292. Give Me A Hand

Years ago, I think it was 2003, I worked all summer with a machete that I’d brought back from Honduras. I whacked brush and small trees with the machete. Even tried to kill a ground hog with it, but the critter was too fast for me. I swung it over and over with my right hand, so much so that I over extended the tendon on the outside of my right wrist. It still bulges a bit from the abuse to this day. Anyway I wrapped it in an Ace bandage and tried to draw it back in where God intended that tendon to be. Then I went back to my classroom for the twenty second year of teaching seventh grade English. With an average of 135 students each year that adds up to nearly three thousand 12 and 13 year olds. Let that stat sink in for a long moment before you judge me and my tenuous grip on sanity.

So the first day and week of school began much like every other year– homeroom, lockers, schedules, rules, etc. All the kids try to be good and engaging in the first week until they run out of steam. Then there is real homework to do and the old excuses bubble up… “The Police had to come arrest my dad for drinking and my mom for hitting him with a skillet.”

“Billy, I know that’s not true.”


“Because your dad is the principal and your mom works with my wife. Didn’t they tell you?”

“Entrapment! I move to have the proceedings sealed and thrown out.”

It wasn’t long till one of the inquisitive kids asked about my wrist bandage. I gave the bait answer, “Oh, it’s a long story and unbelievable, so why bother telling you. No one would believe it.”  There was a nearly audible “THunk” as the asker and those in earshot heard my baited answer. “Oh, no, tell us. We’ll believe it.”

“It’s too fantastic. I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Come on! We promise.”

“Well, okay, but don’t tell the kids in third period. I can tell they are not believers. They aren’t as mature as you guys.”

“Okay, okay. What happened?”

“Well I was in England this summer, and you know how they drive on the wrong side of the road and all?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So I rented this MiniCooper at the airport and I was driving around London just trying to get used to the gears and being on the right side while shifting with my left, and I came up to a turn. I needed to make a right hand turn but I couldn’t find the signal bar for the blinkers, you know?”

“Uh huh. Whatdyado?”

“I foolishly stuck my right arm out the window to signal, but since I was driving on the left side of the road and traffic was coming at me on the right my hand was  ripped off quite violently by a passing car’s rear view mirror. It literally cut my hand off, leaving me with a bleeding stump.”

“No way!!”

“Yes. I told you it was an incredible story. Do you want to hear the rest of it?”

“Yes, but no lying.”

“On my honor…. So I was in a pickle with only my left hand working and a fountain of blood gushing at oncoming traffic.”


“Well, did you see that movie Speed, where Sandra Bullock has to drive the bus over 6o miles an hour or the bomb will explode?”

“Yeah, that was a cool movie, but you didn’t have a bomb.”

“I know, but I thought that if I could drive at a fast enough speed, the air pressure would push back the blood gush from my stump.”

“No way. That’s impossible.”

“Well, luckily for me I was not a negative thinker, so I accelerated to 8o kilometers per hour. That’s metric.”

“How fast was it?”

“I think it equals 66 miles an hour in American speed, but anyway once I achieved this speed it was like I had a tourniquet on my forearm. The blood stopped spurting and I could drive around looking for my hand.”

“You mean it was still stuck on the other car’s mirror?”

“That was my only clue. I recalled it was a red late model Jaguar, so I drove about London at high speed looking for the car with the bloody hand on it.”

“Where did you find it?”

“Unfortunately, I did not.”

“But what about your hand?  It’s right there. How did you get your hand back on the bleeding stump?”

“Because I had driven an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War I knew that transplanted limbs have a brief window for attachment. So after 25 minutes of high speed hand chasing about London, I rushed in to The Royal Oaks Hospital in Chelsea by Earl’s Court. It’s an older hospital but well known for its transplant successes.”

“You mean that is not your hand? No way. It looks just like the left one.”

“I agree. The surgeons did a great job matching skin tones I thought. This hand actually came from an accountant who was killed in a tragic auto accident in Surrey. He was completely crushed by a cement lorry, all except his right hand. Fortunately for me had signed the British donor card just days before. How ironic is that?”

“I don’t know what ironic is, but I think you’re lying. How can we tell it’s the accountant’s hand?”

“I don’t question you. It’s pretty fantastic, I know. But here’s the test:  when the hand gets near a calculator, it’s like he can’t help himself. He starts trying to add figures. Watch. Bring that calculator near the hand slowly. I tell you it’s like phantom pain only it’s not.”

“I don’t believe you, but here’s the calculator.”

Suddenly the bandaged hand starts to twitch and type out wildly on the calculator. The kids jumped back.

“See, I told you. It’s like he’s still adding from the grave. They say he was very dedicated.”

“No, that’s you doing it. You’re lying. Take the bandage off.”

“The surgeons said I had to wait six weeks.”

“When is that up?”

“Next Monday, as a matter of fact.”

“Okay, we’ll see who’s lying then.”

The weekend came and went. As I was preparing to go to school that Monday, I remembered the deadline. Hmmm. I found a black Sharpie pen and made a dotted line around my wrist and then wrapped it with the bandage, knowing I’d be called out soon. As soon as I got to homeroom the kids swarmed my desk.

“You said it was today. Let’s see the scar.”

I slowly unwrapped the bandage until the bare wrist was visible with the stitched Sharpie line.

There was much howling and gnashing of teeth. “That’s fake. You drew that. Those aren’t real stitches.” But by then it didn’t matter. The legend of The Hand had been birthed.


223. The Most Popular Post Ever: Fuchsia

One time out I am going to go big, viral, exponentially crazy in the blogosphere, which, if you have noticed, is log jammed worse than L.A. traffic. Over 15 million bloggers on WordPress alone. It’s very easy to get on this highway, but the question is–how to break out in the EZ Pass lane?  My biggest post to date was called August Snow, that’s the one about my daughter trying to cut the grass with our snow blower. It was funny, but I think the hits number spike was due to her universe of friends not any celebrity writer breakthrough on my part. Writing can’t be driven by the blogarazzis, however; it has to come from the truth of the writer. So that’s what I’m attempting to put together, though I do imagine a familiar person or two reading my words over my shoulder. I like that imagined intimacy as I imagine entertaining a friend with something comical or sentimental or just stupid sputtering out behind my blinking cursor like diesel bus exhaust. Yeah, just be true to your self, Mr. B. Special, Esq. I’ll have a name tag made up with that on it, fuchsia background with white letters etched in the plastic rectangle plate.

When I was a middle school teacher, I often had little pet names for some of my students. Usually there was some tangential evidence supporting the name choice. One lovely girl, Meredith, was just so put together and perky. Her mom taught down the hall from me. Meredith was her only child. It’s usually safe to pick on teachers’ kids because they have lived a similar experience and trust is easily attained. Anyway, Meredith was just about perfect. Every day she was prepared, and well groomed and coiffed, lovely teeth, and designer clothes. She did not flaunt her many advantages; she just quietly enjoyed them. I began by calling her “Murdith”,  a combination of “murder” and “Judith”. She corrected me every time. “My name is Meredith.”

Stock Photography - Happy teen student girl. Fotosearch - Search Stock Photos, Pictures, Wall Murals, Images, and Photo Clipart

“Yes, thank you, Murdith.” We played this game for a while until she began wearing Aeropostle shirts every day. I could not pronounce the word, so I simply called her by the color.

“Good morning, Miss Teal.”

“Oh, no. I thought I was Murdith.”

The next day it was aquamarine. Then lemon. Lime.  Then peach. Finally she wore an intense fuchsia shirt and the name fit. “Good morning, Fuchsia.”

“What’s that, Mr. Burrito?”

“It’s the color of your shirt. It’s you.”

“Did you take your medication today?”

“Yes, I always comply with doctors orders. Fyoosh.”

It was hard to make Murdith smile, but this day she could not help but laugh and smile her beautiful toothy smile.

“Oh my word!”

It stuck about as well as those peel and stick metallic parking stickers. You need a razor blade to peel them off. Likewise I have to strain my memory bank to recall her actual birth name. Fuchsia  just seemed so right, and she answered to it.

Free Clock Tower Royalty Free Stock Photo - 911805

What possessed me to explain to Fyoosh the alternate story of her birth, I don’t know. I suppose it was simply that I had the opportunity and a few beta waves washed over  my cerebral cortex, if I have one. Anyway, it went something like this.

“Fuchsia, it’s time you learned the truth of your birth story.”

“Oh here we go!”

“You know I only tell the truth, Fyoosh.”

“Of course. What’s my REAL birth story?”

“Well a very long time ago, let’s see, how old are you?”


“Yes, it was thirteen years ago that your parents were walking together through the alley behind the American Legion.”

“Uh huh. Sure they were.”

“They heard what they thought was a baby crying inside a green steel dumpster at the back of the restaurant.”

“Yeah, my parents did. They never walk anywhere. Sure.”

“Your mom told your dad to look inside. Maybe it was a cat, she thought. She held his foot and he stepped up and over the side of the dumpster, only to see a newborn baby with a banana peel on its adorably cute head.”

“And that was me, right?”

“Yes, so your dad wrapped you up in bubble wrap and newspaper to hold your warmth in. He gently handed you over to your new mom who instantly fell in love with this little alien baby.”

“So now I’m an alien?”

“Yes, after the formal adoption was done, they listed your birth parents as unknown aliens, possibly from another galaxy.”

“Oh my word! Where do you come up with this stuff?”

“It’s all true, Fyoosh. You can ask your parents.”

“Oh I will tell them about this alright. You’re crazy.”

“Yes, I’m sure this is hard for you, but one day you’ll thank me for this truth.”

The funny thing is that she did tell her parents every bit of the saga and any additional details that I added later. In fact, whenever I see her parents, which is a rare occurrence, they usually tell me how Fuchsia the dumpster baby is doing. “Not bad for an alien baby with a banana peel on her head”, says her mom with a smile and a sparkle in both eyes. Beautiful Fyoosh grew up to be a physician’s assistant. If I should ever need her services, I’ll be sure to address her formally as “Doctor Fuchsia”. It’s only proper. She earned that respect.

It is funny how little conversations and word play can become attached to an otherwise mundane existence. I like to think there is value added by jokes and stories and verbal silliness. It’s even ironic that 15 and 20 years later, this is what is easily recalled while the dull entrées of daily life are digested and long forgotten.

So there you go. Now blow up.



153. Porn and Rogaine

So it was another day in the classroom back in the day. The kids were working on preparing for the big debate. They were doing research on-line trying to find answers for their position or against the opponent’s position. Oh my word! It was exhausting to read and give feedback on point after point to seventh graders who were just learning how to think on a semi-adult level. Then Julie and Katrina came up for my check in on their progress. They had several pages of good material to support the question they were researching.

“Alright. This is good stuff. Hmmm, your printer prints both sides? Mine won’t do that.”

Katrina responded, “No, I printed on my mom’s recycled paper. She has tons of rough drafts pages stacked around her office.” Now it is critical to know that her mom is a romance writer. Actually a crotch novelist of local fame. Anyway, as I read the back side of these debate papers, I saw something like this…

“Raul touched her erogenously and repeatedly until pleasure roared through Charlotte like a steam engine through a Great Plains wild fire. Ecstasy welled up into her pulsing throat. Take me now, you wicked toreador! And Raoul maneuvered…”

I must have entered into panic mode because both girls said, “Mr. Burrito, you’re blushing! What’s wrong?”

I could only gasp, “Where are the rest of your notes? I need them all. All the double sided paper. Now.”

“Why? It’s just my mother’s…”

“Yeah, th- th- that’s it. I know.  I mean, I need to copy it, g-g-get it all one-sided.” My throat was dry and my heart beat hard. I’m holding a pile of soft porn in my hands and can’t figure out how to detox it without creating a circus attraction for two very innocent twelve year old girls.

“Mr. Burrito, you’re stuttering. Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’ll be right back.” I jogged down to the main office to the copier. I made a one-sided copy of all the papers while deep breathing and trying to figure out how to deal with this incident. I walked back to my classroom and gave the new one-sided copy to the girls, who greeted me suspiciously.

“Are we in trouble?”

“No, not at all. I, uh, I just need to check in with your mom.”

Katrina squirmed.

“It’s no big deal now. Don’t worry.”

Later that day I put all the passion pages into a fireproof manila envelope with a note that said something like “I appreciate your recycling efforts, but sometimes it’s better to save one’s dignity and use up another tree.”

A few days later I received a note and an autographed copy of the author’s latest thigh busting “novel”. Fortunately she found the humor in it all. I tried to read her romance. It was atrocious. For some reason the only song I can think of for a soundtrack to the movie version of the book would be Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub”. Pornography is the absence of intimacy; it’s so plastic and counterfeit that the ink drips off the pages. Ick.


Then there was Brad. I had him in homeroom, English, lunch, study hall, drama, and everywhere I turned. He was a nice kid in search of appropriate humor targets. Early on in that year he decided that telling me I needed Rogaine for my balding head was hilarious. Perhaps it was cute once. And I rolled with it for a while. After a few weeks, or was it months, I told him enough with the Rogaine. It just was annoying. He failed to comply.

One day I went to the assistant principal, Mr. Kirk, to discuss a scam involving Brad. I told him the back story and asked him if he’d go along with a punking the next morning. He agreed.

The next morning right on schedule Brad greeted me at 7:30 outside homeroom. He had no idea that he was about to release the furies of Hell and the Kracken of the deep.

“Rogaine, Mr. Burrito. Rogaine.”

I  sucked in a deep breath and put out my best acting job. I exploded, “Brad, that’s it with the Rogaine. I’ve told you again and again. This time is the last.”  I told him to come to the office with me.

He went from calm and cool to flushed and scared. “I’m sorry, Mr. Burrito. I won’t do it again. I swear I won’t. Please!. I was just kidding. Come on. No.” His cool façade was cracking.

I did not look at him for fear of breaking into uncontrolled laughter. I just walked faster into the assistant principal’s office. “Mr. Kirk, may I have a word with you?”

“Yes sir. What’s the matter?”

Brad was ready to confess to any unsolved crime and pee his pants. I shut the door and again had to bite my lip to keep from cracking up.

“This young man is Brad, the guy I told you about yesterday. He has a habit of telling me that I need Rogaine. I ‘ve repeatedly asked him to stop and he has not. I’d like you to take it from here.”

I sat back and let Kirk take it from there. He was not a large man, but he sucked all of his 5’ 6″ frame up in front of Brad.

“You think baldness is funny?”

“Oh no. I di-di-didn’t mean anything I said….”

“Do you think this man can help it if his hair falls out?”

“No, no, I, I, I. I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.”

Kirk picked up the phone. “Do you want me to call your parents?”

“No,no, please don’t. I’ll do whatever you want. Don’t do that. I swear…”

Brad was spent. I believe he was so stressed out that he was having an out of body experience. He had dissociated into an altered state of being.

Kirk rambled on about some other official sounding stuff and asked me if we’d gone far enough. I agreed that we had and left with Brad. We walked next to one another on the return trip. He was in a daze. I said to Brad, “You have been Rogained, my friend.”

He was still stunned and just said, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

I tried to explain to him that he had just been scammed, but he was losing consciousness in the hallway and sort of mumbling and stumbling along like an over- medicated homeless guy. He kept muttering, “I’m so sorry. Man, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

I almost felt some guilt. Nahh.