When I was a sophomore in highschool I was in an Algebra class. It wasn’t that math was a problem for me really, I was good at math. I didn’t find it particularly challenging, and that was the problem. At that age, I was more concerned with those things with whom whose beauty cannot be so easily expressed so concretely as the neatly prepared equations and rudimentary algorithms of 10th grade Algebra. The difficulty was that, I was terribly bored.
I felt my teacher was fine at his job, it was just that listening to him was like murder to my psyche. His tone was as if you were listening to ticking of a clock. His unceasing and tedious tone, never changing in neither rhythm nor pitch was a melodic vacuum of monotonous narration. It could distract you from your thoughts from time to time, and you would think that you could have been getting something from it. At some point, though, it simply fades into the background as another form of white noise, like the culling of gulls on the breaking sea shore or a distant fog horn piercing the fog. By the end of most days, those who remained faithfully conscious were only so lucky to have bee lulled into a hypnotic trance of dazed lethargy.
Perhaps, in hindsight he wasn’t the best teacher after all. Either way, he’s an accountant now. Whatever his true calling may or may not have been, I was hopelessly bored in math class. A master of self-amusement, I took the initiative to find for myself ways of occupying myself beyond the more productive practices of dutifully enduring my studies.
I would stay up hours at night teaching myself my lesson until I competed it. Listening in class was a worthless exercise. I envied those who could simply fall asleep for the hour. Perhaps “passed out” would have been a more appropriate term. I can’t sleep in a room with noise and things going on. Ticking clocks, rustling of papers, the ironic snores of my peers; they held by attention despite my best efforts. So I couldn’t fall asleep, but his voice was just distracting enough that I couldn’t just teach myself in class either. I had to wait until I would get home that night and work alone in the quiet. I simply sat there and attempted to learn what I could. I did my real learning alone in my room, late at night, for hours, if need be. As disciplined as I was, a young man, alone in his room, doesn’t always do what he should.
As the time ticked by, I made what seemed to be a choice that had very little consequence at all, but would, in fact, be one of the most important choices of my entire life. That’s only my opinion of course. You’re free to decide on your own.
I began to draw in my book, and with pen no less. Such an act may not sound like a life altering event, but I will get to that.
Now, more than ten years later, as someone who teaches children of that age, I understand that drawing in a book was really an act of rebellion against a teacher for not educating me in the manner I saw fit. I was apparently angry that so much of my time was being robbed from me to do things that, I felt at the time, had no value. At the very least, it was not communicating clearly to me what the value of such a task was, if I would ever need it, and if all the hours I had lost would ever mean anything. At least that is what the research I have read would say. The truth is, I don’t remember being angry. I only just remember being very bored and somewhat easily distracted. I gave in to my uncharacteristic venting of frustration. Still, I am sure that any good psychologist might think differently, being that my first act of rebellion was in the form of a clock.
I drew a small clock in the bottom right corner of one of the first pages. It was very simple; only a small circle with a small arm pointing to twelve o’clock a four tick marks to denote the quartered face. A small tremor filled my spirit as I looked with unabashed exhilaration and a repressed pride at my act of egregious vandalism. I was a criminal… and it felt good. Something you must understand is that I was not a very wild personality in my youth, much more quiet and reserved than I am today. Having reveled long enough in my adolescent escapades, I smiled slyly to myself and returned to my lesson.
The next night, I found myself in the same predicament. The same numbing exercises, only skewed enough to ensure as much pain as I had experienced the night before. I remembered the delight I had experienced. With a grin of self-satisfaction, I drew more clocks, each one on another page, directly behind the last, decreasing in five minute intervals. I think I got the idea from an old show I used to watch in the 90’s. Each night after, during a break I would give myself, I would draw a few more clocks. Eventually I reached 12 o’clock again exactly one hundred forty-three pages after I had started. I now had something to do during class. I had created a little flip book for myself. As his lectures went on through what seemed a mild eternity, my thumb would stroke the pages in the bottom corner and I would watch as the time ticked by, symbolically as it were. It was a temporary escape from the tedium.
Eventually, we had reached a point where we were studying matrices. They really aren’t that interesting for most of us. It was 2002, though, and the movie “The Matrix” was still current in our minds and our imaginations. I was disappointed that actual matrices are so boring at the level of a high school sophomore. There was nothing about these things that, to me would inspire a Hollywood movie in the slightest.
It had also been a long time since I had vandalized anything. I had the itch. I remembered imagining a scenario where a person may be trapped in the Matrix, from the movie. I had perverted it, however, to a person, instead, trapped inside the book. I imagined a character hopelessly trapped inside my math book, his only escape being the charitable self-sacrifice of a student who would intentionally fail for the sake of this stranger in need of saving. Over several pages I drew my little fellow explaining his situation and pleading for help. I left the student with an ultimatum. Fail the next three assignments or my little stick man would be doomed to suffer an eternity as a prisoner. He disappeared with hope and optimism. Several pages down, four lessons to be exact, he returned to scold the student for their selfishness. Sometimes my greatest delights are the smiles in people I will never see.
I thought it was an enjoyable exercise. At the very least I liked to imagine the chuckle it might bring to the next person, whomever that might be, also bored in a math class someday in the future. I knew if I got caught I was in for it. The only other person who had the book was a girl a few years my senior, one which would never have done this sort of thing. I was enjoying myself, though, so my crime spree continued.
Over the next month or so I continued my antics. At some point, I remember incorporating a poorly drawn monkey which antagonized my character. In all manner of impractical adventures the two battled throughout the book. Perhaps my favorite was the shooting where the monkey (more appropriately “ape” since I am pretty sure he was a gorilla) tried to shoot him. It was fun animating several pages of a dodge sequence reminiscent of Neo fighting Agent Smith. I don’t even remember what else I drew. All I do remember is that the monkey won every time.
My final act would be my masterpiece. As I watched my teacher stand at the board in characteristic stances, iconic to those of us who studied under him, I felt inspired. When his eyes were averted, I would sketch the image of his stance in the back of the book. He was a living archetype when he took his characteristic poses. His right hand extended with a dry erase pen in his hand to the board, his left hand cradling a book as if were in swaddling. Accented with his characteristic button downs and his burly beard and you had an image that few could forget.
The work of art took several weeks to finish, being that I had to do this in a clandestine manner and only at the times he was standing at the board. I’m reminded of painters who specialized in painting beautiful scenes of the natural world, but only in fifteen minute intervals. They did this to capture the specific light that was cast at only that one interval a day and only during a specific time of the year. It may take weeks or even years to complete such a masterpiece. My works were not so profound. Mine would probably be better compared to the “street art” done by one of the more talented hoodlums rather than the graffiti mere of a common street urchin. Even though this may have been the case, I was quite proud of my work. I drew another portrait, this time of him at his desk, stooped over grading worksheets, homework and tests. Finally, a third on a different page, of just his face. I really am quite proud of them and I miss them greatly.
Pride may have been the wrong word. Cocky perhaps is a better one. I was caught by another one of the students and showed it off to her. As is the way of the pride, it was when I desired accolades for my accomplishments that my downfall became real. Another student overheard and found out. I can only imagine the motives of exactly why, but this particular dead soul tattled on me for my transgressions.
“Mr. Blevins, Jon drew pictures of you in his book!”
That little rat threw me under the bus for no other reason than to feel a sense of self-satisfaction to alleviate what time would one day prove to be an unsatisfactorily boring life. Still, the joke’s on him. It was the best thing anyone had ever done for me, before or since. Perhaps it was the greatest act of fate for me in my life, or shall ever be. Of course he didn’t know that, nor did I, but I’ve said before, I’ll get back to that later.
Mr. Blevins, in his most unflinching tone, called me to his desk. As I walked back to his desk with the evidence I couldn’t help but feel the pain of regret, mixed with the almost completely insuppressible pride of my endeavors. I hoped that all he would see was the portraits and that he wouldn’t investigate further. The portraits were tastefully done and respectful, barring of course the medium which I used to convey my artwork. I didn’t have as much of an excuse for the monkey, the trapped man or the clock.
When I finally did open the book to show him, I suppose he expected something where a comedic caricature of himself had been drawn out in some lewd or obscene pose. I’d like to think he was delightfully surprised. I’d like to think he was impressed. I’d like to think the man showed any reaction at all. Mr. Blevins wasn’t a very expressive man. Most of all I’d like to think he at least regretted a little bit what he had to do next.
“You’ll have to erase it Mr. Davis.”
I protested, as much because I was genuinely proud of the artwork as much as to ensure it was the topic of his focus, rather than a certain series of clocks and one particularly ill-tempered ape. He made me erase it anyway. I went back to my desk and erased the images. He never did find everything else, though. So, I suppose that in that respect, I got away quite nicely. It was still sad to watch something you worked hard on melt away in blackened flakes of rubber and disappear into the wind with a self-defeating blow of obligation.
But hope wasn’t lost completely. In the shadows of a dozen buzzing lights, I could see something on the pages in the back of the text. I slowly rubbed my fingers across the paper to feel the impressions of my pencil still present. A closer look revealed it, too. As plain as day you could still see the pictures, if you knew to look for them.
I smiled to myself in realization that something I had done still existed and the censorship could yet be undone. Not this year, though. Not while it would still be on me. I’d have to wait for a chance encounter, some slim margin of an opportunity that I couldn’t predict, but could hope for.
All I knew was that I wasn’t done with that book, yet…