Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back in the Bulk - Elevator Darts

It's nearing the time of year when all over the country, fresh-faced young high school graduates are off to their first year at college. I am aware of this not because I am a creep, but because I work in higher ed. This will also be the first year at college for my little cousin Chris Rudedawg (the Rudedawg boys, you may remember, are the closest people I have in my life to younger brothers). So, this of course puts me in mind of my own first year at college and the various entertaining and sometimes bizarre things that occurred.

Freshman year I lived on an honors floor in Bulkie Hall (name changed, duh), a building with a dining hall on the ground floor and two 6-floor towers of dorm rooms. I was in Bulkie 2 south. Our floor, well, it kinda ruled. There was a large cast of characters, both resident and visiting, who collectively made up the Bulkie Boys (and Girls), as became the simplest way to refer to the Bulkie 2S folks. As I go through the stories from the days back in the Bulk (oh, hence the title. See what I did there?), I'll introduce the various players as they become relevant. It would just be too confusing to introduce everyone at once.

This story has as central characters Ben Stantz, John "P.J." Reaver, Trevor Cloak (our R.A.), and me. Of tangential importance are Brendan Tourney and Jon "L.J." Seabiscuit. They don't actually participate in the story, they merely enabled it to occur. You see, Brendan and L.J. were roommates. Like most college students, these two (and most of us) didn't always follow every little rule and restriction about dorm life. They possessed contraband. I'm not referring to the study lounge couch they stole and hid under a sheet (successfully! for months!), I'm referring to the equipment for that lovely old pastime, darts. They had a dartboard and darts, strictly forbidden in dormitory life. Trevor more or less turned a blind eye, since really there was no harm in playing darts in the dorm room, and we were careful to not be obnoxious and obvious about it. Well, for a while anyway.

I mean, you can only throw darts at the board the same way over and over so many times before you want to get more creative. It was really inevitable that we'd develop the Ninja Throw eventually. This is what we named taking three darts, gripping them by their points at the base of the fingers, one dart between each pair of fingers (so they look like Wolverine's claws but idiotic), and then swiftly launching all three simultaneously in the direction of the board with a backhanded motion. It is super fun. It also is not particularly accurate. Brendan and L.J.'s door caught the brunt of the ninja assaults a bit more than the actual board. We needed to find a more suitable location to practice.

Most dorm floors have a bulletin board where useful information, entertaining pictures or statements, or um, other types of paper (I don't know, what else would go up?) can be posted for the floor. Bulkie 2S was no exception. Now, a bulletin board, really, is just a massive rectangular dartboard if you think about it (it's best not to think about it). So we tried to practice our dart skills on the bulletin board. But it was too narrow a hall to be any use or fun, we were throwing from like a foot away. We needed a place to back up more. We needed the elevator.

Really, we can only blame for what is about to occur whoever thought it was a good idea to put a giant rectangular dartboard (still best not to think about it) directly across from an elevator door. P.J. and I had to take things to the next level (oh man, elevator humor. That is awful.) and we tried to convince Ben to join us in doing so. Ben is more sensible than either P.J. or myself, and refused to ride the elevator to the basement, ride it back up to the 2nd floor, wait for the doors to open, then ninja throw a bunch of darts at the board as quickly as safely possible. We were able to negotiate him into being our Director of Security. His entire job was to stay near the elevator and make sure that come hell or high water, nobody stood in front of the door.

So, the first round of elevator darts began. P.J. and I rode to the basement, rode back up, the doors open, and TH-TH-THWACK! three darts flew from my hand and stuck in the board. And *plup* *plup* *plup* John gently, carefully, throws each of his darts in the standard dart-throwing method. I looked at him disdainfully as he protested he didn't know we were ninja-throwing. Clearly we needed a do-over. Ben agreed to remain our Director of Security. Round two began.

At this point, I'm never sure whose part of the story to tell. I guess I'll stick with John and I, then come back and fill in Ben's part after. This elevator trip took longer. We rode to the basement. Someone got on. They took the elevator ONE FLOOR UP to the first floor (pet peeve) and finally we were back on our way, having taken twice as long as we should've to get back to the 2nd floor. The doors opened. Six darts fly out and stick perfectly in the bulletin board TH-TH-TH-TH-TH-THWACK! like something out of a ninja movie. It ruled. For about half a second. Then came the resounding "WHAT THE HELL!?!?"

While John and I were taking our sweet-ass time on this elevator ride, Ben had problems of his own. The second the elevator doors closed for this ride, out of his room comes Trevor. Trevor is/was a very tall, athletic, popular black man. At first, we thought he only had one rule for our floor, which was don't break the exit signs, because they cost "damn near a hundred dollars" to replace (We broke them. By accident. More than once. We fixed them most of the time). This event, elevator darts, may have been the turning point in Trevor deciding to become more strict with us. Trevor approached Ben, who, not knowing exactly how to handle the situation just said "Uh, Trevor, you're not going to want to stand in front of this door."

Trevor, of course, was curious what was going on, and repeatedly called for an explanation, which Ben repeatedly ducked, only repeating his enigmatic warning. Luckily, Trevor did in fact listen to Ben and stayed just out of the line of sight of the elevator door as he questioned him. As they went back and forth for what seemed like an eternity to Ben, FINALLY the elevator arrived on the floor. Trevor, unable to see into the elevator from his angle, only saw 6 darts fly past him at his neck and chest level and embed themselves in his bulletin board. Cue "WHAT THE HELL!?!?"

That exclamation was the rumbling thunder for the 6'4" African-American lightning bolt that was about to strike. We had nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. He descended on us and began (possibly rightfully) yelling at us, asking rhetorical questions like "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?" and the like. P.J. is a big dude. I'm not small, but he dwarfed me in both height and weight. I did my best to stay behind him, much to his annoyance, during Trevor's tirade. It helped (me) that Trevor and John had a tumultuous relationship marked by humorous antagonism. John caught the brunt of the anger. He got written up, I think. Somehow I didn't. Nor did Ben. Nor did Brendan and L.J. (who were merely asked to get rid of the darts and dartboard). The storm blew over and all was right-ish on the floor.

Until Blind Ninja Attack.

Uh. Kids. Don't try this stuff at home. Err, school. Whatever.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

You damnable, twisted, partisan hacks.

Let's not mince words. My personal reaction to nearly every action the Republican Party has taken in the past decade or so has fallen somewhere between "confused" and "aghast". My own views are fairly staunchly to the left, and I know that on certain issues, neither I nor those I disagree with will budge because the differences come down to sincere but deeply personal beliefs about the proper way to govern the nation. Fair enough. However, sometimes politicians (on both sides and everywhere between, but you can guess who I tend to be angrier at) take actions that, for lack of nuance I'd like to refer to as "evil", "stupid", or some ratio of the two for no reason other than politics itself. This is an atrocious betrayal of the trust of the citizenry.

Americans from every walk of political ideology all came together to some extent following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Say what you will about the way the tragedy was subsequently exploited by politics and media to gain viewers or voters or push agendas, but for a brief time during and immediately following the attacks, we were all Americans, united in the face of a shared horror.

While we all felt the fear, the anger, the uncertainty of that day, for some individuals the tragedy was profoundly personal. For them, it happened in their very city - in their home. And to the great credit of the citizens of New York City and surrounding areas, they turned out in droves to do the backbreaking, emotionally-toxic work of digging through the rubble, providing aid, comfort and safety where ever they could. I challenge anyone to say that the rescue workers who turned out on that day and in the days to follow are anything other than heroes. (On an aside, I want to give some notable credit to Steve Buscemi, who worked tirelessly and anonymously that day as a volunteer firefighter, because he knew that they needed all the help they could get out there. I love you, Steve Buscemi.)

Of course, being a first responder to this tragedy was dangerous, and many of those who helped that day now struggle with lasting health issues as a direct result of their heroism that day. The US House of Representatives has spent the past nine years or so working on, re-working, and fighting over a bill to provide those first responders with the health care necessary to treat the health problems they incurred working in the ashes and rubble. There really could be no more appropriate, reasonable, and merited cost than to provide this care for the people who were literally our American heroes.

The. Bill. Failed.

How did it fail? How could it fail? Well, you can blame some of it on anti-tax rhetoric. Some opponents simply didn't think we should foot the bill. They'd favor the bill if the health care was magically paid for by nobody ever. Because, you know, that's realistic. Now, some tiny selfish part of even you, my kind and intelligent readers, might be saying deep in your brain "well yeah, I'd support it too if I didn't have to pay for it, money is tight lately and I don't really want to pay more taxes, even if it'd just be a tiny increase," and of course the rest of your compassionate and values-governed brain is chiding that tiny selfish part, but the fact is, you can relate just a tiny bit to not wanting to place the tax burden on the average citizen.

The funding for the bill was to come from closing the loophole that allows people to use overseas tax havens to avoid paying the taxes they rightfully owe. It wasn't going to burden anyone unduly, and would only in fact make those who are currently evading paying their fair share through a legal loophole of dubious ethical premise actually start to pitch in. So, the anti-tax crowd is either factually ignorant on this one, aware but trying to score political points, or is just so vehemently anti-tax that they believe nobody should ever pay taxes for anything, no matter what it is. In fact, the third option is really the only way to oppose this bill on principles related to taxation and not be a shill or an asshole. Just an unrealistic prick.

Further troubles for the bill came when the GOP wanted to introduce an unrelated amendment dealing with illegal immigration. Now, I know that's a hot button issue with a lot of people. As I understand it, specifically the Republicans wanted to make sure that nobody in the country illegally could claim benefit from the bill. Now, I don't know about you, but in my book, if somebody bravely responded to the tragedy on 9/11, I don't care where they're from. They're heroes. They deserve our gratitude, our respect, and yes, their directly-related ailments treated. So I would oppose this amendment, both because I disagree with it, and because I think it's either evil or stupid to propose it in the first place. You have to be obsessed with illegal immigration (or just think your voters are) to have your brain go there when this is the bill before you. Seriously! We want to reward people for their rescue work, and all you can think is "YEAH BUT DID THEY COME FROM MEX-EE-CO? AHYUCK!" You're an ass-faced animal if this is some variant on your response.

So the Democrats, not wanting to actually deal with this amendment because it could be costly to their political image when they could've just killed the amendment, eaten the flack for it, and helped our American heroes, tried to pass the bill in a way that requires a 2/3 majority instead of a simple majority. The rest is (recent) history. The bill had over 50% of the House in support, but not 2/3.

And so, a chance to do some very tangible, very reasonable good for eminently deserving individuals in the nation who acted selflessly on behalf of their neighbors is killed. Because of a lunatic fringe, a party that courts that fringe, and another party that won't face the first party head-on out of fear. If you voted no on this bill, you are morally bankrupt, or a ludicrous ideologue. At the very least, you've learned to shove whatever conscience you had into some deep corner of yourself and act without regard to it, maybe only taking it out on weekends and holidays. Your petty political one-upsmanship has cost those who not only deserve our aid but have flat-out EARNED it very real assistance. I hope you're happy, you damnable, twisted, partisan hacks.