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.


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


“… 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.