Saturday, September 29, 2012


During my senior year of high school I took a college prep course called Anatomy and Physiology because some friends of mine told me it would look good on my college transcripts. As I have matured over the years into greater self-awareness I have realized that God never crafted me to think as a scientist, but as a teenager I still believed that all paths were still open to me. I could be anything I wanted to be! Who knows, maybe even a Doctor. Such Hubris! Did my disastrous foray into the frighteningly mathematic world of Chemistry teach me nothing! So, during third period on the first day of my senior year I found myself seated in the back row of Anatomy and Physiology listening with horror as Mrs. Pelletier explained our goals for the year. I didn’t sign on for this! While attempting to teach me about anatomy and physiology, Mrs. Pelletier would inadvertently help me understand the finite limits of my God-given design. In this she proved to be a good teacher. (It must be said that she was also a good teacher in the conventional sense. She was also a fine human being as well.)

I muddled along, limping through assignments that other, more gifted, students bounded through with the grace and ease of a deer. Then, one Friday, Mrs. Pelletier assigned the class a homework assignment to be completed over the weekend. She wanted us to create a three-dimenional cross-section of the human brain using any materials we wanted. "Be creative and have fun with it," she said. It was a mickey mouse sort of assignment that some of my classmates thought was beneath them- just busy work- but I was finally on equal footing.

By the time I got home I had formulated my plan of attack. My Dad was heading out to run some errands so I asked him if I could tag along. At our first stop, U-$ave Discount Foods on Rt. 4A in Hydeville, I purchased a big bag of chewing gum. There was pink, red, green, blue, purple and even black gum in there. Once back home I enlisted my brother Job's aid in chewing up all that gum. We spread it out on the floor of the den in front of the TV, and chewed and chewed and chewed as we watched Jeopardy. We chewed until our jaws positively ached. The thing about gum, especially the old, expired gum for sale at U-$ave, is that at first your jaws really have to work to soften the gum and then the chewing gets easier, but when all you're doing is working on softening new pieces of gum it's pretty tiring work. Our first assignment was the biggest part of the brain, I think it was called the cerebral cortex. For that I used big gobs of chewed-up pink gum. They were the cheapest kind of gum at U-$ave- barrel shaped and individually wrapped in waxed paper- the sort you get on halloween. I lined a box with tin foil, and put the cerebral cortex in place. It looked amazingly realistic! "This was going to be the best brain cross-section ever!" I thought to myself. Thrilled by the success of the cerebral cortex I fell to chewing more gum for all of the other parts. The medulla oblongata, the pituitary gland, the cerebellum, the thalamus...these and others were all added and when the brain was fully constructed I have to admit I was very proud of the overall effect. It looked almost exactly like the multicolored, textured illustration in my textbook. Next I took little toothpicks, glued numbered penants to them and stuck them all over the cross section labeling the various parts of the brain, and then created a separate key that listed each part next to their corresponding numbers. It is one of the few times in High School that I finished an assignment as soon as I got home, and for the first time in Anatomy and Physiology I was completely confident of my work. The nicest thing about my brain was that it filled the entire house with the heavenly aroma of chewing gum. Really, is there a more pleasing aroma?

I put a lid on my bubblegum brain and put it on a shelf for the remainder of the weekend. When I got to school on Monday morning I took the lid off to show my masterpiece to a friend, and, horror of horrors, all of the saliva had come out of the bubblegum and had pooled in a slick pinkish puddle all around the brain. "Nasty!" my friend loudly exclaimed, and soon a crowd had gathered around my brain. The librarian, Mr. Luzer (Yes, it was pronounced "loser."), stopped in passing and suggested that I label the oozing saliva "cerebrospinal fluid," which is exactly what I did. With Mr. Luzer's help I went to the teacher's lounge where I acquired another toothpick and a tiny penant of red construction paper. Working quickly before the bell rang I just managed to get it done before first period.

When the bell rang for third period I retrieved the brain from my locker and proudly carried it to be presented to Mrs. Pelletier. As I put my brain alongside the others, and took my seat, I proudly noted that mine was clearly the most excellent of the brains. The only other brain that was any good had been made by a girl named Lindsay who had cooked strands of spaghetti in food coloring and then had arranged them into the shape of a brain and  allowed them to dry out in the oven so that the whole thing stuck together. Still, I remained confident of the superiority of my bubblegum brain. However, as class began, and Mrs. Pelletier walked up and down reviewing and critiquing each brain in turn, she stopped before my brain, and I noted that her face was contorted into a horrific mask of disgust. "Is that gum?!?!?!" she said as though she had just spied a rattlesnake. "Whose is this?" she demanded. Everyone looked at me. "Uh... it's mine...," I stammered lamely,"... it really looks like a brain."  She moved on quickly without commenting further. I was surprised and embarassed! Really, I was completely blindsided and bewildered by her obvious disapproval.

After class, Mrs. Pelletier asked me to remove my brain from the classroom, which, if you think about it, is a very interesting thing for a teacher to say to a student. The other brains would remain on display, but mine would have to go. I didn't ask for an explanation, but she offered one anyway- "It's kind of gross," she said. "Yeah I know," I said, laughing as though the whole thing had been a practical joke or something, which it hadn't been.

A week later I got my grade- C+. Beneath my grade were the comments, "Very creative, but unhygienic!" (She was right of course. That I can't deny.)

I felt deflated, but when I showed my grade to Mr. Luzer, he said simply and without fanfare, "It was clearly the best brain," and then he went back to his work. It was the nicest thing any of the faculty at Fair Haven Union High School ever said to me, and his simple words of affirmation were better than an A+.

Mr. Luzer will always be a winner to me.

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