LAST EDITED ON Dec-07-11 AT 11:06 PM (EST)
FAIR WARNING: It's a noisy, hectic last-week-of-the-semester night in the machine tool lab, where I've been at my work study job in the tool crib since 2 o'clock this afternoon and am scheduled to be here until 10 o'clock tonight. I'm tired, thirsty, not getting anything done on the actual work I have to do - the "study" part of "work study" is a cruel and heartless joke - and I make no warranty that this will be comprehensible, let alone interesting or amusing.
It's early December, the last week of classes in UMaine's fall semester. Only the next two days and finals next week to go before this one's in the can. It's not going to be another 4.0 performance, but I don't think I'll bring too much dishonor to my clan.
20 years ago things were a bit different. In early December 1991, I was a computer science major at WPI, the original Undocumented Features had been out for around six weeks, a second installment was in the works, and I was just beginning the academic self-destruction that would see me slinking away from the Institute in disgrace the following April. I didn't know that yet, of course. As Term B-91 wrapped up, I figured I still had everything pretty much under control.
I think it was around this time, though, that I first started getting the faintest inkling of a premonition that the fiction writing might not be the most efficient use of my time in the collegiate setting. That, or I was just getting fed up with the process. I distinctly remember attempting to quit at one point in late B-term and Zoner talking me out of it.
I used to have the cassette from my answering machine at that period kicking around. I'd saved it because it had two truly outstanding recordings on it. On one side was a series of increasingly drunken, irate messages I'd received one night in early A-term from some guy who was trying to reach the girl who'd had my phone number the year before. (In those days at WPI, you had to make your own arrangements with NYNEX for phone service in your dorm room, but they had a pool of numbers they kept recycling for those purposes, so it wasn't unusual to get a number that had belonged to some other dorm dweller the previous year.)
The first was angry but reasonably coherent:
"... What? 'Gryphon'? Who the fuck is that? This is Charlene Harrison's* number! Get the fuck outta here, ya losah!" ( beep)
Then there were a couple of hang-ups, a couple of mostly unintelligible ones that seemed to have been made from a very crowded room, and finally one with a quiet background and a deeply slurred, despondent voice carrying with it all the flagellant self-loathing of the drunken college boy who has failed to score with the girl he got a phone number off of the previous year:
"Gryphon. Jesus. You're such a fuckin' jerk, I mean, what're you doin' with your fuckin' life? You sound like - I bet you're one of those narrow-minded fuckin' Wedge Rats, I mean, why don't you just kill yourself before you fuckin' meet somebody? You fuckin' asshole." (beep)
So that was Side 1. I always thought it was particularly ironic that he was encouraging me to "kill [my]self before [I] fuckin' meet somebody," in a message he had to leave because, while he was getting drunk and not scoring, I was... out. Somewhere. With people.
On Side 2, I had a message from Zoner that he left while I was on my way back to Morgan 401 from E7, where he'd just finished talking me into not abandoning our creative endeavors. It is for the most part a typical Zoner voice mail, in that it's kind of rambling and he tends to wander off the beam and then come back and repeat the main point a couple of times, but it's marked by one crowning digression:
"... anyway, thanks for keeping it up with the story, I really appreciate - WILL YOU STOP PUTTING HOLES IN THE MATTRESS WITH THAT KNIFE!!"
"...... anyway, I really appreciate it, and I'll, uh, I'll see you tomorrow... "
The other voice, shrill with apology, was that of Erik Swimm, who had been engaged in the standard E7 recreation of hurling throwing knives at a cardboard box set up on the apartment's hideously disreputable Hide-a-Bed sofa, but, being Erik, kept missing the box, or hitting it with the wrong end of the knives, such that they would bounce off, fall, and stick in the mattress instead.
Thinking back on that message and the circumstances surrounding it, I can still picture the late, wintry fall of 1991, how it closed in around the campus, and how I spent it going back and forth from my room to E7 to the Wedge to DÂKA to E7 to the Wedge to my room, and not all that often to class. That was the semester I took a Scheme programming class that I ended up NRing for no discernible reason. I went to class... occasionally... and did the homework... for the most part, so I probably would have passed, except... I didn't make it to the final.
I wish it to be borne in mind at this point that I did not drink at WPI. At all. I managed to blow the whole show without ever once getting drunk, dropping acid, smoking dope or snorting coke, none of which would have been hard to arrange. I came to my academic probation the honest way, by just... skiving off work a lot of the time.
In this case, though, I still don't know what happened. I studied for my Scheme final, I set my alarm, I went to bed at a fairly reasonable hour. I had had much later nights than that one. My final was at 11 AM and I was in bed by... oh, 3 AM at the latest. This was no big deal at all for me in those days.
And yet, I didn't wake up until 2 o'clock that afternoon, and then only because my RA, informed that my alarm had been going off since 10:30 and that I'd failed to respond at all to a fire alarm test in the building around noon, had decided that I was probably dead and used his passkey to come in and check. I wasn't, but my Scheme grade was. I didn't even go talk to the prof. What could I possibly have said to explain that? Even today I don't know how it happened.
That was still a couple of weeks in the future on the night that message was left, though. At that point I still thought everything was pretty well squared away. I'd seriously considered cutting back on my all-consuming extracurricular time sink and tending to my scholastic business instead, and... decided against it.
What a twat.
Fast-forward to 2011, on the brink of 2012. I'm back in school with less mental bandwidth than ever, fully and paranoiacally aware that this is my last shot at the big time. My parents are approaching their sixtieth birthdays. Won't be long before I'm supposed to be looking after them, and that's if nothing goes wrong. If I don't finish some sort of degree that can lead to a career, as opposed to the series of vocational errors my working life has consisted of to this point, I'm screwed and conceivably so are they.
Which is all by way of explaining why the 10th anniversary of Wounded Rose went by earlier this year and nothing special happened, why the 20th anniversary(!!!!!) of Undocumented Features went by around six weeks ago and nothing special happened, and why, well, in general nothing special is happening. I'm over here doing really unexciting stuff, like trying to pass physics and being crap at math (those two things really don't go together), and fighting an unending parking war with a couple of visiting-faculty members, and working in the tool crib. When the work is all done, I haven't got the mental bandwidth for much of anything else.
Ye gods. Still an hour and 40 minutes to go in this lab shift...
[I'm out now, safely bunkered down for the night in the spare room at my dad's place despite the rain's best efforts to put me in a field somewhere, and fixing a couple of typos. One more work study shift, tomorrow afternoon, but I'm only there from 2 to 5:30 because I have to go to physics lab at 6.]
* not her real name
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Admin
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.