Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clouds in My Coffee

I sat in my yard, reading a book in the late afternoon light.  Lola was beside me.  We had gone for a walk, I went for a jog, we planted some stuff and we relaxed.  I always leave town the minute school gets out and stay gone until the school year begins again.  I decided, even before the shit-canning, to only go out of town during July this year.   It was a big decision.  I can't believe how much I am enjoying it.

Lola perked up.  I saw a couple of my former students riding bikes up the street.  Lola started toward them.  I picked her up and met the second group that was following the first two bike riders.

"She's so cute!" Ida exclaimed.  She is the gentler of the pair of identical twins.  They are both nice, but Ida's face is softer and her joy still evident, even though she is in middle school.
"I got burned!" Cody said with a smile, lifting his shirt to show me a bright red belly button.
"Wha....?" It looked awful.
"Popcorn kernel.  We were camping.  It flew right in my belly button!"
"You have always gotten the weirdest injuries" I laughed, thinking of the times he invited me to his house, you know, the white one on the corner with the big tree, as if I would know where that was.  He wanted me to see his dirt bike course.  He's wild.
They played with Lola, then I took her back out of fear that she would run into the street.
"She lost her job" I heard Cody tell the group.
It is weird to hear a rising fourth grader say that.  And I felt weird.  Am I the strange lady on the block now?

I had a brief reprieve.  Lola was sleeping so I ran out to Target to get some shit.  I ran into one of my favorite parents while checking out.  I had Lola on my mind, she could not wake up with her crate door shut.  We quickly exchanged pleasantries, sincere ones on my part.  

"What are you going to do?" she finally asked me.
"I don't know.  Look for a job.  I'm looking" I answered.
"What about you?  How is your job hunt going?"  I knew that she was a teacher, had taken a little time off and was ready to get back in the game and had been looking around the neighborhood.
"Well....I am the new lead English teacher at the other campus.  Look at all this stuff in my cart, I am already getting ready..."
"I am so happy you got that job.  Save your receipts, you'll have a classroom budget next year and they will reimburse you..."
"Really?  Thanks for telling me!"

I walked away.  I really was glad that she got the job.  But I felt weird.  And a little sick. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Life's Greatest Thrill

Lola and I walked to school.  It was the final day of post planning.  We had a lot to do. 

We passed the Boo Radley house's half a million dollar replacement.  It had an "under contract" sign in front of it.  

I had almost packed everything when the vultures arrived, bringing their boxes, their random shit. 
"Where is all this Spanish stuff supposed to go?' their leader asked.
"I don't know.  No one knows.  I am just trying to get my stuff out of here, the stuff I bought".
There was obviously going to be a problem.  They wanted to move in before I could even move out.  My bones were being picked clean. 
Where the Spanish stuff was going to go was not my concern. 

I could barely walk out of the room when I was ready to hand in my keys.  File cabinets, unboxed piles of "teaching materials", chairs, debris blocked my path.  The new occupants.

"So, here are my keys, my checkout sheet, my insurance cancellation, my Teacher's Retirement cash-in form, I think this is everything" I told the bookkeeper.  I looked at her assistant, the part-time assistant that was making almost as much as the whole, full-time Spanish program cost, the person who took my job.  I was handing her my purple folder of death, the special folder with the special checkout list for those that were pursuing "new adventures". 

"Okay, looks good.." her evil leader responded.
"Listen, the school still owes me almost five hundred dollars in reimbursements, are you writing that check today?" I asked.
"I write checks every other Friday, so next Friday I'll write your check and mail it to you."  she responded.
"You understand that I have been let go, that I'm not coming back, I am not comfortable with this".
She didn't care.
"Have you signed the form that I need to renew my teaching certificate?  The one that says that you have done criminal background checks?  They've put a hold on my certificate until they receive your signature.  I am job hunting.  It looks bad..."
The assistant pulled out a foot high pile of papers that were not organized in any way.  I stared at them while they dug through it.  Finally, it was located.  All I needed was a signature.
"Well, I need time..." she finally responded.

Lola and I went home.
A moving truck was in front of Boo's house.
"What a cute dog!" the mom called to me.
I let them pet her.
"What kind of dog is she?"
"She's a Pit.  Welcome to the neighborhood, I live next door" I said, extending my hand.
"So nice to meet you, this is my daughter Eliza, she'll be in Kindergarten next year..."
"And that is my school!" the child shouted, pointing at my now former workplace.

I pushed the blinking button of the answering machine.
"Maestra Wagner, this is Elena.  I'm just checking in.  Give me a call, I'm worried that you are okay".
I felt charmed and a little embarrassed.  She is ten.  But with such a kind heart. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

All Tomorrow's Parties

The air raid sirens were echoing through the night, followed by a loud, Native American warrior chant.  I found it exciting at first.  But little by little, it was becoming a barrage, a kind of disturbing barrage.  It made me want to crawl under my seat like Lola does when too much shit is happening around her. 

I haven't been to a baseball game in years.  It was actually kind of pleasant, nice weather, good company and these guys running around doing Dios sabe qué on some really nice grass.  If only the sirens would stop...

I finished the school year.  Now, I am numb.  And confused.  It is difficult for me to articulate what has gone on the last weeks.  All I know is that I will miss my students terribly, miss knowing every kid in this neighborhood, miss jogging around the park and hearing kids scream my name and reach their hands out of car windows to wave...I was almost to the point where I thought I would do anything to stay with them, take on a job that was ill suited for me, work for free, fight for a job that would barely cover my bills, anything to stay in my little community at that school.  On the last morning meeting of the school year, they called me in front of the crowd with the other teachers that were "taking on new adventures".  When I saw Miss Jane and Mr. Jerry dressed up like Sunday church and in the line of those that would be exploring vast new horizons, I burst into tears.  They have been the custodians at that school for nine years.  They loved my little mohawked Emma.  And they were let go for a cheaper company.  That was when I cried, I mean really cried.   But now, I am numb.  

I threw a party at my house, invited everyone from the school that I really love.  It was fun, too much fun.  My sister surprised me by decorating my yard and buying me these awesome beer chillers.  I was thrilled and raging, trying to be sure to talk to every single one of those people at length.  And then I opened my big drunk mouth and let out one of my beloved's responsibly guarded secret, not out of spite or gossip, but love, out of love that she had been screwed and couldn't tell anyone about it.

I woke up at five in the morning and pulled Lola out of her crate and made her lie in my bed with me.  I spent the day feeling guilty and stupid, guilty that I betrayed my friend, guilty that I don't think my sister knows how much I appreciate her.  Guilty.  I sat in the classroom, tired, boxing up my stuff.

And felt bad.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

De Rodillas

Warren had always been difficult.  Actually, not just difficult, horrible.  Two years of awful.  I have wondered a million times why he hadn't been put out of our "school of choice".  We never bonded.  We never saw a moment of decency in each other. 

Wouldn't pick up a pencil.  Disruptive. Obnoxious.  Laying face down in the middle of the classroom.  Mocking.  Screaming. 

So, I am out.  The school board cancelled elementary Spanish.  I wasn't fired, the program is gone.  No notice, no warning.  No position.  I have been trying to be professional about it, do the right thing by the kids and have a good time, show them a nice send off.  I have been amazing.  But tired.  And sick.  And worried.  And stunned.  It is a dumb decision.  It is.  Adding a bunch of non-instructional positions, yet cutting a whole academic program.  Part-time bookkeepers that make as much as my whole program costs, weird coordinators, stipends for unnecessary things.  Top heavy.  Secretarial heavy.  Cutting of instructional staff.  And a whole program.  THE language program.  My program. 

Warren and I sat on the floor by the bookcase, flipping through National Geographics. I love that magazine.  I had brought in a pile that the wonderful former owners of our house had given me.  Given me for school.  The kids were supposed to be making culture collages, but no one could stop reading them.

"I have never owned a dog" I told Warren, while looking at the volcanoes of Indonesia.  I love volcanoes.
Lola was in his lap.
"I'm nervous," I told him "I want to do the right thing.  She is going to be a strong dog".
"I think maybe you should get a Lab as your first dog" he informed me, stroking Lola's head.
"Yeah," I answered "I know a Pit bull isn't a starter dog.  But I love her.  I don't want any dog.  I want Lola".
I quizzed him about the dogs at his house.  Does he have a fenced yard?  Do both of his parents work?  Do the dogs stay outside, or in crates?
He answered the questions carefully, and gave me sound advise.

I became the default caretaker of Lola.  I wanted to do it.  She stayed in my classroom and slept at my house.  I knew I wanted her.

Warren started showing up, unexpectedly.   His teachers had signed up to host Lola but had to send her away, because Warren couldn't function with her in the room.

He carried her back to me.  I began asking him to be my second in command.  He is gentle with Lola, knows exactly what to do.  He followed every direction I gave him.  Get her bed.  Grab the leash.  She has to pee, don't let her run into the street.

He hovered.  I don't know how he got out of his classroom all the time.  But he did. 

"Listen," I told him, "Lola is mine but I have joint custody right now.  I am taking her to the faculty meeting.  If she goes home with me instead of her real mom, I'll find you in aftercare so that you can kiss her goodbye". 

"Hilary, I am ready for you to fully adopt Lola." Teresa informed me at the end of the faculty meeting.   I was so relieved.  I was afraid she would change her mind. 

I took her down to see Warren.  He insisted on knowing where I lived.
"I can't take you out of aftercare, I'll get in trouble" I told him.
"But, I am not sure what else they can do to me..."
We walked outside of the fence and down the street.  Warren carried Lola.
"Right there," I told him "that's my house.  I am always in the back and Lola will be too.  Let's go, I am walking you back".

My phone was buzzing.  So happily, my sister was coming over to hang out.  She hugged Lola and we opened some beers and went out front.  Lola laid on the porch.  We talked like crazy, my cute dog, loss of job, all the everything.

I was surprised when I saw Warren walking his mother up my front steps. 
"We don't want to bother you...." she began.
"Warren, get up here!"  I called.

"Lola is under the porch swing".

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I laid flat on my back, looking up at the leaves of the oak trees.  They looked so defined, like technicolor.  Only homeless people lay down in Grant Park, you know, on the ground.  I've always been attracted to it, and, I finally did it. An eight week old puppy laid on my chest, sleeping, like a new born child.  Her name is Lola.  She is not mine.

"Just five more minutes..." I thought to myself over and over, like I do when I hit snooze on my alarm clock in the morning.  I gazed at the myriad of green while Lola burrowed her nose into my neck, breathing heavily.  

"Is that a Pit?" a young group of African -American  kids asked as they walked by.  "Yes" I answered, "she's a Pit Bull".  "Can we hold her, pet her?" they asked.  "Yes.." I answered "but only for a second...".

My life is spiraling out of control.  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Grandes Amores

If you are wondering what happened to all the beer, it was me.  My bad.  Sorry.  I've been under some stress.  I didn't mean to start a world-wide shortage. 

I waited impatiently behind an older, African American woman with the biggest feet I have ever seen as she dominated the pharmacist and cashier just to select an over the counter medicine.

"You want the four pill pack or eight?" the cashier asked from the aisle as she selected the woman's medicine.
"Four," Big Foot called back from the counter, "I just want ONE days releeeef".
"Will I be able to go to church tomorrow?" she continued, though it looked like she had just come from church, dressed entirely in white, a long skirt and lady-jacket thing, baggy white hose and huge white shiny heels on those feet. 
"You'll be fine for church tomorrow, just stay home today and clean the living room or something".
I noticed a small, glass bottle full of clear liquid at the register.  I was starting to get suspicious.
"Ya'll got a bathroom?  Can't I just go in there and shove it in?"
I started giggling.
"You got an old car or a new one?" the pharmacist asked.  
"Still makin' payments..."
"Yeah but is it old or new?"
"Yeah, it's new.  And when its paid for, it'll be old".
"You might want to wait until you get home then". 

I have never heard such a public discussion of constipation and shitting oneself before.  Or shitting ones car.  Or giving yourself some kind of, I don't know, pinche enema.
Damn.  What a day brightener.

I laid on the wood-floor of the Conservatory,  really drunk and listening to the Kinks.  Man, that is a really pretty room in my princess house.  My mom and my sister were there.  The big Spanish assembly was a success.  The high heels I have never been able to wear surrounded me.  I just felt like getting them out.  I was so proud and thrilled by what the kids and I accomplished.  I knew it was awesome.  I went through with it after my job elimination because I had already started working on it with the kids and didn't want to disappoint them.  And because, well, I wanted the adults to know what they'd be missing without a Spanish program next year. 

"Y por eso los grandes amores, de mucho colores, me gustan a mí...."