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.