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Your Quarter Life Crisis!

Lots of drugs, not much sex, and a general fear and loathing mark these tales of twenty-something angst.

I Don’t Think I’ll Go to My High School Reunion

By David KawamotoI don't think I'll go to my high school reunion. I'm not interested in who's married and who's going bald. Who quit smoking and who still lives at home. I don't want to know that my shy and skinny lab partner from chemistry class is still skinny and shy, or that the goth chick who tried to start an after-school Wicca club now listens to rap music. I want the person voted "Most Likely to Succeed" to have become a wonderful kindergarten teacher.

I don't want to find out that the kid I bought pot from can now pass a drug test, or that the hippie who staged a one-man sit-in during Desert Storm ended up voting for George W. Bush. I don't want to know that the valedictorian dropped out of college but still makes more money a year than I do. I want to think that the Ayn Rand-quoting loner I knew became something other than an assistant manager at Starbucks.

I don't want to know that the stoners who held half-baked debates about whether Nirvana "sold out" went to law school. I don't want to know that our junior class president put on a lot of weight or that the guy who played third-chair clarinet still wears a mullet. I don't want the arrogant computer geeks to still be on unemployment. I want them to watch nothing but anime and still act awkward around girls.

I don't want to know that no one has heard from Kyle in years. I don't want the suburban cowboy who wanted to be a firefighter to have buddies who died in the World Trade Center. I don't want the bullies who used to terrorize me in the halls to apologize. I don't want the kids who I terrorized in the library to forgive me. I want to let go of my old bitterness as desperately as I cling to it.

I don't want the quiet girl I longed for in second period lit to start talking. I don't want the girl who longed for me to have stopped longing years ago. I don't want to know that the teacher I had a crush on my freshman year was actually a lesbian. I don't want to lose any more of my illusions. I want everything to stay the same. I want everything to have changed.

I don't want to remember how jaded I seemed. I don't want to feel nostalgia for times when I could only look forward to some vague notion of the future. I don't want to be reminded of my lonely nights spent in the throes of existential angst now that people who write pretentious shit like "throes of existential angst" annoy me. I want to never really grow up. I want everything to happen just as I imagined it.

So, no, I don't think I'll go to my high school reunion.

David Kawamoto was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, but spent his formative years in Aurora. He has a degree in history but currently works as a night auditor at a hotel. He has also worked at coffee shops and call centers. His hobbies include going to the movies, trying to write novels, playing video games and drinking alone.


Confessions of a Traffic Scofflaw

By AnonymousPeople ask me how long I've been without a driver's license. And while I'm not really sure, the best answer I can give is since sometime in the mid-'90s. This usually results in a long, hard stare. Especially when I'm behind the wheel.

See, I've never really had good luck with cars. Then again, I'm nearly thirty, freely cruising the streets of Denver without a driver's license, and no government official is any the wiser. So perhaps I am lucky. But let me start at the beginning.

It began at the age of sixteen. Unlike most kids I knew at the time, I actually passed the test on my first try, and as a reward, I got my very own car. In retrospect, those back-to-back bouts of success may have colored my judgment.

During high school, my cloak of invincibility got me through two moving violations (which I had neither the funds nor the inclination to do anything about) and the untimely passing of two vehicles. The latter of which I drove through a chain-link fence and down an embankment while searching in the glove compartment for a nail file.

It never really got any better. Two years and as many cars later, I set off to my chosen hippie, utopian liberal arts college. Despite the fact that this place seemed to be governed by its own set of rules, I managed to have my car permanently barred from campus by the middle of my junior year. Maybe it was the midnight NASCAR sessions around the outdoor running track. Perhaps it was the pedestrian footpaths we frequently used as cross-campus shortcuts. Or maybe it was simply the flagrant and unyielding disregard for handicapped spaces, loading zones, fire lanes, one-ways, Do Not Enters and anything cheerfully designated "Office of the Dean."

Whatever. All I know for certain is that my cherry-colored Nissan spent more than a few lovely autumn afternoons on a college-sponsored joyride atop the back of a flatbed. When graduation day came, that little red car sped out of Maine and into Boston so fast that it not only got a ticket, it also forgot to pay for it.

There were two things I quickly learned about Bean Town: 1) When a Boston cop pulls you over, nine times out of ten (and believe me, I counted), he isn't gonna run your out-of-state license, because it's just too damn much work; and 2) What they lack in license-running laziness, they make up tenfold in their fairly indiscriminate distribution of parking violations. In Boston, you can pretty much get a parking ticket even if your car's still moving. And then there's the boot. You double park, you get the boot. You forget to plug a meter, you get the boot. You have Minnesota plates, you get the boot. And when you leave your car, hazards flashing, on the sidewalk in front of Aldo for just a moment to go see if they have those cute, clompy boots in a size seven? That's when they just take it away. Over the span of eighteen months, that naughty red hatchback spent three cold and lonely nights in car jail.

From this, normal people might conclude that they need to grow up. I, however, concluded that I needed a new car. One without such a checkered past. One in a less obvious color. So the little red zipster was replaced by a more clandestine black Jeep. But it was just a matter of months before the violations piled up and the Jeep got thrown into the SUV slammer. Time to grow up? No! Time to leave the state. My scofflaw CJ7 and I set off on a cross-country trip to Colorado.

When my nefarious automobile and I rolled into town, we faced several issues. For starters, licensing required an emissions inspection. And if you've ever had a late-'80s CJ, you know those parts-purging pieces of poop can't legally pass emissions tests to save their rivets. Failing to find a mechanic that specialized in under-the-counter emissions stickers, I slipped into my familiar fallback position: Time for a new car. (By now, you're probably wondering how you buy a car and get insurance, a title and plates without a valid driver's license. It's not all that hard. It's more or less a case of the right hand doesn't even know there's a left.)

About a year into my time here, someone tells me there's a steep fine for having a Minnesota license and Colorado plates. Of course, I'm sure there's a steep fine for driving without a license, but, sheesh, one thing at a time. Selectively conscientious denizen that I am, I trot down to the DMV and turn in my worthless MN license for a brand-new CO one. I explain to the woman behind the counter that I need to swap my Minnesota license for a Colorado one, while mentally pretending I'm actually exchanging a sweater at Neiman's. She asks if I have any outstanding violations, tickets, warrants or the like. I look shocked. "Of course not," I say, smiling. She glares. (Charm, for the record, gets you squat at the DMV.) She runs my license through the system. Miraculously, it clears, and I get a shiny new Colorado license. Internally, I leap for joy, thinking I've finally beaten the system. Externally, I run like hell out of there before someone matches my face to the faxed version tacked up on the police bulletin board.

A week or so later, a letter shows up at my house. Someone at the DMV with an IQ no greater than lunchmeat has pieced my sordid past together and tells me my license is, in fact, not valid at all. And would I please mail it back until I clear up my outstanding issues? That letter gets catalogued in the circular file and never crosses my mind again.

That was three years ago. Fast forward to last month, when, begrudgingly, I deem it high time for this charade to end. I call the DMV to find out what I have to do to clean out my mess kit. Like most things at the DMV, the solution is far worse than the original problem. First, I have to contact every state in which I have a violation and find out how much I owe. Okay. Minnesota: $225; Maine: $185; Massachusetts: $580 (bastards!); Michigan (I haven't even ever lived there! It was simply a pit stop between Maine and Minnesota!): $85. Grand Total: $1,075. (This is absurd! My mortgage isn't this much!) But I bite the bullet, pay it and vow never to pull money out of my 401(k) again. However, no sooner had I made this promise than I am informed that I now have to pay a reinstatement fee. When I tell the woman this is highway robbery, she points out that this is the Department of Motor Vehicles and tells me to just write her the check for $40 so she can go on a smoke break. That final paltry payment made, I ask for my license back. She grins with all the cold-blooded Grinch-heartedness of a government employee and tells me all I have to do now is retake my written and driving tests.

Which brings us, more or less, to today. Here I am. In front of God, the DMV and my very own mother admitting I've had my license revoked for more years than I've actually had it in service. And once and for all, I am going to be grown up. I am going to get my driver's license before I turn thirty. But the thought of standing in line with a gaggle of pimply-faced fifteen-year-old punks who are in the exact same lack-o-license predicament is making my head hurt. The subsequent thought of my co-workers wetting their pants in gales of hysterical laughter when I fail the test is just too much. In my heart of hearts, I know I need to get it together and go take the test. And I will. Just not today.

Anonymous is a real Minneapolis native who has also written a screenplay, a television pilot and a whole lot of other things that may well never see the light of day. She's trying really hard to have this whole "car thing" sorted out in early 2003. She lives in northwest Denver with her husband, two dogs and a ghost named Elizabeth.


Two Reasons for Quarter-Life Angst

By Nate Stone Reason one:I was walking to the liquor store with my head tucked into the collar of my coat to dodge the wind. It had snowed two days previously. For about a block, I had been hearing a loud moaning, like someone had been hit by a car or beaten and left for dead. Huddled in the alcove of a building on Broadway was a guy in a wheelchair. He was missing his right leg, his pants tied in a soiled knot at the knee. The only coat he apparently had was a red windbreaker, which he had pulled up to his hairline, and the moaning was coming from somewhere inside its distended chest. It was far too cold.

I asked him if he was all right and immediately felt like an asshole. Moaning is generally a good indication that someone is not all right and, in fact, has some pretty serious problems. He made no reply. I walked a bit closer and asked him again. He was shaking so hard you could hear the fabric snap taut and then relax in his jacket. He didn't say anything. Some art-institute kids at the bus stop across the street had started to stare. I walked on to the store.

He was still there when I left the liquor store. A homeless couple had stopped to talk to him, but he didn't speak to them, either. They offered him a cigarette. When he didn't respond, they told him to stay warm and where a shelter was. They walked away. I walked home.

It sounds trite and cliche, but I swear that bottle of gin kept getting heavier and heavier in my hands. I couldn't stop thinking about the cold, his thin coat, his missing leg, his moaning. I opened the door to my apartment, set down my booze on the kitchen table and opened the closet to hang my coat. Two others I hadn't worn for more than a year were hanging in there.

So I walked back, two coats and a ratty hat under my arm, squatted down in front of the man in the wheelchair, who was still moaning and shaking, and said hello. He stopped moaning, but his head never came out of his coat. I told him I had brought some extra layers for him, that he should put them on, it was cold. A new crowd of people were staring at us from across the street. I had some fleeting vision of countless people walking by and staring at this poor, cold guy in a wheelchair until I appeared and heroically stepped up to my duties as his fellow man. I then remembered that there's nothing heroic in giving someone a coat you don't wear. It would be closer to heroic to give someone a coat you really loved, I thought, or, better yet, your only coat -- and then I noticed that the man in the wheelchair was pissing himself.

It was rolling down what was left of his leg and hitting the ground and pouring across the sidewalk, and I muttered "Jesus" under my breath and stood up. I told him I was going to leave the coats there, but that he should put them on. When I leaned over to lay the coats in reach of his wheelchair, he shuddered in his seat.

"Fucking die!" he screamed in a thick, guttural voice.

I leaned back, confused.

"Fucking die!" he screamed.

Maybe he doesn't want the coats, I thought.

"Fucking die!" he screamed.

"I'll just leave these here," I said.

"Fucking die!" he screamed.

I put the coats down. It occurred to me that the people at the bus stop were staring again, and I felt like I had suddenly stumbled upon a sound stage or woken up from a dream. I walked to the liquor store and used the phone to call the drunk tank. The guy behind the counter tried to thank me as I left. "Thanks for looking out for that guy," he said. I felt like shit. I went home and got drunk.

Reason two:

Our guitarist bought some trucker speed in Wyoming right after we'd left on tour, and it had sat unused for nearly two weeks. Last night's show in L.A. had been surreally, comically bad, and on the drive into San Diego, he popped one of the pills. We were at a rest stop, next to an RV trailer labeled "Sweet Home Masonic Lodge #304" where some rickety old man was offering people free weak coffee, and I talked Dave into giving me a pill as well.

I think I was shaking by the time we got to the liquor store near Ericka's house in San Diego, since there was nothing in my stomach to block the speed's path. My job hadn't sent my wife the check they had promised me, so I'd been eating one meal a day and hoping we wouldn't be evicted before I got back. It turned out, through an act of God, that tall-boys are only 99 cents in Ocean Beach. I bought three, and we all walked to the beach with our plastic bags in time to see the sun set. It was beautiful.

I know very little about how my body works -- it generally does what I ask it to do, despite my occasional abuse of it -- so I am completely unable to explain how the speed and the alcohol interacted. All I know is that, at some point, we made screwdrivers back at the house. The amazing thing about trucker speed is that no matter how drunk you actually are, or how many times you get frustrated because you can see where you're supposed to be going but your feet insist on stumbling somewhere else, you are so goddamn awake that you become convinced you simply cannot be drunk and, sure, you'll have another drink, and why don't we do shots? By the end of the night, you are simply the cameraman at your own hazing.

At some later, undefined time, we made it back to the beach. I was amazed that I wasn't cold, and the ocean was huge and intimidating and loud, and I was the happiest I had been for two weeks. Ericka and Morgan waded out until the water was around their waists, and (perhaps I was motivated by more than just pure concern for the safety of these two young women) it became urgently apparent to me that if we all didn't get naked immediately, someone was going to die.

My pants, of course, were already wet, and while struggling to wrench them off both legs simultaneously, I fell backward in the sand. For a split second, it occurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing. I was 25, married, in debt, didn't know where I was, and was soon to be unemployed. I had been on tour for two weeks; my hand was still healing from attempting to punch out my bass in Portland; I hadn't bathed for three days; I had a degree in philosophy; I was drunk; and I was taking off my pants. This happens all the time.

It took two weeks to get all the sand out of my ears and nose, and the ocean ate my shirt.

We walked home in our underwear.

Nate Stone grew up in a tract home in Fort Collins before trying a stint at CU-Boulder. After becoming annoyingly "politically conscious," he left college to work for a nonprofit that essentially paid him to yell through a bullhorn and get arrested. After that came a series of mediocre but loud bands, minimum-wage jobs and cigarettes. He recently graduated from Metro State and now works for a union as a researcher, writing hideously obtuse poetry in his off-hours.


A Day Like This

By Jason PierceMay 31, 2002. The afternoon.

The phone rings. It's my boss. He's less than fifteen feet away, but he prefers the phone or e-mail to actual human contact. If you knew him, you'd know that this was normal.

He doesn't say hello. He merely barks, "You've changed the cover page I sent you." His voice is terse, and I can sense his anger roiling underneath the crust of civility.

"Yeah," I reply, "I centered it and..."

"I expressly told you that's the proper way. I didn't tell you to change it."

"I just thought...you know...it looks bad," I stammer.

"Before you leave for the weekend, come see me."

"All right," I reply, but he's already hung up.

In my job, I write things. Well, I don't write novels or even reports -- or anything like that. Instead, I take complete thoughts and transform them into fragments, pieces of pre-digested "knowledge" that kids, like baby birds, will one day be forced to eat. This will revolutionize education and transform society into something akin to Star Trek, where everyone seems to know everything about everything. That's the intent, anyway. Mostly, this involves removing nouns and changing verbs into adverbs. Punctuation is strictly forbidden. This work is as exciting as it sounds.

Once, back in college, I majored in English because 1) I wasn't any good at math; and 2) I loved the way writers strung words into beautiful sentences. Now I mangle already homely sentences into dismembered pieces. I'm a butcher in a language slaughterhouse, and I do this for barely enough money to stave off my creditors and the barbarism that would ensue if I missed a few meals.

I sit in the guest chair of my boss's office. He has a window that looks out over the Front Range from Longs Peak to Pikes Peak. I stare out this window, wishing I was anywhere but here.

Everyone calls him "The Troll" -- even his superiors, I'd bet -- and it's an accurate description for this runty, graying, sallow-skinned man who resembles an aging Hobbit. He's the kind of single, driven baby boomer who has nothing to show for his life except a few material possessions and an office with a window. Yes, he does have a fabulous house in Wash Park and a German car (it's a Volkswagen, if that counts) -- both things I can only dream about -- but I see him working a few more decades, receiving the obligatory gold watch and then vanishing like morning fog. I'm certain he'll be filed away in some dismal, suburban nursing home, where he'll eventually die in a pool of his own filth. But maybe I'm just being vindictive. This is what boomers think of as success, I guess.

He folds his hairy hands in an attempt to seem calm, and then he lays into me: "Your work has too many errors in it. I don't think this job is made for you."

I sit there in silence. He rambles on about attention to detail, focus, etc., but my mind is wandering. I'm thinking about all the fabulous ways I could tell him off. A little voice in my head implores me to "tell him to fuck off" or "just walk outta here, just leave, go ahead." This isn't worth it, I think. This isn't worth the thirteen bucks an hour I make, the tedium, the commuting, the cost of rent. It's ridiculous, I think. I'm 27 years old, and here I am with nothing: a thirteen-year-old truck that leaks oil, a job that doesn't pay crap, and tons of accumulated debt that I figured I'd wipe out as soon as I graduated from college -- back before investments went south. Somehow, I'm envious of the losers in my Western Slope home town who spend all their time drinking and screwing other people's wives. It wasn't supposed to be like this, I muse.

He carries on about commitment or something -- odd, I think, since he's never had a girlfriend in the time I've been here. I wonder if the girls at Shotgun Willie's know him by name -- or maybe they call him "The Troll" too.

I run over various scenarios where I tell him, quite explicitly, where and how to stick it. Instead, I mutter aloud: "Oh."

He explains that he'll give me another chance, that I'm essentially on probation. I'm not sure if this is good news or not. I stand up to leave. As I'm walking out, he says, "Have a nice weekend."

"Tell him to fuck off," the little voice begs. Instead I say, "You, too."

At home, I set my keys on the table. The light on the answering machine is blinking impatiently. I press the button. The tape rewinds and starts playing. "This is Dr Smith's office, and we've got your test results back. There were some slight abnormalities. Please give us a call so we can talk about these."

I laugh the kind of laugh that precedes random violence. This is it. This is the late twenties, where you don't have the power or respect of the aged and the evil, but suddenly the body -- the sole thing all those SOBs in their BMWs envy -- starts to go. Soon, all those beautiful people on TV will be younger than I am. Maybe the twenties, as older people have told me, are the best years of your life. That's true so far, but only because the teenage years sucked so much.

I think about taking a shower, but the drain isn't working very well, and the thought of standing in used water up to my ankles isn't appealing. Instead, I fall onto the couch and turn on the TV. The television girls sing and dance in beer commercials for men with great abs. I open a beer. It's clear that they will not sing for me.

Jason Pierce grew up in Southwestern Colorado but came to the city to seek his fame and fortune. So far, this essay is as close to fame as he's gotten. He's given up on the fortune part and would settle for home ownership.


How About a Nice, Cold Beer Today?

By Jennifer PooleMy little brother has a fiancée and two cats. Sarah's graduating from dental school; Cara's moving to South Korea; and Katie is planning her wedding. Ty and Suzanne are working on second novels, and Amy admits to having "baby fever." I'd feel better about all this if I weren't 25, in an alley, emptying slop.

While all of my friends seem to be taking adulthood by the horns -- throwing dinner parties, considering retirement plans and graciously extending their dating pools to people with thick waistlines and questionable personalities -- I've relapsed into an embarrassing collegiate lifestyle of stealing toilet paper from public restrooms and waiting tables to make ends meet. I sometimes spend ten hours a day writing my name upside down on paper tablecloths and asking people how they like their burgers cooked, then arriving home at night sweaty and nimble of mind, the smoky-sweet cologne of various condiments lingering for hours in my clothing and hair. I've been stiffed on more than one occasion and typically spend a third of my tips in parking fees near work. I remind myself that this situation is temporary, a character-building stepping stone on the long, rocky path to personal greatness and professional superiority. Years ago, people came west in search of gold. I just wanted more closet space.

Winter in New York City is cold and wet, and when the sun dissolves behind a row of tall, chrome buildings, the entire sky looks gray. The air is so filthy you can turn a Kleenex black by blowing your nose; cereal costs an ungodly six dollars a box; and landlords now require the sacrifice of a first-born child for security deposits. These were not the real reasons I itched to leave but rather the inflexible straws that broke the camel's back, the subtle subconscious catalysts to change my situation before it completely changed me. After living there for nearly three years, I couldn't remember what it felt like to drive with the windows down, to smell or touch freshly cut grass, to be completely, blissfully alone. Believe it or not, I felt cramped in my eight-foot-by-nine-foot bedroom and unfulfilled writing captions like "What About Bobs?" and "Pretty Pizzazz" for a hairstyling magazine that women flip through at Wal-Mart but never buy. I was spending more money than I had and saying fuck more often than a nice Texas girl should.

To complicate matters (doesn't it always?), I had a boyfriend. He was cute and funny and, to my parents' obvious and insuppressible glee, a doctor. Earlier this year, we spent a week together in Keystone skiing, eating to excess and plotting both our independent and cohesive futures. The now-ex-boyfriend M.D. was slated to complete his residency in Indianapolis, and I came dangerously close to becoming a Midwestern transplant, sharing a bland future of Eddie Bauer khakis and chain-steakhouse dinners. Instead, I quit my job, bought a car and drove to Denver a few months ago.

Colorado winters are crisp and bright, and when the air cools your face on the mountain's first winding run, your cheeks flush pink like those of an embarrassed child. They tell me Denver is the second-fittest city in the country, a fact both ironic and sad considering my ass's recent growth spurt and the amount of time I spend in a smoke-filled sports bar. Driving on ice is less fun and more expensive than I'd imagined. With two fender-benders already under my belt, I've added State Farm and Burt-Kuni Honda to this year's Christmas card list. In just three months' time, I've had two waitressing jobs, several painful dates (that's not fair -- some girls like germaphobes and Howard Cosell impersonations), and a boot applied to my right front tire. I can't get this weird smell out of my apartment; my once-supple skin is starting to crack and chafe, and I was just rejected by the graduate program I thought I'd be starting in January. On the up side, I'm already recognizing people in the grocery store; my rooftop deck inspires envy, and I'm returning to Keystone later this morning. I may have to dig myself into a hole to get to it, but there's gold here. With a little patience, I'll find it.

If you or anyone else knows of any shining opportunities for a girl like me, I'll be in back, rolling silverware.

Hailing from Galveston Island -- a quaint Texas town still awaiting its first Home Depot and Starbucks franchises -- Jennifer Poole has the masochistic habit of moving to expensive, overcrowded cities with limited friends and no job prospects. Her New Year's resolutions include finding gainful employment, remembering to floss her teeth every day and attaining a butt you can bounce quarters off of.

Highlight Reel

More quarter-life voyeurism: a cat named Love, odd dermatological manifestations, a fear of Pottery Barn and a penis flagrante delicto.I, too, am in my twenties. Twenty-seven, to be exact. My friend Dominique warned me that this would be a bad year. She is 362 days older than me, so she should know.

Back in October, we asked readers to submit entries for Westword's first (and perhaps last) "My Quarter-Life Crisis," inspired by last year's book of the same name. The almost one hundred essays we received in response might convince the casual reader that every twenty-something year sucks. That we've invented irony and post-collegiate angst -- although editors older than I am assure me that this isn't so. (When they finish snickering, that is.)

Still, twenty-somethings have it particularly rough right now, trying to adjust from dreams of dot.com millions to very diminished expectations. Many of our compatriots can't find a job, and one of our contest entries came from the 996th applicant out of 999 accepted for a single janitorial job at a Frito-Lay factory. "Pissed off" is an understatement. The degree is in hand, but the riches remain untold.

Many of us are living in our parents' basements; a few are experiencing a strong dose of wanderlust. Alcohol is by turns the enemy and the savior. The question of whether to smoke or not smoke -- perhaps only in bars? -- vexes us. We eat organic produce in search of a healthy lifestyle and a sense of finally reaching "it" -- although we aren't sure what "it" is. One very eloquent 26-year-old husband and father wrote that he'd found "it" but wished he could exchange it for 24 hours of truly acting his age. (If you're the author of that essay, please contact me. Your e-mail keeps bouncing back, and we didn't want to publish it without first determining that your marriage would survive a public outing of your fantasy.)

With most of the contest submissions falling under the categories of "my life sucks," "my job sucks" and "how do I grow up" -- with a few attempting more high-minded analyses of the state of the quarter life (usually in the second person) -- our judges, all Westwordwriters in their twenties, selected essays that were the most original in concept and showed real writing flair. You've read those on the preceding pages. Here are a few bonus excerpts from the runners-up:

P.S. Dominique says 28 isn't so bad. -- Amy Haimerl


We knew it!:I've been faking it pretty well. People seem to be under the impression that I know what the hell I'm doing with my life. On the surface, I have it made with rewarding work in the nonprofit world and a grad-school program that will surely launch me into greatness -- or at least solvency. But no one is there when I wake up in a cold sweat at 2:30 a.m., wondering how significant my life is and what kind of difference I am making in the world. My bed is empty except for the neutered eighteen-year-old cat I inherited from my grandmother last year. The last conversation we had consisted of her telling me to stop breaking up with perfectly nice young men or risk ending up a bitter old maid like her sister, Ruth.

Grandma died the next day.

Now I have her cat.

Did I mention his name is Love?

And if this weren't enough, my boss recently accused me of being a Republican. In my particular realm of the nonprofit world, this is the moral equivalent of being called Satan. -- Miranda Thompson, Denver


Peter meter: Recently I did an interview with a chain-smoking, gravelly-voiced old man concerning a janitorial position at a paint factory. We exchanged small talk as he looked my resumé over, then commenced to have one of the strangest conversations I've ever had.

"You'll be making salary, which breaks down to about $10 an hour," he said. "I assume that's acceptable."

"That would be great," I replied.

"Yes, it would be. It ain't easy coming by that kind of wage these days. Now, your hours go from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Would you be able to handle that?"

"Definitely. I've worked graveyard..."

"Now, I want you to know I don't like clock-watchers. Not a damned bit. I won't stand for clock-watchers. We want people who are dedicated to this company, not to their paychecks. You get me?"

"I hear you loud and clear."

"If there's one thing that boils my gall," he said, his voice quickly beginning to rise, "it's people who get to work the minute they're paid to. You understand?"

"I understand," I said, trying to nerve myself.

"We don't pay you to come to work on time. We pay you to get here early," his face reddened, "and I mean it. I'll be gawdfucked if I'll stand for clock-watchers!"

"Hey," I said, trying to calm him down. "No problem. Whatever it takes to get the job done, right?"

He interlocked his hands, placed them on the desk and peered into my face.

"There are a lot of weak people in the world," I offered.

"You're damn straight," he replied, leaning back into his seat. "I'm glad to see we're looking at this from the same angle." He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. "I think we've found our man," he exhaled, and with that, he rose deliberately from his chair. I stood up as well, expecting some parting words and a handshake to seal my newfound employment. Instead, still puffing on his cigarette, he slowly unzipped his pants, reached inside his underwear and laid his penis on the desk. "Now, I want you to look at this and tell me..."

But I was already down the hall and in the elevator before he finished his request. -- Sean Hansen, Denver


At least he didn't drink the Kool-Aid:For almost four years, I was a full-fledged devotee of the Denver-based boy guru Maharaji and his Divine Light Mission. Once "Lord of the Universe," Maharaji is now just a meditation teacher to a few still-devoted followers. I am not actually as embarrassed about having joined a cult as I am about having joined this cult. To spiritual cognoscenti, the DLM was to mysticism what Kenny G is to jazz. Nevertheless, I fell for it in the fall of 1974, and soon I, too, was one of the thousands of Earth-shoe-wearing, tofu-eating, guru-worshiping "premies." I joined the ashram, essentially a DLM monastery. We were ten guys who gave up what most people think of as the stuff of daily life -- love, sex, politics, entertainment, having kids, taking vacations -- in order to more fully devote our lives to spiritual growth.

I was pretty clear about what a cult was. Jim Jones had just poisoned his flock a few months earlier. The tambourine-shaking Krishnas and the flower-selling Moonies were everywhere. Those were cults. But as I sat reading a Westword on a concrete stoop in LoDo and compared my group to Ken Freed's definition of a cult, point by point, I had to admit that I was involved in a very unhealthy spiritual group. This was the beginning of the end.

In a matter of weeks, I had relinquished my position as ashram "housefather" and was back on the street, or, more specifically, in a seedy little basement rooming house in south Wash Park. -- Gregg Painter, Denver


So where'd you really get it from, buddy?Alistra just won't leave me alone. Alistra is the periunga wart underneath the middle finger of my left hand, which has stuck with me through thick and thin, through freezing, burning, mutilating, medicating and even duct-taping. Alistra is the last physical vestige of my relationship with a pretty French girl of the same name, the wart having appeared a few months before the second and final time the girl broke my heart.

That second heartbreak coincided roughly with the end of college. Harvard, the ringworm on my neck that was my last physical vestige of college, was cured somewhere in the intervening six months since graduation. Following these two great dermatological, experiential turning points, I am aware that I have lived a life of unquiet desperation.

I'm overconfident desperate, a condition of which my current quarter-life crisis is merely a symptom. And as far as quarter-life crises go, I can play misery poker with the best of them. Not only is the job market craptastic, but I've got an Ivy League diploma. So no matter how many nights I have to eat ramen and inflate my ever-expanding plastic debt, I won't take a hard-to-get shit job. No, overconfidence in my skills and potential has me desperately determined not to live the life of a quietly, perpetually disgruntled wage slave. I'm jobless and picky in a stingy economy. -- Deric Spearer, Denver


Confessions of a well-adjusted 22-year-old:One interview on my second day here, and I had a job at a magazine. Sure, I had no bed, no computer and one small saucepan with a broken handle for cooking, but so what? "Look how far I've come from my white-trash days working summers at the factory," I thought. "What a well-adjusted 22-year-old I am."

Then I met this boy, and he soon asked me to hang out with "his" people." The first party we attended together was at one of his bosses' houses. I had on my cute jeans that made me look skinnier than I was, $3 tucked into my back pocket. As I walked into the party, I immediately scanned the room for the keg line. Instead, my eyes passed quaint little groups of well-dressed thirty-somethings, a tuxedo-clad bartender, large shiny vats of steaming chocolate fondue and bowls of fresh strawberries. The party's host, in his black Kenneth Coles, had no intention of asking me for the $3 keg donation. But suddenly I knew where the keg was. It was back in B.F.E. Indiana, with the fifth-year seniors, the townies, the late-night card players, the journalists -- my friends.

I secretly judged them all for their good fortune and extravagant lifestyles -- their Land Rovers in the driveways, their leather chairs from Pottery Barn, their $100 highlights. I was certainly not jealous; these were just not my kind of people. But to their faces, I laughed nervously and made the occasional white-trash joke about myself. To the kids back home, I looked like I had it all together. But around these people, I could see it as clear as day: the big black outline of an L on my forehead. -- Lydia Rueger, Arvada


Gleaming the cubicle:So, I'm sittin' here in my cubicle thinking I must have the worst job ever, and then I'm thinking maybe I have the best job in the world. I mean, I don't really do anything. The work I'm responsible for can pretty much get done in the first couple hours of every day. Then, if I want to, I can put my headphones on and just sit here at my desk. Sit there in my little space with the walls that only go up five feet high, and every once in a while, I can just stand up to see who's stirring. I find myself so bored I want to shove a Sharpie in my ear.

But you know what? My job is the way it is because I'm in an entry-level position, and I'm fine with that. I used to be on the middle-management side of it. Then I got laid off -- happiest day of my life, until the severance ran out. Sure, I could find another job, maybe actually helping people or something. Maybe I would actually feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. But something tells me that this is just the way it's going to be, and who knows? Another 45 years of this and maybe I can retire. By that time, maybe I'll be allowed to just sit in my cube and crap my pants. I don't think anyone will make a fuss, not for an old company man like myself. -- Hank Troutman, Denver

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