I Make Art

I figured I'd take this time to talk a little bit about my artwork.

I also wanted to upload a picture of my latest soap sculpture. I woke up one morning and there it was, and I was covered in soap shavings.

Yes, this is the dread Great Old One Cthulu, who slumbers beneath beneath the waves in his dead city R'lyeh. Fear him.

The real art of this piece isn't the actual sculpture, but the story behind it. I went to turn this in yesterday, but the teacher had already left and his room was locked. This was at 10:20, okay? So, Richard Aldaz, Blanca Tuqueres, and I were standing there, like, Um...? We checked around for broken windows to try and put our sculptures in the room so we could say we turned them in when they were due (Friday was the last possible day), but there weren't any. Except one over the door. But we didn't want to drop them in, because we figured they would break. Finally, we put them in a bag and lowered them down onto the ledge with a stick. We attached a note, explaining that we had turned them in on time. I wanted to include a poem:

Por favor, Señor Licenciado,
Ud. es un hombre bien estimado,
No sea carajo,
Acepte el trabajo,
Y por nosotros estará muy amado.

But the other kids said no.

I've been reading a lot of webcomics lately, and talking with one of my friends about making a webcomic, so I though I'd try my hand at it, just to see whether I epic failed or not. It's autobiographical in nature, and I'm using it to show you in a graphical nature how extremely interesting my life here in Ecuador is. So, without further ado, I present issue #1 of

The Adventures of Jacob in Ecuadorland!

I drew another one, but I accidentally deleted the picture off my camera. Guess you'll have to wait. Sorry. It's meant to be read from left to right in a continuous horizontal strip, but Blogger decided that was too wide, so I had to format it funny.

Thanks Mom, for commenting, as well as Kristina, Silvia, and Victoria.

That's all for now. ¡Ciao!


I Just Found Out It's "Blah-GOY-ya-vitch"

So, I've been following the Blagojevich impeachment trial with some interest, mainly because it allows me to laugh at my friend who lives in Chicago. Of course, his dad got to go to the Inauguration for free, so it's a trade-off. Anyway, Blagojevich just got removed from office, and then summarily REJECTED from ever holding public office in Illinois ever again. It's like getting pimp-slapped by the government. CNN had this picture of Blagojevich's reaction:

Blagojevich wins my choice for "Most Photogenic Politician in the Way that Lets You Make Fun of Him" award. I'll add another post later tonight, so until then, ¡ciao!


Chapter Fifty-Eight

In which Jacob goes on a retreat,
Breaks his New Year's Resolution,
Takes a trip to far-off reaches, and
Learns why Never to piss off Anita.

I really wasn't sure how to organize this post, since a lot of important things have happened to me in the past four days, so I figured I'd just go with chronological order.

This weekend, AFS had the Mid-Stay orientation. Suzanna (AFS volunteer), her niece Lady, the other AFS kids, and I all got on a bus and traveled to the Valley of Chota, the place where all the black people live. Well, not all of them, but lots and lots of black people live in Chota. Since we couldn't leave the hotel, I only got a few pictures. Sorry.

The trip started off in a rocky manner. Anita and I showed up first, ten minutes early, and sat around for a while. Then Suzanna and Lady got there, and we sat around until 8:10, waiting for the other kids. They eventually arrived, but Lotta was alone. As you may or may not remember, Lotta and Daniele are living in the same house, so it was strange for them not to arrive together, but Lotta said Daniele was sick and couldn't make it. Suzanna flipped out, and said if he didn't go, he'd be sent home. So Daniele showed.

Traveling in buses is always difficult for me. I keep trying to read my book, or sleep, but I always end up watching the scenery. Ecuador is such a beautiful place.

The hotel was a pretty nice place, with a pool, and banana trees, and stuff.

From left to right, Alexandra, Hannes, Lotta.

Well, on the first day, we had to do some stupid orientation stuff, filling out questionares about what our family was like, and how we were getting along. It was really boring, the kind of stuff I expected to be doing. AFS isn't real big on the creative aspect. This meeting was the first time in a long time that all the AFS students were together in one place. Usually one or two people, often Alexandra and/or Hannes, don't show, but this time we were all there.

Before lunch, Suzanna went around and asked us all about our families. Now, because Anita's one of the most involved volunteers in AFS, I get to hear everything that's going wrong with all the different families, so it kind of upset me when I had to listen to people telling blatant lies about how well they were doing. For example, Johannes's family is extremely upset with him, because he's never at home. His mother complains that he uses their home like a hotel, just comes home from school (if he even went that day. He's missed two days of school every week since forever.), maybe eats lunch, goes to Ibarra (he lives in San Antonio), and comes back at 9, 10 o'clock. Yet, there he was, telling us about how he's doing so well with his family, how he's got such a "special" relationship with his mom. It made me want to puke.

After lunch, we had a couple of hours free until we had to continue, so Camille and I hung out, talking about Harry Potter (I told her my awesome 19 Years Later idea), listening to her iPod, 'n' such stuff as that. Suzanna was on a tear about no one talking in Spanish, but everyone pretty much ignored her. Eventually, she just gave up.

Lady was really nice. When Camille and I had exhausted our ideas over better names for Harry's children and listened to about every song by Weird Al Yankovich, Lady came over and offered to teach us how to play "40", which we accepted. Now, 40 is a game so complicated it makes Mao look like tiddlywinks. There are maybe a hundred different rules, and it wasn't until the very end that I actually caught on. Camille, after trying and failing, gave up, and went into her room and listened to her iPod. There are some things that just don't change. But I played for a bit, and I taught her Go Fish and Egyptian Rat Screw, and we found out the they play Gin Rummy in Ecuador and in America. She was really pleasant, and open. Which was good, since I successfully alienated myself from most of the other exchange students.

At 6:00PM, we met up and we had to give presentations on different subjects. I think it was at this point that I realized I was going to break my eighth New Year's Resolution, Don't get mad at people and never talk to them again. We all talked about different topics, like I did Religion, and some other people did Social Relations and Sports. Now, this should have been a way to objectively examine the differences between our home countries and Ecuador, but instead, it degenerated into a pity fest where everyone talked about why they hated Ibarra. It was disgusting. People said things like, "Everyone in Ibarra is a hypocrite," or "Everyone in Ibarra lies." It was the worst display of stereotyping I think I've ever seen. And Alexandra and Hannes were like, "Oh, and my house is so dirty." Now, unless your house is crawling with cockroaches and taking a shower actually makes you dirtier, I think that saying your house is dirty is an incredible insult. That's just me. Apparently, it wasn't so for Alexandra or Hannes, or they just didn't care. I don't know Alexandra's family at all, but I met Hannes's sister, and she seemed pretty nice, so it upset me to hear them talk so cavalierly about how nasty their homes were.

But that wasn't what made me most upset. No, Suzanna wins the "I Pissed Jacob Off the Most" Prize. I expected Suzanna to be at least a little upset, but on the contrary, she encouraged them. Suzanna made a big deal about how she was NOT from Ibarra, that she studied in Quito in the American school, and had traveled all around Europe, and had a white, blonde-haired daughter, and in short wasn't a filthy Ecuadorian. I wanted to say, "Your daughter's about as white as I am," though of course I didn't. Now, there's a very clear reason why Suzanna's like that: Internal Racism. That's where a person emulates another group (usually Europeans) to the extent that they begin to hate or stereotype the ethnic or national group they come from. Here's my Dragonball Z example, to help you understand:

This is Goku. He's the most powerful character in the anime. No, Gohan is not more powerful than Goku, I don't care what you say. Now, Goku usually comes in two styles, Regular Saiyin and Super Saiyin. Super Saiyin's the more powerful one. See if you can pick which one of these is the Super Saiyin photo.

If you picked, European Goku, you're right! The weaker form that Goku keeps trying to change out of has black hair and black eyes. The strong form that always amazes people when he changes into it has blonde hair and blue eyes. That's what I mean by internal racism. The Japanese makers of the show are consciously or unconsciously portraying Europeans as more powerful and desirable.

This is external racism, for comparison.

Now, Internal Racism is a very sad thing, and, truth be told, I expected to see it sooner or later, with all the American influence there is here, and I sympathize with people that suffer from it. At least, I thought I did. Then I met Suzanna, and listened to her pandering to a bunch of snot-nosed brats just because they were white, and I can't bring myself to think, Well, it's not her fault. I was disgusted.

Then we had dinner, and I gobbled down my food and disappeared into my room and read my book. Throughout most of the orientation, I had been drawing, or writing my graveyard story, but after that session, I just needed to crash and lose myself into the story of the Joads. I was reading The Grapes of Wrath. Evetually, people started drifting in, and we formed a mutual ignorance, where I wasn't there for them and they weren't there for me. Lady came in and asked if I wanted to play cards, which I did. Turns out, she didn't like most of the other AFS students either. She asked why I didn't get along, and I said that it seemed to me like they had just come here like it was a trip. Which is exactly why I don't like them. The program is not so they can go to Baños and Peñas every five minutes, ditching their families and not asking for permission even. I also don't appreciate them taking potshots at America every other sentence. Suzanna was like, "Oh yeah. Europeans learn their own language and English. I know English and my language. How many languages do you know?" I was like, The only reason you're learning English is because America is so awesome. You don't see every country in the world trying to learn German, or Spanish, do you? No. You don't. So shut up, and sit down. Well, you are sitting, but stay sitting. I keep wanting to say "Hitler!" whenever Johannes tries to badmouth America, but I'm saving that for a later time.

The next day, Sunday, Lady left early in the morning to go back to Ibarra, and the rest of us stuck around to talk more. I bolted my breakfast and hid in my room again until we had to talk. I could tell Alexandra was starting to get pissed off, but I didn't care. Sunday only brought more fuel to the "I hate the other Foreign Exchange Kids" fire. Alexandra and Johannes both said flat out that the reason they came to Ecuador was as tourists. Alexandra was complaining about how her school gives homework (Gasp!), and if one of her friends came over and wanted to go out, well, she sure as hell wasn't going to stay shut up inside doing work. "I came to Ecuador to have fun, not to go to school," I think were her exact words. Johannes, in complaining that AFS never takes them anywhere, said, "I came here to get to see the country." Now, AFS is not a tourism program on the year-stay. The summer-stay, yeah, because there's no school, but not the year-long program. But more than that, it's an insult to the work Anita and the families are doing. They're not bending over backwards so a couple of rich kids can stay and live it up. They really want us to be here so we can see how people live, get to know another culture, the school system, etc., and to flat out say that doesn't matter, they only want to have fun, is like spitting in the faces of the people who work so hard for them.

Oh, and Johannes's family had the option of picking an American (me), or a German (Johannes), and they picked the German, not knowing anything about us other than our nationalities. WELL. Looks like you made the wrong choice! Sorry, but Johannes was really laughing at me and America about that, so I can only laugh on my blog about him. I'm not an America-phile, but you step on Barack Obama, them's fightin' words.

Suzanna, though, still wins. Rather than, you know, correcting them on their mistaken belief that AFS is a touristic program, Suzanna said, "Oh, that's terrible, I'll organize trips myself for you poor suffering children." Sorry, but when you can shell out three hundred bucks at the drop of a hat to go on a trip around the country, you lose any "poor suffering child" status you may have had before. I was talking with Anita about how they didn't invite me on that trip, and she said it was probably because I was living with her, and she would have put a stop to it.

Lunch, though, was where it finally hit the fan. I didn't think quick enough to ask to take my lunch in the dining room, so I had to sit out there with everyone I had been avoiding. Alexandra in particular was pretty upset. She said, "Suzanna thinks you're being very impolite by not talking." My response was a "And I care because...?" I thought it was phrased very well. I asked if it bother her that I didn't want to be around them, and she sort of huffed at me. In the words of the Immortal Dwight Schrute, "Reject a woman, and she will never forget it." It's a good thing I don't care.

So, then last night, I get back, and hey! Carlos is there! Carlos, for those of you not in the know, is Anita's son. I told him about how upset I was with the other exchange students, and that ate up some time until we had to go get Magna! Magna, not Magma. Magna is a Norwegian guy who's thirty, and he was one of Anita's first exchange students that she hosted, 12 years ago. He's back, and he found himself an Ecuadorian girlfriend! I told Magna about the other AFS kids, and he was like, "Screw 'em." He's a good guy.

On Monday, I ditched school and went to Ambato, which is the capital of Tungurahua. Yay hypocrisy!

What a beautiful place!

Anita had to go because Carlos is in some kind of trouble. He wanted out of a company, so he took his computer and desk and stuff that was his out. The other people were upset, and put out a warrant for his arrest. So, Anita had to go and sort stuff out. I also learned that it's not a good idea to make Anita angry. The phone rings, and I hear Anita say, "You say 'Let him deal with it by himself' NOW, but when this company was first getting started and you needed money, it was, 'Where's Mrs. Anita?' Well, Wars have two sides! YOU WANTED WAR, YOU'VE GOT ONE, YOU LITTLE SHIT." I've been keeping a low profile.

I haven't been in a large city in ages. It was really fun.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but is that a blue-and-grey version of the Thundercats symbol?

And now for an interim segment of


La Mama Negra is apparently a funtastic celebration held every year in Tungurahua on October 11th. Erm...

And, to round things off, a fun picture of Me, Anita, and Carlos.

Thanks for commenting, Silvia. I'm glad you like the photo. Yeah, I just ignore all my teachers now. I know what's awesome, and what's not! Thanks, Ezra, for commenting. I'm not changing my Extra-Special Racism Pic of the Month segment. That's here to stay. :-)

That's all for now. ¡Ciao!


Epipheral Vision

This post is about Four things.

There's been a problem building with Camille for a while now (character-driven plot FTW). She's been pretty despondent with her family, not talking very much or "integrating" into the home, as Anita says. Suzanna, apparently, has talked with Camille about it several times, and is tired of trying to deal with her. I'm not sure of the veracity of that statement, since Suzanna is an old woman suffering from some disease which makes her go to Quito every so often for treatment, and she probably has the mental force of a tomato. She does make good turkey, though. But I'm getting off-topic. The upshot of it all is that Anita asked me to talk to Camille and see if I can get her to change.

Now, it is absolutely not my place to have that conversation, but from what Anita said, the people whose place it is have had that conversation, and it didn't work. Now, Camille is the only other American here, and, if she goes home, as Anita's told me is the next step if Camille's family decides to let her go, I'll be alone. Not alone, but there'll be no one else to understand how awesome going to KFC is, or to laugh at "What's that over there?" I don't know if you know why that's important, but it is. So, I agreed to have a chat with Camille and see what was what. As I've been giving "English lessons" to Camille's sister, Andrea, for a while, it's not weird for me to be over at her house. My original plan was just to take a few minutes and say, "Hey, Camille. Let's talk, huh?" Didn't quite work out that way.

Camille showed up around four o'clock, but left to go to the internet right away. Which was actually a good thing, because I wanted to okay my talking to her with her family first. I don't want to be stuck in this kind of drama. So, it was just Andrea, myself, and her two sisters, and so I asked Andrea about it. Andrea stopped just short of saying "PLEASE TALK TO HER. DAMMIT." She then went on to tell me about all of the horrible awful things that Camille's done, and they were pretty bad. Again, I don't know how much of it is true, because emotions tend to get the best of people, but it was pretty consistent with what I've seen of Camille. I can't write most of it here, because Andrea made me swear I wouldn't say it (I think she was worried that her mother would find out she told me), but it boiled down to a couple of things: Camille stays in her room all the time, and doesn't talk to people, Camille won't help with housework at all, Camille eats everything ("You see that basket of eggs? That won't last until Monday.") or refusing to eat ("She just sort of throws it away."), and Camille hates sharing.

I'm going to talk about that last part. Sharing is an incredibly important thing here, and I never realized until Andrea told me bluntly. She said something to the effect of, "Here, everyone shares. If you have something, you offer a little bit to everyone around you. You don't have to share all of it, if they ask for more, you can say, 'I already gave you one,' but you have to share at least a little bit. No matter how small it is, you take it and cut it into little pieces and give some to everybody." She went on for a good, fifteen minutes about sharing. And it's true. Every time during break at school, when someone has a bag of chips, the first thing they do is offer some to everyone around them. I hadn't noticed before, but it just works out that way. And if they (usually me) don't offer, people ask for some. Of course, I never refused, and now that I understand, I'm always going to offer. It doesn't really work like that in the U.S. There's a real idea of "I bought this with my own money. It's mine, and you can't have any." that gets inside of you. It's not even something I ever really thought about until this happened. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way we are. Of course, not everybody, and not all the time, but that idea's there. It's not in Ecuadorian people.

As if to epitomize this thought, Camille refuses to share with anybody, even refusing to get something for herself if it would make her feel uncomfortable about not sharing. Andrea finishes telling me this, and I'm like, I had no idea sharing was so important. Why don't you tell her that? No one sat down with me and had a talk about sharing things until now, and I know Camille hasn't had one. That was my basic response to each of the points, that if you don't tell her, she won't know. Of course, some things, like not helping when being asked, I couldn't explain, but I'll get to that later.

So, about that time, Andrea's mother and grandmother (the "I hate America" grandmother) showed up, and Andrea explained that we had been talking about Camille. The two women basically confirmed what Andrea had told me, though not as explicitly, and when I asked if they wanted me to talk to Camille, they said, YES. The mother's the only authority figure in the house, since the dad has a two-week on, three-day off, deal as a police chief in Azuay (another province). She told me that she didn't want to discipline Camille, or tell her to do stuff, for fear of upsetting her. I explained that this was a common problem among first-time host families (Johannes's family had this too), and stressed that they should talk to Anita.

Then Camille showed up, and, as it was seven o'clock, it was time for me to leave. I told Camille to walk with me for a bit, and tried to explain delicately about how my mom had asked me to talk to her to see if she was having problems. We talked about it for a little while, and I made a very startling connection. Now, because Camille's host mother is very timid, she doesn't ask anything of Camille, leaving it up to Andrea, two years Camille's senior, to make requests. When I asked why she didn't do things her sister asked her to, Camille told me that back in the States, she's the oldest child, and so it's very strange and upsetting to her to have a sibling tell her what to do. The pieces fell into place, and I said, "Why don't you say that? I wouldn't have to be here!" Again, my mother's right. Every problem in the entire world stems from people not talking to each other. Except, like, um, Earthquakes. And diseases. But everything else, yeah.

After promising me that she would talk to her family as soon as she got home and see what she could do to fix things, we said goodbye. I don't know if she did or not, I'll find out later today or tomorrow, I guess, but I did my part.

In an unrelated occurence, I had a strange and rather disappointing series of epiphanies this week relating to my school. Remember that one post where I said I was just going to stop listening to my painting teacher? I think I should just apply that to all my teachers.

In Artistic Drawing, we're working with drawing ink, which is very difficult-to-use stuff. I've been in a nostalgic kick in my artwork lately, because of my homesickness, and so when ordered to draw a landscape in ink, I made the ocean, with a guy fishing:

I happen to kind of like that picture. It's silly, yes, but I like it. I go to turn it in, and hear the teacher saying, "INVENTED. ZERO." to other students. So, I quietly slipped this picture back into my tablero. The assignment for the day was to do it over, though, so I couldn't hide it. The teacher came by, and sure enough, "INVENTED. ZERO." He never said it couldn't be invented before, so I added him to my mental list of teachers that change the rules for the assignment after I've already done it. Anyways, he takes one look at my picture and says, "Putting rays on the sun is childish. Don't do it anymore."

I can picture my mom's face as she's reading this. It's funny.

But anyways, the inner artist in me said, "This is my god damn art, and you can't tell me what to do." I didn't say that, of course, but I was thinking it. And that makes the difference, and led me to my second epiphany: I'm through letting my art suffer for my grades. My grades mean absolutely nothing to me. They don't help or hurt me with colleges, which is about all grades are good for at this point. If I want to put rays on my sun, I'm going to put god damn rays on my sun. If I want to draw the ocean, I don't care how many times they order me to make a mountain. Now, I didn't feel like going at it just then, so I redrew the sun as the moon, which doesn't require rays. But that's the last time. That's all I'm going to say about my art school right now.

Oh, and I hate my Painting teacher. That's really the last thing.

Hey, Racism! There's a fun topic.


Next to the Church of Santo Domingo is this stately statue. It's a fun thing, with a couple of young poor children making do with what they have. But the message to poor people ("Stay in your place. You have it good enough.") is something I'm not going to get into. Instead, I'm going to focus on the black kid in the back.

This picture seems innocent enough, with the white kid with blue eyes flying the kite while the black kid looks on in admiration. But let's get a closer look at these two upstanding young gentlemen.

Yes, as you can now clearly see, the white kid is looking on in wonder as his kite (I like to think of it as his dreams) fly up to the Heavens. Sitting on the rock, the black kid is watching the white kid fly the kite, his hand outstretched. The real message was probably Ibarra promoting its diversity, but the artist managed to slip in his thoughts. Study the black kid's expression, and you will see the look of apathy. This is a kid who has realized that everyone else will always have more than him, and has accepted that fact. So, he must sit idly by while other, whiter kids fly their kites and live their dreams. Walk by this on your way to church, all you black kids. Just be thankful you don't have ragged clothes. Oh, and he has giant lips.

Spain's legacy of Purity of Blood ("Cleanliness of Blood" in literal translation) lives on!

I went to take pictures of the Indigenous strike (stayed home from school for it), but they didn't show. It wasn't until later that I realized that I was there at ten o'clock, when they said they'd be there. I should have been there an hour and a half later, at 11:30, when they were there. Oh well. Instead, I watched Obama get inaugurated and got some interesting pics.

This is a crazy old black man preaching about how Jesus Christ died for our sins. He said, over and over, "ONE DAY, GOD WILL JUDGE JESUS CHRIST FOR OUR SINS." I'm like, I'm not all that religious, but I don't think that's how it works...

The Chinese food place lied to me. IT FREAKING LIED TO ME.

Okay, that's all. Thanks for the comments, Mom and Silvia. I'm looking forward to your visit!



My Mom Is Always Right (or I Hate You All, You Ruined My Life)

Today, I was waiting for my friends in the park, and I sat down on a bench next to this really old black guy. I'm not sure if he was homeless or not, because his clothes were all right, but he smelled kind of rank. But I'm not writing this post about homeless people. I'll save that for another time.

I said Good morning to the guy, and he sort of smiled and said Good morning back. There was a band playing, and I was just going to sit there and write and listen to the music (I've started my graveyard story). But then the old guy leans over to me and says, "Hey, are you Catholic? Or are you Evangelical?" Now, usually, I have a whole song and dance about how I don't really have a named religion, and then we get into this discussion about whether I believe in God or not, and it's a giant mess. So, instead, I just said that I was Catholic. So he says, "That's good. There are a lot of Evangelicals in Hell right now, repenting for sinning." I don't really have a response to comments like that, so I just sort of nodded. It's my all-purpose defense against people who say stupid things to me.

We're sitting there for a while, and out of nowhere, the guy asks where I'm from. I tell him the United States, and he says, "Say, there's going to be a new government there, isn't there?" Everyone knows about Obama. I told him about how I hoped this president would be better than the last, and so that was nice.

Then the old guy starts asking me about which church I go to. The band was playing then, so I couldn't really make out the words the first few times, but eventually I got the message and said the Iglesia del Quinche, or the Divino Niño. He seemed satisfied by the answer, and since the band was really loud, we didn't say anything until they finished. Then, he asked me what sounded like an incredibly loaded question, Did I like the music? I said yes, and he asked if I thought there was music in Heaven. I said that God gave us the ability to make music, because I wasn't really sure where he was going with that. He sort of ignored me, and said that the music in Heaven was way better than the band playing here, because there were heavenly quires and all the best musicians who ever lived. I was very tempted to make a comment about Azathoth dancing to his mad pipers, but I didn't think he'd get it.

We sort of droned on and on for a while. Well, he droned, and I sort of nodded. But the general focus of this conversation is that my mom is always right about everything. It's not that hard to talk to people, and if you try, it's actually pretty likely that they've been trying to find someone who would listen to them for some time. We'll see if I talk to more people in the future. I dunno.

In an unrelated and more depressing piece (although I have to work to get more depressing than Azathoth eating your brain),

I'm sick of everything. I'm sick of not having internet. I'm sick of having to do Virtual School, and especially Gym class in Virtual School. I'm sick of trying to do Virtual School and the internet not working. I'm sick of having to go to regular school, especially since it's art school. I'm sick of teachers who think they're God with a paintbrush, especially when half of the stuff they tell us is wrong. I'm sick of my art not working out (although this is offset somewhat by my writing). I'm sick of waking up at 5:45 dead tired because I went to sleep at 10:45 the night before, and then listening to my stupid Painting teacher tell me if I really love art, I'd get up at 1AM and paint. I'm sick of the other kids who laugh at my English because they're so bad at it, and my Spanish because I'm so good at it that it stands out when I make a mistake. I'm sick of Sara showing up when she feels like it and then acting superior because most of the teachers treat her like she's made of gold. I'm sick of Johannes acting like he's God's gift to women, because he's white and can play the guitar. I'm sick of Hannes not giving me back my flash drive, even though he's had it for almost four months now. I'm sick of Camille having problems with her family, especially since now Anita and Grace want me to talk to her about it. I'm sick of Grace trying to shove responsibility for Daniele not having a family onto Lotta's family, and causing a whole host of problems for Lotta. I'm sick of AFS forcing Anita to get receipts for every ten cent phone call and then refusing to pay for this or that because of some reason or another. I'm sick of the circles under my eyes and the plaque on my teeth. I'm sick of my short hair and the fact that the inspector's going to make me cut it soon enough anyway. I'm sick of the insect that buzzes around my ear at night and won't let me sleep, and the insect bites I get from said insect.

But I'm also glad for some things. I'm glad for Rodrigo and Chooki, who I can go and play basketball with any time of night. I'm glad for the mountains, which are still I think some of the most beautiful things ever, even if I hate painting them. I'm glad for sunsets, for giving me a reason not to hate painting entirely. I'm glad for Anita, who woke up this morning at 5:45 to make sure I woke up on time, and then made me breakfast. I'm glad for Rosita, whose mother just had a bad turn, but is slowly recovering. I'm glad for Carolina, who still blushes every time I make a joke about Chooki being her boyfriend (he's not, but it's still funny). I'm glad for Andrea, who thinks I own English and laughs at all my really bad jokes. I'm glad for my friends back home (NY and FL), even though I don't get to talk to them as much as I'd like. I'm glad for my friends from MITES, who are always up to talk with me and share weird internet sites and music. I'm glad for my parents, who always take the time to talk me down from the metaphorical cliff whenever I call up in the middle of school, nearly in tears and paying $1.50/min for an international call. I'm glad for EXTRABREAD, the bread store next to the internet store about a block from my house, that sells the most amazing fresh-baked bread ever. I'm glad for the Chinese food place about two blocks from my house, where they don't even bring me the menu anymore because I always order the same thing (if you ask me, Mixto Especial con Cola Mediana is the food of the gods). I'm glad for my teachers who like me and let me out of class early (I know English. I don't need to be there.). I'm glad the Indigenous people are strong enough to have a strike that'll shut down all inter-city traffic tomorrow (Yes. Yes, they can. Hopefully, I'll be able to get pictures.) so I don't have to go to school. I'm glad Obama's going to be sworn in tomorrow as the President of the United States. I'm glad for Steinbeck, who writes amazing things (Tortilla Flats FTW). I'm glad I got into MIT already, and I don't have to worry about other schools so much. I'm glad people comment on my blog, too.

I think that's about everything. Peace out, guys.



The Ecuadorian Adventure

The way I see it, there are three types of stories: plot-driven, character-driven, and setting-driven. Plot driven is where things happen to the characters, and the characters react to them, like in Stranger than Fiction, where a bulldozer goes into Will Farrell's house, and the guy says, "Now that's plot." Then there's character-driven, where the characters are totally nuts and go around and make things happen. Pretty much anything by Carl Hiassen is character-driven. Think about it. And then there's setting-driven, where things happen because of the place where the characters are. I can't think of any examples of this. But what I'm trying to get across here, is that my life is a sum of all three types, a fantastic story I'm thinking of calling

The Ecuadorian Adventure*
(*I wouldn't really name my autobiography this, but it's good enough for a blog post.)

I'll start with Thursday. On Thursday, I went to Camille's house, Camille being the other American here. But I didn't go to visit Camille, but rather Camille's host sister, Andrea. Notice I made sure to get her name. I'm tired of going several weeks trying to catch the person's name offhand because I forgot it the first time, and didn't have the guts to ask again. Andrea's a really nice girl, a little bit older than me, and she wants me to "teach" her "English." No, she really does, I just like saying that to mess with my mom. On an unrelated note, MOM. PLEASE DON'T SHOW THIS TO SUSANNE OR VANESSA. I BEG YOU.

But seriously, what we do is we sit at the table, and I have Andrea read to me out of Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. She says that she understands reading and writing well, but that she can't do pronunciation. So I just write down words she's having problems with and try to puzzle out the archaic rules of the English language and explain them. It's difficult, since writing out pronunciation, like "toad" is pronounced "toh-d", doesn't work that way in Spanish, since the letters make different sounds. But I'm getting the hang of it. Now, Camille, of course, speaks English, and so I was wondering why Andrea wanted me to help her, instead of Camille, which would be easier. Now, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, by which I mean I'm not going to ask why a cute Ecuadorian girl wants my help, but it turns out that Camille's just not a very good person to be around, that she doesn't do anything with the family, doens't help or whatnot, and so Andrea asked me if I would. That's not good, because if Camille gets sent home (which is very possible, if the family decides they can't put up with her anymore), I'll be the only American left in Ibarra. No one to go to KFC with, no one to understand why "What's that over there?" is so funny. It'd be a shame. I'd be alone.

Andrea's doing much better with reading, though. She still sounds Ecuadorian, which probably won't change, but at least she'll probably get the visa. She wants to go to America as an au pair, which is a person who lives with a family and watches the kids while the parents are out, and does general servant things. But to do that, she needs a visa, and the visa offices only do appointments in English, and other people Andrea knows who wanted to do this got denied the visa because they didn't speak English. So, she wants my help.

Sometime around five o'clock that day, the power went out. Now, this isn't very uncommon in Ibarra (see previous posts), but it happened in the entire city. Usually it just happens to one sector, like Yacucalle, or something, but it was the whole city. So, I leave around six to start on homework, and I get home and I'm like, Wait, how am I going to do FLVS if the power's out? Dammit! So, I lit up some candles to see if I could do my regular work.

I had this three-candle set-up going, where I put two candles on a plate, and put a third candle in a candle holder. I put the plate next to the candle holder to let the wax drip onto the plate. It was good, but then I went back to hang out at Camille's house because no one was home on my end, and I couldn't do work by the meager light.

As it turns out, all the power in Ecuador went out. 18/22 provinces went without power that night, for some strange reason. Think the Northeast Blackout a couple of years ago, except for the whole country. It was like that. We're getting power from Columbia until we're back up and running. Most of the people I asked about it blame Correa directly, like he was walking through a power plant and accidentally turned off the "Supply Power to Ecuador" switch. I don't really get it. But I went home at around nine, and since the power was still off, went to bed. I got up at five o'clock the next morning, Friday, to do homework, which most people didn't do because the power went out. My 2-D composition teacher likes me.

I think I've figured it out. The female teachers like me because I do my work well and on time, and the male teachers like Sara because she's a blonde Norwegian girl.

So, on Friday afternoon, I got a headache from not having enough sleep, and headed out to the orphanage. Now, last week, I made a promise that I would draw this one girl a picture. That was my first mistake. So, I brought in my sketchbook and a picture of the Little Mermaid to draw for her, and BAM. All the girls wanted pictures. I realized about half-way there that this would be the case, so I had somewhat prepared myself for it mentally, but still, having a bunch of ten-year-old girls clinging onto you begging for pictures isn't something you can exactly prepare for. So now I've got a picture of some Disney princess I'm supposed to draw, and then a Divine Child, and then, who knows?

Every week, I go back to the same classroom. Not really out of choice, but rather because that was the first class I went to, and no one really said anything about going to other classes, so it's always the same one. But yesterday (Friday), one of the older girls came and asked why I never go to their class. So now I'm promised to go to the older kids' class next Friday. The girls there have this really big thing about pinky swearing, and they get really upset when I'm "breaking" a promise. I had to sing three songs to get out of there, and that was only with me fighting them to get out. There's another American guy, 25 or so, who goes there to help out, but the girls don't like him. They keep telling me that, and trying to pit us against each other. There's also a German girl, 20, who lives at the orphanage and helps out. The girls are trying to hook me up with her for some reason, trying to get me to say that I love her. It's kind of weird, like having a ten-year-old fan club that's always trying to distract me.

In a stroke of extreme brilliance, I said that it wasn't fair for me to be the only one making drawings, and got them all to rush off and start making drawings. Or give me drawings that they'd already made.

This is the drawing that Amelia made me. She's the girl I drew the picture of the Little Mermaid for. She pasted the picture of Bugs Bunny in my sketchbook and then drew around it. She reminds me a lot of Pam N., for some reason. I do this a lot, in that I'll see people and consciously connect them to someone I know. Random people, too, like people I barely know, or haven't seen in ages. She was one of the two girls who fought with me to keep me from leaving ("But I'll be back Wednesday!" "I don't care!"). They really, really like me. I guess I'm just that awesome.

When I got back home, I went to bed. I woke up at 9:30, realized the internet was closed, and went back to bed. I had an epic struggle with my body trying to get more sleep, in which I woke up at four, five, six, and seven, and then lay in bed until 8 trying to fall back to sleep again. I have a physical inability to sleep past eight o'clock, no matter how late I go to bed. Much as I kick and fight and scream, I'm a morning person. Argh!

I did some watercolor work for 2-D Comp (Nothing special, mom, just colors). My Comp. teacher is really impressed with me, that I actually do my work. I think they've had problems with past foreign exchange students. She complimented me on my watercolor set, too, so, thanks for that one, mom. I actually like watercolors, which just gives more fuel for the hating my painting teacher fire. He totally spoiled them for me.

At ten, I went back to Andrea's house to help her, but we ended up going out. We went to one of her friend's house to get Andrea's dog to mate with another dog. I told them (Andrea and a couple of her friends were there. Camille was still asleep.) that in America, we don't have to deal with this, because we spay and neuter our dogs. They were all upset and said, "That's so awful!" I'm like, we don't have stray dogs running around the streets eating garbage. That's why. After that fun time was over, we went to the cemetery. They were exhuming a body to bury the son with his parents. I was going to ask where the son's body was, but then they pointed to a garbage bag, and I was like, Oh, Okay. So the caretakers pulled the coffin out, and the bottom fell out, spilling thirty-year-old bones, clothing, and rusted metal all over the place. Gag. Barf. So, being the only young male there who wasn't terrified of dead people, I got the fun task of helping clean up the junk, after all the bones were removed, and tossing it into the giant pit of death in the middle of the cemetery, with the other rusted coffins that they weren't using at the moment.

It was really interesting, though. We were there because one of Andrea's friends is in an anatomy class in college, and the professor assigned them to get a nose bone. Yes. Yes, that actually happened. I think I'm going to write a short story about the experience, since it was very surreal.

When we got back to the house, Andrea had the grandmother blow cigarette smoke on us, to make us better. Or something. The grandmother was weird. She told me that she'd been to the United States several times, but hated it. I wasn't really sure what to say, but she went on to say, "Yeah, because there's all these really fat black people. Like, really fat. And dirty. Black people. I don't think they even wash their feet. I hate America." So that kicked off a good thirty seconds of extremely awkward silence. I almost made the awkward turtle sign, but no one would have understood it. Then the grandmother went away, and I went back to "helping" Andrea with the vowel sounds. One thing I've learned from all this is that English is a very, very stupid language.

Thank you to Pam, for commenting. Glad you liked the story. There's no second part, but there is another story set in the same town, with similar craziness: "The Strange Case of Randal Skall". Thank you, Kristina, as well. It's okay if you don't get the Lovecraft joke. Not many people would. Thank you, Victoria, for commenting. Just send 'em over when you get 'em done. And I beat up Jesse all the time anyway. Especially since he's smaller than me.

That's all for now. ¡Ciao!


Finished Heat Resistant

Well, I finished my story, Heat Resistant, that I've been working on for a while. Any comments or compliments would be greatly appreciated, though the former moreso than the latter. I'm hoping to enter this one in the Writers of the Future contest, so it needs to be in top shape. Check it out, huh? Thanks.

To commemorate my epic story, I made a cheesy HP Lovecraft joke in Paint:


Thanks to Victoria for commenting. You're like, the most dedicated commenter I have. I seriously appreciate it. If you ever need me to do anything, like, um, I dunno, beat someone up for you, or something, just say the word.



New Year's Resolutions, Part Deux

Hey, I had a conference call with Tom, Kris, Chris, Paula, and Sabrina, so that's five down, eight to go!

Also, I updated my story "Heat Resistant" on Sunday, Jan. 11, so check it out.

La Caminata de la Muerte

So, yesterday we went on the Caminata. It was okay. I woke up at 6:00, which was a definite bonus, not much of one, but it was there, and got to school at 7:25. I was a little worried that I would be the only one wearing regular clothes, because I thought the Director had said to do so the day before, but no one had the uniform, so it was good. It was the first time I had seen anyone wearing normal clothes, and vice versa, so I wore a Florida shirt and non-jean pants. But everyone else had on jeans, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway. But whatevs.

We had about ten people when we left, but we picked up most of the other kids up on the way there. I've been down the path we took several times in a bus, but this was the first time walking, so I really took a good look at the scenery. Ecuador is such an incredibly beautiful country. The clouds are so close to the ground, because we're so high up, and I could sit and watch them move slowly across the sky, flowing around mountains like water, all day. That's what I did yesterday after the Caminata, actually, when I was at the orphanage waiting to start work. But that's another story. I didn't bring my camera, so no pictures. (Mom, I'm not going to bring my $400 digital camera to a place with 150 kids playing soccer by a pool.)

While we were walking, Ricardo and the Director kept up a running conversation about the different kids in the class, about how Stalin is doing really badly in school, and Diego is trying but his parents don't support him, and how I'm fitting into the class. I wanted to say "I'm right here!" but then she said, "Is Ricardo right, Jacob?" So she knew I was listening. I'm like, WTF, mate? These aren't conversations she should be having with children who aren't involved in what's being discussed, but whatevs. Stalin wasn't there. I don't blame him for not wanting to ride 3 hours in a bus to go to a 3 hour event. Even if the Director did tell us it was obligatory. Obligatory fun. Like Mandatory Study Breaks, only not as cool, and in the rain. Oh yeah, it was raining too, though not hard enough to deter the manic Director.

The place itself was pretty big, with two soccer courts, two volleyball courts, and two pools. I'm not that big on non-ocean swimming, especially with so many people (oh yeah, five other courses went too, with about twenty in each course...), so I just played soccer and volleyball. While we were playing soccer, some of the kids said "Que huevada" and "Que huevas," which was weird, since I've been talking with Victoria about it for a post or two. I don't remember what they were saying it for, though, so I couldn't hazard a guess as to whether it refers to laziness. I'm getting better at soccer. After a couple of fails as a defender (self-imposed), I listened to Edwin and just ran at people with the soccer ball, screaming and kicking at them. It worked out pretty well. I sucked at volleyball, and people kept trying to tell me how to play. I wanted to say, "I know how to play, I just suck at it!" but instead I got back by mocking them when they failed. Jacob: 1, the World: 1. I can live with a tie.

I feel like Garry Kasparov (Hooray obscure chess jokes!)To get from one football court, you had to pass over this cement arched bridge, which was really narrow and had no rails. That kind of stuck in my mind. I was worried, but I got past it fine. There were a lot of mosquitoes, but I only got bit twice! There's a yellow fever epidemic on the coast right now, so Grace the AFS coordinator told me, but I had my vaccination already. Edwin was playing goalie, which meant he didn't move that much, and he got bit up a lot. The game itself was hilarious. Since it was drizzling, the ground was really wet, and I laughed really hard whenever anyone slipped, which was fairly often. I like playing soccer, because since I started out so bad, no one expects anything from me, so people like it when I'm even the least bit successful. Not that I care that much if people like me. Like Michael Scott from The Office says, I don't need to be liked. I like to be liked, I want to be liked, I have to be liked, but it's not an obsessive thing, like my need to be praised.

The worst part about my computer being broken is now I can't watch The Office at two o'clock in the morning.
I also played basketball with Diego, Edwin, Ricardo, and some annoying little kid who follows me and Sarah around at school. I called him "huahuito" or however you spell it, which means "little child." It's fun knowing Spanish. The game slowly degenerated into us trying to take the ball by brute force, and saying, "This is for America!" or for Quito, or Batman, whenever we went to shoot. It was fun. Then I went home, and the bus broke down, and I had to find another one.

I have my grades now (all of these are out of 20):
  • English: 18
  • Math: 20
  • Technical Drawing: 16
  • Artistic Drawing: 17
  • Artistic Anatomy: 14
  • History of Art: 19
  • Painting: Blank until I turn in my exam.
  • Sculpture: 16
  • Computation: 19
  • 2-D Composition: 18
  • Social Sciences: 19
  • Bodily Expression (or "Physical Culture" in the real world, and "gym" in America): 14
  • Literature: 19 (WTH, mate?)
That's all for now. Thank you Victoria, for commenting. I would respond with something witty, but Que Hueva. Do you have a blog? I tried to click on your profile link in the comments section, but your profile is private. Thank you also to Emily. I knew shameless self-promotion on Facebook would yield results! I'm glad you like my blog.



ECRS Again, Only Different

I've been doing a massive amount of updating. This is my third straight day of posting, I think, but I've had to talk about some stuff. The New Year's Resolution post had been building up in my head for a while (9. Brush my teeth twice a day, every day.), then Ngozi asked me what MITES was like, and now I had an event that can't go without saying. I got my grades today, from my Ecuadorian School, and I actually did much better than I thought I would. Unfortunately, I don't have my grades in front of me, since Anita snagged the report card and took it with her to Atuntaqui. But I remember some things, and I'll get to those in a minute.

First, let me set up this week for you: We just got back from vacation, and I've been dog-tired all week. Getting up at 5:45 again has hit me really, really hard. I woke up to my alarm this morning and laid there with my cell phone in my hand, thinking "I really don't want to get up." Next thing I knew, Anita was saying my breakfast was ready, and it was 6:20 (!). So I rushed out of the house without showering and ate my hard-boiled egg on the bus. I did brush my teeth, so that's good (see above). I got to school on time, like always, so that was good.

Tomorrow, I guess as a reward for making it through the first trimester (The schedule is kind of screwed up. The first trimester is four months, the second one month, and the last five. That's not how dividing things into three works in my part of the world, but then, it still is three parts, even if they're not equal.), we're going on a trip called "La Caminata." I keep confusing it with "Campeonata," which is "championship." The Caminata is where each course (grade) takes the day and goes off to some place for a mini-vacation. Except it's obligatory. And you don't get to pick where you go. Actually, this is a funny story. I'm getting kind of off-track from what this post was supposed to be about, but I don't care. On Tuesday, the course director, my Social Sciences teacher, came in and said we were going on the Caminata, so pick where we wanted to go. That was actually a pretty awesome day, because teacher meetings meant I didn't have Artistic Anatomy. So, anyways, Diego, the class president, decides we're going to do this the Democratic way, and list some places to go. I personally advocated for the United States ("Look, it's a 2-hour bus ride. We'll be back by 7!")

Mexico's actually part of Europe, and Canada doesn't exist.Map of South America, according to me.

Other places were Peguche, a bunch of waterfalls, Chachimbiro, some resort place, Baños, the beach, and Imbabura, a mountain. Baños got shot down because it's too far away, people balked at the $3.50 admission price to the resort, so Chachimbiro was out, Peguche never really caught on, even though that was my second choice after me taking everyone to visit D.C., and there's nothing really to do on Imbabura. So the nice orderly discussion degenerated into a rowdy contest to see who could yell out the name of a place loud enough. I really was pulling for America, and Edwin and I actually got Diego to put it on the list. Andrea erased it. I was sad. Diego eventually got fed up with trying to keep things organized, and went and got the course director again. She put things into order, and offered up the alternative of the Piscinas of Chorlavi, which is within walking distance of the school, so that would avoid paying for the bus. But then someone (I think it was MaiTé) caught wind of the fact that four other courses were going there too, and pitched a fit. Diego disappeared again, and then the course director was saying, "I don't care anymore what you guys want. You're going to Chorlavi, you lousy ingrates." She gave us a giant speech about how none of the other courses got to choose, and she was really going out on a limb giving us that opportunity, and we broke her trust, and we were awful. I think I've figured out gender roles here for my teachers. The males think they're God in their subject, and so they don't care what you say, and the women give you long speeches until you finally break down and say "No More! No More! I'll be good! I swear!" My Literature teacher today (a woman) spent 5.5 minutes telling us that whenever we address the class, we have to first say, "Teacher, classmates," just so everyone knows we're talking to them. And not to, the ceiling. Or something. Keep in mind that we have this class for all of 80 minutes a week. So 5.5 minutes is an important amount of time. She started winding up into how she had tried to teach the course manners for three years, and no one had learned, but thankfully she was cut off mid-rant. Incidentally, this is the tactic my dad uses in his class, with remarkable success. I think if he can't find a job teaching math in South America, he could get one teaching education.

But that's enough of the school week. Now onto the grades, which you've been waiting for. Oh, before I say that, I was wearing my Peru jacket to the meeting (Thanks, Jesse), and one of the other kids was like, "¿Qué más, chompa?" which is "What's up, Jacket?" Hopefully, that won't become a nickname, but I think they were impressed by how cool I looked. My grades, though:

I averaged a 16.076/20 out of my 13 classes, which is above average (10/20 is passing). I was pleased. I got 7 As, including a 20/20 in math, a 19/20 in computation, and an 18/20 in English (I own in things I already know). The real shocker there was a 19/20 in Social Sciences. The teacher really likes me, apparently (I'll get into that in a minute). I had 4 Bs, including a 16/20 in Sculpture. I was disappointed about that one, but the teacher doesn't like my soap sculptures. My two worst courses, which I knew, were Artistic Anatomy and Gym, with 14/20 in each, my only Cs. I hate those classes. Sooooo much. But all in all, I did okay, I think. In fact, the course director gave me a giant compliment. When Anita went up to get my report card, the teacher said that I was the best exchange student they've ever had, that exchange students usually just go when they feel like, not taking tests if they want, ignoring homework (cough cough Sarah cough cough. Case in point, Sarah didn't feel like going to the thing today where they handed out the report cards.), but that I'm not like that. I get things done. Yeah. Somewhere along the line, I got in good with the director of the course. I'm doing something right.

After the handing out of the grades, Anita gave a short speech on the fact that she's the treasurer, and only 9 families out of 24 have paid the class dues of $5 that were imposed in September. Dot dot dot. Silence filled the room. There was a long argument about wanting to paint the course, and on what day, and I suddenly realized where all the kids in my course get their argumentativeness from. It was the first time I'd seen most of the parents, so it was interesting trying to guess whose parents were whose. I was right on some. It was easier since the indigenous men all have long hair in ponytails and the women wear distinctive clothing.

Thanks to Ngozi for commenting on my blog. Hope I answered your question. Thanks to Victoria as well. Maybe I'll call you "Vicky" when we finally meet, but writing out Victoria seems more correct to me. MITES is really cool beans. Make sure you get people to edit your essays when you're done. It really helps. I'm free for that, if you want to shoot me an email: jacob.austin.breneman@gmail.com. And no, I haven't heard "Que hueva" here. What's it mean?

That's all for now. Sorry for the mono-pictured post. I really like doing quick Paint photos when I think the opportunity knocks, but it takes a surprising amount of time. Keep reading! I'll probably post about the Caminata tomorrow, completing one full Monday-Friday of updating.



Minority Introduction To Engineering and Science

Someone from the MIT Admissions blog comments, Ngozi, clicked on the link to my blog and read some, and asked if I would tell her what MITES was like (Sorry about the mix-up, Ngozi. I don't know anyone with a similar name to know the gender... My apologies). So here it is.

MITES in one word was amazing, stressful, wonderful, tiring, interesting, boring, provoking, bad-tasting, and all-around awesome. Okay, maybe that was more than one word. But MITES was, hands down, the best summer I've ever had in my life. My only regret is that I didn't keep a blog during that month and a half, because that would have been something to read. I've learned my lesson since, as you can see with this blog here.

The first and most important point about MITES I need to make is concerning my friends. To make you understand how entirely transformative MITES was for me, I need to first say a few things about myself. One, I am a very shy person. I do not make friends quickly, and I'd rather stay in my room reading than do almost anything else. Second, I am a very strange person, and there are not many people who share my special breed of insanity that leads to extreme bursts of creativity (like NaNoWriMo). In two weeks of MITES, I formed ten friends just as strong as those back home, and many more in the weeks to come, and they were all like me. Not exactly like me, because that would have been creepy and boring, but each of them all sharing similar interests (anime FTW) and that inner pull to do things that are new and confusing. We made a movie that I thought was pretty funny that we showed at the MITES Talent Show on the last night:

All together in the supergroup called 3rd Floor Lounge, there was Me, Chris, Kris, M, Jessica, Sabrina, Steven, Jason, Paula, Alex, Horacio, Andy, and two Teaching Assistants, Aaron and Tom. We hung out all the time, got breakfast, made "awkward signs" for each other (like awkward turtle, only better), had epic Nerf Gun battles in the bowels of the Simmons dormitory, worked together on PSets, laughed at the awful food, sang "Yes You Can" when people told us to stop, made the Physics Cave, met Physics Man, sang the Physics Man song, beasted essays, made "Hey, Victor" jokes, ate cake, and in general shared our thoughts and fears and hopes with each other. Oh, and Chris liked stealing any food from the study breaks that wasn't tied down, and sometimes I had to give him a hand. Seriously, he had 11 water bottles one Wednesday night. That's ridiculous, it's not even funny. But seriously, some of my fondest memories are from sitting at the tables in the Student Center eating a plain bagel with plain cream cheese and trying not to laugh as Paula made things really, really awkward. We all still talk and email each other very frequently, in that among the 14 of us, we've created more than 32megabytes of emails. That's pure text. It's about 950 emails. I have more emails from most individual members of 3FL than I do from my entire family. But it wasn't just them. I made very strong friends with many other people from MITES, some of whom write to me about their problems with guys (I'm not sure why I got elected for this. Maybe it's because... No. I have no idea.), or for help on their college application essays, or just to say "THAT'S MAH CLUSTAAAAAAAH!!!!" And what's even more awesome is that most of us are going to meet up again at MIT and get four full years together. That pulls me to MIT just as much as the amazing opportunities the college affords.

The second most incredible thing was the classes. Take your hardest class at your high school right now (those of you still in high school). That's nothing. Forget it. What is behind you does not concern you.

This is the official motto of NASCAR. This and Only Turn Left.
These classes are absolute murder. We had a fun saying at MITES, Eat, Sleep, Study: Choose two. Then the head of the MITES program, Dr. Carter, had to call a special meeting in which he told us that was a joke, and giving up sleep was the wrong way to go. I myself spent many a night working on Biochemistry or Physics until the wee hours of the morning, although I made a promise to myself that I would never stay up past 4:30 and only broke it once. I don't even remember what that time was for, though. Oh, the metaphors. The coursework moves at a highly accelerated pace (Calculus 2 was not fun) and is much more advanced than anything I had ever done. But the classes were designed that way to teach you two things: work in groups, and develop good study skills. I had to make major changes to my study habits (writing essays is a solitary ordeal, but everything else required help), and I think pretty much everyone else did too. Chris was probably the best person I knew for this. He made himself a schedule. I just said, "Oh crap! Biochem's due tomorrow!" and went from there. When we did Problem Sets (PSets), we were encouraged to work on them together, by bouncing ideas around, helping others when they got stuck, getting help when you got stuck, etc. There was a problem with cheating, but that only happened once in one of my classes. People understood that the teachers trusted us, and for the most part, we kept to that (I was never mad at you, Stephan).

The real beauty of the classes that I found was Mans et Manus. Minds and Hands is MIT's motto, but they really mean it. I was one of the lucky few to be in both Biochemistry and Genomics. That was an amazing duo. I'd have Biochemistry in the morning, and we'd learn about gel electrophoresis, how it worked, what it did. And then I'd go to Genomics and actually DO gel electrophoresis in the lab. Incredible. Absolutely stunning. It was here that I decided I wanted to study Biochemistry.

I could go on and talk about how cool and helpful the TAs were, even if they did make fun of us. A lot. Or about how I had lunch with Eric Landers. Yeah. The "Head of the Human Genome Project and now Obama's Science Counsel Co-Chair" Eric Landers (I won the "My hair is almost as big as my lust for Eric Landers" award at the end of MITES. The TAs all gave us mock awards. Chris got the "Aaron Ramirez: Finally someone I can love more than myself" award.). I might mention the time we went on a tour of Boston, or had a 4th of July Barbecue where Stevie did quite the epic maneuver. But I can't sum up the entirety of MITES in a single blog post, so I just include the two most important things. I hope this answered your question, Ngozi ("How was MITES?"), but if not, I can always do another post or two ;-). Thanks, Dad, for commenting on my blog. Yes, my painting surprised me too. I wrote a couple more paragraphs for Heat Resistant on Tuesday. I'm thinking of retitling it, but I can't think of what I was going to call it. Oh well.

Oh hey, this is my fiftieth post!

omgwtfbbqroflolzenzespancakesfbiHooray me!



New Year's Resolutions

Yes, I know I'm late with the New Year's Resolutions. No, I don't care.

1. Write more.

I don't write enough. I've got a lot of ideas, but usually something gets in the way. On a completely unrelated note, FLVS needs to die.

2. Edit more (edit at all).

A while back, my Composition teacher was telling us about the difference between Love and Passion. For art. Not for whatever you're thinking of. And the basic gist of her lecture was that you need both to make art. Passion she described as throwing yourself into your work, painting with gusto, with umph! or whatever kind of art you do, and I've got that in spades with my writing. What I don't have is the other half. Love for your art, she said, was being willing to come back to it day after day and make it perfect. I don't have that. I hate editing my work more than any other part of the process, but I have to do it. I haven't edited any of my fiction work, novels, short stories, at all, ever. Except for one, but it was really short and I didn't edit very much anyway. But I need to edit, especially if I want to enter some contests. Which brings me to my next resolution.

3. Enter contests.

When I finished NaNoWriMo, the What Do I Do Next? page included a link to CreateSpace, a place where you can publish your novel in a people-buy-it-then-they-print-it kind of way. There, I found a novel-writing contest for unpublished authors, in which the winner gets a $25,000 against commission publishing contract with Penguin Group, a pretty well-known publishing company. The deadline is February 8, so I have about one month to make my novel top form. That's not enough time, so I decided to just go back and add stuff in where I think it needs it (and it needs a lot). But I think I can get at least to the quarterfinals, which is 500 contestants out of the original up-to-10,000. The rounds are kind of strange. First, everyone submits the novel, an excerpt (the first 2,000 words), and a 500-word description of the novel (what you read on the back cover of the book, basically.) 2,000 contestants get chosen from the 10,000 based on the short description, and I think I can get past that because my novel's pretty unique. I'll talk about how it's a mix of Ecuador and Florida and mountains and oceans and stuffs. Then, one of every four contestants gets picked on the strength of the excerpt, and I think I can make it through that cut as well, but we'll see. Next, one of every five contestants are picked on the excerpts for the semi-finals, and then the entire manuscript is read and three finalists are chosen. These finalists get an all-expenses paid trip to some place in the US, and the winner is chosen by popular vote of Amazon.com customers. And, even if I don't win (I probably won't), many of the semi-finalists get offered publishing contracts anyway. So, I really want to enter this one.

I also want to enter Writers of the Future. This is an award set up by L. Ron Hubbard, in which people submit entries and the three best stories of the quarter get a $1,000 prize and the chance to compete in the year award, which is $5,000. This one would probably be a little easier to win, because there's three winners and the prize is lower.

4. Walk straight.

For most of my life, people (my dad, my Spanish teacher, my ex-girlfriend) have been telling me to walk straight and not slouch. For most of my life, I didn't listen. But then the girls at the orphanage told me to, and, being ten-year-olds constantly looking for a way to avoid work, they didn't leave it at that. No. They jumped on my shoulders and forced me into an upright position. But I realized that they're right. While walking, I usually look at the ground, and don't pay attention to anything else. It's going to get me run over eventually, so I need to stop that. I figure now's as good a time as any.

5. Paint more.

I hate painting. I'm forced to do it at school, and I hate it. But I realized something today. The reason I hate painting is because the teacher's a jerk who's never complimented me once. I talked about him in my entry about Ecuadorian school. So today, we were supposed to paint a countryside ("Paisaje" in Spanish. It doesn't translate exactly to countryside in English, but that's as close as I can make it.), and my teacher pretty much said he expected mountains from everyone. So, they obliged. Except me. I've been feeling pretty homesick lately, because I had to go back to school for the first time after a two-week break, and the first class was painting, which I hate, so I was depressed and lonely. In my yearning for the warm climes of sunny Florida, I decided to paint the sea. It started out as a short rectangle of green. Then I put blue on top of that, and it started looking okay. I think at this point, I realized that my teacher was the reason I hated painting. The very first time we sat down with tempera paints in the class, I went to do this layering technique, and my teacher shot that down, saying "We mix colors here." And so I followed his instructions, and it sucked. And I hated painting.

After the sea, I added the sky with a couple different shades of blue. I used a lot of water. Alex Ramos (there's a picture of him on here somewhere) came up and said, "You're using too much water." All the kids like going around to everyone else and pointing out what they're doing wrong to make themselves feel better. I stared at him rudely until he went away. That works very well, especially with girls who care about feelings and dumb stuff like that. I sat there, staring at the blue block and the green block, and I realized that we had more than an hour and a half left in class, and I had to throw something else in there to make it better. I remembered Stephen King's book Duma Key, and I thought about painting a ship, but I didn't think I had enough skill to do a ship. So instead, I added a sun, in red-orange, just on the horizon. It's a sunset, even though the sun only rises on my part of the ocean. I added pink and orange beams running off of it, and green-orange beams reflecting in the green block. Using a lot of water really helped here. Anyways, here's what it looks like. I call it "Sun Sets en Mar" ("en mar" is Spanish for "on the sea," and for some reason I didn't feel like going for the epic alliteration).

You can't see the green very well in this photo. Oh well.
It's the best painting I've ever done. Alex said, "Oh, you're paint's running." I said something to the effect of "That's the point, dumbass," but I don't remember exactly what it was.

I also painted another sea and sun picture, but it wasn't as good as this one. I turned that one in instead of this one because if you turn something in to this guy, you don't get it back. He cuts them up and uses them for scrap paper. Not kidding. I've gotten my own paintings back from him cut in half. Luckily, they sucked pretty bad, so I didn't care. But I wanted to save this one, so I kept it out and brought it home. I really like the way the rays look like they're reaching out for something.

So, yeah. I'm going to paint some more and see how that goes. Our next project is a canvas painting of a landscape (that's closer to "paisaje," but it's still not exactly right), so I'll flip the Daniel Reyes Painting Institution the bird and do a vertical picture of the sea. Everyone does landscapes horizontal, and they all had little pictures out for their models today. It may not be great, but at least it'll be better than Jackson Pollock.

I can never pass up an opportunity to make fun of Jackson Pollock.
But this leads me to my next resolution.

6. Tough it out at art school (I can hear my mom cheering from across the Gulf).

With this new epiphany about painting, which was my least favorite class, I've decided to stay at the Instituto Superior Tecnológico de Artes Plásticas "Daniel Reyes" until I leave. I waffled back and forth on leaving for a while, but I guess it's too late now to do anything. Plus, if I left, I'd probably lose my friends that live far away from Ibarra, and, as Jesse said, I have to be able to say in the future "Oh yeah, I'm going to Ecuador to visit my friend Stalin. Yeah. He's actually nicer than most people think." What I am going to do is completely ignore my painting teacher, forever. Which works out okay, because he ignores me too. The whole time we were working today, he didn't say a word to me, even though he helped other people and I caught him looking at my painting more than once. Except at the end. I caught him staring pretty obviously at my work, and he opened his mouth to criticize it, shut it, opened it again, shut it, and then finally said, "Buen trabajo," because he couldn't think of anything wrong with it. It's the first compliment he's ever given me, and I might be proud of that except I don't respect the man. I'm proud of my painting because it's the first painting I've ever done that I felt good about. I figure that what I'll do is buy some paint myself and paint my canvas at home. That way, I don't have to put up with him either ignoring me or "helping" me, which is worse.

7. Call everybody from 3FL at least once.

This one's going to need some explanation. When I was at MITES last summer, I met a bunch of people who shared my interest in subtitled anime, interesting numbers, and gratuitous violence, and we formed a supergroup. By "supergroup," I mean "a group of kids who went out to breakfast together a lot and all had Nerf guns," in case you didn't catch that subtlety. Because we hung out in the 3rd floor lounge, we called ourselves "3FL." Here's a picture (props to Sabrina, for the awesome drawing.) I'm the tall one with the giant hair. This was back when I had hair... *sniff* (I have to comb my hair again! But the combing only works for about half an hour, and then the curls start clumping together.)

Sabrina wanted to draw us with animal personalities for some reason. I'm a bear.Being down here in Ecuador, I miss out on a lot of stuff, like when the Florida 3FL members (there are four of us in the Sunshine State) got together. So I decided that I would call every member of 3FL before I left Ecuador (it's a January-February kind of resolution). We're going to have a conference call on Skype on Saturday, so this is probably the first New Year's Resolution I'm going to accomplish.

8. Not get mad at people and never talk to them again.

This is probably going to be the hardest of the eight resolutions for me to keep, but I've started out doing well so far. One of my faults is that I hold grudges for a very long time. In ninth grade, I sat with the kids from my middle school at lunch, and one day, I heard them talking about having a party. I asked what it was about, and they pretty much unanimously told me to go ask someone else for the details. I'm a smart guy (or so I pose), so I figured out pretty quickly that they didn't want me there, and I left. And I never really talked to them again. Wasn't that much of a loss, since I made friends with the math team guys and stayed friends with Michael, but that just goes to show what I'm like. It wasn't so much that they didn't want me at the party (I'm notoriously dull at parties, except the one time I showed up in a V for Vendetta costume, and I don't like parties anyway), but that they didn't want to tell me what was even going on. Which brings me to the now.

On the Wednesday before vacation started, Johannes, one of the German AFS kids, found me at the internet café and gave me a package with $300 in it. He wanted me to take it to the mother of Lotta and Daniel (other AFS kids) that night. I asked him what it was all about, especially since carrying around $300 is not the best thing to do in Yacucalle (seriously, most of the other AFS kids have gotten held up at some point, but that's a story for another time), and he sort of mumbled and didn't say anything. I didn't press it. Lotta's mother didn't say anything either. I forgot about it until after Christmas, when I went to Lotta's house to get Rodrigo, Daniele, and Chooki (Rodrigo's brother) to play some basketball. Chooki was the only one there, so I asked where everyone else was. Turns out they went on a whirlwind tour of Ecuador, the coast, the Orient, the whole bit, taking Johannes, Hannes, and Alexandra with them. This is wrong on so many levels. First, because we had a meeting where the AFS coordinator in Ibarra, Grace, told us very explicitly that we couldn't go on trips without our family, period, that it was an offense for which you could get expelled from AFS. Second, Johannes, Hannes, and Alexandra are taking off from their families during vacation, when it's the most important time for families to be together here, when their families have already expressed anger over the fact that the kids treat their homes like a hotel. But third, and most important to me, they didn't say a word of this to me, and Johannes specifically dodged the question when I asked him. I'm a smart guy (I hope), so I figure that's what the $300 was for. I wouldn't have gone anyway, both because I don't feel like leaving home for a couple of weeks during vacation and because I don't have $300 to throw around, but it would have been nice to have been asked. Turns out Sara and Camille didn't hear anything about it either, so Sara started planning a revenge vacation, in which only us three leave. Alexandra called Sarah and talked about how beautiful Baños was and how warm the hot springs were, so Sarah was fairly indignant about the whole thing. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or something like that.

Sarah at age 23.
But I'm trying my hardest not to get mad at them and never talk to them again for this. There are plenty of other reasons to avoid the other AFS kids, and I'm using those, but I'm not angry at them. (I figure if I repeat that enough, it'll become true. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

So that's it for my New Year's Resolutions. Hope you liked them. I did this thing called alt text on the photos. For those who don't follow xkcd, that's where you hold your mouse over the pictures and text appears in a box that would usually appear if the picture doesn't load. I did this on the last batch of photos, too. (Note: This isn't working for me in Firefox, so if you're using that, you may have to switch browsers. Or just check the page source, if you really want to read my bad jokes that much.) Thank you to Vicky for commenting on my story (Do you prefer Vicky or Victoria?). I appreciate the compliment! It'll be done sometime soon. Maybe. It's the one I want to enter in the Writers of the Future contest. The idea of using a first-person narration for the bulk of the story was good, because it keeps me from using overly-flowery language. I keep having to stop and say, "A normal person wouldn't say that," and change it. It's good for me.

I couldn't resist one last shot at the man.
It's so beautiful!!!!!!!111 Now, who wants to pay me a couple thousand for it? Please, make a line, no shoving.



Heat Resistant

This is the first part of a story I'm writing. (Updated Sun., Jan. 11, 2009)

We live in a world now on the brink of maturity. In past aeons, the Earth was just growing out of its infancy, producing a people capable of conquering the mysteries of this adolescent world. Now that we, as a race, have dominated the subtleties of biology, illuminated the hidden secrets of mathematics, and set the atom to work for us, we have become masters of the planet, supreme above the rats and the like vermin. But as we set our sights on that which has long remained beyond our reach, we must remember that there are things other than us, things that were old when the Earth was young, things that had solved the question of resisting the ether of space while we were struggling to rise up out of the sea, things that look upon our pitiful attempts at space flight with such mirth that their laughter would deafen us would they deign themselves to be heard. We may be the Kings of the Earth, but they are Emperors of the Universe, and we would do well to remember it.

You can't see the rocket launches from Miami's beach, but I am now sitting on the sandy dunes of that shore while far, far away, red fire glows and sends another man into the outside. Ignoring the orders of my editor will most certainly leave me finding other work, but I would rather face the gallows themselves than travel up US-1 to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle hurtle into that little-known terror we call space. They say that every possible precaution is taken to ensure the safety of those watching from the Cape, but now I much prefer the relative safety of the vast distance between myself and the rocket, though how safe I can be when I can still hear the lapping of the waves on the sand, I do not know. For I have found coconuts in my walks on the beach, and if they can float for miles and miles, who can say that something cannot find me here?

The launching of a space shuttle is always big news in Florida, but that day's launch brought the attention of the whole nation, it seemed, as this was to be the last journey for this type of rocket. After the Challenger disaster and other malfunctions, NASA was switching back to the older version that hadn't killed anyone yet. The Miami Herald sent me up to take some pictures of the flight, the wheels still spinning in my editor's head as he tried to come up with a fitting headline (The Final Frontier for This Old Bird was the last one he tried on me before I beat feet out of his office). The weather was fine, and I was looking forward to a short vacation in Daytona Beach before the launch when smoke started coming out from underneath the hood of my car.

I called triple A, and they sent a tow truck out, which took me and my car to the nearest mechanic, a man by the name of Charlie Box, who ran the Box Bros. Workshop at 823 Dixie Freeway in Tropic Park. After a quick examination of my car's engine, Box told me something I couldn't really understand about the radiator and charged me two hundred dollars, saying the work would be done by that night. He suggested that I visit the beach, which in his opinion was the finest beach in all of Florida. He began to tell me about all the places he had visited in Florida, and how inferior their beaches were in comparison to Tropic Park's, but I politely excused myself and headed for the shore.

Across the street, I found a small gas station and asked for a map of the city. As I was paying, I fell into a conversation about the best spots for a stroll on the beach and a bite to eat. The man at the counter told me about several restaurants in the area, as well as a few places for a leisurely walk, and circled them on my map. When he asked why I had stopped in at such an early hour, I mentioned the shuttle launch, but at the first words he stopped me, gave me my change, and then disappeared into the back of the shop. Nonplussed, I took the map and exited the store.

I walked across the Middle Causeway to the beachside part of Tropic Park, stopping at the apex of the bridge to admire the view. The waterway below me was wide, and I could see the fins of a pair of dolphins skimming for fish. There were several small islands, and far off were the North and South Causeways. Quite near was a small river, which lead off around the city and up into Lonesome Mountain.

As it was closing in on noon, I decided to take a short walk on the beach and then retire to one of the many waterfront restaurants for lunch. The beach was, as my informant had said, a marvellous sight, but I still prefer the warm water of Southern Florida, even if the bay area is heavily polluted now. The waters off Tropic Park were cold, very cold for that time of year, but as I walked through the surf with my pants legs rolled up, I gradually acclimated to the chill and actually enjoyed myself quite a bit. I don't think I will ever return to Tropic Park, and if I hold myself to that, it won't be because of the clime.

Twelve o'clock brough with it a strong wind, and I saw storm clouds closing in from the sea, so I walked back up to the street and, after washing my feet of sand in one of the public showers reserved for this purpose, enetered a large-size eatery named JP's Fish Camp.

The waitress was very hospitable, and found me a seat by the window overlooking the inland waterway, which was just as beautiful as the ocean, even if it was in shadow. There was only one other patron of the restaurant, sitting at the bar, and, after a moment's hesitation, I went over and sat next to him. "Say," I asked, "know if there's anything to do in this little town if you've already been to the beach?" He didn't look at me, but said, "Fucking tourists," and went back to his drink.

A little taken aback, I said, "I'm actually not a tourist."

He still didn't look at me, but took another pull from his glass and said, "Then what the fuck're you doing in a tourist town like Tropic Park?" His voice was low, and gutteral, and I could tell he didn't want to speak to me. But I felt a need to explain myself to him now. Being a Florida native, albiet originally from the Panhandle and transplanted to the South, I hated tourists just as much as he did.

"I just drove up from Miami. I'm a reporter down there, and I only stopped over here on my way up to Cape Canaveral to watch the rocket launch." At the mention of the shuttle, I saw the man shake visibly, and his face, which had been a bright red, lost much of its color. He hurriedly drained the bottle, more than half-full, in a matter of seconds. "What is it?" I asked.

"If you know what's good for you, you won't mention anything about those goddamn rockets to anyone here."

Now I was intrigued. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't ask me any question, because I ain't saying anything." He stood up, tipping his stool over, and threw some bills down on the bar. "Be seeing you, Mary," he said to the waitress, who had backed up against the wall, her face petrified with fear. I righted the stool and then paused a moment in my pursuit of the man to stare with confusion at her face. There was a slam of the door, and the man was gone.

I went outside as well and saw him standing across the street near the boardwalk down to the beach. When he saw I had followed him, he turned and disappeared down the boardwalk.

When I reached the shore, I found him waiting for me. He spoke first. "Walk with me." His demeanor was still defensive and tight, like a spring wound up too far in a clockwork toy, but it held none of the anger it had previously. That was gone, replaced by what seemed to me to be sadness, or resignation. We began to walk south, towards the inlet.

"What's going on?" I asked. "Why wouldn't you talk to me in there?"

"Look, I'm the editor of the local paper, and I know a man who won't quit when I see one. Hell, I used to be one myself, back when I was a reporter. But that was before I realized how much trouble that pitbull mentality can get you in. I'll tell you the story about what happened with the rockets, and why no one in this town will talk to you if you bring it up. But you have to promise me that you'll shut the fuck up about Cape Canaveral and astronauts and anything else related to space. Mary lost a child to that thing, and so did a lot of other people, and I can't let you go around upsetting them like you did back there."

"Okay, I promise."

And David Miller began to tell his story. He paused many times in the telling, and by the time he had finished, it was dark. I asked him then, "Why do you stay? Why do any of you stay?"

"There's something that holds us here. Anyone who moves away comes back, and anyone who moves here from away leaves soon enough. There's something about the water of the sea, the green of the river, the height of the Mountain, that holds us here and keeps others out."

I found my way back to the mechanic, overpaid him knowingly without complaint, and drove south to Miami. As I sit on the sand of Miami's beach, I check my watch and know that right now, the shuttle is bursting out into the great unknown. I tremble, almost as though I were in the rocket itself, feeling the vibrations travel up and down my spine, instead of the chills I have there now. Once I write David Miller's story, I will lock it away in a safe place. If I had the proof to back up the fantastic claims, or if I thought someone of importance would take heed of my warning, I would publish this message far and wide. But as it is, I will settle for not being thought mad. I write down now the words of David Miller, while I still have them fresh in my mind, so that, should things change suffieciently to make the world more open-minded, I will still have them.

Here is the story I heard as I walked along the cold abandoned beach while storm clouds gathered and the fish grunted in the distance:

Charles Greene, or Charlie for short, was born in Tropic Park in the seventies. Being just a child, he avoided the culture wars of the time and managed a fairly normal childhood. After graduating high school with a 3.1 GPA, he attended the local branch of the community college for business and opened a small store selling towels, goggles, and other beach items on the plot of beachside property his family had bought before real estate really took off in Florida.

As the shop was quite close to the beach, Charlie Greene liked to take, as did so many others, a nice long walk down the shore before he opened. If you go down to the beach at six in the morning, as Charlie used to, you'll find it vacant, and you can enjoy the solitary stroll as the sun comes up. One of the added benefits of this early rising is being able to comb the beach before anyone else. Usually, when you walk the beach in the afternoon, people have already picked up all of the interesting sea shells that washed up during high tide the night before. Not so, for Charlie Greene. Before long, he had a collection of strange shells and driftwood unrivaled in any of the neighboring cities.

But the crowning piece of Charlie's collection was a large white tile which he found floating in a tidepool one summer morning. He had no idea as to what it could be, but he brought it to me. Having reported on a bunch of spaceflights, I recognized it immediately as one of the heat-resistant tiles they affix to the shuttles to keep them from burning up on reëntry. A shuttle had recently landed after a visit to the International Space Station, and I told Charlie that the tile had probably come from there. Shuttle tiles are notoriously weak. They're made mostly of styrofoam and held down with Elmer's glue. It doesn't surprise me at all that those things fall off, but they've got so many that losing one doesn't really matter.

So, Charlie put the tile up in his shop, showing it off. It got so everyone in town knew about it and had stopped by once or twice to see the thing. But one morning, Charlie called me to come see something about the tile. He had been arranging the display when he dropped the tile. You'd think it would have bounced, but it broke in half cleanly down the middle, spilling out a strange, clear liquid, something like gelatin that hasn't been completely set yet. He had left it where it was, waiting for me to come over. I had no idea what the substance was, but I guess that sea water got into the glue and mixed to create it, whatever it was. I picked up a little bit and rubbed it between my fingers. It was light, almost weightless, and had a gritty quality, like it held undissolved salt granules.

At this point, Miller pulled back his sleeve and showed me his arm. Up to the wrist, his hand was scarred with long jagged veins of flesh and pitted and pockmarked besides. The ring finger was gone, and the remaining digits had curled into a permanent claw. All the fingernails were missing, and the space where they had been, once light brown, was black and fleshy, with bumps and contusions that were entirely unnatural. At first glance, I would have said it was the result of fire, but they were like no burn scars I had ever seen, and in my time with the Miami Herald, I've seen a few.

So you can see what this stuff did to me, but that wasn't until later. Just then, I only washed the stuff off in the bathroom. When I came back, Charlie was spitting and hissing like someone'd force-fed him dog shit or something. Charlie, damn fool that he was, had put some of that gooey stuff in his mouth. He was always dumb as hell about stuff like that. Burned off both his eyebrows in tenth grade with a sparkler because he wanted to see how many he could light up at the same time. So I get him a glass of water and Charlie spends the next ten minutes in the parking lot swishing and spitting, trying to get that taste out of his mouth. He said it was like eating meat that'd been heavily salted, but meat that smelled awful, like guinea pig or something. I made fun of him about that for a while, and then I took off for work. The Post-Times, where I worked then, is in Coral Beach. That's a good thirty minute drive up the coast, you'll probably go through it on your way up to Canaveral. But that was the last I thought about Charlie's tile for a while, until Natty Bishop's boy went missing.

Oh, that was a heartbreaker. Everyone loved that kid. Natty Bishop owns a couple of used car dealerships around here, and whenever the Missus wanted to go somewhere for the day, he'd take Jeremy, that was the kid's name, Jeremy, he'd take Jeremy into work with him. People'd come in to buy a car and spend half the time play peek-a-boo with that kid. Had the biggest smile I've ever seen on a person, and beautiful brown eyes. If I'd have had a kid, I'd have wanted him to be at least something like Jeremy Bishop. But then, one day, I think it was in November of that year, Jeremy up and disappeared.

His mother, Julia Bishop, told me about it. I was the reporter assigned to the story. Anyway, Julia had put him down on the porch while she was working in the garden. She heard something over by the water, they've got a house on the beachside next to the inland waterway, and she looked over there just in time to see Jeremy crawl over the embankment and down into the water. She lost her mind, of course, and ran over to the edge to find him, but he was gone. The water wasn't deep at all there, but the boy had just vanished. A couple of the neighbors heard her screaming and came over to see what was the matter, and when she finished gasping out what had happened, they called the police. Dragging is a difficult business in the inland waterway, since the bottom's all mud and the depth and width changes so much, but the police did what they could. They never did find that boy, so everyone just assumed he drowned. I did too, for a while. What I saw in Charlie's store got me thinking, but I didn't connect the two for a while.

Now, I don't normally go onto Beachside. Too ritzy and upper-class for me. But since I was there, I thought about Charlie for the first time in a long time. I hadn't seen him, in fact, since that time he'd called me over about the tile. His store wasn't too far from the Bishop house, both being off the main road that comes from the Northern Causeway, and I went over there. The place was dark. It was early afternoon, maybe two o'clock, and Charlie kept his store open from seven to seven every weekday during the summer, and ten to five all other times, so I couldn't tell why it'd be closed then. I knocked on the glass, but there was no movement from inside the shop. I pressed my hands up to the window and peered in. All the displays seemed to be in order, the shirts properly folded. Thinking that maybe he was taking a short break for lunch, I went around to the back and knocked on the rear entrance, but there was nothing there either. I was just about to leave when the door swung open a crack, and a large white eye peeked out at me.

"What is it, Dave?" Charlie said. At least, I thought it was Charlie. Who else could it have been? But his voice was strange, too high, and scratchy, and an awful smell oozed from him, like something between fermented grapes and bad eggs.

"You all right, Charlie? You sound kind of funny."

"I'm fine." Charlie coughed violently, putting his hand on the door frame to steady himself. There was something not right about that hand. Its color was not too pink and not too white, somewhere in the middle, which should have matched Charlie's skin fine, but it didn't. I can't put it into words, but there was something not at all right about that hand. The fingers didn't look the right length either, but that may just be me changing things now that I saw that thing on the beach. I know for sure that his hand made the skin crawl on my back, though. I couldn't fake that feeling if I tried. "I caught a cold somewheres. I was taking a nap in the back here, sorry I didn't hear you knocking."

"I was just talking to Julia Bishop about her son disappearing, but now I've got nothing to do until I drive back to Coral. If you want, I could run to the store and get you some medicine."

The eye widened momentarily. "Jeremy Bishop's disappeared? How terrible. But no, I already bought some cough drops. Thanks."

"You're sure there's nothing I can get for you?" I put my hand on the door. The eye squinted, and the hand tightened around the frame, the knuckles going unnaturally white as the blood was squeezed out of them. I withdrew my hand quickly. His fingers relaxed.

"No, thanks. I'm perfectly fine. Now, I'm sorry, but I'm very tired, and I'd like to get back to sleep." Charlie brought his arm back inside the darkened room, but another coughing fit struck him and he replaced it, leaning on it heavily.

"You're sure I can't get anything for you?" Charlie shook his head, or at least his eye moved back and forth, so I assumed he was shaking his head. "Well, take a cough drop, and get back to sleep." The door closed, and I heard faint movements and then a crunching sound. "Chewing them doesn't do anything, Charlie!" I called out.

The noise stopped, and then Charlie, even hoarser than before, said, "Oh, right. Thanks."

I walked back to my car, and, taking one last look at the darkened insides of the store, drove away. I was busy for a while on the Jeremy Bishop thing, but it didn't go anywhere and, after a couple of weeks, it stopped being even a paragraph on page three of the local news section. If he'd been kidnapped, that'd be different, but no one likes reading about a little drowned boy. After that died down, my editor sent me up to Cape Canaveral for another rocket launch, and I was up there for two days. Shuttles and astronauts weren't really my field, but the editor knew I like the beaches up there, so he gave me the assignment as a favor. It reminded me of the tile Charlie got, and when I got back, I went to his store again to see if he was better. I knocked on both the front and the back, and listened for snoring, but there was nothing, and I worried that Charlie had gotten so sick he couldn't even make it to the beach. He lived in Marc St. Waters, which is a little ways out from Tropic Park. I figured if it got too bad, he'd give me a call, so I wasn't too upset. A little nervous, but nothing serious.

That night, Alice German disappeared. She was a little older than Jeremy, six, I think, and she was taken right out of her room. Her parents put her to bed that night, and when they got up in the morning, her room was empty, and the window was open. Since I'd gotten the last missing child from my editor, I got assigned to this one too. The police came in and searched, fibers, DNA, fingerprints, everything. Then things got weird. The police pulled full fingerprints from at least thirty people that couldn't be identified, and partials from a dozen others. There were no other traces at all, no evidence that gave even the slightest hint as to the abductor. The police ran the prints they did have through the criminal database, and got hits on every one, people who were in jail, out of jail, living in other states, dead, even, and every one checked out. One of the cops said it felt like someone was jerking them around. The story got around, thanks to me, and it lasted for more than a month. But, when no suspects turned up, no further leads came in, and the girl wasn't found, people lost interest, and I went somewhere else. But then the third kid went missing, and things got real bad, real quick.

That was Amelia Dirgit, a black girl that lived across the tracks, next to the river. She was nine, I think. I don't remember things too well, now, especially from that time. Most of that stuff I'd like to forget. But this was monstrous even for Tropic Park. Amelia went to Tropic Park Elementary with her sister, whose name escapes me now, and they were on their way home late from school one day. Her mother told me later that she should have been watching them, but she had to work a double shift that day to cover for someone else. She was the worst of all the parents I saw. She wasn't crying, just sitting on her daughter's bed, holding a picture Amelia'd made, one of those "Mommy and Me" holding-hands marker drawings most kids make, rocking back and forth with such pain in her voice. It was like her throat had broken, and all that came out was shattered sounds that somehow worked themselves into English. Amelia's father was outside, walking aimlessly around the yard, picking up toys and putting them down again. The yard was strewn with tricycles, dolls, and other sorts of playthings. Someone had put a lot of money into making those two children happy, and now the one was gone. I talked with the sister for a little while, but she didn't say very much, just what she'd told the police. That was horrible enough.

The two girls were walking home from school, I told you that already. It was dark by then, but the girls had walked home from school many times and knew where to go. The sister, Emily, that was her name, Emily said that they were next to the river when they heard something splashing about in the water. They went to check it out, and saw an arm reaching up out of the water. It was dark, so she couldn't make out the color, but she said the moon shining on the water silhouetted the arm. I remember that very clearly, because I was surprised at the way such a young girl could use language so well. Emily talked in a calm, monotonous voice, never slowing or stopping, never varying at all. It was unreal, listening to her, but I suppose she had been through an ordeal. She talked very slowly about how the hand beckoned her towards the water, and they walked towards it. The hand began to wave back and forth, as though saying goodbye, and disappeared into the river. The girls, so Emily said, went right up to the edge of the water and looked in, trying to see where it had got to, and then Amelia fell or was pulled into the water. She went under for a moment, and then was back up, clutching at Emily and screaming. Emily, with a presence of mind and courage I would never have suspected from someone her age, tried to pull her sister back up out of the river, yelling for help. No one heard her, and no one came. But fear can give strength even to the smallest of children, and somehow, Emily began to win the war with that awful thing in the water, and succeeded in pulling her sister onto the bank, until she saw what she was fighting against. The hand, now clearly visible against the mud, was greenish-white, she told me, and the fingers were easily three times as long as her own, and they clutched with fiendish persistence at Amelia's leg. Emily didn't know what was happening, but she kept pulling, until the arm was fully out of the water, and then she let go, unable to continue in the face of the horror that came, dripping and cold, up with the girl.

There was no body with that arm. It ended about halfway up bicep, the skin and muscle ragged and shards of bone sticking out like the arm had been torn off. Emily's voice died at this point, and she continued moving her lips without making any sounds. I stopped our conversation and went to the kitchen. The father was sitting at the kitchen table, absently leafing through a copy of Hello Kitty, Hello World, and I asked him for a cup of water. He gestured vaguely towards the cabinet, and I found a glass and filled it from the tap. I brought it back into Emily's room, where she was still voicelessly describing what had happened. She took the cup and drank deeply, spilling water all down her front. After she had finished, she let her arms fall limp and the glass rolled off her bed and onto the carpet. She didn't move to pick it up, and neither did I.

I made leading questions to try to get her back onto talking about the arm, but she didn't say anything more about it. After she saw what was holding onto her sister, she let go and the thing pulled Amelia into the water and was gone. Emily didn't say anything after that, but one of the neighbors found her sitting on the edge of the water, whispering her sister's name over and over again, staring into the river or maybe beyond it. The neighbor took Emily home and her parents found out what happened. The police got involved, but they didn't put any credence in Emily's story beyond the superficial, that she had been abducted. At least, most didn't. There was one, George Fallon,who did. He's a good man, and a good cop, and he listened to me later, when it counted.

There was a news storm about that one, and we had reporters from all over the country down here, CNN, NBC, Fox, The New York Times, Washington Post, and a whole bunch of others besides. Being the first reporter on it, and the guy who communicated with all the other media outlets, I could have won a Pulitzer on that one, but they didn’t give it to me and I didn’t ask for it. It didn’t seem right to me to build success off the backs of dead children. It didn’t seem right at all.

To me and to most of the world, it seemed like we had a serial child snatcher in Tropic Park, and people were quick to make the connection to Jeremy Bishop the year before. I didn’t want to open that book again, since the parents were still grieving, but the other reporters were on Natty and Julia about it almost non-stop, and they moved away. Amelia German’s parents were already dead, and her grandparents, the ones who had been taking care of the girl, barricaded themselves in the house and didn’t leave at all until the whole thing was over. Their other children brought them food and things they needed. Amelia Dirgit’s mother and father made absolutely no effort to avoid the press, or even acknowledge them. They sent Emily to live with her uncle in Coral Beach, and went to work as normal, and the press crews followed them around wherever they went until the Emily’s uncle came and threatened to shoot anyone who bothered the family. After that, an realizing that they weren’t going to get anything more than they already knew out of them, the press corps took to hanging around the police station to see how the manhunt was going.

Tropic Park has a tiny building for the branch of the police, because it’s a small town and besides the occasional drug bust, nothing much illegal happens here. The search was being staged out of the central police headquarters for the county, which was larger, but they weren’t getting anywhere either. The search for the missing children had turned up nothing, and though the police continued searching Tropic Park and the surrounding area, some of my friends on the force told me in off-the-record statements that the only way to solve this case was a tip on the hotline.

Several other children went missing, and Tropic Park became a city under siege from unknown assailant or assailants. Schools went on an early spring break and remained closed for a long time after that. Many of the families left Tropic Park to stay with family in other parts of the country, and those that remained refused to let their children out of immediate supervision. Security firms in Coral Beach did a brisk business in selling alarms and, in some cases, iron bars for fitting on windows. Each of the disappearances was linked in some way to water, either of the ocean, or the inland waterway, or the river, and beachgoing dropped off to almost nothing. People, having heard on the news of the city's reputation, went to less dangerous climes, Tampa, Daytona, and all beach-related industry in Tropic Park nearly died. Restaurants, shops, fishing boat charters, anything that relied on tourists, went into a prolonged state of limbo, and no one knew whether they would recover. Those were scary times for the town, and that summer was one of the bleakest.

It was in reading the paper of the closing of JP's Fish Camp, that place we were in before, that reminded me of Charlie. In the state I was in, rushing about, trying to give statements from the police to different news agencies, I hadn't thought about him, but I decided to go to the beachside that weekend to see how he was holding up. I remembered how sick he had sounded the last time I went to visit him, and my resolve stiffened.

His shop was closed, and the windows were dark. I looked inside, and saw with a start of surprise that the displays were all from early spring, it then being late July. Charlie, as I told you, prided himself on those displays, loved arranging the shirts and the umbrellas in new and interesting ways. He hated even leaving them one week without moving something around or added a new item to the pile, so I was worried that something had happened to him. Looking closer, I saw that there was a layer of dust over everything, and that only concerned me even more. I went around to the back, remembering how I had found him there the last time, and knocked. The door swung inward, and foul air burst out of there like nothing I'd ever smelled before. It was worse, far worse than the eggs-and-wine stench. If you've ever been out on the shore when there's a Red Tide, and all the dead fish wash up, you might have some idea what I mean, but even that's a poor analogy. I was worried that Charlie'd died in there months before and his body was rotting away.

I remember everything that happened next very clearly, much as I'd like to forget it.

I went in and found the light switch, but flipping it on and off again didn't do anything. As my eyes adjusted, I could make out a small cot in the corner, and a low table with a single chair next to it. I walked over towards the table, and stopped when my feet crunched glass. I looked down and saw fragments of white glass, and above me the shattered remains of a lightbulb, as though someone had smashed it. On the table were some papers, covered in weird shapes and symbols I couldn't make heads or tails of. The blankets on the cot were rumpled and cold as ice. The whole room was cold, I realized as I looked under the sheets. But I still couldn't understand what was making the horrific smell. Then, under the bed, I saw a small object pushed almost up against the wall. Stretching my arm out as far as I could, I picked it up, shimmied backwards and then stood up, holding my prize. It was a shoe. Examining it more closely, I made out the figure of a stylized cat head, the Hello Kitty symbol. It was the shoe of a young girl. What would Charlie be doing with a girl's shoe? I wondered. He didn't have any young relatives, and he didn't sell shoes of any kind besides sandals and Crocks in the store. I looked on the tongue of the shoe, and in the dim light that came through the open door, I made out the name Amelia Dirgit stiched in yellow thread over the tag showing the size of the shoe.

"What are you doing in here?" I jumped and dropped the shoe, which hit my feet and rolled under the bed. I can think that that was my only saving grace, because I couldn't imagine what Charlie would have done had he found me with Amelia Dirgit's shoe in my hand. I wheeled round and saw Charlie Greene standing in the doorway, black against the afternoon sun. "What are you doing here, Dave?" His voice was gutteral, feral, even, and there was an unmistakable note of rage in it. He took a step towards me. I took a step back, and nearly fell over the cot.

"I haven't seen you in ages, Charlie. I knew you were sick, so I wanted to come and see how you were." For the life of me, I don't know how I managed to stand there in that room smelling like the deepest section of Hell, with the Devil standing not five feet away from me, and not let out even the smallest hint of the fear I felt.

"I'm doing better, doing better," he said. "I found a new medicine, works wonders." His face was in shadow, but I could swear he grinned at me.

"I just knocked, and the door swung open, so I came in to see if you were all right, but you weren't here. I only just got here myself."

"Don't worry about it," he said. "I'm glad I've got such good friends to worry about me like you do." I hadn't even realized he was so close, but then Charlie put his arm on my shoulder. His fingers were wet, and I shivered at the touch. "It's good to have friends, don't you know."

I noticed that he wore a bandage wrapped tightly around his right upper arm, and the sight only disturbed me further. I ducked under the arm and said, "Well, I've got to get going. I'm reporting on the children who've disappeared, and I've got to get back to it, or my editor'll have my head."

"Working on Sunday, are you, Dave?" Charlie had stepped out of the patch of light from the door, and was watching me intently. "That's mighty dedicated of you."

"Yes, I know, but with the kidnapper" my voice nearly broke on this word "working so quickly, I need to be on call twenty-four-seven."

"Oh yes," said Charlie. "I think there's been another disappearance too. I heard about it on the radio. I listen to the radio a lot, nowadays. Never know when someone's going to..." His grin widened. "Disappear. Might even be someone you know."

"Well, I better get back then." I turned and nearly fell out the door, which slammed shut behind me.

On news of what I'd found, the police broke into Charlie's shop and his home, with no success. The shoe was gone, and no other evidence remained to show that he had been there. No traces remained even of my visit earlier that day, as the dust in that room was uniform and a heavy, rusted lock had to be broken before the police could go into the back room. Charlie's house in Marc St. Waters was vacant, having been put on the market back in early spring. A phone call to Charlie's brother in Jacksonville revealed that Charlie had moved up North in the spring, hoping to find a less dangerous city in upstate New York. Without any evidence to support my claims, and mountains of proof to the contrary, the police assumed I'd made the story up in hopes of inciting further news reports, as progress had been non-existent on finding the kidnapper, even with the disappearance of another child just that day. I made the mistake of telling them what I thought about Charlie and the bandage on his arm, and they dismissed me out of hand. My editor removed me from reporting on the case, and assigned someone else, and I was relocated to The Palaçades to cover the creation of a new golf course there.

Damn fool that I am, I went back that night to the Beachside, determined to wait for another attack and find Charlie myself. I had nothing to go on, no idea where he would be now that his hideout was discovered, but I had to do something. If I hadn't gone there, if I'd stayed away and reported on the doings of the wealthy on the other side of the Mountain, I might not have this-

He held up his withered left hand, and I shivered.

-but who knows? Charlie had it out for me then, I knew that later, and he might have followed me up into the Mountain.

I waited down by Charlie's store that first night, but he never showed. I went back the second night, and when still no one came, I switched stakeouts. There were police all over the town, most along the shores, so I told Fallon what I was doing, so the police would know it wasn't me doing the kidnappings myself. That was another bit of luck, and sometimes I wonder if there isn't a guardian angel watching over me sometimes.

It was the third night that it happened.

I've got a police scanner in my car, a lot of reporters who follow the crime beat do, and at around nine o'clock, news came over the radio of an alarm being tripped in a house not too far from where I was. I drove my car towards the address mentioned, but found that the police had set up a road block, and wouldn't let me go any further. The houses on the northern side of the street butted up against the inlet, so I parked my car and proceeded on foot along the shore. There were a few policemen on the strip, but a commotion came up from the street and they ran up to see what was happening. I tried to follow, but I slipped on the wet sand and fell face-first onto the ground.

The fall knocked the wind out of me, and I lay there, trying to get my breath back. When I felt okay to move, I got to my hands and knees, and tried to stand, but something strong gripped my leg and pulled me down. My face hit the floor again, and I rolled over, spitting sand out of my mouth, to find that some one had grabbed me and was dragging me into the water. I jerked back in fright, and the arm came with me, and I saw that there was no body to go with it, nothing at all. It was just as Emily Dirgin had described it, down to the broken bones sticking out of the bloodless stump. I think I screamed then, but I'm not sure. If I had, more officers probably would have come to my aid, but then, perhaps they were all out of earshot, dealing with the arm on the other side of the street.

I reached down to pry the hand off my shin, but when I touched it, what felt like an electric shock traveled up my left arm and into my shoulder. I let go, clawing at the ground around me, and the hand resumed its grüesome work.

All of a sudden, there was the sound of a gunshot, and the hand released me. Standing ten yards away was George Fallon, holding his revolver like Clint Eastwood out of Fistful of Dollars. There was no time then for explanations, because the hand flipped up and began crawling towards Fallon at incredible speed. Fallon, a much calmer man than I, steadied himself and emptied the remaining five chambers into the hand. The fingers curled into a tight claw, the nails tearing strips of skin off the palm, and then lay flat.

From what seemed like everywhere burst a scream, high, piercing, and unending. I have no words to tell you what it sounded like. I have never heard anything like it in all my fifty-three years living on this Earth, and neither has Fallon. It was something that should not be, a crime against Nature that something could even exist that could give off that terrible scream. You can't understand. No one can, really, and it's probably for the best that only Fallon and I were there to see what happened next.

Charlie, his face transfixed in the most hideous vision of anger I had ever seen, came up out of the water. The lights from the house were shining fully on him, and I saw for the first time how my friend had changed. Both his arms were gone, the skin and muscles ragged as though they had been ripped off through brute force. No blood drained from them, though no effort had been made to bandage or restrict blood flow in any way. His skin moved and pulsed, as though ants were crawling through his veins, and his eyes bulged wildly. Through the holes torn in his shirt, which read "Tropic Park" in faded letters, the flesh bulged weirdly in ways unlike the rest of him.

"You!" he said, as though through a mouth of broken glass. His tongue lolled about weirdly and seemed unconnected to the rest of him. "You'll pay for that!"

All at once, there was a burning pain in my left hand, and I looked down at it to see the bones shifting and reforming, my fingers moving spasmatically, and growing, lengthening. The nails split and bulbous flesh dribbled out, solidifying into fingers far longer than they had any right to be. New nails grew, longer and sharper than before, and before I had any time to freak at what had happened to my hand, it was moving against my will, groping for my throat. I grappled with it, though as a leftie, my right hand was the weaker.

Charlie, having dealt with me, proceeded towards Fallon at a shambling run, the stumps where his arms had been flopping grotesquely. Fallon fumbled in his pocket for another clip, and was reloading his gun when Charlie let out another scream, this one of pure rage. Even as my eyesight began to go black as my demon hand began to win in the struggle against my right, I saw Charlie's chest explode outward, and an impossible third arm reach out, grasping for Fallon. My eyes failed entirely, and I heard several shots. Then I could breath again, and I lay on the beach gasping as the stars slowly winked back into existence. I stared at my left hand, my good hand, and saw the extra flesh dissolve into the same salted gel I had seen back in Charlie's shop the previous summer. That's why my hand's like this now, and I haven't been able to use it for anything more than to hold a cigarrette ever since.

Fallon was standing over Charlie's body, his gun hand shaking just barely, and I saw that whatever had got to Charlie was gone now. The third hand had disappeared, probably turned to the same gel as mine, and his skin was a hue that wasn't normal, but was at least human. The shirt was completely destroyed, and as Fallon and I stood over him, wondering exactly what to do, we knew there was no way to ever explain what had happened that year in Tropic Park. Something from the outside came down and got into Charlie, and changed him in ways that weren't any way natural. There's many things that I don't know, and Fallon doesn't know, and no one will ever know, about those kids who disappeared, about who was truly responsible for everything, but I can tell you this: it all came from those days when Charlie would go up and down the shore, looking for interesting bits to put in his shop window, because, as Fallon and I could see clearly now with the moon bright above us and the electric lights behind, grafted into Charlie Greene's skin was the heat resistant tile he'd found the year before.

It is now coming on twelve o'clock, and I am fairly sure the shuttle is orbiting around the Earth even as I write these words. It will soon discharge its cargo to the International Space Station, but whether it will reënter with an empty hold, I cannot say.

The End.

Thank you, Jon, for commenting. I've never had alpaca. Maybe someday. Thank you too to Vicky, for commenting. I'm glad my blog inspired you to write in your journal. I tried to when I first got here, but I just can't do it. I save the journals people give me to write stories in. Thank you to M, also. Yes, racists just make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. ;-) Thank you to my little cousin Ezra, who is a little tiny baby child, so young and small, trying to make his way in a world in which almost everyone is taller than he is... *sniff* It's a sad story, of pain and suffering. I'm just messing with ya, kid. And finally, thank you to Mom, who always comments because she knows I love it. That's all for now. Sorry it's a day late, for any of you who check my blog on the stated Monday, Wednesday, and/or Friday. Hey, five comments! That's a new high score!