One St. Patrick’s Day when my brother and I were in junior high, my brother’s teacher singled out a boy who had broken code by not wearing a green article of clothing. She asked him where his “green” was. The boy got out of his chair as if to get a good head start on his walk to the principal’s office and said, “I got a green dick.”
His bravado instantly became the stuff of legend for us. I was a kid who couldn’t stop trying to crack up his classmates and was often sitting out in the hall as a result, but if I had referred to my dick in conversation with a teacher my heart would have frozen solid with fear.
I’ve never liked being in trouble. Or at least I seem to like it less than some others I’ve admired. Risking it, though, feels like a million bucks. Risking a little trouble makes me feel vital, alert, like I’m living at a different speed than all those boring-ass rule jockeys. It’s just that being in trouble sucks, and I’m a wuss about it. Not quite as much as I am an attention whore, of course, which is why I couldn’t keep entirely out of trouble in school, but I always felt miserable when chastised.
Maybe this is what kept me out of real trouble in my twenties, when I felt most capable of really screwing up and knew people who could help. I lived proudly off the grid, or at least in some fairly seedy borderlands. I turned up my nose at the pile of crap I thought America was selling. But I did not want to see the inside of its penal institutions, either, and eventually I found suitable work as a teacher and librarian.
Getting in trouble these days means scheduling a “vampire valentine” program at my library that angers some local conservatives, or eating all of the ice cream before my family gets a chance. It feels a lot like grade school still—I feel injured when confronted. I feel misunderstood and ashamed and not at all like a badass. Swagger-free. But the program had been in fun, and the ice cream, heavenly. They made me feel alive. What could I do?
The gulf between the incarcerated and the legal system professional rarefies and contracts in Meg Johnson’s marvelous poem, “One Lie, Zero Questions.” The image of a recently jailed, hare-brained drama queen builds with each line until the poem’s end tilts suddenly toward the speaker and falls into the world.
Julie Odell’s story, “The Boy,” finds a new angle on a timely subject. An exploration in desire and loneliness and the inscrutability of the human soul, this piece breaks the rules nicely.
“The Private Investigator” by Nancy Stohlman begins with a cliché—a woman walks into a detective’s office—and flips it into a unique story. Stohlman’s flash piece speaks to how we are often strangers to ourselves, how unequal to the task of living we can feel. It also packs a lot of funny and heartbreaking into a short, innovative space.
Photo by Rachel Luxemberg