Category Archives: My checkered past

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The blog has been a little overwhelmed lately with the Heifer Fundraiser. And while that’s a good thing, I thought I’d take a day’s break and post up something funny. Expect more news and prizes in a day or so….

This is a column I wrote for the College Survival Guide. I thought I’d re-post it now because it seems timely for several reasons….

I wrote this back when I was going to grad school in Washington State. When the end of that semester rolled around, I was overwhelmed. I ended up staying in Washington four extra days so I could finish a paper, and that meant that I missed my family Christmas. I felt awful about it. I still do.

But what’s funny is that my sister cut the column out of the Pointer (the college paper that originally printed the Survival Guide) and took it home for Christmas. Then, when everyone was gathered at home on Christmas eve, Jamie read the column for the family.

General agreement was that it was just as good as having me there. Probably even better in a lot of ways.

*****

Dear Pat,

Well. I see in the Pointer that if we have something to piss and moan about, we are supposed to let you know. So here we go.

The other day I was walking past the University Center. I was cold, but I knew I had to get to the next building for my next class. I was tired, but I knew I had to keep going and make it through the day. I was hungry, but I knew I would have to wait until I got home because I had no money.

While I was approaching the UC building (dreaming about what kind of food I wish I could go and buy) I hear a bell ringing and thought to myself, “No way, they don’t have a Salvation Army guy here at the college.” But sure enough, I got a little closer and I saw that friendly old guy waving his bell in front of his cute little collection pole.

I couldn’t help but glare at him in the way that said “I hate you” and I did, at that moment, hate that man, whoever he was. I glared at him the whole time until I was passed him. I made damn sure he saw me glaring too, I don’t care what he thought.

I am broke. Isn’t everyone here at the college????

I am a full time college student (who happens to live alone) and I work close to 40 hours per week at some cheesy restaurant trying to pay my bills and get an education. Rent, car payment, bills, you know what I mean. No matter what, I never can get ahead enough to even feel like I can treat myself to a nice hot meal.

All the money we students are spending here at college, not to mention the (expensive) parking meters, and yet the college has enough balls to set up a collection for more money. I don’t even have enough money to support myself. You stand here wanting us to help out the less fortunate when we are the less fortunate. We have nothing.

Well. If ya like my piss and moan story-that’s great. I feel confident that you know what I mean here and I hope you help in writing something up on this in your paper, maybe the bell guy would then go away.

Marie

Well Marie, I had a strong response to your letter. Actually, I had two responses, each of them utterly irreconcilable with the other. Luckily, due to an end-of-the-semester psychotic break, I have two fully formed personalities willing to give their opinions on the matter.

Nice Pat’s Response

I know for a fact that the Salvation Army guy isn’t a new thing. I used to see him there in front of the UC every year, and I’ll admit my reaction was somewhat similar to yours. I felt put-upon.

As my dad always said, you can’t get blood from a stone, or pity from a freshman during finals week. Why were they trying to milk me when I was already dry?

Truth is, even well-intentioned college students are usually strapped for cash, especially at the end of the semester. Because of that I always felt the bell ringer could have been put to better use somewhere else. In the mall. Outside Wal-Mart. On the square at bar-time. Onstage, next to that big pole at the New Yorker….

[editor’s note: The New Yorker is a local strip club. Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard.]

(This column’s illustration from the anthology)
Evil Pat’s Response

Marie, it’s not that you’re poor. It’s that you’ve has been trained to drool when the bell rings. What do I mean by that? I mean this: You’ve bought into the system, and the system has made you its bitch. Sure I feel sorry for you, but the fact remains that it’s your own damn fault.

I understand that you work 40 hours a week in addition to school. Fine, but don’t expect pity from me just because you follow some outmoded protestant work ethic.

“But I need the money!” I hear you cry.

Bullshit. You think you need the money. The truth is you spend your money on non-essential items. Just like everyone else who’s been inculcated into the three-step easy-bake American dream.

1) Work hard to get money.
2) Use money to buy things.
3) Use things to achieve happiness.

“But I don’t have things! I’m barely making it from bill to bill!”

Bullshit. I know that you’re living in some manner of extravagance because as an undergrad I made on average of 6000 dollars a year. And with that colossal sum I paid my tuition, had my share of hot meals, bought presents for my girlfriend, and still had enough to drop a couple of bucks in the bellringer’s bucket come Christmas time.

How did I achieve this miracle? Well, I never had a car for one thing. I survived nearly a decade in Stevens Point without one, walking to my various jobs and carrying my groceries home.

I never had the luxury of living alone either. Well….that’s not really true. For a year I lived in a one-room apartment with a bathroom down the hallway. It cost me $140 per month, everything included. My friends called it ‘The Pit.’ I stayed there because it was cheap, and that freed up my money for other things, like nudie magazines, leather pants, and grain alcohol.

Here is the unvarnished truth. If you’re poor and in college, you’re not really poor. You’re just indulging in certain luxuries beyond your means. However, there are people in the country that are genuinely poor. People who don’t have cars, or even nasty little one-room ‘pit’ apartments.

Most importantly, those people don’t have a support network of friends and family who are willing to help them out if something bad happens. What those people do have is The Salvation Army. They buy toys for poor-kids and shut-ins for chrissake. You can’t find any fault with an organization like that.

So pony up, pig-licker, and give some jingle to the bucketman.

*****

Years later, I know more than when I wrote this column, and because of that I can, actually find fault with an organization like th
e Salvation Army because I know they actively discriminate against gays. It’s sad, but I just can’t feel good about cheering them on anymore.

To an extent, any charity is better than no charity. But I believe that smart charity is the best charity of all….

More soon,

pat

Also posted in BJ Hiorns Art, College Survival Guide, Fanmail Q + A | By Pat19 Responses

The Good Life

A while back I was in the grocery store picking up something to eat. I ended up behind a mom and her little boy in the checkout line. She was buying all sorts of grown-up groceries: hamburger, milk, celery, saltines, green peppers, tomatoes…

I was buying Fritos, some Mountain Dew, and a box of Fruity Pebbles.

The boy looked at his mom’s groceries, then at my groceries. Back and forth. I could see him putting together the pieces. His mom’s groceries were going to make meatloaf. My groceries….

That’s when I realized how awesome my life is. I was living this kid’s dream. Of course, I was living MY dream too, but I had forgotten it until this moment.

I looked at him and pointed at the Fritos. “When I get home, I’m going to eat all of those,” I said. “and it’s going to completely spoil my dinner.” I smiled and pointed to the box of fruity pebbles. “That’s my dinner.”

He didn’t say anything. He was only about six or seven, and I’m guessing that he was too stunned with my untrammeled glory to put together a full sentence.

But he looked up at me with eyes that said, I want to be like you. How can I do these things which you have shown me?

“Go to college,” I told him.

I was just about to tell him that I was going to put the Mountain Dew on the cereal instead of milk when his mom hustled him away, probably because she thought I was some kind of pervert.

Which is only fair, I suppose. I probably am.

Later all,

pat

Also posted in being awesome, BJ Hiorns Art, College Survival Guide, day in the life | By Pat32 Responses

A New Edition to the Family

It goes without saying that becoming a published author has changed my life.

If someone were to ask how, specifically, I’d probably mention one of the big things. How surreal it is when people recognise me in public. Or when I show up to a reading or a signing and there are dozens of people there. I could mention how I travel a lot more now, or the fact that I can spend up to 5-6 hours a day just keeping up with my e-mail correspondence.

But truthfully, one of the thousand small changes has been how I feel about getting the daily mail.

Up until about a two years ago, when all this publication stuff started, my mail was pretty normal. Most of it was junk: fliers, credit card applications, cupons. The stuff that wasn’t junk was usually unpleasant, like bills or notifications about my student loans.

Yeah sure. On some rare occasion something nice would show up. A card from mom with some cash in it, mail order something-or-other, a letter from a friend. But those were few and far between.

But now I love to get the mail. Every day is like a potential Christmas. I get all sorts of cool things. I get foreign contracts that I read and sign and mail back. I get free copies of books sent to me with the hope that I’ll read them, love them, and blurb them.

And I get checks in the mail. I won’t lie to you, that’s really cool. A lot of my life I’ve been pretty poor. Not *really* poor, of course. But student poor. I spent 11 years as a college student, and there were a lot of times when I was broke, the next paycheck was three days away, and the credit card was full. I’m sure a lot of you have had similar times in your life.

I remember getting sick once, and not having enough money to buy aspirin or orange juice. Another time, I remember digging through my cupboards, examining the cans of weird food. The food that you have left because you hate it. I remember thinking, “How old is this can of vegetable barley soup? Will it kill me?” Once I got behind on my rent and my landlord burst into my little one-room apartment, waking me from a dead sleep and threatening to throw me out onto the street.

Fast forward to now. Sometimes I pick up my mail and there’s a check in there. A check for money. A check for money that I didn’t even know would be showing up. Best of all, it’s money that I don’t immediately need for something, like paying my overdue phone bill, or buying groceries, or settling a debt with a friend who lent me a little bit to get by.

But perhaps even cooler is when things like this show up without my expecting it:

(Click to Embiggen)

I didn’t know the Danish version of the book was close to being finished. I’d never even seen the cover until I opened the envelope a couple days ago and found this inside.

I think this is translation number… six? Let me think, so far I’ve had editions in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan… Number five then. Six will probably be the German version that’s coming out later this month. I’m excited to see that one too.

Later all,

pat

Also posted in foreign happenings, translation | By Pat36 Responses

My Misspent Youth.

So a couple days ago, I come home, open the door, and find this waiting for me:


My first thought is that I might have blacked out and overdone it on Amazon again. But when I looked closer I realized what was really going on:

My book. My baby.

My next thought was that these might be my author copies. But there was WAY too many for that. Then I remembered that a couple weeks ago, one of the PR people at Penguin told me that a bookstore owner had read the advance copy of the book and really loved it. He wanted to buy a hundred copies for his store, and was wondering if I would sign them for him.

I said, “sure, no problem,” then pretty much forgot about it.

Carrying all the books inside really made me realize that 100 books is, to put it delicately, a whole shitload. And this is just for one store….

So anyway, I pulled out a book and decided to get started. I figured this was going to take me a while, unpacking, signing, then repacking the books to ship back out.

But before I even opened the first book, I was paralyzed with performance anxiety. Seriously. I held the pen and thought, “What if my signature doesn’t look… well… authory enough?”

You know that phase you go through when you’re in middle school, where you practice your signature so you’re ready for when you become a rock star and have to sign autographs all the time? I know most of my peer group went through this somewhere between the ages of 11 and 16. One of my friends actually developed an entire variant style of cursive writing that he’s used ever since. It was, and still is, totally cool looking.

Anyway, I never went through that phase. I wanted to be a rock star. But I suspected I didn’t have the right sort of hair. I also had the penmanship of a demented monkey. Plus, I was lazy and had no musical talent to speak of.

Instead I wasted my time reading books, talking to girls, and doing my physics homework. As I looked down at the hundred books I was supposed to sign, I mourned my misspent youth.

So I sat down and signed my name a couple times. Its one of those things that’s easy if you’re not thinking about it, and hard when you’re concentrating too much. I suddenly became very aware of the fact that the O leading into the T and the H is kinda hard to do quickly. If you rush it, you get tripped up and your H gets tangled up with the F.

That’s right. Laugh it up. It’s a hard name to sign, especially when you’re obsessing, and nervous, and you have, at best, the penmanship of a third grader.

Anyway, I toughed it out and did my best. I still think my signature looks a little goofy, and there are a few of them where the H looks like it’s getting freaky with the F, and the F might not be entirely cool with it. But still, given the fact that I started this whole process with a significant handicap, I think I did pretty well.

I just finished the last one, repacked the boxes, and got them ready to send out.

So before I go to bed, I’d like to give you aspiring writers out there some advice. Learn from my mistakes. Practice your signature now.

pat

Also posted in my rockstar life, Things I didn't know about publishing | By Pat23 Responses
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