Mrs. Brown was my English teacher in 8th grade. She was not a BAD teacher, really, but she had issues. First and foremost, she was a pathological liar. She would be the first of only a few I have ever met in my life. She had the common traits of a pathological liar's stories:
1. Always trying to "one up" you. You had 3 cats growing up? She had 10. And they all did tricks.
2. Speaks of events that happens to her where it would be impossible to know certain points of view. "When my step-sister died alone on the beach, the last thing she thought of was how kind I had been to her, and how unfairly she had treated me."
3. Tells stories where certain facts seem rather implausible and have sweeping patterns, like she had 5 sisters that were all Olympic champions, and 5 brothers were were all famous doctors. Yet, she would never say which ones they were, only, "You have never heard of them young child."
4. In a desperate attempt to bond, claims your culture as her own.
The last one was a really doozy. In my year, she claimed to be Yugoslavian, because we had a kid who had Yugoslavian heritage, Mickey Mastilovic. She insisted on calling him by his given name, which all of us kids heard for the first time, "Pedrag." Mickey's real name is Pedrag??? Yes, it was, as evidenced by someone who got ahold of his computerized class schedule. Mickey was REALLY bothered by this, you could tell. Mrs. Brown went on and on and on about her Yugoslavian heritage, and how she was related to Slavic Kings and so on. Years later, Mickey told us Yugoslavia was a country created in 1945 by socialist Marshall Tito. The communists created a federation of six republics: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. I forgot which one Mickey said he was from, but he knew she was totally full of shit the whole time, and that was why he stood her calling him, "Pedrag."
The next year, she claimed she was Swedish. Oh, man, I wish I could have been in for that one.
Her fake martyr-like ways irked me, too. Her husband was apparently this famous and rich doctor who won the Nobel Prize, but she taught out of the goodness of her own heart. She also had this false air of sophistication that even when I was 13, I apparently knew was false. She always acted as if she had "blue blood royal weaknesses," like the inability to smell gum and stay conscious. "I am so allergic to the grape smell," she once said, "that one part per million in the air will cause me to faint. And if that happens, you will be tried for attempted murder." Uh huh.
In the tape, I make comments about things she says, and how she delivers them. "Class, courtesy please...!" she would say... but that never worked, so she ended up having to say, "Shut. UP!" and then she would blame us for making her swear, and that was beneath her (yes, "Shut up" was a swear word where I grew up, along with saying something "sucks"... "fuck" was just out of the realm of our lingo until high school).
But the worst story I heard about her, though, came from someone who had an older brother. It seems that when he found out his little sister had Mrs. Brown, him and some friends decided to follow Mrs. Brown to where she lived. I am not sure why, maybe for future vandalizations, who knows. But they watched her get into her beat-up BMW after school, drive around in circles for a while in front of some expensive condos, and then stop at a small house. It turns out she lived in a small single family home in Falls Church, where she lived alone with sparse furnishings. They found out from neighbors she had been alone for years, at least since the 60s. The girl who told me this joked, "I bet on her birthday, she puts her cat on the kitchen table, puts on a party hat, sticks a single candle in a stale cupcake, and sings, 'Happy Birthday to Me,' until she breaks down sobbing." Now the girl who said this meant this to be cruel, but something snapped in my heart when I heard this, and to this day, I find that to be the saddest image I can muster about anyone. I couldn't hate her anymore, because for the first time, I began to have empathy for those who have unfortunate lives other than my own.
Mrs. Brown was not all bad, either. Really. She introduced a lot of us to dinner theater, and would have 2-3 field trips a year to one. I always had fun at those, and gained half my love for musicals because of that (the other half was Neal himself, who sent me musicals in some of his tapes - Neal later told me he stopped listening to them so much after he learned what type of people were associated with that music type). In this tape entry, I mention "Hello, Dolly" which finally solves this riddle about how I knew all about the story when "I fist saw it" (the movie version with Striesand) with Christine. Sadly, a poor student by the name of David Ames got dragged onstage by the woman playing Dolly, who then danced with David, and gave him a business card (all in character, of course). The other students teased him so much, and this asshat bully I knew... (keep them unnamed, Punkie...)... poured salt in David's Coke.
Speaking of Coke, in this tape I reveal my first foray into an American culture I never saw at home: sodas. I was not allowed to drink them, and I didn't have Kool-aid until I was in scouts. I drank my first cola when I was 19. NINETEEN! Not that I didn't get offered them in fandom, but by that time, I was convinced cola was nasty for some reason. But in the tape, I am having this Jerry Seinfeld rant about, "What is the deal with everyone drinking soda? And why do they make fun of those who drink milk?" Man, I was SUCH an outcast... I might as well have been from another planet. I was totally not in tune with any kid my age at all. I actually said, "It's bad for my kidneys," for some reason. Where the hell did I get that from?
But I digress.
Lastly, I rant about Mrs. Brown forcing us to do "outlines" of books. "What a dumb way to read books!" I complained to Neal. But, damn it, to this day, I think in outlines! So Mrs. Brown will always have that to brag about.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000634.html