Friday, October 19, 2012

Decay and Attack

"Does a caged bird sing the same sad song?......... Always a captured thief....."

I drove my hooptie car next to the train tracks, headed to work.  It smelled funny and is still full of boxes - my teaching career - months after I was laid off. The sky was gray and wet.    

"It's something my body needs spell relief.  What we had before was beautiful, if not very brief.  You gotta call that love, I guess its something... to believe".

I was definitely listening to the wrong music, unless I planned on driving my car off of a cliff. 
It is so hard to go to work.

My poor dog looked terrible that morning.  She turned her back to me while she laid in her crate, sad, long, tired eyes looking over her shoulder, legs curled and guarding the staples that created a line straight up her belly.  She could hardly hold her head up.

"We wanted to share how impressed the Fulbright group of observers was with what we do.  We were very proud of our school."
The next line of the all school email said that we shouldn't get a half day substitute teacher.  I am the one that did that.  To bring the Fulbright group to them.  My bad.

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

I've always thought service was easy, mainly because you really can be great and make a difference.  On your own terms.
But I feel really tired these days.

"I'm NOT getting a pass".
Terrell said loudly while stomping behind me to his seat, nearly brushing my back as he looked down at me.   I love how teenage boys in adult sized bodies always resort to physical intimidation, not against men, but against women, when they don't get what they want.  Something in me doesn't feel afraid, I just marvel at how pathetic and cowardly they are.
"You angry or something, you crazy.  I don't know what your problem is.  I'm not leaving".

I talked him out of the room and closed the door.  

I broke a bone in my foot over the weekend.  It is horribly swelled and bruised.  I am in a "walking cast', more like a hobbled, wincing, dragging cast.  I start to sweat and grind my teeth when I walk, grimacing. It hurts.

Terrell came back with his pass and threw it on the ground.
"Pick that up," I commanded, "you don't think I'm going to, do you?"
He picked it up.
And then I privately got in his face, "walking cast" and all and let him know he didn't have two choices, he had one:  SHUT THE FUCK UP.  

"You have no right to judge me, its none of your business.....I thought I had my shit together, I know what time it is....."

*Lyrics and title, Smoke, "Decay and Attack"
*Quote, Martin Luther King Jr., you know, my man Martin. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lost in Translation

"Ayyyyyy MACARENA!" the karaoke leader called as we jumped and twisted to our new direction for the next round of line dancing that coincided with the song.  I was laughing as I looked around the seedy dark bar. It smelled kind of funny.  The dark, street level windows were adorned with neon Coors Light signs as well as other glowing advertisements of a variety of beers that even I would never consider drinking.  It was late on a Thursday, a school night, and I kept asking myself how I had ended up in this strange bar in downtown Atlanta, dancing anonymously to the Macarena, while a hodge podge of people looked on.

I struggled to knock down some grading before "going under": before entering the cavernous hotel for days of Fulbright workshops.  I glanced at Ophelia's quiz.  She is an annoying girl that thinks she knows everything yet continuously displays the opposite on nearly every assessment.  In response to a multiple choice question she had written "N/A".  I laughed.  I really didn't think you could write "not applicable" on a quiz, but I guess I was wrong.

I remembered the day earlier in the week, when the email was sent out to a large number of teachers, me included.
"The Fulbright Teacher Exchange would like to observe us!" it said.  I was on the list just like everyone else, anonymous, unacknowledged.  I was also on the observation list.  I emailed the sender.
"I can't be observed by the teachers. I am working the conference as a resource that they are attending.  I will have a substitute.  It was approved at the end of August."
I sat down for lunch with my department.  A number of them had the email printed out.  They were worried.
"Fulbright is coming to observe us?!  Why didn't anyone tell us earlier?!"
I tried to explain what was going on, that they didn't have anything to worry about, that the international teachers just wanted to see how an ordinary, American school functions.  They wouldn't listen.  The turned to our Chair.
"I know they were coming." he said secretively, smiling, never mentioning that it was because of me, or that they should listen to me, that I could explain things.
"They are flying them from all over the United States just to see us!" a teacher exclaimed.
Yeah.  Yeah right. He didn't dispute it. 

"Similarities and differences?!" one of the workshop facilitators elicited the teachers.  "Well," a Scottish teacher began, "at home, the kids are small and irritating.  Here, they are big and annoying.  I mean really, the size of 'um......" he finished, eyes widening.

I walked through the parking lot at my beer store /  gas station.  A scruffy white homeless man approached me.  I cut him off at the pass.
"I have a dollar," I offered "you need money, right?"
"Those people in there, they hate me." Why, because you beg off their customers?
"Will you go in there and buy me a beer?'
"Have one of these" I offered, pulling one off of the six pack I had just bought.  
"They're strong.  But I don't have a bottle opener. I just don't, um, carry that around."
He handed me my dollar back and smacked the bottle open on my car door. 
"Take care" I called as he walked away. 

"Hilary, something weird is going on with your school." A program administrator informed me.  She is a person I greatly admire, more than greatly admire, emulate.
"I spoke with them yesterday and they said you were going to be at a conference when we visit your school.  They don't even know that you are working our conference!"
"I know," I responded,  "they're clueless.  They are acting like I had nothing to do with them being selected for international teacher observations at the school.  They are leaving me out of the loop, acting like I am just any other participant."
"Hilary, that's bullshit.  The only reason why we are observing them is because you recommended them".
"I know.  It pissed me off for a couple of days, but now I don't care.  I am used to it.  I just hope everyone has a great visit."
"HILARY.  Don't 'get used to' that kind of treatment." 

All of the teachers, mentors, alumni and program administrators walked around the King center.  Just like anytime anyone receives visitors, my boring city suddenly transformed itself into an interesting place as I pointed things out and gave a little history when I could.  One of the administrators approached me and introduced herself.  She was very friendly and immediately started telling me personal things which made her seem all the more casual and approachable.
"Hey," I said, "it's really hot and I know an awesome juice place close by.  Are you thirsty?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed.
She marveled as we walked through King's neighborhood about how lucky she was to have a local next to her, that neighborhood walks were her favorite things, just seeing, seeing what people do.  We arrived at my juice place and she was completely charmed.  I was surprised when she busted into native Spanish and charmed everyone that worked there.
We sat out front at a table, enjoying our juice, the weather and the neighborhood.
"Hilary," she stated, while sipping on her juice, "with your international experience, you really should be working with us."
I was stunned.
"That would be awesome..." I said, almost uncomfortable, afraid to look too eager if it was just a baseless compliment.
"I'm serious," she added, "think about it.  I can help you."

We got off of the bus in front of the school.  I was relieved to see the principal and her secretary waiting to greet the teachers.  As I descended the bus, the principal looked at me.
"So, that's why you're not at school today!"
I smiled tightly.  It was explained and approved at the end of August.
The teachers had an excellent visit.  I felt proud of the school, though I reiterated multiple times to the teachers that I had only been there a couple of months.  I was glad that the principal put on such a great reception for them.  I still don't know why she wouldn't speak to me all day, why she treated me like just another participant. 

A blast from the past approached me at the big dinner, the sit down dinner with the keynote speaker and everything.  She had worked at the school I left after going on exchange, the one that hosted my exchange partner.  The one that treated both of us like shit before I never returned to it.  She acted friendly at first.
"You caused a lot of problems." she stated.
"What, they didn't like my exchange partner?"
"No, not him.  That you didn't come back.  The stakeholders wanted to know why the paid a teacher to teach in a foreign country."
"You know as well as I do that it didn't cost them a penny.  They got a free, international teacher in exchange.  Why is this the first time I've heard this?  It has been over two years....."
"They almost didn't approve my application, because of you.  I practically had to sign in blood."
"My application nearly wasn't approved either.  I had to overnight it.  They didn't know what 'Fulbrite' was.  That is how that county works."
"Where do you work now?"
I told her.
"I want to work there.  How can I find out about jobs?  The county is falling apart".
"Yeah.  That's why I didn't come back."
"Did you ask to get invited to do these things?"
"No." I responded.
"Oh.  Maybe I just need to put myself more out there.  It's because I teach Music.  That's it.  It's an unusual field."
Yeah. Maybe that's it.  I glanced at my salad and looked back at her.  The rest of the table was already eating.
"We'll talk later!" she ended, cheerfully.  
"That looked like a nice reunion!" my friend sitting next to me commented, without a hint of sarcasm.  I was glad no one could tell what it really was. 

There were some older, white, businessmen-types wearing the remainders of suits - button downs and pants and shiny shoes without ties or jackets.  Convention folks?  A few bits of female white trash:  brash singers of new country hits with frizzy hair, tramp stamp tattoos and a bit of a meth look to their unattractively thin bodies.  More locals, tough looking black men with "A" caps on and dark, Ray-Ban style sunglasses, though it was the middle of the night.  The karaoke leader:  a long haired white man in his forties that I could tell still really liked White Snake.  A fun looking group of dressed up black women that came cha-chaing over to our originally nervous table, shaking their ample booties at the international teachers and getting them in the mood to have fun.  That's right, I forgot to describe our hodge podge group:  a few American white women in teacher clothes and group of elegant Mexican exchange teachers.

Watching one of the Mexican teachers belt out a Tom Jones song, preceded by the tough black men singing a Barry White number, The Lost in Translation feel never left me as I spun and laughed, pee beer in hand, in a place I normally wouldn't even go near.