Essay: Zeke Jarvis’ “The Unintentional Dreads”

Nonfiction: Zeke Jarvis

The Unintentional Dreads

Not only do I remember the baby cats, but I remember how I heard about the baby cats. Actually, I remember that better than I remember the baby cats, which I didn’t see that much. It was the guy’s girlfriend that asked, “Don’t you think the baby cats are gross?” I stared at her until she told me, “That’s what Miller calls those dreadlocks that are growing on the top of his head.” I laughed, but I don’t remember what I said. Miller was growing his hair out to a ridiculous length for reasons I’ll never know, and he was unable to keep the hair on the top of his head clean, so he had the baby cats. But they were smart kids, is the thing. So was I, for that matter. Third or fifth in my class, depending upon if you went by GPA or just grade points. I don’t remember which it was that the governor used to award scholarships, but whichever one it was, I remember it got me four years of most of tuition being covered, which made me really glad, because it meant I was helping my parents to help me.

But I was talking about the baby cats. Or Miller, anyway, who also went to UW-Madison, which is where I went, but his girlfriend went into the Navy, and she told me that she laughed when the interview board asked her if she was into S&M. I don’t know why they did, but she told me it had something to do with the Navy worrying about people with fetishes being around missiles or something. Or maybe I was the Air Force. But she laughed because I always joked about S&M in high school, and somebody joked that this girl and I were married, and I don’t know why they’d make that joke, but they did. But I was talking about college, and I remember in college that I was at a party at Miller’s place, and Miller lived with a guy whose name is Zeke like me, and there was another guy who was so drunk that he couldn’t stand. And we were all laughing while he crawled around, and I remember Miller asking him, “Where you going buddy?” when he was crawling, and we all laughed again when he crawled his way over to the beer so that he could grab another one.

Sometimes I have a hard time synching up all the timelines in my head, but at the same time, I was living on a dorm floor with this guy who seemed really cool or funny or something, and he told me about this friend of mine, and he told me how he and his friends all paid this girl they went to high school with a little bit of money to have sex with this loser so he could lose his virginity, but nobody ever paid a girl money to help me lose my virginity, which I guess is a good thing. But I wish I would’ve lost it earlier than I did. But this guy (the one who told the story, not the loser) yelled at me once, after I did a really bad job at an intramural volleyball game, but he felt bad, and I know he felt bad, because the next day he talked to me, and I told him that it was Henry Rollins’ birthday, which it was, because I knew his birth date, because it’s his record label’s name, and I knew this guy was a Henry Rollins fan, and so he played all his Henry Rollins music really loud, but I knew it was mainly to say he was sorry for yelling at me, but nobody’s ever apologized for not getting a girl to have sex with me, though I guess I’m not sure who would apologize anyway.

But I was talking about baby cats or maybe drinking or maybe college. I didn’t really drink that much during the undergraduate part of college, but I walked a lot. I’d go out for a walk late at night, and I would pick up these bottles by the train tracks, empty beer bottles that drunks would toss, and I’d throw them against the train tunnel’s wall so that I could listen to them break, because it sounded like Stone Cold Steve Austin’s opening music, which I thought was cool at the time, and there was one time that I actually hopped a train, which was really fun, but it was super hard to jump off the train while it was moving, and I fell and rolled, because you really can’t hit the ground running even if the train isn’t moving that fast.

But that kid with the baby cats cheated off me in biology class once, though it wasn’t really cheating off me, because he asked me by holding up three fingers a bunch of times, which meant that he wanted the answer to question number three, and I told him, though I can’t remember what it was anymore. It’s the only time he cheated off me, which is different than that kid who went on to play for the UW-Madison football team and then the Indianapolis Colts, but I don’t know if he got a Superbowl ring. But that kid only cheated off me in German class, but he was a good guy. And he even has a Wikipedia entry, which I don’t have, I don’t think, but I have more than one fanclub on Facebook. Which is weird, and the first one has to do with this prank I pulled, and the guy asked me afterwards if I knew who Andy Kauffman was, and the Henry Rollins guy and I used to talk about Andy Kauffman and Neil Hamburger, too. And I’ve played the same Neil Hamburger clip for, like, four different classes that I teach now, and it’s one where he’s on the Jimmy Kimmel show and Patton Oswalt and Yoko Ono are on the couch, and how could you make that up? And Patton Oswalt laughed really hard, but Yoko Ono wasn’t really laughing.

But there’s all kinds of things you couldn’t make up. Like my aunt. I swear that my mom once told me that she chipped her tooth and then used a file to file it down instead of going to the dentist. I’m afraid to ask my aunt about if it happened for sure or not, though. Not that she’d hit me or something, but it would just be weird, and I’d be scared. But that’s sort of how some members of my family are, because that side of the family is German, and one of my friends from grad school says, “You can always tell a German, but you can’t tell him much,” which he usually says about this one other student in grad school who was of German stock. When you told her she couldn’t do something, she usually took that as a dare rather than as useful information. Which is funny, because she taught students about critical thinking in composition, but I guess I see a lot of folks teach composition and critical thinking but don’t think about their own views that much. I guess I think about my life, but it’s not always a sustained, careful examination; it’s often a scatter of BBs coming at me from the past. Which is sort of like Slaughterhouse V, which I’ve now taught as much as I’ve shown that Hamburger clip. Or maybe more. But the honors seminar I taught was good, because there were two students who thought like me, which is to say they have some kind of disorder where we collage ideas together through a pile of references instead of stating them outright.

I used to think that my disorder was Asperger’s, because I can’t really get my emotions across, but one of my friends from grad school told me I couldn’t have Asperger’s because I have too expressive of an affect. But maybe she doesn’t know. It’s funny, too, because she’s a lesbian, but one time I was joking about going parking with her and she laughed and said, “I might let you get to second base,” and I just stared at her, which I probably do a lot with women, because I’m not good at anything or anything, though now that I’m married I’m not so anxious about women. But my other friend (who isn’t any of the other friends from grad school I’ve mentioned so far here), told me that this girl had her bat and ball and was ready to play. But he said that a lot, and he and I used to talk about the Doug Collins philosophy of dating, which was, “If it didn’t work the last time, then the next girl I ask out will be interested,” because Doug Collins was a basketball player who liked to shoot the ball too much, and he figured that if he just missed his last shot, then he’ll probably make his next one, though it couldn’t have always worked that way. But another friend of mine told me that dating was like submitting work to a literary magazine, because you only have to have one person say yes once, and you’re published or married, but I really hope I never get so many exes that I can put out a collection of my own.

But this was about that kid with the unintentional dreads, or maybe about his girlfriend, or maybe about him and his girlfriend, and I never check to see if they’re still together, even though I could probably asks somebody or maybe even check their “relationship status” on Facebook. But the thing is that I know they can’t be together, though I don’t know that for sure, but it’s hard, sometimes, for me to think about my high school classmates living beyond high school, like this past Christmas, where I was in Walmart in my hometown, and I was looking around to try to see if there was anyone I knew, and I realized that I had no idea of how old I should expect my classmates to look, and I think I saw two classmates, but I’m not sure. And the scary thing is that if it was my classmates, then I actually have aged well, by comparison, which kind of surprises me, because I’m this chubby guy who drinks too much sometimes, so I don’t imagine I’d be on the upper level of all that, but I try not to think about it too much, though that’s some of the whole BB thing, which just grows like those unintentional dreads, or baby cats, like his girlfriend called them.

Zeke Jarvis is an assistant professor at Eureka College, where he edits ELM. His work has appeared in Isotope, The Bitter Oleander, and Heliotrope.

Photo credit: DodgertonSkillhause,

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