Unawares

Hey everyone!

If you’re just finding this site, I wanted to say welcome. I’d hoped to do something more elaborate before the BYU Magazine article published, you know–perhaps rehauling the website, making it look sweet, more user-friendly… alas.

You see, this sudden burst of publicity–while not completely unexpected–arrived rather suddenly, and a more prepared me would have been, well… more prepared.

Instead, like a hapless baby mammoth beset by a pack of ever-deadly deer I find myself wholly unprepared and feeling rather like everything is about to go to pieces.

While you’re here, might I recommend you check out the Urban Forager series, a day-by-day account of my erstwhile wintry week on BYU campus? If you can’t be bothered to read them all,  look into Day 5: The Illusion of Plenty which I regard as the gem of the lot.

The strangest thing I have written is probably Weaseling to Succeed (a series of emails with BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library) but a close second must be when I sold my housing contract on KSL with The Great Groundhog Lob–go ahead and read either one.

If you like dating fails, check out A Burn to Remember–my most popular post to date, probably because I Get Learned Real Good.

Finally, if you have children, have spoken to a child,  or have been a child you will likely enjoy Tales From the Trenches: Tales of a Substitute Teacher.

Want to hear more from me in the future? If you like what you’re reading here, you can follow the blog directly by clicking the link on the right side of the page, or via Wilderness of the Mind’s Facebook page.

Come again soon,

Neil

DSCN8228
First picture: Uncertain waters. Second: Rio Paraguay at sunset

 

 

 

Advertisements

Meanwhile, in Kosovo…

Dear Readers,

Thanks for checking back now and again for sweet new posts about badgers, dumpster diving, and whatever else the heck it is you come here for.

Predictably, you probably have found, well… nothing.

Because I have not written anything. Not since Uruguay, in what was that, January? And now I find myself sitting in the capital of one of the world’s youngest nations, browsing mindlessly through the internet in a smoky internet-turned-PC-gaming cafe.

So what gives?

I hate to give that lame excuse of “life has been busy,” so instead I will instead voice I haven’t been in my home base of Utah for more than 10 days in the last six months, and things have fallen behind. Not just the blog. Life, friendships neglected, important weddings missed,  relationships (ha ha, jokes… but no, I never texted that girl back), various financial-y responsibilities, trying to pay off my life debt to various fictitious woodland animals…you get the idea.

I have found that in my absence, life doesn’t wait. Things change. Stuff happens. Memories fade. And people move on. Including you.

If you never read this post, I wouldn’t really blame you. There’s a lot of other things you could and probably should be doing with your time, like eating pickled vegetables, or raising brine shrimp. And I would understand if you felt like I had abandoned this blog, which I only update like twice a year anyways. Rather like my life plans, the general aims and future trajectory of this blog remain—as of now—undefined, undetermined. But since you have come by, I will tell you this much:

Right now I am in full-time story gathering mode. Stories virtually indifferent from the paskillion other stories online! Crappy recipes! Travels to the same places as everyone else! Platitudes about life and travel! Blurry pictures of a fish!

BUT ALSO.

Giant otters and piranhas encountered in Paraguay. Christmas dinner with drug dealers in Argentina. Foods scavenged from dumpsters. Pummelings by grape-sized hail in the highlands of Bolivia. Discovering flash floods are real. Consequently yelling. A lot. Greyhound bus trips across America. Paralyzing indecision. Cross-country road trips. Breakaway post-Soviet nations visited. Getting caught in storms in the Accursed Mountains of Montenegro. Food scavenged from trash cans. Bad decisions, missed connections, the kindness of strangers, and sometimes… sometimes just trying at trying again.

barez
Brown bear pawprint in Kuqiste, Kosovo

I hope to start rolling out these stories on a semi-regular basis—that is, more semi-regularly than now—starting sometime in July.

In the meantime, take care of yo’self, eat a dandelion or two and don’t forget to wash your socks.

I promise to do the same.

Albania
PC: Shawn Reed

Of Uruguay and Things

Dear Readers,

I haven’t been able to write as often as I would like these days. Writing consistently has been a struggle for me, particularly since I have been traveling in South America since early last December. Currently I am in Termas del Dayman in Uruguay, somewhat close to the Argentinian border. It is past midnight, and I am getting swarmed with mosquitoes… and bad singing from a dude in a nearby campground shower singing garbled words. I don’t know how long I can last. This is… this is worse than eating glue berries. Tomorrow’s going to be a long haul. We are trying to hitchhike to Paraguay–yes, the other Guay–and I need to get some sleep.

I did, however, want to to take the time to welcome any new readers to the site.  There will be tales aplenty of–dear gracious, Shower Man is now singing the nonsense words “Mongoli, mongoli, mongoli” in every conceivable off-tune intonation, this has been happening for a good eight minutes–

Where was I? There will be tales of nights spent sleeping in gas stations, countries crossed by dusty bus, and Christmas meals shared with gang members to come, so I hope you will stop by the site again in the future. In the meantime, check out my digital digs and–if you haven’t already–this great Daily Universe article I somehow wound up in (thanks for the interview, JW).

Cheers,

Neil

P.S. If you are ever tiredly sitting on some stairs near a bathroom of questionable construction and you think it smells like you are perched near an open sewer thing… look around you. You probably are.

P.P.S. Total duration of Shower Man’s “Mongoli” incanting phenomenon: 17 minutes, at least.

Tales from the Trenches: Conversations of a Substitute Teacher

I started working as a substitute teacher about six weeks ago. It’s been interesting, challenging, but especially hilarious. Here are some real-life conversations and humorous situations that have occurred.

Kindergarten
The end of the day is approaching. I am very tired.
5 Year Old: I like to eat pizza sometimes.
Me (in a tired monotone): Fascinating.
5 YO:(suddenly enraged): No! NOT FASCINATING!!!!
Me: Whoa, whoa, sorry! No, not interesting in the least!

ravell-call
A student I know shown in the recent Deseret News article “More Utah students may get access to breakfast in the classroom.” Photo by Ravell Call. Check out the link to see other hilarious photos of kids in costume for Halloween.

Kindergarten teachers often supervise students during recess. I walked inside to check on a student supposedly getting a drink. She has fetched a gallon-size carton of rainbow goldfish crackers down from a cupboard and is eating them by the handful.
Me: What are you doing with those crackers?
Kindergartner: Our teacher lets us eat these when she’s not here!
Me: I doubt that, portly child. I doubt that a lot.

Some elementary schools get a healthy snack for lower-income kids in the afternoon.
Kindergartners: What are these?
Me: They’re pomegranate seeds. Try them! They’re really good. See, Aisha likes them.
Aisha: Yeah. I’ve had these before.
**Kids pick cautiously at pomegranate seeds for a minute or two. One kid decides they have had enough.**
Incite A Riot Child: Bleggggh! These are GROSS!
Every Other Child (besides Aisha): Eww! Gross! Disgusting! Bleggggh! Pbbththth!
**throw away virtually untouched pomegranate seeds into trash can while screaming**

Middle School
7th Grade Resource
7th Grader:  I don’t want to do homework. I just want to go home and sleep.
Me: So do I, kid, so do I.
7th Grader: What?
Me: What?
Me (muttering under breath): One day you’ll understand.

Elementary
Me: Today we are learning about Neil Armstrong. He was an astronaut. Who here wants to be an astronaut?
1st Graders (raising hands): Me! Me! Mee!
Me: I also wanted to be an astronaut when I was little. Now I am a substitute teacher.
Observing Student Teacher:  **facepalms**

The following conversation is all in Spanish.
1st grader: You speak Spanish?
Me: No. I don’t speak understand any Spanish.
1st Grader: Oh. Wait—you’re speaking in Spanish right now.
Me: What? No, I’m not. How could I speak Spanish? I’m just a sub.
1st Grader: See?!? How did you learn that?
Me: I’m terribly sorry, I don’t understand a single thing you just said.

 

Worksheets won’t lay flat and sort of bend in half down the middle hot-dog ways because they were stored in a bag
5th grader: Hey, this paper won’t flatten out? What happened?
Me: You see, we were teaching the papers to do backflips before school and some of them forgot how to untuck, so now they’re stuck like that, folded all weird.Cool, right?
5th grader: Oh, okay.
**2 minutes pass**
5th grader (with a perplexed expression): Uh, teacher?
Me: Yes?
5th grader: Oh… um… never mind.

High School
Me: Hey, can you put your phone away please?
11th grader: Our teacher lets us have our phones out.
Me: Does. He. Really.
11th grader, sadly: No, not really.
**puts away phone**

10th grader: So, are you gonna be a sub your whole life?
Me: O_O

11th Grade Girl: So, are you married?
Me: O_O

Me: Guys, pay attention. This is the good part of the documentary, where people eat termites. Apparently they taste like a mixture of peanut butter and bone marrow, but who’s to say otherwise?
9th Grader: It’s true! I ate some in northern Ethiopia!
Me: Oohhkay then. I’m not jealous. Not at all.

At my old high school
12th graders: Our teacher told us to ask you about your six pack!
Me: She did not.
12th graders: She did.
Me, to trustworthy teen: Did she?
Trustworthy Teen: Yes, she did.
12th graders: Show us your abs!
Me: Ab-solutely not.

In the spirit of decorum I would like to clarify my six-pack was indeed public knowledge (due to swim team, a satirical “man pageant” and a shirtless poster of me placed at one point in a hallway… It’s a long story). But hey, I did have sweet abs.
color-balanced-swim-2

Stats Break, because TMI
Days worked as a sub
: 12
Days that have felt like the first day at a new job: 12
Most likely to ask for a Band-Aid for any real or perceived malady: 1st Grade
Most likely to cry after they’ve pushed someone else over: Kindergarten
Number of children I’ve accidentally driven to tears: 3-4
Number of children I’ve made cry simply by walking in the classroom:1
Best at zoning out: High School
Most likely to livestream class: High School
Best philosophical conversations: Theory of Knowledge class in High School
Most likely to actually listen and participate: 4th Grade

More Kindergarten
Kindergarten lunch recess. I am conversing with a fellow twenty-something student aide.
Me: These kids are so crazy when they run out here from lunch.
Dhanya: Really. It’s like they’ve escapped from prison.
**2 minutes pass. A commotion is heard. A little girl has wrestled a boy to his stomach on the ground and has placed locking toy handcuffs around his wrists, a la Hawaii 5.0**
Dhanya, freeing hapless child: Sophie, we do not bring toys from home!

A few minutes after third coloring assignment of the day has been passed out.
Kindergartner: I can’t take all this coloring any more!
**slumps face-first onto desk**
Me: That’s the spirit.

I am shifting kids up and down on a chart that quantifies their behavior. Kids are reacting. A lot.
Me: It’s crazy that you kids are motivated by this completely arbitrary chart. I move it up, you get excited. I move it down, you cry.  It’s like you’ll do anything for peer validation.
**goes home and logs on Facebook**


Thanks for reading! Do you know a teacher? please give them a hug, some chocolate, and probably $50 because school supplies don’t buy themselves. Especially in Utah.

Still here? Check out that news article from earlier for great pictures, because I know most of those guys and they are hilarious. Except for you, Goldfish Cracker thief. You would weasel your way into a major news outlet.

A Burn to Remember

When I reached back into my past to text a girl out of the blue, I had little idea of the scathingly hilarious reply that would return: custom-made memes and a burn to level the most inflated ego.


Last summer, I was invited to attend a crawfish boil at Strawberry Reservoir by my friend M from Tacky Galoshes.

While I was there, I met a cute girl who I’ll simply refer to as K.
“Hey,” I asked, “Could you take a picture and send it to me?”
“Sure,” she replied, and sent me the following picture.

crawfish

Later that evening…

K: Hey, I hope you got the pictures. It was nice to meet you!

I am pretty sure I never responded to that text, or saved her number, for nine months later I received a series of text messages from her trying to figure out who I was. The crawfish boil long forgotten, neither of us had any idea how we’d ever met.

K:I was going through my contacts and this number is in it with the name “Neil. Is this Neil? If so, who are you? Haha sorry I’m not sure I know you at all.

N: Yes, this Neil.  .I don’t know how I know you, either, and I don’t have your number saved. Some ways we might know each other, though… well, I like hiking a lot, and I love foraging for berries in the wilderness and stuff (thinking she might have read this blog or something)…

K: Huh. I don’t know where I got to know you to have your number. If I got it from lame-o things like Tinder I would have saved it as “Neil Tinder.” Not that I’m judging if I did because I was on it too. Oh the tales I have from that! I got rid of that a while ago so I’m a bit perplexed. My name is K and I’m a member of the fitness cult known as Crossfit. Hiking is amazingly fun but I don’t recall running into any Neil and swapping numbers on a trail  full of berries.

I’ve lost most of the text messages I sent around here, because I have an old phone. Needless to say, we concluded we didn’t know each other, just had each other’s numbers somehow. I said something like this:

N: Well, we really don’t know each other, but perhaps we can get to know each other more.

K:Of course we can meet each other more.

I probably texted her once after that, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

MONTHS PASS.

Cleaning out the text messages from my decrepit phone’s inbox, I discover the crawfish picture and make the connection. I text K.

N: Neil here. Remember how we couldn’t figure out how we had ever met? We met at a crawfish boil at Strawberry Reservoir a year ago.

K: Ah yes!..that’s where the mysterious Neil came from. Haha 🙂

N: I found a picture you’d sent of me, not sure why I didn’t connect it sooner.

We texted back and forth a little, and I left her last text unfinished.
The next morning, she had sent me a message.

K: If you’re easily offended, I apologize in advance for what’s about to happen. You only met me that one time so you might not understand my jokester nature. Nevertheless, I can’t resist a goldmine when it’s put so nicely in my lap for me.

I could not help but be reminded of a scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where the giant spider Aragog informs Harry and Ron they will not be allowed to leave the Forbidden Forest where they are visiting him.

Go? I think not. My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid, on my command. But I cannot deny them fresh meat, when it wanders so willingly into our midst. Good-bye, friend of Hagrid.

Feeling trapped—but curious, I opened the messages. This is what she sent me:

slowpoke

unsure

skeleton

birbamirit's overkipmugatuoffice

Of course, my phone could only open a few of these because it is old. I asked her to email them to me, and she assented. When she did so, she sent a couple more:

2 sucess baby2 gandalf2 das bear

2 indy

Well played, K. Well played. Yours was a burn forged in the fires of Mount Doom.

I, uh… I still haven’t replied.


Did you enjoy this post? If so, you’ll probably enjoy Weaseling to Succeed, in which I send Pokemon Dark Knight Rises fanfiction I wrote to a library to avoid paying a measly fee.

If you don’t get all the berry references, check out Urban Forager, a series in which I attempt to live on my college campus for a week subsisting solely off whatever plants I can find.

Follow me on Facebook, if you like. Or high-five a lizard. Both are worthwhile causes.

Arcane Magicks: The KGB Protocol

Full_moon_in_the_cloudsWhen some friends in my apartment complex discovered two pots immovably stuck together, I ventured the only logical explanation:  Soviet KGB agents and a malevolent power more oppressive than the stench of your Uncle Larry’s socks.

A variety of solutions were posited on a Facebook thread, but as the night wore on and the pots remained unmoved, it was clear I had to do something. Borrowing every bad fantasy trope, I posted this comment as my reply to the debacle.  A couple details that will help this make sense: my apartment complex is very close to the BYU football stadium, things always seem to be breaking,  we have consistently spotty wifi and this all suspiciously took place on February 20-21, the fifty-first and fifty second days of the year. 

What none of the brave volunteers dared disclose that night—for fear of ridicule—was the true plan by which they intended to separate the maidens’ be-welded cauldrons.

For who would have suspected they’d each discovered the hidden passageway in the clubhouse, or followed it to the vast cavern lying in wait below the whole of the apartment complex above since time immemorial? Who could have felt their silent awe as they stepped gingerly down the same rough-hewn steps of limestone into the crumbling vault waiting at the chamber’s terminus, or found the dusty, aged tome of arcane arts upon the cracked pedestal of midnight obsidian? Though it had been months—years, even— since any of the men had seen it, who could have known they’d recall its yellowed contents as if they still held its worn, leathery pages between thumb and forefinger?

Had someone asked them, not a one would have replied ‘magic,” though that was precisely what it was. But this was not the magic of faeries and toadstools, nor the flimsy charms sold at apothecaries to restore hair or curry favor with a lad or lass at the nearby University. No, these were the magicks which had shaped nations, rent armies, and torn mountains asunder. Long ago the magic had done these things, now it clamored to do them again. At the boundaries of the mens’ slumber it prodded, at the edges of dreaming it begged, crying to claw free.

For powerful and vast though it may have been, it could no more shape itself than a silvery vial of mercury decide to freeze on a summer’s day. It needed someone to mold it, forge it, channel it, release its raw power from the formlessness which bound it in the dark cavern which was its prison. It needed human initiative to free it—a Spell of Unbinding, specifically. But who to do it? Knowledge of the arcane arts had faded to mere stories and tales told around the embers of dying fires, no more than watered-down fables. More troubling, the cave had been sealed by an enchanter’s earthquake for some time, and as humans had forgotten the art of Stonewalking the likelihood of a visitor entering through a wall was… slim. Having no other recourse, the power decided to wait.


It needed human initiative to free it—a Spell of Unbinding, specifically. But who to do it?


 

For untold eons the cavern sat undisturbed. The power occasionally felt above for information, but the land was utterly devoid of human habitation. Without tools, it waited. Again it felt above, and again it waited. The power fell dormant, silent beneath the stones.

Nearly two centuries later, a number of men entered the valley above. The year was 1979, and the Cold War was in full swing. Even as the USSR invaded Afghanistan, they kept their mission a secret to all but themselves and the Kremlin. These KGB agents sought to establish a Soviet presence in the unlikeliest of places—even Utah Valley. To speak openly of their ideologies would have been a mistake among the area’s leaders, but perhaps the young, poor and idealistic students—the proletariat—could be convinced to live in a communal way, learning the messages of Marx and Lenin through experience. An unassuming piece of farmland was acquired for practically free from a farmer who complained no crop would grow. “There’s nothing but bedrock underfoot,” the man complained, “so y’all are doin’ me a big favor. Perfect for construction, though.” The Soviet men smiled coldly and wrote him a check.

Construction proceeded without incident. Communal kitchens and bathrooms were to be the standard in the buildings (the better to help the residents understand that privacy was the enemy of unity), the squat blocky construction and low ceilings reminiscent of the Stalingrad aesthetic. Finally complete, the apartments gleamed and beckoned to be used. “We’ll call it Soviet Terrace,” said its architect proudly. “Subtlety, Vlad, subtlety,” chided their leader gently. “Stadium Terrace, then,” quipped Vlad, eyeing the gargantuan construction underway to the south. He winced as he watched their careless foreman prematurely trigger a massive set of explosive charges meant to deepen its foundation. The explosion was followed by another blast, then another.

The ground shook beneath them, and the darkness below began to stir.

The next years were full of misfortune for the new apartments. Pipes and appliances would inexplicably break, apartments spontaneously became infested with bedbugs. The Soviet gentlemen scratched their heads in puzzlement and simply got to work, determined to keep it afloat. Despite their heroic repair efforts and enticing plans for a new pool (for the betterment of the Party, of course), no tenant would remain longer than a semester or two, complaining of ‘an oppressive air about the place’. Still the men worked for a better future, but their hopes crumbled with the Berlin Wall. Heartbroken and penniless, the men sold the apartments for a pittance and left behind them the dried husks of convalescent dreams?


“Subtlety, Vlad, subtlety,” chided their leader gently.


Stadium Terrace changed hands numerous times over the coming years, bringing ill to all who owned it. The arrival of the internet did little good for the place, for the WiFi above was consistently warped and blocked by the darkness below. The attempted construction of a hot tub ended disastrously when the cavern was rediscovered. Hastily poured concrete concealed the entrance, but could not close it again. Humans could once again enter, and enter they did. Surely enough, they found the spellbook, and with it the Spell of Unbinding which—performed correctly—would set the power free. The only thing that remained was to pick an occasion—a day that was a multiple of thirteen, perhaps, or a full moon. Midnight of the fifty-second day of the year would have both.

The fifty-first day dawned much as any other. Unseasonably warm, the men took advantage of the sunshine and strolled about. Who could guess that their casual finds in the melting snow—the talon of a snowy owl, the antler of a stag, the fossil of a trilobite, a self-titled vintage Christian death metal vinyl album by Donald Trump—were the precise ingredients necessary for the Spell of Unbinding? How might [the owners of the pots] have suspected their pots’ sudden welding was anything out of the ordinary? When the men secretly decided a Spell of Unbinding was the only thing that would separate the be-deviled land dishes, who would have guessed they’d try it at the stroke of midnight on the fifty-second day beneath the full moon, when its strength was enough to release both the pots and the malevolent evil far underfoot? When the dispute appeared unresolved on the ward Facebook page in perpetuity, who could blame the man who would perform the spell for not updating it? Ambiguity would be the least of his worries now—the cavern below soon empty and the dark power gone elsewhere… for the time being. Who might have known eating a sixth consecutive plate of celebratory cookies would not in the best interest of this mystery man’s pancreas, Roberto? Who might have known? Who indeed…

Fortunately for all involved, the whole debacle was solved by an unsung hero on the fifty-third day through the Power of Science,  preventing the evil beneath the complex from escaping for the time being.

One Sentence Sundance Stories

I did a summer internship with the Sundance Institute this last summer. There’s many things I could say about the many interesting and talented people I met, but for now i’ll just leave you with a handful of true one-sentence stories, Jaden Smith style.


Ants in Your Pants: A Legitimate Concern

Saturdays Are Great Until You Get Mugged By A Trampoline In the Forest

If You’re Not On The Dark Side You’re On The Light Side

The Turkey Mafia Called And They Said Gobble Gobble

If You Eat Food All Day Apparently You Get Fat

The Ghosts Of Cat Pee Like To Haunt Your Basement

How to Domesticate a Wild Rabbit: Not Indian Food

If Tony Plana Wishes You Happy Birthday It’s Probably Past Midnight

The Difference Between Squirrels And Moose Is Subtle But It Won’t Save Your Life

Why Is Everything I Am Writing About Animals

I’m Sorry, But The Deer In Your Woodshed Is Actually A Shirtless Man

This is probably my best story, though:

gettin jiggy with it
Thanks for the picture, Natalie.

Would you like more one-sentence stories bereft of all context and meaning?

Too bad. But if samurai-killing pandas are your thing, I got that right here.