I WAS A very precocious young driver. I went to the DMV on my 14th birthday, scored a passable 17/20 on the written exam, and drove home. Of course, it wasn’t ACT that easy. My parents only drive cars with manual transmissions, so by the transitive property of equality, I would learn how to drive a manual. It all rolled along smoothly until I was less than a mile away from my house. Someone was tailgating me up Rabbit Creek Road and instead of shifting into 3rd, I shifted into 5th, stalled the car and gave up. I got out, walked around to the passenger side and made my mom drive the rest of the way home. I didn’t drive for a month after that.
Six months later, I felt confident enough to take the full license test. The only problem was I had another 18 months to wait until I could pass the first requirement - “Must be 16 years of age.”
My sweet wheels
So, just three days after my 16th birthday, I barely passed the road test and was granted my provisional. The "provi" (as it’s known to the young'uns) is sort of gray area. Some parents, like mine, enforce it's provisional status requirements (a teen may drive without a parent in the car, but only with family members who are of age - no friends allowed. No driving between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM, unless it's for work), while other parents totally disregard these rules, most likely because they’re just glad they glad they don’t have to be a kid chauffeur anymore. I’m not going to say whether I gave people rides during that 6-month period for legal reasons, but I can say that when I finally got my full license, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Although those rules seemed to be the bane of my existence for six months, I know without them I would’ve gotten at least a ticket, if not worse. Driving with friends is a complete distraction, even if they aren’t trying to be one. So while these restrictions are a real bummer for newly minted young drivers I'll bet they've saved a few lives.
I TOOK PART in my high school's annual Mr. Congeniality "Competition" friday. (It's in quotes because while there is a winner declared, nobody really cares about winning.) Any Senior boy can apply to "compete", and this year nine other guys signed up with me.
The competition consisted of an opening dance with all the contestants, a nightwear portion, indiviual talent, swimwear, and a question and answer segment. In short - it was a night for us contestants to goof off with an audience.
Before this momentous night is over, one of these boys will be crowned Mr. Congeniality...
Before the show started, all the contestants were petrified. We had heard that the school's theater (capacity ~250) was sold out and there were people standing in the aisle. Most of us were athletes, but we agreed that this was way worse. In sports, you've got your team behind you. But for this, nobody had your back, and you were completely exposed, at the mercy of the crowd.
Nobody took the competition seriously. For nightwear, I dressed a shirtless Batman; other costumes were a crossdresser (a given in a male competition), a shirtless firefighter, and a shirtless cowboy. Notice a theme here?
Can-can you spot Patrick?
For my talent I decided to exhibit my opera singing, which is largely an undiscovered skill, a surprise to everyone who listened to me belt out Por Ti Volare aka the Opera Song from Stepbrothers. I actually did pretty well, only having to resort to screechy falsetto once! The other talents ranged from country music, to stand up comedy, to terrible magic.
The last dress-up category was swimwear and I went hard. Taking my inspiration from Zoolander, I became a Merman for 30 seconds with duct tape scales all over my legs and my feet taped together with a tail to hold them there. I'd like to think that I at least won this round as my competition was only a scuba diver, a 6 foot 3 baby (complete with floaties), and Castaway with Wilson the volleyball as a prop.
Alas. I didn't win. In fact, I didn't even place in the Top 3. But I couldn't care less about the crown of Mr. Congeniality. I had buckets of fun, along with everyone else. I'm really glad I could do Mr. Congeniality, because I don't think I'll ever be able to do the things I did - with a live, sold-out audience - ever again.
THE SUN IS now setting after 8:30. We have nearly 13 hours of daylight...and counting. The sky is slowly turning a deeper shade of blue after months of being so white that it looked like an extension of the mountains. I have a sudden urge to wear shorts and tank tops outside, even though the occasional wind makes the temperature around 10 degrees. That's right
summer spring is here. And coming soon is the last day of school. My god, I'm coming down the home stretch of my high school career.
Even though the last quarter of high school is a cakewalk, it brings with it a new type of stress. Stress over college takes precedent, as well as balancing work and having a good time during the summer, grandparents flying up for graduation, and AP Tests to secure the college credit that is much more real now than it was in August when I signed up for the class.
For most, me included, this stress is notable, but miniscule in light of the thought of crossing the stage, shaking hands with a few people, getting your diploma, and being free. Free from high school - and childhood along with it. As soon as I step down off that stage in May, I'll change from a high school student to a college student. Teachers that I've known since my freshman year will look at me slightly differently. It won't be noticeable to anyone else but it'll seem to me as if they're looking at me like a peer, perhaps, I'll be their student no more.
But before that day, I have plenty of things to take care of. Mr. Congeniality is next friday, my play (Top Gun) should run sometime in the next 3 weeks, prom is at the end of April, and I have to commit to a college by May 1st. It's busy, but fun. I made the resolution that I'd always be busy this year, and I think I've fulfilled that for the most part. Now, we only have a quarter left.
Only seventy-some days and they can't go by quickly enough.
THINKTANK DIDN'T START off as a clothing company, instead it was just that: a group of thinkers. Starting in March of last year, I began seeking good down-to-earth conversations with people - whether we talked about why some kids weren't motivated or how the universe was formed, I didn't care, as long as the conversation was interesting. I wanted these discussions to transcend day-to-day life; to be more philosophical than the usual adolescent banter about girls, sports, and cars.
I kept organizing think tanks at least once a month until the summer when I left for France. It was during the first think tank after my foreign experience that someone floated the idea of ThinkTank the clothing company purely as a laugh. I laughed too, but at the same time thought about the possibilities. I went home that day full of excitement, brainstormed ideas for shirts and made a company Facebook page, even though we didn't have a logo. But we were on our way.
Fast forward eight months and we're not much farther along. We've ordered 48 hats to get the brand out, but are finding it harder to sell them than we expected. First of all, nobody wants the same hat as someone else - as soon as one person gets one, that pretty much rules out most of the school. Second, high schoolers are really cheap about certain things. They'll fork over upwards of $200 on a pair of jeans or $40 on a sports team's hat, but they illegally download music instead of buying the $10 album, and - most importantly for us - won't buy a branded hat for $30. I know we'll eventually sell the hats, it's just a matter of time before we reach enough people.
Starting ThinkTank (the group and the clothing company) has made me appreciate Alaska a lot more. This winter, I've spent at least one night a week up on Flattop stargazing for the perfect shot, or chasing the Aurora across the Valley. Yes, I’m a dreamer. It's made me realize that there's nowhere else in the world like Alaska, and just how much I'm going to miss it next year. I plan on continuing ThinkTank through college, and maybe beyond, but either way it's just my way of getting close to nature, getting close to what people really think.
THE AURORA WERE out in spectacular form this past week. My memories of the Aurora consist of my parents dragging me out of the house to look up at a murky red blob. It wasn't awe inspiring, not at all like those pictures you see in tourist guides. But, last Tuesday night, I got really, really lucky.
I went up to Flattop with a couple of friends to shoot photos for my fledgling clothing company, “Think Tank”. I started it with a couple of friends last July as a joke, but now it actually resembles something that could be mistaken as a company. We try to send the message of introspective thought with each of our products, and while we only have one product right now (a logo hat), the intense Aurora activity gave us a perfect setting to get some stunning shots for advertising this concept. I’ll write more about Think Tank next week.
On top of Flattop it was clear and with the full moon, the mountains would be lit up to produce some pretty solid shots. When we got up there, we realized that we were the latest victims of Alaska's fickle weather. It was now mostly cloudy, obscuring the moon, but the moon was still too bright for us to use the city lights in our shots. So we tried to make do for about half an hour, but really didn't get anything decent. Then my friend glanced northward, and thought he saw something green in the sky. I thought he was just seeing things so I ignored him. But then his voice got hysterical as he cried, "Guys, look! It's the northern lights!"
They were dancing like crazy, and were an emerald green shade reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz's palace. For the next 40 minutes, I took nearly 100 pictures of the Aurora, the uninspiring red blob of my youth now a distant memory.
I tried to get more shots for the next few nights, but I just wasn't lucky enough. I saw the incredible light show on Thursday, and even tried to climb Little O'Malley on Friday in hopes of getting above the clouds, but I didn't catch a glimpse of them. Really what it came down to was dumb luck. If you're in the right place at the right time, you'll get a picture that’s worthy of a publication. If not, you froze your butt off for the night, and all you got from it is a sore neck.
This is another reason why I'll miss Alaska. There is no other place in the U.S. where you can see natural phenomena like this, save maybe Hawai'I with the sunset Green Flash. I'll miss the prospect of being able to see the lights 6 months out of the year but now I have some great photos to remember how the Aurora can really look.
PATRICK WALGREN HAS taken the SAT and the ACT and wonders just how much they really matter in college admissions in a special audio blog below.
OVER THE PAST two weeks, I've been dedicating at least three hours a day to the Service Senior Boys Dance. It's a high school tradition in the week leading up to the Sadie Hawkins Dance to have a sort-of Battle of the Sexes among the senior class. This all culminates in a dance-off at an assembly on Friday, and the boys hold the crown for three years running, so we don't want to disappoint.
The dance consists of the usual clichés in sexist comedy routines. The boys cross-dress and look hilarious, and unless the girls pull it off perfectly, their attempt goes down in flames. This year is no different, and the bros and I have been prepping to be the greatest girl dancers in male bodies Service has ever seen, among other things.
I don't know if the college I'll attend will host something like this. IF they do, it will probably be so much more fun (not to mention provocative), but this will do it for me in the meantime. It's just nice to have the opportunity to make an absolute fool of myself for seven and a half minutes in front of the whole school with the great comfort that in less than 70 days, I will not be seeing 95 percent of those mocking faces again. It's a great feeling to have no anxiety about embarrassing myself, because as far as I'm concerned, they're all strangers anyway.
Our comedy routine won, by a considerable margin (of course). We got yelled at on Thursday for not being prepared, practiced through half of school Friday, and slapped together a routine that wasn't half bad. Even though it was stressful at times, those five minutes were a lot of fun, and I wish I could do it again.
I'M A LITTLE late on the Valentine's Day bandwagon, due to things I'll explain later. Valentine's Day is sort of a weird midway point for high school students. It's kind of the transition time between superficial and real relationships and because of this, you see all sorts of methods to show affection on Valentine's Day.
In elementary school, everyone would bring in a class set of Valentines and the whole day would be centered around arts and crafts, songs, and just really a fun, carefree day. But all the kids were always focused on the candy in the Valentines. Of course, there would be a bit of "secret admirer" stuff every year, but like most love stories before middle school, they weren't the main focus, especially for the guys (that candy isn't going to eat itself).
In middle school, the classroom tradition was scrapped because we were "grown up," but some kids still bought Valentines and played the "you're my friend enough to get a Valentine from me" game to torture those who weren't worthy. Again, some people got things for their significant other, but it was prominent, as not every kid in middle school is in a relationship (if you can call it that).
In high school, it's more of the same - with a little more change. Kids still occasionally do the store-bought Valentines, but it's more because acting like you never left 4th grade is in style right now (that's for another post...). And since more people are in "relationships", teddy bears and chocolates are rampant across the school.
High school is the time when most relationships start to look like adult ones, so Valentine's Day starts to mirror the same trend. It's a transition time though, some kids are clinging to the past (and their cartoons Valentines), while others are welcoming their future of actually taking their girlfriends out for dates.
I'M AFRAID OF deep water. Not all deep water, just the kind where I can't see all the way to the bottom. It's not like I won't step foot in the ocean, because that's just irrational, not to mention no fun. Let's just say this: when I'm out in the open, my fear makes me swim a bit faster.
I have no idea where this phobia came from. It's not as though I had a near-death experience in the bath tub when I was a baby, forever scarring me. And I love to swim. I'm an Aquarius (if you believe in that sort of stuff). But still, my heart races when I'm swimming, I look down and don't see a solid underneath.
I've tried to rationalize this as fear of the unknown, telling myself that I'm just afraid of what I can't see and what I don't know is there. But it's not as clear cut as that. First of all, I have no idea what's in space, but I have no fear of that, instead the fact that little is known about the cosmos and that it's the last place for human exploration makes me even more interested in it. As an elementary schooler, I was fascinated with sharks. I had sharks books, shark toys, shark posters, and the best of the year was (and still is) Shark Week. But then sometime in either 6th or 7th grade, I realized I was terrified of sharks. I might think they were the most incredible animal in the world, but that didn't stop my fear. When my family visited Blizzard Beach at Disney World I wouldn't go anywhere close to the nurse shark, even though I knew they were harmless from my numerous reference guides. I spent the day swimming in the shallows and eating popsicles, because I was too scared to see my aquatic hero in person.
DUN-dun, DUN-dun, DUN-dun...
I think that's a better reason of what I'm afraid of deep water. It's not that I don't know what's down there, it's that I know perfectly well what's down there, just not what's down THERE – that specific spot under my naked, dangling feet. I think the scariest thing would be to see a shark coming up out of the blue and I can't shake that image from my mind when I'm in the water.
My mind wandered onto this topic during the last week for whatever reason, and I found that it had a lot in common with what path my life was about to take in the coming months. I have no idea what's in store for me, beneath the surface if you may. I know of many possibilities that can happen, but until I reach that point in time, I'm lost at sea. But I'm not scared about my future like I'm scared of what might be under me in the water. Instead, I'm excited. I know that I control my future, nobody else. My destiny lies with me, not with a 17-foot long Tiger Shark.
YOU'VE ALL HEARD the depressing statistics about the younger generation - my generation. "Insert large number here out of 100 cannot properly locate insert easily recognizable country here on a globe." Usually what follows, if this is a newspaper story or magazine article, is a scathing criticism of our school system, saying how the school districts and the DOE aren't doing enough to help these kids succeed. But they're wrong. It isn't the districts' fault, nor is it the principals', the teachers', and most of the time not even the parents' fault that their kid can't tell Asia from their -- You get my point.
The truth is, it's the kids' fault.
Many high schools are struggling to raise their graduation rates but the students that they're trying to help aren't even trying to help themselves. Why? Because most high schoolers are entitled, lazy and unmotivated. Due to a combination of coddling parents, technology allowing everything to be accomplished without real work and being told from the first day of Kindergarten that America is the "society of the hill," most kids think they've beaten the system and don't work hard because of this.
This isn't to say that there aren't motivated, hard-working high schoolers, but from my experience more and more kids are doing the absolute minimum and they complain while they're doing that.
What do I propose we do about it? I don't know. Is there a way to motivate someone who obviously thinks he's smarter than the establishment? I don't think there is, short of forcing him to have a near-death experience. In my opinion, motivation and drive are innate things, you can't teach someone to want to do well, they have to want to. And, in the case of my generation, the only thing they want to do is watch Jersey Shore, emulate their MTV heroes that weekend, then tell whomever will listen how cool they were over the weekend.
Maybe I'm a cynic. Maybe I have too high of expectations and every generation seems like this until they grow up more. But what if my generation never grows up? I get depressed whenever I think of my future as an American, because it seems like Idiocracy is becoming more and more fact than satire. To soothe my own conscience over this, I remind myself of my mantra for this year- Control What You Can Control. I can't motivate my classmates. But I can motivate myself, succeed, and hope that my kids get the drive gene that seems to be becoming increasingly rare.