Thanks again for tolerating the re-posting of this series.
“Have a beer. Don’t cost nothing.” – John Blutarsky
Chapter 10: Starting Over, Again
At 37-years old I was completely on my own for the first time in my life. I had met my ex-wife when I was about 19, so she was my first and only serious relationship. I had never tried to meet anyone my whole life and had no clue what to do. Naturally, I turned to the Internet. I wasn’t in a good frame of mind to date as my self-esteem was shot. I wasn’t fit to be in a relationship, so instead I went through a man-whore phase for about a year, which on its own would make one amazing blog post. It was like having to hit the bottom before being fit to go back up to the top. I will save you from my trials and errors of dating, but here’s one interesting aspect.
Males like numbers. For roughly three years I kept a few interesting statistics. I dated roughly 50 women over three years. That’s slightly less than 1.5 dates per month. Throughout those 50 dates, it took an average of 1.5 dates before things “got physical.” To put that in perspective, let’s pretend I have two dates. With woman A, we were “physical” on the first date. With woman B, it was the second date. Theoretically over 50 dates, 25 were like woman A and 25 like woman B. According to my experience, women are greatly more relaxed about sex as they get older. I’m sorry, I mean as they “gain experience.” As many of us get older, sex becomes an activity. What do you want to do? Go bowling? A movie? Sex? This isn’t a critical statement, just an observation. We like sex. It’s fun. Provided things are done safely, why not enjoy it? Thus, my respect for women has increased over the years.
Also, in fairness, not every woman was either A or B, either the first or second date in bed. One woman was not “ready” until the eighth date, and she and we were subsequently together for about three years. However, to arrive at an average of 1.5 dates before a woman was ready to get in bed, there would have to be 13 other women who jumped in bed on the first date to balance out the one woman who waited 8 dates. Again, this is not a judgment, it is an observation, and I have more important judgments about dating and sex, but I will save them for another post on another day.
In addition to a romantic struggle was the professional struggle. At the end of part 9, I mentioned going to see the Mississippi River. While driving there and back again, I was periodically checking my voicemail and found a message inviting me to an interview at (thankfully) a high school. Parents of the younger kids were either too demanding or not interested, so I wanted to find – and luckily found – a high school position. Maple Shade is a fairly white-bread, racist town in southern New Jersey, and they were interested in me. Maple Shade is known for two historic achievements. First, they have been in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most bars per square mile. Their second noteworthy moment came during the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was on his way from New York to Philadelphia and sent a cautionary word to the police of Maple Shade that he was going to stop at a local pub. When the cops informed the pub, the owner said he would not serve blacks. When the cops told the owner that he had to serve Dr. King, the owner said, “Then we’re closing.” And he did. They closed for the rest of the day instead of serving Dr. King.
Being the “new guy” at work is annoying, especially when you are 37-years old and surrounded by 25-year olds with greater seniority than you. I was sitting in an auditorium on what is traditionally the first day for staff, when administrators make speeches, introduce principals, and present awards to staff for 25 years of service, 30 years, even 40 years in that school district. I then knew I would never get one of those awards. Some schools have athletic fields and buildings named for people whose entire careers were in one town, and it hurt to know that something like that was just not possible for me. I sat and watched, feeling worse with each presentation. Then I heard someone say, “You look like you can use a friend.” That was Tiffany.
Just writing this much has brought me close to tears. I have known Tiffany about 13 years, and although I only see her about twice a year, she’s the closest and smartest friend I have. She is one of the few people who knows my flaws, knows how outstanding those flaws are, and still want to have lunch and talk about a movie. She knows pretty much every creepy detail there is about me, but she is proud to know me nonetheless. When I told her all about my situation with my insane ex-wife, Tiffany offered to kill her, or at least beat her up. (Legal disclaimer: this was not a serious threat. Just for fun. This is necessary because my ex-wife stalks my blog. Yeah, there she is, over there. Say hi to her lawyer too. He looks like Kent Brockman from The Simpsons.) I had only known Tiffany about half a year and she invited me to her wedding. Then, when she realized her wedding was on a weekend when I was to have my kids, she un-invited me because she did not want me to miss time with my kids. She was so nice she almost took up a collection for me when she saw how much was deducted from my paycheck for alimony and child support.
Tiffany was a social studies teacher who taught yoga, sat in a lotus position on her desk, burned incense, and both taught and demonstrated respect for all races, religions, and sexual orientations. She was often called “gay” because she spent a lot of time defending those who were gay against those who hated gays. Although she was about 25 and I was about 38, she didn’t hesitate to invite me to hang out with her friends. The first time we were ever in a bar together with a group of other teachers, I ordered an Alabama Slammer, a rather sugary fruity sweet drink. She gave me an awkward look and said, “You can’t order that. It’s a girly drink.” I asked, “Then what’s a guy’s drink?” She shrugged as if I had asked what was 2 + 2 and said, “Beer.” I have never ordered another Slammer ever. We became great friends and spent a lot of time talking about philosophical things. She was into Buddhism and pizza. I was into talking and pizza. Before you get suspicious, no – there has never been even the tiniest of thoughts of trying to hit on her. It simultaneously creeped her out and thrilled me greatly when students thought that she and I were dating because we spent a lot of time together. I had learned to never again try dating a colleague. She was and still is more of a sister to me, although my sisters have never heard all of the details of all of my best sex stories.
About six years ago, I almost lost her as a friend. We went about a year without talking, and of course it was my fault. She was pregnant, and an idiot obstetrician misdiagnosed her with a vaginal infection. The medication prescribed caused premature labor, and her son Cooper lived for barely ten minutes. It was a horribly sad event that happened to the nicest person imaginable. There were certain things she was going to do with the body, and I was also too dumb to know to just keep my mouth shut because it wasn’t my business. Instead, I tried to tell her what she should and shouldn’t be doing during that most sensitive of times in a parent’s life. Most of her friends either gave too much advice or stayed out of it. Those – like me – who talk too much were basically cut out of her life. Some, not like me, kept trying little by little to reconnect. Somewhere about a year of not speaking, I sent her a text message on a sunny, spring afternoon. “Nice day out.” Thankfully and luckily for me, she was willing to talk again.
There were two other friends of note, Marybeth and Dave. Ladies first. Marybeth was and still is one of the most innocent people I have ever met. A tomboy who never wears make up, MB coached basketball and softball, putting in hours and effort well beyond what she was paid. MB will never be accused of passing an intelligence test, but she will never fail a lie-detector test and all of her answers will be the best answers possible. She, like Tiffany, is a social studies teacher, but while Tiff is greatly open to all faiths, MB cannot separate herself from whatever is dictated in The Bible. Inevitably, when the three of us get together, three things are always involved: beer, food, and gross stories about bodily functions. It seems impossible for us to gather without the most embarrassing of noises (which doesn’t seem to happen around others, just the three of us) and the grossest stories about clogged toilets, stained underwear, or peeing oneself because a bathroom was too far away. We once visited a friend who was in a hospital for cancer treatments. Even then, we were reduced to laughing tears while again telling the same gross stories in front of a man with stitches, radiation, and IV tubes. She drove two hours to attend a surprise party for me when I turned 50, and I was greatly annoyed that she was invited – not because I didn’t want her there but because I care about her enough that I would never want her to drive that far and that long just to see me.
The third friend, Dave, is difficult to write about because he was another great friend. Sadly, however, we haven’t spoken in about six years, and I have a feeling he wishes he had never met me, thus I have changed his name here. I didn’t change the names of others because I’m sure enough that they’d be okay with this.
(There’s no way for you to know this, but it has been about 30 minutes since I typed anything. This will not be easy.)
(It’s been about another 20 minutes. Nothing typed but this.)
When we met, Dave was probably the coolest, most-liked guy in the building, and I was unknown. Most people either loved or hated him. He was funny as hell and thought of things that would never even dawn on the rest of us. When it was time for a new Pope, he ran “Pick-a-Pope,” a gambling pool to guess the new Pope’s name. When there was an important staff meeting that was likely to take hours, he created a gambling pool to bet on how many questions would be asked. The catch was that if you asked a question, you were out of the running, thus limiting the number of questions that would be asked. At Christmas, he organized a cookie competition with a panel of judges and cash prizes. He was great friends with the principal and hated by the superintendent. He coached wrestling and football. He organized a yearly golf tournament weekend out in Pennsylvania and brought a margarita machine that not only kept us drunk but kept tripping the electric breaker and casting the building into darkness. When he walked into the best bars in Philadelphia, it was like Norm walking into Cheers. Through a series of unusual events, I became one of his best friends. He hung out with bands and radio DJ’s from Philly. Then, I was hanging out with bands and radio DJ’s. I was single with nothing else to do, and I was having a great time with him.
Dave not only knew everyone, but he helped people when possible. He tried to adopt a student who was abused by his drug-addict mother. He helped people get new cars at dealer cost through a relative who owned a dealership. He was a brilliant mediator when two teachers or administrators were at odds. And he was there to happily take the blame when a guy staggered home drunk at 3am to an angry wife. He would say, “Tell her I kept you out, give her my number, let her yell at me, not a problem.” I was suffering for months from a pinched nerve in my neck and could barely hold a pen or turn a doorknob. He sat me down and cupped my chin and neck in his hands. “Don’t move,” he said. “Totally relax.” Once he sensed I was ready, he did some kind of snappy thing to my neck, and it never bothered me again.
Although he was a great friend and he fought like hell to save my job, it was partly his fault I was fired. He had a former student from before I was hired there who was not very bright. He knew her abilities were limited, but he also recognized one of her few talents and helped her secure a job and start a career at a friend’s bar. After a half-school day because of mid-term exams, Dave organized a few teachers to have dinner where this former student worked in order to encourage her new career. We arrived at what looked like any corner pub and saw the ex-student twirling on a stripper pole and dancing on the bar as men stuffed money into her thong.
I don’t know who told the superintendent or why it mattered. It was after school, not during the school day. We individually entered the principal’s office, were chastised, and received letters of reprimand signed by him and the superintendent who sternly and silently watched. The principal seemed angry but fought laughing because he had planned to go with us but was called into a last-minute meeting. The official reason for reprimand was “visiting an establishment that served alcohol during the school day.” Despite the poor grammar and the fact that teachers and administrators regularly visit restaurants that serve alcohol at lunch, I was fired. Six teachers were involved. Five had the protection of tenure. I did not. After three years, it was another summer mailing applications and hoping for interviews.
Dave did not intend for anyone to get in trouble or for me to get fired. He fought for me to stay, but the superintendent hated him so much that it probably worked against me. A few years later, it would be my turn to accidentally cause him much worse than just getting fired. Much. Worse.