Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hello, fellow readers and writers!

Sleep disturbance. So it's 2:10 AM and I forgot where the shut-off button is in my brain.

Summer Camp: It's the hardest job I ever worked, and I've had some tough jobs. What makes it even harder is the New Jersey humidity. The summer turns the air quality into a barely breathable pasty goo. It's a real energy thief. But the physical nature of this occupation really keeps me in shape.

Two things make this job different than your average gig. For one thing, the salary sucks in ratio to the responsibility. The other thing is this is the first job I ever worked that's actually rewarding. I mean, where can you go and hear hoards of special needs kids yell, "Joe, Joe, Joe!" when you arrive at the canopied picnic tables in the morning? The only thing those kids want is your personality. And unlike many mainstream people, hate or meanness never dwells within them.

Their minds have no concept of deception, back-biting, or cruelty. Fortunately I have an outgoing personality, and I don't mind sharing it with the kids. I'm not sure who has more fun, them or me. Also, I get to talk to their parents or caretakers and gather important information about each kid. A shy or stoic person who's unable break out of it wouldn't be happy in this career.

Being in the 'trenches' in this job means singing, dancing, organizing games, birthday parties, field-trips, being in camp shows, wearing wigs and hilarious outfits on theme days, and so on. Often times I can't believe they actually pay me to go there to play and to be my goofy self. The best part is I get to work there all year around! This is my fifth year there and I have no plans to leave anytime soon. To me, it's not a job, it's a way of life. And those kids want my laughter and enthusiasm.

See? There is a spot for a born ham after all.
Top of the morning, everyone!

My career is really strange, but in a good way. There's a few buildings situated in a huge park. The park has a two pools, a spray ground, a play ground, tennis and basketball courts, a baseball field, a football field, three field hockey and soccer fields, a roller-hockey rink, and a really long walking path. In the Summer, all the other counselors and I have to report to the Therapeutic building at 8:00 AM. At about 8:30 our developmentally disabled kids start trickling in. I call them 'kids' even though some are in their 30's and 40's.

We have five groups. The groups are divided according to age levels. For instance, group one has the youngest kids. Group five is for the adults. That's my group. A client from my group is in the picture with me. Robert. Robert has Down syndrome. In fact, about 70% of of our Therapeutic Summer camp program kids have Down. Their functioning abilities vary a great deal. The other 30% have other developmental disorders such as neurological impairments, general retardation, brain damage caused by accidents, and so on.

When Summer Camp closes, all of the Summer camp counselors leave and go back to college. Only Mary (my group leader) and I stay for the Fall, Winter, and Spring programs. Mary and I are the only counselors there who are in our 50's. Four other non-Summer camp counselors also work those programs.

I have to leave now because it's Saturday and I need to get a haircut. And after that, I have to watch Ultimate Fighting from my enormous private DVD stock. I know, it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. In my next post, I'd like tell about joys of my occupation.
So long for now, folks.
And have a wonderful day!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I’m sitting here at 4:00 a.m. even though I didn’t have to wake up until 6. Normally, I’m an early to bed, early to rise type guy, but lately I’ve been going to sleep later in the evening than usual. The Pride Fighting Championships that I own or order from Netflix are to blame. Call me an addict, but I can’t get enough of mixed martial arts (MMA). Tonight, I’m going to sleep early, just like I promised myself last night and the night before that. Wait—something is wrong with this picture *yawn...*

So how many of you did some detention time in junior or senior high school? Do you remember what you saw and how you felt? Well, there’s no way of knowing for sure, but I may hold a record for total detention hours from the 4th grade through the 9th grade. I wasn’t a bad kid—never loud or disruptive in class. But there was one thing I didn’t do which always landed me in detention—school work. To me, school was the most boring institution on earth. The law states that school attendance is mandatory, but I don’t recall any State or Federal laws saying that I must pay attention while in class or to do homework.

Actually, detention wasn’t so bad. It lasted only an hour, though a major offense could land you two-hours. And although we inmates were supposed to be studying during that hour, I always hid the book I happened to be reading inside of a larger textbook. Detention whizzed by as I lost myself in a good story. But a few times I forgot to bring a book and I had to draw pictures instead. It was during those times that I was keenly aware of my surroundings for that one long hour.

The following would be a typical detention day - minus my book. If you were a detention regular as I was, let's take a trip down memory lane and let me know if you can identify with any of this.


Lock Up

By Joseph Lupoli

The crew of apathetic teachers here expect me, a 14-year-old kid, to sit at home and voluntarily do homework. That’s quite a laugh. You’d think they would have gotten the message by now. I have despised school since my first day of Kindergarten. I’ve never really studied before, I don't plan to start now, and I have refused to do homework since the third grade.

Being in detention is not my favorite pastime, but the mere thought of bringing schoolwork home is far more repulsive. It’s like having a job and being forced to work overtime for free. All things considered, the price tag of not doing homework is affordable.

It’s a light day in this hell-hole of a study hall.

The usual thugs are shifting around restlessly in the back-row seats. There’s Jimmy, the class bully, a long-timer. Jimmy strikes me as a sociopath in training. Next to Jimmy sits Victor, "The Ripper." Victor is Jimmy’s co-extortionist and loan-shark. Oh, and there’s "Michael the Mauler"—also an aspiring sociopath. He's a future lifer, plus 90-years. Michael is doing hard time in detention probably for loansharking or refusing to rat on a fellow hood under investigation. He was once voted ‘Most likely to join the Mafia.’ Michael has sideburns and a five o‘clock shadow which make him look about 20-years-old. For added emphasis, he smokes non-filtered Camels. All of this I find most disturbing. Michael the Mauler once threw a kid off the school roof for not paying his ‘protection’ tax on time. They tried to extort from me, but not only won’t I do schoolwork, I don't respond much to demands either. Interestingly, when I refused to pay them off, they just shrugged and shuffled away. I guess they were too lazy that day to kill me.

Now, normally, this would be a routine day in my life.

Only today is no ordinary day. For the first time ever, the brilliant and beautiful Amy is here in lock-up. Yes, Amy. Amy is a sacred entity complete with a blue misty hue and everything. Just her mere presence purifies the air within a hundred yard radius of her. To me, she is light-years beyond human, and I fear her far more than all the school bullies put together. So why on earth is Miss Britannica/Americana in detention? What could she have conceivably done? Being the loner I am, the answer will never be revealed to me. I’ve never heard of her getting any grade lower than an B+, and she actually cried over it! Amy never missed school that I know of, and she's made the honor roll probably from the moment they cut the umbilical chord and gently slapped breath into her. I love Amy and I dream about her in color. But she has every reason to hate my guts—to her, I'm probably just lowly scum lumped together with all the other under-achieving trolls. The only difference being, I feel more comfortable operating alone. I don't want to belong. That clique bullshit is for sissies.

I'm positive that most of the smart and pretty girls find my entire being revolting. How could they think otherwise? I spend more time in the Principals office and in detention than I do in the classroom. (general population) It’s really too bad that I’m so socially inadequate, few girls even glance my way, let alone talk to me.

Amy made sure she took a seat in the front row to the far right, near the door. I’m also in the front row, but to the far left. Though tempted, I dare not sneak a glance directly at her for fear she might happen to look my way at the same time. What if our eyes accidentally locked? Fuck, what a harrowing thought! What’s to say I wouldn’t have a heart attack on the spot, or experience some sort of embarrassing epileptic seizure? So, I begin to sketch an elaborate schooner with a pencil and a ruler on a sheet of writing paper. That should take up the whole hour.

Meanwhile, Jimmy is busy cutting dirty words into the top of his desk with an unnecessarily large hunting knife. I've seen his pearls of literary wonder engraved on other desks. I’m slouched down so low in my chair that I’m practically laying on the floor. Victor and Michael are engaged in a spirited spitball fight. They never bully me because I’m the one who taught them how to make the perfect spitball, very round and with the right weight-to-size-ratio. And I showed them how to assemble and utilize two spliced and taped McDonald’s straws as the barrel to achieve maximum distance, velocity, and accuracy. Prior to that, they used hollowed pens as their weapons. Their weapons often jammed because the barrel was too narrow and the spitballs were not round enough. Spitball and projectile manufacturing combined with test practice and adjustments are really a fine art and it should be included in the school curriculum in place of say, metal shop.

Of course, there’s Miss Camp, our math teacher, at her desk grading papers or something. I feel sorry for her. So few of us legitimately pass her class, yet the system pushes us ahead anyway. That’s urban life for you. Poor Miss Camp -- burned out like the rest.

My mind wanders aimlessly. I feel my forearms and biceps. Today my muscles are hard and well defined. It's scary. Yesterday I was a skinny toothpick. My bones have been annoying the hell out of me for over a year; A frequent dull ache. I’m growing too fast.

It sucks in this prison, but I imagine they're all the same. I wonder why I’m always so bored in school. Obviously, it's not because I'm too smart. I just compromise doing the right thing, then wind up in miserable detention. Will I ever pull it together? No time soon. I'll start learning after I hit 16, when they can expel me. By then, the stakes between learning and not learning will become much higher. Who knows? A decade or two from now, maybe I’ll wind up back in school on my own free will.

Isn’t it comical that because of my stubbornness, anything I’m forced to do usually remains undone, yet that same task might be fun if only I had the power of choice?

The hell with them all—I’ll do it my way; take the long way around, the hard way, the uphill way. Sure it’s stupid and getting there is a long shot, but if I make it, I’ll wind up stronger than the rest because I’ll have paid more than then them.

If suffrage doesn't bury me first, it will temper me, and ultimately I'll have developed too much self-confidence to even remember what a hue looks like.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hi, fellow readers and writers!

I've written a few things over the years, most of which disappeared when an ex-girlfriend crashed my computer. Whether or not I have any literary talent - I have no idea, but either way, I don't plan on quitting my day gig anytime soon. Becoming rich and famous doesn't really interest me. Just being read is enough keep me happy.

Recently, I was encouraged to start this blog and share my stories and to network with others.

The smaller stories I create are born when I look at photographs or paintings. A while back, I came across an old U.S. Civil War photograph of a young teenage boy in uniform waiting to have his picture taken. His facial expression and his body language told me all sorts of things, so I decided to pen my impression of what might have been going through the boys' mind as he stares into the camera.


The Soldier

by Joseph Lupoli

Now I sit forever in this hot, humid room waiting for a light flash. For hours, it seems, I wait, still and numb. At only 15, I am prepared to die for The Mighty Cause.

My sentence is already decided by the Confederate Army.

I will die.

Surely, I would have fled had they not conditioned me into trading my life to take two so that freedom for the Great South may live forever.

Everyone sings and boasts loudly, but at night I hear anxious whispers. The Union is fast pushing south.

I wonder what would happen if I just stood still on the battlefield while everyone else thrashed about, loading and firing and stumbling and cursing? All the muskets and cannons would miss me. But no, my own side will shoot me for that.

There’s a funny yet chilling feeling in my gut as I recall that only a couple of weeks ago, I was fishing along the banks of the beloved Mississippi and skipping stones along its nearby estuaries without a care in the world. Then two important looking officers on horseback came riding tall in shiny boots and gold buttons. They told me to “Sign this paper, son, and make your mother proud!”

Pretending to know how to read and write, I looked at the tiny words on the paper and then I marked an ‘x’ after the ‘X’.

The men squared up and one boomed, “Were looking for a war hero just like you, young soldier. Follow us!"

Hurry up and take the damned picture, please! This too-tight, wool uniform itches something awful. Why didn’t I pay attention in Sunday school and later in church? Is my soul clean and good? Is it pure? I think now is a good time for a solemn prayer: God, please forgive me for stealing that ladies’ underwear catalogue from Rodger’s and Drysdale’s. And please forgive me for anything else I did wrong, too.

I wonder if the other soldiers in my outfit are as scared as I am. Our grim, dirty, hungry expressions all look the same, despite our age differences. I feel drained and swindled. God forbid if all these people in here should realize how terrified I really am. My never-ending fatigue is all that keeps me from trembling or from even allowing a big tear welling in my eye to fall noticeably down my cheek. Why do we do this? Why don’t I know anything?

At last, the light flash is seen and heard, and that little puff of smoke seeps upward. I wipe my eye.

Frozen within myself, I now wait for somebody to tell me what next to do.


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