Demon! Number! Two! Second in a Summer Series

Demon Blog #2 July 16, 2016

In my continuing summer series based on the encouraging work of cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry in One! Hundred! Demons!, I bring you Miss O’s Demon No. 2:

Miss O’s Demon #2

My Big Fat Mouth

It is in the small moments that I do it: Walking through a derelict section of town, a dust bowl, a collection of tall weeds and small multicolored houses from the 1930s, probably, now in decay, but still inhabited; a dirt road, maybe the last on this side of the county, runs its short length. My brother Pat and his friends always called it Carney Town, after their classmate Jimmy Carney, who lived there. They were being mean, in that thoughtless way little boys can be, but I wasn’t naturally mean, so I didn’t realize it. I thought the name was real, like a place named after its founder. Our grown older brother Craig was visiting, so Pat said, “Hey, can you walk us to the store?” We took “the path,” a supposed Indian trail behind the housing development where we lived, which ran through woods along a creek over to the elementary school, ending at Blackburn Road. We crossed the paved road and began walking the dirt road that led to the loading docks behind the new grocery store, a short cut. As we walked in the summer sun, I was feeling so free, just us kids hanging out and the dust blowing from the road; I announced to Craig our location, like an asinine tour guide.

“This is Carney Town!” I exclaimed, smiling.

Pat said, whispering hard, “God, Lisa, don’t say that out loud!”

“Why not?”

“It’s a JOKE. That’s Jimmy’s last name. We just call it that.”

“Why do you call it that?” I asked. Pat just shook his head.

And then I got it. And I wanted to die.

Collage response to Miss O’s Demon #2

I have done this sort of thing as long as I can remember. Sometimes I have the flair of a comedian, and the older I get and the less stupid I become, the more I manage that identity most of the time; but sometimes, especially in my youth, I might just humiliate myself, and everyone around me, with the casual gaffe. It’s my gift—the riches of embarrassment.

It’s a knife-edge I walk between funny and destructive over the shit-road leading outta my mouth. My brain makes a shift from surprisingly thoughtful to you did not just say that in the trip of a tongue. Here is a typical moment: Once, in high school, my friend Jason’s sister tried to commit suicide by taking twenty-two aspirin tablets. Jason was kind of a kook, troubled in many ways that would become apparent in later years, but he was wildly funny in a sarcastic way, laughing sometimes too loudly at the antics of others, or saying something bitingly nasty while serving you homemade cookies. You just never knew. One Friday night a group of us got together, all of us knowing what had happened to Jason’s sister, who had survived her suicide attempt and was in the hospital. We were all eating popcorn, sitting on the basement floor, I beside Jason. Someone shared an anecdote and remarked at the close, “I could have died right there!” to which Jason said, “Next time take twenty-two aspirins.” There was a silence, and I said, “Twenty-three.”

A beat.

And Jason collapsed with the most full-bodied laughter I’d ever seen. It was disturbing, but it gave the room a release—a terrible joke that came off, a blend of the situation, the recipient, and the timing, balancing on a knife-edge. I am haunted by the big fat mouth portion of this story, in any case, because I later learned about many problems Jason had, and how close I was to having it all go wrong. For example, not long ago, one mutual friend reminded me of a time that he, Jason, and I went to the mall, Jason driving, and that Jason later told the friend that he’d intended to kill himself on the highway that day, and take us with him, but that we’d made him laugh so hard he forgot to do it.

Is the story true? Did Jason really mean to do that? Suppose I’d said something that sent him careening into a guardrail while doing eighty? How could I have known? Did my big fat mouth, after all, save us?

For Living Out Loud

I live in New York City, where I take mass transit most every day with a hundred strangers on any given car and more on the streets, and somehow I still find myself talking out loud. Yesterday, for instance, I was saying something out loud on 7th Avenue by the Uptown 1-2-3 subway entrance, when a woman coming around to the entrance from the other side looked at me quizzically, and then said, gruffly, “Go ahead,” and used her arm like a maître d’, though she was closer to the entrance. My eyes widened, and I said, “No, please, go, I was just talking to myself.” I laughed. And she began descending the stairs, saying over her shoulder, “Oh, I do that all the time, too,…”. And you see, she was black, with an afro, and Obama had done this race “town hall” on ABC that afternoon, one that had turned into whites saying in essence that black people need to learn to behave and “comply,” with so little talk about the need for new training of law enforcement that it’s become a national humiliation, our racism—and I have no idea what I’d been saying, while talking to myself, I don’t know what she heard, or thought she heard, that caused her to assume something “entitled” about white me. But somehow, in being present to her, in simply saying the honest thing—that I was talking to myself—and laughing at myself, we figured out if not an intimacy, at least some kind of stair bond to get us to our trains.

Would You Mind Not Posting about Politics on Facebook?

F*#% you.

I say that with love. And often in print.

Guts and Glory: I Dream a Mouth

Listen, it’s not just talking to myself in public or loudly exclaiming my politics in social media and at the office that makes me unattractive. When I was in fifth grade, I said to Lori Grimaldi, “I hate your guts.” I’m not necessarily always a nice person, is what I mean. Sometimes I’m also a rat. Once, when I was around that same age as when I told off Lori back there, I told a fat old lady in a sleeveless house dress who was complaining about “these kids” that my brother Pat was one of them, and she said, “I’m calling the law.” And she was as good as her word, first calling up our house asking for my father. I’d answered the phone and then lied with “You have the wrong number,” and hung up. But she called again, and this time my dad, Bernie, answered. My face burned. I ran upstairs. The world was over—everyone was going to go to jail, Pat was going to jail, all because of my big fat mouth. But as it was, my dad talked the fat old lady down by threatening to countersue her “for calling those kids names,” and she shut up. “How did she get our number?” my dad asked me. Search me, I said. But I could never lie well, and his stare blew a hole through my heart and out my mouth.

I got over it.

I kept talking. I could keep talking about incidents like this, I gotta million of ’em, but I think you get the picture.

Where I worry most about the consequences of my big fat mouth, where my regrets run in mind mazes of torment, is when I try to get to sleep nights and begin recalling my life as a teacher. I’ve written blogs in the past (feel free to read them here and here) about particular students or classroom examples, but the truth is I don’t know how many times a smart remark or a naïve exclamation has ruined the days of how many people. Poor kids, I think to myself. God knows what I’ve said to let them down, because what I recall myself is most likely but a little spittle in the life spittoon.

Where do I still find the courage to talk? To crack jokes? To yell about injustice? To write and publish, to go out into the world making casual remarks on the subway hoping for a laugh? To tell a son of a bitch to calm the f*#% DOWN already? Where does anyone find it?

Red faces didn’t stop me. Braces didn’t stop me. The possibility of a smack upside the head still doesn’t stop me. Even the threat of the law, I guess, won’t make me shut it.

All I really want from this mouth of mine is either to make someone think or to make someone laugh.

Make my day.

Miss O’ announces her braces, ca. 1976.





Author: Miss O'

Miss O' is the pen and stage name of writer and performer and spinster Lisa O'Hara. Miss O' was an American high school English and drama teacher for 15 years, and she appreciates her freedom to leave it behind for a new life in Queens, NY. Her eBook, Easier to Live Here: Miss O' in New York City, is still available, after ten years, on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. Her stage show, The Miss O' Show Teacher's Edition: Training Pants, will someday arrive in small works-in-progress venues to be announced, maybe; and in the meantime the work continues.

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