Friday, January 12, 2018

The Day of Kings

"When does the tree come down?"
"You have to wait until after Epiphany.  At least Catholics do."
"What's Epiphany?"
"The day the three kings arrived with weird shit like mir for the child-God Jesus."

"I saw a picture of my mom IN FRONT OF A CHRISTMAS TREE."  Shanika informed me during tutoring, eyes wide.
I blanked for a moment.  And?
"She used to celebrate it...."  Shanika added, in a whisper.
She says that they don't celebrate any holidays at all anymore, but that the lack of commemoration is religiously based.  Sometimes I wonder if it's actually poverty based, or a complete rejection of material things in a quest for purity, influenced by their circumstances.

Maryan showed me a small, clear stone with some sort of object in the middle of it.  It was the second time in two days that she had shown it to me.  I knew she loved it, but I couldn't figure out why.  She would only tell me that her sister gave it to her.  This time, she held the stone up so that I could get a better look at it.
A small, pink imprint of a baby's foot was in the middle of the stone.
"It's for the baby."  she told me, her mysterious eyes locked on mine.
"For the baby that died."
She turned the stone over and over in her hand, then quickly obscured it somewhere under her hijab.

The circular machine arched over my head.  It made a swooshing noise over and over that reminded me of the contraption in "Contact" that Jodie Foster tried to go to space in.  My right arm was bandaged from a blood extraction.  An IV with a strange, coiled tube extended from my left arm.
"Okay, I'm going to start, and I'll stay here to monitor.  You will notice a metallic taste in the back of your throat, you will flush and you will feel like you have to urinate.  Don't worry, you won't.  Here we go."
He activated the IV, paused, and left the room.
"Don't breathe.  Don't swallow."  an automated, authoritative voice commanded.
I began to roll backward through the tube-like machine.
I stared straight up, watching the radioactive symbol on the machine begin to glow brightly as I passed through the tube.

"Rafa has died.  He will be buried the sixth of January."  Rafa.  Probably our closest friend in Tijuana.  Why?  How?  My breath caught in my throat.  He was gone.  Rafa was gone.  It seemed impossible.  They were burying him on the Day of Kings.  The Day of Kings.

I ran through the Housing Authority, chasing a runaway ball.  The air was almost Spring-like after days of below freezing temperatures.  The kids cheered and laughed, waiting for my return with the ball.  As I rounded the fence and down the hill to the ball, I realized a huge smile had spread across my face.   I couldn't have stopped it if I tried.

"Thank you for the apartments, thank you for the apartments, thank for the apartments...." repeated over and over in my head as I turned and ran back to the kids with the ball, hair sailing in the breeze.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Weather Outside is Frightful

"Rudolph the red nosed reindeer!"  the kids howled mere feet from me while I tried to answer emails in our office during my lunch break.
"Reeeeiiindeerrrrr......" a teacher harmonized.
"Had a very shiny nose!"
"Shiny nooooose...." the harmonizing continued.
"And if you ever saw it!"
"Saaaawww it...."
The kids, I could handle.  The adult, no.

"A man can let a woman be independent when he knows he's the man."
I gulped some of my small glass of wine and ate a wildly overpriced fried oyster.
"BUMP.  What do you mean, if he knows he's the man?"  my supervisor advised my other supervisor.
I was glad she was willing to take on that fight.  I just wished my wine and entree hadn't cost so much.

The kids laughed at the Charlie Brown Christmas story.
"Look at that tree hair!"  one called, when faced with the famous tree's falling needles.

I stood at the Housing Authority with the kids, ready to do the monthly walk to school that requires me to be at school at 6:30AM, meet a parent and drive to the apartments, and then walk with the kids back to school and have them arrive by 7:30.  I don't have to do it, I hate getting up early, but I always end up enjoying it.  I felt bleary, I had been at the Housing Authority dinner until ten hours before I was standing in front of the Center the following morning.

The little girls put on reindeer antlers and Santa hats over their hijabs.  The boys ran like heathens.  The people of the upscale community we walk through looked on in distaste.  My tutorial group of girls purred lasciviously at the assistant principal they have a crush on.   Mohammed screamed like a girl when a dog walked beside him.  It was good.

"When might be a good time to call you and address your concerns?" I emailed the pervasive parent, who had emailed half of the school about some perceived affront to his child, taking nearly a month before actually contacting me.
"Can we talk Friday during the break?  I've had a busy week!"  he responded.

I watched a teacher I work with allow students to shave off his beard by the flagpole in order to raise money for one of our kids that has cancer.  The sick child is my student. 
The live stream flashed on the screen and the class I was with screamed with excitement.  I saw a cell phone flash on the screen and I saw Andrew's face.
They face-timed him.
I saw his pale face, laughing, bald head laying against the hospital bed. 

I stood in line at the Dollar store, waiting to buy treats for my Housing Authority kids.  It was the last night of tutoring before the break.  I had cash that I had received as a gift from one of my classes.  The line was taking forever.  I child I teach at school was a couple of people ahead.
"That's the Spanish teacher,"  he said loudly.
"Everyone hates her."

I made it.  I survived the week.  Family Christmas matters crashed in, but I navigated that, too.

I looked at Facebook.  A video popped up in front of me of a man swinging an axe into a live pig's head.  It stood next to him, innocently, unaware of what was about to happen.  I quickly swiped away, trying not to see.  I felt a prickly heat crawl up my neck and on to my face.

And then I cried.

Friday, December 15, 2017

These Are the Days

"Now click it, Piggy!"  the little boy shrieked, calling his classmate by her fake 'Quizlet Live' name, while commanding her to click the right answer on her iPad.

I stood in the market, tampon in hand, waiting to sign the receipt for my snack that I eat between jobs.

"Her mother attributed some of her suicidal tendencies to your Spanish class.  Sorry, but I have to run."
"That's quite a bomb you just dropped on me."
"Just letting you know it was said."
Okay.  Thanks.  I appreciate that thought.

I showed my Housing Authority students a picture of Lola in her new sweater.  It is a ridiculous expenditure and I knew that they would think she looked cute in it. 
"Your house looks NICE."  Miriam commented.
I felt uncomfortable.  My house is nice. Very nice.  I hadn't thought that they would notice.  I hadn't thought about it at all. 

"I went to my first concert last night!"  Hunter squealed.   I taught him last year as well and have never see him more animated.
"Who was it?"
"TAYLOR SWIFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  he howled.
"We had special seats!  And then, we went to the club!  It had leather seats and a bar!".
"It's 'prepara' people!"  he interjected, slapping his hand on the table to instruct the rest of his team to hit the right answer on their iPads.
"I'm flying first class to South Beach for Spring Break!"  he continued.

I crept out of school and walked toward the Housing Authority, climbing over the railroad tracks while fearing that somehow my shoe would get caught between the wooden planks and a train would come, then slid down a rocky hill on my crouched butt and hands, like a disturbed skier, before shooting into the bike path and nearly getting run over.

"MISS WAGNER!!!!" a child screamed, hand outstretched from a passing car.

I rose and steadied myself, and waved back with a smile.

Friday, December 1, 2017

La fuente

We sat in the classroom on our "work day".  Most people think a teacher work day means that we get to catch up on work:  planning, grading, thinking ahead.  But, we had Professional Learning, classes taught by other teachers to help us improve our trade.  It was alright.

During a session, a teacher volunteered to read aloud a section.  He did it in a jokey manner, to entertain us,
obviously we were among friends.  It was funny.
"You sounded like Barry White!" a teacher commented, jovially.
No he didn't.  He sounded like a teacher making a joke.  Just because he was black doesn't mean every voice over is Barry White.

I marched through the Farmer's Market, TWO DAYS before Thanksgiving, as opposed to the day before Thanksgiving nightmare that I have thrust upon myself since assuming the weird adult role of hosting family events at my house, though I have no children, am un-married and have cast aside any other semblance of traditional life except for getting a mortgage.
"Listen, as a person who has to deal with gluten free shit everyday, just pick one"  a side-stander said to his partner.
"I hate the grocery store, I HATE THE GROCERY STORE."  another bystander announced, while strolling through the too-full aisles.

"Frosty the Snowman!  Was alive-ass he could be...."
I checked my ears while staring at Johnny Cash sing Christmas songs on some public access channel, my stomach full of Thanksgiving food.

I stood, staring at kids eating their lunches, while chatting with my fellow teacher at large, who also had lunch duty.
"Hey man!"  a fellow teacher announced to my paisano.
"Where did you get that jacket?!"
"The place where I work during the holidays, I get a discount." he answered.
"Hook a brother up!"  the new teacher announced.
It was cute.  Call the black teacher "brother".  I love it.  Ingratiate yourself.  Bruh.

I drive between my school and the Housing Authority, where I work after school, three days a week.  I cut through the fancy neighborhood, trying to make it on time, often while eating a snack because I am starving.

I noticed a boy, tossing a football with his dad in the front yard.  His face filled with a huge smile, every time they passed the ball back and forth.  Just that simple act.

I watched Anna, in my class during the last period of the day.  She read the lines she was supposed to read for her skit, and her face spread with a smile and excitement for what she was doing.

Their capacity for joy fills me with wonder and envy. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wincing the Day Away

I watched the millionth, skit rendition of the same story, glassy-eyed and tired from a long week of sleeplessness and toxic work environment.  I glanced to my left and noticed a serious looking child cradling the classroom broom in his arms while stroking its dirty bristles, eyes locked on the skit.  

I walked through the school at 6:30 in the morning, already almost late to meet the Housing Authority kids for their monthly walk to school instead of ride the bus day.  I saw a co-worker chatting with Miss Alice.  I can't believe anyone actually comes to work at that hour.  They probably thought they saw a ghost when I walked by, as it wasn't ten minutes past when I was supposed to be at work.  

We walked through the neighborhoods and over the railroad tracks, as the sky slowly lightened and the day began.  Later that morning, an escaped emu would disrupt the parent drop-off lane, standing still and then darting between cars and up sidewalks as startled parents and children stared at it and tried not to run it over.  

I sat with my back to everyone, hunched over my laptop, hoping to be left alone.  

"LONDON — A British bakery chain has apologized after creating a Nativity scene in which the baby Jesus, surrounded by three wise men, was replaced by a sausage roll.
And not just any sausage roll, but one that had been bitten into."
I snickered, probably for the only time all day.  

"Scary movies don't scare me...."  Maryan responded, "I just think of things over and over and they won't go away.....".
"I have that problem, too."  I answered, looking back at her piercing stare.  
She widened her eyes and grabbed my phone, resetting the stop watch for her one minute fluency read.  

We sat under the fluorescent lights, nine hours after we had walked to school together, getting ready to start tutoring.  
"Well, my high of the day is that Mr. Jackson walked with us to school today!"  Muslimo announced with a little purr and side eye.  We burst out laughing while the girls started outing each other's crushes.  
"My low low was,"  Maryan started again, her voice quiet, "I saw a pile of feathers in the drop off lane....."
"Oh yeah, the emu!"  I interjected.

"They had blood on them." 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We Take Care of Our Own

"Okay muchachos, ¿Qué es el Libro de Guinness?  Who can explain what the Guinness Book of World Records is?"

"It is a book of beer." a small blond girl offered, definitively.  

"The local people have long believed the monarchs are the returning spirits of their diseased relatives....." Lily read aloud for the class.

"Deceased." I quickly corrected, as she continued reading, unfazed.

"I wanted to check in on Tim's behavior.  We doubled down on his ADHD medicine.  I'm sure you've seen a difference!"

"I can't breathe.....I can't breathe....I CAN'T BREATHE....."  Eric Garner's guttural pleas filled my car as I drove over the railroad tracks and to the Center to tutor.  The gray sky seemed to darken and grip the earth stronger.

"So broken windows is predicated on the idea that if you break a window in a neighborhood, soon, all the other windows in the neighborhood will be broken. So you have to work hard to keep those windows from being broken, so that means cracking down on small offenses. So don't let people jump turnstiles. Don't let people ride their bicycles the wrong way down a sidewalk. Don't let people smoke weed in public. Don't let people urinate in public."   

I turned right on Howard.  

"And of course, this only happens in certain neighborhoods and doesn't happen in other neighborhoods." 

"...police in cities like New York were stopping 500,000, 600,000, 700,000 people a year almost entirely in black and Hispanic neighborhoods and very often physically searching them as's traumatizing....".

I made my left into the apartments.  

"...there is a thing called a roadside cavity search...."  

"Please just leave me alone...." he pleaded, his breathing labored.

"The kids were asking about the Civil Rights Movement.  They think it happened a long time ago..."
"Whaaa?"  a few of the other Center teachers gasped.
"I was there!"  one of them exclaimed.
"Me too!" another seconded.
"I thought we'd watch 'The Watsons Go to Birmingham' today."
"ALL of them will watch it."

I watched the Watsons carefully plan their drive from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama.  The last rest area they could safely stop at.  How early they would leave Michigan in order to drive through the south in daylight.  When Byron runs excitedly to a lunch counter to order hot dogs and fries for the family and is addressed as 'boy' and told to leave.  The look of excitement quickly falling from his face, disgust, anger and confusion replacing it.  The four little girls singing in the church choir.  

"What is their problem?  Why do they have such a chip on their shoulder?  Why don't they just get over it?" rang in my ears, a lifetime of 'questions' in white voices.

George Wallace's face appeared on the screen.
"Segregation now....."
"Segregation tomorrow....."
"Segregation forever....." the teachers said in unison with the archival Wallace footage.

It was burned in their memories.  It always will be.  

*Interview excerpts, NPR, Matt Taibbi

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Dreamers, Poets and Nap-takers

"Oh wow, there was a dictator in Libya, it's a country in northern Africa, he was known for doing kind of crazy things.  You know like, setting up a big tent to sleep in while visiting New York City or he had this like, all-female security team that would bust out with him whenever he appeared in public...."

I have no recollection of what prompted that conversation.

"Wait, will you write his name on the board?  I would like to do further research on him...."

"Qaddafi," I wrote slowly on the board "but it can be spelled other ways..."

"I demand that you change my child's grade from a two to a three.  If she did not learn what she should have, it is your fault."

I walked into school, noticing one of my Housing Authority students carrying the same lunch box as mine.  The Center gave them to us and we all use them.  Our padded, purple boxes with an inspirational message on the outside.  

"My child has NEVER had a disciplinary issue at school and I repeat, NEVER.  We would like to speak to you.  Our phone number is (404) 877-2030.  We are available after 5:30 on Friday."

As I timed Naado reading her passage out loud, I glanced up to see that the other two members of our group had clandestinely rolled up the skirts of their hijabs and flipped them backwards over their heads, transforming their head covers from long, nun-like items to a sort of weird turban.  They laughed hysterically upon being noticed, exposed necks stretched tall and eyes wide with excitement. 

"Noooo!"  Naado shrieked, covering her eyes and tugging on her own hijab as the girls quickly jerked them back down, bubbling with laughter.  

"Telling our child to reflect on his behavior is COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE.  Now, he does not want to come to school.  If you are looking for suggestions for appropriate consequences, I would be HAPPY to provide you with some."

"All day, I watch humans scurry from store to store. They pass their green paper, dry as old leaves and smelling of a thousand hands, back and forth and back again.

They hunt frantically, stalking, pushing, grumbling. Then they leave, clutching bags filled with things - bright things, soft things, big things - but no matter how full the bags, they always come back for more. 

Humans are clever indeed. They spin pink clouds you can eat. They build domains with flat waterfalls..."  Muslimo said aloud, while the rest of us followed along.  

The clock ticked and the sunshine outside dimmed as we sat around a table under fluorescent lights, ten noses in ten copies of the same book.  

*Quote and title, The One and Only Ivan