Shoot the geek.

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What a way to make a living, I thought as I watched Saddam geek.

Stand against a wall, take shots in the balls and get taunted by a bunch of cretins.

The afternoon was sunny and clear, but the scene was pathetic. A hollering crowd drew my and my husband B’s attention as we walked along the boardwalk in a Jersey shore town. A radio blared “Jump” by House of Pain, and hawkers yelled for passersby to line up. The sign tacked on the railing read “Shoot the Geek”, and the crowd cheered each shooter who took a turn with the paintball gun.

The geek stood in front of a brick wall, separated from the boardwalk by a patch of property littered with spent paintball pellets, empty soda bottles, and rubble. It looked like a mini-war zone wedged between a take-out joint that advertised the best wieners in Seaside Heights and a gift shop with three-for-ten-dollars tee shirts. It was hard to be certain if the geek was a guy underneath the body padding, shapeless clothes blotched like drop cloths, and the mask. It was a latex, full-over-the-head Saddam Hussein mask that did not leave any part of the wearer’s head exposed. Even in the summer heat, that was a good thing because Saddam geek’s face was as popular a target as his crotch.

“Move, you freak!” yelled the shooter.

He and the crowd grew agitated as Saddam geek became more stationary. He didn’t side-step shots, turn his shoulders, or shield his face or crotch with his goalie-glove-covered hands.

“Ha! Got ‘im in da balls!”

The shooter’s friends slapped him on the back, and someone in the crowd encouraged him to aim for the face. Saddam geek just stood there. I didn’t need to see his face under the Saddam mask’s villain smirk to imagine the geek had taken one too many shots in the balls, and just didn’t give a damn any more. I wondered how long each shift was, and if there was a geek rotation. I thought it impossible for just one person to endure staring out at a crowd spewing fried food particles and spittle with their jeers.

That was more than eight years ago. Today, I know how Saddam geek felt because, on its worst days, that’s exactly what teaching feels like. I don’t have body padding, but I’ve grown numb to the barrage of shots I take at the front of the classroom. What’re they going to do, shoot me in the crotch? Please. Like Saddam geek, the front of my pants is encrusted with protective layers of hardened paint. On the worst days, I just stand there, wait to step out of my paint-splattered clothes, let them dry and stiffen, then step back into them and seal myself for the next shift. Over and over, I repeat until the semester is over.

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