Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stories of John C. Parsons

John C. Parsons loved his family. Especially on game night.

My dad's competitive streak is legendary on both sides of my family. Any game he played, he HAD to dominate. His Monopoly skills annoyed my mother so much that Monopoly hasn't been voluntarily played in the Parsons household since the 20th Century.

(On the other side of the coin, he and I also never played Sorry again after I drew the best possible card and accidentally beat him one weekend a few years ago. Mom high-fived me for that one.)

My cousin Winston once told me a story about how Dad hustled him at tennis. Dad took Winston to a tennis court and claimed to be "out of practice" and "it'd been a few years," so go easy on your old uncle, please, Winston?

They got onto the court. Dad proceeded to serve a smoking ace past Winston, who'd had barely enough time to react.

"Fifteen-love," said Dad, stony-faced.

Dad wasn't this way out of malicious intent. It's just how he was. But he frequently made fun of it, and so did everyone else.

I remember my grandfather -- my dad's father-in-law -- calling Dad out during a game of Taboo back in the mid-nineties. The game has a buzzer, and the rules state that, in addition to the forbidden words with each clue, you can't use sign language or hand signals to help your teammates guess the secret word. If you do, you get buzzed out.

Dad, being a naturally animated person, began describing his secret word, and made a couple of broad "you know" gestures with his hands.

Opa immediately hit the buzzer repeatedly.

"Ah ah ah!" exclaimed Opa. "No hand signals! Cheating!"

"They're not hand signals!" exclaimed Dad, still gesturing. "It's just how I talk!"

"It's cheating!" exclaimed Opa, still pressing the buzzer.

One night about a decade ago, while a bunch of my cousins were in town, we all gathered at my grandmother's house to socialize and play and whatnot.

Someone got out Trivial Pursuit. We divided up into teams. And Dad got straight into competition mode.

Trivial Pursuit has these little gray spaces in the outer ring called "Roll Again." They're spaced three or four spaces from each other, and five or two spaces from a pie slice space; therefore, if you got a good roll, you could either go to another Roll Again, or get a slice of pie.

Dad got onto one of the Roll Again spaces during our game.

"Five or two!" he exclaimed, rattling the die in his hand. "Five or two!"

He rolled, and almost immediately picked the die back up.

"Roll Again!" he exclaimed. "Five or two! Five or two!"

He rolled again, and almost immediately picked the die back up.

"Roll Again!" he exclaimed. "Five or two! Five or two!"

And so on. After doing this a few times, Winston piped up.

"WE CAN'T EVEN SEE WHAT YOU'RE ROLLING!" exclaimed Winston. "How in the world do we know what you're rolling when we can't even SEE it? 'Five or two! Pick up the dice! Roll again! Five or two!' How can we TRUST you, John?"

Dad would have protested, had he not been howling with laughter.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Legend of Mrs. Moyer the Computer Teacher: A Story in Three Acts


For practically all of my life, I've loved playing with computers. I suppose I get this love from my late grandfather, who always strived to have the latest technology whenever he could manage it. When I was a small child, we'd sit in his ham radio room playing Pac-Man on his PC for several hours. It was amazing.

Despite this love, I absolutely hated going to my elementary school's computer lab.

I attended James Bowie Elementary School from 1992 to 1998. I look back on those years rather fondly, as I had great teachers, I made several new friends, and, despite the occasional bully, had a wonderful time.

The computer teacher during my fifth and sixth grade years wasn't so wonderful.

I won't use this particular teacher's real name in this story, partially out of professional courtesy, and mostly because I still think she's homicidal. Let's just say that her name is "Mrs. Moyer," even though those that knew her will recognize who I'm talking about anyway.

Mrs. Moyer wasn't really a "teacher" in the conventional sense. She ran the campus computer lab out of a tiny portable building as if it was her own personal fiefdom, which each class got to visit about once a month. Beyond that, she never had a real class of her own.

And man, we all thought she was the meanest person imaginable. She had a perpetual scowl on her face, and was never happy. Seriously, I thought she was like a bespectacled little toad hopped up on angry pills.

"Sit up straight!" she'd angrily bark at us as she stalked around the lab. "I'm gonna put thumbtacks on the backs of your chairs! Fingers on home row!"

And we weren't bad kids! In hindsight, we had a few class clowns, but overall, I'd say that we were pretty average. Hearing her talk to us, however, you'd think that we were all inmates from Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay.

Most of the time, computer class would consist of typing exercises, or edutainment games. And if we played games, we had to play them her way.

One time in the computer lab, Mrs. Moyer announced that we were to play Oregon Trail to completion and score a certain point total (or higher), then report our scores to her. From there, you could quit and play whatever you wanted.

At the beginning of this particular version of the game, you chose your profession. She ordered us to choose "farmer" as our profession. I never had much luck with keeping my wagon's passengers alive when I played as "farmer," so I chose "doctor" as my profession.

It paid off. I quickly made it through the game without anyone dying. I was stoked.

But when I went over to report my end point total to Mrs. Moyer, she exploded in a rage.


"But no one in my wagon died--"

"I DON'T CARE!" she yelled, turning red. "I told you that 'farmer' would have given you a higher point total! Go back and do it again!"

I replayed as a farmer. I achieved her point total. Everyone in my wagon died of dysentery.

Also during my elementary school days, we had these things called "Accelerated Reader" tests, which were short multiple-choice quizzes on certain library books, meant to gauge students' reading comprehension in preparation for standardized testing. As incentive, depending on how high your score was on one of these tests, you'd get varying amounts of "Bowie Bucks," which were redeemable in the front office if you wanted a small prize or something.

The sole caveat, though, was that the AR tests were done after school in the computer lab. With Mrs. Moyer. Alone.

I was so terrified of the woman's temper that I refused to go back there for any AR tests, Bowie Bucks be damned. It took my mother waiting outside the room, and a test about my favorite book (Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White), before I felt sort of okay with taking one.

And I aced it.

And it was the ONLY one I ever took at Bowie.

The consensus on the playground was that Mrs. Moyer just plain hated kids, and this line of thought was exacerbated by her dual status as a playground aide. Though we didn't see her but once a month in the computer lab, we had to endure her every day on the playground.

While the other teachers sat around calmly in their semicircle on a hill overlooking the playground, Mrs. Moyer, outfitted with a visor on her brow and a referee's whistle around her neck, would gleefully blast her whistle at any infraction, real or imagined, from both good kids and bad kids alike. And the supposedly guilty party would have to sit out part of recess.

We grumbled about her nearly every day. To say that she was our nemesis was a gross understatement.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Ramdiculous Feud: A Tale of Miscommunication, Drama, and Yellow Journalism at Angelo State University

Note: The following tale has been reconstructed from the newspapers, letters, and personal journal entries surrounding these events. Beyond that, this is how I remember it.

“Competition makes people better by pushing them to keep up with someone else. Get over the junior high jealous friend thing and man up, don’t just cry and moan because you have to actually be good now. Actually BE good. Spark that creativity and be original and entertaining; your peers and your competition will respect you more for it, and you won’t have to cry yourself to sleep at night anymore.”

–“Samuel Clemens,”
Ramdiculous Page, March 9, 2007
One evening about a month ago, during a Facebook chat with my friend Keith as we discussed his upcoming wedding, I came to a startling realization about an upcoming anniversary.

“Dude,” I typed. “March 7. Ten years since they fired me. A decade.”

“Damn,” said Keith.

I leaned back and whistled as I thought about it. It didn’t seem that long ago, but so much had happened in those ten years.

“That was one of the most important events of my life, to be honest,” I wrote.

“Why’s that?” he responded.

I paused, thinking about everything that had happened before and since March 7, 2007.