A Column About Patches, Bean, and Everything In-Between

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I can’t be the only one jealous of the certainty with which everyone else seems to plan for their futures—the premeds who’ve dreamt of being doctors since they were seven, the private-equity-bound business majors of C$OM, and the poli sci majors taking practice LSATs are all throbbing reminders of my own indecision. My uncertainty shouldn’t be confused with a lack of enthusiasm: throughout my childhood I can recall a series of obsessions and a multitude of ever-evolving career aspirations—I’ve probably had twice as many career dreams as my friends.

When I was younger, the possibilities felt endless—and all of them were exciting. One day I wanted to be a Jelly Belly factory tour-guide, the next an old-fashioned ‘Soda Shoppe’ owner in Mountain View, Ark. My first big-deal aspiration was to become a teacher. I couldn’t have been more than 6, but I loved the idea of getting to impress my passions upon other people. I bought pointers, stickers, maps, and mini American flags, rifled through teacher supply catalogs I somehow got my hands on, and wondered how long it would take to save my pennies, nickels, and dimes to buy cots for my future students to nap on.

I subsequently decided that the primary expertise would be in giving “roly-poly lessons,” because under a browning shrub in my grandparents’ backyard lay hundreds of crawling “roly-polies,” or pillbugs. My obsession with them grew quickly: I built them habitats and racetracks, and even maxed out my library card on five books all about the armadillidiidae species. To many, they are an ordinary phenomena or even a nuisance, but I couldn’t learn enough about their 14 wiggling legs or what exactly made them curl up into pea-sized balls.

When I was 8, I adopted from my third-grade classroom a crayfish that I named Heater-Hopper. Unfortunately, it died after a few days, but I couldn’t help my wandering daydreams of adopting a hundred more. I spent weeks trying to convince my mom to bring home just a few of the pincher-clawed, scarlet crustaceans, which went for $3.50 per pound at the local seafood market. I wasn’t even discouraged after walking into my bathroom to find that the lobster had crawled out of its plastic tank and was standing in a very menacing position, pinchers poised, ready for attack on the tiled floor.

Not long after, I came up with a new idea: guppy breeder. I spent hours researching tank sizes and the best breeds, as well as keeping detailed checklists of all the equipment I would need. I had little experience conducting my own business beyond selling tepid 25 cent lemonade to relenting neighbors who passed by my house, but I applied my limited knowledge to brainstorm possible price points. I learned so much on the subject that I very well could’ve self-authored wikiHow’s How to Breed Guppies: 11 Steps (with Pictures) article at age nine, and perhaps used the commission to purchase my first filtered tank.

After getting my first real pet—meaning the first that wasn’t carried in grocery stores, a roborovski hamster named Bean (middle name Nut Butter), I was disappointed that she did little more than sleep, escape from her cage, and bite me, no matter how many freeze-dried banana slices I gave her. But that didn’t make me cry any less when she died. In sixth grade, rather than throwing a birthday party, I handmade dozens of invitations with coral felt-tip marker, sprinkled them with glitter, and gave them to my classmates, to invite them to my hamster’s funeral. I was worried about people feeling excluded, since I only invited about 20, but it turns out that wasn’t an issue.

Despite the catastrophe, it was a great time for the three people who came. Stuffed with chocolate cake, swinging lilacs above our heads with Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” blaring in the background, we buried Bean in the front yard and marked the gravesite with a popsicle stick. Sometimes I wish I was making this up.

When I later adopted my guinea pig Patches (middle name Pecan), I was again always looking for ways to go beyond the typical role of pet-owner. I bought the healthiest foods to shine his coat and boost his energy (tangerines and romaine lettuce), played the most calming music to relax him (Celtic flute), and deciphered the emotions behind each of his squeals (high-pitched wheeking meant he was hungry, while purring could have meant he was either content or perturbed.

I also frequented Petco, spending what little I had not on clothes or candy for myself, but on small animal walking harnesses. I decided my future was in the field of small-animal veterinary care when Patches got a thick piece of hay stuck in his eye and I nursed him back to health by feeding him antibiotics and yogurt through a syringe, and of course, playing him Celtic flute music while he lounged on my American Girl Doll’s bed. And after the Celtic flute, it was on to the chocolate factory.

One of my most memorable childhood trips was to Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania. I still remember one of my first rides, on a 2 mph buggy on the Chocolate Tour, as well as the Hershey’s Kiss-shaped nickel necklaces sold in the gift-shop. But most of all, I remember the Jelly Belly-shaped hamburger I ate in the cafe. I went on a wild expedition to find the phone number of the magical Jelly Belly factory, which was quite a feat at that age and during that time. I brainstormed new ideas for flavors, hoping to mail them to the people in charge and win myself a seat at their taste-testing table.

Jelly Belly could do little wrong in my mind, besides the licorice and buttered popcorn flavors, and I thought that if I learned enough history, I could impress them on my trip to the factory and snatch up a job on the spot. Of course, I assumed the only rational employee benefit would be free jelly-beans for life. Although I never made it to the factory, my passionate spirit and boundless imagination lead me to a much more significant journey for my golden birthday, 10 on June 10.

It was a rainy day, and I’d taken refuge in the library. I began to browse a series of state books on one of the shelves and randomly grabbed Arkansas’. Coming from California, I had almost zero knowledge of the state at the time, but as I skimmed the glossy pages I found myself marveling at its scenic, mountainous beauty. I decided Arkansas was going to be my favorite state. Less than a week went by before I knew nearly every Arkansas fact, from the state flower (apple blossom) to the dazzling state park devoted to diamond mining (Crater of Diamonds). On the surface, these appeared to be nothing more than trivia answers, but to my young self, they opened up a plethora of possibilities.

All of my classmates knew I was obsessed with Arkansas—I rarely let a day go by without talking about it. At lunch, instead of discussing times tables or the bouncy chicken nuggets, I would wax poetic about Arkansas’ water parks. I also found ways to make every creative journal prompt about Arkansas. I could be asked, What is something you want to learn to do? and I would respond, “how to go to Arkansas.”

Crazily enough, on the day of my birthday my mom surprised me with an end-of-summer trip to the Natural State. We flew into Little Rock and had a week to go all over the state. Hot Springs, Fayetteville, and Mountain View were all pins in our map. We stayed in quaint bed and breakfasts papered with rosette wallpaper. Every morning, I would try to cram more and more sugar cubes into my teacup, which stopped tasting like dirt to me around cube number four.

Mountain View was my favorite stop on the trip, and one that I’ll never forget. We drank milkshakes and caught blinking fireflies under the slipping sun. The next day, we went canoeing and coaxed dragonflies onto our fingers, and finished the day by eating elk burgers at a joint on the side of the road. The career possibilities for this trip were endless—I could see myself in every possible occupation and never working a day in my life.

When something piques my interest, it’s nearly impossible for me to leave it and walk away. These obsessions and aspirations have continued up to today, spanning topics such as the Gettysburg Address, Party City, golden age Hollywood cinema, and astrology, to name just a few.

I don’t understand exactly what about something fascinates me, but if something does, it holds my attention until I hold every fact about it, and uncover every truth—I only stop when I devote my mind to a new muse.

It’s scary to think that I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but the most important part is having a passion for whatever it may be, because passion makes life not only interesting, but worth living. Well, that and my new football obsession. After living my whole life thinking the NFL was flag football without the flags, I can now outfact anyone who tries to challenge my new Steelers obsession. I’m just saying, if #19 Juju ever wants to hire anyone to find out who stole his bike, I’d be the first to apply for the job.

Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor