Monday, May 23, 2011

Just Met You, How's Life?

When you roll with Moe, you have to be prepared to wing it at any moment. Seeing we survived the rapture and a spaghetti rush, we went for the one. Sidenote: Moe and I work at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and “went for the one” means we went for a drink (ref: “Don’t Go For The One” by the Irish band Gaelic Storm). So when we wind up at a condo making small talk with two new friends, it blindsides me that in every sense of the word I have undoubtedly fallen into the definitive of Moe’s “wingman”, for the night.

“She doesn’t usually talk to guys this long, or even find them interesting enough to talk to them”, Nina’s friend explaining the anomaly of Nina’s intrigue with Moe. She indulges in a cigarette, exhales a stream of smoke over her left shoulder. “What, don’t fuckin’ judge me”, she goes on. I laugh, not because it’s directly funny, but because of how insecure smoking has become since the 90’s. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, doesn’t mean I’m against it, but God forbid you don’t have one in your hand while someone else does… because you’ve directly put yourself in the aim of any suppressed guilt they’ve been harboring for weeks, maybe months.

Nina’s friend, we’ll call her Haley, gets caught in the view off of the balcony we’re sitting on. “So, you’re leaving for Los Angeles, that’s cool. Good for you”, making one of her more genuine statements. “Yeah, the ceiling’s higher over there. This past winter nearly knocked the fun out of everything.” At this point, Haley and I go mute, basking in the resolve of our friends making a random connection throughout the evening and the simplicity that we don’t have to stand each other while it all goes down. She finishes her cigarette, “Here, let’s go”. I follow her from the balcony through Moe & Nina’s conversation in the living room, to a nicely furnished hallway of hanging pictures and the cleanest bathroom I’ve seen in weeks. We dodge Moe & Nina and duck it into her quarters.

The room wreaks of femme fabulous. Upon first sight, I had already spotted several posters of Marilyn Monroe and a dvd case of the movie Closer. I have walked into the exact opposite of a man-cave. I’m too observant for my own good when it comes to other people’s space. I make snap judgments, illustrate stories out of simple pictures, begin to guess where they’re at in life by the condition of the d├ęcor (if any at all), generate an idea of who they are based from their own living quarters. You’re room may not say it all… but it says something, right? Feel free to key in on the fact that I’m judging a book by its cover (or judging a personality by it's dwelling). Eh, I’d say it’s more for entertainment and imagination than to seriously base someone off of their choice of IKEA or Crate & Barrel.

There’s something off. Nah, not a mechanical feature, but something’s off with the aesthetic in here. The Marilyn Monroe’s lead it on. Above the posters is a horizontal stretch of poster with old musicians, actors, and artists... passed away. Belushi, Sinatra, Elvis, on and on. 20’s something folk might have a few pieces of memorabilia or pictures of dead artists draping the walls, but the “off” tint here is all of the artists are deceased. Haley leaves the room, says something to the affect of brushing her teeth or checking in with Nina- it kinda muted out as I was drawn into the pictures on the wall. The Dr. Strange vibe in the room is telling me to get the hell outta dodge and let Moe find his own way out, but one last frame caught my eye: an ultra-old 80’s pic of a bombshell gorgeous woman and a child. Woman could’ve been an actress, or model for those days. The color of the photo less suggested, more gripped your attention to notice the time & place it was taken was, and still is, important. Looking more closely, you see its weight only lies with the owner of the picture. She didn’t pick it up at a back-to-school poster sale, or on the discount rack at Target…

Haley enters the room. “Who’s this?” I ask. “My mother” she answers. All within less than a minute of me tediously viewing no deeper than the frame, it’s clear in her voice that her mother isn’t with us anymore. “Tell me a story about your parents”, she asks. Shit. I’m stuck now, and I haven’t talked about my father for a hot minute. Things have been so well, that I haven’t even had to clam up about the guy or explain to anyone how raw the past has gone with him and is about to with my mother.

“Well, my mom just got out of major surgery. I take care of her at the house, run a half-dozen loads of laundry a day, and my dad and I are estranged 29 days a month.” I could go on and on, and I do. It’s amazing how much we shield our vulnerability until someone else is willing to roll up their sleeves and show you they have the same cards as you. There’s comfort in that- comfort in being able to break bread with someone on relating similar pasts with different characters, beyond sympathy and setting foot on empathy- it’s crazy how quickly we can connect with other human beings when we give up that shield. Plus, how the f--- can you hold a shield to a woman that has pictures of her deceased mother in her room- “So,  you’re mother…?” doing my best to keep momentum, Haley responds with the background on a story book romance between her parents, so much I smile without knowing it. Y’know the moments you begin to smile unconsciously, don’t know you’re doing it, and when you realize that you are, you try and shut it down for fear that you might be creeping out everyone in the room . Shiiiiiit son, unconscious smiles are the best. That shiz right there is high power evidence we gravitate to the positive. The world spins on that shit… so yeah, don’t drop the smile.

In the end, Haley explains how her mother died at the hands of a drunk driver. I immediately think of Chase, every irresponsible choice I’ve partaken or observed in the past year, and a few other things. I don’t know, shit got to me. Started out wingman’ing for Moe, and ended up having a heart to heart with someone I’d known for less than 4 hours. Haley & I fall asleep to watching Closer, I wake up, wake up Moe, and we make the early morning walk of shame to my car.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New/Old Headquarters

Back at the new/old headquarters (Espresso Royale, Downtown, Mpls), I’m happy to say my job hasn’t occupied the recesses of my life, and travelling is back in motion. When I arrived in Oshkosh last weekend, the counting game went from how many people are in the coffeeshop with a hangover to how many people have asked me “where’s your show at this weekend?” But there was no show, just hours of kick-it time with Jarvis and unbeknownst bass player, Jon.

I’ve become accustomed to Sid, the four-year old I work with, sitting on my lap and slowly turning toward me afterward to say “I farted on you”. I don’t think I knew when or if I did fart at the age of four. New Orleans was such a blur that I can only recall the really intense shit, none of the simplicities… like farting on paraprofessionals. Then again, we’re talkin’ New Orleans circa 1986, when it was smack dab next to Mississippi for the worst public education in the country, so perhaps paraprofessionals didn’t exist then for any four-year olds to fart on. Getting back to the subject, I can put up with the emotional/social disorder of pre-K to 5th grade and not let it bleed into the rest of my afternoons spent writing and conniving with Dr. Wylie, mixtape producer.

My dad visits next month, and for the first time in a long time, I’m pretty damn excited. No money, no pressure, no expectations, I actually look forward to just sittin’ down with the guy and kickin’ it. Let’s talk Libya, Ghadafi’s Eazy-E hair cut, why you think Obama’s a black George W. Bush with a tan, you’re daughter’s marrying a guy you’ve met half-a-dozen times- do you remember his last name? Y’know the usual conversation between a father & son… right;)

The band and I head to Milwaukee, then Oshkosh, then Milwaukee, then Chicago in a few months and round up back in Minneapolis. Well, Mpls will be cancelled if I can’t hear back from the booking mgr at Cause to fill me in on what the % is at the door. It’s been a week, and I’ve heard several different things so far…  well, everything but a solid answer- which is understandable seeing he’s just started booking at Cause. Stay tuned… however, I’m f----n excited as a 2 year old at Hannukah for the release of this next mixtape: Makin’ Mistakes & Feelin’ Great. ‘Twill be the shiz.

Ok, I’m getting back to writing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sid Did It #3

Out of respect, all the names of the people I work with & for have been changed.

3. The smile on his face stretches further than his earlobes and makes his eyes squint near closed. An off-shoot of the Joker’s illegitimate son, he laughs without the smile budging. You would only tell his diaphragm is pushing by the rapid-convulsing of his chest from the uncontainable giggles hiccupping from him. All I can do for him now is watch over him and correct his path when it diverges from the thick straight line academia has set for him, here at Hawthorne. No, Hawthorne is not the real name of the middle school I work at, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Hawthorne sounds like an old dead white guy that possibly did something worthwhile in his lifetime, enough to be championed after a middle school, bridge, or building.

Back to Nathaniel, with the smiling, immutable giggling, twitching movements and such… He’s 11, three times the age of Sid, and is growing into man-strength with each passing adolescent hour. I’ve contained kids who haven’t grown as quick as Nathaniel, or were just generally younger than him, who were easy to physically restrain when/if an outburst occurred. Restraining Nathaniel intimidates me. Not for fear of what he’d do to me, but of the amount of force it would take to calm him down.

This isn’t everyday for Nathaniel. Usually he’s self-controlled, calm, easy-going… However, circumstances today have conjured different. After a sleep-over with a friend last night, Nathaniel missed taking his medication. While I keep an eye on him in his physical education class, one of the paraprofessionals arranges to take him home to pick up his meds.

2. He sits in a chair atop a plethora of torn papers like a mad scientist given up on recent plans for world domination. Relative to pupils dialating amongst sunlight for the first time in days, he shudders at the sight of me- disgusted with sight of me- literally twitches his face from any view of me. Silence fills the small slice of atmosphere between us.

I know why he’s here, but I ask anyways “What’s goin’ on?”. “They put me in here for no reason. I didn’t do anything.” He divulges his story to me. Quite complex it is: blame, physical retroaction, and an error of total miscommunication.

He finishes his story, I strike to the point: “What are all these papers doing on the floor?” He explains he tore his math book to shreds after the debacle occurred between him and authorities.

“Larry”, as I lean in. He finally turns to me. “Your in the 5th grade. Does that look like something a 5th grader would do?” He replies with a small “no”. “Actually I might be painting the picture too broad, here. Does this look like something Larry would do”. He replies again with a small “no”. “You goin’ to junior high next year? Because things like this don’t get better.” I grab a piece of the torn papers on the ground and begin to draw a diagram. In the middle I write “Larry”, and to the bottom right of his name I write “general”. Then to the bottom left, I write “personal”. I detail the words with lines and arrows. “See this- these are your options. In the split second before they place you in here again, if it happens, these are the first two choices you can make before it all goes down. You either take it personal, or you let it roll off your shoulder- let it slide into the general bucket of things people say, do, reply, etc. As time goes on, you’ll get better at making the initial discrepancy between the two, but what I’m afraid of is next year- junior high. You get tested today, great- but in there they test you by the minute; social dysfunctions, hierarchies, status, popularity- it gets ugly. Kids excommunicate each other over fashion & arrogance. Yeah, yeah, maybe I went a bit overkill, or either flashbacked hard to my junior high years, but I had to tell Larry like it is. Learn how to not take it personal, now, and have the advantage to control your emotions later. You’re a smart kid, you’ll figure it out.” Stand up, push my chair back to it’s table, and get outta his bubble (which for Larry, is approximately 10 ft. On the spectrum, he’s spot-on Asperger’s. Eye contact, physical touch, or anything in their space is uber-limited. Where someone has crossed the line with me, they’ve already crossed it 5 times with Larry.)

He stops my en route to leaving the “Time-Out” Room he’s been placed in…

Sidenote on the “Time-Out” Room: I don’t really have any other words for it. It’s the room right next to the classroom I work in. Commandeered by an elderly woman with a straight gangster demeanor and a no-tolerance game face for bullshit, backtalk, and blame. Putting it sweetly, she doesn’t f--- around. We’ll call her Ms. 100 in honor of the “Time-Out” room from my alma mater middle school, Jefferson Open. The “Time-Out” Room was Room 100, all feared, none returned from it the same.

... “Hey, once I learn Japanese, I think I’m going to go to Japan for a little bit”. “You’re learning Japanese?” I reply. “Yeah”. Larry doesn’t lie. He’ll hold to his perspective on an issue, but he won’t intentionally bend it. So when he says he’s learning Japanese… the kid’s teaching himself Japanese. I leave the room, the door swings a sliver to show him fidgeting with the piece of paper I’d drawn on. Christ, that kids a genius.

1. He swings his knee to snap the toe of his foot towards the thin make-shift wall. BOOM BOOM BOOM goes the rage of Tetsuo. He’s stalled out on his writing work for over 30 minutes, and we now have to take him to Room 100. Sometimes Tetsuo enters calmly, sometimes like a raging bull. Today it’s the bull. Ms. Finnegan demands him to stop kicking the make-shift wall before it goes down in splinters. I pull him away from the wall, he twists back to kick the other wall, Ms. Finnegan grabs his legs and demands he stops. I stay mute. Words at this point don’t count for s--- in Tetsuo’s book. He won’t have them, their weightless. Only action speaks. His only translation to say f--- you to the academia that’s failed him so far, is to make noise, defy whatever’s ben told him, and break a m-----f------n wall to pieces. I’d do the same… if I were still 9.

The fit continues, escalates- at this point Ms Finnegan and I have wrestled Tetsuo to the ground. He’s screaming at this point, as a mute child enters Rm. 100 to spectate the public rage being restrained. The mute kid begins slapping his belly, making inaudible words & grunts, all the while smiling. His paraprofessional grabs him quickly to take him to another alternative space. However, the fire continues from Tetsuo.

We remove his shoes, so kicking isn’t an option, hold him by his arms, so to keep ourselves from getting decked- the big “but” is we can’t keep him from banging his head against the wall. I can scoot only so much while sitting on the floor holding his arms. Ms. Finnegan is occupied enough with holding his legs without catching a heel to the chin. Tetsuo seems to maneuver his head into the wall no matter what we try. Finally I muster him to the center of the room, on a wall-less oasis where he the fit can subside… and then his body twists- for one last energetic push to flail out of our grasp, Tetsuo maneuvers yet-again his head into a wall. At this point, the fit has gone beyond emotion, and has turned to physical- deprication. I notice, for a split second at a time, Tetsuo’s eyes roll back into his head every time he bangs it against the wall. It’s almost as if he’s getting off on the pain.

By simple coincidence, Ms. Grey, a staff member swoops to the rescue. She shifts herself into sitting against the wall Tetsuo had favored and begins rubbing the temples of his head. “I wanna bang my head against the wall!!!! I can do whatever I want!!!! I’m going to bite you!!!! I will bite you!!!!”, screams Tetsuo.

Ms. Grey administering the head massage, “Does banging your head against the wall feel good?” “It calms me! It makes me feel better!... (sobbing)”. Tetsuo’s anger begins to dethrone. He comes back to us, still wrapped in my arms, Ms. Finnegan now letting go of his legs, and Ms. Grey still giving him a head massage. She asks him what pressure points help, and which ones he usually tries to hit when he bangs his head against the wall. Tetsuo and Ms. Grey dialogue until he’s broken down to simple sobbing.

Call it empathy, sympathy, or the reality of holding a 9 year old kid kicked out of several institutions on his last academic leg at an absolute emotional stand still… weeping for his own self-control and the giant misinterpretation between him and everyone else, but I begin to cry as well. Neither Ms. Grey or Ms. Finnegan notices- hell I don’t even think I noticed- on the precipice of tears and emotional control, I pull it back together, watch Ms. Grey do the talking, and suggest that Tetsuo finish his homework once the moment has plateau’d.

0. Since working with Sid had gone so well at the Pre-Kindergarten, my higher-ups had suggested me to mentor a kid in the middle school nearby. The kid I was assigned to was Tetsuo, but in the effort of maintaining the peace amongst his entire class, the assignment has blurred to pretty much every kid and situation in the classroom. If you had to pin point it, the assignment’s entirety is to create a successful means of communication between teacher and student. The reason why most of these kids are in my room is because of a frayed line of communication between teacher-agenda and student-agenda.

Walking Nathaniel from physical education to his music class, a kid stops us in the hallway- “Are you Nathaniel’s father?” I give him an emotion-less face and reply “no”. “Then what’s your name?”… again with the emotion-less face “Don’t worry about it”.