It was 6:30 pm. Just about three hours ago. I was following Nick's car, he was a replacement associate from the Y. Today, he and I had packed up his car full of all the equipment and paperwork from the Tootin' Hills school in Simsbury Ct. As we were pulling into the YMCA driveway, the soundtrack to Back To the Future 2 was coming to a close and actually ended just as I had found a parking place and shut off the jeep. (If you know me, you know I love listening to soundtracks. This drives the Steves crazy.) The music for the end credits ended just as shut off the car. I shrugged my shoulders, thought it was a weird coincidence and we started to unpack Nick's car.
Today was tough, I've had mixed emotions about the end of this contract with the Y. The town was taking over the program so there was no need for the Y in the Simsbury school system anymore. Thinking back, this was the first regular paying job that I had since I left my fake 40 hour a week job. I wasn't making huge dollars, but I appreciated the regular paycheck and it was great to get out of the studio and talk to people in general and move around a little bit. Working in a studio in your home alone during the day can take it's toll. You become the weirdo at the store that starts up conversations with the poor kid working the register at the music store. Not only was it helping me cut down on becoming even more of "one of those oddball artists"...this would be a job that would allow me, on occasion, to bring my daughter, Ava to work.
What a job this ended up being. The first person I met there was Becca. She was a kind and easy going soul who was a junior in high school and looked like a younger Drew Barrymore. She was part of the old staff and she showed me how things went and we had started to build a good partnership. She was very genuine. We had other people come in to help us run the place but we didn't have too much success with the third person until we got Katelyn. She was in her early to mid twenties and was an ex- employee of the same fake job that I had! She was perfect! She was on the go, athletic and goal driven. The three of us were a good team for two years in that place. It took me a year and a half to realize it, but we were really lucky.
At the conclusion of the second year, Katelyn decided to follow her heart and move on. It was hard on us but we had wished her well and Becca and I would be joined by Holly. Holly was a woman, a little older than me, who was in a wheelchair. Something that I would start to refer to as the sherman tank. It was big and fast! We would do speed tests and I'd let her run over my toe every once and a while. Seriously though, Holly was in a tough position, she was coming into an enviornment that, from my perspective, was perfect, and now we had to start over again and "rebuild the machine". Holly taught me a lot and it allowed me to look at people, all people in a new light. Becca would graduate high school and move on to college leaving Holly and I to start fresh our third and what would be our final year at Tootin' Hills.
That new year started and Holly and I were rejoined by Katelyn. She had recently returned from her effort to relocate, called me looking for a job so she could get restarted in this area. I was happy to recommend her knowing full well it would be only short lived. It was like getting a second chance to investigate a working relationship and a friendship even further. There was a new dynamic at the site, these girls- ladies would talk about their dates and I would pretend to not listen and then ask them terrible things like, "did you put your face on them?" I know, pretty bad..but I was kind of like their brother and it worked.
Katelyn would move on again, as expected and we be joined by an intern, Kevin. Kevin was a high schooler that needed the "job" for credit. He was great and he ended up actually getting on payroll. Kevin was a good soul and would end up interning with me and Free Lunch Comics. Pretty awesome. It was a guy at the site...another guy! Another new dynamic. I was starting to think that we were either very lucky to have only the best people apply to work with us or we were instilling the pride in the job or position.
Kevin would be tested by a reoccuring injury that would lead him to missing the end of this year and that brings me to Nick. You remember Nick, the guy whose car we packed? Nick was another veteran of the YMCA. He was another great guy! He slipped into that role with no noticable difference...amazing. Did not know much about Nick except that he was a college student, a musician and wanted to work whenever he could. Nick learned a lot about me today...
Over the years I tried and retried to make the program for the kids focus on drawing and cartooning. They were nuts! The first three months the year I started, they tried to break me. I would come home to my wife, who is a 6th grade teacher in the same district, and ask her, "How?!" Month four though...the tide was turning. I would soon win them over with my artistic abilities and I think they started to realize that in some ways I was just as much of a kid as they were. As time went on, these kids and I would bond and friendships would start.
There were kids like Carolyn, Kendra and Anna, they were quiet, kind, smart and easy to get excited and hyper. They were older kids in the program so they would only be there two years. Bobby and Simon were two smart and athletic guys that would leave in my second year as well. There were guys like Dan, Brandon and Mike who were the biggest geeks going, and I saw a lot of who I was when I was their age. There would be girls like Sophie, Ellie and Lia, who would interact with my daughter Ava like she was their little sister. Ava would grow a lot in this school. I believe I owe a lot to those three girls, for socializing with my daughter for the times she had to come with me. I will always be indebted to them for that. There would be the four brothers, yes FOUR BROTHERS that would join the program in the last year. These guys were energy personified. They were fun. There was Kaitlin, who we would start calling "Kaitlin jr"...which would just evolve to "Junior". She was kind, smart, athletic and positive...she was just...great. These were just a few of a lot of great kids that I had the privilege of working with.
I also had the honor and privilege to work with a great administrative staff and custodians at this host location. This place was their sandbox and they let us play in it. Now mind you, this was the first job I worked at, outside my home, since I left my fake job...and don't get me wrong, I met a lot of great people at my old fake job that were awesome and I still maintain friendships with today (and miss quite a bit too)...but these people were spectacular! The principle, Ron, was even a comic head! I didn't even find that out til this year! The Admin assistants were always kind and super nice to my daughter. Talk about being nice to my daughter, Jeff, the custodian, would always make a point to interact with her, whenever he could.
So today it ended...and boy were we gonna have a party. If it's gotta end, you gotta make the best of it right? When I left the house this morning I asked Ava if there was anything she wanted me to tell the kids for her, and she said, "Tell them I said thanks for teaching me so much". I'm not even making that up. Swear to God. I left the house with a cake that barely fit in the jeep and we were going to have tons of snacks, play some games and dance our butts off. Nobody drew today, we just celebrated the friendships that we had created. Remember those kids that left after two years? A bunch of them came back. Not all the kids always left on good terms for whatever the reasons. A bunch of them came back. It was great. Carolyn and Bob came back. Just by them being there, it almost made me cry. When Cam left...I'm gonna miss him...when I was Cam's age, I would've wanted to hang out with a kid like him. Kids that used to struggle just existing in a program like ours...some of them came back...and they were awesome. I spoke one one one with every kid that showed up. I let them know how much I appreciated them and how much I was going to miss them.
I know that 90% of these kids did not want to even come to a program like this...but I made it my mission to make it so they looked forward to it.
So now the car is unpacked, Nick and I are standing in the front of the YMCA building. I thank Nick for being a great help and we have a little talk about what's next. He gets in his car, I get in mine. We wave, and he's outta there, off to who knows where...I sit....I start the car....the music starts. It's the beginning of that Back To The Future soundtrack. The beginning of MY next adventure. Who knows what's coming next? I know what's next, I'm going to go home, to my wife and daughter, tell them how much I love them. We'll talk about the new little girl we're expecting in the fall. I'll tell them about how I felt my last day at Tootin' Hills school in Simsbury Ct. I'll get ready to go to the Free Lunch Studio tomorrow. I'll type out my story. I'll remember... This is the beginning of my next adventure...
Thank you everyone for making my stay at the Tootin' Hills school after school program so memorable. I gotta go out and buy those Back to the Future movies at some point....