“Teacher said, ‘Every time a bell rings, an Angel gets its wings.'”
Zuzu, It’s A Wonderful Life.
Morning, class. I assume you enjoyed Christmas. Welcome to another Year.
Today we’re going to talk about me. I am history. Half a century. I’ve seen things. Good things, bad things. Things as they are, are not as they are in your textbooks. But you already know that. You’ve known since they first corrupted you with reading,’ riting, ‘ ‘rithmetic. I want to disabuse you. And abuse you.
My son called me a “cunt” when he was seventeen. Something about keeping the car out late. He’s a Junior at Yale, now. My daughter’s a Freshman at Sarah Lawrence. Don’t ask me what they study, I don’t know. I’d like to say I miss them, but I don’t. Many of you will be going to college, one day. It’s expensive, like the electoral college, only more corrupt. Look what it did to me. My education.
Sergeant Pepper was released my fifteenth birthday. I believed it was a sign of things to come, a clean emergence from what had been. I don’t believe that anymore, obviously. You can’t redeem the Edwardian Empire with drugs or meditation. Or music. Love. Nostalgia. What’s done is done.
How old are you all, seventeen? Listen to me: don’t listen to me! I’ll warp your minds, I’ll break your hearts.
When my husband was in Vietnam he wrote to me, “I saw a guy get fucked up bad my second day here I have 363 days to go…”
I prayed that he would make it home. He made it home. Be careful what you pray for — sometimes God, perverse freak that He is, listens.
In college I had a crush on Andrew Jackson. “Old Hickory” dueled to defend his wife’s honor. He crushed the federal bank. He had wild white hair and rode a white stallion to battle.
My husband fucked 100 women. He told me that. One hundred women since we took the vow.
“I once came five times in a single night,” he said. And I said, “Didn’t your hand get tired?” And he said “It would have if I was with YOU.”
Then again, he earns his keep. You think I could afford to live among you rich brats by merely teaching you? He’s worth as much, if not more, than any of your parents. We have a home, a life. Kids in college. Insurance: Board Certified physicians for every body part and anatomical function. Not to mention two quite reputable psychopharmacologists. And an able dentist.
Jackson, Lincoln, FDR…You weren’t even born when Kennedy lost his head in Dallas or Reagan finally, finally emerged victorious in 1980.
I have a gun. I know how to use it. How many of you are virgins? When I was your age – when was I your age? – I believed Jim Morrison was a great poet. I believed in God, but also indiscriminate sex. I smoked Tai-stick, but would have dropped The Bomb on Vietnam unless they renounced Communism forever. I’ll drop The Bomb on Redmond, Washington, unless they renounce Windows forever.
I need something, don’t you? You don’t need anything. You’re young. My daughter doesn’t call home except to ask for money, so of course, after the prescribed pleasantries, she immediately asks for “Daddy Daddy Daddy.” Flirt. I suppose that’s typical. Is that typical?
Listen to me! Everything you’ve read or heard up to this moment was a lie. Go read your magazines. Gaze autistic upon your videos. You’ll make fine citizens of the Homeland.
My son called me a “cunt” when he was seventeen. How old are you all, seventeen? You don’t know anything. You don’t know anything. Repeat after me: “I don’t know anything.”
The cruelest cut is yet to come. Time exhausts me. Time wipes me out. I smoked my first cigarette on my fiftieth birthday. Now I can’t stop. Mind if I light up?
Over the course of this semester I’ve imagined every one of you naked, helpless, tied to my bed. Sometimes my mind has a mind of its own. Sometimes I don’t have any mind. Sometimes I’ve a good mind to shoot someone, anyone. Or write an angry letter:
Do you believe in ghosts? I could have sworn I saw myself as a young woman, real hot number, yesterday, in the faculty lounge, coming on to my colleagues. But how could it be? That girl poisoned herself years ago.
Gentlemen, do you have fantasies of me? How ’bout you, girls? Once upon a time, that question would not have seemed so…ludicrous. But as you can see, Time and alcohol don’t mix.
I’m paid to teach you American History. Homeland Studies. But whose history is more important than your own? Problem is, you don’t have histories. You’re teeny-boppers, babies, twerps. You’ve yet to learn that life is unlivable. Survivable, but unlivable. One day you’ll say, “When I was seventeen…” By then I’ll be dead, I suppose. You’ll have done things in the world, accumulated regrets. Unable to face you own mismanaged lives, you’ll invent lies about yourselves to convince yourselves that you are happy, or at the very least, not mad with despair. That the future is not as hopeless as it seems. History is written by winners. “I’m a winner,” each of you will tell yourself. Those who lack the will to lie to themselves are destined to lose.
I know what you’re thinking: “That is a million years away. I can save myself. I can adulterate my destiny. Things will go right. I won’t lose.”
But experience will take you by surprise. Life will come to you one night – soon, very soon – sit beside you on your bed, its eyes like planets you’ll yearn to touch, and whisper, ever so ingenuously, “Tell me about yourself…”
ADAM ENGEL never called his mother a C—. Well, once, but he felt bad about it, and was duly punished. Course notes and syllabi for Homeland Studies, Spring Semester, can be obtained at email@example.com.