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About The Numbers

Artwork by Joanna Chen, staff artist

The chaotic summer of 2019, the summer after high school graduation, was a summer to remember... for more than one reason. My cousin Maxwell and I were in this alternative, post-punk band playing out of Stephen’s garage. We were called Tellnor, an amalgamation of Tell Street and North Avenue that Aggie had suggested as a joke one Friday night jam session back when we were called The Green Determinations. I was the lead vocalist and guitarist, Maxwell on drums, Stephen on backup guitar, and Stephen’s sister Aggie on bass. The band practically lived out of that garage that summer, eating mediocre quesadillas (courtesy of Maxwell) and dissecting YouTube video after YouTube video of bands that had “made it” in the scene. We took copious notes.

I’d read somewhere that it took ten thousand hours to master a skill, to max out a skill tree in life. See, there was this approach to life that I’d developed, a philosophy, really, that I’d cultivated through obsessive reading of self-help books and analysis of YouTube videos. We could make it, if we just kept chipping away at the proverbial wooden block. Slowly build up an Instagram following, maybe even go viral on Tik Tok (if we were lucky).

“You know, this might not even work out,” said Stephen to me one day while I was studying the latest Gary Vee video. The garage was nice and cool, while outside the sun seemed more like a laser beam than an energy repository. My hair was all frizzy and frayed from having stayed up until 2 a.m. strategizing over social media.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you saying we should quit?”

Stephen paused and leaned forward, fidgeting with the red and black Fender guitar pick between his fingers. “No,” he began slowly, drawing out the syllable. “What I mean is, I guess lower your expectations.”

I scoffed. “Really? You’re really going soft on me right now, bro?”


“You’re telling me you don’t have the drive it takes to make it?” I stressed each and every word of that sentence, just so my tone was clear.

“Dude. Chill. I’m just saying.”

“No. No. No. We can’t have unmotivated members on this team.”

“So you want me to quit?”

“I—” ... stopped myself before I said anything stupid.

Here’s the deal. Stephen wasn’t at all unmotivated. He was actually one of the band’s most hardworking and devoted musicians, coming to practice every day half an hour early to just warm up, constantly working on his finger-picking and shredding skills. What’s more? He was my best friend, someone who stuck by me since middle school. He was there for me when I got caught selling illegal vending machine items on the Arcadia Middle School black market. He was there for me when my prototype for a solar-powered model car crashed into some rough terrain at a competition, helping to do emergency surgery on it right then and there. We didn’t win, but it’s the thought and effort that counts.

What’s even more? Stephen definitely wasn’t a quitter. Deep down, I knew that he was bluffing. Yet my heart still sank like a buoy being forcibly pulled underwater.

“No, I don’t want you to quit.”

“I resign as the backup guitarist.”

“Excuse me, what?” I blinked.

“I quit, man. You gotta get your priorities straight.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at yourself. It’s like you’re obsessed with blowing up lately, instead of having fun.”

“So striving for success is unhealthy now, is it?”

“I’m just worried that you’re obsessed with the wrong game. I know socials are important, but you’re losing sleep stressing over trivial shit.”

“If your hobby isn’t turning a profit, what are you doing with your time? That’s what—”

My best friend snapped his fingers. “Look, I just don’t care. Don’t care what these bunk gurus are saying. I don’t care whether or not we quote unquote make it or not. I just want to have fun and make cool shit with my homies. And I want my best friend back. I mean, you do know I’m one of the most passionate people in Tellnor? All I’m saying is I want you to be healthy and have fun. This quarreling over nothing is getting us nothing. You feel?”

I took a deep breath. He had a point. Several, actually. So, I swallowed my saliva with my wounded pride. I extended my arm out for a fist bump.

“I feel you.” We connected knuckles. “Sorry, man. You’re right.”

“Hey. It ain’t about the numbers, numbers, numbers,” he sang a slightly off-tune parody of the hook from “Price Tag” by Jessie J.

I cracked a smile and felt content for the first time in a long time.

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