Non-Fiction + Digital Media

Life’s a Haircut

- Jack Janson

    A bell above the glass door jingled as I entered and was greeted by the three women working in the cramped barber shop. I was waved over to an empty chair by a lady with a frail body and wrinkled tan skin. She sat me down in the cushioned seat, wrapped a chair cloth around my neck, and spun me around so that I faced a mirror behind her cluttered countertop. Most barbers had pictures or other personal items at their stations, but hers had nothing unique or special about it.

   Unsure of the haircut I wanted, I just asked for a trim, knowing that I would probably be unsatisfied with the results no matter how she cut it. I tried to start conversation about the weather and how I had work later that day, but she wasn’t much of a talker. She spoke with a raspy whisper and responded in short remarks. 

   “Just stay like this,” she said, as she moved my head with both of her hands and began cutting. In the back of my mind I worried that her age might impair her haircutting abilities, and I would leave the shop with one less ear. 

   I’ve never wanted to grow that old. It saddens me to see grandparents and old family friends fall into the pit of old age, unable to make sense of their own thoughts at times. I watched my grandmother as she aged and was slowly overcome by Alzheimer’s. Every time we visited she seemed to make less and less sense until I could hardly carry out a conversation with her anymore. Everyone in my family laughs at her when she does or says something with little logic, and often I feel guilty for doing it myself, but my mom explains that if we don’t laugh, then we will cry. I suppose that's true. I’m glad that my grandma is still around, but seeing her in this condition makes me fear the strives that are often introduced with old age. 

   On the other hand, I want to live long enough to do certain things like travel to Europe or Asia and learn about their different cultures. I want to get a job that I like doing and provide for a family whom I love, like my parents did for me. Then, I would eventually like to settle down somewhere out West and write books filled with whatever knowledge I will have at that point in my life.

   What control over the length of my life do I even have though? Either way, the Fates will probably never satisfy me completely. 

   My barber hobbled over to the other side of me and adjusted my posture again before clicking her razor on, so that it hummed in my ear and gently scratched the back of my neck. My dad has a razor at home just like the one she was using. I’ve thought about using it to cut my own hair before, but I’m too afraid I’ll mess it up or hurt myself. 

    I glanced in the mirror to see her work so far. It looked miserable. My hair seemed much too short, but then again, it may have just been that it was still wet and combed down.

I thought that maybe if I just got up out of the chair and walked out of the barber shop she wouldn’t be able to make it any shorter and this would all finally end. However, I remembered that I would still need to pay the same price to the barber, and my hair would look messy and uneven. It was my mother’s money that paid for the appointment too, so leaving then would surely show my lack of gratitude for her and what she gave to me. Not to mention for my own sake, I could not look at myself with such a horrible haircut, and I would feel ashamed. For these reasons I allowed the woman to continue cutting.

    As she finished up with a comb and blow dryer, I noticed the damp clumps of my cut locks resting on my lap and the decaying remains of customers before me that had fallen onto the tile floor.  

   “There you go. That’s better,” she said softly. She unwrapped the towel from my neck. She trailed behind me as I walked to the front of the shop to pay for her services, being sure to leave a tip so that if I do go back she might remember my generosity and put extra effort into my next haircut.

   As I left the shop I ran my hand through my hair to feel the new length. It could have been worse. 

road to life collage image - Tucker Lipp
Road to Life Collage - Tucker Lippenholz

Direction

- Thomas Nickel

 

    My family and I had just walked out the doors of BWI Airport in Maryland when we saw a man directing traffic. Instead of shivering in the cold with the rest of us, he flung his arms left and right and yelled at cars three lanes away from him. 

    Every time a wayward driver crossed his path, his crooked, yellow teeth were exposed as spittle flew in every direction from his large mouth. The wrinkles on his dark brown face deepened and his small, thick arms bulged from underneath his faded blue jacket. He lacked the trademark neon-yellow vest, but he did not need a vest to make his presence known.

    Outside of terminal two, there were three lanes of traffic separated by concrete medians. Each lane was congested with cars, trucks, buses, and shuttles that all competed for a limited number of spots. The road itself was jammed between two large buildings and a concrete ceiling, creating an artificial cave illuminated only by headlights. Hundreds of people crossed back and forth, pushing each other aside to find a position visible from the road as they waited to be saved from the subzero temperature. The other crossing guards, fed up with their impossible jobs, had relegated themselves to mere bystanders.

    As I watched the lone man take on the chaos

of the airport, I needed to know why he would

act so lively in such an oppressive environment.

I know that people do not act that energetic

unless they want something, so I assumed he

was just doing it to get tips. However, that did

not stop me from watching.

    A blue hotel shuttle approached the man

and signaled that it wanted to park in the

pickup area. The man thought that the space

was too small, so he wanted the driver to move

up further to a space near us. The shuttle driver

disregarded his command and tried to pull in

anyway. 

    The resulting battle was legendary. 

    As the shuttle pulled in, the man flailed his

arms to the right, spawning a twister of

nonstop motion. The driver, unmoved by the

passionate display, stayed on his course for the

spot. To reassert his dominance, the man

began to yell at the shuttle with high-pitched

shrieks. At this point, the fight had reduced

the traffic speed from 5 mph to 0, so a chorus

of horns composed the score of the epic

confrontation. As the shuttle continued to

move in, the man had no choice but to occupy

the space himself. With no other viable

options left besides vehicular manslaughter,

the driver had no choice but to surrender. The

shuttle slowly turned back onto the main road and pulled into its designated spot, with the man closely following behind.

    Now this cluster had brought itself within thirty feet of where my family and I were sitting. The shuttle doors swung open and a couple families made their way to their seats. I guess the thought of freedom from the airport trumped any red flags raised by the encounter. However, before they could get on, the man stopped them and insisted that he should carry their luggage onto the shuttle.

    I had a suspicion that this was when he would ask each family for tips, probably something ridiculous like thirty dollars, as payment for his “kind” gesture. 

    However, the actual series of events took a much different course. Instead of asking for money, the man just let the people board. There was no resistance, no hints, no nudges. The man packed their bags, got out of the way, and left the scene. 

    A few minutes later, our shuttle finally arrived. This time, the man was preoccupied with directing another lane, so we were spared the drama. After we had stashed our luggage and taken our seats, we asked our driver if he knew anything about the crazy crossing guard. He responded with a chuckle before telling us that the man was in fact not a crossing guard at all and had no affiliation with the airport. 

    This man voluntarily went out in the freezing cold to direct traffic for no other reason than he wanted to. He wanted to confront angry and disgruntled drivers. He wanted to yell and wave his arms like a fool. He wanted to take on the impossible task of controlling an airport mob by himself. 

    I could not make sense of his motivations, but though I never knew him, spoke to him, or even made direct eye contact with him, I still needed answers from him. 

    Unfortunately, the next time we went to BWI, he was nowhere to be found—probably banned from the premises—so my questions will forever linger.

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Stay and Fight - Rio Valenzuela
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Drew Ryder

Stage Magician

- Henry Doud

 

    I stood at one end of my basement with my phone in one hand and a playing card in the other. I alternated between Karaoke and close-up magic YouTube videos. In the morning I would need to be able to sing “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin and throw a card perfectly. Two weeks prior, the best I could do was splutter through the words and barely move a card two feet. That night, however, I was ready. The song sounded jazzy and energetic. The card could fly like a bird.

   I fell asleep that night excited.

*

 

    The final bell of the day rang, and I made my way into the library. A few people were standing around, looking nervous. I sat down at a desk and reviewed my song. After a few minutes, I looked up and saw that the room had filled up with people. Middle schoolers, high schoolers, and girls from every school in the area milled around between desks and bookshelves. Some of them clumped up and made small talk. I noticed a girl with a water bottle covered in cool stickers, and I tried to make conversation, but I just ended up stuttering a lot.

   After a few minutes of embarrassing myself, the director walked out of his office and announced that auditions were starting. He said he would call us up in turn, let us sing the song we had prepared, then let us know about callbacks.

   The first few were amazing singers. Music from Hamilton, Wicked, and Mama Mia filled the library. Instead of the excitement I expected, listening to other people sing made me start to doubt myself. These people were veterans. They all seemed so experienced and confident; I was just some newbie. I had only ever acted in a middle school production of Mulan Jr. and had only ever sung 70’s music. Everyone in that room was experienced, confident, sure of themselves, and I was nobody.

   I started to panic. I frantically tried to remember the words to my song, but they became jumbled and mismatched. Before I could get up and practice some more, I heard the director call out, “Henry Doud, you’re up.” 

   I started on the wrong beat, kept going for two lines, then stopped and apologized. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to run away. I felt like I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. Anxiety flooded. The stage lights seemed to grow in intensity until I couldn’t see anymore. When the director asked me to try again, I realized I couldn’t exactly walk away without completely ignoring his request, so I resigned myself to one more attempt.

   Just before the pianist started playing again, I remembered the playing card I had put in my jacket pocket that morning. I pulled it out and covertly slipped it into my sleeve, wondering if I would even get far enough into the song to use it. The pianist began playing and I began singing (on the right beat this time.) When I made it to the line, “you’re in luck because, up your sleeve, you’ve got a brand of magic that never fails," I pulled the card from my sleeve and flicked my wrist in just the right way. The trick actually worked. The audience whirled around, looking away from me and instead at the card I had sent down the room.

    In the moment when no eyes were on me, in the breath between verses, I felt a tempest of stress and excitement. One thought broke through the maelstrom, “I’m actually doing this. I’ve got their attention and I’m putting on a real show for them. This might actually work!”     

   Confidence replaced anxiety. Swagger replaced stumbling. By the time everyone looked back, a smile had crept its way onto my face.

    I took a deep breath and kept on singing.

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City - Tristan Wright
2. Waking in the Forest - Tristan wright
Exiting the Forest - Tristan Wright

One Last Hug Before I Go

- Ethan Cohen

 

    Midnight roads are almost all but silent except for the occasional late-night rider or two, but midnight roads on Christmas day are entirely dead. The night I drove my grandfather home on Christmas Eve night, it was just myself, my Pop, and pure conversations between each other while we travelled down the open road. 

    I had to drive my ninety-two-year-old grandfather back to his apartment after our annual family Christmas Eve party which included my aunts, uncles, and cousins. The night consisted of a huge dinner, present opening, and late-night chatter trying to catch up on everyone’s busy lives. The moderate two-story home was filled with talk during every stage of the party except for right after present opening.

   I had a huge surprise for my mom and stepdad that demanded its own time slot in the night. I waited for when everyone just about quieted down and that’s when I gave my final gift to my mom, stepdad, and grandfather: A small white box with a handwritten note on the outside that included a little paragraph about what each of them meant to me.

   On the inside of the box was the big surprise. My commitment letter to Sacred Heart University. The Head Coach of the volleyball team had called me close to a week and a half before Christmas about a scholarship, and within that timeframe we had finalized the offer, and he sent me a letter. I made three printouts of the letter and included them in each box. The three opened their boxes simultaneously and were shocked and overjoyed. My mom gasped at the letter and started crying tears of joy. My commitment and high-school volleyball career were the talk for the rest of the night. About an hour went by after present opening when my grandfather tapped me on the shoulder, gave me the nod, and we put our coats on to go home.

   Pop, as I called him, was a tad tipsy from wine and let his emotions show more than usual while I was driving him home. When the goings got tough, he stayed stalwart and cool, but he let his guard down in the car that night. 

   “Sorry for making you schlep me around,” he said.

   “Oh, it’s not a problem at all. I love spending time with you. You’re my man.”

   “And you’re my favorite boy.”

   My grandfather choked on his words and began to cry. “I love you so much boy. You have no idea.”

   “I love you too Poppy. You alright?” I asked.

   “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

   Tears still swelled up in his eyes as he tried to play it off. “Your mother and I are just so proud of you.”

    Pop, a true farm boy, Air Force cadet, and retired Baltimore City police officer cried over what he saw me go through. The bruises from a large class ring, the phone calls that ended in screaming, the nights I came to his house crying in search of a father. Everything. 

    He told me about what my mother had really gone through during my father’s affairs with other women. My dad cheated on my mother when I was younger. Pop had a suspicion about it but never outright said it. The phrase “I told you so” would never find its place in his vernacular. Instead, he gave my mom and me clothes and a roof. Any penny he had was a penny towards my mom, and when she became financially stable, those pennies went to me. Over time though, my grandfather eventually retired, and his most valuable asset became time. Seconds became priceless, so he gave all of his to me as well. A lesson in the backyard about cutting the grass was a stepping stone towards becoming something bigger in character, and a step away from whatever my father was. After I did something well, or gave it my best attempt in most cases, Pop would always say, “That’s my boy.”

   My grandfather, the guy I looked up to as a hero for the majority of my life, spoke to me as if I were his equal. I gave him the same respect back. I listened to everything he had to say about his life story and how much he looked up to me in dealing with my struggles.

   We pulled into his apartment’s parking lot about a half an hour or so after leaving the party. I walked him up the first flight of stairs in the pouring rain. 

   “You’re gonna get that nice coat wet, boy,” he said.

   “Just some water Poppy. Nothing to worry about.”

   I held open the glass door for him as he walked into the small landing next to his mailbox and the second flight of stairs he had to climb. Every step for him was like a mountain, and he wouldn’t stop climbing despite the arthritis in both of his knees. Each shook like trees in a heavy wind, but he struggled onwards.

   I opened the door to his apartment, walked him inside, put his presents on the table, and helped him into his night clothes. He hugged me goodbye and cried in my arms. For a moment we understood his finality. We never got those crucial moments together that a father and son do because we were not father and son.

   We cried because we both knew he wouldn’t get to see me cross the finish line into true adulthood. 

   I told him that I loved him, gave him one last hug goodbye, and cried the whole car ride home.

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Mountain View - Anthony Alark

Injected Maturity

- Will Stocksdale

 

    Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. My heart felt like it was going to beat right through my chest.

   A nurse walked into the reception room. She glanced down at her clipboard: “William.”

    Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. My heart beat even faster. I stood up and followed the nurse back into a smaller, windowless room with my mom in tow. The nurse pulled a sheet of thin white paper across the room’s cushioned bench. I hopped up onto it.

    “I’ll be back in a moment with your shot,” the nurse said, and she exited the room.

My mom looked over at me. “You’ll be fineeee.”

   I gave her a pitiful look.

    There was a knock at the door and the nurse reentered with my flu shot in hand. 

   Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. I burst out in tears. “I can’t do it!” I hopped off the bench and ran into the corner of the room.

   “Come on Will,” my mom said.

   “Honey, it’s not bad,” said the nurse. “It’ll be over before you know it.”

   “No!” I screamed. “I can’t!” A stream of tears flowed down my face. I ducked down and crawled under one of the chairs in the room.

   My mom, fed up with my outburst, yanked me out from under the chair and placed me on the bench. She held me in place while the doctor injected the shot into my arm.

   “Nooooo!” I yelled, all while crying even more hysterically than before.

   The next day, my mom drove me back to the doctor’s office to apologize.

   “It’s okay, sweetie,” the nurse said. “Thank you for coming back to say sorry. I want you to know that it’s okay to be scared, and it’s okay to not want to get a shot, but it’s not okay to scream because it scares everyone else. We just want the best for you. We don’t want you to get sick, and that’s what the vaccine is for.”

*

   Although my great contempt for needles faded, my needle-induced anxiety resurfaced when I first donated blood.

   The Red Cross staffer handed me a rubber ball. “Squeeze this three times and hold.”

   A vein bulged in the bend of my arm. “Looks good.” She cleaned the injection site and began to untangle all the tubing. 

   Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.

   “This your first time?” she asked.

   “Yes.” 

   “Don’t worry! I’ll be here with you the whole time.” 

   When all the tubing was straightened out, she inserted the needle.

   Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. My heart pounded with anxiety. A few minutes passed, and I heard a beep.

   “Wow! You’re already done!”

   My racing heartbeat had pumped the pint full in record time.

   The staffer took a few small vials of blood for testing and pulled the needle out of my arm.“Hold your arm above your head. We’re all done.”

   I felt proud of myself. I had overcome my fear. 

*

   My feelings about needles have now shifted even further. A year of pandemic culminated in hitting refresh on the CVS website. Finally, my screen displayed the three magic words I was looking for: “Vaccine Appointments Available.”

   I booked my shot for the next day.

   As a kid, the nurse’s response to my apology had prompted growth within me. My determination to donate blood had grown me. The coronavirus pandemic has grown me.     Whenever angst creeps into my life, I quiet that anxiety with a reminder of how I overcame. Needles had injected me with maturity and immunized me against unease.

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Covid Mirror - Jack Janson

Behemoth

- Michael Risser

 

    The motor of the boat churns as we race out onto the lake. The water perfectly reflects the morning sky with the rising sun. The failure to catch anything during the previous two days spreads through my mind like a virus and starts to ruin my good mood. 

    “How bout we try over there?” I say to my grandpa, pointing towards a cove of the lake where the trees hang out over the water creating a generous amount of shade, a probable place for fish to be hiding on this August morning. As sweat begins to condense on the stubble above my lip, I tie on a black and blue jig as we head over to the desired destination. 

    We arrive and my grandpa cuts the motor and tosses in the anchor. I start by casting alongside the bank. The braided line makes a “phwew” sound as it exits the reel. I reel the jig back in, twitching it periodically. The lure reaches the side of the boat, so I reel it in the whole way. No luck, I cast again. 

   The day goes on, and the sun gets hotter and higher. Spot after spot, lure after lure, cast after cast, still no luck. 

*

   Through the nine hours I’ve spent on this boat today, I’ve probably gone through about half the lures in my tackle box, none of them working, no matter how extravagant. I sit and ponder what to try next that might get the job done. I think back to two days before, when my grandpa caught his bass. Time to throw on the good old Texas Rig. 

    The Texas Rig, “Ole Reliable,” one of the most commonly used Bass baits, one of the simplest. It’s made of a medium-large offset hook that’s barbed at the end, a six-inch plastic worm of any color. I choose army green, and top off with a bullet weight.

I tie the line through the whole in the hook; then, I cut it with my crimson-red Swiss Army Knife. I tightened the knot and reel into a comfortable casting position.

   The right side of the boat towards the setting sun looks promising. I pull my rod back, then sling it forward, letting my thumb off the line; the lure flies through the sky heading far away from the boat.

    The reel continues to whistle as the plastic worm hurls through the air.

    I begin to reel in the line, twitching the rod periodically. All of a sudden, about thirty-five yards out from the boat, I feel a tiny bump. I stop reeling in. I feel it again, this time more powerful. Still, I am patient. I let it sit there, unsure as to whether it is a couple of weeds or it truly is my fish. It hits again, harder this time. I jolt my rod backwards and implant the hook in the fish’s jaw. The fish returns my force in the opposite direction. I pull back on the rod then reel in; the fish pulls harder. Line cranks out of my locked reel. I look up towards my rod; it is bent so far that it is beginning to resemble that of a crescent moon. 

Never have I fought a fish like this before. The fish continues to pull. When it tires, I pull and reel in. The fish pulls back again. I struggle to fight with this behemoth while my grandpa barks in my ears. His comments make it increasingly difficult to focus on the task at hand. 

   Suddenly, I feel the fish rising to the surface. He is going to try and spit the hook. In an attempt to stop this, I tilt the rod down and pull with power while I reel. My triceps tremble. I squeeze my core and steady my legs. The fish starts to break the surface. I pull harder. I cannot stop him. The fish leaps out of the water into the air, squirming.

   “Wow!” my grandpa exclaims. 

   I look towards him. Amazement covers our faces. It dives back into the water after being unsuccessful. The fish becomes tired, and I am able to reel him in with a bit more ease. I get him by the side of the boat and my grandpa swoops down with the net. The fish gives a final jolt as my grandpa nets him and raises him from the water. I stick my thumb in the mouth of the dark green, black, and white bass that hangs from my hand. I remove the hook from its mouth and replace it with the scale. The numbers on the scale climb, one, one point eight, two, two point eight, three, three point eight.

   Finally, it stops, the scale reads five pounds, ten ounces. Five pounds ten ounces!

   I remove the scale and pose for pictures before releasing this majestic creature back into the water. 

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Fortune Cookie - Zachary Hopp
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The Choice - Preston Runge

Ketamine Steve

- Stephen Shenning 

    Man, it felt good to be back from a long high-school season of fighting knee pain from a previous knee surgery. It was a hot summer day in Atlanta, Georgia. I was at first base warming up the infield, it felt good to be back. Win or lose, I was happy, nothing could go wrong, I mean it was my 17th birthday. First batter up and our pitcher struck him out with a curveball that got by our catcher. I dashed to first base awaiting the throw. I reached my hand out and everything went downhill from there.

    I don’t remember much, but I do remember trying to get up and seeing my left arm 90 degrees backwards. I caught a glimpse of the first base coach who looked at me with horror. Immediately I was helped up by the kid who ran into me causing my elbow to pop out of its socket. I was helped over to my dads’ car where he was waiting. I got in and we rushed to the nearest hospital. 

    I walked into the hospital with my father by my side. I felt no pain in my elbow until I was in a hospital bed when the doctor tried to put it back in place. I screamed and cussed my ass off until a mask went over my face and everything went dark.

    It felt like I was going through a wormhole at hyper speed that was bringing me back to reality. When I was finally able to open my eyes, I realized that I was still in the hospital with Clifford the Big Red Dog and Winnie the Pooh. (This may seem out of the ordinary to a sane person, but not a person coming of the hallucinogenic painkiller Ketamine.)

    I began laughing hysterically and talking with Winnie the Pooh about his wife and kids. Suddenly a mythical Hydra bursts into the room and I began screaming bloody murder saying, “Fuck you Satan!”

   “Steve?” 

   “Winnie the Pooh?”

   “No, son this is your father. I’m standing right next to you.”

   “OH, my bad, Dad. I'm not going to lie. I’m tripping hard right now.”

   “No Shit, Steve. How are you feeling?”

   “Dad, I could conquer the world right now.”

   “Don’t ever do Drugs, bud," he said.  

Loser Bus

- Tucker Lippenholz

   One of my favorite scenes from SpongeBob SquarePants was when SpongeBob and Squidward performed an uplifting duet about persevering. Marvelous melodies fell out of their ukulele and clarinet, respectively. The episode in which this takes place is titled Hello Bikini Bottom! I underwent the experience for the first time during sixth grade, and there was something about the musical number especially that struck me.  

   The episode lasted for a glorious twenty-two minutes and three seconds, and it opens with Squidward starting to play his clarinet in his home and SpongeBob joining next door using his ukulele. A well-dressed fish overhears them, introduces himself as Colonel Carper, and promised if the two accept him as their band manager to bring them fame and riches.

   Mr. Krabs realizes SpongeBob and Squidward have talent outside of the workplace, so he inserts himself into the position. He steals a tour bus from Ms. Puff, Carper’s sound equipment and his roadies somehow. Mr. Krabs books and takes the two to varying lack-luster locations. All the venues are free to play at. At their unintentional last concert, SpongeBob and Squidward unknowingly play in place of the famous band, Ned and the Needlefish. However, the audience is unaware of the replacement. Consequently, the tumultuous crowd quickly chase them off stage (“Hello Bikini Bottom!”).

   Colonel Carper catches up to the crustacean and sues Krabs for everything he stole. Carper leaves the band broke. The roadies take the creative liberty of spray painting “losers” on the side of the bus. Mr. Krabs drives away from the mob after refunding their tickets to the Ned and the Needlefish concert. While piloting the bus, he breaks down in tears and drives off a cliff. They land in a desolate landscape of sand and “sky”, leaving the band at their literal and figurative rock bottom. Luckily, the locomotive only suffers a flat tire, but is absent of a spare. Squidward becomes fed up and abandons the band (SpongeBob- Never Give Up (Tour Song 0:00-2:30).

   As the sun somehow set, the duet begins. 

   SpongeBob stands atop the tour bus alone, strums his ukulele and serenades the emptiness. He sings of persistence and endurance. Squidward’s lyrical outer dialogue conveys that he is on the verge of giving up, hopefully just on the band. However, he eventually turns around and makes his way back to SpongeBob. When he arrives back at the loser bus, Squidward pulls his clarinet, fully assembled, out from God knows where. He leaps up to his partner with one jump and the two finally fulfilled their musical desires (Hillenburg, Stephen, “Hello Bikini Bottom!”).

*

   No matter the amount and severity of the logic errors in SpongeBob SquarePants, this episode planted the music seed within my twelve-year-old soul. That Christmas, a ukulele was number one on my list. My grandma got me a cheap bright orange one. I immediately fell in love with the dainty piece of wood and plastic, playing simple things throughout the following years such as Lemonade by Jeremy passion, Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, and Riptide by Vance Joy. I became well versed and eventually started taking lessons with my brother. He also received a ukulele that Christmas, against my discretion. Over time, my brother and I lost interest in lessons but continued playing on and off. 

   It was my first instrument but not the last. 

   A few years later, my uncle moved to Colorado and left his unnecessary possessions. I asked if I could have his acoustic guitar and he agreed. My new obsession had just begun. This one was deeper and more intense than the last. I quickly became a master of the fretboard, but did not end up taking lessons and just played what I wanted, such as Collide by Howie Day, We’re Going to be Friends by The White Stripes, and Wonderwall by Oasis. I was older and more confident with my guitar at the time. As I grew more skilled, chords became more challenging to play but more satisfying to understand. However, my thirst for musical expertise was not quenched yet. In our front room, next to where my guitar hung on the wall, stood a grand piano. 

   Our family had it for a couple of generations, but no one really knew how to, so I would give it a try. Music theory spans across all instruments, so it wasn’t that difficult to pick up. I learned many songs like Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves, I Will Always Think of You by Jane Krakowski, and Earfquake by Tyler, the Creator. My Dad took notice and mentioned we should both take lessons. I was surprised because he is the last person who would pick up anything creative. I took lessons at the same location, but these ones lasted longer.     

   Eventually, I was able to make up songs as I was playing. This was a whole new type of music that I wasn’t used to playing. Surprised with myself, I picked up my guitar and ukulele again and started freestyling on them. 

    My music taste began to diversify. This shift first started around four years later, but slowly. I started listening to Pink Floyd, Motley Crue, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. These bands don't exactly lend themselves to piano or ukulele. I once again craved something new. I knew I wanted an electric guitar from the bottom of my heart. The more I thought about it, the more practical the ownership of it became. I could play a range of sounds, songs, and chords easier because of the strings. I asked and got one for Christmas and an amp. I learned songs like T.N.T by ACDC, Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue, and Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin.

*

As I change, so does the music I play and listen to. Freestyling on the guitar, piano or ukulele remains my favorite thing to execute today. I'll never forget what my brother once asked me.

   “How do you think of what you’re going to play next?”

   

    I just go where I feel I am taken. 

 

Works Cited

Hillenburg, Stephen. “Hello Bikini Bottom!” Encyclopedia SpongeBobia,

23 Dec. 2019, spongebob.fandom.com/wiki/Hello_Bikini_Bottom!

Kenny, Tom, director. Spongebob - Never Give Up (Tour Song). YouTube, thimble_cactus, 18 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW8qafp8nXg.

Springer, Aaron, and Stephen Hillenburg. “Hello Bikini Bottom!” Spongebob Squarepants, season 8, episode 23, Nickelodeon, 8 Oct. 2012.

FishForestartshow - Jack Janson.jpg
Fish Forest - Jack Janson

Headlines

- Will Weaver

 

   I had managed to make it well into the second semester of my junior year at Loyola Blakefield, when the news broke. As a cool breeze blew away the brief warmth of the March day, my family found their way down the crowded streets of Parkville, Maryland. We were going to a ceremony at the American Legion Post, for my middle sister, Faith, who had won third place, in their middle school essay contest for the sixth grade.

   Our car squeezed through an alley off the main street and into a tiny, back parking lot. My mother, father, two sisters, and I carefully descended steep stairs that led from the back door directly into a large half sunken first floor of the old building. Round tables with white paper tablecloths and red, white, and blue centerpieces filled the room. 

   A group of older women circulated welcoming us and encouraging us to get snacks and drinks and pointing out a pack of disinfectant wipes at the back of the room. My sisters and I found our way to a wood paneled bar in a front corridor. A stoic, elderly gentleman with a weathered face, in blue jeans and a T-shirt, filled our cups with coke from a hose and nozzle. We filled our plates with chips, cookies, and cupcakes decorated with flags. When we got back to the table, my youngest sister, Hope, noticed the disco ball on the ceiling and broke into a dance, apparently to the rhythm of the caffeine and sugar beating through her veins, because there was no music. 

   Eventually, the leader, the daughter of a World War II veteran, called the meeting to order from a podium next to the back stairs. We said the Pledge of Allegiance. The winners for each grade read their essays and received a certificate, a flower, a small American flag, and an envelope containing reward money. They stood for pictures in front of the flags. The leader demonstrated significant effort in wiping the mic down with disinfectant wipes between each speaker. She paused awkwardly and shuffled through her notes on the last-minute cancellations, occasionally calling on someone who wasn’t there before moving on to the next winner.

   We sat, listened, and clapped. Hope spilled her coke, and we quickly passed over our napkins. During one of these pauses, my father surreptitiously held his phone out, so we could get a glance at the email that confirmed the rumors that we knew were true, but still couldn’t believe: Covid-19 was forcing schools to close, just for two weeks though, to clean and prepare a plan.

   Faith, who loved school, read her essay on how to help veterans and their families with a despondency that she carried with her as we left. I, however, felt a little more relaxed and energetic than when I had arrived. I focused on getting as many cupcakes and cookies as I could carry. Hope was still twirling around under the disco ball.

   At my grandparent’s house that weekend, I replaced an old, framed kindergarten poster teaching the numbers 1-100, with the front page of the Sun with the 200-font headline, “HOGAN CLOSES SCHOOLS”, and hung it on their kitchen wall. I did not realize that in the next week, when I lugged all my books and belongings home, I would never be coming going back. 

   The governor of Maryland extended the school closure, little by little, in last minute announcements, just before each previous closure expired. By finals, virtual learning still felt surreal.

   As the early June wind blew, I trudged through the overgrown grass to the top of the hill. Faith followed, because that’s what she does; plus, I needed someone to video my physics final, the Physics Olympics project. We stood on the high-school field, which had rested with an eerie quiet all spring. The setting sun painted the sky brilliantly in all directions.

   I set up my launcher and rocket, fueled by water and a bicycle pump. I moved away and pulled the string to release it. The WeaverX shot hundreds of feet into the air above the trees. If had made more time to rig the old 2-liter Sprite Bottle with a camera and a parachute, it could have caught views of the Bay.

   I repeated the launch against the darkening sky and the glowing flood lights from the abandoned school until I was content with the results of my work. 

How Should The United States Regard The Three Communiqués?

- Edwin Gregory

 

   In a July 23rd, 2020 speech, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted President Nixon’s momentous 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China and the fundamental shifts that the international order has seen since the Cold War:

   “Next year marks half a century since Dr. Kissinger’s secret mission to China, and the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s trip isn’t too far away in 2022. The world was much different then.”

   One of the most important results of President Nixon’s trip to the People’s Republic of China was the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, which outlined the basis for relations between the United States and China. This was later followed by two more statements in 1979 and 1982, respectively, which collectively are known as the Three Communiqués. Our country’s future China policy should be based upon the realities of the present, not outdated ideas. The Three Communiqués should not be seen as relevant in current foreign policy considerations because they are no longer in step with the realities of Sino-American relations and the circumstances of the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.

   In the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, it is stated that "China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind." This statement, which was manifestly not true at the time, is clearly not an accurate assessment of the People’s Republic of China’s role in the international order today. Since 1972, China’s GDP has only grown to a global share 17.39 percent in 2020. In contrast, the United States’ share of the world GDP was 33.2 percent in 1972.  Today it is 15.98 percent. This is a fundamental difference in economic power balance between China and the United States. As a result, we should not be acting with such consideration to a document that states that the world's most populous country and largest military "will never be a superpower."

   While China’s ambitions of control in the South China Sea have remained the same over the last fifty years, their ability to assert their influence has only increased in the past several decades. This has allowed the PLA to become increasingly aggressive in matters concerning their nominal claims in the region, such as the Senkaku Islands, and most importantly, Taiwan. Recently, China’s perennial call for “peaceful reunification” across the Taiwan Strait was reduced to simple “reunification” by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. While this may only be a matter of phrasing, it comes in a period of increased tensions across the strait, with China making 380 incursions into Taiwanese airspace in 2020 alone. With China acting increasingly aggressively in laying claim to the island nation, it becomes clear that China no longer has the policy, as stated in the 1982 Communiqué, “of striving for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question,” and it is doubtful that they ever did.

   On the topic of Taiwan, the United States’ relations with the island have also changed since the Three Communiqués. While we have no official diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, our cultural and economic ties run deep, largely based upon our shared belief in human rights and democracy. The 1982 Communiqué stated that the United States “does not seek to carry out a long term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, and that its arms sales will not exceed, either in qualitative or quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years”. Since then, however, we have continued and increased our arms sales to Taiwan, particularly within the past four years, reaching $5.1 billion in 2020 alone.

    In addition, our commitment to Taiwan, while shrouded in the practice of strategic ambiguity, has become more and more clear in recent years. The Six Assurances, established in 1982 as informal guidelines to U.S-Taiwan relations, were adopted by the United States House of Representatives as part of a non-binding resolution in 2016. The guidelines include commitments to Taiwan, particularly in areas of arms sales and cross-strait negotiations. These assurances, elevated to greater importance in 2016, make clear our willingness to maintain the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and to do so independently of Chinese interference. It is worth noting, however, that the fifth assurance states that the United States “has not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.” Despite this, our extensive unofficial ties to the vibrant democracy in Taiwan remain deeply rooted in our shared interests of regional security, commercial interaction, and the democratic system.

    On January 9th, 2021, the outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, lifted the State Department’s self-imposed restrictions in our relations to Taiwan. The decision was described by Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington, as a “huge day in our bilateral relations." The decision to revoke these unnecessary restrictions continues the pattern of increasing support for Taiwan in the United States. It is clear our country’s position on Taiwan has changed since the U.S. dissolved diplomatic relations in 1978. It only makes sense that the guidelines and statements we rely upon should reflect our current sentiment towards Taiwan and our resolution to help Taiwan defend itself.

    Finally, it is important to note the changes in the governmental structure and national outlook of the Republic of China. In 1972, the leader of the Koumintang, Chiang Kai-shek, was still the authoritarian president of Taiwan. Under his rule, Taiwan claimed to be the ‘true’ Chinese government and both sides of the Taiwanese Strait maintained that they represented all Chinese people. Since then, however, a more liberal and democratic Taiwan has dropped any claim to China and generally sees itself as a fully sovereign nation. Despite this, the United States still relies, in part, on a set of documents that state “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China.” Today, the People’s Republic of China pursues the ‘One China’ policy alone. The United States should recognize the significant shift in cross-strait outlooks since the Cold War and reevaluate its diplomatic acknowledgements accordingly.

    In total, the world of 1972 is not the world of today. In the past forty-nine years, China has grown increasingly bellicose in its nominal territorial claims and has the means to make these threats more credible. The United States has shifted its unofficial position on Taiwan since then, being an ally in everything but name and official recognition. In light of these changes to the reality of our situation, it is only logical to reassess what we consider relevant to our diplomatic relations. For the United States government to acknowledge China’s adventurism in the Indo-Pacific region yet still state a commitment to the Three Communiqués is an action at odds with itself. To properly address the threat the PRC poses to stability, democracy, and self determination in the Indo-Pacific, it becomes necessary to reexamine our commitments and beliefs.

    In this process of self-reflection, it becomes abundantly clear that circumstances have greatly changed since the Cold War era of the Three Communiqués, and as such, we can see that they are entirely outdated and should not be given such consideration in future U.S. foreign policy.