The first time I mistakenly thought I was seeing my junior high science teacher years and miles from when he’d actually taught me science, I was in the comic book store in Pike Place Market. It was my sophomore year in college, and I had recently acquired an affinity for the new Cat Woman series. I was bending at some awkward angle at the time, trying to view the latest collection with an air of insider’s knowledge, when suddenly, I froze — what was that in the corner of my eye? That plaid button-down t-shirt, that gut hanging over jeans, the jowls like stretched udders? “Christ!” I thought. “Mr. . . . Rangle?”
The second time . . . it’s difficult to say what officially constituted the second time. I have seen him across the street from my office. I have seen him in Italy. I have seen him in grocery stores, and on the subway, in San Francisco, and in Memphis. There have been second and third and fourth and twenty-sixth times. Always out of the corner of my eye.
What really gets me about these sightings is not their frequency, but the fact that there was nothing special about my relationship with my seventh grade science teacher. He did not instill within me a passion for objective knowledge and experimentation, did not bother to romanticize its history or zany characters, he was not cute or fun or any superficial quality that might draw a young lady to her science teacher. Seventh grade science was simultaneously boring and exotic: all litmus paper, blue vitriol and dangerously old electric burners. A good, passionate teacher might have conferred the proper excitement for these things, but Mr. Rangle did not even convey how the knowledge he was instilling might actually serve us some day in a practical fashion. Science was following the prescribed steps in your lab book. Now do them, just like everyone else who’s used this book since 1985, and god forbid your results deviate from the answer key.
And so it came to pass that I thought science was freaking retarded, and science found me to be lacking in return: Mr. Rangle gave me my first C. I suppose that made some sort of impression on me, but not a very lasting one, as I would continue to receive Cs in science classes through my college years.
If I could write Mr. Rangle a letter today, this is how it might read:
Dear Mr. Rangle,
In junior high school you taught me two things: crying will not get me a better grade, and that nothing without a consciousness “wants” anything. While these lessons may seem significant in some metaphorical way, let’s not all stop our day jobs to write semi-autobiographical novellas: if one were to create a graph charting influence over my life and way of thinking, there are probably road signs that have given me more insight. Nothing personal.
Anyway, that’s about it. Hope life’s good with you, and stuff.
P.S. In college I dated a guy who dressed almost exactly like you. Trippy, right?
Mr. Rangle was just another guy doing the job he got paid to do, like so many other people you interact with every day. I have forgotten literally hundreds of people just like him. And I had in fact, entirely forgotten Mr. Rangle until that day in Pike Place Market.
The minute I turned my head I knew it wasn’t actually him. But he has been plaguing me ever since. That day began something I can’t seem to stop: I see him everywhere, sometimes more than once a day. Women, children, college students, tall, short, fat, thin, it doesn’t matter: all I see is a flash of color, and I wonder for a moment — is it you?