1 – Undergrads aren’t usually called to Missouri State University’s Department of Continuing Education, so being summoned there made me a bit uncomfortable. The office is located downtown, and quite a few blocks away from campus, so its not really a place that students typically have to visit unless they had done something wrong. I wasn’t sure exactly why I was summoned, but I knew it had to do with the student organization that I had started just a few months previous.
We had labeled ourselves a “creative arts” organization, but that was really just a cover. “Creative arts” gave us carte blanche to do as we wished. No one expected anything from a “creative arts” group, but they especially expected nothing from us either because most people were automatically turned off by our name; the Alpha Battle Dragon Lords Against Forest Fires.
An intimidating woman called me to her office. Always by my side, was Sam – my infinitely patient and amazing girlfriend at the time (the girl who would eventually become my wife). She gave me a kiss and wished me luck as I walked off to the intimidating woman’s office. It was a large office and I sat nearly across the room from her. I almost asked if I could move my chair closer, but decided it would be better if I kept my mouth shut. I would let her do all the talking and do whatever I could to get out of this mess as fast as possible . . . once I learned what that mess was, that is.
“You’re the president of the . . . um . . .”
“Co-president. I’m the co-president of the Alpha Battle Dragon Lords Against Forest Fires, ma’am,” I said with a smile.
“And Michelle Ciesielski is your co-president?”
It took me a moment to think about who Michelle Ciesielski actually was. I didn’t know her as that because I always just called her “Cecille.” I can be horrible with names sometimes, and her last name looked like “Cecille” to me, so I just started calling her that.
“No, ma’am. Cecille . . . I mean, Michelle . . . is our vice president.”
“Who is your co-president?”
“Oh, that was Rich. He moved though, so we’re currently looking for a new co-president.”
Creating an organization to be ridiculous is funny until you have to explain it to someone who is serious. She frightened me as she stared with a discerning eye. She wondered if I was a liar. She wondered if I was stupid or if I was some kind of criminal. I was none of these things. I was just ridiculous.
“Where is Michelle today?”
“I’m not sure,” I was starting to sweat. Cecille was supposed to be there with me during this. Hell, she was the one who told ME that we were being summoned. I didn’t want to face this woman alone and I prayed that Cecille would be there soon.
“Maybe you could tell me a little bit about this club,” she said.
I told her that we were a creative arts organization, but I didn’t give her the whole story. The real reason the Alpha Battle Dragon Lords Against Forest Fires got together was to defeat a common enemy; bad writing.
2 – The first class of my first day of college was the day that I met Chad Woody. I entered my ENG 215 Creative Writing class with a pounding in my chest. I was so excited for my first day of college that I could barely contain it. Woody entered the class and said, “Well, I’m not your real teacher. Your real teacher went into labor this morning and I’m your substitute until she is off of maternity leave.”
After ten minutes of going over the syllabus, the class was over.
We were an eclectic group of students (as most gen. ed. groups are) and though I didn’t know anyone in the class, I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t like the guy that sat in the back corner. He was over six feet tall, always wore black and a nice dress shirt, and had plenty of smart ass comments throughout the class. In short, he was everything that I was but better.
“What does this guy know?” I thought to myself and I swore that he would be my nemesis.
One day, I entered the class wearing a Flash t-shirt. From the back of the class, he said, “Is that the Flash or Captain Marvel?”
“What?” I asked astonished.
“Your shirt. Is it the Flash or Captain Marvel . . . you know, Shazam? I get their symbols confused sometimes.”
I grinned because only a true fan would know who Shazam was, and only a truer fan would call him Captain Marvel. “It’s the Flash.”
“That’s awesome. I’m a Batman fan.”
Of course he was. He looked like Batman. Well-dressed, tall and tough as hell, who could this person be, but Batman? His name was Rich Valerius and despite my resolve to make him my enemy at the beginning of the class, I came to realize that he was my absolute best friend.
After class, we would walk to a spot next to the registrar’s office, and we would talk comics and bad movies with one another. There was a small stone next to the office that was purchased by a former class and gifted to the college. It was an odd little thing that didn’t look like it could serve much of a purpose, but Rich and I were great at making something out of nothing, so we dubbed it the “pillar of justice.”
After the Valerius/Walker partnership was formed, we came to realize how amazing Chad Woody was as a teacher. His commentary on our writing was constructive, helpful, and heartfelt. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as our regular teacher returned from maternity leave. Where Woody was quirky and honest in his assessments of our work, our teacher thought all writing was beautiful and powerful. Rich, Woody, and I could appreciate bad writing for what it was; ridiculous, innane and beautiful in its badness. Our teacher didn’t see things this way though, she didn’t assess writing the same way we did because she assumed that all writing was good or could be made good.
With the departure of Chad Woody, the class devolved into Rich and I commenting on plot holes or mistakes while others largely didn’t comment or care about the class. Looking back on it now as a teacher, I realize that we were probably really annoying, but back then I was a know-it-all college freshman who was astonished that others couldn’t write very well at all and because I had a mouth on me, I wanted them to know how bad their writing was.
Once Rich and I realized that we were the only commentators in the class, we decided that it was only natural to form a team. We were already a team, but we needed to go one step further by actually giving ourselves a name. “In high school, I used to name any teams that I was on the ‘Alpha Dragon Lords,’” I suggested.
“Not long enough. We need a verb and a cause to rally behind.”
We thought for a moment and Rich suggested, “The Alpha Battle Dragon Lords. Now we need a cause.”
At the same time, we said, “Against Forest Fires!”
From then on, we were a secret movement. There by the pillar of justice, we had formed an organization that would change both of our lives.