Ah, the first week of school. Every other year, it always went like this: The week before the first day of class, Little Bill stays up all night playin’ video games in his room and tries to sleep the whole next day away until sometime around 1:00 in the afternoon Minnie storms halfways upstairs with the broom, complainin’ about makin’ lunches, leans the rest of the way and beats ol’ frig out of his bedroom door, screamin’ at him to get up. Then he’d eventually mumble his way downstairs, sit at the table with his hair pointin’ in all directions, tell us he hated everything in life, and then have a nice bowl of rice crispies.
This year, it was a little different. The other day, Minnie does the same broom on the bedroom door routine as soon as the Price is Right is over, and then Little Bill eventually mumbles his way downstairs, sits at the table with his hair pointin’ in all directions, tells us he’s gonna quit school, and then has a nice bowl of rice crispies.
Actually, he probably didn’t enjoy the rice crispies much, because as soon as he said that part about quittin’ school Minnie let a big bellow out of her, got up off the couch where she was foldin’ the clothes, stormed out to the kitchen and started beatin’ him crazy with a roll of socks.
Like hell, mister! she said. There’s no way my kids are quittin’ school! Are you mental, or what, Bill? Where’d ya get an idea like that? What made you think in a million years you could just stroll downstairs, 15 years old and tell us you’re quittin’ school, you little christer!
By the time she said all that, with about a dozen sock swats between each sentence, she was startin’ to tire herself out, so I went out and tried to gently pry the socks away from her before Little Bill became the first case in recorded medicine to die of a concussion brought on by a sock beatin’.
Hang on now, son, I said, plunkin’ my mug of tea down and sittin’ across from him. There’s all kinds of reasons why quittin’ school is not a good idea.
He did one of his typical moves, where he rolls his eyes so hard his whole head sorta swivels, and at the same time he shrugs, crosses his arms and slouches down in his chair.
What’s the point of school anyways?! he yells. It’s just a big waste of time! If the point of school is to prepare ya for life, then what the hell am I doin’ wastin’ my life in school?
OH! Minnie said, and I could tell she was gettin’ to that point where she’s so mad all she can do is start sentences without finishin’ them. Wastin’ your life in school! she said. How do ya think … It’s not like… When the time comes and you gotta …. UGGGHH!
Son, what would ya do if ya quit school? I said to him.
He’s not quittin’ school! Minnie said.
Let’s just hear him out, I said. What do ya think you’d do?
I already got it figured out, he said. Me and Squishy’d work on the band full time and we’d play shows and get gigs.
Gigs! Minnie said. What in the hell is “gigs”? Is that some kind of drug?
No, like sock hops and that, I said.
And Little Bill went – Pffffffft! “Sock hops,” yeah, because we’re like a hundred years old.
Don’t get me wrong, now, Bill, I said. I know ya like playin’ music and it’s fun and everything else, but ya can’t quit school and make a livin’ from it. Ya gotta figure, ya got yourself to take care of yourself, then eventually you’ll prolly have a wife, and the two of yis’ll have kids someday, and the sooner you put yourself in a good position to take care of your family, the better off your whole life will be.
What the hell are you talking about?! he yelled. I’m not talkin’ about gettin’ married and havin’ kids or any of that stuff! We’re gonna play music and buy a van and go on tour and get famous! That’s what we’re gonna do!
Get famous! Minnie yelled. It’s like you’re not even…. I don’t know where ya get yer …. How in the name of …. UGGGH!
I’ll be fine if I quit school! Little Bill yelled at me. Besides, you quit school yourself, Da, so you’re a good one talkin’!
The two of sat there and looked at him. That was the whole thing right there, and he came out with it.
I never felt so small in my whole life.
No, Bill, I said. You’re right. I did quit school, and you and your sister are the ones payin’ for it. If I finished school, maybe we’d be in a nicer house, we’d have more money, we wouldn’t be livin’ off your mother’s job most of the time while I scratch up enough work to get my stamps every year. Maybe we’d all be a lot better off.
I drank the last of my tea and got up from the table.
And maybe my kids would respect me, I said, and I went upstairs and laid down with the pillow over my head.
Minnie came up about a half hour later.
What? I said. Did ya come up for a bigger pair of socks?
She cracked a little bit of a smile.
He’s grounded for a month, she said. And he has to go to school. And he has to apologize for the way he went on.
Ya know what, though, I said. He’s right. Maybe I’m the one that needs to go back to school. Maybe it’s not too late for me yet. Whaddya think?
Well, she said. If you’re serious, I’m gonna have to start buyin’ bigger lunch bags.