How I pranked Looking for Alaska
( An ode to the ISS Class of 1994 )
It took me 10 years to read the ending of Looking for Alaska. At first, I loved the nostalgia and exact references in the book to people, places, and events. You see I was a boarder at Indian Springs, I lived in that dorm circle, I called home on those payphones, and I sucked the marrow out of life in those woods.
Looking for Alaska isn’t fiction for me and my classmates. It’s history. But more than that, it’s grief and mourning still. For me, Alaska isn’t a character, she’s my first love. You know that teenage love that burns deep because everything does. It doesn’t matter if Alaska is exactly her. The car accident was real. The funeral was real. The quest for answers is still ongoing.
I was sitting in my concrete block dorm room (no AC) when David, my best friend, came in to tell me that she was breaking up with me to be with him. I lost my girlfriend, best friend, and the band all in one moment. I remember finding my brother in his dorm room and weeping in the top bunk.
In college, two years later, I get the news that she’s died in a tragic accident. David and I were asked to play at the funeral. I prepped, Peace in the Valley. But, Sewanee is on top of a mountain and an ice storm made the trek impractical. I still regret not going to the funeral. Did I just use the ice storm as an excuse?
And like many of us, life goes on. Eventually, you don’t think too much about these things… Until the book came out. Looking for Alaska was released ten years later. And everything came rushing back, not just for me but for my classmates, because not everyone wanted those stories fictionalized for the public. As much as it’s made up, many of the stories, pranks, and details are real. Very, very real and very, very personal.
I couldn’t even get through the novel. Not to the death, not to the funeral, not to the quest for answers.
Finally, in 2018, I decided to read all the way through. To remember, to grieve, and to let go.
Then, well, it got stranger…
9,125 Days After
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — Faulkner
Last spring, I was on the way to an off-site board meeting at a conference center for a private school. Driving through the backcountry of Louisiana, listening to Critical Role, I noticed the location signs for a shoot … but honestly thought nothing of it. Having lived in LA and LA, this was normal.
But once I got there, I saw the “guard post,” and suddenly it hit me. Holy shit, are they shooting Looking for Alaska, here? Then I saw the signs for the dorm circle and lost it.
Like completely lost it.
The production team may have set the show in 2005 but they literally recreated Indian Springs School from the early 90s. From when the real story occurred. I was instantly back there, back then.
I was another Spiderman in a multiverse. An alternate universe with a Time Warp twist. After graduation, you’ve gone back to your high school and it was weird. This was utterly supernatural. Not the actual school, but a close approximation and I was a ghost walking empty halls.
So, I called my brother and my classmates. “You’ll never, ever guess where I am”
I learned that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t finish the novel, much less start it.
And we all knew what must be done, we must prank this show. I was given honorary status to join the BAMF-crew and get it done.
Can we steal the Culver Creek flag and replace with Indian Springs?
How about we give the lat/long to the current student body and let them in on the action?
Finally, we agreed… the best prank would be something that would get “on camera” for the actual production. But how?
That night, I did what I had done back in the day… walk through the woods seeking mischief and the great meaning of all the things. After battling demons and wounds half-reminisced, I came upon the payphone. Ahh, perfect. I decided to add REAL graffiti to the fake stuff there.
BAMF, plus two more tags that only those that were there would recognize.
Then, I wait. Would this work? Would the continuity mafia ruin this? Would John Green see the tags and know?
The trailer came out and BAMF!
You’ll have to wait for episode 4 to see the tags… but it was a glorious moment today when my brother called to say, “We did it!”
My heart goes out to the Class of 1994 whose senior year was marked by this tragedy. I had the luxury of graduation and distance. I know you are grieving now on multiple fronts.
Thanks, Walton Comer, Jonathan H., and Stephen E.,who gave me the courage to do the right thing :)
“When I think of the one person, I most want to see now, no other name comes to mind, there is no other face I try to imagine but yours.” — Bishop’s Creek, Farther, 1991