Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Flightless Birds of Summer

On the last day of school before summer, the teacher brought her parrot Jonah for a visit.

In case you are wondering, young adults with cognitive impairments say the same types of things to talking birds that plain folks do:

Iva came up to the office doorway and froze when she saw the parrot.

"Oh my god what is that?"

"It's Jonah," I told her, "He's here to visit us."

She looked nervously over her shoulder.

"Is he, like, coming to school here now or what? Like a student? A student in our class?"

"He's a bird."

I wondered if she was confused because several days earlier, a potential new student for our class came for a visit, and he, too, had been standing in the office when she got off the bus.

Jonah let out a shrill whistle. Iva self-consciously tucked a flap of hair behind her ear and thanked him.

"I do look very nice today," she said sheepishly.

I went to the kitchen to get coffee, and when I returned, Iva was telling Jonah about her recent birthday, how delicious her ice cream cake had been, and how much she longed for a new Iphone but had not received one for a present.

"He poops when you say 'shazaam'," I told her. 

Apparently,you teach your pet bird to drop anchor on command, as a way of minimizing unplanned defecations.

Despite the better angels of my nature, I found the idea of this avicultural safewording to be hilarious. 

When the students took turns holding Jonah on their arms, I kept erupting in shazaams and then giggling like a blue-footed booby.

I soon grew bored of my own amazing joke and wandered from the room.

People get all emotional and stuff before summer break. They hug.

There were still several hours left in the school day, but Amy Ting angrily accused me of not saying good-bye to her.

"Ok," I said, and I offered my specialty: the side hug with arched arm, so that only the fingertips and the interior porkchop of the deltoid come into contact with the other person.

I left school wondering what kind of man am I, whose bump is too cold for comfort.

But as I walked into the thrift store several minutes later, all such thoughts just fell away.

The feeling was upon me.

There is a certain kind of electricity at work in a second hand shop.

Some days, it's dormant; I walk inside and the whole place reeks of sandaled feet. There's a tower of Country Karaoke CDs teetering on the showcase, everything is puce and olive, and I might as well go home.

When the electricity rises, however, it pricks the hairs of my arms and upper shoulders as I walk through the door.

There's treasure here today. I know it.

I made a beeline for the toy section, brushing past a large black man holding a waffle maker and shouting into his cellphone.

"No....a WAFFLE MAKER. Yeah, for waffles. WAFFLES. No, it's for making them. FOR MAKING THEM. No, man, WAFFLES."

The toys were strewn around the floor, shoved onto narrow shelving, piled into crates. I did my initial visual scan of the area and then moved in for some deep digging.

The thrift store electricity was roaring in my ears.

Not the Monster High Doll clad only in a thong. Not the Choo-Choo with Cookie Monster waving from the conductor seat. Not the half-empty puzzle in a bag, or the moldy cylinder of Lincoln Logs.

Somewhere beneath all this ordinary, lays-

It was a 1970s Tristar International Klinger action figure from the landmark dramedy series M*A*S*H.

I have no poker face when it comes to these things.

If I find a rare treasure in the wild, I gasp, I proclaim, I give sobbing thanks.
Hisssss.....who calls me by my name, in this, my thrift store refuge??

Who has the audacity to find me familiar-looking and speak out??

I turned around, and there stood a woman I'd not seen in twenty years. 

She'd been my first kiss, a little lesson in passion for which I'd gladly paid a dollar. Our teeth clacked together in painful failure, however, and I'd psychologically vomited.

I went to her house for brunch some months later.

How she had recognized me now, a bloated hobgoblin clutching his M*A*S*H action figure and jiggling with suppressed glee, I'll never know, but knew me she did.

I'm still not clear on how to stand when I run into someone I used to be acquainted with.

There is a certain amount of "catching up" that polite society demands, and this obligates me to assume a posture that does not betray my building need to run off screaming.

I went for one arm resting on a nearby cabinet, feet evenly apart, as she told me about her life in Northern Ireland, the view of the inlet sea from her kitchen window.

This position was no good; the stretch marks along the back of my arm were too prominent.

I kind of lowered my head to one side, to block her potential view of the marks, but I quickly discerned from the puzzled fluttering of her eyes that it may have appeared too casual.

I then brought my head back up and let my arms fall loosely to my sides, but nervously crossed my legs at the knees and teetered a bit from poor balance.

She was starting in on the names of her ten children when I folded my arms too far forward from me, as if resting them on an invisible fence, and then quickly reeled them back in to wordlessly demonstrate to her that I was not a crazy person.

And all the while, as we spoke, I gesticulated with the Klinger.

After an agonizing five minutes, I excused myself by way of a side hug, made my purchase, and scurried home.

Father Mulcahy and B.J. sharing a good laugh

They separate, feeling pleased with their time together.

Monday, June 1, 2015


My wife wants to get an above ground swimming pool.

You know when you see an opening sentence like that, you're in for a wild ride.

I'm opposed to the whole idea.

When I was a young boy, I had an unpleasant experience with a neighbor's above ground swimming pool.

As I've mentioned before, working in Special Education does not pay well, so to supplement my income, I sell stuff on Ebay.

This means obsessively checking Craigslist, classifieds, thrift stores, garage sales, streetside trash piles; any place there might be something worth selling.

Legos are an easy flip. They're very popular, and you can quickly pick out the valuable stuff for large profits and sell the rest by weight.

Maybe. I've had a few rough encounters with biker gangs.

There was a woman I met at a party one time. She was super into stuff like motorcycles and bald eagles.

As the night wore on, everyone around the bonfire passed out except us.

I've always waited until I was the last man available to a girl before making my move. It tips the odds ever so slightly in my favor that I might get a smooch, but it makes the rejection sting like the dickens.

I scooted closer to her. She told me about her agonizing motorcycle accident and I shared with her the time I fell off a small skateboard and my dad bought me Mcdonald's.

Nothing happened between us.

She fell asleep against a log. I awkwardly used her metal-toed boot for a pillow.

An hour later, she kicked me awake, threw me a beer, and then called me a pussy because I said I had to go home.

I ran into her at a big Halloween party some weeks after. She introduced me to her new boyfriend, a soldier in the Forbidden Wolves biker gang by the name of Loony Tunes. 

I was in somewhat of an E.T. costume at the time, and I believe that went a long way towards helping Loony Tunes to not feel threatened. 

He spent most of the time drinking Popov vodka from a gigantic bottle and howling at the moon. Around midnight, they hopped onto his Harley and tore off.

There was another biker incident as well. A high school substitute teacher I had; he said he belonged to a motorcycle club. He was a pretty nice guy, but his belt buckles were bigger than my face.

Writing that now, I realize the human face is an odd unit of measurement for belt buckle sizing.

Oh well.

Anyways, people are weird about selling their Legos.

They want to sell them, but they don't; like they are selling off all the hopes and dreams they once had for their kid's potential.

One hot summer evening, I was stuck on the floor of a middle-aged woman's living room for several hours, Legos strewn all around us, as she picked up practically every brick and recounted a memory specific to it.

When she eventually decided on a price, it was so outrageously high that I walked out empty-handed.

The woman didn't want to sell her son's Legos, not really; she wanted a little company while she mourned her newly emptied nest.

I eventually found the seller in Detroit, bought the Legos, and dumped them out on my basement floor.

Having looked through hundreds of pounds of Lego bricks over the years, I've noticed a certain kind of gross consistency in what I find.

There are always Band-Aids, doubled up and twisted. Some with prominent red-brown stains. Animal fur in clumpy abundance. Dog food. Poop (once). Screws and nails. Numerous dirty, oxidized pennies.

And in every crack and corner, suspiciously pubic-looking hairs.

Parents across Southeast Michigan must teach their children that the Lego bin is the proper place for all disgusting things.

My wife arrived home a little later. The back of our minivan was loaded down with a pile of discolored burlap and fifty steel poles.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to send me Legos, just let me know.