A Rant About Faces and Feelings

I’m like Sheldon Cooper in the sense that certain emotions confuse me. Well… mainly, the “shit-eating-grin.” It drives me insane and pisses me off. I hate it so much. If you’re guilty of this, here’s a friendly PSA from me: “Please make your face match the words coming out of it.”

The Korean woman I co-teach fifth-grade English with does this. It confuses the hell outta me. I’ll say or do something that upsets her, and I can tell she’s upset based on her words, but she’ll be smiling the whole time like she’s happy.  And I’m slightly smarter than Forrest Gump, so half my brain is like, “Whew, she smiled; we’re in the clear,” and the other half of my brain is like, “Oh man, did you hear that? We’re in so much trouble!”

I cannot fake my emotions. You can read my face and body language like an open book. When I try to pretend everything’s fine, it’s really obvious. Unless of course, you’re Sheldon Cooper.

I can act… if it’s my job, and I’m mentally prepared for that. I acted in plays, growing up. I’m currently in an improv troop, and I’m pretty good at it. But if I’m at work, and all of a sudden I have to play make-believe in a real life situation, I can’t do it.

My first job after college was at a restaurant. One day while hosting, one of my managers approached my host stand, acting like a customer. After a long awkward silence, I said, “Yes?” She looked taken back by that, and shot back with, “Is that really how you greet customers?”

I didn’t know I was supposed to be pretending she was a customer. I also wasn’t clear on how far to take this charade. Like… Do I put her name on the waiting list? Do I seat her at a table, thus robbing a real customer of their spot? I mean… Set the scene! Give me some parameters!

The same thing happens routinely now as a teacher. No matter how many times I am forced to do this, it feels impossible. I have to stand a few feet in front of a woman, and pretend like the room if full of kids.

It’s painfully awkward. And I have so many questions about this pretend world. Like… When I ask a question, does she answer it or do I? When there’s a listening activity, do we both pretend to listen to a recording that isn’t playing?

Also, a big part of teaching a foreign language is the students repeating after you. So without the students there to repeat, it’s just me reading a list of elementary vocabulary with pauses between each word.

I can never tell if it’s going well or not because she has a blank face the whole time. It’s like performing stand-up comedy in an empty room. I need facial expressions… and the words to match!

Survey Says

Survey Says

One day in my fifth grade math class we had to make up our own survey question, and survey each other.

Anthony Weathersby asked who was more attractive: him or me. I didn’t know about this until the end of class. He told me what he did and showed me the results. Every girl in class voted for him. I got zero checks under my name. Then he showed his survey to the teacher. She laughed, voted for me (out of pity), and the entire class erupted into laughter.

I was recently talking to a friend about how girls have never liked me, and it must be because I’m ugly. Then I brought up this story, and he pointed out something I hadn’t thought of before. He said of course all the girls checked his name: he was the one giving the survey. If they didn’t, it would’ve been like calling him unattractive to his face. It’s easy to reject someone when it’s not face-to-face.

While this realization did make me feel better, I’m 29 years old now and apparently no more attractive to girls than I was at the age of twelve.

Maybe this survey just revealed something that everybody already knew. Maybe I’m Spongebob. Maybe Patrick Star is right.

Maybe.

Worst High-Five Ever

Worst High-Five Ever

I was bullied from kindergarten to college. This was one of my worst bully encounters.

It was 2003 and I was in the ninth grade. My bully that year was Clint Scott. If this was a movie, you’d figure out that he was the bad guy just based on his name.

I had English class with him. Our English teacher was Miss Wadden. Everybody hated her. So much so that she earned the nickname Osama Bin Wadden. (Too soon?)

Clint roamed the school with this new-inmate-on-the-cellblock attitude, always trying to intimidate people; ready to fight anyone, anytime. I wasn’t cool or popular. I didn’t look tough. I was an easy target for guys like him.

One day after class ended, he stabbed me.

He, one of his loyal henchmen, and I were the last three students in the classroom. Bin Wadden was sitting at her desk, minding her own business, grading papers.

Clint, who clearly hated me, said, “Hey, Sean! High-Five!” I knew this nice-guy act was a rouse, but it happened so fast. There was no time to think. His hand went up, and–instinctively–so did mine. Bam! It happened. He and his cohort walked out, laughing as blood bloomed from the palm of my hand.

Apparently he had straightened out a paperclip and wound one end around his middle finger with the opposite end pointing out. That end punctured the palm of my hand.

Bin Wadden saw me shaking, staring at the bloody hole in my hand, and asked what happened. I told her the truth, which of course made things worse.

Clint got what he deserved: a three-day suspension. Considering how much he hated school, he really should have thanked me.

Not only did he hate me more, but so did other people. I remember overhearing people whisper about me, saying things like “Did you hear Sean got Clint suspended?” He stabbed me with a piece of metal, but I was the bad guy.

When he returned to school, he body-checked me really hard in a big crowd and said, “Bitch!”

I don’t know if he dropped out or transferred to a different school, but after that year I never saw him again.

I recently looked him up on Facebook, hoping to discover that he was either in jail or paying child support to all his baby mamas, or both. But this is real life, so instead what I see is his confident grin as he shows off his chiseled abs to the world.

He probably doesn’t even remember me.

“I hated high school. I don’t trust anybody who looks back on the years from 14 to 18 with any enjoyment. If you liked being a teenager, there’s something wrong with you.” – Stephen King

Change

“… And gimmie a pack of Paul Mauls,” the lady told the clerk (her name-tag said Tiff, the a-n-y scratched out) at the Circle K.  She laid out whatever money she had left on the counter:  $4.32 exactly. 

“Comes out to four-forty-nine,” Tiffany said.

“Oh, well then I’ll take Marlboro medium.”  Her—Erin was her name—hands were trembling with excitement as if nicotine ran through her veins instead of blood and oxygen, and she needed to refuel for the strength to finish the day.

“That’s four-thirty-nine.  How ‘bout KOOL lights?”

  “No,” Erin whined, “that won’t do.  I burn through the filter too fast.”  Realizing that she had just copped an attitude with a stranger, who would supply her fix, Erin apologized.  “So sorry.  I must be awful annoying.”

“That’s okay,” Tiff lied.  “Take your time, ma’am.”  She was grasping for patience like a drowning victim grasping for a life-preserver.  Erin didn’t notice.

“Oh, please, don’t call me ma’am.  Makes me feel old.”  Erin glanced through the glass doors at her two children strapped in their booster-seats and still managing to fight.

Tiff scrolled through the cigarette packs for her indecisive customer like doing research in the library, looking for the option that would meet all her needs.

“Is Camel cheap enough for ya?”

“Too cheap.  It tastes like I’m smoking manure.”

“That’s the thing about havin’ exact change:  it’s either a relief or a disaster.  Don’tcha just hate that?”

  “You got that right.”  This made Erin smile wide enough to expose her yellowing teeth, like the BEFORE posters in a dentist office.  Then she laughed, which aroused a coughing spell.

Tiffany proposed a look of sympathy and concern but kept her mouth shut.

Taking a second look into the back seat of her van, Erin saw her kids crying, the girl more so than the boy.  Although she couldn’t hear the argument that led to this, she imagined her daughter yelling, “Quit it!  Quit it!”

The bell on the glass double-doors chimed as a dark figure entered.  Erin caught a glimpse of the man from the corner of her eye.  He was tall and dressed in a black suit, an ash-gray knit hat covering his face. 

Without saying a word, he grabbed Erin’s money from the counter and ran away.  After the initial fear of being robbed at gun-point, Tiff thought:  Why didn’t he bother taking more?  Did he realize he could go to jail for four dollars?  Maybe he was in a hurry.

Erin sprinted outside and hollered, “That’s my cig-money, you bastard!”  Then she noticed her children were laughing, unfazed by the occurrence.  They smiled and waved at their mommy.  She waved back. 

The deep, red anger that began to boil inside at her loss evaporated when she took a deep breath, inhaling fresh air.    

Boxes of Memories

Herald looked at all the old cardboard boxed memories in his attic and felt overwhelmed.  He hoped to sell at least half.  There was no air conditioner or heater in his walk-in attic, so in the summer it was suffocating and now in the middle of winter it was freezing.  It was the first time in his life that Herald had seen snow fall in Louisiana. Christmas was celebrated early with an explosion of white confetti, making roads slick and breaths visible.  Though he wore a navy-blue sweat-shirt, matching sweat pants and slippers, his bare hands were numb.  Herald rubbed his hands together and blew his warm breath into them.  The floorboard tilted forward and squeaked under his feet; he stepped onto a different floorboard and the previous one shook till it leveled.  He could see that none of the boxes were labeled and sighed at the thought of having to inspect each one individually.  The cardboard ones looked like they were apt to fall apart upon being handled.  Dust had collected on the plastic storage bins.  Not everything was in a box, though.  Joey’s telescope stood in the far left corner next to his tripod.  In the adjacent corner, Herald’s old birdcage lay on its side.  He pictured his old cockatoo in it, pecking at its food dish.  “Oh, Prick,” he said in loving memory.  When he brought the bird home, it bit Herald hard enough to draw blood and he said, “Oh, you little prick!”  Herald never liked his bird, so he kept the name Prick.  Now that Prick had been dead for two years, Herald missed him:  funny how that happens.  He even missed how he and his wife Barbara would fight over the bird’s name.  She said she didn’t want words like that said around the children. 

Polly wanna cracker?” she’d say. 

“No,” Herald would interrupt.  Prick wants a cracker.”  He thought she was cute when she was angry, when she argued for what she knew was right, or when she was just her.    

  Herald opened the first box on his right, disturbing the home of three silver fish who scattered in hopes to find a new dark place to live.  Inside were rugs and carpet.  The maroon stain on one rug made Herald wonder why he saved it.  Maybe he didn’t.  Maybe Barbara did.  He couldn’t ask her now.  She was gone.  They all were.  The loneliness yanked his heart up his throat.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that his family was dead, he had to go through all their stuff and decide what to do with it.  “What should I do?”  Herald asked his wife, whom he thought to be in heaven.  His relationship with her was only slightly better than the one he had with Prick.  But he missed her now.  One of the last things he remembered her saying to him was: “I swear, if I see that beer belly again, it better not be attached to you!”  He lost it for her, but now it was back to stay.  If she is in heaven, he thought, what does she think of who I am now?  Not much, probably

He carefully lifted the box, turned around and gently tossed it back inside to throw out in the garbage later.  He wanted to get his birdcage but there was twenty-five years of memories separating him from it.  Herald would have to slowly make his way back in time through the good stuff and the bad.  Mostly, he feared, there was bad. 

Herald stepped onto another sheet of plywood that lay across several two-by-sixes.  Three boxes were stacked on one another.  He set the top one on the floor and opened it to find stuffed animals.  He remembered when his kids had to get them because one day they would be worth millions.  They’re not worth shit, he thought and laughed.  But knowing some collector out there would still think they were worth millions, he made a mental note to sell them, or at least try to.   

The second box contained Christmas ornaments, which served as a reminder that Herald would not be celebrating the upcoming holiday with his family.  While the future saddened him, the past haunted his conscience.  Prick died on Christmas day of last year.  Herald had set the cage by the tree, so Prick could watch the family open their presents.  Some gold and silver tinsel got into the cage and Prick took it as a shiny new snack.  When Joey and Nelly were done playing with their toys after two hours, they discovered a gold string-like thing hanging out their breathless bird’s beak, like a noodle.   

The next box contained a deflated Santa and his deflated reindeer.  He stepped past this stack onto a green bin filled with toys—action figures, mostly.  Something else for a big collector.  Herald lifted the bin and moved it behind him, revealing yellowed papers that were partially eaten by roaches; he hoped not rats.

The noonday sun shone through the blind of the attic’s octagonal window, casting stripes of light across Herald’s past.  Herald’s breath stirred up dust particles, and the sun disappeared behind a cloud, leaving the particles in darkness like stars in an ugly sky.  His son, Joey, could have spent hours looking at stars.  If he was still alive, Herald would bet on him becoming an astronomer or some sort of scientist. 

Herald could not go forward anymore; there was a blockade of boxes; he would maneuver around them.  He was mindful of the slanted ceiling because the tips of nails were sticking out of the wood.  He felt like Indiana Jones trapped in a room, slowly collapsing on him with spikes.  Herald tripped over a long stick that Joey practiced with when he took karate, landing on a sheet of plywood.  He couldn’t believe his weight didn’t break him through.  “Son-of-a-bitch, Joey!”  Lying there, he cried.  He wiped his warm tears away with his icy hands and pushed himself upright.  Crouching as low as he could, Herald came out of the tight corner.  Hey, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Belly! he heard his dead wife say, and he laughed. 

Polly

Prick!

Continue reading “Boxes of Memories”

Time is a Bridge

March 12, 2010

This is an essay I wrote for one of my English elective classes in college called Living Writers. In this class we studied the work of current authors. We read a short story collection called Creatures of Habit by Jill McCorkle. We had to choose one story to analyze and write about. My professor Richard Louth said I was the only student to get a perfect score, and he asked me to read it aloud to the class.


“Billy Goats” begins and ends in the summer.  McCorkle could have set her story in spring to represent newness of life or in winter to represent the end of life.  But she chose summer, the time children experience the most freedom, and adults experience the least.

The title refers to the children’s story of Billy Goats Gruff, which is about a troll who lives under a bridge and periodically changes form.  Kids try to cross the bridge without being caught and eaten.  The bridge is a rite of passage:  it symbolizes the crossing of childhood over to adulthood.  So like the troll, these experiences over the bridge of time change the kids.

Stephen King uses the same idea in his novel, It.  The troll is a demon who lives under Bangor, Maine.  It has many different forms used to scare the children:  a werewolf, a prehistoric bird, a giant spider and, most notably, a clown.  The narration switches back and forth from childhood in the fifties to adulthood in the eighties.

McCorkle begins her story by illustrating the light in which children view their parents.  “The grown-ups looked so silly framed in their living room and kitchen windows.  They complained about their days and sighed deep sighs of depression and loss.  They talked about how spoiled and lucky children were these days.”  The kids say they will never be that way.  But they cannot avoid the inevitable.

Time is also represented by the phone-calls the narrator makes to the time service, which informed you of the current time if you didn’t have access to a watch or a clock.  She challenges herself by calling as many times as possible before the minute lapses.  This action parallels the attitude adults share on life.  They try to do as much as they can before their time is up.  Children, however, look forward to getting older.

For grown-ups, time always seems to be running away from them, but during her childhood, the narrator says time was a security blanket.  The narrator later informs us that “Anyone, grown-ups and children alike, could die at any minute.”

The famous Hank Carter acts as a bridge for the children into adulthood by dying during the narrator’s senior year in high school.  When she was a kid, her parents said he crossed the line.  Now that she’s leaving her teenage years behind and crossing over from grade-school to college, he has passed away.  A difficult lesson we all must learn is that death is a part of life.

This story, like the face of a clock, is circular.  In the beginning children hear their parents worry about death and by the end, they’re the ones calling to find out which of their classmates has died.

There seems to be a balance between the first half and second half of the story.  McCorkle is playing the neutral party by examining the pros and cons of the youthful and the middle-aged.  The naïve and hopeful grow up to be the wise and worrisome.

Everybody has bridges to cross, and there’s no point in sprinting.  The other side will arrive soon enough.   

Puns: volume 2.

Puns: volume 2.

What’s Hitler’s favorite kind of shark? The Great White.

I’m writing an opera about soap starring Prince. It’s called “When Dove Makes Me Cry.”

I’m opening a German bakery called Gluten Tag.

Neutral Milk Hotel is my favorite band named after a form of dairy and accommodation.

Russian Pez Dispensers only dispense increasingly smaller Pez Dispensers.

Homophones: Knowing the difference between male genitals and mail genitals.

Carpe Denim: Seize the Pants.

World War Zzzzzz is a movie about sleepy zombies.

Andrew Lice Clay is a comedian who always complains about his itchy scalp.

If someone judged me for being a secret agent, I’d just say I was Bourne this way.

A real man named Clark Kent is wanted on multiple counts of theft, earning him the title “Man of Steal.”

I’m creating a children’s show about a hat that uses a map called “Fedora the Explorer.”

I’m opening up a store where you can rent tiny furniture. It’s called Stool Samples.

My pony is a little hoarse.

Virgin Mobile: celibacy on the go.

“Long time, no sea.” – Desert

Jamie Lee Curtis will be starring in a horror movie about yogurt called Paranormal Activia.

“I whip my hare back and forth.” – abusive pet owner

I own a non-profit roofing company called On The House.

How many lightbulbs does it take to put a joke in backwards?

Try using a more conservative font like Times New Roman-Catholic.

What’s the deal with passage into adulthood, am I rite?

i, Rho-Bot | Artificial Intelligence: It’s all Greek to me.

I have an idea for an 80s romantic comedy about an Asian student who transforms into the most popular guy in school. It’s called Girls Just Wanna Have Phun.

Except After Sea: A Pirate’s Guide to Good Grammar

Did you hear the one about the jockey who took time off from racing to study philosophy? He put Descartes before de horse.

My friend told me his dog will retrieve anything he throws no matter the distance. I said that seemed a bit “far-fetched.”

urban bait shop: “For Reels!”

Rejected name for Hobby Lobby: “Which Craft?”

“I will be your gyro, baby.” – Ricky Iglesias Stathopoulos

What do furniture salesmen, professional wrestlers, and executioners have in common?
At some point they’ve all been ordered to give someone the chair.

Comparing computers and fruit is like comparing Apple and oranges.

I bought my wrist-watch secondhand.

pique-a-boo: to cause an interest in ghost sounds.

peak-a-boo: to place your significant other on top of a mountain.

peek-a-boo: to elicit a momentary fear of abandonment from a baby.

Say, did you hear the one about the gymnast who couldn’t pay her bills on time? Her balance was outstanding.