It's probably a good thing I can write.
Not to say that I am, or have been, incapable of doing anything else. I know how to make toast, after all. That's an accomplishment. No, really, it is. I mean, if the difference between starvation, and survival onward to tomorrow, is a slightly browned piece of bread with butter and jelly, I've got it covered. Not that I'm about to break into a refrain from I Will Survive, or anything, but if you hear some crunching in the corner, that might be me.
Anyway, enough about toast. We can all make toast, right? Please say yes.
So, I don't remember my sixth-grade math teacher's name, and it's been bugging me for an hour. Come to it, I can't even remember what he looks like, though I do quite clearly remember it being a he. Of course, I only remember one classmate--a boy by the name of Scott. And I only remember him for that unfortunate vomiting incident that caused me to plead to my mother for new shoes, and forever altered how I respond to the smell of sawdust. Sorry Scott. Wherever you are, I hope you aren't vomiting on someones shoes. In an effort to actually move forward, I'll call my teacher Mister Mister Sir, and get on with it.
Mister Mister Sir did a rather curious thing in class. Each month he chose a Student Of The Month (the first letters were always in CAPS, lest the importance of the honor be diminished). Now, being honored as Student Of The Month is, in almost every case, a worthy title bestowed upon the one student that either kissed enough tush, or cheated on enough tests to have the highest grade in the class. It so happened I managed both with great skill. But being Student Of The Month wasn't merely a title in Mister Mister Sir's class. No, it came with benefits, the most primary of which was that you got to sit at a teacher's-sized desk near the door, and grade papers all day, after which you went into the Grade Book and entered to grades.
The awesome nature of this power cannot be overlooked. However, it wasn't the greatest of the honors bestowed upon the Loyal Brotherhood of the Student Of The Months. That honor came by way of a Polaroid picture taped to a piece of construction paper (mine was red, as I recall--odd that I can remember that but not Mister Mister Sir's real name), with a brief bio underneath. It was a typical roll-call of information: Name, Age, Birth date, Favorite Food. I remember looking over the list and happily making it known to the world how incredibly special I was. They would know all the most important information about me and envy me each every one of those thirty days. The kicker was the last question, the one that nearly defined my entire life, post-Sir's class.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Oh, boy. That was the question. The Question. But I knew the answer. I didn't need to hesitate. Didn't need to take even a second of time to contemplate exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
Mister Mister Sir mistakenly translated this not-simply-a-tidbit of defining information, and noted for all to see that I wanted to be a Professional Bowler. Much though I was honored to sit at the High Desk, and spend a month of my adolescence grading papers and not learning a damned thing, I felt it was quite necessary to help Mister Mister Sir--enlighten even--understand where he had erred.
"Mister Mister Sir, sir," I had said to him, early one morning before class had begun. "I believe you may have made a mistake on my biography. I don't want to be a professional bowler. I want to bowl for Jesus."
Mister Mister Sir seemed a little put off by that, or at least that's how I perceived it. I now know he just needed coffee. I see that face every morning in my mirror. "I don't understand," he said, which I found to be quite obvious. Of course he didn't understand. I needed to clarify.
"I want to bowl for Jesus," I repeated. "You know, stand up with my ball of reckoning, keep my approach straight and balanced, steer clear of the gutters, and roll my way through the ten pins with a proper angel."
"You mean, 'angle'?"
"No, angel." He stared at me, which I saw as an invite to continue. "The proper angel is important. You can't just take the ten pins lightly, straight on. You have to have an angel to guide you through and help you to, you know, get a strike."
He wasn't getting it, which nearly frustrated me into silence. Months I had worked on this, trying to get every bit of it just right. And now here was a teacher of whom I greatly respected for choosing me as Student Of The Month, understanding none of it. "The Ten Pins?" I tried.
"What about them?"
"It's a parallel, Mister Mister Sir. Ten Pins, Ten Commandments. Angels, and staying clear of the gutters--you know," and here I whispered, "Satan?"
"Oh," he said, rather dry and indifferent. "This is a religious thing, isn't it?"
I felt my shoulders drop somewhere below my knees."Well, no. I mean, yeah, kind of. But not, if you know what I mean. It's kind of a religious sort of thing that I talked to my preacher about. Of course, he didn't understand either. But I think that was just because the Idiot Gnomes got to him."
"The Idiot Gnomes. That's what my father calls them, anyway. They break into your room at night, on days when you've been particularly bad, and steal your brain cells. They turn you into an idiot. That's why I try to be good and come up with good ideas all the time. I don't want to be an idiot."
"But you want to Bowl for Jesus?"
"Yes! I do!"
Mister Mister Sir smiled, laughed a little, then stood up and walked to the wall where my beaming visage sat in all its Polaroid-glory. He removed the construction paper, walked back to his desk, made quite a scene of crossing out Professional Bowler with a marker, then quickly wrote something I couldn't make out. He walked back to the wall, and re-posted my shrine of glory.
He nodded, and returned to his desk, where he downed nearly a full cup of coffee in one gulp. After a moment of hesitation, I walked to the wall and stared at my biography. I stared at it for about two minutes, contemplating.
"You can bowl for Jesus all you want, kiddo," said Mister Mister Sir, now standing behind me. "But you damn well better write about it afterward. Weirdness breeds entertainment, and I'm pretty sure you're gonna breed just fine." After which he walked out of the room.
I'm not sure at what point in the month that Scott vomited on my shoes, but I know that it was about the same time that I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. If not for Mister Mister Sir, and his biographical misstep, then for me and my wardrobe. I wanted to wear nice, clean, warm, slippers all day, somewhere free of random vomit, and the gag-inducing smell of sawdust,
It's a good thing I can write.
Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, and the forthcoming Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction, and has been featured on NPR and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publisher's Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. He can be found boring the world with his thoughts on his blog,The Further Promotion of ME, as well as the bookstore-life blog, There Are No Words.