The Epic Legends: The Beautiful Game – Part Two

The next cycle saw great changes in the guild, the ancient ancestral ties to 1up and the Legendary Thread podcast were severed, I became pretty well liked.  I didn’t beg for officer status, well, not much.  Eventually I even got it, though the person who promoted me was drunk beyond reckoning at the time.  Drunk Vent Saturdays became a thing.  Raiding, endgame content, actually was within our grasp.  We had our bumps along the way, some people left the game, some people left for greener pastures in more hardcore raiding guilds.  CQY endured, though.

Online communities founded by those with “internet fame” have a curse, I’ve noticed.  The people who join them initially will all be there out of common purpose, which is mostly to slob the knobs of whoever created the thing.  As time goes by people get to know each other, and the founders lose interest, seeing as they usually are internet famous for a reason that doesn’t involve wrangling hundreds of nerds into behaving. They can flame out in a glorious dramabomb, tearing themselves apart until the adults in the room leave and all that remains for them is the strong notion that anonymity is priceless.  More often they simply slow down until nobody cares anymore.

CQY was different.  The spirit of our foundation, to be a support group, the anti-guild guild, endured long after Andrew Pfister, known as Okonoko in the guild, had left.  He himself never did take that character all the way to level 60.  What he created, though, changed my life.  Even saved it.

During that same drunken saturday chat on our vent server, the guild leader and his wife made plans to host a number of friends from the guild in New York City.  Given the blood alcohol level of that conversation I doubted it would ever happen but one day I logged on and, holy shit, they were all getting together in Brooklyn.  I’d risen in stature quite a bit.  So much so that one of the earliest members, Garu, was now my roommate.  He was working an internship near where I lived, and I had a spare room.  Another member of the old guard was going to be driving up from North Carolina and picking him up to go to New York for the weekend.  My first feelings were of slight bitterness, after all, I was a member too, and my apartment was a stop on the way, there was no reason for me not to be invited.

Well, except for all that bad behavior.

I took a chance, and I asked if, seeing as my roommate was going anyway, I could tag along.  I was permitted on two conditions: One, I bring extra pillows and towels.  Two, I bring liquor.  Happily obliging, I took a leap of faith.  It wasn’t without risk, I was very wary of how I would be received.  The hosts themselves, were in fact wary as well.  It had all the makings of a disaster.  The party-crashing guy who no one really liked would ruin a really good vacation for a lot of people he wished he was friends with.  The closer we got to New York the more that fear ate at me.

When we arrived, late at night, blasting “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” (though that might have just been me, in my mind) the drinking had already begun, for the second night in a row.  Garu, Button, and myself arrived after most, who had been there the day before.  I remember hauling pillows and a bag up the stairs, presenting some liquor (note: at the time I tended to go for quantity of alcohol not quality of drink) which was immediately ignored and put by the dog food.

“Oh shit” I began to think, “This is it, any second now the damn guild leader is going to take me aside, tell me I need to get a cab and go home”.  I felt disaster.

Nervously, I stepped onto the patio where everyone was gathered, shyly introduced myself, and began to be awkward.  And then a funny thing happened.  Nobody cared.  I knew that at least a few people were worried in the back of their minds, but I stood mostly off to the side at first, trying not to get in the way of the party.  As time went by I joined in the conversation more and more.  I found myself jumping at chances to joke with everyone.  I was even a bit smitten with the human incarnation of the Draenei Priestess I would often joke around with in game.

We learned that my roommate’s tolerance for alcohol was practically nonexistent.  We learned that our raid leader was similar, and his state of inebriation could be calculated entirely by how many shirt buttons had come undone.  Through the night he went from fully-clothed, to shirt open, to one arm out, to struggling to free his other arm, to wearing his shirt as a sash, scarf, a babushka, and even a hijab.

At the end of a very long, very drunken, very funny night in which many, many things were learned by all, I was given a hug by a tree druid.

“I’m glad you came.”

The next morning I would observe as our fearless raid leader woke up, slowly walked to a computer, updated his facebook status with “I am never drinking again.  a man was not meant to ever feel this kind of pain” and crawl back to sleep.  He would awaken again to a much larger audience, shouting out “Fuckin’ Yogg with One Keeper!”  Another moment etched into my mind in the Halls of Goofy Shit.

We would later discover in the pictures of that night, him licking the ear of my roommate.  It was a weekend I didn’t want to end.  In fact, it wouldn’t have if my roommate didn’t have a stupid job.  I still say Button and I should have put him on a bus back to Washington, pin a note to his jacket telling my father to pick him up, and drive back later, ourselves.

The guild transmuted into something more then, more than the ideal that I respected from its beginnings, rather an extended family.  We were marching down the streets of Brooklyn with people calling me Magic Sword King, it was bizarre.  My digital persona had collided with my actual humanity in spectacular fashion.

I was allowed to keep my drunkenly-granted officer status.  I had many new people I could legitimately call friends.  Some of them had a falling out, which I consider a great tragedy.  I visited New York again, though I was the only one.  My roommate is now the roommate of the woman I consider the big sister I never had, and he has since taken over leadership of the guild.  Hell, I’m his second in command, even holding the reigns briefly, myself.

Of the people in New York only my former roommate and I remain members in full of Cant Quit You.  The guild has shifted westward in vitality, with new faces rising to prominence, the old guard still remembers, though.  We still watch, sometimes we play.  The ideals that founded the guild transformed it into something better.  Even though we’re long past the support group stage of existence we all remember, and in our own ways remain.

Cant Quit You became more than a jokey name, it became truth.  People come and go, but those of us who really took to it remain close friends to this day, attending conventions together, helping each other professionally and personally.  Even the people who no longer play haven’t left.  Not really.  Because you can’t quit.  The bonds formed since 2007 have been there to strengthen me, guide me, and even save my family from homelessness.

In absence I will cheer those who are active.  In activity I will help those who wish my help.  In life, I will keep these friends as long as the ways of the world allow me to keep them.  It didn’t have to be World of Warcraft to have such an effect.  It did, however, have to be CQY.

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The Epic Legends: The Beautiful Game – Part One

World of Warcraft.

I can say with certainty that nothing in the whole of media has affected my life as dramatically, as permanently, and as positively as World of Warcraft.  A game known for destroying lives. For turning intelligent, erudite individuals into annoying fuckwits who obsess over what numbers will interact in the best way to make their good numbers go up and their bad numbers go down.  For being, honestly, quite boring at times.

World of Warcraft is all of these things, and on its own I would never play it.

World of Warcraft is not on its own, however.  In January of 2007, a man named Andrew Pfister, then an editor for 1up.com, founded a guild.  The guild, Cant Quit You, began on the Baelgun server as the ultimate anti-guild.  The only rule, was that you were forbidden from joining if you’d ever reached level 60.  This was a support group, a group for quitters, people who never raided Molten Core with 39 other people, for people who didn’t know how to play, or always wanted to but for whom the social aspects never clicked to allow them to really enjoy themselves.  I was one of the earlier people to sign on.

I confess I’d always been a bit of an internet starfucker, hanging around IRC channels for webcomics I liked, with drama following me everywhere I went.  I wanted to rub elbows with an upper echelon that I aspired to join, and show them how awesome I was.  That changed with CQY.  It didn’t change all at once, though.  First, I met a living cautionary tale.  A man who has some degree of fame (or infamy) who was in a very overt way trying to do what I intended.  His name was Jonah Falcon, and he holds the odd distinction of having the biggest dick in the world.  This is something I learned on my first day with CQY.  At the time he was acting like a big dick, and trying to convince the founder to give him a job writing.  Somewhat appropriately I found out that the man with the biggest dick actually was the biggest dick.  I wasn’t established or around for his banishment, though.  It was rather elaborate, the entire guild faked a break-up just to fuck with him.  I decided they were my kind of people.

Over time I became more and more prominent, I solved some problems, created more, and spent the Burning Crusade expansion cycle being generally an asshole.  I was a whiny, needy, attention-whoring jackass, and extremely easily trolled.  This was always my greatest weakness, I would not abide the pricks and in defense of myself I’d take it to the rafters.  Later on I’d feel vindicated in knowing most of the people I called out for rampant shitfuckery would leave the guild or be thrown out once people reached the same conclusion.  I took my banishment with uncharacteristic grace and stayed away without scene.  A while later I’d revisit the forums, start participating again out of the game, and try to acknowledge the one thing about myself that I never really did before.

I’m kind of an asshole.  I’m not intolerable, and I have the capacity to be really nice, but I am still kind of an asshole.  So I’d become the guild’s asshole.  I’d turn my talents for stirring up shit into a force for good.  Using my advanced asshole sensor array (we can smell our own) I started to identify problematic people and slowly troll them out of the guild, or into behaving, whichever happened first.

When I did return, one member threw a shit fit the likes of which I’ve never seen. I’d always pegged him for the angry type, and oh boy did he live up to my expectations.  He quit the guild, posted on forums at length about how I was pure evil and pure evil cannot be changed only fought.  I think he may have even compared me to Hitler.  I responded in a rather nice way, though.  Instead of calling him out, suggesting severe anger management classes, like every asshole bone in my body wanted to, I let him act a fool and acknowledged that yes, I am an asshole, but I’m the asshole on your side, and goddamn if I won’t try to make up for how much of a shithead I’d been in the past.

After my return, more would change than some perceptions of me.  My life would take a new path, one that nobody saw coming.

The Epic Legends: The Great Trial of the Sword Kings

I know I have only posted one epic legend before, but lo, another has happened during my long absence.  A force that will no doubt shape many things to come.  Read on, dear friends, and learn of the Great Trial.

Over the past two years I became a proper adult human.  I know, you’re thinking “Surely, Sword King, you could never be considered Adult or Human!” and two years ago I would have heartily agreed.  Oh how times have changed.

Before I fought with raid bosses and people taking things too seriously, I fought with women, mostly in an attempt to get them to end the, my god, nearly ten year dating hiatus.  I’ve slayed trolls and took a picture straddling the Washington Monument, as if it were the great stone phallus of freedom granted to me for my unchallenged cocksmanship.

The foes I’ve faced of late have been far different.  I’ve had to deal with problems financial, navigate the treacherous labyrinths of federal and state bureaucracy.  I’ve had to watch as my father, a great man, was broken down by the state of the world and fell into depression, bitterness, and cynicism.  I’ve watched constant pain take its toll on him, I’ve raged at The Man for doing nothing to help.  I’ve made miracles happened, made promises I can’t keep, and kept promises I thought impossible to keep.

In September of 2009 my father lost his job after over a decade of hard, honest work.  At first I found myself in a panic, and then, as days turned into months I started to find solutions.  Solutions, sometimes from the unlikeliest of places.  From World of Warcraft, a good friend of mine needed a place to live in Northern Virginia for an internship.  We had a spare room and rented it.  His help came at a time when our resources were all but spent.  It gave us nine months of precious time, time to think, time to regroup.

From the mother of a man I consider a brother, and among the best, most stalwart friends anyone could have, I learned of a government disability aid program that did not require an extensive work history.  I applied, and just as the now-Guild Master was moving back to school, I was certified disabled.  I had enough money to make up for what was lost in rent.  Once more, we had time.

Time, however, grows short quickly when you’re living hand-to-mouth, making every penny count.  My aunt Gail and, yes, even my mother provided significant financial aid and support during the Great Trial of the Magic Sword Kings.  As bureaucracies stalled, bungled paperwork, the clock was running out.  My father’s own application for Disability was taking a long time, unemployment money had run out early this year, and I was pulling miracles out of my ass on a semi-daily basis.

My greatest duty, though, was to try and be a rock.  An immovable object of belief and hope that would keep my father and I from being swallowed by the storm.  Being the nerdling I am, I took a liking to the philosophies and purpose of the Blue Lantern Corps, who wield the power of hope, to which there is no equal.  I wear a Blue Lantern ring on my finger to this day to remind me that no matter how black the night, All Will Be Well.

If I learned anything from this, any advice I can pass on to you, take your strength where you can find it, even if it seems silly to someone else.  Never be ashamed of what makes you strong.

Hope and willpower and luck will only last so long, though, and the reality was that August was going to be my final month in D.C.  There was no avoiding it, the lease was up, the money would either be utterly depleted, or reinvigorated.  I hope for your sake you never have to live through a month, knowing that you stand on the precipice, and your fate is no longer within your hands.

In July, my life, and the lives of my entire family were at a great crossroads.  We waited breathlessly for word on a disability determination.  It is a very strange thing indeed to hope with all your being that the government agrees that things are, in fact, as painful as you think they are.

Two paths lay before me. If the money were to come through, I would be able to move away from DC, preferably to New England, and know I had succeeded in my task.  I would know that I had kept my promise to stand by my father through the dark and the light until we emerged triumphant.  We had no idea if it would happen, but day after day I would look my father in the eyes and tell him “I have no doubt.  We will succeed in this.  We will make it through.  We will survive.”  I believed it, harder than I believed anything.  I would, at times, recite the Blue Lantern oath as a sort of mantra, to keep me focused on giving hope, and holding hope.

Down the other path, the path of least resistance, waited catastrophe.  My father would have been utterly crushed, and I, for all my effort, would have followed suit.  No doubt I would have eventually made my way into the care of my mother’s family.  My father, though, my father had nowhere to go.  No one to turn to.  His family all but abandoned him long ago, and he abandoned them in turn.  If this had indeed been the outcome, I would not be writing a blog post.  I fear I would be writing a eulogy.

I’ve never faced an existential threat that didn’t come from the darkness within me before.  Like many who suffer from mental illness I’ve done horribly stupid things.  Over the past two years I’ve overcome addiction, I’ve found treatment for what turns out to be a supremely rare circadian rhythm disorder that is found most often in the blind.  I’ve made my peace with love lost and chances missed.  After twenty-four years, I have left Washington, D.C.  Reading my own blog (which I do think is a form of intellectual masturbation, but sometimes a man’s gotta do, you know) I remark often about how I “gotta get out of this place”.  Well I did.

The outcome was not ideal, nothing ever truly is.  We were victorious, though.  I was victorious.  I was right.  I remember sitting outside on that fateful September day when this long trial began, thinking I would never survive it.  To grow up is something people do in different ways.  Most go to college, or get jobs.  I fought my way through the dark to save my family.  And I kept my promise.  I never lost hope, I never lost faith, and I stood by my father as he has stood for me time and again.  I fought the world and won.

I do not write this from the forests and rivers of New England, rather the foothills of the Appalachians, four hours southwest of Washington.  It is peaceful here.  There is a tranquility that over time, I hope will heal many of the battle scars that I endured.  I know now that I can resume my life having survived the dark, and emerged the stronger.  Sure, Jerry Falwell’s megachurch and “university” are five miles down the road, and there is a church next to the local dildo shop, but that’s fine, after what I’ve been through I can deal with this.  I am happy to be able to look out on a clear night and see the sky filled with stars.

I’m a different man now, than the one I was when I started this blog.  A more proper man in some ways.  A wiser Sword King, to be sure.  And sitting here, at the dawn of a new day in my life I am reminded.  As Scott Mosier said, and as I echoed in my very first post here at The Chaos Fold, “Not every moment rules.”

But then again, some moments do.

This is one of them.

in fearful day, in raging night, with strong hearts full our souls ignite, when all seems lost in the war of light, look to the stars – for hope burns bright

 

The Epic Legends – Atlanta Day Three

The conclusion of the first installment in my new autobiographical-comedic-prose series “The Epic Legends” nears its conclusion.  I was in Atlanta.  I had won the rights to the bed after a day that was both triumphal and trying.  As a 15-year-old me once remarked, it was a turning point.  I was determined to stick it out, to deal with the mental hardship of the day, and the uncertainty of the next.  My singing was done, my job, that is to say, completed.  Now it was a personal voyage.

And now, Day 3, the final day of the Atlanta Saga.

I awoke to a foreign alarm clock, a loud, nasty thing I knew didn’t belong to me.  Four men packed into a one-bed hotel room was a typical scenario for this type of venture, I had always known.  Still, the musk of three men, and one sasquatch in a single cramped room was not to be underestimated.  Still in the hypnotic haze of my prescriptions I dragged my form into the shower, a shower I quickly discovered was broken.

Broken, and incapable of producing anything but boiling streams of lava.  I believe laws of thermodynamics were broken in that liquid did indeed hit my flesh, and sear it.  In any reasonable universe water of that temperature would never make it two feet without completely turning into steam.

Five minutes in, the situation looked grim.  Fates seemed aligned against me.  I was barely awake and already I was screaming in pain.  Usually that doesn’t happen until a few hours in!  Showering at relativistic-speeds, I threw on my civilian garb and rushed down to the lobby, perhaps to talk to a friend, or maybe even my new lady-friend.  Mostly, though, I was down for another omlette.

They were really good!  Not as good as the watermelon soda, mind you, but damn good nonetheless.  I settled into one of the many chairs in the lobby and ate my breakfast, knowing full-well that the day ahead of me was going to be a rough one.  We were bound for Six Flags Amusement Park.  The final “fun” moment of our great journey, and the location at which the judges of this particular competition would present the various awards.

After an uneventful waking hour, we boarded our buses one more time.  I said my hellos to the girl to my right.  Small talk was made.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Terribly”

“Me too!  God, I wish I had my medicine”

“I wish I didn’t have my medicine…”

We talked about various things during the abnormally-long bus ride.  Small things.  Things you don’t care about, but at the same time things you do care about.  There was a connection, however slight, however threadbare, it was there.

Eventually our four-bus fleet arrived at the gates of Six Flags.  The name almost inspires fear.  At least for me it does, though that could be because of what happened within its gates.  As if it were some unassailable stronghold of a mighty nation, six proud flags adorning the high parapets.  I emerged with my group.  Tony I’d known since childhood.  Colin was a sleazy ladies’ man, but fairly nice to me.  Sergio was a yeti.  When we got inside, almost immediately three of us spotted an old white wooden roller coaster.  Something nearly ancient, but somehow still functional.  I’d been on roller coasters twice before, and both of those occasions were marked by extreme profanity and mortal fear.  I hate roller coasters.  Whenever I go on one I say to the people who drag me on it, with their promises of “Come on, it’ll be fun!” that they are filthy, filthy liars.  I’ve invoked various people’s mothers in unkind ways.  It is never pretty.  Did you know they have microphones on those rollercoasters?  They do.  That’s why I almost got thrown out of Busch Gardens in Williamsburg after screaming “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK” from beginning to end.

They apparently don’t like those screams.  “Woo” is fine.  “Aah!” is fine.  “Fuuuuck!” is not fine.  Protip.

I was not one of the people who saw the roller coaster.  In fact, I pretended not to see it.  I pretended it did not exist.  Nonetheless, I was once more dragged onto one of these fear-engines.  As I neared the entry, hearing the screams and seeing the dazed expressions of the adrenaline-freaks who were ahead of us filled me with trepidation.  At one point I believe I had to be restrained, due to my attempt to flee.

In any case I boarded the coaster.  I was fastened in a seat.  Locks were locked.  My fate was set.  Now, unlike the previous roller coaster I had been on, This one was not modern, the drops were shorter and shallower, however, due to its wooden structure, it was rickety.  You could feel vibrations.  As I accelerated past what I percieved to be the speed of sound, I soon realized a very intelligent design function of roller coasters.  The G-Forces prevent you from projectile-vomiting.  That omlette tried, but my dear friend gravity saved my breakfast, and any number of consequences.

Harrowed by my close-call with high-velocity hurling, I vowed once again, with full fucking fury of “fuck” that I would not go on one of those fucking death machines again.  I would wait outside them while the others tried them.  I would sit, and wait.

Soon, these erstwhile friends found some sort of death-tower that simulates freefall and near-death.  I could not see the appeal in such an invention and had suspicions that much like Fanta, it found its origins in Nazi Germany.  They tried, unsuccessfully to recruit me into their death cult, and ride this contraption.  I waited outside.  And I waited.  And I waited more.  I saw group after group take the ride, and group after group emerge.  I did not, however, see my friends emerge.  There was no blood evident at the scene so I came to another conclusion.  The proper conclusion.

I had been ditched!  And I was out of money!  With three hours left to kill!  And possibly three people, I wasn’t really sure, but I was pissed off!  I walked sheepishly around this foreign amusement park, statues of superheroes regarded me with disdain.  I asked anyone that I recognized whether they’d seen my cohorts.  Some of them had, and would point me in a direction where I would inevitably find nothing.  Time passed.

My anger turned to regret.  I suddenly thought there wasn’t anything to conquer here, no metaphorical mountain, no mental barriers to be shattered.  I felt like an idiot.  Then I came upon a couple of girls from our choral group.  They recognized me and allowed me to travel along with them.  I regaled them with stories not unlike this one, and they enjoyed them.  Suddenly my regret wasn’t as profound.  I was performing, as it were.  Acting the part of a contented youth.  I was far from it, but for a while it didn’t seem that out of reach.

Luckily as they had no interest in roller coasters or Nazi death machines, we were able to walk around in peace and do, well, not much of anything.  Just enough to pass the time.  Mostly I told stories and they’d listen, interject.  I figured out I was pretty good at this whole storytelling thing.  I had fun.  I was lonely, too.  Of course as every young man of 15 who’s never had any sort of romantic connection with their preferred partner will tell you, its a really shitty feeling.  There are worse, I’d learn, but again, that’s a story for another day.

The hour of the assembly came.  We made our way to the picnic area where the array of competing choirs would soon arrange for the ceremony.  There was food, thankfully.  Less thankfully the food was terrible, hot dogs and baked beans, possibly two of my least-favorite dishes in all of existence.  The lack of watermelon soda was noticeable, as it would be at every single meal to follow.  My god that shit was good.

The treacherous Colin returned with Tony and Cousin It, apologizing for missing me.  I could tell Colin was bullshitting me.  It was the end of my friendship with him.  Tony apologized, Tony’s a good man.  Tony’s good people.  I talked with a number of people.  Casually, to one I mentioned my loneliness as they prattled on about their girlfriend or whoever it was.  No good advice was given.  No good advice really can be given, the whole idea is so foreign that you’ll never really get it until you get it by nature.  I ate the cheap, crappy food and awaited the ceremony.

We won a couple awards.  Our women’s choir won top prize in their category, the men’s choir came in third.  The mixed chorus was also third.  I had no personal stake in it anyway, and was honestly glad to see it over.  It meant I had only one last trial to endure.  The journey home.  I made sure to get my medication this time.  One night of neurotic hell was more than enough for me to learn that lesson.

We had to walk an unreasonably long distance to get to our buses, buses that decided to park about a mile and a half away, at the farthest reaches of the farthest possible parking lot, which stood at the farthest end of the park.  Climbing over the fence in the picnic area would have been a quicker journey.

Still, I was oddly contented.  Maybe I knew what would happen next.  Maybe I was just too tired to feel like crap.  In any case we boarded the bus and another movie I hate started to play, this time it was “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  Luckily for me, the pretty young lady in the seat next to me who I’d been flirting with was not much of a fan either, and we proceeded to ruin the film for the objects of our mutual antipathy, Colin and his squeeze in the seats behind us.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 style.

After the movie ended, mercifully, they’d run out of drivel to show us, so it was lights out.  Then something kind of spectacular happened.  I sheepishly turned to the girl next to me, said “goodnight” and put my head against the window and the small pillow I’d brought with me.  It was hard to sleep, the rumbling of the engine pulsed through my skull like a jackhammer, still, not to mention the noise.  All of a sudden I heard her whisper to me.

“Hey, do you mind if I lean on you to get some sleep?”

“No!  No of course not…”

And so she did.  Not five minutes after that I felt a small kiss on my cheek.  She wrapped her arms around me and went to sleep.  And so did I.  We stayed that way the entire night.  And suddenly all that doubt, all that pessimism and loneliness and fear just drifted off.  I’d won.  The mountain was climbed, the barrier broken.

It was the best night’s sleep I ever had.

The Epic Legends – Atlanta Day Two

Atlanta, Georgia.  There are two great things I can say about the place.  The first is that it was once razed.  The second is that it is home to the most delicious soda I have ever tasted.  It might as well have been fucking Ambrosia.  On day two of my great voyage, I learned many things.  I learned to overcome my fear of recently-released prisoners who were hard-up for cash.  Kind of.  I learned how to piss off an entire bus full of people.

Mostly, I learned that almost everything you do will suck in some way.

These stories are not for the faint of heart.  They depict graphical things graphically.  They involve less-than-flattering portrayals of the author in his younger days.  There are some points at which many people would be offended.  In fact, if many people aren’t offended, I am not doing my job right.  The Atlanta Saga, as I have come to call it, was a series of events that shook me to my core, and changed the course of my life, subtly, but I would not be who I am without it.  So now, without further ado, on with the story.
Day two:  The first thing I remember is hurrying downstairs to the lobby, and enjoying what very well might have been the best free omlette I’d ever had, it contained expertly-cooked sausage, bacon, and cheese.  It was so good, that I forgot I hated eggs themselves.  The warm embrace of the prescription medications I was then dependant upon was upon me, and I was having a much better day, especially when compared to the horrors of day one.  Whereas the first day was a lesson in anger, the second day was a lesson in humility.

For a good while I talked with my few acquaintances in the hotel, I didn’t have many.  Most of the people were older than I or too irritating to endear myself to.  While the setting was strange, the social model was still that of Woodson High School.  That is to say, the rich and beautiful rule everything, while people like me attend class in the back of the school and ride the short bus.  That, however, is a story for another time.

I found myself starting to think that the trip might not be as much of a disaster as I’d thought it would be.  At the very least, my skin was not turning green, and nothing was being smashed as a result.  Soon, however, the real business of the day would unfold.  Competition!  I was here to sing, after all, and it is a little known fact that my gorgeous tenor is responsible for a full two out of my three total relationships, so I was good at it.  I still am, though that voice is now manipulated into a pop-rock hybrid of Anthony Kiedis and Jonathan Coulton.  Attracts more women than old British naval drinking tunes, though those are still fun.

We boarded our dread-chariots once more, leaving Atlanta altogether, to go to, oddly enough a suburban high school much like my own.  A deep-south doppelganger that made me wonder why we couldn’t have just mailed these fuckers a tape.  We were scheduled to perform last, and as it is my nature to suspect the worst in all things, I had come prepared.

My tuxedo hid the equivalent of a small game store, laden with various people’s GBAs and the new SP variants, I functioned as an entertainment mule.  Why?  Because, my friends, my tuxedo was the largest.  I was 6′ even and roughly 270 lbs in those days.  While I stil retain the title of “hefty motherfucker” I’ve managed to shrink that to a relatively svelte 200.  My gargantuan pockets were lined not with silk, and carried not handkerchiefs, but games!  As I passed out my hoard to the eager waiting masses, disaster struck.

My tuxedo jacket decided it was no longer pleased with my physique and the fact that I had jammed it with no fewer than three handheld gaming systems, and decided to send two buttons flying violently from my gut into a pretty young lady’s face and eye.

Now, the staff was prepared for such (legitimate) wardrobe malfunctions, so I was not worried about looking like a sloppy bum on stage.  Well, no more than usual, but still.  What I was worried about was that this extremely attractive girl who I’d known since we were the innocent ages of seven was incapable of opening her right eye, and about to reveal that she was not only pissed off, but capable of Hulk-tendencies herself.

My friends, not since the summer of 1994 had my groin felt such pain.

As i lay slumped against a Snapple machine, ice-pack pressed firmly against my manberries, a grown woman I did not recognize approached me with a pitying look in her eyes.  She reached inside my jacket and extracted the spare buttons, and proceeded to repair my vestments, but not my pride, or my testicles.  The two are good friends and would be suffering for some time.  On the upside, it did help me reach the high notes during my solo.  Not all was disastrous.

Our performance was solid.  As solid as it could be considering one of the sopranos fainted under the blistering heat of the stage lights, which I for one believe should be used by the government as riot control devices.  My solo went off without a sour note, I was pleased with my performance.  We sang heartily and with good humor, dare I say we knocked those British naval drinking tunes out of the metaphorical park.

The advantage of performing last is you don’t have to wait up forever to get back on your buses and travel to whatever hellhole is next on your agenda.  For us, it was a twofold stop.  Constructed for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, the Coca-Cola Pavillion and the Atlanta Underground.  The Pavillion speaks for itself.  It is a monument to Coca-Cola, in all forms.  We went on a guided tour, which was unremarkable and boring, that is until we reached the fountains of the gods, as I have come to call them.  There were two rooms, wherein one could sample an entire world of Coca-Cola products.  There were of course the local varieties, the traditional concoctions, these were all in great supply, pouring from mighty apparatuses adorning the walls and ceilings.  It truly was quite a spectacle.  However, the second room introduced me to a flavor so tremendous in its power I have a difficult time believing it has not been marketed in the United States.

Watermelon Soda.

Watermelon soda from China, no less!  This was a variety of Fanta (which, as they declined to point out, is a relic of the Third Reich, that Coca-Cola devoured after the war) that was manufactured and distributed in China, as the faucet stated.  It was, simply put, the greatest beverage I have ever sampled.  I drank as much as I could.  Seriously, I filled myself to bursting.  Thankfully I was in civilian clothes once more, and these had no potential for rupture.  I’m reasonably certain they would have.

While I was quite reluctant to leave the soda behind, the soda that I have been searching five long years for, all in vain, I had to.  We had a schedule to keep, and I was not going to be the one to fuck it up.  I marched across a fairly tranquil square, with a fountain in the middle to the Atlanta Underground.  Now, if you haven’t been, I suggest you don’t go.  The place is a shithole.  A sort of underground mall, only lacking anything even slightly interesting.  There is food.  Indeed there is a Hooters, which is where most of the people on the trip with me promptly disappeared to.  I soon realized the folly of my soda-consumption, though, when I was hit with a sudden and uncontrollable need to urinate.  I saw a restroom at the far end, which I walked into.  Walked, however, might be too kind a word considering the state of this lavatory.  I waded, into the two-inch deep muck of human filth that covered the ground.  Desparate as I was, I was still not about to proceed further into this piss-swamp than I had.

Has anyone here seen Trainspotting?  There is a scene entitled simply, “The Worst Toilet in Scotland”.  Remember that scene?  I bet you wish you didn’t.  This is the scenario I was facing, only it was not merely a toilet, but a whole 8’x12′ restroom.  I have no idea whether the situation there has since been rectified (ouch, bad choice of words) but I will never, ever return.

What happened next can best be decribed as one of the most surreal moments of my life.  A large black man near the doorway looked at me, standing dumbstruck.  He knew my thoughts.  He said in an unassuming voice, “You gotta take a shit?”  I turned sheepishly and nodded.  He told me to follow him.  Now, keep in mind that while Washington DC, and indeed my portion of the suburbs has its share of black men, many of whom I am friends with, I am not in Washington DC.  I was suddenly acutely aware of my whiteness, and the fact that this man was a giant, And the Atlanta Underground was indeed underground, and a very dark place even in the brightest of daylight.

I followed a cautious eight feet behind, roughly the length of his arm, I’d say, as he showed me to the clean restroom.  Relief.  Relief at last.  I hurried into the one available stall and proceeded to urinate with a force that would put industrial machinery to shame.  I may have blasted a hole clean through the porcelain of the bowl.  Before I was finished however, I saw something I’d never seen before.   A familiar face looked down at me from the neighboring stall.  The Giant.  He proceeded to explain to me, the very definition of captive audience, that he had recently been released from prison and he didn’t have much money.  Gulp.  He also asked if I could spare some.  I couldn’t.  Double gulp.  Of course I didn’t say that because this man could take my skull between his thumb and forefinger and simply twist it off my body.  Instead I told him to wait as I finished up, and to please stop watching me piss.

I took my sweet-fucking-time as I was suddenly unsure whether or not my last moments would be spent Elvis-style, on the toilet.  When i finally decided to give him five of my remaining dollars, I emerged and handed him the money, told him it really was all I could spare, and hurried past his titanic form and out the door.  I spotted among the stalls of cheap trinkets and ridiculous clothing one that carried several samurai swords.  No doubt they were of poor quality, but nevertheless I decided to park myself near them.  I went to the Dairy Queen directly across from it and bought a Blizzard.  I was the most paranoid person on the planet, and must’ve looked like some kind of fiend.  In fact, I was so paranoid, and so afraid to leave my position of strength near the weapons, that I lost track of time entirely.

I was half an hour late for my bus.  Fearing the worst I chucked the Blizzard and bolted for the entrance, hoping to find the bus where I left it.  What I ran into, however, was a search party.  Four individuals, selected because of all the people on the bus they were the least likely to murder me for making them wait half an hour in the sweltering Atlanta heat, were sent to scour the underground for me or my remains.

I ran into them, and explained the situation.  I recounted how I was on the run from a giant, and that it was in my fear that I had stayed as long as I had.  This may have appeased them but it did not appease the other thirty people on the bus, driver included, who all wanted to rip me limb from limb.

It was in this moment that I was able to put into proper order my capacity for risk assessment.  It is one thing to be potentially kidnapped/raped/slaughtered by a total stranger who is half the size of God.  However it is far less dangerous than pissing off a bus full of people, one of whom has already delivered a crushing blow to your genitalia in the span of this day.

My place as the most awkward motherfucker in the history of school trips was secured.

Soon we arrived, late, at a cafeteria-type restaurant.  The name escapes me, mostly because the food was terrible and I was still fearing for my life, or at the very least the structural integrity of my reproductive organs.  I engaged in some oddly satisfying conversation with one of the nearby girls on the bus who Colin the Traitor did not violate on the journey down.  Something strange happened.  I was talking, I was being sheepish and self-deprecating in regards to the day’s events, but she was laughing.  Not at me, but with me, as the cliche goes.  She thought I was funny.  She was hot!  She thought I was funny!  I promptly made arrangements with the girl she sat next to to swap seats, so that she and Colin could tongue each other some more, but more importantly that I could utilize my newfound talent of flirting with attractive young women.

In not too much time,  we returned to the hotel, where catastrophe struck again.  The announcement came that the hotel had opened their pool.

Now, for obvious reasons I did not go to the pool.  For one, I cannot, and have never been able to swim.  Also, I weighed 270 lbs and my skin tone rests somewhere between albino and irish on the Whiteymeter.  I didn’t want to blind anyone.  Instead I sat in the lobby, reading a book (Scott Adams’ God’s Debris if you were wondering) and drinking tea.  I actually looked fairly sophisticated.  I looked, dare I say, normal.

And then.

Out of nowhere.

Or rather, out of the pool, come those who did decide to swim.  A parade of young, beautiful women in bikinis, and muscled Adonises.  A display of youthful sexuality that demolished me.  One, my recently-recouperated penis wanted to see what all the fuss was about and decided to pop up and take in the scenery, giving me my second school-trip record, of most embarassing hard-on.  Two, I was suddenly acutely aware of how unattractive I was in all ways but one, and how oh-my-god-stunningly attractive my classmates were.  I was in the bottom one percent, here.  I realized why I’d never had a girlfriend.  I realized many things.  One of them was that apparently scantily clad women are allowed to sit on the laps of scantily clad men in the lobby of a public hotel, dripping wet, in rather expensive looking chairs, without any objection, other than the thousands of ones my mind was screaming at them.

To be fair, my mind’s objections weren’t specific to upholstery, they were mainly objections that none of them saw fit to sit on my lap, though in retrospect that was probably a very good thing, considering the tent I was pitching.

I briefly considered breaking out one of the calling cards I’d been given to contact my father and call for rescue.  I wanted to bail.  I wanted to wash my hands of all this nonsense and just leave.  Go home, where everything was safe.  After all, I’d done my job.  I’d sang perfectly.  There wasn’t any reason for me to stay the final day.  Ultimately though a voice I’d come to know far more intimately in the coming years would tell me to stay.  It was myself, my hidden courage.  At some level I knew this was something I had to face.  This trip embodied every social fear and anxiety that I’d ever accumulated, and I was going to conquer it.  In any case I would not run from it.  I would not be conquered by this city, or these people, or myself.  So I went upstairs, to the room I had signed up for.  I faced Sergio, also known as Bigfoot, and his lustrous coat of thick black hair.  I unpacked my bags.

Fate was with me that night.  I won the coin toss for the one bed in our room.  I had another peaceful night of sleep.  Waking up the next day restored a bit of pride, a bit of faith, and a bit of feeling in my ice-numbed scrotum.  The itinerary for this day was simple.  There was only one stop.  Six Flags Amusement Park.  Then, the long journey back home.

To be continued.

The Epic Legends – Atlanta Day One

I’d like to introduce a new feature here at the Chaos Fold, since I’ve been told I’m a good storyteller, and I’ve got some good stories to tell, a series of autobiographical short stories, some funny, some sad, some funny and sad, some odd, some uncanny.  Together these are the stories that make me who I am, and bring me to where I stand today.  These are the Epic Legends.

I’d like to start with a story that goes back to the early summer of 2003.

In 2002 something of a calamity struck my life.  Everything was shaken up, including my scholastic situation.  I was forced to change from one school to another, and I was generally a wreck.  If you want a good look at our national psyche in the year 2002, one need look no further than where I was.  I’ve always been an empath, perhaps it was just a reaction to the tumult of the times, that in turn brought that tumult to my own life.  In 2003, though, at the time of this story, I was in a better place.  I was looking up, not down, and I was singing.

Yes, singing.  Your humble host was once a choir boy.  And I was good.  On a night in early May, I returned to my high school in Fairfax, Virginia to board a charter bus, and travel through the night to Atlanta, Georgia, where I would sing in competition along with a cadre of others.

I was granted a stipend of cash by my family for what would be my first voyage beyond the borders of my state to pay for food, drinks, whatever the situation called for.  Naturally, upon arrival at my high school, I walked directly across the street to a strip mall and bought Pokemon Ruby for $40, along with a friend who bought Pokemon  Sapphire.  The idea was to mitigate the boredom of the impending journey by catching them all, or at least as many as we could.  We’d picked up the newly-released Game Boy Advance SPs days earlier, so we were ready to roll.

And roll, we did!  The buses started their voyage around 10 PM.  I learned quickly that while the three seats at the back of the bus may seem appealing, it is in fact the worst possible decision I made.

The bus rumbles down I-95 as terrible PG-13 movies are played before us on the screens.  Legally Blonde 2 is first on the docket.  I break several laws of nature in the process of pulling out my gameboy faster than anyone has ever done before.  I begin playing my newly-purchased game, though the particulars of it have long since been lost to the fog of time.  What shines brightly, though, is the broken pact between my erstwhile compatriot and I!  Not an hour into the ride, all pretense of gaming our way through the boredom is gone, as the third musketeer, a longtime friend of mine by the name of Tony, and to this day the only man I’ve known to make good on his childhood dreams, was ousted from the third seat in favor of an asian girl whose name has also long since faded in my memory.  What I do remember, is Colin, better known to me as Judas (fitting my messiah complex), making out with this girl in the back of the bus, as I sat uncomfortably against the window, trying to ignore the foul treachery going on two feet to my right.

She did not stay forever, though.  In time, other women came to that seat, performing similar acts!  There was no pretense of monogamy in that wretched quadrant of the bus.  It became too much to bear, as 12 became 1, and 1 became 2, and I was soon forced to surrender my seat to the usurper!  Colin and the final girl of the night decided that they wanted to sleep up against the side of the bus, rather than the wall of the bathroom, so I begrudgingly gave up my seat to them, as they, and everyone else drifted silently off to sleep.

There would be no sleep for me, that night, however.  For I was in the clutch of Geodon, the most vile medication I have ever been prescribed.  Geodon, classified as an atypical antipsychotic, was being used to treat a condition I did not have, and in doing so, produced the following effects:

One:  When I took Geodon, it would be impossible to wake up the next day.

Two: When I did not take Geodon, it would be impossible to sleep that night.

Three: If I did not sleep, the cycle of sleep deprivation would accelerate eightfold, leaving me as exhausted as I would be after a week of wakefulness in a mere 24 hours.  Hallucinations are included.  Famously, I once saw  my left man-boob open up and spew forth egg yolks, while a radio booth I was looking at filled up with milk.

The bus was silent, and in my medically-induced madness, I had time to brood.  Brood, I did.  I lamented silently the perpetual lack of female companionship in my life.  I thought back to 2002, and I did weep.  It was the longest night of my life.

Sometime around 5 AM, the buses came to a stop in Buttfuck, South Carolina, parked squarely between a Waffle House and a Burger King, on what could only be described as an unpaved highway.  It was the furthest south I had ever been.  The fact of that alone made me uncomfortable.  I chose to spend my breakfast hour debating whether or not to throttle a parental chaperone for refusing to give me my medication, and pacing back and forth on a patch of grass, shooting contemptuous looks at various people i may or may not have known.

Time didn’t make much sense.  We couldn’t have been stopped for long, but it seemed like an eternity, walking that ground in the grey mist of dawn.  When we got back on the bus, most returned to sleep.  I was still incapable.

I was long past the point of anger or spite, all I wanted now was sleep.  Instinct seized control.  Instinct was no match for devil Geodon.  I remained awake the entire night, as we emerged in the bright Georgia sun, and made the first stop on our itinerary: Stone Mountain.  The Confederate Mt. Rushmore.  A great uncle of mine was in fact enshrined upon its face.  I wanted sleep.  Initially I set out with the people I had boarded the bus with, so that perhaps I could glean some enjoyment from this hellhole.  My decision earlier to brood, rather than eat, had returned to haunt me, though.  The only eatery I could find was something of a rustic fast-food joint, a Civil War-era McDonalds.  I bought a ham sandwich.

The sandwich is another thing i remember vividly, mostly that it was terrible, and it cost ten goddamn dollars.  Not Confederate dollars, mind you, real, US Dollars.  Greenbacks.  The bread was dry and stale, the ham was worse than what I could get at any supermarket, and the sandwich was so poorly constructed that where a tomato should be, there was instead a grainy paste of what once may have been a tomato.  I swallowed my pride and ate the food, my cash reserves down to under thirty dollars.  When I emerged, much to my surprise, the people who said they would wait for me, were not waiting.  I searched in vain for what seemed like another eternity, the sun lighting everything up a little too brightly.  Reality didn’t feel real.  I was moving into the final stage.  I needed sleep, I needed it soon, or someone may get hurt.

I fled, returning to the bus and lying down on the bare concrete in the shade, curling up and trying to sleep, even as the asphalt seared me through my shirt.  It was better than nothing.  At least I enjoyed a time of silence, without the running of motors or the prattle of my fellow students.  Sometime later the driver returned, and mercifully let me into the bus where I took my seat and got roughly ten minutes of actual, real sleep.  Total incoherent madness would be postponed for a time.

Soon enough, though, the rest of the passengers would return and I would be sleepless once more, until we reached the Embassy Suites in Atlanta.  When we arrived, I was on my last legs, and the chaperones decided to do the worst thing they could possibly do: Wait.  We waited.  We waited for over half an hour in the driveway of the hotel before we could disembark.  When the adults finally allowed us off, they allowed us off in a kludgy, bureaucratic manner that could only have been concieved in the shadow of the Madness Spire, that is to say the Nation’s Capital.

Baggage Captains.

Baggage captains were selected at random to remove the bags and sort them, person by person.  We would then leave and claim our bags once they were organized… in alphabetical order.  As you might glean from the last name adorning my lovely logo, I was the last person to be allowed off the bus.

Was I a bad person in a former life?  Did I kick babies or something, because my definition of Purgatory is sitting in an unairconditioned bus, in the middle of Atlanta, in the summer, while sleep-deprived to the point of seeing everything with a slightly orange tint.

Once I emerged, though, bags in hand, I found another obstacle between me and a good sleep.  The crowd.  The bureaucrats who figured it would be a great idea to let people grab their bags in alphabetical order somehow forgot to mention that these people should also go up to their rooms in the same order, so instead of being greeted with an empty lobby and a welcoming elevator to the fourth-floor suite I would share with several cretins, including one walking human carpet named Sergio, I walked into a mobscene of students clamoring for spots in elevators.

When I did find my way into one of the elevators, I suddenly realized the delay was not made of a systemic failure, but rather a small group of jackasses, who were holding the elevator doors closed with their hands, laughing, and preventing me from exiting.

Shit got real.

Every ounce of strength I had in me came rushing back, adrenaline filled my body, and my high school nickname of “The Hulk” was earned.  I dropped my bags, pried the doors open, Tackled the fucker holding them closed, reached back in, grabbed my bags, and swung them wildly as one would bludgeoning weapons, nearly knocking the three people responsible off a balcony.  Shortly before any crimes were truly comitted, I dropped my bags, sent them fleeing down the stairs, then took my bags quietly to my room, and emerged.

Nonchalantly walking down to the ground floor I told security of the cause of the commotion, as well as the choral director.  He finally saw that there would be merit in giving me my medicine and allowing me to sleep.  A chaperone was forced to surrender their room to me, I was given the ability to order room service, for actual food, and a full-size bed in which to sleep.

Blissfully I slept through the rest of that day (and night’s) events, waking right on cue the next morning.  Fresh-faced and ready to perform.

Though the journey down was complete, the story was just beginning.

To Be Continued…