Punchlines and rimshots
So its 27 years ago, and I'm standing, finally, in “high school”, and I'm looking around, and I'm angry, of course, because I was always angry.
This time I was angry because, natch, the high school I was in was the mortal enemy of the one I had thought I'd be in. Worse, it was featured in a big ole spread in life magazine that year, as a model school.
I had developed a trick. I learned to be angry all the time, and still have fun, still laugh, still seem to be enjoying things and involved in things.
I became a smart ass. The sort that ya either love or can't stand. Never any in between.
I hated my life. Everything about it sucked. but, what was I gonna do, I figured.Responsibility had been ingrained in me — and I knew, first hand, all too well, the impact on those around me that suicide could have.
My Grandfather. 7 years earlier. The TB was a pretty tough bugger. When they came and told him they'd need to put him in an iron lung because the one quarter of a lung he had left was down, he said screw it.
I played quietly while everyone wept. I didn't remember him.
It haunts a family. Colors everything. Makes you paranoid.
So I did what I was supposed to do, and I made do.
I stumbled through life, and became divested of it. It became like some strange split inside me, where I watched myself as a director would. My own private 1st person shooter.
These days, I'd be considered a risk student — the sort that would come to school with a weapon and have at it. The school grounds were perfect for a takeover by military force. It was an idle exercise — something to think about.
There was no bond here. It was alien, and so I stopped using my nickname I'd used all my life. Switched to my first name. Wouldn't except anything but it.
Eventually I made friends. I do that. I can be incredibly open and cheerful and note reveal a damn thing about myself. Its a “gift of gab” — a reason why I'm good at the whole customer service thing, and why I was able to handle being the person people went to for complaining about problems.
I don't remember much of it, any more. I remember the emotion of it. I remember being that miserable. That was the last year I went to Sedona until I was going to Join the Army.
The group I fell in with was a peculiar mixture of *almost* theatre geeks, but not quite. Among them was a tall, red headed kid that was vaguely familiar. He recognized me. Came to school one day with a photo of he and I together from 2nd grade.
I had no recollection. I smiled and said “sure, yeah…”
We became close. He was exploring his sexuality, and I was avoiding anything about mine. There's a lot of humor about that to me know.
He was an adopted son. Felt an outcast. Wasn't “right”, although, like myself, he'd adapted.
He was wild, errant, brilliant.
We compared genitals one day. I didn't care, but he was fascinated. IT meant nothing to me, except that it was the last time I ever exposed myself to anyone, because the attention there upset me for weeks. I wasn't aroused, as he was, I wasn't anything. I was repulsed.
I never looked at it, barely acknowledged it, thought it was the most miserable thing in the universe when it all by itself would do things that humiliated me.
When I was little, I used to roll it up. Tight little thing, all rolled up and tucked away. I used to try and pull it off — it became such a habit that at night I'd walk around idly tugging at it trying to get it off. Into my preteen years. In front of strangers.
I did like that I could write with it, though. I thought that was cool.
I threw myself into whatever it was I did, until the obsession wore off, and then I'd move on to the next one. One summer I read the entire encyclopedia set we had bought for Christmas. All 40 some odd volumes. Cover to cover.
This friend would, in his senior year, come out as gay. It wasn't a surprise, although I was blamed for it a little. There was, of course, a girl. HE tried to get her to like him, told me to back off, and I did. She wasn't interested.
But she did find me interesting. She was absolutely and utterly stunning.Flawless, beautiful skin the color of dark chocolate and eyes you could fall into. A body that turned every head, regardless of gender. And, of all the people in this school, she liked me. It was a mistake.
I wanted to be her. But, since I couldn't, I made do. We dated for three months. Would park in her car and neck. She encouraged me to go for more than just kissing and holding. I wasn't interested. And, inevitably, I would fall asleep. Just holding her. Feeling her body against mine. Feeling how alien my was against hers. I loved the idea of her. Deeply.
She broke up withy me on my birthday. Publicly. Embarrassingly. I didn't forgive her until, oh, 2001?
There was another girlfriend. The only typical one I'd have until I married. I let it happen. I didn't care. When I finally got around to having sex, it was, like everything else in my life, late and absurdist in flavor.
I was 18, out of high school by my own arrogance, with a girl that was known to be something of a tramp. It was night. A park. A dark, open spot, lower than the area surrounding it.
A little league game was going on in the distance, and, dead serious — a home run was hit. And the whole time I was thinking “this is it? This is all? WTF is the big idea?”
That torrid sequence continued for a while. She opted out preggo and vanished. No clue if it was mine, and she denied it. I found I like the physical release, it relieved tension. Was a lot of work, but eh wth. Make do.
I did poorly in High school, really. No one dared flunk me, but C and D were common. An A if I liked the class and the teacher. Math I hated. Still do. I flunked Algebra. Got an A in geometry. Same teacher. I flunked Algebra again. Got an A in trig. Still the same teacher.
I had a creative writing teacher who also taught media and some other classes. I liked him. A lot. And he liked me. HE wrote a column for the local paper. One day, he dictated to the class what the subject of their writing would be. IT was annoying, so myself and three other students wrote a declaration of independence, got up, read it aloud, and then walked out of his class — two months into the semester.
I got congratulations and mention in the paper, and an A in the class.
For one kind of daily homework that examined issues in the media, I used comic strips, clipped out that morning, and an essay on each demonstrating how it dealt with the issues and subjects of the day. It was easy, took me 15 minutes. I did it before class.
He challenged me on each one, and each time I showed him how The wizard of Id, BC or Hagar or Peanuts or Family Circle or Funky Winkerbean for that day reflected some aspect of the society around them and the issues of the day. Drove him nuts. He wanted magazine articles, newspaper clippings, serious journalism.
And he got comic strips.
That was the kind of student I was. The world, to me, was a total joke. It had to be. I questioned God, religion, Philosophy. Nothing had meaning or truth or value. Because nothing could explain to me why I was the butt of such a cruel joke, when all I wanted was to wake up the next day a girl.
Each day I awoke, and checked. And started my day depressed and pissed off. And each night I'd try something new, a different way, a prayer a wish a deal God the devil Ahura Mazda, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, the spirits of hearth and home, inanna, Shiva.
In my Senior year, at the end of the first semester, I was in a government class. The teacher asked a question, and from the back of the room I popped out a smart ass answer. He said it was wrong. I stood up and said no, and explained why it wasn't and why he was wrong.
He suggest that if I knew so much, I just go prove it and test out.
I said ok, and went and took the GED over three days, walking 4 miles to get to it. Scored in the 98% and took it in to him, thinking he'd pass me so I wouldn't have to sit there and listen to him corrupt the ideas of the nation. He sent me to the office, and I was escorted off the campus. I had, in that act, graduated myself.
I sure showed him.
For a couple months I pretended like it was just biz as usual, but grew bored, Sitting in a school when all your friends are in class is a pain, and you no longer have the bonds. So, one day, I packed a couple bags and stole some money from my mother (who had, by this time gone back to college herself) and caught a bus up to Sedona.
I hiked to the headwaters of Oak Creek. Camped, illegally, one night. And then started following the creek.
Oak creek to Verde, Verde to Salt, Salt into Phoenix. I ate trout and berries, I drank river water, I swam and hiked and enjoyed a thing that was not only highly illegal but incredibly dangerous.
I escaped. No one knew.
I missed prom. I was huddled in a narrow and shallow indentation, cold and tired, looking up and the stars and finally getting the cosmic joke and the amazing and incredible wonder of it all.
When I walked into the house, my feet killing, no one was home. I showered, threw my clothes away, went to bed.
It was suggested I join the Army by my step father. The ostensible threat in this was that if I didn't, I'd be cut out of the will. Which was a joke that both of us knew, because I was never in any will.
So I went tot he recruiter and I said I want to join. They said what do you want to do, and I said blow things up. They suggested nuclear something or other– lots of money. I said no, I want to blow shit up. We settled for bomb squad. I figured that ws even better. I could get blown to bits. Better than suicide.
I shaved for the first time in my lie the first morning of Basic training. When my head was shaved, I watched the 10 and 15 inch hairs fall to the ground. I had been blessed with great wavy curly hair all my life. Like my nails, they were always cooed over.
I figured it would grow back.
The joke wasn't over yet.
Made it through basic, headed to redstone, trained, and was picked as an aide. To a JAG. Entered CID. Went to Germany, worked at the foot of the all. Went into infantry training. Mortar. Ranger. Air assault. Airborne. Headed to Hawaii. Tropical Lightning.
On a trip to the Philippines, I was playing Soccer with the unit. Blocked a kick by the captain. Cracked my ankle. Cast.
I didn't see the Major, and he knew it.
15, general under honorable, and I was damn glad it was over.
Went home to find my brother had recently joined the Navy. As part of a deal to avoid a possessions charge, as he'd started doing and dealing — the exact things I had been arresting and undercover breaking up.
I ended up moving into a crappy trailer in the middle of nowhere with my best friend from high school, a tall, overweight kid whom no one but me would ever give the time of day to. Apparently, I treated him like a human being instead of the fat kid.
He had an acid tongue and a wit that could kick in and eviscerate you. I was frequently a target — not out of anger or anything, just because we had that sort of a friendship. We could say anything to each other and the other wouldn't mind.
I accepted him for who he was. Just like I did with everyone. It was the least I could do — lord knows I was never given that.
HE gave me a job in his family gas station pumping gas, because I didn't give a hoot. I researched franchise structures for thousands of restaurants for my step father.
Eventually, went up north, lived in a motorhome, wrote contracts, did oddjobs, and, again, walked the back ways and free spaces of my beloved red rocks.
Then it was suggested I go to college, so away to Tucson I went. I'd done IS in the Army in anthropology and religion through, of all places, BYU. Went into elementary education. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
had to pay for it. Wasn't very good at that part.
Kept going, met a girlfriend who was sorta bi. She was, like all the others, the kind of girl I wanted to be — almost.
The years rolled by, every night and morning the same. Degree here, degree there.
Job here, job there.
Managed restaurants. Did it as a consulting gig – 90 to 120 days in this place, same in the next.
Hit a snag in school called campus politics. That smart ass thing again.
Left. Went to a career college, took Restaurant management. No brainer. managed a few strip clubs.
Finally hit a dry spell, ran out of money, and went home to my mothers. Did the restaurant thing a couple more times, met a new best friend, reconnected with the old crew from high school (who had all gone to Tucson as well)…
My old best friend came to me one day and confessed he was gay. No biggie. I was his crush.
Took four hours to talk through that one.
And still never even hinted at anything.
Burnout hit finally. the old bet friend and I were living together, and suddenly one day I got up and started writing. I stopped only to eat, drink, get rid of that, and pass out for 2 hours at a time. 6 weeks later I had a novel.
It sucked horribly.
I finished it though. I got up, went down stairs, made a cocktail of cleaning chemicals, and drank it.
It was about a superhero by the name of Tony. He met a villain. She turned him into a girl. He dealt with that.
I'd reached the punchline.