He wore a god damn yellow bow tie.
He spoke in tones that swooped low before looping high in the air. He seemed to always hiccup and swallow giggles. The Mad Hatter. Cheerful Circus Freak. Clumsy. Goofy. His voice was a rollercoaster swerving wildly in directions that made you nervous laugh from the adventure and imminent death of it all.
He frequented arcades. This was a tidbit we did not care to know but learned through his incredibly detailed accounts of how many high-scores he busted through and the precisely mathematical timing one needed to hit every single plastic gofer that dare pop its head from its plastic hole of a home.
High-fives, two-handed thumbs-up, and cross-eyed-side-tongued-smiley facial expressions were his signature moves.
He called us “dudes”.
He was my home-room teacher.
He made up songs about inanimate objects, worked daily on creating the world’s biggest rubber band ball, and taught me absolutely nothing about most things. His chalkboard doodles were incredibly ornate comics based on geography or arcade games or algebra or arcade games or adverbs or other comics. I entered into junior high convinced that I must have absorbed all the important knowledge in fifth grade. We must really spend the next 6 years just hanging out, “chillin’ ” as my new, laid-back educational guardian would say. This was the awesome secret kept from you until you are of age, like where to find and buy a set of boobies to fill your training bra or what magical ingredient in beer made the cool high schoolers so darn cool at parties. So I relaxed, adapted to this new, bad-ass life of a sixth grader, stopped doing homework, and started perfecting my thumb-wrestling skills. A few short weeks into this most awesome school year, I’d beaten nearly every boy in class with a thumb-to-index-finger hook from which they could not wrangle free. I’d forgotten every grammar correction my well-spoken mama had ever offered, speaking instead like a pig-tailed surfer with a gnarly case of the giggles, dude. School was fun in that it wasn’t really school at all. School was high-fives and jokes, extra-long recess and a never-ending fountain of “free days”. School was as serious as that god damn yellow bow tie.
One, overcast morning went and changed all that. Our lively instructor, Leader of The Good Times, entered the classroom a short-faced shell of his former, ruckus-n-rock-&-roll self. He needn’t set his sunny bow tie aflame or illustrate this scenario via chalk-outlined frowney faces. The sudden stern clamping down of his jaw, the depressed thump of his bag sloppily onto his desk, the painfully sharp lack of “righteous, dude!”s wafting past high-fives through the sterile air. Were his high-scores stomped at Skee Ball? Lost his front row seat at the comic convention? Did his mom finally kick him out of the basement? Two dozen kids and not a one of us knew which direction to question. We only knew this answer: Yesterday is gone. Today, we are all one Thumb War or spit ball away from eternal detention, public-educated damnation. Whatever happened to our happy-go-lucky teacher made his happy go sad.
The next day, he beamed high-wattage smiles onto us. We were still shivering in slots behind our desks. He’d worked through the mystery issue and flowed fluidly back into the spirit of “Life is good. Let’s play games!”. But we didn’t trust that yellow bow tie anymore. In fact, that’s when it became the “god damn yellow bow tie”, a symbol of deceit in neckwear form. We stared from under his giant hand, more threatened than super psyched to feel the sting of his ultra peppy high-fives. His voice, once sweet and thrilling and brimming with adventure now seemed the soundtrack to an unstable lunatic. Two dozen kids and not a one of us cared to look up at his Spider Man work of chalk art. And this? This shunning? This fear of the formerly loved? This was my 6th grade teacher’s one bad day.
All of this to say that, darlings, there is nothing scarier than when the good ones turn bad, the dependable ones turn wild, the funny ones stop smiling. We can accept the iron-ruled teacher who lays down the law before she’s even learned your name. A strange part of us enjoys when enemies remind us that they really do hate us. I like my tragedy to happen as scheduled. There is comfort in knowing what you’re getting, who you’re dealing with, where things are headed. There is comfort in this consistency of shittiness even if it’s, well, shitty. It is the soul-punching disturbance of seeing a nun flip you the bird. It could have been yours truly, letting the funk fly out of my mouth after a couple of pretty dreadful weeks.
With a sudden death of a loved one, familial drama, and a slew of other crotch kicks from the Universe, I had no funny to give you. I had conflict, I had stress, I had the distinct understanding that I was one minute away from ripping off my proverbial bow tie and drawing some kind of awful, awful nightmare across the more proverbial chalkboard. I was one minute away from taking your impression of me and adding a dash of “She’s probably killed innocent kittens a time or two” into the mix. With that most frightening 6th grade experience still so clear, I knew that calling in sick, leaving a classroom or comment section of heathens unattended was the very best alternative. You could thumb wrestle and braid each other’s hair and not learn a thing about a thing. I could keep the scary side of a funny girl without her funny under wraps. There was a jaw so tightly clenched it could crush a Mack truck. There was the sloppy tossing of dishes into the sink that wreaked of a depressing lack of motivation. There was the twinkle in my eye displaced and in its place a mean squint ready to bitch slap every ray of sunshine or precious anything that skipped past my line of sight. If we’re getting really honest I might have tried to fashion a nun’s habit from black bath towels and spent the majority of an afternoon waiving my middle finger angrily at my dog. Clearly, the ugliness was there, but God bless the classroom of bloggers who never had to see it.
I am back from a bout of, let’s say, the flu. It took a beer, thirty-one rounds of game rigging at the local Chuck E. Cheese, and a series of fortunate events to heal me. So, this week I plan on placing the funk firmly behind me, tightening up that god damn yellow bow tie, and sharing with you just exactly how to find your lost ha-ha. Seriously, dudes, it’s gonna be more righteous than a world record Skee Ball victory.