Looking at the children before me, I should have stopped long ago.
After working at Victoria’s Secret for a long, strange year, I continued like most creatives do when trying to avoid their mother’s basement: down the black hole path of retail. I would never say this was a bad thing, though. My time in retail taught me valuable lessons of observation and how to annoy the shit out of a salesperson until they give you what you want for free. Two things that are vital to a writer.
But as “This is just a college gig,” turned into “This is just a part-time thing until I get a real job,” before finally maturing into, “This is now 40 hours of my week,” I began to panic. Retail was not the future I’d planned for myself. It did not entail the 40-foot schooner I’d call “Thong With the Wind,” or the weekends I’d spend on it with Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen and my super model girlfriend, Alessandra Ambrosio. So when I was offered a position to teach writing to elementary and middle school students, I immediately jumped at it. No, it wouldn’t afford the lifestyle I expected for myself, but it would at least get me out of the mall and one step closer to marrying a Vineyard Vines model.
I was somewhat concerned, though. Not only was I going from the world of g-strings to the world of silly string, teaching, to me, had always been like old men who wear oversized D.A.R.E. t-shirts in public: a fate I both laughed at and was terrified to succumb to. I had specific creative goals I intended to achieve; goals that would make me rich and famous, and guiding the youth of America was never one of them.
But now I stood before three elementary students–two girls and a boy–convincing them of perhaps the most dangerous lie you can tell a child.
I’m dating Taylor Swift.
This probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for three things: It being my first day teaching them; I being their third teacher in four months; and a bit of advice I received from another teacher on how to take control of an unruly classroom–a problem I’d been having again and again.
For those who don’t know, when you inherit a class from another teacher–particularly a teacher the students really enjoyed–you’re at an immediate disadvantage. They may behave for the first hour or so, quietly doing their school work and respectfully raising their hands. But once they’ve felt you out, like the raptors testing the fences in Jurassic Park, all hell breaks loose.
This had happened to me twice so far, and after being crippled by fear for two weeks straight, I called up a friend who teaches fourth grade and asked for some help. Her advice was simple: Turn off the lights, turn on some classical music, and–I quote–“walk into the classroom like you’ve got a dick in your pants.”
“I do it all the time,” she added.
While I know she only meant it metaphorically, a “stop being a pussy and man-up” kind of thing, the last part worried me considerably. Not only was I a grown man alone in a room with children, I was a grown man who once worked at Victoria’s Secret and was now supposed to walk into a classroom like he’s got a dick in his pants. It just didn’t seem right. Had I been at the Super Bowl, or in the war room of the Pentagon, sure; but dicks were something you generally left at the door when you entered a school–like guns or a fascination with Wicca. No one wants anything to do with them.
But as I listened to my three students get louder and louder, and feared that I was losing control of them, I knew I had to take action. They were debating the name of Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, and I was going to end it.
“You’re all actually wrong,” I said. “I’m Taylor Swift’s boyfriend.”
They looked at me and laughed.
“Not uh,” said a third grade girl named Kelly. “What’s her middle name, then?”
I did not, in fact, know Taylor Swift’s middle name. I could have guessed any number of possibilities, but feared for losing credibility if I was wrong.
“Well,” I said, “the one she lists on her website and stuff is actually fake. She has to do that because it’s illegal for her to give out her real middle name as a famous person. But I know what it is because I saw it on her driver’s license one time. It’s Elizabeth.”
The other girl and the boy–Allison and Aaron–looked at each other incredulously. “What?” they said in unison. But Kelly wasn’t having it.
“OK,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “What’s her favorite restaurant, then?”
I looked at her and smiled.
“Chuy’s. She loves their skinny girl margaritas.”
Allison, who I later learned was Taylor Swift’s BIGGEST FAN IN THE UNIVERSE, perked up at this.
“OK,” she said, getting in on the action. “What’s her favorite place to shop, then?”
I think she believed this would do me in. Few straight man not dating her would know where Taylor Swift liked to shop; and they were still certain at this point I wasn’t dating her. Feeling triumphant, Allison smiled at Kelly, who grinned back at her as if to say, “This fucker’s toast.” The only thing was, this fucker had just worked in the mall for three years.
“This is going to sound so crazy,” I said, “because Taylor seems like such a J.Crew, Free People kind of girl. But actually–and you won’t read this anywhere–she loves to shop at Betsey Johnson.”
Kelly slapped her hand on her desk.
“Not uh!” she screamed. “I just read that she loves to shop on Melrose!”
I laughed derisively.
“Well, that’s your first problem right there! She’s not going to tell a magazine where she likes to shop! Think about it! If she does that, then all of her crazy fans will show up and wait for her!”
She looked down at her desk in frustration, then at Allison, who crossed her arms and leaned back in chair.
“Ok,” she said. “Show us a text message, then.”
This is probably where I should have stopped. I should put away my phone and said, “OK, you got me. The gig is up.” That’s at least what a real adult would have done in this situation–not whipped out their iPhone, gone into their contacts and changed their girlfriend’s name to Taylor Swift. Which is exactly what I did.
I showed them my list of iMessages, which included a few of my friends and “Taylor Swift”–with her last message reading, “Hehehehehe.” The girls freaked out.
“OH MY GOD YOU’RE DATING TAYLOR SWIFT!!! OH MY GOD!!” They screamed in unison. They then proceeded to run around the room, Allison nearly in tears, and Kelly proclaiming that she was “going to throw up” because she was so excited.
It’s no surprise, then, that a parent wrote an email to my boss that night expressing her concern. “Not only did he tell the kids they could call him Mr. Chainsaw, which is just…unusual, he led them to believe that Taylor Swift was picking him up after class. I just think it’s very strange behavior for a teacher.”
As much as I wanted to write back and say, “Don’t get mad at me for your child being such an idiot,” I didn’t, because the child wasn’t an idiot. Children believe far-fetched things like Santa Claus and their teacher dating Taylor Swift because they want to. Adults are an entirely different world for them, a realm where anything is possible, especially if that anything involves THEIR FAVORITE SINGER OF ALL TIME.
They weren’t the ones to blame, here; I was.
So I wrote back with an apology, explaining that I’d merely done it to try to win them over, and not because I wanted to take them back to my van down by the river. “I’ll clear everything up first thing next week,” I told her. “And I’ll bring Girl Scout cookies as a band aid.” Which is exactly what I did. I sat them down and explained it was all a joke.
“So wait,” said Aaron, who’d been mum on the subject until now. “Taylor Swift’s not actually your girlfriend?”
“No,” I said, watching him doodle on his paper.
“And you don’t even know her?”
“Nope, I don’t even know her.”
He put down his pencil and turned to the girls behind him.
“Do you believe the nerve of this guy?”
And thinking how I took a job teaching children only so I could get out of retail and one step closer to my delusions of grandeur, I nodded my head in agreement.
Photo: Getty Images