"If at first you donít succeed, try, try again"
"Where thereís a will, thereís a way"
"Your canít keep a good man down."
Cliches are tidbits of folk wisdom, life lessons sucintly summed up. But even though we hear them thousands of times in our lives, often we donít understand them untill we face problems in real life.
The summer after my junior year in highschool I learned a great lesson about perseverence. I was going to a debate camp in Lawrence. Another debator from my school was going to the same camp. His name was Jonathan and, though I didnít know him well, it made sense to drive down together and share a dorm room.
We took his car, a well kept Ď92 Toyota, filled it with supplies, and set out. The eighty mile trip passed quickly and we soon arrived at Hashinger Hall on the University of Kansas campus.
The next two weeks were trying. We linked up as partners and worked closely all day, everyday. After we finished our classes and research, we ate together in the cafeteria and returned to our room in the dorm.
As I said, before camp I didnít know Jonathan very well. Spending twenty-four hours a day with him changed that. In just the first few days I realized we contrasted far more than we compared. I learned his politics; he was a Reganite Republican while I was a leftist Red. I discovered his religious views; he was a Fred Phelps Christian, I was an apathetic agnostic. I experienced his hygene habits; he was best described as ĎSouthern France Stinkyí, I believed in showers and deoderant.
I didnít know that he smoked until he lit up a long, fat, green cigar. Apparently to him, smoking outside destroyed the smoking experience so our room soon smelled like gas station cigars. Noone warned me about his snoring or his affinity bean/pork products. I found out on my own.
So, for two weeks we fought, yelled, kicked, and spit; we didnít get along when we were debating either. Even waking up was a struggle. When I would leave to take a shower, he would be sleeping the sleep of the dead - ten minutes later when I returned he would be gone and the room locked. I understand why the police took me into custody three times. I was a frightening sight on my cross campus quests for my roommate, clad only in a towel and armed with a toothbrush.
As camp came to a close, we were scrambling to find new partners. The final tournement, a ten round debator pissing contest, was starting tomorrow. A councillor named Mike sat us down for some friendly advise.
He told us that we were really good debators and had a good chance at sweeping the tournement. He said that we had overcome most of our problems and were actually good partners during rounds. This was our chance to prove our talent and it would be a shame to throw away two weeks of hard work.. "Where thereís a will, thereís away," were his parting words.
We stayed together. The next morning we found a post-it on each of our file crates. Jonathatnís said, "You canít keep a good man down." Mine read, "If at first you donít succeed, try, try again." Mikeís plan to keep us together worked. With confidence, grace, and brotherly love we marched forth to do battle.
In several of our rounds, we faced powerful opponents. Each time we beat back their arguments. By the end of the third round we were chanting Mikeís slogans like mantra to bring us victory. By the eith round, we knew Mike had been right We were good; we knew it, our opponents knew it, and the judges knew it. This Ďguyí had become more than my annoying roommate; Jonathan and I were finally a team.
Looking back, I see that what we had wasnít really special. Any successful athlete knows what I felt. Thespians on opening night, dancers, highschool yearbook and newspaper editors - they know the buzz I felt. Debate geeks arenít exactly high profile. Monday morning announcements have a tendency to list the wins and loses from every school activity except debate. When a hundred outsiders get together, theyíre still outsiders.
Aside from a twenty-minute lunch break, round werecontinuous from 7:30 AM to 6:00 that night. A normal tourneyment is two days, four rounds each. But this was the last day of debate camp; after this everyone would leave. With so many rounds, the day was frantic. The only real rest time was between rounds while waiting for the next roundís schedual. After the first half was over, most of us were finding our stride, like a runnerís high in a marathon. When we finished our last rounds, wverone gathered in the basement. Nervous energy, Mountain Dew, and cigaretes gave the group the look of a riot waiting to happen. The very last round was over at 6:20. For the next forty minutes the camp councilors tallied up win/loss ratios and speaker points. Jonathan and I joined the masses for several smoke breaks on the front stoop. I even bummed one of Jonathanís gas station cigars.
When everyone had gathered together again, the head councilor made a few remarks. He told us that he felt alot of improvement, and hoped we had all had fun. When his rambling was finished, Mike and another councilor stood to award medals to the top six teams. Starting at sixth, they moved their way up the ranks. Jonathan and I were against a wall in the back of the room sitting on our our suitcases. Weíd been certain that we would make itto the top six so when the first three teams walked the aisle our smiles started growing. We watched Mikeís lips while he called out third and second. He paused at this point, looked searching ly across the mob with a smile on his face. His eyes paused briefly as they swept across the back row. Jonathan and I began our victory walk to the podium. Mid way to the front, Mike anounced Beth and Sara as the undefeated winners.I could neither watch nor turn away as hepresented them with medals and plaques. Iíd never been so humiliated. I froze, my eyes on the plaques, our plaques. I wished that I could just fade away quietly, but Jonathan and I were dead center. We were probabley more visible than hte people at front.
Jonathan and I didnít speak. We moved quietly to the back of the room, gathered our cases, and left as covertly as possible. We didít wait to pick up our ballots; all we wanted was to leave.
We rode in silence most of the way home. Jonathan puffing furiously on a chain of cheap cigars. Half way through the trip we stopped for gas. After topping off the tank Jonathan asked if I wanted anything to drink; I said no and he left to pay.
I spent the next few minutes in silent meditation, reflecting on what a waste of time, money, and life the last two weeks had been. Camp cost me more than a new transmission; Jonathan probably cost me ten years off my life for second hand smoke and first hand stress. Jonathan knocked on my window.
I rolled it down and was greeted by his smiling face, punctuated with yet another fresh cigar, and a cherry slurpee. I didnít want anything to drink. I didnít need a lungfull of smoke. I couldnít stand one more minute of his existence.
"Come on," he smiled, "Cheer up. Like the man said, ĎYou canít keep a good man down.í"
Now, years later, I can still remember the look of shock on his face when I wrapped both hands around his neck. He wasnít a small person, but he didnít put up much of a fight as I pulled him into car. He must have been stunned, or in shock; he didnít start to struggle until I had rolled the window up far enough to trap his head on the inside and his body on the out. The son of a bitch burned me with his cigar when he spit it out so he could scream. Too late for him.
A few more turns of thewindows crank and he stopped screaming. He couldnít manage more than a frantic wheeze. Each turn of the knob squeezed him a little more, made his face change to a deeper hue. To be honest I was a surprised as anyone when the final turn of the crank severed his head. Toyotas are damn good cars.
When I look back at that time of my life I really regret the things I did. Iíve really fucked up my life. I could have worked harder, gotten better grades, done some other activity, but in the end killing Jonathan was worth it. How many accountants can say they know the sound of bones crunching? How many lawyers ever really get justice?