Friday, November 14, 2008

The Beatings That Made You The Person You Are Today

I have invited my friend and colleague Tyler to publish posts here. Tyler is a fellow writer here at the school, and is as humane as he is unflappable. To welcome him, I'm publishing a list of the beatings that made me the person I am today.

1) August 7, 1997.

They had knives, but I had my wits. I'd been living a lazy existence that summer, idling in the air conditioning, avoiding the southern Illinois humidity. While my body atrophied and slackened, my mind was sharpening. I watched television twelve hours a day, and instead of turning my brain to mush, it gave me a superhuman ability to analyze narrative. This also gave me a piercing insight into the various discourses of the working man, a functional familiarity with Spanish, and an unambiguous desire to be taken seriously. I do believe my more powerful brain waves actively sterilized me for at least four years (at least this is what I felt my body, particularly my testicles, telling me). The point is, there is no way I should have been able to fend off a travelling band of violent ragtime pianists - as dangerous as they were senile. The sun was low, the neighborhood abandoned. Was that Scott Joplin I heard? I do believe it was. Was it eight rickety pianists playing eight syncopated versions of the Beltnoose Rag on eight rickety pianos? Amazing to say, possibly more amazing to hear, yes. Were they all wearing patchy, worn jackets, peering out of sunken eyes that seemed unaccustomed to daylight? I don't have to tell you that they were. And the second they noticed me, out came the knives. First, they dashed me. Bloodied but undaunted, I commenced to battle their wits - you may well know that with the elderly, the ability to produce and respond to music can blossom in the right circumstances, but the ability to reason devolves to the level of a four year old. I told them that if they let me go on my way, I'd buy them candies. They requested Werther's Originals. Luckily, I always carried a bag of Werther's on my person. I fed them and left. From this ordeal, I learned that I was right to always carry Werther's Originals on my person.

2) January 21, 1998: I am beaten by a priest for polishing my shoes on a Wednesday, after lunch. The rules at SLUH were as arbitrary as they were ingenious. The Jesuits believed that in order to build a man, you must first destroy him with maddeningly inconstant rules. Their motto was (and is!) "First: The Neversame Rules, Then: Religion." It was well known to us Sophomores that Sophomores with last names J-through-S must polish their shoes any time from ten to noon on Wednesdays and that it is a venal (though no less serious) sin to polish their shoes at any other time, particularly in the afternoon. I had a particularly rebellious streak that Sophomore year, and sought to test these inconsistent rules (if you were an altar boy, you had to follow even more arbitrary rules, but only for the first two months of the school year) by challenging the one no one had dared to before: The shoe-polishing rules. I don't have to tell you that I was found out almost immediately and severely caned by Father Von Nida so that I had to spend a week in the infirmary. Obviously, the lesson I learned is to polish my shoes when I'm told it is acceptable to polish my shoes!

3) October 31, 2002. I am challenged to a fight by an invisible man. It's quite simple: I stepped on his invisible shoes. He shoved me with some force, and I was carried a fifth of the way across the room (the room was the size of your typical workplace bathroom). This must have looked amusing to those gathered at the party, but it was certainly terrifying to me. I swung a lamp around aimlessly, targetless, and managed to connect, bloodying his nose. He began to cry and I set down the lamp. But the invisible are a wily lot (I'd been told, but had obviously forgotten, that the invisible are not to be trusted. EVER.), and he surprised me with a sucker punch and bit me on the arms and kicked me in the ribs. It should go without saying that the lesson from this severe beating was to not trust the invisible, ever. And to avoid costume parties that have a lot of alcohol on the premisis, because the invisible say they can handle their liquor but they really can't, and seem to be emboldened by their invisible pirate costumes.

4) May 14, 2006. Lady Bird Johnson shatters my front teeth. This one is pretty straight forward, and the moral can serve as the story: Do not trespass in Texas.

5) November 4, 2008. I am attacked by a man I mistake for Barack Obama on the streets of Wyoming. I'd been following him for days, wondering why he wasn't campaigning in Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Florida (remember: the pundits all said these states would be key), or why he was traveling without the secret service, or why no one else noticed him. For weeks, I built up the courage to ask about any of these things, or, in a quivering voice, tell him he had my vote. Of course, he approached me first, to ask me why I had followed him from Safeway to the dry cleaners to the Thai restaurant we found ourselves in. I told him, "Mr. Obama, it is now election Tuesday, shouldn't you be preparing a victory or concession speech, depending on your campaign's internal numbers and the exit polls coming in from all of our fine states?" He took this as an insult, and severely beat me. The life lesson I learned here is that Barack Obama is not a three hundred-sixty pound diabetic black man.


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