Age 8, “The Haunted Chalkboard”
When I was 7, my sister and I moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania from Las Vegas. Needless to say, I was a bit upset at all the damn trees and extreme lack of thong-clad women cast in bronze. Late in the third grade at my new, hip, east-coast public elementary school, we were given a common assignment: to write our own picture book in blank, white steno pads. I chose to do “The Haunted Chalkboard”, my own slight version of books like Goosebumps or The Lunch Lady From The Black Lagoon. Our class had cycled through several teachers. The first, Mr. Akins, left to a new school. The second, Mrs.Francis, became pregnant and left. The third, who shall remain nameless, was fired for slapping a kid who insisted on rhyming her name with “turd muncher”. And our fourth and final third-grade teacher somehow survived even though she brought her massive German Shepherd in as a disciplinary deterrent. I decided to explain this phenomenon with a chalkboard that had been possessed by the deceased first teacher to use the room. And while I drew him quite ferociously (what with his stick-figure arms and bloody teeth and the like), I for some reason disliked the idea of writing a violent ending to all my teachers. So The Haunted Chalkboard’s scariest tasks were convincing Mr. Akins of the financial opportunity in Doylestown, renaming the Abusive Teacher something that rhymed with “turd muncher”, and humping Mrs. Francis.
Age 9, “Untitled Titanic Fan Fiction”
When Titanic came out, my sister and mother dragged me to see it in theaters roughly eight times. Somewhere between 1997 and now, it became a bad idea to take an 8-and-11-year-old to see an R-rated movie about seabound sexual romps, but it evidently was not the case in 1997 (my mother did cover my eyes during the drawing room scene the first three times then promptly gave up). The first few times, I suffered through it as I had and would many chick-flicks (I saw more of Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer as a kid than I did Kenan & Kel). However, Stockholm Syndrome began to take hold. It began with absent-minded doodling of that guy hitting the propeller as the ship sinks (otherwise known as the best fucking part of that movie) but hit a new peak when I met a fellow prisoner named Ryan. Ryan and I decided to try and rewrite the storyline more to our liking, replacing Jack Dawson’s past as a scamp and artist with that of a Roosevelt-style big game hunter, drawing him with elephant tusks for spaulders and two lion heads for boots. Jack saves Rose by shooting Billy Zane with a blunderbuss then riding the Loch Ness Monster to the Statue of Liberty, where he defeats King Kong, hollows out his skeleton, and uses it as a house to raise his son, Dagger. We always imagined Dagger would become Abraham Lincoln because the public school system fails children.
Age 11, “The Legend of Mrs. O’Reilly”
At an entirely different elementary school (for the record, I attended no less than six elementary schools because my family sucked at not getting evicted), the music teacher was Mrs. O’Reilly. She had no legs. Zero. And not a military-style amputation with the nubs, but she in fact lacked an entire lower half to her body. Today, I have the decorum to not stare or gawk at someone simply because they are different. My 9-year-old self, who spent most of his days isolated indoors playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2? Not so much. However, when I asked my mother why she would lack legs or even hips, she scolded me for even wondering. In response, I wrote a small story about how she was injured. Mrs. O’Reilly spent her youth traversing the galaxy, captainess of her own Enterprise-style ship. She landed on the Andalite Homeworld and lost against a native warrior in hand-to-hand combat. To replace the part of Mrs. O’Reilly’s torso which he whipped away from her with his totally-badass scorpion tail, the warrior endowed her with the ability to eat and drink but never poop or pee, because she can’t. For the record, I still feel awful about this.
Age 13, “She’s Always A Woman”
The first album I ever bought was a double-disc copy of The Essential Billy Joel. I had a sincere love for “Piano Man” and “The Entertainer” (“Captain Jack” is where I first heard the word “masturbation”). However, I bought the copy from a garage sale and the lyric book was missing, forcing fanatic me to write down the lyrics as I listened to it. This was coincidentally the beginning of a lengthy (and arguably ongoing) experiment in simply awful poetry about my adolescent woes and peer-driven derision and the girl in Algebra who would probably talk to me but I’m not just, like, going to talk to her all stupid and stuff. In a large, spiral-bound notebook, these Joel lyrics and my poems sat side-by-side. Eventually, that girl in Algebra asked to see one of my poems (no, really!) and, while flipping through it, picked out “She’s Always A Woman” as her favorite. She had obviously never heard the original, but neither had any of her friends who also loved “my” poem. Soon, my immature needs also led me to be the author of “She’s Got A Way”, “Vienna”, and “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” (I would have stolen “Honesty” but even I wouldn’t put my name on that). My ruse was spoiled when my klepto-work was shown to a German teacher, who took me aside and gave me a very pleasant lecture on international copyright law.
Age 14, “Untitled Heroin Project”
Inspired by the Melvin Burgess YA novel Smack, I believed wholeheartedly I could replicate the experience of being a heroin addict. Little did I know it took more than melodrama and a few Alice In Chains albums to come to that understanding. I even went to so far as to tell my first girlfriend I had once been addicted to heroin. In fact, if I had been addicted to heroin and recovered from said addiction before the age of 14. I would have been far more accomplished than I actually was at 14. I wrote it as a love letter to my “dragon”, something I kept chasing but only came to me in stages and helped me defeat the pain of being human. In fact, perhaps I was subconsciously writing about Final Fantasy VII.