Elements of Stale, with Luke Mazur: The Text

WARRINER'S AND PEACESo in high school we were forced to buy this English language handbook called Warriner’s. The book was bright red like an biohazard needle drop box, but that has nothing to do with the fact that the faculty revered it. Some teachers, particularly the much older ones, referenced it regularly. The Jesuits, who could be iffy on the existence of God and other metaphysical questions, were dogmatic about whatever the hell Warriner’s decreed. Its rules of grammar and composition were gospel.

This week I emailed my friend’s sister, Janet, now an English teacher at my old high school, to see whether they’re still using Warriner’s. She replied fairly quickly, noting that “we don’t use Warriner’s.” I wasn’t surprised that to hear though that “there are still plenty of copies around.” But she explained that now “we have a two-year workbook set we use now with the freshmen and sophomores.”

And then in closing, she related to me that she currently has swine flu. Because I know all too well what swine flu is like, and because I got all the information I needed, I didn’t want to keep bothering her. So the rest of interview that follows-well, it only took place in my head. It is made up.

Luke: I always found that because the book (Warriner’s) was about as thick as it was wide-and it was a normal book’s width-it didn’t quite fit into my schoolbag. So I forgot to bring it to class sometimes, and depending on who was teaching, I’d get detention for that.

Janet: You mean JUG.

Luke: Right. JUG. Justice Under God. I had to start calling it “detention” because when I referred to it as JUG to people who didn’t go to (my high school) Canisius, I’d get a weird look.

Janet: For good reason.

Luke: Yeah. Exactly. And then I’d have to explain how it wasn’t really detention. That it was work. That we’d have to wash the blackboards and sweep the hallways. Well, you know.

Janet: I don’t see you as the JUG type.

Luke: Really?

Janet: Well. I mean. No. No, I don’t see you as the JUG type.

Luke: I got JUG a lot. I talked in the library a lot, and I got in trouble for that. But I guess, in general, yes, you’re right. What do you give JUG for?

Janet: Earlier this month these boys were soaking tampons in vodka. I gave JUG to them for that.

Luke: Holy shit. That’s for real? I thought that was just the Internet. Do you know what were they doing with them?

Janet: Throwing them around, I guess. I don’t know. They’re fourteen-year-old boys. What else could they be doing with them?

Luke: Oh. I thought they were generally used for a different purpose. But yeah, you’re right. They were probably throwing them around. Boys will be boys. Anyhow, what are you guys reading these days?

Janet: Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Luke: Edgy! I loved that book. It’s like A Separate Peace for girls. It’s pretty graphic though, if I remember correctly. Why are you teaching it to 9th grade boys?

Janet: They need to read female characters.

Luke: Especially, I would think, boys who throw around vodka soaked tampons. You know who would do that? Phineas. From A Separate Peace. And then Gene would make it all about World War II.

Janet: I guess.

Luke: Why are so many coming of age stories set at boarding schools?

Janet: I thought this interview was about grammar.

Luke: Whoops. Sorry. I always confuse grammar with other stuff. Buffalo, myself, television, myself. Hey, does Father Van Dyke still stand on students’ desks and chant that Whitman poem?

Janet: That’s The Dead Poets’ Society, and that still isn’t a question about grammar.

Luke: I always thought that in the movie, Robin Williams is teaching us about the grammar of life.

Janet: You’re an idiot. Now stop texting me. I’m trying to teach.

Luke: OK. TTYL.

Luke Mazur: still living with his parents in Buffalo.