The Legend of ‘MegaBoom!’

Happy Tuesday, all!

Sorry we were absent Thursday, but celebrating Independence Day meant making sacrifices…

…like camping…and swimming in a lake…

…and s’mores.

Don’t feel bad for me.

Anyway, what I’m saying, is I missed one. BUT it’s okay, because it actually ties in.

Last Thursday saw all of the above-mentioned activities and many others. The one we’re going to focus on is one I think everyone (and especially any Lord of the Rings kids) should at least try: archery.

The lake/campground/recreation territory whatsamagidget we went to had a ton hiking trails, and of those, one that is itself a walking archery range. I’ve had my bow for about seven years and have practiced the art of flinging arrows off and on in that time. (In fact, anyone else remember that Mayan Calendar Apocalypse that was supposed to happen back in 2012? I’m not saying that I thought the world was going to end…I’m not…I am saying that I had my bow ready just in case it was the Time of Mutants and Raiders was nigh, though.)

All of that, however, is just context for what we’re talking about today: The MegaBoom.

That whole off-and-on habit of practice translates roughly to: “practicing regularly for a few weeks and then taking a few months off.” That means that, after seven years, I’m pretty good alright I can hang… I do alright. And yes, of course, I check that my grouping is good enough to hit a human-sized target in case the Green Arrow needs a break, duh. So bulls-eyes at 40-meters happen, albeit infrequently, but I’m no Robin Hood or freaky good shot.

However…

…there’s one guy out there who thinks I’m fucking fantastic.

Let’s focus on that guy.

It was one of those times where I was taking up the hobby again off a hiatus and I go to my regular shop (I would super give her a shout-out, but I’m not totally sure that what happens in the story was entirely legal, so let’s just call the shop “Maggie’s.”) I pay for my time and begin stringing my bow.

For a Friday, it’s unusually thin, with myself and two other guys taking up lanes. One of them has his son with him, who’s receiving beginner’s lessons at the firing line. The owner, Maggie, is teaching him basic form and safety, and he’s eagerly drinking it all up. It’s cute. During this time, myself and the two other guys (the boy’s father included) begin chatting it up. I explain that I’m coming off a regular layup and they both say how they’re each taking it up for the first time, roughly, since childhood. So we’re all on relatively even ground skill-wise, which was comforting (after all, it’s humbling to be on the line, shooting wide, while Katniss Goddamn Everdeen steps up and zeroes her quiver with bulls-eyes). At this point, I overhear Maggie teaching the kid the importance of a full draw:

Maggie: “Mmhm, well yeah. This time it didn’t stick in the target because it wasn’t going fast enough. If you want it to stick, it has to go faster; and if you want it to go faster, you have to pull back all the way, buddy. Okay?”

Then, bless her heart, she puts the spotlight on me. Without ever breaking eye contact with the kid, she then says:

“Hey, Evan. Step up to the line and take a shot for us, hmm?”

I politely pause my conversation with the other patrons and step up to the line. I line up my feet, my hips, shoulders, and even crack my neck. I nock an arrow, grip the string, then finally look at the target. One big breath in then out, I raise my bow, draw back to my nose (a habit of form that I’ve always had weird difficulty adhering to), hold a moment, and release.

Fuckin’ bulls-eye.

Calmly, I smile and step back into conversation but on the inside I am: screaming, windmill-playing air guitar, and thinking of what sponsorships I want when I make it to the Olympics. The two other men had kind things to say, and while I outwardly received them coolly, my heart was on fire in my chest.

The rest of the day proceeded pretty uneventfully from there, but I came back the next day to practice, still riding high off my cool moment from the day before. Who do I see but the father from yesterday (let’s call him Tyler)? He greets me as “that bullseye guy” (to which I blush) and we get to practice.

That day, the store was being managed by a friend of Maggie’s rather than Maggie herself (I think she’d come down with a stomach bug). [We’ll call him] Franky watched us shoot, gave us pointers on form, made jokes – the usual. That was, until he said something about a “Mega Boom.” After a run collecting my arrows, I returned to the line and asked what that was all about.

Rather than answer me in words, his eyes just lit up and he ran around the corner to the back office. About a minute or two later, he returned holding what looked like a bike pump, a small mesh net, a clamp of some kind, and an empty 2-liter soda bottle. I watch as he assembles the whole thing and begins apparently pumping air into the empty plastic bottle. When he’s done, he’s left with a highly pressurized soda bottle fixed to a little stand, and I suddenly see what’s going on: an explosive target.

Now, for context, Maggie’s since moved to a larger location, but the range at that time was relatively small, maybe 15-meters long from target to wall. Thing was, the wall was a warehouse door that opened out into a parking lot. When he sees that we understand what he’s offering us, Franky goes, “Yeah, we might want to head outside for this.” He sets the bottle on top of one of the targets at the end of the range, opens the door, and motions us out into said parking lot. He walks us to approximately 50-meters away (approximately 160-feet, for my imperials) and gives us the green flag.

(Which, as a side note, was a bit premature because as we’re looking at each other as to who is going to try to set off this pseudo-domestic explosive first, a couple of nervous, first-time customers were just walking out the front door – next to the door INTO WHICH WE’RE ABOUT TO FIRE. They freaked out and left before anything happened though…so…all’s well that ends well.)

Anyway, Tyler looks at me and says, “You’re the likeliest to hit it, so you go first.”

I still don’t really understand his logic here, as wouldn’t you want the likeliest shot to go last? But I was too taken by the flattering reference to yesterday’s freak accident but well-time bulls-eye to say no.

Now, at that point, I’d never attempted a shot from that far away before, so my hopes were pretty low. I was also shooting at an empty plastic bottle…a thing which is TRANSPARENT. So I just adjusted my eyes best I could and focused on the blue Pepsi label that wrapped around it. I follow the form from yesterday, raise, draw, and release. Normally, at such close ranges, the sound of an arrow shot sounds kind of like “thuum-tak!” in pretty quick succession, right?

This one was different.

I release the string and hear: “thuum…f-f-f-f-f…BOOOOOM!!”

For the second time that weekend, I felt like Green Arrow, Katniss, Hawkeye, the huntress-god Artemis made flesh. And y’all, it was so loud even from outside and that far away, that I can’t imagine what would have happened to our ears or brains if we’d been standing inside.

After a few moments of stunned silence, we walk back to the wall of targets and look at the damage. I’d hit dead center of the bottle. On one side was a small hole the diameter of an arrow shaft, and the other was split and blown out entirely. I also realize then and there that my arrow itself is utterly missing. I dig into the target a little and find the front half of it and start laughing until I cry. I look around, but can’t seem to find the end with fletching until Franky calls out from the usual firing line that it had blown back to the tape. He brings it over to me and apologizes (fair enough, arrows are expensive); but I told him something I very much mean to this day: I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The next Monday, I went to work with the ruptured bottle and two frayed arrow pieces and put them proudly on display atop my locker, praying that I’d get asked about it.

I probably told this story to over twenty people that day, and I haven’t matched it with a better one since.

But Tyler doesn’t know that. To that guy, who happened to be present for the singularly best moments in my archery career, I’m a goddamn sniper.

Anyway, y’all take it easy until Thursday (for real this time)!

Confessions of a Criminal, pt. 1

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

The other week, I went to a local event in my area called “Coffee with a Cop” as part of an attempt at character research for a novel I’ve got cooking (I actually sort of chickened out then had to come back after being light-heartedly berated by a department clerk, but that’s a story for another time). Point is, it’s a really cool shin-dig wherein members of the local police department convene at a designated coffee shop and are available to the public for questions, conversation, and general hang-out.

Reflecting on it and my notes, it got me thinking about the, precisely, two times I’ve been at odds with The Law – both simple traffic violations.

The first was a simple speeding ticket, and not worth mentioning besides this note telling you it isn’t worth mentioning.

The second was a bit more fun.

For a bit of context, let’s rewind. You all remember Pierre, the roommate who ignited the apartment-wide Cold War? Well, maybe six years ago, he had a girlfriend who’s father had the following belief: “Eh, I just use the carpool lane year-round and whenever. Whenever I get caught, I just treat the ticket like my membership fee.”

As a 19-year-old, I thought this philosophy was goddamn brilliant.

So that’s what I did. For years, I was “that guy,” the one who blazed passed you losers caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. I did this as a renegade road warrior for years; and you know what? I was always on time (sort of kind of not really not the point).

Well one day, I hopped on the freeway, scooted over to the fast lane like usual, and was on my way. Except this time was different. This time, I got a little funny feeling in the back of my brain. A little tingle like ESP that told me, for some inexplicable reason, today was the wrong day to do this. Some would call it paranoia, some would call it guilt, others might call it an impending sense of divine CHP justice (I’d probably side with the latter). But whatever you want to call it, in that moment I was certain I’d made a bad move. So I started trying to merge back in line. Thing was, my plan worked TOO WELL.

I was flying passed columns of barely-moving vehicles, making really good time to my next job (yeah, by the way, it was during a summer where I was working a second job to help teach an English class – well, tutor, but you get me), but all the while thinking that today it was a bad idea, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a spot to merge back into line.

Well, about five minutes into this master class of seeing the future, that’s when I saw him: Officer Powers.

And no shit, I’m not making his name up either to make him sound cool or ‘protect his identity’ or anything. His name was legitimately Officer Powers (like, I’m sure he had a first name, but you know what I’m saying).

Anyway, the freeway passes under an overpass and time…just…

Well, you ever have one of those experiences where you experience a single second of time, but it feels slowed down and stretched into fifteen? That happened here. As I drove under the overpass, I turned my head (slow-motion eyes blinking included) and saw a motorcycle cop that had been hidden on the other side of the barrier. I watch his eyes (behind his badass sunglasses) slowly rise from his radar gun and – y’all – I could feel the eye contact. With our eyes alone and all in an instant, we had the following conversation:

Me: “You see me, right?”
Him: “Oh, yeah.”
Me: “And you see me seeing you, right?”
Him: “Mmhm, most definitely.
Me: “And you can tell I’m seeing you seeing me, right?”
Him: “Totally.”
Me: “Shit.”
Him: “Yup.”

Then, just as quickly as it had slowed, time resumed its usual pace, and as it did, my heart started thumping. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!” it kept saying.

Then OF COURSE a spot opens up in a regular lane, I scoot into it and start hoping, “Well, maybe that whole thing was imagined. Maybe that badass hawk-eyed cop lost track of me.”

Nope.

A few seconds later I heard the ‘Whoop-Whoop’, saw the lights, and he pulled up behind lil’ old me.

Now, here’s the problem. Like I mentioned up top, I’ve been pulled over precisely once before on the freeway. That time, it had been a complete piece of cake. Freeway, nighttime with no other cars, just before an off-ramp that pulled directly into a gas station. Super safe, super easy, no mess, no fuss.

This time, it was on a hot, bright, busy day, with the Great Migration of Southern Traffic happening, and I didn’t know to/how to pull over onto the shoulder.

So…I…just kept driving.

Like, I was in the right-hand lane and trying to choose and exit to take, but couldn’t find a similar, utterly perfect one; so I panicked and stayed on the freeway.

I took so long to pull off that the car driving in front of me must have had a guilty conscience over something and pulled off to the shoulder themselves (or they were demonstrating for me, I don’t know). Point is, I take so long to pull over, the guy rides up to my window.

Him: “Hey, are you gonna pull over or what?”
Me: “Um, erm, I, uh, um…downtown exit?”

I can’t see his eyes roll behind his shiny-ass aviator glasses, but I felt it.

I finally pull off the freeway at the designated exit, but then I encounter another problem: where to park?

I come up to a stop light, and take a right because I know it goes into a neighborhood with, normally, plenty of street parking where I can proudly receive my traffic citation. Except today, the curbs are all super busy. So I come up to a 4-way stop intersection thinking this: “Well, I mean, there’s a little bit of space over there, but it looks like it’s a bit of red curb and, ho-ho, I don’t wanna double down. That spot looks open, but- oof, looks like a yellow curb…”

Meanwhile, Officer Powers has again approached my driver’s side window as three other cars have approached the intersection, but are all awkwardly sitting there since it’s my turn to go and nobody wants to go out of order while a cop is present. I roll my window down.

Me: “Hi again.”
Him: “Yeah, hi. You see that patch of curb over there?” -he points-
Me: “Yessir.”
Him: “There.”

He holds his hands up to hold the three other cars back as a way to direct traffic for me as he waves me forward to my parking spot.

The [French accent] piece de resistance?

I smirk and nod at one of the cars I pass. Y’all, I felt like such a pimp getting my very own police escort that I chest-pumped at a stranger.

Anyway, once I park, it was nothing but a (further) pleasant experience. He told me I come off like I’m new to this sort of thing, to which I confess I am, to which he responds that he guesses that’s probably a good thing.

In the end, I was late to work, got my ticket and a story, and I haven’t violated the rules of the carpool/HOV lane since. #thesystemworks

Also, I told my mom about the whole thing, and she laughed with me. I told my girlfriend and got my ass chewed plum off for it. Learned a lot that day.

Catch you guys Thursday!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

ALSO I HAVE MORE NEWS!!

My episode with the NIGHTLIGHT podcast dropped last Friday!! It features a horror story of mine: “The Scars of Eliza Gray“. Go, it’s free, give it a listen, and if you wanna, stick around after the 25-minute mark to listen to my interview with the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson. It was a TON of fun to do and I’m sure we’ll have more news like this in the future.

Interpreting Dreams: “The Spoon” and “Grad Night”

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

I started this whole thing off as a way to share stories, tales and parts of me, so today we’re going to lean into that last part.

Now I get that normally dreams kind of follow the same rule of thumb as family photos: “If I’m not in them or nobody’s naked, I don’t really care.” I hear you, but would also counter that like the stomach being the direct route to a man’s heart (ho-ho-ho! supposedly), dreams are a great way to get an honest, raw CAT scan of how a person thinks. So the catch here is that I’ve gotten these interpreted (not professionally – if that’s even a thing that happens).

Also, lastly, I want to note that my bar for “weird dreams” is pretty high. My major cross to bear is that the woman I live with and share my home and heart with has painfully mundane dreams with very few exceptions:

Mandy: “I had the weirdest dream last night.”

Naive Me: “Oh? Sweet, lay it on me. What happened?”

Mandy: “I was in the kitchen, it was the middle of the day, and you weren’t home…”

Naive Me: “Great, then?”

Mandy: “I was packing up some leftovers and used the tupperware and was like, ‘Whoa.’”

Naive Me: “’Whoa’ what?”

Mandy: “Hon, we have glassware, not tupperware.”

Naive Me: “…”

Mandy: “Weird, right?”

Naive Me: “NO!”

Oh, and I should mention here that if you’re squeamish around talking about genitals in a civilized, grown-up, adult manner…I’ll see you Thursday.

Anyway, let’s get to it. First up:

The Spoon

I open my eyes and I have a bird’s eye view of a soccer stadium. I don’t really follow soccer (or futball, to my international brethren), so I don’t know how big stadiums get, but it was gigantic. Step-aside-Thunderdome-Papa’s-here kind of gigantic. And I say a “bird’s eye” view, but I’m not a bird. In fact, in the dream, I don’t have a body period. It’s just like watching a movie play out from that sourceless perspective.

Anyway, thing is, for how enormous this stadium is: it’s completely empty. Not abandoned, just plain empty. No one on the field, no one in the stands, nada. As I fly closer, my vision zooms in and I see there is someone in the stands. A single person high up in the stadium’s seating. My vision gets closer and I realize I know the person in the stands.

It’s LeBron James.

What’s he doing, you might ask. Well’p, he’s sitting there, calmly eating a Yoplait yogurt.

The only two things that make this weird are the last two elements that complete the picture.

One, he’s using a spoon to eat his Yoplait, not the folded foil cover like a normal person. And not just any regular plastic spoon. He’s using a piece of silverware, like brought from home. I don’t know why, but it struck me as fundamentally abnormal.

Two, a feeling dawned on me about that out-of-place utensil. To this day I can’t place my finger on how this identification or relationship formed, but I am certain of it. I realized, intuitively, unambiguously, and indubitably…I was the spoon.

It was like an out-of-body experience, but instead of a human being, I was a spoon watching itself be used to feed Lebron James Yoplait yogurt in an empty soccer stadium. And it wasn’t a sexual thing at all (as far as the psychologists I haven’t talked to would probably tell me), I was just a spoon helping a famous athlete enjoy his yogurt.

Say what you will, but I remember feeling very safe there in that moment being a spoon.

The Take pt 1: So, I think this should be obvious, but everybody I’ve told this dream to has offered in trade the oh-so-insightful divination that “I’m weird and/or probably gay.” (Don’t think so, but who knows? It’s a spectrum and LeBron’s admittedly a peak human specimen, objectively. At the time of this posting, jury’s out.) I might make fun of that interpretation, but truth is I don’t really know what to take from it. I was a spoon that felt safe in the gigantic hands of a famous black man that used me to eat yogurt. Hell, maybe it’s a metaphor for my future? Or a sign of father issues? Maybe I- actually, no. I’m spit-balling and that was supposed to be your job, not mine.

Next clip!

Grad Night

I’m standing on a pedestal with a spotlight hanging over me. It’s empty blackness all around. Just me, the pedestal, and the cone of light. Out of the dark, maybe thirty feet away, comes walking a woman in maybe around her mid-thirties. She stops about ten feet from me, looks me up and down, makes that “impressed Obama” face and gives me a thumb’s up, before walking away off into the dark.

I’m confused at first, but then I look down and realize I’m naked. Nude. Sportin’ my birthday suit. Buck-ass nek’ked.

Soon another soccer mom steps out of the dark, followed by another, and soon another after her. An infinite conga line of cougars (not say mid-30’s qualifies, I’m saying there was an age range, okay?) extends out to the distant horizon. One by one, they approach in an orderly line, compliment me on my penis [EDIT: I must have written a dozen different words before finally settling on the basic term of anatomy (“peen”, “wang”, “cockadoodle”, “mah dick”, etc) – just so you know] and then walk off into the void.

It was never anything specific, they would just walk up, say something like, “God, just, good for you young man” and then leave. So I did whatever a self-respecting Beta-male would do and absorbed the moment and savored it the way I should: with hands on my hips and a grin with an awkward raised eyebrow sidekick.

A moment later, everything began to spin and blend together. The next I knew, I was “waking up” – the way you do in dreams, but you’re still in it, Inception-style – at my uncle’s house in my cousin’s bunk bed. I had the top bunk – rad – and was just rubbing my eyes as the bedroom door opened. In walks my uncle carrying a covered silver tray, the fancy kind you see in movies about super rich folks. I’m thinking, “Sweet, breakfast in bed” and sit up nice and tall.

He walks over, wordlessly places the tray on my lap, pulls off the lid, and can you guess what was on the tray?

Was it bacon and eggs?

Waffles with a cube of butter?

Oatmeal with raisins like I’m a freshly retired city worker?

…nope.

It was cocaine. Five neat, straight lines of cocaine.

My uncle looks at me, mutely pumps his eyebrows like he’s a proud cat presenting a dead bird, and proceeds to do a line straight of my lap. He does that classic coke movie “Woohoo!” as I wake up for real.

The Take pt. 2: So, like the Spoon Dream, there was nothing erotic about this one. I get that it’s about being naked in front of an endless line of ladies, but genuinely: it wasn’t actually sexual in the slightest. This one’s called “Grad Night” because for my high school’s graduation party, among the many kickass stations they had set up, one was a dream interpreting station some poor mothers decided to volunteer for (bless their hearts). At this point, I’m seventeen and this dream is a few months old, so anybody who’s heard it is dragging me to that tent. I sit down and reluctantly given them a PG version of events which, as you could imagine – like watching a censored-for-television Tarantino movie – kind of left a lot out of it and left them confused. So, round two, I told them everything as you’ve just now read and this is what they (Oh! Bear in mind they had to act like they were psychics and receiving the interpretation like a vision!) had to say:

“Hmm, well. Yeah. What I’m getting from this is that you have a great…mmm, gift deep within you that you’ll share with a lot of people. Probably women, predominantly. You have a healthy sense of esteem and…[EDIT: I’m sure they were going to say an ego problem, but left that part out] Well, any way, the part about your uncle…hmm, I’m feeling…you’ll soon be offered something dangerous by someone close to you. Make your decisions wisely.”

A lot of the stuff about the “gift deep within” was actually kind of extra funny because at the time I was graduating, I was planning on going into Emergency Response and EMT training (wound up not being right for me), so I thought it might be kind of applicable. When she added the “predominantly women” part, it got screwy. By their divination then, I might be entering psychology, some sort of activism role, or porn (TBD on all three – we’ll see where life takes me).

Anyway, hope you enjoyed, and if you have any alternate meanings you saw poking out from between the lines, feel free to share.

Catch you Thursday, everyone.

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!

Let’s Get Real #3: Singing in a Dojo Bathroom

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

If I may, let me set the scene:

We’re in a martial arts studio currently packed full of kids in their gis, parents line the room, an old guy with a white ponytail stands in front of them all, and there’s a giant tiger painted on one wall with its claws sinking into a big ol’ Ying-Yang. The front door is open so you can hear the cars passing and see the Chinese food place across the street. I’m a cheerful, curly-headed eight-year-old in the judo class that’s wrapping up. I’d just earned my orange belt probably the week before, so I’m smiling big and feeling powerful.

Class wraps up, we bow to one another, and clear the mat so the karate students could have their time. I grab my dufflebag and head off to the bathroom to change, knowing some sweet, sweet orange chicken and fried rice will soon be mine.

Let’s pause real quick to address two personality traits that will soon unfortunately take center stage. They don’t sound that bad, but by their powers combined led to the most embarrassing moment of my life (and I farted on a middle school crush in gym class).

One, I’m generally a pretty jolly, easily excitable guy. It was true as a kid and has largely remained that way into adulthood.

Two, it’s really, really, really easy to mess with me. Like, I’ve had to grow a thick shell of skepticism to protect my soft, gullible underbelly, but that doesn’t always work (and has actually been used to enormously great effect, but more on that later – lookin’ at you, Pierre). Nonetheless, I’ve seen more than my fair share of gas-lighting and stupidly easy pranks.

Right, we all set? Good.

So class wraps up, I grab my duffle bag, and hit the bathroom to change. To this day, I have no idea how to explain what took over, but I started singing. I don’t remember what it was or why I felt the need to do it, but I apparently felt a song in my heart and needed the porcelain throne to know it (maybe it was the acoustics). I don’t even remember what song it was, but I’d wager good money it was Celine Dion’s “My Heart will Go On” or something. So picture that.

Anyway, about a minute into my solo, there’s a knock at the door. First hunch that comes to mind is that it’s my friend being impatient for the bathroom, so I pause, tell him to give me a minute, and get right back to belting out my tunes. I only get a couple more words in before there’s another knock. It never crosses my mind that maybe he has to poop or something, so I tell him again, a little less patiently, that I’ll be out in a second and try once again to resume my singing. Immediately, the knocking continues.

Now, I realize what you’re probably thinking, oh Rational One: “Hey, Evan, it’s probably a kid who needs to poop. Give up the john.” And to you I say, “Yeah, that would have been great advice at the time. I really wish I’d had you there” (not IN the bathroom, God, but you get what I’m saying).

What did I do instead? Well, you remember that orange belt I was so proud of? I coiled it up and whapped it against the door like it was a disagreeable stepchild and I was a parent in the 1930’s.

…yup.

I was proud. I’d stood up for myself, didn’t fall for my bully’s antics, and stopped the knocking. I looked at myself in the restroom mirror and put my hands on my hips proudly.

The silence was interrupted by three more knocks, this time quiet and timid ones.

I threw on my pants (yup, hadn’t gotten those on yet) and opened the door. To my shock, I wasn’t met by my friend Troy, but Sensei Ponytail. I don’t remember what he said, I was just too busy looking at the ROOM FULL OF STUDENTS AND PARENTS PRETENDING NOT TO LOOK AT ME.
Like, shit. I wish they’d just laughed outright. Trying to spare my dignity in that moment as I realized what I’d been doing was like emotional keelhauling – which Adult Me now congratulates Ponytail for doing. I can honestly say it was a fuck-ton (metric, of course) of character-building in a pretty small window of time. But my mind was suddenly arrested by imaging that first minute before the knocking, the minute where they’re all just sitting there, listening to me, smiling and thinking “No. What? He’s- he’s still- he’s still singing? Like, he knows that door is thin as hell, right?”

He brought me in front of the karate instructor as the students went to their drills and I apologized to him. To this day, I’ve been as sincere as I was in that moment probably just a handful of times. He played the Tough Guy move and told me to give him push-ups until he got tired.

I did…like, three.

Remember the “orange chicken and fried rice that would soon be mine”? Mmhm, well, I focused on that a lot more than push-ups as a kid, so when he called for push-ups, he got, like, three. A heartfelt and earnest three, but also shaky as hell and absolutely no more than that. All the while, the parents’ hot gazes bored into the back of my head like angry little gophers.

I’d love it if this was my superhero origin story and I could tell you that today I’m a total Marine-bodied stud who doesn’t take his morning shit without pumping out fifty push-ups, but I’m super not. Instead I’ve chosen just to never sing loudly in bathrooms like a dick again. (If you sing in bathrooms, by God more power to you. Just don’t be a dick about it.)

Anyway, on that note, catch y’all Thursday.

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up!

Let’s Get Real #1: I Was a Real-World Infiltrator (That One Time)

Happy Thursday everybody!

This whole thing was pitched as “fiction and comedic true tales”, right? So, let’s get to some real stories. And I figured I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with one that might still get me in trouble.

So let’s set the scene: Northern California, Fall of 2016, three early twenty-somethings in a two-bedroom apartment – my best friend (who, for the sake of the story, we’re calling Pierre), my girlfriend, and I. (Also, I’d like to note here just how heavily I was advised against a living situation like that by pessimistic-ass members of my family, but even now after that chapter’s closed, I look back on it fondly.) Anyway, we’d all recently moved out together and used our newfound freedom pretty predictably: drank too much, went on a lot of trips, and started an apartment-wide, Nerf Gun arms race.

The main driver or impetus behind that last one – and a lot of other innovative trends in that house – was my buddy, Pierre.

The story, as I remember it, was that that summer, I knocked on his door to ask him about something I’m sure was important and when I stepped in I saw he was working with a set of lockpicks. I asked him where in the hell he’d gotten those. He shrugged and dismissively said, “Amazon, dude.”

I was floored. To my mind, lockpicks were called “Thieves’ Tools” on account of my D&D experience and one did not simply acquire Thieves’ Tools out in the open. Or legally. But I’ve been wrong before.

As the story goes, Pierre’s sister had called him up with a problem, having misplaced the key to their family trunk. That trunk reportedly held a number of important family documents, papers, n’ things they kind of wanted back. Pierre’s solution? No key, no problem.

This was right on the heels of the Nerf Gun zeitgeist that had taken ahold of the house and that same energy carried us right into lockpicking soon after. Next week, Mandy and I both had our own sets of picks as well as a couple of locks to practice on and the new hobby was born.

A few months later, Christmas rolls around (as it does) and I straight up told Pierre: “I’m at a loss as for what to get you, dude. What do you want this year?” He sat at his desk for a quiet moment, holding his chin, then said, “You wanna just get me a fuck ton of locks?” “Deal!” right? It was a super easy list, just turns out that locks are pretty goddamn expensive when you buy in bulk.

However, not only do I NOT regret it, I treasure him making that request because of what came of it.

I wound up devising what has probably been the most intricate and thoughtful gift I’ve ever given anybody for Pierre that Christmas. For those that didn’t know, locks apparently come in varying degrees of security (or “difficulty” for our purposes). Pierre and I both were and are avid gamers and I thought of no better way to package his gift of locks than as a video game-themed challenge. I arranged the locks in ascending order of difficulty (1 to 10) and named them after bosses in Dark Souls. At the end of the ladder of locks, there was an envelope labeled “FINAL BOSS”.

Pretty ominous, right?

Inside the envelope was a handwritten note containing the address of a particular Peet’s Coffee, that week’s code to the men’s restroom (I’d visited the day before to make sure it was current), and specific instructions. The instructions stated to go to said restroom, pick the lock on the supply cabinet inside, retrieve a small item – piece of toilet paper, hand towel, anything – take a photo for proof, and return it to me. For the effort and fulfillment of the contract, there would be a sweet $50 and a crisp high-five waiting for him.

Is it technically burglary? Not a lawyer, but probably, yeah.

Pierre finished the locks, read my note, laughed, and politely preferred not to break the law (the coward!). We laughed, I said I understood, kept my fifty dollars, and quietly resolved to do it myself.

So a couple of days later, I donned my coat, smuggled my picks into the inside pocket, and went to that Peet’s Coffee for my real-world test, the test that would make me a real-life infiltrator. I parked in the public garage down the road and rolled into that cafe like I was Frank Ocean and it was the Bellagio. I ordered a coffee to secure my cover as a patron (and, let’s be honest, not be rude) while I cased the joint – as they say in The Business.

As soon as the lovely young woman behind the counter looked me in the eyes, a little voice in my head screamed, “SHE KNOWS!!” But I ignored the cold sweat running down my back and played it cool. While my drink was made, I stole on over to the bathrooms, entered the code I’d committed to memory, and slipped inside the men’s restroom. To my utter dismay, between the time I’d last seen the bathroom and this moment of glory, the cabinet had been vandalized. Some asshole had broken the doors off their hinges, emptied the shelves, and spray painted the rest.

I retrieved my coffee and left that place feeling an awful sense of loss. My dream of becoming the pettiest burglar of all petty burglars would die unrealized.

It would be about a year later I was in another coffee house somewhere else in town and when I went to the restroom there, I realized something that made my heart race, my eyes go wide, and my chest swell: this place, as well it seems, had a locked supply cabinet. I was back the next day, with my picks tucked in my coat pocket as they had been the year before, and I entered The Vault.

Problem was- Or rather, problems were that, for one, of the two bathrooms, one was down for maintenance, making potty-Demand suddenly outweigh potty-Supply. Secondly, I hadn’t hardly practiced since giving up on The Dream, and all that; and in my haste to make it back here, hadn’t thought to practice.

You ever had one of those moments where you’re in a public restroom and someone just tries the handle without knocking first? Of course, it’s probably locked, but the thought still suddenly strikes your mind, “OH GOD, did I remember to lock it?” This was like that, except instead of a psuedo-embarrassing, “You caught me on the pot” moment between adults, I still can’t rightly think of a good “This isn’t what it looks like” explanation for getting caught doing what I was doing.

So, after a number of heart-attacks at the jiggled handle and minutes listening to the whispers in the hallway, I flushed (as a cover) and left, The Dream still unrealized.

A couple days later, I asked Pierre if I could borrow that stash of locks I’d gotten him and that night spent probably four hours in a Rocky-style training montage, tearing my way through lock after lock until it became second nature.

I was The Key.

I wrote a new letter and was back the next day. Waltzed into that bathroom, had the lock popped and the cabinet opened quieter than a church mouse in maybe two minutes. One of the most undeservedly proud moments of my life, hands down.

The new note I’d written…well, I’ll be honest, I don’t fully remember what was in it. I know I put some “Play it Forward” cards in it but not specifically which ones, and the rest was basically just a list of compliments to whoever read it. And I’ll be real, ever since pulling that reverse-caper, I’ve wanted to go back and pick it again just to KNOW that my note’s been found, evidence that someone out there knows of my skills as an as-of-yet-not-quite-renowned infiltrator.

That, and I think part of me is just scared that they’ve installed a camera system or something, however unlikely or super illegal (I think?) that would be.

FIN

And that’s all for now, everybody. This one was fun. Catch y’all Tuesday!