Chapter 11 December 23, 1994, Christmas Eve-Eve
“Yea. Three medium sized things, and one big sized thing,” Philly said. “But I still ain’t sure what those things are going to be just yet.”
He looked up at Ms. Green, and back at Mr. Nelson and thought he should ask them for help with his list, but didn’t know which one to ask. The thing was his kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade teachers had decorated their doors and classrooms and made the class sing Christmas carols.
Mr. Nelson didn’t make the kids do that stuff. A few weeks ago, George Peppers asked him why, and Mr. Nelson said it was because he was too cool. Philly was glad that this was the reason, because it meant Mr. Nelson wasn’t a Jew. Big Ern said that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. They did Honkah instead.
Besides teaching Philly how to be a man, Big Ern had taught him that all Jews and Blacks were the scummiest people on Earth. “They are both cheats, but rat-faced Jews were weasel cheats different from the way a black cheats,” he told him, always reminding him, “This was type of stuff you won’t learn in school so listen up.”
Philly could see Mr. Nelson wasn’t rat-faced. And was glad the only reason he didn’t celebrate Christmas was that he was too cool. Philly didn’t want to hate him. Mr. Nelson was his favorite teacher. Since he didn’t celebrate Christmas though, he wouldn’t be much help with making his list.
He looked at Ms. Green. Big Ern told him she was worse than being a Jew because she whored up with one. Philly didn’t know what it meant, but was sure Ms. Green had done it and done it bad. Big Ern told him this a million times. He wasn’t sure if once you whored up with a Jew you become one, but figured you must because white people definitely hate you. The good thing was Philly knew that Honkah has presents. So she could help with his list. “Ms. Green, what you getting for Honkah?” he asked.
Julie looked up from her wristwatch. It was 3:48 PM. “Honkah? Oh you mean Hanukah? Oh, I do Christmas the same as you, Philly. I am not too cool for it like Mr. Nelson over there,” she said with a wink towards Mark. Mark smiled after first rolling his eyes.
Mark had told Julie how Mr. Jackson spoke to him about the “Too cool for Christmas” comment Mark made to his class. The way he figured it, one of the students must’ve said something at home, and their parents called the principal saying something like, ‘What’s this I hear about Mr. Nelson being too cool for Christmas.’ The next thing he knew, Mark said, he was sitting in Mr. Jackson’s office denying ever having said it.
When Mark told her this, Julie looked at him with disbelief. She could see Mark telling students he was too cool for Christmas. To her, it was Mark trying to be funny and it backfired. This coupled with the fact that she figured this was likely the first time in his life that he had a stern talking to –made the whole thing even more hilarious.
A day or so later, he told her, a different parent called the school with the same complaint, and he was called back into Mr. Jackson’s office. Julie was in stitches. “So I guess you had to tell him the truth this time huh?” she goaded.
“I told him the truth the first time,” he said, “but we got to the bottom of the mix up.”
Mark doesn’t advertise that he is Jewish. He simply is and that is that. People who know, like the Sampsons, just know. Other people just assume he is Christian. Julie figured Mark was just one of those big ‘Separation of Church and State’ proponents, and Mark was ok with letting her and everyone else think whatever he or she wanted. The school principal Mr. Jackson didn’t care what it was; he just wanted to know what happened.
“So how did you get to the bottom of the mix up?” Julie asked. “Because what I heard was George Peppers asked why ya’lls class wasn’t decorating the door, and you told him because I am too cool.”
“See that’s the mix up.” Mark said. “I never said I am too cool. After George Peppers asked his question, I replied, ‘Because I am like Fonzie.’ Then another kid asked, ‘What was Fonzie.’ And I said, ‘He was cool.’ Though I never said it, the inference that I was too cool was certainly there. And if I am honest I am impressed the students were able to pick it up.”
“Yea right,” Julie replied. “So that’s what you told Mr. Jackson?”
“No, but it’s what I am telling you.” Mark said with a wink.
I guess you don’t turn into a Jew after you whore yourself up with one, Philly thought to himself. “Well if you do Christmas still, what you want Santa to bring you?” he asked Ms. Green.
She was looking down at her wristwatch. “I’ll tell you something,” Mark said playfully, “she may need a new watch. The way she keeps staring at that thing she is bound to burn a hole straight through it.”
Julie smiled at Mark and turned to Philly, “I don’t know. I am beginning to think that I haven’t been a good enough girl to get anything this year.” she said jovially, and shrugged.
Philly had heard from Big Ern what she had been up to, and nodded back in acquiescence. “Yea, probably not,” he said.
Both Mark and Julie looked at each other. Mark made a smile that said, Kids say the darndest things. Julie scrunched up her nose back at Mark implying she didn’t take offense.
“I am a girl anyways. My list would be no good for you. Besides, it’s supposed to be your list. Take a few minutes to really think about what you want.”
For the next few minutes that is what Philly did. He used the tip of his finger to draw on the concrete. He felt he was nearing completion of his imaginary list when Julie looked back down at her watch.
“Are you taking medicine?” Mark asked, interrupting Philly’s train of thought.
“It’s just I figured you must be nearing your dosage time, because you keep looking at that watch?”
“Oh. Hah. No, no medicine. The holiday got me excited I suppose.”
“Gotta get the home make sure the house is nice and tidy for Santa to bring you that lump of coal?” Mark joked to a smiling Julie.
Philly snickered saying just above a whisper, “lump of coal, yea, that or an ivry special That’s what Santa brings people on naughty list.”
Julie and Mark looked at one another and sharing the same perplexed look. Philly went back to making his list, and Julie went back to checking her watch.
“Oh, get out of here,” Mark told Julie. “I’ll lock up the gate afterwards.”
“You sure you don’t mind?” she asked.
“No. It’s only Philly left,” Mark said, “and I am sure his dad will be here to pick him up in no time.”
“Not my dad,” Philly said looking up from the concrete.
Mark winced at his mistake, Philly went back to making his list with his finger on the concrete, and Julie left. It was 04:05 PM.
Had Mark known it would be the last day he would see Julie; perhaps he would have tried to be sweeter. If not more sweet, maybe he would have tried to be less clever. Instead that day, he ‘made her feel stupid’ while discussing the singing voice of a cartoon lion, poked fun at her for continually checking the time, and jabbed that for Christmas she could only look forward to a lump of coal
The thing was, Julie was funny. Cold Fritos had been brilliant. Unlike Mark her humor could land without reliance on pop-culture references. The Fonzie line he fed the students was from Pulp Fiction, after all, and literally no one picked up on it, and he really took some heat for it. What’s more, he failed to see that at lunch Julie, by going the pop-culture rout, was making a joke that was specifically tailored for him, and completely out of her comfort zone.
Julie’s lion joke had been for him, and for no one else. And instead of accepting it, Mark made her feel stupid for it. If someone else would have been there, perhaps they would now try to remind him that she joked back. She said Missus Doubtfire. It was sharp wit, sure, but Mark knew it wasn’t ‘joking back.’
To make him feel better perhaps they would say she was obviously setting herself up for the lump of coal joke. She was the one who joked she hadn’t been a good girl that year. Maybe they’d try to convince him that he did apologize, and that she did accept that apology. But it was with a yellow Post-it note, and for all Mark knew, Julie writing “Hakuna Matata” was only her telling him to drop it.
“Philly, it is after four. You want to go in the office and make a call while I stay here and watch for your ride? Make sure they didn’t forget about you.”
“Oh, it won’t be too much longer,” Philly said. “Besides, I aint quite done with my list yet.”
“Well I suppose you have a good point.” Mark said with a smile. “So wait it’s three medium sized things, and one big sized thing?”
“Yea.” replied Philly.
“What do you have so far?”
“I can’t all remember what I had put down.”
“Maybe I can help you out?” Mr. Nelson asked.
“But I knowed you said you were too cool for Christmas or else I would have asked you a long time ago.”
There is that too cool for Christmas line again, Mark thought to himself.
Mark hadn’t said he was too cool for Christmas. He had said he was like Fonzie. That is, Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days. Like Fonzie, Mark was cool, but also, like Fonzie (not the character, but the actor who played him, Henry Winkler) Mark was Jewish.
George Peppers asked why their class room door was not decorated, and Mark had said he was like Fonzie. With that little set up, Mark knew someone would ask, what was Fonzie? And though he subconsciously thought about it; Mark didn’t say: I am like Fonzie because I am Jewish. Instead Mark implied very heavily that Mark was like Fonzie because Mark was cool.
Although just maybe, he thought, it could have been like Saturday Night Live. Instead it went down just like it had in the film, Pulp Fiction.
In Pulp Fiction, a character named Jules, by way of loaded gun, tells two lunatics who were looking to rob a diner that they need to be cool. Jules doesn’t tell them be cool though. At least, not at first. Instead Jules tells them they need to act like little Fonzies. To make sure they know what that means, Jules asks, “What is Fonzie like?” He’s cool, one of them replies confirming they understand.
Mark hadn’t been surprised when he was called into Mr. Jackson’s office. He knew better than to really expect that a bunch of nine year old kids would pick up on a reference from a small independent film that had only recently came out in theatres. Given the film’s novelty, it would be a lot to ask from anyone to pick up on it.
But it wasn’t just that it was small or that it was new. Pulp Fiction had garnered a bit of a reputation. This reputation was less for its great writing and sharp dialogue than for its heavy R rating which stemmed from the gratuitous violence and non-stop course language displayed throughout its entire run time. With this, Mark knew that telling Mr. Jackson he had pulled the lines from the dialogue in Pulp Fiction would be likened to him saying he was teaching his students writing from the pages of Playboy. Only the minority of those who know the writing to be superb in each could ever appreciate such a statement. The majority -who don’t know any better- believe it to be smut – and they could never be convinced otherwise.
But just maybe it could have been like Saturday Night Live? No that thought is more ridiculous than thinking nine year olds watched Pulp Fiction.
A few weeks earlier during the Weekend Update segment on Saturday Night Live, cast member, Adam Sandler sang the Hanukkah Song. The premise of his song was quite simple. Its stated aim is helping young Jewish kids realize they are not alone being Jewish. It does this by listing the names of some famous Hollywood, television, music, and other media stars who are all Jewish too. One of those Jews listed in the song was Arthur Fonzarelli.
The thing is Mark wanted people to just figure it out already. Unfortunately this wasn’t a secret yearning as much as it was a subconscious longing. Perhaps if it were only a secret he wanted people to figure out, the hints he’d provide would have some structure based on his desired objective. Unfortunately it was his subconscious at work, and the subconscious only drops highly imaginative clues predicated on unreal expectations. When Mark told his class he was like Fonzie, perhaps he was subconsciously dropping a clue that he was Jewish. However, figuring it out would be a tall order. Here, the detective would need to be a nine year old kid, who had stayed up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live a few weeks earlier, who completely understood and retained all of the content from a particular skit, and who knew that Arthur Fonzarelli’s nickname was Fonzie. It was no surprise that none of students met these criteria.
“Yea about that”, Mark said, “I think that with your help, maybe I can get cool enough for Christmas by us both working together. What you say?” Philly smiled at Mr. Nelson and nodded in agreement. “Did your mom tell you what she meant when she said medium sized things and big sized things?”
“Wasn’t my mom who said it to me. It was her new friend told me that,” Philly said not answering the question. “If you was me, what would you ask for?”
“I don’t know. Seems a lot of the kids ask Santa for new shoes.”
“New shoes is for the beginning of the school year,” Philly said stating it as if it were public record. “You don’t want to waste one of your presents for something you supposed to get to start school with. Besides I like these.” He looked down at the clunky black shoes on his feet. “If I get new ones, they won’t be like these.” Philly used the tip of his finger to trace over the white Nike logo.
“I agree, once you find a good pair they are tough to beat. I like those too. I might get me some like it. Where’d you get em anyway?”
Philly’s response confirmed the first part of the school yard rumor. “I got these from when my dad died,” he said. “I know all the things the kids say about me, Mr. Nelson. I know they say they don’t fit me right. They say that when my dad was kilt he was wearing these shoes. They say I wear haunted shoes to school.” Philly again used his finger to trace over the Nike logo on his shoes. “It don’t bother me like the stuff they was saying last year.”
Mark understood what Philly was trying to say. Philly was telling him that knowing everything he knows now, if he were given the choice of either having brand new shoes that properly fit him that were not Nikes or having old beat up Nikes that were way too big, were pulled off the corpse of a dead man, and were likely haunted; he would choose the latter every time. Philly was telling him he has lived through it, and knows the kids were going to make fun of him either way. Since the things they say are worse when you don’t have on the same shoes as them, he might as well put on the Nikes. Mark couldn’t blame him.