Homelessness and Spitting

In 2008, I wrote a mini story inspired by a kid I used to know named Keith.  He was really odd, would spit on himself during study hall, had very strange views of the world and America, was generally gross and unappealing and said his greatest ambition in life was to become homeless.  I considered myself his friend and talked to him regularly, but wasn’t unaware of his quirks and the impressions of him held by most of the student body.  What I wrote was largely fabricated, but it actually was inspired by a real-life guy who really did spit on his trousers during school and dream about being a hobo.

Twice since then, I’ve started translating that very short third-person piece into a longer first-person story.  Twice I’ve failed to get past what looks to be about 10,000 words done before running out of direction.  Despite that, I’ve always found the character of Keith to be very interesting and have enjoyed how I started his tale.  It’s never been publicized anywhere, so maybe with some feedback from others I’ll gain some new inspiration.

So here we go – the first of a few hunks of one of the versions (I think this is the 3rd rewrite) of Homelessness and Spitting.  It’s rough and mildly edited, so don’t be a grammar douche.  And sorry, you’ll have to wait until the next bit before he starts sending the long, bubbly saliva noodles to his knee.


High school was an interesting time.

One morning, the famous sign in front of the Methodist church by my house said “Hot out there? Come on in. We’re prayer conditioned.”

An hour later, broadcasting from the steel wall-mounted open mouth of the school PA system, a tinny voice told the school’s morning announcements and informed the student body the assistant principal would be out all week suffering from heat stroke.

Four grueling hours later, I found myself in seventh period study hall. This was the crown jewel of my day.

A high school study hall is the exact opposite of its name. Studying is the last thing you’ll find anyone doing. It is a boiler room, metallic and rigid, pipes and pistons moving, steaming from its joints with controlled mischief. This particular study hall, which operated every day from 12:30-1:11pm, took place in the school’s only auditorium-shaped room with stadium seating and a movable wall.

All the kids sat on one half of the room. The loudmouthed boys tried to impress the girls by flipping pencils at the ceiling and hoping they stick, while the girls tried to impress the boys by not giving a shit.

The ceiling was yellowed and tacky. The air ducts were dirty. There were red brick walls.  This is all endlessly fascinating, no doubt, but are actually the only few scarce details I remember about the setting.  Aside from how the bottoms of the chairs held secret canvases, concealing years of multi-colored chewing gum art, like a gallery of oil paintings easily hidden beneath the anuses of indifferent teenagers. All shapes and sizes of gum, with varying degrees of softness and hardness, fading and consistency, chew patterns, teeth marks, points and valleys, based on a combination of both the length of chewing the gum underwent before sticking and the age of the particular piece. Van Gogh’s lilies, Degas’s ballerinas, they were all there, chewed up and spit out with perfection.

Everyone sat on one side of the room.  I sat on the other, pressed up against the wall with a lap-mounted textbook  Back then, I was a hunched-over, slippery, blue-eyed kid with an Amish woman’s skin color, a crooked mouth and a mane the color of muddy Pepto Bismol. On Thursday, I’d still wearing Monday’s clothes… crummy Airwalks, an oversized plain black, non-branded hoodie and old jeans.

My pants were always covered in a cocktail of stains.

One day, a badly-flung standard wooden pencil piloted itself in my direction, striking me tip-down near the temple. Some girl came over to pick it up, bending at the waist and reaching down by my side where the instrument ended its expedition. She smelled of fruit and wore pink. Her hair was a blonde mess, a puddle of spaghetti with two plastic clips in the back, her butt too big for her height. She was plastered with that shimmering, glittery lip gloss girls slather on their mouths like they’re prepping to hang wallpaper. I slouched.

 “Sorry,” she said, as I glared at her like a hawk watches trout swimming in clear water.

“Oh, I didn’t throw this,” she said. “My cousin did. Over there. He’s an idiot.”

I looked over at her easily identifiable meathead of a cousin, laughing like a moron, acting hardy and cool so the girls would still think he’s incredible after such a terrible, reputation-murdering pencil toss. His flexed biceps spilled from the tiny, cuffed sleeves of his yellow douche polo. He pointed at me with insult in his eyes, as if to say, “Sure, I’m such a moron I can’t even throw a pencil. But muscles, man, MUSCLES! And look at that kid!”

“He sure is,” I told her.

The toxic blonde sitting next to him, apparently his girlfriend du jour, giggled like a bimbo and grabbed hold of the bulging bicep of his other arm, as if to say, “Yeah, you showed that kid! You’re so tough and cool and dangerous. I forgive you for that bad pencil throw.” (Later that day they would make out in a car behind K-Mart.)

I turned back to the fruity, short, shiny girl and stared at her awkwardly, allowing the reputations of the king and queen of all awesomeness to live on.

“Anyway… yeahhhh. Bye.” she said, twirling the pencil as she stood to leave, back to her rightful place on the popular side of the room.  Back with Biceps and Toxic Blond and all the other idolized kids who would grow up to define the fields of used car sales and the janitorial arts when their attractiveness turned on them by age 20. I watched her hand the pencil back to her cousin.

As I resumed my usual routine of pretending to look at my school books, my mind started to wander.

Some people’s minds wander with ways to improve our lives, to win awards or to invent marvelous life-saving creations so the world will be a better place. Some people concern themselves with politics and religion, burying themselves in discussion and forming grounded stances on issues that concern society and morality. Some people spend their days buried in the happenings of newspapers or journals, discussing the things that are developing around town and around the world, talking with others about their super important plans or things they could do to lower their carbon footprints. Some people spend all their time figuring out ways to drop a belt size or exercise until they’re the size of a truck.

Some people care about those things.

I think about what type of bread would best be suited to roll down a hill.

I think about the round sourdough white vienna. A spherical loaf with a hard exterior topped with a criss-cross pattern much like a car tire. It’d certainly be a good rolling loaf, well suited for a long journey after a graceful toss down a smooth residential road.

I think about the Jewish challah, a durable exterior spattered with poppy seeds, woven tight like an eight year-old girl’s pony tail, yet long and clumsy. It’s a loaf only good at rolling down the steepest of inclines, it would require enough torque to muscle over its oblong shape, likely rolling much like a human body rolls down a grassy hill.

Dinner biscuits, certainly a fantastic rolling bread. We call them rolls for a reason, and they are well-suited for a bread race.

The poor flat-bottomed ciabatta, I think not. Much too… flat… on the bottom.

Focaccia or Indian naan? Get out of here.  Those are frisbees, not rolling breads.

Some people are concerned with energy or economics. Others with stock portfolios, studying market fluctuations or performing savvy interpretations of financial patterns. The worst are focused on changing others’ opinions, attempting to convince others their point of view is the only point of view. They are the dangerous types.  Not me.  I’m busy picturing bread rolling down the road.

I don’t have the energy or interest to think about the environment, global warming or Al Gore documentaries. I’m not interested in the NBA or MLB or NHL, ESPN or any other athletic acronyms. My mind is busy with bread.

A bagel would certainly roll well, so long as it stays upright like a wheel. Once it falls, it’s over with.

A french boule would be about as practical as the white vienna, with strong rolling characteristics.

Monkey bread looks like it’d work, but its softness may cause problems and force slow acceleration, plus it could pick up stones and other junk, which would lead to an inevitably premature halt.

If you’re in the mood to try rolling a pumpernickel or baguette, well, don’t even waste your time.

 Imagine a bread roll-off competition with a bunch of people hanging out at the top of a street, all about to roll a loaf down the road. Deciding what loaf to bring to ensure a victory would depend on tons of factors: the steepness of the hill, the quality of the pavement, the weather conditions and the freshness of the bread, just to name a few. A less round loaf may be fine on a steep hill, but not if there are a lot of cracks that could throw off its roll and cause it to end up flat in the grass. A soft loaf may tear up if the road is damp, becoming little more than bread shreds well before the finish line. And choosing a bread itself isn’t the whole battle.  Once you decide on a bread, you’d have to think about how to physically throw it to achieve maximum roll distance. Too tough a throw could cause it to skip and run off the street. Too gentle a throw might force an early stop. A side-arm throw could start off well, but add spin that would lead to running off course. Maybe you’d want to pretend you’re in the 1920s and hit a loaf down the road with a stick, much like your grandfather did with a hoop when he was young. Maybe not. It’s just something to consider. Couple bread type with propulsion style and the point is there’s more to everything than its surface implies, and a multitude of combined variables are usually necessary to examine. Even with the seemingly mundane.

These are the thoughts that occupy my mind.

This contemplation was interrupted by a dead-raising scream of pride as Biceps successfully impaled his third yellow, wooden, Scan-Tron certified No. 2 popularity booster in the bull’s-eye of a ceiling water stain directly north of his massive, hollow skull. His accomplishment was followed by “ooohhh yeah, suck a fat one!”

Nice.

Though can I really judge this doofus?  Back then, I never showered because I felt there was something more purifying, more magical, about three-hour baths in luke-warm water.  A ritualistic daily baptism.  This was the same me who kept a jar of jelly in my book bag.  For snacks.  What the hell made my ridiculous ideas any more reasonable than his?  We were all working on figuring out who we were.  We had no right to be criticizing each other when we didn’t even know ourselves.

Study hall ended.

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