Seven Springs, Part Two

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 23, 2006

Filed under: Personal 40 comments

Here I continue my story of three strange days in 1990. Part one is here.

Part 2, The Terrors of Room 102, and Lessons Learned

The screaming ends and the girls go back inside. If we were sensible we’d go to bed now. It’s obvious that everything from here on is going to pale in comparison. We hit the high note. The show is over. We should all high-five and go to bed.

The adrenaline in our system makes this impossible. Phone tag has ended. The rest of the place is going to bed for real. There are a few more very minor phone pranks, but they seem stupid and petty after what we just saw. This sucks.

Right in front of us is room 102. They have the lights on and the curtains open. We’ve been ignoring them up until now, since the rest of the hotel was covered in girls. Now the lights have gone out everywhere except 102, so the room grabs our attention. We can see Guy 1 in laying in bed watching TV. Wasn’t there a second guy in there?

He emerges from the bathroom, stark naked. We cry out in horror. These guys aren’t FBLA. These are full-grown men. Muscles and hair and everything. They look to be in their mid-20’s. I sort of expect Guy 1 to get offended when Guy 2 starts showing him what he’s got. He doesn’t.

Guy 2 gets up. When he throws off the blankets we can see he’s in his underwear. This is just awful. It’s like our window has some sort of karmic balancing and it’s trying to make up for all the awesome stuff we’ve seen tonight.

I can give these guys a little more credit than the girls in 101. Room 101 is in the front of the hotel, facing the road. These guys have a window facing the hill, with only the dark and pervasively ignored cabins to consider. Still, is the concept of lit rooms and open curtains this difficult to grasp? What are the odds of witnessing this sort of thing twice in one night? Is the world full of people like this? More to the point, why do we have to have the naked guys right in front of us?

At first we try a few obvious gay jokes, but this doesn’t help. Gay jokes would be funnier if the scene didn’t already look so overtly gay. The charge of homosexuality is a joke only if it’s false. These guys are either gay, blind, or from a culture we will never comprehend.

We’re still facing the window. This is the only thing we can see right now, and we are not enjoying it. These guys don’t seem to be in any particular hurry to get dressed. They take turns in the bathroom, doing who-knows-what, and generally being way too comfortable with the sight of each other. Even allowing for a couple of guys who don’t have a real sense of modesty, this nudity seems excessive. Shower time is over. Why don’t they get dressed now?

I’m starting to wonder what’s on TV. Chip wisely goes to bed. The triumph of the 9:45 scream has been abolished by the nature boys in 102.

Jay and Dennis are talking. Dennis is daring him to do something. Then Jay is on the phone. Guy 1 suddenly gets up and answers the phone.

Jay tells him, “Hey. Would you guys get dressed? We don’t want to see you naked.”

Dennis and I howl with laughter. Jay hasn’t said anything witty, but the idea of just calling these guys up and asking them to get dressed is outrageous and would never have occurred to me.

Guy 1 hangs up and pulls the curtains closed.

We’re grateful that we don’t have to look at them anymore, but we’d feel better if they had put some pants on before they did so. Now we have to imagine them still there, still naked. The curtain in now a dark veil, behind which is the portal to a place of unspeakable horrors and living nightmares.

I’m not kidding when I say this is a true story. Fom inside of the hotel, these guys would have been right across the hall from the girls in 101. Since those were the only two rooms that we saw into that night, it made me feel like this was some sort of epidemic. Really, what was up with these people?

From my vantage point some 17 years later I feel a bit sorry for these guys. Whatever their deal was, they certainly weren’t FBLA and I’m guessing they didn’t like the screaming. The phone tag probably wasn’t a lot of fun for them either.

The next morning is brutal. I’ve had what? Three hours of sleep? Two nights ago – the night before the trip here – I’d been too nervous to to get a good night’s sleep. Then I spent last night with Dennis and Jay, making jokes that are only funny at 2am and talking about stupid stuff we’ve already forgotten. One night of missing sleep is easily shrugged off. But two in a row is pushing it.

Now I remember that I’m here to take a test. A test to judge my grasp of all things Computer Science. That test takes place after breakfast.

I feel like something a necromancer just dug up and animated using his dark arts. My eyes gaze downward at nothing at all as I shuffle mindlessly through my morning. I can’t speak. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to prepare for the Big Test. I didn’t study, sure. But subjecting myself to sleep deprivation seems excessive. Am I trying to fail this?

Students are taking the test in waves, so I can’t get a feel for how many people are even competing. We’re sent to various unoccupied or unused places so that everyone is spread out. I end up taking the test in the bar, which feels strange. It’s closed, of course, but I haven’t been in a bar since I was a very little kid.

The test is your standard multiple choice, fill in the circle, use a number 2 pencil, don’t bend the test paper. I hack my way through it with little ceremony. The questions seem familiar. I’ve seen most of this stuff before, sometime in the last couple of years. On many questions I can eliminate two of the four choices, but by now my memory is vague and so it often comes down to a coin flip between the last two.

The test ends, and as I turn it in I experience a little nervousness that finally wakes me up. Too late. I’ll have to wait until tonight to find out how I did.

Lunch. Then meetings. Then more meetings. These are stupid. I hop from one conference room to another. Most are run by business people with tips on how to be a success in business. One is on the importance of good grooming, for crying out loud. Nose hair trimmers are mentioned. Telling teenagers to trim their future nose hair is like trying to tell them how to care for the dentures they will have someday. How could we be be expected to care about this? That is like, a million years from now or something.

Other classes are on business etiquette, making a good resume, and how to handle a job interview. Their words wash over me with little effect, like a river flowing over a smooth pebble. My mind is numb, and I’m impervious to input at this point.

My favorite event is where we get to sit in on the extemporaneous speech competition. Students are given a subject on which to speak. They get five minutes to come up with what they want to say. Then they are sent into the room filled with their bored peers (like me) and must make their case. It’s a pretty big room. You could easily get a hundred people in here, and the contestants have to do their thing without a microphone.

They all speak on the same subject, although I’m not sure if they know that. I admire every last one of them. This is probably the toughest audience they will ever face. Some speakers attack this as if the subject mattered. They rattle off a list of bullet points and arguments they’ve cooked up. Admirable, but this isn’t a debate. The subject is very vague and not fodder for deep thought. Imagine a two minute-speech where someone tries to sell you on the idea of “Believe in Yourself”. Now imagine ten of them in a row.

Other contestants have a clearer idea of what this game is all about, which is speaking in a compelling manner even when you’re deprived of something interesting to say. The key here isn’t so much what you say as how you say it, and how well you can connect with the audience and make them believe that you give a flying crap.

One guy steals the show. We’re used to kids standing at the podium, presidential-style. This guy ignores the podium and gets right in our faces. He has the shouting enthusiasm of an infomercial salesman. Like everyone else, he’s saying mostly nothing, but he gets everyone excited anyway. He strides back and forth at the front of the room, waving his arms and pointing at us. His voice modulates as if his drivel was leading up to some point, as if he was laying down a set of facts and ideas that would inevitably checkmate any naysayer. He loops back and repeats stuff he’s said before, only with an air of finality, as if he was wrapping up his arguments. Someday this guy is going to be a brilliant talk show host or pundit. By the time he strides out of there the kids are ready to hold lighters in the air and ask for an encore.

Then dinner. We dine with the girls from 802 again. Jay and Rhonda are missing, but we’re pretty sure they are someplace either having a fight or making out. Ann avoids eye contact. Suddenly I can see the fourteen year old inside and I feel bad. She seems miserable and alone. Has A Boyfriend comes along but does a fine job at acting like we aren’t there. Diane is interesting and we chat about That One Guy Who Gave the Awesome Speech. She makes some other observations about the events today, and for a few minutes I forget that I’m talking to Imposingly Attractive Diane, and just enjoy the fact that she seems to be the only other person at the table who has anything interesting to say. Chip is quiet. Dennis looks tired.

After dinner is the award ceremony.

I’m told that eighty-eight students took part in the Computer Science test. I placed seventh. At first I’m elated to be in the top ten. I get a plaque and everything. I stand at the front with the rest of the top ten, we get some applause, and then the rest of the ceremony grinds on while I look at my award and realize that I am an inexcusable imbecile, a lazy dolt who should be firmly smacked.

I had known nearly all of the answers on the test at one time or another, but I’d never bothered to refresh my memory. In the preceding weeks I never once investigated what the test was supposed to cover. I never cracked a book. I didn’t make any effort at all. I went into the test cold, clueless, and short on sleep. I’d managed seventh, but now I know I could have done a lot better with just a little more effort. How hard would it have been to skim a few books a couple of nights ago? I never even thought to try.

The top three spots will go on to nationals. I might have had a shot at one of those spots if I’d made some sort of effort. I didn’t think I could win, so I didn’t try.


I’m still thinking about my “win” an hour later on the wooden bridge outside. It’s another cold, damp, pitch-black night, and we’re at the distant edge of a pool of warm yellow light radiating from the hotel. In the middle of the broad wooden bridge are a couple of benches. I have no idea why the bridge is so wide. If you could get a car up onto the path you could drive it over this sucker with one of the doors open. The thing never sees any foot traffic at all. So why the big bridge? Then I remember that I’m in a Ski Resort, and it isn’t ski season. The far side of the bridge most likely leads to the skiing stuff.

Almost everyone else is inside, but I’m out here with Diane and Has A Boyfriend. Dennis is also here, but Diane doesn’t seem to feel like talking. He packs it in and heads back to the room.

I’m leaning over the wooden railing, looking at the dark icy water below. I’m still thinking about seventh place and wavering between elation and angst when I notice the conversation has picked up and taken an unexpected turn. Diane and Has A Boyfriend are sitting on the bench beside me, and Diane is talking about the fact that she doesn’t have a date for prom. It takes me a while, but I slowly start to realize that this conversation might be for my benefit. Maybe not. Maybe I’m so uninteresting to her that she’s saying this as if I wasn’t even here. But maybe she’s letting me know in case I want to ask her.

I have a girlfriend already, but the possible implied offer realigns my perceptions. I replay a few of my conversations with her in my head. I think back to how I acted outside of Room 101 and how she’s reacted to me since then. Maybe she did take note of my manners, and maybe that sort of thing matters a lot more than I thought it did. I’d simply assumed that Diane was out of my league, but I never thought she was beyond Dennis. What did he have that I didn’t? Nothing, as far as I can tell. I only assumed he had an advantage because he wasn’t me.

I didn’t think Diane would want to talk to me, so I didn’t try to talk to her. I didn’t think I could win the Computer Science competition, so I didn’t study. Despite the cold and lack of sleep, my brain is sensing a pattern here.

What did I accomplish here? I could perhaps have won a place in nationals, and in any case I could have spent some time with a pretty girl who was a lot more of a conversationalist than my roommates. Instead I wasted my time engaging in asinine behavior and cultivating my neurosis.

I’m not going to take Diane to the prom. I’m not going to take home first place in Computer Science, and I’m not going to nationals. But I am going to take home a few new ideas on what I could accomplish if I Stop Screwing Around.

Sigh. Seventh place. Or as I like to call it: Third runner-up to the guy who only missed nationals by one slot.

Thanks for reading.


From The Archives:

40 thoughts on “Seven Springs, Part Two

  1. Crusader Corim says:

    The end there is advice that every young man (and woman) needs to hear. Also a great story, enjoyed reading it.

  2. Mom says:

    So when did you start to write? Is that a story?

  3. Smilydeth says:

    …so did you take your own advice and stop screwing around? I wasted 10 years of my life and a wonderful chance for a loving marriage because I couldn’t get out of the habit of doing nothing. Now I got lucky…life has given me another chance. How about you? Did you ever get to take a “diane” to the prom?


  4. Shamus says:

    It actually did take me a while to apply the lesson, once learned. I’m lucky in the fact that I did Marry The Girl when the moment came. I never saw Diane again, but the next time I hooked an attractive girl with a good head on her shoulders I did marry her.

    Sorry you missed one. I know that’s gotta sting.

    But yeah, once you settle down and start Doing Stuff it really is amazing the stuff you can do.

    1. Ruthie says:

      And you took her to prom too:)

  5. Batmanintraining says:

    I’ll admit I came here first for DM of the Rings, but I’m definitely staying for your other writing as well.

    Keep up the good work, it is thoroughly enjoyed.

  6. ScottM says:

    Well told story– thanks for sharing.

  7. Morrinn says:

    Exelent story man… It really captured me.
    You’re a good writer Shamus. Keep it up

  8. Kyle says:

    In a lot of ways, I think the best part of being young is having people tell you you can’t do fun things.

    Even the simplest actions can be imbued with “Risk” if someone says not to…

    In any case, excellent story sir.

  9. Marmot says:

    Just as Batmanintraining said, I also came here via DM of the Rings, but I am skimming through the other parts of your website and enjoying them. I generally don’t like blogs. I generally don’t like diaries. But this one was a very good read, and that says a lot. Keep up the good work!

  10. Christian Groff says:

    Hmmm…you know, I should take that advice and start looking into having a girlfriend AND a career. I’ve spent 20 years of my life Screwing Around – I could have had a wonderful culinary career if I had stopped Srewing Around and did the work in my classes, I’ll never know now. You are indeed a wise sage, Shamus.

  11. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Shamus, you are driving my wife crazy. And she wants you to stop.

    I started reading your blog few months ago for the campaign notes, got hooked with DMotR, and have thoroughly enjoyed virtually everything of yours I’ve read since. It has been a rollercoaster ride. I keep thinking “Writing a blog seems like a great idea! I have interesting views on various things, too. Others might like to read and comment.” Then I think “Shamus’ blog is hilarious and so diverse. Mine would be boring in comparison.” This is the “driving my wife crazy” part.

    In truth, Mr Young, my wife wants you to stop. But I don’t. Keep it up, my good man. Stories like this one are perfect examples of the art. Thanks for setting the bar, whether I try to vault it or not.


  12. milw770 says:

    Many people write to entertain. Some succeed, some fail. Lots of people think they can make gamer geek or movie dork jokes. Some succeed, some fail. You succeed at both.

    But then you write something profound. People are replying here that your writing may in fact change their life.

    What’s that like, man?

  13. Glumly says:

    A Great story, reminds me of being young and stupid on similar tricks, although i dont remember any pranks on that sacle :D

  14. rolled a 4 says:

    This is a truly inspiring story. I have had all those events happen (passed a test with no effort and found out a girl liked me but never made a move) but never have I realized the connection. I don’t know if I will overcome my laziness with just your advice but I do believe that it’s a good step forward. Thank you.

  15. Eric says:

    that never happened to me there before.

  16. ccesarano says:

    I know it’s a late comment, but I honestly enjoy the second part of the story a lot more.

    Of course, mistakes are part of the youthful experience that makes us an adult. While parents will try and teach their children how to avoid mistakes, teenagers are naturally rebellious and pseudo-independent for a reason. It gets them out there to make mistakes and learn from them (too bad there are too many parents out there to coddle them and cover up their mistakes, keeping plenty of teenagers as children for life).

    Chances are, if your girlfriend or parents tried to give you encouragement, you wouldn’t have listened (or maybe didn’t listen at all). Yet the experience taught you to live up to your true potential instead of breaking your own self-esteem.

    It’s part of life, but honestly, stories like this are the best to pass down to young adults, as it is something they can relate to.

  17. Dude, I dug that story. I was in all manner of middle- and high-school club competitions, and generally did quite well. The real world (by which I mean grad school?) isn’t nearly as easy for me. Missed opportunities? I do that.

    Some people write from authority. Your writing makes me feel like we could sit down and have a cup of tea.

  18. realpc says:

    DM brings us good writing keeps us

  19. Dusty says:

    I’ll admit as well, I came here on a link for your webcomic. I found it very funny and entertaining, on par with The Order of the Stick webcomic series.

    That story was amazing though. A very enjoyable and entertaining read. Being a college student not long out of high school myself, it was easy and fun to relate. The advice given at the end is critical for young men my age and their transcendence into the adulthood. (and I’m not even saying I have taken the advice myself. ;-P)

    You have great writing and story telling abilities Shamus. Please, keep it up.

  20. Tedankhamen says:

    Two years after the fact, I enjoyed reading this. Reminded me of a lot of lessons in life I had gotten or missed. Success is learning from experience, especially failures.

  21. Alex says:

    If I were a film-maker, I would direct the crap out of this.

    One question: Is “Mandy” a different person than the gal standing next to you in the “Eleven Years Ago Today” post?

  22. Shamus says:

    No. Different person.

  23. Odie12 says:

    I linked in from your LOTR comics and noticed this quick read that turned into quite a nicely written story. I also have wasted years of my life plodding along and am a very unsuccessful 39. No career, didn’t finish college.
    After reading your story I started thinking about my teenage years (something I haven’t really thought of in 20 years or so) and came to a few conclusions.
    ~I need to get my ass back in school and finish my 2 degrees…I stopped going when the kids came along and the GI bill ran out.
    ~I’ve been focusing on daily goals instead of lifelong goals…just getting to the next day off or to the next computer game/next appointment…etc…
    ~After thinking a few days about my childhood and rehashing my dreams and plans I had then…I realized how much your story affected me and how far off track I’ve gotten myself.
    ~I think It’s way past time to have a long sit down with my wife and work some things out…
    All because of your story…It sparked something.
    I’ll definately be reading your blog from now on and hope to find more gems in there…My first blog I’ve read actually…
    Thanks again Shamus.

  24. Altsoph says:

    Nice story, man.
    Especially that part about 9:45 virus, and final thoughts are good.
    Thank you :)

  25. felblood says:

    Your thoughts about your award hit me surprisingly hard, sir.

    See, in High school I got to the 87th percentile on one of those CS tests twice, with the same strategy, and it never occurred to me that I could have done better by actually trying.

    Remembering that now, in light of what you wrote makes me feel quite as foolish as you felt, and makes me realize how badly I need to get my life back in order.

    I guess I should tab open craigslist and see about finding some more job openings. I can’t keep living in my brother’s spare room like this.

  26. Darazel says:

    Reading these entries was definitly worth the time. I only found them because of your linking in “Clod of Cuthulu”, 2006 was before I stumbled upon your blog.

    Thank you for sharing some of your private thoughts and stories with us now and then. Beside the comedy gold and the interesting articles, these pieces of humanity do create the special personality/tone/thing this site has.

    Thank you very much for writing. And again, thank you so much for sharing.

    Greetings from a loyal reader from Germany.

  27. someguy says:

    …that guy above me has stolen my comment.

  28. Tsojcanth says:

    Possibly one of the most motivating conclusions ever. Thanks for that. Now i’ll go off the interwebs and start working on my last assignment ever before graduation (as in “If i fuck this I won’t go to grad school next year”).

  29. Adam Szazs says:

    I’ve always thought that there was one inspirational moment in any given person’s life that they could look back on and say “That day/week/year/minute/second changed the course my life would take.” Granted, some people are already motivated enough that they see this moment happen and it doesn’t slow them down for a second, but for the rest of us, it’s what we need to get our asses in gear, and finally accomplish something. The great ones were the ones that learned from that crystallizing moment. Shamus, you are among them.

  30. Jim Jones says:

    Wow, if only high school counselors told me about this article…
    You should have a Facebook Like button to spread this message.

  31. Specktre says:

    Good story Shamus.
    There’s something to be learned here, and there were a couple things that reminded me of initiatives I didn’t take or something I could have handled better and didn’t. This is rather inspirational in a way.

  32. UbarElite says:

    An enjoyable read, and one that had a lot of insight. I think it’s always important to look back on our lives and find lessons we can learn, and it’s always helpful to learn such lessons from the experiences of others. Thank you for offering this lesson Shamus.

  33. Fede says:

    It’s really a great story, Shamus. It was funny and inspiring at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing.

  34. dan says:

    Wait… I missed the part where your goal changed from “having a good time as a high schooler” to “advance to Nationals.”

    I also didn’t see a single reason for wanting to advance to nationals. You spent the rest of the page talking about how all the events were basically bogus, and then you were sad you missed out on more bogus?

    The whole reason you went to this thing was to build a good memory, right? And this convention thing was merely a vehicle to achieve that.

  35. Ruthie says:

    You’re awesome… but I wish I wasn’t so much like you.
    I went to district orchestra my senior year of high school. I could have gone as early as my sophmore year, but never even tried.
    Students receive the music over a month in advance. I looked at it, thought “this stuff is hard!” and put it back in its folder until it was time to go.
    When you arrive the first thing you do is audition. You are given several measures to play for the judges, but you aren’t told the selection before hand. This is so that students don’t practice the same 10 measures for a month, but ignore the rest of the music. I’ve practiced none.
    I walk in, sit down, and sight read my music.
    I walk out thinking I’ve blown it. I’m embarrassed by my performance, I know I played notes incorrectly. Not a little off key, or the wrong rhythm, but entirely wrong notes. I want to go home.
    After dinner the results are announced. Of 12 cellists, I placed 4th. This standing qualifies me for regionals. I feel I’m not cut out for it, I’m afraid of the work that it will take, and afraid I’ll be outted as a slacker who never took lessons, can’t play in second position, and who hates to practice.
    So I opt out, which infuriates my director. And myself 10 years later.

  36. Robert says:

    I read this blog post when it was new. I just came back to it because I was talking to a friend about the best blogs we had read. This is one of the best posts/confessionals/memoirs I have ever seen. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Robert says:

      I keep coming back to this. There’s something here I can’t put my finger on, and I’ve got it dug deep inside me. It’s a thought that lives in the back of my head.

      1. MisterMarch says:

        If it makes any recurring readers feel better, it’s the same for me. Maybe because it’s just a good story. Maybe because I feel it distills a lot of experiences teenagers/young adults have all over the world and it all feels familiar and relatable.

        This blog post is Stand by Me for the 90s, not even kidding.

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