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.

"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."


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.


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.