Varied Grace
Out and Back Again: Andrew Osenga's "Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut"

High School Trilogy

One of the most amazing things about Mr. Davids was his uncanny ability to instantly add three digit numbers to three digit numbers in his head, impromptu.  We figured he must lay (lie?) awake at night practicing.  Must not have a life.  But even that didn't make Trigonometry fun, or even tolerable.  He was cruel.

He was little man, a walking #2 pencil, with a crew cut head like an erasor.  Virtually any of the 11th grade guys in the class (and many of the girls) could have wrestled him to the ground and pinned him, and yet we were afraid of him.  If he called on you, any performance at the chalkboard or answer less than perfect would earn you his scorn and derision and your embarrassment.  He berated kids, talked down to them.  He seemed to take a pleasure in it.  He face was fixed in a smirk.

One day Denny Schultz was demonstrating to a gaggle of girls before the bell how he could swallow his tongue.  I kid you not.  He was orally double-jointed.  Davids came in and whacked him on the head with a ruler.  Hard.  Denny's face turned fire-engine red, but he didn't say a word.

He called one girl stupid.  She cried, and then he made fun of her for crying.  Another kid, a quiet guy, a regular subject of his taunts, had enough one day.  He just got up and walked out.  I kept my head down.  I survived without too many wounds.

One day I was in the grocery store with my mother.  I saw a vaguely familiar man, from the back, in the checkout line.  An older woman, smaller than him, was behind him, occasionally pushing him or smacking him on the back of the head.  He just hung his head and took it.  Sad, I thought.  Must be his mother.

Just then he turned my way.  Mr. Davids.  Our eyes met, and then he looked away.  He never called on me again.


i don't want to take the SAT.
before I'm even seated, I want to flee

i heard you get 200 points just for writing your name
no one's to blame --- geometry, algebra, vocabulary
is all the same
i'm not wired for math, a p p a r e n t l y
just write my name, write my name. 

georgia randall sat behind me:
figured she might be helpful
in the area of geography
or material for my essay full of bull 

later, it was apparent, that the SAT
also did not LIKE me
but it didn't matter, as
back then the university took in people like me

these days I'm laughing all the way
to the courthouse, that I get to play
with rules and cases and stautues, OK?

actually, i think they ought to give you one
question on the mighty SAT:
like, "What is life?" 
I better write my name. 


In high school I had a girlfriend.  Well, two, maybe.  Or was it three or four?  It depends on how you count it.  Do you go by mutual consent, or does unrequited love count?  And what about imagined love?  Add those in and the number might go up.  It's all hazy-like now, man.

I don't remember studying much.  I do remember writing.  For creative writing class I wrote a sonnet about my girlfriend.  The teacher made me read it to the class.  After that, I went sci-fi and mystery.  Safe stuff.  For another English class I wrote a research paper on ragtime pianist Scott Joplin.  He lost his mind.  I identified, as let me tell you girlfriends can mess your mind up good!  Scott, he wrote a ragtime opera called Treemonisha.  I never heard the opera, but nobody liked it back then, so he couldn't handle that.  I just liked the name of that opera.

My friend John and I watched Johnny Carson late into the night.  I saw him in the morning and said "Heeeeeereeeees Johnny!"  That got old real fast.  I had all these great one-liners I could never remember the next morning.  And the ones I could rememember (tame these days), my mother would not have liked. 

In drafting class, Mr. Darnell spent most of the period talking about Uri Geller.  What, you don't know Uri Geller?  Who does?  Yet his name is imprinted on my brain.  Geller could bend pencils with his mind, slept in a pyramid --- crazy out of this world stuff like that.  Mr. Darnell, a balding, bespectacled man, got excited about Geller, so excited his eyes seemed to pop out of his head. (Don't get me started on UFOs and extraterrestrials.

I never did drugs, but because I had hair to my shoulders and had adopted the lazy, laconic speech of the hippies (hey, this was 1974, and we sorely regretted that we were NOT the hippie generation), all the drugees thought I did drugs.  I was regularly offered weed, LSD (a "lid"), and even heroin.  I never partook.

I guess I wanted to be in the groove for the SAT.  Or maybe just afraid of Mr. Davids.  Or just plumb too busy with love.

Or maybe a kind Father walked those halls with me.