idol season ten | week 1 | 754 words
I need the struggle to feel alive
People say that nothing ever happens in small towns, but I think they're just not paying attention.
Something was always going on in my town if you looked hard enough, and me? I always did.
It started when I was eight, and my mother would send me on errands to the corner store. "We need milk and eggs," she would say, counting out money to pay for the food and dashing off a quick note to the grocer.
I would go to the store and gather the things she'd asked for, and show the note to the man behind the counter. I couldn't read the note—my mother always wrote in cursive—and the grocer never said anything, but I knew those notes were secret messages. Maybe my mother was reporting on the day's activities on our street, or maybe something extra was packaged in with the food and sent home with me. Either way, I was the courier of something bigger than a simple errand.
At ten, I biked to my friends' houses over a network of ever-changing routes, in case I was being followed. I never carried anything more valuable than a couple of quarters for ice cream, but for all they knew, I could have been carrying information for my mother. Whoever "they" might have been.
I kept a diary—in code—of the things I saw around town and what I thought they meant. The mayor's wife went to the liquor store a lot—was she smuggling alcohol somewhere? Billy Traskell was taking violin lessons and he didn’t even play in the school orchestra. What was he hiding?
My friends never joined me in uncovering any of these secrets, and they weren't particularly interested in what I found.
"God, not this again," Pete would say if I suggested biking downtown to watch the comings and goings at City Hall for a few hours.
Ted Barker was no help, either. "Can't you just have, like, a normal life?"
None of them seemed to realize that my way was a lot more exciting than theirs. I mean, watching TV and playing catch was okay, but what about adventure and intrigue? Why settle for the ordinary stuff?
My mother told me to get a new hobby and stop being so nosy. Hey, thanks for the support, Mom! Way to encourage your kid!
Nobody else was very enthusiastic about my work, either. In high school, I found out Coach Waters was running numbers on our football games. Was anyone grateful he'd been caught and disciplined? No.
"Geez Mike, no one actually wanted to know that!" they all said.
Could I help it if I thought honesty and integrity actually mattered? Which was exactly what Coach Waters used to tell us, by the way, before his gambling problem got away from him…
Now I'm in college, which is full of all kinds of new challenges. When I turned in my Freshman year take-home English final to the professor, I also handed her the solution to the cipher she'd hidden in the questions.
She gave me this sort of dazed look. "What the hell is this?" she said.
So, yeah. I think she was impressed.
Sophomore year, I got kicked out of my fraternity when a couple of guys caught me peeking through the windows of the girls' dorm.
"Dude," the frat president said, "we talk about stuff like that, but we never actually do it. What the hell were you thinking? You know that that kind of behavior is totally creepy, right?"
Yeah? Two of those girls had a major pharmaceutical enterprise going on in their room, how about that?
"Oh, for crying out loud. Just—keep it to yourself, man, you know? Seriously. Don't dig the hole deeper."
That kind of response was all too typical.
"God, what is wrong with you?" people were always saying. "Why are you always looking for puzzles everywhere?"
Why? Because without those puzzles, what was the point of doing anything?
So now I'm a Junior, majoring in business and accounting. Total snooze-fest, right? But it doesn't have to be.
After graduation, I'll go work for some big corporate firm, or maybe the I.R.S. Wherever I wind up, I'll keep doing my own form of investigating.
I'll poke through records and paperwork and Internet trails, and anything else I can find. I'll keep at it day and night until I'll figure out what people are hiding, because believe me—everybody's hiding something. Everybody.
Even if they don't know it.
-- fin –
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