The Seth Material Compendium, Part II: Junior Year

Or, “The Trials of Sisyphus”

1. Fjord Diving

Ahh… breathe deeply.  Do you smell that? That sweet, lemony-fresh scent of a new year? It’s a clean slate.  A chance to, once again, explore the wonderful opportunities the world of education has to offer to eager students like ourselves.
And to those of us in the class of 2007, it means something completely different: junior year.
It’s feared.
It’s dreaded.
And it’s ultimately inevitable.  (Or would that be penultimately?)
In the lemming migration that is high school, junior year is the cliff far off in the distance.  During freshman and sophomore year, you know it’s coming, but try not to think about it.  By senior year, it’s over and you’re either safe on the other side or drowning in the icy fjord below.
Junior year brings stress.  It brings worries.  It brings more teenage angst than a Nirvana concert.  In short, it brings APs, the double-edged sword all high school students love and loathe simultaneously.  While they bolster your résumé, they also add a pile of work big enough to bury the entire city of Los Angeles under essay guidelines, practice tests, and the ubiquitous reams of illegible, hand-written notes.
Supposedly, this workload results from—or perhaps creates—the fact that junior year is the year colleges put the most emphasis on when searching for their neophytes.  Knowing this, I’ve laid out a careful game plan to make sure I stand out among the throngs of hopeful applicants.
First, through a careful balance of AP and no-credit classes I can theoretically achieve a GPA of somewhere around 6.2.  This will immediately put me at the forefront of both the colleges’ and police’s most wanted list (believe it or not, fraud is technically illegal), and really—what could possibly mean “overcoming adversity” more than being a convicted felon at age sixteen?
After lugubriously, though successfully, trudging through my eight classes every day at Hart, I will volunteer for five hours every afternoon at various charities around the city, then come home, care for my chronically ill, destitute immigrant parents, and at night leave to volunteer during the graveyard shift at Henry Mayo Hospital.
Every Saturday I will compete in and win national tennis tournaments, rugby matches, chess games, and the occasional spelling bee.  Sundays will be spent conducting an orchestra of world-class musicians in the morning, and then in the evening going to a home for the aging and serenading them with the dulcet tones of my trombone while allowing the senile geriatrics to beat me at games of checkers and dominoes.
As for my extracurriculars, I will join and become president of every club on campus.  End of story.
And finally, I will ace the PSAT in October and the SAT in both April and May.
Sounds foolproof, right?
So I’d like to think, but with colleges’ expectations so high, I actually have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting accepted anywhere at all.  There’s always going to be those few psychotic people who manage to do everything and nudge me out of the running.
Yes, like Norway’s annual lemming exodus, junior year is unavoidable.  Often times, however, the workload is just as pointlessly, stupidly suicidal as when the little furry critters hurl themselves off cliffs in their mad rush to make it somewhere ostensibly important.

2. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

As a species, we are obsessed with things that go “vroom.”  The louder, the better.
Since mankind first descended from the trees, we have longed to go fast.  The desire is inbred into our DNA, a congenital amalgamation of adrenaline, innovation, and stupidity.
Our own two feet are, at a poky average of fifteen miles per hour, obviously far too slow.  Even primitive man, with no inkling of modern day innovations, understood this, and thus the horse was domesticated, bringing humans’ speed up to thirty miles an hour—still not nearly fast enough.
Amazingly, human culture progressed very little (okay, so this isn’t all that amazing) until the invention of the car in 1886.  Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz’s motorized carriage can hardly be considered an automobile, as it moved at a mere 10 miles an hour, slower than even running speed.  The one redeeming factor of Daimler and Benz’s invention—besides the fact that it was basically stolen from the French—was the sacred internal combustion engine.  This device not only satiated man’s hunger for cacophony and explosions, but also opened the gate for transportation as we know it today.
Today, a typical Ferrari can accelerate from zero to sixty in under four seconds.  If ancient man had known this kind of speed was possible, he would have thrown himself to his knees, kissed the ground, and worshipped the Italians as gods of unmatched velocity.  (Whether or not this point is valid, however, is hotly contested, for if ancient man had known Italian food, he might very well have venerated them as the patron saints of tiramisu, too.) Of course, all this European speed is not enough for man.  Things must be bigger, louder, and, of course, faster.  In a word, more American.
Enter Chuck Yeager.
On October 14, 1947, man was forced to abandon the engine noise he loved so dearly for something even louder—sonic booms.  Yeager had broken the sound barrier.  Eventually, Yeager hit an incontinence-inducing 1,650 miles an hour—about twice the speed of sound.
So where is all this speed leading?
We can’t possibly go faster than the speed of sound in our everyday lives, and yet we know such ludicrous speeds are possible.  We can do nothing to accelerate our daily lives, as most of mankind wish it, and that makes us irritated.
Need an example?
While at first this seems like it has nothing whatsoever to do with mach speed, the two are clearly inextricably linked by impatience. We can travel anywhere in almost no time at all, and consequently we really don’t want to spend any time waiting for anything else.
Enter me.
I can’t cook.  If I’m forced to fend for myself for a meal, I turn to nature’s gift to men: microwave dinners.  On days I’m home alone and realize I’m quickly descending into processed cheese withdrawal, I crawl to the freezer as fast as my malnourished limbs can carry me (which is nowhere near as fast as I’d like to go).  I dig through the frigid depths until, lo and behold, I find a frozen macaroni and cheese—jackpot!
Hastily clawing open the wrapping, I examine the heating instructions. Remove lid, open microwave, place in microwave, close microwave, salivate, set timer for…
I don’t have that kind of time.  In those precious 270 seconds I could download an entire CD from the internet.  I could watch every episode of “Survivor” that’s worth watching.  I could (with a pilot’s license, Yeager’s jet, and enough leverage and/or bribes to cut through the bureaucratic red tape) travel from my house to Los Angeles and back… twice.
So in this age of instantaneity, why should I have to wait for meals?
What we need is food that goes “vroom.”

3. Thanksgiving for Nothing

It’s been two weeks now.  Two weeks since the carnage, the mayhem, the chaos.
Two weeks since a balloon crushed two innocent bystanders at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Okay, so the victims were released from the hospital later that afternoon with minor cuts, but still—it must have been horrifying. Unfortunately for the media, they were only attacked by a generic balloon, and not a character one. (Can you imagine the headline? “Hello Kitty mauls parade goers!”)
What’s this country coming to?
What would the Puritans say if they saw Thanksgiving as it is celebrated today?
In 1620, the Pilgrims came to America, “searching for freedom to practice the most stultifyingly oppressive brand of Christianity ever known to man,” to quote Jon Stewart’s America (the Book).  Their Thanksgiving was a true thanksgiving, a sober occasion where the Pilgrims offered thanks that they had defeated the elements, survived a new and wild land’s dangers, and single-handedly destroyed an entire indigenous people with smallpox.
Now, however, the only thing Thanksgiving gives thanks for is food.  It is a testament to American gluttony and overconsumption in a way no other holiday can match. Thanksgiving has become for Butterball what Father’s Day is for Hallmark—a chance for exploitation, a perverse corruption of something that should be meaningful.
And so we come to the nucleus of all Thanksgiving celebrations: the turkey. A bird so stupid, it will drown itself in the rain. A bird so hideous, it gives small children nightmares. And yet, a bird so utterly magnificent Ben Franklin wanted it—rather than the eagle—to be crowned our national bird. (I suppose, then, we can give thanks that old Ben was voted down, for how could any foreign nation take a bunch of turkeys seriously? What’s that you say? There is a country named Turkey? Hmmm… that makes me Hungary.)
At least turkey is delicious. But then again, I’m sure any fowl smothered in gravy and cranberry sauce would be, too.
A plethora of other foods fuel Thanksgiving glutting. Pumpkin pie, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, squash… all taken from that first Pilgrim feast, and all now available at your neighborhood Ralph’s for only $19.99.
How could such a noble holiday be reborn as something so… ignoble? As a people we’re not awful, but as a society, we tend to focus on the superficially important things in life, and forget where we came from or why we’re here. We forget what should be unforgettable.
Where then, among all this, does the grandeur and ostentation of the parade come from?
Let me explain. Since its inception in 1924, the last float in the Macy’s parade is none other than (an untimely) Saint Nick himself. Do you think it’s a coincidence the biggest shopping day of the year is the day after Thanksgiving? The parade must be some sort of subliminal message, triggering the mind-control chip Macy’s secretly implants in newborn babies and stimulating Americans’ impulse to spend recklessly until their wallets bleed.
The holiday season is truly a conspiracy.
But after piles and piles of turkey and pumpkin pie, I couldn’t care less.

4. Testing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…

I don’t know.
I don’t know what to think, what to do, what to eat.  I’m lost, adrift without a paddle, and I can’t find a way out.
I’m a junior. It’s second semester. Which means my schedule for the next few months is like walking through one of my great aunt’s famous jell-o molds. Tests seem to spring up like chunks of fruit in a sugary, gelatinous snafu.
And preparing for them is slowly driving me insane.
There’s too much to think about. I’ve taken the PSAT, so I should sign up to take the SAT, but I can’t do it in May, because May has AP tests and that’s when I should take SAT IIs, and—
SAT IIs? Which should I take? UC schools want two different types, do physics and biology count? No, they’re both sciences… I shouldn’t take Math I, no one cares about it. So why do they offer it? And what’s the literature test? Should I take that? But I’m in AP language, not Literature… Does it matter? What’s World History? Is that like AP Euro?
But wait. I still don’t know when to take the SAT. I guess in June, but that’s the day after school lets out. Who created this crazy schedule?
And then there’s the fees… to take a test? I hate this system.
So, it costs $41.50 to take the SAT, but only $18 plus an additional $8 to take a subject test. But I want to take two subject tests, so my total comes out to (pause for dramatic effect/frantic calculator usage) $93.50.
Oh? What’s this? If I happen to be in India, I have to pay an extra $21, and I have to remember that I can’t take a standby test in Nigeria. And if my check bounces in Utah, it costs five bucks less than if it bounces in California.
So you see my catch-22—I need a degree in theoretical metaphysics to decipher the College Board’s system, but in order to obtain my degree, I first need to take the tests and get into college.
I propose—though it will never happen—a much easier way to handle the SAT. On one single date, every high school junior in the galaxy sits down and takes a test. The questions go something like this:
1. 2+2=__?
2. Spell “cat.”
3. Can you write a complex essay analyzing Schrödinger’s uncertainty thought experiment and comparing it to Einstein’s special theory of relativity—yes or no?
4. Define “triskaidekaphobia” or draw a rectangle.
5. Do you want to go to college?
6. Where?
And that’s it.  No reading passages, no trigonometry, no sentence completion—just those six questions.
We might end up with a few extra Harvard graduates, but it’s a small price to pay for sanity.
It seems that, as the year progresses, I lose more and more marbles and get less and less sleep.  I write, I compute, I biologize (for lack of a better, actually existent word), and I can still never make a dent in the tidal wave of projects and studying rushing towards me.
The culmination of this lack of sleep and superfluity of work came in the last week of January.  I woke up, went to first period, worked feverishly on an essay, and then woke up again.
I had dreamed I went to school.
So now I have no reprieve from the scholastic siege. Even in sleep.
Just four more months. Just four more months. Just four more months…
And I don’t know if I can make it.

5. It’s a Trap!

Basically, the Winter Olympics sucked.
I watched American athletes fall, dreams of gold shattered.  I watched overconfident, party-hard skiers (I’m talking to you, Bode) retreat disappointed into RVs.  I watched as “faster, higher, stronger” became “oops, wait a minute, @#$&!”
It was, in every sense of the word, disappointing.  I can only hope that the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada are less of a debacle.
But others, like Shane Igoe, have their eyes set on much more than 2010. Igoe is thinking about the future. 2014, to be specific.
Igoe wants to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics on—wait for it—Hoth.
That’s right.  Hoth.  As in “Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back” Hoth.
Jedi. Snowspeeders. Wookiees. And luge.
One could argue that the icy slopes of Hoth would be perfect for slalom runs, or that tauntaun riding would make a great Olympic sport, but I think the whole idea of holding the Olympics on a planet that doesn’t exist is a little bizarre.
This leads me to two conclusions. Either Igoe is a genius, with a real love of both nerd subculture and the Olympics, or he’s completely nuts. If you want to decide for yourself, check out his site.
What we can’t ignore is the idea itself. The force (if you’ll pardon the pun) of geeks is growing. We’re not talking about crazed fan boys à la Star Trek conventions—nerds have invaded the highest levels of our society, and are poised and ready for a coup that would take even Xartyk, grand overlord of Omega VIII, by surprise.
The science fiction buff is stereotypically portrayed as an overweight, bespectacled klutz who subsists on Hot Pockets and Sunny D, wears incredibly tacky clothes and possibly outlandish headgear, and lispingly spouts such effusions of incoherent babble as “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the sons of Warvan, I shall avenge you!” (thank you, “Galaxy Quest”).
I suspect, however, that the nerd is far more insidious. Even now, they lurk among you, usually in the top percentile of their class. They’re watching you, from the posh executive offices of multi-million dollar companies. I’ll bet they’re ruling your lives through their fancy-schmancy “government.”
And eventually, you’ll work for one. That is, if he doesn’t cleverly outsource your job to India.
There is no doubt that nerds control the world.  Look at Bill Gates—I mean, look at Bill Gates.  Slap a pocket protector on, and your good to go (go solve a complex quadratic equation, that is).  And yet, Gates is worth upwards of $40 billion dollars—enough to buy my soul, your soul, the entire Santa Clarita Valley’s souls, and still have enough left over to walk to the moon on a path of golden dollars.
So eventually, isn’t it inevitable that Gates will simply buy the Olympics? What else is he going to spend the money on?  He can even build a replica of Hoth somewhere in Mongolia, and make everyone happy.
I’ll admit it. I look forward to Gates’ Microlympics, and the new events that will inevitably result: X-Box shotput, competitive PowerPointing, even Igoe’s proposed “Bi-‘Hoth’-alon.”  It’s got to be better than this year.
Even if Darth Vader decides to crash the party.

6. King of the Nerds

“He’s gone mad with power!”
It’s a phrase torn from the scripts of B-movies, the films that abound with giant mutant ants, shrieking female costars, and malevolent government officials. The saying, usually spoken as some eccentric mad scientist is about to plunge the world into an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust, is about to be heard in the halls of Hart.
For I, Seth Winger, have been elected President.
Well, co-President.  Of NHS.  But that’s close enough.
In all honesty, I could never be the actual President—too much responsibility, too much fodder for political satirists—not to mention the fact that only 43 people have pulled it off in 230 years.  I’ll settle for my title as President of NHS (or, as my dad insists on calling it, “King of the Nerds”).
There are several mysteries that surround the National Honors Society. And now that I have the dictatorial impunity that spawns from the combination of a one-year term, one final year in high school, and a club charter that has no mention of impeachment and/or recall, I can expose them all.
The first question you might have is obvious: How do forty or so of the smartest students at Hart fit their pedantically swollen heads—engorged with US history factoids, calculus formulas, and physics equations (I know my head is)—into a single room once a month?  The answer is, of course, that with a collective IQ higher than most third-world countries’ national incomes, the club simply defies all laws of physics—yes, even Reichtënflagen’s Third Property of Intradimensional Quasigravitron Orbitals, you dilettantes.
As anyone who’s seen it knows, the induction ceremony for new members of NHS is bizarre, esoteric, and utterly pedagogic. In the cult-like ritual, members stand holding candles as hooded priests sprinkle holy iodized H2O (with traces of bromine and fluoride) around in eldritch patterns and each inductee signs his name in blood, spilling erythrocytes to signify his devotion to honor and, ummm… community service.  I can now tell you that it is perfectly safe to drink the Kool-Aid.
You may think this power trip would be enough for anyone.  Think again.
For I, Seth Winger, have been named Editor-in-Chief.
Well, co-EIC.  Of the Smoke Signal.  But that’s close enough.
And I can assure you that some changes are going to be made.  First, more muckraking.  The mark of any high-quality investigative journalist or malcontent, muckraking has been used countless times during American history—William Hearst, for example, used it to incite the people against Spain in 1898.  I figure I can either expose ASB (sorry, Nick), fashion a war between NHS and journalism, or at least get a movie made about me (“Citizen Winger,” anyone?).
Second, more tabloids.  Everyone knows when our football team wins, but who knows when Bigfoot (or, barring that, the infamous “Woe” iguana) is mysteriously spotted on campus while he’s trying to escape with Elvis in his UFO? That’s what I want from a paper.  Leave bunk like this “The Seth Material” or hearsay like your so-called “News” out.
Yes, it’s good to be the king.
If history has taught me anything, however, it’s that kings don’t seem to last very long anymore.  In fact, we’ve had it pretty bad since the Magna Carta, so my power could land me in some trouble.  Louis XVI kind of trouble.
In the immortal words of Richard Nixon on his subpoenaed Watergate tapes, “[expletive deleted].”