Good evening readers, and welcome back to my cobweb-laden corner of the internet. Other than two little crappy excuses for posts, it’s been a dern long time since I actually wrote, so tonight I thought I’d crank out another chapter. I was going to include some catch-up about my current world, but then it was dumb and boring so I nixed it. Long story short: I was in a play. Louisville, Kentucky is lacking in the sushi department. I am still ISO sushi. Now back to the present. Blog time.
The subject of the hour is that which I like to call, in scientific terms, the Too Far Gene.
The Too Far Gene accounts for the churlish behavior of those who scream during Monopoly and ruin game night, who spiral into depression after not winning the three-legged race, who put everything and a bag of chips and some bean dip on the line on a whim to have a shot at holding the unofficial title of “best” in any given activity, even if it means crossing 13 lines. It is a common strand in the DNA of the overcompetitive, the tempered, the fools. It is a sickness. It is a huge part of who I am.
Sometimes, we the afflicted encounter individuals just as screwed up and desperate to win as we are. For me, it was my roommate. Numerous case studies and field tests regarding our interactions have led me to this conclusion: that when two Too Far Genes come into contact with one another, the resulting outcome is one of a remarkably painful and often borderline lethal nature.
In our youth, my roommate and I didn’t see each other enough for it to do too much damage. It was a motivator that pushed us both toward improving in various areas of our lives. But, once we started preparing for college, and our time spent together increased exponentially, the Genes began to feud.
Incident Number One was in the wintertime of our senior years of high school. My now-roommate, whose name I suppose I could enclose (it’s Sami), invited me to go skiing with her and her family. They went on ski trips almost every year, and it was a real passion of Sami’s. Which meant that she was good at it. Which meant that I had to be good at it. And that is why I found myself clinging to my ski poles for dear life sliding down a Black Diamond the first time I ever went skiing and then ran over and fractured my own thumb. Sami may have won that night, but as college began, the tides would turn.
Incident Number Two was during our freshman year at Appalachian State together. We had been living in the same dorm for a while, and the proximity made our genetic disorders flare up. I don’t remember how we got there, I just remember that one night we were slapping each other’s hands with a vengeance, while people around us grew increasingly more uncomfortable with and disapproving of our immaturity. The rule was that whoever called mercy or uncle or whatever first would lose. So, naturally, neither of us did. We just kept swinging and slashing and stinging until finally we realized that it would never end, and agreed to a truce. The next morning, we both had bruises on our hands. For, you see, one of the integral qualities of the Too Far Gene is that, when active, it can increase one’s pain tolerance up to 45%, provided the cause is stupid and will not result in any actual gains. And thus we saw an evolution–the Genes had grown in strength from harming only one host at a time to working symbiotically to harming multiple.
Incident Number Three, the last and most despicable of the studies that I will draw upon for today’s post, took place during our sophomore or junior years. We had decided to go hiking on one of the mountain trails with a few friends. But, in keeping with the tone of our lives, it rained. But, also in keeping with the tone of our lives, we went anyway. The trail in question–Rough Ridge–was already a bit perilous in dry conditions, but, when inundated with water, was all the more dangerous. Also it was at night. So it was dark.
Now, for those of you who are not familiar with the trail, allow me to paint a picture with my words. Rough Ridge is a few miles long and climbs up a mountain. The trail mostly consists of pockets of mud, roots, and a whole bunch of rocks and boulders that you try to adhere to in order to avoid getting your shoes dirty/falling and dying. There are a lot of smallish trees branches that lean into the trail from the sides, and sometimes patches of the trail smell like split pea diarrhea, but overall, there is an abundance of color and the pinnacle of the peak and a few clearings on the way up offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountain range. At least, when you can see it. Which we couldn’t. (In our defense, it was not a completely stupid idea from the get-go, because the rain had stopped and it was only gloomy and stormy and nearing sunset when we got there.) In any event, the rain picked up again, so we began our descent.
It began quietly. Whenever there was an opportunity, one of us would get in front of the other to lead the pack. God forbid someone else from our friend group tried to get up there. Everyone was using their phones for light, and getting mud on their ankles, and slipping every now and then. Safety should have been the priority, but the weather, the delirium, the split pea stank–whatever it was–triggered our Genes. We awakened like Hulks. I don’t remember who it was, but someone called a race, and we began hop/slip/sprinting down the trail in attempts to be crowned the Ultimate Idiot Who Thinks They Deserve Praise. Our friends were appalled, concerned, and openly pissed, but we kept going.
So, I mentioned that Rough ridge is composed of mostly boulders and roots that you have to stick to in order to avoid pockets of mud when it’s wet, but I didn’t mention the composition of the first chunk of the trail. There are few boulders or roots, so somewhere along the way, someone decided to just lay some random logs about the size of a small dinner plate in diameter across the dirt, and decided that was enough. Friends, I don’t intend to exaggerate, but the conditions of that portion of the trail were so bad that the people who made it went back in and built a staircase sometime in the past year to make it acceptable. That is truth. Anyway, so it was preemptively treacherous, but now also dark, wet, and slippery. And we were sprinting down it by iPhone flashlight. When I look back on it now away from the heat of the moment, it makes me cringe. We could have broken our ankles. If we had hit our heads on the right rock in the right spot, we could have bled out and died. We could have actually died. Which would have indeed been Too Far. But instead, we both survived. And, most important of all… I won. It was really pretty epic. It is a victory I will never let go of. I was like an agile monkey spy, and Sami failed. And I won.
I have done a lot of things in my life that I should not be proud of but am anyway.
In any event, analysis and interpretation of the aforementioned incidents (and others off the record) has oft left me wondering, what the fluff is wrong with me? Why am I so willing to destroy myself for the sake of a petty victory? Where did the Gene come from? And the answer is so simple and and perfectly congruent with my concept for this title, that it makes me wonder if you all already know and if my explaining it so dramatically and scientifically is being wasted. The Gene was passed down to me like any other gene: through artificial genetic testing conducted in secret by classified government agencies and LIZARD PEOPLE. Jk. The Gene was passed on to me through my parents.
Now I know what you are thinking “you can’t just blame everything that’s wrong with you on your parents,” but oh contraire, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I am a victim. Accountability is for the mature and globally responsible. (Jk again. Accountability is actually very important to me, and a great source of irritation when absent in other childish swine, but still…the following examination explains a lot.)
Before I segway into this portion of today’s post, I do believe that a shoutout is in order. I was digging through some recyclables last week, and my friend took a picture and I thought it was funny so I made it my profile picture. It was then that Mr. Darius H, my only reader other than sometimes Lauren and Alexi, commented on the pic, asking for an explanation, and the following story came flashing back to the forefront in my mind, thus inspiring this blog post. What I am getting at is that he is responsible for this horsecrap.
Anyway, getting back on track–my childhood. In my youth, my parents made it clear that being a good student was of penultimate importance. And this meant more than having the best elementary school Shel Silverstein hamburger poster ever. It meant excelling in all areas. And my mom told me that going above and beyond in everything was the key to excelling.
We had a number of school fundraisers throughout the year that our teachers motivated us to participate in by giving us incentives of pizza parties or ice cream socials for the winning class. The amount of love I have for pizza parties, ice cream socials, and free anything has not changed since then; I was game. But there was one person who was even more game than I was: my mother.
The biggest fundraisers at the school were easy: collecting box tops, soup labels, coins, and the like; but one collectable reigns in my memory above all.
Harris Teeter milk caps.
All you had to do to win was to bring in the most, but one family can only consume so much milk.
Our neighborhood’s recycling day was on a Tuesday at the time, if I recall correctly. Nowadays, we use those big rectangular-ish containers with lids you can fit a whole bunch of crap in, but back then, they were just smallish, square-ish, blue, open-top bins. Easy pickings. It was then that I learned what it really means to compete.
It started with my mom telling me to nab a milk cap or two from someone’s bin when I passed it. It ended with her sending me and my brother out on our bikes once a week, with grocery bags, specifically to steal all of the milk caps from recycling bins across, collectively, almost the entirety of the neighborhood.
We usually split ways to cover more ground.
My most distinct memory is hiding behind a garbage bin on one of those excursions when I thought I heard movement in the nearst driveway, trying not to be seen out of both shame and fear. I also remember pretending I was a spy, and the stench of rotting milk. The exact font placement and colors that distinguished Harris Teeter caps from those of other inferior grocery chains will forever be etched in my mind.
Equally etched in my mind is the ghost of feeling like a fugitive. No matter how much my mom and Billy told me it was crap no one wanted–literal garbage, in my heart it still felt like it was stealing. Who knew when these people were going to change their minds and decide they wanted to bring their recyclables back in? Or when they would next walk past their bin and eye the cartons suspiciously before suddenly realizing that they had been struck by a Milk Cap Thief. The high-stress red alert nature of the situation however, did teach me how to be more sneaky and agile (which, now that I think about it is probably exactly what saved my life later when racing down Rough Ridge).
But even though the danger and guilt were palpable, and even though, except for one small, twisted part of me that liked the adrenaline, I hated it, I went anyway. It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t actually have to until months later, when it was too late. For, at some point, my class won one of the fundraisers, likely entirely due to my family’s contribution. (I think that it was such a done deal that my mom traded off each year actively choosing which kid she would let win: me or my brother.) I tasted victory, and I knew what it would take to do it again.
Dignity was no obstacle.
As the years went on, the Too Far Gene became more and more active in my day-to-day life. I recognized that being ratchet was sometimes vital to the success of an overall operation. And, in turn, I became more and more like the person I am today, and more and more like my mother. I had learned to stop at nothing to win.
It’s made me a freak, but better at 85% of the things that I do.
As for Dad’s influence, he’s more of a take jokes Too Far kind of guy. I’ll let it speak for itself.
The Moral of the Story: good things can come in violent, aggressive, and competitive packages, but your relationships and health are better off when you know how to draw a line. Also you don’t have to be so afraid of turning into your parents. Some of it is inevitable. And, decidedly, not the worst.
Everyone who possesses the Gene has a different origin story. This has been mine.
I’m so freaking tired so I’m not even gonna tie up all the loose ends. Not even going to explain the relevance of the below quote. Maybe tomorrow.
Thanks for reading chick peas.
Yours in sleep deprivation,
“Your last vine made mom so upset that she tried to kill herself via car accident.”