Earth Day is upon us. Enjoy it. The earthâ€™s natural resources have been almost completely depleted. Weâ€™ve got a solid five or six more Earth Days before the water wars start and the government starts farming us for moisture.
April is also the month when Topanga Elementaryâ€™s fifth grade class goes on their yearly two-day camping trip to Catalina Island. This trip is intended to be fun, educational, and a â€śformative experience,â€ť which means sharing an open-stall campground bathroom with your teachers aide or watching a parent-chaperone struggle to hold a beach towel around his waist with one hand while trying to change out of his swim trunks with the other while hoping against logic that he doesnâ€™t accidentally expose a testicle to his daughterâ€™s entire fifth grade class.
It took about three minutes from the time we stepped off the boat for the situation to immediately devolve into something resembling Lord of the Flies. We were not the only class on this field trip, and as we shuffled onto the sand we joined about 300 other kids from a multitude of different LAUSD schools.
Now, Topanga Elementary is a very small school. Kids there are brought up to be in touch with their emotions, treat nature as something sacred, and to love and respect one another. All this is to say, the other 300 children, whom we were now trapped on an island with, were not sensitive little boys and girls like us.
Right off the bat, a boy from another school approached me and told me that I had wide, child-bearing hips like the skeleton of a woman who died during childbirth. This is an incredibly weird and catty remark for an 11-year-old boy. Clearly he had been working on this material for a while because for the rest of the trip, his group would refer to me exclusively as â€śBig Baby Birthing Hips.â€ť Considering I was in fifth grade and not even entirely sure where babies came from, the insultâ€™s impact on my emotional state was minimal at best. That being said, I do still, to this day, 15 years later, sometimes get self conscious about my hourglass figure.
We hiked to the campsite, which had 20 tents, 10 for boys and 10 for girls, lined up in two parallel rows. They consisted of a metal frame with a single cloth draped atop and two army cots inside. So much for amenities. Heat, lighting, doors that zipped shut were apparently luxuries reserved for others. We were introduced to a counselor who was to be our point of contact between the students, teachers, and camp staff.
Okay, in order for this next part to make sense, I think I need to backtrack. As we waited to board the ferry we were all starving. On board, thereâ€™s a vending machine in the hall. If youâ€™ve ever been around children, you know that telling a kid you donâ€™t have money for the vending machine creates a volatile situation. We were fifth graders and none of us had money so immediately every kid began begging the teacher for loans like she was Tony Soprano.
â€śIf you give me five dollars for the candy machine, my mom will give you $15 when we get back from the trip,â€ť one kid said to our teacher, crying, tugging at the ankles of her pants and having no idea what a compound interest loan was.
â€śMy mom will give you $20â€ť said another girl.
The boat left the dock and our teacher had this look her eye like a guard during a riot on Rikerâ€™s island. Tears were flowing, kids were curled up on the floor whimpering, â€śDoritos.â€ť Also, one boy immediately got seasick and ran over to the gunwale (thatâ€™s the side of a ship) to throw up, but it was so windy that the vomit blew downstream and made direct impact with the teacherâ€™s aide. That happened twice. We were two minutes and 45 seconds into a 48-hour trip.
Suddenly, everybody fell quiet as they heard the unmistakable sound of a Velcro wallet being pried open. A boy from our class had walked over to the machine and put $5 in, retrieving a bag of Funions. He may as well have been John Lennon because everybody wanted a piece of him. No sooner had he taken the Funions back to his seat, when he was approached from behind by another boy, older, and from a different school.
â€śCan I get a Funion,â€ť he asked. John Lennon opened the bag and picked one out but the boy snatched the bag from him and walked away, leaving him to sob quietly in his seat.
Ladies and Gentleman, John Lennon of the Beatles, has been murdered.
By the time we were approaching the campsite, John Lennon, was still silently weeping, even as we walked. The counselor noticed him. His face was red, his cheeks covered in tears. Before saying anything else to anybody, the counselor immediately asked, â€śWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ť
â€śI was trying to give someone a Funion and he... and he... he took my whole bag. I was just trying to be kindâ€ť.
The counselor took a long, deliberate pause before saying, â€śYou know, Jesus was kind and they nailed him to a cross.â€ť
At camp we were given a brief orientation and some Power Points and sent to the marine biology lab for the most famous part of the Catalina trip, the part that everyone knows about, the squid dissection. Weâ€™re all sitting at our lab stations, given a live squid (pinned down to a little tray in a manner similar to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ) and directed to begin dissecting them. Before I could even begin the process, the girl I sat next to turned to me. As her scalpel pierced the living tissue of an innocent and still conscious animal, she made eye contact and said, â€śYou know, I can levitate.â€ť
I was not the only one who heard her say it and the news spread like wild fire. Now, if we had been back in civilization, nobody would have paid much attention but we were already suffering from a mild case of cabin fever and our only two options for entertainment were playing with dead squids or participating in an actual miracle. So, it was settled. The following night, under the full moon, she was scheduled to perform her levitation.
At night, roving packs of kids would conduct militaristic raids on the other kidsâ€™ camps, pillaging our tents and stealing our Pokemon cards. Children began sleeping in shifts, whittling sticks into a pointed tip to be used as a makeshift knife in case of an attack. Some children slept under their beds.
At the stroke of ten on the second night, about half the students in our group, and one especially bored teacher, snuck out of our tents. Joey, the girl who was to be levitating, instructed us all to form a large circle around her and start chanting: â€śLight as a feather, stiff as a board.â€ť
She began vibrating, doing jazz hands and writhing around on the ground, trying to roll her eyes into the back of her head but she hadnâ€™t practiced, so she was just kind of squinting and making a face. We all stared, wide-eyed. Then, as the chanting reached a fever pitch, the boy next to me burst out loud, blubbering hysterically, and cried out, â€śMYYY DAD HAS A GIRRLLLFRIEEEND!â€ť
Joey didnâ€™t levitate. She didnâ€™t even maintain a brief float and we learned the boyâ€™s dad wound up living in one of those orange storage facilities in Simi Valley.
We truly live in the darkest timeline.
Long Distance Listening Party Vol. 7
Coming in from the Coldâ€”The Delgados
What Deaner Was Talkinâ€™ Aboutâ€”Ween
Another Way to Dieâ€”Jack White, Alicia Keys
Dry the Rainâ€”The Beta Band
In My Lifeâ€”Johnny Cash
Stephanie Saysâ€”The Velvet Underground
Coming in from the Cold. This is one of those songs, when you first discover it, that makes you feel like Indiana Jones uncovering the Ark of the Covenant. That is to say, with just over a million streams and by a band with 30,000 monthly listeners, the song feels like something of a hidden treasure. The song got my attention right off the bat, and I knew it was special within the first 10 seconds. The last time I recall being that immediately enthusiastic about a song was with â€śUnderwearâ€ť by Pulp, a fellow Long Distance Alumni.
Another Way to Die. Jack White, Alicia Keys. â€śAnother Way to Dieâ€ť is the theme song for 2008â€™s Quantum of Solace, and one of the only Bond songs not to be named after the movie itâ€™s attached to. If you look up lists of â€śworst James Bond theme songsâ€ť usually this song is on it. I can understand why itâ€™s not a good Bond song, it doesnâ€™t have the romantic quality or admiration for the franchise that other songs do. Crunchy garage rock guitars, crazy swinging drums and rap-singing are completely antithetical to the brandâ€™s aesthetic. But this song is from the era when the franchise was trying to move away from the image that the previous films had cultivated, so I think the fact that this doesnâ€™t sound like your typical Bond song is entirely intentional. Just because itâ€™s not a good Bond song doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s not a good song. In fact, itâ€™s the only song from the series that I ever listen to outside of watching the movies.
Nightcall, Kavinsky. If youâ€™re already familiar with this song itâ€™s most likely because you saw the 2011 movie, Drive. This song was a staple of early 2010â€™s AIM chats and Reddit music pages. Something about it makes me come back and revisit it every four or five years. The Brooding dark male vocals mesh really well with romantic Lovefoxxx samples in the chorus. The hard-hitting beat and retro synth bring it all together into something that belongs in both EDM clubs and the occasional fever dream.
Miles Erickson is a recent graduate of CalArts, published author, and currently enrolled in a prestigious, four-year, student loan repayment program. This playlist is available on Spotify. Search â€śLong Distance Listening Partyâ€ť or my username, Mileserickson-354.