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Static

By: Kelly Tansor, Copy Editor (ktanso2@uic.edu)

I come home to find my mom sitting on the couch watching TV.  She looks at me and smiles.  “How was work?” she asks.

I sigh as I take my shoes off.  “Same as usual.”

“You wouldn’t believe what happened here,” she tells me, pointing to the TV.  “Someone got in an argument with his friend and shot him right in the head.  Something stupid over money.  Can you believe that?”

“Yeah, I can, actually,” I say.  I toss my backpack to the corner of the room and sit down next to her.  “Isn’t that how every news story is?  Murder here, fire there, here’s the weather, more murder, now here’s a puppy to end the show.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” she agrees.  We sit there a while, listening to the news anchor explain how the shooter was perceived as a good, kind person who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and how the victim had a heart of gold.  Finally, my mom says, “Got any homework due tomorrow?”

“Oh, that’s right.”  I really don’t want to, but I figure I have to get the stupid homework done at some point.  I get up and swing my backpack over my shoulder.  I kiss her cheek.  “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” she says before turning back to the TV.

I go in my room and shut the door behind me.  I sit down at my desk and pull out my Creative Writing assignment from my backpack.  The assignment reads, “Write about something that inspires you.  Many authors admit to having a muse that inspires much of what they write – a significant other, a life experience, a hobby they feel passionate about, etc.  You are required to write a one-page essay/poem/story detailing something that inspires you to do something you love.”

I had my name, Conrad Tiergan, and today’s date, January 30, 1992.  That was all I could come up with.

I’m not sure what Mrs. Baird meant by something that “inspires me.”  Inspires me to do what?  Do well in school?  Play a sport?  Get out of bed in the morning?  When we talked about it in class, though, everyone seemed to have an immediate answer – their boyfriends, their parents, their baby sister, or even their pet dog.  I don’t have anything.  I just have my mom, an old apartment, a few friends at school, and a crappy cashier job.

I run my hand through my hair, frustrated that I can’t find anything to even bullshit about.  I dig through my folder and find a sheet of paper that Mrs. Baird passed out the first day of class.  It lists a bunch of random things that are supposed to beat writer’s block.  Maybe it will help me.

  1. Take a walk.

Can’t really do that at 9:30 at night in the middle of Chicago.  People would think I’m nuts.

2.  Talk to someone.

I have been talking to people all day.  I talked to Jeff and Faith at school a lot, but they didn’t have much to say, really.  I talked to plenty of customers at work, enough to make me never want to talk to anyone again.  Maybe that could be what I write about – how working retail inspires me to never trust people.  Nah, that wouldn’t work.

3.Stream of consciousness writing.

This basically meant to write down every single thing that goes on in your head.  Does that really work?  I decide to try it out.  I rip out a sheet of notebook paper, grab a pen, and…nothing.  I can’t think of anything to write down.  My mind is blank.  Crap, I think.  Well, can’t write that down.  I keep reading the list.

4.Reflect on your day.

I basically had a typical day that any high school student would have – went to school, talked to people, went to class, ate lunch, went to more class, went to work, came home, and now I’m here.  Should I still write that down?  I figure I have nothing to lose, so I start writing about my boring, mundane day.

When I got to school that day, Jeff and Faith were sitting at our usual spot in the art hallway.  Faith was doing her usual venting session that Jeff and I were used to by now.

“Explain to me how that is fair,” she said.  “Seriously, tell me.”

“What happened?” I asked, pretending to sound interested.

“Same as usual,” said Jeff.  “Faith’s mom has a new boyfriend, and he’s a total dick.”  Jeff was mocking Faith and her habit of hating every guy her mom dates.

“He’s trying to convince my mom to stop having family dinners once a week,” Faith explained.

“You mean the dinners you never liked having in the first place?” I pointed out.

“Dude, we’ve been doing this for years,” she said, annoyed.  “We can’t just not have family dinners anymore.”

“So you’re upset because you think not having family dinners anymore will, like, ruin your family or something?” Jeff asked, trying to understand.

“No,” she said, “I’m upset because he’s messing with tradition here.  This is something we’ve been doing for as long as I can remember.  He can’t just take that away from us just so she can spend more time with him than me and my brother.”  The bell rang.  “Damnit.”  She and Jeff swung their backpacks over their shoulders.

“Relax, Faith,” I said.  “There’s nothing wrong with a little change every now and then.  Just be happy your mom is finally getting some romance in her life.”

She grunted.  “I hope you’re right.”

Most of my day after that consisted of me trying to stay awake and pretend to care about whatever my teachers were going on about.  A lot of their lessons sounded the same; In World History, I learned about World War I for the third time in high school; my Physics teacher went over the bold points that were already highlighted in our book; and in Gym, we ran a couple laps and played kickball…again.  Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time I had to play kickball in school, I would probably be able to afford college.

Geometry was my last class.  When I got here, Fred was leaning over Sarah’s desk and making out with her.  He always did this when Mr. Adley was running late to class.  Apparently he has to get some last-minute action before a 40-minute Math class or the world ends.  Go figure.

“So what do you think we’re doing in class today?” asked Sarah.

Fred smirked.  “Same as usual.  He writes some formulas, draws some lines, and we pretend to understand.”

As soon as Mr. Adley walked in, Fred ran into his seat behind Sarah.  As Mr. Adley got some papers out of his bag, Fred kept running his fingers through Sarah’s hair.  It used to be cute when he did this.  Now it’s just weird to me.  I don’t get how a couple can do the same thing with each other every day and still find enjoyment out of it.

Then again, I’m single, so what do I know?

“Alright, everyone.”  Mr. Adley dropped his papers onto his desk.  “Pop quiz.”

The entire class joined in a chorus of “what”s and “are you kidding”s.

“I want to see how well you all know the material up to this point.”  He started passing out the quizzes.

“This is such bull,” Fred said.

Mr. Adley glared at him.  “Watch it, Fred, or points will be taken off.”  He addressed the whole class again.  “There are only five questions.  They are relatively easy – that is, if you understand everything we have covered.  But we’ve only been in class a few weeks, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“Easy for you to say,” Fred retaliated.  “You’ve been doing this for years.  We’ve only been doing this a couple weeks.”

“Good,” said Mr. Adley.  “That means the material should be fresh in your head.”  Fred rolled his eyes.  “You’re all bright students.  This shouldn’t be a problem for you.  But if you haven’t been paying attention in class, then I can’t help you.”

“Whatever, dick,” Fred muttered under his breath.

The pop quiz ended up not being a big deal.  Still, how was that supposed to be “inspiring”?  Does my being better at Math than Fred inspire me to pass a stupid quiz?  Not really.  Even then, how am I supposed to write about that?

After school I had work.  Nothing particularly “inspiring” happens when you drag items across a conveyer belt and push buttons on a cash register though.

One woman really pissed me off that night.  She bought maybe 10 baby outfits, and when I told her it was $72-something, she was not happy.

“Wait a minute, I thought the two Mickey Mouse outfits were buy one get one free,” she said, her eyes widening.

“No, I’m sorry,” I said, pretending to care.  “That sale ended a week ago.”

“But that sale has been going on for two months now,” she said.

“Well, it ended last week.”

“But I thought they were on sale.”

I bit my tongue and shook my head.  Did she think that complaining about the sale would get her a cheaper price?

She sighed.  “This is such bullshit.  You seriously can’t give me the sale price?”  I shook my head again.  “Fine.  Then I want to speak to the manager.”

She held up the line until my manager came.  After complaining and cursing him out for two minutes straight, he gave her every single outfit for free.  Whenever a customer complains enough about something, the store gives them everything for free just to shut them up.  All our customers know this, and all our customers take advantage of it.

Obviously this experience doesn’t inspire me to work in retail for the rest of my life.  But it does inspire me to hate people.

I look at my watch.  It’s already after 10.  I take my plastic cup full of pencils and pens off my desk and toss it to the ground.  This stupid assignment is getting on my last nerve.  I look back to the list of writer’s block tips that Mrs. Baird gave us.

5. Watch TV.

Apparently, watching TV puts your mind at ease and takes some of the pressure of writing off your shoulders.  Or sometimes something on TV inspires you to do something.  At least that’s how Mrs. Baird put it.  I don’t know, it sounded stupid when she explained it.  Still, I decide some mindless television might calm my nerves.  I throw myself onto my bed and grab my remote to turn on my TV.  As soon as it turns on, however, I see nothing but static.

It’s broken.  Again.

I throw my remote on the ground and curse under my breath.  I shove all the books and folders off my desk and they fell to the ground.  How can the TV be broken again?  The one thing that might actually get this stupid assignment done, and it doesn’t work.  How was I supposed to find “inspiration” now?  I find the assignment on the floor, crumple it up and throw it at the wall.

What inspires me?  How can I be asked to find inspiration?  Everything around me is the same.  Same job, same school, same teachers blurting out the same lessons, same students, same friends doing the same things.  How am I supposed to be inspired when nothing new ever happens?  And when it does, everyone goes crazy.  When anything new happens, no one knows how to handle it.  It’s a paradox.  We crave something new and exciting, yet when it happens we don’t know how to deal with it.  All of a sudden, everyone wants to go back to being monotonous and boring.  It’s like we want excitement, but we keep hiding from it and trying to avoid it.  We don’t want monotony, but we also don’t want chaos.

I lie down on my bed and take a deep breath.  I hear a knock at my door.  “Conrad, what the hell happened?”

Damn.  My mom must have heard me throw my remote.  I open my door and find her white as a ghost.  “Sorry, my TV broke,” I say.

She walks past me and into my room.  She looks over at my broken TV.  “What happened?” she asked.

“It’s static,” I tell her.  “It’s just static.”

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