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Posts from the What It Was Like Category

David Yearbook Photo
Elementary (I)

I turn the pages of my yearbook until I find the varsity baseball team. The wave in Steve DeVoss’s hair kills me. While my third-grade teacher has me building a California mission sugar cube by sticky sugar cube, DeVoss is an honest-to-god baseball player, spinning curveballs past every middle school hitter in the valley.

His wave—shining with hydrogen peroxide—rises from the razor-straight part lining the left side of his head, crests in a gelled swell, and finally breaks across the right side of his forehead before washing past his ear. He seems a god. Like what a god would look like after being sent to earth to live as a twelve-year-old with the wisp of a mustache. Straight teeth, straight ahead, straight at everything that matters.

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pen caps
For a course on modern theater I was asked to submit a performance review. The play was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” I waited until the last minute to write the review and didn’t bother with the substance of the performance. Instead I focused on the quality of the props. In one section, I compared the rifle that one of the main characters brandished to a prop from Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. (Even now I’m not going to look up the character’s name on Wikipedia to make it seem as if I truly remember the play.) That line earned me some good laughs when I read it aloud that night in class. I looked down, perfectly abashed, while my classmates laughed.

I thought I was hot shit in college. Substitute any other time period for ‘college’ and you’ll have a good idea of my life story. I took the laughter and the good grade and my feeling of extreme cleverness like they were birthrights.

My prof asked me to stay after class. When the last student was gone, he asked me to sit across from him at the seminar table. He told me he’d given me a high mark because my writing was excellent. (Duh. I was trying to pay attention, but he wasn’t saying anything I didn’t know. Of course the writing was excellent.) Then he told me he wished he could have given me a poor mark. (Huh?) He said I was squandering my talent. He said he expected better of me. He said I could shoot for easy laughs and get them every time. Then he was silent and stared at me and I capped and uncapped my pen and pitted out and mumbled something and tried to pull a door that needed to be pushed and walked back to my dorm room alone.

I wish that had happened to me more. I wish I hadn’t been twenty when it happened first.

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David Jacobsen lives in central Oregon where he teaches, edits, and writes. He is the author of Rookie Dad and his website is jacobsenwriting.com.

Khali Crowl Stream
A defiant little child is what I was known to be, and I kept that reputation very well.

I had—and have—what doctors call ADHD, and when I was little I would jump chair to chair in my classroom. Once I wrapped myself in tape like a mummy. And I would occasionally make animal sounds at the teacher and pretend like I didn’t know who did it. I was a clown. Soon it would be nap time and I would catch my ZZZs.

I remember waking up to the glare of the sun through the window. Time for lunch and recess on the concrete court! There was a shed back there where kids would hide and completely disappear! It was my lucky day; no one watched as I went back there.

As only a five year-old would do, I dropped my pants to the ground, lifted my shirt, stuck my finger into my belly button and let out a yellow river.

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cathy bidet 2
“Oh gross, Mom,” my daughter said pointing to a framed wedding photo on the bedside table. “It’s Ms. Painter and Mr. Kelvin.”

“Your teachers?” I asked.

Darlene nodded. “Ugh. TMI. We need to leave.”

I followed her down the stairs, past the nudes done by Ms. Painter—pear-shaped women with flowing mermaid hair and skin portrayed with thick fleshy strokes of pinks, peaches, oranges—and out into the hot May afternoon. We sneezed in the bright light and leaned against my minivan like stunned possum. It was TMI—too much information. Ms. Painter, a flighty flaky woman my daughter disliked, taught art and photography at the high school, and Mr. Kelvin taught chemistry. Now Darlene had seen their pitchfork cutlery, Ms. Painter’s garish nude creations, Mr. Kelvin’s shaving cup and blade razor, and the bidet. There was no erasing any of it from her mind.

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chris elementary playground
In fourth grade, Scott Costello was the kid nobody wanted to cross. It wasn’t because he was exceptionally big. He was skinny like me and perhaps only an inch or two taller. His pale complexion made him look fragile and delicate, actually. He just had a temper. A nasty, unforgiving one. And if you pissed off Scott, he never let it slide. Stories of the fights he got into were legendary. Right when you were about to discredit the storyteller as an exaggerator, a lover of fiction and urban myth, there would enter Scott with a welt under one eye, a scabby cut across the bridge of his nose, or a Band-Aid on his jaw. He wore these wounds like badges of honor, walking around as if they didn’t hurt and never had. If you asked, he would have attested to this.

But we never asked. Rumors told us these injuries were from scuffles with sixth graders on the playground after school or at the park, and it was commonly held the other guy always looked worse.

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Noahs Ark
So the story of Noah and the Flood doesn’t end with pairs of giraffes and zebras descending a wooden plank. It ends with Noah passed out drunk in a makeshift tent, exposing his nether-regions to passersby.

The first time alcohol appears in the Bible it’s with Noah, our post-Flood 400-year-old partier: “When he drank some… wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent” (Gen. 9:21). That’s Bible language for, “Noah drinks a Target wine cube, a forty of Pabst, and a Big Gulp of Jack and Coke and keels over nay-nay in his pop-up Coleman canopy.”

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Danielle WingsKindergarten. The teacher in the front of the room squawks like a magpie—like a magpie getting excited and angry about things no one else cares about. I sit in the middle of class, my hands folded in my lap. The other children rustle around me, so many Chickadees fluffing feathers. The teacher holds up a white card with bent and broken fence posts on it. “This is an ‘A’,” she says. But I am already riding Chester across the deep creek. His hooves splash my bare feet with cold water that makes them tingle. Then the tingling is a bell in my ears, and it’s time to go home.

When the other students have all learned to read, I am sent to the library to trace letters with colored pencils on butcher-block paper. In blue, I draw big looping-lariat O’s, over and over. In green and red, X a jackleg fence, T a telephone pole. My favorite, though, is K. I save purple for its straight back and elegant wings that could fly away on the wind.

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Deshawna art done
Way back when, not so long ago, I had this teacher—a great teacher who couldn’t plan out tests. Honestly, I don’t think he was thinking of students like me when it came to his so called “tests” and “quizzes.” Students like me suffer from chronic-study-procrastination.

We also want to impress our parents with a GPA higher than 3.2.

I went home and actually remembered to study for this test, the last test before second semester. I pulled an all-nighter (that lasted about two hours). I’m talkin’ going online  to visit the teacher’s website and looking at old notes; I even borrowed the book the questions were from. It was an open-note test.

At school the next morning I felt great. I got to class, sat in my assigned seat, and waited for the bell. The teacher handed out the test packets. I looked inside my backpack and my notebook wasn’t inside. I didn’t have it with me, but whatever. I had studied and pulled a major cram session so I thought nothing of it.

Everything was good. Or so I thought.

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My Bible teacher is cool. At least I think he is—I’m not the coolest kid in middle school, so my judgment might be suspect. But I’m not the nerdiest, either, and if I compare Mr. Scott with the rest of my teachers, he comes out near the top. He likes to stand in front of his desk and lean back against it, legs crossed and locked, and smooth his thin tie over and over, pulling it flat and taut against the stomach of his short-sleeved shirt. His shoes have pointed toes, and the thinnest laces I have ever seen.

Mr. Howard, one of my science teachers, wears the same brown bellbottoms every day. He likes to remind us that God created us, not random chance. He says he doesn’t try to be cool. He also says he can hear an AM radio station inside his head because of some bad dental work. He’s right about the cool thing, though—Mr. Scott’s way out in front.

Which is why it’s so awkward to be reading this sex-ed book with Mr. Scott. He’s standing at the front, cool as ever, tie as smooth as ever. I’m squirming in my seat, and I’m not the only one. The title is shiny gold letters on a white background, and the author—a famous preacher with bifocals and a comb-over—is smiling for no good reason. Mr. Scott is trying to get us to discuss one of the chapters about sex.

“You know,” says Mr. Scott, smoothing his mustache east and west with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, “God likes to give us good gifts to enjoy. Sex is an awesome gift. He tells us that once we put sex in its proper place we can enjoy it as much as we want.”

I think back to the previous afternoon, when I watched Mrs. Scott coaching the girls volleyball team. Mr. Scott has a point.

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David Jacobsen lives in central Oregon where he teaches, edits, and writes. He is the author of Rookie Dad and his website is jacobsenwriting.com.

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