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Wednesday
Dec022015

You're a Crooked Jerky Jockey, and You Drive a Crooked Horse

With deepest apologies to Dr. Seuss. Whose moral compass we really could use.

So. You're the mayor of a major metropolis - the third largest, say, in a fading relic of the Empire of Sneetch. And say some of your residents have Stars on their bellies. And some do not. 

And they're shooting each other. Like all the time. Star Bellied Sneetches mow down the Starless Sneeches, who shoot each other. And Sneetches who are really young - too young, even, to know or care whether they have a goddamn star on the Sneetch-bellies or not - get cut down routinely by the Sneech mayhem that surrounds them. 

Sneetch pundits weigh in on this, like constantly. Sneetch reporters wade in Sneetch blood, standing with furrowed Sneetch brows in the rain or the snow or the heat, lights atop the Sneetch cruisers pulsing behind them, Sneech police tape cordoning off the many little evidence tents of the many, many shell casings strewn across the Sneetchy street.

Sneetch blood is the same color - whether it pours out of a Sneetch with a Star or not.

There's a vocal bunch of Sneetches - all across the Empire, a shrill and dogged bunch of Sneetches (nearly all these have Stars on their bellies - nearly every goddamn one) who insist that the right to bear Sneetch arms cannot be infringed upon, and that a pile of dead Sneetch babies is a price worth paying for this most Sneetchy of liberties. These Star Bellies wish to give Sneetch teachers guns to combat the crazed Sneetches who, with growing frequency, come to shoot Sneetchy children in their classrooms. These Star Bellies are furious. Like all the time. Mostly about the Empire's Head Sneetch, who has no Star - a fact to them that is as sickening as it is galling.

But your city - we'll it Sneetchago - is plagued even worse than other places. Every Monday, the Sneetchy news has a box score of the body count. A weird thing about your city is that all the Star Bellies live on one side of town, in the North, and the Starless all live on the South Side. Long time back, this Sneetchy animosity prompted a bunch of Star Bellies, who owned everything, to banish the Starless to their own part of town, and things settled into a low Sneetchy boil.

And say you, as mayor of Sneetchago, have a Star on your belly. Goes without saying, probably, that the cabal of Sneeches who put up the money to buy your election also have Stars. And say you're a bottomless pit of ambition and, behind your Star, beats the heart of an abrasive asshole. But your Star Bellied advisors just have you dial it down a little and wear a sweater in interviews, and the residents of Sneetchago never pay much attention, so you're good, mostly.

And say the cops you hire to patrol the perilous streets of your city have mostly got Stars, too. And say - beyond the usual degree of hate speech and paternalism - there's a handful of cops on your Sneetch force who regularly beat the shit out of Starless citizens, who torture and abuse them with seeming glee. And they have a history of thwacking a Starless suspect with their night stick while he's cuffed, say, or pepper-spraying demonstrators and hissing about how they're all a bunch of Starless goddamn animals.

And say one of these Star Bellies - a real sack of shit, who has demonstrated over and over how he's a hate-filled Sneetch who honestly has no business wielding police powers, just totally loses his shit one day. And he empties his service pistol into the prone body of a Starless Sneetch, who was really just a kid. 

Bummer, you'd say. That would be a drag. And after that Starless Sneetch's untimely end was chronicled on the news, as just another item in the weekly box score, that would be the end of it.

Only this time, this sack of shit Star Belly's execution of that Starless kid got caught on video.

Shit.

So you hustle the Sneetchy Council to authorize paying out a bunch of money to that Starless kid's family, hoping they'll keep their Sneetchy traps shut. And you delay release of the video - NOT BECAUSE you have a Sneetchy election to win, or anything.

But then a Sneetchy journalist perseveres enough to get a Sneetchy judge to order you to release it.

Fuck.

So you try to bury the release around a holiday weekend when all the Whos in fucking Whoville will being singing carols and you can put this fucking nightmare behind you.

But it does not work. Like at all. The Starless rise up and link arms and ring your palace and chant for your ouster. 

Fine, you think. You can wait this out.

But it does not work. The Starless are right. And even the usually compliant Sneetch media know they are right. And you are fucked.

So. You stand tall - well, not tall, exactly, for you are frankly a pretty pipsqueaky little Star Belly - and you summon the full might of your office to empanel a Task Force.

But it does not work. The Starless see through this. And so do the usually compliant Sneetch media. You are even further fucked.

So. You ratchet things up a little. You fire the Police Sneetch in Chief.

But it does not work. And Sneetches everywhere - Star Bellied and Starless alike - are clamoring for your ouster.

And you put on TWO sweaters and you stand before the microphones - there will be no questions - and you talk about healing. But as you do, you don't really acknowledge the centuries of Star Bellied hatred, or outline a plan to dismantle the systems that have oppressed the Starless. 

So it does not work.

So you shut your office door. And you rage and throw lamps, you heap abuse on your Star Bellied advisors and the Sneetch who timidly suggests you put on a third sweater - you send him packing.

So you start scheming about who else you can sacrifice - what other Sneetches in your administration, like the Sneetch State's Attorney, maybe, you might dispense with to deflect attention from you, who are, after all, a good and civic-minded Sneetch currently wearing not fewer than two sweaters.

But it does not work.

And so. Say you are the mayor of a major metropolis - the third largest in the fading relic of the Empire of Sneetch - and your Star Bellied ass has been painted into a corner by brushes dipped in the blood of gunned-down Sneetches. And you have no one left to sacrifice. And the Starless citizens are demanding your departure. And the usually compliant Sneetch media is doing the same. And the deep-pocketed Star Bellies who put you in office are not returning your calls. And even though you used to work for him, the Empire's Head Sneetch, who's never really made too big a deal about his own belly, which is Starless - he won't help you, either.

And you are out of sweaters. And the chanting grows louder. Because now some Star Bellies are chanting, now, too.

What do you do? What can a Star Bellied mayor, who had a good goddamn thing going, do? When the floor starts to buckle under his feet?

 

Saturday
Nov282015

Tears of the Magnificent

The Chicago Tribune ran a photo essay on its site about the Michigan Avenue Black Friday protests in the wake of the release of the police cruiser dash cam video of the murder of Laquan McDonald. It contained lots of pictures of brown-skinned people (and a smattering of white faces) standing resolute across the doorways of the Apple Store and Water Tower Place; standing nose to nose with cops itching to unload the pepper spray; locking arms and chanting.

 

For a certain kind of person, these are stirring images of everyday people asserting their rights of assembly and expression, of seeking redress of grievences perpetrated by the excesses of the state. For me, it was a heartening display of people - people trampled generation upon generation by a system resolved by means economic and racial to marginalize and subjugate - rising up and reasserting their humanity.

For another kind of person, these images represent the dissolution of social order - the lippy and ungrateful grousing of "those people." In interviews with shoppers - who mistakenly take themselves to be the stars of this story - several among them expressed variations of "mistakes happen" with regard to the pumping of 16 bullets into a 17-yar-old kid. One wonders what the individual and public response on the part of these inconvenienced people might be if a constable had emptied his clip into one of their sons on the village square in Glencoe

As rousing as I found these images, and the protest that inspired them, I found the picture above the most telling and troubling of the bunch.

The Little Girl

She's the only blameless one of this trio. She wishes to make her way to the American Doll Store. Where her guardians may purchase for her some overpriced figure nearly her own size that comes with its own reductive and revisionist back story, accessories, and apparel line. The fact that she has been raised to want this connotes a set of problems - of class, gender conceptions, consumerism - larger and older than she is. If there is criticism to be leveled here, it must be directed at the people who are raising her in the bosom of some shitty priorities, not at her. She has inherited a series of stupid and destructive desires, but cannot be held to account for this dubious bequest.

In 12 years, when this little girl is cutting me off in an Audi her dad bought her, I will hate her on her own merits then. For now, she gets a pass.

The White Fucking Coats

Setting aside the vast obliviousness required to try shopping your way through or around these protesters; or your willful minimizing the scale and impact of these protests upon your dipshit errand; setting aside your evident lack of compassion and respect; setting aside your bone-deep fucking BLITHENESS - you might at LEAST pay some heed to the optics of the fucking costume you put on for your little outing. When the Consumerist Corridor is choked with hundreds of brown people - people who have lain their brown bodies across the road bed to interrupt the flow of traffic, and insinuated themselves between you and the doorways of the shops, then fucking MAYBE it might make some sense not to wear BLINDING WHITE OUTERWEAR. The only shittier move would be to wear satin fucking sashes that read "White Privilege" while dispersing the brown bodies with cattle prods. 

Again: Little Girl - you seem sweet and baffled by the proceedings around you in an age-appropriate way.

But Ostensible Grownups: develop some SMIDGEN of self-awareness, no? Because to sashay past a throng of people mourning the murder of one of their own at the hands of the state in whit motherfucking coats seems a trifle Marie Antoinette-ish, wouldn't you say?

The White Fur Fucking Coat

This is appropriate attire for those seeking the role of White Witch in fucking Narnia, not for your jaunt down the Mag Mile of a city whose cops have killed a kid and covered it up. And - just from a style standpoint - those Ming the Merciless shoulders have got to go.

The Grisly Back Story

Whether this trio - again: not your fault, kid - arrives for their Black Friday sojourn from the suburbs of the North Shore or from some kleptocracy in the former Soviet Union, it doesn't matter. They arrive as unconcerned white people, into what they take to be a bastion of plundered white privilege, because that's customarily precisely what it is. Even the name the marketing hordes tasked with reinforcing the cycle of privilege and stoking the aspirational embers that permit it to continue steaming along have bestowed upon the place - The Magnificent Mile - reveals not merely an unquestioning embrace of consumerist excess, but of exclusivity. Because for a Mile or a Kilometer or a League to seem Magnificent, it must be surrounded on all sides by the Dingy and Ordinary, the Tacky and Mundane.

For the denizens of such a Magnificent place to claim and reclaim their stranglehold on the sumptuous, they must distance and re-distance themselves from the plight of the subhumans whom they must pass when accessing the wonders it contains. This distancing is not restricted to the grimy primate who shakes his beggar cup, pleading for stray coins - he is easy to deny and step over, the arhythmic clank of his cup receding behind the walls of consciousness, tucked away like the sigh of steam pipes and crackle of wires - the shake of his battered cup is just the turning of the watchworks that makes the machine go.

And this distancing is not restricted to the valets and shop clerks, in their vests and tunics with unnoticed names stitched over the breast. These murmuring and deferential people, averting as they do their gaze from the incandesence of the Magnificent, scurrying to fetch that wedge of lemon, that room key, that starched napkin. These primates are meant to remain translucent, and just dimly audible. These primates - as a class - are obviously indispensible, as pampering is a labor-intensive proposition, but as individuals, they are identical and interchangeable. Any individual among these primates may scuttle off to foam the latté, to plump the pillows.

And this distancing is not restricted to the merchant primates, the florists and jewelers, whose shabby little lives are devoted to swirling around the Magnificent to offer their fawning, subhuman counsel about which sailing vessel is suitably yar, what thread count is minimally acceptabe for the guest rooms. These primates have names. It must feel to them like the Magnificent have bestowed a soul-cooling balm when they speak these names.

And this distancing is not restricted to the primates in suits, the bankers and other stewards of the capital, the vault-keepers and bean counters. Due to their proximity to the capital - the fuel that fires the entire engine - these primates must be granted the delusion that they are Fully Human. They have names that must be remembered and added to the Christmas card list that's managed by one of the lower primates. Because they are sentinels and servants of the capital, theirs is the highest work a primate can undertake, and as such they are very nearly cherished - these are the only primates permitted to curl on hearth rugs at the feet of the Magnificent.

For it is the Magnificent alone who may occupy the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human. To offer sanctuary to any among the other primates - who, though rumored to share some long-distant branch on the evolutionary tree, cannot hope to mimic convincingly the refinement and grace of the Magnificent - would constitute treachery of the worst kind. Occupants of the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human, when they are young, may indulge in casting their moon-eyed gaze across the Insulating Sea of Blessed Capital and imbue the primates with something akin to Full Humanity. These Young Magnificents may sound out the names embroidered on the smocks of the primates, and intensify their eye contact when they encounter these helper primates on docks and at ski lifts, in hotel lobbies and at poolside bars. But this effort (which the Young Magnificents could never really bring themselves to really believe) costs too much, and is a fallacy of youth, so must be tucked away in the same attic as the trunks filled with kite string and sand pails, picture books and pinwheels.

These Young Magnificents must mature and ripen into the bloom of their Full Humanity, and stop filling the heads of the primates with aspirations they can never realize, mobility they do not have. These Young Magnificents must one day embrace their Humanity in its Fullness, and concede that there is only room for a select and limited number of inhabitants on the Very Tiny Island. Besides, the primates, being coarse and deprived, could never feel truly at ease on the Island. So it is a mercy, really, to deny the primates admittance, as they would be all in a muddle. 

This mercy is the burden of the Magnificents. And the primates are ill equipped to understand such a burden. So can never be anything like Fully Human.

 

Monday
Nov092015

America Runs on Duncan

On November 6, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan celebrated his 51st birthday. And since the embrace of his peerless policies is so total, and the successes brought on by the clarity of his vision continue to proceed at a goddamn gallop, and the during his tenure has been marked by an uninterrupted series of victory laps, many workplaces in the private sector have adopted his clear-eyed reforms and are now enjoying the fruits of their success. If you're a CEO, Executive Director of a large non-profit, or any other reactive halfwit who unaccountably occupies a place of power while asserting your right to remain badly out of touch, here's all you need to know in order to run your enterprise into the ground The Arne Way:

 

  1. Facilities. In lots of workplaces, the vogue in recent years has been to opt for an open floor plan - lots of space to foster informal collaboration, and a more egalitarian environment with greater transparency that allows easy checkins across departments. While there are merits to such an approach, The Arne Way demands that you say "Fuck that noise." Here's what you do: give up your lease on that sleekly designed office park or highrise suite and get yourself a crumbling building - a forbidding brick one that puts you in mind of an abandoned mental hospital or a haunted armory - that has not fewer than two of the following: a) asbestos, and lots of it, b) lead paint on every surface - the more flaking and chipped, the better, c) a century-old boiler designed to run on whale blubber but retrofit to burn coal, d) a joyless and confused floorplan that makes you want to curl into a ball of thwarted defeat to die in a stairwell, e) an address in Detroit, f) toilets clogged with the corpses of rats.
  2. Capital. Adequate funding is the lifeblood of any enterprise, so be sure and pin your hopes on a capricious source - and this is critical - TOTALLY UNRELATED TO YOUR ACTIVITIES. Maybe Arne didn't innovate here, in pegging the funding of local schools to property taxes, but he by golly has seen the wisdom implicit in this system, since: a) THE INEQUITY IS BAKED RIGHT IN, and b) EVERYBODY resents it. Say you run a marketing consulting company - you should capitalize that with a little money from every florist in your town; or you're in the insurance game - just snag your employee retirement plan from whichever frozen yogurt place is nearest to you.
  3. HR. The staff you have now? The ones on the front line providing the service? They have NO idea what they're doing. Not only are they inept and stupid, they are super-hostile to the most fundamental goals your company has. They are the enemy, and you need to do everything you can to villify them, marginalize them, debase and hector them in every way you can conceive. That's a good start, but you also have to insinuate layer upon layer of management people who have conflicting understandings of the objectives of the enterprise and who prescribe fixes that cancel each other out. If you could get these management folks ramped up to where they're like a shrill cyclone made of bees and panic, that is best.
  4. Compensation. Back to staffing - you should aim for a starting salary just north of rag picker, and just shy of barista. These venal assholes will have negotiatied a regular series of pay bumps, so you MUST make it your mission to ensure that they never stay more than a couple years. Just keep lining up the cannon fodder and mowing them down. It should be like the military - put them in harm's way, pay them diddly, pay TONS of lip service to how much you support and value them, then when they return home all fucked up by the adventure you sent them on, cut their goldbricking asses loose and don't look back.
  5. Expectations. Stratopherically high - impossibly, catastrophically high. Pack their heads full of the kind of tough-love uplift where Michelle Pfeiffer sits the wrong way on chairs to REALLY REACH THESE KIDS, stoke the embers of their good intentions, and leverage to whatever pollyanna impulse it is that drives these hapless idiots to want to help anybody. Once you've wound them up and set them loose, change entirely the means of assessing what they do. Like if you run a parasailing concession at a resort, the rules of dog sled racing should suddenly pertain in a totally unannounced way. It is CRITICAL that you maintain a baffled Orwellian insistence that it has ALWAYS been the rules of dog sled racing that have governed the operations of your pararsailing company, and that if your staff cannot even manage to keep sight of so basic a precept of the immutable laws of dog sled parasailing, then perhaps they're not really cut out for this work. Your aim, as you snuff out the last of their good will and lofty aspirations like Chief Bromden pressing that pillow into McMurphy's lobotomized face, should be that the last thing they see is your profound disappointment in them, and that their pure motives have been a squalid and pointless folly.
  6. Double Down. When the consultants you hired to displace your parasailing staffers turn out to be crooked and bungling, you should not only NOT question them or their methods, you should bulldoze the derelict mental hospital where your former staffers had been failing to deliver, and build a new building for these consultants, who seem super awesome, even though there's all these fucking academics squawking about how their methods are unproven, and how there's a preponderance of data that's emerging that suggests their approach is sub-optimal. You push those fucking eggheads to the ground and threaten them with a preponderance of your foot in their ass.
  7. Blame Roulette. If you keep the system dervishing a s good clip, it's just a formless blur where everybody's a villain, or nobody is. When it's been going long enough, you could place your recrimination bets on any number, red or black, and it'll be a goddamn jackpot every time. If you build enough hopelessness into the system, then all players on all sides of the table wind up shellshocked and glassy-eyed by the inevitability of their failure. Likewise all spectators to the game - who are each culpable, as well - leave the table with the sulphurous savor of failure on their tongues.
  8. Activity. Lots and Lots of Activity. Once you've instilled the bone-deep sense of futility in your staff, and encircled them with a scrum of consultants who will reinforce paranoia and dysfunction at every level; once you've whipped the public into a froth, and have created an entrenched and cynical executive class that will either plunder your enterprise of all its riches, or lapse into the stasis brought on by pointlessness, then you can set all the pieces spinning in perpetuity. Like a mobile. Arriving nowhere. Twirling on the same stupid axis. For good.

If you follow these simple steps, then one day you too can preside over an enterprise everybody claims to cherish, but which they treat like an incontinent grandparent with Tourette's. And the real hell of it is: Grandma will never die. She'll just remain stuck in the same mortifying cycle: shitting and swearing, shitting and swearing. 

 

Saturday
Oct032015

The Rhetoric of Blitzkrieg 

For some of us, the Internet is a kind of petting zoo - a gentle place where we seek solace and encouragement, high fives and "you go, gurl"s. We post our inspirational quotes and Successories-style memes and coil into a furby hug-pile of the like-minded and coo like Tribbles.

For the rest of us, the Web is a hostile environment where we go to dispute each other - a site of pajama pants blood sport in a colesium of hollering. I am very definitely one of these - I relish a good dust-up, I am prone to getting swept up in the truculent thrill of the skirmish, and I am naturally inclined to framing things in extremes. In fact, my show WRITE CLUB is predicated on the notion that opposition - in addition to providing a framework that is entertaining and fast-paced, urgent and involving - is a valid and productive organizing principle for one's ideas about the world. After all, when you're compelled to articulate WHY you believe as you do, if serves as much to reveal your own convictions to yourself as it does to make them known to your opponent.

In the last few weeks, I have had two experiences that have me thinking on this topic.

The first was a flame war on stupid facebook. A guy who hosts a storytelling show and I had what I took to be a disagreement on the subject of cultural sensitvity, cultural appropriation, and abuse of privilege. He took it to be an assault on him personally. Or, like, I don't know, a missle strike on his a bassinet filled with slumbering puppies or something. He lashed out. Calling me, among other things, a "cunt." While this represents a pretty significant lapse in decorum, obviously. and is an assertion that lacking in novelty or specificity, and demonstrates a pretty severe degree of tonedeafness and lack of gender sensitivity, taking place as it did on the wall of a mutual female friend, it was IN NO WAY GERMANE TO THE ARGUMENT WE HAD BEEN HAVING. I won't name him here - some of you know him, some will not, but it honestly does not matter.

The other incident was when I posted a couple tweets excoriating the NRA in the wake of the shooting in Oregon. Like you do. When you're gripped by depondency and the bleakness threatens to overcome. If it's of interest, my twitter handle is @writeclubrules and you can scroll through the horse shit yourself if you want - it's honestly not pertinent to this, though. 

In order for contentiousness to prove fruitful, though, there a number of rules that must pertain: 

  1. Stay on topic. An argument is not a stand-in to enact your revenge upon your childhood bullies; it is not the chance for you to demonstrate your exhaustive command of the many inconsistencies in several plotlines on Deep Space Nine; it is not your opportunity to re-fight squabbles with your ex. 
  2. There are limits. The scope of every subject - even a thorny, complex subject - is not infinite. Whatever injustices done you do not necessarily have a place within the context of an argument. When you are disagreeing about a subject, you are not fighting for your life, or even your own sense of worth. 
  3. Keep your response proportional. If I say "that assertion is bullshit," do not fire back with "FUCK YOU," if I devote a hundred words to expressing an opinion, do not return fire with a shrill 9,000-word manifesto.
  4. Remain as fair with your opponent as you are with yourself. Forgive them where they misspeak. Permit them to finish a thought. Hold them to a comparable standard of evidence-providing. 
  5. An attack on your ideas does not represent an attack on you. Your beliefs - even your most inviolate, most deeply held and cherished beliefs - do not constitute a phantom limb I'm attempting to hack off, or a ghost baby I'm trying to snuff out. They are ideas. Mine are different than yours. I'm happy to have a drawn out and heated discussion on the points of friction between our differing ideas. But if you expect me to jump the conceptual rails and have a name-calling fight to the death in the underbrush of insult, then forget it. That is not interesting. It never ends well. And it leads no place. And when taken far enough, it contributes to how goddamn disspiriting things can become.
  6. Answer the fucking question. If I pose a question in the course of our dispute - aimed at refining a point you've made, clarifying a belief you have, amplifying an assertion you've made - do not JUST go thundering along to your next REASON WHY MY DISAGREEMENT WITH YOU SIGNALS THE END TIMES. Part of my disagreement with you has to do with my inability to understand your position. If you remain unwilling to clarify, why in the shit would I come around to your view?
  7. Bloody face prints on a brick wall. Gun Guy From Texas, Storytelling Guy With Hurt Feelings Because You Felt Like I Was Calling You Stupid, Or Something: I am unlikely to change you. You, in turn, are not likely to change me - my convictions have been five decades in the making, and I am stubborn as fuck. But there is value, I believe, in the civilized exhcange of differing views. Belief is the accretion of layers of input, so though I will not pivot to your view of things right now, I may one day do so. Also, since most internet exchanges are publically visible, maybe the spirited exhange we have might attract the attention of somebody who's more on the fence than we are and who will find clarifying something we have said.

But no good comes of the reductive, shrill, persecuted response to somebody who does not believe as you do. If I express an opinion - even a strongly held one, even if it is expressed provocatively - this does not mean I have called in a drone strike on that basket of sleeping puppies, nor does it mean I have enrolled as the foot soldier of tyrants. All you achieve but unleashing the rhetorical equivalent of the Doomsday Device is to reinforce the sense that the internet is just this teetering heap of the disgruntled, who are as infantile as they are persecuted, and whose brittleness is only matched by their pugnacity.

Bunch. Of fucking. Babies.

 

Tuesday
Jun302015

It's Only Wafer Thin

It was March of 1983. I was a junior in high school. As a consequence of this, I was desperately, elbaborately, inconsolably unhappy. The totality of my lonesomeness and misunderstoodness could hardly have been more complete. I was lost and forlorn, purposeless and fraught. I may not have been fully subhuman, but I was definitely a pretty piss-poor specimen - horny, joyless, pitiful.

I was unmoored and futureless.

My mom's boyfriend was a dour and pinch-faced asshole. Mom, who'd had my brother and me when she was way too young, was working all the time, and in a belated stab at the kind of soft-headed vision-questing in vogue during the 70s, she was either finding herself or self-actualizing. I cannot now recall. Our dad had been gone for like six years, and we'd seen him maybe a half dozen times for stilted outings to arcades where the good consoles were all on the fritz, and meals of spongy, savorless pizza. Dad would kill himself in another three or so years.

Given my state - one of perpetual and obdurate turmoil - I was an academic catastrophe, of course. I was behind in every subject, and could not muster anything like giving a rat's ass about the rapid onrush of consequences for my insolent torpor - not only would I not get into college at my current pace, I might not even make it out of goddamn high school. The one teacher who retained an interest, or who even took much notice of me anymore was Mr. Jacobs, my English teacher. He seemed to be able to see the embers of promise that glowed in the pit of me when others had written me off as a sullen wad of futility. 

I had to meet with Mr. Jacobs after school so I could serve him another helping of the thin gruel of my excuse-making for my many missing assignments. I was a confounding mess to him - I would show up every day, sit in each class, smart and capable, but resolutely refusing to participate in full-on Bartleby style. To outward appearances, I was staging a years-long sit-in, declining at every turn to do a goddamn thing. Mr. Jacobs was able to set aside his well-earned exasperation with me, though, to recognize my extravagent professions of boredom and disdain as the crushing depression that they were. For many of us, rancor and peevishness are expressions of distress. 

After supressing a laugh in the face of my bullshit excuse-making, Mr. Jacobs peacably, delicately interrogated me about what in the hell was going on with me. Having long experience as a high school teacher, he could plainly see that I was a baffled and ungainly animal in pain, and that the nature and limitations of the teacher-student relationship precluded anything like a direct and personal intervention on his part - he could not call my mom in to say "I understand your boyfriend's a bit of an asshole," or write my father to tell him that he needed to quit being such a selfish twat. I mean, there was likely some (shitty, insufficient, long-since discredited) protocol for him to follow if he honestly believed me to be a clear and present danger to myself. But in terms of emotional damage of a more or less garden variety for a teen, there's not really a ton a teacher can offer without blurring boundaries/skirting the inappropriate.

But Mr. Jacobs did, anyhow. He sent me to the movies.

As I furrowed my brow and pitied myself, he asked if I knew Monty Python. This was - for the particular form of nerd I was then and remain today - an insulting question, a question so basic, it amounted to "Are you a biped?" or "Is bacon delicious?" I endeavored nonetheless to answer it in a way that would disguise my indignation. He asked if I'd seen their newly released picture "The Meaning of Life." I had not. My poverty was another item in my litany of woes.

Mr. Jacobs reached into the back pocket of his rumpled off-brand khakis and produced his well-beaten wallet. He removed a ten bucks from it and handed the bill to me. In the shitty movie version of this - the cloying Robin Williams-makin'-a-connec-with-young-Will-Hunting version - the bill would virginal and crisp. Not so the real bill. It was old and friable as lichen. But it was a potent talisman anyhow.

"Take this," he said. "Go to see 'The Meaning of Life.' It is very smart, and raucously, inappropriately funny. It will furthermore offer you philosophical comfort." I reached for the bill, mortified and thankful. Mr. Jacobs didn't let go for a second and he held my gaze for a second of two of tug-of-war. "There are many other less sustaining ways you could spend this money. Ways less wholesome and useful. Don't. Use it to go to the movie."

So I did.

On my own. I used to love going to movies by myself. Did it all the time. And that weekend, I was so sickened by the company of other humans, I was grateful to have a half a row to myself as the lights went down.

As it got rolling, and I powered down the popcorn, the crysalis of my foul mood commenced to crack apart. I howled with laughter - a laughter in appreciation of the audacity and craft of the bits in the movie, for sure, but also a laughter of the kindred - the laughter of the one who's wandered far out in the wilderness and, after fearing himself lost, has found his way back to his tribe. I'm not ashamed to say I wept a bit during that movie - both from an overpowering sense of relief that I might, in fact, ultimately be OK, but even more because a kind human - one whose stake in my fortunes was ostensibly professional only - had extended to me a redeeming gift he was under no obligation to give. 

I paid Mr. Jacobs back the money. But I feel quite certain I could never repay him his kindness - a kindness rendered all the more singular because he obviously had no expectation that I do so. It may seem overblown to say that Mr. Jacobs delivered me that day from harm. But I don't believe it is.