Why Should I Care About the Woods?
by Andy Folk
Always so contrived, the mindset of the individual on a walk to their childhood home or haunts, so banal! Such a lazy practice, these nostalgic strolls, on which he expects meaning to cling to him like little bur-shaped Muses. I had no such pretensions on my way to my alma mater, Hanover High, an expanse of modern architecture unattractively tacked to a pre-war school building all within the affluent New York suburb of the same name, itself pining for an Anglo past.
While this was my first trip back there since my graduation seven years ago, I resolved to not let the experience overcome me. This is not to say I would ignore certain changes to the scenery; for instance, the thin strip of woods that I would walk through every morning to arrive at the rear entrance of the school had been leveled, a new parking lot in its place. Although a bit tempted to lament the one-time habitat for the school’s chaff, who would sneak away from their schoolwork to use the shelter for the typical illicit behavior, I strolled through it as I would any Taco Bell parking lot, unconcerned for trivial suspicions that the terrain had once hid Indians.
As I exited the parking lot I followed a paved path, which in my day was an unsanctioned dirt trail. It wound towards the front entrance, where I saw throngs of youth hardly different than those of my era. The girls sat in groups of two to four on the new wooden fences, gossiping in front of the boys who strutted about with their lacrosse sticks, yielded like phallic totems.
Getting a bit closer, I could hear some of their speech, also unchanged! They spouted the slogans of popular low-brow television programs and referred to each other with homophobic remarks. I restrained myself from the fantasy of flicking one of them through the air with a thrust of my ring finger. What bromidic caricatures, these bros—I passed them by as I would typical lawn furniture—be it a flag for the local sports team, a black-faced jockey, or a pinwheel dully spinning in the wind.
My cause here, after all, was by no means to reflect on my progress as an individual, but to extend it via a conference with my old teacher in the field of Mathematics, Robert Rigdale. A tall and slight man, he carried himself as a proud pedagogue, walking with a forward posture characterized by the nonchalant upwards slant which he always held his head; his line of sight behind wire-rimmed bifocals always above and beyond the rabble of the hallway. His schedule was similarly kempt, a trait on which I relied as I had no appointment and had not announced my visit. Even on a friday afternoon, when almost all of his colleagues leave at the stroke of the final bell at two-fifteen, he would stay behind a full two, sometimes three hours, grading papers and preparing the next week’s lesson plans.
Although short and much less refined in attire, I adapted his stroll while passing through the dual glass doors into the vestibule and past the entrance to the auditorium and its humble trophy case. At the crossroads of the first hallway a lumpy man with poppyseed stubble, a black Hanover High track jacket, and a hat emblazoned with the face of the school mascot—an anthropomorphic corncob wearing an eye-patch, grunted: ‘You a student?”
“Ah, no. My name is Randal Levy and this is my alma mater.”
“You a vistor, then?” asked the orcish man. “Where’s ya vistor’s pass?”
“I haven’t acquired one.”
“Can’t let ya through if I dunno who ya are.”
I browsed the perimeter of the walls above the trophy case, going through the numbers until I reached ’04-’05. I pointed to the placard reading Honor Students. “Sir,” I said. “My picture is on the wall.”
“Guy, I don’t care if yar Mathias-Frickin’-Chambers ya gotta have a pass!” This was an invocation of a star Lacrosse player, the golden-haired Achilles who had won a regional trophy for the school but whose face was not on the placard to which I referred. Perhaps more irritating, although it was not his intention, was the irony of invoking Chambers, who began to date my first girlfriend, the red haired poetess Sarah Brotman, only a week after I had broken it off with her. They dated for the remainder of school. They still do, as far as I know.
“This is preposterous! I am visiting Mr. Rigdale, sir, if you know him. He expects me, I assure you.” More silence. Did the man suffer from tinnitus? “This is a Public high school, not Fort Knox! Can we just bypass this bureaucratic farce, already?”
As I grew adamant, the man sucked some air into his gaping mouth as if preparing to speak. Mercifully, he was interrupted at the first syllable by the folksy voice of a woman behind him, poking out from the copy and mail-room. It was Ms. Jablonsky, the portly career secretary from the principal’s office. “Danny, I know ‘im. Let ‘im go.” She looked at me briefly and winked. Could she actually have remembered me? Does this woman have some sort of superhuman memory, that she could actually recall a single student that she spoke to half a dozen times out of thousands?
I nodded to the woman and took a right down the hallway, leaving the pathetic would-be-controller behind without further acknowledgment.
Hoping for no further obstacles, I turned another corner, passing the guidance office, Mr. Casano’s former classroom, and the joint office of the school literature magazine, the Hanover Howl, which I would have preferred to not give a second thought. Alas, the owlish face of Ms. Winikur emerged from the small room, once a janitor’s closet.“Randal!” She said. Like church doors on a Sunday, her arms flung outwards.
I let out a dismissive sniff. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Winikur.”
“Never thought I would! You came back to see me? Did you bring any writing?” She was always shorter than me, and it pained me to look down into her enthusiastic face.
“I’m afraid not,” I said. “On both counts. I’ve come to pick Mr. Rigdale’s brain. I’ve been working on a, well, I shouldn’t really talk about it. But, regardless. How are you? How’s Howl?”
“Howl is still bellowing, Randal, although I’m yet to have an editor like you. You say you haven’t brought me writing? But what have you written? I’ve been scanning the Review of Books just waiting for your name to pop up, you know.”
“I have not written much since here.” I said.
Her face wilted slightly. “I see.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll see Brotman in there one day, but not me. Not me. I must be on my way, Ms. Winikur. So nice to see you.”
“Au Rev…” I shot like an arrow. Nothing in my way now. I twisted the brass knob, pushed on the heavy wooden door, and there was the old standard, alone like the massive clock in the center of the Grand Central Terminal at midnight, Rigdale. He was the hearth for whose return I had battled the Laestrygonians, the Cyclops, and Circe. “Mr. Rigdale!” I said. “Do you have a moment?”
Rigdale straightened and frowned. “I suppose so.” Giving me a look over, I could tell he was searching for name.
“Randal Levy, oh four to oh five.” I said. He still seemed to not recall. “Last you saw me, I had an afro.”
“Ah yes!” He closed the textbook in front of him and gestured towards the mahogany chair facing his desk. As I sat, he checked his watch. “What can I do for you, Mr. Levy?”
“I’m working on a project of a sensitive, and lucrative, nature, so I’d appreciate if we could keep this between us.”
Rigdale nodded again, neutrally, and I explained my idea. It was a scheme based on a passing remark he had made about how easy it is to gauge the motions of the stock market based on media stories. I reached into my satchel and extracted a marble notebook, a bit disintegrated but still in one piece. I opened it to a post-it marked page, and slid it in his direction. He made a face like a cat who has just accidently smelled a human’s hygienic product. They were my notes from his class, neatly written and organized carefully in rows, although with embarrassing doodles in the margins. This page had three or four attempts at the always tricky Crass logo.
After looking over the page for a moment, he said, “You were never much of a math student.”
It was my worst subject, but by senior year I had resolved to compensate for my slowness with hard work. “Perhaps, but with your help I’ll be rich enough to hire a small army of accountants. What do you say?”
Rigdale arose and went to a shelf behind him, reaching a large red textbook on the top shelf. “This is what you need,” he said, flipping to a chapter and holding up a diagram of code and numbers to my face before explaining for some time how I would set out on my project.
On a yellow legal pad he wrote formulas, titles of books, and jargon for me to study. It was like being seated in his class once again, except without all the distractions of girls, popularity, and crude hobbies such as the one I pursued at the Howl. After about an hour he was through.
“You’re going to need this book, take it.” He slid the text towards me.
“What an honor sir!” I said, reaching for it.
“I’m going to need twenty bucks for it.” This was unexpected, but reasonable. I reached into my pocket and gave him a crisp bill.
Quickly, he added, “I’m also going to need fifteen for my time.”
I wanted to laugh, but remembered Rigdale was not the joking type. “Really? I didn’t realize…”
“Come, Mr. Levy. You’re no longer a Junior, are you? My job is to tutor high school students, not market sharks.”
I looked into my wallet again, realizing that I had only $20 left “You’re right, and I am sorry to take up your time, but I cannot afford to pay you.”
“Oh no? Why is that?”
Embarrassed, I removed the last twenty. “I don’t have change.” I said.
He opened his desk, revealing a small bank. In on motion, he snatched the twenty from my hands and placed a five in front of me on the desk. “Will there be anything else, Mr. Levin?”
Just then, the bell rang, and I flinched, having the same pavlovian reaction to its timbre as I did nine years prior, when, in the midst of ending my brief relationship with Sarah, the bell sounded, cutting my speech to her short. It was Sophomore year, and we had ditched our classes in order to rendezvous in the woods. We sat on a fallen tree, and made out for nearly the entire period. Sometimes I would open my eyes when we kissed, always assured to see that hers were closed. On this occasion her eyes were open, and in that uncomfortable moment she kissed her way to my cheek, and then down my neck, which she gently bit and sucked. As she did, I kept my eyes open, looking at the space on the log that the movement of her head revealed. There I saw the blue and grey moss, rows of plate-like white mushrooms, soggy brown wood. I was instantly turned-off at the sight of all that decay.
Andy Folk is a career troublemaker, cynic, and vegan food service employee based in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated last year with a BA in Literary Studies from Eugene Lang College. Most recently Andy attended a writing residence at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse House in Pittsburgh, where he completed a draft of his forthcoming book The Story of Whack: A Fanzine. His work has also appeared in Arthur Magazine, Deathpanel Press, Modulo Magzine, Jezebel Music, his personal zine (A)FOLK, and his comic zine Dice & Clay. He blogs about punk and communism at http://magicmuscle.wordpress.com