Larry Rankin, an experiened writer, enjoys creative writing in all forms, from literary to mainstream.
Enter Mr Wade and His Tale of Passion
I come into class, oh, I'd say about a week later, and there is Jolly Saint Nick, same as always with his "Good afternoon scholars." I think he even told me hi personally. "Hi Andre," like that was supposed to impress me.
Anyway, I'm hungover and my eyes hurt. I really don't want to be in class that day. I don't much feel like being social either, so I keep my head down and stare at my desk like there is something fascinating there besides the top of a desk. That way I don't have to make eye contact with anyone else.
Yet again Mr. Wade starts in with his stories. Today his topic is about when he spent time with another fella in the hospital on kidney dialysis. As always, it is a big production. This one more so than usual. He really has things set up to get across whatever point it is he wants to get across.
"Billy loved three things in life more than any other…." Mr. Wade gives a dramatic pause, turns, and writes the following list on the board.
3. OU Football
From the get go I pick up on the word loved and realize the person he is talking about is probably worm food now, and I take it upon myself not to get to involved with the story, but that son-of-a-b**** Mr. Wade, he is a regular Tom Hanks and Steven Spielburg all rolled into one this day.
He starts into the meat of the story when he describes how Billy was eating tomatoes in the morning, and people on dialysis have to adhere to a strict diet, and tomatoes had something in them that made his numbers go nuts. I'm sure I could be a lot more specific, but I didn't exactly take notes.
So of course the doctors find out and made Billy ,or "Ol' Billy" as Mr. Wade affectionately referred to him, quit eating tomatoes, then another dramatic pause, an Oscar caliber glance at the camera, and he turns around, picks up his black marker, and puts an "X" through tomatoes.
"So Ol' Billy couldn't sneak anymore tomatoes in the morning, but still he had hunting. He loved hunting. I remember the few days prior to the season he could speak of nothing else." Of course that isn't verbatim, but it should give you an idea of how thick Mr. Wade was laying it on.
"That is until the doctors told him, 'No, Billy you’re too sick to be out and about hunting.' Ol' Billy, I remember thinking he was taking it pretty well at the time, just nodded his head and said, 'O.K.' I should have paid more attention to that mischievous grin."
Mr. Wade smiled a kindly smile after he said this and everyone laughed at the light moment, even me. I could feel myself being sucked down in like a turd at the flush of a toilet.
"A few days later Ol' Billy got really sick. He denied up and down that he had gone hunting until I asked him flat out, 'Why'd you do it Billy?' And he hesitated, seemed a little shocked I was calling his bluff, but I stared him straight in the eye, and after a long pause, 'I just love to hunt.’"
Next Mr. Wade gives us a solemn scowl and turns ever so slowly to add effect before marking another "X" on the board, this time through the word “Hunting.” Then he turns toward us and the great Alfred Hitchcock could not have delivered the next line with more cryptic potency, "He just loved to hunt."
"So Ol' Billy, he really began to get ill, and they put him in the critical ward, and every time I came to the hospital I would visit him and see how he was doing, and it was a Saturday when OU was going to play, and I went to check on Bill, and they wouldn't allow for any televisions or radios on the critical floor, so I told him I'd relay the scores, 'No, not tonight Keith,' and he looked awful, and I knew it wasn't like him to not want to hear about OU's game, so I smiled and reiterated, 'Come on, it'll be fun. I'll tell you each time anything important happens.' 'No, I'm tired,' he told me.''
This time Mr. Wade doesn't milk us like before—maybe because he knew we were all in the palm of his hand, maybe because it was close to the end of class. For whatever reason, this time he turned quickly without aid of dramatics and marked with black marker through the words “OU Football.”
We all knew Ol' Billy had taken the dirt nap, but could have went a lifetime without being told, but if you want to close a coffin, you got to nail down the lid. With a triumphant hue in his complexion, Mr. Wade spoke, "When a man loses all passions, that is when you know he is going to die, and he died that very night."
That was the end of the story, he said those last few words and didn't even bother dismissing class, just put all his things in his little leather briefcase and walked out. As he left I started to feel a little lump in my throat; you know how when you’re hungover your chemicals are a little off equilibrium and you’re out of emotional whack anyway? Well, I knew if I didn't get out of that classroom in a hurry my eyes were going to cause me quite a lot of embarrassment, so with head ducked downward I hurried out.
When I got back to my apartment I'd weathered the sadness and was just so terribly pissed at Mr. Wade for having played with my emotions like that. Who the hell did he think he was, anyway, making people have to think about things like death? It was bad enough having to deal with my own depression without adding someone else's.
Writing Makes for Strange Bedfellows
Time goes on, I continue to go to class, and Mr. Wade keeps on with his stories and slices of life. Then one day I'm supposed to meet him in his office and discuss an essay I'm writing. I spend most my time alone, and it is always nerve-racking to speak with a teacher, so of course I'm on pins and needles about the whole situation and anxious as hell to get it over with.
I walk in with my head down, say, "Hi Mr. Wade," and have a seat. He returns the gesture, and holding my paper in his hand proceeds to tell me what I have done incorrectly on my rough draft. I'm trying to listen when something behind him on a shelf catches my eye: it is some books or rather the same book several times over. On the spine is written in large, capital gold letters, "Wade," and I am suddenly in absolute awe. I never would have believed it if it hadn't been spelled out right there before me. I was in the presence of an honest to goodness published author.
"You've been published," I announce, interrupting whatever fine point it was about essay writing he was trying to explain to me.
"Yes," he replied and that was all he needed to say to give me the green light that I should start barraging him with questions about how a young person like myself should go about getting published. He started off by telling me about the Writer's Market book, and I told him I already had one, and he takes out his to show me what distributor had picked up his book, which was of short stories with religious connotations. And it really cracked me up because his Writer's Market, get this, it was a religious one.
Here it is now two-thousand years since the Bible was finished, and there’s still enough folks wanting to improve on the darn thing that it gets its own Writer’s Market.
I was having a wonderful time talking to Mr. Wade about how a person might go about getting published, and I keep talking and talking to him for probably thirty minutes, and I'm the sort of person that never says more than a few words to anyone. Then I start to notice that he looks kind of fidgety, so I realize that I have overstayed my welcome, and a bit embarrassed, I excuse myself.
This is the second part of a short story I’m breaking into 3 parts. If our main character seems to encompass the angst of youth, it is because this story was originally written in the angst of mine. Like most all the stories from my early years, this one has been held onto and I have tried my best to improve upon it over time.
I am especially partial to this work because it is a tribute to a teacher of mine at Southwestern Oklahoma State University named Keith Long. He inspired me and is the only person to have ever succeeded at making me feel like a real writer.
Mr. Long, thank you for having given me that little bit of hope that has fueled this life of misery and disappointment. I truly wouldn’t have wanted to live it any other way.