Career Day Today!
The sign hung in front of the local middle school attended by Ben’s son. It was approximately 9:00 AM on Tuesday morning. Ben had dropped his son off an hour earlier and now, as a surprise to the boy, he’d returned to participate as a guest speaker at the Career Day festivities.
“He’ll be so excited!” Ben said to himself as he parked his sputtering Toyota in the school’s parking lot. Ben had learned of career day the week before when, while searching for loose change in his son’s backpack, he’d discovered a flyer buried under a week-old salami on wheat. Fortunately he’d found it just before the volunteer deadline.
“I’m a communications professional,” Ben had told the principal when he’d called last week to offer his services. “You could say that the written word is my ball of wax.” He then proceeded to regale her with tales from the world of corporate communications, a world where up until 18-months ago, Ben had been a mover and a shaker.
“I’ve pretty much done it all, communications-wise,” Ben had told her. “Press releases, customer letters, talking points. I’ve done your basic fluff pieces for the corporate magazine; who’s getting married, who’s having a baby, that sort of thing. Folks love to read their name in the company publication, I can tell you!”
“Yes, that sounds fine, Mr. Nutty. But tell me again who your son is? We don’t have a ‘Nutty” in our student body.”
“Oh. Yes, well both of my children have chosen to take their mother’s maiden name, for reasons I can’t disclose.”
After submitting to an exhaustive and rather invasive background check, Ben was added to the schedule. He was not actually slated to speak until just after lunch, but he felt it would be a good idea to arrive a little early just to get the lay of the land.
Class was still in session as Ben walked on campus. Seeing the long rows of lockers, he was immediately awash in memories of classrooms, middle-school crushes, eating processed deli meat sandwiches at aluminum tables, and his days as a big shot trombone player in the marching band. Ben recalled with pride the day he’d received his marching band uniform; how the green plume stood so proudly in his hat. How the girls laughed at him to hide their affections.
“Kids,” he chuckled.
Adjusting his Target® fedora to a jaunty angle, he continued his stroll down memory lane. Poking his head into the library he inhaled the lovely, papery scent of books. Ben smiled at the memory of childhood library visits, returning home with an armload of books, and of afternoons spent hiding behind the couch with his stacks. Ben had once entertained big dreams of becoming a famous writer. He’d envisioned himself knocking out novels the way ball players knock home runs out of the park. Attending book signings and negotiating movie options. Standing in front of the full-length mirror in his parent’s closet he would practice his speech for the Oscar he would receive for the adaptation of his novel.
“Bah. Corporate communications is much more satisfying,” he said to himself as he lingered in the library doorway. “It’s real and purposeful, not make believe nonsense.”
Further down the hallway two lanky middle-school boys came out of a classroom and headed in Ben’s direction.
“Good-morning, my fine young fellows,” Ben said with a tip of his hat.
“Good loser,” one boy responded, and they both snickered and continued down the hallway.
“Kids,” Ben said, and chuckled again.
He came to the gymnasium and stopped to peer through a small glass window. Noticing the finely polished wooden floor he recalled, with sweaty hands, P.E. classes of square dancing, nervously do-si-doing with a pretty, eighth grade girl, and Friday night dances spent standing against the wall trying to work up the courage to ask that cute flute player to dance. But, as always, he remained hidden in darkness, watching as the confident would sway to the music, their arms wrapped around each other, bodies mashed tightly, promising himself, as he stood alone afterwards waiting for his ride home, that next time would be different.
Awaking from his reverie, Ben saw only his wrinkled, sad-eyed reflection in the glass; a familiar pang of loss welling in his chest, which he quickly squelched.
“No. It’s not too late, dadgummit! I can still do something worthwhile. I will write that novel. I can still show’ em that Ben Nutty has got what it takes! And I’m going to start by giving these kids the best talk of the day. When I’m through, the whole lot of ‘em will be clamoring to learn more about the writer’s life!”
“Excuse me sir.” Ben felt a strong hand grip his shoulder and turned to face two beefy school security guards.
“We received a report of man in a cheap hat prowling around the school. Please come with us.”
Taking an arm each, the burly men escorted a tip-toe-dancing Ben toward parking lot, and a waiting police cruiser.
“Wait, I’m Ben Nutty. I’m a communications professional!”
“Yeah? Well you can communicate it to the cops, Mac.”