Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Exerpt from The Spirit Guide Bar

An excerpt from The Spirit Guide Bar
“Christmas Lights”
By W.Z Snyder
© 2009 William Snyder

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, the day the Christmas lights go up. And this year, because I am 12, my mother has given me the go ahead to hang the lights myself. Somewhere in excess of two hours have been spent untangling the green cords. The lights have been checked and the bad bulbs replaced. The nails have been firmly driven into the wood trim since we moved into the place five years ago. Baby, believe me when I tell you I’m ready to hang some Christmas lights. With the lights urbanely draped over my boney shoulder, I step onto the aluminum ladder, envisioning myself to be some death defying Army Ranger, ascending the treacherous cliffs of Monte Cassino. Safely on the roof, I begin to work the light cord around the nails. My left hand slips on the grey roofing and gravity pulls me off balance. My adrenalin kicks in and my heart rate quickens as I regain my footing. The last thing I want to do is fall off of this roof and break my arm. Those Christmas paper route tips will be piling in next month and that bad ass banana yellow, three speed Schwinn Stingray is waiting for me behind the plate glass window at Phil’s Bike Shop. My heart rate approaches normalcy as I wrap the light chord around another nail.

“Good morning, Billy.”

It is Johnny Torres standing at the bottom of the ladder. This kid is one of a kind. At the ripe old age of 11, he has the voice of a 55 year-old truck driver. It’s really weird; the kid is undersized for his age but he possesses freakishly mature facial features. Appearing something like a kid version of Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Torres is the neighborhood wheeler and dealer. Every Sunday morning he sets out from paper machine to paper machine, dropping in 25 cents and cleaning them out, one by one. Then he stands in front of the church selling his stolen Sunday papers to the parishioners as they leave mass. In the past he’s offered to help me rake leaves or mow the lawn, out of the goodness of his own heart, then gone to my mother and demanded payment. This kid is trouble with a capital Torres.

“What do you want Torres?” I ask warily.

“Nothing. I don’t want nothing at all, Billy. What are you doing up there?” he asks with his hands shoved deep into his pockets.

“I’m stealing papers to sell at church. Now get the heck out of here, Torres.” I sneer in my most spiteful voice.

“I’ll help you. I don’t got nothing else to do, Billy.” he says, sounding something like Lurch from The Adams Family.

“Yeah, I don’t need you’re kind of help. Now get the heck out of here.”

The kid defiantly places the toe of his tattered PF Flier on the bottom step of the ladder.

“What are you doing down there, Torres?”

“I told you Billy, I want to help you.”

“And I told you Torres, I don’t want your kind of help.”

Torres takes hold of the ladder as I shout, “Don’t come up here. If you fall, you could sue my mother.”

“I won’t sue you’re mother. Just let me watch.”

It becomes evident that he plans on coming up no matter what I say when he tightens his grip and places a PF Flyer on the second step of the ladder.

Taking firm hold of the cold aluminum at top of the ladder, I shout, “I said don’t come up here, Torres!”

He takes a second step and quite brilliantly, I shove the ladder hard with both hands. Torres steps down and the ladder flips over him – pulling me forward, still hanging onto the top like some out of control pole-vaulter. It feels very much like I am flying - for just that split second before I come crashing, wrists first, to front lawn. There is the sound of bones in my wrists popping and snapping. Strangely, I feel nothing at all – for about a second and a half. And then the white pain explodes like a crashing freight train. I scream in window rattling anguish and the slightest movement makes the excruciating torture even more excruciating. My hands hang from my wrists like broken chicken necks.

Torres stands over me and asks in his freakishly low voice, “What the heck did you do that for, Billy?”

To which I reply, “Ahh, my arms! I broke my arms!” and then I remember, “There goes my banana yellow, three speed Stingray.”

My mother bursts from the screen door and promptly tells me to shut the hell up. She doesn’t believe me until the two-bit criminal from around the corner confirms in his Lou Rawls voice that I have indeed plummeted, palms first from the roof. He assures her that he indeed did hear the bones crack.

My mother screams at me for falling off the roof during the entire ride to the emergency room. Somehow the Munchkin version of Paul Robson has talked my mother into letting him come along. At the emergency room, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, get a word in edge wise as Torres explains in great detail how I fell from the roof. The doctor shushes me when I demand to be allowed to give my side of the story. The doctor is in fact quite fascinated with Torres’s creepy voice.

“Exactly how long has it been since your voice changed, young man?” marvels the doctor.

My voice ain’t changed.” Torres bellows.

“You mean you’ve always sounded like this.”

‘That’s right, doc.”

“This is absolutely captivating. Would you mind waiting right here while I get the other doctors?”

“What about my arm?” I demand.

I abscond from the emergency room with my broken wrist in a cast and my sprained wrist in a sling. The next day, there is a knock at the front door. It is Torres. He explains that, under the darkness of night, like some kind of demented Christmas light elf, he has taken it upon himself to hang the lights. When my mother asks if she can pay him, he says the charge is 10 bucks - cash. Upon collecting 10 crisp ones, he gloats that the doctor gave him a card and UCLA Medical Center is going to pay him 60 dollars to scrutinize his vocal chords. The good news is I won’t have to do any writing in school for at least a month. Of course the bad news is I’ll have to give up the paper route. Frank Louder graciously agrees to take over for me. Frank will collect my Christmas tips; there will be no banana yellow sting ray. Is there no justice in this world? All I can say is I hope you’re satisfied wherever you are, Mr. Johnny Torres.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

snYder CoMic #6

This cartoon is inspired by a former student who happened to be from Russia.
I drove the poor kid crazy with lame remarks like, "Slow down, Dmitri. Oh that's right, you can't help it - you're Russian."
As if the 600 hurryin' Russian remarks weren't enough I peppered him with a crack about his name.
"Hey Dmitri, da fish tree and da poultry tree were looking for you."
I'm telling you, the Russian Dmitri cracks never got old - for me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Uncle Emily

My American Literature students have been reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Got to tell you, I really dig teaching Emily Dickinson, this is partly due to the fact that her quatrains can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

It’s true, try it.

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statues touch the skies.

Uncle Emily, as she liked to call herself, was truly a quirky cool human being. The woman rarely left the house. Some think her self imposed house arrest had something to do with her tendency to fall for married guys, but no one knows for sure. The bottom line is she spent most of her adult life writing poetry and letters at her bedroom window overlooking an old grave yard.

I suppose what intrigues me most about Dickinson is the fact that she lived out her 56 years unpublished. She did submit her poetry, but they said her stuff was too unconventional, that she would need to make revisions, that her poetry was not marketable. So she sat at the window, looking at those tombstones pounding out beautiful poems.

After she died her relatives found countless neatly wrapped packages containing almost 1,800 brilliant poems. Her poetry wasn’t published in its intended form until 60 years after her death.

Emily Dickinson never backed down; she never played the game; she never worried about agents or editors or publishers. She just wrote – she just wrote amazing, beautiful, mind blowing poetry.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Curmodgeonly Behavior

I’ll be turning 50 later this month and the process has begun. Clearly I’m starting to morph into a curmudgeonly old bastard.

I recently spent a Saturday coaching a group of high school students in an academic competition. My team was on track to place dead last, a fact that undoubtedly had affected my attitude. Three key students recently quit the team. To make matters worse, one of the top performers called off sick at the last minute. Another kid missed the bus Saturday morning. When she showed up late, missing four of the ten events, I asked what happened. She looked me dead in the eye and told me she couldn’t find her phone. She was ;ate because she couldn’t find her phone.The bottom line is we competed with students in just four of the nine slots. Now wouldn’t you call this a bad way to start a Saturday?

The students were off for two hours of testing, leaving me with a reasonable amount of time to regroup. There was a gas and gulp joint down the road and I figured I might walk over and pick up a cup of coffee. A long transcendentalist walk in the fresh morning air might help me clear my cranium. Before I made it out the door another coach stopped me and pointed me toward the teacher’s lounge.

It was like nothing I’d ever seen. There was an enormous bay window overlooking cool green athletic fields and cow pastures. Facing the window were eight leather recliner chairs. Fighting back tears of joy, I filled up a cup of joe and dropped my bag beside a chair. Falling back into the chair, I reclined, sipped and opened up the paper. Teacher Heaven, baby – nothing less than Teacher Heaven.

At the time I hit the recliner there were perhaps five coaches in the room. Within five minutes the lounge was filled with coaches, all but one from a particular school district on the other side of town; I’ll call it District X. The District X people filled in the recliners and commenced to hooting it up. The conversation was cliquish so I tried to make small talk with the other non District X teacher. To say the coaches from District X were loud would be an understatement. One guy had the loudest voice I’ve ever heard; he kind of sounded like Darth Vadar, only nerdier and much louder. And then there was the woman sitting next to me. When she laughed she cackled like a chicken with a pitch so high it should have broken the bay window. This lady’s cackles absolutely pierced my skull. Every time she cackled, I shuddered - and I got a little angrier.

After one particularly noggin blasting cackle, I sprung to my feet.

“That’s it! I can’t take it.”

I headed for the door. One of the District X women asked me if I left my computer. I didn’t answer; I just waved her off and got the hell out of there. It wasn’t long before I realized I’d left my bag. The woman was talking about my bag. When I returned to the room my chair had been filled and the district X people had settled into a calm, quiet conversation.

I snatched my bag up and the woman asked, “What’s the matter with you?”

This is the part where I turned into the cartoon thermometer and the mercury exploded through the top.

“Lady, you’re asking me what’s the matter? You know what the hell’s the matter. You wanted the chairs, YOU GOT THE CHAIRS!”

Not exactly witty, but I got my point across.

Actually I felt pretty stupid.

To make matters worse, I kept running into those people all day. When I passed a couple of younger District X women, they put their heads down. I heard one of them stifle a laugh after they passed.

Pretty curmudgeonous, huh? All I needed was a cane to wave around.

Then again, those District X people were behaving rudely.

The truth is I could have quietly turned to the cackler and asked her to tone it down. Or I could have quietly got up and left. But the pendulum could have swung the other way. I could have called them all sons of bitches and tipped over all of the recliners before I left. That would have been cool – curmudgeon cool…

Thursday, February 4, 2010