22 October 2012

In Defense of Pasteybottom Joe

(An excerpt from the forthcoming Yerba maté - a Novel.)

"There was a small boy. I was just now going to tell you what his name was, but then I realized that it really makes no difference what his name is, and the only possible benefit to telling you his name would be for the benefit or the ease of storytelling. But let's try this, shall we? This small boy was a thin little nipper, quiet and given to introversion. He was a fair student , but he genuinely loved going to school. There was hardly a thing that he did not absolutely love about going to school, in fact, even though he struggled to keep up at times. He was, for the most part, a fairly normal little kid in all other ways, aside from his unfortunate cauliflower ears. He had never suffered an injury to his ears, nor had he ever been in a fist fight. He just had these enormous, puffy ears that stood out like veritable cauliflowers. They were so prominent that one year at Halloween his mother suggested that for variety they just cover the darn things with green makeup and send him out as a broccoli merchant. His mother was not very creative, and did not see the obvious impropriety in her suggestion.

One fair day during a group assignment in their chemistry class, the small boy was sent out into the hallway with three others to take measurements of a small stockpile of a radioactive isotope that the teacher had placed there just for this very experiment. The small boy loved these sorts of assignments, and he relished the work of measuring isotopes. He was the first in the group to complete his portion of the work, and so he waited just outside the doorway of the classroom while the others finished up.

While the other students worked, the small boy overheard the conversation in the classroom between the teacher and the rest of the class, and he heard the students voicing their concern that the small boy and his teammates would be bothered by the heinous shriek of the decontaminating unit that they would have to enter after their exposure to the isotope. They expressed particular concern about the small boy, as they felt he was a particularly tender flower.

“It's OK,” said the teacher, “with those hellish-looking ears of his, I don't think he can hear a damned thing most days.”

The small boy was crushed. Suddenly he had no desire to complete any more isotope-measuring assignments, and he lost all desire to return to class. He left his worksheet just outside the door of the classroom, and with his shoulders hunched and his head hanging low, he shuffled home. Things were never quite the same, and his schoolwork suffered for the rest of his time in public education. He managed to graduate and join the Merchant Marine, but we'll just use this little section of his life as an example of what happens when one is hurt by unintentional words . We can always come back to the small boy at a later date. 

 How does that sound?"

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