I Moved to Brooklyn the Other Day, Part 2
When I was in fourth grade, I asked my teacher, whose real actual name was Mr. Books, if we could watch John Glenn blast off into space because for some reason I knew that he was blasting off into space around 9:30am and that his spaceship was called Friendship and that he was going to be the oldest person in space. All of this was fascinating to me. I had stolen my dad’s copy of Newsweek from next to the toilet and read all about it, which at nine years old meant that I had looked at all the pictures from the article, like, a whole bunch.
So I asked Mr. Books if we could watch it, and he said no, and I explained to him like the tiny condescending attorney I was that this was very important to my education and as the unspoken leader of our 26-person student body I could cause a mutiny if I wanted to. I gave him a stare that requested he not fuck with me.
But he said we had gym during that time, so, “Sorry. Gym.”
This outraged me. Gym?! You’re going to condescend to my intellect with gym? Do you know about gym? We don’t even change for gym. We only change our shoes. And I never change my shoes because I am devoted to my cowboy boots with the sassy fringe during this fashion epoch so I always get written up and have to sit out while everybody else learns to motherfucking skip. Skip!
“Step-hop, step-hop,” Mrs. Gary would instruct the apes in my class while I twirled my boot fringe passive-aggressively at her.
Mr. Books shrugged at me. I set my sights on Mrs. Gary. We walk in that painfully moronic single-file line all the way over to gym, and I beg her. I plead with her. I explain that I know, and it doesn’t matter how I know, but I know, that there’s a tv on a roller stand in the closet, and she can roll it out and plug it in and we can watch the oldest man in space aboard the Friendship instead of learning to skip and not only will the world not open up and swallow us whole, but probably we will all be a lot better for it. She could be a pioneer of physical education. She could make headlines. “Local gym teacher shows class historic space liftoff in lieu of belly scooters.” We could discuss weightlessness, I tell her. We could discuss geriatric studies. Important physical ramifications to be discussed here at length. She’s glaring at my boots with her fists on the hips of her khaki shorts. “You’re never going to get a sneaker award,” she says. “Don’t you want a sneaker award?”
Let’s pause here for a moment to discuss sneaker awards. When you remember to bring your sneakers on gym day ten times in a row, you get a sneaker award. It’s a piece of copy paper with a sneaker on it that you can color. And then they hang it outside the gym. Because nothing says achievement in fitness enthusiasm like “thank god they let me sit down and do this instead.”
Even if I were to get a sneaker award, I’d make like Timmy Strausbaugh and not color it in. “Just hang it up blank,” he said with a flip of the wrist, like a sultan. That guy got it. I gave him the steamiest Blue’s Clues valentine I could find.
Mrs. Gary would not bend. So I did all that was left to do: I faked a stomach ache.
Look, she knew what I was doing and so did I. I knew that she knew and she knew that I knew that she knew. But my stomach ache was turning into heart failure by the second, so what could either of us do except grin and get rid of one another?
I was sent to the school nurse, life’s delicious joke. A room next to the principal’s office with three beds, two band aids, and a loose baby aspirin. The nurse barely glanced at me before telling me to “go lay down until you feel better.” I did as I was told, knowing this was an important part of the fake out- we both need to feel like we’re getting away with this- and, I’m not kidding you, she left for lunch. FOR LUNCH. Not only was it still very much morning, but I was laying there unsupervised, save for the principal’s secretary who could see me through the glass when she turned around her chair every ten minutes. It was getting too close to 9:30am for comfort. I didn’t have time for the clown in the nurse costume to come back. I needed to turn things up a notch.
I put on my best “I got demons, man, like you don’t even know” face, combined with one trembling arm draped weakly over my stomach and what I liked to think of as an “aging friar’s hobble.” I limped through the door like Ashley Wilkes returning home from battle in Gone With the Wind, which I had seen multiple times with my grandmother. The principal’s secretary’s face went white when she saw me, and I knew I had her. Bitch didn’t know shit. She called the nurse, who rushed back with a shred of lettuce on her sweater. She called my mom. I was in business.
My mom and my little brother Luke arrive almost immediately. The nurse asks if she can speak to my mother in private, and I take my brother Luke out into the hall. A few of my friends pass and I show off how cute he is, getting him to do little tricks I’d taught him. The world was mine and the people in it, merely spectators. My mom comes out in a huff and we go to the van.
She closes her driver side door and sighs, then lets out a tiny laugh. “That lady thinks you’re getting your period early.”
We laugh together, even though to be honest I had no idea what the hell she was talking about.
“All right, let’s get you home,” she said as she started the car, but we both knew what she meant was, “What a little bullshitter.”
I watched 77-year-old John Glenn blast off in the Friendship beneath my favorite red quilt while cutting out his picture from the stolen Newsweek and making a poster for my bedroom.
Look, I know this blog is supposed to be about moving to Brooklyn. I don’t know what this story has to do with moving to Brooklyn. I guess what I’m trying to say is: when I set my mind to something, I can usually find a way. I’m trying to find my way in Brooklyn.
Shawna Stoltzfoos is a writer, actor, and filmmaker, and the creator of the mini-series Young/Lancaster.