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."


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.