Saturday, October 18, 2014

Don't upset the rhythm

Angela tells me about talking to her mom on the phone pretty much every day. 

Both the conversation and the way she tells it are always the same. Sometimes I stop her and change the subject, but other times, like when I have just bought a large bag of potato chips and want all of it inside me quickly, I can't be bothered with non-essentials.

"Cause the doctors told her to have an abortion, and she told them doctors right back-"

At this point, Angela always yells her mother's line.

"....and then she had me," Angela continues, at normal volume.  "And there was nothing wrong at all. I was perfect. That's why I'm her miracle baby." She folds her arms in satisfaction, but I know what's coming.

Her inventory of diagnoses, which I have heard many times, seems to leave her doubting the miracle.

"But you're not missing a leg or anything," I point out helpfully. 

"Well, duh. Do I look like I'm missing a leg?"Angela waves her feet in front of me, first one and then the other.

Lately I've noticed that the students seem to have very little respect for my intelligence. 

Recently, one of them wrote "I'm a Pretty Princess" on a Post-It note and stuck it to my back. I walked around for several hours like that.

I'm not a Pretty Princess. I'm a boy. A boy. 

When I finally discovered the note, there was much young laughter at my expense.

"Didn't you wonder why I was touching your back?," the guilty party asked me.

"I just thought you were being weird." They laughed all the more, and I scurried away to the bathroom to check myself for any other unwelcome labels. 

I stayed in there a little bit longer then I should've, because I thought I looked kind of handsome that day, and I wanted to stare at my reflection hungrily.

Angela continues on with the inevitable second half of her story.

"Now, my one brother, my mom says he came out like a bullet. She pushed one time and he shot out, did a flip, and landed on the bed." I always picture a little baby in a top hat, doing some post-womb gymnastics, sticking the landing, and finishing up with a deep bow to the midwife. The image pleases me.

"She should've called him her miracle baby."

She looks at me, unsmiling. "Yeah, probably."

We walk along a few more blocks, our shoes slapping through rain puddles.

"That brother, he was supposed to be a twin. But she miscarried the other one."

"Oh." Miscarriages are terribly sad, and I do not mean to come off as insensitive. The first few times she told me this, I tried to have the proper responses: apologies, sad clucks, pats of hand or shoulder. But forty-something times on now, and I'm running out of material.

"Yep. She wanted to tell my brother about....about his dead twin, but she thought she should wait. You know, till he was older."

"Did she ever tell him?"

"I think when he was in high school, she did. He didn't say nothing though."

We make it to the bus center and sit on one of the black benches that line the curb. They are designed to discourage loitering: too firm on the buttocks, backless; they push the body forward into a grim slump.

I launch into a long explanation of babies and their comprehension levels, how they are kind of tiny idiots, etc. but Angela pulls out her copy of Divergent and begins reading as if I wasn't even there.

When we wait for the bus, I try to sit very still and appear as non-confrontational as possible. There are a lot of angry people in and around the bus system, and they are always on the lookout for anyone with a staring problem.

If loud laughter breaks out amidst a circle of smoking hobos, it's best not to turn your head suddenly to look.

However, if you forget yourself and make that mistake, just be sure to smile. 

Not too broad of a smile, though. Not a smile that says 'awww, look at the laughing homeless, how precious', but one that implies you heard the joke as well, and by golly, it was rather amusing.

You want to appear as someone who is unfazed by loud noises in public places, not as a patronizing racist.

The closest I've come to an altercation while using the system was when I had to firmly correct a student for squealing uncontrollably on the bus. 

A blind man sitting nearby waited for a moment, and then said, "You're an asshole" loudly into the air.

To this day, I don't know if he was talking to me or to his helper dog, as we were the two living things nearest him. The dog, a sad eyed Golden Retriever, was cinched up in a red vest with the words, "Don't pet me, I'm working!" in large, cautionary letters on the sides. 

If he was the asshole, one can only imagine what he must have done to earn the insult. Perhaps lead his master into a series of low-hanging street signs, or through freshly laid turds.  

It doesn't matter now. The moment to get in an argument with a blind man on the bus has long passed. 

Angela and I arrive at the stop right in front of our classroom.

As we get off, she complains loudly that someone had farted during the ride.

"So what? Like you never fart," I tell her.

"I fart in the bathroom, like a lady."

We can't all be ladies, I want to say, but I'm afraid it would make her think I was the bus farter.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The facts as we know it

I push through the frosted glass doors, and a steamy cloud of rancid sock and Brut suctions to my face.

So many sounds at once:showers running, labored breathing, grunts, phlegmy coughs, someone expelling their nostrils onto the floor.

A sea of bobbing genitals and flat, yellowed buns.

This is not a place for germaphobes, or prudes, or women.

I can't imagine the men's locker room at the YMCA as being a place for anyone, really.

And yet, here I am, not breathing through my nose, not knowing where to look.

Though the student with me, a young black guy named Wayne, wishes that I would just go anywhere else.

He feels strongly that, despite his missing leg, he should be able to navigate the soapy tiles of the locker room showers by himself. I agree with him, and then I slip on a pair of rubber gloves and let them snap shut on my wrists.

Wayne suddenly realizes that I am not here to help him get around at all. This is not about mobility; my role in his life is going to be much more intimate.

"Really?" he asks, rolling his eyes.

Jeez. Typical twenty-year old. All exasperated and resentful about having someone watch over him while he washes, and give directions like "the inside buns too" or "no, your whole penis", complete with a lot of pointing and pantomiming. 

There is only about four feet between us and the shower stall across the way, where an elderly man stands watching. Water pours over him and runs into the floor drain.

"Supposed to be a storm today," he states grimly."A bad one. Maybe a tornayda." He turns to rinse his back and spray ricochets off, crossing over to our side and splattering my bare arms. The man lets out a loud groan.

There is a complete lack of self-consciousness among these locker room veterans that amazes me. They'll stand around, buck naked, and prattle on like the Ladies League. None of them can hear all that well, so they have to stand so close together that their genitals almost Eskimo kiss. Words like "scrimmage" or "Briggs and Stratton" get thrown about.

I can't read anything into them; nothing to go on but their loose, liver-spotted skin and tickly looking moustaches.

But then, as the clothes come back on, I see obvious farmers, tradesmen, professor types, lawyers; a whole survey sample of of old white guy occupations.

I guess clothes really do make the man, or at least make him less repulsive to have to look at.

One loud, slow-speaking guy is always insisting that people say good morning to him. If someone walks past and doesn't return the greeting, he leaps from his bench, wearing nothing but a cut-off shirt with the words "Cowboy Up!" on it. He keeps bellowing good mornings and chasing the person down until they turn, awkwardly apologize, and wish him a good one as well.

When I see him, I start screeching a preemptive "Good morning!". I do not know if I could face the spectacle of that wide, pale body bearing down on me.

I finish toweling Wayne off, and we go upstairs to the Fitness area.

Televisions hang in front of a humming, whirring collection of ellipticals and stationary bikes. The face of Dr.Oz fills every one of the screens.

He is a new phenomena to me, and I am enjoy watching his show with the sound turned off. The blocky close-captioning is always running behind, so the good doctor might be yucking it up with a guest and the on-screen text will still be saying something like "cancer throughout his body."

Dr.Oz looks like a person who breathes deeply and loudly through his nose; he doesn't just smell things, he takes long, meaningful whiffs and then murmurs "Indeed."

It bothers me that he is so hilarious because it distracts me from my craft, which is doodling in my Ducky notebook. The cheapest notebooks the dollar store had were decorated with either ducks or flowers, and the floral pattern was out of the question.

The Ducky notebook contains my most personal insights: titles of movies I might want to borrow from the library some day, little messages to myself about how much of a failure I am.

I highly recommend keeping a journal, if only to have a chronological record of the obsessive uselessness of your own thoughts.

One of my students was teasing me for bringing the Ducky notebook onto the city bus. I deflected her hurtful observations with a series of questions about her personal life. She told me how she had just purchased some Axe Body Wash for her boyfriend.

"Oh my god, he's going to smell so good," she said. I wondered if I should buy some too, because my wife has never sniffed me and said anything close to that.

The girl suddenly grabbed my arm.

"Listen, listen," she said, almost whispering. "Do you believe that souls get trapped here with unfinished business?" I wasn't sure where she was going with this, so I played it safe.


"Well I do. I think my Grandpa was in my room last night. He turned my radio off."

"Why would he do that?" I asked. She stared out the window while thinking of an answer.

"He didn't like the song, I guess."

"What song was it?"

"It was...Ciara...2-Step...from my Kids Bop Cd. And one time he turned it off when I was folding laundry and listening to Shania Twain." I pressed her for reasons as to why her grandpa disliked her music choices, but she shook her head.

"It's just a mystery. I need a medium to find out. A Long Island medium." Her gaze drifted back to the window and I made a note in my Ducky journal to look up articles on how to be a better-smelling man. I scribbled it down next to a picture I had doodled earlier of the Grim Reaper sitting on the toilet.

Why am I forever drawing toilets? Butts and bathrooms, bathrooms and butts-why can't I create something beautiful? Something bursting with life and color, like an Italian movie or the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

If you were made to stare at buns from birth, buns and only buns, what then would you dream of, but of buns?

It's a question that everyone has to ask themselves eventually.

Another time I have to look at buns is when I take Gregory to the bathroom.

Gregory has Cerebral Palsy, and only has use of his head, neck, and one arm.

To get ready to toilet Gregory, I have to prepare the bathroom.

First, I prop the door. If you've never propped a door open, I highly recommend it. It's genuinely interesting.

Secondly, I have to push this white wheelie-throne over the toilet seat. If Gregory sat on a regular toilet, he would topple over. When no one is around, I sit on the throne toilet and issue decrees with a wave of my toilet paper scepter.

You have to remember to lock the wheels of the throne, or the person you've seated upon it might roll a small distance away and start panicking, and later tell your co-workers that he's not sure that you really know what you are doing, even though you felt as though you had the situation under control the whole time.

Finally, I position the lifter directly in front of Gregory's wheelchair. The lifter has all these levers and up/down switches. It's not a toy. I accidentally smooshed Gregory's foot in one of the lifter's openy closey legs and I felt really terrible about it. To make things even, I draped my own foot between the legs and crushed it. The pain was awful, and I was kind of annoyed with Gregory for letting me go through with it. I guess he didn't exactly let me do it, he just kind of bugged his eyes out and said "What are you doing???"

After I get Gregory up in the air, I push him over to the toilet. Before I can let him down, I have to pull his pants and underwear off. That's when I see the buns that I mentioned I've been seeing. I take my gloved hands and guide his hips backwards so he is directly over the bowl. It's the only time Gregory stops talking to me, and that makes it seem very still and awkward in that little bathroom stall.

He has a wide, bubbly surgical scar that runs the length of his spine. I look at the scar and try to think about things like human dignity and suffering and the stupidity of my own meager depressions and mild hardships, but usually I just space out, or silently hate on whomever consumed all of the Hershey's minis in the staff candy drawer, leaving only crumpled wrappers and a handful of the dreaded Special Darks in their wake. 

When Gregory is finished, he always makes me assist him in positioning his penis comfortably back inside of his sweatpants.

"I like it up," he says. "No, up!"

I apologize to him, and make the necessary changes.


Saturday, September 6, 2014


The first week of school is student-free; we spend it in meetings and sessions where we break out from a big group into small groups and discuss many important things. 

Someone has to be the presenter and someone else is the writer-downer on a big white pad of paper. Everyone yells out ideas as the writer-downer says, "Wait, wait-say that again" or "maybe that should go in this column."

I got picked to be a presenter, but when my turn came up, I choked in front of all those people and just restated the original question as a statement instead. Some people nodded their heads, and the discussion coordinator squinted thoughtfully and said, "True, true.."

They moved on.

In the afternoon session, the school nurse showed us an instructional film about a medication called Diastat Acudial Rectal Delivery System. 

The pretty spokesmodel in the video kept saying the entire name of the medication every time; it really disrupted the cadence of her speech and came across as forced and artificial. 

Someone snickered when a simple drawing of a rectum appeared on the screen, and this made the school nurse angry. She paused the video and stood in front of us, red-faced.

"You guys, this is serious! Diastat Acudial Rectal Delivery System has saved lives. I have a student now who would probably be dead without it. It takes four people to get the medicine in him: one to spread the right buttock, one to spread the left buttock, one to hold his body steady, and one to insert the medication. It's not pretty, but it works." She sat back down.

I wondered if the person who had laughed felt guilty, but they were somewhere behind me so I could not scrutinize their face for traces of remorse. Maybe they were biting the inside of their cheek to keep themselves from finding the word "buttock" too hilarious.

The video started up again, and an unfortunate looking couple from Texas gave their testimonial about how well Diastat Acudial Rectal Delivery System works.

School is now under way.

Despite all my complaining, I am happy to be back in my old room and free from Ms.Pam.

I am not sure how much longer this blog will trudge along for, as just getting this post done was like pulling teeth, but hopefully I'll make it less then a month between updates.

Anyways, in the words of one of my new students, I like Taylor Swift, who wants to be my friend?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I will not eat all the eggs

My wife has left me, at least for a few days.

I figure she's coming back, because the two year old is still here, and she seems to genuinely care for him, so I can't imagine she'd just leave him sitting around like this.

She conveniently skipped town right during a week when I have two social functions to attend.

This is why you have to work out resentments early on in your marriage, otherwise they stew for years and come out in the form of horrific betrayals. She knows I can't handle socializing anymore; she knows how much I need her as a kind of big rock to place between me and people who might approach me. She's my rock, and now she's gone.

In her stead is this weird little creature of questionable provenance. Don't get me wrong, he's cute as these things go, but I don't see myself in him the way I would in a mirror or driveway puddle.

Where I am dark, he is fair; my eyes are many colors mixed together unwisely and into a sludgy brown; his are blue and flinty, like a judgmental Nazi. I am big and have hair in my bathing suit areas; he is in the 3rd percentile for height and weight and frequently points out my hairiness when given an opportunity, sometimes just staring at it, and shouting No! as if it goes against his understanding of reality.

Since we are confined to close quarters for the week, I decided to make him useful by practicing my social skills on him.

Sometimes, when I first start small-talking again, I picture those old cartoons, where a guy cracks open his wallet and little moths fly out.

Initially, I got too worked up and took it for real. Even though he was just sitting on the couch in his pajamas and eating a banana, I really psyched myself out, and felt like I was stuck in an elevator with the President.

I stumbled into the kitchen to regroup. We keep a bottle of white wine vinegar in the cupboard, and a little voice inside me said, what if that was real wine-would you drink it? Another voice said yeah, drink it all would you like on a salad and I told that voice to shut up because I didn't appreciate its syntax.

This is stupid, he's just a two year old kid. I can talk to him. I'll talk to him right now. I'll do it.

I just need a topic.

My wife often calls me 'Poop Guy', but not in an affectionate way; in fact, her voice is quite distant when she says it. It's because she feels like I frequently discuss excrement or things to do with the excretion process, but that's not really accurate. I feel like I don't discuss those things any more often then society as a whole does, and I point to such scatological works as The Canterbury Tales and the Fart Scrolls of Edo's Floating period as evidence of my good and cultured company.

Not that I feel the need to justify myself, but that being said, it is perfectly fine and above reproach that I chose "poop" as the topic of chit-chat with my son, and he, in his turn, said "poop" back to me with his usual degree of enthusiasm for the subject.

This is when the flaw in my plan to use him as a socialization rehearsal subject appeared.

He's only two; he speaks in the manner and of the interests of a two-year old. Once I broke the ice with him, it was like shooting talky fish in a party barrel. I feel just sick writing that line right there, the one right before this one. Just a godawful simile. It's like I'm writing the flavor text for an Applebees menu. Dammit, stop! Get back to how important it is that you utilize a two-year old for your social betterment!

Anyways, I decided it would be an interesting thought experiment to not hear him as he is, a two year old boy, but to hear him speaking as if he were a man, expressing the same needs and wants, but with the conversational toolset of a adult. I could therefore work through my difficulties in relating to other people from within a scenario where it was "safe to fail". 

This is not entirely unlike the premise of the hilarious Look Who's Talking trilogy, so I am standing with confidence on the shoulders of giants.


To sum up, it went poorly.

His inherent absurdity undermined any inroads into small talk that I could have made.

I won't bore you with the play by play, but a few highlights should suffice:

Me: Do you want chicken for dinner?

Child-as-Man: No. Yes. Yes, with ketchup please. No.

Keep in mind, what the child really said was, "No, yeah! Yeah! Chup! No," but for our purposes, I will not translate each line. Just know that he speaks as a typical two year old boy: grunts, single words often poorly enunciated, sometimes no responses at all, as if deaf or choking.

Me: Here's your chicken.

C-M: No. Yes, that's right. I did want chicken. And I wanted ketchup as well. I will eat it with a fork-no wait, with a spoon. No, I have thrown my spoon to the floor and would like a fork again. No, not that one, that one has already been handed to me once already. Yes, one there from the dishwasher, yes thanks. Oh, you left the dishwasher open, here just let me get down and shut it for you. Drat, when I got down, I clumsily dropped my new fork. Well, it's no good to me now. Let me just grab all the forks left in the dishwasher and keep them by my side, that should prevent things from going wrong again. What? Oh no! It appears that I had ketchup all over my hands and did not know it. Now each of these forks are tainted. Perhaps it will be a spoon for me after all.


Me: Would you like to listen to some music while we drive?

C-M: Yes. How about that Wiggles CD I am so fond of?

In case you are unfamiliar with Australia's The Wiggles, know that they are exactly the kind of children's music you would expect to slither up from the tackiest, and most poisonous, country on earth.

Me: Well, okay. Do you have a song preference?

C-M: Yes, the first one. I believe it is called "Wiggly Party". song plays Ahh yes, that's the tune.

The song in question bludgeons you with enthusiasm for almost four minutes; it has the power to rupture the blood vessels of the eye, not unlike attempting a pull-up after many years of only sitting down.

Me: So that one's done, and-

C-M: Hold on there. Might I have that one again? It's my favorite after all.

Me: Again? Sigh. OK. song plays

C-M: Seemed shorter that time. How about another go?

Me: Really?

C-M: Yes. That would be fantastic.

Me: This is the last time, though, all right? All right? song plays

C-M: No. No I don't believe that should actually be the last time. I still would very much like to hear Wiggly Party again. song plays

Me: How about "Even My Butthole Has A Wiggle" now?

C-M: No, let's stick with Wiggly Party. I think we have a good thing going with it, and I wouldn't want to jinx it. song plays

Me: I'm getting kind of tired of-

C-M: I'm not. Wiggly Party, please. song plays

C-M: That's La Cucaracha. I am neither deaf nor an idiot. Please play Wiggly Party again or I will make this trip very uncomfortable for you. And please roll up your window, it's playing hell with the acoustics in here. song plays


Me: It is time for you to take a bath.

C-M: No. Yes. That's right, I forgot that I enjoy baths. Just let me take off all my clothes, starting with the tape of my diaper and working outwards to my pants. Oh geez, that's not good.

Me: What??

C-M: Well you see, had I known my diaper was full of unusually loose stool, I would have waited to take it off until after the rest of my clothes had been removed, and then most likely asked for your assistance in preventing a mess. But now....

Me: Just....just don't move.....

C-M: Should I sit?

Me: No, don't!

C-M: Kneel?

Me: No, nothing! Stay still so I can rip a diaper wipe from this impossibly narrow gap at the top of the package.

C-M: Sit?

Me: Would you just stand there?? You're getting poop all over.

C-M: Kneel?

Me: For the love of God! Would one wipe just come out of this thing, just one stupid wipe?!?

C-M: You seem like you are having a hard day. Sit?


Me: Sigh. Okay, time to get out of the bath.

C-M: No, I don't think so. No, don't touch the controlling lever for the water. Do you know how loud a human scream sounds, in a tiny, cheaply tiled bathroom like this? What about forty of those screams in a row?

Me: You need to get out.

C-M: Fine, not only will I turn the water back on, but I will push it all the way to scalding, and give myself more reason to scream and cry. Should I do this?

Me: No.

C-M: Ah ah ah,  look at my's very close to the lever...

Me: Stop it.

C-M: Look at what my hand is doing, I have a pretty funny thing going on here. My hand is turning the water back on.

Me: Stop looking back at me to see if I am going to stop you.

C-M: But my haaaand.....


Me: Ok, buddy, pick your last bedtime story.

C-M: Give me a minute, I'm looking for one with either a frog or a monkey. This book has none of those things, so I will throw it at my father. Should I? Kidding. Should I?

Me: Don't throw books.

C-M: Yes, yes, I know. Don't throw books. Throw the book at my father? Kidding. Throw it?

Me: Just pick one.

C-M: Okay, I will choose this Picture Bible given to me by my grandmother. Let me hold the book and keep it at an angle that makes it very hard for you to read it. On second thought, I am only interested in this page here, with the three camels walking past some rabbits. Please do not try to turn it to any other pages, and please let me stare at it for as long as I need to. No, that wasn't long enough. I think I need you to sit a few feet back from me.

Me: Are you going poop? I just put that diaper on you.

C-M: No. I am not going poop. I just need you go over there where I am pointing. Just quiet for a second....I'm not pooping....I'm not....

Me: Sigh. Is it a big poop?

C-M: It's tiny, really. It's a tiny one. We could just leave it....I don't really want a diaper change at the moment...oh fine....Hmmm...I'm done with this book now, should I put it on my bottom while you change me? No? We don't put books on our bottom, do we? Not right now, anyways. What about now? Can I put it on my bottom now? Hmmm....doesn't seem as intriguing of a thing to do now, seeing as that business is packed away into my pajamas. Should I throw the book at my father?

Me: No.

C-M: I threw the book at my father.


You see? He's your classic American social failure, only on about himself and his needs, never giving you breathing room for a little banter or change of conversational tone.

That exercise was futile, and I have now resigned myself to a week on Social Death Row.

If I chance to meet the aspect of the human spirit that insists on having get-togethers of any kind, I will not bother to greet it, or even speak at all. I will simply slip a homemade knife from my pocket, and shank that bastard as he walks smiling across the yard.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Stella, in search of groove

Hi everyone.
I have not posted in awhile because my writing was just getting so amazing that I felt like I could not possibly be any better than I already am. I was worried that my talent was on the verge of scorching the virtual earth.
So I took a break to antagonize my wife and stare vacantly out my sliding kitchen door for a few weeks.
This is what artists do; it's called 'sabbatical'.
When a sabbatical is finished, the sabbaticalee comes back twice as much of a genius.
That is how I was able to produce this:

I know at first glance it resembles much of my other work, but notice how I used white space to not draw anything.

To give you a better idea of how far I've come, I am including my conceptual drawings for this piece.
From early sketches to finished picture, it was about four minutes.

The pace of my work was fevered.

I am in the thick of summer school right now, which means I am away from the clutches of Baba Pam Yaga.

This in and of itself is amazing and exhilarating, so any complaining I proceed to do in this post should be regarded with great contempt and 'geez there's no pleasing this guy' harrumphings.

The student pictured above is new to me this summer. I will call him Curdy for no reason.

Curdy's current caretaker, Bill, has been told to train me on all the ins and outs of the kid, but Bill seems more interested in his Ipad interactive video games and his motorized bubble gun.
In the mornings, before any students have even arrived, Bill walks about, whimsically blowing bubbles into the air.

On the first day that he did this, we all jumped around popping them and taking part in the magic of it, but now just one person lights up when the bubbles start floating into everyones peripheral vision. That person is Bill.

Sometimes a bubble will pop on the skin of my bald head, at which point for some reason I feel compelled to give Bill a smile. I tell myself that this time I won't smile, I won't, but I always do, because it seems terribly awkward to not acknowledge his bubbles at all. Its one thing if they are just loose in the air, but if they touch me, well then....what is a man to do? He and I both know what has passed between us. I'd be a fool to pretend it wasn't happening.

Anything you could possibly say, Bill compares unfavorably to his two tours of duty in Okinawa. After awhile, you say nothing and wish in your heart that you had been an Army guy so you could talk about distances in terms of "humping klicks" too, or discuss a wide variety of rations.

As well as bubbles and their battery powered dispensaries, Bill enjoys having thick slices of habanero cheese for breakfast. He often tries to get me to eat some while I sip my morning coffee.

I tried telling him it was too early in the day to eat spicy cheese, but he did not seem to understand, so now when I hear the crinkling of the package or the retrieval of a knife from the kitchen drawer, I hide in the bathroom for ten minutes and wait for him to look about, shrug, and take for himself the portion meant for me.

"You gotta put it on crackers," he said, on the only morning I was willing to try the cheese. He pulled some individually wrapped saltines from his tight jean pocket.

The crackers were warm, and blended nicely with the fire of the habanero and the briny green olive bits hiding within the cool, soft flesh of the cheese.

Bill's idea of training me is to wait until I do something and then tell me not to do it.

This style of learning people things probably has a fancy name like "education through negatory exclusion" or "learn by not doing after already doing", but to me, it's just annoying to have Bill on me like a tut-tutting fairy godmother. 

Curdy suffers from intense, terrible intrusive thinking coupled with echolalia. 

A simple phrase said to him like "close the door now" will build up in his mind until he lashes out and starts yelling.

He always screams "Curdy has to take a shit" or variations on that theme. I don't know why. It seems as good an expression of unmanageable frustration as any other, I suppose.

I consider my own struggles with intrusive thinking to be fairly vanilla by comparison.

For instance, my brain has been stuck on the idea of nail scissors for several months now. Not owning nail scissors, or collecting many pairs of them or anything, just the idea of the sensation of them expertly clipping overdue nails off in perfect rectangles that clatter to the floor.

Unable to sleep the other night, I confessed my odd fixation to the pile of blankets and mumbles that was my wife.

"You know, we have a pair of nail scissors in our junk drawer."

"We do?!?"

I stood in the kitchen and turned the scissors over and over in my hand.

I thought of Curdy, needing to take a big shit.

There was no relief; the reality of the nail scissors seemed completely unrelated to the intrusive idea.

I put them away and went back to bed, feeling lost.

Why can't obsessive thoughts be directed towards something more useful?

If you had obsessive drive to direct towards anything at all, where would you point it?

I guess the easy answer is towards something like voter apathy or blood diamonds, but that all seems complex and out of reach.

I like passions and obsessions that are immediate. Say something like rock collecting.

This summer, I dabbled a bit in that heady world of geologic accumulation. Mostly, I stared at the picture of a gold nugget in my DK Let's Look at Rocks! field guide and sighed longingly.

Several things about rock collecting quickly became clear to me. Though I loved the feeling of being outside on an overcast day, letting the wind tug at my luxurious shoulder hair and uncurl my most restless thoughts, my neck started to hurt from always looking down, and I felt my fatty back hump begin to swell. It was also extremely frustrating that when they lay gravel down on our road, they don't liberally sprinkle it with little nuggets of gold as well.

I moved from rocks to panning for gold, but the sexual gyrations of the prospector in the Internet tutorial video as he sloshed water around in his pan made me uncomfortable.

I couldn't see myself standing in our local stream, perhaps wearing a homemade sleeveless tee, and passionately wiggling a dinner plate.

It's too bad people like Curdy and I could not direct our obsessiveness towards push-ups or other feats of physical fitness. We would have such beautifully cut shoulders and triceps by now.

Instead, he and I share thick, pasty bodies that sweat easily and prowl kitchens for unclaimed cookies. No one wise to the epic, all-consuming nature of our secret thoughts until we scream them out loud or whisper them to our pillows in the middle of the night.

I wonder how much money it would cost to get Bill to stand in my room at bedtime, shower me with bubbles, and assure me that I would be fine.

For a little extra, he'd produce the Harry Potter replica wand he proudly purchased from Walmart for forty dollars, wave its little white LED tip around, and say "Expelliarmus" in a voice as magical as it is commanding.

That echolalia is a curious thing.

I've worked with many students who have it, but another student I have this summer, Floyd, echoes me while I am speaking to him, so that I keep stopping my conversation to say things like "do you hear something?" His repeating undercurrent grows in volume and accuracy when he's able to predict the word I am going to say next, like someone doing their best to join in on a song that they do not really know.

Floyd's mother died recently from a sudden illness, leaving her boyfriend of many years to care for her son.

He often echoes things this man, Don, has said to him, using a gruff, Fat Albert voice that is completely unlike his own, high-pitched, almost babyish speaking tone.

Usually, it's just repeating commands, things like "Sit down, we'll take the bottles back later", "Get in there and wash again" or "Hey hey hey". Not that last one, I only wrote that there to emphasize the Fat Albert connection.   

Occasionally, though,  I'll get a glimpse into Don's awful private grief.

"Ah, ah," Floyd will grown,"Ah just miss her so much." He imitates deep sobbing and rakes his fingers over his face. "That's what Don says, mmm-hmm." He smiles at me.

I picture this Don: middle aged, rough around the edges and all leathery from his construction job, losing the love of his life only a few days after a hospital bedside wedding, and now living in the wake behind her, out in a rundown farmhouse with her twenty-year old autistic son to care for, and to hear his own turmoil echoed back to him in an unflattering Fat Albert voice, over and over again, while he thaws out Floyd's dinner or changes his soiled pull-up.

Summer school has now ended, just yesterday, and I have a few weeks here to write my way out of the damp, unfunny box I seem to be stuck in, but I most likely will waste it away.

Thanks to all of you who keep reading, I really appreciate it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Hump Day

Did you know that every Wednesday is considered Hump Day?

I knew it before working in my current classroom, but now, I really, really know it.

On Wednesdays, the teacher I aide, Ms.Pam, explains how Hump Day works.

Sometimes she even draws a picture of something she says is a camel.

When she gets to the crucial "hump" part of her phallic brontosaurus, she slows her drawing hand way down.

Then she writes "Hump Day" under her camel, and everybody cheers.

I used to cheer too, back in the first part of the year. But after so many Wednesdays, I guess the thrill is a little bit gone.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Some great writing on an interesting topic

In other exciting news, I went grocery shopping recently.

I filled my cart with everything healthy and organic you can imagine: potatoes grown from compost, lovingly smothered wild turkey (apparently, the trauma of any other kind of killing makes the meat gamy), apples untouched by man.

My total bill shot well past my budget for the week, but I prided myself on eating in a manner so back to the earth that I might as well have been snorfling around in the dirt on my naked hands and knees, rooting for grubs and tubers.

I loaded the many bags of groceries into my car and drove directly across the parking lot to an Arby's, where I proceeded to eat as many battered fingers as a chicken could possibly have on its hand. This I chased with a bucket of curly fry.

The singular "fry" is accurate here because that's what it was: a giant, coiled Gordian knot that lifted whole from its carton and settled directly into my unhinged jaws.

It tasted a bit like cigarettes and the salt from a sweaty forearm, and I realized suddenly that I might be eating myself to death.

Every human body probably has its unique limit of unhealthy food it can contain in one life time.

It's not: Will Arby's kill me?

It's: After a certain number of Arby's, I will be dead.

I want to know what that number is, so I can flirt around it, get near enough to the fire to get a bit of a dirty thrill.

I'll stop at the 99th donut if I know that the 100th will kill me.

I'm a pathetic person, I thought, as I ate. A winded sack of monosodium glutamate and aimless yearning.

You see those movies where eating is a sensual, joyous experience. The act of it lifts the spirit. 

What kind of food was this, then, here in my mouth, when eating it convicted me in the heart that I've lived a life of worthless things?

Such a classic middle American turmoil to flounder in: a car full of the freshest, healthiest food money can buy, a slight burn of guilt over a fast food indulgence, a dark country road to park along, a sky of brilliant stars overhead and nothing but my uneasy sense that everything is wrong to keep me company.

There's no denying it now, I suppose. I can fit snugly into a folder labeled "mid-life crisis" and be filed away in a drawer alphabetized according to cliche: sports car, toupee, interest in karaoke, rickets.

It reminds of a black man I once knew, who, with seething anger, described to me what it was like to walk into a room full of white people and have preconceived notions thrust upon him about how he should dress, or the kind of music he should enjoy. No one said anything aloud, but he could feel the box dropping around him through their eyes.

I studied the fury in his face and thought, is there anything in my life that makes me that passionately angry? I bought a Lego set recently and it was missing all the little figures. That definitely bothered me, but he was talking about racism. It's not the same.

Yes, I am writing about black people again. I have been writing Gweenbrick for over three years now, and its getting to the point where I can't remember what things I have written or what stupid jokes I have already made. It's all a trivial blur, with a sense that I may have been a lot more fun in the early days. Like when people who used to know me encounter me now; they still tweak my breasts or poke my belly, but they can't shake the feeling that my giggle used to bubble out of me with more authenticity. 

I sat in my car and continued to eat.

What did you hope to be by now, I asked of the chicken fingers and the bits of curly fry hiding under the inside corners of the paper bag.

What did you expect to be, giant glass bottle of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar, besides the key ingredient in a more holistic douche?

Food, mute whore that it is, gave no answers. 

It communicates all that it needs to by its very presence, sitting there greasy in the darkness and urging eat me, eat me to death without using a single word.