Friday, January 29, 2010

"Might've Been Colgate" - Early January, 2009

They gathered around a table in the nurses' room at the retirement home for a send off meal consisting of sandwiches from The Bread Basket, Michigan's premier deli. Poppie barely touched his food, which was rare when it came to Corned Beef. A month shy of his 97th birthday, he swore that he'd already eaten dinner. This was clearly not true being that his grandson, Jared, had been at his side since 4pm and witnessed no such business. Poppie, who'd been telling stories on loop for years now, every once in a while curiously shared a story with which nobody was familiar. These were moments to be cherished, like a rare meteor shower, regardless of whether they were valid or mere products of his dementia. Today featured one such moment. It was about his sole experience playing in an organized football game.
"I'll never forget it, boy," he said. "I can't remember what team it was for - might've been Colgate."
"What position did you play?" Jared asked.
"Cornerback, maybe."
"Did you win?"
"Who can remember?"
When Jared relayed the story to his aunt and mother over dinner, they dismissed it as rubbish. "Eat your sandwich, Poppie!" they ordered.
"I told you - I already ate dinner" he exclaimed.
"No you didn't," everyone rejoined in chorus, then burst out laughing.
"I paid for that, you know," Jared's mother reminded him. She was happy to remind people when she was paying.
Jared was moving to NYC in two days for a film internship with GreeneStreet. Metro Detroit had proven to be a creative vacuum. His mother and father made no big deal of the move. It was his aunt's idea to treat the dinner as a sendoff. She even bought a cake of which Jared only ate a meager slice.
At some point the family contracted the sillies, all except for Jared and Poppie, who looked on with blank expressions. The family giggled contagiously and hysterically. That's how it usually went: everyone except for one person (and Poppie) would be on funny pills; and most times, that one person was either Jared or his mother. They took turns. Jared prayed that it spoke to no greater similarity of character. That's not to say other family members couldn't be the non-laughers. Everyone played the role once in a while. They were a family of opportunists and
shifting alliances. Not that it was impossible for everyone to be in on the laughter - those were the good times. Even Poppie could be susceptible to the chuckles, though it remained a mystery what he was actually laughing about. But most of the time there had to be someone remaining
sober; someone not laughing, to keep the situation in check, reality anchored, if reality meant being unhappy or unamused.
Jared's father asked him if he would write about this incident after the fact, like he did many things. Jared said no.

A few days later, Jared was in New York. He'd arranged an apartment living with a friend of a friend in Clinton Hill. Her name was Emma.
"Why did your former roomie move out?" he asked her while sharing their first subway together.
"Umm. Hmm," she stammered. "She got mugged on our stoop. I wasn't trying to keep it from you. I figured it just wasn't, er, necessary for me to bring up. And that I'd tell you about it if you ever asked, which you just did, sooner than I expected. I hope you don't feel cheated. The rent is $650. You can't beat $650." She smiled impishly with a shade of nervousness.
For the first week, Jared made it a point to sprint the distance between the subway and his apartment. That went on until the discomfort of running in dilapidated hi-tops proved too great. While it lasted, it was good for burning off beer calories, and inducing nausea.

In their third week of living together, Emma sent Jared this email:

Subject: Roommate bonding appointment scheduling

Hello good sir,
Instead of perpetually saying no I'm not free to your wonderfully kind offers and/or spending vast amounts of time roaming the night when I say I'll be home early...
I wish to propose times when I am free. To take the guesswork, spontaneity, and maybe hopefully not the fun, out of our hanging out. Cuz spontaneity,while enticing, is hit or miss. in this case, miss.
Would you ever be free/ interested in a breakfast date at Outpost (the wonderful coffee shop down the street)? They have terrific food and coffee and I'd like to share my love of the place.
How about Tuesday morning, the 19th? like... 9am...earlier later... depending when you have to get to ur internship?
Then laundry, we will do that too. it has been a long time for me... but i go home to CT often and do a bit then, so don't judge me too harshly.
anyway, thanks for coming to live with me. there are three free shelves in the medicine cabinet if you need them. and let me know if you want me to clear out one of the standing shelves in the bathroom.


They went on to share a wonderful breakfast together at a quaint little cafe mere steps from their brownstone, ironically named "Outpost", being that its clientele was mostly white in a predominantly black neighborhood.
As January neared its end, Jared felt satisfied with his first month in NYC. He had gotten to cover some scripts at work, drive around his boss' 7-series BMW (mostly to find alternative parking during street cleaning), answer the phone once to find James Gandolfini on the other end,
and ogle the models coming into audition for casting agencies sharing office space with GreeneStreet. He earned some cash doing data entry for and serving as a production assistant on an intimate shoot with JP Morgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon. There was even a gig in the works shooting a music video about wine for a friend of a friend. Socially, he had reconnected with old friends and given bar trivia the ole college try, several times, without great success.
There was still the issue of why he continued to pee jet yellow despite drinking adequate amounts of water. Getting healthy amounts of fruits and veggies was also proving a challenge. And well, laundry, of course.
All in all, there was a palpable taste of promise in the air.

Adventures in Substitute Teaching: October - December, 2009


Giggly Student: Do you know who Run DMC is?
Me: Yes.
Giggly Student: (turning to friends) See, I told you he had to be over 30. He knows who Run DMC is.
Me: Are you over 30?
Giggly Student: No.
Me: I think your logic is flawed.

2 hours later

Giggly Student #2: Do you know about 8 tracks?
Me: Yes.
Giggly Student #2: You've gotta be over 30 then?
Me: Do you know about 8 tracks?
Giggly Student #2: Yeah, because of my mom.
Me: Maybe I know about 8 tracks because of my mom.
Giggly Student #2: You're not over 30?
Me: Nope.

The student with strawberry-blonde hair, pale complexion, and jeans too short they fall an inch above her bright pink tennis shoes, paces back and forth on her toes in front of my desk, like some sort of exotic zoo animal; a modified ostrich. When I finally look up, she flashes a big smile gleaming with metal.
"Do you want to see my drawings?" she asks, eager for an audience.
To decline would kill her. She drops a binder on my desk filled with drawings and character biographies and backstory.
"There's six of them. They're all 12, and they live in a small Montana town. I've never been to Montana. I've never even been out of Michigan, so I had to do all sorts of research. See -" She pulls out a satellite image of Montana.
"Uh huh," I say.
"These kids live normal middle school lives, until one day, they fall through a wormhole and end up on this planet Gorgonzole, which brings out their special powers they must use in order to stop an evil ruler and get back home. This character, Torza, is modeled off my dad. See -" She points to an anime-style picture that resembles no human I know.
She flips through the pages, and when she gets to the end, she starts flipping in reverse. I'm surely the most attentive audience she's ever had. I notice that every character stands 5'2".
The bell rings and it's hard for her to let me go. I grab my belongings and cruise out the door. She chases after me clutching the binder in one hand and her bookbag in the other. She wants to know when I'm subbing next. I say I don't know and wish her luck in one day traveling outside the state of Michigan.

The next day, strawberry-blonde-aspiring-George Lucas finds me in the hallway. She presses something into my hand - a crumpled piece of paper containing various questions.
"I want to base one of the characters on you," she says.
I debate whether it'd be a terrible idea to satisfy her eccentricity. Sample questions include: Favorite genre of movies; favorite sport; preferred computer activities; style of dress; day or nighttime person.
"Do I have to be 5'2"?" I ask.
She looks confused. "I guess not," she says.
"Let me get back to you."
I walk into the teachers lounge for lunch. My mind is preoccupied with one student in particular, Roger. I had him in two classes throughout the morning and he was atrocious. Apparently I look drained, because the football coach, Mr. Roop, demands names. "Spit out the culprits," he says.
In truth, there had been several difficult students responsible for sucking the pep right out of my step; but Roger's name is clearly at the forefront. And when I say it, Mr. Roop cuts me off.
"Say no more," he says. "That's all one needs to know. Roger Muss is a Grade A ass-clown. He's a despicable little runt and you don't get paid enough to deal with turds like him. Hell, I don't get paid enough to deal with turds like him."
Everyone present issues a corroborating "Hear, hear," and I realize adults are no better than kids.

Five minutes until class starts. The first student enters. When the second student enters moments later, the first student exclaims: "Avery, I beat you for the eleventh million time!"
Avery looks at him and replies: "We haven't been in 8th grade that long."

In 6th hour, a student pops his classmate's zit and eats the whitehead for a pool of money amounting to $2.64. I try and stop him without success, then wonder if in a court of law I could be tried for contributing to the delinquency of minors.
The bell rings and I collect my belongings. Another student approaches me.
"That's Nautica, right?" he asks, referring to my shirt.
"Yeah," I say, looking down to make sure.
"You know that brand is racist? It is. I read it somewhere. Something to do with the slave ships."
"I didn't know that."
"Well now you know."
Later on I do some google research and find no credible support for his statements. I do find an interesting Maya Angelou poem highlighting corporate racism.