Thursday, August 28, 2008

FIST POUND by Gregg Gethard

Things just seem to happen to Gregg Gethard. After telling a few stories at comedy shows in New York City, he created his own monthly show in Philly, BEDTIME STORIES, to tell a few more. Over the past year the show has grown in audience and features some of the best comics in the city.

Gregg is also a member of the Philadelphia sketch group The Sixth Borough, which will be performing their new sketch show "World Crisis" at the Adrienne Theater during the upcoming Philadelphia Fringe Fest - Fri. 8/29 8:30PM, Sat. 8/30 10:30PM, Tues. 9/2 8:30PM, Thurs. 9/4 10PM.

A lot of people are ashamed to admit when they’ve been fired. Not me. I’m usually pretty cool when it happens which, in my life, has been quite a lot. It’s a great way to leave a job. This way you don’t have to have the squirminess of a work “going away” party with a cake and a stupid greeting card. You’re just gone. This, or just leaving a job and simply never come back, are easily the most effective ways to terminate an employment situation.

But what I am about to tell you is probably the only time I truly, desperately wished I could have been struck by lightning to escape the brutal uncomfortable situation I was enduring.

This is the story about the third time I had been fired.

(The second part of the story is a somewhat sentimental tale of my struggles as an inner city after school program teacher. Feel free to skip it and get to the getting fired part which is after it. I know you’re going to do that anyway, Bryce Remsburg.) ***

I moved up to Boston without giving it much thought. I met Ilana (now my wife), she was living up there, I wasn’t, and two weeks later I packed my bags.

She found me my job. When she was at Northeaster studying to become a teacher, she worked part-time at a place called Citizens Schools, a non-profit which provides after school activities for students who live in Beantown’s shadier neighborhoods. I always wanted to try teaching, the place had a good mission statement and it seemed like a good thing to try.

Within the first few hours, I knew I had made yet another in a long-running streak of poor personal decisions. I went for orientation and immediately recognized whom I was surrounded by – NPR donors, people needless wearing hair beads, guys wearing corduroy pants with sandals, people in acoustic jam bands, so-called “visceral progressive visual artists” and people who, generally, enjoy trying to make this world a better place.

These are the exact type of people I loathe most in the world.

The orientation was led by Tulaine, Citizen Schools’ program director who thought it fashionably sensible to wear exquisite shawls purchased from Chico’s despite being 35-years-old. When not talking about her visual arts project, she kept on saying things like this repeatedly:

“What you’re doing is very important. You’re trying to bring a smile to a child. A child who may have grown up in difficult circumstances. And now you, you get to play a role in this person’s life. I firmly believe it takes a village to raise a child. And now you are part of that global village.”

This was essentially our training. For one week, us new “associates” of Citizen Schools essentially had one of Hilary Clinton’s 1996-era stump speeches repeated to us. After this, we were expected to know how to tutor, supervise and lead a group of 45 middle school students who lived in places where their parents had to color coordinate their outfits based on whichever Salvadorian street gang controlled their neighborhood that week.

The next few months were a blur. There were four other “teaching associates” in our program. Our supervisor was Teri, who was fairly nice despite attending – no joke—the same prep school Dubya went to, followed by a stint at one of those kinda Ivy League colleges in New England that have a lot of lesbians. (Teri was not.) The four of us associates were thrown to the wolves. The first day of the program, we were supervising a tutoring session in the library.

About 30 kids were in the room. The obvious leader was Lexuss. He was in 7th grade, he had a very stylish baby ‘fro (think Stanford-era Josh Childress) and came strutting into the classroom with a cellphone to his ear, saying to someone, “Yo, let me call you back in a bit, I have this after school thing I have to do for a while.”

The three of us introduced ourselves, and then tried to tell them about our study rules. Lexuss immediately raised his hand. I called on him.

“I’m out,” he said, walking out of the room. Soon, almost the rest of the class – except for the two comic book reading nerds in the back – also just walked out despite our protests.

On top of tutoring kids in group settings, we were all given our individual classes where we’d teach in an area of our “expertise” three times a week to a group of about seven students, one of whom was Lexuss. I was going to teach the kids about journalism and, by the end of the semester, was going to have them create their own newspaper. I handed each of them a Boston Globe, where I planned on teaching them the inverted pyramid style of writing. I began my lecture. Each of them, on Lexxus order, started ripping pages from the newspaper and throwing balled up remains at each other.

I struggled all semester long. Teri was constantly supervising me in my room, since I obviously had the least control over my classroom. And then, one day, in the middle of my attempt at a lecture, she stood up.

“Gregg, sit down in the back. You’re not being an effective leader. I’ll take it the rest of the way. Take notes and watch what I do.”

I’ve been dumped by girls in public. I was once kicked out of a college classroom. I was the victim of many depantsing incidents. But I never, not once, felt this embarrassed about myself in my life. My boss thought I was so bad at this, she decided her only recourse was to undercut me in front of the students I was supposed to teach. I planned on just never coming back ever again.

However, I was just about completely out of money. I needed at least one more paycheck to get by. I went to work that day, just planning on saying nothing, letting the kids do whatever they wanted, trying to avoid Teri, and then going home.

And then I met Lexuss’ aunt.

After the program ended for the day, she came up and introduced herself to me. And, without prompt, she told me about Lexuss’ mom had pretty much abandoned him at birth, and that no one even knew who his father was. He bounced around to a few different homes until she adopted him. And he was a problem in classrooms, despite being frightfully smart for his age.

And then she said, “Lexuss can’t stop talking about you. He really likes it a lot.”

I couldn’t believe it. This kid pretty much had spent the past few months making my life a little more difficult than I wanted.

His aunt nudged him.

“Yeah, Gregg. I think you’re real cool. You’re the only teacher I’ve ever had who didn’t yell at me or anything,” he said, as he gave me a fistpound. “You let us have fun and you aren’t all up in our grill the entire day. Man, I think Teri’s a real bitch. Especially to you, man. She trifilin’. Keep your head up, biggie.”

I went home and thought about this, kind of like the weirdest episode of The Wonder Years ever. This kid with a lot of problems actually liked me. I mean, he didn’t respect me really, since I essentially let him do whatever he wanted because I gave up all hope with this job. But it still made me feel kind of proud. And it felt good because even though he was 13 years younger than me, he had a cellphone and I didn’t, and at the time people with cellphones didn’t really talk to me.

I came to a conclusion. I hated all the awful Citizen Schools “Make a Difference!” hippie crap, I hated all the shitheads who swallowed it all up with pride, I hated Teri for being overbearing… but if I sucked it up and took what I was doing a little more seriously, then maybe I could actually help really fucked up kids.

The first step in my new strategy was to screw writing “learning paths” for my kids to follow in the classroom. Instead, I brought in Stratego and Monopoly. I let them play the games in exchange for ten minutes of doing a little bit of what I was supposed to have them do. The second step was to actually try and have fun with them. Instead of supervising when they played basketball, I started posting up on 7th graders and trying to perfect my turnaround Patrick Ewing-style jumper. (I didn’t.) And the third step was just to go home and come up with more ways to make this job a little bit easier for me.

After a few days, the program’s worst troublemakers all started coming around to hang out with me before tutoring. I don’t think I helped any kids become better people. But they learned a little bit more about basketball and pro wrestling from me, and also maybe that sometimes a really shitty teacher might actually end up being kind of fun to hang out with.

Even Teri backed off. She started coming to my classroom less and never said anything to me about my new love of trying to make no-look passes to 7th grade power forwards.

At the end of the program, right before Christmas break, Lexuss and his aunt came up to me when the program ended. His aunt gave me a Christmas Present – a $24,000 Rolex watch. (Actually, it was a Christmas ornament.) And then Lexuss gave me one more fist pound.


I went home to visit my parents for a few weeks. When I returned to Boston, I had a message on my machine. It was from Teri. She asked me to come down to the office so I could talk with her about something.

I went down the next day. I didn’t know what to expect. Teri sat me down in the office.

She had some tears welled up in her eyes.

“I… I never had to say this before. Or do this before,” she said. “But… but I have to let you go.”

I started to ask Teri why I was being fired.

“I just don’t think you’ve improved much throughout the year. You’re not teaching these kids anything --”

I bit my lip. I’m pretty sure none of the kids in Citizens Schools were learning anything. At least with me they were having a little bit of fun.

“-- So, I want to go in a direction where I find some people a little more serious about the position.”

I then started getting angry. I started explaining to Teri about what I actually did during the year, how I hung out with the troublemakers in the program and they all liked me which, while it certainly didn’t make me Jamie Escalante, it made me something else.

“Gregg, stop yelling,” Teri said. “This is really hard for me.”

Hard for you? I’m the one being fired! I mean, it’s not like it never happened to me. I was kind of used to getting fired. But those times were at places I didn’t care about and wanted to leave immediately.

So I stood up and pounded my fists on Teri’s desk.

“Hard for you?” I screamed. “You’re a c-nt.”

I then took my right hand and swept every single thing that wasn’t nailed down to the table off of her desk. Pencils, calendars, folders. Everything ended up in a big pile on the floor.

Teri stared at me for one second.

“Jesus Chris, Gregg,” she said. “This isn’t my desk.”

I looked at the nameplate I just smashed. It said “Paul” something.

I then walked out of the door. A bunch of the hippie do-gooder Guster fan types heard the ruckus. One guy, who earlier in the program tried to get me to come to his open mic night, said to me, “Yo, bro, what’s with all the ruckus.”

I looked at everyone in the room. And then I started repeatedly grabbing my nutsack like I was Eminem.

“Fuck you, you hippies. Suck my dick. Suckkkk itttt.”

I then went to the elevator. And I realized I was on the 12th floor. And the elevator was on the first.

The adrenaline rush of calling my boss the most abusive word in the English language, followed by sweeping off someone’s desk, completed by acting like your average drunk Wildwood boardwalk visitor completely faded away.

And now I waited for the elevator as all these people started laughing at me.

I got on the elevator and never felt worse about myself.

And then I thought about Lexuss. And I realized that if he saw me do this, he’d give me a fistpound. Triflin’, indeed.


John said...

Absolutely Inspiring!

Rob said...

You're such a f-n' hippie c-nt Gregg. Go take your dangerous minds bullshit and shove it up your blue state blowin' ass. Cut government programs!

Brian said...

and now I have Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" stuck in my head for the rest of the day...

briancraig said...

you cleared the desk! absolutely my favorite part! tears in my eyes, i swear to god.

it's hard to imagine any more embarrassing situations happened to one person, and then you go and add some more to the pile. amazing.

samantha said...


Anonymous said...

Oh god, you have no idea how many more embarrassments I've endured. That story's one of my favorites.

The thing I liked the best about it was the clearing of the desk. I think everyone wants to do that at some point in their life to a dickhead boss. Once I knew it was hopeless to stay working there, I just went for it. It was a 50/50 split between rational behavior and complete insanity.

Anonymous said...

Also, I'm starting to rewrite my funny work in bits and drabs to try and get these published.

I'm going to revise this one. There's honestly so many more things that could have gone into it that I had to leave out since it was alredy too long for a blog anyways.

Thanks for the kind words about it, everyone.

Kent said...

You alright, Mr. Prezbo.

Anonymous said...

Will this be included in

Samuel Tilden is gay, and other truths: Essays by Gregg Gethard

Bryce said...

All I saw was bullshit, bullshit, my name, bullshit, bullshit. Blah blah.

I'm sure it was well written, though.

Ricksin said...

Seems like your judgmental attitude from the get go was a big first mistake. Even if people end up being the stereotypes you despise, at least give people a chance over time - especially if you are on the front lines doing powerful work. Sorry that it didn't work out for you, I hope you stay connected to K-12 education is some way still.

Kevin said...


Good luck with publishing this piece of shit garbage you call a blog. Your mother must be proud. In fact, I'll ask her myself.

Anonymous said...

"Things just seem to happen to Gregg Gethard"

Actually, sounds like he made a series of unprofessional choices/reactions -- culminating with the decision to write about it publically without changing the name of the organization.

Not funny, just embarrassing.

JBS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sriracha said...

I have a lot of friends in Philly. I am looking forward to telling them to avoid you and your shows like a tuberculosis sanitariam. Are you sure this is comedy? Awful stuff.

Paul Triggiani said...

Gregg, though I find myself rooting for you when I read these stories, I always look back at them in retrospect and realize that you are, in every case, the antagonist. You fool me into thinking that you aren’t.

You are Robert Fulghum if he were an awkward, shamelessly dishonest, vulgar ex-hardcore kid.

I still love you.

Anonymous said...

Ricksin --

They were annoying hippies. I don't have time to give people time. I no longer have a connection to K-12 education, although my wife's students think I'm kind of funny something.

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Kevin --

Thanks for the constructive criticism. You used the letter "z" a lot in your first sentence. I don't get the reference.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Dean anonymous --

I agree with you one hundred percent. I did make a series of poor judgments. And it was really humiliating.

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Dear Sriracha --

It's fine with me if you tell your friends to avoid my show. It's going to sell out anyways.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul Triggiani --

I was more into Lookout-style pop-punk than hardcore. Although I really did like Minor Threat and 7 Seconds a lot.

Also, I have no idea who Robert Fulgham is.

Thanks for reading!


eda said...