Or, “The Cesspool of Eternal Damnation”
1. The Sophomore Slump
I am trapped in a sophomore slump. Trapped between the Greek word sophos, meaning wise, and moros, meaning stupid. I, along with eight hundred other tenth graders, am sophomoric: overconfident of knowledge, but poorly informed and immature.
We sophomores have it bad.
Tenth grade is the most degrading and altogether insulting year of high school. Freshmen are new, fresh (as their name implies), and ready to embark on the magical journey of high school, not to mention able to produce great superheroes – just imagine, “The Amazing Adventures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Fresh-Man.” Seniors have authority and power. They rule over the lesser grades with impunity, having already survived the hazardous gauntlet of AP classes, physical education, and advanced mathematics. Juniors, well, juniors can leave campus.
Roger Anderson once said “accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.” Well, as teenagers we don’t have days. Instead, we have an entire year to be a statue.
As sophomores, we find ourselves adrift in the sea of high school activity. Freshmen learn about Hart, juniors study for the SAT, seniors prepare for college. What do sophomores get to do?
We have no greater purpose in tenth grade. High school is not the scintillating new world it was to our freshman eyes one year ago, and yet we cannot transcend to the level of “upper-classman” for another long, prosaic year. Sophomore year seems like a chore, its only function to prepare us for our junior year – so close and yet so far away – and the excitement which it must hold.
If there is one consolation, one bright spot in our otherwise dispirited, monotonous slog through the cesspool that is tenth grade, it comes from the freshmen. We are now able to watch, amused, as the neophytes scurry from class to class with the overabundant, hyperactive energy most freshmen manage to reap from liberal amounts of caffeine and sugar, while we sophomores languidly stroll to our destination.
Ironically, the sophomores and freshmen arrive at their classes at the same time, generally due to the typical freshman’s poor sense of direction. (Really – they’re like migrating birds with magnets tied to their heads.) We sophomores then smile in our jaded, know-it-all way, content to watch the freshmen attempt to catch their breath before reminding them of the test they forgot to study for.
Amidst our sadistic mockery of the freshmen, we sophomores ignore the little nagging voice in the back of our skulls chastising us and reminding us that once we were freshman, too – that Jiminy Cricket-esque voice is our little secret.
And so the change is complete. In a metamorphosis rivaled only by the works of Kafka, the wide-eyed, tormented freshman, bewildered by his new environment, has become (in the course of three short summer months) a cynical, world-weary tenth grader, trapped in his sophomore slump, unable to progress with his life for one long year of anguish and suffering.
We sophomores have it bad.
2. Squirrels Gone Wild
A secret war is waged daily. You might not see it, might not even hear it, but it is always fought, its chosen champions battling each other in a struggle where there can be only one victor.
The epic combat between man and nature has been waged since cavemen first donned the skins of mammals and ventured out of their caves to hunt mammoth. It has been waged since Europeans set out to conquer the New World. It has been waged since the Wright brothers began building flying machines. Our advantage in this war has been our technology, but our dominance is now threatened by a malevolent entity. And now, unwillingly, I have become a pawn in this war of superpowers.
Recently, my dad’s car, an Acura TL-S, was a casualty in the long fought war of humankind versus non-humankind. On his drive home from work, the power steering failed, the air conditioner turned off, and the brake and alternator lights came on. Something was wrong, and you could almost hear nature chortling to itself.
Of course, the car was taken into the repair shop, where it was discovered the single drive belt that runs the power steering, air conditioner, brakes, and alternator was missing. About an hour later, the mechanic called and said a squirrel had gotten into the engine compartment, probably seeking warmth, and gnawed through the drive belt. Bemused, my dad asked how he knew it was a squirrel, as opposed to any other number of cuddly warriors of nature. The answer turned out to be quite simple:
Its head was still there.
Our car – a hi-tech, computer-driven, low-emission luxury vehicle – had been single-headedly brought down by a crazed suicidal squirrel. A small, furry mammal damaged our car; we, in turn, decapitated the small, furry mammal.
Score: Man – 1, Nature – 1.
When thought about, all sorts of technological disasters can be traced back to Mother Nature and her evil squirrel minions. For instance, take the space probe Genesis, which (after spending two years collecting solar particles) was slated to return to Earth and be miraculously caught by a helicopter stunt pilot. This plan failed miserably, not because of any human error, but one inside Genesis. The explosives supposed to activate its parachute malfunctioned, sending the probe crashing into the ground at 193 miles per hour.
Sounds like some kind of self-sacrificing mutant space squirrel tampering to me.
Score: Man – 1, Nature – 2.
Need more convincing? At the end of September, scientists released a statement saying they had trained dogs to smell bladder cancer in the urine of patients. One can easily imagine that the dogs, after being corrupted by malicious squirrels promising fame and fortune, would begin to arbitrarily claim patients have bladder cancer, leading to ludicrous amounts of unneeded drugs and chemotherapy. Pharmacists and wig salesmen might be happy, but not the greater part of mankind.
Score: Man – 1, Nature – 3.
The point is no matter how advanced our civilization becomes, no matter how smart we think we are, one mangy (and possibly rabid) rodent can bring the most sophisticated technology to its knees – so be humble.
We’d better pack our bags. The squirrels are taking over.
3. Moi, Misérables
Many of you might have been wondering where I was the week after Martin Luther King Day. Many of you (let’s be honest) don’t care. Either way, the true story will be told in the contents of this column. The truth must not be silenced! It is a tale of drugs, of dreams, and of surgical masks. You have been warned.
I was absent not because I was on a cruise or because I had the flu (or even some disease with a cool name like “typhoid fever” or “Ebola”). I was absent because I had bacterial pneumonia.
I had symptoms for about a week. A 102° temperature for five days. And a myriad of wonderful memories for a lifetime.
Immediately after my diagnosis, my mom and I rushed to Rite Aid to fill my prescription. Thirty minutes later, I was a proud user of Zithromax, a wonderful little antibiotic with only three detrimental side effects.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to pick up the prescription. When my mom returned, she had a surprise: surgical masks.
While contagious, I spent two days with a Kleenex on rubber bands around my face, so my miasma of horrid, bacterial pestilence wouldn’t bother my family. Now this might not seem too bad, but have you ever worn a surgical mask for two whole days? Not only is it hot, stuffy, and generally uncomfortable, but for us bespectacled folks, the condensed breath makes it seem like we’re walking around in a sauna. And not the saunas you see in movies. I mean the saunas at cheap motels that smell like a raccoon died in the air vent and no one cares enough to take it out.
Then, of course, there was the question of what to do while too sick to move around for longer than the occasional trip to the bathroom and back. On day one, it was obvious. I lay on the couch and watched our new 42” DLP widescreen TV for ten hours. Day two, repeat. Day three, repeat. Day four, a blood-curdling scream startled the neighborhood.
Not even the majesty of our (literally) brand-new television could hold my interest anymore. I now have deep sympathy for hospital patients.
Thus began the make up work. With no more excuses and what seemed like close to three dozen tests to take late when I returned to school, I was easily distracted from television’s monotonous programming. As anyone who has missed an entire week of school will tell you, the last two or three days are not a pleasant experience. (Don’t get me wrong—the beginning, minus the pneumonia that is, was great.)
And then there were the dreams. I’m still not sure if they were a byproduct of the pneumonia or just the result of entirely too much ibuprofen and acetaminophen, but they were weird.
Like the one where a giant dinosaur with Ashlee Simpson’s head attacked the school and only my cadre of highly-trained, submachine gun-wielding mercenary koalas and I could stop its rampage.
Or the one where I was walking my dog and everyone on the block suddenly and inexplicably burst into flame every time I said “Eggnog.”
At any rate, my stint in the government is over. Pneumonia didn’t kill me (I hope), and actually was a good lesson. I learned I never, ever want to be bedridden again.
4. My Life as a Teenage Beef Product
It seems, in this modern day and age, that everyone—everything—in our world has gone completely and utterly insane. The media, our government, standardized testing, my dog—all appear psychotic.
And apparently I do, too.
While studying psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in history, I was given a “symbolic interpretation example.” Seemed like a harmless personality test, so I filled it out.
1. What is your favorite color? Why? Okay… I like blue. It’s cool, calm, pensive, and seems to me—and that’s what this is all about—to embody intelligence.
2. What is your favorite animal? Why? Well, I don’t really have one, so I chose cows. They’re delicious. (My apologies to the scores of Hindus and vegetarians who just dropped this paper in disgust and will never respect me again.)
3. Describe your feelings upon finding yourself in a white room with no windows, doors, or furniture. You are totally alone and completely naked. Strange. My first thoughts would be of relief. I have peace and quiet. Then I’d start to feel panic—sheer, unadulterated, incontinence-inducing panic. When the panic wore off, however, I would wonder how in the name of Erich Fromm I was put into a room with no doors, windows, or in fact openings of any kind.
Then I found out what each of the questions actually meant.
Number one is what I think of myself. Not bad.
Number two’s the kicker. It’s supposed to be how I portray myself to others, which means…
Holy ghost of Ray Kroc—I’m a living hamburger. Talk about a Freudian slip in writing.
Disturbed by my newfound knowledge of life as a fast food product, I apprehensively approached the third question.
Number three portrays my attitude toward death. At least that seems somewhat logical.
So that’s it. According to Freud, I’ll probably be eaten by obese, junk-food loving cannibals, but I’ll be okay with it. Just confused about how it all happened.
Damn. I always thought I’d be killed in some end-all, apocalyptic disaster that I somehow had a part in creating. I guess no one’s future is certain.
Yet I can’t help thinking—why did I choose cows? What synaptic misfire compelled me to feel this bond with a domesticated slab of beef possessing the intelligence of a barrel of walnuts? (On a side note, this is also the approximate average intelligence of freshmen.)
Out of over one and a half million classified species of animals on Earth, I wrote cows—the one that would label my psyche as a testimonial to American gluttony: the quarter pound Whopper with cheese. Maybe it was some divine (or bovine) intervention that guided my hand. Or perhaps I was just hungry.
I don’t know. I’ll never know.
But is it really Freud? Or fraud? Do I even believe all this psychology mumbo-jumbo?
I guess I don’t. I’ve continued living my life as I did before I knew I was really a beef patty masquerading in a high school sophomore suit, aside from the fact that I think everybody is eying me like a lion would look at a limping gazelle.
Another’s perception of my character shouldn’t influence my choices. I should be free to pursue my own life, my own ambitions, my own dreams.
Even if those dreams do involve endless green pastures and an automated milking machine.
5. Zoom Zoom?
I can drive.
Well, let me rephrase that. It is legal for me to operate a vehicle when accompanied by a licensed adult over the age of twenty-five.
Yes—I have my learners’ permit, the coveted Holy Grail of teenager-dom. The one document more sought after by high schoolers than a prom date.
Why, exactly, the infuriating thing’s so sought after is beyond me. I’ve had the measly scrap of paper for almost five months, and in that time I’ve come to some pragmatic (some may say pessimistic) realizations about its worth.
First, it’s only exciting for the first few weeks you have it. After that, driving becomes a chore, akin to taking the trash out, vacuuming the house, or filing grandma’s bunions with your power sander—you don’t want to do it, but you need to. You need the experience (or—in grandma’s case—you need to build up the nausea tolerance).
When I first started driving, I would not have liked to be the guy behind me. Or to the sides of me. Or even in the same state as me. Six months between permit and license seemed like an eternity to me when I first started driving. Now, I’m glad I have that time to improve.
But anyway—no more preaching/sob story/Oprah special. The next thing I learned about the hallowed permit was that it wasn’t worth sitting through Driver’s Education to get it. I spent an hour a day, five days a week for an entire quarter in the class, learning what could have been summed up in three Saturdays at a private driving school. The only advantage to taking Driver’s Ed at Hart, it seems, is conveniently being able to save three hundred bucks and knock off Health in only one quarter, so you can have classes you really want to take, like… like… uh…
Moving on, the third thing my permit instilled in me is a deathly fear of our own SUV. My family owns a Mercury Mountaineer—not particularly a behemoth of an SUV, but it ain’t no Mini Cooper either. When behind the wheel of it, I feel the palpable sense of power that radiates from two tons of solid metal, horsepower, and a gas mileage low enough to be acidic on the pH scale. With the way some people drive (um… not me, of course) the power is a dangerous thing.
What really worries me about SUVs, however, is not their environment-killing mileage or the fact that they have enough power to crash into a building and win, but their evolution. Over the years, they have gotten bigger and bigger until culminating in the perfect effigy to American excess: the Hummer. Well, actually, I have nothing against Hummers. They’re the only vehicle that can get you from point A to point B in a straight line—doesn’t matter what’s between the points. I must stop to ask myself, however, what’s next? Slimmed-down Sherman tanks? Imperial star destroyers? (By the way, it’s nearly impossible to parallel park a star destroyer. And three point turns? Ever seen Austin Powers?)
Finally, the last thing my permit has done for me is brought me closer to my parents. Oh, wait… it hasn’t. Ranging from minor admonishments to harsh castigations, our car ride conversations have actually become a lot less meaningful.
I just can’t wait until I can actually drive.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I can’t wait until it is legal for me to operate an automobile a) without anyone else inside the vehicle unless explicitly allowed by a parent or guardian’s signed note and b) when it’s not between the hours of midnight and five A.M.