Yes. I’m going to make it awkward. — By: Charles Westerman

I want to freak people out more. I want to make it awkward.

Seriously. I drive a school bus filled with Junior Highers everyday, and you’d be surprised at the lack of differences between their attempts to look cool compared to the attempts of people my age.

“Hey! Check out my new ironic Captain Planet tattoo… It’s ironic right? I just want to be like, so ironic so people will think I’m smart and interesting and hip. Um, yeah… can I get a gluten free scone please? And the most pretentious wheat beer you’ve got.”

Ugh.

How about being a real, authentic, original person instead?

Ever since my freshman year of college I’ve felt like I’m sweating buckets wearing a jacket of cool to cover up the heart that’s on the sleeve of my weird t-shirt. In the name of transparency and soul odor, consider the following list of everything that’s not cool about me, the shedding of a layer.

1)   I still pick my nose. And not just every once in awhile. All. The. Time.

2)   I fuss with my hair in the mirror. A lot.

3)   I’m a virgin.

4)   I’m a hopeful romantic.

5)   I like songs about death.

6)   There’s a lot of woman who can bench press more than me.

7)   Sometimes I just wear dirty underwear for a few days instead of doing my laundry.

8)   A good fart still makes me giggle.

9)   I prefer Target, but shopping at Wal-Mart doesn’t make my skin crawl.

10) I think my favorite song right now is the new Taylor-Swift-goes-Britney one.

11) It wasn’t a mutual breakup. She dumped me.

12) I honestly don’t know what “tumblr” is.

13) I haven’t heard of 95% of the authors people tell me are “must-reads.”

14) The inside of my car is pretty disgusting.

15) I have no idea how to do my taxes.

16) Sometimes I just open up a jar of peanut butter and go to town with my finger.

17) I really don’t hate chick-flicks.

18) I’m still very self-conscious.

19) I LOVED Dashboard Confessional in high school. Still do.

20) Sometimes I give my brother’s beagle’s wiener a little tickle.

21) I’ve never seen Casa Blanca.

22) Yes. I’m almost twenty-three and it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to pass for seventeen.

23) In the last month I’ve googled “bi-polar disorder” twice.

24) I cry at least once a week.

25) For a single guy in his early twenties, I sure think about my wife and kids a lot.

College Graduation: From the perspective of Steptoe Butte– By: Charles Westerman

You spend four years in college thinking about your graduation day… not once do you think about the day that comes after it. Saturday you’re finally putting on the cap and gown. You finally get that diploma in your hands and the wonderful weight of it makes you think you know what it feels like when hockey players hoist the Stanley Cup.  You hug your friends and kiss your mom. You order a pitcher of nice beer and for once don’t feel like your wallet is sinking its teeth in your keister as you put it in your back pocket.

Yeah. That day you thought about a lot. That day was what helped you bust out those last two pages when your brain felt like the toilet that was always clogged in your ever-to-authentic college house. That day had you signing tuition checks your ass wasn’t sure it could cash.  That unforgettable day of celebration was what let you tell yourself that all the forgettable, overscheduled, lonely days of college would be worth it.

Then that day comes. And yes, it’s great. But even after four years of overpriced learning, you wake up on Sunday and realized you never really learned the sun would still come up after graduation night. Such was the case for me upon graduating from Washington State University.

More than shaking President Floyd’s hand on Saturday, I’ll remember that feeling on Sunday morning better.  You wake up with one monotonous, terrifying and sobering thought: “So college is… over? Yeah I suppose it is. Right? Yeah… definitely. College is freaking donezo. Checkmate. Yahtzee. Gin. Kaput. So… I guess that makes me an alumni now huh? Oh shit. Alumni’s are supposed to have a decent paycheck. What’s that magic job website again? Monster.com? Why a monster? GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY… I’m about to get eaten…”

In high school you graduate and then you spend the summer with your friends sucking the juice out of the last of the good ole days. You don’t really get that in college. The last six weeks everyone is so strung out with keeping up with their big senior projects and looking frantically for a job that you don’t have a lot of time or energy to do much reminiscing.

So maybe you get done with your finals on Wednesday and then you graduate on Saturday. Most all your friends who are younger than you leave three hours after their last final, and by Sunday at 5 pm, three quarters of the ones you graduated with have finished taking down their Bob Marley posters and are halfway to Seattle. It’s a queer, sad feeling. I’ve never said the word ‘surreal’ so much in my whole life as I did in the weeks following.

I rolled out of bed with this feeling and said hi to my parents and older brother Mick who had come to celebrate the milestone. Then one of my best friends in college – one of the ones I will be friends with for a very long time – TJ called me and said she was about to head out.

This was the girl whose apartment was on my way home from campus. I’d get done copy editing for the newspaper around 10 or 11 at night and call her up to see if I could stop by. We’d always promise each other we’d keep it to a quick 15 minute chat because we had both school and sleep to catch up on… 2 hours later we were no more studied or rested, but it was sure good to get all of our deepest worries off our chest. That’s TJ. The girl I could tell anything to. A person who I could show a part of myself that I thought unlovable and she always seemed to love me more for it.

One time my sophomore year I played her one of the songs I wrote about what I thought my Dad went through when his first wife died of breast cancer. When I got done I looked up from my guitar (that I’d kept my eyes glued to the whole time because I felt so vulnerable) and she was crying. She’d heard every word. She can empathize and be okay with feeling pain like that, and above all, I think that’s my favorite thing about her.

I drove to her apartment to say goodbye. Teej and I are never short on words around each other, but there was just too much to say to capture it. I wanted to cry but was too shell-shocked and exhausted from all the goodbyes and the “last times” that had been occurring in the last six weeks. I was sick of “last times.” We shrugged and we hugged and just like that — Snap! – TJ was gone.

Then my buddy Max texted me and said that he and his mom needed to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to meet us for breakfast like we’d hoped to.  Max is one of those friends like TJ’s a friend… only he’s a dude. My junior year when I lived right across the street from him, he’d easily come over two times a week so we could get down on Madden 11 (a football video game for you girls who live in a cave).

We’d “start a franchise” and pick teams in the same division, then we’d do a fantasy draft and play each other. We’d debate matchups and I’d always tell him that one of his go to picks, Kenny Britt (a proud owner of a recent DUI at the time), was way too drunk to drive or catch the football. The stakes weren’t as high as competing in organized sports in high school, but we channeled all our pent up competitiveness into those four hours a week. We’d throw on The Black Keys or The Temper Trap (a couple of times I even threw my controller) and let the trash talk begin.

Max even conspired with Mick to borrow my car to pick up his “cousin” from the airport in Spokane the week of graduation. Next thing I know he and Mick are walking into the coffee shop I was studying at.  Having my brother at my graduation meant a lot to me, and having Max take three and a half hours of his last week of college to pickup that big smelly thing I call my brother meant just as much. And just like that – Snap! – Max was gone.

I could write paragraphs like that for at least 10 other people, but I’m depressed enough as it is right now having told you about just two. It was this day that Pullman taught me one of its last and greatest lessons – and it taught me a lot of them in four years – but this day it taught me that you can stay in the same place, but when the people that made that place important and meaningful to you aren’t in it, you might as well be in Nairobi.

Still, my family and I went to breakfast as planned. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad. That I should feel grateful for the time I had and that I would see these people again. I told myself I should feel more of a sense of accomplishment– for Pete’s sake I’d just graduated freaking college! But that’s not how my slow processing head or extremely emotional heart roll. They need a week to process getting a second date cancelled, let alone finishing up one of the most important four-year chapters of my life.

So I sat at the Old European with three people who couldn’t have possibly been more clutch with their presence. The Old European is one of my personal essentials of experiencing Pullman. Most all of the people who came to visit me from home got their appetite for pancakes ruined because once you sink your teeth into an Aebleskiver… well it’s like eating Kobe beef, then being offered Cube Steak. It’s where I decided I was officially taking my talents to the Palouse when I visited Pullman for the first time my senior year of high school.

But even in this sanctuary of brunch, with my parents and my brother, three people who know me as well as anyone, I could not find solace from my sadness.  TJ was gone. Max was gone. A dozen other people were gone. It wasn’t something you could see. It was something you felt: Absence.

I get the feeling that my dad sensed I wanted somewhere to reflect and process – and more than that – somewhere that wasn’t Pullman.  On the drive to my apartment after breakfast he suggested we head up to Steptoe Butte. It’s about 32 miles north of Pullman. I’d never been there. It was on a list of about 200 other things my friends and I swore we were going to do some Saturday when we didn’t have a football game or homework or How I Met Your Mother to watch. Some Saturday when the weather was nice and you actually felt like getting out of bed before 10:30. Halfway through your sophomore year you realize you get about three Saturdays like that a year if your lucky. Anyhow, I’d never been to Steptoe Butte but I’d always heard the view was amazing.  And I don’t know how my dad knew it, but I just know he knew I needed a good view on this particular day.

We drove up to the top and for a kid who grew up in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, where a view for miles was always just a near hilltop away, being able to see out like that was more of a relief than when you pee after holding it for an hour longer than you should.  I went off by myself a little ways and lit a cigarette. My mom caught me halfway through, and on this day she just laughed and even took a picture. I finished my cancer stick and told her I was going to quit soon but at the moment it was too much to think about (I’m almost to the four week mark as I type this).

Mick and my dad eventually joined us and we talked very reflectively.  My dad always brings an incredible sense of peace and wisdom to situations like this. My mom — with her back rubs, encouraging words, and never-ending faith in me – never fails to come through. And Mick, with his jokes about how much of a girl I am mixed with statements about my talents that never fail to boost my confidence, did just those things.  It was a three-headed monster of love and support.

They too talked about their fears and anxieties up there on the top of the butte. My dad with his uneasiness and insecurities about running for State Legislature after getting hosed in his re-election for County Commissioner a couple years ago. My mom about her dad who has terminal cancer and her state program (the WBLN) that she’d helped run successfully for 15 years getting shutdown because of a lack of funding. And Mick trying to make the jump in career fields from paradmedicine to sports broadcasting.  It was good to be around other people who had fears and worries, and that weren’t 22 years old.

After that we prayed. We prayed about our own and each other’s anxieties.  We prayed for the rest of our family and I prayed like hell for the friends who had become my family at WSU.  In my family that’s how you deal with fear. You give it to God and you share it with each other, and at the end of the day — neigh by the end of college — I’ve concluded this method works.  It acknowledges your weakness as an individual and calls upon the strength of your community.

We stayed up there for awhile, and I couldn’t help but see the metaphor of the situation. Here I was. I could see for miles in all directions and I could go any which one I wanted to. It’s a cocktail of optimistic exhilaration and terrifying doom. The great American halfway house that college is over; now it’s time to go pro.  I decided right there that this summer I was going to embrace the uncertainty.

I’d applied for a one-year paid residency at a magazine in Chicago that I thought I had a real shot at getting so I didn’t look for much else. I had a letter of recommendation from one of the prominent former writers of the magazine as well as great ones from my journalism professor and worship pastor.  And I’m not gonna lie, I wrote the crap out of my cover letter; and my resume, though not built for most jobs, was very much built for this. They were even looking for a graduating journalism student from the Northwest specifically and WSU has the best program for that in the region.

I didn’t feel entitled to the job, but I have to admit I felt entitled to an interview; just a chance to show who I was in person and how bad I wanted it.  They never did call back. I called the lady who asked my professor to recommend a student for the resume at least 25 times getting only an answering machine each time. I left her two voicemails and sent a couple emails. By the end all I wanted her to do was pickup her phone and tell me I didn’t get it. The tooth for tooth side of me wants to drive to Chicago and put Crisco on her toilet seat…

I’m telling you this because it made the whole “college being over” thing that much more terrifying. I didn’t have a plan. But like I said, up on Steptoe I decided I was going to embrace the uncertainty. To take advantage of having a summer where it was acceptable to not be in school or have a real job. I decided to title it “The Wandering Summer” … but more on that later.

I came down from Steptoe still sad, but not as frustrated about that sadness, for I remembered another lesson I’d learned in college that I’ve mentioned on this blog before: sometimes you need to be sad… sometimes it’s healthy.

It’s often to the simplest ideas in life that are most effective.  So when you come to moments where you feel some perspective is needed, find the highest point within 30 miles of yourself, and do so.

The Perfect Game (My last sports column for the Daily Evergreen)– By: Charles Westerman

I’ve written sports for the Evergreen since my freshman year. I’ve had a column for three. It was very surreal and sentimental to think I was writing my last one as I sat down at my computer on Monday… I wanted to write something that was truly from the heart and that gave people an idea as to why I think sports are more than just a game, but one of God’s greatest metaphors for life. Enjoy.  

For my last full-length column as an Evergreen sports writer, I’ve decided to go close to home. But going close to home for me requires you as a reader to journey with me a little over a thousand miles to Chugwater, Wyoming; a no-stoplight town off of I-25 with a population of 244 and an elevation of 5,288.

I grew up five minutes outside this town on a cattle ranch half a mile from the interstate. I’m sure there have been a few kids on long family vacations that were staring out the window and happened to notice an irregularity in one of the great iconic American images.

The basketball hoop in the driveway they were used to seeing, but they might have had a momentary escape from their boredom as they pondered why there was a five-foot tall ninety-five pound ranch kid hanging on the rim like he’s LeBron James.

Then they’d squint a little more and solve the mystery.

“Hey! That little cheater is using a trampoline to play basketball!”

This was the world of sports I grew up in. The great broadcast voices of my childhood were Dave Walsh (Wyoming Cowboys), Jeff Kingery (Colorado Rockies), and Mick Westerman (The 46 Blue Rock Road Trampoline Basketball Association).

Mick is my older brother by three years. He hit puberty by the time most kids loose their first tooth. Me on the other hand, I went to my first homecoming dance before I had hair in my armpits.

But unlike normal basketball, our size differences weren’t quite as drastic on mankind’s middle finger to gravity: The trampoline.

This variation of hoops I could at least compete with that adolescent behemoth I called my older brother. I was never quick or big, but by the time my trampoline basketball career ended, it was almost impossible to block my shot on a normal court. Because when you got your shot blocked on the tramp, the integrity of the game called upon you to shamefully go barefoot through the rough prairie grass and retrieve your sphere of rejection.

We spent most of our childhood on that little black-patch of heaven. We invented dozens of games on it, but none was more popular than trampoline basketball.

It was so powerful in our imaginations that despite the fact that our biggest crowd in the history of our league was a few bored people at my sister’s graduation party, the glory of victory was of Iliad-like proportions.

After our afterschool school snack, Mick and I would go to our room, select from our large selection of basketball jerseys, grab the boom box and head out to the tramp.

We’d plug in Third Eye Blind or Box Car Racer to our garage outlet, start the music, then start our warm-ups. I’m not joshing you when I tell you we had strict pre-game rituals we’d go through as Mick introduced the “listeners” to the big-game.

I could almost always compete with Mick, but I never beat him. Twenty-five percent of the time I’d be a little prick about losing. Twenty-five he’d be a big prick about winning. Another quarter of the time we’d both be pricks, and the remaining fourth we’d go to the freezer and grab a push-pop and talk about how much fun we’d just had.

But one-fateful day it all came together for me. I finally played the only way I had a chance to ever beat Mick in a game of tramp-basketball: perfectly. I played a perfect game and still barely beat him.

My celebration was similar to Macaulay Culkin’s in “Home Alone” when he realizes he made his family disappear.

Then something happened that was one of the biggest moments in one of the most important relationships of my life.

Mick got off the tramp, walked up to me, and instead of punching me in the kidneys like I thought he was going to, tasseled my hair and said the three sweetest words in sports, “Good game bro.”

I’d like to dedicate this column to Mick, who has supported my writing dreams with the same passion and challenge he always brought when we took the trampoline for a game of epic proportions.

A Story Somewhat Related to Mt. St. Helens – By: mOUNTbRENDON

Here’s a short story I wrote. It’s about masturbation.

A Story Somewhat Related to Mt. St. Helens

I remember the first time I found out about masturbation. I was in the seventh grade at the time on an end of the year field trip to Boston to see the liberty bell and all that. It was the first time I had been on an overnight field trip and I got put in a room with Joshua Riddley and Casey Cole. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about this because they were always the guys who said the most ridiculous and inappropriate things in class to anyone sitting near them and I was anything but that kind of guy. One time in Chemistry class, a girl named Cassie was complaining about the homework assignment, which led her to complain about the class in general, which led her to complain about the teacher.

“Hey Cassie,” Casey said in a volume that just about everyone could hear except for the teacher. “Why don’t you just go rub that little pink thing between your legs?”

I didn’t realize what it meant at the time, so I was among those who couldn’t help but giggle about it for the rest of the week, repeating it like it was a line from a favorite movie.

Joshua wasn’t any different. I don’t think he liked me very much, or at least he acted like he didn’t like me. He once asked me if I was gay while we were all playing a game of twenty-one at the basketball courts during lunch. I didn’t know what to say out of surprise, so I said nothing. I think he took that as a yes.

The first thing Casey and Joshua did when we got into our hotel rooms, with no supervision, was throw the coffee maker out the window to see it “bust into smithereens.” I immediately left the room for a while to go see what my friend David was up to. When he opened his door, he had his shirt off his cell phone in his hand.

“Hey Jeffery,” he said. “I’m talking to Lacey on the phone, so I can’t hang out right now.”

“Should’ve known,” I said sheepishly. David was always on the phone with his long-distance girlfriend Lacey. I’d never met her, but from David’s descriptions, she sounded like Helen of Troy on steroids. He was a lucky guy.

When I finally got bored enough from walking down the endless identical halls of the hotel, I headed back to my room, where I found Joshua and Casey lying in separate beds, with clothes and chips and bread crumbs strung out all over the floor.

“I kicked Joshua’s ass so you have to sleep with him,” Corey said with a large grin as I walked into the room.

“Just don’t try anything on me,” Joshua said with resentment.

I didn’t say anything and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I turned the faucet off and was about to open the bathroom door, I heard the loud howling of the porn on the television outside. Dang it, I said and then undressed and took a long, hot shower to by myself some time.

I gave a sigh of relief as I was drying off as the faint sound of the TV sounded safe. But then I walked out of the bathroom to find Casey asleep in one bed and Joshua pumping away in the other bed to what was, as he later called it, “Late Night Skinamax.” Was I to turn around and walk back into the bathroom, revealing my fears to Joshua? No way. So, I continued on toward the bed.

Feeling far too awkward to climb in bed with Joshua, I took the bedspread that was on the floor and wrapped myself inside of it and slept in the little crevice between the bed and the wall. I made it a point to not have any possible view of the TV.

“Hey, Jeffery,” Joshua said not long after the subtle squeaking of the bed mattress ceased. “Why aren’t you watching this?”

I didn’t respond and pretended to be asleep.

“I know you’re awake,” he said. “You know the dudes are naked too, right? Whatever, you’re a fucking prude, gay or not.”

What the heck is his deal? I thought. What a disgusting a-hole.

The next night was almost the exact same, except for the fact that I could hear both Casey and Joshua pumping away while I lied there on the floor trying to pray, or think of home, or at least the latest episode of Even Stevens that I had watched. They did not make it easy though as they were having their contest to see who could “last longer” hollering at each other and the TV, and incrementally turning the volume up. That was when I decided though that I never wanted to be anything like them. I decided that I would never masterbate.

Once I got home, I asked my youth pastor about masturbation. He didn’t tell me much other than the Bible explicitly says not to do it.

Alright, I thought. That just confirms it. I will definitely never do it. Ever.

A year later, I had discovered that I was probably the only eighth grader to have never masturbated. Even David had done it, and continued to do it. He told me that it was impossible not to.

     Yeah right, I thought. I will be the first man ever to never masturbate. Impossible my boot.

As the months passed, this idea became to consume me and I began to put all of my hopes and dreams into this one goal. Some kids that age were convinced that they were going to be the next Kobe Bryant or the next Rick Reilly, or Brad Pitt, or something. But I was going to be the first Jeffrey Hornsby: man who never masturbated. Not even once. Only I couldn’t really share my life goal, because I was too shy to even mutter the word masturbation. My parents, along with the rest of the world had to remain in the dark, but they’d find out when we were all dead and they’d be proud of me then. However, as the months continued to pass, my late blooming puberty began to hang over me like a very large, very perverted black cloud.

I started to grow boners all the time in the most inopportune times. In gym class, I had to make the occasional bathroom run so that I could just sit in the stall, waiting for it shrink back to its normal size. Unfortunately, the more I thought begged it to shrink back to its normal size, the longer the stubborn son of a bitch stayed firm.

“Are you alright?” David came into the bathroom and asked once.

“Yeah,” I said. “Just not feeling well.”

“Alright, Mr. Carlos asked me to come and check on you. You’ve missed almost the entire volleyball tournament.”

“I’ll be right out,” I said. But I wasn’t. I missed the rest of class and then had to fake sick as an excuse, which normally would have been great, but it led to an entire afternoon of being cooped up in my room with Jennie McDuff and her short gym shorts sticking to my every thought like a giant piece of suffocating saran wrap.

A few months later though, the confidence I built from resisting that long afternoon vanished when I woke up to find my boxer shorts soaking wet.

That’s weird, I haven’t peed the bed in like ten years, I thought at first, then quickly fell back asleep, too tired to pay any mind to my soaking wet midsection. It didn’t take me long the next morning though to realize that it wasn’t pee that left my boxer shorts so wet. I had had a wet dream. And it was absolutely devastating.

Does this mean I masturbated in my sleep? I thought. What does this mean? It’s over. My hopes and dreams dashed and I wasn’t even conscious to know how it felt!

For a few weeks, my life was shattered. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t control myself.

You’re nothing special, I began to tell myself. You never even had it in you. You don’t deserve to succeed at anything.

It was the worst month of my life. All I could do was sulk around, thinking about what could have been. It was the one life goal I had set for myself. Nothing else mattered to me. I wanted to show myself, God, and everyone in heaven – once I arrived, of course – that it could be done. It could be done because I did it. I was the one who refused to give into temptation.

I was so distraught that my mom became concerned about me and quizzing me for a reason behind my mopiness.

“I broke up with my girlfriend,” I said as a cover. I had to give her something or else I would have to tell her the truth or maybe even get sent to some sort of counseling.

“I didn’t even know you were dating anyone,” she said.

“Well I was,” I answered. “But she sucks. I don’t like her any more.” I didn’t know why people broke up with one another at that point, so that was the best explanation I had in me.

Eventually, I started attempting to overcompensate for my failure of masturbation by sucking up to all my teachers and other adults and authority figures I came in contact with. Even if I didn’t have the answers in class, I would make sure to be the first one to raise my hand.

“What do you think that Shakespeare is trying to do with the first act of Hamlet here?” Mrs. Rice asked one day in English class. My hand shot up almost before she was even done asking the question.

“Hamlet is contemplating how he can join his father as a ghost without having to actually die.” I said with false confidence. I never really liked Shakespeare, but Mrs. Rice would never know that.

After this behavior persisted and after having had several wet dreams, I hit an even lower point than what I had thought would always be my life’s lowest point. I began to reek of bullshit and my teacher’s started avoiding my always-raised hand in class. Even my parents began to stop asking me about my day at dinner because they got sick of hearing my lies about how smart I was becoming.

“You know you’re becoming that guy, don’t you?” David told me one day when we were eating lunch.

“If by ‘that guy,’ you mean the guy that everyone else is jealous of, then yes.” I said, completely serious. David stopped going to lunch with me soon after.

Finally, one night I was at home alone. My parents were out at some kind of get-together with their other parent-friends. And there I was, just minding my own business, flipping through the movie channels, not having my friends over, or getting into the liquor cabinet like other kids my age would have, when boom. The sudden sound of cinematic sex filled every single one of my senses. My body was frozen as I let the remote fall to the floor in front of me and my dad’s recliner. For the next several minutes, I had no concept of a thought. There was just pure ecstasy and fake Hollywood orgasm.

After my eruption, which at the time felt comparable to Mount St. Helens, I remember feeling more confused than ever before. I was as pleased as kitten in a beautiful field of mice and as guilty as a mass murderer with the capacity for guilt.

This is what I’ve been doing in my sleep? I thought once finally able to form coherent thoughts. How did I never wake up?

Later that night as I was lying in bed having repeated the deed several times, I knew that I was heading down a dark and scary path.

This, I thought Is a turning point in your life Jeffery. All is freed. And I wasn’t entirely convinced whether it was negative or not.

Cutting Off Your Sleeves (The Genius of Belichick)– By: Charles Westerman

In an interview two weeks ago, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he thinks his head coach, Bill Belichick, is the best coach in the NFL – ever. Better than Vince Lombardi. Better than Don Shula and Chuck Noll.

Is Kraft biased? Yes. Does he have any grounds to make such a claim? If the Pats win their fourth Super Bowl under Belichick on Sunday, he absolutely does.

So roll up your sleeves — heck if they’re really annoying just cut them off (that’s what Bill does) — and let’s get into this.

When you’re trying to make an argument for one guy being the all-time best, you have to look at what separates him from everyone else. In a column written on Jan. 20, Pro Football Talk’s website backed up Kraft’s reasoning about just what makes Belichick’s success superior: Belichick is coaching in the salary cap era.

The turnover in the NFL today is much more rapid than it was in Lombardi’s, Shula’s or Noll’s. Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the only defensive starter leftover from the 2007 team that nearly went 19-0.

Offensively, Tom Brady and most of his offensive line are still in tact, but other than the little used running back Kevin Faulk and elite receiver Wes Welker, Brady’s supporting cast is much different than 2007.

Belichick’s brilliance comes in his repeated ability to get to the Super Bowl with almost completely different teams. Not only is it a different team. It’s a team made mostly of misfits – unwanted NFL orphans.

What Mr. Fagan and his fingerless gloves are to Oliver Twist, Mr. Belichick and his sleeveless hoodies are to the NFL.

Despite always being at the low end of the draft poll, almost no one is better at it than Bill. Most the time he’s not even on the draft poll. Consider this – on this years 53-man roster, 18 Patriots are undrafted free-agents. Of those 18, eight are starters. Eleven more Patriots were drafted in the fifth-round or later, meaning that 29 — more than half of the roster — were not drafted in the first four rounds.

If Belichick beats the Giants on Sunday he will join Chuck Noll as the only coach in NFL history with four Super Bowl rings. If he wins on Sunday, he and his offense will go down as one of the best of all time. Let’s take a look at the keys pieces of that offense:

QB Tom Brady: drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft.

WR Wes Welker: 5-foot-9-inches tall, 185 pounds light, 4.61 pre-draft 40-time. Signed in 2007 from the Dolphins for a one-year $1.35 contract.

RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis: Has never fumbled in his NFL career. Undrafted, he was signed by the Pats in 2008.

RB Danny Woodhead: 5-foot-7 undrafted free agent out of Division-II Chadron State.

TE Rob Gronkowski: This season set the all-time single-season TD and yards record for a tight end. He’s in just his second season and fell to the second round of the draft because of injury concerns.

TE Aaron Hernandez: Drafted in the same year as Gronkowski in the fourth round. Was still fourth among all tight ends this season in receiving yards.

The innovation in the roster of Belichick’s offense speaks for itself. And if he takes down those pesky Giants on Sunday, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s the best and most progressive pro-football coach of all-time.  Robert Kraft might be biased but I’m not. I’m a Packers fan.

My apologies to Mr. Lombardi.

Lazy Saturday Poetry features, “Little Hope”– By: Uncle Charlie Westerman

So this week, in honor of the arrival of the 6 pounds baby, 6 ounces man Beck William Westerman, my new little nephew, I read this poem in my poetry classes as we were asked to share our work from the exercise below.  I hope you enjoy it.  I’m happy to report that Beck is already a Functionalist, has big Westerman hands and a big Westerman nose, but big mysterious Van de Pol eyes.    

Choose a topic you are interested in and make a list of at least 10 words/jargon for that topic. You can do research to come up with this list. Then write a poem using all of those words at least once.

Topic: The miracle of giving birth (my sister-in-law is due with my first niece/nephew in less than a week!).

 

10 Words—

1)    Dilate

2)    Caesarean section

3)    Braxton Hicks

4)    Contractions

5)    Circumcised

6)    Epidural

7)    Umbilical chord

8)    Womb

9)    Labor

10) Infant

This poem mixes the metaphors of “the miracle of life” with “the sink-or-swim of college.”  I did a summer session last year, and it turned out to be my toughest stretch of college.  All of my major friends were gone, I was burnt out on school, and sick of living in a filthy five-bedroom house.  I called my mom live from the absolute-low of my college existence, and for the first time I seriously doubted my ability to get through college without having a major life-screw up.  About a week later my brother called me and told me he and my sister-in-law were pregnant.  I’m incredibly close with my brother (and sister-in-law, she’s really like my sister) and this is the first kid of us five siblings.  They had also had trouble getting pregnant for awhile and weren’t sure if they were ever going to make it happen.  So little Beck has been a miracle beyond the miracle of life.  He gave me the hope to push through summer session with my head still above water.  I remember when my Jer and Tara first told me the news, they said the baby was the size of a blueberry.  One of my better moments in the poem was working that little detail into the framework of the piece.

Little Hope

I couldn’t tell you how you do it, but you did.

Swimming to a sinking me, neck deep in college, you came to life.

I was about ready to ‘kick it’ for the last time.

Treating bourbon and cigarettes like they were an epidural for real life.

It got real,

real quick.

My stomach as barren as social-desert life can be.

Called mom. Told her my life’s a mirage & I’m about ready to pop.

“Honey I think you’ve just got a case of Braxton Hicks.”

She’s too sweet to say it, but I knew what she meant—

“Cut the damn Umbilical chord Char. You’re too big for me too pick you up.”

We’re here at This American Life halfway house to learn one thing:

Growing up just isn’t a miracle of life—it’s a pro’s choice.

A decision as painful as a Caesarean section…

“Well of course its gonna leave a scar dumbass, reality’s about to gut you with a knife.”

But then I heard news of you,

And put a camera to my womb

“Would ya look at that…

I think I see an undigested blueberry of hope in there.”

And so you, little hope, you grew.

And I started praying again.

And all the sudden the labor of growing didn’t hurt so bad.

Then I felt you kick.

And so, little hope, I too, started kicking again.

Got my sea legs back.

Went right up to my class, “Alright you bastard! Let’s sink-or-swim!”

As so, little hope, the battle began.

All the college and the pressure and the no getting dates.

But suddenly I didn’t mind getting circumcised on Friday nights,

by sexy plastic surgeons with pretty, dumb eyes.

I didn’t make my pupils dilate if everything wasn’t alright.

Nora you little hope you—or if you’re Beck you’ll be hope too.

You’re already a Westerman with your knack for irony—

That you, an infant, finally gave me the strength to become a man.

And yes, I cannot wait to party with you over Spring Break!

You’re favorite shot is breast milk?  It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Milk Situation– A short story by: Charles Westerman

Here’s another short story I wrote for my fiction class.  It’s loosely (or not so loosely) based on a real-life saga I’ve experienced this year. Although most of the real action and events in the story are from my imagination.  Enjoy, and I’d love to hear your comments, both good and bad.

The Milk Situation 

            Linus Tinsbee had always been a curious character.  One time his mother, hearing what she said sounded like “a drunk mechanic” coming from the bathroom, opened the door to find Linus staring in wonder down at the ugly side of the family diet.

“Linus!” She squealed.  “Where the hell is the toilet?”

Without looking away, he pointed casually to the shower.  Ms. Tinsbee snapped open the curtain to find the porcelain thrown set neatly upright in the center of the tub.

She stared at the back of his unmoving head and thought she could balance a china plate on it without ever seeing it break.  Her own head she shook repeatedly and rubbed her forehead therapeutically with her thumb and index finger.  Then not so therapeutically, she knocked two fingertips methodically against it.  “Why, Linus???” She said with the same fluctuation and tone she always asked the trademark question.  It was a half whisper of amazement, and a half scream of incredulity.

He looked up at her like only a youngest child can, with big dumb puppy eyes, disguising the genius in them perfectly, “I just always wanted to know where it went.”  He explained with an innocent half shrug of the shoulders. Then he stepped back and looked at the hole again crossing his arms.  “I mean, you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty cool.”

Ms. Tinsbee unsuccessfully tried to keep her anger.  “Oh Linus…” she sighed with little chuckle at the end.

Though Linus had a few stories in his file like this one, more often than not his curiosity was of the more beneficial sort. His classmates never had to know the definitions of their vocabulary words because Linus’ curiosity, combined with his passion for language, meant he had read the entire dictionary three times by the time he was thirteen.  His mother never had to come in at three in the morning to check for monsters in his closet, because Linus investigated the situation himself, the kitchen cleaver duck taped to the end of his hockey stick just in case the situation got sticky.

But no situation got stickier for Linus than the milk situation.  Yes, Linus had a milk situation.  Actually, his neighbors had a milk situation, but that made it Linus’ situation too.  See as Linus grew up, and entered his junior year at state school, he was faced with the excitement and challenge of living off campus.  He had moved into one of the many complexes that made up, as the students had come to dub it; “Apartmentland.”  Life in Apartmentland was good.  He had a washer/dryer in his unit, two functional roommates, and even a deck where he could explore one of his finest curiosities: grilled meat.

Actually Linus couldn’t bring himself to call it a deck.  It was more like a walkway that was just big enough to host a grill without being in anyone’s way.  His neighbors often walked to and fro past a grilling Linus, deep in curious focus.  He loved studying the art of the marinade, trying to gage the mystery of what the meat looked like on the inside, then cutting it open to see that perfect soft pink glow in the center.

At least Linus loved grilling before the milk situation came about.  His neighbors, well his neighbors had a way of pricking Linus’ curiosity in a subtly disagreeable way no one ever had.  He couldn’t really figure out why the milk situation got his nose sniffing so much, but it did.  The situation was this: his neighbors, members of the university swim team, were always leaving nearly full gallons of milk out on their deck/hallway, which Linus had to see every time he left his house, went out to smoke a cigarette, or fired up the grill.   The first time it happened, the gallon was nine tenths empty and Linus didn’t think he minded the new mystery even after it had been there a week.  But slowly, steadily, daily it started to annoy him.

After the situation hit the two-week mark, during which they had set out another gallon—this time two-thirds empty– Linus was beside himself.  He and his neighbors had never made it much further in their conversation past ‘hello,’ so he didn’t really know how to approach them on the subject.  Nevertheless, he found himself doing so the next time one of them—the pretty one– walked past as he was having his sunrise cigarette.

“Morning!” Linus said in his curious friendly way. “Nice day isn’t it?”  It wasn’t, particularly.

“Yeah I guess.”  She said with a sour expression, an expression that Linus had come to know as ‘the usual.’  Then Linus tried with great effort to stop the next words out of his mouth, but his curiosity could be contained no longer.

“Are you guys doing some kind of experiment?”

The pretty swimmer looked like she was trying to crap a lemon.  “An experiment?”

“With your little milk situation over there.”

“Milk situation?”

“Yeah.  That leftover gallon of milk you guys have sitting out.”

“Oh… no.”

“Well are you ever gonna throw it away???” Linus said, trying his best to remain casual.

“I don’t know… does it bug you?”

“No!” Linus lied. “I was just… curious.”

“You seem pretty worked up about it.”

“Well I just don’t understand it.  I mean, you walk right by the milk everyday.  Then you walk right by the dumpster on the way to class. Why not just throw the milk away?”

“I don’t know.  We just, don’t.  Couldn’t you just throw it away if it bothers you that much?”

“It doesn’t bother me! I just don’t understand it.”  He couldn’t tell if she was playing some kind of weird joke on him he didn’t understand, or if she honestly was so lazy and indifferent that she simply didn’t realize that real adults throw their trash away. Linus had considered throwing it away himself, but could never bring himself to do it in the name of his belief in personal responsibility.  A few days later, the gallons were gone, and Linus figured his little confrontation had been successful.

Then, fours days later as he came up the steps with a six-pack and the smell of a long day, it was back.  This time, the gallon was almost completely full.  It was like they poured one glass and then just decided to waste the rest.  “What are you seven years old?”  He said to the vacant deck, then he shook his head, and went inside trying to tell himself he wasn’t going to let it bug him anymore.  “Whatever! It’s their deck.  This is America.  It’s none of my business.”  But he didn’t believe that.   It was his business.  He had to look at it and live with it.  And so the episode turned into a series.  The gallons would sit out anywhere from 1-3 weeks.  One time it was a full month.

Linus began talking about it so much that his friends even became acquainted with the saga.  “How’s the milk situation coming Linus?”  Pete asked one day when Linus happened to be particularly irked about it.  “About the same.  I’m about ready to craigslist a dairy cow, park it on their deck and tie a string from its tail to the door so when they open it they’ll get kicked in the face.”

“Or… you could just pour the milk out on there deck.”  Pete said deviously. Linus had had this fantasy many times before.  Imagining the chunks come down on the wood planks like little spoiled gavels of justice.  But he had never indulged his milk-lust because his beliefs about personal responsibility.  However, with everyday the dairy spoiled his mood, this belief lost a little of its power.  He tried to tell himself he was a bigger and better person than his neighbors, and that his restraint proved that.

But one fateful night, after Linus had thrown back a couple gin n’ tonics, and his beautiful neighbor walked past him again with that ever present expression of curdled incredulity, he decided to avenge his curiosity.  He walked casually over to the milk, plucked a knife out of his back pocket, and stabbed the bottom of the gallon with the force of a semester of resentment. It gushed out onto the deck, accompanied by a scent that reminded Linus of the time he removed the toilet in his bathroom to see what was below.

The neighbors never even tried to clean it up. But Linus smiled a bit that next week every time he watched one of them come outside and crinkle their nose in irritation.  The next week, Linus left a bottle of red wine where the gallon of milk usually sat.  And the milk situation, became a situation no longer.

Introducing a new series: Lazy Saturday Poetry– By: Charles Westerman

When I started this blog, I said I was going to write a little bit of everything I really like to write.  And there is some stuff that I get absolutely jolly writing.  There’s nothing like capping off a sports column with that perfect last sentence, that last neat little stitch to bring it all together.  There’s nothing like learning something big about your faith and then finding a way to put that life-lesson into words. There’s nothing like inventing a new fictional character in your mind that even you yourself find interesting, funny, complex and mysterious.

But to be honest, sometimes my column feels like a chore.  Sometimes I go months without telling people what’s going on in my walk with God.  And most of the time, I want to punch my main fictional character in the face, because he’s just a bad metaphor for my life and he can’t gain his own independence and have his own unique personality (which is what good fictional authors can do).  When it comes to those forms of writing, I often have to dig down deep and pull something out of myself… and though it’s exhausting, when I find the discipline to do it, it’s always very rewarding.

Yes, readers, I’m going to finally admit one of my most awful secrets to you: my favorite writer is myself, and my most loyal reader is me.  I get a tingling feeling when I read my own stuff; I’d imagine it’s sort of what doing crack is like.  Nobody thinks I’m wittier and craftier with words than I do.  Seriously if anyone has a good shrink they should call me, because as you can see, I’ve got some ego-issues going on.  But hey, admitting it is the first step right?  But even more seriously I think all writers have to have this confidence and satisfaction on some level (although my levels are admittedly are a little high).

Personal Hamartia aside (if you don’t know what Hamartia means, Wikipedia that bitch) I’ll get back to the point.  That a lot of the writing I do sometimes feels like pulling teeth.  But even though it feels like I have to dig a lot of this stuff out of me, there’s one form of writing that has always just flowed out of my pen onto the paper, or came in a text message to myself, or that taps itself out on a little document I’ve had open on my computer for four years saved under “Playonward– Cause for Effect” (playing on the phrases ‘pause for effect’ and ’cause and effect,’ you have no idea how much I stroked my ego when I came up with that one).”

What I’m talking about is the writing form of poetry and lyrics.  Since my freshman year of high school it’s something I just have to do or I’ll burst.  Come to think of it, it’s a lot like peeing.  I never really know if I’m writing poetry or song lyrics, but when it’s three in the morning and my mind is roaring like a Harley, I know I won’t be able to get some Z’s until I grab my phone, open a text to myself, and see what knots my head is trying to untie.

What happens as I furiously tap those little button on my En-V3 is a rush I can’t explain.  A kind of trance or orgasm of the brain.  What I’m left with is an explanation to myself I’ve been working out for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years.  I wrote a poem about my relationship with my late-father on the 20th anniversary of his death that I’d been trying to capture the complexity and feeling of since my freshman year of high school.

If my other writings are what crack is like, poetry is to me, the brief moment of clarity I’d imagine someone gets when they smoke meth.  I still remember the first truly satisfying poem/lyrics I wrote in a text message to my brother one day the summer after my freshman year helping my Dad fix fence on the ranch.  Back in 2005 I’d just got my first iPod and was finding my own unique taste in music– listening to a lot of Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy and The Starting Line.  That angsty teenage music about how girls are the source of all their pain and all their joy.  And though it’s childish, I remember thinking that Chris Carrabarra (the lead singer of Dashboard) was like the Hemingway of angsty teenage music. So naturally I wanted to be like Chris (I don’t so much anymore).

I opened a text to ‘Mitch’ and wrote the following lines, “What goes around comes around and kicks you in the back of the head, I’m chasing your tail, which has me chasing mine instead.”  Yes it was very 15-years-old of me. But hey, that’s what 15 year olds do right?  I had officially started my mission to figure out how to deal with this angst and ultimately conquer it. Once I hit send I didn’t stop the rest of the day.  “Alright bro, here’s another one: ‘Your skating on thin ice and I’m under water with a blow torch to bring you down.'”  It was a bad imitation of Chris Carrabarra, but had Mick not been a good older brother and texted me back telling me they were really good, I’d probably still be looking for some form of my identity to this day.  In fact, I owe most of my confidence as a writer to Mick (and for that bro, I can never repay you).

Eventually I became competent enough with a guitar to start writing songs.  I wrote my first song the second semester of my freshman year at WSU and haven’t gone three months without writing one since.  I’d estimate I’ve partially written about 40 songs and have finished about 25 of them, putting me at about a completed song once every six weeks.  It’s something I have to do to keep my sanity.

With that in mind, I’d like to start consistently sharing with my small handful of faithful readers, where my true heart for writing came from.  I’ve posted a few poems on here before, but I’d like to make it a more regular occurrence. So I’m going to start a series title, “Lazy Saturday Poetry.”  One poem will be posted by yours truly at 12 pm Pacific Time every Saturday.

And when you read them, know that the writer your interacting with felt nothing but bliss and exhilaration as he wrote the words.  That he was refreshed and not drained as he hammered them out.  That even though writing his sports column was like doing layup drills, or writing about his faith felt like practicing free throws, or the short story your reading came from countless hours studying film– the poetry your taking in, was to him like all that hard work paying off as he took the court for the big game.

Below is the first ever edition of the Lazy Saturday Poetry series.  I wrote it in church last week.  It by no means stands out from the dozens of other poems I’ve written on this exact subject; trying to motivate myself to conquer my pride, and remind myself that only Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  But in a way it’s kind of a classic Charlie poem.  A good way to introduce you to my style: pure, flowing vulnerability.

Lately I’ve been trying to write some poems that have a rhyme scheme that’s more complex than my natural Mother Goose style.  I’ve been playing around with structure, punctuation and capitalization more, and learning how to make something flow that doesn’t necessarily rhyme, or at least rhyme all the time (you see, I can’t help myslef).  And though I’ve made strides in this department, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes a poet just needs to be true to himself and his natural style. I hope you enjoy it.

Why The Wine is Red 

See your face, and I shake like a quake.

The center of the flock breaks,

And the lambs disperse in every which way.

But the shepherd speaks a stern command:

We can be united again,

When you come back and feast from the palm of my hand.

Will you wait for me to find you or will you wander in the land?

If you’d ever stop screaming you could hear me calling back.

Calm down and come back.

You get a little closer with the tiniest of steps.

Deliverance will find you when you eat the bread,

And remember why that wine is red.

Go back to all the times where you thought your soul was dead.

And you prayed that sweetest phrase,

“I swear I’ll start living it.”

I don’t want another start, I just need another chance.

One more day to sing a song, strip off my clothes and dance.

Another night to ponder stars and praise how small I am.

I’m just a man without a plan because instead I chase my dreams,

That Christ would take my life until there is no more of me.

So I bid good riddance to that sore in my eye.

That swollen, black, pride.

Giving the business to the 1% (Packers lose, heart crushed)– By: Charles Westerman

Maybe it was the rust from the bye week.

Maybe it was the seven drops, or the 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown given up in the closing seconds of the first half.

Maybe it was 14-year veteran Charles Woodson not knowing who his man-assignment was on multiple occasions.

Whatever it was, those were not the Green Bay Packers I’ve come to know on the field this Sunday against the New York Giants.

The 37-20 divisional loss at Lambeau was a reality check for the Pack in many ways.

However, I think the most significant void Green Bay has to address is something they’ve been missing all season, and might be the true source of their one-and-done performance in the playoffs.

Cullen Jenkins.

Last offseason the Packers decided not to resign the pro-bowl 3-4 defensive end and I believe that decision has been what Dom Capers’ defense has been missing this whole season.  It’s what made them go from a championship-caliber unit, to a yards-bleeding sack of chumps.

Seriously, watching the defense on third-down this season was like standing behind a cow and yanking its tail: you just knew you were about to get kicked in the groin.

The Packers decided to let Jenkins go in free agency because they’re a small-market team.  They live off the draft and don’t believe in shelling out a lot of money for big names.

This season they thought 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal had developed enough to replace Jenkins’ presence.

The problem is Neal was injured this season.

Ever since he arrived in Green Bay he has been about as durable as a glass-piñata. A team that was so plagued by injuries last season should have learned that your roster can never have too much depth.

But general manager Ted Thompson’s small-market strategy is hard to argue with because, firstly, it won a Super Bowl last year, and secondly, I believe 99 percent of the personnel decisions Thompson makes are solid gold.

Nevertheless, I’m going to take a page out of Occupy Wall Street’s playbook and give the business to the 1 percent (warning: that pun works in two ways).

Without Jenkins, the Packers regular season sack total went from being second best in the league last year (47) to tied for 27th this season (29).  Clay Matthews’ (cq) sack total went from 13.5  to 6. B.J. Raji —6.5 to 3.

Defensive ends who play in a 3-4 defense rarely have a gift for rushing the passer.  In a 3-4, ends need to be bigger in order to eat-up blocks for the linebackers to roam around, and because they’re bigger, they usually don’t have enough speed to create a consistent pass rush.  Jenkins was a rare breed.

He is a 3-4 end who could stop the run and rush the passer.  Last season he had 7 sacks in just eleven games.

Capers defense is built on chaos and confusion.

The Pack blitz from every angle, confuse the quarterback, allow aggressive play-making corner’s to jump routes and get picks.

Successful execution of this defense results in plenty of sacks and interceptions.  And though the Pack led the league with 31 interceptions, the lack of a pass rush was the reason they gave up more single-season passing yards than any defense in the history of the NFL.

Look for the Packer’s to use their early draft picks on a Cullen Jenkins-prototype end, and another outside linebacker to compliment and free up Matthews.

A Story Concerning an Imagination of Reincarnation

By: mOUNTbRENDON

Reincarnation: A Story

     In a place that can only be considered a place because of lack for a better term, outside of time, and outside of fear and love and hatred and joy, there is a long line of spirits continually growing, but continually shrinking at the same time. There is a repetitive dinging sound, similar to the sound people would relate to that of a bicycle bell. Toward the middle of a line, a conversation begins between two peculiar spirits.

“I hope this is the human line,” one spirit says, leaning in to the other, we’ll just call this spirit It for now.

“You’re telling me,” the other spirit says, we’ll call this spirit That. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been through this line and ended up as a stupid mouse.”

“Oh yeah,” It says. “I’ve been down that road and let me tell you, once was enough.”

“This last time I was a pet mouse,” That says. “Surprisingly enough, it was much worse than a wild mouse.”

“You don’t say,” It says.

“Oh, I do say. My owner even stuck me in one of those hamster balls or whatever you call them. You know, the ball that they stick you in with no way out, so even when you get to roam free, you’re still trapped. The idiot could not get it through his head that I wasn’t a damn hamster. I hated that ball.”

“You hated the ball?” It says. “I would have loved one when I was mouse.”

“Oh, no you wouldn’t have,” says That. “It’s so constricting and everything around is all red. Not to mention the claustrophobia I developed, no thanks to it.”

“I’ve been a bee who was born without a wing before,” It says.

“What? A bee without a wing?”

“Oh yeah, it was horrible. Granted, I didn’t last long which gave me another shot at this here lottery. I don’t think I would have liked being a bee anyway.”

“Is that what you think this is?” That says.

“Is that what I think what is?”

“This. Here. You think we’re just in the midst of some random lottery?”

“You don’t?” It responds.

“Not a chance! Certainly, your previous life on Earth affects the results in some way. Sure, there might be slight randomization. But when I say slight, I mean very little.”

“No way. Take my life as a mosquito for instance. I did all the right things. I buzzed around people’s ears as much as possible, sucked their blood making sure to leave as much of an itch as possible, and then I was eaten by a frog, which helped supply life for another being. And you know what my next life was? A tree. I was a fucking tree next. A redwood even. I lasted for hundreds of years not able to do anything aside from just be. I had no say about what was done to me or the trees around me, no form of communication whatsoever. I just had to sit there and wait for someone to come cut me down and let me pass on to the next life. I get that bullshit from my life as a mosquito, a damn good mosquito. I even gave someone west nile. I served my purpose so that I could go be bored out of my trunk for three hundred years. No, there is no way this thing is anything but random.”

“Well, how do you explain me ending up as a mouse for the last twenty-six cycles? It has to be because I’ve been doing something wrong. I just wish I could figure out what exactly it is.”

“Well, I sure hope for my sake you aren’t in line for your twenty-seventh cycle. I have no desire to be a mouse again.”

“You’re telling me,” That says. “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“Have you ever been a cow?”

“A cow?”

“Yeah, a cow. Have you ever been one of those?”

“No, what’s so great about being a cow?.”

“It’s the best. You just sit around and eat all day. No other responsibilities. You’re not even micromanaged like if you were some kind of pet.”

“Sounds boring,” It says. “Humans are where it’s at. Then you really get to do whatever the hell you want.” There is a pause as both It and That focus their attention on creeping line. “I’ll tell you what,” It says. “That dinging is getting annoying.”

“Yeah it isAt least we’re getting closer to the front though.”

“Ever been a human?” It asks. “I hope that’s what’s next.”

“Yeah…well, kind of. It was the cycle right before I got stuck on the mouse. It didn’t last long though. I keep hearing how awesome it is to be a human, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Then again, I was killed by some thing called abortion before I even left the womb.”

“Well, there you go. You didn’t really get the whole human experience. I was a human a few cycles before mosquito. I’ll tell you what, it was the best.”

“You must have been a pretty shitty human.”

“No way! What makes you say that.”

“Because you ended up being a mosquito a few cycles later. Only a shitty human goes back to the level of the mosquito, no matter how many cycles later.”

“Well, that’s if you believe in earning your next cycle. I was a great human, just like I was a great mosquito. I’m telling you, this whole thing is random. It’s not even all that surprising that you’ve been a mouse so many times. You know how quickly mice reproduce? I’m not exactly educated, but I’d guess it goes faster than just about any other species. Twenty-six in a row may be statistically improbable, but it certainly isn’t impossible by any means.”

“I think you were just a shitty human, just like you were a shitty mosquito and you’re just blaming chance because you don’t want to hone up to being a shitty spirit.”

“Who are you to say that, Mr. stuck in mouse?” It yells. The other spirits in line focus their attention on It and That before another ding turns their attention away again.

“I’m sorry,” That says. “You don’t seem like a bad spirit. I was out of line.”

“Thank you,” It says.

“You know what sucks most about being a pet mouse?” That says.

“What’s that?”

“You don’t even get to have sex. Not even once. I mean, what’s the point in being a mouse if you don’t even get to have sex? It’s just ridiculous. And then they give you cheese as if they’re making up for it in some way. You know why mice like cheese so much, don’t you?”

“Sure,” It says.

“When all you get is sewage, trash, or mouse pellets, cheese is like breast milk all over again.” The conversation ceases as It and That reach the front of the line.

     “Well,” That says once he’s at the front of the line, with only seconds to spare before his next cycle begins.  “Let’s hope we’re not mice. I swear, I will step into a mousetrap as soon as I can if that’s the case. So long.”

     That then disappears, soon after followed by It.

Several cycles later, they meet in the same line once again.

“Hello there,” That says.

“Hi,” It replies.

“Remember me? I was stuck on mouse for twenty-six cycles? We talked in line a few cycles ago?”

“Ohhhh yeah! How have you been?”

“Oh, you know, just trying to work my way to human.”

“Still convinced that you earn your next cycle, huh?”

“Oh yeah. I was a pet dog last. It was mostly awesome just cause I got to see how awesome humans are firsthand. Hey, how was being a caterpillar.”

“The caterpillar sucked. The butterfly was pretty cool though. How about you?”

“Didn’t get a chance to be a butterfly. I got eaten just as I was getting ready to make my cocoon. Typical really. What do you think this is a line for?”

“I don’t know,” It says. “I don’t really care any more to be honest. It’s not worth getting my hopes up guessing.”

“Oh, I see,” That says. “They still got that annoying dinging, huh?”

“Yep. Still annoying as ever.”

“Well, I’m up, see another few cycles from now,” That says and then disappears.

A few days later on Earth, two mice run into each other in a damp basement of some rental apartments. There are a few traps scattered throughout the basement and one mouse heads right for one. The other, as best as a mouse can, tries to warn the other mouse by moving its whiskers and letting out some squeaking noises. Seconds later, the mouse heading for the trap is now clamped in the jaws, dead. The other mouse feels a brief moment of sadness, at least as much as a mouse can feel sadness. Suddenly though, a strange, unidentifiable memory pops into its mind. It scurries over to another trap and before it can grab any cheese, the large metal jaws come clamping down, ending its life.

“Hey,” That says to It, as they once again find themselves next to each other in line. “You weren’t just a mouse, were you?”

“Sure was. You were right about being a pet mouse. It was awful. I had to escape. Luckily, I forgot what a mouse trap was and ran into one.”

“Yeah, I saw that” That says. “You reminded me what it was. Thank you.”