Friday, April 25, 2014

From the Ape (4/1/2011)

This (edited) post comes to you via my old blog that I will probably delete soon. 
"When that Aprill with his shoures sote
The droght of Marche hath perced to the rote,
Ans bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred in the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open yƫ
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages):
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages..."

           --Geoffrey Chaucer The Canturbury Tales: Prologue

Spring fever - we all want to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, even if it means a religious pilgrimage.

My students stare at the board blankly, even more so than usual, wishing they were on a blanket at the park or on a chaise by the pool. 

This time of year always reminds me of one student in particular. His name was Andrew, a trig student that I had in the first spring after my return to UA. My classes were back-to-back, and in the ten minutes between them, I would often chat with the students as the first class trickled out and the second class trickled in. Spring fever having hit and some students having lost all hope of passing, only half the second class attended on a regular basis, and I became friendly with those fifteen or so people. 

So it was in the five minutes before class began that I chatted with them, and Andrew made a grand appearance. "I made it," he proclaimed, drowning out all other conversation. 

There was good reason for his enthusiasm. He had three unexcused absences, and since he needed to replace his lowest test grade with his final exam score, he couldn't miss anymore days. He had to come to class, no matter what. No matter what, indeed.

His white three-button shirt and khaki pants were soaked and streaked with mud and grass stains. The knee was torn out of one leg of his pants, and I could see that his knuckles, his lower lip, and one of his eyebrows were bleeding. He swayed and clung to the doorframe to remain upright.

"Andrew, what happened to you?" I asked.

"Whhheeeell."  He blinked slowly, and his breath washed into the room. He was very drunk. "See, I went out last night and got really drunk." 

I nodded. The rest of the class was now fully rapt and chuckling. "I think you still are."

"Oh, I am." He nodded. "I, ah, left the bar, but I never made it home. I haven't been to sleep yet. Then it was like, 'Oh fuck you guys! I gotta go to trig. I can't miss anymore days.' So I got my buddy's bike and rode here." He made locomotive motions with fisted hands. I nodded and fought a smile. "And like, I wrecked, and I got in a fight with a sprinkler."

"That explains the blood and the mud."

One of the girls in the class who knew him said, "You drunk idiot." He pointed at her and then kind of staggered into the nearest desk. 

"Andrew, do you have a phone?" I asked. He nodded. "Okay. Can you call someone to come pick you up?" He nodded. "Okay. I think you should because you can be arrested for being drunk in a University facility. I don't want to have to call the cops on you."

"But, I can't miss any more days," he whined.

"I won't count it against you."

He banged his elbow against the wall as he stood in a tazmanian devil style manner. "Really?" He reached into his pocket, smearing blood on its edge, to dig out his phone. When I nodded, he dialed. After a few moments, he said, "Dude, come get me at the front." He staggered out of the classroom. "No, she's totally cool. She's not even going to call the cops!"

The class and I stepped out into the hall to watch him go. He ran down the hall, tripped over his own feet, fell, got up, and resumed running. Before he made it to the stairs that would take him outside, he shouted, "Woo-hoo," with fist pumps toward the ceiling and then executed a surpsingly agile heel-click.

"Well," I said as I surveyed my remaining students. "Now that the entertainment portion of the class is over, let's get to work." I ushered the class back into the room and continued my lecture on sequences and series.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The Microwave
Jeanette sighed as she put the hamster into the microwave.  She was great at handling kids, but she had never been good with pets.  She warned Kevin of this, but he had insisted that she was the only person he trusted enough to hamster-sit.  Poor Mr. Nibbles never had a chance.
Jeanette pressed the reheat button followed by the preset selection for pizza.  The turntable began its slow spin, and the magnetron hummed.  “Alright, you blob of fuzz,” she muttered. 
After only two seconds, the hamster’s back legs began to twitch.  By the time the microwave dinged to signal the “food” was ready, the hamster was back on his feet with his tiny nose wiggling.  Jeanette opened the door and removed Mr. Nibbles.
“There.”  She ran her thumb down the rodent’s back.  “No one has to know you were dead but me.” 
Jeanette slipped Mr. Nibbles into his cage.  As she watched, the hamster stretched his neck up and suckled at the water bottle.  “Does death make you thirsty?” she asked of him.  “Hmm, maybe it’s the radiation.”
Jeanette moved the cage to the sliver of mattress that passed for her dorm room bed.  Three more hours.  If Mr. Nibbles could make it that long, Kevin’s parents would come get him, and she would be in the clear. 
Jeanette sat next to the cage and smirked at the LG microwave.  She agreed that life was good, but maybe the company was taking their slogan a little too seriously.  Of course, Jeanette didn’t believe that anyone else had a microwave that could reanimate the dead when set to reheat pizza.  So many people ate pizza and reheated pizza that she surely would’ve heard about it by now or at least seen it posted on Facebook.
No, Jeanette was certain that she was the only person who owned such a microwave.  The first time she selected reheat pizza and the anchovies had gasped, flipped, and flopped right there on the cheese, she had puked in her tiny wastebasket and then run to Happy Pawn.  The old guy who owned the place had listened to her ravings with a bland look on his face.  Once she had run out of steam, he said, “All sales are final.  It’s your microwave now.  If there’s something wrong with it, it’s your problem.”  At his shrewd look, Jeanette had swallowed down the bile in her throat and asked, “Well, uh, do you have the owner’s manual?”  He did not.
Until fate decided it was time for Mr. Nibbles to go to Hamster Heaven, Jeanette had avoided the reheat pizza setting.  She wrinkled her nose, thinking she had used the microwave to nuke a frozen burrito only an hour before using it to resurrect Kevin’s furry friend.  Well, she sanitized it.
The microwave wasn’t the only thing Jeanette had purchased from Happy Pawn, but as far as she knew, her portable radio and mini-fridge didn’t have super powers.  They were normal, crappy hand-me-downs.  And that old man…it was almost as if he knew the microwave wasn’t just a microwave.  Jeanette had been back to the shop several times, but any time she brought up the microwave, he would remind her of store policy and then ignore her.
Jeanette watched Mr. Nibbles climb onto his wheel and begin a brisk workout.  “Don’t over-do it,” she warned.  “I don’t want to have to put you back in there.”  
While she waited for Kevin’s parents to come and reclaim the hamster, Jeanette sat at her desk and reviewed her notes for a History exam.  What kind of professor gives a test the Monday after spring break? thought Jeanette.  The asshole kind, that’s who.
An hour later, Adrian returned, clothes and hair in the usual disarray, more make-up under her eyes than on them.  “Have a good weekend?” Jeanette teased her roommate.
Adrian grumbled something unintelligible and then said, “Can I have something?”
Jeanette waved a hand at the mini-fridge.  “Sure, if you think you can hold anything down.”
Adrian jerked open the fridge, rifled around inside it, and came away with half of a steak sandwich.
“I guess you feel like challenging yourself,” Jeanette said.
Adrian put the sandwich in the microwave and punched a few buttons.  While the sandwich heated, she flopped onto her bed and began the arduous task of removing her boots.  When the microwave dinged, she dragged herself over to it, opened the door, and screamed.
The sandwich belched chunks of white American cheese, green peppers, and reanimated beef.  Adrian screamed again, tripped over her own feet, and sat down hard.
Jeanette swiveled in her chair in time to watch Adrian backpedal away from the microwave.  “Ah hell.  You used ‘reheat pizza.’” 
Jeanette stood, intending to put the poor sandwich out of its misery, but Adrian’s adrenaline made her act faster.  She scrambled up from the floor, kicked the microwave door shut, and snatched the machine from the rickety TV cabinet Jeanette used as a pantry.  A wild yank pulled the plug free from the outlet, and with two more steps, Adrian hurled the microwave and its contents out their fourth floor window.
“Oh no.”  Jeanette dropped her book and hurried over to join Adrian.  “My microwave.”
The girls stood at the window and looked down on the wreckage of plastic and metal.  The sandwich, having been cushioned inside the microwave, survived the fall and now made a last ditch effort to escape.  Adrian gripped Jeanette’s arm as the steak crawled out of the bun and across the concrete sidewalk. 
“It’s…it’s alive,” Adrian said.
“What should we—“ 
Abruptly, Adrian stopped speaking, for a crow chose that moment to swoop down and deliver a deathblow to the steak.  The bird cawed twice, skewered some of the meat, and flew up into the oak tree just outside the girls’ window.  It tilted its head and then pecked at its kill. 
Adrian groaned.  “I’m going to be sick.”
“Yeah,” Jeanette agreed.    
            The girls did not speak of the microwave or the sandwich.  The next year, they moved to different dorms and got new roommates.  Eventually, Jeanette went back to Happy Pawn and got another crappy hand-me-down microwave – one that barely heated food, much less reanimated it.  The old man never asked what happened to the other microwave, and she never mentioned it to him again.
            The year after that, Mr. Nibbles died of old age.     

NOTE: I could see this becoming part of a series of short stories about objects that come from this pawn shop.