Trish worked in my office, doing the same job as me. We started at eight a.m. and answered phone calls from endless, angry credit card customers for ten hours. Four days a week we sat in those cubes with headsets on, listening to middle America complain about their interest rate, blame the post office for late payments, or beg for an emergency credit line increase. There was a digital tote board at the front of the room. It told how many calls were on hold, and the average wait time. We were all given three breaks, thirty minutes for lunch, and two ten minute “smoke breaks.” We could take them at anytime, consecutively if we wanted, and every day was a personal battle to not take our breaks too early. If you didn’t schedule them right, or gave in too early, you were stuck with hours and hours on the phones.
Trish always took her breaks when I did. She said she trusted my break schedule, and that left to her own devices she would be stuck on the phone six hours straight. She was thirty six, plain and quite heavy. You could tell she had given up; no make-up, baggy blue jeans and big sweatshirts. We barely spoke during our breaks, so I was very surprised when, during lunch, she asked if I would talk to her son.
“Your son? About what?” I asked.
“Well, he’s twelve, and he is a sort of snob. I mean, he is very smart, in the gifted program at school and all of that, but he is really very mean. He knows he is smarter than most people and rubs their nose in it. He gets beat up all the time, and frankly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. He’s really a little jerk.”
“But I don’t even know him, hell, I hardly know you, Trish.”
“Yeah, but I think he might listen better to a stranger.”
“I don’t know what I could say to him” I replied.
“Just try to convince him to chill out. You seem like a smart guy, I mean you’re always reading those old books and stuff. But you’re real cool to everybody here, I mean you’re real smart but you don’t act like it.”
I told her that was one of the nicest things any one had ever said to me, and that I’d give it a shot. We made a date for me to come to her house on Saturday. I wrote down the address.
The address was for an apartment on the west side of town, in the neighborhood where I grew up. I felt bad for the kid immediately, this was a terrible part of town to walk home with an armload of books. Add a snotty, gifted-program attitude on top of that and, well it was no wonder the kid kept getting his ass kicked.
I found the apartment and knocked on the door. Trish answered and let me in.
She jerked her thumb toward the back of the apartment.
“He’s back there reading” she said. “Have a seat.”
I sat on a couch that was covered by a dirty blanket. The dirty blanket was covered in cat hair. I started to wonder if I had made a mistake coming to talk to this kid. Hell, I was only 23 and didn’t even have a kid of my own. But the strong smell of cat piss in the air made me stay, I really was feeling bad for him now.
Trish walked out and the kid followed.
“Brian, this is Bill. Bill, this is my son Brian.”
I stood up and walked over to shake his hand. He looked at my outstretched arm and said “heh.” He gave me a limp little hand shake.
“What’s the matter” I said, “you don’t like shaking hands?”
“Heh” he sneered, “It’s a pedestrian, middle-class tradition that is not only unhygienic, but full of dumb, false masculinity.”
“Well” I replied, “You have a point there.”
Trish told Brian to sit down and asked if we wanted drinks. I took a beer but Brian declined.
“I’m more than hydrated, thank you” he said.
I was impressed. He was only twelve, and though he was very effeminate, and obviously very gay, he did have a certain cocksure spirit about him. I made up my mind to at least let the kid know life would be easier if he tried to hold back the snotty routine a little. I asked Trish to talk outside.
“Well,” she said, “what do you think?”
“He’s a smart little dude. That’s for sure. I think it would be easier to talk to him if we were alone. Is it all right with you if I take him for a drive?”
“Oh, yes. I think that’s a good idea.”
She opened the door and called inside. “Brian, come here. You’re going for a drive with Bill.”
“Great” was the sarcastic reply.
We walked across the parking lot toward my car.
“Where are we going? To have a talk?” he asked.
“We are going for a drive. I don’t much like talking” I answered.
I unlocked the passenger door of my CRX, and walked around to the other side.
“Hop in and buckle up” I said.
We were silent until I pulled out of the parking lot.
“Wow” he said, “this is such a nice car.”
I looked at him. He had a satisfied smirk.
”A sneer is the weapon of the weak”
“James Russell Lowell, wow, I am so impressed. Where the hell are we going?”
“We’re not going anywhere” I said. “Just driving so we can be alone when I teach you something.”
“And what, pray tell, can a person like you, teach me?”
“Do you have a cell phone?” I asked.
“Can you receive text messages?”
He sighed, bored and superior. “Of course.”
“Give me your phone number.”
He sat motionless. I drove on, waiting him out, for I had a sudden inspiration.
Before long, he gave in. “Why?”
“I want to send you a text message.”
He sighed again. He rattled of his phone number.
I pulled out my phone and typed in the message: ILFYM. I hit send.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He feigned annoyance as he fished it out. I could tell he was intrigued.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“You’re pretty smart, Brian, figure it out.”
He puzzled over it for a few minutes and gave up “It’s just nonsense” he said.
I was silent. I had been driving around the block and we were getting close to his apartment.
Suddenly, and with finality, I spoke. “I-Love-Fucking-Your-Mom. That’s what it means. And it’s true, I really do.”
He turned his head toward me quickly, I sneered at him, and he turned back to staring out of the window.
“I-Love-Fucking-Your-Mom” I repeated. “What do you think of that?”
“Shut up” he replied.
I drove past the driveway to his apartment complex.
“I do, I really do. I-Love-Fucking-Your-Mom.”
“Stop! Take me home” he said. He went back to his window. He was trying not to cry.
I had pulled out my phone and resent the message without him seeing me. His pocket vibrated. He glared at me through his tears.
“It’s not from me” I said.
He pulled out his phone and looked at the screen. He let out a whimper like a puppy, and started to sob openly.
“We do it at my house because your house smells like cat piss. She’s always telling me she doesn’t even want to go home because you’re there and you are mean to her and everybody else because you’re so smart. Do you feel smart right now, Brian? Crying like a baby in a stranger’s crappy little car?”
Brian didn’t answer, he couldn’t. He was practically choking.
“Can you hear me, kid?” I asked. He nodded assent.
“How you feel right now; that’s how other people feel when you pretend to be better than them because you’re smarter. Believe me, being smart doesn’t mean shit. It’s what you do with your intelligence that counts. Understand?”
He nodded again.
“Now stop crying, I’m gonna’ take you home, and you’re not gonna’ tell your mom any of this, you’re just gonna’ start being nicer to people. Starting with her. Understand?”
He nodded again. I made one more circle around the block to give him time to pull himself together. When we pulled up to the apartment, Trish came outside.
“Get out of my car” I whispered.
He got out of the car and walked quickly into the apartment, looking at his feet.
Trish came around to my window.
“Well, how’d it go?”
“I think I got through to him. I see what you mean, he is a bit of a snob, but we’ll see if my little talk helped.”
She reached into the car and put her hand on my shoulder.
“I can’t thank you enough for this” she said.
“Anytime, Trish. See you Monday, okay?”
I drove away with a strong feeling of satisfaction. I decided I just might make a pretty good dad some day.
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