Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Formative Years Fiction - GOLD MINS AN ADFANCHER STORY

New feature! Formative Years Fiction will be a chronicle of written works from my childhood years that have been preserved and exist to this day. I did not think of this idea unprompted. You see, lately I have been enjoying (enjoying so much!) the webcomic Axe Cop. Axe Cop is a web comic written by a 6-year-old (5 at the series' start) and related to his 29-year-old professional comic book artist brother, who illustrates the adventures. The work neither mocks nor patronizes the young author's imagination, instead giving professional level expressive tools to the unfiltered mind of a child. It rules.

I was a creative kid, but nowhere near as creative as the little genius behind Axe Cop. I also had no older brother to turn my ideas into pure comic magic, only a mom who saved my periodic works of fiction. Because sometimes I wrote. Often for school, sometimes for fun. Below is my earliest surviving written fictional narrative, penned at age 6. It is a tale of action, suspense, and triumph. I wanted to call it Gold Mines: An Adventure Story but at age 6, could only manage GOLD MINS AN ADFANCHER STORY. I dared not flatten the memo pad it was written on in a scanner for fear the binding would come apart, so it is in the form of several photographs. A transcript is available below the images.




There are many questions left unanswered. Why was a miner digging a hole? Why did he need a map to find a desert with a clearly visible cave? Why had he felt a (coiled/cold?) snake before? Why was the snake guarding a key and a door? Who locked the door and left the key so close by with a snake? Why did Remus Thirty spell snake two different ways two pages apart? Sadly, no sequel exists to GOLD MINS AN ADFANCHER STORY. However, not all is lost. For while 6-year-old me did not have a 29-year-old brother who could draw, 26-year-old me who can draw DOES exist. Here is a special artistic rendering of GOLD MINS AN ADFANCHER STORY.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Tales from High School X - Br. Thomas Raygun, the Short-Tempered Saint

This entry will not be one anecdote so much as a collection of reminiscences about one individual who was an unwaveringly positive part of my experiences at St. Francis High. While most of my conversations about the school range from complaints about some aspects to bemusement with others, I have really nothing but positive words for Br. Thomas Raygun. Br. Raygun was a man of honesty, honor, duty, and kindness and he worked tirelessly for the good of the school and the students (and, following a brief hiatus working for his order in another capacity, continues to do so today).

St. Francis High was several towns away from my hometown, and timing the bus system to allow for extracurricular activities was tough from day one. Since my father worked in the same town as the school, we decided it would be easiest and cheapest for all parties if he gave me rides to and from school. The only problem was that my father needed to drop me off well before the school actually opened in the morning. He explained the situation to the school and it was Br. Raygun who helped us out. Br. Raygun woke up unbelievably early in the morning every day (we wondered if he ever actually slept at all) to start working on things in the school office. He said it would not be a problem at all to let me in to sit quietly and do homework, etc. in the office until the cafeteria opened or the morning buses arrived. For my part, I stayed reasonably quiet most mornings, although sometimes Br. Raygun would remind me about what color silence was (it was golden) when I would get too loud chatting with another student or two in a similar position as myself in the mornings. This was my initial impression of Br. Raygun: a hard-working, busy, kind man who liked quiet.

Br. Raygun had another side to him though, a side that most freshmen experienced first. Br. Raygun had what could be called "a temper." And when Br. Raygun got angry, something about his face and his voice put you in a state of mortal terror. I (along with my entire year at St. Francis) vividly recall a time our freshman year when we were too noisy at lunch while Br. Raygun had the misfortune of teaching a class just a thin auditorium divider away. For weeks he had sent requests over for our lunch period to please keep it down. One day, we had ignored this request for too long.

The lunch period was nearly over, and students were just starting to wander into the halls to use the restroom, clear trays, etc. Suddenly, one of our classmates, Ryan Bubcook (a short, funny guy with a high-ish voice) came RUNNING into the cafeteria shouting "GO BACK! GO BACK!" with fear in his eyes. Several paces behind him, moving with powerful, purposeful strides was Br. Raygun. Death was in his eyes. Steam may have been coming from his ears. I could not for the life of me tell you what he actually yelled at us next, as my mind (and the minds of nearly every young man in the room) was reduced to a state of prey animal panic, only noting the loud noise coming from the direction of this enraged apex predator. Another student, a friend of mine at the time named Mike Brolan, had been in the restroom during all of this and wandered back in the room completely oblivious to the circumstances. Br. Raygun erupted at him that he should sit down immediately. The change in Mike's facial expression from pleasant daydreaming to fear for his life would've had the whole room in stitches were we not terrified for ourselves. In a matter of mere moments (which felt like hours), the storm passed and Br. Raygun returned to his class. We silently cleared our trays and left our lunch period, thankful that no casualties had been claimed.

I personally felt the fury of Br. Raygun's anger one time that same year. Despite that intense lunchroom experience, I still felt confident that Br. Raygun and I were on good terms. He was my good buddy in the mornings, of course. Br. Raygun often acted as a substitute when teachers were absent. One day I went to attend my Algebra I class only to note the teacher, Ms. Goodman was absent and Br. Ryan was waiting at the door. As I passed by, I thought it would be friendly and funny of me to greet him by saying "Hiya, Bruddah!" in a squeaky, Newsies-esque voice. I entered the room and took my seat, unaware that Br. Raygun had entered directly behind me. As I sat, he exploded at me that I shouldn't dare address him so disrespectfully ever again. I was stunned and afraid. I thought I had just made a harmless greeting. I spent the entirety of the period in silent terror, mixed with a sense of injustice over the harsh response I had gotten from so little provocation. What happened next floored me.

As the class period ended, Br. Raygun approached me, I assumed to remind me once again to watch myself and never do such a thing again. Instead, he offered me a sincere apology for his reaction, telling me it was not deserved. I didn't know what to do, I mumbled a confused acceptance and left the room. Here was this man, a fully-grown adult with terrible powers of intimidation, apologizing to ME for something he was within his rights as an authority figure to do (even though it may have been of unnecessary magnitude). That day, my affinity for Br. Raygun based on the early mornings in the office and my fear of Br. Raygun based on his superhuman yelling ability coalesced and evolved far beyond the sum of the parts. I realized my deep, abiding, unwavering respect for Br. Raygun, a man who was unafraid to speak up when he felt he should, and was also unafraid to own his actions and apologize for them if appropriate. From that day forward, my respect for Br. Raygun only ever grew.

As students in the school got older and wiser, Br. Raygun's interactions with us became more and more genial. Here was a man who loved the school, but was not blind to its faults and would always work to improve them. Certain aspects that he had no control over, he would let students gripe about and subtly let them know with a wise look or a slight smile that he agreed, though he may not voice that aloud. Maybe he didn't do this with every student, but he did sometimes with me, and frequently with my good friend Dan Hellion, with whom he had a great affinity. Dan and I (more Dan than I, but both of us at times) found out how good and sharp a sense of humor Br. Raygun had for those who took the time to get to know him. We already knew how hard he worked (this is a guy who would even be outside at 5, 6 AM salting the parking lot in the winter with the custodial staff, often starting before they had arrived for the morning), now we were starting to see how good of a guy he was in other ways.

I remember one time when my junior class went away for junior retreat before the start of our third year, and a few of us caught a ride with Br. Raygun. There were about six students that traveled up with Br. Raygun; three or four of us rode with him, another two or three drove in a second car, caravan-style. On the way up, we stopped for dinner at Chili's. This was an unexpected and fun stop and Br. Raygun was great company at dinner, laughing along with our surely inane, high-school-age humor. He then surprised us all by picking up the tab for all of us. I'm not sure exactly how much a brother of a religious order makes a per year, but I'm sure it's not a tremendous amount. This was a really kind and appreciated gesture from Br. Raygun, and was indicative of his impeccable character.

The end of my senior year was a bit chaotic, closing with some major unpleasantness involving me, my friends, and a couple of students that we had treated pretty poorly that year. We were, at the time, convinced that these students were deserving of any cruelty or jokes thrown their way. In retrospect, we were really just being mean, immature teenagers. I've made peace with one of the individuals, and another I hope is doing well wherever he is. But part of what made this situation really messy is that as part of the litany of our offenses, it came out that we (and by "we", I mean largely "I") had been making pretty bad fun of the school Principal, Br. Willard as well. Now, to this day I will tell you that I was not alone in a low opinion of this guy. But I was probably one of his most vocal critics, and also used my gifts for impersonation and cartooning to make my points. I should add that Br. Willard was a prideful man, and I earned his deepest scorn for damaging that pride.

I bring up this seeming non sequitur not for its own value as a story (this time, anyway). After a few of my friends and I had been suitably dragged through the public square over these matters, there were a variety of reactions from people in the school. Fellow students were largely sympathetic, and some even flat-out vilified the student(s) in question who had let Br. Willard know just what I had been saying about him. Some faculty supported us too, an appreciated but probably not altogether very professional stance. Other faculty clearly thought we were bad kids who got what was coming to us. Br. Raygun was one of a handful of faculty who made it a point to approach us and let us know that he was just looking forward to this whole mess getting wrapped up so we could move on and graduate. He didn't condone our behavior, nor did he condemn it. He showed great wisdom and insight by all but saying, "you already know you were out of line, I won't belabor the point. I also know you're good kids at heart. Hopefully you've grown from this, let's move on." At least, that's the subtext I got from him. He may not have outright said it, but silence, as Br. Raygun knows, is golden.

Br. Raygun, if you chance to ever read this, thanks for being a terrific person and looking out for me in high school. You're a living example of what it means to be a man for the students of the school and you have my perpetual, unblemished respect.