Introducing fellow student, Lee Lerner. Lee was a tall and lanky blond kid who had a pretty confident wit, but I wouldn't have called a class clown per se. One thing that stood out about him was his amazing ability to draw accurate caricatures. He was a gifted artist without prior artistic training. Not that this story is about his drawings, but I will always remember him as the kid who spread his sharp wit in the realm of cartoons scribbled in notebooks, desktops, and yearbooks. I loved Lee, and was envious of his drawing ability. Luckily, he shared a lot of my classes, and had a locker near mine.
One random late winter day, our English teacher, Mrs. Loftus (who years later had a nervous breakdown) was out sick. Some older fat guy was in her place. This guy was a mean, scowling individual who started our class with an announcement that he didn't take SHIT from kids, and if we were going to TRY or SAY anything, to just shut our damn mouths. I was stunned, and assumed, based on the impulsive anger of this sub right off the bat, that something had happened to him in an earlier class. His shocking language was even more shocking in the early 80s, where swearing was very uncommon. A "shit" could get you detention, and I once got in trouble for just saying someone had a BS (Bachelor of Science, you know, college degree) in political science. While I explained that BS was ... ah, that's not important, but you get the idea: swearing was a heinous crime of a guttural tongue in a more innocent time. So when this sub went off about how he didn't take crap from nobody, and didn't fight in no damn war, and watch his best friend get his head shot off... yes. A veteran of some war where he saw blood and guts to fight for our puny asses, and wonders if he made the right choice. Many years later, Sam Kinnison would play someone similar in the movie, "Head of the Class." After this guy went off for about 2 minutes, he stopped abruptly and peered around as if the challenge any preteen that was in his sniper view. His face was red all the way down to his chest hair, and his short, thick, hairy arms were clenched as if he was fighting back an aneurysm. The student body was so shocked; there was nothing but an uncomfortable silence that hung thick in the air with a long awkward pause.
They say the best comedy is repressed comedy, and what happened next I will never forget. As the silence lingered, you could hear nothing but the drawing of air in open mouths. Then Lee, in a tone that suggested all the 1950s wide-eyed innocence of Wally Cleaver, said the following into the still and silent air:
"Gosh. I thought all fat people were supposed to be jolly!"
I have no idea what prompted him to say this, since he was never the one to cause trouble, really. It seemed to be more of an astonishment on his part that escaped out of his mouth before he could stop it. It flowed through the air with a tone that was both subtle and ironic. Maybe it was the combination of the sudden challenge of childlike innocence laced with possible sarcasm in a choice of words, like "jolly." No one used jolly except when describing Santa Claus, the fat person of fame. It was as arcane as the words "mustn't" and "cross" when describing someone who was angry.
A snort. A second snort.
None of us dared look at each other. I recall I pinched the temple around my nose, and stared into my hand, praying I would not succumb to the laughter that was raging to a pressured boil in my gut.
Someone coughed in such an unusual way it suggested that they were releasing the pressured laugh that way.
I was started to tear up. My face must have swollen and turned red. "Don't you dare laugh!" I kept thinking. Yes, I was fat, but somehow that ironic comment just seemed so damn funny anyway.
A girl made a "p-hic!" noise as laughter escaped for a brief moment.
"Well," said the sub, who seemed to completely taken off guard. His threatening posture was now compromised, like a statue of Mussolini after pigeons crapped all over it. I mean, what could he say? I saw bits of him between my fingers, craning his thick neck to see who made the comment. "Well... I am sorry... we're not!"
Well played. The silence was now as volatile as the threat of explosive laughter built like a potential grain fire in a dusty silo. But the teacher won out, as he diverted us to do our latest assignment, which Mrs. Loftus had left in great detail.
For years, that brazen comment, "Gosh. I thought all fat people were supposed to be jolly!" has stayed with me. I was fat at the time, and that made it especially funny to me. I got thin again, and now I am fat again, and I still think it. Especially when I read my recent posts.
To you, Lee, wherever you are. Thank you.