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.

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A Reflection On My Previous Life Chapter, Part Two: The art of becoming genuine

By: mOUNTbRENDON

I was talking to one of my best friends the other day on cold walk back from a UW basketball game. One of the things I love about this friend is how similar our minds work. We frequently have philosophical discussions where we spend the entire time genuinely agreeing with each other. One would think that this would this sort of conversation would only be used to reaffirm each one another’s believes. Instead, this allows us to bounce off each other’s ideas and expand on our own. In a weird way, it allows us to challenge each other.

During this walk, we were both talking about faith, and what we believe. Each of us has found it difficult to believe what we believe. To struggle with where the church is today and to have such a hard time loving Christians (as silly as it is), while still believing in Jesus and considering ourselves, in fact, Christian.

We seem to be caught in this middle ground, where we have a hard time admitting our faith for fear of being judged as an irrational, cheesy, member of the modern day church. It has become extremely difficult for us to be open about our faith because we feel that, for the most part, modern Christianity has tainted the life of Jesus, rather than glorify it. We struggle with the fact that something so good, so sacred, and so holy, has been turned into a product. But that is another discussion entirely.

As I look back over the fall semester, I really realize that I learned the importance of honesty and what it takes to be truly genuine.

I think that the common denominator for all genuine people is that they never have anything to hide. They acknowledge their mistakes, but they are not ashamed of them. Most importantly, they don’t have secrets they feel the need to keep hidden from everyone else, which allows them the freedom to be open.

And open people inherently encourage other people to open up in some way themselves. They are willing to admit when they mess up and when they are struggling with a certain temptation and want to take all the steps necessary to move past it.

The other day, I was having trouble deciding over the morality of a certain action to take. I could not seem to be able to convince myself one way or the other, which, for better or worse, is often an invitation for me to take the riskier option. Once I started doing something else and turning my attention away from that decision though, as it often does, the answer came to me.

It made me realize that if an action would be something that you would be tempted to lie about to the people/person you love the most in 5-10 years, then you should most likely do the opposite.

For example, when forced to decide whether or not you should have sex with someone, think about if it is something you would want to lie about to your future spouse. It does not mean that you would actually lie about it, or keep it hidden from him/her, but it does mean that it is something that would cause you to want to do so.

I find that, for me, it is easy to convince yourself to do something that is questionable if you are only accountable to yourself. “If it ends up being a mistake,” I would tell myself, “than years from now I can face myself for having made it.” If you think about the other people in your life years from now, however, you are not just accountable to yourself. If it is something that I would want to keep hidden from the people I care most about, than it is not a mistake worth making because I could either hurt those people in some way, or I could keep it from them and allow myself to slip from a life of honesty.

Therefore, I want to be honest about my faith, especially since it is such a large aspect of my life.

During the fall semester, I took a Bible and Archeology class. This forced me question a great deal of things concerning the legitimacy of the Bible. I nearly gave up. I nearly surrendered my beliefs. But somehow, I was able to find peace in my beliefs and therefore expand and refine them.

(Say what you want about Rob Bell, but he was a large influence on me during this time thanks to his book “Love Wins.” It is not a book about universalism. It is a book that played a large part in, for lack of a better term, saving my faith. And I know that I am not alone in this.)

And so, I decide to “come out,” if you will. I realized that I have not been honest about my beliefs to a lot of people. I have kept them hidden out of fear of judgment, and of being misunderstood. I want people to take me as I am, not as a part of something I am not.

Below is a condensed look into my religious beliefs and conclusions and some of my philosophy on life. Because I want to be honest about them and I want to be as genuine of a person as I possibly can be. I do not want to have secrets.

I believe in God. I do not know what he looks like, how he sounds, or even how he works. Not at all. But I believe in him.

I believe that the Bible is a representation of God. It is not a perfect representation. In fact, it is filled with anachronisms, mistakes, misinterpretations, etc. But it is also filled with Truth. That is my belief. I don’t think we should hang on every word of it, but we should read it and let the stories impact us how they will.

And I believe that Jesus Christ, the Jesus represented in the Bible, is God’s son. I acknowledge that he is not the only person to have claimed to be the Son of God in history. There was Dionysus, Hercules, and even Alexander the Great. However, Jesus is the only of these who sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind and the only one to have conquered death. He is the only one who brought grace into this world and I believe that, even if it has been altered through human pen, his message, at its core is the best possible way of life if done right.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “either the man was and is the Son of God [who he claimed to be]: or else he was a madman, or something worse.”

I do not believe any of this because I was raised in a church.

I believe this because I have struggled with it like a pedal bike struggles up a steep slope, but with obstacles like road blocking logs and crazy people yelling strange insults…or something.

The point is, I have spent most of my college career wrestling with religion and pin pointing its faults as well as its advantages. Call me cynical if you will, but I haven’t accepted everything I heard from someone just because he/she attended seminary.

I took classes where professors argued against Christianity and I took classes where professors didn’t care either way. I attended churches and Christian organizations that fueled my cynicism and that caused me to further question the state of modern day, Americanized Christianity. But I never questioned that there is something infinitely bigger out there than humankind. I have never questioned the unexplainable.

Though I understand why it is like this, this is one thing that scholars, particularly secular Biblical scholars do not account for in their studies.

The unexplainable. The fantastic. The miraculous. The divine.

In a classroom setting, I think that is fine to a certain extent. But this has to be acknowledged. Despite the strides science, philosophy, math, etc. has made in the past one hundred years, there is still plenty in this world that cannot and probably never will be explained.

For example, what makes music good? Why do certain note and rhythm combinations sound good to some people and bad to others? Where does creativity come from? How can people create things that, while making some abstract sort of sense to them, they still cannot coherently explain?

I believe that God is found in situations like these. And that is why I believe in God.

Because of this, statistics cannot explain his existence. And I am fine with that. He is beyond that kind of thinking.

I could probably write a book about my philosophies on this stuff, so I am going to cut it short there. This, in a nutshell, is what I believe, or at least part of it and this is because I have challenged myself to question them. I am perfectly fine if other people believe differently. I do not think it is worth the argument.

But I came to these conclusions because I did not refrain myself from taking a particular class because I knew the professor would say bad things about my beliefs. I understood that, if my beliefs were worth holding on to, then a little questioning and a little controversy would not take them away and vice versa.

Instead, the questioning, the controversy, and the overanalyzing have only made them stronger.

I think that there comes a point in mot people’s lives when they have discovered what it takes to live a good story, whether it is too late or not.

And I think that the more you put yourself out in the world and the more you face situations that require tough decision making, the quicker you will make that realization, and therefore, the better chance you have at living a great life as opposed to just a good life.

And I think that I have discovered what it takes for me because I have put myself out there and challenged every fiber of my being. I have faced situations where I had temptations to fall and didn’t fall. And I have faced situations where I fell. But I learned that the more I was in those situations and the more I made the correct decisions in those situations – the more I was able to look back with pride on my reactions to tough situations – the better person I became and the more I learned about life.

This semester, even though I had to learn the hard way, I learned the privilege I have to live life. It is something that is sacred, and I do not want to screw it up because this is my only opportunity to live a great story and the only opportunity I have to improve the overall story of human existence in some way, no matter how small.

And so I am challenging myself from here on out to follow through.

To not waste this life that I have been so graciously given.

To make the most of every opportunity.

And to not settle for just good, but to push myself to be great.

And I hope and pray that you do the same.

A Reflection On My Previous Life Chapter, Part One: Not settling for good and working for great.

By: mOUNTbRENDON

One thing that I love about college, and one thing that I will most certainly miss about it, is how it presents itself in stages. A college student has the luxury of living life one semester at a time. In other words, life comes in stages, which makes it easier for you to look at yourself at the beginning of the semester and compare that with the you at the end of the semester. There is a beginning stage and an ending stage three times a year (Fall semester, Spring semester, and summer).

This last semester was a particular challenging one for me. And it was challenging in a way that I have never faced before.

I began the semester, only a few short weeks removed from summer classes. I thought I was ready to be done with college and was convinced that I was ready to move one, that I got all I needed out of college. That should have alone told me just the opposite. And I let it get the best of me.

Last spring semester, I had worked so hard at becoming disciplined, figuring out how to best manage my time, and following my passions. Unfortunately, I did not carry that into the fall semester until I was forced to toward the end.

I didn’t care about being in school. I didn’t care very much about my classes and, more importantly, I didn’t care about doing the right things and about bettering myself.

I am a very analytical person. I analyze everything from the movie I’m watching, the book I’m reading, the person interact with, to the items in a food menu. Therefore, I am extremely indecisive with just about everything, at least until I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. And so, I seem to have to live life at a slower pace than most people. When someone asks me a question, or when I am faced with a decision, big or small, sometimes it will take me a week if not longer to find a proper answer or decision. Because I have to think about it – and analyze it.

I came to a point in my life where I wanted outside of my head. I hated this part of myself and I simply could not handle it any more.

Most people in college make a ton of mistakes. Big ones, small ones, stupid ones, etc. Not that I haven’t made mistakes in college, that couldn’t be further from the truth, but not your typical college student mistakes. I never got drunk and stayed out till three in the morning the night before classes. I never dated the wrong girl, got in with the wrong crowd, took shrooms before going to a concert, or even experimented with sex. College is a time when most people experiment, and often times, it is through that experimentation that they find themselves. Not this guy. I found myself by always being one of the first people to leave the party, sober enough to safely drive myself home. I found myself by analyzing every situation I was in for in particular day, how I reacted to each situation, and how I could react better in each situation. I found myself by analyzing my life day to day and the people around me like an entomologist would analyze the inner and outer workings of a new species of bug.

I cannot recall how it happened or why it happened, but near the end of last summer, I basically decided not to  like this part of myself. I wanted a way out of my head. I could analyze something to death only to find that someone else has a perfectly reasonable and justifiable opinion that is opposite of mine. I realized that 99% of the stuff I analyze just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and I began to believe in only a small number of objective truths about life. The rest didn’t seem matter. I wanted to get away from the me I had previously worked so hard to build up.

And so, I reached a point in my life where I (please excuse my language) just decided to say fuck it.

I didn’t worry about analyzing everything. I just reacted. I didn’t take care to slow down and live at the pace I needed to in order to stay true to myself, because that would entail lots and lots of unwarranted analyzing.

I just took things as they came and I tried to simply enjoy life as it was handed to me and, for good or bad, it started out better than I could have hoped for. I was having a ton of fun just living life.

As a result, I put having a good time ahead of living a good life.

And it wasn’t until I got a 33% on one of my midterms that it hit me like a punch in the gut. I needed a change. It wasn’t until I put myself in a situation where I thought I was most likely going to fail a class – an English class at that – when I stopped and thought.

And it took until now to get myself back to  a place where I want to be at.

I realized that I was living an unhealthy lifestyle for myself, that I was in an unhealthy relationship, and that my priorities were not where I wanted them. I was not making the proper decisions to make myself the best character I possibly could.

But even though I finally woke up and took back control of my life, it took a long time to get back to a place where I could look at myself and genuinely be proud of where I was and who I was.

Maybe I needed to go through that stage to get to where I am now and to learn the life lessons that I learned throughout the semester. For that reason, I am not proud of myself for having done some of the things I did, made some of the decisions I have made, but I do not regret any of it. I think I needed to go through that stage in order to really understand myself and really understand that the me I have been wanting to be, that the me I discovered last year, was without a doubt, is the best me I could possibly be working toward. It was and now is the best path I could be on in order to get the most out of my life.

I think that I could have still been a good person on the path I was on most of the semester. I do not, however, think that that me could have been a great person.

Last night, while lying in bed allowing my mind to do its thing; to analyze, I came to a strikingly powerful conclusion. I think I know what it takes to be a great person and how to do what it takes to do so.

I decided to divide this post into two parts in order to make it less overwhelming to read, but I am going to end it with one of the many things I have learned because of this semester, a preview for the next part. It is the thing that I realized last night.

Jesus said that you must “love your neighbor as yourself.” Like much of what Jesus said according to accounts given of him, this seems to be a fairly simple statement, but really, there is plenty for people like me to analyze. In order to know what it takes to love your neighbor, you must know what it means to love yourself.

To find that balance of self-worth and humility.

To be the best person you can possibly be in the grand scheme of things.

Here is the definition I wrote down last night while thinking about it.

“What it means ‘to love yourself’: to realize the privilege of life and take care that you are valuable to the overall story and possess a longing to do anything in your power to make yourself better.”

There are certain people you encounter who almost instantly give out the vibe that they are living a great story. You just know that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, whether they acknowledge it or not.

I think that, in every case, it stems from their ability to love themselves. They understand the sacrality and the privilege of life. They realize that each person only gets one story to live and are doing everything in their power not to waste that story in any way.

That is what it means to love yourself.

That is what it takes to be a great person, not just a good person.