Monday, October 30, 2017

Party Pants On

I am supposed to be taking part in the planning session for our class Halloween party, but these types of meetings destroy me spiritually and emotionally.

Astute readers will notice I switched which hand my divine self is holding my regular self in by mistake.

It's called a 'continuity error'.

Shut up, astute readers. Nobody wants that brand of keen observation you're pedalling. 

The party planning gestapo convenes at the head of the table and calls us to attention.

"Now we will have the assigning of things to bring," they declare.

"You know what I'm gonna bring, Teach? I'm gonna bring in some lasagna....for myself." JJ looks around with a sly, satisfied smile.

"I believe I will bring in Gatorade for EVERYONE," another student announces. He turns and points an accusing finger at JJ. "You were only thinking of you."

The class erupts in 'oooohs' and snaps of their fingers.

As the excitement in the room builds, Cliff jumps up from his seat and marches over to me. He pats my shoulder, at first slowly, then building in speed.

"Thanks, man," I tell him, leaning away. He goes back and sits down.

A list of Halloween themed treats the students can make is laboriously compiled: licorice spiders, rice krispie pumpkins, witch brooms roughly approximated by cheese sticks, la choy noodles, and some kind of flappy ham.

"Und ve must wrap ze tiny vieners in dough, so to make viener mummies," one of the teachers declares.

There is some tittering at the use of the word "wiener."

In other immature tittering at marginally naughty words news, when I had students working at the thrift store, stocking shelves, they kept laughing whenever I said 'balls.'

"Put this ball with those balls," I commanded.


"There's too many balls in that box. Take out some balls."

*Snort laugh*

"Oh, grow up you guys. No, stop. Way too big of balls here."

*Howls of laughter*

"About those licorice spiders. We need to decide if we're going to do more of the lacey type licorice, or twizzlers cut into bits?"

"And what color? Guys, we have to pick a color!"

"Oh my god we need to start writing this down."

"I've been writing it down."

"But we need two people to write it down, in case one person misses something."

"What if one person writes it down wrong?!"

"You mean like the licorice spiders should have red legs, but the other person writes it as black?"

"Holy shit."

"Shut up, Gweenbrick. That's a real possibility."

"We could use that watermelon pull-n-peel. Here, I had some the other night and I took a picture of it."

"Oh that's right, you sent me the picture. Let me find it on my phone too."

"Do you think we should all have two pictures of everything?"

"Yes, absolutely."

"I have two phones, so I can always have two pictures of everything that I can text to the same person twice."

"What a good idea."

Since my input keeps getting dismissed as either too negative, or of indeterminate value, I am told to play cards with JJ.

He is sitting next to me, one hand popping Trix cereal into his mouth, the other planted on top of a mound of Skip-Bo cards.

Our classroom has acquired many decks of Skip-Bo cards over the years. Instead of getting rid of some, the new decks are consumed by the old, until we end up with a gallon bag stuffed full of Skip-Bo.

The same thing has happened to our Uno cards, only worse. 

To play a game of Uno in our class requires getting the copier paper box overflowing with cards from the closet and dumping it all over the table. You don't shuffle the cards; you swim in them. 

I don't know how to play Skip-Bo, but it soon becomes clear that my ignorance of the rules doesn't matter.

JJ's version of the game involves spreading cards all over, repeatedly picking up the 'number one' card, and asking me questions about it.

"Damn, is this a one or a seven? Come on, Brob, give me a hint." He grabs another wad of cards, shuffles them nervously from hand to hand, then scatters them back across the table.

"I been doin' all that smokin'," he tells me.


"Yeah, smokin' that weed. Smoking that nasty marijuana."

"You don't smoke that."

"Yes I do. With my dad. But I don't smoke it no more. I quit. I lost my license."

"You had a marijuana license?"

"Yeah-NO-wait. My dad does. WAIT! He did though."

"To smoke?"

"No, to drive, fool! He drive a truck."

"Oh...and he lost his license."

"What? No! He didn't lose no license."

I consider all of this for a minute.

"Does he really smoke weed?" I ask.

"Huh? I told you, man, he drive a truck."

The conversation goes on, spinning its wheels down blind alleys and dead ends.

Someone turns on the Cha-Cha Slide, loud, and I slump into my chair, eyes closed.

After a minute, I start to do the moves that the song commands me to do, only heavily, slowly, as if asleep.

"OH MY GOD!" JJ screams. "You is drunk as hell!"

He shakes with laughter.

A purple Trix escapes from his hand and falls between his legs. He chases after it, into the depths of his crotch, but then gives up; he settles for some vigorous scratching down there and a sniff of his fingers.

"Please go wash your hands," I tell him.

"Damn, bossy."

When JJ gets back, he spies the errant Trix laying on his seat, snatches it up, and eats it.

"Let's play, man, come on." He points impatiently at Skip-Bo.

I look at the rest of the staff.

They are drawing a flow chart of possible licorice spider outcomes based on the tensile strength of a given braid thickness, and exploring if different flavors might contain inherent structural weaknesses. 

"Deal me in, JJ," I say with a sigh.

He pushes seven pounds of Skip-Bo cards towards me. They crash over the table edge and pool in my lap.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Crying hallelujah to the streaks of daylight

On these fall evenings, my family likes to stand by the neighbor's fence and heckle their chickens.

The hens book over, propelled by the sway of their fat breasts, but the rooster holds himself apart.

People have about one way that they relate to roosters.

They yell 'Cock-a-doodle-doo' at them.

That's pretty much it.

Autumn leaves float around us through a deep and cloudless sky. Sunset glows across every perfect shingle on the roof of the barn.

We mimic rooster calls over and over again, surely delighting our neighbors with our dedication and our accuracy.

After awhile though, I notice a change in the bird's disposition.

Tension begins to build visibly within his chicken body.

He starts crowing unhinged, unable to stop himself.

The sound keeps coming out of him, rising in pitch, breaking off with more and more desperation in that last syllable Dooooo.

And then, as we back away from the fence, the rooster lets out one last cry, Ms. Piggy in full protecting-Kermit-karate-mode, and charges at a nearby hen.

He leaps into the air, pins her to the ground with a squeeze of his long talons, and lays the full weight of his puffed up body upon her.

The scene that follows could perhaps be related, at least thematically, to the age old question of which came first, chicken or egg.

Or it could be rough comment on the loveless, unreciprocated nature of animal sexuality.

It could be any number of things, but my family does not stick around to find out what.

We scream and run away.

My wife does an impression of the rooster's behavior from that day which is spot on.

I wanted to film her doing it and put it on the blog, but she wouldn't hear of it.

She does it with her whole body, in a fit of uninhibited joy the likes of which I've not seen from her in many years. 

All the cares of this world melt away from her; anxiety and insomnia for a moment gone.

The lady struts and crows and crashes her tucked arms against her sides.

For a moment, she is a rooster: wild, proud, and free, holding court beneath the lights of our little kitchen, posturing for her adoring hen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


You probably wonder what on earth I would write about if I didn't work in special education.

Don't worry, I am large, I contain multitudes.

If the day ever comes, DEAR GOD PLEASE LET IT BE THIS INSTANT, IT'S ME MARGARET, and I move on to a new job, I'm sure I will have countless amusing anecdotes to share with you all.

I really don't like "you had to be there" stories, especially when I don't know a story is a "you had to be there" story until I am in the middle of telling it.

I freeze up and my voice trails off into an eke of vapor.

People who've been listening to me, their trusting faces once so certain that my story was really going places, like a TED talk wrapped in an adult diaper, watch my confidence give out and retreat from me in fear.

A crash is coming and they don't want to see how it ends, don't want to witness arms and legs all over the highway, or gawk at a little pair of disembodied lips apologetically whispering, I guess you had to be there.

Even if I don't get a new job that is ripe for the blogging, I can always start spying on my neighbors a lot more than I already do, and then tell you all about the wacky times they have.

Man, they are so wacky.

They mow their lawn regularly and they have a garden. I'm laughing just thinking about it.

One of them wears glasses. *snicker*.

I got some of their mail by accident one time, and when I walked it over to return it to them, they were having a barbecue party. I had to stay and chat and meet some of their friends.

That part wasn't wacky at all; it was awful.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Terror Dome

On Friday, we took the class to see a movie.

We go see one every month. It's usually pretty terrible.

This time, however, we went to a horror movie.

People screamed at the screen for ninety minutes. They yelled advice, criticism, even threats.

Students leapt out of their seats like they were at a baseball game and something good just happened. What that would be I don't know, because I hate baseball and have willed myself to stay completely ignorant of its mechanics.

I imagine it involves balls, but I am only inferring that from its title.

I am really good at inferring things.

Like if I walk into a room and people begin to gag, I infer that I smell.

The problem with my inferences is that they are very subjective, so when I infer, I always infer conclusions that involve me somehow.

Do you walk into a room and immediately think everyone is talking about how good-looking you are, sighing and murmuring what a man?

Ha ha. Me neither. Unless my wife is the only person in the room, then I know everyone is thinking it, me and her.

You've probably noticed over the years that many of the things I talk about are predicated on me entering a room with people in it. That's because I often do that, since I am late to almost everything.

Being late to things is one of my strengths. If I was early, then we would have a few moments to chit-chat, and no one wants that.

When I forget who I am as a person and arrive at one of our inservices too early, I am forced to chat over the long folding tables laden with quiche, danishes and cereal.

At that point, I talk really animatedly about innocuous topics such as the weather or baseball, only to draw attention away from how much food I am grabbing, how quickly I am grabbing it, and how odd it is that I am shoving so much of it into the front pouch of my sweatshirt to save for later.

It's not odd to me, mind you. It's sneaky and wonderful to me to hoard food.

I am just inferring from the scowls on people's faces and mutters from the kitchen staff about how someone is a "selfish lard ass" that my actions aren't going over so well.

Then I scurry away to eat all of the smuggled food by myself.

By the time I get back to the meeting, it is half over. I have a moustache made from whatever the cheese in a cheese danish is, and everyone starts talking about how good-looking I am.

For the horror movie, I was made to sit by Bimwe.

Not because we are good friends or anything. Bimwe, a short, stocky Nigerian girl with Down Syndrome, doesn't really like me for some reason.

It could be because she has seen me raid the snack cupboard for the Teddy Grahams, which are her snack of choice. When you must compete for food with others, you begin to hate them. That is why my children and I are enemies.

I am made to sit next to her because I am the biggest. 

Bimwe has a bad habit of screaming in the middle of a movie and running out of the theater as fast as her squat little legs can carry her. Not because she is scared; she has run out of some pretty harmless films, such as Hidden Figures and Race: The Jesse Owens Story. She screams and runs because she has grown bored. Or because she found the Jesse Owens story very inspiring.

In special education, its best to not get too attached to your identity as a person. Be prepared to be thought of as "the warm body that makes the lunches", "the warm body that waits here with the students while the important people do the grown up things" or "the warm body that wipes the butts."

For this movie, I was "the big warm body at the end of the aisle blocking in Bimwe".

She did not try to flee, however. Instead, she made observations about the film to me in her hushed, slightly accented English.

While Bimwe sat calmly, hands folded in her lap, the rest of the students went completely bananas.

JJ especially seemed to enjoy it. 

He started laughing hysterically about four minutes or so after the opening credits, and did not stop until the lights came back on and people stood up, stretched, and filed out of the theater.

Because he is nearly blind, JJ uses an Assistive Listening Device when he goes to the movies. He puts on headphones and a narrator describes what is happening on the screen.
He was wiping tears from his eyes, still smiling, as I took the ALD off of him.

"That lady talked to me through the whole movie," he said, pointing at the headphones. "Put'em on, Brob; she'll say something to you too."

Looking up at the screen, he let out another little giggle.

"Damn, that was the best movie. Best movie I've ever seen."

The theater is across the city from our classroom, and it takes a lot of bus hopping to get there and back.

I usually try to sit next to one of the more unpredictable students for the duration of the ride, but sometimes things are so crowded it's not possible. 

I have to stand suspended from the overhead handles like a defeated gymnast, my butt on the shoulder of some tired looking woman on her way to the Social Security office, my crotch spoiking an elderly Chinese man in the temple with every bump in the road.

JJ is on the other side of him, and I am nervously expecting my student to blast out a string of profanity or a random racial slur at any moment.

But, after looking at the Chinese man, looking away out the window, then back to the man again, basically doing a slow double take fifty times in a row, JJ starts telling him about how great the movie was.

The old guy gives JJ a wide smile, showing brown crooked teeth. He nods and says something very loudly in Chinese.

"Maaaan," JJ says, looking genuinely frustrated. "I don't understand a thing you sayin' to me."

At that, the elderly man began to laugh and vigorously shake his head.

 JJ, always up for a good chuckle, begins laughing too, and the two of them ride for awhile just like that, rocking in their seats and laughing at nothing.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Showing Out

Though I have four children, and have for some time now, I would be hesitant to give any kind of parenting advice to anyone who asks.

No one has asked, ever, but that is not the point.

The point is that my five year old son is really bad at magic.

For his birthday one year, I bought him a vintage Fisher-Price My First Magic traveling box of tricks and illusions.

Like everything I buy for my children, it was used, incomplete, and reeked of attics and deferred dreams.

It was from my style of gift-giving that the phrase "the thought that counts" was born, and my thought when I buy presents for my children is:  

I had this when I was a kid; I desire to own it again. To disguise my wasteful spending, I will call it a 'present' and choose a recipient at random. Everything they own is really mine, anyways. Ha ha. Their belief in their personal agency and ownership are amusing to me.

Because nothing is more interesting to the general public than a retelling of an anecdote about one's child, I will return to the topic of my budding Blackstone.

One of the flaws in his magic act is his sense of timing, as in, when is it an appropriate time for magic?

Though he is bright (in his little way), he has proven to be incapable of reading the language of the face. And of the body. And of the spoken word.

When I protest that I am too tired for magic, he understands that to mean I am so desperate for magic that if someone doesn't start doing some card tricks or separating rope illusions right this second, I'm going to freak out and put my head through the bedroom window.

But to give this gripping yarn a bit more grip, you will have to be patient with me as I delve into a little exposition.

Speaking of exposition, I recently submitted a story I'd written to a group of online critics.

I received a lot of encouragement, but it wasn't the kind of encouragement one gets that makes one think, gracious, I might be the next Edna Ferber.

It was more like this kind of encouragement:

One critic told me to keep trying and never give up.

Another wrote, "I understand your desire to minimize lengthy exposition, but in doing so, you seem to have eliminated other important things, such as 'plot' and 'description.' What we're left with is a few lines of dialogue apparently spoken by no one, and a little drawing of a cat with 'possible cover art?' written beneath it."

Several more people wrote that they couldn't read it at all because it was in a weird format. Those ones stung the worst.

The bedtime routine for my children has been, to my eternal detriment, an enthusiastic reading of four story books and the tender singing of six songs.

Though the four books count across the board, each child requires a separate song list. 

To one of my delightful loinspringa, I have had to sing "Life is a Highway" every night for seven years straight.

My grasp of the song's lyrics was pretty shaky in the beginning, and over the passage of a decade, with all the collapses of an aging mind, it has only grown worse.

I had a friend in college who thought the song "Take on Me" went "Sa-a-a-y Gandi".

That's about where I'm at with "Life is a Highway."

Old standards fill out the rest of the set: "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain", "Workin' on the Railroad", "Put a Jelly on the Sill for Tom Picker"; all the sleep summoning ditties long beloved of urchins and hobos. 

Then comes the eternal wrestling match that is the brushing of the children's teeth.

"Say ahhh."
"Don't bite the toothbrush."
"Say eeeee."
"No, eeeee."
"No, don't put your beloved stuffed elephant with the unpronounceable name of Phbbooo in front of your mouth."
"I don't appreciate it when you lock the toothbrush between your back molars."
"Yes. I know you can say eeeee with your lips clamped tightly over your teeth. It's a hilarious thing that you have discovered you are able to do, however-"
"No, no. Phbbooo does not have teeth. He's not real."
"Those aren't teeth. Those are mottled fabric extrusions vaguely resembling tusks. I refuse to brush them."

Now at last does the magic set rear its head.

The pageant mother in me cannot resist giving some direction.

The show finishes near dawn, but I do not see the sun rise.

I have passed away some time during the night.