As the school year quickly approaches, I'd like to share an invaluable piece of advice with all of you who are going to take English classes and dread writing compositions: The only time you can plagiarize and get away with it is if you have teacher like Owl. A perv that is.
OwlPROFESSOR OWL was a very peculiar man. He was the type of person whose age one could never guess. He always wore his signature tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. It gave the impression that he was well built when in fact he was very fragile. His egg-shaped head hosted seriously receding ash colored hair that had a mind of its own. It always seemed to want to escape that silly head, falling into every direction possible and impossible. Owl’s eyebrows were the most unforgettable brows I’d ever seen. They were at least two inches long, wiry, and just sticking out above his grey eyeballs, pointing in an upside-down V shape. They connected in the middle in order to prevent the tiny forehead from collapsing and injuring Owl’s anomalous pear nose. I dare not say much about the ears; they were so large (and ears never stop growing), they would probably hear me today. And Owl’s lips? Nonexistent. I believe they were just a small opening in the professor’s face out of which words escaped. Those words must be lingering in the classroom to this day since no one ever listened.
Owl was definitely the kind of professor I wanted to feel sorry for. How can anyone not feel empathy toward a man of that exterior? But as they say: don’t judge the book by its cover.
Not even a month into my freshman year I realized that Owl was a perv. Despite the fact that I wasn’t the only one to observe Owl’s deviation, none of us girls complained. It wasn’t something people did growing up in a Communist country of the Eastern Block. We were raised to be creative in dealing with situations at hand, as long as we kept our mouth shut. And since the Iron Curtain was lifted only a year ago, and we were just starting to assimilate to the dawn of our post-Communist era, we learned to endure Owl’s sleazy, drooling stares for the entire four years of Literature and Composition he taught. He had plenty of time for always loving us girls.
Owl wasn’t picky. He loved all the fat ones, thin ones, girls with or without make up, girls with heels, sandals, boots…but mostly girls with mini-skirts. Sadly, guys were irrelevant in his class. No matter how hard a boy may have tried, no matter how brilliant his writing was, he would never get an A.
I only got to enjoy Owl’s class after I had tucked all my mini-skirts and other girlie clothes into the very back of my wardrobe and wore only the biggest and baggiest ones I could find. This diversion helped me escape Owl’s indecent stares and enabled me to experience a liberation I could only find through writing which I loved ever since I learned how to spell. It took a while, but finally Owl recognized my writing as excellent, and I never really had to worry about not getting good grades. That wasn’t the case with all the girls, however. Soon enough, most of them realized that in order to secure a good grade, all they had to do was to show a little leg here and there. And they got quite comfortable doing it. They wore the shortest skirts even in the coldest months.
One April Friday of our senior year, just weeks before the end of the term, Professor Owl was in one of his extraordinary loving moods.
“Alright, my precious girlies, today I have something special for you.” He turned toward the blackboard and began writing so passionately white chalk dust soared everywhere. He finally stepped aside, and that small opening in his face gave what looked like a mischievous smile.
FIVE PAGE COMPOSITION DUE MONDAY.
CHOOSE AN OBJECT AND BRING IT TO LIFE!
Everyone around me immediately started protesting.
“We already have mountains of study guides to go through!”
“Finals are three weeks away!”
“It’s the weekend!”
Owl shook his egg-head and buried his pear into his favorite literary journal. It was obvious that there would be no further discussion of the subject, and everyone might as well just shut up.
I’ve always been a procrastinator. I was clearly aware of this terrible habit yet somehow I never managed to make time for ….well, time. However, on this particular occasion I said to myself that working on my assignment right after school would be a perfect opportunity to break free of my awful habit. As my fate had it, I didn’t get to it until Sunday night because I just had to do other things like: Friday after school - ZOO with my friends, where I got stoned for the very first time while watching the elephant exhibit; Friday night – serious munchies and loss of focus; Saturday morning and afternoon – the X-Files marathon; and Saturday night – the Rock Club, into which Nikolaj (a foreign exchange student from Russia who came to live with my family during my freshman year and oddly enough never left) basically forced me.
Nikolaj and I shared our last period, History, in which he sucked (he also sucked in our Literature and Composition class but didn’t worry because all his assignments were always neatly written by Annie, his girlfriend; all he had to do was copy them in his own handwriting). I sat behind him and watched his speckled neck, trying to figure out whether I could write a story about Russian crop circles forming underneath his blond curls. My view was distorted when he turned around and announced that my parents were going up to the cabin this weekend (something they, yet again, neglected to mention to me), and that he wants to take Anna and me out to the Rock Club on Saturday night.
“Three’s a crowd if you know what I mean,” I said out loud. There was no need to whisper. Everyone knew that our History professor was deaf, though I sometimes wondered whether his hearing impairment wasn’t just a convenient way to ignore us punks.
“Don’t act stupid,” said Nikolaj. “Come on! You’re always such a party pooper.”
“No, I’m not! Anyway, I won’t feel right. You’re gonna be humping all over Annie again, just making me sick.”
“I promise I won’t hump Anna in front of you.” Nikolaj turned around.
I thought about his invitation for a while but figured that I’d feel awkward hanging out with a horny couple. I poked Nikolaj’s back with my pen. He turned around again.
“I think it’s better if only you two go, just have fun, I’m going to work on my assignment.”
“Nonsense, you’re coming with!” Nikolaj shouted so loudly that even the professor looked away from the blackboard.
“Is there a problem?” he asked, eyeing Nikolaj.
“Yes, sir, there actually is.”
The bored classmates immediately lifted their heads to hear this one.
“This girl behind me keeps asking me out,” Nikolaj pointed his thumb at me without even turning around. “Now, I’ve told her many times that I’m not interested, yet she keeps insisting, and now she’s even threatening to cheat off my exam if I don’t go out with her.”
What an idiot! I felt my cheeks flush when the professor looked at me. Then I realized that he was trying to control a smile. With a crooked lip he said, “Don’t cheat off his exam. The best he’d ever gotten was a D.”I’d never been to the Rock Club before. I’d passed it on the street numerous times, but never for a second would I have imagined the secret this building hid inside. From outside it was just an ordinary, neatly painted, single-story cube. It was surrounded by perfectly trimmed rose bushes and tall birch trees with wooden benches underneath them. Inside, however, was the complete opposite of neatness. The walls were painted black and grey with lots of half torn posters of various rock bands. The bar was on the wall facing the entrance door. There were no tables or chairs. People sat on large cement blocks arranged into a stadium seating, lining the three remaining walls. The dance floor wasn’t really a floor; it was a smoothed out surface filled with sand. The lights suspended from the ceiling were very dim, and the beams had to always fight their way through the cigarette smoke. The overall image was that of a grunge-looking room. People here didn’t worry about what they were wearing or how their make-up and hair looked. These people didn’t hide behind brand name shirts. They didn’t try to impress anyone. They were real, non-pretending, no bull shit people. I felt right at home.
The three of us arrived well before ten, which apparently was not the time rockers come out to play. At least we didn’t have to fight for drinks at the bar. By eleven thirty Annie and I already had two rounds of margaritas; Nikolaj worked on “I lost count” vodka on the rocks, and people finally started showing up. I looked toward the entrance door to see if I recognized any familiar faces. When I turned around Nikolaj was already making his sickening moves on Annie. I pierced him with my eyes. He backed off.
“I know, I said I’ll behave,” he shrugged.
“I gotta pee,” I smirked and got up off the cement block, making my way to the restroom.
“Wait, I’ll go with you,” shouted Annie, her thin, Bambi-like legs clumsily battling the large blocks as she ran down toward me.
The restroom was dark as well. There were only two cabins. One black, one red – out of order.
“I really need to go now,” I raised my eyebrows.
“Oh, you go ahead, I don’t have to... I just wanted to come with you.”
“What’s the matter?” I asked through the black door of my pee-pee cabin.
“It’s just that Nikolaj’s had a lot to drink… and he never lasts long enough when ... you know…”
“My god, Annie, that’s too much info. I don’t really care to know your guys’ sex life!”“I’m sorry, it’s just… I don’t have anyone to talk to about these kinds of things.”
I came out of the cabin and yelled over the flushing toilet, “First of all, you’re only fourteen. You shouldn’t even be doing those kinds of things. And Nikolaj’s stupid for doing them with you.”Annie stared at me in the mirror while I washed my hands. She nervously raised her tiny shoulders and took a deep breath, “Who do you talk to about that stuff?”
“My friends from class…” I replied, uninterested.
Annie’s eyes widened. She obviously wanted me to continue. Suddenly, she looked so innocent and delicate, like a small child waiting for a good story. I should have taken her home and tucked her in. Instead, I obliged.
“We get together during recess at the back of the room around the last desk. There, all the girls share their dirty stories and secrets. Last week, for example, we talked about ‘who’d slept with the oldest guy?’ It was Gabriella. Hers is sixty.”
“Yuck,” coughed Annie.
“I know! Gabriella works at a pub as a waitress after school. The old man and his wife own it. Gabi was saying how nice the wife is to her. She even told her that Gabi’s like the daughter she never had. And how does Gabi repay her? She sleeps with her man.”
Annie’s eyes were now fixed at mine. She was breathing heavily. I had to deliver.
“A couple of days ago, that old man brought Gabi to school. They were making out in his car right in front of the main entrance. People were looking and pointing at them out of the windows. Some were even whistling. Then the bell rang. Gabi jumped out of the car and sprinted up the stairs to get to the classroom. Our teacher was already sitting at her desk checking the attendance sheet. Without even lifting her eyes she said: ‘Your grandfather must love you very much!’”
Annie gasped, then laughed, then clapped. “Wow, your friends must be fun to share stories like that.”
“Your friends are probably fun too... you’re just a bit ahead of them.”
By the time Annie and I returned from the restroom, Nikolaj was no longer sitting alone. There were two guys and a girl by his side. The girl looked familiar. I’d seen her downtown a few times. She was quite distinctive: black witch-kind-of-clothes, dark make-up, piercings as far as the eye could see - a complete Goth chick, kind of scary, really. We didn’t have very many of those in our town.
“This is Laura, Matt, and Rob.” Nikolaj introduced his friends, then Annie and me.
Laura lit her cigarette and pointed it at me. “I’ve seen you before.”
“I’ve seen you too.” You’re hard to miss, I wanted to add but kept my mouth shut, although Laura kept pointing her cigarette at me. Was I supposed to keep talking? I sat there tensed, with nothing else to contribute, at least nothing concerning Laura because I was afraid that she might put a spell on me, and turn me into a fly or a frog or something like that. I knew nothing of her type of people and frankly, she scared me. Finally, after an uncomfortable eternity, Nikolaj pointed to the sand floor, “Let’s go dance!”
“I don’t dance,” Laura put out her cigarette, “but I do drink. Come on.” She grabbed the quite normal-looking Matt by his elbow and dragged him toward the bar.
Rob smiled at me, “They’re an interesting couple.”
I exhaled. “Freaky, if you ask me.”
By the end of the night, I found out that Rob was actually a year and a half younger than me. How disappointing. He was tall, with long, straw colored hair tucked behind his ears. It was really kind of sexy. He could have… should have lied about his age. I grabbed Nikolaj by the head and whispered in his ear, “Now we’re both cradle robbers...but you’ll be the one wearing striped pajamas.”
I didn’t get out of bed until Sunday night. With mad hair and a splitting, margarita headache, I walked through the living room where mom and dad were watching something on the liar box. They shook their heads and snickered as I dizzily made my way to the kitchen. Nikolaj was sitting at the table, copying a story Annie had written for him. I took two aspirins, made an Earl Grey and a toast with jam. Watching Nikolaj, I began to slightly panic.
“Nikolaj, what the hell am I supposed to write about?”
He looked up from his paper and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, write about that clock,” he pointed above his head, and as he finished the sentence, the cuckoo came out announcing eight p.m. I sighed and slouched by him on the long wooden bench. As I sipped my tea, over the mug’s rim and the steam I noticed the Sunday paper folded behind the breadbox on the kitchen counter.
“Hmm, I wonder…” I thought aloud, grabbed the paper, and spread it open all over the table.
“Move!” Nikolaj pushed the inserts that ended up on his assignment.
“Look at this!” I spotted a large title on the front page of the Sunday inserts which were usually filled with crossword puzzles, jokes, cartoons, and stories from beginning writers. I snatched the newspaper off the table. I wasn’t mistaken. Calling to me in large, black Verdana font on the front page of the inserts was a story begging me to be read: “Suitcase on the Train Station.”
It was amazing. So good in fact, I wanted it to be my own. My aching brain suggested that I copy it and present it as my story to Professor Owl. But I was always such a lame goody two-shoes when it came to school rules. I was afraid that I would get busted for plagiarism. What if Professor Owl read this story in his Sunday paper?
“Nikolaj, do you think Owl reads this newspaper?”
“Doubt it, he always lugs around that obnoxious magazine. Nothing else is good enough for him.”
Nikolaj was right. I went for it, I stole the story. I didn’t want to copy it word for word, and so I made a few adjustments. No one would ever know. My labor paid off. I ended up with a beautiful, melancholic story about a suitcase that was left on the train station all by itself. It was filled with dirty laundry, and its zippers were tearing open to get some fresh air because it was being suffocated by all the stinky socks. Finally, the sad suitcase spat the laundry out all over the rails. It cried and cried, until someone picked it up and took it to where all the sad suitcases meet, the suitcase heaven, the Lost and Found. I was so proud of myself. I felt like I actually improved the story.
Two days after turning in our compositions, I received a big red A+, a compliment from Owl, and all was well…until next Monday.
Owl rushed into the classroom just as the bell rang. His bushy brows were pointing straight at me, his pear was shiny, his hole completely disappeared. I don’t know where Owl’s words were coming from, but I definitely knew where they were headed. I got bombarded by his hysterical outburst.
“I was very unpleasantly surprised, when another girlie from the classroom next door turned in her composition on the same object. She, too, wrote about a sad, little suitcase forgotten at the train station.”
Someone turned off time.
That girl must be an idiot…stealing my story! Aren’t there other Sunday papers? Why did she choose this one?
Owl released me from the time warp, “I found the newspaper insert from which you two copied your work, and you both have an F.”
My first F ever!
“But Professor,” I tried defending myself, “that suitcase in the newspaper had just some stupid books in it. Mine had dirty laundry… and stinky socks… and it went to heaven…”
“My grade is final!” Smirked Owl, and just to rub it in he wrote a large, red F in his notebook right in front of my face. “And for the record, I will be speaking to the administration. Plagiarism is not taken lightly and many before you were expelled because of it.”
First F ever… and a possible expulsion from school all in one day? F…Fuck!
I moped around the house all afternoon. I wanted to fix the miserable situation in which I was drowning. How could I convince Owl to change my grade? I couldn’t come up with anything. I was livid with my brain whose proposal to steal the story got me into trouble in the first place. And now it didn’t want to cooperate and think of something to get me out of this mess. I shut that good-for-nothing organ off and went to bed.
I woke up early. I tried to act as if everything was at its usual, uninteresting state, but my breakfast tasted like cardboard, my mind kept replaying Owl’s outburst, and just then the stupid cuckoo came out to make its usual ruckus. Six a.m., with it… a sudden epiphany. I grabbed a pen and paper, moved my plate aside, and wrote a story about a clock whose hands put out an ad, looking for a pair of legs. Then, snickering, I walked into my bedroom and reached into the very back of my wardrobe.