Saturday, February 1, 2014

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, 'Coon, Gallardokid, and Panda

Panda's second cover.

Three students made my final year of teaching a truly wonderful experience.

Sure, I miss ALL of my students (no exaggeration), but the ‘Coon, Gallardokid, and Panda are among those who stand out in my memory.

The ‘Coon was my final Editor-in-Chief. Cutest kid on the planet. Little dude. He was FULL of life and energy. 

I chafed at the thought of a male head of my media program, and only because at that age they tend to be very immature. Girls could sit for long periods, and had little problem putting their thoughts down on paper. Boys were the opposite, and American education seeks to rip the boy from the boy, fashioning him into a girl sensibility – asking he tamp down his natural instincts. 

The ‘Coon transcended his age, however, and earned the title of Editor-in-Chief. He was especially gifted in front of the camera, where all that energy could find a muse. He loved to ham it up. He’d begin every damn episode of GTTV with Hey Griffins! Hahahahaha. And it was he who made GTTV the huge success it was. We were the envy of the district. NO OTHER SCHOOL was doing what we did. We went to concerts, political gatherings, Quinceneras, and the usual school functions. GTTV was everywhere. The ‘Coon became an instant celebrity on campus. He was a natural ambassador for the school and for the media program. He also had the most amazing constitution. While other boys his age were consumed with penis jokes and trying to score with the school’s little hoes, the ‘Coon was a forever gentleman. A female student I became close to (I knew both of her older sisters very well) was the star of our yearbook movie the previous year. Griffin Girl. SHE was the female version of the ‘Coon, though not as academic. But they shared a sensibility of sorts. Griffin Girl fell in crush with the ‘Coon. He was so great to her. She’d tell me frequently of his gentlemanly ways. He earned many points with me for that.   

Gallardokid and I bonded almost instantly. 

She was jaded and hated the world at an early age. She was BEAUTIFUL, a stunning kid, but she was filled with piss and vinegar. She growled. 

One of my favorite anecdotes about her was when she dyed her hair. I, as I did with ALL my students (yes, even the guys), commented on her new look, complimenting her. 

Ignoring me, I felt I should repeat my observation. She raised her head disgustedly and snorted, I don’t care what you think! 

You can see how she was MY girl from the beginning. She was an integral part of GTTV as well, and the cutest of all the episodes was the one where she, the ‘Coon, and I went to her first concert: Chiodos and Emery. She bounced and squealed as we maneuvered backstage and into the band areas. One thing I taught her and the ‘Coon was to be FEARLESS. Fuck the dumb shit, GO FOR IT. We did. She also helped with art work and did a sizable amount of writing. She was a truly gifted and talented young lady. Gallardokid had a big, juicy brain. She ate up all the lessons. Though she’d pretend to not listen, and feigned indifference, I knew she was absorbing EVERYTHING. When we were doing a unit on the Holocaust, I showed Schindler’s List. For whatever reason, the school balked at me doing so (the nudity, I believe). But, as you know, I don’t listen to bureaucrats, and so I offered the kids the chance to finish the movie during lunch over a period of a week. Gallardokid came to EVERY showing. If I assigned a reading, she’d DO it. Every assignment I gave her, she would dutifully complete. Super smart.  

Panda's web page:

Panda and I crossed paths during his first year at school. 

That year, local La Raza idiots were taunting the kids to ditch school for a day. Of course the kids had NO IDEA why they should ditch, they just wanted to ditch. Rather than shrink and ignore the debate going on within the local community, I engaged the babies in debate, thinking. 

Somehow, some way one of the dumb ass Latino groups accused ME of racism and all the rest. They kept throwing Mexico this and Mexico that at me. I then, as now, wasn’t a patriotic American, and I didn’t believe in countries. The concept is too fraught with abstractions for me to wrap my mind around WHY I should feel emotion for a flag or politician or group of people. In any event, I decided to give the Viva Mexico boners some of their own medicine. 

I basically said if Mexico was so great, why the fuck did the ENTIRE population want to come HERE? If white people were so incredibly evil, why the fuck do ALL Mexicans want to live with US? 

Ooooooooooooooooooh, that did it. The kids didn’t know what to think! 

They knew I wasn’t racist, and that I didn’t give two shits about the United States or white people, and so this idea forced them to consider their opinions a little more carefully. 

Panda brought my comments to a teacher friend, who promptly cornered me angrily. She asked if I really, REALLY had said those things. 

Yep, I did. Fuck your stupid groupthink, I told her, and crazy racial talk. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS RACE, I lectured her. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LA RAZA, you fool.

Knowing she wasn’t going to win a debate with me, she dropped it and just told Panda I was crazy (most teachers took this tactic with me, backing away slowly). I think by that time he gained a little respect for me in the sense I didn’t back down under pressure from people who scream at me (I still don’t – trust and believe, I think and do WHAT I WANT). 

Panda's Instagram:

Panda had this knack for design. Incredible eye. He was just beginning to navigate programs like Photoshop, and he’d come up with amazing ideas. I loved his brain and his eye. He sent me some concepts, and I told him I’d give him the cover of the yearbook if he could meet certain specifications and deadlines. He pushed himself, and he created covers for two straight years. His covers were LEAPS and BOUNDS ahead of anything else out there. Our yearbook won FIRST PLACE and BEST IN SHOW at the county fair, beating out schools with budgets ten times ours. Yeah, he was that good.

The three of them, the ‘Coon, Gallardokid, and Panda managed to make the absolute worst year of my teaching career one of my favorites. 

Ironic, no? 

My life was falling apart, and I was making horrible decisions, but these three kiddos grounded me and kept me as focused as possible that year.

When events overtook me during the Summer after they were promoted, some of my first thoughts were about them. The ‘Coon I knew would be hit hard by the truth. He trusted me. He confided in me. He defended me. I know I let him down. 

Gallardokid, being a girl, would, of course, be considered as the possible source of my lechery. SHE WAS NOT. But just the IDEA people might have suspected her caused me major grief. I also knew she’d probably wonder about all the time we’d spent together over the years. That KILLED me. 

Panda, well, I knew he would be shocked. He used to tease me about how close the kids were to me, and he used to warn me about a certain girl who seemed a little too enthralled with me (he was prophetic, to say the least; he kept telling me she was no good).

That all three would lose faith in our time together would ultimately destroy a significant part of me.  

I can’t ever change the impression I left. It’s there, hanging like a dead cat. Smells and looks bad.

To write I miss them, miss hearing their stories, miss being involved in their lives, is an understatement. I’ve since heard from all three, and all of them are in college. The ‘Coon is on the East Coast. Gallardokid is working and doing college locally. Panda is just a hair north, pursuing his artistic dreams. 

I am so very proud of them. These are the kids who WILL change the world. 

The ‘Coon is going to become some kind of professor or great businessman, I bet. 

Gallardokid will be the first punk rock President of the United States. 

Panda will die of a heroin overdose. Just kidding. Panda will, of course, become a world renowned artist.

Whatever they do, they better send me money! That’s right, punks, I am poor now, and I seriously doubt the financial picture for me is going to change any time soon. At least buy me a nicer cardboard box to sleep in.

I continue to think about you three all the time. I hold our time together as a series of sacred episodes. No prison, no disappointment can ever erase what we experienced during those years. Productive, creatively exciting moments. 

I’ll never forget you. I’ll never WANT to forget you.

And I mean it. 

*Here's a sample of the kind of work Panda is doing in college:

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