August

2000

Two Hundred Dollars

Three weeks remained until I graduated from high school, barely.

Everything was winding down, and I was confident that I would slide under the wire if I held course. I was busy making a couple hundred bucks by doing American History make-up work for a couple idiots who were too busy attending keggers or whatever to actually sit down and do it, so I spent a lot of time in the computer lab, assembling a 28-page document answering a couple hundred banal questions from the back chapters of a textbook. I was pretty solidly in the middle of this when my whole life almost wrecked itself.

Seattle public schools are pretty notoriously underfunded. In January of my senior year, a hallway ceiling collapsed, sending a hail of concrete debris all over the hall and touching off an asbestos scare that would cause an entire wing of the school to be closed off. Luckily, class was in session and nobody was in the hall, or somebody would have undoubtedly died. Anyways, what I’m getting athere is that my school didn’t have much in the way of cash, so if a student lost one of his painfully out-of-date textbooks or other materials, they took the opportunity to bleed them dry.

I got a lot of stuff stolen while I was there, most notably a math-class issued graphing calculator that sucked my paper route money dry to the tune of $80. But three weeks before I was graduating,things got really ugly.

When I was sitting in my second period class, somebody came from the office with a bunch of envelopes with the names of students printed on them. I opened mine up to find an invoice for $220 on it. Listed below were three U.S. History books and a Math textbook. Unfortunately, I had only taken U.S. History for two semesters and returned my book at the end of each, so that was pretty out of control. And as far as the math book went, I couldn’t even remember what the hell the deal was with that. All I knew is that there was no way in hell I had $220 to my name, and if I didn’t pay the fine in seven days, I wouldn’t graduate.

At break, I went down to the supply office to see if I could work out what the hell was happening. The woman who worked there claimed that neither of my books had been returned, unsurprisingly, and told me that I either had to find the books in question or pay the fine. So I headed home to my room and began cleaning. At this point, since none of my friends ever came over to my house, and my mother was too afraid of the nightmarish conditions I had created in there, my floor was covered by a strata of comics, books, abandoned homework assignments, etc. nearly a foot thick.

So I started digging, frantically, bagging up everything that I could throw away and dragging it out back to the alley. Most of my comic books left, then, except for a few that I held back to sell ifthe books couldn’t be found. I was up until three in the morning, restoring my bedroom to cleanliness, stacking books in neat piles around my bed, scaring the mice that had nested in the Mad Magazines into the closet. After all that work, seeing my carpet again (gray) was small compensation for no textbooks. I fell asleep and headed to school the next day bleary-eyed and confused. I muddled through the day searching my classrooms for the textbook.

I found my disused locker and pried it open, to no avail. The books were gone. That night, I headed down to the local comic book store with a handful of comics that I hoped would bail me out of the mess. I was never the type to buy comics for the “collector’s value,” but I had amassed a few that were allegedly worth something, including the silver cover “Spider-Man” #1 by Todd McFarlane, which was being valued by nerds at $40. So I had hopes that I could make it at least to $100 with the books I had.

I went into the store and laid the comics down on the counter. “How much can I get for these?” I asked.

He looked through the pile, disinterestedly. “Twelve bucks.”

“Twelve bucks?” I said, shocked.

“Yeah, I’ve got plenty of these. I’ll give you $20 in store credit if you want.”

I took the twelve bucks and slouched slowly home, dejected. My only solution was to finish the American History work for as many people as possible and get paid for it. I spent the next two days almost exclusively in the computer lab, cracking out the work. The next day, I went up to one of the rich jocks who I was doing the work for and asked if I could get paid a little earlier than planned.

“No,” he said. “I’m not paying you until you finish it. How do I know you won’t just take my money and skip school for the next couple of weeks?”Aside from the complete idiocy of me doing that, he was already assuming that I wouldn’t be at graduation…

That was it. I had three hours left to come up with one hundred and ninety dollars cash and no way to do it.

What the hell was I going to do?

I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the public. I was so desperately grasping at straws that I convinced myself that I could find one lone person who would donate two hundred dollars to help a poor teenager graduate high school.

I started stopping people and describing my problem, running through the events of the past days, breaking down in tears as I described my goals, my desperation, and my problem. Nobody even stopped.

There I was, standing in front of a shopping mall, crying, gasping in air as fast as I could. My hands held in front of me, I tried to explain my situation to the businessmen passing by, collapsing on the sidewalk under their unflinching gazes. I tried for two hours, debasing myself further and further, becoming more disheveled and confused, bleating out my sad story to anyone who would listen.

Eventually, I crawled back to school.

What happened? My friend Malia came up to me and put two hundred-dollar bills into my hands. I just looked at her, dumbly.

I was so grateful that I took nearly a year to pay her back.