The main problem with youth groups is one of ontology: Namely, the youth group isn't really the youth group unless it's assembled, and that almost never happens in an official capacity unless there's a trip involved. Sure, many or most of the members might come together on a particular Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, but that's a matter of routine. And, yes, it's common for the members to hang out together as a group in a distinctly secular capacity, like the time my youth group got together to go see American Pie, after which a couple guys who were sitting near our group latched onto us outside and picked up two of our single female members, making the entire evening a pretty good example of things the youth minister doesn't want you to do at all, especially if his name's attached to it, hence our hanging out as friends and not some kind of bizarre group of emmissaries for the church. Of course, the American Pie night wound up being a bust long-term for the girls in question: One of the guys turned out to be a local pot dealer with no small amount of paranoia, and the fact that he coincidentally dealt to one of the male members of the youth group is just one of those freakish twists that makes you think P.T. Anderson really knows what he's talking about. Anyway, once the girl found out he was holding, they broke up. But back to the thing about trips: Youth groups go to all kinds of conventions, camps, and what have you throughout the year, and the process usually entails loading everyone up in a trusty van — again, completely absent of any mouth-to-body hanky-panky — and driving to a nearby major city and crashing in a hotel for a night or two and in general throwing every last ounce of decent behavior right out the baptistry window in pursuit of the kind of low-grade trouble that fuels young men's very being. Some examples of said screwing around: • When I was 12, there was an event in downtown San Antonio, which the youth minister must've viewed as a plus, since we wouldn't have to lodge anywhere, just drive downtown every day and spout off randomly memorized verses before collecting some cheap ribbon we would throw away later and heading for home. Of course, being in 7th grade and hanging out with other boys my age, we were flabbergasted at the relative amount of freedom we had to roam the Riverwalk in the free time we were able to carve out, not to mention the fact that there were girls everywhere. At 12, your body is producing so much testosterone you can't see straight, and you don't even want to. Girls drive every word, thought, action. Basically, it's the same as your 20s, only without cars. Which is probably why we, being 12 years old and thinking we were pretty much as good as it gets, went to Hooters for lunch one day. Just walking in was some ultimate combination of defiance of our moral leaders and acceptance of the carnal desires we were howling to let loose: They were like fire shut up in our bones; we were weary of holding them in; indeed we could not. I remember loving it there, even though the waitresses were probably either annoyed or slightly creeped out by our little band of horndogs. And in retrospect, they probably weren't even objectively hot or anything; this was, after all, downtown San Antonio. • There was an event in Austin when I was in high school, either a junior or a senior. It was toward the end. I remember roaming the streets of downtown with a few other guys, wandering through the UT campus, and eventually coming across a Scientology center, at which point the leader of our group suggested we go in and take the test these people were offering us. And being very, very bored — and broke — we did. I left before I found out my results, though, since we were around 24th and Guadalupe and I had to be at 6th and Congress in a very short time, so I jogged my fat ass back through town, which isn't exactly easy in flip-flops. I almost didn't want to make it back on time for whatever lame event I was supposed to "compete" in (they said it was a competition, but everyone still got a plaque or ribbon or some retarded certificate saying they'd done their due diligence), and had I been older, I would've just blown it off. But I made it back, and performed, and didn't really care what happened. I didn't even care about hanging out with this blonde I'd been minorly obsessing over, which was probably just as well, since the sight of me showing up sweat-drenched and heatstrokey probably wouldn't have sent her libido into overdrive. I just went in and did what the adults wanted me to do, and hated myself every moment. I wonder if the adults ever know how little we cared about those trips, or the church-as-corporation aspect of them. I guess not.