Picket Fence Day
I sped along on the outskirts
of town in my '85 Toyota Cressida, praying I wouldn't get a ticket. I had a
class to teach in ten minutes and I was still a good fifteen minutes from the
town. Well, "town" is stretching it. I guess 5,000 people make up a town, but
it's nothing compared to the metropolis where I was rushing back from. I'd taken
part of the morning off to go the dentist. The road was pretty much empty and
I was glad. I had no time to waste trailing behind a grandma going 40 in her
It was then that I saw
the car on the side of the road. It was a Kharman Ghia, which was a little unusual
for these parts. There was a man standing beside it with the hood up. There
was something about that man that was familiar to me so I slowed down. There
was something about the hair, the way he held himself, I knew this man. I pulled
over to where he was. When it clicked, when I realized who it was, I couldn't
believe it. It was Jon Stewart, the man I'd watched fervently for years, the
man I'd crushed on forever. There he was, mere feet away from me, with a broken
down vehicle, needing my help. My help. Oh my goodness. I couldn't move. 'Get
out of the car, dummy,' I told myself. But I sat . I was jolted back into reality
by the sound of tapping on my window. I jumped and turned. There he was, face
almost pressed against my window. Collecting myself, I rolled down the window.
"Uh, hi," I said.
"Hi," Jon said, "Uh, my
car broke down. Do you think you could give me a ride to the nearest town?"
I stared at him blankly.
Jon Stewart wanted a ride with me. I must have had a weird look on my face.
"If you don't want to,
that's okay," Jon said, "I know letting a strange man into your car isn't exactly
what they teach you in those self-defense classes or whatever-"
Jon Stewart, a strange
man? I laughed out loud.
"What?" he asked.
"You're Jon Stewart," I
said, "I'd drive you anywhere. Whoops, I shouldn't have said that. Now you'll
think I'm the weirdo."
"No, you're the first person
in half an hour to pass by," he said, "And I'd be extremely grateful if you'd
give me a ride."
"Sure," I said, "Get in."
Before I knew it, he had
opened the door and had slid into the passenger seat. He held a handful of stuff
that had been thrown on the seat.
"Uh, you want me to hold
onto this?" He was holding one of my gradebooks and a red bra of mine that had
somehow made its way into my car for the express purpose of embarrassing me
at that moment.
"Oh my god," I blushed
as I grabbed the book and the bra, throwing them in the back seat. Jon Stewart
had held my bra. Jon Stewart was in my car. My very messy car.
"Sorry about the mess,"
"No problem," he said,
"What was your name by the way?"
"Cassandra," I said, "But
everyone calls me Sandy."
"Nice to meet you Sandy,"
"You too,"I said. "If I
may ask, what in the world are you doing out here in the boonies?"
"I was actually driving
to LA," he said, "Tracey and I were in San Francisco and I stayed a bit longer
than her. I thought the drive down the heart of California would be nice."
"If you call miles of desert
and dry, brown brush nice," I said.
"It was actually kind of
peaceful," he said, "Except for the whole breaking down thing."
"Well, here we are," I
We'd reached my hometown
of Armith, California.
"Armith?" he said, "Interesting."
"Not really," I said, "Most
of the teenagers like to call it Armpit."
He laughed that laugh I'd
heard so many times before. Except now I was hearing it in person.
"Here's the repair shop,"
I said, pulling into Grigg's Auto Shop. "They can probably tow your car and
bring it here to see what's wrong with it."
"Great," he said.
We got out and I led the
way into the repair shop.
"Hey, Andy," I called to
the man working on an old truck.
Andy looked up, "Hey,"
he said, "You got car trouble, Sandy?"
"No," I said, "But this
gentleman here does, His Kharman Ghia's broke down out on Dyer and Jameson."
"I'll call Danny to get
the tow," Andy said, "Hey, ain't you s'posed to be teaching?"
Andy had a daughter in
one of my classes.
"Oh my gosh," I said, "I
completely forgot." It was already 10:45.
"Geez, look I'm sorry,"
Jon said, "Go ahead and go, I'll be fine here."
"No," I said, "I couldn't
do that. Let me just call the school and I'll stay here till you're on your
way. I'd be worried if I just left you."
Like I would really leave
Jon Stewart to go back to my classes! I reached for my cell phone and dialed
Mary, the office secretary
"Mary, this is Sandy,"
I said, "Do you think you could keep the sub there till lunch? Something important
just came up. I'll explain later."
"Sure thing," she said,
Relieved, I hung up.
Andy had come over to the
counter and was on the phone with Dan, the tow truck operator. After a few moments,
he hung up.
"Your car should be here
in a few minutes," Andy told Jon, obviously not recognizing him. I didn't think
he would. Andy's an ESPN-Monday Night Football type of guy. If it ain't sports,
it doesn't exist. "We'll be able to see what the trouble is."
"Thanks," Jon said.
We sat down in the waiting
area that smelled of car oil and leather.
"So you're a teacher?"
"Yeah," I said, "I teach
English and Drama at the high school."
"I've always admired teachers,"
Jon said, "My grandfather taught."
"Really?" I said.
"Yeah, he was a good man,"
Jon said, "It's always bothered me, you know, how the money is distributed in
this country. I get paid big bucks to sit in front of the camera and act like
an idiot while this country's teachers are paid pennies to train the future
of our country."
"Well thank you," I said,
"Sometimes I think we teachers are the only ones that see it that way. If people
spent a little more money on education, we might not have a lot of the problems
He didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I
didn't mean to get on my soapbox. It's just been frustrating lately. We've got
a paper shortage, a budget so small it's practically criminal, and for the umpteenth
year in a row, my drama class will be performing in the school cafeteria on
a rickety old stage. But the football team got a brand new scoreboard, paid
for with taxpayer money." I smiled wryly, "Sorry, there I go again."
"No," he said, "It's okay.
I find this whole thing interesting."
"And we're one of the fortunate
schools in the county," I said, "We're not even inner-city."
"Damn, that's disgusting,"
"The glam life of a teacher,"
The rumbling tow truck
pulled in at that moment, Jon's Kharman Ghia being towed behind it.
Dan the tow truck man came
in soon after.
" 'Ey, Sandy," he said,
"Whose car is this?"
We got up.
"Dan, this is Mr. Stewart.
The car is his," I said.
"Andy's gonna take a look
at your car," Dan told Jon, "But I ain't so sure we've got the right parts.
Ain't got many foreign cars around here. We deal with Chevys and Fords mostly.
We'll know in a few minutes."
"Thanks," Jon said.
He looked around at the
waiting room. There wasn't much to it-a couple of vending machines, outdated
magazines. It was pretty drab.
"Not very interesting,"
I told him, "Much like the town itself."
"Sometimes not interesting
can be good," he said, "It can be relief from the mile-a-minute rush of the
"New York?" I asked.
"Don't get me wrong, New
York is great," he said, "But sometimes it's nice to be where you can take it
slow, where you don't have to wear sunglasses and a cap when you go out."
"And then you get to that
obscure little town and the first person you meet is dumbstruck at the sight
of you," I said.
He laughed. "I thought
it was cute. People don't recognize me much, but when they do, I still get a
kick out of it."
"People don't recognize
you?" I said, "That's kind of hard to believe."
"Nah," he said.
I smiled at this.
Andy came in then.
"Mr.-eh-Stewart?" he said.
"Yes, that's me," Jon said.
Andy then proceeded to
explain to Jon what was wrong with his car, a lengthy explanation that I was
too auto-illiterate to follow, but Jon seemed to get just fine.
"What's going on?" I asked
to either of them.
"They don't have the part
my car needs," Jon said, "And the nearest town that has it is an hour and a
half away. And when they get it back here in three hours, it'll still be at
least an hour before they can finish it up."
"Oh boy," I said, "Sorry
"It's okay," Jon said,
"I've got time. It's better than still being on the side of the road."
"True," I said, "Look,
I couldn't let you sit here all by yourself, so why don't you come with me and
I can show you around our so-called town."
"I couldn't impose on you
like that," he said, "You have your classes."
"It's Friday," I said,
"No one pays attention on Fridays. I just have to be back later for drama rehearsals."
"If you don't mind," he
"Let me just call the office
again," I said.
I called Mary again.
"Mary," I said, "Can you
keep the sub there for the rest of the day?"
"Sure," Mary said, her
voice curious, "Where are you?"
"Here," I said, "In Armith.
I'll explain it later, I promise. Thanks a million. Bye!" "Is there any place
we could go to eat?" Jon asked when I'd hung up, "I haven't eaten since early
"There's Boger's," I said.
His eyebrow raised. "Did
you just say Boogers?"
I laughed, "Bogers. It's
actually called Bo's Burgers, but everyone just calls it Boger's."
"Boger's," he repeated
with a chuckle, "In Armith, called Armpit."
"And you wondered why we
call it Armpit," I grinned. "Actually, the food there is great."
"Boger's it is," he said.
We walked across the street
to Boger's. It was a mom-n-pop type of joint. In half an hour it would be crowded
with the high school lunch crowd, so I was determined to get us out of there
by then. We got a booth and sat down. After a few moments of looking at the
menus, our waitress, a 17-year old dropout named Samantha who'd been in one
of my classes came.
"What can I get you?" she
"I'll have, uh, the uh
Booger Burger-I mean the Burger Booger--the-the-oh, just bring me a damn grilled
cheese sandwich," he laughed.
I giggled at this.
"Hey Miss Kitt," Samantha
"Nice to see you, Sam,"
I said, "But I wish it had been in class instead of here."
"I know, Miss Kitt, but
I ain't going to college, so I might as well start working now."
I bit my tongue. We'd talked
about this matter many times before. "I'm sorry to hear you still feel that
way," I said, "I'd like the Boger Burger please, no lettuce."
She wrote this down and
"Damn it," I said, "Damn
"Are you okay?" Jon asked.
"I'm sorry," I sighed,
"Sam's a very smart girl if she wanted to be. But here she is, dropped out of
high school, trapped in this job forever. It just infuriates me so much. Her
boyfriend's a loser who dropped out a few years back, a pothead who convinced
her to do the same. She could have gone so damn far-"
I didn't realize I was
crying until Jon reached over and handed me a napkin.
"I'm sorry," I said, "You
have way better things to do than to be listening to me go on about this."
"Like what?" he laughed,
"Sit in the waiting room at Grigg's Auto Repair and read back issues of Popular
Before I knew it, the food
had come and gone and I remembered the soon-to-be-arriving high-schoolers.
"We better get going,"
I said, "The high school's lunch hour is right about now and this place will
be crawling with kids."
"Where to?" he asked.
"Ummm. . . there's a park
a few blocks in one of the residential areas," I suggested, "I know it's not
that great of weather outside, but . . ." I didn't know what else to suggest
. There was really nothing to the town. I certainly was not going to take him
to my dumpy apartment.
"It sounds great," he smiled
and my heart just about melted.
"Um, okay," I paused, "Let's
We went back to my car
and took off for the park. In minutes, we were there.
"Well, here it is," I said,
"We actually do have a pretty nice park."
And it was. There was new
playground equipment, freshly painted benches, even new picnic tables donated
by the Armith Rotary Club. We got out.
"This is so great," Jon
said, "So small town. Where's the white picket fence? Or June Cleaver? Or Barney
"They're with Lassie helping
Little Timmy out of the well," I laughed.
We talked as we walked
around the perimeter of the park. Our conversation ranged from deep to the inane.
One minute we were talking about the dragonflies that buzzed here and there.
Somehow we got to one of those lame questions people always ask.
"If you could be a bug,
what kind would you be?"
Jon laughed. "Uh . . .
a bug . . . one of those walking sticks so I could like, blend in with the trees
and then just jump out at someone and scare the crap out of them. How about
"Butterfly," I said quickly,
"A monarch butterfly."
"So you could fly away?"
he asked knowingly.
"I suppose," I said.
Then our conversation turned
to the deep. One minute I was talking again about my teacher woes, and the next
he was telling me about his insecurities as an entertainer. And so it went for
what seemed like hours and hours. Then, from nowhere, I felt a drop of rain
on my nose and I seemed to snap back into the present.
"Oh, my gosh," I said,
"What time is it?"
"Two," he said.
"My drama class is in ten
minutes," I said.
"I'll go with you," he
'Are you sure?" I asked,
"These kids will know you. You host the Grammys."
"I'd love to sit in on
a high school drama class," he said, "Maybe I'll learn a thing or two."
I drove us back to the
school. We went to the cafeteria where my class was starting to gather.
"Stage crew, make sure
the props are out," I called, "FX, get the sounds ready. Actors take your places!"
"Who's that?" "Look at
that guy Miss Kitt brought."
I could hear the whispers.
"We have a special guest
today," I called out.
All twenty curious heads
turned my way.
"Class, I'd like to introduce
you to Mr. Jon Stewart," I said, "You can talk to him after class, if he is
willing, but right now, we need to practice. Opening night is in three weeks
and we've still got Scene 5 to do right."
We were doing an obscure
little play called "The Little Theater's Production of Hamlet" about these hillbillies
in West Virginia who were attempting to put on a production of 'Hamlet.' There
was just one scene with two of the main characters that wasn't coming off right.
I climbed on the rickety stage where Jamie and Kevin, who played the boyfriend-girlfriend
pair Sam and Mona, stood.
"I don't wanna do this,
Miss Kitt," Kevin whined.
"You knew what was coming
when you auditioned for the role, Kevin," I said, "And when I selected you,
it was for the entire role, not just the bits and pieces that you happened to
Jamie rolled her eyes,
"Come on, Kevin, I even ate a Tic-Tac."
It was a kissing scene
that had Kevin so bent out of shape. I'd tried as hard as I could to guide the
two on how to do a kissing stage, but the chemistry just wasn't there.
"Kevin, come on now," I
coaxed, "We've been through this countless times. This moment will make or break
the scene. Remember, it's before anyone else is in the restaurant, you guys
are in love, it's just a kiss on the lips, not a giant makeout scene, or sex
for that matter."
I heard several laughs,
Jamie was tapping her foot
impatiently, the lighting guy was flicking the lights, and I could hear the
rising chatter of the other actors, waiting behind stage. The costume girls,
several publicity people, the stage crew, and a few others sat watching the
"Fine," Kevin said reluctantly.
Jamie said her line and
then Kevin bent down to kiss her. He barely touched his lips and it was over.
Actually, I'm not even sure he did touch his lips.
"I've seen dead fish with
more life than that, Kevin," I said in exasperation.
"That was craptacular,"
I rubbed my head. "That's
it," I said, "I don't know what else to do with you, Kevin. I had you watch
countless clips of kissing scenes in movies, I gave you the pillow to practice
on, nothing is working."
"Kissing is spontaneous,"
Kevin said, "I can't get a good idea of spontaneity with those fake Hollywood
kisses or a pillow."
Suddenly, Jon had jumped
on stage beside me.
"May I?" he asked.
"May you what?" I asked.
He looked at Kevin. "Lesson
one in spontaneity, kid." Before I knew what was happening, Jon had taken my
chin in his hand and pulled me toward him. Then he was kissing me, one of those
exaggerated, smacky stage kisses. He finally let me go and took a bow. I was
caught between laughter and tears. Jon Stewart had kissed me, ME! But at the
same time, it was so darn funny. By that time, the kids were clapping and hooping
"Woo-ooo, go Miss Kitt!"
I couldn't calm them after
that, and they all really wanted to talk with Jon, so I let them. Jon was really
sweet about the whole thing, signing autographs for all of them, answering the
questions. When the bell rang, I had to shoo off the remaining kids so we could
go get Jon's car.
"Thanks," he said as we
pulled up to the auto shop, "I had a great time today. I think I might have
to come back here with Tracey."
"You could make it your
summer place," I laughed.
"Ah, yes," he said, "Some
people have villas in France. We'll have a house in Armith."
That was just two weeks
ago, so I don't know if I'll ever see Jon Stewart again, aside from on TV.
"Hey, Sandy, you dropped
this," Mary the office secretary handed me an envelope I'd dropped from my school
"Thanks," I said, taking
the envelope. There was no return address, so I opened it, curious.
The first thing I took
out was a check. It was addressed to the Armith High School Drama Department.
The name in the corner of the check read "Jon and Tracey Stewart Education Foundation."
There was also a handwritten note inside.
"I've started this foundation
to help needy schools," it said, "And since it was your passion for teaching
that inspired me to do so, so, it only seemed right that your excellent drama
class be the first to receive anything. It was signed simply, "Jon."
When I looked at the amount
written in the little box on the check, I could have fainted. Actually, I started
to cry. I ran to the cafeteria where I knew my drama class was waiting.
"We're getting a new stage,"
I called out giddily, "And some good lighting equipment. And a new sound system.
Hell, maybe we'll just build a whole new auditorium . . . ."
Added October 28, 2002.