ACTs of the Apostles

For the past month, I’ve worked as a part-time tutor in south Alabama, helping high-schoolers prepare for the verbal portion of the ACT, the standardized college admissions exam generally preferred by the universities down in Dixie.

As part of the interview process, I was required to take the English section of the test and notch a certain score.

I felt a pang of terror upon hearing the news. It had been 24 years since I walked into Murphy High School one fine spring morning and filled in those tiny ovals with a pair of sharpened No. 2s. I had worked as a writer and editor since 2004, but, under the gun, was I really the prince of punctuation I fancied myself to be?

It was too late to take a practice test, so I decided to “get in the zone.” I sought to achieve this through a form of method-acting, by which I’d recreate a day in the life of my 17-year-old self. That afternoon I ran wind-sprints in cleats and washed my hair afterward with a green, toxic slime known as Pert Plus. I ate ham-steak for dinner with baked potato and washed it down with a Carnation Instant Breakfast while watching an episode of “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.”

The next morning, I was ready to go.

I finished the English section of the test with a minute to spare, and completed Reading Comp at the buzzer. I think the ACT gods were smiling on me. The Prose Fiction section of Reading Comp was written by a not-so-well-known Vermont novelist named David Huddle, whose daughter taught me poetry writing at UVa. The Natural Sciences section sported a passage by Oliver Sacks, whom I’d been reading that very week.

After finishing the test, I sat nervously in a small cubicle awaiting the results. I soon found out I’d aced the Reading and missed a few on English. I was ecstatic. I imagined at that moment I had the world by the balls. I had made it. I could go to any college of my choosing. Then I could land any job in the world and marry any girl I wanted.  I walked out of the tutoring center like a man on fire. I got in my car and blasted “Rain King” by Counting Crows, fishtailing out of the parking lot as my car shape-shifted into a burgundy-and-cream ’89 Ford Bronco.

My Father The Clown


“My earliest memory is waking in the predawn of a midwinter morning to the sound of my father’s clown shoes treading the floorboards of the hallway outside my bedroom. It was a sound I’d continue to hear through the years, and one that gave me great comfort. As much comfort as the summer rain when it danced the Charleston on the tin roof of our Illinois home on hot July nights. I always smiled beneath my covers when I heard the sound of those clown shoes. As much as I wanted Dinky the Clown to eat his Pop Tart with me over breakfast, I knew he had a job to do, and that in a few hours he’d be titillating a gaggle of four year olds with his clever bag of tricks somewhere in the wilds of Illinois.”

Read the rest of “My Father The Clown” at Little Old Lady Comedy.