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My high school glory days as a Chinese gymnast

That’s me, far right, throwing my hat in the air like I just don’t care.

There I stood in the middle of a stranger’s living room, 24 hours removed from my high school graduation, bear-hugging one of my best friends as we cried for an hour like a couple of 4-year-olds who were just informed that Santa Claus was dead and birthdays were canceled for life.

In our defense, many of the tears were brought on by the incredible feat we achieved that night. Four friends and I joined The Century Club, which requires drinking 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes. That equates to one beer every 12.5 minutes and, yes, it was way more difficult than it was to graduate from high school.

Naturally, the alcohol opened the floodgates of sadness that built up over the last couple weeks of high school. The night ended with one friend wearing a toddler’s pair of Mickey Mouse undies on his head and four people puking everywhere, and often not in a toilet.

It all signified the same thing: Life after high school was going to be messy, smelly and hard to clean up. Oh, how true it was.

These memories — not just the ones of me acting like a stupid teenager — come roaring back every May, and I yearn for a return to high school. I wasn’t particularly good at anything or popular, but nothing can match the carefree nature of those life-altering four years, when my biggest concern was getting to the cafeteria before the pizza was all gone.

Without question, those were the glory days.

Me and my compatriots at the Olympics.

I started at Sahuaro High School in Tucson standing 5 feet tall and weighing a robust 72 pounds. (I was literally equal in size to a female Chinese gymnast, but my English was much better.) I knew zero people on the first day and probably ate lunch alone because no one wanted to sit next to the fourth grader who wandered away from recess and onto a high school campus.

It was an ignominious start, but Sahuaro quickly established itself as The Best Place on Earth. I loved every day there, even the day my Spanish teacher told me to pull up my pants and “stop acting like a punk mama’s boy.”

I expect a lot of great things from the rest of my life, but nothing will compare to the pure enjoyment of my high school years. They were filled with unforgettable moments — some bizarre, some funny, some embarrassing, some all of the above. For instance…

• I met my wife in high school. She was a braces-wearing twerp of a freshman, and I was a senior, disinterested in the cute little brace-face who stared at me as she walked past my classroom and into hers. I decided to prank call her one night, and she quickly found out it was me. I denied it anyway.

(She got the last laugh, though. Four years later — once she was all grown up and I convinced her to break up with her boyfriend to start dating me — she puked all over my bed. But then I accidentally dropped her into the puke face-first, so maybe I win.)

• I liked to hang out on campus after school, and one afternoon I was with a friend and his girlfriend. They went to another part of campus and returned 10 minutes later. That night I learned he lost his virginity on the floor of the girls bathroom.

• I inadvertently started a fistfight between two classmates junior year by asking Guy 1 when his girlfriend dumped him for Guy 2. Guy 1 said I was mistaken, but then I regretfully informed him I saw Guy 2 kissing his girlfriend before school that day. He angrily asked, “Are you sure?” and I said, “Definitely.” So Guy 1 crossed the classroom and decked Guy 2 in the jaw. Turns out, the girl I saw Guy 2 kissing was Guy 1’s sister. Whoopsie daisy.

Garth’s song didn’t help me find luck with the older ladies.

• As a freshman, I anonymously gave a very pretty senior a love song I’d written her. It was Garth Brooks’ “Shameless,” but I assumed she’d never heard it and wouldn’t discover what a fraud I was. She never wrote back, and I couldn’t tell if it was because of the plagiarism or the fact that I never told her my name. Either way, I hate her.

• My freshman year, I wrote an article for the school newspaper that said our football coach wasn’t as good as our hated rival’s coach. Our coach and his players really didn’t like me after that, but I wasn’t scared. Only a coward would hit a tiny gymnast.

• I got ejected from a basketball game senior year when I hurled a string of obscenities at the opposing team’s star player and told him we were going to kick their asses. I failed to notice the referee standing right next to him. Timeout was promptly called and a police officer politely escorted me out of the gym.

• I told my honors English teacher the horrible lie that I couldn’t take her (more difficult) class freshman year because it violated my religious views. (God hates persuasive essays.) I still feel bad about this one.

This all seems trivial and makes me sound like a terrible person, but I promise I did some good things, such as playing classic rock records in student council and eating Golden Grahams for breakfast every day. I was also an honor student and can say with certainty that at least seven people thought I was a pretty nice guy.

Given the opportunity to time travel, I wouldn’t do high school over again. I milked it for everything it had the first time, and I enjoyed the experience more than anyone in the history of humanity.

So bring on the nostalgia and another trip down memory lane. I might not cry over days gone by anymore, but if I do, I might need you to hold me and then wipe my mouth when I’m done vomiting.


Life is easy once you stop trying so hard to ruin it

Three things about me are undeniable: I’m not very smart, I have virtually no skills and my life is devoid of any major accomplishments. That’s all etched in stone.

Somehow, though, I’m not a complete failure and I’ve managed to become a happy person along the way. I don’t know how this happened. The only goals I ever set were to win the school spelling bee in sixth and seventh grades. (Check and check.)

So it’s either dumb luck or life is actually pretty easy. I say life is easy.

I began to realize this when I was 15, the age at which all boys are rotten and should be beaten with a sack full of staplers. One night I was causing unnecessary tension at home when my brother, Jake, told me in a very sincere and kind way that people wouldn’t like me if I remained an annoying assface.

Lesson learned: Don’t be an annoying assface who no one likes. Simple, right?

Honestly, it was perhaps the best advice anyone’s ever given me. Without it, I’d probably be homeless and living inside a recycling bin in Guatemala.

Shouldn’t life be this simple for everyone? I assure you I’m not doing anything special. Why are so many people made miserable by their friendships, relationships, marriages and family members?

I’ve had the same group of best friends for 17 years, and we all get along as well as we ever have. Everyone enjoys everyone. Do you know how much of a collective effort that takes? Absolutely none whatsoever.

The truest sign of a good friendship.

A friendship is one of life’s purest sources of happiness, but many people screw that up by expecting more out of it than they should. These people will find a reason to be unhappy about anything. They could win the lottery and be pissed that they didn’t win it while also making out with Katy Perry at Disneyland.

Instead, here’s the perfect way to approach all your friendships: Sally is my friend. Sally is not perfect, but she is enjoyable. The end.

Another helpful tip is to wisely pick your battles instead of always picking the worthless ones. Quarrels begin over the most insignificant matters, and they typically end, for example, with you telling your boyfriend that he humps like a dying giraffe. Or you telling your brother that you’re gonna drown him in his own blood.

You can easily trade that life of drama for one of contentment. Conan O’Brien – a happy and successful man – once said that if you work hard and treat people well, good things will happen to you. It is a simple truth, even if you don’t really work that hard.

My wife and I have been married for almost seven years, and we have no formula for being happy. Someone asked her recently how we’ve managed it, and she just shrugged. That’s the same answer I would’ve given.

But now I think I have a better answer: You have to care, but only sometimes. If you care about every little thing, you’ll eventually want to blow yourself up. Realizing that you’re occasionally a moron helps you care less and admit you’re wrong, and that eliminates a lot of would-be conflicts.

Don’t make music a life-or-death matter like Radio Raheem did.

Take last Saturday, for example. We’re driving to Portland, and she’s fiddling with the iPod adapter and trying to eliminate all the static noise. She wasn’t doing it properly, though, so I turned off the music entirely.

She asks me what my problem is. I tell her she’s lame. She tells me I’m ridiculous, and then we sit in silence for five minutes.

Finally, I apologize for being rude and kindly ask her to stop ruining my life all the time. And like that, everything was OK again. One minute, I wanted to kick her out of the car at 75 mph, and the next she’s my sweet ol’ wifey. Piece of cake.

Life isn’t really easy, of course. Lots of bad things happen to good people for no reason, and jobs suck and money is tight and Arizona State still exists. Sadly, those things will never change.

But if you want a happier life, simply stop being a terrible human being. Don’t be the kind of person your girlfriend would like to feed to an alligator. And don’t be the kind of hate-filled son that your parents hope gets locked in a Mexican prison.

Now you stick with that, and everything else is cream cheese.