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I looked in the mirror and saw an adult. I blinked and it was gone. It was a weird moment.

I’m not in a habit of playing self identity peek-a-boo so the whole event took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure whether I should celebrate my oncoming maturity or lament my passing immaturity. 

Not able to reach a conclusion, I just shaved. Badly at that. I never shave well. I shave so I don’t have a beard, not to be clean shaven. I like to think this gives me a rugged look that drives the girls wild, but it really just looks patchy. 

While shaving, I stared myself down in case my adult self decided to come out again. He didn’t. I put the razor down and gave myself a hard look that I hoped the adult in me would find penetrating. He didn’t.

It reminded me of a moment in my high school academic decathlon team. We were all getting lectured about how to behave in public and how the grown ups like Mr. Finley would be carefully watching us. Mr. Finley, a balding middle aged man, cried out “a grown up? Say it ain’t so!” The lecturer, amused, responded “I’m afraid it’s far too late for you, Mr. Finley.” 

That’s how I looked at myself then. “I’m afraid it’s far too late for you, Mr. Campbell.” Even calling myself Mr. Campbell was weird. But, then again, not that weird. I had heard it in enough doctor’s visits and telemarketer calls that I had stopped being thrown by the term and started responding to it like the good functioning member of society I am. I didn’t want to be one of those 60 year olds that still says “Please, Mr. White is my dad. Call me Roger.”

There’s a certain point at which it is better to just accept you’re no longer a kid. Mr. Finley had hit it. Mr. White had hit it. Perhaps I had hit it.

I stared at the mirror a bit more but finally decided that was enough self reflection for one day. I went out into the world and acted just like normal. Not quite an adult. Not yet. But not a child either. Caught in a swirling world of possibilities.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Chicken Switch

I never thought a menu could change my life. I was mistaken. When in Nashville, I came across a menu that featured several hamburgers. That wasn’t the important bit. The important bit was on the side where it noted that I could at any time, free of charge, employ the chicken switch.

Meaning, of course, that they would swap out the boring old cow meat for chicken meat in the hamburger. But I loved the sense of drama inherent in the phrasing. The Chicken Switch. Just saying it makes me feel important, like I’m a secret agent about to throw the communists off my tail by employing… the chicken switch.

When it came time to order I actually wanted certain other items but the possibility of saying it was too fantastic to pass up. I ended up getting the cheeseburger with the chicken switch.  When I ordered, you could hear the italics in my voice. I even winked at the waitress right afterwards to make sure we were all on the same page.

Her reaction disappointed me. Namely, the complete lack of reaction. I was hoping I could get some response along the lines of “NOT THE CHICKEN SWITCH.” But even an exasperated eye roll would have been better than her completely ignoring the fact that I had done something utterly ridiculous.

Undeterred, I have gone on to use the chicken switch all the time. Going to the cafe one more boring time? This time, use the chicken switch. Suddenly, eating is an adventure again! But why stop at eating? When a class gets boring, I start to imagine how the entire process would be different with the chicken switch. A lot of physics problems involve a lot more poultry. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.

It’s a reminder of how much life depends on our perception of it. The exact same event takes on a completely different light just by a slight nudge of the imagination.

So if we’re choosing how we perceive life, I choose to take it with the chicken switch.

Never Trust the Set

I did theater in middle school and early high school. This tends to surprise my college friends who have never met the more desperate for attention, rougher around the edges middle school me. I learned lots of valuable lessons from my thespian phase, none of which actually carried on to be useful later on in my life.

Chief among these lessons: never trust the set.  I learned this for the first time during a 7th grade show of Peter Pan. The whole production was ridiculously overdone. It was one of those moments that somebody needed to reconsider exactly how much to expect from 13 to 14 year olds. Really, I think we should be proud if everyone remembers their lines and delivers them in a halfway convincing fashion.

The set was done in lavish style with lots of fancy painted fold outs. One side would serve as plain old Victorian England and then the set would be flipped during the intermission to turn into Neverland. I played the role of John, one of Wendy’s brothers. It was decided that, instead of going through the trouble of having an actual intermission for the set change, Peter, Wendy, and the brothers would just run around the audience, pretending that we were flying to Neverland. Doubtless, the set change would take a maximum of five minutes and we could just ad lib for a little while.

Clearly, this plan was so fool proof that trivialities like practicing changing the set in a timely fashion just showed a lack of confidence in the plan. So on the performance night, we set off flying to Neverland. We ran around for a little while, trying our best to achieve a nice witty repartee and halfway succeeding. At least for the first five or ten minutes. But the signal we were waiting on to go back and restart the play just never came. We kept running, circling the audience, because what else were we going to do? In the background, we kept hearing lots of muffled bumps and hushed curse words so clearly the set was still a work in progress.

I prided myself on my acting prowess at this time. I had gone to all the trouble of understanding John’s motivations. It became clear to me about halfway through this session, John was not motivated to run for more than five minutes. John’s motivations had a convenient tendency to line up with mine, particularly when it came physical activity.

My repartee gradually became more pointed. It started out with relatively benign questions like “are we there yet?”, but I gradually upped the ante. “Shouldn’t Neverland be just around the corner? It feels like we’ve been flying for hours!” Around the thirty minute mark, my respect for the fourth wall completely broke down. “How hard is it to set up Neverland? It’s practically the same place as our house!” The audience, restless themselves at this point, ate up my commentary but, strangely enough, the crew did not appreciate it to quite the same degree. The crew afterwards gave me much more convincing death glares than Captain Hook ever managed.

The issue came up again in the next years play, Annie. I played the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a much smaller role involving only five lines. In retrospect, this casting choice may have been influenced by my rather obnoxious complaining the previous year. Of course, this never crossed my mind at the time.

As FDR, I would be in a wheelchair. Which was fine. Historical Roosevelt wouldn’t have really liked to be seen in a wheelchair but he wouldn’t be walking upright either, being paralyzed and what not. My entrance involved coming in between a couch and a dresser. This posed no problem during rehearsal, but naturally, when the actual day of the performance came and I tried to make my grand entrance, the couch and the dresser were too close together for the wheelchair to pass through. I had no idea what to do. I was stuck behind all the action and giving my big presidential address, while my head was barely poking above the couch. But I had no choice and tried to make my delivery extra convincing to make up for the fact it was obscured by a sofa. 

I got my lines done with and went backstage, glad to be over with the nightmare. I didn’t consider that the problem would come up again when I was supposed to go out for my bow. I had been instructed to stay in wheelchair, to maintain the illusion of theater. Of course, the set hadn’t moved between my lines and the final curtain. So as I tried to come out, the wheelchair got stuck between the couch and the dresser again. I was paralyzed, and not just because I was playing the part of someone who was paralyzed. Should I take my bow behind the sofa? Should I just go backstage and not bow?

I eventually decided, once again, to be an iconoclast about maintaining the illusion of theater and violently got out of my wheelchair and walked up to take my bow, nearly knocking over the wheelchair over in the process. Surprisingly, this action got as much applause on it’s own as the main characters did later on.

My time in theater may be over but I still remember the lessons. I will never trust the set again.

Satisfactory Plus Plus

My topology teacher is crazy. Don’t take that wrong. He’s a brilliant guy. But he’s also crazy. He doesn’t believe in grades. He believes in learning. Grades are what’s gone wrong with higher education. I sympathize with him to a point. But he actually carries out this belief to the extent of not giving out any real grades.

Instead, all our homework assignments and midterms receive either an Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, or Good, with pluses and minuses. This makes it hard to interpret your results. Exactly how good is a “Good minus?” When do you stop being merely satisfactory and break into the good? Is an “unsatisfactory” just a comment on the current assignment or a broader statement about your life?  

On my midterm, I got a “Satisfactory Plus Plus.” What does that even mean? Shouldn’t that be a good minus? I don’t know. I have no clue. It’s made worse by the fact that it’s unclear how all this affects my final grade, which presumably he’ll have to give in traditional A, B, and C format.

But, odd as the system is, I’ve been realizing we treat life the same way. Someone comes up to me and says “how you doing today?” and I reply “not too bad.” That’s a satisfactory minus.

I discover that peppermint ice cream is finally back in season. That’s a Good. And so on.

And like in topology, these individual feelings about days have an unclear impact on the overall semester rating. So far, I think this has been a Satisfactory minus semester. But there’s still time left for it to improve on that.

So I think I’m going to do that. Satisfactory plus plus, here I come.

My First Real Crush

About halfway through my freshman year of high school, I fell for a girl. Hard. I was 100% convinced that she was my soulmate. This might be related to the fact I never really had a good starter crush in middle school like most people. As far as amorous intent goes, I was what those feel-good kindergarten book politely term “a late bloomer.” To be fair, I had one mild middle school crush, but it was nothing compared to what I felt toward this new girl in high school. She was the love of my life. Nothing could stand between us.

Except, perhaps, for me. Every interaction with her was a like trying to play 3D chess with everyone watching. I couldn’t mess up. My entire future rested upon getting each little conversation right. 

And I actually did pretty OK. I was funny or, at least, I thought so and she was kind enough to laugh. It even got to the point where I had reasons to believe that she liked me. I started to consider asking her out. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. What if she said no? My world would end. At the tender age of 15, I would have missed my one chance at true love and doubtless spend the rest of my life reading about physics and computer programming on the weekends (I still do this but I don’t feel ashamed about it anymore). 

I even planned it out several times. I would wake up and say “Today is the day. The rest of my life begins now.” Inevitably, even if it was a decent enough moment, I would get scared and put it off a little bit. And a little bit became a little bit more. And a little bit more. And suddenly my freshman year was almost over. Finals were coming up. I had to do something.

Eventually, I announced my affection on a message board for our entire friend group to see with only one or two days left of the school year. That is one of the most mid 2000’s 15 year old behavior I can think of.

The next day at school I saw her at school in the morning. She said hi while walking by and hurried to talk to her friends. And that was that for the day.

A few days later, she messaged me that she thought she did like me but couldn’t do a relationship. I don’t know exactly what I said but I what I do know is that I didn’t get it. I still really liked her and thought something still might happen. 

But it didn’t. We barely talked the entire summer. But I’m nothing if not persistent (arguably stubborn is the better word here), and when the homecoming dance came around my sophomore year, I asked her to it. Again, online because actually talking to people was so 20th century. She said no, because of some drama with her friends that I don’t remember the details of anymore. 

I went to the dance anyway. It was the only one besides prom I went to. I didn’t really enjoy it. It’s not the type of thing I enjoy. There’s not enough books. I left early. The next day I got a long voicemail from the girl complaining about how I hadn’t stuck around for the slow dance with her. She had to slow dance with this other icky dude. It wasn’t right apparently.

I was distraught and frustrated and too young for this shit. The end result was that I got really angry at her. Absurdly so. I tried not to let her know, but the anger lasted a stunning amount of time. After I graduated from high school I unfriended her on facebook. Yeah. That bad. Nothing makes a dislike more clear than the click on that unfriend button. And then for a good while I forgot about her.

What strikes me about the situation now is that we never bothered to just sit down and talk about the whole issue. It probably wouldn’t have changed much but it would’ve been good to do. I probably wouldn’t have became so angry at her.

I’m not anymore. Even if something had happened with us, it wouldn’t have worked out. She had too much expectations on her. I wanted her to complete my life and basically be perfect in a way that no one really can be. 

But, ignoring my portents of doom, life got better. It has a tendency of doing that.

Thank goodness. 

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