A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly. . .
In which all three characters first find FCU electronically
I was probably the first one of the three of us to connect with Foothills Christian online, since I do so much with computers and networking for a living.
I don't remember when, exactly, I decided to troll around for it. It was one of those days when there wasn't much going on at work, and I was killing time until a manager's meeting got started. It was around 1998, I think, because I remember that's when the internet really started taking off—everyone had to have their own web page! Plus, I remember that dinosaur of a computer I was on for browsing, about a thousand generations ago.
I had already looked up the new modem I wanted to try out, so I browsed over to a news site and skimmed through the top news items, not paying too much attention until a name from one of the headlines popped out at me: Brian Morris. I sat up straight and looked at the name again. Brian Morris, a pastor in South Carolina, was making news for writing a letter to the editor about Bill Clinton, demanding that he be impeached for being the antichrist. He swore you could see 666 on Clinton's forehead if you looked close enough.
Wasn't Brian Morris the name of that dipshit who tried to make me into a criminal over two pieces of cutlery? My meeting was nowhere near starting, and nobody was watching me. I clicked on the link.
Brian's picture came up. It was him, all right—the same dopey smile and cleft chin, but now he also had a receding hairline. He totally deserved it.
I read a little about him—the name of his wife, the church where he pastored, that kind of thing. What the hell. A pastor. Never saw that coming. Wait—it got better—he was now an unemployed pastor. The church listed after his name was one he had founded himself, but it had only lasted a year, in the middle of the Bible belt. I didn't think it was possible for a church to fail there. Brian was working as a mechanic while he waited for some other church to see the light and call him to their pulpit. Probably the obnoxious letter to the editor about Clinton was him trying to get some free publicity, and maybe a job interview.
The article had Foothills Christian University listed as his alma mater, with a link. Just for the hell of it, I clicked on it.
Oh man. I couldn't believe the pictures I saw—it was almost like I'd never left the place at all. I was on the school's web page, the kind of showy, overdone web page with clunky graphics that was common at that stage of the internet. Stock photos of the cafetorium, the Founder's Auditorium, some of the usual classroom shots. No navigation aids. Everybody had to have a web page, they'd been told, so they had one, complete with a picture of their front entrance and that stupid guard shack where I'd thrown the cigarette. I wondered if it was still there, burning away under a bush, or if anyone had ever cleaned it up. If I drove back and looked, could I find it? It didn't look like anything there had changed at all.
I looked around the site a little, but there wasn't much information. It wasn't a bad site as such things went back then—there was info for prospective students, for parents, and of course their all important Statement of Beliefs, which was all they really cared about, probably. It was a decent site, it's just that there was hardly anything there. There was no information about their insane dating policies, or the public figures who had come to speak at the school lately (they always had someone), or about that crazy preacher from Scotland who the school had used to torture us for a few church services every year.
Now I was really curious. What, exactly, had happened with Foothills in the couple dozen years since I had finally finished serving my term? I went to my favorite search engine and started glancing over the hits I was getting on "Foothills Christian University," but my meeting started before I could look anything up.
That night I went back and looked it up again. Crazy, the stuff we had put up with there. The kids with the perfect, fake smiles and the always perfect haircuts, with an image that came off as being straighter than the average arrow, hadn't changed at all. I supposed nothing ever would. I glanced through the staff directory and saw names I recognized, but I had no desire to use the included email links to contact any of them.
For the next few years that's all I did—look the school up every once in awhile, laugh at some old memories, maybe make fun of some of the pictures, and move on. Sometimes I'd find that a big political figure had stopped by and campaigned at the school, or maybe that ST (that was our nickname for the president of the school, Seth Thomas) had opened his mouth and said something incredibly stupid, again. He had always been good at that, and it was even funnier now that I wasn't there. That was all I did with the school right then, and all I wanted to do.
That all changed when Facebook started getting really big. One day, I clicked on a few links and discovered their alumni page.
I remember seeing John's first post on the Facebook Foothills Christian University Alumni page, the one that included a profile picture of him flipping a bird.
Shout out to my fellow sufferers for the Lord. Does FCU still make Christian kids go through hell on earth for the privilege of graduating from their shitty school?
The post lasted all of three minutes and thirty-eight seconds before being deleted by the admin. I watched.
John David had always stuck out in my memory. During my junior year he had ended up assigned to the seat right behind mine during chapel every day, and we got into the habit of chatting with each other before the service started, whenever he actually showed up for it. He was usually gone at least once a week. We didn't talk about anything important, just compared classes and sometimes made jokes about the people we could see around us. His sarcastic humor didn't cover up much of what he thought of the school, and I saw his name on the demerit list a lot, week after week. I figured he was one of those guys who treated the rules as a nuisance and didn't worry about his demerit count as long as it didn't get too high. Being late to class a few times or being caught out of bed after light bell wouldn't bother him at all.
He tried to tell me once that his job schedule required him to miss chapel several times a week. I knew right away that was a lie. Foothills would never have allowed him to miss chapel twice a week even for a job on campus, where he could still hear the service over loudspeakers, and definitely not for a job off campus. Still, I didn't ask any questions, and I didn't let on that I knew. It wasn't the sort of atmosphere where you could admit that you liked to bend the rules, and if the row monitor didn't see fit to turn him in, it really wasn't any of my business.
After that semester ended we got new seat assignments, and our little conversations ended. We would see each other around every now and then, just enough to say hi, but I didn't speak to him again until he ended up assigned to my row, first semester of my senior year. This time, I was his row monitor.
The first week of that semester I was surprised when he actually made it to chapel every day. I thought maybe he had changed. Maybe he had finally settled down and stopped bucking the system, and I wouldn't have to worry about it. But I didn't really think it would be that simple, and I was right. The next Monday morning his seat was empty, and I had to make a decision. Should I write him up for missing chapel or not?
I had always had a problem with the idea of forcing somebody to attend chapel or church or whatever. Personally, I liked the singing and the prayers and the rest of it, unless I was really tired, so attending wasn't a problem for me. But I knew there were plenty of kids who hated it, and if someone hated it and they were forced to attend anyway, wouldn't they just end up hating it more? How did that help anyone?
But it was a rule, wasn't it? Why did kids come to Foothills if they didn't plan on following the rules? What was the point?
I didn't say anything to John on Tuesday, when he showed up again. But after the next time he skipped I asked him if his work schedule had called him away at the last minute. He just smiled and looked back at me, daring me to do something about it. I looked back at him for a minute and then took my seat. I never said another word to him about it.
Actually, she said something like, "I don't see the point in forcing somebody to come to chapel if they don't really want to be here." Then she sat down. It was such a cool answer, I actually thought about asking her out after that. I was totally going to find out her dorm name and room number and send her a note through that stupid note system they had between the guy's and girl's dorms at night, asking her to meet me for dinner at the student center. That was a pretty normal way to start a dating relationship at FCU. But the next day I saw her with this guy she couldn't take her eyes off of—Clark, I later found out—and I never got the nerve to do it.
Still, it was nice to see her when she showed up on the Foothills Christian University Alumni Facebook page, commenting on the new decorations in the Founder's Auditorium. Not everyone at the school was a dick.
John David was horrible when I met him. Just horrible.
The Alumni page on Facebook was growing rapidly in those days, from just a few dozen members when I first saw it to well over a thousand by the end of that year. Naturally, a school like ours tends to draw unfavorable comments, and so the school had recruited volunteers who would look at the page during a specific block of time and delete anything inappropriate. I was happy to help out.
John's post was only one of a dozen or so that I hid the first time I volunteered to "babysit" the page, and it wasn't even the worst one made. Later on we got smarter and made it so that all posts had to be approved before they could be posted on the page, but right then we had to have someone watching it at all times.
The first post from him I saw on the page was a poem:
Roses are red, violets are blue.
The best plastic smiles
Are at FCU.
I hadn't seen his earlier post, the one with the finger, or I would have blocked him from the page immediately, just as I did a few others. I remember feeling sad and a little frustrated that alumni who had so much hatred for the school would choose to attack us in such a public way. If they didn't support us, couldn't they just leave us alone? Couldn't they go away and pretend we didn't exist? Why did they have to be so vicious towards us?
But John posting this poem would not result in him being blocked, according to the guidelines given to us by the university. It was what they deemed only "potentially objectionable." It contained no profanity or sexually suggestive themes, and the school was really trying to reform its image of being rigid and inflexible. So, according to the rules, I couldn't block his access to the page. But he definitely was mocking the students and staff by ridiculing the fake, overdone smiles that were commonly shown to visitors during tours and high school open houses. He was absolutely right about that.
Maybe I could try to talk directly to him instead, try to reach out to him and give him a different place to vent than on our public page. I clicked on his name and opened up a dialog box for "Private Message":
I am one of the volunteer moderators on the Foothills Christian University Alumni Facebook page. I am glad that you feel comfortable interacting with your alma mater, and hope that you will find this a beneficial tool to help you in your spiritual growth.
Your poem about the plastic smiles was amusing, but someone who reads it might see it as you being hostile towards the university. If there is an unresolved issue between you and the school, it would be best if you directed your comments specifically to the appropriate member of the administration, using the links provided on our FCU main site. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.
Yours in the Lord,
Alecia Grace Harrington
I got an answer back in less than an hour:
I don't have a soul, so I'm not worried about any damn spiritual growth. I was just making fun of those people who spew the standard FCU line with their super-short haircuts, polyester suits, and fake smiles with more plastic in them than a Dolly Parton boob job. Take the post down, I don't care. But you know and I know how fake that whole place is, and that won't ever change.
That was our first encounter. It wouldn't be our last.