We are sitting in a small auditorium, waiting for a band of merry players to begin their production of "Joyous Tales from Happy Africa."
It's 8:30 in the morning, too early for amateur theater.
Next to me is my old friend Lulu. We're smooshed right up on each other, because these seats were designed before America had an obesity epidemic on its hands.
Though Lulu lost a tremendous amount of weight in the year I was gone. Hundreds of pounds. We are now almost the same size; her clothes hang off of her like drapery, while mine split along the seams in tired little sighs. We're having trouble containing you, they say, please, we're not sausage casings. We're clothes, for crying out loud.
Lulu has also developed an unfortunate habit in my absence. She now has a constant need to twist and torture her right nipple. If left unsupervised for more then a few minutes, she assumes her preferred posture: shirt hoisted at an angle, bra pulled loose, one breast hanging low and free, a hand scrabbling at the exposed skin.
When the weather was warmer, she wandered out of the classroom during unstructured time and planted herself on the curb outside the door. I got to her just as she'd made a new friend.
He tried to pretend he hadn't been staring at her large, exposed breast, pulled his hat low over his face, and gunned it out of the parking lot.
I corrected her and directed her back inside. She offered her usual response.
"No one wants to see all that," echoing something she'd been told by staff and family tens of thousands of times throughout her life.
'All that' used to just be belly rolls or darkening hints of butt crack, but now, in this new phase, it was something much more intimate.
Somebody wants to see all that, I thought.
The wall along our classroom kitchen is lined with windows that look out onto the hallway. Students sometimes press their faces to the glass to see what is for lunch. They have the expected responses: gasps of delight at the metal bin of taco meat; wrinkled disgust at the gray, stinking spectacle of the California Blend.
Recently, as I was laying out a pizza slice on each foam tray, I glanced up to find myself being watched intently by two eyes and a calloused nipple.
"What I'm gonna get for lunch?" Lulu shouted through the window.
The auditorium lights dim and four actors in traditional African tiger suits take the stage.
I've seen productions put on by this troupe before. Once again, the hateful, sarcastic spirit buried inside me directs my eyes to one actor in particular. She's in her mid-60s, short, with glittery dark eyes, thin curls, and a voice like Lucille Ball being squashed through a colander by the cold, unfeeling hands of Fred.
Listen, I'm not an idiot. I know that anyone who devotes their life to children's theater is some kind of hammy, pantomiming saint.
I'll live a hundred bitter years, and never have the disgusting zest for life that this woman probably has.
But man, it's hard not to sit there and just focus on the minutiae of what is irritating about her.
I sketched this picture while she was dancing right by me:
She pranced on past, clapped for a moment on a djembe drum, tootled a slide whistle, and shrieked, "Cucumbers, carrots!!"
I notice some activity to my immediate left.
Sure enough, Lulu has taken advantage of the low lighting; the shirt is up, the breast is on the move.
"Put that away," I tell her.
The actors have begun to waltz through the audience, waving long flags.
In a moment, they will be upon us. I wondered what kind of improv skills they would bring to bear when faced with an unexpected nipple.
"Cover up or we're leaving, " I hissed.
Just as a homemade African banner slaps across the top of my head, Lulu pulls her shirt back down, neglecting to repack her breast into her bra.
I hope you don't mind the scrabbly, hand drawn pictures.
I've been running out of time to post things, so first I stopped doing color, and then I stopped drawing on the computer all together.
Maybe someday I'll be back in the groove of things.
In case you're interested, I've been posting things to my Tumblr recently.
It's mostly nonsense, but maybe you'll get a kick out of it.
Thanks for reading.