I didn’t always want to be a writer. For most of my childhood, I wanted to be an astronaut, which makes sense, seeing as how I’ve never quite grasped the concept of probability. I used to stay home from school for shuttle launches, I’d read every book about space I could get my hands on, and I even owned the Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual. You know, just in case I ever got called up by NASA between snack time and afternoon cartoons one day.
Of course, I didn’t ever become an astronaut. When I hit 9th grade, I got smashed in the face by the Hammer of Algebra, which put the brakes on my journey toward the Air Force Academy. Then, just in case I still had any optimism left in my gangly teenage body, my uncle (a retired AF Colonel) made sure to casually crush any dreams I had left by telling me I was too tall to ever fly, and even if I wasn’t, the Air Force would never let me be a pilot since I wore glasses, like some kind of bespectacled monster. So that was fun.
After that, I flailed around for a little while, bouncing from life goal to life goal. For a while, I was going to be a filmmaker. Then, I decided to be an anthropologist. At some point, I sort of slipped into IT work because I’d always been good at it, years before anyone had even figured out that Information Technology was a thing. Before I knew it, I had a career.
But way back before any of that happened, somewhere around 4th grade, I was already a published writer. I just didn’t realize it until now.
My Other Questionable Decisions
I was around 9 or 10 years old, and attending a fancy private school my parents sent me to for the five or so minutes they had any money to burn on things like a fancy private school for their weird son. I was only there for a year or so, but it seemed longer. And I made some great friends I still keep in touch with to this day.
Time is weird like that, though. I recall my very brief time at Cathedral In The Pines as involving more years than it actually did. If I’m remembering correctly – and I’m probably not, because as I get older, the past tends to grow more and more preferable to the present – I started 4th grade in public school. But after my teacher pinned me to the wall and had some kind of a nervous breakdown while yelling at me for chewing gum I wasn’t chewing, my parents decided they’d spend some of the money they didn’t really have to send me to a better school. (I promise I didn’t “swaller” it, Mrs. Whatever-Your-Name-Was.)
I started at Cathedral a couple of weeks after the beginning of school, which I guess is how long it took for the public school teacher to have a psychotic break, which, now that I think about it, is probably a pretty common thing with teachers after the first couple of weeks of school.
Anyway, I went to Cathedral for the rest of 4th grade and got probably around halfway through 5th grade before I was back in public school. This time, it was because my private school teacher snapped and yelled a sermon at me in front of the class one day because I was obviously going to burn in the fires of Hell for all eternity since I liked Science and didn’t believe radiocarbon dating was an elaborate hoax from the Devil or something. It was kind of freaky.
Looking back, my parents probably should’ve seen my pushing two different teachers toward separate mental breakdowns in as many years as some sort of sign. Maybe with a little counseling, I could’ve grown up to be a well-adjusted, socially competent adult instead of the caustic little anti-social misanthrope I am now. But I was probably always destined to be a Difficult Person. Some things are just unavoidable.
One of my first brushes with authority came from my first experience with publishing, which also happened to be during my 4th grade year at Cathedral. Probably some time after Christmas break, I had the brilliant idea to start a student-produced magazine. I say it was my idea, but I honestly don’t remember. It probably wasn’t. Things just sort of happen when you get together with your friends as a kid, and I’m sure everyone involved has a different memory of how things went down.
At any rate, there were five of us. There was me, my best friend Dave, a couple of other pals named Jamie and Jay, along with a dude named Samit. We all had very specific roles in our capacity as publishing magnates, and I don’t exactly remember any of them.
I’m pretty sure Jamie was responsible for printing, though. I think his mom had access to advanced equipment of some sort, which was probably just a Xerox machine in her office or something. I think Dave was our liaison to the authorities, because he was the good kid who didn’t induce undue psychic trauma in our teachers. I’m not sure what Jay did, but I think he had something to do with the Joke Page. Also, there was Joke Page.
I don’t have any idea what I did. I know I wrote something, but I can’t recall what it was. It probably had something to do with Star Wars or Transformers, or whatever I was into at the time. Maybe Laser Tag. Who knows?
Samit was our artist, which mostly meant that he drew pictures of Michael Jackson in every possible context because the dude was seriously into The King of Pop. Like, way more than should be legal. But then again, it was the ’80s. The only people who didn’t like Michael Jackson were Communists and maybe Tipper Gore, because I don’t think that old shrew has ever liked anything in her entire life.
We called the thing Zapped! – with an exclamation mark, so people would know we meant business. We produced exactly one issue.
Between whatever it was I wrote, Dave’s interviews with the staff and faculty, Jay’s jokes, Jamie’s printing and Samit’s moonwalking glitter-gloving, it didn’t take long after we finally put the whole thing together for the in-fighting to start.
Jamie thought he deserved more recognition because without him, we wouldn’t have a printed magazine.
Jay probably argued that his Joke Page was the linchpin of the entire operation.
I’m sure Dave tried to calm everyone down.
As for me, I was most likely just stoking the various fires of everyone’s fury to watch the world burn, while Samit didn’t really care what was going on, so long as he could keep drawing Michael Jackson pictures.
After our little literary supergroup broke up, I think there was talk of a competing magazine. I don’t remember what it was called, but I think maybe Jamie was the Publisher and EIC. He took his mom’s copy machine, recruited some other kids, and got busy with his own pernicious periodical pursuits. Samit was probably on board for MOAR MICHAELS!
At some point, the authorities stepped in and shut the whole thing down. Apparently, our little magazine war had begun causing classroom disruptions, so the world only ever got to read the wisdom of Mrs. Baird one time, thanks to Dave’s interview. Mrs. Baird was our 4th grade teacher, although I’m pretty sure her name wasn’t Mrs. Baird. I think I just remember it that way right now because I’m hungry and have those addictive mini powdered donuts on the brain.
I actually still had what was probably the last surviving copy of Zapped! up until Hurricane Rita bisected my parents’ house with a tree knife. I think it was in a box of My Old Crap that the tree landed on after it cut through the roof and let the angels weep into their storage closet. I might still have it, somewhere. I remember seeing it after the hurricane, but I can’t recall whether I managed to salvage it or if I just thumbed through its water-soaked pages before tossing it in the trash.
These days, we’ve all grown up and moved on, but I’m pretty sure each of us remembers the weeks we spent on Zapped! as being longer than they actually were, more fun than they should have been, and more exciting than they ever had any right to be. That’s how nostalgia works.
It’s funny how the past repeats itself, though. A couple of years ago, we enrolled Trey in a fancy private school during the five minutes I had money to burn on things like a fancy private school for my kid, back when I had a great job before Hillbilly Voldemort came along and ruined everything with his inability to form word sounds with his mouth hole. Thanks to him, money is a lot tighter than it was and the school is expensive, but I don’t mind eating dollar store macaroni in exchange for Trey’s education.
He loves his school and all his classmates, so he gets to stay. And, since Trey is not me, he hasn’t even caused a single teacher to have a mental collapse yet, which is nice because the guy who runs the school is my old Zapped! colleague, Dave. He’s also my dentist, which is sometimes a little awkward whenever he fusses at me for not flossing properly. But he liked Debbie Gibson more than Tiffany back in the day, so what does he know?
Jamie went on to form a band of some sort that I understand is pretty popular around these parts. I’ve never heard any of their music, but I’ve seen them listed at a bunch of different venues around the area, so he’s doing well.
I’m not sure what Jay is doing, but I think he’s up in Alaska. Maybe he’s dog sledding or something, and I’ll hear about him winning the Iditarod one day. That’d be nice.
I haven’t heard from Samit since I left Cathedral, but I like to think he’s still out there somewhere, happily drawing Michael Jackson pictures with a #2 pencil.
As for me, I’m currently a stay-at-home dad. I do exciting things like dishes and laundry between spurts of freelance writing and research work, along with responding to website design requests that ultimately go nowhere after I explain that I work for money rather than exposure. I also play a lot of video games and write stupid stuff on this blog. So there’s that.
Lately, there’s been talk of a reunion of the Cathedral Warriors over on Facebook. I’ll probably go, if it happens. It turns out that a lot of people I didn’t get to know when I was at Cathedral became friends later in life, either in high school or while wandering the random swamps of adulthood. It’d be nice to catch up with everyone, and who knows? Maybe Jamie can ask him mom to print up a special limited edition Zapped! issue.
Hey, a guy can dream.
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