Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Have Had All These Weird Thoughts

1. When I was little, I used to run after flushing the toilet, because I thought if I didn't make it back to my bed in time before the water stopped running, something was going to "git me." Heart pounding, I always made it into bed just in time, so I never found out what that something was.
2. A while back I became convinced that I had an asymmetrical face, and the reason I could not noticed it in a mirror or photographs was because of the asymmetry of my eyes, which "corrected" the flaw and made it look normal from my viewpoint. Of course, everyone else noticed it and tried not to stare.
3. During a trip to see the Grateful Dead in Cincinnati at age 19, I believed that the burger I'd eaten had reformed inside my stomach and was causing me grief because it remembered its origins as a cow. Later, I saw a woman carrying a sack and decided that the sack was filled with stolen ankles.
4. When I sit on my front porch I cannot help but trace in my mind imaginary railings where railings ought to be were the porch appropriately child-proofed. I do this sort of thing with all railings and fences (absent the childproofing aspect) if I think they don't look "complete."
5. I can "try on" just about any stranger's face and know what they are feeling and who they are innately, but the faces of some close friends elude me.
6. Sometimes I think if I were just hit on the head with a brick or a falling piece of architecture I would become an artistic genius.
7. When swimming in the lap pool I have occasionally worried that the person swimming behind me is going to try to bite my feet.
8. I still have the delusion that I might wake up and this will all be a dream. I'll still be in kindergarten. But then I'll have to suffer through 9th grade again. But this time I will be extremely savvy and wise. I'll show those rotten buggers!
9. Does the manner in which we were conceived ever determine a part of our personality?
10. As a child I used to think that at the end of our lives we might be shown a video during which our most embarrassing secrets were revealed.
11. One time I was fairly convinced that the squirrels and the pigeons at Madison Square Park were mating and producing some very unpleasant looking squidgeons.
12. Rutabagas, turnips, and other unattractive vegetables can communicate with one another.
13. You can speak to cats and dogs by placing your hands atop your head like ears and moving them about.
14. If I think hard enough about you right now, you might get a little jolt to the duodenum or the medusa oblongata.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Mint Incident

My company has a health center on the premises, which is super convenient except for the fact that the doctors and nurse who work there are all a bit cracked. I was having weird leftover symptoms from what I believed to be the Swine Flu, so I went down yesterday and visited the doctor.

A white-haired old crank with red-rimmed eyes, he made some stupid jokes and then asked me what my symptoms were. I explained that I had an extremely painful, stiff neck. Doctor so-and-so asked me to sit down and put my head between my knees, and then he put a hand on my forehead and "whipped" my face up rapidly.

"Does that make you feel dizzy?" he barked. Why, yes, it does. And thanks for giving me whiplash.

"No fever, no throat redness. You're fine! Go back to work! Stiff neck is from lying in bed all week!"

But sir, I did not "lie in bed all week." He wasn't having none of it. I think he had to get back to his bourbon in the desk drawer.

Today, I was having even worse symptoms, including swollen joints all over my body, so I went back down to the health center. I was hoping the same doctor would be sleeping off last night's binge, and I could see one of the other weird yet more approachable women who work there. But there he was, hunched over a desk and ordering more Viagra from Canada.

The same nurse/receptionist had me fill out a form and took me into the same office to take the same vital signs. Except this time, I had a mint in my mouth--plucked from a bowl in the waiting room. Since she needed to take my temperature, I took it out and searched in vain for a trash can. Then I spotted a large metal one in the corner, flipped up the lid, and threw the mint in. The nurse/receptionist turned around just in time to see me do it, and her mouth fell open.

"That's the medical waste can!"


She snatched a paper towel from the dispenser and held it out to me. I took it gingerly, and looked at her.

"Go in there and get that mint," she said. "That's not the garbage."

I stepped on the footplate to open the medical waste bin and peered inside. There was my mint, resting amongst a pile of bloody bandages, rubber gloves, used tissue, and other offal.

"You want me to go in and get the mint? In the medical waste container?"

She nodded. I threw down the paper towel and walked out. I think I said something like, "I'm outta here!" On the way out I saw Creepy Doctor Whitehair, waiting for the appointment. He looked rheumy-eyed and fresh from a recent bender. He made a kind of surprised chuckle as he saw me go, and then turned back to his computer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Several years ago, I submitted this piece to a teacher magazine at my place of work for their "End of the Day" column. "End of the Day" usually featured mawkish, sentimental stories about how a teacher had changed a child's life for the better. Several consecutive issues ran stories for "End of the Day" that were about how troubled children had made a dramatic turnaround. At their best, they were heartwarming. At their worst, they made one slightly apprehensive that the children described were still at large in society. I packaged up the following story with the requisite SASE and delivered it, via mail, to the executive editor at the time. She was taken with the unusual nature of the tale, and passed it on to the then Editor-in-Chief. After much debate it was deemed unsuitable for publication due to the violence in the story. "It doesn't send the right message," the Editor-in-Chief said. "Some teachers might even find this slightly...offensive?" The real perpetrator was later revealed, causing my coworkers to mistrust me to this very day.

You be the judge of poor Mooky! Discovering this in the files has led me to the belief that a life without pranks is a life wasted.

By Henrietta Figglesworth

During my first year of teaching, there was one special child who touched my heart and helped me to remember why I chose this noble profession. His name was Mooky.

Mooky was an unusually gifted child. He constantly astounded me and his classmates with his thoughtful responses, his wisecracking, and his artistic skills. Although Mooky was born without a nose and any predisposition for social skills, he did not let it get him down. He often lashed out uncontrollably, sometimes spearing other children with the scissors or filling students’ mouths with glue. Occasionally, Mooky would go into the corner and gnaw on his own arm. More often, however, he would viciously bite other children on the nose. I knew why—Mooky felt himself to be different, and he wanted the other kids to be just like him: noseless. His rather unconventional habits did nothing to mar the image of the bright, beautiful child that I, as his teacher, saw.

The other children were often cruel, and made fun of Mooky. “How would you like it if you were born without a nose?” I admonished them. “You’d probably bite people, too!” I had trouble keeping my temper in check, but Mooky’s sunny countenence never dimmed. One day, however, I saw him sitting alone outside the classroom. I went up and sat with him. Mooky looked up at me with tear-filled eyes. “I’m a biter, aren’t I?” he asked. “Yes, Mooky,” I said gently. “But we’re all special in our own special ways.”

Since Mooky was unable to smell, he had a great deal of pent-up rage at others who had that gift. I sometimes saw him in the school garden, trying vainly to shove daisies up the nostrils of other children. “Smell this!” he screamed, spittle flying from his lips. I knew that Mooky was troubled, but he was my special angel. A child like no other.

I recommended to Mooky’s parents that they purchase him a prosthetic nose. At first skeptical, they eventually had a plastic nose fashioned for their son. I remember well the day that Mooky walked into my classroom, proudly thrusting forth the prosthesis. “My very own nose!” he said. “Mooky, it’s lovely. Would you like to study some new vocabulary?” I offered. Mooky nodded his head joyfully. Then the nose fell off and was crushed under the foot of another student. That day, several children were beaten and brutalized under the force of Mooky’s fury.

Mooky was different. But it’s the different, special children who remind us why we teach. No, you don’t have to have a nose to be special—just a great deal of heart. Mooky had heart, and he touched mine.