Noise

I have a poor memory for song lyrics. I just don’t think I care enough. The everyday noise in my brain leaves me with just enough energy to be attracted to sounds that aren’t necessarily the words in the English language.

illustration of sausage maker with words going in, sausage going out

I struggled to understand my parents when they spoke to me in their native language (not English). Much of it was a series of sounds that I couldn’t relate to. It became the norm that I wasn’t going to understand them all of the time.

When it comes down to it, I feel my music and sometimes the feeling is good. Sometimes the feeling is not good.

Vomit

Inside my pink backpack rested a brand new pack of Fruit Stripes gum. I was eager to hand out the fragrant, fruity sticks to a select few classmates. The happy, little zebra printed on the packaging served as my little animal gum ambassador.

The morning I brought the gum to school, though, something was off. With the gum tucked into my locker, the fruity scent wafted into my nostrils every time I approached, causing my stomach to do flip flops.

After another nauseating trip to my locker, I lined up with the rest of the first graders in preparation for our next class. A little bit of vomit rose up in my throat and out of my mouth. Gravity took care of the rest, using my right shoe as the landing pad.

My face said it all. The student behind me took one look and alerted our teacher, who sent me straight to the nurse’s office.

While sitting on the vinyl-covered bed, holding a kidney-shaped bowl, the urge to throw up came back. The nurse was occupied, chatting away with another faculty member. Seeing as she was distracted, I went to the bathroom next door. It was in use. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting loose into the shallow, plastic bowl so I made a beeline for the girls’ bathroom, a good 30 seconds away.

illustration of girls bathroom, door closed, vomit oozing out of threshold, pack of striped gum to the right of the door

As I hurried to my destination, my body took over, causing me to vomit in the main corridor where the two major wings of the school intersected. The entrance to the girls’ bathroom was several feet away. Almost there. I made it to the doorway and threw up again, right on the threshold. A passing staff member immediately came to my aid. We stepped over the puddle and entered one of the stalls where I kept puking. Where it all came from, I did not know.

The staff member guided me back to the nurse’s office where I received a look of disapproval. I overheard the nurse asking the staff member why I didn’t just use the bathroom next to her office. I was too weak to tell her that it was occupied. I was also dehydrated from multiple barf sessions. I began to feel unsure of myself. To also have doubt cast upon me by the school nurse in my time of need felt further damning.

The Fruit Stripes gum was eventually revealed as the catalyst to my vomit spree. My first grade teacher went to my locker for me and extracted the gum for disposal. Even in the absence of the offensive gum, the odor persisted. We took out all of my saturated books and papers to help the smell further dissipate. The janitor gave my locker a good spray and wipe down, after which I was able to return some of my belongings.

For awhile afterwards, I replayed a particular moment in my mind: the look of disapproval from the nurse who didn’t believe me. I was a pretty sincere little kid and had no reason to lie or manipulate the situation. My honesty was put into question and this bothered me more than the fact that I got sick all over the school hallways. 

Sensible

Mrs. Waltz wore sensible clothes and sensible shoes. She always had on a light-colored blouse with a conservative print, usually with a bow collar. Her skirts were mid-calf length in a muted tan or forest green. She wore nude nylons down to her practical, sturdy-heeled shoes, probably Clarks or some other brand that centered itself on practicality. Her hair was always tightly curled, suggesting that she slept in small curlers and a hair net. She likely had a diligent evening routine that involved setting her hair just so.

illustration of Mrs. Waltz with tight curly hair and a pair of sensible shoes

Mrs. Waltz’ personality was stern, but fair. She gave equal treatment to all of us in our second grade class. I didn’t get into any more trouble than any of the other kids.

There was one instance, though, where I found myself needing to go to the bathroom several times throughout the day. It was unusual, as I don’t remember ever having to go to the bathroom as frequently as I did that day. As an eight-year-old child, I was especially self-conscious about my personal business. I had to raise my hand, wait to be called upon and then ask Mrs. Waltz for a bathroom hall pass every single time.

After the third or fourth trip to the girls’ room, Mrs. Waltz asked me in front of the whole class why on earth I needed to go to the bathroom so often. But that was Mrs. Waltz. She was used to a certain bathroom cadence from the children in her classroom. When the pattern broke, she was going to notice. She was simply being sensible.

Song

When I listen to a song, the first thing I hear is the melody and the first thing I feel is the rhythm. Oftentimes, my reaction is immediate and I will flip to a different song; other times I need to listen to a song a few times until I decide I am absolutely in love with it.

For some reason, I have trouble remembering words to songs. Even if I listen to a song on repeat for days on end, the only thing I can identify at the end of it is the melody. There was a time in college when I was hanging out with some friends. It was time for me to go and I was asked what I was going to do when I got home. It was a rare moment where I responded without thinking and said I was going home to memorize the lyrics to Ben Kweller’s Sha Sha. My face turned red. My friends laughed at me. I laughed and backtracked as if I had told a good joke, but it was too late. I was found out. I like to think I graced everyone with a mental image of me, sitting back, singing along as I looked at the tiny printed lyrics in the little CD booklet.

illustration of unfolded CD accordion booklet of lyrics

I suspect there is a kind of confidence that allows a listener to sing along after hearing a song just a few times. I don’t possess that kind of confidence, which is why I will never be found belting out popular anthems along with everyone else in the room. 

Glare

A friend and I were sitting at the front of the school bus. We were right behind the first row, where two parent chaperones sat. Our first grade class was getting ready for a field trip. We were all in high spirits, chattering away, laughing and giggling at each other’s little kid jokes.

One of the chaperones, Mrs. K – the mother of my first elementary school crush – stood at the front of the bus, looking back at all of us, doing a head count. She then attempted to shush us in order to give us instructions for what to do when we arrived at our destination. Her attempts went unnoticed.

After a minute or two, her head turned towards me and my giggling counterpart. Her eyes were as dark as coal, focused only on me. Her lips were a thin, tight line. I held her gaze for a good few seconds. She was clearly unhappy…but with me? Just me? Out of all the happy, shouting kids, all of whom were ignoring her attempts to quiet us down, why did she single me out with her cold glare?

Process

illustration of line going from birth to death with brackets around statement a series of choices in the center

If the end result mattered more than anything else, we would all be looking forward to death. Life is a series of goals, each of which we achieve or decide to leave behind and then we move on to the next thing. The path to the goal, the process in getting to it, is what makes life so complicated, but so rich.

Halitosis

A couple average-looking guys in front of me stepped into the elevator talking about business stuff and how they increased revenue for a project. They were going to celebrate their win at a company party.

On stepping into the elevator myself, it struck me. One of these average-looking dudes had halitosis. My sensitive nose picked it up the second I crossed the threshold. I was thankful the elevator served a modest three-floors.

Once the two gentlemen exited on their floor, I allowed the elevator doors to linger and to stay open for a few seconds so the stench had a chance to dissipate. As soon as the elevator doors opened to my destination, I made a hasty exit and sucked in a deep breath of fresh air. Relief.

Pod

I often enjoy podcasts that make me think about how I react and respond to everyday situations, or why some observations I make really stick in my mind. I want to start posting occasional recommendations for those who are always looking for another podcast to listen to, but tire of browsing through the myriad options that are out there. Enjoy (as I have)!

illustration of microphone

001: One of my favorite podcast episodes of all time is The New Norm by Invisibilia. In the episode, a leadership consultant guides a team of oil rig workers towards building a foundation of psychological safety with each other. This foundation enables the oil rig workers to become more comfortable in expressing their needs and asking for help, paving the way to building physical safety in the workplace.

Equal

We were in the second grade, lining up at our classroom door to make the trek through our narrow halls, single file, to gym class. Somewhere in line, Gregory – the kid whose head was shaped like the Panic Pete stress toy – tossed out some snide comments about girls. Another classmate, Christopher, overheard the comments and responded with, “I think boys and girls can do everything equally.”

illustration of little me smiling

I remember smiling at this kid who I didn’t know very well. He was one of the nicer kids in class. All of a sudden, I had a newfound respect for him, because I began writing a story in my head about how Christopher was the kind of kid who would stand up for what was right. It must have been a very short story because I don’t recall any other memories of him after that day.

Efficient

In the third grade, there was a period of time where I helped out in the copy room. I ran basic copy jobs and refilled paper when necessary. My third grade self took great pride in my work. I loved the smell of freshly printed paper. I also found great satisfaction in bringing a gigantic machine roaring to life by pushing just a few buttons.

I remember teachers giving me praise for my work, on two separate occasions. A teacher would come to the secretary’s office and describe a copy job to be done. I responded by refilling the paper tray and pushing the requisite buttons. Each time, with the kind of enthusiasm teachers reserved for little kids, I was given a compliment.

“How efficient!” they exclaimed in a syrupy tone.

When I recall this memory now, I wonder why the details are so clear in my mind. Perhaps there was an inflection in the teachers’ voices that struck me as odd. Or maybe it’s my secret calling to duplicate grayscale images in a suburban Chicago elementary school.