Friday, August 04, 2006

Ichabod Crane

“Where’s the flood, Jones?” Somebody called out from across the hall. I pretended not to notice as I fumbled with the combination on my locker. I felt my ears begin to burn, turning a deep shade of burgandy while I hastily traded in one set of books for another, and slunk down the hall to my next class. It was important that I didn’t let on how much it embarrassed me to be singled out that way, otherwise my humiliation would just fuel the fire.

A gangly kid growing up, my arms and legs seemed to develop two years ahead of my torso, and the resulting look was not at all flattering. It was sort of the Gumby look gone awry. As I rapidly grew out of my clothes there were rare moments when I wore pants that weren't just a little bit too short. This would be at the root of the “flood” comments.

On one particular occasion I came home from school near tears when some kids at school had noticed something different about me. I hadn’t done anything on purpose to garner their attention, perish the thought; all I had done was stop in the hallway at school and scratch my kneecap… without bending over. It never dawned on me that this was an unusual event until it was pointed out to me that nobody else had arms long enough to scratch their knee caps without bending over. It was a distinction that only I held. When I demonstrated my abilities to my mother in an attempt to emphasize my point, she couldn’t help but stifle her own giggle over my dubious talent.

I knew from an early age that something was wrong with me. I was forever doing things the wrong way or incorrectly. Not big things, just little things that would drive my father, and other adults, crazy. I had an inherit ability to crawl underneath the skin of many an adult and irritate them like some sort of ringworm. It was not uncommon for them to want to rid themselves of me as quickly as possible, as one might rid themselves of a parasite.

A jumpy kid, I had a tendency to be “twitchy”. I was constantly fidgeting, moving, scratching or shaking in some sort of nervous fashion. This caused me all manners of grief both at school and at home. It was a subconscious habit that I would have stopped if I could have, but I never seemed to be able to get a handle on it.

Kids thought I was weird and teachers found me annoying. Worse yet, at home my dad loathed what he perceived as an undisciplined activity of a willful individual. My jittery presence would prompt him to stop whatever he was doing and begin mimicking my nervous actions in the most disturbing manner possible. His sneering face and mocking tone were always accompanied by grotesque gyrations that seemed bent on humiliating me. It worked.

I’m not sure when it started, but sometime around this time he took to calling me Ichabod Crane. He made no bones about explaining to me that I was a geek patterned after this iconic character from Sleepy Hollow, and it became routine for him do one of his “twitch” dances shortly after calling me “Ichabod”.

One day I made the mistake of asking him what a geek was. I was young and nobody had ever told me what a geek was, but I sure heard the term frequently enough. He began to elucidate that it was a large bird with long wings that flew down the middle of the river screeching, “Geek, Geek!” I took him at his word.

Later that same week a fellow student called me a geek and then stared at me in stunned disbelief as I proceeded to fill him in on the true definition of what a geek was.

This did not contribute positively to my image.

It didn’t take a whiz kid to realize that there must be something off beam about me; subsequently I began to accept my place in the social order of school and our family. On top of that, I never saw dad go after my brothers the way he did me, so facts are facts.

It certainly didn’t help that I was a daydreamer. I loved books, and I could get caught up in a book for hours, sometimes days. Every book represented a strange new world where dreams came true and there was almost always a happy ending. The escape was intoxicating, and while caught up in the headiness of my next exploit I was given a reprieve from my own woeful inadequacies. For a very small period of time I was no longer the screw up, I was the hero of the story, riding to save the princess, or better yet, the world.

My teachers were really to blame for my interest in literature. I can still remember 2nd grade story time when my teacher would read from the novel, “James and the Giant Peach”. The boy who had such adventures, such freedom, fascinated me. I would imagine myself living and traveling in the giant peach, totally disregarding the stickiness of the situation, and I’d drift away from whatever stark reality would be waiting for me in class or when I got home.

Add to that, the school library having every book, and every adventure that I could ever dream of being a part of and you had a recipe for trouble. This was one of the original problems for me at school. Frequently the teacher would catch me stealing moments of surreptitious reading with a book opened in my lap, protruding half in and out of my desk. I’d be devouring the latest adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn when I should have been paying attention in class.

Television was even worse. I would get so sucked into the television that everything around me would cease to exist. More than once I was made privy to a conversation my dad had been having with me while picking myself up off of the floor.

I had other irritating tendencies too. At the dinner table, we were required to “keep our faces” in our plate, as dad put it. A military man, he believed in quiet children at the dinner table, and his idea of respect was not in question. We were not allowed to look up from our plate or speak without permission, but I could never seem to master this. I would often get caught “eyeballing” him out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t help but always be watching out for his next move. At any moment his hand could strike out and catch me in the mouth, leaving the taste of blood mingling with my meal. He was lighting fast, and it almost always caught me by surprise.

This would cause another one of my more grating tendencies to crop up.

Until the day I turned 13, I was a crybaby. A smack in the mouth was a guaranteed occasion for water works, but it was the other times that I broke into tears that would really annoy the adult figures in my life. Sometimes it would only take a comment or a look or something seemingly insignificant, but once the tears started to flow there just didn’t seem to be any way to stop them.

As far as my dad went, this would prompt a barrage of disparaging remarks. As far as other adults went, the reactions were varied.

One time, the buses left school without getting all of the students, and I was one of the students left behind. As I sat there in the administration office, I started to panic and cry. One of the teachers there trying to make sense of the madness was Mrs. Stuemiller. She had been my 4th grade teacher the year before, and it was no secret to me that she was not my biggest fan. When she saw me starting to cry she lost control. She marched up to me, placed her face six inches away from mine and screamed, “Cry! Just go ahead and Cry!”

In those earlier years, there were more nights of sleeping on a wet pillow than a dry one.

However, by far the most irritating thing about me was the “mouth” thing. “Catching flies” my dad used to call it. I have no idea why it happened. I would start watching a show, reading a book, or generally focusing on something else and like magic the thing would just drift open. This infuriated my dad. Any time he saw me with my mouth gaping open it was open season on the insults. Comments about catching flies were one thing, but after a while that wasn’t enough for him.

We would often watch sporting events together, my brothers and my father. We would sit on the floor and watch while he sat in his easy chair. Inescapably, a moment would come when I would get caught with my mouth gaping open as I lost my self in the events unfolding before me.

Invariably, this would send my father to the garage. He was after something and we all knew what it was.

He was getting the duct tape.

As he ripped off a large piece of duct tape and taped my mouth closed, my ears would immediately start burning and tears would begin stinging my eyes. The rancid smell of duct tape would choke my nostrils as the edge of the tape chafed the bottom of my nose. Once the sobbing started I would begin to get congested, effectively plugging the airways in my sinuses. Breathing through my nose would become difficult, so I would have to create a breathing hole with my tongue. Eventually, the glue would wear off and it wouldn’t taste so bad.

My brothers would avoid making eye contact with me, and they would do their best to steer clear of acknowledging what was going on. There I would sit, using my tongue to create an air hole around the bottom edge of the tape so I could breathe, praying that dad wouldn’t notice, and sitting in a puddle of tears and humiliation.

This is how my father and other adults in authority felt about me. This was normal for me; this was my every day life. They were always right and I was always wrong. They set the bar, and I didn’t measure up.

I knew I was a geek that would never amount to anything, because they told me so. Why would a boy think differently? Why would a boy doubt those given the responsibility of raising him?

I hated that I couldn’t seem to make them happy, and I hated that I was such a loser. I guess I was just who I was and there wasn’t much I could do about it except try to stay out of their way.

No, I didn’t doubt them… it wasn't my place to.

I was, after all, Ichabod Crane.


frank said...

Brother Paul-

An old friend, Frank Irace, just happened upon you to say hello, things seem well. Was sitting here at my desk listening to your CD and wonderin' how ya doin? . JESUS IS STILL LORD!

Runnin' The Race,

Paul Robert Jones said...


It's good to hear from you. I must admit I have been lax in writing and keeping up with this posting, but am encouraged to find you in these parts.

Feel free to email me at to catch up.

In His Grip,