Thursday, December 10, 2009

Senior Status.

After this semester, all I feel is tired.

I’ve hit that part of a college education when you run your face into a wall and hold that moment of insecurity right in front of your face. I realize that after this college thing is all done—I might be just as much of a fuck-up as I was four years ago. That maybe I missed the message and I’m headed down the worn road of mediocrity.

I’ve been up later at night than ever before in my life, and been up earlier than ever before. I have become, in my senior year, one of those students who merely floats from class to class, sort of spewing papers out of my fingers. I’ve made my entire college career about running closer and closer to The Edge, and this semester was no exception, I’m just afraid I’m running out of breath.

What you’ve got to understand is that I can’t stop. As tired as I might be—lungs pounding from running hard in every direction—there is a thrill to it that as much of a high as any narcotic you can find. All around this campus, there are college kids living college lives who are slowly committing suicide through boredom. They run no risks. They take no chances. They are casualties of life, scared to do anything except sit in their dorms and have moderate fun.

But the high of running wild comes at an expense. While I might be little more than a sleep-deprived carcass, the character I have created through my work over the past four years at Augustana has been built walking the hard road. It gets old waking up with wine or whiskey or beer rotting your breath on a Wednesday morning. Your body aches from the sleep you should have been getting but weren’t because you were up smoking pot with the rock band you’re supposed to be researching for your independent study.

It’s a sick twist of fate that burns us youth, we proud college misfits who have all the channels of an adult with the minds of a retarded teenager. The real chance I’ve taken is that in all this running, I have forgotten that I have begun to age. Soon there will be a day when it’s not cool to be drunk on a Tuesday night with rock bands. Soon there will be a day when flirting with hot freshman girls will be creepy. Soon there will be people who stare through this character I’ve created and see nothing more than a childish college burnout who is brutally afraid of growing up so he digs his heels into the foundations of youth, trying to preserve something beautiful by kicking dirt on it.

I want to be boring.

I want to have moderate fun.

I want certainty.

I want to do right, just not right now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fantastic Plastic and 21st Century Zen

I didn’t know the Mall of America had parking on its rooftop. Turns out the MOA has over 12,500 parking spots on-site, and another 20,000 across Lindau Lane.

All but four of these spots were occupied when I was forced to survive a shopping trip in that wretched place during the Thanksgiving weekend. Considered there were somewhere between two to four people in each carload, that means there was anywhere between 65,000 to 130,000 people on four floors of godless holiday vice in the biggest mall in the country—not to mention anyone who took the Light Rail or the bus to the mall.

And unfortunately I was part of all this.

But this isn’t about me, this is about you. I’m doing this for you, to serve as a helpline so you don’t snap and start strangling people with the cardigan you bought as a Christmas present for your sister.

You stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of Midwestern mothers shuffling along an odyssey of stores. You hear them talking about how much better the crowds were today (Saturday) than yesterday (Black Friday). From what I hear, Oh! You would have just died from all the people.

Most likely self-inflicted.

There’s two basic kinds of shoppers: those kinds who want to be there, and those who don’t. Both of these groups are high. The first is huffing elation from the deals, the BOGO’s and the doorbusters, frolicking about the storefronts entering every store and looking for every deal even though they’re probably not going to get anything. It’s just, you know, those deals.

It’s a new wardrobe.

It’s a top appliance.

It’s the latest gadget.

It’s fresh debt.

Then there are the people who don’t want to be there. These are the fathers who sit on the benches waiting for their wives and children for hours. These are the boyfriends who stand in women’s-only department stores acting as a hanging place for shopping bags. When you’re doing something you truly hate, your mind sort of clicks into this autopilot mode where you stop really paying attention to anything at all.

On the outside, you’re standing on a moving sidewalk, just sort of floating along without steps to any one of the stores your girlfriend drags you to. It’s like you’re one of those Shaolin monks who can take a full-on kick to the sack and not even flinch. You are Zen incarnate.

On the inside, you’ve never been closer to committing murder in your life. You’re ready to pounce on the chubby 12-year-old who had to have his burrito remade three times at the mall’s Chipotle because he said pinto beans and not black ones. Then medium sauce, not mild. The line is completely out the door, everybody watching little Porky who’ll probably develop type II diabetes by next year, and all you’re thinking about is, “Is this for real? Am I really watching a mother allow her porky little kid get his burrito this dazzlingly right so he can cram it down his lardy little throat in four bites? The little fatass.”

What you don’t realize, because you’re Zenned out and all, is that you’ve said this out loud. Porky’s mother shoots you a glare and gives you that protective motherly oink sound, and shuffles junior off with his burrito, a bag of chips and guacamole and a large fountain pop toward a table for feeding. Oblivious, you just step up the counter and politely order your burrito as the rest of the line snickers in shock.

The “hip” shops that line the halls vacuum the youth through their doors and threaten their young patrons with becoming as thoughtful as the mannequins who haunt the store windows. They are the Medusas of a new millennium, turning any flicker of sanity into stoned retardation. What you begin to notice is that in every store you go to, everyone looks like the mannequins in that store. Even if every person in American Eagle or Urban Outfitters or Tommy Bahama was instantly frozen in time, you could walk into the store and nothing would seem out of place.

You were about to say the only difference between the mannequins and the shoppers is a mind, but then you cut yourself short when you realize that’s not true. The only difference between the mannequins and the shoppers is that the mannequins are made of plastic. Then again, by looking at the chests and faces of nearly every woman in Bloomingdale’s, you realize that might not be the case either.

You’re not ready to say that the Mall of America is hell on earth, because this whole experience actually would be worse if you were set on fire. However, it does really suck. You’re being crammed into a culture that has little regard for human life at all. Despite the tens of thousands of people around you, you can go through an entire day of shopping, hitting every store in the mall, and not say a word to anyone. Cash and credit do your talking. You don’t have to say hello or thank you or anything.

To an extent, this is a good thing.

After all, this is what you wanted. To be Zen. To be so removed from the scene of trendy consumerism that when your wife, girlfriend, or daughter asks you to go again next year after Thanksgiving, you’ll say “Yes” without hesitation.

What you should be doing is something exciting, something that actually makes for a good story. You should be out exploring caves or going BASE jumping instead of driving around the top level of the Mall of America’s east parking facility just hoping one of the main supports will give way and this whole shopping spree will be over.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oh, You Don't Tweet?

I’m told I need to adapt. Christ, I’m twenty-one. How fast is this whole technology thing really moving? Adapt? I’ve barely cleared puberty and I’m already being told I need to adapt?

I’ve got internet-savvy friends who leech Tweets and posts and hyperlinks onto every possible multi-colored word they can. Solid text is now a shameful misuse of the English language. People expect to be able to read about the mating habits of gorillas or terrorist cats without actually having to do any reading at all—just look for the hyperlink or Tweet or whatever and then the information can be quickly dumbed down and mildly explained without really having to read much of the author’s work at all.

Hemingway never Tweeted a single fucking Tweet and he turned out alright.

I assume that if you’re reading this, it’s because you have nothing better to do. There is nothing useful here. If you’re looking for useful go to Matt Taibbi’s blog. I don’t have much to click on. I tried to create some sort of gimmick, but it failed miserably next to some 7th grade web design projects created by kids who will probably end up calling me into their office for a job interview. These days, nobody wants to read a page. They only want to click on it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Riot.

Last Tuesday I saw a riot. You know, there was no blood (well, a little) or burn victims or anything, it was just a situation that got out of control. But I think that’s good sometimes.

The riot, which was between my Augustana College and our rival the University of Sioux Falls (USF), lasted only for a short time before the authorities arrived who were then followed by a fire truck to put out a dumpster fire. I don’t know why such a rivalry exists between the two schools, but for whatever reason, it just got violent.

In my opinion, it was your basic feel-good kind of thing. Nobody got seriously hurt. It was a way to leak a little testosterone in lieu of bad sex I suppose. No guns, no knives. Just a couple of fistfights, some artillery shells, a box full of Black Cat fireworks, some curdled milk, and the entire egg inventory of the local Hy-Vee. But I think, like most things, this whole mess could be seen coming from a ways out.

More than anything, it is that time of year for college students where there are knives at their throats in every direction. Professors, realizing finals are coming up no sooner than the students, make that push to get one more grade in before finals and Thanksgiving break. Many students, myself included, respond to this sudden shock of assignment load similarly: We tune out.

It’s that psycho numbness that creeps into your head and pinches your brain stem until winter break. Get up too early, go to class, go to work, go back to class, go back to work, get the most important homework done first and wing the rest and then sleep. Repeat this process. To endure, sometimes it’s easy to just let it go. Turn off the noise. Your body teeters constantly on the verge of physical and mental collapse, typing line after line of mediocre work onto a page until you crash completely, facedown on your keyboard until you wake up the next morning with 340,000 letter j’s gracing the last 122 pages of your English paper.

As wild and glamorized as college life is made out to be, it is almost as drab as the moments just before a midlife crisis. The rut digs deeper with every buzz of the alarm clock early in the morning and college students across the nation wear the stain of midnight oil on the dark circles under their eyes from many sleepless nights cramming for tests and finishing papers. Soon enough though, a man is liable to snap.

For these reasons, I can’t blame the rioters on either side. I think all parties involved woke suddenly from this zombie-state and realized their own youth was slipping away from them. What had they done with their lives besides keeping their noses in a textbook they would be paying heavy debt on later in life? What had learned besides flawless beer pong technique or screaming chants at football games? Besides learning how to pull a decent prank? How to seduce a freshman? They look, actively search for any chance they can get to break the routine.

So when your rival comes over to your college trying to graffiti your mascot, what are you going to do? For the first time in many of these students lives they did something to break their self-sculptured mold, and threw a punch and some punk from the other side of 26th Street who dared to desecrate the Augustana Viking.

Education—real education—isn’t just about how many times you’ve cracked a book, but also how many times you’ve had your back to the wall. Those boys who sauntered out and rumbled with those USF thugs who dared tread on our turf did us all a favor. They broke their gaze from their books and fought the good fight. They acted immaturely only for the sake of a good story. But more importantly, they reminded us there’s something beautiful about burning the candle on both ends.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I’d like to think blogging is useless. But it’s here and, as much as I’d like, I can’t convince myself it will go away anytime soon.

Even my computer can’t believe it. If you could see the word document this blog was originally conceived on, you’d see the red squiggly error lines under every form and tense of the word “blog.”




As much as I want to tell my computer it’s right, that this whole issue of blogging is just one big typo on the manuscript of human achievement, blogs have made their way over the legitimate domain of human reason.

It’s not that most people are particularly stupid, it’s just that when they’re given the mask of anonymity they are free to say stupid things. Give a guy a domain name and a pseudonym and he’ll try and convince you that Obama actually is a terrorist who has been using the internet porn industry to create revenue to perpetuate the war against the infidels, and in effect, all this will make you angry enough to spout off your own little blog that shuns the President/Terrorist/Porn connection. Before you know it, POW!, you’re just as annoyingly opinionated as the guy you only wanted to disprove in the first place.

It just feels like everyone’s bickering too much about everything. Let us all stop and think—deeply for once—instead of whimsically. As it stands, I feel like I’m standing on a crowded soapbox, amidst millions of half-informed bloggers, typing at the top of their lungs even though they really have nothing worth saying at all. And somehow, in submitting to all of this, I’d like to think I’m no different.

I’d like be writing something important about major world issues or profiling some catastrophic soul. Instead, I’m staring at squiggly red lines on one piece of technology telling me something about another piece of technology is very, very wrong.