HOLLYWOOD—From Jason's stoned vantage, parked in a turn-out on Mulholland Drive, a flutter of daybreak appeared in the east. Luminous reds, creams and indigo. The honeymoon with the dawn ended when with a gasp, Jason realized it was already past time get Kit ready for school. He got Candy on the cellphone, first to say he was sorry about last night. But he heard himself saying something quite different—maybe it was the empty bottle talking:
“You threw out my stash, shrew.”
“You threw out my marijuana stash in the flower pot.”
More silence. Then:
“It was Kit,” Candy said. “She saw when I am cleaning. She say she didn't want her daddy to have that.”
Jason's eyelids blinked back water. His daughter could be so sweet it broke his heart.
“Are you O.K.?” Candy asked.
“I'm O.K. I'm sorry I called you a shrew,” spoke his Ohio kindness, not the L.A. rudeness or the empty bottle at his side. He hung up. Soon twenty people would be waiting for him at San Anselmo. Straight back down Mulholland he went to the freeway.
“Jason, you look a little red. Puffy eyed,” Mr. Leonard ribbed him during coffee break. “You're not getting enough sleep. Those bloodshot eyes could stop a train.” He leaned over and pinched Jason's Shetland sweater and sniffed, “Indica. It reeks. I'm getting high just smelling you.”
Back in the solitude of his car, after class, Jason had an urge to light up a roach. But his fingers headed for the volume of Mylanta, buried under papers in the backseat. It fell right open to where he began reading, Hey you, Jason Finch, you sad sack. Wherever you are, whatever your body is telling you about last night, let it go. Find a damsel in distress, hold open a door, pick up a piece of trash, speak your mind. Use guilt as a springboard to fuel good actions, not to wallow in.
Jason finally got a nap in his car, under the tree shade and across from Kit's school. A spirit of TGIF filled the air with benevolence and pasted smiles on the parents' faces as they picked up their children.
“Look, dad,” Kit said, running to the car. She handed him a drawing. In it he was grinning, framed by a big crayon stars and hearts. “This morning Candy and I took the bus to school. It was so much fun. When can you and me take the bus, Daddy?”
Before going to rehearsal at San Anselmo Church, the after school ritual of Friday ice-cream was indulged. Kit had cookies and cream, Jason rocky road. Despite Mylanta's counsel, it had been a rocky road for Jason battling the windmills of remorse.
* * *
On the curtainless social hall stage, Gudelia (Martha), backed by a score of student dancers holding mops, was belting out:
Slavery ended 150 years ago/What's poor Martha got to show?
Eraclito, posted by the patio window, yelled, “Mr. Leonard, Mr. Finch is coming!”
“O.K., places everyone. Remember what we talked about doing. Gudelia, take it from the top.”
Slavery ended 150 years ago/What's poor Martha got to show?/Picking up kids' clothes/Pine-sol stench in my nose.
As Jason entered the hall, Mr. Leonard broke in, “Gudelia what are you doing? You have a voice that sounds like there a clothes pin is over your nose. Put in some emotion. Put in some you-know-what,” he made a gesture in the direction of his crotch.
Gudelia lowered her head and wailed.
“Go ahead, cry. Bawl your eyes out. Listen, I hope your son won't come back from Iraq. Maybe you'll show some real passion.'
Jason broke through the fur in his throat and shouted at Mr. Leonard:
“Joey, that's enough.” He uttered an expletive. “Lay off Gudelia.”
Mr. Leonard regarded Jason and flashed his laser-white smile.
“Jason, that's passion! That's heat. If you'd showed more of that you might not be this actor manque teaching night school. Gudelia, you were great. Those tears looked like real tears.”
With that, Jason lunged at Mr. Leonard. Grabbed his throat. Constricted his windpipe. The students were mortified and gleeful. Mr. Leonard tumbled backwards. Two students, Jasmine and Miguel, grabbed Jason's shoulders and subdued him.
Mr. Leonard propped himself up, half smiled, and collapsed back to the floor.
“Cut and print,” cried the rejuvenated director, Jules Kaminsky, who'd caught every dramatic second on Eraclitos' digital camera. “O.K. We've got something to feed YouTube this week.”
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