Friday, June 02, 2006

An actual conversation I had with a fifteen-year-old

Last week I was subbing for a high school Integrated Science (whatever that means) class, giving an exam. I told the students they could study for five minutes before taking the test, and most of the kids started cramming immediately, but I noticed this one girl, Hallie, who was just, like, staring at the wall.

Hallie had dark raccoon eyes (the thickest layer of eyeliner I've ever seen), bleached blonde hair, and lots of random jewelry. She reminded me of Madonna (fashion-wise) (circa Desperately Seeking Susan) crossed with Kim Kelly (attitude-wise) (from Freaks and Geeks).

I'm sure Hallie has been described as a "problem child" by her teachers for years. That's the thing I've discovered since I started subbing. There are all of these kids who, from what I can tell, started out with (for whatever reason) this attitude that's like "you're gonna give up on me, I know it, I dare you to" and then most of their teachers were probably way overworked and had way too many kids to deal with and they didn't have time to prove these kids wrong and to, like, believe in them, so their teachers proved them right and gave up on those kids and branded them "problems." It starts in kindergarten and then gets worse from there.

But I don’t want none of that. I feel like, if there's any small contribution I can make to these kids lives while I'm passing through as their substitute teacher, it's to care about these kids who so obviously don't care anymore.

So I sat with Hallie and asked her why she wasn't studying.

"Because I'm just gonna get an F anyway."

"Why would you say that?"

"Because I am."

"Well maybe you can learn something in the next five minutes and get a D at least."

“I doubt it. I don’t even have any notes to study from.”

When she handed in her exam thirty minutes later, she’d only answered half of the questions. (And it was a multiple choice test.) She’d spent most of test-time doodling on the back of the exam. (I took a picture of her doodles, and I will post it here when blogger decides it likes me again and lets me post more pictures.)

“Don’t you want to at least guess the rest of the answers?” I asked her.

“Not really.”

I couldn’t make her guess. So I tried to engage her. We started talking. And then we had the following conversation, which isn’t an example of me “making a difference” in this young woman’s life, it’s just a funny conversation that could only have been had with a teenager and I’m typing out as verbatim as I can remember it:

“Mr. Patterson, did you hear about the guy who died because he poured cement up his butt?”

“Uh, no.”

"Yeah, there were these two guys--they were, you know, like, lovers? Like, gay lovers? And one of them had this thing for cement so he asked his lover to pour cement in his butt and then he died because he couldn't, like, poop."

"Do you really think that happened?"

"It's a true story. It happened to this friend of a friend of mine."

“I don’t know.”

“What, you don’t believe me?”

"I just find the story highly illogical. Why wouldn't he go to the hospital?"

"Because he died."

"Okay, but--do you watch Survivor?"

"What's that?"

"You know, the television show."

"Is that where they're all in the jungle?"

"Yeah, and they're trying to survive. It's a reality show."

"Okay, yeah."

"Well there was this guy Bruce on the show. He got all blocked up and he didn't poop for two weeks and he had to leave the show to go to the hospital."

"So see--you could die from not pooping!"

"But he didn't die."

"But this guy died."

"What I'm trying to say is, you wouldn't die overnight from not being able to poop. You could live for a few weeks, you'd just get really sick. The reason I think your story is just an urban legend is--why wouldn't the guy go to the hospital? He would have gone to the hospital."

"He was embarrassed."

"Okay, fine, if you want to believe it--"

"It happened, Mr. Patterson."


joe chandler said...


joe chandler said...


Erik said...

Okay, so I don't know how I accidentally posted this blog entry twice (except to say that it's further proof that technology hates me and enjoys toying with me), but I really didn't want it to appear twice because that's just annoying, and Steve had posted the following comment on the other post and I felt bad about deleting his comment, but I couldn't leave the entire duplicate post JUST to preserve his comment.

So here it is:

steve said...
It happened Erik, it did!


6/02/2006 10:58:51 AM

The sad thing, Steve, is that you're not first in this thread anymore, but you never really were because this is the same post and looking at the timestamp, Joe Chandler actually beat you.

Erik said...

Oh, and 204.

steve said...

Erik, I know he beat me. I wanted to see which post you would take down. Also, I actually read the blog and then posted (with much difficulty), unlike someone else.

Thats right I'm calling you out Chandler!

Erik said...

Steve, I took the other one down to preserve Joe's actual firstness even though I figured he hadn't read the post yet. And even though he posted that snarky "200" twice.

And you've been having trouble posting comments too? Ug.

Technology said...

1 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 1

Technology said...

For the non-evolved (i.e. "humans"), that translates to:

Suck it, Patterson.

Erik said...

Hey Technology, I'm glad you translated because I don't speak your freaking language.

Bonnie said...

Here's my binary message for you:


And here's your decoder-ring.

C'mon. Be a geek. For reals.

Erik said...

OMG, you're right BonBon, I am SO blogger impaired.

Anonymous said...

Enough about that, read this:,3566,197976,00.html

Snakes on a motherfuckin' plane.


Erik said...

Lindsay, OMG!!!

Do you think it's the next stage of underground grass-roots marketing from the filmmakers????!!?!!!

Because if it is, then we're going to start seeing more and more actual real live Snakes on Motherfucking Planes!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Erik! I just found out two of my coworkers pitched in to rent out an entire movie theater with a bartender on opening night of SOAP. Ahhh, dotcommers. That's them at their most fun.

I can't wait.

Erik said...


1. That is so cool. God bless those dotcommers.

2. You're going, right?

3. I wish I could rent out a whole theater on opening night and have a bartender there!

4. You MUST take pictures, okay? And email some to me and I'll post them on my blog. To help spread SOAP fever.

Jesse said...

I too have a cement fetish!

But if 15 y/o's know about it, then it's sooo not cool anymore.

Angela said...

Kindergarteners with Snakes on a Plane Posters

(Erik, I think this is your next muthafuckin' substitute teaching project right here...)

Erik said...

Funny, Jesse, I'd heard that about you.

Erik said...

All roads lead to Snakes on a Plane.

Erik said...

Angela, the thought of kindergarten kids drawing snakes on a plane is genius. Their teacher is the Chekhov of kindergarten teachers, my hero.

christy said...

this story makes me sad.

poor hallie.

Erik said...

I know. I want to sub for a class with Hallie again and I want to try to inspire her somehow. Since it seems like people have stopped trying. But there's gotta be a way in, even if it's just to get her excited about trying for Cs, even, you know?

Erik said...

Maybe I could somehow inspire Hallie with...

...Snakes on a Plane?

christy said...

Maybe you should write a play and dedicate it to her and invite her to the premiere.

Bonnie said...

I am printing copies of the color-me-snakes-on-a-plane art for everyone I know!

Anonymous said...

I so love that you aspire to connect with these kids who've been given up on. I so love that you believe you can make a difference in just one encounter like this. The fact is, you can. You already have. And you will. And if you don't, there is always the great story you get and the good feeling you get from trying.

And this was a great story.