My Fat Tomato Hero
how to preserve goodness for the long-haul and some end-of-summer favorites
Calvin Lee Martin graduated from Goshen High School on the last weekend of May after four years of throwing his full self into the quintessential high school experience. He found a way to thrive in an enormous public school where most kids are not white, but where he was one of just a handful of Asian students. He took hard classes and studied only enough to do well, unwilling to fuss with the required pressures of excelling. He took up baseball out of nowhere and gave it his heart and soul even though he rarely saw playing time. (Though there was that EPIC triple the last game of the season his Junior year…) He went places and screamed from a bunch of different student sections and regularly bowed onstage in a tuxedo that was a bit tight by Senior year. He was (and is) a “yes” guy. The best kind. Once, at the last second, he was handed the team flag at a basketball and said “Why not?” to being the one who led the parade into a packed gymnasium.
The plan was always to take a week off after graduation and then jump into work. Any work. Work of absolutely any paying variety. For this reason, his mom started to badger him around April. “Start looking now so you have something lined up.” He waved his mother and grabbed his diploma with a grin. His one week off turned into two, then three. The air in the Martin kitchen simmered.
During the day I was clear-eyed about his efforts to seek gainful employment. He was trying so hard! But doubt crept in with the darkness. Was he though? Cory and I sent him every job posting we could find, threatening fast food as we quietly spiraled over the cost of college and his discernable level of ambition.
He, however, did not spiral. He slept in most days until ten and cooked himself elaborate brunches, casually forgetting to clean up the kitchen. He sat at the dining room table with all of his gear and produced original music. He played doubles in an alumni tournament with his tennis-playing girlfriend (even though he had never played tennis before.) He drove too far (we all know there is no such thing, not really) just to watch the sunset. He honed his Spanish skills and learned to sing (and write) cumbia. He played his guitar in the evenings and video games while the rest of the house slept.
I waffled between oddly proud and utterly bewildered. Was he ever going to work? Was he really going to move out and go to college? How had we missed his glaring lack of motivation for all these years?
After listening to me vent, a good friend of mine mused, “It’s like he’s retired from high school.”
And then, on the fifth week, he got a job. A dirty job, as the show goes. He would be working outdoors, under the sun, entirely alone with just a circular saw, chopping heavy slabs of recycled plastic into manageable pieces for an industrial shredder. 40 hours a week. Set your own hours.
He came home the first day brooding and angry.
The second day, he had me squeeze his biceps and bragged about the number of episodes of Stuff You Should Know he had burned through.
Being paid by the pound reconstituted his diluted ambition. On Fridays he flashed us checks with shocking balances.
I was proud of him, because he was proud of himself. Set against this harsh new reality, I was thankful he had lived it up that first month.