If you missed Part 1 or want to learn what this is all about, CLICK HERE.
“It isn’t the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it’s the troubles that cause the rebels.”
– Carl Oglesby, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)
In the fall of 1998, I moved a couple hundred miles southwest, to Macomb, Illinois and Western Illinois University. My exact location was room 808 on the 8th floor of Thompson Hall. (Which I believe has since been demolished…) One of my good friends from back home came with me, and we roomed together there in a typical, tiny dorm room with a mini fridge, microwave, small TV, desk, and a George Foreman grill.
We thought we were already pros when it came to our party skills, but what we didn’t know is that we were landing smack dab in the middle of what could only be described as Lampoon’s Animals House if it were written about a dorm floor instead of a fraternity.
The initiation? Playing a full round (all 4 circuits, for those who know the game) of drinking Mariokart on the Nintendo 64. If one were very skilled at the game (which we weren’t – and the sophomores were), one might expect to consume somewhere in the ballpark of 2-3 beers over the hour or so it may take to complete all the races. As an amateur (again, we thought we were good at something, only to find out we’d been playing in the minor leagues…), that total could well exceed 5 or 6 beers per hour.
Now I could share at least a hundred different stories like this about my time living on that floor, but don’t feel it to be necessary. What I can say is that I made several lasting friendships, and for those of us who survived (there was close to 50% attrition (dropout rate) by the end of the year…), it was an experience we’ll always remember.
I also joined a fraternity my freshman year – mainly so I could get into bars and attend cool parties… but also because a couple friends from the 8th floor were in the house and we had fun when we hung out over there. Again, think more like Animal House, less like preppies or “bros” with sweaters tied around their shoulders. Pledging was a difficult, humbling, and (at times) soul-crushing experience. If I had it all to do over again, I likely would have skipped this step… but I did make some good friends through the experience, and learned quite a bit about myself.
WIU is the top law enforcement school in the country and also has a strong military and ROTC presence. I have absolutely no idea how or why, but I became a law enforcement major for about 2 weeks – until I dropped my first law enforcement class and decided that wasn’t for me. I learned that I couldn’t make it to any classes that started before 10am – and even those were a stretch.
I stopped playing any/all sports, or doing almost anything physical – aside from playing on the fraternity’s intramural basketball and flag football teams… but the latter generally also involved drinking. My diet consisted heavily of hot pockets, pizza, microwave burritos, beer, and other assorted fast/processed food. And I drank… a lot.
Parties, nights out at bars, drama, and fights were all common – including a few arrests. One of those could have ended with a couple felony convictions (assault/battery), but was dropped down to misdemeanors as part of a deal we made. (We beat up a guy that punched my roommate’s girlfriend at the bar when we were 20)
Two big events happened in the spring of 1999 that changed my experience of life in significant ways.
The first was the Columbine school shooting. I can still remember the feeling of watching it unfold live on TV. I remember our campus shutting down and everything standing still. I remember looking sideways at anyone wearing a trench coat or sporting gothic-type clothes for a while after. School shootings and other mass shootings are so common now they barely make the news, and people barely flinch… but at one time, these things were shocking.
The second life-changing event was the birth of my son, Michael, in May of 1999 – a month before my 19th birthday. I was a child having a child – and I had no idea how to be a parent. He and his mother lived with my parents for the first couple years. I’d be there in the summers and then come home from school every other weekend (sometimes more – but that was the norm) and during breaks.
My parents (thanks again, Mom & Dad!) helped a ton with him. I’d never have been able to finish school or do much else I did in my young adult life if it weren’t for their help and support.
Regarding Michael, I’ve always kept his life private. I mean absolutely no disrespect, judgement, or criticism towards those who post/share everything about their kids – it has just never felt right to me, personally. Especially since he doesn’t spend much time on social media himself. Therefore, there isn’t going to be a ton about him in this story – but I will tell you that he has turned out to be a fine young man, who has never gotten into all the trouble I did in school or with the police.
We’ve had one serious health scare with him a few years ago – which was very humbling and terrifying at the same time. Since then, his health has been good and he’s doing his best to navigate this uncertain world we’ve handed to his generation. He’s attending college in Arizona (via distance right now), and spent this past summer working a summer job in the Boston area with his best friend.
My main goal (as sad as this sounds now) when he was born/a small child, was to make sure he didn’t “turn out like me” – as far as getting in trouble, being the “bad kid”, suffering as much as I did – without being able to express it, and everything else I saw myself as at the time.
In that regard, I feel like a success… however, there are many things I’d probably change or do differently if given the opportunity to do it all again. Thus is life though, right?
Despite the fact we’ve lived in different states for about half his life (he moved to Texas for a few years at one point when his mom married a soldier who was stationed there and I’ve been out west for 6+ years), we’ve always maintained a pretty good relationship and I’m proud of the person he’s become.
Ok… back to college.
The remaining 4+ years (I did 5 years due to switching majors, switching minors multiple times, never really taking a “full” course load, dropping classes many times, and not being dedicated to my school work) at Western were a hazy blur of booze, drugs (mainly cannabis and psychedelics), parties, and bars. Again, I made some great friends – some who I’m still close with today… but as far as learning, advancing a career, setting up my future, or doing anything you’re really “supposed” to do at college – that was all mainly absent.
There is someone I’d like to point out and acknowledge as both the guy with the absolute best weed, and most interesting (and educational) conversations, during my time at WIU. Let’s call him “Joe”. He didn’t really watch TV, actually read books, and was more knowledgeable on history, politics, sociology, and the other subjects I was studying than most of my professors were. If seeing Oliver Stone’s JFK when I was 10 was the spark to my activist fire, conversations on “Joe’s” couch were the kindling.
We talked about covert government surveillance and counter-intelligence programs used against anti-war activists and civil rights leaders in the 60’s, secret (and since declassified) CIA programs using psychedelics and mind control, the dangerous corporate control of the media and the government, the Kennedy assassination, and many more similar topics. He was more a friend of a friend type of situation, and I didn’t spend a lot of time over there – but it’s definitely somewhere/someone I’d like to mention as an influential experience/person.
This is where I started to learn that the history we learn in school and in most movies, TV shows, etc… is bullshit propaganda. I didn’t know it then, but my teaching career was already over before it started…
I crammed and scammed my way to decent grades and graduated from Western Illinois University with a degree in History, and minors in Political Science, Sociology, and English. I left college a solid 50 pounds heavier than I arrived. Depressed. Hating my body/self. Not excited (at all) about the (teaching) career in front of me. Still feeling much more like a delinquent “bad” kid than an adult/teacher.
After graduation, I got a couple jobs substitute teaching, teaching summer school, and as a long-term fill-in for a teacher on leave. I was also bartending in the evenings and weekends (making more money and working less hours than a teacher – a commentary on our society/priorities).
Around this time, I got very into studying real history. As I’d been slowly learning over the previous 10+ years, the information I was being asked to teach in school was more akin to propaganda than history. More and more, we were being instructed to teach directly to corporate-designed standardized tests – which then determined the funding received by the school.
I was disciplined for designing an exercise to teach kids (high school seniors) to vote based on the issues and beliefs that were important to them – not on name/party recognition. That’s when I knew I was going to leave the field and “waste” my college degree.
The whole education system felt just as oppressive to me as a teacher as it did when I was a student.
I started reading books written by 1960’s counterculture revolutionaries, such as Abbie Hoffman. I read Howard Zinn’s, the People’s History of the United States, Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, anything from Hunter S. Thompson, and dozens of other books on history, politics, sociology, and the corruption of the world. I obsessively consumed documentaries and every piece of information I could find. Watching JFK was the spark, stoned conversations on the couch of “Joe” were the kindling… and these books and films were the gasoline.
I “woke up” to the fact that our society/civilization was ruled by a rather small group of ultra-wealthy individuals, industries, corporations, and lobbyists. That it has pretty much always been this way. That they fund both sides of wars, control the narrative (news/media) around those wars, and own the politicians making the decisions.
I learned the truth about the CIA, the FBI, US-sponsored government overthrows, the installing of brutal dictators, illegal surveillance on civil rights and anti-war leaders, state-sponsored assassinations (did you know the US Government was found responsible for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in a civil court?), and the reality of our food and environmental policies. (Which were written/run by big agriculture, biotech, and chemical companies.)
I was angry and I’d rage all of this at anyone who’d listen… and even some who wouldn’t.
I became an activist. I attended protests, rallies, and even took a bus to Washington DC with a bunch of other trouble-makers to protest at George W. Bush’s 2nd inauguration. (And rode home covered in tear gas/poison.) It drove me completely insane that everyone wasn’t on board, that most people didn’t care, that we invaded Iraq anyways, and that things kept getting worse instead of better.
It killed me that humans were rapidly destroying the planet and dooming ourselves to extinction.
The rage, desperation, and subsequent hopelessness almost killed me, and I became completely disillusioned with teaching.
So I quit. 2 years out of college. I didn’t realize at the time that I was quitting for good… but that was my last time in a classroom (as a teacher).
Next up in Part 3…
- That time I quit my job (again), maxed out a credit card, and moved into a tent… and that’s not even the crazy part.
- My first experience with the present moment and flow state.
- What I learned from a decade in the service industry – and how it almost killed me.
- My life as a Superfan (think SNL)
- A little furry Buddha lands in my world and saves my life…