16 October, 2009

Here's my pal Paul. I've been meaning to write a little about him. He is the reason I am doing this ride, after all, and the reason I am hustling so hard to raise money for LIVESTRONG (and you've all been fabulous with your support--thank you!).

Paul and I met in high school--it was in Mr. Ugalde's class, U.S. Gov't, junior year. Seems like such a late date writing it here, but the school year had just begun, and I was still a serious outsider at Don Lugo High School, having just moved to Chino the previous year. Paul and I sat far apart in the classroom, and for the first couple weeks hadn't spoken. I'd noticed that he moved around campus as part of a large group of friends who dressed with a surprising degree of similarity (does "clique" sound too uncharitable? or maybe jealous?). They wore an interesting amalgam of early Beatles-syle pegged pants with new wave-y, shallow pompadours--and always the ubiquitous 60's era thrift-store, short-sleeved, mock-turtle neck sweater. They were a clean-looking pack of hipsters--Inland Empire hipsters.

None of these other friends were in A.P. U.S. Gov't with us, though.

Our teacher, Mr. Ugalde, thought he saw some similarity in the two of us--NOT fashion or hipster-wise, but we were both sort of anti-orthodox, free-thinking types (by Chino standards). Maybe he wanted to nurture that (god bless him). So his bright idea was to pair us up on an early school project, to help us become "friends." Mr. U. told the class we'd be working in pairs, "So choose a partner--and Robert(me) and Paul, why don't you two work together?"

That was awkward. I'm sure you can imagine how two strong-willed teens would react to being forced into an arranged friendship (and humiliatingly singled out in front of the class) by an authority figure (aka "The MAN"), even if it was a good idea.

Our assignment was to imagine ourselves setting sail for some deserted (but not desert) island with the intention to start a "new society." "Draw up a list," Mr. Ugalde instructed us, "of five things you will bring to this island that you think will be essential for creating a new utopia."

We were told to go ahead and get with our "partner" right then and write up this short list. Paul and I found a spot where we could sit down, but we weren't happy. And while I handled our being forced to work together with sullen resentment, he treated the whole thing with distracted impatience. The dialog went something like this:

ME: (shuffling over, slouching into seat) Hey man. We gotta do this list thing I guess....

PAUL: (not looking at me, feigning fascination in watching the rest of the class huddle with their partners of choice) Huh? Oh yeah, yeah. (brief glance my way, impatient) Look, the first thing to put on this list is a Honda generator. That's number one.

ME: (annoyance giving way to mystification) Huh?

PAUL: A generator, man. (seeing me more mystified, getting more impatient and more impassioned) We are going to need power and we have got to have that generator. How are you gonna make anything without power?

ME: --uh--

PAUL: So we'll need gas, too--(dictating to me now, pointing at my blank page and pen at-the-ready) we need like some 55 gallon drums of gas. (me not writing, him looking at me for emphasis, starting to gesture at the page) For the generator!

ME: Yeah, OK...(I start moving the pen, writing, but just our names and the assignment--I'm not gonna put down his stupid generator idea) But don't you think we need something more like books with ideas about how to form a society--like Locke and the Federalist Papers or--

PAUL: WHAT?! We need power so we can build things. We need a generator. (His expression tells me that I should realize this to be self-evident, or--what am I, a moron?) You can put whatever else you want. But we have to have a generator--and gas. (This is all he has to say--it finishes his role in our collaboration, and he's already going back to doing whatever empty activities we teenagers occupied ourselves with before the invention of texting)

I start to make a case for a more philosophical approach, but he's uninterested. I'm uninterested. I don't even try to explain the mirage of a solution a generator offers. I went back to my desk and while the rest of the students spent the next thirty-forty minutes of class writing up their papers, happily gabbing together (predictably, almost everyone else insisted that, #1, we must bring the Bible), we just sat separately and frittered away the time. I wrote up something and since each team only had to turn in one paper, I was the author of "ours."

"A generator," I thought to myself. "What a moron."

That's how we met.

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