Chrestomathy
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The Syndicate
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 Anticlimax   
 Author:  matt
 Dated:  Wednesday, October 01 2003 @ 05:04 AM PDT
 Viewed:  1143 times  
LifeI was thinking about it tonight, and I realized that somewhere along the line, my life got incredibly boring. I haven't had a completely random thing happen to me in a long time. It's kind of odd.

I guess to really appreciate what I'm talking about, it's probably going to require a history lesson.

It's worth pointing out that some of this may sound like I'm trying to evoke sympathy, but I'm not. I recognize that almost all of the major events that were bad happen to every family at one point or another, so no cookie for me.

It's also worth pointing out that this is a very long post, and may contain more than you wanted to know about me.

I don't remember much of my life. A staggering percentage of my formative years have ducked behind the proverbial mists of time (or is it the fog of war?), leaving me with the ability only to recall images and impressions if I think really hard about a particular time or place. From what I understand, this isn't normal and typically has something to do with suppressed memories, but I'm not sure if that's the case... I can't remember. What information I have of these years, beyond flashes of imagery, is based on what I've been told.

In the first seven and a half years of my life, my family moved seven times among six addresses in three states. Those moves were a product of my father's fairly rapid ascension through the ranks of the moving and storage industry. From what I can tell, he kept getting career advancement by lateral moves among some of the major moving companies (Atlas, Bekins, Global, Mayflower) after leaving the family moving business. Laterally moving involved literally moving, so we did.

By the time second grade came about, we had settled down a bit. My dad had taken a regional sales job at one of the companies, so as long as we were somewhere in his region (the entire Northeast), it didn't matter where we lived. My mother at this point was pretty well fed up with being away from our extended family, so we moved back to the house in Bourne that we had lived in when I started kindergarden.

My second grade teacher was a really nice guy. He had a beard (which I remember being strange for the time and place), he did John Denver sing-alongs in class, and instead of gold stars for doing something good, he'd have you pick a stamp at random from an absolutely massive box that I can only assume was the duplicates from his stamp collection. I vaguely remember learning some writing and the concept of greater than / less than via a poster of a monster (that was not altogether dissimilar to Pac-Man) that said, "I eat big numbers!" The only other things I remember from that year were being sent home in a taxi because I was sick or something and nobody was around to pick me up, and being dragged literally by the ear by my usually nice teacher the entire length of the school to the library where my mother was volunteering that day. I have absolutely no recollection of what I said or did that turned an apparent ex-hippie pacifist into the elementary school equivalent of a jack-booted warmonger, but lets just say that it's a talent that I would retain for the rest of my life.

My third grade class was almost entirely unmemorable. I remember there being a fairly traumatic experience with valentine's day, but what it was I can't recall. I also remember hiding Go-Bots in my desk during class. I think it was also in this grade that I first figured out how to chug liquids, setting a class record by drinking half-pints of milk in one gulp. Again, a talent I retained.

Fourth grade is when I started becoming aware of history. Specifically, I was becoming aware of the history between some of the teachers in this particular school system and my siblings. Perhaps coincidentally, it was about this time (give or take a year or two) that the entire dynamic among myself and my siblings changed. My mother had, at some point, switched from doing day shifts (7-3) to doing afternoon shifts (3-11). This meant that when the three of us got home from school, it was just the three of us until one of my parents got home. The natural arrangement that came about was that my brother, four and a half years older than me, could pretty much do whatever he wanted, but my sister who was six years older than me was now responsible for babysitting. On the surface, you'd think that my brother got the good end of that deal, but it inevitably (hindsight being 20/20) led to feelings of exclusion, etc. and from then until they had both moved out, it was my sister defending me against my brother. Ironically, the problems I was having in fourth grade were because of my sister having had the teacher, not my brother.

Fourth grade was also the first time I ran into an academic problem. It seems I am utterly unable to memorize multiplication tables. It's one of those strange things where I just was never able to line up the synapses correctly. To this day, if I have to do multiplication in my head, I'll start with a ballpark value that I do remember (usually involving 5 as one of the factors) and add and subtract values until I get to the answer.

Ok, that description sucked, so I'll give you an example. Say somebody asks me what 7 x 8 is. After a second or so, I'll be able to tell them that it's 56, but only after I take 5 x 8, which I do remember is 40, and add 2 x 8, which I can remember as well (though if I couldn't I would deduce it by addition), add the two together, and voila! See, I completely understand the underlying logic behind the math, I just can't remember the stuff I was supposed to memorize in the fourth grade.

With fifth grade came a new school, and a much better recollection of events in the here and now. That fall was, as far as I know, my first ScallopFest, a local tradition that continues to this day that consists of a buncha thousand people sitting under a big tent in the towns largest park (and the only one with a gazebo) eating fried scallops. Later that same fall, my dad brought me to a benefit dinner, where the guest of honor was none other than Bobby Orr. This being my second season of hockey, it was a very exciting thing, especially when, as we're waiting in line to get our tickets, this big man comes up to me and says, "You must be Matt." Apparently, I was the only kid that was going to be there, so he knew my name before I even realized who he was. I miss the days when even the best professional athletes weren't money grubbing tools... but I digress.

That January, Challenger blew up, which was the first in what is becoming a disturbingly long line of "I remember exactly where I was" moments in my life that include two shuttle explosions, two terrorist acts against the world trade center, two wars beginning on orders from two guys named George Bush. Weird, eh? There are, of course, others, but they mainly have to do with deaths and births in the family.

Three or four months after Challenger, I spent my first week at Space Camp. Yes, Space Camp. I actually am a geek, I don't just play one on TV. In total, I went to Space Camp (in one form or another) six times. To this day, when I'm agitated (or drunk) and talking loudly I will sometimes slip into a southern drawl. I can't prove the two things are related, but that was my only time in the south until a day trip to Atlanta my senior year of high school.

My memories of sixth grade are pretty vague, except that that spring I clearly remember falling in love for the first time while I was down in Alabama and making out for the first time on the flight home, much to the horror and amusement of the nearby passengers. To this day, if I'm going to be flying somewhere and I have the time to put it together, I always bring a walkman or, more recently, an MP3 player that has Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" somewhere on it, usually near the beginning. If you know the lyrics of that song, that fact and the reason for its association should be particularly amusing.

Seventh grade is when things at home started to really go to hell. Things are all warped together, weird, and vague in my mind, but suffice it to say that over the next two years the police became involved in my life, my brother dropped out of high school, my sister moved to Florida, and my parents got separated. Years later, when I was a senior in high school, I had a project for a psychology class where I had to go and interview people that had known me growing up. In the course of this research, I found out that two of my eighth grade teachers had thought that I was a drug addict but hadn't been able to do anything about it because they never found any evidence beyond the erratic behavior that had started their suspicion in the first place.

By the time eighth grade was coming to an end, and this is one of the only things that I remember clearly, I had made a concious decision that I was going to entirely change my own life. Fortunately, and rather obviously (they weren't stupid or insane), my parents were in complete agreement on that point, and in no time I was enrolled in an all boys Jesuit high school sixty miles away from home.

Before I started there though, I had a little vacation planned.

To this day, I don't know how we pulled it off. I remember writing applications for scholarships, talking to a local state congressman, hitting up local businesses, soliciting recommendations, and all kinds of other stuff that a kid in my situation had no right to be doing. I think my mother even had the balls to hit up the place that I was doing some community service hours at for their support. Somehow I managed to get accepted into an exchange program for a month over the summer, and my parents somehow managed to get it paid for.

This particular program, which was run by the People to People Foundation who are (or were) located in the Dwight D. Eisenhower building in Spokane, Washington (that was all from memory), was not a student exchange, but rather a cultural exchange. Hence the summer bit. It was also not to a normal country like France, Spain or Mexico. Three countries sent high school kids to spend two weeks at a university in the small town of Shushenskoye, where we would engage in friendly competition of physics and engineering problems. Shushenskoye is the village to which Vladimir Lenin was exiled until 1900. It's in Siberia.

That trip is worthy of a travelogue of its own, so I'll just give the bullet points. I spent just under a month abroad, starting with a week and a half in Moscow, then on to Shushenskoye, where we spent two weeks. On the way back we stopped in what was then Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and took a train to Helsinki, where we reveled for a night in much needed western debauchary. When I got home (after a couple of missteps) I had lost fifteen pounds. I was thirteen years old.

High school was difficult for me at the beginning. The first problem was the dress code. I couldn't wear anything I owned, so school shopping that year meant an entire new wardrobe. The second problem was that I had abandoned all of my old friends as part of a slash and burn campaign to change the direction of my life, and I didn't exactly fit in with the city kids, having grown up in what can be generously described as a resort town in the middle of fucking nowhere. Oh yeah, and my parents are well on their way to a divorce. Not exactly a fun freshman year.

Sophmore year wasn't much better. I had friends at school now, but everything else was going down hill. The pressure, both internal and external, to be dating somebody was unbelievable, and here I am in an all boys school and going home every night to a neighborhood that I have forsaken. On top of that, the divorce was looming close. After school activities were painful at best because I had a ride to catch at 6:00 every day. My grades started to slip.

I had what I can only describe as a miniature nervous breakdown. There I was, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, face covered in tears, rocking back and forth like an asylum patient, and I had what I guess was purely an emotional epiphany because I still can't really put it into words properly. It basically amounted to the realization that the last little scrap of sanity that I was clinging to at the time was mine. Nobody could have it. Nobody could take it away.

For a long time, that was my foundation. Everything else could fall apart, but as long as I kept that part of me intact, it would all work out. As it turns out, I was right. Everything pretty much did fall apart. I ended up moving to one set of grandparents' house with my dad for a while, then my other grandfather had a stroke, so I moved into their house so I could keep my grandmother company. After he died, I kept living there until I went to college.

Somehow, through all that crap, my grades improved, I formed amazing friendships that have lasted to this day and will continue to last for the forseeable future, and I got into a decent college on a full scholarship. Chalk up a point for little scraps of sanity.

Of course, then there was college.

I was riding pretty high when I got to Northeastern. I was enrolled as a physics major, and by the second day of orientation I had talked my advisor into letting me skip two required physics classes and two or three required maths. At that rate, I'd be spending my senior year either taking graduate level classes or fluff classes, I'd play it by ear.

All actions have consequences. I have managed to trace a lot of the turns my life has taken to this one conversation between an egotistical 17 year old and an overloaded physics professor. Just after midterms, my physics professor (the one teaching the class, not my advisor) sat me down in his office and started off by saying that being a professional scientist (which, admittedly he was. I had the rare privilege of getting an actual researcher for my first ever college physics class) takes discipline and hard work. It was at about this point that I started feeling the rage bubbling up, because this would be the class that had me doing five or six hours of homework six nights a week (the class only met three times a week), and scratching my head the entire time.

The problem was that I was in over my head. Way over my head. In order to do my physics homework, I had to teach myself the math involved. Needless to say, this was not doing good things for my grades in that class, since I didn't know whether I was learning the math correctly until after I got back the results of my physics sets, figured out where my errors were, and decided whether they were physics or math errors. It's called doing things the hard way.

By the time the second semester rolled around, I had transfered my major to theatre production, and spent the next two years trying to get my grade point average back up. The problem with this being that as you add more and more grades to your record, it gets harder and harder for each one to have large effects on the average. Eventually, I lost my scholarship and started working in IT at a dot com. Oh yeah, somewhere in there I taught myself how to fix computers.

After a couple of months working an hourly rate in IT, I had made myself obsolete. The servers didn't crash anymore. That's about when I taught myself how to write software. Again, doing things the hard way.

Since then I've had a few different jobs, always either IT or programming related, often both. I've lived in a few different apartments in and around Boston. I've gone on a couple of road trips. I've been to a few weddings, funerals and births. The world goes around, children are born, and people die. Rinse, repeat, wipe hands on pants, as they say.

Granted, my life is not as altogether boring as I may have led you to believe at the beginning, but comparatively it's been as dry as anyone else's life in the past few years, and I'm starting to wonder if there is another shoe, or if both of mine have dropped already, and there are no more surprises in the world.



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