Urine, the IRS, and She’s Just a Small Town Girl

In the summer after sixth grade I repeatedly wet the bed. They say the human body is 80% water. About 60% of that would come out of my penis every night while I was dreaming. They didn’t have pull-ups back then. Essentially diapers for sixth graders. So I just had rubber sheets that were completely soaked through.

A few months earlier, on my birthday, I went to Washington DC and set up all sorts of appointments with Senators and Congressmen. I was in awe of them. They ruled the world. My dad and I stayed at a hotel a few block from the White House. I soaked the bed that night so badly the hotel probably replaced the bed after we checked out.

My hands were covered in my urine but we woke up late so I couldn’t clean myself off before we had to go meet my congressman from my district. Then I went to meet and shake hands with Senators John Culver, Senator Nancy Kassebaum, Senator Dale Bumpers and a bunch of other Senators including Senator Paul Tsongas who is famous for saying, “I never met a man who, on his death bed, said he wished had spent more time at work.” So he quit the Senate when he said that because he had cancer. Then in 1992 he ran for President. Then he died while hard at work.

(the poorest Senator)

But before then, he had the great opportunity of shaking my urine-stained hand and telling me, “if Ted Kennedy becomes President then I will finally be the Senior Senator from Massachussetts.” The other thing about Paul Tsongas (how the hell did he take over this blog post) was that according to his tax returns he was the poorest Senator. Somehow he managed to make LESS than what the Senate was paying him.

Then I went to meet Senator Birch Bayh. It was his birthday also. His staff brought out a cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to both of us. I then got my hands all over that cake. It was the best birthday I ever had.

Somehow  the people at the Educational Testing Service weren’t informed of the fact that I wasn’t properly toilet trained and I was invited to take the SATs as a 12 year old. I took them, did well enough to go to a special summer program for 13 year olds who did well on the SATs.  It was down at Duke Unviersity. In a 3 week period I took Algebra 1, Algebra II, Algebra III,  Geometry, and Trigonometry. The program was an experiment to prove that traditional education was a waste of time and you can learn year-long subjects in a matter of days.

(A Duke cheerleader. it was all a new experience for me)

I was the dumbest person in the program. My roommate then is now a world-class doctor-lawyer-scientist. The kid down the hall made a billion or so in the Internet boom. The other kid down the hall became a chess grandmaster. Another kid is now at Microsoft and spent all his time building computers when we weren’t spending all day doing math.  We just had our 30th year reunion but I skipped it.

It was hot in the summer in North Carolina. And it was the first time I was seeing non-stop beautiful college girls in the skimpiest of clothes. I’d go down to the fourth floor basement of the library, lock myself in a dark cubicle, and read porn all the time whenever I got a free chance. Other times I would explore the underground tunnels that seemed to pervade the Duke West Campus. I was the expert on those tunnels.

One kid came up to me and said, “I hear you know about secret rooms under the campus?”


He had a paper and pencil. “Show me where they are,” he said. “I want to take a girl there.”

We had all just gotten out of 7th grade. As I mentioned before, I was barely toilet trained. And this kid: smart, charismatic, a popular kid even in a program that was just lasting three weeks, had already reached the level of sweet emotional intimacy that would require him to have a private room for another 7th grade girl so he could tie her up and do whatever he wanted to her.

I drew him the map.


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In exchange he showed me how to play “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the piano. Which now, after a 28 year absence from taking any piano lessons, remains the only song I can play on the piano from memory despite taking lessons from first through twelth grade.

(the best song ever? My kids say "no". But their brains have turned to mush by Selena Gomez)

The next year I went back to the same program. I took college level statistics. The year after that I took college level Logic. My roommate was in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He would spend all night every night telling me I could be one of the people who could make it to heaven if I converted. Then he met a girl and sometimes I’d have to stay outside while they were having sex.  He was a virginal Jehovah’s Witness afraid about getting into heaven and I was the worst porn maniac constantly thinking about sex and he was a full four years ahead of me on achieving this important notch in human existence. Why does the world want to destroy little kids like me?

So here I am. I met Senators, I took college classes, I was a smart guy, and yet I blew up a $100 million company, couldn’t hold a marriage together, and all hell breaks loose when I suggest on this blog that my kids shouldn’t even learn what “PI” is. Something went horribly wrong.

Many years later I’m sitting in the IRS offices. My ex and kids are outside in the waiting room. I figured if I brought them in there’s less chance that I would go to jail. There never really was a chance I would go to jail but one never knows. I was brought to a room where I could hand over the biggest check I had ever handed over. It was for taxes multiple years. Plus interest and penalties.  A big check. I didn’t negotiate at all. [Note to IRS: One should ALWAYS pay their taxes in full.]

The most beautiful woman I had ever seen walked in the room. She was apparently my personal tax collector. She was on my case! I hadn't slept for month because of her love letters to me about money I owed.  I wanted to ask her out on a date but that might mess up the entire dynamic of the ex-wife and fresh-faced kids sitting outside in the waiting area. I gave her the check, she said, “thank you”, and that was that. I was officially up to date.  But I wanted to keep the conversation going.

I asked her if she had seen that movie about the tax collector who hates his job and falls in love. With Will Ferrell. She said, “no”. It was the box office hit that prior weekend. She said, “that sounds interesting. I never even heard of it.” You’d figure a tax collector would’ve heard about a top-selling romantic comedy that was about tax collecting. If I were single I certainly would’ve taken her to that movie.  That was the end of our  “meeting”.

I left the office. Patted my kids on their beautiful mop-topped heads. They were scared and they didn’t even know why. The government was richer. I was poorer. We had four or five wars that the government needed my help supporting.

Sometimes I miss the days when all I had to worry about at night was whether or not I would wake up in a pee-soaked bed the next morning. I wish now, just once, I had forgiven myself for such a minor infraction.



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  • Kelley

    You would be wasting your time if you Followed Me on Twitter. People tell me I don’t “engage” enough. Ugh, I’m even anti-social on a social network. What is WRONG with me?
    That gave me a chuckle. I don’t “engage” much either, but that’s probably we might have something resembling an outside life.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly you and I,along with half a dozen others, were placed here among 6.5 billion robots as some sort of test If we should meet on the street one day, please remember the secret handshake or I won’t be able to stay and chat. The robots know too much as it is. If you forget the handshake, just say “I’ll pray for you.” and wink at me. A robot can’t do that; it isn’t in their programming.

  • Anonymous

    I’m just curious about the thought process you followed. “I’ll bring kids and they won’t arrest me” — Seriously? The IRS? James, they’d slit your throat in front of your kids and dance in the blood.

    Interestingly when they owed me $300 it took 6+ months to actually get it. Guess they’ve got a different set of standards for themselves. Must be nice to write your own rules and interperet them.

  • Patrick

    i followed you and it didnt waste a terrible amount of time.

  • If there’s any hope in life, it’s from the evidence that we no longer care about matters that seemed devastating when we were younger. You who are on the verge of killing yourself, please consider the evidence for this in your own life.

    By the way, this is the reason why I’m happy to get get older. Is that what “wisdom” means? So can we say that it means letting go of insoluble problems and realizing that one wasn’t asking the right question, eh? 

    One desperately needs compassion for oneself and for every living thing for the suffering we endure until we let go (or it lets go of us.)

  • James, don’t feel badly about these things… they are what life is all about.  Track down everyone we grew up with, they’ve either had their own share of ups and downs, or they’re sitting within five miles of their childhood, just older and with a life too boring to blog about.

    Another way of looking at it; why are there so many gossipy stories about the deaths of celebrities?  Why do so many seem to have juicy/tragic/horrible/funny stories about their deaths?  Because death, like life, is always juicy/tragic/horrible/funny.  Nobody gives a rat’s ass about the ones that went peacefully in their sleep, or peacefully (and boringly) through their life.

    So I’m watching Tom Kean on tv the other day and what’s my first thought?  Hey, I know the girl whose foot he stepped on when he was the stepping-stone president at Drew University!  There’s an analogy to your story somewhere, but I don’t think he peed on her foot.

  • Anonymous

    James I love your blog, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why
    you’re doing it- what’s motivating you? I keep running the usual
    suspects- money, fame, influence, to help others etc. But none of them
    align with how you’re going about it- the extreme, personal content
    approach. Can you please write the ‘Why I’m Doing This’ post?

    • I guess I don’t know. 

    • Anonymous

      Exorcism is what it’s all about.

  • Daniel Hill

    As a longtime reader and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I really wish people who called themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses lived up to the name.  Now, whenever you see Jehovah’s Witnesses, you think of that kid who didn’t live by what he believed. Now, all your readers will think the same thing.
    Grrr. Not upset at you, but at that kid.

    • Fair enough. I really had nothing against him for being a Jehovah’s Witness. Every night we used to stay up late talking about it. But then he never mentioned it again once he met his girl. 

    • Daniel, so am I and I share your feelings.
      The part I didn’t get was the converting and going to heaven part.

  • doug graves

    Great prose James.  God spent a lot of time on you as canvas, maybe so earlier prototypes like me can be reassured that none of this is random. 

  • Christopher

    “Don’t Stop Believing”?  Yeuck. 

    • Hey, I was in 7th grade. I can’t even imagine what 7th graders listen to now. Selena Gomez maybe. 

      • Lamont Cranston

        Deep Purple, T-Rex, and Led Zeppelin.

        Of course, it was 1971

  • Blue Devil

    I’ve been a fan for a long time, but now you write a column about Duke! I will serve you for the rest of my life!

  • Steven L Goff

    “The program was an experiment to prove that traditional education was a waste of time and you can learn year-long subjects in a matter of days.”……………utterly fascinating!

    And where have we heard that before? That it does not take 12 years of regiment school attendance to learn what is needed in LIFE today. And in today’s case almost obsolete before you can even apply it in a career feild (meaning a job to pay the ever increasing bills in life including the huge money you borrowed to learn that in college)  I would like to hear more about this program you attended back then. Was it associated with any ‘think tank’ in the region? Was this camp strictly geared towards mathematics in study (or the tool they used for study)? Or was there a communications or Arts program with it also?

    The skyrocketing costs of higher education, as well as my belief thatthe status associated with some academic degrees (MBA) have become more importantthan their educational underpinnings. I dont have MBA. But would put my brainpan against most walking down street. Especially Wall Street.
    And you have the stones to even begin to question the significance and importance of Pi? I just dont get it man!


    I wet the bed until I was 5 years old.

    • If you Google “TIP” and “Duke” there’s info. We were the first year they started the program. 

    • Kay

      You’d put your “brainpan against most walking down street. Especially Wall Street”…why??  Because you want to smash the part of your skull that surrounds your brain against someone else…why???
      I sure hope you weren’t trying to impress anyone with your “intelligence”. 

    • Kay

      You’d put your “brainpan against most walking down street. Especially Wall Street”…why??  Because you want to smash the part of your skull that surrounds your brain against someone else…why???
      I sure hope you weren’t trying to impress anyone with your “intelligence”. 

  • It’s interesting to read about the various “gifted” programs. I was tapped going into middle school and my insubordination kicked in. I didn’t make it. Don’t regret it.

    The Duke TIP site really needs some work. Looks like they maybe got one of their students to do it as a summer project.

    And being engaged on social media sounds like being beautiful on the inside… 

  • Anonymous

    Duke University cheerleader Virginia Rieck.

    “My favorite people to follow on Twitter are: Barack Obama”


    Just thought you would want to know.

    • Moshkosh

      So this gal goes to Duke and drops probably $100k+ on a crap degree in Cultural Anthropology  then I read her bucket list.  COming in at #3

      3. Establish “Miss Virginia’s Diner”, a cozy restaurant that will be famous for smiles, sweet tea, and pumpkin pancakes.

      Point proven, James

  • This blog has truly been a form of therapy for me.   You say honest things about your life and it reminds me of how dishonest or closed I have been to mine. 
    True untold story:When I was 12 my parents divorced.  Before the divorce he took all the family money and funneled it somewhere safe-and kept it all.  We then found out he owed close to 100k in taxes.Right after we moved in with relatives following the divorce, the IRS cleaned out my moms bank account and even my 16 year old sisters $900 savings in baby sitting money. I remember having to quickly take my $650 college savings and put it into travelers checks. I felt like a criminal on the run.The IRS was a huge, heavy cloud hanging over our heads.One day I remember getting into a pointless argument with an older neighborhood kid, named “JB”.  We were talking trash back and force when he finally said: “AT LEAST MY DAD ISNT A BIG TAX EVADER”What?  How did he know?  I guess my mom told his mom, who then told him.  I was so ashamed I immediately started crying because I knew how pathetic it was how it was all true.  I ran home and told no one what happened.During custody visits to dads house I was always scared the IRS would randomly show up at his  front door, or we would be driving and he would get pulled over by the cops on a routine traffic stop, then be handcuffed and sent to jail.  (He actually did serve a few days behind bars, but for something else)To this day I have no idea how the situation was finally resolved.  The whole thing was one big muddy embarrassment that made me that much more scared and insecure.At least you paid your taxes and your family knows you did.  

  • stranger than fiction is the movie with will ferrell. no cats in it that i recall, but a good watch.

  • Still chuckling at the self characterization of “the worst porn maniac ever”.

  • North

    James, did I miss the part about the small town girl ?

    • In the lyrics of “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.

  • Don’t sweat the Twitter thing, James. I engage far too much. Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy a lot of the people on there. But for what it’s worth, I would be better off writing more or reading more or being a monster and chasing my daughter around the kitchen.  Or maybe I could work on making more money, so I could have a bit more & the government could have a bit more…so they can fight 4 or 5 wars.

  • Paul

    Another great post James!  I am learning from you to forgive myself a little.  I really look forward to reading your blog everyday….

  • Subramanian G

    I had the exact same problem as well as a different problem while in 6th class. I could not control myself while laughing, people had a special name”Above the horizon”. Wow I am awestruck from the IRS situation you have turned around enough to document them as if they were a story, truly amazes me.