Thursday, January 26, 2012


Freshman year: I’ve scrawled a saw-toothed gargoyle on my day planner with a 0.7mm mechanical pencil. It takes up all of the space alloted for Thursday, where I was supposed to mark down my homework. My gargoyle spreads big bat wings and flexes the pectorals and abs a boy learns how to draw after years of reading shitty Rob Liefeld comics.

The homeroom teacher, a hatchet-faced Bride of Santorum, goes from desk to desk, checking our planners to make sure we’re using them. Acceptable use wins us approval stamps, which we can trade in for precisely jack shit. Who knows what failure will bring? Probably death. I realize a little too late that a leering, demonic bodybuilder probably won’t win this lady’s love. She’s two desks away, and I have to improve. I draw a word bubble.

“Don’t do drugs,” the gargoyle now says, when she comes by to stamp me.

Art class. This teacher stands six and a half feet tall, nearly bald, Dad-glasses on an oblong head. I think I’ll like him better than my junior high art teacher, a woman who dressed like Phoebe from Friends and smelled like marijuana at all times. We’re at our seats, starting to shade cubes with pieces of charcoal. I really don’t know how this is going to help me draw buff gargoyles.

“You’re in my seat, faggot,” says an upperclassman, a piece of work named Andy. I ignore him because it isn’t the fourth fucking grade. I put more shading on my cube.

Andy yanks the chair out from under me and dumps me on my ass. A few people titter. The big, tall art teacher barks out some kind of warning and then looks back at whatever’s on his own desk. Nothing ever comes of the incident.


Sophomore year: The gargoyles hide in the margins of my day planner now. They’re small, stick figures with round heads and jaggy little wings. They’re something to doodle when I’m bored. No more big shelves of pecs and abs at three-quarter profile for this guy. I put most of my juice into my art projects. My favorite was a she-angel, drawn in sequential panels. Left to right, she shed her pinions for bat wings, halo for horns, and some kind of muumuu for slut gear.

It’s not been a great year. After a solid week of torment on the bus ride home, I bloodied a kid’s nose and ate a few days of suspension. I’d taken to carrying sharp rocks in my pockets on the way home, just in case: slumped, wearing the clothes my family picked out for me, backpack drooping and full of horseshit like quadratic equations and sentence diagrams.

Art class. We’re cutting out stencils with X-Acto knives. My hand slips and I gouge the soft skin behind the base of my thumb nail. Dark blood wells out and I yell. This is great comedy for the class. Everyone laughs. I grab the kid next to me by the throat and shake until I’m pulled away. Another few days of suspension.


Junior year: No gargoyles now, just crude stick figures or jagged lightning bolts and arabesques. I’ve lost the ability to plot out anything more sophisticated. Usually they crouch or hide in the paper corners, shooting blasts from their claw-hands. I put the most effort into a tableau of me punching another kid in the stomach. He’s a noisome, unloved little fucker with bad rosacea and the kind of gurgly, slurpy voice that would have St. Francis of Assisi reaching for a gun. When the kid opens his mouth, it smacks and sticks like someone peeling open a grilled cheese sandwich.

In the drawing, a geyser of slime shoots from his mouth as I punch him. I’m doing the kid a favor.

Art class. Andy died this year. It was a sudden onset of who fucking cares. I guess I should have been sad, or sad for his little sister, who got a free pity pass from all her teachers. I barely noticed him. There were so many dogs barking now, silencing one had no effect.

My grades drop. I failed art class in junior high, but that was because I blew off every other project to make an elaborate mirror etching for my then-girlfriend. I’ve got no girlfriend now, I’ve just stopped caring about most of the assignments. The second to last thing into which I put actual effort was a painting, arcylics on thick paper. The school janitors threw it away.

The last piece of work was a clay sculpture. Clay was new, a venture into the third dimension. I made a human figure. He was stocky, faceless, no joints on his limbs. It liked working the clay, though, getting my fingers into something real.

“This will shatter in the kiln,” the art teacher said, when I finished.


“There’s nowhere for the air to go when you fire it,” he said, taking the figure from me. “It needs a hole to vent air.”

With two fingers, he dug an enormous hole between the model’s legs. The art teacher handed it back to me. My clay man now sported an outsized vulva. But at least now it wouldn’t blow apart in the kiln. I set the figure down.

My shove sent him sprawling over the chair behind him and onto the ground. My classmates let out a surprised blurt and began to jeer. He pushed himself off the floor and I was there, kicking him in the side.

My art teacher shoved me back. Every swallowed retort and bitter piece of staircase wit I’d ever squirreled away tried to come out of my mouth at once. They jumbled into a feral scream and my brain caught on fire.

I dived on the man, drove him back into the ground. The first headbutt jarred the thick glasses from his face. The second and third broke his nose. I jabbed my forearm into his throat and his shouts turned into coughing gasps. His teeth gave way under my fists. I smacked his head against the tile floor, over and over. He was a six and a half foot tall Kitty Genovese and none of the students pulled me off of him. I sobbed and screamed, clawed his shirt until the buttons popped and exposed his flabby, hairy chest. His arms windmilled, trying to pull me off.

I hit him again in the throat. He’s not moving so much, now. I stand up, give him one last kick, and howl like an animal at my terrified classmates. I stalk out of the class and down the hall to the school entrance. I walk at an even pace, spattered with blood, teeth bared. My mind is so quiet. Three blocks down the road, the police finally get me. I see an ambulance speed by.


I’m in something called a “Learning Academy.” Adults, security guards and instructors we’re supposed to address as “chiefs,” shuttle us from our cells to our classes. We do math. We watch videos where out-of-touch oldsters dressed like the BK Kids Club teach us how to be decent human beings. There’s a lot of exercise and unvarnished physical labor. The idea, I think, is to make us too tired to be sociopaths.

It’s nighttime, and it is at least dark enough to ignore the co-axial camera in my room. The girl in the next cell over has a crush on the desk attendant, a college kid with tribal tattoos and heavy-gauge piercings. She whispers the most obscene things to him for hours. I’m embarrassed for the poor guy.

It’s all right, though. There’s enough light from the buzzing street lamp outside to make it through my barred window and onto the bed. I’ve got a tear-away notebook and a felt tip pen. It’s quiet in here. It’s all right.

I soak the pages with my art.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael Webb challenged me with ""I just feel it as it goes. I do whatever I feel is right for me at the time." -Johnny Cash" and I challenged SAM with "A character can't get a joke or some gut bustingly funny image out of their head. But they're at a funeral, or working at a suicide hotline, or some other place where it would be bad form to break down into gales of laughter. What now?"

1 comment:

  1. My God -- I love how he is both sympathetic and antagonistic at the same time, completely beyond control and yet very powerful in his own way. I recognized myself in his art that got pushed to the margins of his paper. It seemed like the more out of touch he became, the smaller the real art, the greater the violence. My writing does that - gets pushed to the margins - eventually goes away - when my bipolar gets bad.