Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Amy Ting



I am getting yet another conduct lecture from Amy Ting, a Taiwanese-American student of mine. She is at the end of her rope, exhausted from her self-appointed task of keeping me in check. 

In this instance, she is frustrated with me for wearing a hat made of newspaper and shoving poorly drawn kittens down the front of my shirt.

Here is another picture:


It is a little puppy I found, made out of shells.

I look at his face, and all I can see is an unfortunate soul with hypertrichosis.

The googly eyes make it worse; they roll around panicked, independent of each other. You can see the animal fear beneath the slow suffocation of the shells. 

Let me out, it pleads. All I can hear is the ocean.

Amy's diagnosis is an elusive one, stuffed with acronyms. There is OCD, ASD, CI, a bit of CP in the feet; sort of a disability melting pot.

I've been trying to write this post about Amy Ting for weeks now.

It's not unique or especially intricate or really anything at all.
She does not die at the end.

When I start writing, my Creative Brain blows me a razzberry and toodles away into the sunset. I really hate that guy sometimes. 

So I start again: about how I have the bad habit of singing to myself all the time, I mean, really singing, like with emotion and longing. 

I think it's the longing that eventually got to Amy Ting.

She first heard me singing and could not praise me enough. It was all about my talents, my gifts.

"Dats so great, Mi-ike, you're using your talents, your special abilities." Amy made me feel good, like a vocal powerhouse. But, just as quickly, she snatched it away.

"Enough singing now. Nope nope nope, that's enough." I gave it a minute and started up again, but she would not have it.

"What I tell you about that singing, Mike? What I tell you?EEEE-NUFF!" She sliced the air with the flat of her hand and hissed at me. 

I tried redirecting her by asking questions about her life. My hope was that if I got her talking, I could resume singing in the background and she would not even notice. I really needed to finish that song. 

"What does your dad do?"
"He play tennis."
"Who does he play against?"
"Opponents. Tennis opponents."

Here I had to be careful. Amy's silliness meter was finely tuned, and if she intuited, even slightly, that I was not being serious, she would shut the whole thing down. 

"Do you play any instruments?"

"I play violin. I did. But everybody laughed at me-"  Uuuuah! I just died in your arms tonight, musta been something you said-  

"and then my Dad, he put away the printer and he say 'no more printing those ladies pictures, no more Amy'  Hrmy hrmy lie all around me, who would of thought was a boy like this hermanaa-uuah! I just died- 

"and I hid in the closet say no more fighting mom and dad, stop all that fighting-" dirty dirty, the cat's in the cradle

"-now she only talk to me at Christmas...MI-IKE! What I tell you????!?!"



Here is something they don't teach you at no four year college: when you get older, you will occasionally find yourself awash in unexpected tears.

Why does aging free the fluids from all the openings in your body? I need a vacuum sealed, full body diaper to keep my empire together these days.

I found this little music box piano at my least favorite thrift store, the always crowded, foul-smelling one. 

Take a look:
It's got an American flag on it, and a badly mangled excerpt from the lyrics to "Piano Man" printed on its lid.

But when I wound it up and let it play, I started crying in the store, holding this ridiculous piano in one hand and a sound activated band of rock'n'roll frogs titled "The Green Machine" in the other.

Perhaps it was age, or the season.

Perhaps it was the sudden thought that I can never go anywhere again without a tin of Altoids tucked away in one of my pockets. My breath has just gotten to that point. People no longer wonder what I ate; they wonder how long I have to live.

video

"Hey Mike! It's snowing! Like that song!", Amy Ting announces, as we walk from the cafeteria back to class beneath a light flurry of snow. 

It's one of those picturesque snowfalls that seem to hush the world for a moment, an hour before there is too much of the stuff, crashing cars all over the highway and inspiring people to shake their fists angrily up at God.

Amy starts to sing. Her voice trembles as it rises.

I can't quite pin down the tune; kind of a "Happy Birthday" that's been slapped around a little and then told gruffly to pick itself up off the floor.

"Oh my god it's snowing-it's snowing," she sings, "Oh Lord it's snowing down down oh god in the snow."

We stand outside the classroom building for a little while, watching the sky. Judging from the horrified tone of her lyrics, I guessed that Amy was not a big fan of snow.

"No, I don't like it," she tells me. "I don't like that snow. It's too snowy."

She spoke about a lot of things in that way, disliking or dismissing them for being too much themselves.

"I don't like macaroni and cheese. It's too cheesy."
"I don't like that Sleeping Beauty. It's too sleepy." 

What is the tune that music box piano plays? I can't place it.

I asked Amy what she was doing for Christmas.

She cleared her throat for a good minute before answering.

"We're not having Chinese food, no we're not."

"Oh."

A handsome high school boy gets on the bus and sits next to her. Amy has this coy, theatrical flirt of a giggle she does when around good-looking men. It is a lot of "Well, hee hee, yes, sooooo.....tee hee...well now.."

He seems friendly enough, and he speaks warmly to her. I encourage Amy to ask him what his plans for Christmas are. 

Before I am barely finished speaking, she is already scolding me with great contempt.

"I ALREADY TOLE YOU-WE'RE NOT HAVING DA CHINESE FOOD!"

The young man's eyes kind of bulge out, and he unsubtly places his trumpet case between himself and Amy.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Girl's Day Out

The mall Santa sagged a bit on his little bench, ringed by giant-sized stuffed animals covered in glitter. Instead of a helper elf, there was a tall, middle-aged woman in sensible lady slacks and a glossy black belt cinched up high. She pulled nervously at her dark red sweater.

"We don't usually do it like this," I heard her saying. "This is too much. It's too much. Usually they reserve a time when the mall is not even open." She had the face of someone who really wanted to say damn it to children.

The source of her stress was a giant crowd of special needs students, all waiting in line to get a picture with Santa. When their turn came up, they would sit petting his beard or squeezing his upper thigh. They had looks of religious ecstasy on their faces.

The girls with me were too cool for Santa school, so we wandered the mall instead. 

My favorite thing about shopping malls is that they have clearly marked exits.

I don't like the kiosk vultures slapping me on the back of the neck with heated towels from the Dead Sea or flying remote control helicopters in circles around my head.

One guy had a pretty good sales approach, though. His eyes were shell-shock wide and he just extended his arm out as people walked past, saying nothing. In his hand was a bar of grayish soap. He didn't smile.

If I ever work in sales, I want to be just like him: terrified; not even trying.

"Let's go in there," said Claudia, a stocky 20-year old with short brown hair, blue eyes, and acne covered skin.

Claudia just started in our classroom, and I spent my entire first day with her trying to get her talking. She was sealed tight. The most I got was that her puppy's name was Sally.

The trip to the mall was only our second outing together, and something had changed drastically. In just the first hour, she had recounted for me the entire plots of the three Mummy movies and had started in on the first few seasons of a TV show called Bones.

"She just likes bones. She doesn't know why," Claudia says of the protagonist.

Television, movies, home life; all of it spilled out of her in an unending stream. Claudia had mastered the art of circular breathing and no longer needed pauses for breath. The period and the comma were superfluous to her now.

"There's William, Karen-you know what's crazy? There's a Carrie too. So Karen, Carrie...that gets weird, and Tina, Tron-"

"Tron?" I interrupted her recitation of cousins' names. She looked at me like I was a turd that had learned to speak.

"Yes. Tron. So Robert, Carl...."

"Is Trahn adopted? Like from Thailand or something?"

"No, dummy. T-R-O-N. The movie." She bugged her eyes really far out before rolling them.

It turns out that Claudia's aunt and uncle were so taken with the film Tron, they named their firstborn son after it. The arbitrary nature of it nags at me.

Why not name the kid "Porky's", or "Apocalypse Now"?

I asked if they had tattoos of Tron, but she said that was a really stupid question and of course not.

Claudia kept talking so much, I could not even keep up. She'd lead off with a great starter like "My dad's working on owning all the Die Hard movies" and before I could find out more about all of that, she was on to how you could tell male lizards apart from females.

"They have a frill under their chin, and they inflate it like this" She makes a hand motion like the kind men do when they are pantomiming the act of squeezing breasts. She does the same motion three more times and rolls her eyes again.

The store Claudia pointed out was called "Spencers." I was not familiar with it. Spencers looked cramped and dark, lit only by bulbs of unorthodox color. The walls were lined with shirts and hats sporting internet memes, slogans recycled from the 60s, unamused cats; the lone mannequin by the doorway had oddly exaggerated nipples. 

As we walked in, another group of special needs students was coming out.

"Don't go in dere," one of them says to his friend. "It's improprit."

My students walked in ahead of me.

I stopped to admire some ten dollar switchblade combs. I've always had a fondness for anything in the switchblade format: toothbrushes, spoons, etc. But the Ambercrombie pretty boy trying to pass as a greaser on the packaging turns me off. No way I'm giving him my money.

Claudia came quickly back past me, her face grey.

"We should go. We should leave. This store makes me uncomfortable."

"Really? Why?" I asked her, but she didn't answer my question.

"No way I'm staying here till eleven o'clock cleaning up puke. Faaaack no." I turned to look at who was speaking, and it was then that I saw the back shelves loaded with riding crops, plush phalluses, boobie mugs, inflatable looking women. The salesgirl was leaning nearby, continuing to talk into her cellphone about vomit. 

When I turned to make a hasty exit, I knocked over a small clearance rack. It was holding up about a dozen T-shirts with the words "Like a Boss" printed on them, right beneath black and white drawings of buttocks.

It bothers me that I live in a society rife with clothing that I don't understand.

"Sorry," I said to Claudia, once I met back up with her outside the store. "I didn't know that place had all those penises and stuff." The other girl with us, Anna, spat out her coffee in laughter.

"Oh my god, you're like not even supposed to say that word even." Both girls started giggling.

We walked for awhile longer, the two of them stopping only to admire a large poster of shirtless David Beckham, his grey shorts pulled down low, just to the foothills of his Crafty Willard.

I didn't know what else to say, so I asked if they thought he was good-looking. 

Whenever I ask that question, what I really want to know is if the man in question is better looking than me. Every woman on earth would say yes, David Beckham is better looking, except my wife. She would just smile and say how it's different. There are different kinds of good looking, she tells me; there's people good looking and husband good looking.   

"Like your husband looks good forever?" I say hopefully. She grins and pats me on my arm, but her eyes are sad. 

Claudia shrugged when I asked her about David Beckham, but Anna said, "He's hot as shit."

"Don't swear, please,"I told her. 

I was wearing one of those winter hats with a face mask folded up inside it, and when we walked outside to the bus stop, I tried to pull the mask down. Earlier in the day, I had seen a black guy wearing the same hat. When he put the mask part on, he pulled it down and over in one smooth motion. I tried to do the same thing, but it got stuck on my face. I couldn't see where I was going and I stumbled into a tree branch at the exact moment I cut a tremendous fart. 

The girls laughed at me.

I finally got the mask situated on my face. 

"Do I look like a ninja?" I asked them.

"Yeah," said Claudia. "A really dumb ninja."

Later that day, I bemoaned the coolness disparity between white men and black men to my co-worker Curtis.

He reclined back in his office chair, folded his hands upon his belly and looked at me for a long time. 

"You kind of a dorky muthafucka," he said at last. When I started to cry, he brought me a chocolate milk and assured me he was only playin'. 

Either Curtis does a great deal of mumbling or I am losing my hearing, because most of our conversations involve him telling me what Detroit needs to do to fix itself and me asking him to say things over again. I can tell it bothers him sometimes. 

The possibility that I am losing my hearing naturally bothers me too. 

I do not want the interpreter lady in our room to start following me everywhere and signing everything. Don't get me wrong, she is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life, but she is so lost in her world of constant interpreting that she is unable to shut it off.

A simple question like "Is it cold outside?" becomes 
It's so distracting that I miss her answers to my questions.

Just the other day, I was walking the track and I could've sworn the people behind me were having the same conversation over and over again.

"Nauseated?" he kept asking her.

"Uh-huh," she answered patiently every time.

Only when I slowed up and let them pass me did I realize they were actually just speaking Chinese. 

Am I really going deaf? I thought.

I went into the bathroom and tried to make that high-pitched sound that supposedly only young people can hear. 

It felt all right in there, staring in the mirror, pulling on my jowels and eye bags, whining like a puppy. It felt like aging gracefully. 


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Slow Yoga with Denene


I don't have a cell phone, but it's not like....


It's more like....




I have also heard that when men carry cellphones in their pockets, their private bodies fill with tumors.

However, as a non-cellphone user, I have found myself quite intrigued by the phenomenon of texting.

It seems to be very popular! And not just among the young people. In fact, the Director of Special Education in our county (estimated salary $155,000) texts the whole time you talk to her. I sometimes feel like I could tell her anything, and she would not judge me, or be resentful. She would accept me, warts and all, because she is not really listening. 

I've watched young men texting in the bathrooms here at the college as well. They push the automatic door opener for handicapped people with their feet so that their hands do not have to stop tapping tiny buttons. 

I am not sure if they text while in the individual stalls, but I have noticed that many of them are timid defecaters. 

It can be so quiet that, if not for the tellatale shoes under every door, you would swear the bathroom was empty. But if someone flushes, activates the sink, or especially, if someone turns on the hot air hand dryer, everybody seizes the moment to let out gas and high volume excrement. 

They each hope, individually, that the background noise will disguise their output, not realizing that, collectively, it comes out like a giant chorus of buttholes. 

When the sink shuts off or the hand dryer winds down, everyone tenses back up.

Now here I will help myself to a big plate of ignorance: what is it that everybody is texting to each other??

My impression of it has been primarily formed by three experiences:

One time, my wife showed me how to text something to Taco Bell.






My second experience of texting came when Ms.Pam handed me the classroom cellphone.

After reviewing the user's manual, I powered the phone to 'on'.





The third text was labelled a "media message":

After Ms.Pam calmed me down, she pointed out that the texts were several weeks old, and that whatever emergency had unfolded that day it was no longer within my power to effect. 

She told me I had to carry the class cell phone at all times. I secretly put it in a drawer of my desk. It randomly plays Who Let the Dogs Out from time to time, but I slam the drawer shut repeatedly until it goes away.

My third knowledge of texting comes from observing Amir and his friend, Boxhilda, send messages to each other.

They sit with their knees almost touching and poke away at the buttons.

"Did you get it?" Amir asks her.

Boxhilda slowly looks down at her phone.

"Yep." A smile spreads across her face. Then she types something back. "You get it?"

Amir holds up a finger. A buzzing sound comes from his phone and he reads the screen, snickers, and writes something back.

"You get it yet?" he asks.

This goes on for awhile, and I am curious to see what all the fuss is about.

"Give me your phone, Amir." He hands over his sleek purple Iphone 5. I read the screen:


"Dere go my brother's work," Boxhilda says.

I look up, and she is pointing at the strip club directly across from our bus stop.

"Really? Your brother works there? What does he do?"

"He the DJ."

"What does his wife think about that?"

"She work dere too. She sell underwear."

I mull this over for awhile.

"Have you ever been there, Boxhilda?" I ask.

"No way," she says with a violent shake of her perm. "Dem places is nasty."

It is not an area I have much expertise in, but she says it with such authority that I am inclined to agree with her.

I have been to a strip club only once, back in college. 

The place was a square building rimmed in pink neon, sticking out from the middle of lightless West Virginia hills; a lonely, desolate spot to go for nudity.

The experience is fragmented in my memory: I recall walking in, heading straight to the bar, and deliberately sitting with my back to the stage. I was already drunk and fixing to get a lot drunker, but they kept serving me Gennesse Cream Ale, which is a beer that is less about getting you wasted and more about helping you out if you have not been farting enough lately.

I guess I was embarrassed to be there. I'm the exact type of guy you don't want with you at a strip club; I'm too introspective.

Maybe that is the core difference between introverts and extroverts.

An extrovert sees a stripper and says, "Oh, hey! Boobies!". Then he bucks out his teeth and does an awkward rowing kind of dance.

An introvert looks for a second, turns away, and thinks: Really? This is who I am now? A strip club kind of guy?

Eventually, one of my friends called me over to a seat right by the stage.

This is the only clear part of the night: the dancer, a very short girl, was dressed like Jim Carrey's character in The Mask. Zoot suit, fedora, even a green rubber mask with a grotesquely distended smile. I think she did her routine to Glen Miller's Chattanooga Choo Choo. 

I didn't watch, however. The whole time she danced, I looked straight at my friend beside me and spilled my guts out to him about what was really bothering me. 

I was currently in love with two very different girls: one was into Nintendo and The Simpsons; the other liked Italian Renaissance poetry and smelling wine before drinking it. Kind of your classic Madonna/Whore predicament. 

It really tortured me, this fork in my heart. 

I went on and on. At one point, I think a fedora flew past our heads like a flying saucer. 

My friend was not even looking at me; I felt like he wasn't listening and I told him so.

He turned to me then, and his face looked like the face of someone witnessing something incredible in the sky, like a hot air balloon or a cloud shaped like a kitten. 

"Dude," he said, "I'm trying to look at some titties."

Later, we had to pull over on the dark highway so I could throw up.

I spent the night in the back seat of my car, one shoeless foot dangling out the window.

Amir and I are taking a break from walking laps at the track.

He's bummed because Boxhilda did not come to school, so I tell him he should text her. 

"Oooh!" he says, clapping his hands. He flips out his phone and his thumbs go to work.

We wait.

I absently read the schedule for exercise classes. Step with Traci, Spin with Caroline, Slow Yoga with Denene.

Amir's phone buzzes. 

"What did she write?"

"Loser," he says. He makes an L-shape with his hand and holds it up to me.

His phone buzzes again.

"What you doing," he reads aloud.

"Tell her you're at Slow Yoga with Denene."

"Huh?"

I snatch the phone from him and hunt and peck my way through the sentence. 

Only after it sends do I notice that the phone changed "Denene" to "Dana".

"Wat?" Boxhilda writes back, as I am composing a text of my own.

"I mean Denene." I ram the name down the Iphone's throat.

"Wat?" she texts again, and then, I can't help myself. 

"You forgot the 'h' in 'what'," I write. It takes me five minutes to find the single quotes on that thing.

We start walking the track again, and soon Amir's phone "blows up".

"What does she say?" I ask, involved now in spite of myself. He holds it up for me to read.

"Ur loser."

"Put that away", I tell him.

We focus on our laps. Each quarter mile loop brings us past a tall, transparently pale blonde girl on an elliptical machine. She has the frugal movements and exact proportions of a praying mantis. It's unsettling, yet fascinating to watch. Her white tank top sports the words "Yoga Life" in bold, and I wonder if she might be Denene, here in the flesh.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sold for endless rue

Written on the wall above my favorite urinal at work are some words that I enjoy staring at.

For the first few weeks, I thought they said, "hanging out of my snot."

Though there is nothing particularly funny or clever about that fragmentary line, it was somehow pleasing to me.

After studying this graffiti for awhile (I go to the bathroom constantly; it's like my secret garden), I realized my interpretation was wrong. Someone, long ago, had attempted to erase what had been inscribed there. They managed to scrub off the tops of many of the letters, but under careful analysis, the original message became clear: "My wang is hanging out of my shorts."

This discovery strangely disappointed me. Oh. A penis reference. By a urinal. Who would have thought.

Now it was just any old graffiti, on the same prurient level as the one scribbled much further down, carved by a pencil between lines of small white tile: ANAL GROUT. I guess that one makes a certain amount of sense.

The urinal in the cafeteria is a bit better. Someone wrote "BRAVO" in thick black marker, right on the metal near the flush lever. It makes me feel really good about myself when I use it, like I am doing a fine job at this thing called 'life' after all. It feels good to pee there; it feels like a victory.

And victories are hard to come by these days.

We were at the big carnival that one of the local private schools puts on every year for all the special needs clients in town. I was standing in the Dance Party room.

The lights were low; there were glow stick necklaces and glittering hula hoops, high school girls in circles shuffling from foot to foot, occasionally shaking their mid-backs in hopes that their bottoms would rhythmically follow. They did not.

One of my students galloped around the room in a perfect square. He kept careening in to people.

The DJ, a lean kid in a flannel and tight dark jeans, flipped switches and pressed the 'enter' key on his Macbook Pro many times. 

Why is it that whenever I linger on the periphery of a dance floor, I long to go out there and do incredible moves?

If only I could break dance, or spasm about in frenzied krumpings, or maybe get cerebral with an uncanny display of robotic pop and locking.

This thought comes to me often, but it seemed especially ridiculous in this situation. Did I want this small room of seven or so high school girls and fifteen special needs adults to be impressed with me? To tell their friends, take pictures, even....fall in love?

It's not about the joy of the dance; I am not even sure that I have that. I guess it's from the primitive, universal desire to be amazing.

It's why we buy so many magic sets, or spend hours trying to do the splits.

I hate to think it, but maybe the path of the average American white male's life is a slow, painful recognition of their ordinariness. We're just middle people. Not leggy enough to be models, or ethnic enough to be mistaken for black, we spend our years prying our fingers, one by one, off of any claims we might have had to greatness.

Let go, my inner voice tells me. You keep clinging to things and soon enough the rest of your life is going to pass you up. 

Hey inner voice, do you remember that song by The Outfield, "For You"?

Dammit, Body, you never listen!

Tee hee-remember how I used to lip sync to my cassette single of it?


Are you singing into a pickle?
It's a hairbrush. Be quiet, I'm doing some nostalgic waxing. Remember that trench coat?

Ah yes, thick, black, and woolly; you thought it made you look like Lloyd Dobler. You put it on over your shirtless torso....

Yes, I was proud of my naked body back then. Except the legs; they looked like string cheese wearing shoes. Though a roomy pair of pegged khakis covered that up.

Gripping the hairbrush, fear hidden behind shades, I would push 'play' and disappear into the song.

I pointed, clutched my head in grief, did c'mere wiggly fingers; I even spun. I did not rely on choreography. I relied on my certainty that I was the coolest and most broken-hearted person in the world right then.

BAH HA HA! Good heavens you were a jackass.

Maybe so. 

"Are you the bouncer?" an older woman asked me. She had just entered the Dance Party, and was eating popcorn from her palm with thick flaps of her tongue.

I gave her a courtesy laugh and wandered off to roam the school.

It was the kind of place that funnels its students directly into great things: Ivy League universities, cableknit sweaters, teams of crew.

The teachers there were annoyingly beautiful. The women looked like Dance majors and the men could comfortably pose for pictures in only their whitey-tighties. They made our staff look like a shuffling, leprous rabble.

And it gets worse: these privileged wunderbarrs were incredibly nice to the crowds of impaired people that invaded their school. They were patient, courteous, and unstoppably helpful.

I wanted to upend them and shake all the money and goodness out, because in my broke, petty little way, it bothered me that the two things could coexist so happily.

Bet you've never been sad a day in your life, I thought, staring at the group of girls running the cake walk. They wore black leggings and short grey sweatshirts. The female population of the entire earth seems to be dressing in this way.

What am I saying; I was the boy version of a teenage girl once. That's all they are is sad. Sad or psychopathically happy. 

It was then that I saw him, coming down the hall in a long procession of former students and group home residents. It was Jeffrey.

A little chubbier, brown hair thinning in front, but everything else about him was unchanged.

"Jeffrey! Hi buddy!" I shouted. Normally when I run into former students, I could kind of take it or leave it. I am not a big of fan of the whole "recognize someone from your past and say hello" phenomenon. In fact, my ideal society would be a faceless one, where the act of recognition would be impossible. Everyones' heads would just be kind of smooth all over. You could pee on your family so you could tell them apart from strangers, or spray them with some kind of internally generated musk, but that would be it. 

But I spent two years or something with Jeffrey, and I genuinely liked him.

Jeffrey looked up as I greeted him, and got a big smile on his face. He made his hand into a gun and pointed it at me in the classic "hey there, big guy" fashion, only he made the chick chick with his mouth well after dropping the hammer down. 

 As he passed by, I heard one of his staff ask him a question.


"Did you know that man, Jeffrey?"

"Oh yeah," he said enthusiastically, "that guy graduated with me."

Sigh. So that was that then. Jeffrey thought I was one of the students for the entire two years I worked with him.

I turned my attention back to the cakewalk. Its sole participant was a short, chubby Down Syndrome boy in a white cowboy hat. He had a huge chrome belt buckle, and his name tag identified him only as "Jimmy." 

The radio was blasting "22" by Taylor Swift, and the teen girls were clapping and cheering as Jimmy, slowly, and with great concentration, made his way around, careful to place both booted feet on each paper number lying on the floor.

At a random moment, one of the girls cut the music.

"7! Jimmy wins again!" They seemed genuinely excited for him, even though the results were obviously fixed.

Jimmy claimed his prize: a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. He walked to a corner where a small mound of similar treats were sitting in stacks of four plates each. The cookies joined them, and when he had settled his newest acquisition just so, Jimmy patted all the desserts, turned on his heel, and began the cakewalk again.

There goes a victorious person, I thought bitterly to myself. But only because I wanted to tie this in to all the other stuff I wrote about the urinals.
 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blog Slog

I was walking the track at the campus fitness center with my students, and my head was exploding with ideas: good jokes, interesting stories, challenging notions.

It felt like I could start blogging again in earnest. You know, like in the old days, when Gweenbrick was bursting with fun and surprises and we all threw our heads back in tremendous laughter as we read me.

After what seemed like an adequate amount of exercise, I stepped off the track to urinate, and when I lifted my arm to push open the bathroom door, a smell came to me. Oh my gosh, my B.O. smells just like marijuana. Weird.

That one thought detonated in my brain and everything else was gone. The manic rush of creativity evaporated. It was back to flatness; the sterile white square where my mind seems intent on living these days.

I slumped in a chair.

A grey haired man in a 'Wisconsin' sweatshirt began to walk the wrong way around the track. His khaki shorts were kind of high on the thigh for my tastes, but fortunately, his thick-ribbed white socks rose up to meet them.

He was lucky that Ms.Pam was not around; she would have been on him, tearing him to pieces.

When she gave me a tour of the fitness center, she could not stop pointing to the little sign that said on which days you were to walk the track in which direction. 

Apparently, you have to switch it up, or it wears unevenly and people start running funny.

She just kept explaining it to me, with little jerks of her thumb and pivots of her heel.


"Just like on the sign!" she said again, with great satisfaction.

I made the mistake of stepping on to the track before she had finished diagramming the difference between clockwise and counter-clockwise in the air with one crooked finger. 

She screamed, and her body seemed to dry heave angrily. I felt her talons sink into my forearm.

"You have to look," she hissed, and pointed two fingers to her eyes and then all around her, which was good because I did not know how to look and needed a wordless demonstration of what it consisted of.

Far down the track to my left, lazily coming around the bend, a seventy-year old woman was out for a walk, her fanny pack jostling with the slight oomph she was putting into her hips.

"There are other people using the track," Ms.Pam whispered.

The woman finally passed us. Ms.Pam took a breath and did an odd triple feint move towards the wide tan "Walk" path, almost like she was trying to trick parts of her body into getting on the track, maybe the parts that did not want to exercise. 

With a "And.....GO!" we were off and walking.

It was like a long tracking shot in a movie: pan past a dark room full of professional types doing yoga; their bottoms skyward in the ever vulnerable Downward Dog. 

Tilt to show the open basin of the first floor below us, with it's smattering of people on ellipticals and treadmills. I occasionally look down into that pit while I walk laps, but I try not to. It makes me dizzy and I smash into the railing. It happened one time and I made a "ooooh" type sound, and a woman below me looked up angrily. I think she thought I was staring down the crevasse of her sports bra, but really I was just winded and close to falling down. 

Zoom in on the pool, where a matronly lady in a forties style swimsuit leads a Swing Dancin' in the Water class. She is really into it; sashaying gaily forward, little kicks, conservative bottom shimmy and then back again. Her students are a mash of wrinkles and shower caps. No one seems to be doing what the instructor is doing, but they are all smiling.

As we walked, Ms.Pam gave me a tour of the track ahead of us.

"Now it is going to veer slightly to the right, for like a quarter mile, until you end up back where you started. That will be one lap."

Poor, terrifyingly crazy Ms.Pam. It's like she can't help herself.







She told me to take a student, Luke, into the locker room and show him around.

The interesting thing about Luke is that he has alopecia everywhere except on the left side of his upper lip. He grows a half moustache pretty regularly. It's like he is saying a little "screw you" to the hand fate has dealt him.

I love everyone equally because I am that type of person, but if I were to pick one thing about Luke that I do not like, it's that he behaves like a frat boy.

In the mornings, when my unhappiness is usually at its first-half-of-the-day peak, Luke approaches me with arms held straight above his head, presses himself slowly and awkwardly up against my body, and shrieks "SHEST BUMP BRO! SHEST BUMP!" His eyes come up to my nipples.

Even this behavior would be forgivable, if it were all. However, during quiet intervals throughout the day, Luke will try to lay his head on my lap, rub my sore shoulders, or softly run the tip of one finger down the curves of my ear when I am not aware that he has come and stood next to me. I guess it's not just the frat boy parts that bother me, but the I think I'm in love with you parts as well. 

When I clapped Luke on the back and began to take him into the changing room, Ms.Pam exploded.


She yanked me backwards like I was about to walk in front of a train.

"WHAT? Is there something scary in there?!?" I screamed at her, quietly.

Ms.Pam ignored me.

"Now listen, when you go in, you'll see some lockers on your left, and then showers on your right, turn at a 40 degree angle and you will discover....." She went on like this for some time, describing the exact layout of the locker room I was about to walk into and see for myself. The detail was excruciating, yet admirable in its accuracy.

Ten minutes passed, and finally she let Luke and I go in. A naked man was shaving at a sink, his massive tuft of grey pubic hair flush against its edge.

"Whoah", Luke said, in his loud, deep voice.



Though I just can't manage to hate Ms.Pam.

Really I have only ever hated two people in my life. One is Crayfish, the other was a young girl who looked like Alfred E. Newman wearing a long black wig.

I saw her at Autoworld in Flint, Michigan. Autoworld was an indoor amusement park designed to be a riotous celebration of the automotive industry.

You could watch a whole movie about the history of cars while sitting in a seat with a steering wheel attached. Sometimes the seat leaned to the left or tilted very slightly down, though the movements did not seem to correspond with anything going on in the film. 

There was a human mannequin that looked like a Ken doll. Not much to do with him. You could stare for a super long time and try to catch him breathing, but it was kind of a hollow victory. HA! I knew you were human! Had to breathe sometime, didn't ya? And me, I just bided my time....and then...BREATH! Ha ha ha.....wheeee god I love Autoworld...

I think there might have been balloons.

And the highlight of the place, an indoor Ferris Wheel. You could ride it over and over again because no one else was even remotely interested. At the top, there was a beautiful view of the ceiling lights. They were pretty big. 

I encountered the girl I hated in the bumper cars. Even though they were slow and lacked satisfying impact, like punching someone in a dream, there was something to be said for being able to drive your own car and hit people with it. I kept smashing my vehicle into hers and thinking, I don't like you. 

Knowing how stupid and mixed up little kids are, probably what I was really feeling was I like you, you look like the Mad Magazines I am not allowed to read, therefore you are forbidden fruit and if I cannot have you I will kill you with my slow moving, thickly padded car on a stick. Do you like CHiPS? God if I had Ponch's hair and his easy way with the ladies you would be mine WHAM WHAM 

And with each bump of our cars, she slipped further from me.

I don't know why I remember her so clearly. Maybe I don't. Maybe it is a false memory.

Maybe I have actually hated lots of people, but I doubt it. Overall, I am pretty incredible and most of my flaws are thinly disguised strengths. This comes in extremely handy when applying for jobs.

Of course I am just kidding; I am a terrible person.

Speaking of that, several wonderful readers have suggested to me recently that I should write a book.

First let me say, these emails and messages I have recieved from actual live people have made my day, my week, my month. I cannot over-emphasize how flattered I am. Every time I get one, I read and re-read it, thinking, are they actually talking about me???? 

So thank you.

Secondly, I will probably never write a book because I am at the ruthless mercy of my changing emotional health. Everything keeps deflating on me.

I don't want to be a Debbie Downer though.

My main hope with this blog is to make you laugh, at least once per post, and I feel like if I do that, then things are OK.

Just ask my wife: when I finish a post, I hover around her nervously, waiting for the laughs. It's a lot of pressure on me. If she does not laugh at all, I throw the computer at the neighbors' dog and don't come down from the roof till sunrise. Because I am a disgusting aged baby with little marshmallow feelings and enough oversensitivity to make a Care Bear blush.

If she does laugh, though, then, after we analyze what parts she laughed at and why, usually in a three-part moderated discussion, I sit back, hit the 'Publish' button and obsessively refresh the "Stats" page, waiting for the little numbers to rise.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Think I need a ginger ale

Amir is tiny, barely over four feet, with the bone structure of a child. 

He works a room like a relic of Arab vaudeville.

"Hooo boy!" he exclaims, then to a wolf whistle, a "Hot dog!" and a loud clap of his hands. He makes his bushy black eyebrows dance around his face, arching one impressively high when he's about to win at cards, or crashing both caterpillars downwards when telling you about his fear of clowns. I could see him on the cover of the Mastermind game, fingers smugly steepled because he knows he has you, completely indifferent to the sexy Filipino lady standing nearby.

"Knock knock," he says, as we wait for the city bus on a cold October morning.

No one is taking the bait. After a minute of him looking around, face all hopeful, I cave.

"Who's there?"

Amir lets out a low whistle through his teeth.

"That's a hard one," he mutters, wandering off. He genuinely doesn't know who is there.

After a minute, he comes back, his arms held up before him and his long teeth bared beneath his moustache.

"I'm a vampire. For Halloween." His arms droop. 

"No, I'm a ghost. A gorilla." He stands by me. If I bend my arm at the elbow, I can rest it comfortably on the top of his head. 

"I love Halloween," he sighs.

Many of Amir's cousins go to college here, and he is intent on marrying them off.

He'll drag a handful of head-scarved young Muslim girls over to me, not even making introductions, just parading them there while I eat my three inch high salami and cheese sandwich, the crumbs from my extra dry Ezekiel bread covering me like an apron. 

Amir swings his upturned offering hands from them to me and back again, saying only "Eh?Eh?Eh?"

One girl blushes and recedes into her hijab, more from the spectacle of me lunching then from any real embarrassment. 

When he finally lets them leave, giving hugs on tiptoe, I break the news to him.

"You know I'm already married, right?"

"Huh?" he barks, cupping a hand to his good ear. The other one looks like a flattened toadstool and has been useless from birth.

"I'm married."

He shrugs.

"You ready?" he asks, already shuffling his deck of cards. 

More Go Fish.

He and Najib play Go Fish endlessly, though they spend as much time accusing each other of cheating as they do matching cards. 

Amir's trach tube muffles his enunciation. His words sound like growls from the back of his throat, and doubled consonants tend to not make it out at all.

"Heater! Heater!" he exclaims.

"I did not cheat," Najib says, laughing. "I did not. It's you who cheat."

"Bah". Amir waves him off.

The game continues. 

While I chop cheese sticks into corpse fingers with green pepper nails, they take turns picking music on the computer. 

We are alone in the classroom, getting ready for the big Halloween party on Friday. I had forgotten how liberating it is to be at this job with no other staff around. An oppressive, Ms. Pam-shaped weight is temporarily lifted.

I can sing, shimmy, be ridiculous.

These two might shake their heads, call me "seely" or "crahy", but there's no real judgment there. Since I can reach things that they cannot, they at least see me as a useful idiot. 

They settle on Katy Perry, and Najib sings along, quietly. "Last Friday night..dipping in the dark....menage a trois.."

"What did she just say?" I ask. 

They switch to Taylor Swift and Amir lurches about, once again imitating the ghost of a gorilla or whatever it was; Najib drives around him in slow, mechanically perfect circles. It is the closest to dancing his body allows him.

Amir, too, has some godawful and rare disease that should have killed him long ago. I am stringing pumpkin lights and an inconveniently lengthy orange and black paper chain with two young men who statistically should be dead. 

I am too focused on my own dread to think about it closely.

I have been drafted to host the "Scary Classroom," one of several attractions at the upcoming party. The other ones are listed on the board as "Dance," "Food," and "Movie."


When Ms. Pam told me I was volunteering to be this entity, this host they spoke of, I felt the same shattered resignation a Union soldier endures when the sawbones tell him they have to take the leg.  Listen, it's rotting, it's gotta come off, and we're expecting two hundred people.

The woman who used to run the "Scary Classroom" was beloved by all. She put on her witch costume and made elaborate stories up about every battery operated rat and epileptic ghoul scattered around the room.

As far back as September, people have seen me on the street or passed me on the city bus and asked, "Are you guys going to do your Halloween party this year? How can you possibly be successful at it without Marsha to dress up as a witch and run the Scary Classroom? How could it possibly be any good? Do you even know what a Scary Classroom is supposed to be?!? Why would you even try?!?!" I pull the bus schedule tighter across my face so they cannot see my tears. 

The party has arrived, and I am slumped in a corner against a large metal cabinet, my long black wig strung across the bloody neon Frankenstein mask on my face. When no one is looking, I break character to adjust my empire-waisted, cheery green matron's dress.

I like it here, in the dark, my only companions are sagging decorative clings of spooky eyes and a tombstone that pops up from time to time and plays "The Monster Mash."

Everyone who comes in passes me over as just another decoration, and that is when I strike.

I've always thought I would make for a good actor; my attachment to my own self is so frail that all it would take is a toga and a paycheck and I would literally become Roman Senator #2 until someone begged me to stop. 

It's why I can't even play around with fake British or Southern accents; I lose myself in that shit.

When I strike these people who wander into the "Scary Classroom", I mean I really give it everything. Lurching, twisting, growling, shrieking; most of them don't see me coming until I am right on them. Small crowds of developmentally disabled young people are falling over themselves and trampling their accompanying staff in their frenzied attempts to get away from me. 

The only glitch in my performance comes when a teacher, wondering aloud whether or not I am real, pushes on my arm.

In my attempt to emulate the properties of an inanimate decoration, I sag to the side, forgetting that my perch was a chair of the wheeled variety.

The chair shoots away from me, my legs fly in the air, and I smack to the ground in a tangle of dress and wig. Thankfully, a good actor knows how and when to improvise; I thrash around on the floor and evil crawl my way towards their feet, one hand stretching far ahead and pulling my body along by the fingernails. 

"This is too weird," I hear a teacher say. She ushers her students out.

Amir comes in, dressed as the Scream ghost. I try my act on him but all I get in return is some maniacal giggling from beneath his mask and a hug.

Right before quitting time, Najib roles in, costumeless, a pretty young Pakistani girl with him. I wait till they are nice and close, and then I leap from my corner and give it all I have. He interrupts my Satanic whispering and The Ring-style herky jerky movements to calmly introduce his sister to me.

"What? You weren't even scared? You knew it was me??"

I lift my mask from my face and look around. The party is over.

"You're very sweaty," Najib says.

His sister takes my picture with her Iphone and they leave.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Man made by clothes

In an effort to be the change, I have worn a shirt today that is not a part of my usual dark red uniform.


It says 'DUKE' and there is a picture of Satan on it.

My wife bought it for me.

Sometimes my wife buys me shirts, and I say, "I won't wear that." 

She cries and runs out of the house. When she shows back up, sometimes days later, I see her pull in the driveway and I quick put on the shirt. She walks in the door and I tell her, "I'm wearing it but I am really unhappy."

Then we eat ice cream off of my belly. If she tries to take more than her share, I can just roll away and get all the ice cream to myself. Because I am the serving dish.

That is neither here nor there. What is, though, is that I wore the Duke shirt today and it had unexpected consequences. 

Men suddenly spoke to me.

I have written before about my problems with men; it's nothing new, or even all that interesting.

For instance, the other day I was absently picking my nose and checking my Facebook for updates.

My new co-worker, a man named Curtis, was studying me with very suspicious eyes.

"You ain't a sports guy, is ya Mike?" 

I think he already knew the answer to that.

But here I was, a no-sports guy in a sports themed T-shirt, and as I walked down the hallway:


This youth offered his hand to me. I panicked. What are the current handshakes of men??

I study men greeting each other quite carefully, but the exact protocol to employ eludes me.

Even some of the hipper Special Needs students that I work with lapse into disillusionment when I flub yet another half hug to folded fingers switch grip slide and snap on the dismount that they greet me with. 

In the middle of that crowded hallway, I was smacking and tugging at this stranger's hand, just because of my shirt.

Half of the way through the ritual, I wanted to tell him how meaningless it is to me, all of it: the world of men; their sports, their shirts and shirt-attested loyalties, their slaps of high and five; the ponderous shuffle of their saggypanted, phallic bravado.

"Duke?" he says, "Are you a Mike Shbloshkins fan?" I didn't actually catch the last name, so I am making one up. The real name sounded like Polish vomiting.

"I don't know who that is," I answered, "My wife bought me this shirt." I added, with a hopeful shrug, "She thought this shade of blue looked cute on me."

He walked away confused.

I suppose I could have pretended; a nod, a 'you know it!', maybe even a pinchy grab at the front of the shirt, complete with some light, outward tugging for emphasis. 

But I have discovered that you cannot fake sports knowledge, it is highly specialized; you could no more pretend sports then you could theoretical physics. You are outed the moment you boast of enjoying the gridiron or a good frissioning of bosons. 

In this world of civil wars and governmental shutdowns, I cannot emphasize to you enough how much having men approach me over my shirt left me reeling; there is no worse a steady stream of bad news then a line-up of humans craving to interact with you.

Though I did discover that this Mit Shablashnik is quite the polarizing figure. One man, who opened the conversation with "Duke? I don't know what I hate more: Ohio State or Duke", told me he longed to smack Shablashnik across the face. 

Another beamed at the sight of me, announcing how he "admired the hell out of Shablashba." Is this character a coach? A player? The president of the university, perhaps?

I learned of him, but not who him.

The angry anti-Duke man, after asking me in vain about several other men of sports, declared me "hopeless".

I was still thinking about my shirt and all the troubles it had brought me as I assisted one of my favorite new students in the bathroom.

"Something is not right", Najib tells me. His voice is always very soft, and his Pakistani accent gives his r's a slight sustained hum.

You have to lean in close to hear him, and I often feel sorry that my breath is so bad, so frequently.

I took up gum again recently, but the constant chewing required to distinguish gum from other products such as lozenges hurt my jaw and made me tired.

When fresh breath becomes like work, know that you will want to keep your distance when speaking with me.

Najib means something is not right with my placement of his portable urine containment system, a half gallon milk jug with a paper towel wadded into the opening.

As Ms.Pam painstakingly instructed me on how to help Najib in the bathroom, she kept talking about "placing".

"I don't know if he does his own placing."
"You might have to place for him."
"Is he placed?"

I said, "Do you mean is his wiener in the milk jug?"

Only I didn't say that, because there were five of us crammed into the handicap stall, crowded around poor Najib in his power wheelchair, and we were all crossing our arms and nodding and being professional educators.

I enjoy situations where people are being so serious that they refuse to laugh about the poopy smell that's all around them. Someone had done a hasty, unhealthy evacuation in the stall next to ours, and the after-image of their stench was still flash burned into the air. In a good-natured attempt to get the party started, I let out with a loud 'good lord' and pulled the collar of my shirt up over my nose and mouth. No one so much as winced, and in fact several people looked at me in disapproval. I let the shirt slowly sag from my face.

More nodding. After hours of watching Ms.Pam do it, I have adopted the habit of nodding a lot as well. It's fun because after awhile, it's so constant that it's meaningless. Not assent nor understanding anymore, but just a nifty demonstration of just one of many ways that the neck can manipulate the head.

Ms.Pam reached one gloved hand down the front of Najib's sweatpants, preparing to place, and he vigorously shook his head.

"I do that part myself," he told her.

"Oh," she laughed nervously. "I should have asked you."

That was weeks ago. Now, I confidently put the carton down one leg of Najib's pants; I know that I do not have to touch the penis.

"It's not right," he says again, that soft voice. 

Najib strikes me as the closest I have ever come to meeting a true innocent. He has a form of muscular dystrophy that should have killed him several years ago; he lives on time stolen from the disease, and even a common cold can send him to the hospital and on into death. But he has a crooked, gentle smile that springs up easily and tugs at the long tube always taped to the side of his face.

I have just now accidentally crushed his balls by putting the urinal in his pants upside down.

"I'm so sorry-oh my gosh I am so sorry," I stammer out, as I free his genitals. Color returns to his face and he lets out a breath.

"Shew, dat would not be good, you don't want dat to happen," he tells me.

When he finishes, I am careful to wash his slender brown hands first before cleaning my own.

During the initial training with Ms.Pam, I made the mistake of washing my hands first.

She was on me at once, claws sinking into my forearms.

"Never," she hissed, "always wash the student's hands first. Wash them like this." She proceeded to give Najib a lengthy hand massage involving scented soaps and romantic oils. 

I can't be you, Ms.Pam, you with your attention to detail and your weird whispering and your breath that smells like band-aids.

Plain soap, a splash of water, and Najib and I are done.

As we leave the bathroom, he studies my shirt.

"Duke? You like dose guys?" He smiles up at me.