Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I Never Could Do Anything Wrong Right


[This essay originally was published on the late, but unlamented, Themestream site in July 2000.]

I can't do anything wrong right. I discovered this glitch in my character at the age of fifteen, on the day that I decided to skip my afternoon classes.

I should have spent the previous evening reviewing the plot and structure of Silas Marner. Instead, I stayed up way past midnight reading Murder on the Orient Express. I paid for it the next day.

By 10 a.m., I almost had dozed off in a couple of classes. And I knew what was going to happen that afternoon. I was going to flunk the literature test. I already had a C- average in the class, and report cards were due to come out in a couple of weeks. My parents would have a fit if I flunked English, and I wouldn't be too thrilled about it either. At that point in my high school career, it was my best subject.

By noon, I wished I had stayed home, like my best friend did. According to her sister, Kate had developed a mysterious allergy overnight. She didn't like Agatha Christie, and she wasn't in the same English class. I figured she was allergic to history class. I knew she had a report due that day.

Instead of going to lunch, I rooted around in my purse, dug up a dime, and called Kate. "I can't afford to get another bad mark," I told her. "I've got to get out of here, but I can't go home until school gets out."

"My dad won't be home for lunch," Kate said. "He has a meeting or something. Take the bus up here," she suggested between sneezes. "If you hang around downtown, you'll get caught."

I got on the bus and checked out the other passengers; none of them looked familiar. I decided that skipping school was easy. I changed my mind a couple of stops down the road when my forty-something cousin climbed aboard. The smile she flashed at the bus driver turned into a frown when she noticed me.
"Not feeling well?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said, staring at the bald spot on the back of the bus driver's head. "I feel sort of queasy. I think I'm allergic to shepherd’s pie or something."

My cousin joined a woman sitting a few seats behind me. I could hear them chattering away, and although I really couldn't catch what they were saying, I thought I heard my name mentioned a couple of times. However, my cousin minded her own business when I got off the bus more than a mile down the road from my house.

I hiked up to Kate’s house and walked in without ringing the doorbell. I figured she probably wouldn't hear me anyway, not with the radio blasting away. Kate sat hunched over the kitchen table. She was wearing red pajamas that coordinated nicely with her nose. Her hair stuck out like quills on a porcupine.

"You've got to help me," she said, pawing through the books, papers, and tissue boxes strewn all over the table. "I think I lost my notes, and this report was due today. Its supposed to be about someone named Maria Theresa who was the queen of some place I can't remember. She had a famous kid, but I can't remember who that was either."

"Austria," I said. "She was Marie Antoinette's mother. I think she diffused some sort of military unrest by reviewing her troops with a baby in her ar. . ."

"Forget that," Kate snapped, handing me a pencil and a notebook. "I need help with the paper today; save the test review for next week."

I chose the thinnest book from Kate's pile and settled down at dining room table. Twenty minutes later, I had worked up a rough outline that she could use in writing a bare-bones report. "At least Mom was smarter than her daughter," I shouted over the sound of the Everly brothers. "She kept her head. She never said to her people. . ."

"What are you doing here!" a voice boomed behind me.

Uh, I got out of school early." I figured that was the truth, sort of, but I could feel my face burning. "I just stopped by to see if Kate needed any help with her homework."

Kate's dad didn't hang around, he grabbed some papers he needed for a meeting and left, saying he was already late. On his way out, he turned down the radio and said, "Don't stay long. Kate has to rest."

As soon as he drove away, Kate turned up the radio. "I can't rest until I get this stupid thing done," she wailed, bouncing a tissue box across the table. She stuck a pencil in her mouth and chomped down on it like a snapping turtle.

"Don't do that, "I said, "You'll ruin your OHMYGOSH! I FORGOT!"Kate yanked the pencil out of her mouth and turned down the radio. "Forgot what?"

"I have a dentist appointment after school."

"So skip it. You skipped school."

"But I can't skip this," I told her. My dentist had a tight schedule, a short temper, and a large vocabulary of four-letter words. If I skipped the appointment, he probably would call the house and cuss out my mother.

Back in town, I hopped off the bus and landed in front of my history teacher. Oops! I had skipped her class too. I thought she would holler at me, but she just smiled and kept walking.

I raced up the steps to the dentist's office and checked in with the receptionist. As I searched  for a magazine that wasn't older than the dentist, I glanced into the hallway and saw a familiar face pop up from the stairwell. It was my English teacher.

I ducked behind the Saturday Evening Post, but that didn't fool her. Maybe it was because I was holding the magazine upside down. "Where were you this afternoon?" she asked, glaring at me. I stared at the grease stain on the rug and mumbled something about not feeling well. "Where were you?" she repeated.

That's when the dentist walked into the room, figured out what had happened, and offered his opinion on the situation, “Damned kids today have no sense of responsibility.”

I guess Kate was contagious because a few hours later, I didn’t feel so good. I didn’t go to school on Friday. On Monday, I got called to the principal’s office. Someone had ratted me out. I got two days detention and the principal, who had been a classmate of my mother’s, called my mother. I was grounded for a week.

I never skipped another class. Well, not until I went to college. [Read I Torpedoed My Academic Career, posted on this site on August 20, 2015.]                   ]


Thursday, May 05, 2016

I Grew up on the Appalachian Trail . . . Sort Of


The Appalachian Trail crosses the main street of the town where I grew up. As a child living a rather sheltered life, that geographic knowledge was a bit confusing to me. I confused the Appalachian Trail with the cultural region known as Appalachia. The Appalachian Trail winds from Georgia to Maine. However, the cultural region known as Appalachia ends at the southern tier of New York State.

Thanks to my limited access to information in the pre-internet age, whenever I read or heard the word Appalachia, I pictured Ma and Pa Kettle stereotypes living in shacks that lacked the comfort of indoor plumbing. Their favorite pastimes seemed to be engaging in violent family feuds and/or churning out barrels of moonshine and dodging revenuers.

Of course, I now realize that the majority of people living in Appalachia do not live like the Beverly Hillbillies lived before Jeb struck it rich.

However, as a ten-year old in the Early Jurassic Period, I was confused because I figured if our town was part of the Appalachian Trail, it surely must be part of Appalachia. And my perception of the Appalachia lifestyle did not describe the lifestyle of the residents of our town.

Everyone I knew had indoor plumbing. Family feuds were fought with words and sometimes settled in court, but they never were settled with violence. And no one in town had ever made moonshine.
Well, actually, not since the end of prohibition.