Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: The Breeders, by Matthew J. Beier

            It’s not every book that makes me sigh in relief when I reach the afterword and learn the book was written as a satire. No, author Matthew J. Beier does not believe that homosexuals want to take over the planet and control every facet of our lives. That being said, his book The Breeders will make a wonderful Christmas present for hard core right-wingers and gay hipsters alike. How many books can you say that about? But all politics aside, The Breeders is an interesting tale, eerily reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World. It can be overly sappy in places, but by the end of the book, you’ll learn Beier isn’t just a skilled writer—he’s got serious balls.
For some reason, this reminds me of the kids' TV show Cyberchase. Not sure why

            In a society dominated by the flamingly homosexual New Rainbow Army, all heterosexual woman are genetically engineered to be sterile. This poses a problem for Grace Jarvis, who finds herself expecting a baby after an underground heterosexual orgy. As the society she lives in strengthens its crackdown on reproductive rights, Grace frantically searches for a way to save herself and her unborn child—a difficult thing, especially when one of your fathers doesn’t approve of you sexual orientation. Her search leads her to the mysterious Opposition—a rebel group that offers Grace a chance to escape the New Rainbow Army—if she’s willing to leave everything she knows and loves behind.

            Dex Wheelock, the father of Grace’s baby, has a big decision to make: stay home and face possible persecution for his sexual orientation, or follow this pregnant woman across the world. Dex is, naturally, terrified at the thought of leaving his whole world behind. When he lets his fear overwhelm him for a split second, all plans and hopes are dashed apart and he finds himself on a long, terrifying journey to survive and reunite with the mother of his child.

            Along his way, he finds spiritual fulfillment and inner peace. This is excellent for Dex and a little tedious for the reader. It doesn’t feel quite real, and books don’t run well when the main characters are happy and serene. It’s the kind of thought I’d expect from a Buddhist monk, not a man on the run for his life. Pregnancy is idealized—Grace thinks about the miracle of bringing natural life into the world quite frequency, and her swollen feet and constant need to pee not at all. Over the course of the book, the characters do develop—but in becoming parents, the pieces of their relationship fall together a little two neatly. After all, they were random strangers when they met at the orgy. You’d think that two random people would have more points of disagreement.

            The world-building in The Breeders is excellent: Beier has created a society that’s truly frightening in its excesses. It’s not just our world with a little gender flopping, but the strangeness of the story’s world made me wonder if that’s how it is for my gay friends sometimes—that you’re living in a world that wasn’t built for you. The villains are menacing, though distant, and a sense of hopelessness pervades the whole text as we watch these characters struggle against real and overwhelming odds. This is one book you should read twice.

            Highs: Atmosphere. The world Beier builds is genuinely dark and hopeless, filled with characters who, if not perfect, certainly draw you to root for them. Story-first approach. A lot of satirical stories can’t decide if they want to be all satire or tell a story, and Beier picks his direction and stays with it. He manages to tell a complete story in a world based off a ridiculous premise, which is much harder than it looks. Twist ending. I’m not going to spoil the book, but Beier delivers on what he’s foreshadowed all along.

            Lows: Uneven characterization. The characters feel a little too pure by the end of the book. I would have liked it if they'd had a few more, enduring flaws.

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like science fiction? Yes. My rating? As sci-fi, five stars out of five. As a novel, four stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can download The Breeders here

Monday, November 26, 2012

How NOT to drive: five things your driving instructor forgot to teach you

I consider myself a decent driver. Not perfect, but decent. My car has its share of scratches and dings on the bumper, but only one of those was actually my fault. And despite my troubles at actually getting my licence (see here), I'm a decent driver. The great commonwealth of Virginia has pushed me through more driving classes and scared-straight programs than I can count, but I've actually learned something.

This isn't from an accident. This is what happens when I punch my car after waiting in line for  three hours at the DMV
 But there's some driving tricks you can only learn from experience. Here's a few.

When there's room to change lanes, someone will change lanes. Without signalling. If there is a space the size of a car between you and the car in front of you, expect someone to enter it. Without signalling. Because apparently, you've left that spot open just for them, instead of, you know, to provide a cushion of safe space between you and the driver ahead of you. Apparently, leaving that space open is the equivalent of sending other drivers an engraved invitation: Cut me off! Cut me off! There's nothing you can really do about this. Just be warned.

Sometimes, your car won't work. Sometimes, you'll have a flat tire, or your battery will die, or you'll blow out your clutch. So if you have your own car, there is a second piece of equipment you will need: a cell phone. This is how you call friends and ask for a ride. This is also the step where you need friends with cars, and why car ownership requires certain lifestyle changes. It's easy to chart out how much car owners will spend on insurance, car payments, and those other things your parents pay for (gas! I forgot gas!). Hidden costs include buying Starbucks for your friend when she drops everything to come drive you to school, making the hideous sacrifice of leaving a whole twenty minutes early to come save you. To avoid this common problem, if you're the person with the bad car, make friends. If you're the person with friends, check your phone each morning to make sure you have no emergency texts from said friends.

Be warned: the lane you're driving in likes to change into a turn lane with no prior warning. This is common in all towns across the continental USA. All the fault of shortsighted urban planners who decided after three drinks 'ah, screw it, I'll just make that normal lane into a turn lane, because my girlfriend just dumped me and I want this whole town to suffer like me.' Those little ticks can drive a whole town crazy. If you don't want this to cause you trouble, I suggest memorizing every single one of these annoying little changes. If you can't, try being female and looking just helpless enough that people will let you cut quickly back into their lane.

Your GPS is a really handy tool. It can tell you how to get anywhere. Unfortunately, my GPS was made in 2004 and I don't know how to update the street map, so after eight years of nonstop construction in my hometown it's about as valuable as the copper inside the wiring. Also, since mine doesn't come with a handy dashboard map, I lean it up against that . . . thingie in between the seats, whatever it's called . . . and whenever it's sunny outside, the glare prevents me from seeing the screen. Not to mention that it loves falling down and wedging itself next to the emergency break. I can't count the number of times I've taken the wrong exit because the darn thing fell over. This problem can be fixed with duct tape.

Lastly, dealing with bikes. You've probably seen a few new bike lanes being installed in your town. It sounds like a smart idea. Encourage people to bike to work, save the planet. Those lanes also perform a vital function of getting the stupid bikers out of your way. I enjoy exercise. Many of my friends are triathletes. I understand you have a big race to train for, I understand the law says you have to be on the road, I know you don't like being surrounded by cars either . . . but I still don't like the biker on the road. Namely, how he's going twenty miles below the speed limit and causing the right lane to slow down massively while everyone tries to get into the left lane. The poor fool stuck directly behind the bike--usually me--has no room to accelerate, so they can't match the speeds of the people in the left lane and get out. This leads to many angry people. Bikers, please, if you notice twenty cars backed up behind you, turn onto a less popular street.    Fellow drivers, there's not much you can do about this one unless you're willing to spend the rest of your life in jail. Apparently, 'supreme annoyance' doesn't justify 'vehicular homicide'.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How NOT to freeze to death at college

Editorial note for January 22nd: I wrote this piece when it was forty degrees outside. Fool that I was, I never imagined I'd see a day when the temperature dipped below fifteen degrees. As of now, it's ten degrees and the wind is howling like Penny with her tail stuck in a door. 

Most of you know me as the girl who likes to run shirtless in December. What you may not know is that I've got another side: an adventurous, polar explorer type side. I can climb up icebergs and go surfing in Antarctica. Or at least I tell myself that. Because I'm actually a total wimp when it comes to cold weather. 

For example, this is me studying
You might ask why I decided to go to college in the northeast. Hubris, I say (also, it was the best school that accepted me). To those of you who've heard me brag about my stupendous cold resistance and to all of those I've encouraged to come to Cornell . . . lo, let not my arrogance drag you down into the cold, frozen pit known as New York.

But for those of you foolhardy souls determined to brave the freezing north, I have only these scant pieces of advice to offer you. Choose your clothes wisely, for they determine thine status of freezingness.

Let's start with jackets. A jacket is most people's solution to the problem of Cold. Jackets come in all shapes and sizes. I have a brown sweater I love, but can't wear, because it's too thin to keep me warm. I have a ski jacket that keeps me very warm, but weights about as much as carrying around an extra cat and isn't nearly as good a conversation piece. Most of the time, I compromise on my brown fleece, which feels like real fur and was in fact part of my famous Chewbacca costume last year. I still feel a bit like a wookie when I wear it, but it keeps me warm, so I don't really care.

Shoes. Shoes are important. I have a collection of shoes I love dearly. Unfortunately, I live almost a mile from campus and end up walking that distance almost every day, so my pretty wedges and strappy flats sat in my closet all August while I wore my sneakers everywhere. Thankfully, now that it's practically winter, I can wear my boots. Once upon a time, I refused to wear Uggs as a statement of individuality. Then I tried on    a pair and never went back. Leather boots and plastic snow boots are also in fashion up here. I still see some girls wearing strappy shoes, but they're the ones struggling up the hill at nine AM on a Saturday morning still wearing little black dresses and smudged makeup, so I'll keep my boots, thank you very much.

Pants. Jeans. That's all I own, save one pair of formal pants and a dress so short it's technically illegal in 36 states (plus wherever Taylor is).

 Long underwear. This stuff is a skier's best friend. It's also a wimpy college student's best friend. Those who know me know that, for whatever reason, my pants tend to sink so low on me that my underwear becomes visible. I don't know why. But this winter, all people are seeing is that so-called "black bodysuit" I've got on under my clothes. To all those who mock me: I'm warm. I'm sooooo warm.

Hats. I own several hats. My favorite hat has big fluffy pompoms that swing in my face when I run. I also have a North Face hat I got for free at an event I attended in October. It's very cool looking, but every time I take it off my hair stands on end.

Mittens and gloves. I got a few pairs of three dollar gloves at Target last month and wear them religiously, even when inside. I have a bad case of chronically cold fingers. I also have a pair of big, fluffy mittens, which make it so I can't move my hands, but I wear them anyway, because it's cold outside.

Armed with all my clothing, I am prepared to set foot outside and bravely walk to the bus stop, where I catch the nice heated bus that takes me to campus, where I bravely set foot outside again and step into a heated building, repeating this pattern until spring. Five more months to go!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: Servant to the Emerald, by Stephanie Stallworth

            This week started off with a bang. A nearly apocalyptic bang. For this week, I read Servant to the Emerald, a tale of the zombie apocalypse with plenty of bang. This eerie road-trip tale has plenty of action and romance. Fans of zombie tales will be draw in by the creeping creepiness, fans of YA will enjoy the young characters and romance, and fans of sci-fi will be sucked in by the enduring mystery. Much like The Forest of Hands and Teeth with a modern twist, Servant to the Emerald makes a perfect light read. Though the text can be choppy and could have benefited from a good editor in places—and though the characters can sometimes come off as a little too simple—this is one book I wasn’t able to put down.
The sky's been decorated for the most depressing Christmas ever.

            As the story starts, we meet Amy, a young girl who’s biggest problems are school and dealing with her grandparents. That all changes when, on a weekend trip to her grandparents’ farm, she wakes up to find that the farm—and all of Canada—has been charboiled by some mysterious force. All the animals are dead. Her grandparents’ house has been demolished. Scavenging in the ruins, Amy grabs some weapons, food, and jumps on her beloved horse Emily as the two ride off into a zombie-infested wasteland, in hopes of learning what has happened to her family. The aura of mystery urged me to keep reading, even as I did notice a few flaws in the plot’s logic.

            Soon she encounters Eric, a handsome boy her age who happens to be a trained marksman. Lucky find! With Eric, she encounters and kills her first zombie. In this story, the zombies have eerie green eyes and acidic green blood. There’s a very sci-fi vibe to them—it feels more like an alien invasion story than a zombie apocalypse, but in a fresh way. The party soon gains a third member in Cassie, a victim of abduction who’s been forced to work as a sex slave for the past few years. Together, they set out on a road trip from hell in an attempt to figure out what’s happened to the world. Mad scientists and creepy pregnant women abound. Tragedy nips at our heroine’s heels.

            Servant to the Emerald doesn’t read like a professionally published book, for all its strong storytelling. It can be heavy-handed at times, and focuses more on telling us, not showing us, the characters emotions. It could have benefited from a good editor. I also thought the climax could have been moved up a little earlier—the climax in the text is located slightly after the emotional climax of the book.

            The POV can be choppy in places, and I didn’t like the way the author switched back and forth between Amy’s first person narrative and a third person omniscient POV. The third person omni POV is a longstanding pet peeve of mine, mainly because I feel like it’s a cheap way to show how characters really feel without using descriptive language to convey their true emotions. Also, it’s quite confusing to go from first to third person without warning. The first time this switch happened, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Switching narrators is one thing, but switching person is unnecessary and confusing.

            Highs: Suspense. This is one book that kept me reading until the last page. Character development. I enjoyed seeing how Amy grew and matured over the course of the book. Mystery. The story behind the crisis is revealed slowly, with every bit luring you to read more. Creepiness. One part, where Amy and her friends stay in an abandoned hospital, sent shivers up my spine.

            Lows: Heavy writing. There could have been a lot more description and a lot less saying “he felt bad” or “she was scared”. Plot gifts. It’s awfully convenient that the first person Amy meets after the cataclysm is a handsome boy her age who knows how to use a gun.

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it to people who like YA zombie stories? Yes. My rating? As a YA zombie story, four and a half stars out of five. As a novel, three and a half stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

 You can download Servant to the Emerald here

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to be late to your own birthday party

It's November again!

And what happens in November? My birthday, of course (don't worry, you've still got a few days to get your gifts in the mail, or post 'happy b-day' on my Facebook page). It's not a big number birthday, so I'm not planning anything too big.

Last year, though, was a pretty big birthday for me, so I decided to celebrate by taking some of my closest friends to The Melting Pot, a fancy fondue place. Pretty classy, right? And since my friend Katherine has her birthday only ten days before mine, we decided to make it a joint party. What could go wrong?

Okay, it's me. Something will go wrong.

The day of the party, I take a nice long actual shower, dry my hair, put on a nice outfit, and get in my car. Taylor's texted me to ask for a ride and I've happily obliged. Despite me constantly telling myself it only takes fifteen minutes to get to her house, it always takes twenty. Whatever. It's only twelve fifteen. Lunch doesn't start until one.

My heels click as I walk up the drive. I causally adjust my nice throw and flick a piece of lint of my nice dark jeans. Taylor opens the door.

"We were supposed to dress up?" she says, wearing her Northern Region Regionals long-sleeve tee. It's grey and purple, and I remember this way too well. Keep in mind this is a trend for Taylor and me. When we went to a concert last summer, I wore an off the shoulder crop top with fabric roses and she wore a TJXC tee shirt.
This was very nearly her prom photo

I sigh, because I'm used to Taylor by now. "Don't worry about it. Let's get going."

We hop in my car and head off to the restaurant. Taylor critiques my driving all the way, despite the fact I've never rear-ended a wrestler from Oakton High while leaving church . . . actually, I've never rear-ended anybody. As I point this out, Taylor blushes and starts critiquing the one thing I've actually got issues with: my navigational skills.

"Do you actually know where this restaurant is?" she asks as I turn in a side street to an office complex. "Because that looks like an office building."

"The restaurant is in that office building. On the ground floor. I've been here before."

I drive in a big circle around the office complex and realize I've pulled in at the wrong place. So I pull back out onto the main road and turn in the next entrance. I drive down to the building where the restaurant was just a year ago and it isn't there. We've still got twenty minutes to spare. Taylor spends five of those calling me crazy. Thankfully, I walk up to the door and see a tiny notice saying that The Melting Pot has moved to 225 Morning Drive.

"I told you I wasn't crazy!" I announce triumphantly.

"Morning Drive. Where is that?" she says.

Bonus points. "I know where that is!"

She looks at me. "No, you don't. I'm calling Katherine and asking her."

In a huff, I walk back to my car. I think about getting out my GPS while Taylor calls Katherine and decide against it, on the principle of Taylor not telling me what to do. As I turn the key in the ignition, I hear Taylor say, "What do you mean, your car broke down?"

Two tense sentences later, and Taylor puts the phone down. "She's stuck near Sunset Hills Road. You know where that is!"

"Yes!" I exclaim triumphantly, and set off driving in exactly the wrong direction.

Five minutes later, there's no sign of Katherine and Taylor asks me to turn around. I do. This is the point where I call the other girls and give them the reservation information so they can be seated without us.

When we come across two cars stopped in the rightmost lane with their blinkers on, we know we've found her. I pull up behind the stopped cars, put on my own blinkers, and hop out of the car. Katherine is standing on the grass while a nearby motorist attempts to jump her motor with his own. She sucks on her lower lip as I walk over, greeting her with a hearty, "Hi, Katherine!"

Taylor starts laughing.

"It wasn't my fault!" Katherine says. "I left with plenty of time to spare, but Reston is confusing and I had no idea how to reach the address you gave me!"

"Don't worry," Taylor says, "It was the wrong address anyway."

"It was an honest mistake!" I say. Then, eager to change the subject, "What happened to your car?"

"I don't know!" She bites her lip. "I was just driving up this hill and it stopped working!"

Taylor's already back on her phone, giving her father directions on where he can come find us. Because apparently three teenage girls aren't capable of fixing a car themselves. "He's five minutes away. Liz, let's move your car,"

"Good idea," I say, and me and her get back in my car and drive up the hill. I turn in a side street and park.

"Stay here," Taylor says, getting out of the car. "I'll take care of this."

"Stay here? What? What makes you more qualified to take care of this than me?"

She rolls her eyes, even though the correct answer here is 'absolutely nothing'. "Trust me. Stay here."

And then she slams the door in my face. Well, happy birthday to me.

Acting like the mature adult I was (or would be, anyway, since my actual birthday wasn't for another five days), I decided to sit in the car and pout instead of going out and distracting the vital car-repair effort by trying to prove to Taylor how mature I was. Three minutes later, Taylor, her dad, and the random bystander push Katherine's car up the hill while a sheepish Katherine walks up behind them. I know exactly how she feels.

So now that the broken car isn't blocking traffic and a tow truck has been called, Taylor and Katherine both get in my car. Katherine slides in the back. I've been productive while Taylor's been gone--I've set up my GPS. Taylor greets this new development by thoughtfully freaking out. "You had a GPS all this time? Why didn't you use it?"

"Because I thought I knew my hometown," I mutter.

"Your town is confusing, Liz," Katherine says.

"I can't believe you had a GPS all along!"

We end up here eventually

So half an hour late, both the birthday girls walk into the restaurant trailed by an extremely irate Taylor. Sarah and Sarah are very glad to see us. And to this day, I maintain that I could have helped if Taylor hadn't made me stay in the car.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book Review: The Forever Girl, by Rebecca Hamilton

            Continuing in the paranormal romance trend, this week we’ve got The Forever Girl, by Rebecca Hamilton. Witches, vampires, and shapeshifters all mix together in this well-told tale. Full of magic, history, and mystery, The Forever Girl is a perfect read for fans of Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. It builds a clear-cut and well-defined world, featuring sexy inhuman men and heroines with secret powers. While the tone and pacing were excellent, The Forever Girl can be, at times, a little sterile and low-tension. If you like paranormal romance, this is the book for you. If you don’t, then you probably won’t like it at all.
This book has a lot of subtitles

            We begin by meeting Sophia Parsons, a young waitress who hears mysterious voices in her head. Don’t be confused—this isn’t a Sookie Stackhouse novel. Sophia’s a Wiccan. She’s been hearing these static-y voices for a long time now, but has finally decided it’s time to do something about them. Sophia decides to use a magical ritual to cleanse herself of negative energy, but her ritual is interrupted by a group of mysterious people walking up and down her street. Surprise, surprise, the voices go nowhere. So she turns to an old trunk of her great-grandfather’s medical research . . . and discovers an old court record prompting her to think her ‘curse’ might have something to do with her ancestor’s witchcraft trial.

            Sophia sets out to learn more about her ancestors and the possibility of a family curse, but is interrupted by her friend Ivory, who wants to take her to the mysterious Club Flesh. It’s there she meets the overly sexy, magically talented Charles—a man described in terms of ‘the perfect symmetry of his face’ and ‘this gorgeous specimen sitting before me’. When a bunch of Cruor—this story’s equivalent of vampires—attack Sophia outside the club, Charles comes to her rescue. She learns he’s a Strigoi—a shapeshifting creature who’ll live forever unless he stops shifting. When the inevitable romance blooms between them, this causes major problems for Sophia, who is determined to find a way to convince Charles to give up his immortality to grow old with her. As Sophia and Charles search together for information on her ancestor’s curse, they find themselves plunged into a world of supernatural intrigue.

            The Forever Girl is a good paranormal romance, but it did feel sterile at times. I had trouble connecting to Sophia’s character. Going back to the Sookie Stackhouse books, there’s a great example of creating a character with voice—a small-town girl who’s not afraid to fight a little dirty and gets exited when she realizes a vampire has come to town. Sophia’s a somber character. She can be brave, determined, and fierce, but she doesn’t really have the small quirks that make characters interesting. Her flaws include a tendency to get irritated, but that was never enough to make her feel human to me.

            The issue of Charles immortality aside, this romance is very clean cut and simple. I’m not a fan of romances that constantly force the potential lovers to oppose each other—it can be ridiculous when two people who spend so much time hating the other’s guts suddenly decide to be in love—but I’d wished there’d been more tension between them. Charles is such a perfect guy. He’s brave, loyal, and devoted. His parents absolutely love Sophia, despite the fact she’s trying to convince Charles to give up his immortality to be with her. Come on, this woman is trying to convince your son to die for her! There’s no way any parent would be one-hundred percent okay with that! A little less perfection in their relationship would have gone a long way to making it feel believable.

            Highs: World building. Hamilton creates a world with clear rules and easy-to-understand divisions. Tone. The book is polished and well-paced. Creepiness. There’s one scene involving a ghost that sent shivers down my spine. Story-telling. The book is well-written and tells an engaging, if simple, story. Side characters. Ivory’s tragic and twisted backstory is one of the real emotional high points in the story.

            Lows: Jumping to conclusions. Based on one document telling Sophia her ancestor was executed in Salem, she automatically decides that her hearing voices must be a family curse and the only way to rectify it might be to learn what happened to her ancestor’s body. This is a big logical leap. Repetition. Sophia repeats the line about not being able to be with Charles because he’s immortal over and over, but the audience really doesn’t need to be reminded of this on every single page.

Did I like this story? Yes. Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it to people who like paranormal romance? Of course. My rating? As a paranormal romance, five stars out of five. As a novel, three and a half stars.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can buy The Forever Girl here

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Male runners and chick flicks . . .

You've probably seen them. The horde of shirtless boys (even in forty degree weather), pounding down the streets of your neighborhood at the same time every afternoon. Maybe they trample your rose beds or scare your cat. Maybe their short shorts have given your twelve year old daughter some 'funny feelings'. You've heard them whoop, shout, curse. But what you don't know is that, deep, deep down in their hearts, exists the soul of true romance . . . somewhere underneath the stench of the locker rooms and piles of leg hair.

I'm talking about chick flicks
You see, sooner or later, those sweaty hellions will cram themselves into a bus filled with teenage girls to travel somewhere for a track meet. And they'll watch a movie on the way down. And if the girls happen to be my cross country team and the boys happen to have the odd lack of cohesion on what manly movie they want, the coach will end up sighing as he pushes a Nicholas Sparks fueled DVD into the bus player, resigning himself to an hour and a half of fashion, crying, and Channing Tatum's abs.

Now, sometimes, the boys regret letting the girls pick the movie. I distinctly remember watching one scene in Easy A--you know, the scene where she pretends to have sex with her gay friend so the other boys stop picking on him--and cringing as the boys' team freaked out around us. "What is this? What the hell are we watching?" Coach just stared at the screen in disbelief, frozen in a shocked position. I lowered my eyes as another boy shouted, "Ew! This is gross!"

But, generally, the boys were pretty decent about the movie choice. They'd put up a token effort to prove their manliness--like during that scene in How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days where Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey have sex in a shower. They'll say things like "Of course she's falling in love with him," and "I can't believe she's leading him on like that. What a bitch!" When I pointed out that McConaughey's character was also using her, they mumbled something about it not being quite the same thing and resumed sitting on the youngest member of the boys varsity squad.

Oh, and they were wearing nothing but short shorts the whole time.

Like this, minus the top. I can't post any real photos because I think that counts as porn.

But the absolute crowning jewel was the time we watched Dear John. Here's a quick plot summary: Guy falls in love with Girl. Guy joins the Army. Guy gets shot but survives. Girl marries dying man to take care of his kid. Guy's father dies. To quote one prominent member of the boys' squad, "We can't watch it. Because if we watch it, I'll like it, and then I'll know I'm gay." But watch it we did. And I swear, I have never seen a work of fiction dissected with such brutality as happened on that dark, sweaty bus filled with teenage athletes that evening. Boys who run without shirts on in freezing cold to prove their manliness were breaking down into tears.

"She's such a bitch! How could she treat him like that?"

"She only married him to take care of his kid!" said one of the girls, wiping her runny nose on her sweatshirt sleeve.

"No! She's evil and she deserves to die! How dare she leave him?" The mob of men quickly turned towards the girl who brought the DVD. "What is this? Why did you make us watch it?"

Needless to say, on the next trip, we all decided to watch 27 Dresses instead and spent the rest of the trip humming 'Benny and the Jets'.

Bring it up now, two years later, and they'll all insist Dear John is the worst movie ever made. I'll agree with them, but for very different reasons. Women of the world, if you ever meet a man who says he went to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, graduated in 2012 or 2011, and happened to run on the cross country team, know that the quickest way to his heart is a heartbreaking chick flick. But be warned--he's probably going to end up crying on your shoulder.