Queen of the Faux Pas
I'm taking a tiny break from my pile 'o papers (15-page memoir essays) to say Happy Halloween and to tell you of a bizarre moment with a student.
Franco, a very likable guy in my nonfiction writing workshop, came to my office hours the other day to talk about his writing. He was having trouble switching back and forth from the "scholarly" essays he has to write for a literature class, to the more colloquial, personal essay assignment in my class.
Along the way I ask him some questions about himself and he tells me he used to be an aviation major. Then he realized how bored he was with the whole instrument-reading part, and the program in general. He's a hobbyist of a pilot, so switched his major to English. Though, he says, "I sometimes think about the possibility of working for a small, private airline." To which I respond, "You could always go work for a Mexican drug cartel. That's where the real money is." We both laugh.
A few minutes later, Franco is telling me a couple of ideas for the final project; topics he's kicking around in his head. One of those: going to visit his father who was "incarcerated for 6 years when I was young."
"Do you mind if I ask why he was incarcerated?" I say.
"He was working for a Mexican drug cartel."
I blink a couple of times and just take that sentence in.
"What are the odds?"
"Yeah," he says. "I know."
"Look." I tell Franco. "If there's something that I'm not supposed to mention in a conversation, I always find it."
I went on to tell him about a phone call I got when I was a freshman in college. This guy named Keith, nice guy, was calling to ask me out. Keith was blind. I wasn't interested in going out with him because I had my eye on (I swear, I didn't mean to write that) another guy. But we chatted it up on the phone and it was OK. There was a storm brewing in the dark midwestern night. SNAP! A big vein of lightning ripped down the sky.
"God!" I yelled into the phone at Keith. "Did you SEE that?!"
Franco is very easygoing about it all. He wants to write about the first visit to see his dad. His mother told him "We're going to visit Santa." Though it was summer, and though both of his sisters were crying over going to see Ole Saint Nick, Franco took the bait. As he and his family walked into an ugly high-rise building near Chicago (where prisoners are held before the move to their final prison destination) Franco saw the big gold government seal on the lobby floor and wandered why Santa would have that painted there.
To this day, he doesn't know why his mother jerked him around with the Santa story. He plans to ask her while writing this essay.