“A Plastic Minister”

by Andrew Blom

"Reflective Glass/Black Cats" by J. Kennedy (oil painting)

“Reflective Glass/Black Cats” by J. Kennedy (oil painting, CAJ 2006)

We were losers who should be shot. I turned the corner with Boyd on our way to school and was talking about Latin class. We were seniors, and although I don’t remember the day it was very warm and it was Career Day so it was sometime in May. Again, I don’t remember it very well. This was our fourth year taking Latin but each year it was first period of the day and the two of us always smoked weed in my car before school. Obviously, neither of us had taken a single thing in and we were joking today how some guy with a time machine could appear out of nowhere and grab us and take us back to Rome in the ancient time thinking that we could help him lead the resistance against the non-Latin speakers but this guy wouldn’t know that we knew just as much about Latin as a vacuum cleaner and not a very good one at that.

We weren’t intoxicated today because our dealer had recently been accused of rape and, although he wasn’t in jail yet, the two of us had strict convictions about purchasing weed from rapists.

We were eighteen and we couldn’t pretend either of us was ever going to achieve anything. Everyone when they’re young wants to be the shortstop for the Red Sox or President of the United States or an astronaut. When they get older people want to be a rock star or an actor or write for Rolling Stone. We weren’t pessimists but realists. We knew we would be mailmen or janitors. Boyd always told people he wanted to work in a steel mill. Most steel mills weren’t in operation anymore but that just gave Boyd the chance to tell everyone and our guidance counselor, “Yeah well I’m going to buy a steel mill and employ myself just so that I can tell people I’m a fucking steel mill worker.”

I wanted to work at an amusement park. Maybe one of the game booths. People, mostly psychiatrists, would ask me why and I would always tell them “just because.” I really don’t know. For Boyd and me there was always something about never living up to others’ expectations that gave us some kicks. We were going to amount to nothing and that was fine with us.

Fuck Career Day. You learn more about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from any other day of your miserable life. A while ago, Boyd and I learned about acceptance in the things you can’t change. High school taught us that we weren’t good at anything and we would be steel mill and amusement park losers.

That was fine. At least we’re fine and not getting beaten every day. We had our looks.  Both of us thought that if you didn’t die without some sort of Sexually Transmitted Disease, you weren’t really trying hard enough. Boyd learned that when you get an STD you don’t think this way anymore.

I learned from my parents that we wouldn’t always be young.

We have to go to homeroom at the start of the day. We were in different rooms. I learned I should try and make some more friends. Mickey sits in front of me. He has Down Syndrome. I learned from him that I don’t have any real problems. He always turns around and arm wrestles me. I always let him win. Someday I’ll beat him just to see the expressions on others’ faces and imagine them saying, “What an asshole.” Sometimes, because I’m that kid every school has who is a complete asshole, after I’m done wrestling him I’ll walk over to the hand sanitizer and put a gallon of it in my hand and tell everyone I don’t want to catch anything.

I learned two things here: 1) This is why I have no other friends, and 2) puke green is the color of the paint on the walls inside the principal’s office.

This was her second year on the job, after our old principal committed suicide, which made us look really bad. She supposed that because it was Career Day, I would be better off attending each of the sessions which on this day replaced our classes. She suggested I start keeping my mouth shut. I learned that this is incredibly difficult to do.

She also told me she would love to see me come to school tomorrow with a haircut. She said all the employers today looked for clean young people. I learned that I would never work for a guy who would make me cut my hair. I learned that I would never join the Marines. I learned that I didn’t really want to die for this country.

Outside her office are our school’s two secretaries, our vice principal and our guidance counselor. I learned neither of them knew who I actually was. I learned that I really regret causing so much trouble for all of them. I learned they won’t be sad when I leave in three weeks.  I learned most people found me unpleasant. I learned how replaceable I was at this school.  Actually, the kids who come here next year will be an improvement on me. It’s funny and it’s sad.  I learned that all my life I will be struggling with how I feel about certain things. I learned that everything changes and that even though it always will I never see it coming.

I walked through the halls and our first session had already started. It was forensic psychology. Boyd was sitting in the back and he had told me the day before he was going to be that asshole who asked if they were like the people on the CSI shows, but by the time I arrived someone had already asked that question. I learned no matter how original you are there’s always someone more original.

The Forensic guy talked for twenty minutes about his job, about understanding criminal law and all sorts of things that have very little to do with photographing crime scenes laced with semen like we all thought. He asked us if we had any questions. He was not sitting in the room with the Future Forensic Psychologists of the world. The Q&A for each session would last fifteen minutes. We were on minute two so I raised my hand.

I said, “Tell me a story.” He said sure, but which aspect of the field would I like to hear?

I said, “No, no, no, just tell me a story, about a princess or a dragon or something.”

The guy laughed and so did everyone else. I learned that most people don’t understand me.

The session got over and we were broken into groups based on a questionnaire we filled out a week ago. This fifteen-question thing determined how I would best utilize my potential. I learned that I would best serve the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by working at a phone company.

Next to my locker was Victor. He asked if I was heading to the planetarium. I said, “Was anyone heading to the planetarium?”

“Yeah, the floweriest folk are. I’m going to drop some acid real quick right now. You in?”

I told him I’m good.

He said, “Man, that’s ok too.”

Then I saw Molly. She and Boyd were married. I say that because they have been dating since the fifth grade and because one night I did one of those things where you become an ordained minister on line for twenty dollars. I married them one night after we set fire to this pile of basketballs we stole from our gym, and the two of them were drunk and they kept dancing and I had to keep leaning them away from the fire. I don’t think either of them even knew they were married to each other.

Molly was addicted to caffeine and she typically consumed four energy drinks a day. But she didn’t have one in her hand today. It may have been why I didn’t recognize her after she sat beside me. She was a future telephone repair person too.

“I have to tell you I feel a real low down today,” she said.

“You haven’t had your drinks today. You’re not pregnant are you?”

“People keep asking me that. Do people ask you that a lot?” she said.

“Do people ask me if I’m pregnant? I mean I guess sometimes but not a lot.”

She laughed. I learned the people who get my sense of humor are keepers.

I said to her, “Tell you what, just to be sure I’ll push you down the stairs a little later today.”

She laughed again and said how nice it was that I was looking after her.

We learned then how we never realized how much we enjoyed repairing telephones until we were told how much we enjoyed repairing telephones.

I wrote a poem:

“Apples are good and tasty

Everyone eats them

If they were called Broccoli

No one would eat them

‘Cause no one eats Broccoli”

The next session was with a police officer but I was stopped in the hall by our guidance counselor, Ms. Howe. This was about what I said the day before to my English Teacher, Ms. Donovan. She kept me after school and asked me why I didn’t finish my ten page research paper about William Faulkner. This is what I said to her:

“I’m sorry but you see I sat down to write it and my nice mother wanted to take me out to lunch but I said I couldn’t because I had to write your paper and I got a page done about Faulkner’s childhood. Did you know a black woman helped raise him?  But then my mother asked again if I wanted to go to lunch and again I had to say no because of the paper but I kept at it, and did you know he didn’t write his first novel until he was around twenty-eight? Don’t most writers publish something shitty before that at least? I guess he figured to perfect his craft before. Then she asked me again to take her out to lunch and I’m like, ‘Ma, please I got to write Ms. Donovan’s paper’ so I kept at it, but then I had finished the second page when I heard a bang like someone dropping a dictionary on the floor in the other room so I got up to investigate and it was my mother. She had shot herself in the head with a shotgun because I wasn’t able to take her to lunch because I was too busy writing your paper, Ms. Donovan, so then I had to stop completely you know so I could run to the store and buy some limes so I could bury her dead body in the backyard with my father, but I was going to try and finish up the paper that night but I should have known it would take longer to bury her since she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, but again I’m terribly sorry but I can hand in the finished paper next week if you’ll excuse it for being late.”

Ms. Donovan just sat there and I could tell I had pissed her off, and I figured I was old enough to know when an adult was finished talking so I excused myself from the room and walked home. I learned that I was too clever for my own good. I learned that people tend to take things too seriously. I learned that I was helping to put the guidance counselor’s children through medical school.

She told me to expect a phone call later that day to my mother and the three of us would meet for coffee in the morning to talk about this incident. She asked me what time would be good for my mother. I said to her, “I’ll have to check with the worms.” I learned that other people decide the moment where you have to start growing up.

I had a break between our next sessions but it was our daily meeting with the baseball coach. I was looking for a way out. I learned that saying, “He molested me” was always the easiest way of getting out of something.  I learned just how different I am. I learned how I’m never happy with what I have.

The next session was with a lab technician who specialized in blood work. But he was Egyptian and knew a lot about physics, and because there was only a few of us there Molly asked him if he knew how to make an atomic bomb. He did. I learned how to make an atomic bomb in case the Nazis ever reemerge as a threat. I learned that I wouldn’t mind spending my life in prison.

After him there was a fireman, but instead Boyd and I decided to leave school. We knew the back door the woodshop room was never monitored. I learned there was always a way out.

I realized he hadn’t said a word in a couple of hours, but our relationship never went into the whole “What’s wrong? You can talk to me.”

I thought that he was planning on running off to find a steel mill.

He said to me, “Well I should probably go turn myself in.”

I let him leave, because what business was it of mine to stop him? I learned to get out of people’s ways. I ducked back into school and it was the beginning of the last session and it was with this asshole that was named Crispus who used to be a junkie but now owned a non-profit organization after he found God.

“I am a minister now,” the old junkie said. “Stay with me and I’ll turn you on to some stuff.”

I told Molly that her husband left to kill himself and she said, “Well, at least there’ll be an extra parking spot for me at school now.”

After this session I went to the woodshop room alone because there was only ten minutes left. I thought about putting my hand through the wood planer because it would get me out of baseball practice that day and out of the Army. I thought if I did it and didn’t tell anyone I would develop some sort of infection and I could get into that Make-A-Wish Foundation, and because I’m such a punk they would ask me what my one wish was and this is what I honestly would say to them:

“What I really wish was that I was deaf, dumb and blind, with no arms and legs and with a shaved head and didn’t have to do nothing all day but sit in a chair in the corner of a room, with a nurse checking on me twice a day, and I want one window in the room and I want it opened so that birds can fly in and pick away at me, and I would like the nurse to bring me flowers. Lilies. And I want her to put them in a vase on the windowsill and I want to be able to smell them because I suck at everything else.

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