It Wasn't Raining
by Tony Press
They assured me I would be paid for the time and since I had nothing else to do anyway, I said yes. Sometimes that word “yes” is bigger than it sounds.
It was a summer camp, a something-to-send-the-kids-to when regular school was on vacation. In a perfect world when school was out, parents would be out, too, and still be able to feed their families --- but this wasn’t a perfect world. It was Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
My job was to get them to talk, to express themselves, to tap into their creativity, and maybe even get them to write. I had the 11-year olds for an hour, then the 12-year olds, then the big kids, the seventh and eighth graders. I just worked with the boys but if I’d had my choice I would have worked with the chick who worked with the girls. If I ever could have convinced her to express herself, I’d have died a happy man. It didn’t happen. She could have worked at the Playboy Club on the lake, if it were still open, and if she weren’t so damn religious. She was polite to me but nothing more. She went to the University up in Madison and had a real football player for a boyfriend. I almost went to Gateway Tech but caught a case instead and went to County for three months. Now I had probation for a year, and my P.O. sent me here, claiming it would be good for me, too.
I thought I wasn’t the best candidate for the job but he said I’d be fine, that my high school teacher had written him a letter telling him about my talents – “you must like to keep them hidden,” the P.O. laughed. I figured I was supposed to laugh, too, so I did.
I’ve got nothing against Christians, or any other religious-types, but it’s just not me, never was, never will be. I told him that, too, but he said it was okay, that it was “non-denominational” and that I’d be an asset. He said I’d get trained, and that it would be good for me, too. I doubted it, but I hadn’t had anything good in a long time, so I was game. I also knew enough to know that if a probation officer suggested something, I should probably do it.
So, day one, after about ten minutes of “training,” I was sitting with a bunch of kids. They were bouncing off walls but they’d brought their little notebooks with them, so once I peeled them off the walls, we sat around a picnic table and waited. Unfortunately, and it took me awhile to realize this, we were waiting for me to do something.
I did have one idea, recycling something I remembered from high school. “Write your name vertically, and then write a phrase or a sentence after each letter, so we’ll get to know each other.” I gave them my example:
R – red-haired dude who likes bikes
O – older then anyone at this table
C – can’t believe the Brewers are winning
K – kissed Miss America last night
Y – your turn is next
I told them they could throw in one lie, just for fun, and the rest of us would try to guess it.
They jumped at it, which surprised me a little, but I was more glad than surprised. They wrote, shared, giggled, teased, and that filled the hour. It worked for all three groups pretty well.
I did stuff like that for the first week but I couldn’t remember any more. I thought about seeing my old English teacher but I was still embarrassed. She had written the letter, had even come to court for my sentencing, but I didn’t want to talk to her.
The next Monday I walked the long way, trying to come up with something to do when I got there. I was crossing Devendorf when I saw a sign on a church lawn. I don’t remember which church it was, but the sign said:
It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.
I thought that was pretty good, got it right away, and used it that day with the kids. We started with it and wrote whatever we wanted from there. I figured it was all about thinking before acting, that sort of thing – a thing I could’ve done a little better with in my own life.
There were a bunch of churches, another batch of things I’d barely noticed before, and most of them had signs, and I was grateful. We did: Faith makes it possible, not easy. We even did Seven days without prayer makes one weak. That one for me was more about wordplay, and even though I’m not a believer, I kind of liked what it meant, too. For others, of course, but still.
It was the Tuesday of the fifth week. I still hadn’t got paid but I really didn’t care. The three hours there, for free, were better than the paid eight hours scrubbing pots and pans and floors at The Silver Moon. The problem about to hit me in the face was that none of the churches had changed their signs. Maybe they took vacations, too. I was thinking about Laura, the girls’ writing coach, and her long blonde hair and her perfect hips, and how much I wanted just to touch one of those hips, and then I remembered the big jock she played with every night despite her “pure” image during the day. It wasn’t fair, somehow. More to the point, if I’d had the same chance as the guy, God I would have jumped at it.
Then I saw a bumper sticker pasted on the rear window of a Chevy pick-up:
If you can’t race it or take it to bed, it ain’t worth having.
That was Tuesday’s writing prompt. That’s why I was told, on Thursday, not to go back, and why I’m here now, outside my P.O.’s office. I’ve been waiting for an hour. Again, not fair. Just this morning I saw another one but I never would have used it:
If it’s got tits or tires, it will give you trouble. I mean, I’m not an idiot.