Wednesday, February 17, 2010

 

In Which We Resume Our Supper Stories...

One of the great things about having your family back with you after four months of isolation is that you can once again tell stories at suppertime without the distraction of passersby glancing in the windows and wondering why you’re just sitting there talking to yourself.

The Brownie usually wants animal stories along specific themes—That Time Blaze Saved (insert member of the family here); How the Bat/Raccoon/Owl/Freaking Long Snake Got in the House; or The Curious Incident of the Cat that Got Stuck in Some Improbable Place--there’s quite a selection here: garbage bags, sleeper sofas, pool-table pockets, washers AND dryers, between a window and a screen, and inside a running car engine (a memorable anecdote for all concerned, especially Sammy the cat, who made quite a racket when he got sucked into the fan of my grandfather’s car. He emerged alive, but lived to the end of his 23 years with a healthy fear of cars. And one ear.)

Thomas, meanwhile, seems to be leaning toward cautionary tales, object lessons, and stories with some form of self-help advice mixed in. I think it’s finally dawned on him that Dad not only had some kind of life before he arrived, but may even have been an 11 year-old boy like him (albeit at some distant epoch in the past).

As I believe was mentioned in his guest post, our intrepid 5th grader is muddling his way through some 6th grade classes, including science, where he has been assigned lab partners. Teamwork of this nature is new to him, and so are all of the challenges that come with the group dynamic, particularly when it comes to carrying a malingering coworker.

“This kid doesn’t do anything. He just sits there and makes fun of our work—he said I was using too many big words and who was I showing off for anyway?” Thomas huffed after an early encounter. “But then he copies all of it down and we all get the same grade. But he deserves an F. F like in f--"

“Like in frustration?” I added helpfully, seeing the look of shock manifesting on his mother’s face. “Or maybe a D, like Dingleberry? That’s what we used to call the lazy kids who just hung off the kids who did all the work.”

Thomas liked that (Her Lovely Self, less so). “Why can’t the teacher just put all the Dingleberries in their own group so they can fail together?” he asked.

Of course, that’s not how it works. I gave Thomas the usual wise-parent stuff straight out of the handbook: how group assignments serve two purposes—earning a grade and learning how to work together with people of differing personalities and skill-sets. And I told him that this was good training for the future because unless you choose the life of a hermit or a recluse, you have to figure out how to get along with others, in work and in life.

But his eyes were glazing over—much as yours are now, I’m sure—and so I added, “Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a little revenge now and then.” And that led to a story of my own encounter with a Dingleberry.

I was a little older than 11 when I first had to deal with Patrick. He was the class bully when I started in 8th grade at a new school. He had come close to beating the crap out of me once, but my old pal God smote him with an asthma attack and I had to drag him to the nurse’s office. He almost never touched me again, but he never forgave me for saving his life either. And so, when we ended up at the same high school together, Patrick became a chronic vocal annoyance in my life: inventing a wide variety of effeminate names to call me; heckling me whenever it was my turn to stand up and give a report. And like Thomas’ Dingleberry, he regularly made fun of my slightly above-average vocabulary.

I learned to tune Patrick out over time, but then, in my sophomore year, I was placed in a position where I could not easily avoid him. That position was Table #2 in the Physical Sciences lab of our high school. My sophomore science class was a mash-up of chemistry and physics, taught by Mr. Schelder, whom I remember as a genial if not exactly brilliant teacher. But at least he didn’t teach entirely from the book--he loved to make us do lab work and from almost day one of the class, we were messing about with Bunsen burners and volatile chemical compounds of every stripe.

This was something of a saving grace for me. I never excelled in any science class, but I could observe and report results with the best of them and so I reveled in the idea of doing practical work. Until Mr. Schelder told us that we had to work as a team with whoever was at our lab table, and that half our grade was going to be based on the group work we did.

And of course, Patrick was at my lab table.

I was none too thrilled about this. Neither was our other lab partner Harry, a bright classmate who had gone to school with Patrick since about 2nd grade and hated him more than I (insofar as such a thing was possible). I was never very good friends with Harry, but we bonded that long year, exchanging many rolled eyes and freighted sighs as we diligently tried to complete various experiments in spite of Dingleberry Patrick.

Who, predictably enough, could be relied on to be more hindrance than help on lab days. If you were pouring something acidic into a beaker, you could count on him to yell in your ear or nudge your elbow at a crucial moment, leaving you with a chemical burn on your hands or a vivid bleached mark on your shirt or pants. And whenever Mr. Schelder had departed to the supply closet for more chemicals, Patrick’s party piece was to grab a lit Bunsen burner and ignite his farts for the amusement and/or disgust of the rest of the class. So it went.

Harry and I dutifully recorded the results of each experiment, which we were compelled to share with Patrick, who could never be counted to assist us, but was always most attentive when we were scribbling down temperature changes or calculating the volume of something. I consoled myself with the knowledge that, while we were graded as a group on our lab work, we each had to write our own lab reports (and were graded separately for those). Patrick may have earned a free ride when it came sharing our results, but he had to explain and interpret those results on his own in his report. I could only hope he was earning straight F’s, because he was one big f-ing pain to me that year. I had the chemical stains and burn marks to prove it.

I confess I sometimes wished Patrick might meet with an accident—another asthma attack from inhaling caustic fumes, say, or a scorched colon from clenching his sphincter at an inopportune moment and accidentally sucking the gas flame up into his body. But the only one who got injured was that year was Harry. During the winter, he broke his leg in some complicated way that required him to be in a cast from his toes to his belly-button and put him out of school for several weeks. A bit of a downer for him, I’m sure. But who cares about him? It was me that had to deal with Patrick on his own now.

And on our first week’s lab work without Harry, I came to discover just how much poor Harry had been carrying Patrick...

Comments:
Hey MM.
Working on a supper story right now.
Two actually; one for you, one for CB and the kiddo. The tale of Kitty and Disneyworld.
 
Ooohhh! The anticipatory excitement of a new post from the internet’s foremost spinner of yarns.
 
Aaahhh, the warm contented afterglow of another excellent missive. All Hail the Blogiverse’s reluctant King.
 
hey, mm. glad you're out of isolation, and telling tales again.
 
Good to see you back in your own voice, Mr. EiC. I want to know how Patrick gets his just desserts...
 
Dingleberry...when I was growing up...that was the...one...that was left still stuck in the cat's fur.
 
Oh, we all hated the Patricks of the world. Unless, you were Patrick, of course.
 
Waiting, as usual, with anticipation.

[*folds arms, rolls eyes, and whistles tunelessly, in an unsuccessful effort to appear nonchalant*]
 
I see you are back to your old tricks again of telling stories that leave us hanging.

I can't wait for the next installment :)
 
High school chemistry class was the only class I had during those four years that sort of involved group or team work. Thankfully. That particular year/class, our instructor informed us after about a month into the school year that he was beginning to think we might become record holders of some type at our school, of his classes over the years and as the year wore on, he was convinced that we would be just that. Our record -being the most destructive class he'd ever encountered. Test tube breakage, spillage, any little event you could think of that could go awry, it happened that year in that class -or so he said -and from what I recall of that class, I think he was correct in calling our class that. I didn't have any further group/team type projects until 30 plus years later when I actually got around to going to college and then, I encountered those individuals -the dingleberry people who drag you down -big time! From not being able to find a time convenient to the other five members of our group, to those who were too damned busy with their party scene on campus to follow through with their part of our assignment, I absolutely hated the mere though of a "team effort" much less the grading of each from the efforts -or lack of such, of the entire team/group. Some things never do change.
 
Ahhh - so glad you are back!
 
Yikes - that brings back memories. Forgot about ol' Mr. Schelder. Last I heard, Patrick was on a local police force. There's a scary thought!
 
Cool. That's the first ... to end a post I've seen in AGES. Glad your family is back and helping inspire you to share stories, MM.
 
"clenching his sphincter at an inopportune moment"

ROFL, you are so imaginative ;D
 
By the way, I love this Supper Stories thing...it's like you're passing along the family craft, which of course is storytelling.
 
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