’m doing, stretching a thin layer of cool across my boiling blood. And so here we are, a full circle since the last time, filling the empty space of the house with music to all corner. There’s this song in my head: “they don’t love you like I love you.” And the world is a stage– we’re playing this game as if there’s a screaming audience watching and yet at the same time I’m being watched, closely monitored, and it has to be some kind of metafiction, except without the “fiction”.

So I’m painfully aware of spatial distances and their elicited responses: just how close do I get and when do I move and what if we make eye contact if just for a moment? An awkwardly choreographed dance. And this fucking song in my head: “they don’t love you like I love you”: your voice is not what I expect: a siren, the calm, the music, the recollection of the fury. Because as I tried to explain it and failed miserably, sometimes things cannot be intellectual and a case cannot be compiled against them. The beauty of it is to know that I am in a place where I can just exist without having to think too much about it.

So the train barrels on toward night’s end and I find myself singing even though it’s not my turn, I’m fairly belting the damn thing and playing the guitar at the same time and just for a minute, her voice and mine intersect and it’s not what I expect but it’s brilliant in its own way, like two strands of DNA interweaving seamlessly. And just for a moment all is right in the world and I can purge the sorrow and the fury and the deep longing of what should have been and what is, I can feel it and expunge it simultaneously.

And I know the power of these words and have to get them out, they’re begging to be released but she’s a keen watchdog and wakes at the slightest movement. Except it can’t be witheld and this is how I feel when my mind is fluid and energetic, my thoughts run onto the page and there’s a paper crane unfolding in front of me and I can see its creases and its geometry and suddenly I understand how it all fits together to make the whole.

And there’s this beautiful song in my head: “they don’t love you like I love you.”

If I just close my eyes I can picture it.

Faith. June 6, 2008

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I am still angry about the 2004 NBA Finals. This is not a post about sports.

It’s different to watch your favorite team lose than to watch them being dismantled on national television piece by piece. And it was the latter in the Detroit/Lakers series that year, as a young, teamwork-oriented Detroit team absolutely destroyed a Lakers team full of aging, selfish superstars.

We watched it on the big television in the room that had the white couches and the pool table in Erin’s old house. Two things I remember vividly. The first is Ben Wallace jumping over Shaquille O’Neal and athletically dunking the ball in O’Neal’s face. If you don’t follow basketball, you might find yourself wondering who Ben Wallace is. That’s the point.

The second is similar, Rick Fox and his crazy-looking hair, this guy who had been a proud and integral part of the league’s premiere franchise, now injured and heading for retirement, running up and down the court hardly able to play, much less contribute.

And I thought about all this as Game 5 ended and the Lakers walked dejectedly off the court. Because somewhere along the line, everything had fallen apart. I thought about the promise that Erin had seemed to bring, and how it had gone largely unfulfilled. I thought about college and how pointless it all seemed, how the knowledge that I was wasting my time with was never going to serve me in any way whatsoever.

And in a way I’ve been floating ever since, trying take the pieces of something broken and turn them into not only something new but something functional and healthy and exciting.

I always say that I want to go back to high school and I give the usual reasons about youth and money and being carefree, but I don’t think that’s the truth. I think that that was the last time I really felt like I belonged with a group of people, no matter how contentious it may have gotten. It was the last time I ever felt like I had direction, no matter how pointless it would turn out to be.

2004 was all of that crumbling, the death of all of my old, worn-out ideas, making way for a new, more aimless generation.

And every time I get frustrated, every time I can’t bring myself to make that one more phone call that will be ignored, send off that one next email that will be disregarded, I feel the same thing from inside, however stupid it might be, those images of Rick Fox and Shaq, old and useless. Because it all fits together somehow.

So there are other reasons, of course, but maybe that’s why I find myself so engrossed in the saga of this year’s Lakers. Because having fallen from the top, they’ve finally reloaded and found a way to bring themselves back. And if they manage to bring the trophy back to LA…it will feel like a piece of redemption for me. It just will.

The question is whether or not I can do the same. And it looks less likely at the moment. Everything is connected; today’s Game One Finals loss is brilliantly interwoven into the excruciatingly slow pace of her and I,  the sale of the car I’ve been driving since high school, the departure of my parents to Europe, the unrelenting awkwardness between friends, and the downright depressing season finale of House.

Strange but true, this interconnectedness, and it’s just like I wrote almost ten months ago:

“Still, I can’t help thinking that all of this is connected in some way, even though I don’t believe in such things. The death of a prominent comic book artist, the minor rearrangement of tectonic plates beneath Chatsworth, shooting stars, our slow decline, every girl I’ve ever loved (and the ones I think I might one day). All the while we’re fussing with a broken jukebox, a tragic attempt to fill the uncomfortable spaces of the beach house with songs from forty years ago.”

…and this, my continual clumsy attempt at faith.

 

 

Edit June 6, 2008, 2:35AM—

Dearest Julie:

This is a postscript to a post just like this incident is a postscript to my thought process.

You will not remember this because you don’t remember things in the way that I do. But I just wanted to apologize for when you called Erin’s house and I picked up her phone and I was unecessarily harsh. This was on June 15, 2004, just after the Lakers’ final loss that year. While the conduct of a human being should never be linked to the result of a sporting event, maybe you’ll better understand it at this point.

It is very stupid, but every time when I’m frustrated and thinking of old, useless Rick Fox and his fugly hair, I remember misguidedly yelling at you and it was really not nice. I will attempt to corral these instincts if the Lakers lose to Boston this year, but it might just be better if I don’t answer my phone on that (hypothetical) day.

Best,

Todd

 

The expanse of the decades. May 19, 2008

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We’re driving in the car, or I guess I should say I’m driving, and Chris is riding in it. Either way we’ve just dropped Erin at her house and we’re going back home, and as usual there’s this silence between us. Not for anything uncomfortable but just because there’s this vast expanse in the air, we’ve known each other for so long that it seems like it can’t even be articulated.

“I still feel like I’m around age 18, but we’re just as close to 30 as we are to 18,” he says finally.

And as that sinks in, confirming my suspicions that I am really too old for just about anything, it occurs to me that this TV series and this comic book and whatever it’s going to be, this success or this failure…it’s just the bookend of 9th grade and grad school, we’ve been working on this project for going on ten (!) years. That’s 3650 days (3652 factoring in the leap years) of “Aries” and “Taurus” and “Malice” (now “Malachi”) and “Destiny’s Children”.

And it sounds stupid but I think we’re all just artists, drawing new and improved versions of our characters, constantly creating new and improved and even more flawed versions of ourselves.

Holy Roman May 19, 2008

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“How was graduation?” she asks, and I tell her, you know, whatever…because I don’t really want to get into it, I’ve already gone through it a hundred times this weekend already. So she moves on and she asks “How was Erin?” and I’m not exactly sure where to go with that, because it’s awkwardly phrased and can mean about a thousand things at this point. “How was she at your graduation, with the family, etc.” which kind of clears it up but not so much.

So I just launch into it, for a moment reconsidering my decision to tell her that I’m considering getting back together with the girl, because honestly, there’s some part of me– I mean, we’re talking, a hundredth of a percent, but still there– that wants her to drop what she’s doing and come hang out with me, just for that presence, even if it is midnight. Because that would mean something and….

whatever. So I say “she came over for awhile yesterday but she had to go to a Bar-Mitzvah, she was wearing this dress and looked extremely hot, and (stealing a page from Julie’s phrasebook) so death occurred.”

“I hope that means you hooked up,” she says, and I’m imagining her nonchalance, like if this were a novel, maybe she’s leaning against the side of a booth, her legs stretched out across the seat, her head propped up by her arm on the table after a subsequent half-yawn.

“I wish,” I would (did?) say with a half-laugh, maybe with a momentary glance skyward, and we’d both know that the half was compensating for something.

“So then why didn’t you jump her?” she asks, and I can absolutely tell what I saw in her, somewhere beneath that shiny veneer, and maybe she doesn’t even realize it, and maybe it’s not even there, except there has to be something to a girl who’ll equate sex with death like the Romans, and then advocate it the next minute. This is how I think, no kidding.

And the answer to her question is far too complex to get into, and makes my heart sink like I’m feeling my age. And the quasi-imaginary scene I’ve created in my mind is far less awkward then the reality, this half-life of Erin draping her legs over me as if we’re together and then sleeping alone, and that same yearning that historians will say persisted through my early 20s before disappearing entirely.

Number one with a bullet. May 3, 2008

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I’m going to try something new here and we’ll see how it works out. People often wonder how my memory can stay so razor-sharp, and I can remember one event that occurred in my life in 1996 as well as the chain of events surrounding it. The answer, my friends, is often this: music.

This explains a number of phenomena, the most prevalent one being that I remember things such as “six months ago when she was on jury duty she told me over the phone that the bailiff hit on her and we actually talked about that as I was in the projection room on the bottom floor of Lucas getting the system ready for the TV Spec class that I was TAing”…..but I can’t remember something like “my paper is due on Wednesday”. Music, people! It ties everything together.

So here’s the experiment: I’m going to hop on my iPod, switch it to shuffle, and see what I can get out of the first five songs that come up. Could it be pretty depressing? Well, yes, but it’s not like I haven’t written depressing here before. In the immortal words of Rob Gordon:

“What came first, the music or the misery? … Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Maybe this will provide that elusive answer. Without further ado…

5. Pinback- Penelope

Not too much to this one. Sophomore year of college I’m sitting up in my dorm room with Jacob, and he plays this song fairly regularly, so I tell him to send it over to my computer where I proceed to listen to it over and over and over…it’s not a deep song, I mean, it’s about the guy’s goldfish dying if I’m hearing the words right. But still, there’s something about it being so mellow, like most of Pinback that I’ve heard, with a really nice bass line.

In high school Azita would set a song on repeat and literally listen to the same song for hours, and it would drive me insane. There are three songs that I am capable of listening to in that manner, though. Pinback- Penelope, The Dandy Warhols- We Used to be Friends, and The Dandy Warhols- You Were the Last High. Incidentally, these are bands that I don’t regularly listen to at all.

4. The Smashing Pumpkins- Ma Belle

The most elusive of the handful of bonus tracks that came with the Pumpkins’ most recent album, Zeitgeist. Obviously I’m a huge Pumpkins fan and if this list doesn’t have at least one more from them on it, I’ll be surprised, frankly. Either way it’s pretty recent, but for some reason it makes me think about the massive 3-day project I had rearranging my comics into a semi-coherent fashion, where I listened to Zeitgeist pretty much the entire time. The only problem with this is that seeing as how it’s a bonus track, I didn’t actually have it at the time of the project. Oh, inaccuracy!

Also present on a certain infamous mix CD…”There’s no place that I’d rather be, there’s no face that I’d rather see”…oh boy. Moving on. (But the part where the guitars really kick in is still awesome.)

3. The Smashing Pumpkins- In My Body

What is with all these obscure Pumpkins songs? I guess that’s what happens when you load up your iPod with obscure Pumpkins songs. Anyway this one is from Machina II, the CD that they only released over the internet for free way back in 2000, before that kind of thing was cool.

Burning the Machina II MP3s to actual CDs was quite a process back then, and the only person I knew with a CD burner was my mom’s husband Jim, who had to physically install the thing himself into his computer. So I took my mp3s back there and made myself some CDs– of course it screwed up and I had to restart the computer about 100 times, but I made sure to save whatever was on the screen at the time before I restarted.

So flash forward to about a week later, Jim comes in furious with me for “ruining his stock porfolio file”. Just another one of his douchey acts in a long history of douchey acts. He’s incredibly pissed and not listening to what I have to say about being sure to have saved it, or to what my mom has to say about even if I did screw something up, it wasn’t on purpose. Either way it turns out that he had just somehow created a new spreadsheet over his old one, and all he had to do was click back onto the previous page. I had nothing to do with it! Douche.

Anyway, later on I was listening to this song through the sound system at the house, and my mom commented that it wasn’t a very good song. I was offended. But it’s not a very good song.

2. New Found Glory- It Never Snows in Florida

I found this CD in Laguna, back at the old place before my parents bought the one they have now. It was a double purchase: New Found Glory’s Nothing Gold Can Stay, and A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms. God help me on that second one. The clerk who checked me out commented that “a lot of people have been asking about New Found Glory lately.” Perhaps this was because they were about to explode in popularity, pissing off indie kids everywhere.

I’m pretty sure this is the song we were listening to in the car when Azita’s dad was driving me, her, and Suzie to see The Killingtons at the Key Club. At the time I was pretty pissed off because Alexis was supposed to come with us and ended up dropping out, and so now I was stuck hanging with Suzie and Azita, neither of whom I was crushing on as much as her. On the other hand I really got to know Azita that night and we all know where that led. Dodged a bullet just to get hit with another?

1. Okay…this better be something good. I’m pressing the button now. With italics.

1. Weezer- Freak Me Out

Oh Christ. This is the worst song out of the bunch. Off their most recent album, which after I listened to I made a promise to stop being so damn nostalgic and not buy any more of their CDs ever. Listen to this tripe:

“Man, you really freak me out, I’m so afraid of you
and when I lose my cool I don’t know what to do
I know you don’t mean no harm
you’re just doing your thing
but man, you really freak me out”.

Are those the worst lyrics you have ever heard? Possibly, possibly. I’ve got nothing for this one. I haven’t listened to it more than five times in my life. Jesus Christ, Weezer! Fucking ruining my experiment. I mean, I even did it backwards, late-night-show style, hoping in vain that it would somehow work out.

I guess the problem with experiments is that they can blow up in your face.

No, the problem with experiments is that Weezer can ruin them.

Fucking Weezer.

Tactics. April 8, 2008

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I don’t really talk about her a lot, or really ever, honestly. I don’t know, maybe it embarasses me, or maybe that fact that it didn’t embarass me back then is worse than…whatever. But it was my first experience having my heart totally blown apart, you know, “355-gets-shot-and-Yorick-is-devastated” blown apart. So even though he’s a fictional character…I choose to think that Yorick wouldn’t choose to discuss his experiences much, either.

Anyway, none of that is the point. Back in the days when I was idealistic and carried her school ID around in my pocket for safekeeping, I would play video games with her on the phone. Like she’d buy a game I had for Playstation, and we’d play through the whole thing at the same pace, all while talking to each other across the country. It sounds stupid but it was pretty fun, actually.

So I’m playing through a new version of this game Final Fantasy Tactics, and I get to this one battle…how do I explain this? There’s this guy, Mustadio, running from a bunch of thugs. And as the main character, Ramza, you have the option to either say you “don’t want to get involved” or that “the guy looks like he’s trouble and we should save him”. The game progresses the same pretty much no matter what you choose, but if you say you “don’t want to get involved,” the ensuing fight is much easier because even if the thugs get Mustadio, you won’t lose the game.

Are you still with me? Wake up. This is going somewhere.

When I got to that part of the game I had to smile, because I still remember playing through it with her nine years ago, sitting in my room in my parents’ old place in Laguna. I chose the option to not get involved and breezed past that particular fight in about ten minutes. Whereas she kept choosing to save the guy and kept losing, over and over for the next 45 minutes.

“Just choose to ‘not get involved’ so we can keep playing,” I told her. But she was adamant on doing it her way, so I just sat there staring at the TV, getting more frustrated with every passing minute. I think we might have even gotten into a fight over it, just because I remember driving down the coast with my dad venting to him about it.

So I got to the same place in the new version yesterday, and what did I do? Of course I said “we should save him”! Because Ramza would never let an innocent guy get chased by thugs and do nothing about it. It’s just not in his character! So I think I finally got it, all these years later.

Of course, the difficulty of the fight that came afterward was totally irrelevant, because this time I came so prepared that I pretty much annihilated the thugs before they could make a single move.

And I guess it’s just representative of everything from these days and those, what I wouldn’t give to be back there at least mentally, feeling loved without reservations, without the unabashed cynicism of the next few years.

Then again it’s something I had to learn, so that I could figure out what was right for me, pick a course and then just blow through it without regard to the consequences. Occidental and USC and this whole notion of a career, is it something I even want? Who knows but I’m already two-thirds down the path.