Post 80 / Hour 84: Humor Critique: Seizure Lady, Psycho Man and the Jersey Boys, Part 1

By Lynne Paris-Purtle / Dave Fox

100hours-logo8As I mentioned yesterday, as part of this blogathon, and in celebration of my re-formatted, online humor writing class, a couple of my recent students have kindly offered to let me share critiques I wrote for them. Today, we take a three-part look at a story by Lynne Paris-Purtle.

When Lynne first submitted this story in our class, she was concerned about whether her story might come across as insensitive — a tricky issue in this situation because, as you read further, you will discover … well, I don’t want to give it away but her sarcasm toward a potentially sensitive topic becomes more understandable once we have all the details.

In any case, over the next hour or so, I will be posting three different versions of Lynne’s tale. In this first one, you see her original, unedited work. In our next post, we’ll look at it again with my comments on the story’s content. Then, in an hour or so, part three will address an issue I haven’t talked about yet in these 100 hours, but one that is critical in all kinds of writing — and humor especially: the need to write as tightly and concisely as possible.

Thanks, Lynne, for volunteering your work here. I hope other people here will learn from my comments too!

For starters, here’s Lynne’s original submission:

In retrospect, I should have known it would be a lively semester when I got the letter from Health Services.

My eyes were immediately drawn to a line in caps: “ONE OF YOUR STUDENTS IS PRONE TO SEIZURES, ”  it announced.  Then it outlined a series of steps that I was ordered to take in the event that the student had an episode in my class.

I dutifully committed to memory the steps which included the following running outside to call the paramedic and keeping the student form hurting herself.:

I am not good with anything medical or even only tangentially related to medicine. I get nauseous opening a Tylenol bottle.  So I figured right off that this would be one for the books, or rather THE BOOK, the ever-expanding tome I have been writing for years called: Adjunct: A Memoir of a Charter Member of an Underclass.  Because it exposes the dirty secrets of university management, this book will only be published posthumously…or if I ever retire, which is unlikely because…well, I am an adjunct, and not only am I grossly underpaid, but I only started accruing retirement benefits five years ago (after 25 years of service).  According to my calculations, at the present rate my account is growing, if I retire at age 95, I will be able to live on Alpo and water for about three years.

The first night of the class, I took the student, whom I will call ???? aside, and asked her how likely she was to have a seizure.

“Oh, I have them all the time,” she chirped brightly. “They took a MRI of my head but they didn’t find nothing there.”

Okay, so now I knew why she had been placed in my remedial class.

With more than a little apprehension, I began reading the roster. When I got to the “M’s,”  the woman sat bolt upright and began stamping her feet and messing up her hair with both hands.  I had never seen a seizure before, but in case this was it, I sent a student out to call 911.  Five minutes later, four EMTs rushed in, in full regalia, including heavy duty fire fighters’ raincoats (in case of spontaneous combustion?) and big bags of medical equipment.

The class gaped in astonishment, as I herded them into the opposite corner and continued with the roll call.

After the paramedics left, I settled down to business and began my lesson for the night when, without warning, a male student in his early twenties stood up and unleashed an impressive stream of obscenities at me.  As I struggled to make sense of what was happening, ???  began stomping her feet and messing up her hair again, so once again the paramedics were summoned, and the four of them trouped back in. While they were taking ???blood pressure, “Psycho Man,” chimed in to provide a Rated X background to the mayhem.  Then two Italian boys from Jersey swaggered up to my desk, clenching their fists, to ask, “Do you want us to take him out, Mrs. Purtle?”

The EMTs left again, and maybe Psycho Man’s meds kicked in, because all was quiet until the end of class.

Drained, I vowed that the next class would be better.  I called the Dean of Students and asked to have Psycho Man removed from the class.

“No, that isn’t possible,” she said.  The student has rights.” She looked up his record, which must have been impressive, though not in an academically-successful way, because she said, “Tell you what.  I will post an officer outside your door for the next 15 weeks.”

So that’s how I came to have a uniformed officer with a German shepherd pacing by the entrance to the classroom.

Class two began:  No foot stomping or hair ruffling from ???.  No profanities from Psycho Man. However, there was a new character in town: Marty, the self appointed social director for the class. He raised his hand and asked if the class could have a party on the last day of the semester. “I make a marvelous orange chiffon cake,” he said.   I said, sure, and forgot about it.  Later, when I let the class out for a 15 minute break, Marty started assigning students to bring paper goods, candy, chips and soda—for a party 14 weeks away.  Then  ??? came back from break and announced brightly, “I just had a seizure!” and we ran to call the EMTS, who  in with all of their gear.  Right on cue, Psycho Man began swearing, causing the German shepherd to bark and growl menacingly. None of this fazed Marty, who continued going from person to person and jotting down on his list who would be responsible for bringing onion dip.

At the end of the class, the Jersey Boys stood protectively in front of my desk, clenching and unclenching their fists, and saying, “Why don’t you let us take him out, Mrs. P?”

For the rest of the semester, Seizure Lady, Psycho Man, the Jersey Boys, Marty, and Rin Tin Tin continued to make it impossible to maintain any kind of normalcy.

On the last day of class, after we had enjoyed Marty’s orange chiffon cake, and I waved goodbye to Psycho Man, pushed the Jersey Boys out the door, and gave the German shepherd a thank you biscuit, ???  told me that she was about to fly to Ireland—to testify in a lawsuit against a rental car company that had rented her and her husband a car to drive to her cousin’s wedding.  On the way back, her husband, who had downed one too many glasses of Guinness, crashed the car, and she was claiming a traumatic brain injury. The strange foot stomping, the wild waving of hands, the announcement she had a seizure during breaks—all of it made sense now.

Her parting words were, “I had another MRI and they still didn’t find nothing in my head.

I thought, Yes, this I can believe.

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Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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