Chattin' with Chapin is a blog focused on writing and the writing process both from the perspective of an aspiring fiction writer and a teacher who teaches it every day to middle school students. The blog also includes updates on author Andrew Chapin's nonfiction book From Tragedy to Triumph and teasers to the coming-of-age fiction novel Knowing When You're Too Young to Grow Up.
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Regretfully, I am taking a hiatus from blogging and writing until December. Why? Well, I’ve started a new job that is a huge adjustment – and not in a bad way. When you have grown accustomed to a certain way of teaching and a certain way of functioning at a job you have been at […] The post On Hiatus Till December appeared first on Andrew...
Regretfully, I am taking a hiatus from blogging and writing until December.
Well, I’ve started a new job that is a huge adjustment – and not in a bad way. When you have grown accustomed to a certain way of teaching and a certain way of functioning at a job you have been at for a while overall, there are bound to be some bumps in the road.
And that’s okay.
I will continue to grow, adjust, and eventually flourish. I am a teacher before I am a writer, after all.
Until I get a system down and achieve a level of comfort, I would be doing my students and myself a disservice if I weren’t giving my new position my undivided attention.
So, I’ll check back in December.
Or hopefully sooner.
And then, it’s one more round of edits on KNOWING WHEN YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO GROW UP (thanks for the help KMW Editorial ) + continuing writing THE HEROIN TIMES (thanks for the help Foday Samateh).
Hopeful for the future,
Originally posted on October 16, 2017, “Free to Wear Sunscreen” is Andrew Brown’s last night in Italy where he must confront a past he’s avoided for too long, a past that might break him apart from his best friend Pete Goodman. See the ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ tab for more information on the […] The post Throwback Thursday: Free to Wear Sunscreen appeared first on Andrew...
Originally posted on October 16, 2017, “Free to Wear Sunscreen” is Andrew Brown’s last night in Italy where he must confront a past he’s avoided for too long, a past that might break him apart from his best friend Pete Goodman.
See the ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ tab for more information on the project. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
I staggered into the single, unisex bathroom ready to float away on the Arno in my drunken mirth. It was our last dinner on our last night. And I was finally content – finally – with Ant, Pete, with myself, with all of it. For once, I smiled in the mirror, I felt like I was ahead of the curve. Before I heard a stirring whimper behind me.
I turned to the craned back heaving over the edge of the toilet seat, spindly arms shaking, her whole frail frame shaking, meek face in between. It was Becky. I didn’t even notice her when I walked in.
And I stood stuck like a stroke in a place I knew existed but could never fathom, the difference between knowing about and experiencing, the difference between staying young and growing up. So lost in her own sickness, in not eating, in sticking her finger down her throat, she looked like an exhibit in the Museum of Natural History.
Old me would’ve beat out of there, for sure, pretended like nothing happened. And I wouldn’t have even thought twice about the girl I used to copy homework from and then complain to Pete when I got stuck talking to her at parties.
Things certainly have changed, I thought as I lifted her up on the sink. She hadn’t said anything yet, only looked back at me with those bug eyes like an emaciated Ethiopian child. She might as well have been one.
There were no words. I simply wiped the gelatinous bile off her face and perked up her blouse that didn’t fit properly because it wasn’t a junior size and she was shaking so hard I did the only thing I could think of: I hugged her.
And then she spoke.
“When we’re back,” a soft, resigned whisper in my ear said, “I’ll be in the hospital. That’s why,” she paused, “that’s why I’m out of school sometimes. But I’m sure you already knew that.” She leaned back and smiled a faint, morose smile.
I swallowed grimly in acknowledgment. But I didn’t know. As much as I thought I knew about her, about all of them, I didn’t. I didn’t know anything at all. And I wanted to scream out and curse humanity then, take up to a hillside and flog myself like I was John in a Brave New World. I guess I was, seeing firsthand how superficial, how secondary most of our struggles were in comparison to hers. I tried to choke away the tears, but, long saved, their surplus was bursting. I started to cry.
“It’s,” I sobbed, “it’s just not fair sometimes.”
“Nothing is” – she wiped my face off as I had hers, her feet reaching for the floor – “nothing ever is.”
How could I be so mean to people whose only transgression was living? To her especially, the one who sang to me, the only one who cared, the one…
“Hey, Andrew! Hey!” – those bulbous eyes, immovable, compassionate, on me; I looked into them – “There you are, that person I always knew you were. It’ll be all right, I promise it will, okay? You ready? Before Ms. Benevo comes looking for us.”
I sniffled out a laugh. “Yeah, I think so.”
She took my hand like a child takes a parent’s, and we went back to the table, back to the stares of our peers who had never cared enough to understand the problem – just enough to make fun of it. Mo and the cheer squad flashed their eyes and crouched their heads. Candace played with her nose ring. Tommy leaned over to Lilly, said something that made her slap his arm in reproach. And they knew like Ant knew when she looked at me. They all did.
Ms. Benevo was sitting there too, as far away from Pete as the table would allow. She was probably the only one who didn’t acknowledge us, too busy talking up Fr. Bagnani and this no name sophomore from his UNO game. And her head was back and her wine was swirling and she was touching her chest and laughing and laughing like it’s just them and no one else, but it wasn’t. It was me too, and I saw – in the flit of her eye, in the curve of her mouth – what she wanted me to see, that ameliorated sneer like she was reminding, even after everything I did to her, that she wasn’t beat, not yet.
And I didn’t get it until now, back in our hotel amid the cacophony of Lilly’s parceling out advice – “Pete, It’ll be all right, trust me. I’ve had my fair share of bad break ups” and I’m sure she has – and Candace assenting to everything Lilly says – “Like, it will, it so will” – that that’s how it starts. Off Pete, she’s on to the next.
“Good, then that’s settled.” The top girl in the school dances over to the kitchen table and comes back with the shot glasses she bought all of us on the street today and a bottle of Grey Goose that’s been sitting out for days. “To Italy.”
“To Italy,” we declare in unison.
“For real, man, don’t forget it.”
“To us,” Ant whispers in my ear. She squeezes my hand.
“Forever.” I squeeze hers back. Three times.
Down, up, and back down again, they’re drained begrudgingly and followed by another and another after that until we’re all drunk and gay again, having the time of our lives, couldn’t be happier – Pete couldn’t be happier. And he looks it too, a crooning Mick Jagger to Tommy’s air-guitaring Keith Richards:
I’ll tell you you can put me out on the street
Put me out with no shoes on my feet
But, put me out, put me out of misery
Pete holds the air microphone to my face. The performer, he’s got that classic bravado he had in jazz band back in the day, when he’d solo way past Ms. Merritt’s cut-off because he heard something she couldn’t. It’s a memory as distant as our punk rock days, one I’ve longed to return to.
All your sickness, I can suck it up
Throw it all at me I can shrug it off
There’s one thing baby I don’t understand
You keep on telling me I ain’t your kinda man
Me and Ms. Benevo.
Pete was right then. I had wanted to change it, erase it, but no matter how much I took from her, it didn’t give me what I could never have again – my childhood.
If he only knew, I think. He will, I answer. I’m going to tell him everything – maybe not tonight, but I’m going to tell him. And then I’m going to do what I should’ve done from the beginning – talk to Fr. Bagnani, not just about Pete and her, but about me and her too. Because this can’t keep happening, to another one like that no name sophomore like I was – the nightmares I tried to forget, rationalizing them, blaming myself for the stories I never told. And I can’t avoid the ones already written. Anymore.
That I miss you needy look from Ant again. I flop down next to her on the loveseat. She slinks into the crook between my shoulder and chest. I kiss her forehead. She points at Pete who’s just about finished his set.
“Looks like he’s back to normal.”
“He’s getting there,” I say, looking past his grin to his grim eyes where the truth lies. I’ve gotten by all these years behind a smile that’s hidden how I really felt because no one thought to look into mine. He’s hurting, all alone without her, without anyone to understand him, like I was. Except now he does have someone.
Ant lays her legs across mine. It reminds me of how we used to sit watching Love Actually in her living room when her brothers weren’t home. Those are the memories I can get lost in like the hours that have a tendency to go unaccounted for when you’re drinking straight vodka.
How much time’s passed, I’m not sure on the balcony now feeling so miniscule under this tremendous sky. My cigarette flickers like fireflies mimicking the constellations.
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97, wear sunscreen…
“Lilly, oh my God, oh my God! Do remember how many times we played this?”
“We broke the cassette we listened to it so much!”
Draped in a sheet to stave off the chill she can never shake, Becky, practically an apparition, takes her closest friend’s hand and they start reenacting their childish dance number – children all over again.
“Like, what is this Lilly? I love this song!”
“Seriously? The songinRomeoandJuliet?”
Lilly’s lips can’t grab another cigarette quick enough. “It’s Baz Luhrmann. ‘Everybody’s Free’ it’s called.”
Becky rolls her eyes. “The famous playwright, Tommy. You know, the guy who did Moulin Rouge.”
Typically, he’s not paying attention, having lost his focus, too taken by Marie’s thong that’s resting above her backside’s crack. She catches him and slaps his face playfully. He tries to wrap his arms around her waist and bring her to him, but she pulls back. Candace’s rueful glare is palpable although she pretends not to notice. They’ve all played this game before.
Don’t worry about the future, or worry
But know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum
Lilly and Becky are still turning their impressionistic, bawdy turns, and Ant’s giggling and I’m giggling because they look completely ridiculous dancing around and not caring who’s watching them, in their own worlds.
Not Tommy, though. His face is getting longer and longer as Marie slogs on about where she’s going to college and how it’s going to be the best time of her life, of our lives.
“What’stheBIGDEAL, Tommy? YoustillhavePLENTY’a time.”
His usually tranquil tone can’t hide the hostility that betrays it with an emotional crack, “Man! It makes a big deal if you don’t know what you wanna do with your life.”
Marie stops laughing at the sobering realization that while attending college isn’t a question for her, it is for someone like Tommy whose grades barely ensure he can walk at graduation let alone get into college. It isn’t necessarily a guarantee. Nothing is
Copyright (C) 2018 Andrew Chapin
Originally posted on August 23, 2017, in “A Reintroduction: Chapter 1” protagonist Andrew Brown begins to tell the story of his trip to Italy with his closest pals. The real story, however, is his failing relationship with his best friend Pete Goodman. The reason? Pete’s affair with their art teacher Ms. Benevo. See the ‘Knowing When You’re […] The post Throwback Thursday: A Reintroduction: Chapter 1 appeared first on Andrew...
Originally posted on August 23, 2017, in “A Reintroduction: Chapter 1” protagonist Andrew Brown begins to tell the story of his trip to Italy with his closest pals. The real story, however, is his failing relationship with his best friend Pete Goodman.
Pete’s affair with their art teacher Ms. Benevo.
See the ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ tab for more information on the project. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
Based on what I’ve heard about past travel studies, from the partying and the sneaking out to the straight up orgies, I’m going out with a bang in my senior year. Sure, we’re a real traveling circus of American allure from Balaam Academy and I’m surrounded by plenty of people who flat-out suck. But, in a place I know absolutely nothing about besides that I love the food and the women, who gives a shit? At least I’ve got my friends.
So far, though, the trip I’ve been counting down the days for, for months hasn’t gone as smoothly as I planned.
First, after my parents kicked me to the curb at the airport – couldn’t wait to get the hell away from them anyway – I saw my best friend Pete Goodman who doesn’t have time for me anymore standing at our predetermined meet-up spot with our art teacher and chaperon, his main squeeze Ms. Benevo. That’s right. Pete’s taken her down the river. A lot.
Can’t say I blame him, though. Sure, I’d just as soon slit her throat, but she’s something to look at. Not thin, not fat either – voluptuous is more like it – she’s got these curves and a little chub that’s more than compensated for by her enormous birdfeeders. If he only knew what I do.
Anyway, as if the day couldn’t get any worse, then Becky Gillespie vommed in a paper bag on the plane, which immediately made me vom. Adding insult to injury was Michelle Thompson, or “Black Michelle,” who took off her shoes and aired those sweaty dogs out all flight long.
Even with all of that, touching down at Fiumicino still gave me an overwhelming sense of unobstructed wonderment that comes with having no poisonous, preconceived notions. Like how I used to feel when my mother sent me to rich kid camp for the entire summer before I understood why.
That was until we made it to customs where the guards had semi-automatic weapons with the safeties off ready to fire willingly at us American intruders. You could tell by their bland faces glaring at us deridingly or indifferently – definitely not convivially – that they didn’t like us. It took about 20 minutes in Italy for that to become clear, and, once it did, my childish conception fired from me quicker than the bullet sitting in the guard’s chamber would’ve.
Now, at the first site on our tour – the Roman Forum, whatever that is – I’m seeing the same looks. It’s as if our group’s trespassing on something sacred, something our mere presence taints. Maybe it does considering we’re probably the most uncouth outfit to step foot on the grounds since the time of the Romans.
Marie Davis, my closet pill-head, stunning friend who Pete used to make out with waves me over. She’s leaning on her pseudo-sister and party partner Lilly Foster’s shoulder, another of my liquid-smoke friends, chatting her up about something seemingly inconsequential. I wave them off good-naturedly. Such hotties.
Lilly’s average height but naturally model-thin. The star of Balaam’s promotional catalogue, she’s the school’s prototypical aesthetic with her strong, high cheekbones; year-round tan; and that pin-straight, bleach-blond hair that’s always tied back in a pristine, pink ribbon. And what a backside.
Marie’s no slouch either with her gazelle legs and steely frame and dark Mediterranean features and a sex appeal she knows exactly how to use. I remember the first time I saw her surrounded by all the older, old-moneyed legacy guys – the Dunlaps and the Cunninghams and the McDermotts and the Lunds; the preppy, the popular, the highest of Balaam’s high society – and I thought that this girl’s touched all the bases when I’m still getting no hit.
And, if it wasn’t for them and Pete, I probably still would be striking out, stuck in my room with my cock in my right hand and a frenzied mouse circling in my left. That was when life was simple. Before everything got so complex.
“Hey, pal, long time no see,” Pete says in one of his shitty-sarcastic, typical tones. “Where you been hiding?”
“Obviously under Ms. Benevo’s ass, figured I’d find you there,” I say calmly, bitterly, still pretty steamed about her and him outside JFK instead of me and him. “You didn’t see me?”
“Brown, honestly, not today, I really can’t–”
“You ever heard of Mary Kay Laterno, Pete?”
He rolls his eyes. He’s heard it from me before.
“Because that’s where you’re headed – to weekend visits upstate. And what about her? She’s an adult; she’s supposed to be the one who–”
“Will you shut up already!” he shrilly snaps. There’s that defensive attitude he gets whenever she comes up. And, for a moment, the silence settles between us like we’re an old, married couple. “How many times do we have to go through this, Brown? You know, she’s not that much older than us.”
Ms. Benevo smiles faintly over her shoulder. At him, not me.
“Because she’s got you in her back pocket and we barely see each other anymore.” My concerned, best friend tone is definitely coming off as more of a jealous, jilted girlfriend one, but I don’t stop. I can’t when I’m right. Or wrong. “I’m serious. It looks ridiculous, you lapping around–”
“Brown,” he sighs, “I think I love her.”
Love! My face sags like a deflated balloon. Love! Like that’s actually a concept he understands, that any of us understand. At 17. He’s 17. She’s 30.
Here I am thinking it’s just a fling he’ll get out of his system and it’ll be over after graduation and we’ll have our summer to get ourselves back on track, but that one word changes everything.
“And she loves me too,” he adds, as if it makes a difference. It doesn’t. It actually makes it worse.
“Love!” The word shoots out of my mouth like projectile vomit. Ms. Benevo looks over. Everyone looks over. Now, I’m cowering, whispering to him, “You think you love her? Do you hear yourself? Don’t you get it? She’s going to dump you just like all the rest.”
He offers nothing besides another sigh, the creases of stress rippling across his forehead. Not that he has a chance to respond. Almost instantaneously, I catch a whiff of that familiar lilac perfume. Then, the voice.
“Mr. Brown, do I need to remind you where we are and what your responsibilities are here?”
“No, Ms. Benevo, I’m fully aware of how important this trip is and how we’re representing the illustrious Balaam Academy.”
Pete glares at me. She does too, deciding whether my sass is worth the scene. It isn’t.
“And Mr. Goodman” – she flips her hair back with a huff trying to sound pissed – “of all the students, I expected better from you.” Of course she did. “If I have to come over here again, you’re both on duty with me tonight. Do we understand one another?”
What else is there to say besides a relenting, dogged, “Yes, Ms. Benevo, we understand” in unison.
Again, the faint smile for him. Again, nothing for me. And then she leaves us, me and my best friend, in the same place we always seem to end up together, which is nowhere.
My hands are shaking. I don’t know if I want to strangle him or her more. Haddaway’s on repeat in my head. I’m humming,
What is love?
Don’t hurt me,
Don’t hurt me,
Pete doesn’t seem to notice or care. His eyes are still on her.
I know I should’ve started up some pithy conversation about where we’re partying tonight and let it go, but I can’t help myself, asking him, “Won’t you be on duty with her tonight, anyway?” to which I get a stinging elbow to the side in response. Because I always have to have the last word, even as I’m trying to catch my breath.
And with that, he’s gone too, disappearing like he’s been disappearing since he started catching rides home with Ms. Benevo after track practice. Which isn’t uncommon at Balaam. Or for Ms. Benevo.
For a while, Pete and I were inseparable – sneaking into the back of the Playhouse to catch a movie on them, going to NOFX concerts at Radio City when we should’ve been studying, or even just meeting up in our secluded V.I.P. bathroom for a smoke. Whatever it was, we were constantly falling back on each other for the support neither of us got at home.
Not anymore, though. Not since he found himself a new shoulder to cry on, ditching our schoolyard meet-ups for trips to the MET – all with his older, more cultured teacher, our teacher, his girlfriend. It’s because of her, this spinster cut from the cloth of Miss Jean Brodie, that our relationship has become so damn dry and serious. Christ, one errant remark usually sparks an uncontrollable blaze of bickering and bitching and not speaking for days. And it starts and ends with Ms. Julie Benevo.
If I want her gone so badly, I wonder, why don’t I just call the cops? Sure, this seems like a logical solution, but it’ll destroy Pete. And, besides, I don’t want to get myself into their mess when I’m out of here in the fall. Then, it’ll be my mess again, dredging up a dubious past I thought I’d gotten over. Until she took him and reminded me of it all over again.
Sometimes, I actually think she taunts me, trying to exert her control by pitting him against me. Because for her, it’s always about control. And he and I have never been worse when we should be having the time of our lives. Together.
Copyright (C) 2018 Andrew Chapin
ICYMI: ‘For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood’, originally posted on August 3, examines author Dr. Christopher Emdin’s use of “white folks” in the title and text and how my initial indignation yielded reflection and understanding. The post ICYMI: ‘For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood’ appeared first on Andrew...
ICYMI: ‘For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood’, originally posted on August 3, examines author Dr. Christopher Emdin’s use of “white folks” in the title and text and how my initial indignation yielded reflection and understanding.
It’s not a fantasy. The wife and I are seeing our annual Billy Joel concert this weekend in a tradition that started when our close friends gave us tickets for our wedding. As a Long Islandite, I’ve long been a fan – how can you not be? – but seriously if you haven’t seen […] The post Billy Joel Kind of Weekend appeared first on Andrew...
It’s not a fantasy. The wife and I are seeing our annual Billy Joel concert this weekend in a tradition that started when our close friends gave us tickets for our wedding.
As a Long Islandite, I’ve long been a fan – how can you not be? – but seriously if you haven’t seen this national treasure, do yourself a favor.
Even if you’re a hater who thinks he’s a hack. For a hack he’s still got it.
Even if Elton John is better.
Originally posted on October 23, 2017, “The Excuse of All Excuses” bemoans the lack of accountability from students and their parents nowadays. I’ve always said – and I’ll reiterate it here – that I have much more respect for the student who owns his/her behavior and choices; that’s the first step to understanding and improving. […] The post Throwback Thursday: The Excuse of All Excuses appeared first on Andrew...
Originally posted on October 23, 2017, “The Excuse of All Excuses” bemoans the lack of accountability from students and their parents nowadays.
I’ve always said – and I’ll reiterate it here – that I have much more respect for the student who owns his/her behavior and choices; that’s the first step to understanding and improving.
If only all kids were given that chance.
I remember the days when a student misbehaved and you reprimanded him or her. Maybe you made a phone call home. You might’ve even made an example out of the student and kicked him or her out of class. Lessons were learned. Respect was commanded through action. Insubordination and disruption were quelled. And that was that.
Teachers pretty much can’t talk in a stern voice or give detention to a wayward kid. They’re not allowed to demand a student stay on task when working on a laptop or stop disrespecting a classmate they’re trying to talk over because I guess their point is that much more profound and important – trust me, it’s likely not.
That’s obviously a bit played up, but I recently heard an obtuse account of a parent’s complaint pretty much about me because nothing is ever direct from the source where I work. Anyway, what I gathered from it was that this woman felt her son was being bullied by his insensitive teachers.
So now we call being kicked out of class bullied.
Why was he excused exactly?
Oh, because he disrespected a classmate in the midst of an explanation by interrupting him and proceeding to talk until the other student stopped. When called out on this overtly rude behavior, the boy laughed.
That’s when another student looked at him and said, “You’re dead,” as I told him to get out in no uncertain terms. Forget about disrespecting me, which I neither accept nor take lightly, but there’s no place for that lack of concern for peers in a positive learning community.
I figured he’d think about what he had done, maybe our headmaster would dispense some wisdom to him, I would follow up at home, and the student would learn from what he had done and grow up.
But no, that couldn’t happen; that would’ve been too easy.
Instead, there was an explanation: his intention wasn’t to be rude; it was simply a reaction. So is farting after a big lunch. But that doesn’t mean I’m doing it in public settings – or if I am, I’m at least pointing the finger at a student.
In all honesty, I’m empathetic to all my students’ needs and the MANY MORE some of their parents have, but what good comes out of this blind defending of a child? All this does is reinforce the belief that Johnny so and so has his mommy as his security blanket to hide under when confronted with any kind of adversity.
Now, mind you, I’m not a parent and I don’t pretend to know what it feels like to be one. What’s certainly not lost on me is that parents want to do what’s best for their children; they want to see them excel and give them every means to do so. I commend parents for wanting this for their progeny – who wouldn’t – but there comes a limit. There has to so the child can eventually become autonomous and survive.
This isn’t a new subject for me. I’ve written about it in “Tomorrow’s Gone: The Student Who Will Not Get It” where I railed against excuses and how detrimental they are to a child’s maturation. I prefaced that piece by writing the following:
I don’t give up on students; they give up on themselves because they’re allowed to and sometimes even enabled. Parents are vital cogs in a child’s educational coming-of-age, but too often than not nowadays they function more as impediments than impetuses in helping their child realize his/her fullest potential.
What has changed so drastically in between when I started teaching full time almost nine years ago and now? The answer’s still the same: Accountability.
When it comes to their kids, for some parents it’s everyone else’s fault. I’ve had parents come in and tell me they forgot to print out their child’s work or the kid thought the notes in class were optional so that’s why he didn’t copy it down. There’s the one where she didn’t understand the assignment because she didn’t pay attention or write it down in class so I should reteach it to her on my prep period. One of my personal favorites was can I provide notes and assignments for all the days my child was absent. Sure, and I’ll take the quizzes and tests he/she missed too. Here’s a lesson I learned in eighth and ninth grade: school’s a hell of a lot easier if you go to it.
While I still refuse to settle for mediocrity and I try to instill a sense of pride in my students that will mitigate their urge to settle for below average, I’ve softened over the years.
My former students have called me out on it, reminding me how I used to have a zero tolerance policy when it came to late homework, how I used to give more challenging quizzes and tests or even how I used to tell them the blunt reality of their skills. They respected my candor and worked hard to realize my expectations, which eventually became their own.
Now, my adult discussions and teachable moments have been replaced by childish discussions with parents – there’s a sentence that’s oozing with irony.
Funny how all the parents with the excuses have the kids with the excuses. Just like people who don’t do their jobs well have an excuse for that too when, in reality, they probably just suck at it.
But those are simply coincidences.
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