People and Stuff On the Internet

The internet happened a long time ago. I think Al Gore invented it in the 80s. Or maybe it was some military or academic types in the 60s who created the prototype of what we know and use today. Either way, it was being used in some form or another long before I had cognizance.

WhoTalkingTo

My readership.

Readership

Shut up and maybe you’ll find out. I’m leading in to my history on the internet.

AnyoneCare

I said shut up. Anyway, in the 90s some time, the internet became widely usable, via dial up modems and service providers, like AOL or Juno. You got to listen to some horrible electronic whirrings and growlings for like five minutes, as your modem connected you to the infiniteness known as the World Wide Web. There, you could search for… uh… web pages, and… read forums, or whatever.

Porn

Well, around the year 2000, you may have noticed these little cartoons called “flash animations” popping up on certain websites. The first that I recall of these animations was the video “All Your Base Are Belong To Us.” It was a remix of some music and dialogue taken from the game “Zero Wing,” one of the first home console games with voice acting. CATS, the villain of the game, spoke the stupid engrish line that the animation gets its name from. One of the first sites to collect animations such as these was “Newgrounds.com,” and another-the one I usually visited-was called “AlbinoBlackSheep.com,” created by a flash animator of the same name. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Brothers Chaps and Homestar Runner; they were huge for about ten years, there. Then they went on to do tv shows and such, it was sad. Recently, they’ve been making new cartoons, though!

Socially Significant

So yeah, along with sites like Newgrounds and Albino Black Sheep, there were comedic sites, where the internet established much of its brand of humor. Sites like “Something Awful,” “The Best Page in the Universe,” and others like it-also “Cracked,” maybe-probably owe much to journalist Seanbaby (I think he worked for EGM?) Seanbaby had a very sarcastic, eccentric style of writing, that often dipped far into a comedic approach known as “accentuating the negative,” wherein the writer only talks about the shitty aspects of his or her subject matter. While Seanbaby’s writing usually included actual jokes as he savagely ripped some shitty old video game a new one, a lot of later internet writers who copied his style… kinda forgot that part. So frequently, you had some popular internet personality who just ranted and raved about something that he or she apparently hated, and I guess it was supposed to be funny. A lot of internet people apparently thought so, anyway. I think internet people just like to hate things. This form of comedy seems to have died down in recent years, but then again, maybe I’m not looking under the right rocks.

EncyclopediaDramatica

Anyway, around the same time as all this, web comics also started cropping up. A particularly influential web comic that used sprites from the classic NES title, “Final Fantasy,” was 8-Bit Theater. While frequently featuring sharp, witty humor, I would characterize this title as being heavily influenced by internet cynicism; generally, all the evil characters were smart, and all the good characters were stupid. The story starts with the relatively intelligent (and very evil) Black Mage, and his incredibly idiotic (and good) companion, Fighter. The two quickly meet up with (highly intelligent… and evil) Thief and the (semi-intelligent, semi-incompetent, sometimes good, sometimes evil) Red Mage, and the four blunder their way into becoming the presumed “Warriors of Light…” accidentally stealing the gig from the four who truly deserved this title. There’s a princess they rescue who is highly competent… and evil. Her father is incredibly stupid (invoking George W Bush on at least one occasion), and so on. The only intelligent, non-evil character is White Mage, and she is not completely innocent of being a bitch from time to time.

Chauvonist

You can also observe the “evil = smart, good = stupid” phenomenon at work in Rooster Teeth’s “Red vs Blue” (which isn’t a web comic; it’s a series of web… videos? Also, it’s more of a “dumbass to asshole” spectrum in that one) and… countless other web comics, I’m sure (I just can’t think of any).

Research

In recent years, one might notice a decline in the more cynical, sarcastic tone of webcomics, however, giving rise to such cute, positive titles as “Stupid Fox,” “Ichabod the Optimistic Corgi,” and “Gamer Cat” (I mean, I dunno if they’re as popular as the two aforementioned web titles, but they should be).

Later on, Youtube happened, although before it, there were sites like Ebaum’s World and Stupid videos, which hosted (and stole, in the case of Ebaum’s World) video content from around the interwebs (Ebaum’s World was also accused of stealing content from sites like Something Awful, Albino Blacksheep, and Newgrounds). But yeah, YouTube.

ProgressionofThought

Most people know YouTube; it’s where a lot of online personalities got their start. From the Angry Video Game Nerd to the Nostalgia Critic, from from Egoraptor to Jontron-

Even Trying

-shut up-YouTube has been the place where internet celebs gained their stardom. In particular, folks like AVGN and NC pioneered the… internet video review…? I don’t even know what they’re called. They post videos wherein they use humor and skits to review something (a game for AVGN, a movie or TV Show for NC). Generally falling back on the internet’s love of Accentuating the Negative, the two only occasionally give praise to that which they critique. Generally, they seek out the worst examples of their chosen medium that they can find, and then highlight all the crappiest stuff that they can find. Unfortunately for NC, it seems he’s run out of suitable material from 80s and 90s, and has recently taken to reviewing more modern examples in media. You’ll also hear him frequently accused of trashing a movie or tv show that “wasn’t that bad…” thus pissing a lot of the movie/tv show’s fanbase. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon with internet reviewers. There were also those who accused him of ripping off AVGN’s style, and also the whole thing where he tried to “pick a fight” with AVGN (mostly for publicity). It worked, evidently.

JustinBeiber

Fuck off with that. Anyway, there was also a video service called “Blip.tv” that NC and his “Channel Awesome” brethren hosted their videos on, because YouTube kept taking their stuff down due to copyright strikes. Blip.tv has since become not a thing, or something. I dunno. They stopped using it, anyway. Now they’re back on YouTube and getting their stuff taken down again.

In the past few years, another kind of internet celebrity has arisen; the Let’s Player. There was something about how this stuff started with Something Awful Goons-I can’t really be arsed to look up who it was, for sure-the practice of recording yourself playing a video game and talking over it became super popular. My favorite guys who do this are the Game Grumps. Egoraptor was a guy who used to do flash animations on Newgrounds. Now all he does is play video games all day with his friends: Rubberninja, another flash animator; Danny Sexbang lead singer for NSP; Ninja Brian, keyboardist for NSP; and Barry, the editor. Also, his wife Mortimer, a YouTube personality… I think she does make up tutorials? Ego gets mad when her name isn’t included amongst the Grumps, in any case. So Ego and Danny are the two main Grumps, but before Danny, Ego’s original cohost was Jontron, an internet video critic. In general, these Grump personalities are very silly and laid back in comparison to a lot of the internet personalities I mentioned before them. They don’t take themselves seriously really at all, and frequently thank their fans profusely (especially Danny). When my fiance broke up with me and I was still stuck in the Air Force for forever, away from all of my people, I watched the Grumps a lot, and it reminded me of hanging out with my friends (for serious; these are very similar senses of humor). So yeah; as Danny Sexbang might say, “I love them. So very damned much.”

NeverMet

Whatever, dude. I’m tired of drawing you now. Anyway, yeah; those are the important people and entertainment sites you can find on the internet, according to me. I’m not really an authority, so yeah. That’s all. “Blog” or whatever, finished.

…Oh! I forgot to mention TV Tropes. TV Tropes are fun.

Anxiety

Not sure when exactly it started; I remember being shy around people I didn’t know very well from a young age… and also people in costumes. One of the ninja turtles was in our mall one time; I could not look him in the face. He was a NINJA TURTLE.
IMG_0699
A key point in my history, I suppose, was towards the end of grade school. I had had some cool friends, and one by one, many of them moved away. There was also a kid who I used to be friends with; I went over to his house a few times, he came over to mine, etc. There were some issues for him at home, and he became a bit of a troubled child. There would be kids that he wanted to pick on, and he would have me help him. We were getting in trouble, and that was causing tensions between us. It also didn’t help that I was spoiled, a crybaby, and prone to behaving oddly. Eventually, him and his friends started picking on me, too.

It wasn’t just that kid, though; I remember another kid, who was on his way to becoming a sarcastic little punk. His friend and him would talk shit about me, and some of the other kids began to do the same. They decided I was “slow,” “not like them,” etc. They would talk about stuff that was probably meant for sex ed in a few years, among other inappropriate things, and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I guess that made me not as smart or mature as them, or something.

When it came time to go to Middle School, I got super anxious about the transition; the kids a year behind me thought I was lame, slow, etc.; what would the kids a year or two ahead of me think?! So I got really quiet in Middle School, and mostly kept to myself. This did not save me from being made fun of, however; I remember certain behaviors by my classmates during that time that I now realize was them tricking me into saying or doing something that they could make fun of me for. One time in gym class, this girl said she liked me while simultaneously laughing, and after I said yes to her question as to whether I liked her too, and she asked me if I wanted to go out with her. I got super anxious and said no, which she also laughed at. She asked if I wanted to be friends still, I said sure, but she told me she didn’t want to and that she hated me, all while she and her friend were still laughing.

IMG_0700

There were more direct things at times, but mostly, people left me alone. A couple kids also wanted to hang out outside school, but that freaked me out as well. “Social time?! Outside school?! WUT?!!”

The almost complete lack of a social life continued into my Freshman year of High School; I’d started talking to some people more, but I still never hung out with anyone outside of school. Some of my current friends might remember me from this time, being really quiet and awkward. Through most of my Middle School and Freshman years, my social life consisted of my siblings, my younger cousin, and my siblings’ friends. Anyone my age (and in some cases, older), I was afraid to talk to, in case I said something stupid. This thought was vindicated once or twice in the few occasions that I did say something, and was met with the reaction that I had, in fact, said something stupid.

Eventually, I started to get more chummy with some of the kids in my classes. One of them invited me to spend the night with him at another friend’s house. I agreed to go… and was still a bit nervous about going, thinking about the fact that I hadn’t been to any classmate’s house since grade school. I went though… and it was a lot of fun. Slowly, I started to gain acceptance in this social group, went to more people’s houses, and even started speaking freely around these people! They appreciated my sense of humor, I appreciated theirs, and we shared a lot of similar interests. They weren’t into alternative music as much as I was, but that was okay; a lot of the group had interests that no one else shared. I had found my people. While some parts of High School were still difficult, I was generally rather happy during this period, because I was around them every day. ~I love them~ xoxoxo

IMG_0702

Then… High School ended. People went to different schools, and one of my best friends joined the Air Force. Most of them were still in town, but I didn’t get to see them every day anymore. I went to the local community college because I hadn’t tried as hard as I could’ve for most of my High School career; I was mostly busy goofing off with my buddies. Most of the people at the college were not members of my group, and while I was at school, I went back to being awkward and quiet. However! I still saw my group a lot of the time, so that was good. There was a particular Bible study at a church that many of my friends started going to. We met some new people there, and thus the friend group expanded!

Eventually, I got my college degree; an Associate’s Oregon Transfer Degree, in fact. Didn’t know what to do with it, though. Had no confidence whatsoever, whenever I went in for an interview, or to even talk to someone about the possibility of being hired. Why would anyone want to hire me, after all? Whatever the task was, I would probably mess it up, somehow. Plus, I lacked the ability to even chat with these potential employers without being really awkward and having extreme self-doubt. I had my goof ball humor that made my friends laugh, but I also got the impression-whether true or not-that they found me slow and immature… much like the kids in grade school described me, I now realize as I type this. I was a permanent follower; I didn’t believe in myself enough to be the leader in any facet. To go along with my previous question, who would miss me, or genuinely be glad that they were friends with me? A few people stated this a few times, and I never understood how my friendship could be important.

Eventually, I got a Summer job through Xanterra Parks in Yellowstone. I’d heard about it through one of my brother’s friends, and this seemed like one of the only opportunities I had at getting a full time job, even for a summer. So I went… and I got severely homesick, almost immediately. After a long bus ride, I stayed at a cheap motel in Bozeman, MT. Initially when I got there, I called my mother to tell her I was alright… and then I immediately called her again to tell her I wasn’t alright! It was horrible! The scene from The Fox and the Hound where in the Widow Tweed leaves Todd in the woods played in my head over and over! On the bus ride to the park the next morning, this other kid was friendly and started talking to me… I immediately latched onto him, due to him being a friendly face. There were a few other people I made friends with, too (mostly through work, but also my brother’s friend’s friends), but he and his roommate were the two I felt the most comfortable around. Some of my humor normally reserved for my group of friends back home even seeped into my conversations with them! The two months I’d signed up for felt super long, however. Also, perhaps due to anxiety, or due to actually doing some kind of work every day, I developed a sore throat midway through those two months, that didn’t go away for over a year. I was surrounded by nature; I could’ve gone for an awesome hike every day, before or after work, if I wanted. Instead, I spent a lot of my time cooped up in my dorm room, wishing I was home.

There was a girl I worked with that I absolutely crushed on; I thought she had super-pretty eyes, and she was really nice to me. She became subject to one of my silly acts-having a hand shaken violently for an overt amount of time-and she seemed to think it was funny (or at least a weird thing that she was willing to look past). I liked her a lot, but I thought that she was way too pretty and that I was too fat, and I saw her with guys who I thought were a lot more attractive than me as well, so I never said anything. The day my parents came to get me, I was super excited. I said goodbye to a bunch of people, making a point of putting some effort into each goodbye. For some reason, though, I didn’t put the same effort in with her; I think I was super shy because I liked her, and just wanted to avoid that. She walked towards me and my room as I was leaving, I acted awkward, she stopped mid stride, said “…Okay…” in a disgusted tone, turned around and walked away.

IMG_0704IMG_0706

Never saw or talked to her again. Not putting more effort into this moment is one of my biggest regrets. Recently, I’m pretty sure I found her facebook page, and sent her a friend request; she didn’t accept…

There’s a particular pattern to my interactions with girls I like; I don’t think I’m attractive enough for them, I don’t think they will like me the same way, and I don’t tell them that I like them. There were a number of girls throughout High School and college that I liked, but I never told them. I would think to myself, “I need to wait for the appropriate time…” and then some other guy would ask them out. Even if a girl strongly hinted that she liked me, I would freak out about it and become super shy. Once when I was at a concert with the High School choir and we were all in our uniforms, this one girl came over and told me that she knew someone who thought I looked really cute that day. I almost literally ran away from her (I think it was more of a brisk walk speed) without saying anything. I was convinced that, even if a girl did find me attractive, she wouldn’t anymore once she really got to know me. What did I have to hide? …that I was a nerd? That I liked cartoons, and other nerdy things? That I had zero self-confidence? Oh wait…

The only place I felt comfortable telling girls that I liked them… was online. Writing messages on internet forums was a much easier way to express myself than actually talking to someone. I had discovered forums my freshman year of High School, and there were a few forums I posted on (mostly about bands I liked) before I found a forum dedicated to a very popular RPG series. I frequented that forum off and on for years, making online friends, losing online friends, gaining online respect, losing online respect, etc. I was always worried about what these people-who I will probably never meet in real life-thought of me. It was important that I came out of any argument looking like the one with the stronger morals, or at least the one who was not a dick. I became a moderator on a couple of different occasions, and it was very important that I seemed fair, but that I also did more than the other moderators around me, who I felt didn’t crack down hard enough on people. Rules were important.

IMG_0708

The first time I was a mod, I pretty much watched my one or two forums all day… I got burned out by this very quickly. The next time I modded, I tried to be more laid back, but I was still very concerned with what people thought of me, and whether or not I was doing a good job. I also wanted to seem cool in the opinion of the cool kids on the forums; something that was probably unattainable, and something that made me a dick and a hypocrite on many occasions. I made some good friends on the forums (who I rarely ever talk to now) but largely, I probably would’ve been better off leaving them behind much sooner than I did, as per they were a large source of anxiety for me. Besides… they were where I met my ex.

There were a few girls on message boards throughout the years that I crushed on. Several of whom I had no idea what they looked like, but they had a cute avatar or something, an attractive online persona, and they seemed nice. I was always worried that I was getting weird with them… and I was probably at least a bit awkward with all of them. There were two girls who said they liked me back, and one of them shared the sentiment that we should be a thing. We talked a lot, flirted a lot, watched videos together, etc. I got extremely jealous of her attention on several occasions… She would talk to other people, and not me! Or she wouldn’t be friendly or bubbly enough! How dare she! Eventually, though, we made plans for her to come out and visit me for a couple of weeks. I was super shy and awkward those first few days, but she was sweet and friendly, and got me out of my shell.

IMG_0710

The two weeks she was out here were two of my favorite weeks of my life. The day she left was the first time I kissed someone on the lips… and also the second time, heh. They were amazing… and then she was gone, and I was depressed.

IMG_0712

A couple weeks after my girlfriend from the internet came to visit me, I went to BMT. Going through the process of enlisting was probably the longest and most impressive period that I was able to ignore my anxieties and just do something. Guess I just really felt I needed to do this, or I was going to do nothing with my life. If only I could’ve done the same while I was at BMT, heh… talked about that experience to a great extent in an earlier blog, though. What I suppose I didn’t really hit on, however, was how I would freeze up in situations that I ought not to have frozen up in. I heard my MTI describing me to another MTI as having a “blank, stupid stare,” or something like that. I would get anxious over stupid crap at other jobs, anyway; I was super nervous about pumping people’s gas when I worked at a gas station, I was anxious about driving people around in a car, etc. I would be so agitated that I could do no better than fumbling through whatever it was I was supposed to do. It’s really amazing I got through (and a different MTI from our Squadron agreed; when I messed up a marching move right in front of him in the DFAC after graduating, he yelled at me “NO! GET OUTTA HERE! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU GRADUATED!” I got out of there as fast as I could.)

Even after BMT, regardless of whether it was in Tech School or at my actual duty station, for the first year, I was worried I was gonna get “found out” as someone less than deserving to be there. Like, they would find out how bad I was at marching, or that I would fail a PT test, or something, and then I would be sent back to my terrifying I.S. from BMT, and he would devour my soul. However, what made that bearable was that I was stationed a couple hours’ drive away from my girlfriend. There were only a few times I was truly happy while in the Air Force: when I was home on leave, when I thought I was getting out, and when I was with her. After the first couple months of being there, I would go to visit her as often as I could. Whenever I had to leave, I would get a crushing case of separation anxiety and be super sad.

Unfortunately, her parents were overbearing, and her mother was crazy. While it wouldn’t be fair to put it all on her parents (I had anxiety issues that weren’t being treated, I was trying to pressure her into marrying me right away so that we’d always be together, and I can have a nasty temper sometimes), her mother was highly controlling, and flew off the handle at me on a few occasions that caught me totally off guard.

IMG_0714

There were these expectations they had that I would act like one of their children immediately… but I was extremely shy and introverted. They knew that. It didn’t matter. I was supposed to treat them like family that I’d known all my life, and behave exactly how they thought I should. When that didn’t happen, it didn’t take long for them to decide I was no good, and to treat me nothing like the son they supposedly saw me as. Completely honest: I was super anxious about getting along with them, and I tried very hard. I messed up on a few things when I got a bit too comfortable, but that was the first time that anyone turned on me that quickly, to that extreme. It wasn’t long after they decided I was garbage that their daughter broke up with me. We had been engaged, too. I had no clue what I was doing out there anymore, and I was devastated.

It wasn’t long after this that I started receiving therapy; I spoke with both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and I started going to “Mindfulness” classes. However, the thing that seemed to have the biggest impact on me was when I started taking sertraline (AKA zoloft).

IMG_0716

Generally used for depression (and I’m pretty sure I was depressed from the Summer before I joined, onward), sertraline worked wonders on my anxiety. No longer was I super worried bout social situations, or whether or not everyone liked me. No. The Fight or Flight response that I constantly had went away in many cases… and in its place, came Fight or Fight, and I would get super pissed off a lot and yell at people. It was still anxiety, as situations that a lot of people would be able to brush off would just set me off. However, I wasn’t overtly worried about stepping on eggshells anymore. People generally knew when they pissed me off, now (within reason. Kind of. I never told off an officer, for one.)

IMG_0718

The anger I was now experiencing instead slowly built a wedge between me and the majority of people I had social interactions with… and I got talked to by leadership. A lot. At some point I decided it would be better to just bottle it up, and keep to myself… but that just meant that the likelihood of me exploding went up exponentially. Such an incident happened, and I was told I needed to make sure it would never happen again. Except I was pretty sure the environment I was in was not conducive to me not exploding. So I talked to my psychologist about ways of getting out.

When the paperwork for my discharge was going through, I was super impatient, kept bothering my leadership about it, and freaked out on a handful of occasions. Towards the end of my time in the military, I saw a psychologist with the VA, who suggested I up my sertraline dosage again. Other people had suggested this before… but they weren’t psychologists, and it pissed me off that they said that. However, when this lady suggested it, I decided to listen. I’m not sure how much better I felt, but I was probably able to control the anger better after this. Whereas something might’ve caused me to shout someone down in the past, it now caused me to seethe a bit on the inside, and then remind myself that it would do me no good to flip out, and calm myself down.

As of now… I still get anxious about things. Certain situations still unreasonably cause a Fight or Flight response in me. Overall, though… I think the medication has caused me to just not care a lot of the time. I just think, “Whatever,” in situations wherein I would’ve freaked out in the past. For example, I recently had an interview with people I wasn’t really familiar with. I went in, talked to them, joked with them, related with them. It was night and day from the me from like ten years ago. I feel much more confident in myself than I used to. It’s like, I just tell my brain, “okay, go talk to this person. What’s your honest reaction to this situation? Okay, say that. Oh look, they laughed, because it was funny, just like you thought it was.” I’m still awkward, but I think that maybe awkwardness is endearing and funny sometimes, and I try to use that to relate to people. In general now, I think most people want to get along with whoever it is they’re interacting with; they’re not there to judge you. If I start to get anxious about that stuff, I try to remind myself that it’s my stupid brain with its stupid chemical imbalance… and strangely, that seems to work.

IMG_0720

Punk Rock Died in the 80s

Hey Todd.

Yeah

What do you know about Punk Rock?

SomeDamn

So you got the basics down. Do you listen to any punk bands?

HugeFan

Parasites aren’t a real punk band.

ToMe

They sing about girls and relationships, not about stuff that matters, man. Besides, they formed in the late 80s, and everyone knows that true punk rock died in the mid 80s with the Dead Kennedys.

fbomb

According to the experts, true punk rock was based in a “Do It Yourself” ideal; a rebellion against corporate-produced rock music, recorded in expensive studios. Real punk rock is from a 4 track recorder that was used in a basement somewhere.

TruePunk

It’s not, man. It’s about ideals. It’s about standing for something-or against something. It’s about defending gay rights, eating vegan, and not purchasing stuff from chain stores. Ya gotta go to the thrift shop and buy your clothes, dress differently than everyone else.

PoliticalMovement

Oh hell yeah, punk rock is super political. It’s about compassion for the downtrodden. It’s also about doing whatever you want and kicking someone in the head because they pissed you off. True punks never apologize for anything they do. True punks went to shows in the 80s and beat each other up in the pits, to vent their frustrations about living in a suburban environment that they didn’t feel themselves a true part of. True punks will let you know that you wouldn’t last a second at one of those old shows.

Assholes

Oh, they’re mostly pop punk bands. Everything on Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords is Pop Punk, and so are bands like Parasites.

waydifferent

Well, if you wanted, you could call those Epitaph and Fat Wreck bands “Skate Punk.” Skater kids from the 90s probably listened to them. Then you could just call Parasites, The Queers, The Automatics (US), Sicko, etc., “Pop Punk.” Oh, and bands like Blink 182 and Green Day? Those are “Mall Punk” bands. Kids who hang out at the mall listen to them.

…but remember still that none of these are true punk rock, because true punk rock died in the 80s with the Dead Kennedys.

MxPx

Who? That Christian band? They’re not punk. They can’t be, because they’re Christians, and they’ve expressed conservative values in the past, I think. None of those “Christian Punk” bands are punk; they’re even less punk than the last group of bands. They’re probably oppressors or something.

BandsthisDecade

Huh? I dunno. They sound a bit like that “emo” stuff that was coming out around the turn of the century (which wasn’t true emo, btw). They’re probably Pop Punk or Mall Punk or some damn thing.

Pup

I dunno, man. I’m not an expert; I wasn’t a teenager during the 80s.

70s

Yeah, but those hardcore punk bands were worthy successors of the moniker or something, I guess.

thatscene

Well, you can’t; it died in the 80s, and we’re in the year 2016, now.

Whatever

Going to BMT -OR- Going to Hell

On September 10th, 2012, I woke up and went for one last run around my neighborhood. I had spent the few weeks prior saying goodbye to my life in Albany, Oregon, and that run through small town suburbia was part of the goodbye; I was going to miss the fields with the horses and cows, the pleasant little houses, yards, trees, and gardens. Albany is a pleasant place to live, and in all honesty, I didn’t really want to leave. When I arrived back at the house… I was locked out. My parents had gone into town, and locked the front door. My strategy on these occasions had been to climb in through my bedroom window… but apparently my mother had discovered the unlocked window at some point, and locked it, as well.

IMG_0668

So, I paid a visit to my aunt and uncle down the road, until my parents came back. I sat in their dining room and watched Ultimate Spider-Man. It was an entertaining cartoon.

When my parents got back, I took a shower, and then my mom rode with me to drop my cat off at my friends’ house; my mom didn’t want the cat to stay at their house when I was gone. Leaving her with my friends was one of the two times during the process that I teared up; the other time was saying goodbye to my girlfriend via skype. She started crying, I started crying, everyone was grimacing with scrunched up, tearful faces.

IMG_0669

When my parents drove me down the road, I realized too late that it would be the last time for a long time that I would see the house I grew up in; I turned around in time to see it for a split second, disappearing down the road, obscured by trees. Then, we drove through Albany, then up I-5, and onto 205, to the airport and MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). We ate at the Olive Garden that night, and I had some kinda lemonade drink. It was pleasant. Then, my parents sat with me in the lobby of the hotel I would be staying in for ten more minutes, reminiscing about the time that they dropped me off at Yellowstone to work for the Summer a few years back. After that… they left, and I was by myself.

That night, I stayed in a room with a kid who was much younger than me, but clearly of a much more ideal disposition towards being in the military; this would become a theme throughout BMT (and Tech School, and the Operational Air Force, for that matter). Seemed like a nice kid, fairly confident, unfazed by leaving everything behind. Talked about having a bunch of friends and family “crying on him” the day before, and being fairly indifferent about it. We had some low-scoring football game on the tv, until we both decided it was time to get some sleep. The next day would be a very long one, after all.

At some ungodly hour, everyone getting processed through MEPS that day got up, got breakfast, and got lectured in the lobby (another recurring theme throughout my Air Force career). Everyone got on a bus, and we all went to MEPS. There, we had to go through some physicals or another, again (all recruits go through a similar day at MEPS months before shipping off to BMT, or Basic Military Training). Then, there was paperwork, and talking to a bunch of different people. If at any point I wanted to back out of joining the Air Force, the first part of this day was my last chance to do so. I did not. Eventually, I got through all the paperwork and the talking, and I went into a nice-looking room and was sworn into the US Military by some officer or another (I forget what rank he was).

Next, some other guys and I were ushered into one of the rooms where we’d been lectured, and we were given our orders. Because I was the oldest,I was put in charge of everyone else. This was when it finally sunk in that, “…oh hell. I’m in the Air Force now. I could be in a world of trouble for losing a piece of paper, now.” After that, we were all given tickets-for the plane, and for purchasing a couple meals throughout our travels. Everybody else had their cellphones still, but I had given mine up to my parents, and instead had a few calling cards for calling back home. While everyone else was just sitting at the terminal, my as of yet undiagnosed anxiety disorder was kicking in full blast, and I began pacing all around the sitting area. At one point, I kicked something on the ground, but when I looked, I didn’t see anything down there, so I just started pacing again.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, that was my stuff!” An irritated lady informed me.

IMG_0671

I muttered some awkward apology as she gave me a death glare and walked away.

IMG_0673

This would end up being par for the course during my time at BMT, as far as luck and awkwardness went. Eventually, everyone got on the plane, and I nervously went over the notes for stuff I was supposed to have memorized by the time I got to Lackland AFB, TX (Home of BMT). A really nice lady sat next to me during this flight, and offered me encouragement as I sat there, freaking out. Towards the end of the flight, the pilot announced that us recruits were on board, and everyone clapped for us, the lady next to me making a point look right at me and smile as she clapped. It helped put me at ease, at least a little bit.

For a couple of hours, we were in the Dallas Fortworth Airport waiting for our next flight, so we got some dinner. We also met the people who were coming to BMT from other parts of the country; a tall, friendly dude walked up to greet us. We walked past him to get our dinner; no time for introductions right then, apparently. By this point in the night, I wasn’t really the leader in any sort of capacity anymore; the other guys discussed and decided what we were going to do. I didn’t really mind. However, I was still carrying around everyone else’s orders with me, so I was still nervous about that.

Eventually, we all got on another plane, for the short flight to San Antonio, TX. It was already dark by the time we arrived. As we exited the terminal, for some reason I don’t recall, I stopped to do something. Maybe it was to get a drink of water, maybe it was to use the restroom. Either way, when I got going again, the others had already checked in with the people from the base who were there to get us. This young, doofusy-looking A1C was lazily going over a list of our names as I walked up, and I thought, “this won’t be so bad.” Then he yelled at one of the guys, and the senior airman who was with him came over to yell at the guy as well, and I kinda froze up. Neither of these two asked for our orders. I don’t know if they forgot, one of the guys told them we didn’t have them before I could get there to intervene, or what. Regardless, we all got on a bus and rode for ten minutes to the base. I savored these last ten minutes before I believed “the fun” would begin…

Our first stop on base was some processing center, where we all sat down in an auditorium in front of some airmen who took a role call. I tried to give our orders to them, but they wouldn’t take them. Next, we went to some room where I guess our feet sizes and height were measured, or something. Then, we were given some lunch boxes to eat in the next 5 minutes, and told to sit quietly. The whole time, this didn’t seem too upsetting to be going through; these airmen who were processing us just seemed grumpy and rude, and only occasionally yelled at anyone. After our lunch break or whatever, we were ushered into a big room where we were once again made to sit in some chairs and listen to some kind of briefing (I have no recollection what this briefing was. Just that it was given by an angry NCO/SNCO/Officer/whatever.) Then, we were on a bus again, headed towards our new home for the next eight weeks…

I will always remember when our bus parked in front of the squadron, and four large, shadowy figures wearing campaign hats marched aggressively up to us. One of the guys on the bus uttered, “Oh, shit!” I’m sure he was saying what we were all thinking.

IMG_0675

One of the campaign hats walked on the bus and began listing off our names. After the first few names, he was offended by how softly people were responding and yelled at everyone. From then on, everyone was yelling “HERE!” in response to their names. Having accomplished the role call, the campaign hat then demanded that we all got off the bus and on to the drill pad in some extremely short time period; like, thirty seconds, or something.

I did my best to stand like a statue, as the four campaign hats hovered around us, barking orders and lighting up anyone who didn’t do what they wanted him to do. We played the game where the campaign hat tells you to put your bags on the ground. I was warned about this game by my recruiter, and placed my bags softly on the ground, but apparently others hadn’t been told about this. We put the bags down and picked them up again about three or four times before we got yelled at for dropping them instead of placing them on the ground. Some kind of instructions were given after this game (I don’t recall what) and then we were all rushed up into our dorm.

Once in the dorm, we were to rush to a wall locker and put our noses on it, and then the campaign hats came around and yelled at people for not standing still enough. The key to our locker was either hanging on the bed post on a chain, or in the keyhole to the wall locker, I don’t recall which. I just recall another game of putting our hands on a thing as a campaign hat yelled it out, as quickly as possible, and getting yelled at again. We were then to put the chain with the keys around our necks, and tuck them into our shirt. The keys were never to be sitting out in front of our shirts; this became another game, where other trainees would yell “key check!” and everyone would quickly feel for their keys to make sure they were where they were supposed to be. We were called into the day room, and I apparently had my keys out… one of the campaign hats stopped me and start growling about cutting my head off or something. I quickly put my keys away and moved on.

Once in the dayroom, everyone was instructed to write down our new address on a card, to send to our loved ones so that they could mail us letters and such. Then, we were all given a thirty second phone call to tell our families we arrived at BMT safely. After this, we were rushed into the “latrine” to shave our faces (I think I cut my face a bit that night) brush our teeth and get into bed. All of this needed to be done in another ridiculously short amount of time, and once we were in bed, we were told that we must sleep at attention. I laid at attention for a little bit, and then just laid normally, because the campaign hats were obviously gone. At some point, I got up to use the restroom, and the two guys on entry control duty got after me for not having my flashlight (these two were trainees in like week six or seven, most likely. I didn’t realize that at the time.)

Then… the rest of BMT happened. There are some events that I remember somewhat clearly, but mostly, it just seemed very long. Also, highly stressful. In fact, there was probably some new nervous-breakdown-enducing event each day, each moment. That first morning, we met the first MTI (military training instructor) assigned to pushing our flight. A lot of people have been traumatized by Reveille, and have some sort of ptsd reaction to hearing it when first waking up in the morning. Personally, the sound that gave me that kind of reaction was hearing this man shouting us out of bed in the morning: “GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! GET OUTTA BED! GET OUTTA BED!” This guy was both scary, and awesome at the same time. I actually ended up really liking and respecting him by the end; he pushed me hard, but he also seemed like he cared about me and tried to help me, and that really meant something to me. Unfortunately, we were one of his last flights.

IMG_0677

The first few days were this MTI leading us around to different in-processing places; the clinic, clothing issue, barber shop, etc. It was during this time that I realized that, while you were a trainee in BMT, most people were gonna treat you like shit. It was part of the process and kept the stressful environment up, but sometimes it seemed ridiculous and over the top. Also during this time, we had our first experience of standing in formation… which we were in whenever we were outside. We were standing there, waiting for lunch, waiting for the barber, waiting for whatever… in formation. We didn’t look around; we looked down at our little learning materials or whatever, or drank from our canteens. Moving or looking anywhere else was a no-no.

Somehow, for our marching formations, I was chosen as a front road guard. This meant that I didn’t get as much experience marching with the rest of the group, but instead wore some reflective vest-that always got super tangled up as I hastily put it on-and stood in position to stop traffic. A clear memory of marching was our MTI telling us to turn left, and me turning right (I easily get left and right mixed up) and our MTI yelling at me, “YOUR OTHER LEFT!! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!!” I also remember that he kept forgetting me name, and calling me “Hanson” or “Henderson” instead. I wasn’t the only one whose name he would forget, and this always got a laugh out of the “flight” (the group of trainees I was with).

The first week was okay, all things considered… the second and third weeks, however, it became noticeable how much slower and worse I was at absolutely everything than everyone else. I have to pity all the guys who were my partners in making our beds, because I could NOT do it like I was supposed to. It probably had something to do with the amount of time we had to do it in, and the number of instructions the other guy would hastily try to give me (which my brain could not process fast enough. I was always very tired and/or my anxiety was always acting up.) I was also terrible at marching, folding clothes, putting clothes on, organizing stuff, physical training, etc. So, as much as I didn’t want to stand out… I kinda stood out. Not for even slightly good reasons, either. People started losing patience with me fast, and I would get yelled at quite a bit (there’s nothing quite like being screamed at by a kid ten years younger than you).

IMG_0682

They were also at each other’s throats constantly, though. Even the people who had started out really nice started getting really impatient and nasty with other people, really quickly. I might’ve made a comment on how this was a part of the plan, to have us constantly bickering… but I sucked at everything, so I didn’t feel I had any right to. In any case, at some point in those first few weeks, the Instructor Supervisor (our MTI’s boss) came up and talked to us… He was the most terrifying person I’ve ever met. His eyes seemed to stare into your soul, and his voice had a certain, unsettling harshness to it, no matter what he was saying.

IMG_0679

He told us that there was no way out of this; that getting discharged at this point would take longer than getting through BMT. Up until then, I had thought that, if you felt you couldn’t handle it anymore, you could let the MTI know, and they would start your separation process or whatever. That night, laying in bed, I felt like I was hyperventilating… I also remember drawing Todd with a crazy expression on his face in one of my letters to someone back home, saying, “Heh heh… I’m gonna die in here!”

Eventually, our second MTI showed up; he was a blue rope, which meant that his flights were generally extra disciplined. Immediately, I worried about living up to his expectations, as he demanded that we stand perfectly at attention… and then yelled at us because we weren’t standing EXTRA perfectly at attention. He showed up for about ten minutes that time, and then went away again, so I thought that maybe we wouldn’t see him again… no such luck.

Eventually, he was there in the place of our first MTI for several days in a row, demanding far more of us than our previous MTI had. I was on his shit list pretty fast… At least a couple times, I was sent into the latrine to scrub it. Also, when we were practicing our marching, every time, almost immediately, he would kick me out of the flight. At one point he stated that he would have me out of the Air Force by that night, and also instructed all the other trainees to call a few other airmen and me “dirtbags.”

IMG_0680

I was fairly convinced at this point that I was going to get washed back to an earlier week in training, and then get kicked out. I kept telling my parents not to buy tickets to fly out and watch me graduate, and every Sunday when I went to church, I just prayed to the Lord that I would make it another week through BMT, so that I could go back and pray again. My favorite time of the day was when we went to bed; that was the only time we really had to read or write letters, and also the only time that the insanity totally turned off for a bit. There were a few fire drills that happened in the middle of the night-one of which had me running around my bed in a circle a few times-and there were also times when we were put on entry control duty in the middle of the night… those nights sucked. There was also at least one time that I woke up, thought that we needed to get moving, and woke the guy up next to me, telling him that we had to go. After a few seconds, I realized I was wrong, but it took me several seconds more to calm him down and explain to him I was wrong.

One day, we went to the rifle range, had a couple hours of training, and then went out to shoot some targets. This was par for the course with other training we had; we had an hour of self defense training, an hour of beating each other up with sticks, an hour of going through a combat scenario, crawling through sand and hitting a dummy with our rifles, etc. We had twenty opportunities to shoot our targets. I hit mine twice. I thought for sure I would be washed back… but apparently, to pass the rifle range, you needed to fire your rifle once. You also didn’t need to hit anything.

IMG_0684

As we got into fifth week, and I made it through some of the training exercises without getting washed back, I started to think that maybe I’d be okay (although I still told my parents not to buy plane tickets, yet). Then, we went to Beast Week… I was pretty worried about that particular week. We put everything in our duffle bags, road on a bus to another base, picked up MOPP (Mission Oriented Protection Posture) gear, and went to our camp site. The purpose of this week was to practice drills in combat situations, such as bombs landing in the vicinity, or some sort of gas being released in the air (which is what MOPP gear is for protecting against).

There were like four or so of these different scenarios that everyone cycled through throughout a day, and then at night, everyone watched training videos, took notes, “took a shower” (due to the volume of people trying to take one in a short period of time, some of use used baby whipes instead… also, our laundry crew didn’t do our laundry at any point while we were out there. As a result, we stank and were sticky.) After showering, we did our details, and after that, we had like a half an hour at night to just chill; this was much more time than we’d normally get back at the squadron. As a result, while I kinda hated the days at Beast Week, the nights there might’ve been my favorite times at BMT. While on Entry Control duty at one point, I even saw a lizard scurry over and sit next to me for a little bit, which is one of my favorite BMT memories.

However, this was the week that I was sure that I would be washed back… and then I didn’t wash back. That last day, I was standing at attention with everyone else as our first MTI handed us our dog tags. When he got to me, he asked with a smile, “Still alive, huh?” I was like, “Yes sir!” As this was happening, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by The Angry American was playing, and a thunderstorm was rolling through; it seemed fitting, somehow.

IMG_0686

When we got back to the squadron, it was the last week of training before graduation week. The biggest obstacle in my path still, I felt, was passing the physical training test. I had never been any good at push ups; before I’d gone in, I had been working on them every day, but I could still only do a max of like twenty-five, and the minimum requirement for my age group was thirty-three. At one point, during one of the pretests, I did not do the minimum number of push ups for that particular time, and I was almost washed back. I was called into the IS’s office, and he started off with his scary persona, growling at me. He then explained that I hadn’t been in trouble yet up until that point, and that they liked helping good kids who were trying hard, but struggling. Therefore, he was going to give me another chance before putting me in the flight where the out of shape people went.

The morning we did our actual pt test, our push ups came first. I was able to do exactly thirty-three (although I kinda suspect the guy counting for me might’ve given me an extra one). It was such a relief to have that out of the way. I then got my sit ups in, and ran the fastest mile and a half of my life, of like eleven minutes and fifteen seconds. From then on, I was just looking forward to getting out of there. There were a few more challenges along the way-an end of course test, the graduation march, etc.-but that pt test was by far the biggest obstacle. Unfortunately, by the time I felt safe about telling my parents to come out, it was too late, and they couldn’t get the tickets anymore.

At the coining ceremony, our second MTI had to coin us. He got to me, and was like, “Trainee Hellman…” (there was a long pause, there) “…good job.” Eventually, I would accidentally throw that airman’s coin away with an old wallet, but at that time, I clutched it pretty tightly in my hand, feeling rather proud about getting that man to tell me I did a “good job.” Also, at some point towards the middle of our time there, my flight decided that, even though I sucked at everything, they liked me, and wanted me to succeed. They cheered whenever I passed something that would’ve gotten we washed back otherwise, and when I got my certificate for passing BMT, they all cheered again. My proudest moment, though, was on the Sunday morning of Graduation Week, when I stood at the front of the congregation as one of the trainees who had just graduated. I fought back some tears as I stood there, because I hadn’t thought I would ever make it up on that stage.

And then… I got on the bus that would take me to my Tech School. On that ride, I realized that this wasn’t over; that my enlistment wasn’t just about getting through BMT. This journey was just beginning… I also never got those orders turned in, although I had tried a few more times. No one would take them. I had them for like a year before I finally brought them home and shredded them.