Jack Nuzum was Zane’s favorite instructor because he displayed characteristics of a non-conformist and that garnered respect. In addition to being a High School English teacher, Jack Nuzum was also an aspiring Thespian. His acting prowess was impressive, and he easily secured the lead role in the High School Drama Club’s production of “Deadwood Dick.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Nuzum was eager to drum up some interest, so he would allocate five minutes after each class to encourage students to ‘come out and see the show!’ “It’s a Melodrama about the old west, romance, and passion,” he boldly proclaimed! In a heartfelt manner he proudly alluded to the sacrifice, time, and effort that went into the endeavor. Mr. Nuzum emphasized the soul that went into the production, and how it would be so rewarding for the cast and crew if they could perform for a packed house! Mr. Nuzum’s energy was contagious, and it was his intention to generate some much-needed enthusiasm for the arts. His efforts were not in vain.
It was Zane’s Senior year in High School, and 12th grade English was his last class for the day. He always sat in the rear of the classroom where a huge brown folding partition divided up his English classroom from the adjoining Math class. As Mr. Nuzum was concluding his sales pitch, Zane absent mindedly gathered up his belongings in preparation for the long drive home. After a long school day the three o’clock bell chimed so Mr. Nuzum excused the class. His fellow students hastily exited the barracks that made up the two adjoining classrooms, but Zane was never in a hurry to rush out the door. He never really rushed at all. Instead, he would calmly stroll out into the afternoon sunlight with a casual heir of youthful entitlement. Zane suspected it was a day like any other, but on this particular occasion Mr. Nuzum was on a mission, so he deliberately stopped Zane in his tracks. “I need to speak with you for a moment Mr. Shimek,” said the English teacher from behind his lectern! Zane, who spoke with facial expressions and body language, reacted with a discerning look and nodded his head upwards towards the ceiling in silent acknowledgement. It was clear to Mr. Nuzum that he had Zane’s undivided attention judging from the piercing eye contact! Zane, who was expecting to be scolded for not turning in his Senior Thesis on time, was relieved when Mr. Nuzum asked, “What’s your stance towards the performing arts?” Zane stood there for a silent second as the question percolated throughout his inquisitive mind. After a moment of solemn contemplation, Zane said, “I guess I don’t have an opinion. I’ve never been to a play before.” With that Mr. Nuzum eagerly continued with his pitch! “You have got to treat yourself to the arts, Mr. Shimek! It’s good for people to broaden their horizons!” Mr. Nuzum eagerly expressed the benefits of attending live theater as Zane mentally processed the pros and cons. By now a few stragglers packed up their belongings and vacated the premises which left the unlikely pair standing next to the lectern in an empty classroom. Mr. Nuzum articulated the importance of social interactions as Zane feigned interest. He was just about to give his teacher the brush off, when the words, “You should bring a date,” entered into the conversation! It was a peculiar sensation and time seemed to fluctuate, and it was jarring at first, if only just for a moment!
Zane was dumbstruck! It was as if he had never heard the words before! Judging by the confused look on Zane’s face, Jack Nuzum correctly assumed that he had touched a nerve. “Perhaps he’s never been on a date,” the teacher silently mused as he continued with his probing? Mr. Nuzum was correct to assume Zane was awkward with girls, but he had no idea just how deeply rooted Zane’s insecurities were entrenched. The English Teacher instinctively realized Zane was a bit of a loner, so he gently stroked the ego by saying, “A lot of girls would be flattered if you asked them to join you.” Mr. Nuzum noted Zane’s reaction, which indicated disbelief, and uncertainty. Because of this, Jack Nuzum jumped directly to the point and asked, “Do you have a girl friend?” Immediately Zane’s mind drifted towards Tonia and how she asked for a ride to Moriarty earlier that week. Apparently she had an important meeting scheduled with a friend, but Zane secretly presumed the acquaintance was actually more of a love interest. Be that as it may, Zane was eager to spend time with his not-so-secret crush! To expedite the departure Tonia stowed her books in Zane’s locker upon which time they began to stroll towards the student parking lot. It was midday which meant the youthful duo would have to cut classes, which was fine with Zane. The weather was perfect for a joy ride and Grace sat patiently with three quarters of a tank of gas! The sun was shining brightly, and Zane was thoroughly delighted with the opportunity to share Tonia’s company!
Mr. Nuzum noticed that Zane was lost in thought and correctly assumed he was daydreaming about that certain someone, so he interjected. “I know you’re thinking about a girl; I can read it in your expressions.” Zane was taken aback by the teacher’s ability to read his mind and it caught him off guard! Knowing that he had Zane on the ropes, Jack Nuzum continued with the relentless persuasion by stating, “I want you to really consider asking her Mr. Shimek. It will be a great experience for the both of you.” Zane acknowledged there was a girl that he liked so he squirmed in his shoes and said, “I’m pretty sure she’s got a boyfriend.” Without much consideration, Jack Nuzum boldly said, “Tell her that it’s just a date!” Mr. Nuzum insisted that Zane remain diligent in his pursuit! In a nurturing tone the teacher said, “You’re not asking for her hand in marriage! So what if she has a boyfriend? If she has another love interest he could use the competition!” The relentless English Teacher bolstered Zane’s confidence and it encouraged the eager young student to smile with anticipation as he wondered, “What if she says yes?”
After a pause Zane said, “Well, I’ve gotta go.” Mr. Nuzum nodded after a discerning glance towards his wristwatch and they both looked towards the opened door. With that Zane proceeded towards the entryway with his schoolbooks in hand. The young man walked towards the student parking lot where Grace waited patiently. The shimmering afternoon sun was reflected from the chrome as she silently anticipated a leisurely commute. Zane was quietly processing what he had learned and thought, “Maybe I could just ask her?” He braced himself for the possibility of crippling rejection as he opened up the door and settled in behind the wheel. “The worst-case scenario is that she has a boyfriend,” he said to himself. If that happens I’ll do as Mr. Nuzum suggested. “I’ll be persistent.” Having said that he fired up the faithful engine. He dropped the old PowerGlide into reverse and eased the big Impala out of the crowded parking lot and past the yellow armada where Tonia would be climbing aboard Bus number 43. The Diesel engines of at least a dozen school buses rattled as they sat in patient formation; awaiting clearance to exit the vast staging area which lie adjacent to Chelwood Avenue.
The vintage car made her way towards Tramway Boulevard as Zane quietly pondered the soulful expressions that he often noticed in Tonia’s eyes. The burgundy Chevrolet gently sailed into the hot afternoon as his mind wandered. He pulled up to the first intersection and applied the left-hand turn signal as Grace rolled to a stop. Upon receiving a green light, Zane made the hard left turn that led to the on-ramp. Grace was roaring like a lion as she briskly merged into rapidly flowing interstate traffic! She was finely tuned, and she sounded like music! It was a beautiful afternoon! It was early spring, and the abundance of sunshine encouraged Zane to drop the hammer! The aging Chevy broke into a trot and effortlessly overtook a lumbering semi-truck as the speedometer indicated an increased feeling of speed! After fifteen minutes of cruising along at ninety, Zane applied adequate brake pressure and activated the right turn signal. Grace slid onto the exit ramp that led to the frontage road and rapidly came to an obedient halt! With that the young man turned left at the stop sign and ventured towards Woody’s Truck Stop.
Another five minutes transpired by the time Grace dutifully arrived at the gravel road. They covered an additional mile-and-a-half before they turned left onto the country lane that led to the hard packed dirt that made up the Shimek’s long driveway. Upon arrival, Zane pulled up parallel to the dilapidated pole barn and switched off the engine. He gathered up his schoolbooks and opened up the door with the intention of locating an afternoon snack. Zane entered the trailer house and ventured into the dimly lit corridor. With a cool demeanor he strolled into the living room and switched on the television. It was time to watch cartoons and eat cookies; his homework was the furthest thing from his mind.
The following day Zane joined Tonia in Newspaper Class. She was dutifully cutting out headlines with an Exacto knife at the type-setting table when he decided to make his play. It was not uncommon for Zane to gravitate towards her during class time. Ordinarily Zane couldn’t find words to instigate an intelligent conversation so he would crack jokes with classmates while studying Tonia’s reaction from the corner of his eye. For the most part Tonia gave him the cold shoulder, but on rare occasions Zane would coax a mischievous grin. From a distance, peers mistakenly assumed they were an item judging from the way they would smile, tease, and flirt. Zane was oblivious to the severity of his natural charm, otherwise he would have just come right out and asked her. “Tonia, I have tickets to a play, would you care to join me?” In his mind it was easy but in reality Zane struggled to be assertive because he was insecure and nervous. His love for Tonia over-ruled the cowardly inclinations however, and he was finally able to summon some dormant courage! Zane drew a deep breath then grabbed her attention with a quick grunt! With that he proceeded to recount the wise words that had emanated from Jack Nuzum the previous afternoon. Fearing the worst kind of humiliation, Zane cautiously asked of Tonia, “What is your stance towards the performing arts?” It was Zane’s intention to mimic his teacher’s words, using them as scaffolding until he found his own footing. Tonia, who was still fidgeting with her typesetting, responded by putting down her knife! She was intrigued, because up until now he rarely offered up any intelligent conversation at all. Instead he would just act like a dumb boy, who had yet to discover the powerful meaning of words.
Zane wasn’t shy. He was just painfully awkward when it came to matters of the opposite sex. He was the eldest son in the family, and he lacked proper modeling. Jack Nuzum was a good role model, so Zane borrowed his words one more time. “What is your stance towards the performing arts?” He asked as if Tonia didn’t hear the first time. Before Tonia had a moment to respond, Zane went on to explain how the cast and crew needed to be rewarded with a packed house. “Wow that’s an interesting way to think about it,” Tonia thought as Zane continued with his sales pitch. She had a natural suspicion that he harbored feelings towards her, however she never held any illusions that he would actually do anything about it; but now it was happening! It began to dawn on her that she was being asked out! Although Zane was fidgety and awkward, she was impressed with the coherency of his overall demeanor. Tonia was inwardly pleased beyond measure and her usual crooked grin yielded to a loving smile which gave Zane all of the encouragement he needed! He drew an excited breath and said, “we could go together, I could pick you up at your house?” With an anxious gleam their eyes met and before Tonia could answer Zane proclaimed, “If I pick you up at seven we’ll have plenty of time to find good seats!” The eager look on Tonia’s face spoke volumes and she didn’t have to say it with words. Instead she took Zane by the hand and thought, “I was wondering if you were ever going to ask me out?”
…to be continued.
Fifty-Two-year-old, stay at home dad, philosopher, and recovering narcissist.