Thursday, December 23, 2010

No hacen falta

Oh, Mexico. I've missed you. Thanks for letting me come over today.

I was invited to a Christmas carne asada party at a place I can't tell you about and with people that supposedly don't exist. After a feast of various grilled meats and homemade tortillas and salsas, I was surprised when the tequila presented itself in the middle of the afternoon. I wanted to hang out. I really did. But I couldn't. Christmas is in two days, as is my trip to Egypt and I don't even know the exchange rate for the dollar.

"He's very depressed" I told my friend at the party, explaining Alejandro's situation. "Así es..." he sighed.

"NO HACEN FALTA MONEDAS, BRILLANTES!" I screamed with the radio as I sped down the highway. I started giving my money away to the men that stood beside the highway where traffic backs up under the overpass. I kept giving it away until there were no more men.

"I'm not nice anymore, which was never exactly my skill set anyway" the girl next to me a Target bellowed into her phone. A man with a face twisted into a grimace and a Christmas tree tag stuck to his shoulder stared into space, a twenty-four pack of toilet paper in his arms. I didn't know what to buy. That tequila buzz was strong.

"Is that a Fendi bag?" the young man asked me while I waited in line at the shady beer store. "No, um, it's Marc Jacobs" I answered, staring at his silver grill. "I am so with that. It's beautiful. You know, Macy's has some real nice bags right now. Look at her..." he said, pointing at the white woman in front of us, "that's a nice Coach bag..."

"Have a good night" I wished him, slinking out to the parking lot with my six-pack and my nice bag and away into the night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

From the bottom of my heart

"You're hair looks like the people in the movies" the Zebra Girl told me, her bangs mysteriously pulled off to the side in an imitation of my hairstyle. What movie? Creature from the Black Lagoon? My eyes were popping out. I knew I was going to have a seizure. No lunch, non-stop classes, a not so carefully planned day of craft lessons with kids that can barely use scissors, secret feasts when no one was looking on homemade chocolate snack student Christmas gifts and a few short hours until the break officially began.

I watched a nine year old boy slowly lower himself to the floor in a full split, while wearing jeans.

"We are ready to SING IT" little Rafael informed me, plunking himself beside me on the rug. "Let's do it" I answered, cranking up the CD player for a some educational booty shaking.

The kids were wearing their pajamas to school again.

"You're gonna be seeing this outfit again tomorrow" my track suit wearing, teacher neighbor informed me on the day that should have been a snow day. "I'm not even gonna take a shower". That would be two of us.

I could hardly carry all of my loot home. Candies, tea, hot chocolate, mugs, cookies, bath salts, cards, fudge, mysterious chocolate balls, a t-shirt, even a loaf of bread. My eyes were bulging from a non-stop diet of coffee, Coke and chocolate. I was walking way too fast.

He was crying. "What will you say to your papí?" the woman next to me asked the little boy. "Te quiero! Te quiero!" he answered. "I don't want to be in here" Alejandro said into the telephone, wiping his eyes. Inadvertently I grabbed Michelle's knee and started squeezing it, then grabbed her around the shoulders. There is nothing so powerless as watching a person cry through glass. "You'll see them again" I stammered, "I hope" Alejandro answered. "No. You WILL see your family again".

"Hay muchos hombres aca?" the little boy continued, speaking through the glass and into the telephone. "Muchos o poquitos? Ahhh, muchos...."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A few of my favorite things

Two beers down and a parking ticket already in hand, I was running through the Martin Luther King National Historical Site, cross-infested gospel choir robe thrown over my shoulder, toward Ebenezer Baptist Church. Later that evening, I would be on the stage in the historic church, with said robe on my body, in front of nearly two thousand parents and friends of my students.

It had been a long day. After a few short hours of sleep due to an unexpected six hour trek to the detention center the night before, I woke with the devil hisses of Chantix in my ears. I thought about that bus we had seen pull up to the center in the middle of the night as we sped away. The dark bus to nowhere.

I worked like a beast teaching those children all day and found myself running past MLK's tomb in the dark to get to their winter recital on time later that evening. With my robe.

We sing a lot. I try to pick out jazzy numbers for the kids, nothing too high pitched, too obnoxious. Strangely, they play instruments while they sing their little edu-Spanish songs. Fake snare drums. Pianos. Or they they just shake it. They look like the Muppets.

Half way home from the detention center, Michelle gasped and pointed to her jacket. She had walked out wearing the prison visitor badge. I guess I'm glad she noticed it before we went out in public. I carry it in my pocket now. The kids are getting wild, wilder by the day, the closer Christmas comes. I have the urge to bitch at them. When I touch the badge in my pocket, things go into perspective and I don't feel like bitching anymore.

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...." the second grade chimed to the crowd. They were wearing their pajamas. Lashandi sang intently, mouth wide and head bobbing. I loved Lashandi the minute I saw her ride. He pulled up between all the nice cars in the pick up line on a bicycle. Lashandi ran out, jumped on the pegs that stuck out from the back wheel and rode away, standing up, holding firmly onto her dad's shoulders, her fake fur coat flapping in the wind. "I simply remember my favorite things...", Ignacio caught my eye, looking regal in his bathrobe. "And then I don't feeeel sooo baaaaddd" he sang solemnly. I knew I was going to cry again. Shit I was tired.

I woke to the sound of someone punching the pillow or the mattress. I sat up and looked around. Alec was completely asleep. Good morning, Chantix. I'm tired. Really tired. I showed the kids a video about Christmas in Mexico. They really liked the parties with piñatas. "True works of art, made to be destroyed" the boring narrator droned on.

"Made to be destroyed...." several echoed, eyes glowing in the darkness.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A lark who is learning to pray

"Do you have a rubber band?" Michelle asked me after clearing the metal detectors and before passing through the door made of metal bars that opened upon direction of one of the guards. "Umm, a silly band" I answered, handing her a red one shaped like maracas. It seemed pretty festive and completely out of place in that shithole.

The metal bars slid open. We passed through, along with a little pack of Hispanic people carrying small children, and waited as the doors slid shut behind us. The second set of bars slid open.

Small, urinal like stalls faced a series of windows. On the other side of the windows, a series of young, Hispanic men sat in prison clothes, smiling eagerly with phones in hand. Alejandro, a young man who attended the high school where I began my teaching career, smiled excitedly at his former teacher through the glass. I sat back on the small plastic chairs while she spoke to him, staring at the ground until the embarrassing tears cleared my eyes.

Immigration Status: "U.S. Citizen" I wrote on the form that allowed me to visit detainees. No wonder no one in his family had come to visit. "I need state I.D." the guard barked at us. Number two reason no one in his family had been able to visit him. "Hey, what can you bring them in here?" I asked a woman sitting behind us in the waiting area. "Clothes" she answered "only clothes. Not even a belt". "Phone cards?" I asked "Food? Money?" "Clothes" she answered "not even a phone number. Like they gonna try to kill someone with a piece of paper" she mumbled. Just Tío Sam making sure that when they're dropped at the border in some town they've never seen before that they have exactly zero resources. Not even a phone number. Just making sure they're fucked.

Alejandro has a face that looks like it's always smiling. I really thought he was smiling until I spoke to him over the phone and through the glass and realized no one would be smiling while they talked about the things he was talking about. People pressed babies up to the windows. Desperate hand prints smudged the visitors' side of the window from top to bottom.

Alejandro stood up abruptly. "I have to go" he told Michelle. I looked furtively at the other guys. They were all standing up. And then they were gone. An older, Hispanic visitor with a definite abuela vibe comforted Michelle as we waited for the bars to re-open. "It will be okay" she said in English. I am glad that she thinks so and hope that it will be true for her, and her detainee.

We exited through rows of fencing topped with razor wire and enclosed with barred gates. It was hard to believe that this deportation holding tank was built so um, sturdily simply to house non-violent offenders, people whose only "crime" was illegal entry to the United States, as opposed to murdering a few folks, as the level of security seemed to suggest. I found myself wondering if Charles Manson might have less security that your average person awaiting deportation. We made the two and half hour drive back to Atlanta.

I stood in our morning meeting on Monday feeling a little dazed. The music teacher announced that the kids would practice "The Sound of Music" for their upcoming performance. I have always hated that song. The music slowly started and the kids began to sing. As they sang they made their hands into flying birds and touched their hearts. They sounded like angels. I watched as one of the most cognitively damaged kids I have ever experienced made his hands into the shape of a bird, gazed upward and sang.

And then I was crying again and quickly exited, eyes on the floor.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What We Do is Secret

"¿Cómo estás?" I asked Joe, a kind of tough looking Kindergartner, just like I do everyday. Something about this kid reminds me of some steel worker in a Bruce Springsteen song, but in the best possible way. He's not a crier, he just takes things as they come. He fights girls, but he is like, five, so I guess it's okay. "Man, I'm bien," he answered "I got to go to a sleepover at Todd's and his dad put a projector in the backyard and we watched Trail of the Dead. I'm not supposed to tell you that, but we watched TRAIL OF THE DEAD". It's cool. All seventeen of us are good at keeping secrets.

"¿Cómo estás?" I continued. "Bien," the Zebra girl answered "we ate pie and turkey and Christopher is getting stitches in his private parts". Alrighty, I guess I now know why he started to tell me about some strange surgery before the break, stopped himself, and decided he didn't want to tell me anymore.

I have to tell you I was shocked when one of these little assholes walked past an empty table and straight up to the most regal member of our teaching staff during our insane dismissal procedure and told her to move, move because he wanted her chair. Not any of the empty chairs. Her chair. It was hard to see the steely look she gave him through the tears of hysterical laughter in my eyes, but I could see a five year old streak of movement going pretty quick in the other direction.

I went into the closet. The dreaded storage closet located in my room. It is piled high with random crap from other teachers and is unlit. I heard there was some Spanish stuff in there, way in the back. Someone had finally moved a few boxes, maybe I could see what was back there. Well, I found it. Piles of posters, craft supplies, nice hardcover books about themes I had already taught, jumbled, mixed together, getting torn up, wasted and re-bought by me because there was no rhyme or reason to what the hell was stuffed in that closet. I realized I was getting pissed off. And weirdly, that I wanted to cry. I have dragged around a class set of scissors, little piles of construction paper, a container of glue sticks and a small box full of DVDs, workbooks and laminated, free artifacts from my Hispanic world travels between two metro-Atlanta high schools, a school in Mexico and over to my new environment. I bought all of that shit out of my own pocket and have literally coveted and guarded it so that my students could use it. I have practically carved my initials in every part of my treasured tool box to keep it from going home with some kid or even more likely, a fellow teacher.

That closet upset me. Is this how rich schools roll?
I know I shouldn't be talking about this.
I should have probably stopped a long time ago, while I was ahead.
That closet pissed me off.