I sat at my desk, furiously picking at a wad of gum that had probably been stuck there by some previous 5th grader from fifty years ago. After having this realization, I recoiled from the ancient gum and instead began picking at a piece of dead skin jutting out from under my thumbnail. It’s all I could do to keep from running out of the classroom screaming, as I sat there waiting my turn to give an oral report that I hadn’t written.
That’s right. Mrs. Greggerson had all given us instructions to write about a certain figure of the American Revolutionary War and then talk about this figure in front of the entire class. I, of course, was given Alexander Hamilton, who I had no prior knowledge of. Well, other than him being in some play that my dad said was over-rated. That, and being on the ten dollar bill my older brother gave me for punting the neighbor’s cat across the yard. But of course, I couldn’t go up in front of the class and give a lecture about that.
Thankfully, as I sat there staring at the clock – while Nathan Medzker gave some boring speech about Benjamin Franklin – I knew I was home free. My last name was early on in the alphabet, but luckily a lot of kiss-asses like Bree Watterson and Kyle Severson had volunteered to go ahead of everybody else. Who does that? Who actually volunteers to get up in front of a bunch of people and orate as if they’re not scared to death about what everyone else is thinking about them?
So as you might’ve guessed, I was pretty happy when Mrs. Greggerson interjected after Nathan’s report, saying, “sorry, class. But it looks like we’re gonna have to wait ‘til tomorrow for the rest of your reports.”
This prompted us all to quickly pack our bags as the bell rang, while I tried frantically to get out of there before she changed her mind. Unfortunately, I had to walk home with Nathan Medzker, for no other reason than that he lived next door to me and his mom was afraid Nathan would get lost and/or beaten up on his way home.
“You know Benjamin Franklin also invented the library,” Nathan said as we shuffled down the street.
“How do you invent a library? It’s a building,” I replied.
“Well, I don’t know. I think he helped build the first one. In Philadelphia.”
“You know Philadelphia was originally America’s—“
“First capital,” I interrupted. “Everybody knows that. We’ve been learning about this stuff for the last three months. It’s not that cool.”
“Oh. Well, I think it is. Did you know Benjamin Franklin invented the lightbulb?”
I was pretty sure Edison invented the lightbulb, but I decided to say “no. I didn’t know that,” since I wasn’t a hundred percent. Also, Nathan was one of those kids who could really go on a tear when he got excited about something, so I just let him steer the conversation all the way home.
As I walked through the door of my parent’s medium-sized home, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I should get started on that report. After all, I was given this gift of another day to prepare it. But then I remembered that Xbox existed, so I just ended up playing that for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that a couple hours would get sucked up into what was supposed to be a brief session of blowing off virtual terrorists’ heads. This didn’t become apparent until my mom got home from work, immediately asking, “Hey Jeff, how’d your report go?”
Now, I’m a world class liar. So I had no problem convincing my mom that the hours spent the night before watching cat videos online were actually spent writing and rehearsing that report. So I didn’t see any problem in maintaining this lie by saying, “it went great.”
“Oh yeah?” she replied excitedly.
“Yeah. I don’t think we’ll get our grades back until next week though,” I said.
“Ok. But you weren’t nervous or anything?”
“Uh… a little. But I don’t think anyone could tell.”
“Well, that’s good,” she said. “Dad said he’d be working late. How’s meatloaf sound?”
“Sounds good,” I replied, which definitely wasn’t a lie. I don’t know why all the kids at school complain when their moms make meatloaf. I think meatloaf’s excellent.
In fact, I thought it was so excellent that my dad seemed to get a little annoyed when I was scarfing it down like a rabid wolverine at the dinner table.
“Hey Jeff. Pace yourself,” my dad said.
“Why? It’s all goin’ to the same place,” I reasoned, “the toilet.”
“Well, sure. But you might choke.”
“Can you choke on meatloaf?”
“I mean, no. The consistency’s a little too soft to choke on. But that’s not the point.”
“What is the point?”
“The point is, I’m your father. And that meatloaf’s not going anywhere.”
“Ok. Sorry, dad.”
I tried to consume my meatloaf in a more piecemeal manner as my mom and dad continued to eat while talking about my aunt getting married for a third time. This didn’t really interest me, so I started to daydream about what it’d be like if there was a video game in which I got to stomp on top of Nathan Medzker’s head, over and over again.
However, my attention was once again drawn back to mom and dad’s conversation, as my mom said, “I heard on the radio that it might snow tonight.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I got a meeting with a couple clients scheduled tomorrow, so I hope not,” my dad replied.
“Snow?” I asked.
For a kid like myself, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, “snow” was more or less the most magical word in the English language. The possibility of snow usually only comes around once or twice a year, if we’re lucky. Hell, sometimes it wouldn’t snow at all, and we’d have to wait another interminable year for the slight possibility of snow sweeping in across the Pacific Ocean and into our school schedule. And because we always knew that if it just snowed a mere inch or two (an amount that would be scoffed at in the Midwest), it was pretty much a sure thing that school would get canceled.
“Yeah, they say it might start around 2 AM,” my dad said as a million different snowflake-shaped thoughts swept through my brain.
“Like, for real?” I asked.
“Well, it sounds like it’s about a 50 percent chance. But you never know with these damn Seattle weathermen.”
I didn’t know what this last remark meant, or the meaning of the phrase “50 percent chance”, because as far as I knew, we were in for an all-out blizzard.
After dinner, I sat there in my room, staring out the window. And I didn’t see much. It looked cloudy, which from what I could remember of every time it had snowed previously, it was cloudy. So that was a good sign.
After about twenty minutes of staring blankly out the window, my mom came in and asked, “you got any homework to do, mister?”
Oh crap. I guess I did. That stupid Alexander Hamilton report. Of course, I couldn’t let my mom see through the intricate web of lies I was spinning around this unwritten report, so I just said, “yeah. It was just a worksheet.”
As my mom left, I decided to sit down and try to crank out a report. The only problem was, I had no idea what the fuck I was writing a report about. Oh yeah, I was supposed to do research before writing the report, I remembered. Soon I found myself briefly skimming Alexander Hamilton’s Wikipedia page, though it wasn’t doing a lot for me. Why couldn’t I have picked someone cool like Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson? Alexander Hamilton never even got to become President. All he did was help write this long list of stuff that no one really cares about anymore. Then, as I was about to click over to some infinitely more compelling video of a cat walking on its hind legs, I heard someone outside.
“Look! It’s snowing!” the voice said.
I quickly shot up and gazed out my window. Though if there was snow falling, I certainly couldn’t see it. But maybe it was just too dark outside to tell.
So I slapped on some shoes and shuffled out the door into the dry, crisp cold of the night. There wasn’t a single speck of snow falling. So naturally, I asked myself, “what gives?”
A maniacal laugh pierced my eardrums, as I turned to see Nathan’s brother, Jason Medzker on their front porch. “Haha! Psych!” he yelled, like the most obnoxious asshole in the world.
I then saw Nathan in their front yard looking up into the sky, just as I had moments earlier. “Hey! That’s not funny!” he yelled.
It was then that Nathan noticed me standing there, which he acknowledged with an “oh hey, Jeff.”
I replied with a “hey, Nathan.”
We then had a brief moment of eye contact and a mutual glance towards Jason, as if to say “we could take this fool.” But we then realized that no, we couldn’t, because Jason was a lot bigger than us and had an impeccable atomic wedgie to regular wedgie ratio. So we just let it pass, while Jason skipped back into the house yelling “have fun at school tomorrow, nerds!”
Nathan defeatedly followed his brother in to the house while saying, “aw, that’s not cool. Mom!—” and then slammed the front door. I, however, continued standing outside, staring at the heavens, as if to beg God for just one day of glorious snowbound respite.
Luckily, it felt like it was gonna snow. The air had that crisp quality to it, while an eery silence permeated the neighborhood in a way that seemed like an apt precursor to snowfall. So I just stood there for a while longer, staring at the cloud-covered night sky.
It was then that I heard my dad yell, “Jeff! Come on inside!”
“Just a second, dad,” I replied.
“No, Jeff. Come in this instant!”
He seemed pretty pissed about it. I don’t why. I was just standing outside. But I guess it was just one of those dad things.
So I scampered back inside, and then immediately towards the imposing holding cell that was my bedroom. This gave way to about a half hour of me looking up some more inane Alexander Hamilton facts, and more or less copying them into a word document. It didn’t take me long to realize that the teacher would know I’d copied and pasted every single one of these sentences, seeing as though I was nowhere near that eloquent. Mrs. Greggerson knew this from the supremely average compare-and-contrast essay I turned in the week before, concerning the differences and similarities between pizza and pizza rolls. So instead of continuing to write the report, I looked out my window, and once again saw that it was just my same old boring snowless neighborhood outside.
It was at this moment that I started to get desperate. So I did what any man does when it seems as though everyone and everything in the universe has turned against him: I turned to a higher power.
I then put both of my hands together and composed the following prayer:
I know we’re aren’t like BFF’s or anything, but I was hoping you could maybe do a solid for me right now. And yes, I know that I haven’t gone to church since my mom’s weird religious side of the family forced us to go a few Easters ago. Also, it probably isn’t helped by my dad using your name in vain every time he stubs his toe on that nail jutting out of the front steps.
Anyways, I’m a really lazy person. But I guess that’s your fault, isn’t it? Jeeze God, why did you make me so freakin’ lazy?!
Sorry, I didn’t mean that. But because you’ve made me such a lazy idiot, I can’t seem to finish this report. And all I’m asking you to do is drop a nice little blanket of snow on the Seattle area so that I won’t have to go to school tomorrow. I know, I know. It’s a pretty selfish request. But I really need this, and snow is awesome. I’m not sure if there’s snow in heaven, but if there is, you know what I’m talkin’ about.
Anyways, you rock. Please help me out. Amen.
I wasn’t sure if that was really a top notch prayer. But any such doubts immediately vanished when I looked over at my window and good God praise Jesus it was snowing.
The flakes started slow and sparse, but who gave a crap. It was snow! And as far as I was concerned this was my ticket to freedom, because in my child mind the day after tomorrow was practically light years away. And who knew? Maybe it’d just keep snowing like this for days and days until they just decided to cancel school forever.
Most of all, because snow was such a rare and beautiful thing in my little corner of the world, I wanted to enjoy every minute of it. So I just sat there staring silently out the window, watching the flakes start to accumulate and form a wonderful consequence-pummeling blanket over all of my neighborhood.
Somehow, two hours had passed when my mom came in and asked, “so it looks like you noticed the snow outside.”
To which I could only answer, “yup.”
“Well, the weatherman says it could turn to rain overnight.”
“Oh come on, mom. It’s just gonna get colder as it becomes deeper into nighttime. And then it’s gonna snow even more.”
“If you says so, sweetie. But… they still haven’t canceled school. So until then, you’re going to bed the same time as always.”
I looked over at my clock. I was shocked to see it was 10 PM.
“Oh. I guess that’s now then,” I said.
“That’s right, mister.”
After brushing my teeth for literally six seconds, I hopped in to bed and stared out the window at the snowflakes being silhouetted by my front porch-light, which filled me with a kind of joy that felt like cotton candy in my soul. In fact, I had a hard time getting to sleep, due to my excitement over whatever tomorrow’s snow day would bring. But then it started to get to around quarter to 11, and I realized it was insane for me to be staying up any later than this. So I closed my eyes and slowly drifted off into dreamland…
“OK. Better get ready for school, Jeff.”
I quickly woke as this death knell of a sentence wafted through my ears.
“Wait, what?” I asked as I noticed my mother peaking her head through my bedroom door.
“All the snow’s gone. I guess it turned to rain overnight.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“Chop chop. You’ve only got about twenty minutes before school starts,” my mom said, as she popped her head back out and went on her way to do, I don’t know, mom things. The point was, ALL THE SNOW WAS GONE.
I quickly whipped out of bed and towards the window, just to make sure my mother wasn’t feeding me false information. But god dammit, she was right. It was nothing but a skeletal dampness covering the neighborhood. Not a single scrap of the white stuff to be seen.
Which I suppose is another crucial element of the incredibly fragile operation that is a Northwest snow day. Even if the wind chill patterns or whatever all align with each other and give us some sort of snowfall, rain is always lurking around the corner. And rain more than anything (except maybe acid rain) has the power to destroy any sort of snowfall in a matter of hours.
I once again found myself picking at the rock hard piece of gum under my desk without a clue of what would come next. Every second was like one more dagger to my nervous system, while I sat there listening to one more report about how great George Washington was. And then as my hands started shaking, I violently ripped that ancient piece of gum off the desk as I heard the most terrifying sentence ever thrown in my direction.
“Jeff, why don’t you go next?” Mrs. Greggerson asked.
The most obvious answer was pretty self-explanatory. But instead of giving it, I replied, “yeah, ok. Just a second.”
I grabbed a couple of papers that I’d stolen from my dad’s file cabinet, which looked enough like a history report from afar. And then I made my painful march toward the front of the classroom as I felt the eyes of my peers focusing in on me and me alone.
Needless to say, I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth when I stood in front of that classroom. And what came out was this:
“So the person I did my report on was Alexander Hamilton. You guys might know him as the guy on the ten dollar bill. Or the guy from that play that our moms think is cool. Though you might not know that he was put on the ten dollar bill because ten was the number of British generals he killed in the American Revolution. You see, much like Washington, Hamilton was one of the few founding fathers that actual fought in the war. Unlike that fat old nerd Ben Franklin”
This got a few weird looks from the class, so I continued on by saying “But don’t get me wrong, Ben Franklin was a really great guy. He just seemed like he spent a little too much time being old and a nerd. Anyways, apart from being a great warrior, Hamilton was also one of the writers of the Constitution. In fact, Hamilton wrote the whole thing himself while Washington and John Adams gave him some hot tips about what to put in it. Also, another fact you may not know about Alexander Hamilton is that much like Ben Franklin is credited with inventing electricity, Hamilton invented the telephone. Now sure, you’d probably think that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But — this is another thing most people don’t know – Alexander Graham Bell was actually Alexander Hamilton’s son. You see he was originally born Alexander Hamilton Jr., but then changed his name to Alexander Ham Bell. But then realized that this sounded too… uh, delicious. So he changed his name to Alexander Graham Bell, since graham crackers aren’t very delicious. Then what do you know? One day he found his dad’s blueprints for a device that would make us able to talk to each other from miles away. And that’s how we got the telephone. And we can all thank Alexander Hamilton for that.”
After a brief silence, the class gathered that I was done with my report, and gave me some fairly indifferent applause.
Holy shit, I thought. They actually bought all of that. An overwhelming sense of relief came over me as I headed back towards my seat. That is, until I glanced in the direction of Mrs. Greggerson.
“That was an interesting report, Jeff,” she said.
“Uh, thanks,” I replied.
“So interesting that I’d like to talk to you about it after school.”
That didn’t sound good. Though it’s not like she said I had detention or anything. And Mrs. G. was never afraid to call out a student in the middle of class and tell them they were in trouble. No, this was different.
When the school bell finally rang, I found myself sitting there as my peers filed out towards their TV and iPad-filled afternoons. I glanced over at Mrs. Greggerson, who was gathering a couple of spelling tests we’d taken last Friday. And though she didn’t seem in a hurry to talk to me, I figured my fate was inevitable. So I made a slow trudge toward her desk, hoping to receive the terms of my sentence.
“Hey, Mrs. G. You wanted to talk to me,” I said.
“Ah yes, Jeff. About that report,” she said as she threw her papers in to a nearby book bag. “I’ve just got one question to ask you.”
“Do you know what you did was wrong?”
I thought for a moment, and gave her a truthful answer, which judging from her tone was the kind of answer she was looking for. “Yeah,” I said with a swell of regret in my voice.
“I hope so. Because you might have fooled your fellow students with all that bluster and confidence. But you can’t fool me, Jeff. I’ve taught this stuff to a million different students that have cared far less about the founding of our great country than you do.”
“I’m sorry,” I whimpered.
“But that said. In all my time teaching, I’ve never seen anything quite like that.”
This I didn’t expect.
“Jeff that was downright amazing the way you wove a tapestry of lies for your fellow students to feast on. And I know you’d have to be a pretty smart kid to do that type of thing just on the spot.”
“You’re welcome. But here’s my concern. Some kids end up turning that kind of creativity in to something wonderful and inspiring.” She then took a moment before saying, “but there are also kids that’ve come through here that’ve turned that kind of creativity into something bad, that just ends up hurting people. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I think so,” I replied.
“What I’m saying is… lies are bad. Having an imagination is good.”
“Ok. I think I get it.”
“What you just did was one big lie. But, it was also an amazing use of that imagination of yours. So what I’m saying is—“
“Use your imagination for good,” I interrupted.
“That, and do what the prompt tells you next time.”
I smiled a bit, and said, “okay. Sounds good.”
With that, I found myself walking home in the cold of that grey Northwest afternoon. And sure, I wish I had actually written that report and not gotten the D that Mrs. Greggerson ultimately gave me. But weirdly enough, I felt an intense sense of accomplishment over having pulled one big nothing out of my ass and having made my peers believe that it was something. In fact, I was so wrapped up in that feeling of accomplishment, that I hadn’t even noticed the white stuff that was falling all around me.