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.”

“How?”

“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.”

“Whatdyado?”

“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.

 

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202. Somewhere, somehow, someday or something like that

I enjoy a good challenge. So every once in a while I give myself a creative writing challenge. Of course, I reserve the right to cheat and edit later. I think that’s why I enjoyed teaching drama to seventh graders.  It was always a ridiculous challenge to pull off a twenty minute mini-play in a 24 x 30 foot classroom with 28 desks that was still being used everyday for teaching English. The drama kids were randomly grouped in units of 25 or so from all ability levels. And we had six school weeks to learn basics, pick a play, audition, build sets, gather props, rehearse and perform four shows. Now every once in a while my students wanted to write their own short plays, usually a micro version of a movie or well known story. I know what you are thinking: IMPOSSIBLE!!

And so it was that one of my most memorable groups rolled in at the end of a long school year with their plans. “We want to put on Monte Python’s Holy Grail.”

“Okay, make me a believer. How on earth are you going to pull this off?” Notice I took no ownership of their play. However, as I learned later, I did not need to own it. They’d been thinking about it all year long and were stoked. After some squirrelly discussion and voting, we selected three scenes connected by a narrator. (Always be suspicious of any movie or play that needs a narrator to hold it together, folks.)

The first scene was the famous Black Knight butchering deal. I was curious how the kids would work it out, but the Black Knight (Paul) was dressed in black hockey gear with a little sword and shield from the Renaissance Faire. As the goodly knights approached and he challenged them, they hacked off a piece of his anatomy while chasing him behind the set. When he reappeared, he would have one less appendage. It was just clever enough to work as stupid humor. On his last cycle he came out on a skate board that a stage hand pulled along. All of his limbs were neatly tucked in his hockey uniform. The impish knight continued to challenge his superior swordsmen as they rode on toward more fitting conquests.

As we moved into scene two, liberally adapted from the stupidest movie ever made, the clip-clopping horseless knights got lost and didn’t know what to do. One turned to the other and said, “What should we do, Sir Dim Wit?”  ” I don’t know, Sir Flat You Lance. Let’s call God”, which he promptly did on his cell phone. In two seconds God’s answering machine picked up. This was actually Corey on a ladder with his head up above the ceiling tiles. “Hello, you have reached Gawd. I am not here right now, so leave me a message and I’ll get right back atcha.” Not very Godlike but very Coreylike. Their little buddies were laughing hysterically at these boys living out a low budget fantasy on stick ponies in gaudy robes with wooden shields and aluminum foil swords.

One of the problems with the production was what roles were the 10 or 12 girls to play since all the other roles were male. They solved  that problem by reinventing the castle siege scene as occurring at the curiously titled, Castle of the Babes. The set had 10 or 12 windows cut into it for each girl to speak through. The horseless knights did verbally parry with the Babes ensconced in the castle wall. The drama built up, well, very dramatically. The girls refused to cooperate with these craven knights’ demands. I don’t remember what they were demanding, not that it made any sense anyway.  They probably asked for pizzas and dates. As the scene reached its climax, the horseless knights attacked but were repelled by unlit marshmallows pelting them all over. One of the knights cried out, “I’ve been hit!” Then he ate the marshmallow projectile and announced. “You know, that’s not bad.” Then he and the other knights began eating the marshmallows as the lights dimmed. You gotta love that… rolling with and then eating the punches.

The final scene was a confabulation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets Monte Python’s Holy Grail meets Austin Powers, BABY. The knights were gathered inside the inner sanctum of the holy castle along with the Bishop of Cranberry, who was dressed in a red robe and a ridiculously tall party cone hat. He spoke all Boris Karloffy style to the knights about no one being worthy of the grail. In the center of our stage was a table with various cups on it. Each knight said something ironic and then drank his not so lucky cup. Each one died a sudden and disturbing death. They looked like hockey players in a figure skating death spiral. Amidst the unsettling carnage the Bishop took off his cone hat, revealing the true grail from which he sipped. “Oh dear,” he muttered to himself, “I must have forgotten to put this one out.” At that cue the Babes came around and began an instant dance party with the only man alive, the rockin’ Bishop and his bubbly cranberry juice. The 20 minute mini-play that was antithetical to all things holy and of good breeding was finally over. The audience exploded in joy.

I still laugh out loud at how much fun we had doing such bad work. Our disclaimer at the end was this, “No animals were hurt during the production of this play; only humans were.” And  that was one of my favorite moments in public education.

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.

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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.