Saturday, December 24, 2011
I should apologize for my absence, though I hardly think it unreasonable. December was a busy time for me; after all, I graduated college this month.
The actual event took place on the 20th but the extended weekend before was, by design, epic in nature. I was spending my last days as a campus resident. I figured I'd better do so in style.
It's worth noting that my very presence at Major University during this time period was technically illegal and thus by definition endowed with a certain foundational element of coolness. University stipulations state that all residents are to be gone within a day of their last exam, which for me meant being out by Thursday, December 15th. I decided I didn't much like that, though, and so instead of departing I spent Thursday evening hosting a "get-together" that morphed into a party as least as large as the one that landed me in jail for a night on my birthday in April.
I took great pride in doing all the things that our university's police force had once, without evidence, accused me of doing: I flagrantly violated the occupancy rules for my residence area; I condoned, permitted, and facilitated underage drinking; I played loud music in brazen disregard of noise restrictions; and I not only allowed several of my guests to urinate in public, but, once I'd gotten enough in me, happily joined them.
It was all rather enjoyable.
Friday was spent in the company of a wonderfully cute but hopelessly closeted boy with whom I watched two movies, shopped at a thrift store, and got coffee; and then Saturday it was back to partying.
I went with my friend, Undercover Douchebag, to a gathering in a neighboring town, and it was at this event that he earned his new pseudonym. You see, Undercover Douchebag doesn't immediately show his true nature. In fact, I had a casual friendship with him for five years before I was able to see him for the ruthless alcoholic ideologue he is. It was when he started pounding liquor after promising to be our designated driver, then informed me he was "great at driving drunk" after I suggested he slow down, that I began to catch his stench. The odor grew stronger when he revealed mile-wide streak of social Darwinism that led him to express his belief in, among other things, leaving the disabled to die. By the end of the night his douchebag status was confirmed, and I drove home with someone else. Another one bites the dust.
I spent a quiet Sunday singing with Young Musician, a 19-year-old Sophomore who is among my newer friend group, before jettisoning Monday to yet another party, this one within sight of campus.
Weekends like this one make me wish I had been bolder earlier in my life. My entire university experience could have been like this, having great times and being comfortable in my skin as I did it. I suppose some of us need more time to learn than others.
I attended this last party, which among the three I went to over the course of the weekend was not only the largest but also the most fun, with Hungarian Guy, a young man I've grown inexplicably closer with following his breakup with my best friend Laquesha. His friend circle, like mine, is wide and eclectic, so any bash was bound to be a blast.
I saw some faces I recognized and some I didn't.
At one point a drunken Dutchman accidentally pushed me into a door, and when I told him he had to be careful because I was so much smaller than him, he reacted by seizing my hair, holding it out to its full length, and exclaiming, "Your hair is this long! It makes up for it!"
Hungarian Guy slept in Patrick's vacant bed, and the next morning I woke up to face one of the most important moments of my life: graduation.
My parents, as cold and warped and petty as usual, said scarcely a word to me during the brief ceremony, but my grandmother was there, waiting for me with her crinkled blue eyes and wide arms.
"I'm so proud of you," she said as she drew me into a hug. "I knew you could do it."
I couldn't have, not without her. But she'd never admit that.
Afterwards Laquesha joined Rowdy Cousin, my grandmother, and me for dinner in a restaurant near campus. We three family members joked about each other and Aunt Crazy while Laquesha laughed with appropriate zest, and Rowdy Cousin expressed his excitement for mine and Thomas's visit to my grandmother's house over the holiday.
I packed my room on Tuesday night. When I was done, I popped in a movie that I'd rented from the university library and ordered a pizza that I ate alone.
On Wednesday I drove away from Major University. I'd somewhat dreaded my departure from the school I called home for more than five years, but when the moment came all I felt was relief.
It's over. It's over and I can go out and build my life.
I've taken steps in that direction, but that's another post for another day. Tomorrow I'll celebrate Christmas with my family and assorted company, after which Thomas and I will depart on December 26th for four days at my grandmother's house. I have tentative New Year's Eve plans with Black Dress Girl and some friends, but beyond that I'm not really sure what's happening. It's a bit strange, this structurelessnes. With no classes left to return to, no exams left to take, I have no expectations or responsibilities save those I set for myself. I can't tell you how happy that makes me.
Friday, December 9, 2011
In the brief moment that was left, the corridor formed by the trees and the buildings was filled with lovely amber sunlight. That beauty was poor consolation, though, for it was obvious what was happening. The fiery orb of the sun plunged toward the horizon, a luminous ship doomed to break upon the shoals, and the sky burned cobalt blue under the weight of its inexorable fate. I could feel its bitterness, its longing, its sheer sorrow as it mourned the passing of that sinking sphere.
Across the way, the magnolia trees reached their waxen fingers into the sky in a futile effort to catch hold of the fleeting sunlight. I didn't have the heart to tell them how pointless that gesture was. Trees have never been the brightest of creatures, though, and if these could spent their last moments believing there was still some shred of hope then I was happy to let them. Still, it was hard ignore the weeping. The tears were mostly silent, rolling down bare branches and on an elegiac wind, but I heard them nonetheless as I walked past pillars and monuments that were already ruins.
The bulb in a nearby lamp post suddenly burst and I caught my breath. I heard a rumbling behind me and turned to see a significant crack wind its way down the side of the brick science building from which I'd just emerged. I cast my gaze towards the west, to the point where an entire world would perish, and knew there wasn't much time. It had already begun.
I blinked the moisture from my eyes as I strode down the groaning avenue, aware all the while that I was witnessing the last lights of a lost era. It was so cold. Standing on the threshold of destruction, I was struck with the absurd idea that I should have brought a jacket. Then, though, the scene changed.
The air around me warmed, the trees erupted in shining green, the ground bloomed emerald blades, and the skyline shrank as half its buildings simply melted away. I was walking a winding concrete path towards a group of redbrick structures oriented in a circle around a vibrant green plain. I recognized this place. I'd been here before.
On the steps in front of me sat a young--I was surprised by just how young--boy watching wistfully after a blue SUV that left a trail of brown dust in its wake as it pulled away. I wondered. The boy didn't hear me as I approached, nor did he turn when I came to a stop directly behind him. A gentle breeze blew a tendril of his long blonde hair.
I placed my hand on his shoulder.
He turned his teenage face towards me and I was momentarily cowed by just how unfamiliar it looked. In purely physical terms there were depressingly few differences between us, but his flushed cheeks and dark green eyes held an artlessness to them that had long passed from me. His innocence, his naivete, shone off him.
"You--you're me!" he exclaimed in shock.
"Yes," I said, surveying the flourishing scene around me. "I am you. I'm you from the future. Move over."
He eyed my ponytail, nearly a foot longer than his, and nodded.
"That makes sense."
He made room and I sat down beside him, unnoticed by the throngs of young people milling about.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. He seemed astonished by my presence
"I'm not sure," I said. "Maybe completing something."
Even in such an outrageous situation, he managed to look irritated.
"Well, when are you from?"
"December 9, 2011."
His forehead wrinkled with the weight of mental labor.
"So, that would make you...like, twenty-two?"
"Twenty-three," I corrected, happy to be disabused of any illusions that my math skills had once been of a higher quality. "Gosh, you're dumb."
"Well, you don't look twenty-three," he said.
"Well you don't look eighteen," I shot back. "Which I'm guessing you are, by the way. What date is it here?"
"August 24, 2006."
The period of my life that I'd later term the Black Times, my own dark age, would begin the following day. The SUV I'd caught a glimpse of had been exactly what I'd thought: my parents riding away after they dropped me off at Major University the weekend before classes started. I could vividly recall how my eighteen-year-old heart had sunk when I watched them leave, how I'd despaired, perched on the same steps where I now sat.
"What?" he asked. "What?"
He ran a finger through his thick hair, which at this point was nearing its longest. In about two months' time, I knew, he'd cut all of it off in a failed attempt to distance himself from his own truth. Hair would hardly be the only casualty of that effort.
"It's nothing," I said. "At least, nothing I can talk about."
He looked out at the other students.
"Well that's pretty frustrating," he said. "I'd assume that the best part of being visited by your future self is getting to learn all kinds of cool stuff about what happens to you. Aren't you going to point me towards my wife or tell me to which stocks to buy or something?"
"Put everything you have in BP."
He started patting his pockets for a pen and I waved my hands in the air.
"Don't you dare write that down," I admonished. "I was joking. Seriously, forget I said that."
I shook my head and laughed again as his hands settled at his sides.
After several moments of silence I looked up at a sky filled with much more life than the one I'd left behind.
"I come from a world that's dying," I explained at last. "A world on the edge of passing away. I know that, before the day is up, I will see it fall."
In the Freshman Circle, in his home, everything was warm and blooming. It was not yet midday.
"Your sun is rising," I continued. "Mine is about to set. And everything else will set with it."
"That sounds terribly sad."
"It's not, though," I said. "When my world goes, it will yield to a brighter one. Which means, of course, that your world will yield to a brighter one. Because we are from the same world, just different ends. Your first day. My last."
I scratched my head.
"You'll be ready, anyway, when the time comes," I said. "The people you knew are mostly gone. There are new buildings now, ones I don't know. They stand alongside the older ones that I recognize."
"So..." he began. "Is that what you came to tell me? That you're old?"
"I guess it has something to do with what I said earlier," I went on. "Maybe it's about completing something."
He thought about it.
"The way you whistled, when I told you the date," he said. "That means something, doesn't it? I know it does. You don't have to tell me. But you know something's coming."
I looked into his face with a sudden surge of yearning. I knew that his placid visage was soon to be blackened. By the time it was over, he'd be a blackened boy. He'd never stop carrying that with him, even when, eventually, he was brightened.
"I can tell I'm different," he said. "I've always known. I don't know what it is, but I'm just...different. And I think it's going to be really hard."
I, who'd confronted the sexual and emotional truths of his "difference" in a way he was not yet prepared to, understood the horrible weight that his deviance--and the denial of it--would carry.
"It will be bad," I said. "The worst thing ever. I'd tell you to make yourself ready, but there's absolutely nothing you can do to prepare for it. It will tear you apart like nothing ever has. You'll never be the same."
"That's not a bad thing," I comforted. "It really isn't. It will seem like it, but it's not."
"I guess I'll just have to pray," he answered. "I know Jesus will help me."
I suddenly remembered an occasion from eight months in his past and six years in mine. It was 2005 and I was Christmas shopping with my mother. I picked out a toy for Pie, who then was only two years old, and my mother insisted that I let her pay for it.
"Well, okay," I answered, then added with total earnestness, "But you have to let me put my name on the card."
It would be nearly two years before I understood why she'd starting laughing. I asked her at the time but she just hugged me and said, "You're funny, BB."
Back on the steps I appraised my eighteen-year-old self with new appreciation. I'd forgotten how extraordinarily childlike I was at that age, how disarmingly innocent and untouched by the world. The boy in front of me was just that: a boy. I doubt any part of him believed that there was a problem he couldn't resolve through Jesus. His faith in prayer was absolute. It seemed wrong to inform him that, in the worst moments, prayer would do nothing.
"Do pray," I encouraged. "For a while it will be all you have."
"How long?" he asked.
"Years," I answered. "More than two years."
He paled a bit at that.
"You'll come close to not making it," I said. "A few times, you won't even want to make it. But if you keep pushing through, eventually it will lift. And then you will see things so beautiful, so wonderful, that you'll thank God for every minute of pain you had to wait through."
"Your last day here will be spent in warmth," I told him. "With two beautiful boys. You'll have come so far then."
His eyes went wide.
I covered my mouth, not believing what I'd just let slip.
"Oh, BB," I said. "I'm so sorry but...yes. I know you don't want it to be true. It is, though. It is."
His eyes filled with tears.
"I won't remember this," he declared. "I can't. I just can't handle it."
"I know you can't," I said. "And I know you won't. To tell you the truth, I've been wondering why I had no memories of this. It seems like the kind of thing that would stand out. I guess I blocked it. But if there's one thing you do remember, even on a subconscious level, it should be this: hang on. These next few years will eventually lead you to a great place. It's just going to take time."
I saw a familiar face staring at us from the crowd and pointed at the young woman it belonged to.
"And one day," I told my younger self, directing his gaze toward the blonde girl. "You'll meet her."
He saw her for just an instant before she melted into the mass of short-sleeved co-eds.
"Who is she?" he asked. He stood as if to search for her. "Where did she go?"
I took his arm and pulled him back down.
"Don't try to find her," I said. "She'll come to you. Trust me."
He put his head in his hands and then it was my turn to rise.
"Remember that," I told him. "When you erase all of this from your mind, just remember to hang on. It would be so horrible if you hadn't."
I looked back down the winding path and at its end saw trees too barren to belong to August.
"I have to go now," I said. "It's my time. But remember what I said."
I touched his shoulder once more and headed off down the road from which I'd come. I didn't turn to look back at him. I knew he wouldn't look at me, either.
The blonde woman appeared beside me as the air grew colder and the trees began to shed their leaves.
"You did a good job back there," Good said. "You did exactly what you should have."
"Thanks," I said.
I turned into the warm air, into the laughter and the sunshine, into the smiling young faces of people I'd since seen grow older.
"And thanks for this, for letting me see this one more time. It was nice."
"You're welcome," she said.
We paused at the boundary between times, where the air lingered at the median of hot and frigid.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
She smiled and took my hand as, together, we walked down the avenue and into another epoch. I felt her strength and support as I approached my world, but when I finally emerged into the dim light of a mortally wounded sun she was gone. I was on my own.
Well, not quite.
Jorge the Statue was there, staring bravely into the retreating sun.
"Oh, Jorge," I said. He nodded his copper face at me in acknowledgement. I so admired his courage; not everyone had stayed. Across campus, the other statuary had largely abandoned their posts and were heading for wherever they imagined safety might be. As spoke with Jorge I saw a group of terra cotta children running across the quad carrying the great ceramic book that documented our athletic victories, while trailing behind them was a twisted modern art sculpture attempting to awkwardly roll away.
Bringing up the rear was a gaggle of papier mache horses trailing manes clipped from the classifieds section.
"You're so brave, Jorge," I said.
He smiled, gave me a firm salute, and stared at the collapsing sky as if daring it strike him. Now I knew, for the first time, why Jorge had been built facing the west: he'd always known this day would come.
I sighed and continued down the school's main plaza. The sunlight was so thin now, so weak. The ailing sun dipped partially behind a clump of trees and the whole row of metal lamps on either side of me groaned and shattered, their ruined bulbs raining glass upon the walkway.
I reached the Clock Tower, the center of this world, and turned to watch a civilization die.
As the coal-black trees swallowed another portion of the sun, the whole sprawling campus reverberated with a horrible scream. The spirits of the school, of paintings and sonnets and theorems and treatises and students long gone, were crying out, running in panic through doors and along corridors as the force of the sun's horrible descent pulled on them.
All their efforts were for naught, though. They were living in the illumination of embers. They were doomed.
Across from me, a tree shrieked and split in two, its pieces flying into the sky with those of a hundred others that had also broken and been rent from the ground. It was starting to pick up.
The parking deck across the street from Jorge collapsed like a plate of sodden pancakes and slid, one rubble floor after another, into the growing blackness metastasizing in the pit where the sun was succumbing.
The western wall of the library blew open in a great shower of red bricks, its millions of volumes spilling into the air and flying torn and tattered over the roofs of crumbling structures. The library itself, ancient and weathered, could bear only so much, and after a few moments of this unholy assault it crumpled in a massive heap of soot, metal and mortar.
I gasped and seized the base of the Clock Tower in time to see a group of painted benches go soaring into the melee.
Behind me the Freshman Circle, the primordial gateway through which countless generations, including my own, had been inducted, burned bright red and ground into the earth, its pulverized ash making a billowing scarlet cloud that floated across campus.
The Student Village was next. Its pillared brick residences, clinging to the edge of the horizon, detached fully intact from the ground and flew in a cacophony of grinding brick and snapping steel into the maelstrom. In Old Dorm, where I'd met some of the best friends I'd ever had, the hallways turned into deadly funnels of flying glass and enamel as windows burst and sinks flew free from their moorings.
I hadn't cried until then, but seeing that hallowed place so desecrated pushed me over the edge.
"Good," I called out
"Hang on, BB," a voice whispered back. "It'll be over soon."
She was right. Only a few slivers of sunlight remained, and with them was going the greatest of all our bulwarks.
The Central Hall moaned like a harpooned whale and shook to its foundations.
The great central staircase went first, collapsing in a sudden swooping rush. The Hall continued to shake, though.
Its famed soaring balconies had hosted presidents, dignitaries, firebrands, and pop stars; had housed one of the greatest repositories of knowledge in the world; and had witnessed the mundane joys and travails of thousands of students. Now they folded in on themselves and cascaded in a wave of spectacular destruction through the cavernous atrium. Tens of thousands of volumes were dumped in a living landfill with backpacks, computers, works of art, and fast food wrappers, the good with the bad, the great with the meaningless. All of it went together.
The white summit of the building wavered and then, like the rest of the the Hall, fell with a mighty roar.
Jorge looked back at me, then back at the ruined edifice to which he'd been sentinel for decades, and at last turned his steely eyes into the blackness that flowed over the horizon.
With a great bellow he leapt forward from his pedestal and followed the Hall's crushed remains as they flew into the vortex of dying light.
I didn't call after him. There would have been no point.
The air around me was a chaotic whirlwind of airborne stone and steel, its gales filled with the detritus of a million memories all hurtling to oblivion. Every building, every structure, every bicycle and comic book and blade of grass and disintegrating brick was rushing through the sky. Nothing was untouched. Even the metal beneath my hand sagged and screamed as if it had been lacerated.
I jumped back as the Clock Tower twisted and plunged onto the liquefying tarmac with a great shattering clang. I shuddered at the sight of its still hands frozen in eternal ruin. They had no time left to tell. And then, like everything else, they, too, were sucked into the furious sky.
That crumpled green sphere was the last thing to go. It disappeared over the edge of being with the final piteous ray of light and all at once the chorus of misery that had resounded over all creation was silenced. The sun had set on the expired age. In its wake, there was nothing left. Within a moment no hint existed of the just-murdered world. Instead there was black, endless, enveloping, formless black. It wasn't anything in particular. It was just nothing.
I stood alone in it, in the dense quiet, and realized I was no longer afraid. This wasn't, as I'd feared, the graveyard of a dead world. Instead it was the empty foundation of a world that hadn't been built yet.
I gazed up into a sky waiting to be filled. In the distance I could see a single star.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
When people speak of "the holidays" they naturally have in mind several different occasions, but in my case each individual holiday becomes multiplied. It's something I rather enjoy.
On Tuesday, November 22nd, my parents held a Thanksgiving dinner at our home in Mountain Town. This was an affair only for the immediate members of the Our Family family. As someone who has long despised the absurd conventions carried on by normal people for no apparent reason, in particular the convention that holds a person should expect miserable holiday interactions with their relatives, I was dismayed by my parents' mind-blowing emotional insensitivity and, through it, their ability to project a vaguely menacing air. Even after specifically inviting Powell home for a festival dedicated to family and thankfulness, they managed to make him feel unwelcome. They have a gift.
My brother Powell has been through a lot, and my parents are a huge contributing factor to that. He was subject, like I was, to years of unrelenting child abuse and was then ejected from the only home he'd ever known when he reacted to child abuse the way almost every child does. He went off the rails. He started to go nuts. He internalized the inferiority and the insults and responded with an unquenchable anger that they had the audacity to be confused by. He became what they made him and then they kicked him to the curb for it.
It's deeply frustrating, at times even agonizing. He is in desperate need of psychological help but is afraid, as he prepares to enlist in the Marine Corps, to seek it out lest he be deemed unfit for service. I want to tell him to put all such concerns aside but know how limited his options are. He can't seek help from home. He'll get no quarter there.
Their--specifically my mother's--determination to provide him with no substantive assistance seems unshakeable, even if such determination conflicts with prior promises: Powell has counted for months on my father's guarantee that he could come home after he enlisted, but at Thanksgiving dinner no less my mother shot the idea down.
"Mom, where am I supposed to go?" he asked. "Anne is probably moving."
My mother shook her head and sighed in an infuriating display of mock-pity.
"I guess you'll figure it out," she said.
I don't know how far my father's desire to keep his word will go, but if past events are any indication my mother's role as supreme decisionmaker will go unchallenged. It is this combination--unconscionable callousness from both of them and appalling cowardice from my father--that has made me of late seriously consider disowning them, but that's a post for another time.
Not all of the break was spent with my parents.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I was fortunate enough to be invited to Black Dress Girl's house, where a number of self-declared "losers," almost all in their early and mid twenties, had assembled to have Thanksgiving with friends instead of family.
Black Dress Girl has been one of my closest friends since we met while working together at Western City Movie Theater in 2008, and her own acquaintances are just as raucous as she and I are.
The evening was filled with rolling laughter, earthy humor, and a spread of food that was surprisingly good for having come out of a 23-year-old's kitchen.
When Black Dress Girl and I get together anything can happen, and I was relieved to find that her friend group is similarly degenerate. The conversation was such that at one point in the night I was able to utter the words "It's like going to Jiffy Lube: every three thousand miles you change the potato in your vagina" in a logical context.
There have also been several developments concerning mine and my family's future. For starters, this Christmas season will be our last in our current home. After purchasing our house in 2005 for just over $500,000.00 we saw its value decline to under $300,000.00 by earlier this year. My parents had been trying for months to sell it and were lucky that, when a buyer made a reasonable offer, the bank decided to absorb the loss.
A contract having now been concluded, we'll be moving sometime in February. I include myself in that "we," as, without a real job lined up, I will continue living at home with my parents for the foreseeable future despite the fact that I will graduate in some three weeks' time.
That fact is hard for me to grasp. Next week is the conclusion of non-exam sessions and thus will constitute my last week of classes an an undergraduate. That reality is a bit strange but not as sobering as one might imagine; I've been here so long that I'm really just ready to leave. The biting sadness that plagued my last week of high school, and which I can vividly remember, is not present now as even a dim shadow.
I'm glad that I'm graduating so late. Many college students, when the moment finally arrives, are reluctant to leave university, but because my tenure has been such a lengthy one I know I've gotten everything out of this place that I can. I had my first drink here. I had my first (male) kiss here. It was here that I first learned to accept myself and in the process made some of the best friends I've ever had. Many of those friends, of course, are no longer present; time has dwindled their numbers so that the last of the stragglers who arrived on this campus in 2006 are slinking out the door.
I'm glad to be one of them. I came here to learn, and I have learned much. Now it's time to go.
And while the job market has offered me no immediate gems, not all is lost; I recently learned that I've been accepted as an intern with Sentinel of the West Literary Agency. During my time at a literary agency in the City of Fate I fell in love with the profession and was thrilled to be notified of my acceptance at another agency this week.
The agency itself is in Movie State and I gather that its members rather like me as they asked me to start a special remote internship this month and then proceeded to inform me that they were granting me significantly more authority than they were giving to any of the other interns.
"So, what you're going to be doing is reading through manuscripts and telling us what you think," said the Agentess, my handler and the woman who offered me the position. "We haven't actually seen these manuscripts yet so we usually require some kind of reasoning behind an intern's decision, but I think in your case we'd just give you the power to say yes or no."
"You have a pretty advanced skill set," she explained. "We were very impressed with the test assessments you gave, and we feel like we can trust your judgement. I'm pretty comfortable giving you that kind of latitude."
I tried not to let my head get too big. I've been trying to figure out a way to move out to Movie State, aware as I am that securing a job at Sentinel of the West Agency will be difficult from 3,000 miles away, but absent that the Agentess has expressed hope that a remote internship will "at least give you enough experience to get hired by another agency."
So despite an outlook that in some respects is rather gloomy, I find myself quite excited and with what I think is good reason.
The last week of college starts on Monday. It's been a very long autumn.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Several days ago I was minding my business in the Major University Dining Hall when two very nervous-looking young women walked up to me and tapped my shoulder.
"Um, hi," the taller of them said through a slight blush.
Her comrade was so flustered that I worried she would fall over, and I wondered what I could possibly have done to so agitate these pretty Asian girls.
"Hi," I said, confusion obvious in my voice.
"We're sorry to bother you, but..."
I looked on expectantly, and finally the second girl blurted out, "You have the most beautiful hair we've ever seen!"
The first girl fidgeted.
"Can we take a picture with you?"
"Sure," I said, caught off guard and half thinking it was a joke. "I mean...if you really want to."
We posed for an awkward cell phone shot in which they grinned like fiends and I tried to force a believable smile. They then skittered away, thanking me for honoring one of the weirdest requests I've ever gotten.
I went back to my dinner and, about five minutes later, started to find the whole thing irresistibly funny. I resisted the considerable urge to dramatically toss my hair and instead just picked up my tray and headed for the exit, laughing the whole way out.