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Our Day Out

Oh man, what a week it’s been, and it’s only Tuesday! The fun began on Saturday, with my wife Jade and I taking the whole day together to celebrate her birthday. Well, I won’t say the whole day; we both slept in, but she let me sleep until well past noon. Whoopsie.

A little later in the afternoon, we drove up to Richmond where at the very least we had planned to eat at Jade’s favorite restaurant, Olive Garden, and to go bowling.

Before we got to those places, though, we went to Hobby Lobby (because we can’t just go to Richmond without going to Hobby Lobby), Lowe’s, Walmart, and Goodwill. I like going to Hobby Lobby because they have some pretty decent Star Trek collectibles, and I came very close to buying a $35 anniversary-edition model kit of the original Starship Enterprise. I talked myself out of it, though, as I’m trying not to actively increase my collectibles until after we, I hope, move into a bigger house in not too distant future. I did, however, find a new wall sign for my daughter’s room that says, “Even Superheroes Have to Clean Their Room.” She’s had its companion sign, “Even Superheroes Have to Do Their Homework,” hanging on her wall for quite some time now.

I don’t get out to Lowe’s much, so it was nice going there with Jade. We looked at various things, from flooring to new appliances, that we would like to try to get to make it easier to eventually sell our house. I especially enjoyed checking out the smart refrigerators in their line-up. Did you know that there are fridges that, with just a knock on the door, you’re granted a view of the inside of the fridge? How freaking cool is that!

After walking around and not finding the last thing we wanted to look at — shower/tub panels for behind the fixtures — we left to head to Walmart. I don’t remember why we went there, but Jade ended up getting new wireless headphones, I picked up the game Monster Hunter: World, and she also picked out a new leotard for my kiddo and her ongoing gymnastics experience.

At Goodwill, I picked up a small stack of books, including War of the Worlds and a young reader’s biography of Jane Goodall. I truly miss having a decent bookstore nearby, but being able to drop by Goodwill in either Connersville or Richmond works well enough to scratch the itch to buy books. Plus, instead of spending $80 and up at a time, I can get a stack of book for below $10. I love that feeling.

Finally, after all of that, we made it to bowling. We paid for two games, and we set out to our lane, hoping for the best. Or at least, I was. I haven’t been bowling for quite some time. I bowled a 107 that first game, beating Jade by around 30 pins. I even earned a strike, which felt pretty good, but my victory was hardly super meaningful — she had a bit of difficulty finding a ball which suited her without feeling like it was going to break her hand, and I inadvertently wasted one of her frames when her ball looked to be stuck at the entrance to the ball return. I figured that a ball thrown down the gutter would knock hers loose, and because her ball hadn’t made it into the return yet, I assumed her first frame of that turn was still active. It wasn’t. Still, I intentionally bowled my next frame into the gutter. Fair is fair, right?

With the next game, however, Jade had found her stride. She scored a couple strikes in a row, and she got into my head a little bit. My bowling took a dive, and she smashed me. Cumulatively, I came out ahead in total pins for the night, but allowing for the problems she had in the first game, it’s clear to me that she should’ve won both games.

And also that I should bowl more often.

We ate dinner after that, and it felt pretty good being seated in front of the half dozen other families waiting because we were willing to take a booth in the bar area. At least I assume that’s what got us in so quickly, without any wait time at all. The food was better than I remember Olive Garden being the few times I’ve eaten there in the past, and I know Jade enjoyed her meal. We ate til we couldn’t eat anymore, then made our way back to Connersville.

On the way we stopped by the old Centerville K-Mart because we thought they were going out of business and hoped to catch some sales. Well, we caught some sales, but the store seems to be open indefinitely for the time being. There were a bunch of clothes on sale, so of course Jade picked out several things for my daughter, including a very smart sweater, a super cute dress that she can wear for Easter, and a new jacket.

It truly was an amazing day out with my wife, and I’m glad to have been able to have the day off to spend it with her.

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A Sick Day Spent in Final Fantasy VII Nostalgia

Ugh.

Just ugh. I’ve been fighting a sore throat and sinus drainage thing this week, and today, I was feverish when I woke up so I stayed home from work. I hated to do that as I have this coming Saturday off anyway, but I also wanted to give myself a chance to just recover so that maybe, just maybe, this won’t last until Saturday. My wife and I have plans, see; it’s her b- b- b- birthday weekend!

While not relaxing with her after she had gotten home from work today, I mostly spent the day playing Final Fantasy VII. Well, I woke up to there being a two-hour delay for school, so my daughter and I were able to spend a little time together this morning prior to her going to school and back to her mom’s house this afternoon, which was nice.

In the game, I’ve been attempting as completionist a playthrough as possible. I have the Playstation 4 re-release of the game via the Playstation Network, which as far as I can tell is faithful to the original Playstation version but with some typos corrected (“Off course!” and “No, way!” have been corrected to “Of course!” and “No way!”, disappointingly) and added trophy support. I was really hoping to score every trophy on this playthrough, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the Golden Saucer dating mechanics to land a date with Barret.

I also managed to mess up my chance to end the game with four maxed-out enemy skill materia, and I just a few hours ago locked myself out of winning the umbrella (or parasol) from the Speed Square game at the Golden Saucer. Aside from those and the dating mishap, I think I’m on track to having everything completed.

Or at least I don’t think I’ve fudged up anything else from the “first disk” (the game originally played across three disks; the digital re-release doesn’t have that mechanic); although, as I’m writing this and cross-checking a couple references, I notice that “completionism” requires getting ninety-nine of every item, one of which is incredibly difficult to come by, save for a reliable method at Fort Condor which I’ve already locked myself out of.

I remember playing the game back on my original PlayStation in the late 90s. I didn’t have all of the Internet guides, and there was certainly no Fandom wiki dedicated to the game which I could reference. All I had was the BradyGames players’ guide, as error-riddled as it may be. But with a lot of hard work, I managed to unlock at least most of the materia, enabling me to assemble a team that had little to no problem dealing with the endgame weapon fights. That’s one of my proudest achievements. But still, I’m sure I missed a lot, such as never completing the Battle Square battles.

I’m hoping this playthrough corrects that, but I’m not going to lie, having one-click access to a “3x speed” mode (all animations are sped up times three, allowing much faster grinding) and god mode (health and magic replenish instantly during battle, unless a character is killed in one hit; limit break meters also fill instantly upon use) is making it hard to play through the game legitimately — sometimes I’m accidentally enabling these modes simply because of how easily their buttons are pressed through normal play.

Not gonna lie, I’ve relied on the god mode for a few things; I like it because it doesn’t make the entire game a cinch: you can still be affected by status effects (all of which still affect you other than poison), you can still be one-hit killed, you still have to win mini-games such as the escape from Midgar or Fort Condor battles legitimately, and you can find yourself stuck in the final round of the Battle Arena attempting to get the keystone from Dio, turned into a frog with a broken weapon and no access to items or materia, doing 7 damage per turn (or 15 on crit) to an enemy with over 2,000 hit points. Oh, and a certain character still dies permanently, in a scene that few games can rival to this day.

I saved my game outside of Icicle Inn before quitting for the night, and I’m pretty sure I’m heading into what was my least favorite part of the game way back when. Fortunately, once I get all the items from the next couple of areas, I don’t think I have to return to them. Maybe.

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A Banner Year for the Beckmans.

I trust you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, if you celebrated it. I spent the day at work, but my loverly wife Jade and I found time beforehand — well, during her lunch break — to go out for lunch at a newer restaurant here in town. I ordered a club sandwich, and it was an absolute unit of a sandwich; it was as thick as my face is tall!

Later in the day, this time on my lunch break, I came home to Jade having made a completely surprise steak dinner. Two perfectly marinated and cooked steaks, mashed potatoes (world’s best side dish — and disappointingly absent from most local restaurants’ sides menus), and cream corn. Well, I say “surprise” dinner, but Jade pointed out that she always makes me steak on Valentine’s Day. I— I’m not the greatest with traditions, I suppose.

I often don’t express it well enough, but I am really fortunate to have Jade in my life. Suffice to say, when we first started seeing each other in 2013, my personal life was, well, mixed up. I joke about it now by saying that I tumbled through a mid-life crisis a bit earlier than expected.

Flash forward to this year, and we have victories like having recently purchased our second car together — and the first in both of our names. They’re both 2014s, and naturally, mine’s all decked out in Star Trek gear.

We have family vacations on the docket; well, specifically, we’re planning to go to Myrtle Beach this summer, and later in the fall, we hope, my daughter will get to accompany Jade on a Girl Scouts cruise.

With so much going right, I find myself wondering what else I can improve upon. Is it enough that life improves around me? Well… No. I should be changing too, ever working to better myself.

By way of example, for a period of a few weeks earlier this winter, I gave up eating most beef. I’ve eaten it a bit more frequently recently — I’m not going to turn down my wife’s amazing steaks! — but I frequently forget that if I am eating meats, beef or otherwise, I should do so with gratitude, not toward any god but instead for the creature(s) which died so that I might eat. Having such an attitude, I think, would call to mind as often as I eat the sacrifice of life made of some creatures so that others higher up the food chain, like me, might eat, and that oft reminder could result in a reduction of the amount of meat I eat.

I’m going to study more. I set up an account with Khan Academy; from math to biology, health to physics, I hope to broaden my understanding. I also set my kiddo up with an account — they have math classes for kids as young as 3–5!

I will work on mindfulness and meditation, if only for the clearheadedness that this can help promote.

I’m even thinking about going to the gym with my wife, who’s been asking me to go for some time now.

Basically, I want this year to be a year of bettering myself, of creating habits that not only energize my life but which also strengthens my family.

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What Is There to Say?

What is there to say?

I think about writing a lot. I read my old posts, reflect upon all of the changes in outlook I’ve had since writing them. When I do think of something to say, I dump it into an all-too-often hastily written Facebook post, then I call it a day.

Facebook “markets” the content for me. They do their own maintenance. And the audience is essentially guaranteed: I know at least some portion of my few hundred Facebook friends will see what I write.

But here?

During the 2000s, I spent a lot of time blogging, but too much of that time was spent bike-shedding: I’d focus on what I thought were the easy details — tinkering with code, design elements, and features — rather than the weightier task of writing coherent content on a consistent basis.

Still, there was a point where this blog — this hodgepodge mess of discordant thoughts and no real identity — was earning me a small paycheck every couple of months or so from advertising. The blog was a member of at least one “best blogs” community, and according to Alexa traffic ratings, it was one of the top 100,000 most visited websites on the Internet.

I had an audience. But what did I have to say?

The vast majority of my traffic was coming in for a scant few posts. I published a checklist of diecast car toys from the first Cars movie, wrote about the Bible’s examples of positive non-monogamous marriage, dipped my toes into the “King James Version only” discussion, and wrote about my (probably now irrelevant) WordPress plugin. For a whole lot of users, the handful of posts on those few topics were a hot destination, with conversations running into the hundreds of comments.

None of those things are terribly relevant to me now. What is there to say?

I’m working on figuring that out.

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I’m Still Here

I am not, though, altogether sure what here is or what here should be.

Of course, that’s always been true; a cursory foray into the archives here will reveal that.

Part of me wants to scrap what is past and start anew, but every time I have done that — at least a dozen times across various other domain names — I always come back here, to the misshapen mass that is here.

I speak out often on my Facebook profile, and you can absolutely follow along there if you want to see what I have to say about Donald Trump, government-forced family separations, and so much more. 

I just don’t know what to write here. But here is not dead. It is, by and large, prologue to what is to come.

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A Requiem

I’m coming up quick on my fifteenth anniversary of working at Walmart, along with only one other member of my hire-in group. I started out that journey working in the grocery department, which at my store consisted of three aisles containing some pop, water, soups, cereals, candy, coffee, snacks, and little else.

It wasn’t a glamorous position, but I had previous grocery experience, and I enjoyed the work. My attention to detail and willingness to help out with just about anything were noticed pretty quickly, but after almost a year, my schedule had become almost exclusively cashier shifts. It’s not that cashiering was difficult or even displeasing, but standing more or less still for hours on end was most definitely not for me.

I applied for the first position that came open: department manager of paper goods and chemicals. I figured they’d be a good fit — the areas were pretty small, but it was fast-paced, not unlike the grocery department I was used to. However, I was told by a manager almost immediately that it was a futile application on my behalf as they had already had someone picked out. I was told, however, to apply for a different spot that had come open: department manager of toys.

Toys. One of the largest, most complicated areas of our store at the time. I was told repeatedly at the time for how crazy I was in even applying for the job. I was a shy, backward Christian boy in my early twenties, but that department would drive me to drink. Basically, I was risking my reputation as the goofy kid with the wooden cross on his vest and the perpetual smile and positivity that I brought to my job.

Contrary to what I was told, however, I loved that department. It was tough getting started — I received very little training, and my mentor left after having her third kid, leaving a small string of folks filling in for her whom I had to help train with what little bit I knew at the time. For the first year and a half or so, I struggled, and I admit that. I hated that there was an overnight supervisor who technically had nothing to do with my department but who constantly would criticize everything I did, for example. Still, the work itself? I enjoyed it.

Whether it was seeing the joy on kids’ faces as they found just the right toy or geeking out about all of the new Lego sets and Transformers action figures we’d get in twice a year as the seasons shifted, and those biannual departmental resets were wonderful challenges that I always had a blast working through with my friends on overnight projects.

Eventually, I moved on to other areas of the store by way of becoming an overnight supervisor of the same kind that used to vex me in my earlier years, but that opportunity brought with it a substantial pay increase and an additional day off each week, so I couldn’t just pass it over. I’m glad I chose that position when I did because it wasn’t but a few months later that the position of toy department manager was eliminated at our store, getting absorbed by one of the other department supervisors (sporting goods, I think?).

Flash forward to 2016, and the whole point of this post. By now, I’m… the exact same kind of supervisor as I was before the flash forward, but I do the daytime thing now. I still spent a lot of time in toys as it’s my favorite area of the store (even though we’re at a new building now and our toy department is about 33% smaller than what we had prior to our expansion), but the actual toy department associates have changed fairly often due to supervisor realignments or whatever else.

One of our associates in that area stood out: Sierra. She had begun her time with us as a cashier, and though I didn’t know her all that well, she was uncharacteristically positive and always seemed happy to see me and, well, everybody. She pretty quickly moved to the toy department doing the same job I did ages ago in the grocery area, and I don’t think there was a person that worked with her that didn’t at the very least enjoy Sierra being there.

I’m not sure when it was that she first sat with me on break — was she a cashier still? or in toys? — but we slowly became friends, at work and on Facebook. I’d come to find out that I was one of her first good friends at our store, which surprised me given how extremely outgoing she always was.

Over time, it amused me just how much she reminded me of me when I was her age, albeit without the extreme religious baggage (honestly, I make no claim to know Sierra’s religion — I guess I always assumed she was some sort of Christian, but I don’t think there was a post I made on Facebook, including my extreme atheist posts, that she didn’t at least press “Like” on, which was just the perfect extension of her in-person attitude: always positive, all the time). (Yikes, that was a big aside. Maybe I should’ve used footnotes? Nah…) Anyway, she seemed to generally love the toy department, and even on days when she was scheduled elsewhere, she’d ask about how “her department” was doing. I wish more people took ownership of their areas like she did!

And just like my early time at Walmart, she would get scheduled all over the place — garden center, cashier, toys, electronics… Of course, she was always happy to help everyplace, which was just her way!, and she even helped with the more unusual projects, like the overnight frontend redesign; I can’t recall any truly negative things she’d ever said about her job!

Flash forward to November 30 of last year. She was at work that day, in electronics. I only saw her briefly that day, but for the first time since I met her, she wasn’t smiling. She was petrified that she was going to lose her job because of something she had done at the request of someone else earlier in the day, but our manager (my mentor I mentioned earlier, to bring us back full circle to that for no reason) had reassured her that it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be easily fixed so that she had nothing to worry about. The combination of fear and relief had her shaken up and in tears — did I mention that she actually cared about her job and loved what she did? — and…

… and that’s the last time I saw Sierra alive. She went home that afternoon. On Friday, she didn’t show up for work, and nobody knew why. On Saturday, the same thing happened, but our manager (same one) and another coworker and good friend, Brianna, went out to her house to check on her.

Sierra had passed away in her sleep sometime the night of the 30th, at only 20 years old. I remember getting a message on that Saturday from Kayleigh asking if Sierra had passed away, and the utter confusion and shock that that brought with it. Sierra? The ever-jubilant and seemingly healthy young Sierra? No way.

But then other people confirmed it. Eventually her family was sharing the news on Facebook. By the end of the day, I’ve had to break the news to others too, even while I was still in denial.

All the denial in the world — from all of us at Walmart — couldn’t change it, though.

Her visitation and viewing came that following Thursday. I was at work that day, so I went on my lunch break, arriving to it late, but staying longer than I expected to, honestly. I remember walking into the funeral home and a big group of my friends all surrounding me, and there were so many hugs. We hurt. Our circle was broken. Everything was wrong.

I waited a long time before I went to see Sierra, instead spending time looking at her tables full of pictures of her with so many of her friends. Except me. I’ll get back to that.

When I did approach the casket, I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to think. I wasn’t through with feeling denial, and my brain was an electric mess of dissonance in trying to organize itself.  I didn’t linger long there, but I stood with my friends for well over an hour, as well all seemingly took turns breaking down, welcoming and hugging those who were still showing up, and sharing memories of Sierra.

We didn’t all have pictures with her up on her display table. Some of us were very new to our group. What was my excuse? Why didn’t I have photos with her or, well, just about any other of my friends? It didn’t help my fear of death any to think that when I die, there won’t be much to memorialize me with.

And so that’s what Sierra taught me: Beyond reminding me of myself of over a decade ago, she reminded me of the joys of friendship. I wish I would’ve realized that while she was yet here — or that she was yet here period — but I resolved there and then to try to be a better friend, and not just to those friends I usually spend all my time on (the long-distance ones that appreciate a text-only bond come to mind).

My friend Dakota — and I’m not sure what exactly prompted this but it came at just the right time — told me, either during the viewing or the next day during the funeral — that I meant more to everyone than I could ever know.

I needed to hear that. Having an awesome family is one thing, but a person needs friends — unabashed friends which become a special kind of family.

After the viewing, I went back to work, and my wonderful, if broken, circle of friends went out to eat. They all ended up back at Walmart after — I’m not sure if all together or coincidentally separately — but I know Brianna and Jordan wanted to bring me some food as I didn’t spend my lunch eating. We all ended up back there in electronics, where I was covering as nobody else came in that day due to the viewing, and I realized that I needed a picture with all of them. We took a few until everyone in them was satisfied. We joked, laughed, and enjoyed each other for a while before everyone left.

The next day, around noon, we all met again at the funeral home for the final services, and even on that day, I met new people, new friends: Kelsey, Devon, and their baby. It was with them and Brianna who I rode out to the cemetery with, and in true “it’s a small world, especially in a small town” fashion found out that they lived just one block away from me.

We laid Sierra to rest out in the country, not too far from where she lived, and afterward, there was a meal for everyone at a church not far from my neighborhood. It was great being with all of my friends outside of Walmart, even if the circumstances, in a word, sucked. Dakota and I had work, so he left when I did.

Since Sierra’s passing, I’ve tried to be more open with my friends, and more available. I’m sometimes a pretty smart and funny guy, and I have plenty to offer in the way of friendly advice, especially when it comes to avoiding all sorts of relationship pitfalls, after all! My wife and I even invited some friends over for New Year’s, which was an absolute thrill even if that infernal game of Uno lasted two hours too long! There were some whom I invited that couldn’t make it (which is a shame because if even just one had shown up, we could’ve had a balanced game of “Battle of the Sexes” going), and there were still others I probably should’ve invited but didn’t in the interest of keeping it small given that we’ve never really entertained before.

Time has marched on, and I’m enjoying work a lot more in focusing all the more on friendships — something I haven’t done for quite some time. I see a lot of people whine on Facebook about interpersonal troubles with those whom are politically or religiously opposite to them, and I just don’t get that. I’m an outspoken liberal, and sometimes I can be an absolute ass about being an atheist, but it has never been a barrier with my friends. It’s remarkable what happens when you treat people well!

Not a week goes by, though, when I don’t hear from a friend or see a post about missing Sierra. While part of me hopes that I never stop hearing that — we all most certainly will miss her always — I know that we must do our best to move on, to honor her memory exactly as she would want us to: By being there for our friends (“I got you!” being her sweet refrain), by owning our work and finding pride in it, and by facing every day with an overflowing positivity which drowns out the dark.

Sierra cannot be replaced, and ultimately, I hope the same will one day be said about me, and about everyone whom I care about.

Be irreplaceable. Find those who care about you and celebrate those relationships. Let your life be a celebration of (at the risk of sounding redundant) life, friendship, and love. I can think of no better way to honor Sierra’s life than to carry her light forward, sharing it with us as she selflessly shared it with us.

Sierra Stamper-Morgan. 1997–2017.

My lack of religious beliefs notwithstanding, I hope the same thing whenever the matter of death arises: May we meet again, in some form.

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Just…

Sometimes I wonder why I use the bookmarks feature of any web browser. Aside from keeping a list of quick-access websites in my bookmarks bar, any other bookmarks end up in a folder with hundreds of other sites which I’ll likely never actually get back to.

I thought I’d do a bit of curating of my bookmarks, and I came across this brief bit of advice called “Just.”

The author, Brad Frost, lamented the responses he’d receive on Twitter when asking for tech help because, as he describes, they often tended to assume things about his knowledge by presenting answers in an over-simplified manner introduced by the word “Just…”

Rather than being helpful, those answers made him feel like an idiot, as if he was lacking what others seemed to consider to be fundamental understanding of a topic.

Back when I bookmarked the thing, I’m sure I did so with the hope that applying the advice to ban “just…” oversimplifications, I’d be a better writer when it came to topics of blogging, code, and even religion.

However, the “just…” shortcut is far more universal, showing up in every manner of conversation. 

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Christmas 2017 Leads to Science!

The earliest bits of this website date to 2003, fifteen years ago. That’s nearly half of my life! I keep telling myself that I need to tend to this site (currently called Dammit, Rick!, but who knows what it’ll be called next time I post here), but for the past few years, I’ve been objectively lax in creating meaningful content.

(Wait, have I ever produced meaningful content?)

Anyway, we’re fresh out of the 2017 holiday season, and my daughter enjoyed her sixth Christmas, at our house and elsewhere, with some awesome gifts, such as the fantastic My Little Pony Canterlot castle.

I can’t deny that when it comes to toys, she’s not at all wanting, and to totally parent-brag, she’s a pure joy to go shopping with: it is absolutely rare for her to get the “I want! I want! I want!” attitude, even in aisles filled with her favorite things!

What is going to define this year, though, is not an abundance of toys, but science! That’s right, science! My mom gave my daughter two really amazing gifts which I’m eager to get up and running: an ant habitat and a carnivorous plant garden! 

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Refusing to Remain Silent

Testing, testing. Is this thing on?

It probably isn’t, but here I am anyway.

A lot has happened over the course of the year since I last wrote here.

My wife Jade and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary this month, not with fancy gifts but with several special dates over the course of this past week. Notably, we stuffed ourselves senseless at Willie & Reds in Hagerstown, Indiana; I had never heard of the place before, much less eaten there, but their smorgasbord’s food was delicious, the selection right up my alley. I’m glad Jade introduced me to it! It was, I think, our second choice; I wanted to revisit the restaurant we ate at in Metamora, Indiana, on our wedding day, but they’ve since closed down.

Three years doesn’t seem like such a long time, but Jade and I have been together since my daughter was about a year and a half old; she’s five now, so damn near literally, Jade and I have been together for a lifetime, if not our own lifetime, yet. 

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When Hate Hits Close to Home

Update: WTHR covered the events described below.

Twenty-one years ago, I met a kid in the neighborhood my mom, my sister, and I had moved into. It was a Friday afternoon, and we hung out on our front porch, looking at and trading collectible comic book cards, a hobby I had recently taken up and which he was leaps and bounds ahead of me in.

We were well underway with our card trades when my dad arrived to pick my sister and me up for the weekend, at which point my friend and I realized we didn’t even know each other’s names!

As we got to know each other, I’d learn that Chris — his name is Chris, by the way — very much enjoyed comic books; if memory serves me, the walls of his room were lined with comics displayed in plastic sleeves. I’d also come to find out that the guy had a passion for pranks. I remember he tried to convince me that he had a twin, and that I could tell them apart by the direction the hair swirled on the crown of their head. Chris also had a few of the younger kids in the neighborhood convinced that behind the shrubs by his house was a portal which led to a realm of dragons, so that was fun.

As we grew up, I moved to a neighborhood a few streets over and made friends with a new group of kids. Of course, I had to bring Chris into that group! He fit right in, and the pranks naturally continued, though usually at my expense, such as when he and our friend Michael tried to convince me that they had become vampires. That was a weird couple of weeks.

Vampires. A monster in the woods near the house. Our own pet cemetery. Believing one of us to be demon-possessed. An exorcism on a household. Fun times! Innocent, naïve times.

I loved my town growing up, and I certainly never understood the hate shown to it by so many of my peers. I still love my community, but it’s far less rosy than it was back in those days of childhood.