Check Plus Plus


I thought that middle school was pretty easy. Most of my teachers didn’t have particularly high expectations of us. I had a history teacher in 8th grade who assigned a weekly question sheet, and the grading was very straightforward. If you did fine, you got a check mark. If you did poorly, you got a check minus. If you did especially well, then you got a check plus.

One day Cami got a check plus plus. Things changed after that.

“Now hold on,” Peter says to the teacher. “How did she get a check plus plus? I didn’t think that such a thing was possible!”

“Well, she did a really good job,” the teacher replied.

Peter wasn’t happy. He wanted to go further. He wanted to push the limits. He wanted a check plus plus plus.

We all thought that he was joking. Actually, we didn’t know what to think. Would the teacher really give out a triple? The weekly homework was only ten or so questions that had answers plainly written somewhere in the textbook. Check plus plus plus didn’t make any sense. I barely understood how a double plus had happened.

Peter had a full paragraph written to answer every question the next week. The following Monday, he got his homework back, and it was only a check plus plus. Well, it’s no triple, but the fact that two doubles had been given out was still phenomenal. I mean, nobody had even thought that it was possible before.

The teacher found out that Peter was going for a triple. He thought it was pretty funny.

Some of the more studious people in the class were getting interested in this idea. It was a sort of competition, really. Who would be the first to get a check plus plus plus? I personally didn’t care that much. I was fine with my checks and occasional check pluses.

It was near the end of the year, probably early May, when Mina pulled it off. Check plus plus plus. Apparently she had turned in graphs and shit, entire pages printed out for simple questions that could each be answered in half a sentence or less. When the first check plus plus had surfaced, I didn’t care. But a triple? I was honestly blown away.

I worked pretty hard on the next homework. It was nothing extreme. And I got a check plus plus on it! Wow, you would not believe how little I cared when I got that handed back to me at the start of class. It was fairly easy to get a check plus plus, really, but I didn’t care enough to strive for it every week, like some people did.

But wait! Things got even crazier! The same week that I’d gotten my check plus plus, Peter had gotten a check plus plus plus plus! He got a what!? A quadruple!? He had reached the impossible and then gone past it. The entire class was in complete disbelief. A check plus plus plus plus! This is some fucked up shit right here.

And then it happened in mid-June. The final homework assignment. Things got weird.

It was something that was only discussed in whispers. It was almost as if it hadn’t been discussed at all. For the final homework, the entire class had mutually decided to push our history teacher to his limits. If each and every student tried to go for a check plus plus plus plus plus (that’s five plusses), one of them would have to succeed.

Quintuple plus. Let the games begin.

And when I say games, I mean that the class had devolved into madness. On the day that the final assignment was due, Peter and Cami came in, having been up all night competing their page counts, and I think they each had over a page of writing for every question on the homework. But it got stranger. It got much stranger.

One girl had made a t-shirt. A what? A t-shirt? She had bought a white shirt, printed out her homework on special paper, and ironed the image of her answers onto it. It was a shirt covered in fucking history trivia. She had even made sure that it was the teacher’s size.

Another girl made origami. I actually couldn’t comprehend what I was looking at. She had made a giant cootie catcher and covered the inside with her answers. As big as the cootie catcher was, the font on the inside was really, really small. You pick a number, the number of the desired question, then you flip flap fold it around, and there’s your three-paragraph answer.

And I had typed up, like, a page and a half or so. It was okay.

Oh man. The plusses were flying. The shirt had earned a check plus plus plus plus plus plus. Yeah. Six. I think the origami was only a check plus plus plus plus plus. I got my first and only triple. That was kinda neat.

Cami and Peter had somehow both worked equally hard, and the teacher had noticed how closely they were competing, so just to troll them he gave them the same number of plusses. They were both pretty annoyed that it had been a tie.

How many plusses had they gotten? They had both received a check plus plus plus plus plus plus plus plus. And I have nothing to say about that.


The Silver Foot


            My elementary school had this weird idea to promote exercise. Every spring they would mow the lawn to make a ring in the field, and the kids were supposed to run around it like a track. Every recess, you were “supposed to” run the track, and they even put a member of the staff on the side, counting how many times you went around. If you got around the track twenty-some times, then you’d get a really mediocre prize.

            I don’t know why, but when that track got mowed into the field, my entire school went goddamn crazy.

            And that was recess for the rest of the year. Maybe you run around the track as fast as you can, maybe you walk around and chat with your friends while you go, maybe you walk all by yourself because you actually wanted to play tetherball, but all of your friends are running around a stupid track and won’t play with you.

            How did my school manage to convince kids to give up their recess time for running around a track? Everything that I know about children says that this shouldn’t work. So why was it so successful?

            I’m hesitant to say that it was the prizes, because all that we would get is little foot-shaped trinkets to put on the key chains that children don’t have. Once a kid had earned more than two foot trinkets, they’d usually pester their parents for a key chain and have the feet hanging off of their backpacks like trophies.

            There’s the catch. That’s what made the track so popular. Kids were flaunting their prizes. It was a competition. Some kids would only have the green foot-shaped trinket, which they got after, like, twenty-five laps. Some kids had the green and the red, after running fifty laps. Some kids had the green, the red, the blue, the yellow, the purple… The teachers had created a ranking system.

            And there was one trinket that was only mentioned in whispers. After you had gotten through the entire color spectrum of stupid foot-shaped trinkets, there was the silver foot. It could be only earned after running a billion and a half laps, at least.

            I knew one kid who had a silver foot. He rode my bus to school. I tried to talk to him, tried to figure out how he had done it, but he didn’t have to answer my questions. He was obviously too cool for me. The best that I had was a yellow foot. I was nothing to him.

            But still, a yellow foot was something formidable. A lot of the kids couldn’t make it past red. But I was quick. I would scamper around that track as fast as I could, and someday I would have my silver foot-shaped trinket. It was plain to see that getting one was the only way to become one of the cool kids.

            Do elementary schools have “cool kids”?

            The end of recess was always an awkward moment for the teachers. They’d be trying to get all of the kids off of the playground, but a bunch of people would abruptly break into a sprint, begging, “Just one… more… lap…” The faster kids were sneaky, and they’d slip in an extra two laps.

            But then in third grade, something happened. Something horrible. Something so sinister that I couldn’t believe it.

            So how did the teachers count laps? It’s simple, really. A punch-card system. You get a little card, and it has a bunch of numbers on it, and you carry it with you while you run the track. When you run a lap, whichever staff member is at the edge of the track will give you another hole punch. The top half of the card was numbered one through twenty-five, and the bottom half was a bunch of multiples of twenty-five. Once you’d run twenty-five laps and filled the top half, you get a new card that has the next multiple of twenty-five punched in on the bottom. Then you count out another twenty-five until that card fills, and so on.

            One of the kids in my third grade class got a silver foot within four weeks of the spring. It was impossible. Usually the silver feet didn’t start appearing until the end of May, or even the start of June. So I asked the kid how he had done it so quickly.

            It turns out that every child has a hole puncher somewhere in their house.

            This kid had gotten his first card, one without any punches, brought it home, and punched in two hundred laps. Then he laid low for a few days, waiting for two hundred to be a near-reasonable number, and then he started running. Whoever was punching the cards didn’t need to recognize his face, because it was a new staff member every recess. This guy had supposedly run two hundred laps in the time that it would take most kids to hit fifty, and the teachers were impressed.

            And how did he explain not having the green, red, or blue trinkets that he should have already earned? He didn’t need to. He’d taken last year’s and hooked them onto his backpack.

            It was a kind of conflict that I’d never had before. I mean, hole punching sounded so easy, and it was a one-way ticket to being one of the cool kids. I could imagine myself showing that silver foot-shaped trinket to everybody on the school bus and being so unfathomably popular.

            Here’s the problem: I had already run fifty-some laps that year. My card already had the fifty punched in on the bottom, and the bottom half is only supposed to have one hole in it, the unit of twenty-five that you’re on. If I wanted to skip any more than twenty-four laps, I would need a fresh, blank card.

            So I schemed. Well, I half-schemed. I thought of ideas, but I was too afraid to act on any of them. I could try to pickpocket the staff member that handed out the cards. But that was risky. If I was caught, who knew what would happen to me? I could try to recreate the card on a computer and print out my own copy. But what if I missed a detail? What if the texture of paper wasn’t quite the same, or the font wasn’t perfect, or the spacing was wrong?

            I spiraled into a state of self-loathing. I stopped running laps. I even stopped planning to get a fake card. If you could cheat to get the trinkets, then the track meant nothing to me. All of the status that the trinkets provided was a sham. Had any student in the history of the school really earned a silver foot properly? Or had they all been cheaters?

            One time when I was in high school, I went to Fred Meyer and found a big basket full of ten-cent trinkets. There were multicolored feet in that basket. I guess the teachers had to be buying them from somewhere. Maybe the kids were buying them somewhere too. Ten cents for a silver foot, and therefore ten cents for all of the fame that a child can imagine? Sounds like a good deal to me.



(This is Part 4 of the story. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)


She tells me that her and her boyfriend are in an open relationship.

Turns out that one was a lie.

So I guess I accidentally stole this guy’s girlfriend, but he doesn’t even go to my college (yet), which means that he isn’t going to be a problem (yet). It’s November of my freshman year at college, and no matter what happens to me, I’m just kind of going along with it. Helpless flailing is one of my specialties.

But it turns out that this girl is kind of… clingy. I keep trying to do homework in my dorm, and she just goes ahead and invites herself over. She seems to think that she’s doing something wrong if I don’t hang out with her at least once a day, which is odd, because I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I hang out with the same person every day.

And then winter break rolls in, and despite going back home to the other side of the state, this girl is texting me nonstop. So I get tired of that rather quickly, and I call her up. I tell her, “We’re not very compatible, so I think that we should break up.”

She says, “That’s a silly reason to break up. I think that we’re still dating.”

That response wasn’t really a possibility that I had considered in my script, so I’m at a loss for words. I fumble and babble until I manage to hang up, and then she acts as if the conversation had never happened. On the rare occasion that this event is mentioned in the future, she refers to it as the time that I “tried” to break up with her.

Well now I’m grumpy. Now I’m all grumpied up. So I resolve to put absolutely no effort into the relationship whatsoever. If she thinks that she’s dating me, fine. But I’m not dating her.

During winter quarter, I finished writing a book, and I needed somebody to read it and give me their opinion. Turns out that college students don’t have time to read books, which means that I have to do some coercion. I seemed to have this “girlfriend”, and she seemed to be appearing in my dorm uninvited a lot. Since she’s still somehow dating me, despite me not putting any effort into the relationship, maybe she’ll feel obligated to read the book that I’ve written. That sounds means, but I figured that she deserved it for not letting me break up with her, for constantly following me uninvited, and making me overall unhappy.

She read the book. She thought it was pretty good, but seeing as she was a girlfriend, I couldn’t really trust her review anyway.

By the time spring quarter starts, I’m actually avoiding her. I’m hiding off campus, in places so out of the way that she would never suspect to look there. I swear, she could be an excellent stalker if she put her mind to it.

Spring quarter, she’s in my chemistry class. She definitely planned that. She’s kind of struggling in the class, so I give her a couple tips, and she comes up with a great idea. She wants to convince her mom to pay me to tutor her in chemistry. Pay me? What is this?

Here’s the thing. The Wii U was about to be released, and that meant that Pikmin 3 was coming out. Seeing as Pikmin 2 was the greatest game ever made, I need to get a Wii U. How will I pay for a Wii U? By tutoring the girl that won’t let me stop dating her.

So I try tutoring my girlfriend. She’s going along with it for awhile, but as the quarter goes on, she basically stop trying. I start to suspect that she only set this deal up so I would feel obligated to continue dating her. Well that plan sure worked. I want my goddamn Pikmin. I’m still able to hide from her whenever she becomes too much of a nuisance, and she’s apparently fine with that, so we’re all good.

Since I’m double majoring in two majors that have nothing to do with each other, I realized that it was necessary to take summer classes if I wanted to graduate in four years. My girlfriend finds out and immediately signs up for summer classes. Stop. Please. Stop.

Early into summer quarter I try to break up with her again. Here’s how little I cared about this breakup: That night was movie night in my dorm, and my girlfriend was living a ten minute walk away. But I couldn’t go to her place and talk to her, because I would miss the start of the movie. So, get this, I write her an email. She’s pushed me too far. I’ve gone to the dark side. This is what I’ve become.

To my surprise, she allows this breakup. She gets very sad. But she continues inviting herself over to my dorm. I break up with her again (not strictly a breakup, as this time I was basically just telling her to go away), and finally, finally, she is gone.

Let’s take a detour.

Right around the time that I broke up with this girl for the third time, my friend Tom meets a girl named Nicole, who goes to the community college in town. She’s a wannabe computer hacker, but I entirely doubted that she had hacked anything in her life, because contrary to my desires, I do not live in a sci-fi action movie. Tom pops over to my dorm every once in awhile with Nicole, and ridiculous antics ensue. You see, Nicole might be the worst person that I’ve ever met. Her sole purpose in life is to make those around her miserable. I think that’s hilarious. So I play along.

During the summer, Nicole and I made a lot of bets with each other, each escalating in monetary value to make up for the previous losses. I bet her that I could run across campus and back within fifteen minutes (I lost that one), she bet me that I would lose at the scavenger hunt that Justin had set up for me and Jamie that summer (I lost that one as well), and I bet her that I could trick my ex-girlfriend into having a lesbian experience (I won that one). Once the summer was over, I was up ten dollars. Neato!

Near the beginning of sophomore year, Nicole and Tom start dating. I think that’s pretty funny, but now I can’t really hang out with Tom without dealing with Nicole, and Nicole is getting more and more annoying with every encounter. I don’t like her. My friends don’t like her. Tom seems very passive about her. This relationship looks very familiar to me, but I don’t say anything.

As sophomore year goes on, I hang out with Tom less and less. The few times that I do see him, I basically just pester him to break up with Nicole. And in response he says, “Well, uh, it’s kind of, you know,” which doesn’t mean anything, so they kept dating.

During the spring, I finally made him see reason, and he broke up with her. Cool. Very cool. Now I probably won’t have to see her again.

About a week later, my ex-girlfriend sends me a text message. It said something like, “I saw you walking across campus, and I wanted to say hi, so I tried to follow you. But I lost track of you and you got away :(”. I had probably crossed paths with her three times throughout sophomore year, and each encounter seemed hysterically awkward for her. But this is new. I don’t like this. I don’t respond to the text.

She texts me again the next day, asking me to hang out with her. I still don’t respond. She texts me again the next day, saying that she’s going to come over to my dorm to hang out. I lock the door and don’t respond.

Hold on. Why would my ex by stalking me suddenly? That doesn’t make any sense. I broke up with her nearly a year ago. I do a quick Facebook check, and she’s had a new boyfriend for several months. Something doesn’t add up.

If anybody was going to be stalking me for sinister reasons, it would be Nicole, because I had recently convinced her boyfriend to break up with her. If it were Nicole stalking me, that would make way more sense!

And… didn’t I say that Nicole was a wannabe hacker?

So I call up Nicole. I ask her, “Did you hack my ex-girlfriend’s phone and start sending me creepy messages with it?”

And Nicole says no.

The next day, my ex texts me again. This time she says that she’s found an app that lets her track my phone. She can find me any time that she wants no matter where I am <3. I call Nicole back, and I ask her, “Are you sure that you didn’t hack my ex’s phone?”

Nicole says no.

The next day, my ex texts me again. Apparently she’d tried to follow me across campus again, and I hadn’t noticed. Whenever I leave the dorm, I start taking the battery out of my phone. That’ll stop her from tracking me.

I call Nicole again, and I ask her, “Are you super sure that you didn’t hack my ex’s phone?”

This time Nicole says, “Okay, you got me. I hacked her phone, and I’ve been using it to scare you.”


Fortunately I had yet to respond to any of my ex’s text messages, and if I had, it might have been very interesting. She would start getting replies from me having no idea that she’d been sending me any texts at all. So I start doing just that. I start responding. Every response I get seems to be the voice of Nicole. That’s kind of strange. Why can’t my ex see any of these text messages? Furthermore, why didn’t Nicole just stop pestering me when I called her out?

At the end of sophomore year, the text messages did eventually stop. I guess Nicole finally got bored, or she had finished her stupid vendetta against me. Finally I could rest easy without fears that my ex-girlfriend was going to come hunt me down and kill me in my sleep.

During the summer, I crossed paths with a mutual friend of mine and my ex-girlfriends. I figure that now would be a good time to warn my ex that somebody had hacked her phone. But I don’t want to actually speak to my ex, so talking to our mutual friend was the next best thing.

Megan didn’t sound pleased when I explained the situation. Some mean girl had hacked my ex’s phone for no good reason other than to spook me. Megan didn’t seem to think that it made much sense, and the more I explained, the less sense it made to me as well, but Megan did agree that she would talk to my ex and have her change her… passwords or something. What are you supposed to do to keep a hacker out?

Honestly, I didn’t care about what came next. My ex could figure things out on her own, because I wanted nothing to do with her, and nothing to do with Nicole. For an entire evening, I am home free at last.

The evening ended. Everything went downhill from there, starting the next morning.

Megan texts me back. She kept herself very brief. “It definitely wasn’t Nicole who was sending you those text messages.”

Alright. I hate everything.

So for some reason, my ex actually was trying to stalk me, despite us having been out of communication with each other for nearly a year and despite the fact that she has a new boyfriend. To make matters even worse, Nicole threw in a random curveball by falsely admitting to something that in hindsight was actually ridiculous. My ex is stalking me, while Nicole hates me and is intentionally confusing the hell out of me. I hate this. None of this makes any sense to me. This is some Agatha Christie trickery. This is some conspiracy theory nonsense. This is some VFD bullshit. And I won’t have it.

But my ex had said that she was tracking my phone which would involve phone hacking. The phone hacking was the Nicole issue, and it turns out that that never happened. Now, hold on. That means that the phone hacking was technically my idea in the first place, because I had been accusing Nicole of it. That was before my ex claimed that she was tracking my phone. What are the odds that two types of phone hacking would take place, or pretend to take place, if they’re completely independent of each other? Something isn’t right here. Nicole couldn’t be in contact with my ex, could she? How would that happen?

Do you remember how at the very beginning of this insane story I told you that I had accidentally stolen this girl from another guy? Junior year, that guy lived up the street from me. He was on my block. I was freaking out. And my roommates were friends with his roommates. A couple of times I ended up going to his house, and we had some crazy stare downs. I was afraid. This guy is twice my size, and he could pop my head right off of my neck if he wanted to.

Turns out he had no idea who I was, and still has no idea who I am. So that’s something nice for a change. I went to his house all the time to watch Game of Thrones, and it was like nothing. Sweet.

NaNoWriMo started, and the NaNo community at my college is surprisingly large. This year I actually met up with some of the people during November, and we would hang out, chat, have a good time, and on Tuesday’s we would go to a coffee shop that it just so happened had employed my ex-girlfriend.

The first Tuesday of November, I walk into the coffee shop, order my drink, hand her my money with trembling hands, and I watch to make sure that she hasn’t poisoned my drink. That’s silly. Why would she just have poison on hand? If anybody would just happen to have poison on them at all times, it would probably be Nicole, and I hadn’t seen her in person since Tom had broken up with her.

So my ex-girlfriend makes me some coffee, and I spend the rest of my time there avoiding eye contact. That went okay. Let’s see how that goes next week.

I go back the next Tuesday. She looked pissed. I feel unsafe. I order my coffee and avoid eye contact. Why would I feel unsafe? She didn’t do anything crazy last week. Why would she do something now?

I’m there for about half an hour before a cop walks up to me. “Are you Joe Fleck?” he asks.

I reply, “Huh?”

The cop tells me to chat with him outside. So I chat with him outside. He tells me that my ex-girlfriend works here, and I’ve been making her feel very unsafe.

I reply, “Huh?”

So the nice cop explains to me, “I don’t really understand your situation, but she called in a few minutes ago, and she wants you to leave and never come back. So I’m going to have to ask you to leave. And never come back.”

Now, this is extra flabbergasting. This girl has been stalking me, yet she does everything in her power to keep me away when I happen to cross paths with her by pure chance. Except I don’t think she actually was stalking me. She was just sending me creepy text messages claiming that she was stalking me, while not actually ever showing her face. So either she’s a really bad stalker, or she’s just trying to freak me out.

I’m pretty freaked out.

I lie low for awhile, trying to make sure that nobody slits my throat in my sleep. I’m jumpy. I’m overly observant. I carry sugar-free gummy bears on me at all times, because that’s the closest I can legally get to poison. I wait for her next move, and pray that she doesn’t make a move at all.

In February, I cross paths with her four days in a row, each time in closer proximity than the last. I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all. The only way that she could do that is if she’s tracking my phone. But that doesn’t make sense! I’d recently gotten a new phone. My old phone wasn’t even a smart phone, so how the shit would she have been tracking that anyway, if she was at all?

One of my roommates shows me an app called Find My Friends. You and a friend can exchange contact information and set it up so that you can locate each other’s phones. I spent a solid two weeks drilling into this app, trying to figure out how it could be used to track without the other person’s permission. My search was fruitless. I try other apps with similar titles. Still nothing.

None of it makes sense. A guy who craves to make sense of everything has now been thrown into a pit of insanity.

I do still have that app, as do several of my friends. Turns out that it can be pretty useful if your friends get into any sort of jam, bind, or pickle.

I start rigging my bedroom door to check if anybody has been in my room while I’m not home. I consider ways to put Find My Friends on people’s phones without them knowing. I text friends of my ex to see if they have any intel. Nothing is working. Any minute now I’m going to just curl up and die, possibly due to poisoning.

Junior year ends. Intel informs me that my ex has graduated, a year early, and she is probably leaving town.

Why do all of these stories have such anticlimactic endings?


(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)



(This is Part 3 of the story. Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)

Phil had my Facebook account for a whole summer, and it was bad.

I didn’t check Facebook for probably two months, and when I saw what he had done, I was rather displeased. He had told me that he was just going to crunch some numbers, find some averages, draw some bell curves, you’re usual human analysis business. Turns out that he was pestering some of our mutual friends, making me look like a huge asshole. That simply would not do.

For the past two years, we’d been chatting on Skype almost every Thursday night. I should’ve noticed that that had stopped happening. I could never really get the hang of Thursdays.

11th grade started with chaos. It was a sort of fun chaos, but overall not the most ideal of circumstances. A lot of people were mad at me for things that I hadn’t done. My optimal girl had transferred schools. I was lost.

My friend Helena went out for lunch with me, and we went to that place near the school that makes excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. Ooh, they were delicious. And Helena had come with me to lunch for a reason. She had some gossip for me.

“I know what girl you’re into,” she said slyly.

“Oh, okay,” I nodded, playing along. I don’t get “into” girls, physically or mentally. If it ever seems like I’m into a girl, it’s because I’ve been spending too much time in Excel. But sure, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Helena grinned, and she told me the name. At first, I didn’t even recognize the person. Her? I’ve barely spoken to her. She’s attractive, sure. I think she’s intelligent, but it’s hard to tell based off of the little amount of time we’ve spent interacting with each other.

Now, why would Helena think that? She was friends with this girl, or at least acquaintances. I smelled a ruse. There were only a few possibilities for why Helena would tell me that I was into this girl. One, it was a simple misunderstanding. That happened to Helena pretty often, so sure. That’s plausible. The second option was that this girl was into me, and she wanted Helena to tell me that I was into her so it would stir up some sort of weird psychological complex to make me more attracted to her.

I like the second option better, because that meant a hot girl was into me.

So I started hanging out with this girl some more. She seemed eager to get to know me. Not too eager, but there was something. She certainly wasn’t as eager as I was expecting. I started overanalyzing some more, and that was where I spotted the conundrum.

She has a boyfriend already. So she’s probably not into me.

Another facet of the conundrum: Her boyfriend lived in Philadelphia, across the country. Oh, so now I’m stealing this guy’s long distance girlfriend. I wasn’t really game for that. I would honestly only do that if it were an accident.

And yet, this girl kept hanging out with me, more and more frequently. We would talk on Skype every Thursday night, as well as just about every other night of the week. Tensions rose. Everybody in our social group assumed that we were going to start dating soon. I developed all sorts of bizarre plots to get the ball rolling, such as developing a mathematical formula dictating how to behave around her, or drinking an obscene amount of soda until she felt obligated to kiss me. And as crazy as it sounds, that last one would have worked if I hadn’t been so sleep deprived.

I had developed something called The Cake Formula, named after a concept described in a song by the band Cake. Using this mathematical formula, which utilized all sorts of variables that I’m pretty sure I had made up off the top of my head, I decided that in order to get her to like me, I had to stop being friends with her and act slightly mean, but not too mean. There was some sort of balance between negative one and zero in terms of how nice I was to her, and the best possible position was either just a touch above negative one or just a touch below zero, because those two numbers were the asymptotes.

Again, I made up this formula off the top of my head.

Naturally, that didn’t work at all. So I developed The Light Switch Method. You spend some time being nice to her, and then you spend some time avoiding her, and then you switch back and forth. On and off, on and off. I did this for a decent amount of time, eventually optimizing it based on empirical data, showing that for this girl in particular, it was best to stay off for approximately 26% of the time and stay on for the other 74%. Note that this could mean a quarter of a day off and then the rest of the time on, or it could mean a quarter of a month off and the rest of the month on. I never did get around to optimizing that facet of it.

For once the stupid plots and ploys were actually getting somewhere. Her long distance relationship with the Philadelphia guy was getting more strained. No longer would I be her Number Two. Soon I would be up at Number One.

Now, get this: There was a pattern to it. The first girl that I asked out in 8th grade had Listed me at Number Three. Then the next girl had no List, in 10th grade. This girl, the following year, had put me at Number Two. So even if things didn’t work out this time, the pattern would follow that next time I’ll get a girl without a List, and then finally the fifth girl would have me at Number One. 3 then X then 2 then X then 1, with X being a Listless girl. Right?

No. Fuck you. You can’t extrapolate a pattern from only three data points. Who do you think you are?

The girl broke up with Philadelphia guy in February.

She asked me out shortly after.

Phil finds out, and he tells me that he had already asked her out over the summer using my Facebook account.

Hold on. Stop everything.

If Phil had asked her out using my Facebook account, then that was why she had thought that I was into her at the beginning of the year! And I was only into her because I thought that she was into me! In reality, neither of us were into each other, but everybody thought that we were! This was insanity! This was one small event causing a preposterous chain reaction, and every part of that chain reaction was entirely, one hundred percent pointless!

Welcome to my life.

So I wasn’t actually into this girl, and this girl wasn’t actually into me, and we had spent half a year feeling obligated to flirt with each other and inevitably date. We were going out for about a week. Then we mutually broke up. It was all good fun.

Thanks, Phillip.


(Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)



(This is Part 2 of the story. Part 1, Part 3, Part 4)

“I hate coincidences,” I grumbled to Jacob, shortly after history had repeated itself.

I don’t think I had ever played such a heated card game. It was called Mini Pickles, for absolutely no reason at all. I find that most insane card games have names that don’t make any sense, like Egyptian Ratscrew, or Scum. Mini Pickles requires each player to bring their own deck of cards, preferably with a different design so they can be told apart at the end of each round. You lay out your cards like a solitaire game, but any ace that you find goes into the middle of the table. You want to get rid of cards, and that means that you can put a two on any similar-suited ace out on the table, and then stack them as intuition dictates. But people steal your aces. They always, always, always steal your aces. And that’s when people get pissed off.

I don’t think this is a card game that ever left my high school. I’ve googled it. It isn’t real.

“As you said, statistics don’t lie,” Jacob told me after we’d finished a round. I was having a bad game. Jacob had played his eight of clubs half a second before I could play mine.

The statistics that always catch me are the ones that I’m right about, but I assume are wrong anyway. Take coincidences, for example. Statistically, coincidences are going to happen every once in awhile, such as running the same experiment twice in two different places and having the same thing go wrong. Suppose you do an analysis of every girl in your middle school, and after choosing one, your closest friend happens to pick the same girl. That’s statistically plausible, because this girl is optimal. Suppose you do an analysis of every girl in your high school two years later. After choosing one, your new closest friend happens to pick the same girl.

I hate coincidences.

Step one: Compile a list. A nefarious list. Call it The Scheme. No, that’s been done already. Let’s call this one The Plot. The Plan? The Ploy? Does it really matter what it’s called? It’s just a list. Who are the biggest threats? First threat: Jacob. What Number is he? Hm… We’ll have to assess the other threats first.

High school is a lot harder to keep track of than middle school. Who knows who the threats are? So Jacob is… Number One? It certainly would be nice if there were only one person that I was competing with. And the fact that he’s a good friend means that I can sabotage him in any way imaginable and he’ll still get over it, right? That’s what friends are for. Sabotaging and forgiving.

Sonali has a thing for Jacob. That’s useful. I can use this against him/for him. Because if I can divert him to Sonali, then I get the optimal girl for myself. Everybody wins, except Jacob gets his second choice and I get my first. So for Sonali’s List, she’s Number Two, and the optimal girl is Number One. Are you supposed to put yourself on a List? Do there need to be strict rules for Plots/Ploys/Plans/Schemes/Ruses? Seeing as I’ve been talking out of my ass this entire time, I don’t think that consistency in naming and listing procedures should be a concern.

After the first semester of 10th grade ended, I found out that the optimal girl was transferring to a different high school at the end of the year. At about the same time that I learned about this, another girl transferred into the school, and she might have been a good replacement. I put this new girl through the Excel spreadsheet. She ranked high on attractiveness and intelligence, with adequate personality, but further analysis was required. Besides, I was already kind of set on this other optimal girl.

Jacob is kind of moving towards Sonali, but they haven’t locked it in on their Facebook or anything, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It turns out that secretly coercing people into doing your will is harder than it looks on TV, so I sat down with Jacob and told him the situation over a nice game of Mini Pickles.

Don’t play Mini Pickles with only two people. It’s really lame.

I explain to Jacob that he should go for Sonali instead of the optimal girl, because the optimal girl is leaving soon, and I basically only want a girlfriend because I feel like I should have gotten a girlfriend by this point in my life. Welcome to high school, where you can openly tell your friends that you don’t actually have any romantic feelings for the girl that you’re pursuing, and nobody really gives a damn.

At this age, I was still one of the weird kids. My friend had made me a Facebook account because I refused to make one myself, and I just didn’t care, I gave out the password for the account to anybody who asked for it. My friend Phillip even used my account to collect data from all of my friends. Ah, I love to see someone collecting data.

Jacob was bizarrely on board with my plan. He would go for Sonali, and I would be free to ask out the optimal girl without any known competition. Why did it work out so easily? Apparently I hadn’t been paying a bit of attention, and Jacob and Sonali had already made out on, like, three separate occasions. They weren’t “locked in” necessarily, but they were getting there.

Spoilers: They never did really get locked in. Turns out that was all irrelevant, just like every other aspect of any of my girlfriend pursuits.

So off I go to ask out the optimal girl. And I do so. And she says no. Hey, at least it only took me one semester this time instead of all year. I guess that means that I’m improving. Next time it will only take three months, right?

Jacob was the only person on my List of threats, but it turns out that there was no List at all. This girl knew that she was transferring schools soon, so she simply could not be bothered with any boy drama. I wasn’t Number Three. I wasn’t Number Two, or Number One, or even Number Fifty. There were no Numbers. No Lists at all. So much for the freakin’ analysis.

And then she transferred schools. And that was that.


(Part 1, Part 3, Part 4)

The Mac Man


I could never really get the hang of Thursdays.

It was Michelle’s birthday, so we decided to go out for Thai food, if not just to get out of our messy house. Nobody ever wanted to do the dishes, and people left their crap sitting out all over the place. Eden kept leaving her laptop in the kitchen and forgetting where it was.

This dinner was one of the first times in weeks that all six members of the house had been in the same place. We had a lot to discuss, but they were all topics that nobody actually wanted to bring up. Messy house. Doing dishes. Paying the electric bill. It was Michelle’s birthday after all, so maybe it would be better if we just sat back and enjoyed ourselves.

Joseph decided that we should wait until after we’d all eaten before we talked about such frightening topics as loading a dish washer, so we spent the meal making fun of people, just like our usual discussions. We talked about idiots, we talked about morons, we talked about ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends, and we talked about lunatics and maniacs. All was well.

“Okay,” Josh finally said, as we were finishing our meals. “What are we doing about the kitchen?”

“Nothing,” Alison shrugged. “It’s hopeless. I’ve tried cleaning the kitchen, maybe once or twice a week, and the moment that my back is turned, it’s just as messy again.”

“People need to stop leaving their stuff out,” Eden complained.

I joked, “Says the person who keeps leaving their laptop in the kitchen.”

“I left my laptop in the living room,” Joseph reasoned. “It isn’t a big deal.” Strangely enough, every person in the house owned a Mac.

Michelle grumbled, “Eden, you’re going to spill coffee on your computer, or something else awful. What about all of the grocery bags? They’ve gone missing.”

“Yes they have,” Alison agreed. “I’m not spending money on bags.”

“They’re bad for the environment!” Eden proclaimed.

I nodded melodramatically. “Right, the environment.”

“What if we had a chore system?” Josh suggested. “Each person gets a chore, and they have to finish by the end of the week.”

“Sure. That’s fine,” Alison shrugged.

“I’m okay with that,” I agreed. “Depending on the chore, of course.”

Joseph cackled, “Yeah, I’m not doing the kitchen.”

“We need two people on the kitchen,” Eden complained.

“I can sweep!” Alison said with a strange excitement.

“I can run and empty the dishwasher,” I decided. “But nothing more, because that’s a job that has to happen, like, five times a week.”

Joseph nodded, “That sounds fair.”

“Wait,” Alison frowned. “Do we have a mop?”

“Sort of,” Josh frowned back.

“What does that mean?”

Josh laughed, “It doesn’t really work. I think it’s broken.”

Eden winced. “How does a mop break?”

“Are you lying to us?” I accused.

“Why would I be lying?” Josh laughed again.

Joseph smiled. “Remember when we tried to have a prank war?”

“We still can,” Alison perked up.

“Do we have to?” Michelle whined.

“Yes, we have to!” Joseph grinned. “It’ll be so exciting! The feeling that you could get got at any moment! The thrill!”

“Calm down,” I told him. I did like the idea, though.

“Are we ready to go?” Eden asked.

Joseph stood. “Yeah, we can talk about this at the house. Both the chores and the pranks, I mean.”

Alison was still smiling. “I’m really excited for our prank war.”

Michelle was driving. There were only five seats in her car, so somebody had to curl up in the back. The moment that we pulled out of the parking lot and out into the main road, we almost got t-boned. That would’ve been a good prank.

When we got back to the house, Alison and Joseph scampered inside. Apparently they were racing for the one clean bathroom in the house. The back door was always unlocked, so they blasted straight in. Josh insisted that we keep the back door unlocked because he “liked the idea of walking into a house without needing to use a key”, which isn’t a concept that I fully understood. Later I found out that he had lost his key, so that would be a better explanation.

Michelle walked into her room, and I took a moment to stand in the kitchen and take in the mess. We would need two people cleaning the kitchen, and two would probably be good for the living room too.

“Joe!” Michelle yelps.

I walked into her room. “What?”

“Where’s my laptop?”

I looked at her desk pointlessly. “Is it in the living room?”

“No,” she shook her head. “And… And where’s my backpack!?”

“Probably with your laptop,” I reasoned. “In fact, your laptop is probably inside of the backpack, wherever it is. Where did you last bring it?”

“No, no, no! I had it here!” Michelle shouted. “I can’t deal with this right now! Do you have your laptop?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged, unaffected by her yelling. “Let me go get it.”

Michelle pushed past me and ran into the living room. “Where’s my laptop!?” she shrieked.

I hear Joseph tromping down the stairs. “What?”

“My laptop is probably in my room,” I say, rounding the corner.

I pass Josh’s room. He steps out with a stupid grin on his face. “Hey, have you seen my laptop?”

Oh shit, well, I guess mine’s not going to be there either.

Joseph darts by, still confused. I look in my room. No laptop. My water bottle’s been knocked over onto the ground.

Well hold on now. Maybe somebody just borrowed our laptops. The neighbors, probably. Who knows why?

“Yeah,” Joseph said blankly. “My laptop was on the couch. It is not there.”

“Oh, okay,” I mumbled, moving back into the living room.

Eden comes out of the kitchen. “Mine’s gone too. I’d left it in the kitchen.”

Michelle ran to the stairs and yelled up them. “Alison!”


“Where is your laptop!?”

“It’s right here,” she called down.

Michelle nodded, looking stunned. “Okay. Okay. But… But…”

Joseph walks up to us. “So somebody stole the laptops.”

“Not Alison’s,” I lift a finger.

“But seriously! What!?” Joseph waves his hands around. “I mean, we just had all of our laptops sitting out. Whoever did this didn’t even go upstairs. We handed them our computers as if they were in a nice little stack on a platter!”

I frowned, still in denial. “I backed up my hard drive a couple hours ago.”

“Same,” Michelle nodded, wide-eyed.

“Back ups?” Joseph stares. “Back ups? Dammit! Why didn’t I think of that!”

Josh came back out of his room. “I don’t need a computer.”

“Shut up,” Joseph grumbled to him. “Yes you do.”


Alison came down the stairs, clutching her Macbook. “Should we call the cops?”

I frowned. “Oh yeah. Probably should.”

Joseph pointed out, “So this is all a part of the prank war, right?”

“I could never get the hang of Thursdays,” I mumbled.

Before the cops arrived, I called my parents. Apparently they had some really slick insurance on my laptop, so they could essentially just get a new one for free. They placed an order to send it to the nearest Best Buy, and I’d have it in three or four days. And I had just backed up my computer, so it all honestly felt like it was just a minor inconvenience. In fact, I even got the newest operating system out of it.

The police had little to say. They had heard about this guy for years. He had some sort of device that could detect whether an Apple product was in a house. I don’t know what the hell the police were talking about, but it sounded kind of cool. Technology these days, right? The cops looked around the house, but since the doors were left unlocked, there was no reason for this person to have broken in. And no fingerprints to be found.

The cops did notice the poster that Alison and I had made, in which we took a bunch of naked women from a Hustler magazine and glued Josh’s face over theirs. The cops thought that was pretty funny.

We did notice that a couple of other Mac products were missing while the police looked over the house. Michelle’s iPod had been stolen, and my old disabled iPhone was also gone. I had lovingly named that iPhone Yorrick. Alas, poor Yorrick.

The cops decided that there was basically nothing that could be done. So three days later, I got my new laptop as if nothing had happened. Michelle’s parents sent her an old PC. Joseph bought one about a week after. Eden found one at the dump or some shit, because that’s where Eden gets her things.

Josh never did get a new laptop. He’s a man of his word.




(This is Part 1 of the story. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

It was somewhere around 7th or 8th grade that I decided I should probably get a girlfriend. It wasn’t really a lusting thing, or any sort of emotion-related thing at all. I simply saw my friends getting girlfriends, and I decided, yeah, I should probably get a girlfriend too. It seemed to be expected of me. I didn’t know what I would do once I had a girlfriend.

I didn’t know what kind of girlfriend I wanted. So I started doing a behavioral analysis of all of the girls in my middle school, gauging them on personality, attractiveness, and intelligence. That’s how you’re supposed to do it, right?

It turns out that my middle school really did not have a lot of girls worth going for. There was your typical normal distribution in terms of attractiveness, but personality and intelligence were both traits that often did not live up to my expectations. Intelligence implied insanity, good personality implied unattractiveness, and attractiveness implied neuroticism. If I hadn’t been in 8th grade, I probably would have done some sort of correlational analysis, but 8th graders don’t really know how to do that, so I saved that for high school.

I quickly realized that my methodology was very different from most other middle schoolers, so I talked to my friend Evan for a second opinion. He said that my analysis was one of the more rational things that he’d seen a person do. That didn’t necessarily make it effective, but seeing as I was simply getting a girlfriend for the sake of getting a girlfriend, effectiveness didn’t really matter to me all that much.

Evan started doing his own minor analysis. At this point I had basically narrowed it down to three girls, and Evan agreed with my research’s findings. His analysis was similar to mine, though I dare say it wasn’t quite as thorough. But it turns out that thoroughness mattered just as little as effectiveness.

Because, you see, when two people are both looking for the optimal girlfriend, it turns out that those two people are both going to select the same person.

Further analysis required.

So me and Evan met up one day, exchanged our data, and yup, goddammit, we had both narrowed it down to the same girl. So it was… a race? This doesn’t seem like how it’s supposed to work. Race wasn’t really the right word. It was more a matter of who had the balls to ask her out first, followed by the stroke of luck in her accepting your approach.

Now there’s the next problem. As an 8th grader, “asking a girl out” was a concept that didn’t really make sense to me. You just walk up, say, “Do you want to go out with me?” and then… go out? Go out where? I’m thirteen. I’m not going to take you out to a nice restaurant. Maybe instead I could just tell her that I was “into her”? But that was kind of a lie, wasn’t it? I guess I was sort of romantically interested, but the only reason that I was asking this girl out was because my Excel spreadsheet told me to.

I suppose that Evan was having a similar problem, because he didn’t ask her out either. Maybe he was just going to sit back, watch, and laugh. I’m sure it was funny to watch me fumble through my algebraic equations in an attempt to account for variables, probability of success, and other nonsense that no human should have to worry about when asking a girl out.

As time wore on, I suspected that other people in my school had performed their own statistical analyses. Peter was showing interest in this girl. Alex was showing interest in this girl. Even Greg was showing interest. I told Evan about what I was seeing, and he nodded and said, “Of course other guys will go for her. You said that she was the most optimal girl.”

We made a list. A nefarious list. We called it The Scheme.

The Scheme assessed all of the possible threats. Number One was the guy that the girl seemed most interested it. Alex. Number Two was the second biggest threat. Peter. Number Three, I soon realized, was Evan himself. On Evan’s list, I was Number Three. Number Four was Dallas, who wasn’t really a threat at all, because all he did was hide behind the school and smoke weed. I don’t think that I even knew what weed was back then, and I still could tell that he was botching his chances. Number Five was Greg. We didn’t have to worry about Greg.

Number One ranked high in terms of personality and intelligence. Meanwhile, Number Two really only had attractiveness going for him, because by all other measures he was a goddamn lunatic. Number Three was Evan, so there wasn’t really much left to assess about him. Number Four had attractiveness and literally no other positive qualities. Number Five was a joke. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Throughout 8th grade, the list kind of shifted around. I think Numbers Two and One switched places at one point. We considered moving Four up to Three, but Evan and I were so used to referring to each other as Number Three that it would kind of take some of the fun away.

There’s the problem. This was all about fun at this point. The Scheme was a meaningless analysis. Despite the fact that I had five other threats, none of them were making any sort of moves on this girl. I was just enjoying assessing all of these people in my middle school. Sure, I didn’t have the balls to ask this girl out, but I also didn’t want to let all of this analysis go to waste. Honestly, you can tell in how I write this story that the girl has been mentioned very infrequently, in exchange for stupid ranking systems.

It wasn’t until the very end of 8th grade that I actually got around to asking the girl out. In terms of the list, I was somehow the first person to do it. Not even Number Three got around to it. So I go up to the girl, in probably one of the last weeks of school, and I tell her that I’m “into her”, and she says that she’s into somebody else.

Soon after, we all graduated and went our separate ways. It could’ve been Number One. But it was probably Number Two. Or, I guess at that point he had shifted to Number One anyway. But whatever. It doesn’t matter.

None of it mattered.


(Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)