May 2008


When I was in high school, I worked as a gopher at my dad’s engineering firm. My job was basically to ferry around documents so I met most people in the firms offices. I haven’t worked there for three years, but today the company threw an open house in its new office in Oklahoma City. My dad convinced me to come with promises of free food and beer.

The only thing in greater supply than beer and BBQ was awkwardness. Engineers aren’t known for their social skills. Their “relatability” problem is exacerbated when they’re chatting with some one 25 years their younger with no knowledge of, for example, appropriate anti-erosion mechanisms for various soil densities. The small talk was agonizing. I’m used to being quizzed about college, my major, and my post-graduation plans, but tonight the questions never stopped coming. I wish I had a business card: “Nick Robinson; Willamette University in Salem, Oregon; class of 2009; B.A. in Politics, wants to work as a policy adviser in government.

Things might have gone better if I hadn’t been exhausted and grumpy. I stayed up most of last night writing baller disads and then woke up early. I wasn’t in the mood for forced conversation, and was even less in the mood for a lecture on the importance of waste water management. A couple of beers loosened me up a bit. It’s always fun to drink in the presence of people who knew you when you were 12.

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I went out in the backyard today and played on my old hoop. I always kept the basket low, a standard height subsidy for white high school basketball players around the country. I spend hours out there by myself, perfecting my free throw and imaging hitting big shots for Coach K. I scraped myself dozens of times on the gravel alley next to the court, which was a skating rink if you played in the rain. The other scrubs from the team and I would play for hours after school, throwing the ball down and imagining ourselves with more talent than we had. The rim has held up despite years of kids hanging mercilessly from it.

The court hasn’t faired as well. It’s almost a decade old now and the years show. The surface of the concrete has been warn down in spots by the tires of my fathers truck, leaving behind a few patches of loose gravel. When the City decided to pave our alley they decided the court stuck out into public property. They converted the offending two feet of concrete into a steep ramp connecting the road to the court. It works for parking, but for anyone wanting to shoot around it’s a broken ankle factory.

But still, it’s my home court. What’s avoiding a little slope to a kid who used to pick gravel out of his bleeding legs after playing in freezing rain? Sometimes I feel completely removed from my 14-year-old self. That kid had no idea who I’d be, and I care barely remember who he was. But shooting hoops on the old court this afternoon brought me back to those days. I reconnected with the kid who assigned himself wind springs and assigned himself five more three-pointers before coming in for dinner. I even imagined hitting the big shot in the finals again. It dropped through the net, swish, and I headed inside for dinner.

I have NOTHING to blog about. This is the fourth post I’ve started today. First, I tried to write a little something on debate research–boring. Then I went for annoying commercials on television, but my brain is already so mushed that I couldn’t even think of a theme. Then I tried to review the book I’m reading, but as I’m only a fourth of the way through it the effort fell flat on its face. So now I’m writing about how I have nothing to write about.

It’s Oklahoma. Every time I come back here this happens. At first it’s a blast. I see old friends from high school and we go drinking, where I run into old acquaintances from high school with whom I also go drinking. But after about 10 days the appeal of drinking wears off and I realize that I haven’t woken up before 2PM since April. Time has the viscosity of molasses.

BUT! There is hope. When I’m bored I like to make lists of productive and/or moderately fun things I could do:

  • Walk the dog.
  • Go to the gym.
  • Write a fact sheet.
  • Write a blog.
  • Spy on strangers.
  • Read a book.

Okay, there’s a modest agenda for the day. If I do all those things today there’s no way I can stay bored! Action!

Willamette University recently picked me to write a piece for its Campus Conversations series. This means that as soon as I turn in 5,000 words they’ll give me enough cash to replace my Mesozoic-era laptop. That’s terrific news because “Lappy” has the computer equivalent of colon cancer. I haven’t seen the blue screen of death yet but something called a “C++ runtime error” keeps wiping out my fact sheets. Worse, there some freaky problem with the electrical system because every now and then the screen goes haywire or the entire machine acts like the battery fell out. So Lappy has to go. This raises the inevitable question: Mac or PC?

No doubt, Macs are way cooler. They’re sleek and glossy and well-designed (even Q would admire the magnetic power connection). But they’re also overpriced. The same hardware you get in a white MacBook you can find in a Dell for $400 cheaper. Also, some of Mac’s quirks really bug me. Triple-clicking? No right-click? Also, why is there no Solitaire? Plus some of my nerdy tech friends say Macs are hard to upgrade and some other stuff I don’t really understand. So the jury is still out. My essay is due in mid-August so you have until then to convince me.

I cringe a lot more than most people I know. When a really terrible band starts playing or an awful public speaker mumbles into a microphone I feel humiliated. Same thing with Ben Stiller movies. In Meet the Parents I literally cannot stand the scene where he lights the house on fire. I feel incredibly uncomfortable watching Stiller’s character squirm.

Other people don’t seem to have this problem, as evidenced by Ben Stiller’s continued success. I was at my sister’s high school graduation on Friday and a couple of seniors gave “reflections.” Their speeches really weren’t awful, just cliche and delivered in a nervous monotone. My family looked bored, which is the normal human reaction to something boring. I was wriggling in my seat, barely able to watch. It’s like I connected too much with the speakers and couldn’t detach myself. Obviously there is no reason for me to react this way, but I almost always do.

When I haven’t written a blog post in a while, I find it really hard to break the streak. It seems like a new post would have to sum up everything that happened since the last post. That’s an intimidating challenge, so I’m going to avoid it.

Really, I’m just posting this to provide an extra link to the new(ish) American College Solutions website. If you don’t know, American College Solutions is the company I run with Max. Hooray, capitalism!