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​Don't Lose All of Your Marbles

Coming of Age    |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

Anyone who’s ever attended college knows what a time drain it can be. There are endless classroom boredoms, reading assignments, memorizations, essay papers, pop quizzes, mid-terms, finals, and some level of socialization, drinking and whining about all the work that never goes away. That last thing took up much of the time for me.

I had one additional worry in those days. Each week, I moderated a class on comparing and contrasting two prominent literary figures of various talents. Who would win a bitch slapping contest between Alexander Pope and Oscar Wilde? Which had the larger hands, F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck? Can Virginia Woolf be a more brazen diva than Dorothy Parker? You know, sensitive and tasteful subjects such as these.

Once, I was behind schedule for this class, where I separated the two sides of one of these interesting debates. Well, that’s a lie. I was always behind schedule. But one time there was a very valid but memorable reason for my tardiness.

I hadn’t eaten all day and needed something to pad my belly a little. I thought I’d grab a bag of takeout Chinese food. It might be good to feel somewhat full, knowing it would wear off a little before class excitement reached its peak. It was best not to have a full stomach during discussions like these.

The boxcar-shaped restaurant had just enough room for a single line of customers between a blank wall on one side and a long menu board on the other. Of course, today the line extended back to the door. I stepped inside to gage the line speed. Near the back of the pack was a student from my class. I stood beside him, wondering if the wait was worth it.

He kept murmuring, “I’m gonna be late. I’m gonna be late,” under his breath.

“What are you going to get?” I asked.

“Number 23,” he said, breaking his chant for a few seconds.

“I’ll get my usual number 6.” I handed him a couple of dollars. “Sidle up to the front and order for us; no matter what, just order.”

He looked at me like I was crazy; close to the actual truth back then. I pulled his arm and pushed him forward along the wall. After a dozen “excuse me’s” and “pardon me’s”, we make some progress toward the front. As he stepped to the counter, I turned and slapped a hand to my face. A marble bounced a few times on the tile floor with a pinging resonance.

“My eye! My glass eye!” I raised my voice. “Don’t step on it. Back away!”

I motioned people backward and fell to my hands and knees. I scoured the floor. Each time I moved toward the customer line, they instinctively moved farther back. When I heard the cash register ring, I found my glass eye and pretended to replace it. Blinking hard and partially coving my face, I profusely apologized to everyone in the customer line as I retreated from the restaurant.

Outside, the kid handed me a number 6, and we made our way to school. Today’s subject was a particularly good one; who can use fewer words, a haiku street performer or Ernest Hemingway? Challenge accepted.