Monday, July 23, 2018

"I Did It Once"

Note:  My blog went offline for a while, but now it's back.  I hope you're back too.  I got lots to tell you about my trip.  But first, some residual scheduled posts, while I get back my coherence.  Anyway, I'm back from my trip.  And my blog's back from wherever it went.  I don't know what happened.  Maybe it got jealous and went on a blogatorial vacation.
I think about Anthony Bourdain more now than I did when he was alive.  And what nudges my consciousness is this.

According to his television persona– and hopefully in real life as well – Anthony Bourdain treated everyone he encountered with equality, empathy, decency and respect.  

Which got me thinking,

“Have I ever done that?” (I think in quotation marks.)

My mind delivers me to Bob Kettle.

My quintessential “Bourdainian Experience.”

Which was the following.

As the line goes:

Look in the dictionary for the word “truculent”,

And you’ll see a picture of Bob Kettle.

I do not want to stereotype, but in a high school class on a college-bound track, Bob Kettle seemed to be included be mistake.

Bob Kettle got a grade of “3” on a French exam.  That’s out of a hundred.  When his failing paper was returned to him, Kettle defiantly proclaimed,

“What do I need French for? I ain’t goin’ to France.”

Diffident.  Hard-faced.  Unapproachable.  Judging from his demeanor and deportment, Bob Kettle was a “Wanted Poster” waiting to happen. 

Were we afraid of him? 

Iwas.  And he hadn’t doneanything.   He just looked like he could.

Okay, enough of that. (Possibly morethan enough.)
Once a year, our school scheduled “Oral Compositions.”  You selected a topic of your choice and prepared a five-minute-or-so presentation, to then deliver in front of the class.  Two of my more scintillating offerings, I recall, were “The Story of Radio” and “The Origin of Surnames.”  Grading was relatively easy. If they stayed awake, you passed.

Okay, so there we are, “The Students of 10A”, serially orating, in alphabetical order.

The teacher gets to the “K’s.”


The room turns frozen, as Bob Kettle, a ton of “Bad News” in sneakers, rises to his feet and trudges truculently to the front of the classroom, the surrounding desks cowering as he proceeds.

“I’m going to talk about submarines,” he glumly reports.  “I need some help with the pictures.”

Which was factually correct. 

Bob Kettle would need two hands to negotiate his notational three-by-five cards, and would require one morehand for his accompanying visual aids, a mounted collection of submarine photographs. 

Bob Kettle literally needed a hand.

The room turned funereally silent, all eyes directed towards the floor.  The class’s wall clock ticked backwards.  Time didn’t stand still.  It moved in the opposite direction.  

A human tragedy was unfolding before us.  Bob Kettle needed assistance.  And no one was willing to step up.  For what appeared to be… hours.

Mercifully, the tension was finally broken by a volunteer.

And it was me.

I went to the front of the classroom, and I stood beside Bob Kettle.  I accepted the stack of submarine pictures, flashing them appropriately at Bob’s synchronizing command.

“Surprised” is too mild a descriptive for the reaction.  Dust off “incredulous” instead.  My classmates knewme, and it was, like,

“You?  Nice?

When it was over, there was no “Thank you.”  No follow-up friendship.  A brief, humanitarian connection.  And that was that.  

I am encouraged by this spontaneous gesture of compassion.  

It occurred when I was sixteen years old.

I figure it’s just a matter of time before it happens again.


FFS said...

Welcome back. Nice to get a Saturday post.

Marjorie Main said...

Was Pa Kettle at your reunion? I can't find him.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Glad to see you back. In the immortal words of a friend of mine, "When they know you're out of town, your computers sulk."