Saturday, December 21, 2013

Express yourself

"STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON!!"  my radio screamed.   The hooptie was driving north.  I feared it would break down, but was anxious to get to the college graduation.  It was raining.  Gray.  But I felt good.

I have told you about her before, but you might not remember.  I have told you a lot of things.  I can't remember the name I made up for her, for her on the blog.  To respect her privacy.  I met her during my first year of teaching.  I am now in my eighth, which seems impossible.  The first year was horrible.  Except for her.  A quiet girl, from Afghanistan.  In Spanish One, which was ridiculous because she needed to be in ESOL.  The kids made fun of her name, they said it sounded like 'fuck'.  Her last name is Hussain.  'Saddam Hussain' they yelled, if I said her last name.  Idiots.  Stupid ass pieces of shit that didn't know their elbow from their asshole. 

That was back in the day when kids knew who Saddam Hussain was.  Maybe it's good that they don't anymore. 

She was determined.  She came to tutorial everyday, DETERMINED to get a good grade, to learn.  "How do you say 'I cried in the night'" she asked me one day, during tutorial.
"'Lloré por la noche', but... why?"
"I went to school for a year in Afghanistan.  But, it became too dangerous, so my parents kept me home.  One night, there was a terrible fight.  My father and the other men sent us, the women and children, into the house.  We came out in the morning.  My father was dead.  We fled to Pakistan.  My mother took us there.  We worked in a rug factory.  It made my fingers hurt, but we had to get by.  And then, we got visas, we came here.  I always wanted to go to school."

She graduated within the four year framework.  Learned the Roman alphabet, learned to write from right to left, learned English, passed the Georgia High School Writing test and all of the rest of the standardized tests.  She had been to school for ONE year, before coming to the United States.  And still graduated within four years, something that a lot of our native born can't manage to do, with elementary and middle school backing them up. 

And then, she went to college.  Earned a full scholarship at a four year, private liberal arts school.  It was difficult for her to leave her family.  Though they were only two hours away, it was hard for her not to live in the house with them.  Or help support them.  She felt self indulgent for concentrating on her own education.  And, her brother died unexpectedly on her first day of college.  I wish I hadn't been concentrating on my own self during that time.  I could have helped her.  She needed my help and I didn't give it. I was a grown woman and only thought about myself. 

"COMPTON!" my radio screamed.  I knew I could drive fast enough to get there. 

I stared at the kid in class behind me.  Was he really using his phone like, right there, in class? 
"I gotta hit you back," he said into the phone.
Someone resisted.
"No really, I got to hit you back".
"Look, he needs to hit you back!"  I said in a high pitched voice.
"No really, it was 'bout MONEY" my student told me.
"You can't text about money?"
"Callins faster"
Alright.
"Okay, it appears K-rod has closed up the business shop and we can get on with things." I announced to the class.  I was actually pleased that he had respected my look and hung up the phone. 

I saw her in the graduation line up.  At first, I thought wow, look at my lady in her graduation robe.  And then I saw all her cords.  For honors, for achievements.  And I cried. 

I haven't slept all week.  I have a cold.  People get them.  I was counting the days until the break.  It finally came.  And when I arrived at my house, water was gushing all over the lawn.  The spicket was broken.  My sister and I couldn't turn it off.  Water in Atlanta is expensive.  Like, water the plants and pay fifty dollars more next month.  And this shit had been going on for hours.  I called the city to turn that bitch off.  They said they'd get to it.  Only took four more hours. 

"Shit, we won't have water for days, can't flush the toilet, shower, nothing!" Alec bitched. 
"It's the weekend before Christmas, we are going to pay out the ass".
But, I called Jesus.  And within one hour, we had repaired pipes with water running through them.  I wanted to pay him out the ass, but he wouldn't accept it.

Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jekyll and Hyde

"Well, I agree with SOME of the things Nelson Mandela did..." one of my co-workers stated, a matter of hours after his death.  She made it sound like she was really going out on a limb with her generous praise.
Who the fuck has a problem with Nelson Mandela?

"Kids these days!  I fear for our future...." the older, almost grandmotherly substitute teacher said to me in way of greeting.  I had just arrived at the high school.
"Yeah, totally.  They're bad..."
"I mean the things they will say!  My goodness!"
"Yeah, they're pretty bad" I responded staring at my computer.
"Pussy.  They were talking about pussy!"
Okay....now you have my attention....
"Eating pussy!"
Not exactly what I expected coming out of your mouth.....
"And!  I will not use the words THEY used, but another young man spoke of the girl passing gas while he did it!".
Okay, you are really freaking me out now.  Casual discussion of 'eating pussy' with a complete stranger is okay, but the word 'fart' is apparently off the table?
"Bye now!  I SO enjoyed our conversation!" she said, sliding out of the classroom.

Seventh period of the day.  Friday.  LET ME OUT.  The kids were not up to working.  They were pulling out everything, personal questions, the difference between Mexican Spanish and Spanish Spanish, when did you start wearing glasses?
"Look you guys, I can tell you are not really feeling it today.  Let's just get through this warm up and then I have games for you".
"Why is the first one in the imperfect instead of the preterite?"
"Well Chicho, 'siempre' implies a general time frame instead of a specific one, so go with the imperfect".
"Okay, I got it".
"So, why DO we study Spanish in high school?" another kid asked in an attempt to avoid the warm up. 
"Just lucky"
"So, why does 'se niega' switch to 'se nego' in the preterite?"  Chico asked.

What the fuck was it, opposite day?  The rest of the class was going nuts and Chicho was actually asking good questions, instead of openly talking about jumping people and doing drugs.
"Well, Chicho, lucky for us you don't have to do stem changes in the preterite"

"Oh, okay.  I think I'm getting this" he responded, diligently correcting his work while in the middle of a seventh period, Friday-circus.

It had been that kind of day.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hallowed

"Any interesting news?  ¿Noticias interesantes del fin de semana?"  I asked my quintos, my fifth graders.
"Mi cabello quedó atrapado en el mezclador y los bomberos tuvieron que venir" a small, transparent girl with blue veins on her forehead answered triumphantly, reading from Google translate on her Ipad.  
"Hijo de la gran puta, your hair got stuck in a mixer?  What kind of mixer?"
"You know, the big Kitchen Aid".
Holy shit.
"It got all tangled up and my parents had to call 911". 
I noticed the bruise on her forehead.  She's lucky her hair wasn't ripped out at the scalp.   
"Definitely a weekend gone wrong...".
She nodded enthusiastically, blue eyes and veins radiating from her face.   

"Shit, I need to try to get some work done....." Alicia mumbled, holding a stack of papers that she intended to grade in front of her while we both sat on the ground, ducking beneath student desks with the lights off.
"Oh God, I forgot my phone...." I responded, refiling through my "intruder alert" packet of colored cards and escape route maps.  I could barely fit under that desk.
"My lower back is killing me..." she responded, bent over and Indian style in an attempt to fit under the desk.

It was quite a crowd.  I love the Grant Park children's Halloween parade.  My niece used to be in it before she could barely talk.  But wow, so many kids now.  I walked down and watched from the sidelines.
A couple of kids starting waving and their mom brought them across the street.
"You look amazing!"
"Thank you, look!  I have short hair now!" one of my former lovelies responded, removing the hood from her costume.  They crossed the street and got back in line for the parade, amid the sea of new, unknown children.
I felt like a ghost. 

Halloween finally came.  I passed out candy at my sister's house, dressed in my Bearded Lady costume.  I could not tolerate the mustache attached to the beard, and ended up looking like Amish bearded lady. A large group approached the house.
"Trick or Treat!!!!"
"Here you go, here you go, take that....hey, are you okay?" my sister asked a heavy girl that looked a little off.
"She just having an asthma attack" the adult of the group responded.
"Her mom told me that she'd be able to walk this!".
Holly has asthma.  She brought the girl her inhaler in an effort to help.  The girl slid down on the front steps.
"You guys go along," Holly instructed, "she can rest here".
They went about their trick or treating.
"You're okay, just relax.." I instructed.
I was surprised when she rested her head against my shoulder and gripped my arm.  I instinctively cradled her head and looked up at the the stars.
"It's okay, honey.  It's okay".

"Hey, what was the first step?  I remember 'evade' and like, attack, but what was the first step?"
"Escape" Alicia answered, looking at her notes.
"Fuck, well, I guess they are assuming we didn't escape.  Do you have your weapon?" I asked, looking at the scissors I had grabbed, along with my packet and rosters.
"No!  Well there must be something in here..." she responded, grabbing a plastic pencil box from under one of the desks and opening it.

"What is your name?"  I asked the girl, while sitting next to her on the couch.
"Umba..." she responded faintly, eyes like slits.
I ripped of my beard, imagining how unsettling it must be to be barely conscious and in a strange house with a bearded woman in front of you.  She could barely speak.
"More...cold..water.. please...."
I got it for her.
"Are you in middle school?"  I asked, thinking I was undershooting her age.  
"Fifth.." she breathed.
Fifth grade.  Her weight made her look so much older.  Fifth grade and abandoned on Halloween.  I put a cold compress on her forehead.
"You're safe.  You are safe..."  I kept repeating.
"I can't... walk... back there...."  she wheezed "I can't make it...."
A younger member of her group came in.  
"I wanted to check on Umba.  Umba, you okay!?"  I was glad someone cared.
"She can't walk back.  I am going to give her a ride home.  You guys Trick or Treat.  Umba, where do you live?".  I handed her a piece of paper and pen, to write the address.  She couldn't write.  Her eyes remained slits, her breathing heavy.  The boy wrote it down.  Hank Aaron, right by the stadium.   

There was a slight tapping on the door.  Should we open it?  Was it for real or some sort of trick?  Alicia and I looked at each other.  This stupid drill had been going on for over a half an hour.  We sat still, crunched under the desks. 

"Hey, we go with her!" the adult chanted, cheerily.  I hadn't anticipated loading six people, including a few really little kids, into the car.  I mean, really?  Umba was sick.  This wasn't a free fucking taxi.  "Her Umba, you ride her on your lap" the adult instructed, putting a child on Umba.
"Umba's sick.  Someone else needs to hold her" I responded and instructed the child to the back seat.  They crammed in.  As I was starting the car, my brother in-law ran up.
"I got this" he said, instructing me out of the car.
I watched him pull out, carefully dodging trick or treaters.  And then they were gone.

I stared at the marigolds, the pretty colonial buildings, the altars.  I have never been to Morelia before and have been wanting to go for a while.  When I stepped off the plane and walked across the runway and through the sliding doors of the airport Friday afternoon, I was surprised how comfortable and happy I was just to be in Mexico, if only for a couple of days.  

I felt bleary. A week had passed in three days.   I loaded my work bag into the car Monday morning, having returned to Atlanta a few hours before.  

I paused.  There was a little pile of candy on the floor.  Where did that come from? What?

And then I remembered Umba...
 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Kaup Jai Lai Lai

"Unfortunately, we will not be able to visit the King Center or the Carter Presidential Library while we are in Atlanta, due to the government shutdown".

Great.  The Fulbright program that has been the main reason why I continue to teach is no longer funded, after sixty-five years, due to the sequester and general assholery in D.C.   When I say not funded, I mean it's over, done, no longer.  Now the fucking federal government can't even keep its ass open so one of the last workshops of my beloved program can host a pinche cultural visit in Atlanta.

"So, where you from? What you do here in Atlanta?"
"Oh, I live here.  I'm just working a conference in the hotel".
"Okay, I get you your beer".
I don't like speaking with bartenders.

"We are sorry to announce that Richard Zolinski, U.S. State Department representative of Cultural Affairs, was unable to travel to Atlanta, due to the federal government shutdown.  He wanted you to know that he is here in spirit".

"What kind of conference?".
"It is an international conference, teachers that are from a lot of places, teaching here this year in the U.S.".
"My daughter teacher.  University.  But only part time work".
"That happened to me last year.  Only part-time work.  Were you...born in the U.S.?"  I asked carefully, knowing the answer was no.
"Nooo!"
"Wait, wait, let me guess.  Sorry, let me do this.  Cambodia?"
"Close!"
"Alright, Laos?"
"Wrong!"
"Vietnam?"
"Only one lefffft!"
"Holy shit, Thailand!"
"Yes!"
"Okay, which part?"
"I from a small town, called Bangkok".
We were both laughing.  Kind of screaming laughing.
"Tell me where you been..."
Oh...where I've been...so many places that I have been...so lucky that I have been...

I remember my first workshop as a grantee in the program. I had received notification a couple of weeks before and after all the waiting, things went into high speed.  Direct flight to D.C. into Reagan, at a convenient time.  Posh ass hotel.  Cash handed to me on arrival to be sure I didn't pay for my cab from the airport out of my own pocket.  As I sat in our first meeting, dressed up and nervous, Richard greeted us:
"On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, we would like to thank you for your time, for taking time out of your schedules to be here and participate in this program".
That is just not something us bottom class of public school teachers hear very often.  Or never. It felt important, like we really were valued.
"Wow, we're not in DeKalb County anymore" my co-worker from Atlanta whispered to me. 

"So, we ate everything we could see.  People told us Bangkok was a shit-hole but we loved it...so much to do, so much beauty..."
"Yeah but that plane!  Nineteen hours in plane!".
"Oh my God, no shit.  I made the mistake of watching the monitor, you know, where the little plane is sitting over the ocean".
"You watch that thing!  It horrible!  I drink beer and sleep!"

"Wait, what do you mean?" I asked one of the other alum that was working the conference. 
"She doesn't have a job anymore, it's over".
"Yeah, I know it's over, but I thought...I thought she would stay on and work with the other Fulbright programs.....what is happening?".
I can't make up any more fake names for her.  She made my Fulbright exchange happen, first from the Commission in Mexico and later supported me from orgs in D.C. that administered the grant.  She has been the only non-family person that has stuck with me through thick and thin, the only person that has told me for the last five years that I have been doing something good, more than good, honorable, in the classroom.

"Her job is done in two weeks".


Friday, October 11, 2013

There are places you will go

"¿Qué hiciste el fin de semana pasado?" I asked the fifth graders.
"Well," Jonathon answered, "One of my chickens was cremated.  Do you know what creamated means?"  he asked the class.
"It was injected with something and slowly died as the air went out of his lungs" he added, flatly.
I didn't correct his mistake.
"I'm sorry, Jonathon.  Something like that happened to one of my sister's chickens recently.  It was very sad".
He stared at me with the same dead look.

"So, how is Jarod doing in Spanish?  What are his weaknesses?"
"Honestly, I couldn't tell you.  He comes to class late everyday, and never even has paper or pencil.  He hasn't turned anything in in three months.  Can't even get him to copy off of the board.  Your guess is as good as mine".
"What's wrong, Jarod?" his caseworker asked.
"Well she, she goes too fast" Jarod answered, voice raised, sounding innocent.
"Well.  If she go too fast, we will have to see about a schedule change".
I teach the bottom feeders.  The mouth breathers.  I repeat everything, day after day, over and over.  I sit and read out loud to them.  Something I don't even have to do for my fifth graders.  But white lady Spanish teacher go too fast.  Whatever.  Change him if you want.  Get him out out of my class.  It is one less headache to deal with.  But it pissed me off.

"And then!  I just sent mind-controlled sonic missiles to your house!  It is gone, burned!"  Jonathon's eyes were rolling back in his head.  He was almost delirious.  We were laughing hysterically.  He was hugging me while he talked about my demise.
"Jonathon, please though.  What happened to my pets, Lola and my birds?"
"They escaped!"
"Thank God"
"But then animal control got them!"
The kids were screaming.  Jonathon was screaming, but crazily articulate and inventive and scary all at the same time.  Ms. T's class has never gotten over what happened and she hasn't either.  I walk in to teach Spanish and her face has a horrible, defeated look on it.  The kids are going crazy.  She leaves and doesn't even try to get them ready for me.
Jonthanon was stabbing and swinging a pencil around wildly while he told his tales.  He almost hit me in the eye, but I have been wearing my glasses since the day I couldn't afford to go to the eye doctor for a new prescription or buy contacts.
Then, he almost stabbed me in the arm.

"You're are making excuses, Jarod.  It's always everyone else's fault.  The problem is you".
The football coach's eyes locked with mine.  I was so glad someone was going to say it.
"Hey, do you know his reading level?" he continued, asking the head of the Special Education department.
"Three and a half, four" she responded.
"Grade?!"
"Yes".
"Why is it so low!"  Jarod exclaimed, visibly upset.  I don't like this little fucker, but I was surprised they outted his reading level in front of everyone.
"Those are your scores, Jarod".
"I can read!" he responded, frustrated, lowering his head.
"He also has a low verbal IQ" the department chair added.
He didn't even get that.
"I want a consequence" Jarod said slowly.
"If I don't go to tutorial, I need a consequence".
"How about we go positive!  What would you like if you DO go to tutorial?".
"That doesn't work for me.  I need to get into trouble".
"Okay, then a silent lunch.  I know you hate that.  But let's go positive!  You drink Gatorade.  I'll get you a Gatorade".
"Okay, I guess. Gatorade".
"I have to go.  I have a class tonight that starts in fifteen minutes".
My Specialist class.  My Ridiculous class.  Half of the other teachers had already left.
"Jarod, you know where I am.  We can work through this".
And then I left.

"Animal Control!!"
"But they escaped!  Now they are sitting in front of the charred remains of your former house!"
"Thank you for that, Jonathon.  Thanks for saving my babies".

"Here's your keys. You are over your time allotment here".



Saturday, October 5, 2013

On a planet far, far away....

"Something happened!"  one of the fifth graders said the minute I walked into their room to do their Spanish class.  The class was buzzing. 

"Why I act the way I do?  'Cuz I got a teacher like you.  Put that in your head.  Fuck you".  Ah, always a pleasure working with certain students.  This kid's parents abandoned him.  Hmmm.  I wonder why.  I would definitely leave him out on the rocks to die if I hatched such a piece of shit. 

"Who are you?"  I asked the two men in safety vests standing next to my house. 
"We survey land" one of them answered with a Russian accent. 
Funny, then why were they on my land?

"Alright, one at a time" I instructed.  I knew they were not going to let it go until I let them explain what happened.
"Ms. T flipped out yesterday!  Something was wrong.  It's medical.   We tried to help". 
"Wait, wait, wait, one at a time".  I know Ms. T relatively well.  I know she has medical issues. 
"She wouldn't let us leave school.   When we tried to get her her medicine, she started yelling at us.  At first we thought it was a joke.  Then we thought it was a test.  And then, we got scared....".
I felt a sick feeling in my stomach.

"Who do you work for, the City or the architect?" I asked.
"We don't know.  What are they trying to put on this land?"
"A house"  I answered.
"Where?  There is no room.  This is horrible job.  We been out here three days.  We want to go home".
"Let me know if I can help" I answered, assuming it was better to be helpful than contentious. 

"I have to say that I don't appreciate that the two of you were laughing during the Trey situation.  It eggs him on.  Imagine if you had someone insulting you in front of a room full of people and others sat and laughed".
I had kicked the kid out of the classroom after an extended yelling exchange and was pretty fucking pissed at some of the peanut gallery.  I was surprised when it looked like they were thinking. 
"Really...I was laughing because he is just so... stupid...." one of the responded slowly. 
"Can we please have the fun day you promised, before all that happened?"  the other asked.  He is a large, African-American kid on an elementary reading level. 
"The rest of us are having the fun day, because everyone else in the class didn't egg him on.  You did.  You are getting poop work.  The most boring thing I can find in my bag". 
My bag.  I float between two schools, nine classrooms and a separate office that has a nothing but a table in it that I share with another teacher.  My laptop, speakers, activities, Expo markers and everything else I might need to teach all over the world is in that bag.  It gets heavy sometimes. 

"She kept saying the same words over and over again, but wasn't finishing the sentences.  Then she started doing weird body moves, like karate".
"It was almost three o'clock.  No one knew we were still in here".
"We started crying".
"Man, I was bawling" another boy added.
"Mr. Frank and Ms. Jones saved us".
"The buses were leaving.  I was running between them, trying to get them to stop but they left..."
"I sprinted home.  If I am not home by three my mom gets scared.  I won't be allowed to walk to school anymore".
"They tried to call my parents and warn them.  But they called the wrong number.  They called my PARENTS.  I live with my grandparents.  When I finally got out to the car, they had already gone home and gotten the shotgun.  It was in the backseat".
"Sandy Hook" one of the kids added.  Yes, Sandy Hook.  And the school that had a shooting two miles away a couple of weeks ago.  I felt like crying. 

I had finished the end of my movie when I saw the Russians outside again.  It was late, I thought they had left.  I went outside.  They had flashlights and surveying equipment and were shooting beams across the weeded area where a house will be. 
"Would you like a beer?"  I asked them.
They smiled and declined. 
"We have it!"  they announced.
I watched some more television.  Lola jumped up about an hour later and ran toward the front porch.  I followed her and saw the Russians on my front porch, measuring my doorway.  The jumped off and ran when they saw Lola.  Orange tape and rebar marked the other side of our lot that has nothing to do with the new construction. 
What the fuck?

"I'll let you play on one condition.  DON'T be buttholes".
The whole class started laughing, including the two offenders.
"Yeah, don't be buttholes!" another kid shrieked at them.
I started the Puerto Rican rap music and passed out the Bingo cards.  Kids started shaking it.  The elementary reader did a funny head tilting dance.  Others did a pencil drum to the beat. 
 
The vibe was right again and all was good in the world. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Time Is On My Side

I threw the big tennis ball up the front hallway. The tall ceiling-ed, wood floored, wide beautiful long hallway.  Lola ran forward, sprinting and jumping and lurching.  She would grab the ball, then chase me with it.  I would freeze, jump, make a weird noise with my mouth, and then she would run and I would chase her.  Up and down that beautiful, one hundred and fifteen year old hallway.   It was just like being in the yard, no better!  Air conditioning and no mosquitoes.

We needed to get used to the idea anyway.  Construction will be starting any day on the McMansion that is being built nine feet away from our house, leaving us little more than the hallway for a yard around my beautiful princess house.  I wish I could pick it up and transport it somewhere safe. 

The parents filed by at the high school on curriculum night.  I saw parents from my old elementary school.  Some, former co-workers from the school that had moved so that their kids could attend the lauded school system I work in now.  Some of these parents had worked at my old school even before their kids attended it.  They had always literally been side by side with their kids on a daily basis and were able to exert influence in a way that only a person that worked at their child's school can.  They looked wide-eyed, almost timid as the walked the hallways.  In some ways reveling in the autonomy of being just another parent, but in other ways, almost intimidated by being another face in the crowd. A parent's first day at school. 

The fifth graders would not shut up.  I was getting frustrated.  I had warned them several times that the game would stop if they couldn't control themselves.

I guess the weren't telling me to fuck off like one of the high school kids did the other day, without administrative repercussion.  Or the one that walked out of class when I told him to put his cell phone away.  "You pay my bill?" he asked, walking out of the door and not returning.  Without repercussion. Nothing I can't handle.  But I dreamed that that kid dragged me by the arm down the hallway, physically menacing me, like I was a child.  Maybe flashbacks to my first year of teaching, when the kids did whatever they wanted and I was always to blame. 
 
"I am going to be late to the high school...," I warned in an attempt to get them quiet.  I wanted to finish the game with them, but did not want to cut into my time at the high school. I felt a little arm wrap around my shoulder and pat my back.

"It will be okay," Jonathon stated blankly, staring me in the eyes.  Jonathon, my new favorite Aspie.  He took the string that holds my keys and school ID from around his neck and handed them to me.

"You are two minutes over your allotted time here". 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Walking the Floor

I stood outside, fully dressed, at 7:15 in the morning.  A line of cars led to the school as others whipped in, boot kicking their kids into the parking lot and roaring away. One car barely stopped moving as an eight year old jumped out through an open door.  

The first day of school.  At least the parents seemed pretty excited about it.

I had felt like crying.  I was strangely homesick.  I missed Alec.  I missed my dog.  I did not want to be back at work.  I wanted to be home.  I was relieved that the presence of the students had actually made me feel better.

"See there, she funny," the mammoth sixteen year old called to his friend while we reviewed the syllabus, "we be alright in this class".  I was glad one of us felt confident.

I looked into the familiar, little face of one of my 5th graders.  He looked exactly like his teenage brother that I taught last year, minus the air of assholery.   I never thought that I would see that face and find it sweet.

I analyzed my instructional hours.  An elementary assistant principal had literally walked up, handed me my schedule, then bolted.  School was starting in three days.  I had been begging for a schedule from the elementary since May.  Between my mornings at the elementary and afternoons at the high school, I would be teaching a ridiculous number of hours.  I felt my stomach start churning.  It wasn't fair.  I would have two completely different age groups.  I would be driving between two schools, daily.  I would float into five different elementary classrooms and four different high school classrooms, daily.  Why would I also have three additional instructional hours, literal TEACHING KIDS hours a week, than any Spanish teacher at either the elementary or high school campus', for the same exact pay as the rest of them?

Well, I decided I wouldn't.  Six hours and multiple master schedules later, our hours became much more commiserate.  I stayed nice, but was simply not going down that road again. 

"Ms. Wagner!" a kid from one of last year's classes yelled down the hall, waving.  I was flattered; it was nice to be greeted.  Last year, he told me that a hand motion I was making to describe a vocabulary word looked like a male jacking off.  I knew at that moment that he and I would get a long well.  

"Maestra!"  the little girl called as I entered her classroom.  I couldn't believe it.  I had taught her for two years at my last elementary school.
"Mia!"  I answered, "It is so good to see you.  Did you move?"
"Yes!"  she answered, smiling.
"Well, it looks like you can't get rid of me for Spanish!"

"So, um, just chill with your bad self for a second until the others finish the pretest" I commented, picking up her paper.
"My bad self.....?"  the pretty teenager asked, smiling. 

"SWEET!"  one of my cohorts from the June classes exclaimed when I walked into his classroom.
"We got you for Spanish?!  SWEET!  I can't tell you, seriously, how glad we are".
Are you talking to me?  It was nice.  The elementary had been hurting me, but this was nice. 

During pre-planning, two fifteen year-old girls had busted into the area where I keep my desk.
"We have you for Spanish" they stated.  I didn't want to talk to them.  I was busy.  I started bitching to them about the weirdness of our classrooms this year.
"One period, we are way up on the third floor in a Social Studies room.  Then, another period, I am in some strange conference room thing.  And then!  Oh my God, the last period I have to teach in like a computer lab, it's crazy....I'm surprised we are not having class in the cafeteria...,"
"You nice....she seem cool...," one of the two fifteen year olds stated.  I was surprised.  I knew that my 'coolness' probably would not last for long, but at least they had a good first impression. 

"Hey, Darrius, what are you doing in here?" I asked my bobcat from last year.  It was the middle of class; I was trying to do my thing and I had a random student just walking in.
"Just sayin' hi to you..."
I decided to go with it.
"Alright muchachos, if you don't know Darrius Collier, you are about to".
He whispered in my ear.
"Oh, she, SHE bad.  Cell phone all the time"
"He, he bad too.  Hey bro!!"
Trayvon laughed and waived back.
"Oh, he, leGary, he..."
"He seems cool to me"
"Oh he is.  He a good guy".
Darrius decided to make his exit.
"Whoo!  You got some pretty white girls in this class!"
"No, no Darrius, no.  No sexual harrassment here"
"She!  Bonita!  he said pointing.
"Bonita, bonita, bonita" he continued, pointing at various white girls.
"Suck it, Darrius!"  the black girls yelled, as Elvis made his exit.

"Me llamo Aidan and me gusta fat cats".
So sweet, so earnest.  I could tell he was an Aspy.
"We have three cats and only one of them is fat.  He is my favorite.  He is sick.  He has been at the vet for three days".
"I am so sorry.  You must be so worried.  This must be very stressful".
"Yes, it is".
He finished his "¿Quién soy yo?" little man writing assignment.
At the end, they could decorate themselves.
Instead of a human face, he drew a cat's face with ears.

"Oh...oh, I like this one.."  Emma stated, flipping through my elementary papers at the high school while she waited for me to get my shit together so that we could go home.

"I know.  I think he is going to be a sweet one".



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Me, Myself and I

"Hilary, we would love it if you could join us to represent the Fulbright program at the NEA conference in Atlanta".
I responded 'yes' to the email immediately.  I love Fulbright.  I always say yes to them.

I sat outside with Lola, in my pajamas.  I was finally done with my June classes and was again, sleeping late.  I only had a couple of off days before the two day conference.  A truck pulled up and parked, blocking my car in.  Two men walked confidently through my yard.
"Can I help you?"  I asked, feeling awkward in my pajamas and the fact that I wasn't wearing a bra.
Lola started barking.
"Looking at the land" one of the men responded.
"Really?  Do you know who owns it?  We have been trying to figure it out for a while".
"I do.  We just bought it".
"What....what are you going to do with it?"
"Put a house on it" he answered, dismissively. 
Our property line extends only two feet from our house. 
We wanted that land.  To expand our yard.  It was supposed to be 'undevelopable'.  The previous owners of our house had tried to buy it too, but could never figure out which bank owned it.  I knew this asshole had snapped it up at some courthouse auction and would make some money off of it.  But it means so much more to us.
"Can I get your card?" I asked, chasing this redneck fuck through MY front yard, bra-less and all.

Pervy-ass grey haired man-teachers tried to talk me up whenever I was alone at the Fulbright booth.  It wasn't flattering.  If anything, it was demoralizing.
I had met up with Tanya, the director of operations for the Exchange, the day before the conference began.  We had met and hit it off when she came to Atlanta last October.  We threw some shit up at the booth and had an amazing lunch and drinks.  
I was embarrassed when I met her the next day.  As I tried to park at the conference site, pro-life demonstrators stood outside with gory fake-ass pictures of red jello covered 'baby' hands.  I had no idea why they were there.
Inside, we saw booths selling science textbooks that promoted creationism.  A huge banner hung above their stand:  "Evolution is a Myth".
There was a bazaar type area where you could get a bedazzled t-shirt with your name written in gold.
A separate booth promoted 'life education'.  People, or I guess TEACHERS, were buying dolls that were supposed to represent fetuses at various weeks of development.  But they didn't look like little pieces of shrimp, they gave them limbs, eyes, finger nails, the whole fucking nine yards at a matter of weeks.  I felt a combination of laughter and disgust.  I wanted to mock them, take pictures and spread their ridiculousness all over Facebook.  But, I was horrified by the reality of their presence and the crowd of teachers surrounding their booth.

"Hilary, I have to tell you something,"  Tanya said earnestly.
"I couldn't tell you over the phone".
"Because of the sequester, State has cut funding to the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange.  After SIXTY-FIVE years, the program is no longer funded".

Another loss.  It breaks my heart. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hunting

"I gonna hang that dog!" the teenager shrieked at her little brother.  The boy walked down the street with his friend.  When the puppy couldn't walk fast enough, he dragged it on its stomach.
I winced from my vantage point across the street.

"Please, help this puppy.   It runs around in the street at night, off leash, even in the rain.  He is probably two months old.  His mom was emaciated; we used to bring her food.  All of the puppies died a week after she had them.  Then, she got run over by a car.  The 'owners' left her laying in the street for two days, dead.  Finally a neighbor buried her.  Her remaining puppy is starving".

I was surprised when my mom responded to our mutual friend's call out.
"He is too cute to be treated that way.  What do I do?".
My mom has never owned dogs.  I was thrilled and started putting the wheels in motion to save the puppy. 

I was taking classes to upgrade my teaching certificate during June.  They were day long affairs that lasted for four weeks.  As soon as my moms said that she was in, I constantly monitored my phone.  Our friend was simply going to take the puppy one night while he wandered loose.
But it didn't happen the first night.  Or the second.  We felt desperate.  He could be killed in the street.  His belly was bloated with worms.   Now that we knew we wanted him, it felt frantic.

"I am coming over," I texted.  "We have to get that dog".
We couldn't take it anymore.  I wasn't sure how she would respond.
"Possee! I love it!".
And then I drove southwest.   

"He bit our dog!  He put marks on him!" the teenager howled.
The dog in question was a giant Pit Bull.  A ten pound puppy couldn't possibly hurt that dog.
"I don't know shit about dogs, so I locked him in a room for three weeks".

"Okay, I've seen enough" Kerrie said.
She walked over there.
"Hey, you guys know me.   I used to bring food to your dog.  I work at a vet.  That dog needs to see him.  Don't worry, it's free".

I watched from the porch.  I saw the dog in her arms.  I felt tense, scared.   Please, let her take him.  Please, let her be able to walk away with him.  It was taking forever.

"Y'all are fucking Cagney and Lacy".  Kerrie's partner commented. 

I saw Kerrie walking down the sidewalk.  I texted my mom. "Close" I said, "close".
She was on the porch, with the puppy in her arms.
"I am going to put him in my car and drive around the corner.  Follow me.  We'll trade off.  I am going to tell them that the puppy died at the vet".

I followed her left and right.  Every time people stood on the corner, she would take another turn.  I felt the same way.  Finally, she pulled off.  She placed the puppy in my arms and I took off.  Sweet puppy sat in the passenger seat and then, crawled to the back and fell asleep.

I hit the highway and drove north, to my mom's house.

Later I wondered about the little boy that would hear that his dog died.  I wondered if he slept alone in his bed that night, without the puppy.

But, that puppy never slept in a bed. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Governor's Ball

I stood in the ankle deep mud, retching. It smelled like shit, real shit, horse shit.  My gag reflex could not take it.  The rain poured down.  Yet when the Vaccines came on, it all seemed worth it.

I sat in class in Atlanta, mud still splattered on my legs and crusted under my toe and finger nails.  I free-styled a presentation for the Ed.S. program I am in.  I got a hundred on it. I caught a six AM flight from New York to make it to class on time that day.  I was still late.  I'm kind of late for everything. 

I am feeling this summer.  Oddly.  I am not going anywhere exotic.  Am not leaving the country for the first summer in seven odd years.  I am not even driving to the west coast.   I went to New York for the first time in years and remembered all of the beautiful reasons I love that giant sized city.  And now, I go to school eight hours a day, three days a week.  After class, Lola and I sit on a blanket in the yard while I spread out my articles and books and write papers on my computer. She plays and runs, then sprawls out next to me to relax while I read and write. 

It is strangely stimulating and gives me a sense of purpose that I did not expect. 
I am content. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

School's Really Out for Summer

"Okay, Hilary, you are gonna teach Spanish two again next year.  I want to single prep you since you'll be teaching at the elementary in the mornings and driving here in the afternoons".

"I learned nothing in this class" the feminine handwriting stated on my evaluation from my students.
"Advise to future students: switch teachers".
"I taught myself Spanish".
"The drawback of this class:  the teacher". 
"She's fun and has crazy stories, but she's a 'hypocrit'". 
I think you might need to get on your English teacher, too. 
"Get yourself earplugs and a pillow, she never shuts up".
"She didn't teach me to read a book in Spanish".
Was I supposed to?  I recognized the handwriting on that one.  You have to have a brain to read, Forrest, Forrest Gump. 
It's funny how a couple of shitty teenage evaluations can really burn.  

"Okay, Orelia, you'll be doing AP and standard level International Baccalaureate.  Jorge, you have higher level I.B. and Spanish four.  The new guy, he'll be doing Spanish two at and three, but man, I would love to get a guy like him into AP Literature....".

I knew before the announcement that I would be teaching Spanish two again and appreciated the single prep.  But, all of my Spanish degrees are in literature.  It is my strong point.  I had been feeling good about next year, yet felt my heart sinking.  Why doesn't anyone want to get a girl like me into Literature?  I left at the end of the chat and I heard the door close.  Loud talking went on in the classroom for another half an hour.  Things that I don't need to know about.  Stuff I don't need to concern myself with.

"Ms. Wagner is a hands on chica.  I love Ms. Wagner".
"I really liked all of the choices she gave us.  It kept it interesting".
"If you pay attention, you don't even need to study.  She makes it easy".
"Spanish was better than the previous years."
"Ms. Wagner doesn't give 110%.  She meets you halfway and expects you to work".  
"I learned how horses are impregnated".
Okay, I guess we really don't need to go in on that.

"Okay, so I'm moving across the hall" Jorge stated.
Into the classroom where my desk is.
"But he has to come with me" he indicated, pointing at Gabriel, the teacher that he had been sharing a room with for two years.
"Thanks, Jorge" I said with a dry laugh.
"No, Hilary, it's not personal!  We've always been together, he and I!"
"I know, el caribe, I was just kidding".
Sort of. 

"Okay, I brought the book" the feminine looking boy fourteen year old stated, as he walked in to take his final exam. 
I slowly pulled out the hardcover book, wrapped in plastic Kroger bags. 
'Sexuality, a History from B.C. to HIV'.
"So, your dad really just left this laying in your room, randomly?  Oh wow, nice.  Ends with AIDS.  He pretty much made sure that you will have no interest in sex, for like, ever.  Holy shit!  These pictures are going to burn my eyes out.  Okay, whoever gets done with the final exam first gets first crack at this little nugget!". 

"I miss you and Lola.  The vet recently had to put my dog Orvell down so I've been pretty sad lately." The text was from Elena, my fifth grade friend.

My response to her was followed by a picture of a finger pointing at me.
"Who is the most awesome person today?" the caption read.

You are, Elena.  You are. 





Saturday, May 25, 2013

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

"Ms. Wagner!  If you put a reading part on that test I'm gonna punch you.  Punch you in the throat!" Devone yelled. 
I laughed and bent my arms at an angle, while simultaneously jumping up with both knees almost touching my elbows.
"Oh my God, " I responded, "while I worked at Miller Grove a story went around about a kid that acted like shit and his mom came to school with him.  He kept acting up in front of his friends and his mom punched him in the chest in front of everybody".
"I gonna do that to you if you fail me!" Conroy screamed.
"Alright, chamacos, I have to write some crap on the board now, if you don't mind watching my back so I don't get shanked" I responded, and continued my lesson.

The final exam schedule was super pinche fucked up.  I am part-time, so I don't go there for eight hours a day.  I knew on Monday that I didn't have to go in until eleven to deliver my final exam.  I got up around eight and drank coffee in the yard while Lola ran around.  Suddenly, a massive flatbed truck pulled up, carrying a giant sized pool liner on the back.  It roared in front of my driveway, blocked it and parked. A couple of dudes jumped out and walked over to the McMansion next to my place, without a care in the world.
What the fuck, I thought.  But I knew I didn't have to go to work for a few hours and ignored it.

"And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be
In the arms of all I'm keeping here with me, me..."

"¡Quiero pelear!" Devone yelled.
"Looking good, silly, nice vocabulary use.  ¿Con quién quieres pelear?"
"With administrators".
"Really, Devone?  You want to fight Ms. Warren?"
"Nah, not her".
"Mr. Springer?"
"Nah, I like him".
"Ms. McMan?  The principal?".
"Nah.  I want LaVerne".
Everyone started laughing.  He used the first name of an administrator.  A big, older, white administrator.
"LaVerne, you want her?" I howled.
"Yeah, I'm goin' for her," he said, laughing.
"Ms. Wagner, you got a pen?"
I gave him one and he did his work. 

"What a curious life we have found here tonight
There is music that sounds from the street
There are lights in the clouds
Anna's ghost all around
Hear her voice as it's rolling and ringing through me
Soft and sweet!!!!!"  I sang to Lola, hugging her close.

Okay, it was ten thirty.  The pinche flatbed with a pool on the back had been there for hours.  Now, I had to go to work.  I climbed through the mud pit the trucks had made between my yard and theirs, in my work clothes.
"Oh my God," the stay at home mom breathed, in her weird cotton ball voice.
"I have been meaning to talk to you...".
"Awesome, but I have to go to work.  I'm blocked in by my yer, um, pool".
"Well, but I really wanted to talk to you....about all this mess I mean...I didn't know it would be so messy!"
"Okay, yeah, thanks.  I don't care about that.  I just really have to go to work.  Please move the pool".

I tore off to work.  A CSX train had crashed into a mass transit bus that stalled on the tracks on the corner next to the school.  The school schedule was all fucked again.  News trucks sat in our parking lot while I tried to pull my hooptie in to work.
I asked them if they wanted my autograph, but they weren't interested.

I roared home.  Another flatbed was blocking my driveway.  I slowed down.  Pool men waived me around the block, impatiently.
"I'm not trying to get through," I said.
"That is my house".
A couple of dudes got in the truck blocking my driveway, only after one of them gave me a dismissive, fuck you gesture.
My bad.  Really.  My bad.

I tore down the road next to the tracks again on the last day  of school.  I had finished my grades, went home and had some beers and then returned for the graduation of the class of 2013.  I grabbed the bag with my Masters robe and Middlebury scarf thing from the back of my car and trucked it over to the place where faculty had to get dressed.

My Middlebury hood was missing.  I dropped it somewhere in the parking lot.  I put on the winged black robe and strolled out with the rest of the faculty, Middlebury scarf thing-less.

And I clapped and smiled and laughed.

School's out for summer.  



Friday, May 10, 2013

Chipi Chipi

I've been celebrating a lot of landmarks.  The one year anniversary of my lay off.  The one year anniversary of the Board's official decision to cancel the Spanish program.  The one year anniversaries of my life going to shit. 

And then, I think of three fantasy-like weeks in the south of France.  Of the one year anniversary of the day I met Lola.  Of long summer days with Lola lying in the shade of my first tomato crop. 

"Oh my God, can I pet your puppy?" I asked the little boy walking a perfect blue Pit.
I didn't wait for an answer.  I had the dog in my arms and kissed its face.
"She is six weeks old, isn't she?"
"Yes, her name is Diamond" he breathed.
It was like holding baby Lola again.  Same colors, same markings.  Same little chunk of a body, same little licky face.
"She is just like my dog was a year ago".
"How long she take to get big?" he asked, smiling and childlike.
"Um, I guess about ten minutes.  She's eighty pounds now".

"Well, the bone is healed!" Spider Pig announced.
"Do you think anything will ever change with how crooked my finger is?" I asked carefully.
"Probably not.  You'll get used to it".
"The physical therapist said he can't get any more mobility out of it."
"Yeah he's right, but it's pretty good. It'll take months for the swelling to go down too".
I looked at my hook like finger that is sore every morning and sways unnaturally to the right.  It doesn't bend or straighten all of the way.  My knuckle has gone from a seven ring size to a 10.5.  The entire hand literally has half of the strength of my right hand.
Yeah, it's pretty good.

"Okay so Ms. Wagner, when I was little, I had this gerbil that died....."
It takes nothing to ignite a couple of my classes into rampant, 'when I was little' conversations.  Their stories are hilarious but I have to remember to stop them and do the right thing and teach some, uh, Spanish.
"Oh God," I responded, "when I was little my hamster killed and ate my sister's hamster.  It was horrible".
I was surprised when the only Senior in my freshman Spanish class raised his hand.  He never contributed to these little chats, just put his head down and headphones on.  The freshman are afraid of him.  He's black, older and has tattoos.
"Okay so when I was little, I had this AC unit in my room.  One day, I went to school and forgot to turn it off.  When I came home, my hamster was frozen stiff.  I put it in this little bag and built a little coffin out of a tissue box.  My dad said we'd bury it, but he forgot until the next day. When we went to bury it the day after, the little ziplock was torn and the hamster was gone.  Something had got to it.  He still wanted to try to bury something but I just said Dad, things are goin' from bad to worse...".

Fire trucks were going by, lots of them.  It was loud.  Lola slowly rose from her slumber, stretching her body up into a sitting position.  I watched her in the dark as I laid in our bed.  She looked like Snoopy when he rises up in the Great Pumpkin patch and fools Linus into thinking that he IS the Great Pumpkin.  Her throat stretched out and her nose rose straight up in the air, like a western silhouette drawing of a coyote.  A low, long, evenly paced howl  emitted from her throat and through her upraised snout.  She echoed it with a second long coo.  And then, she looked at me with an almost clandestine look on her face that seemed to say, yes, this is something I do that you didn't teach me.  I just knew how to do this, I have instincts.  She seemed to smile wisely.

Then, she curled up against me and went back to sleep, her nose pressed to my cheek. 






Monday, May 6, 2013

A Minute in the Minute







"He black? Your partner, he black?".
"No".
"He Mexican then".
"Nope, just garden variety white".
He's Jewish, I thought, but decided not to add that.  
"Why you call him your 'partner', you're not gay?".
"I  forty-one years old and we've been together for almost seventeen years.  It seems kind of corny to call him my boyfriend" I responded.
"He hasn't popped the question yet?"
"It's not like that.  He's waiting for me to pop the question".
"Ms. Wagner, we don't get you".

I know, children.  I have been too modern for the kids before you and probably the kids that will follow you.  It's okay.  I don't mind answering your questions.  

"Ms. Wagner, you got a donk" Darrius called out while I tried to write some shit on the board.
I laughed.
"I know, that's not the first time I've heard that".

And then I pulled my shirt down a little to cover my giant ass and wrote some more stuff on the board.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weeeeee!

"Dude!  First day of my birthday weekend was SUCCESS!  Blacked out success!"
I laughed and kept walking.
"Awesome!" I called over my shoulder.
This guy kills me.  A twenty-something hipster that works at the bike shop by my sister's house that seems like the last person I could get along with.  

"Is there anyone in the room with you?" the robo-call sounding judge asked me on my telephone, unemployment hearing.
"Um, no."
"Are you recording this?"
"Err, no."
Should I be?
"Raise your right hand and swear to the oath."
I awkwardly raised my right hand while sitting in the Conservatory in my pajamas as robo-judge read the oath.
I could hear my ex-boss doing the same thing on a three way, speaker phone.
It was so strange that part of me wanted to commiserate with him. 

Bike Bro ran up to Holly's front porch.  And when I say ran, I mean literally scaled the slope that lines the stairs to her yard and jumped over the stairs that lead to her porch, legs and feet swayed to the right as if a skateboard was under them, but there wasn't. 
"Man so, I started out the night at Church.  Got free shots all night and kept sending half of 'em over to my hot fucking Asian ex-girlfriend that was sitting at the bar next to me.  Her boyfriend was sitting on the other side.  Man he looked pissed!".

I stood outside, shoveling bucket after bucket full of the dirt Alec and I had unearthed the day before.  It sucked.  I carried the buckets up the stairs and dumped them in the abandoned lot, then returned to fill another.  Alec would have helped me, but I deliberately took care of it while he was away from the house.  We had spent half of the previous day digging out our crumbling retaining wall and he had done the brunt of it, standing in the rain after it was dark shoveling the dirt behind the Frankenstein wall we had constructed.  I had to clear the massive fucking dirt pile that was left on the sidewalk.  I was worried about Monday.  I didn't want to get a ticket from the city. 

"Then, I went over to this punk rock show in Cabbagetown.  Man, I was working my moves!  Made out with this red headed girl all night.  She said we were crashing into people.  I woke up at my house and fuck!  It was laundry day and I didn't even have a sheet on my bed.  I looked over at her and she had all her clothes on.  Fuck!  I had all of mine on too!".

Cars were parking illegally in front of my house.  At first, I almost warned them.  But when I saw them bust out with their Easter clothes on, I figured I would talk to the police if they tried to ticket their cars.  I was definitely going to be digging dirt for a while.  They were headed to the church on the corner.
"Watch out!" I called to them, "The sidewalk is muddy and slippery!".
I was horrified that some granny in Easter whites was going to bust her ass on my muddy sidewalk.
I kept shoveling dirt.
I saw my across the street neighbors walk up in church clothes, their baby in a stroller.  They did not say hello.  I felt like an official heathen.  Yeah, clearly and unapologetically, I am not a church goer.  But, I felt like I was wearing it on my sleeve as I stood covered in filth while everyone else was dressed up in their Sunday best. 

My shoulders and elbows hurt.  I was flinging dirt everywhere.
I realized that I have been outside on many a Sunday morning without cars illegally parked for church on my street.  I had never seen my across the street neighbors outside before on the weekend that early, let alone dressed up for church.

"How old are you today?" I asked Bike Bro.
"TWENTY-FIVE!" he answered.
"Man, you want to look at my pictures from the Pink Pony?  Look at this crazy guy who took us there, said he had money....". 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Teenage Wasteland

The new student walked in again, without any sort of notebook or pencil in his hand.  He sat down and put his head on the desk.  He had done this for a couple of days.  I didn't mess with him, just spoke to him gently and tried to guide him through the assignments after the other students were at work.  It's hard to adjust to a new school.  I figured it would level out. 

Suddenly, winter struck again.  And I mean full on winter.  I put on a sixties parka that I haven't had to wear since last year and a puffy hat.  I put Lola's pink jacket on and took her for her morning pee prance around the block.  Lola was stopping traffic.  A construction crew ran at her, petting a praising her good looks.  The garbage men called out to her.  One laughed and shook his head from side to side as the truck went by.  I knew what he was laughing at.  You got a big, beautiful eighty pound pit bull and you put her in a pink jacket and prance her around the block like a princess.  That's right, I thought.  We were sensational. 

"I need referrals" the administrator's email said.  Usually, they say the opposite. 
"If you all are having problems with new Zee in your classes, give me something to work with".
I was baffled.  Yeah, the kid put his head down for a few days.  I don't write students up for that.  I call their parents.  So, I called his parents.

"Hey there, I'm Zee's Spanish teacher.  I know he's new to the school but I am a little worried because he is completely shut down, he just walks in everyday and puts his head down and doesn't interact".
His dad kept me on the phone for twenty minutes.  Things had been hard.  Pops was a travelling musician and finally decided to check back in when he felt that moms wasn't paying enough attention.  Zeek had been in a bad school district, one that I knew by name as rough.  I saw in his transcripts that he had gone from an honors student with an A/B average to failing all of his classes.  Pops said there had been trouble at the old school.  He said it was other kids bothering Zee, but for some reason, I sensed that Zee had been violent there. 
"Our school is a very caring environment," I found myself saying, and meaning it.
"We are on his side.  The only thing we want is for Zee to succeed". 
For once, what I was saying actually wasn't bullshit. 

"¿Cuando eras joven, qué te gustaba?" I asked my students, because I knew that they liked talking about the things they loved as children and because I needed their asses to speak in the past tense.  I told them about my love of the Hulk and Wonder Woman and Atari -  you know, caveman pinche seventies stuff.  Hijo de la gran puta, did I open up a can of worms. 

"They got the red ones here!" I saw a boy that looked similar to Zee saying, shaking a red power drink in his face.
"Zee, is that your brother?".
"Yes"
"Wow, you look exactly alike".
I kept walking.  Somehow it endeared me that his brother liked the red drinks in the vending machines at our school.  I just hoped it would rub off on Zee. 

"Someone has been drawing penises in all of the books we are reading." I told the class.
"You've seen it.  And all I have to say is fellas:  we know that you think your downstairs is neat.  Draw it on your own paper.  Ladies, am I right?  I know that we don't draw pictures of wieners.  That is not how we roll.  We don't even doodle pictures of our own body parts.  So fellas, draw it somewhere else".
The girls nodded emphatically and everyone burst into laughter.  And then... the cuando yo era joven took on a different turn....

I noted in the contact log that I had spoken with Zee's father.  Then, other teachers began adding their parts.
"He began coughing loudly and refused to take water.  Everyone was staring at him.  He began shaking and talking to himself.  I cleared the students out of the room and called an administrator to get him out".
"He refused to take his headphones off and the music was so loud that we could hear it.  I ignored him and tried to do my class.  He got up and started walking around randomly.  When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was 'checking on the kids'".
"He walked randomly up to another student and asked him if he wanted to fight.  He went to another and screamed the same thing in his face.  I tried to intercede and he called me a scaredy ass bitch".

"Okay so I was in elementary, at Oakfearn.  I looked for a book in the library about how babies were made," the blonde, popular preppie told twenty five students.
"It was so graphic!  There were like, diagrams of things I had never seen before!"
Her face was bright red with laughter as she bent over laughing.  We were all laughing.  I was almost crying.
"I still have it!"  she shrieked.  "I stole it from the Oakfearn library!". 
"Oh my God," another seconded.  "I was cleaning up my room the other day and I found my 'how babies' are made book that my parents gave me when I was little.  My mom saw me looking at it and said, 'Ohhh, you used to make your dad read that to you every night before you went to bed!'"
All of us, including our narrators were screaming and crying.  It was just so funny and fucked up. 

"I am afraid for the safety of my class"  Zee's next teacher entry said. 
I wrote my final entry.  I was starting to get nervous.  I didn't want to get shanked because this kid had a mental problem. 
"Zee entered class late and I told him he needed a late pass.  He snarled at me and left, slamming the door loudly".
I didn't mention that even my ghetto-est kids muttered "bruh, what up with him?".
"He never returned to class". 

We were reading our book outloud  in class.   They like doing it, but I was annoyed because a few kids were sleeping.  I got on their asses to get their heads up or check out and go home.  I finally touched one girl on the arm, a girl that has physical problems.  She sat up, and started heaving a wheezing.  Her eyes looked disoriented and her breath was wavering and faultering.  I held her head.
"Julie, take deep breaths.  You are okay, you are okay" I repeated over and over.  She felt hot.
It was alarming.
"Do you want me to call the nurse?" a student asked, standing with his finger on the panic button.
"Yes" I responded.
When they responded on the intercom, we all screamed 'nurse'.
Julie was gasping, heaving.  She stood up.  Her eyes were spinning in her head.  I grabbed her arm and walked her outside. 
"Hold the door open" I commanded the student at the door as I halfway carried her across the hall.
She collapsed.
The nurse and an administrator ran up.
"She's struggling to breathe.  She's disoriented.  Please let me know if you need any other information, I am returning to my class".
"Julie is safe" I told them.  

"I am writing to let you all know that Zee has been withdrawn from our school.  Thank you for your documentation, it was very helpful in the hearing" the administrator's email said. 

I felt sad.  That kid is troubled.  I was also shocked at how quickly it played out. 
My first three years of teaching were riddled with student and parental violence.  I called parole officers of students.  I was shoved by a student and had it blamed on me.   I was physically threatened by a parent in front of administrators who responded that I should 'pick my battles'.  I had students that carried a kid out of my classroom so that he could not beat up a girl.  I had a student threaten to shoot another student in the same class.
I am not used to my safety or the safety of my students being an issue. 
I still wonder where Zee will go now and if we could have helped him.

"Okay, so I was on the bus.  Everything bad happens on the bus.  There were these older boys, like eighth grade that were talking to me.  I was flattered, older kids were talking to me!"
We were laughing, the same way we had been laughing through all of the stories.
"They told me to look at this website, washington books, they wrote it on my arm".
We got a little quieter.  Why did they write it on a little girl's arm, mark her that way?
"What is it?" we asked.
"It sounds government?".
"Well, I looked it up at home" she said, laughing a little.
"All this porn came up.  And my mom walked into the room".
I knew we were supposed to laugh.  But it was uncomfortable and I saw that she was blinking her eyes rapidly.
"My mom freaked out.  She called the school and made all of my teachers have a conference.  She told them that I was looking up porn on the internet".

Her eyes darted back and forth.  They were getting red.

"I am so sorry, Kerry.  That is horrible.  I am so sorry".

It was all I could say. 
It was all I could do to make it better. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Such a Perfect Day

Everything was set.  Lola's piñata was stuffed with new toys.  The weather was beautiful.  My family brought gifts for her and was chilling in the sunny yard with beers, playing with Lola.
I heard music and was surprised, and thrilled, to see my sister's car pulling up.

"Happy first birthday!" she yelled.
"Here's your present!".  She whipped out an old bra and swung it in circles over her head and threw it.  Lola went wild.

It was a perfect day. 

I laid my head on the table in the unemployment office.  Every little glitch, which is always their fault, requires my presence and a long wait in the run down building in a strip mall on the west side. 
I had been waiting on my appeal hearing.  I even got someone to cover my class so that I could do the hearing on the phone.  I paced outside of the school, waiting for the call.  It came, fifteen minutes late, to tell me that someone didn't show up to do the hearing and that it would be rescheduled.  And somehow, I got chastised again for not answering on the first ring. 

I was tired.  I half listened to an African-American couple shoot the shit while I waited.  They had been talking a while.  An, older, sharply dressed gentleman came and sat close to them.  He wore a full suit and bow tie.

"My hair is really long when I straighten it" the woman told the man that she had been chatting with.  She had a long-ish afro pulled back in a head band. 
"You should leave it like it is" the suit man interjected. 
"Sheep are curly haired.  Goats have straight hair.  Negros are the only humans with curly hair.  Why would you want to look like a goat?  White women look like goats.  Goats:  some monkey dog thing. Them and white people have straight hair.  Satan wants you to straighten your hair".

He was a few feet away from me and probably noticed that I was white, as I was the only white person in the sea of applicants at the unemployment office.  I was amused.  So I'm a fucking goat now, old timer?

The couple nodded politely, silently, the way everyone does when confronted by a weirdo.  Slavery came up between them somehow. 
"I am Nigerian" suit man stated proudly.
"Born here of Nigerian parents" Elijah Muhammad continued.
"I was not enslaved".
He got up abruptly.

"We were not all in his situation" the male member of the couple muttered. 
"And since then and even before then, we've been our own worst enemy".
I mentally disagreed with him.  

"Hilary" the woman at the desk called out, finally.

I sprinted over. 


Friday, March 8, 2013

Land of the Lost

"Dang, I hope it burn so I can warm my hands on it".

I hadn't even made it into the building when I heard the fire alarms going and the kids came filing out.  It was cold, like really fucking whip ass wind cold. We stood in the parking lot.
"I'm going to sit in my car" one of the students said quietly, opening the doors for her friend.

Other things are happening that I can't tell you about.  It is just too hard. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Junkyard Band

An ancient, yet majestic looking woman dressed entirely in royal blue, long coat, hat, everything, walked slowly into physical therapy.  Her face was smooth and devoid of hair - eyebrows, eyelashes, everything.  It didn't even look like she had hair on her head.  It was asexual, yet somehow augmented in a flattering way by the royal blue that cloaked her.  She looked like a Buddha or something, but not the fat one.

"How that shoulder?" the physical therapist asked while he squeezed my finger as I winced and writhed.
"It's bein' a boogly boo" she answered.
She raised her shoulder slightly and turned her head to speak to it.
"I told you that you was goin' to behave yesterday," she said to her raised shoulder,
"but you decided that wasn't how it was goin' to be".
She turned back to us.
"Sometimes, I just want to take it off".

The stocking cap face covering member of the Junkyard Band looked at me quietly.
"You broke your finger?" he asked.
"Yeah..." I replied, flattered that he cared, or that he even wanted to talk to me.
"And now it won't move anymore....".
"We need to chat in a minute" the therapist called to him.
That didn't sound good. 

Lola had been in her crate too long.  I raced home and tethered her outside, throwing tennis balls and toys for her to chase.  I wanted her to run around, stretch her legs, but I didn't feel like walking her.  We were having fun.  Suddenly, two off-leash dogs ran into our yard.  Like, totally in the yard.  I untethered Lola as quickly as I could and tried to drag her inside.  Her hackles were up and she was barking.  They were barking too.  They were free, she was not.

I got her in.  She was freaking out and banging on the kitchen windows with her hands.  I ran out to see what the fuck was up with those dogs.  They had collars on.  One ran down the steps at me with its hackles raised, barking violently.
"YOU'RE barking at ME!" I found myself screaming at the dog.
"Get the fuck out of here!" I yelled, rushing it.  It ran away.
I chased the other one off too.
I saw a woman calling to them, standing on the corner.  Okay, they must have broken out.  It can happen.  As pissed as I was, I didn't want to see them run over. 

Lola was despondent, running around the house, jumping at windows.  I had to go get my niece.  I took Lola in the car; I didn't want to crate her again or leave her loose in the house.  As I opened my car door, I saw the second dog still wandering the street where I had seen the owner take them both.  Apparently it wasn't a big problem to let the dogs roam, loose.  Now, I was really pissed.

Lola and I rode back to our house.   I saw the dog again and hustled her inside.  She saw it too.  And then threw up multiple times on the floor once inside. 
"What the fuck is your problem!" I yelled at the stupid bitch owner of the dogs.
"I have a really strong Pit Bull that's a little funny about other dogs.  Yours rampaged into her territory with their hackles up.  She nearly broke a window after I got her inside and now she's throwing up!  You're lucky I didn't let her have them."
"What the fuck is your problem?!" I screamed in her face.
Or, I wish I did.  

"You've been coming here for a couple of months and I hate to say it, but I am not seeing progress." the therapist told Stocking Cap.
"I still got a lot of pain..." he responded.
"It is unethical for me to keep taking your money when what I'm doing isn't working." he said professionally.
"Alicia isn't coming today, she hurts and is still in the bed." the secretary called.

"Your patients make me sad" I said quietly while he wrenched on my finger.
"I know," he responded
"but it's what I have to do".

"Castigo," I told the students,
"it means 'punishment'.  What's the worst castigo you've ever received?"
I was trying to personalize their vocabulary words.  It started out tame at first.  And then, it escalated.
"My mom locked me outside without my glasses" Ming told the class.
"My dad made me sleep in the hallway on the floor" Trina seconded. 
"They just wup me".
"They make me stand in the corner with my arms raised until I can't keep them up anymore".
"They make me choose between my blanket and the pillow on my bed, but not both".

"What the fuck?!"  I screamed.
"WHAT THE FUCK!"

Or, I wish I did. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Everyday is like MONDAY

"Did you read that shit?" my mom's text read.
"It sounded like ya'll watch out 'cuz I'll get your ass smited".
I love my mom.  I have decided that she is the only person on the planet that could possibly create that sentence.  Such a lovely mix of biblical SAT words and modern swearing and slang.

I laid sleeping in the hot bedroom, the hottest room of the entire house.  From far away, I heard the alarm.  Why the fuck was my alarm going off at 7:30 in the morning?  I don't even think the sun is up by then.  Oh God, that's right.  Hijo de la gran puta.  I had rescheduled Spider Pig for 8:00am.  Obviously not by choice, I was already weeks behind on my remove pins, follow up appointment and that was the only time I could get in before March.  I could barely open my eyes.  Lola was unconscious in her own warm sleep lethargy.  I turned the alarm off.  There was no way it was going to happen.

My step father is very ill.  It is frightening.  And it is taxing the hell out of my mom.  I don't like it.

I applied for forbearance on my student loans.  I have never had to do that before.  It is embarrassing to talk finances, but mine are bad.   I have a pile of medical bills that I shove under the microwave.  I am constantly floating and skimming to pay all the other shit.  It appears that my teaching position will go full time next year and a second full time position is opening up.  No one has told me if I will officially be in either position.  It makes me nervous. 

I was hugging Lola.  Maybe I shouldn't bother going to the appointment.  All they were going to do was X-ray the bone again.  It had to be healing, so what was the point?  But, what if, what if, what if?  I walked Lola, put some dirty clothes on and went into my 8:00 appointment at 9:15.

"Your name?" the receptionist asked.
"Hilary Wagner.  I'm late for my nine o'clock appointment".
She typed for a minute.
"You were supposed to be here at eight".
"Really?  I thought I was only fifteen minutes late" I answered.  Then I just stood there.  I wait hours for Spider Pig no matter if I am on time or not.  It's like the DMV in there. 
"We'll work you in".

I read my phone and some People magazines.  A nurse called me back quickly.
"I need a urine sample" she said strictly.
"Why?"
"Painkillers, you're on painkillers"
"I had surgery two months ago.  I never even took the painkillers".
"Oh, okay" she answered me, eying me warily.
I read some more People. 

"Oh my God, Lola destroyed her crate, there is poo everywhere.  Dogs do NOT do that unless they are sick!"  Hadley's text read.  I was worried. I had been worried.  I called the vet in between classes.
"Sorry you guys, it's an emergency," I called to the class as they walked in.

I raced to the vet in Alec's car.  Mine is still broken.  Lola's bros at the vet held her tightly while they stuck a stick up her butt.  She tolerated it well, but the SECOND stick up her butt tested her patience.  It was all good, no worms or anything else.  Just a week long diet of chicken and rice and antibiotics.  And almost two hundred dollars.  I wrote the check, knowing that the one I wrote for the window she broke would bounce.

She and I walked around the corner after a good, pre-work walk.  I saw someone coming and paused.  Lola likes to jump up and kiss people she doesn't know, rubbing her muddy paws on their clothes and nearly knocking them down.  I was surprised that it was my neighbor.   And her new rescue German Shepard that does nothing but bark at Lola every time she is outside.  Or inside for that matter.  Against my better instincts, I let Lola approach the dog, and the dog approach her.  Lola lowered her head while the German Shepard sniffed her face and ears.  Lola smelled its butt.  Then she growled in a way that I knew was trouble.  I pulled her back.  Both dogs started barking loudly.
"I have to turn her around.  She's funny about other dogs" I called.
My neighbor continued talking casually as if nothing was wrong.  I wrestled with Lola.
"I really need to go" I called.
"We need to just leave them alone together.   They'll work things out!".
I turned and left.  Where, in the small confined space that you call a yard that is also your dog's territory?  Surrounded by a three foot fence that Lola could jump over in her sleep?  Yeah, let's leave a Pit Bull and a German Shepard that are showing aggression alone together.  Sounds great. 

"The bone is healing as it should, but you need a new brace for your hand.  Your finger won't stop bending".  Spider Pig informed me.
"Come back in a month.  You don't have full mobility".
I went over to physical therapy.
"What'd he say?" the physical therapist asked when I walked in.

I watched a few people in the office slowly doing their exercises.  A hip man that looked like Spike Lee pushed a towel up and down the wall.  My eye fell on a second man that was moving slowly.  He looked broken.  I didn't know if it was his shoulder, his back, what it was.  He could walk, but things were at strange angles.  He wore a dark stocking cap that was nearly the same color of his skin.  It went down below his eyebrows.  He reminded me of that character in 'Fat Albert' that had a stocking cap for eyes.  Except he was old.

"I have to keep seeing him.  He told me to do the same things that you make me do.  And I have to come back in a month".
"I've been pushing on it!" he said, exasperated.
"I know.  It hurts". I responded.
"I don't know why I have to keep going to him".