I’m thinking about trying out a gotee. Nothing too extreme, especially since my facial hair hasn’t exactly been known to hop to it when I scream at it in the mirror to grow.

Pretty soon, though, I may just become the mirror universe Ben. So odd.

The past three days have been rough. I tried crashing 12 classes, and got 2 of them.

I think the worst feeling is being at school from 8 am to 7 pm on your first day, and getting told 9 times that I need to leave because there’s no room for a poor student like me. Today was another 8 am to 7 pm day, but I finally was able to get all my classes today, so it was much better.

I have the photos of my car on fire, and I’ll show them soon.

Two months ago, a friend of mine told me about what she thought her heaven would be like. It was a clear day on a beach with perfect waves and noone around. And, thinking about it, I realized that my vision of heaven, from when I was a kid and thought about such stuff, was completely different. To me, heaven was not a place with things in it. It was not a place where people that had once lived reunited with me. It was not a land filled with clouds, nor a beautiful woodland scene.

I realized right then that heaven for me was a place with an absence of all the problems I had growing up. That’s how it has always been, a personal truth that sounds harsh and cold and bitter when spoken, but is a simple truth nonetheless.

And so, when I moved to San Luis and found myself with problems that made sense, problems that were within my ability to fathom, problems that were pretty much heavenly comparitively, I felt I had found what I had been searching for. There was no more need for a hope in a world more perfect.

That was when my faith fell away.

I realized what was happening, and it bothered me, the way you’re bothered and want to scream at someone on a movie screen who is just about to open the door with the killer stalking just behind. But it didn’t change what I was doing. I was trying to run away, and I succeeded. I had had a great amount of freedom and peace suddenly thrown into my lap, and I felt that my freedoms would disappear if I found my faith again and felt guilty for the things I do.

Recently, I think He’s been tapping me on the shoulder, whispering in my ear “Look, Ben. I’m not gonna kill you, but check this out.” And shazaam!, my car bursts into flame. A train derails. Hurricanes touch ground thousands of miles away and I feel it. Not that I feel I’ve been punished, but that perhaps all this has been a reminder that no matter how free I am, the world is so much bigger than my freedoms.

And then I came face to face with my reasons for not wanting to try faith again. The wanting to live with freedoms that I had believed were wrong earlier in my life, the reasons for my old faith and how ashamed I was of it, the need to be accepted by everyone. And I realized all that was crap. It was hollow, vapid, stupid reasons for me not to believe.

I spent Saturday night like I’ve spent so many days this Summer, lying on my bed staring at the ceiling. But the questions I asked myself changed, and the being I was asking them to changed. Could I become a better person? Why have I not been concerned with being a better person over the past three years? Why am I so conceited to think that I had everything right inside? Can I be taken back, and feel the faith I felt so long ago? And I cried. And I had a moment of clarity, a feeling that I could no longer seek wisdom if I was still looking inside myself for it.

The next morning, at church, the first verse of the day’s reading spoke to me, forcing me to think that providence could easily be confused for coincidence. It was 1 John 3:4.

“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”

And I suppose that sounds like such a silly thing for me to bring up, something that’s more parody than anything else, especially for someone as Lawless as me. But it still spoke to me.

So, I think I’m going to work on this. Going to work on being a better person, and finding faith again.

A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I marked where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Marked how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Supposedly, my roommate left his camera in San Diego, so I am just waiting for his mom to bring them up so that I may be able to share with you the joys of watching your baby burst into flame. There’s something about the smell of a car burning, something so different than the crackling of a fireplace, something that replaces the feeling of home with the feeling of loss.

The Anaheim fire department has been forcing me to deal with their overabundance of bureaucratic bullcrap. I called them on Saturday to ask them to fax the fire report to Geico, but unfortunately had to leave a message because they don’t have their offices open during weekends. This leads me to think of the fact that of course! fires only work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. And I bet they take off early on Friday too.

So, they didn’t call me back. I call back on Monday, and I get transferred to another answering machine. Leaving a message with my name and number, I then decide to call back, to see if I can speak to anyone that actually exists.

Woman: Hello?
Me: Hi, yeah, I just called and was sent to a voicemail. I would like to talk about a fire my car had on Friday… is there anybody-
Woman: (Rudely interrupting) I’m sorry, sir. (Not sounding sorry) You’re just going to have to wait for her to call you back.
Me: Alright, thanks.

And that’s it. Until Tuesday morning, when I try again. And again, I leave a message. And again, I call back.

Woman: Hello?
Me: Hello, I’ve been leaving voicemails for who you’ve been sending me to, and I was wondering if I could speak with a supervisor perhaps?
Woman: I’m sorry, you’ll just have to wait for her.
Me: I’m sorry, and I don’t think you understand me. My car was in a fire last Friday, and I need to get all this taken care of, and the sooner the better.

And it’s at this point that I realize I’m talking to dead air. She’s already hung up on me.

Later that afternoon, I finally get called back. This lady is much nicer. Much. However, there’s still that faint tang of bureaucratic balogna I was mentioning earlier. Turns out the Anaheim fire department can’t fax out copies of it’s reports because they need to be paid for before they are printed.

“How much will it cost?” I ask.

“Oh, well… it’s about ten cents a page, and the report will probably be about four pages at most. So, if you want two copies, that’ll be eighty cents.”

“And how would you like me to pay you? Can I give you my credit card information?”

“Um, no. We don’t do that, sir. What you can do is wait for me to call you later this week with the exact number of pages, then you can send us a check for the amount-“

“The whole eighty cents?”

“Yes, possibly. And you’d have to send it with a self-addressed stamped envelope. But you can’t do anything until after I’ve called you with the amount.”

And so, it’s Friday afternoon, and they haven’t called me yet to tell me how many pages the report is, the report that, as my understanding goes, has been finished for a week.

I don’t really think I’ve liked this past week so much.

I had a completely different thing in mind when I started planning out this post, but considering all that’s happened to me this last weekend, I think I’m going to have to put it in a list. All times are approximate.

Thursday, September 9
8:00 pm:
Decide to caravan down to San Diego with my roommate Jim and his brother, Matt. They want to leave at 11:30 the next morning. I agree.

Friday, September 10

9 – 10:30 am:
Work at IEP finishing putting together 105 different packets for incoming students from other countries. Nothing strange there.

11:00 am – 1:00 pm:
Major amounts of drama with patching up both of my flat back tires on my car. Finally, we leave for San Diego, with two of Jim’s dogs in my car.

1:30 pm:
A couple miles north of Santa Maria, one of my patched tires blows out, causing damage to the driver’s side bumper and another panel. I am on the side of the road. Jim and Matt get a little irked that I’m keeping them from missing L.A. traffic.

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm:
Put the donut on the wheel and buy a new $50 tire at Big-O Tires. Jim says in some crazy sing song voice “Life is a journey,” to which I reply, “then wake me when we get there.” We get back on the road.

3:00 pm – 7:45 pm:
Driving. Lots of traffic in L.A., and it’s all my fault.

8:00 pm:
A mile away from Disneyland on the 5, I see a light come on my dashboard I’ve never seen before. It says “Anti-Lock.” I decide to pull over to the slow side shoulder from the fast lane. One by one, the different electrical systems in my car die; First I’m not able to accelerate, then the in cabin lights dim, then the turn signal stops clicking, then my headlights go out. I manage to get all the way over, while people behind me are hitting their brakes and flashing their brights at me. I get over and am unable to start the car again… there’s just no power.

I call Jim and Matt, telling them they’ll need to double back to get to me. So, I head out of my car to wait for them outside, when I notice a glowing orange light under my car. I look under the engine and see flames. Grabbing the dogs by the collars, I run down the side of the freeway about 200 feet, call 911 and tell them I have a car on fire.

Jim and Matt arrive, then the CHP, and then a fire truck. They close down two lanes of the five and by the time they force open the hood, there are eight foot flames coming out of my engine block. I look at Jim and say “I just know my rent’s going up. I just know it.”

It takes them a long time before they extinguish my car, but it’s totalled. What must have happened was a small oil leak ignited. Most of the front frame is either charred or melted. I leave the deed in the cabin, grab all the rest of my junk out of my car, and let the tow truck take it to the junkyard, while Jim and Matt take me to their parents’ house in Mission Viejo for the night.

Saturday, September 11

8:00 am: Lucky for me, I have comprehensive coverage, so I’ll get more money from the fiery destruction of my vehicle than I would have if I sold it. Geico tries to get me to claim the damage caused by the tire blowout, but since I had patched it, they try to tell me I’m at fault for the blowout, so not only did I buy a new tire for my car that’s completely dead, I also would have to pay the $500 deductible and my insurance would go up from $600 – $719.90 every six months. I decide to not claim the damage from the blowout.

1:30 pm: I finally get into San Diego, and end up hanging out with my brother.

I figure that the best way for me to get back to SLO is to take the train, leaving Sunday at 12:00 noon and arriving at 8:30 pm.

Sunday, September 12

12:00 noon: I hop onto train 775, departing San Diego for a straight run up the coast to San Luis.

3:45 pm: The conductor announces on the loudspeaker that there’s been an accident in Ventura. Another train has run into a truck and a trailer and the train derailed. You can read about it here.

3:45 pm – 6:30 pm: We’re stuck at the Oxnard station, waiting for word to continue. They finally decide to put us on a series of buses. I board a bus heading towards Santa Barbara.

7:15 pm – 9:00 pm: Waiting in Santa Barbara with 250 other displaced people for our way out of our own personal hell. Think waiting in line was bad? Yeah, I did too. Finally, I get on a bus.

9:00 pm – 11:00 pm: On the bus, I sit next to former World Extreme Cagefighter Jesse Heck, who is coming back to San Luis after a year in a prison in Bakersfield. We talk about life, love, and happiness. He’s probably the wisest, most well-spoken, true person I think I’ve ever talked to. We talk about everything, from the virtues of talking without having to swear, to the perils of prison life, to the problems of not having a solid father figure to build a life on. And I might design a site for his World Extreme Cagefighting team he’s putting together. And I think I’d put it on my resume too.

11:15 pm: I walk into my room, and find the remnants of what was in my car strewn across my bed. Probably one of the most depressing sights I’ve seen, with the exception of my car on fire.

I want to sleep for years.

Buried myself in work, that’s what I’ve done. And it’s almost like I have four jobs. Not bad for someone who just quit one of them.

Hunter, my old roommate from the Mansion, wants me to redesign his Sustainable Agriculture Resource Consortium site. Sometime in the next two weeks. Meaning, I’ve got too much to design and too little time, what with that and the posters for the Study Abroad Fair. Oh, and the fading rollover menu on that site, that’s mine too.

I’m a designing fool.

If only I could get more than five hours of sleep a night, then I’d be a little happier. Not much, but a little.

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. I don’t talk to them much on the phone since they moved to Arkansas, but during my lunch break at the Study Abroad office, I gave them a call.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the kind of life they must lead now. Arkansas seems to me to be a much more colorful place than I had ever imagined. With the stories of the kindness of neighbors, the five day rain storm earlier this year that left many homes flooded and cattle dead, the drive to the nearest airport which takes about two hours, Grandpa’s brother (whom Jean Marie said was “more alien than human”, which makes Grandpa at least half alien as well), I guess it’s quite easy to romanticisize life out there. Especially since I loved my trips to South Dakota so much.

It seems like a much different world than I’m in now; it seems a world of muffled sounds forcing their way through the earpiece of my cell phone into my imagination. A world of half-understood, muted words spoken by my Grandma, who had to say goodbye because one of the neighbors is approaching the door with a cake for Grandpa.

The world is so much bigger sometimes. So much bigger it hurts.


P.S., I need to save this link so I won’t forget it:
Particularly interesting is the Shape of Song project, linked off of there.