Substitute Part 1

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 7 minutes and 10 seconds.

Selected tracks: Peter Bjorn & John “Eyes” and “Young Folks”, and Lykke Li “Sadness is a Blessing”

Through the small window on the classroom door, Connie, Mr. Allen’s student teacher, saw me approaching. Her look telegraphed a statement of relief that resembled “Boy, am I glad to see you!” She normally acted as a volunteer, a requirement to receive her teaching credential. But today she was taking over for an absent Mr. Allen. “You’re in for an interesting day,” Connie warned as I walked in.

The class was more fidgety and talkative than usual. From what little interaction I’d had in the past with Connie, I had at least partial confidence that she was ready to take the reins from Mr. Allen. Naturally the kids would not remain at their tamest without their trusted conductor at the helm.

At the far side of the room I noticed an older man. He looked like a cross breed of Tommy Chong and Santa Claus: plump frame, light brown skin, white beard, thinning, unkept white hair, and a seasoned stoner’s eyes. As I settled at the back of the room, the man got up and introduced himself to me. “Hey man. I’m Mr. Garza.” He was the hired substitute. He put his hand out, curled, to meet my own. Instead of meeting my right hand with the same, he oddly chose his left to shake. It seemed so natural a response for him that I questioned if it was his normal greeting.

Connie, meanwhile, struggled to keep the class focused and on task during a unit on pronouns. Many students I’d never taken to be difficulties were now reclusive. I did my best to reinforce Connie’s discipline. We both used some of the strategies we’d taken in from Mr. Allen, but there was no substitute for the real thing.

The kids finally settled down close to recess. Once the bell rang, all of us received a much needed armistice. I sat  in the back of the empty classroom, sipping my coffee and uncontrollably thinking about Jack. The fling with him had ended, as suddenly and unexpectedly at it had materialized. Our last moment together gave me no indication that he was disinterested in continuing what we had. I mentally checked off that odds were now that a promising romance would end after I kissed the guy goodbye at a bus stop. Fang and now Jack. Granted, both flings lasted no more than a month each, but they still were the two most intimate romances I’d ever had. At the very least I was fortunate enough to get closure from Jack himself. He had texted me a genuine assurance that it was hard to resist dating me. He had even shed some personal responsibilities on multiple occasions to spend much desired time with me. Over the course of our two week fling, he realized that he had many things on his plate to balance. Dating someone, anyone, was the excess he knew he had to trim.

There was no immediate substitute for what I had lost. However, I did feel reassured knowing that this new experience brought me one step closer to filling a boyfriend void. I understood now my need for an intimate partner and how to plow through the hardships and awkward steps to finding lasting, satisfying intimacy.

The night of my onset melancholia, I tracked through my itunes library, searching for songs of comfort and compassion. A set of Swedish artists, Peter Bjorn & John and Lykke Li, couldn’t have been more appropriate. I started with Peter Bjorn & John’s “Young Folks”. “If I told you things I did before, told you how I used to be, would you go along with someone like me. If you knew my story word for word, had all of my history, would you go along with someone like me.” The combination of encouraging circumstance and pessimistic questioning lay present in the song’s lyrics and mood. “I did before and had my share, it didn’t lead nowhere. I would go along with someone like you. It doesn’t matter what you did, who you were hanging with. We could stick around and see this night through.” In my mind’s eye, me and Jack were the young folks. He had been willing to go along with someone like me, a guy with zero relationship and sexual experience.

I let the nostalgia fade and moved on to Lykke Li. “Sadness is a Blessing” from her heartbreak driven album “Wounded Rhymes” was a gem. “My wounded rhymes make silent cries tonight. And I keep it like a burning, longing from a distance. I ranted, I pleaded, I beg him not to go. For sorrow, the only lover I’ve ever known. Sadness is a blessing. Sadness is a pearl. Sadness is my boyfriend. Oh, sadness I’m your girl.” The same melancholic whistling and drum beat were the spine in both Li’s and Peter Bjorn & John’s tracks. In the night, it brought some, but not complete catharsis.


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