Friday, April 26, 2013

Freedom Hangs Like Heaven. Or a Plumb-Bob

(Just a little semi-fictional story I've wanted to get off my chest for a long time. All names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)

“Greg, since you’re paying so much attention to me, what’s a plumb-bob?”

My head snaps up, tearing my gaze away from the funny cat .gif on my computer. Kittens are hilarious. And cute… “Say what?”

Roost sighs, his pot-belly jiggling. “What’s a plumb-bob?”

What kind of stupid question is that? We’re in this tech school to be mechanical technicians, not carpenters. Besides, everyone in the class knows what a plumb-bob is. Even me. “A plumb-bob’s a plumb-bob.”

Satisfied with my answer, I return to watching a cat play with a ball of yarn. Hehehehe. Swat that yarn, cat! Swat that yarn!

A louder sigh from Roost. Bet his gut really bounced that time. When he lets loose with one of his terrible puns and starts guffawing, you’d swear he’s Jello in an earthquake. “Moving on…”

More useless, repetitive info. We’ve spent the last two months covering light sensors. Only light sensors. In a class called Sensors and Controls. There are dozens of kinds of sensors. But we’ve only covered light sensors. By the looks of things, that’s all we will cover. Light sensors. Light sensors. And more blasted light sensors. I dream of light sensors at night. When I wake up in the morning and go to school, I work with light sensors. Can’t get away from the bloody light sensors. 

I slam my computer shut and replace it in my backpack. 11:50. Class is over. All around me, my classmates do the same. Unmarried-Chad, my erstwhile lab partner, burps loudly. I flinch away from the nauseating scent of Dr. Pepper and BBQ chips. “Geezus, Chad!”

Slowly, we shuffle out of the cramped classroom, grumbling to each other. Another wasted class. Nothing we learn anymore is useful. Married-Chad—is that ANOTHER new hat? How many does he have?—bumps me into one of the puke-yellow walls as he passes, talking loudly with Gummy Bear and Smurf. Smurf, wearing his namesake Smurfs t-shirt, is extolling the virtues of Devil’s Crotch Hot Sauce. I wonder if that’s what he used to burn the smiley-face scar into his whipcord forearm. 

Two more classes. Two more classes before the weekend. The glorious weekend, filled with homework and rage. So glad this is my last semester. Can’t wait to get out of this place. The Animals have my theme song: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

Everyone else feels the same. You can almost cut the tension with a knife. Except putting a knife within reach of us would be a bad idea. We haven’t had a decent instructor in two semesters. BIIIIIIIIIIIL! with his obsession for saying “’Kay,” is the worst. One hundred and thirty-seven times in fifty minutes. Married-Chad counted. Hardly anything else to do in BIIIIIIIIIL!’s classes. All he does is accuse us of cheating and hand out more forms for us to complete. Busy work. 

Even Roger, big gentle Roger with the long, greying hair of a hippie or a biker, is frustrated. Aggravating Roger takes some trying. He’s a longsuffering man. We’ve complained again and again, tried to get things changed. No dice. Administration doesn’t care about us, they just want money. Our money, the government’s money, companies’ money. I’ve heard what the dean calls us. Trouble-makers. Gang mentality. Well, of course we have a gang mentality. You treat us like a gang, we’re going to start acting like a gang. What do you expect? Angels? Most of these guys are ex-military. Hardly angels. Nice guys, but not angels.

Doesn’t matter. We’re on the home stretch now. Home stretch for this program, home stretch for this week. A few more hours, and we get to go home. A few more weeks, and we get to go free. Freedom. What a wonderful word.

Who’s teaching the next class? Jim. Oh joy. Nice guy, but he’s just too smart. Even when he dumbs things down, concepts still fly over our heads. Well, I might as well turn my computer on again. Let’s see. 500 new poker requests on Facebook. Dangit, Pete, stop sending me all of those! I can only cash in ten an hour.

Jim’s late. As usual. We shift around for a couple minutes, chatting loudly. Then Gummy Bear gets up, egged on by Smurf, and adjusts the clocks forward. Gummy Bear…when will he learn? First he left a love-letter lying out in class. Quite vivid—and where he got the nickname Gummy Bear. I still don’t see how that’s a romantic thing to call a girl. Nice guy, but occasionally a little clueless. Loves candy. It shows on his chubby frame. I’m the pot calling the kettle, here. Shouldn’t talk. I open another bag of Skittles. 

Five more minutes pass. Lucy, the grandmother in a waif’s body, is steering Married-Chad away from getting a vasectomy. She watches out for everyone. Unmarried-Chad borrows my iPod to play Bloons Tower Defense 5, free trial edition. He’s on level 99. The screen is covered with monkeys—he no longer even has to do anything. Simple minds, simple pleasures, I suppose. You can practically see Unmarried-Chad’s brain working through the massive holes in his cap. That hat has to be 10 years old—originally black, now light grey, more hole than fabric.

There’s nothing to do on the internet anymore. I’ve played every game, read every comics’ 10-year archive, downloaded every movie I’ll ever watch, pirated every song I’ll ever listen to. I glance around the classroom. Puke-yellow walls, same color in every room. Posters for other colleges—anything’s got to be better than here. Childish “art” from proud graphic design majors. Aging blackboard, aging chairs, aging tables, aging everything.  

Jim finally rushes in, 15 minutes late. There’s a sheen of sweat on his bald spot. Immediately, he gets lecturing. I can barely see him—he’s so short he disappears behind my classmates’ heads.  Immediately, my brain shuts down. I scan the two rows ahead of me: Everyone’s on Facebook or playing games. Except Pencilneck. 

Pencilneck is watching porn. Eeeeesh. Pencilneck’s the class skeeze. Skinny, with a pedo-stache and a trenchcoat, greasy skin and prominent Adam’s apple, he’s always looking at porn. No one wants to work with him—I think they’re afraid to touch anything he’s handled. I don’t blame them. I shift my gaze quickly. 

Jim’s still droning on about safety tags and wiring faults. This all seems eerily familiar. Almost as if we covered this last semester… Oh wait. We did. Like everything else Jim’s talked about in the last month.
Not that it matters. Five more minutes. Wait. Jim’s already five minutes over time, and he’s still talking. Sensing our restlessness, he interrupts his monologue. “Almost done. I just want to finish this slide for the test on Monday.”

Test on Monday? What test on Monday? I checked the schedule—the test isn’t until Friday, a week from today. We’re not going to have time to study. No. Oh no no no. This won’t end well. 

Roger raises his head, “But…there’s nothing in the syllabus about a test Monday. It says we have a test next Friday…?”

For a second, Jim stutters, “W-well, we had to change it, since there’s a field trip next Friday.”

“We.” Everyone knows what that means. One of the other teachers coerced Jim into swapping times.

Jim has finished speaking. Roger, like everyone, is seething. Not me. Not yet. I won’t be angry for hours. When it all sinks in, though… My room will echo with curses tonight. Unmarried-Chad returns my iPod. 

Unmarried-Chad turned 21 last week. He walked into the first class smiling and whistling. Beer on his breath. During an hour break, he disappeared, only to reappear for the second class, whistling louder, swaying slightly. He left once more, after that class, and didn’t show up again At least I didn’t need his help working on the lab. Computer stuff I understand. Wiring? Over my head. You’d think my hands would be good for it—they’re long and delicate. But I lack the patience. Unmarried-Chad, for all his faults, is great with wiring. Anything hardware, he’s an expert at. Give me words, programs, keys. That’s where I excel.

I pack my computer away once again. There are no notes on it. There is no reason to take notes. None of this matters. My grades are good enough to take a hit. All I’m doing now is killing time. One class left before I get a break. One day left before the weekend. One semester left before I’m gone. 

Freedom hangs like heaven. Or a plumb-bob.