In Response To: Picking Up A Book

Hello there. I couldn’t help but notice you, sitting there, all attractive on the shelf, in your best jacket. You’re getting stares from across the room. Pardon me if I’m a bit forward, but I think you might just be my type. Maybe you haven’t noticed me, but I’ve been watching you for a while, waiting for the right moment for us to be a thing. I know they say never judge anyone by their appearance, but something says that I’m going to like you, that you’re in my current genre of interest. You’re going to make an impression on me.

Consider yourself lucky. I hope you know that I picked you, out of a group of your friends, to spend the next few days with me. I know, I know, I’m coming on a bit strong, but I want you to appreciate the depth of my commitment to this relationship. I’ll get to know you really well, turning your pages and reading between the lines, making inferences and drawing conclusions.

You know you’re beautiful, so don’t act coy. You were designed to be attractive to someone like me, who voraciously moves to something like from another. I’m a bit of a playboy when it comes to your kind, not committing to one for too long. In fact, my longest relationship this year lasted no more than two weeks, and that’s only because of the complexity of that individual. Peeling back the layers of that one took me longer than most of its kind.

Trust me, I’m really good at this. Every evening, I will dedicate time to you, at least 15 minutes, where it’s no one but you and me, one on one, maybe some mood lighting, background music. Undivided attention? It’s yours, just don’t disappoint me. This may seem like a one-sided relationship, but if this works out, I promise to share you with my friends, to tell everyone just how great you are, and to write a review for you on Goodreads.

Please remember that I don’t have a type, regardless of what you’ve heard about me. Sure, I’ve bounced around between literary fiction, memoir, nonfiction, and young adult, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t be special. Sure, you may be used, a little tattered on the edges, but that only means that multiple people have the opportunity to love you, to cherish you and your individuality. That’s what I most appreciate about you. Don’t be self-conscious if you have yet to earn any awards, I love you just the way you are, so don’t go changing. And, let me tell you, some Pulitzers or Man Booker prize winners don’t do it for me. All the pomp and praise doesn’t mean anything if we don’t connect.

Abandon you? I would never do that, especially only after a chapter or two. We’re just getting started! It takes time to fall into a syncopated rhythm, me understanding your narrative, you understanding the pace of my eyes gliding across the page. When I say I’m in this, I’m in this.

Look, I know you had others before, and everyone of them has made the same promise, but I’m telling the truth. I really am different, a true reader, not just one of those guys who borrows you from a friend, reads reviews or synopses online, and pretends to really know you. I’m going to read you, all of you, including the author’s notes, and when I’m done, we will both be changed. If it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s not you. It’s me. We might just need to go our separate ways, but we can’t worry about that now. All we have is this moment. Right here, right now.

So, what do you say? Do you think you’re ready to leave with me, or do I have to walk away from the shelf empty-handed and brokenhearted? There are plenty more books on my shelf, and if it’s not you, it will be another.

Text me when you’re ready. I’ll be waiting.

In Response To: Kid Jokes

Knock, knock. Who’s there? The answer? A terrible joke.

Kids are the worst at delivery, but in their awful, non-sequitur way, it still makes them funny. We are all laughing, but for different reasons.

Anything my child does is adorable, not necessarily to me, but certainly to my mother who he lovingly calls Gaga. While on FaceTime today, he offered to tell her a joke. Of course, she instantly obliged to listen, hanging on each of his words like laundry on the line. He insisted, and forceful in the obnoxious way that toddlers are, that I tell a joke first. I started with a simple format of what did one blank say to the other blank, a classic, clean go-to:  What did one piece of paper say to the other? You’re terrible!

Of course, my joke was “dad humor,” funny only those who appreciate that sort of thing. Following my comedic debut today, Ezra delivered an original joke of his own: “What did the peno say to the other peno?” He held his breath, awaiting her entry into the conversation. My mother confused, responded, “I don’t know. What?”

Insert something unintelligible and making sense to only a toddler here.

That’s the thing about kid jokes: they don’t have to make sense to be funny. It would have been much better if her were making humor out of pinot instead of some combination of sounds that lacked meaning in the adult brain. What does impress, me, however, is his ability to recognize the simple format and to regurgitate it in an attempt at humor. A failed attempt,

Gaga laughed heartily.

Cue the next 10 or so minutes of knock knock jokes. Again, I got the honors of going first, the opening act to warm up his audience.

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there”

“An unsharpened pencil.”

“An unsharpened pencil who?”  Wait for it…

“Never mind. There’s no point.”

Bazing!

You have to admit, as far as knock-knocks go, that was pretty great. Ezra, rolling on the couch, thought it was a good one. Even if he doesn’t understand why it’s funny, he knows he’s supposed to laugh. My ego is thankful.

Because I’m an incredibly tough act to follow, Ezra took a moment to think. With a twinkle in his eye, and a smirk on his face, his joke commenced:

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?'”

“Parsnip.”

“Parsnip who?” Again, wait for it. 

“You’re not very smart, are you?”

Ezra breaks into hysterics.

Believe it or not, this is an insult. Gaga, of course, is beside herself with laughter, bubbling over the semi-cleverness demonstrated by her grandson. There is some context to be understood here.

In an Oliver Jeffers book, Once Upon an Alphabet, he writes 26 stories, one celebrating each letter of the alphabet. For the P, he tells the story of a particularly daft parsnip, struggling with its identity, unable to recognize that he is indeed, a parsnip. Once he’s confirmed his specific vegetableness by way of a more astute parsnip, he says to a peanut,  “Did you know that we’re parsnips?” The peanut, in return, replies, “You’re not very smart are you?” Comedic gold. This is Ezra’s favorite story in the book. For some reason, he gets the humor, but not the limitations of its context. Hence, he attempts to use it at the end of his knock-knock joke. In fact, he uses it at the end of every knock-knock joke.

“Knock, knock.” Who’s there? “Donkey.” Donkey who? “You’re not very smart, are you?”

“Knock, knock.” Who’s there? “Carrot.” Carrot who? “You’re not very smart, are you?”

This continues for the next 15 minutes, receiving positive reinforcement and ego feeding from his small but appreciative audience. Championing the arts is big in our family.

Integrating new vocabulary with comedic timing, he makes me laugh daily, a recent favorite being a one-liner. “I farted… recently.” Sure, my child is no Groucho — yet. Knowing that a particular brand of humor seems to be inherited, pairing this with his tendency to be verbal, Ezra will not only be funny, but witty, using his knowledge of language to make other people laugh. He already possesses the knack for making me crack a smile when I’m attempting to reprimand him. As displayed in the picture below. Cuteness points a plus.

For your next party, I suggest you look no further than a toddler for entertainment. Of course they go to bed early, tend to be total divas, and have limited content, but your audience will certainly be pleased, especially if my mother is any indicator.

I also serve as his booking agent and do a mean opening act, so inquire within.

In Response To: Waiting For The Bell (Hell)

With 10 minutes left, they begin to hear the audible motion of the secondhand, rising above the anxious anticipation: tick, tock, tick, tock, as the thin, red line makes it way around the clock’s face. Hypnotically, the pace seems to slow, each second feels painstaking, as if reality were buffering.

Nine minutes remaining and the pencils begin to nervously tap, almost in successive beats, matching the secondhand’s rhythm noticed only a minute ago. The pencils ceased operating for their intended purpose about five minutes prior, but now their weight begins to reach overwhelming, leaden and dense. The successive ba-dump ba-dump of eraser to sharpened end is anything but soothing, auditory indicators of stress on the mind of a weary teenager.

With eight minutes until the liberty bell, the squirming commences. Bodies shift  uncomfortably and seats, squeaking plastic against metal, sing like a chorus of classroom crickets. Papers shuffle atop desks into semi-neat piles, made for easier grasping and shoving in backpacks.

Nervous and uncertain stares from student to student bounce like ping-pong balls, back and forth, with seven minutes worth of a sentence still to be served.  Glances dart, eyes communicating solidarity as if to say, “We are in this together. We are going to make it.” Nobody makes eye contact with me, and I stand alone in this, an island surrounded by furious, hungry sharks. There are no colleagues in the room who share my eagerness, but there are students avoiding making eye contact; they would not dare look at me for fear that I could somehow delay their inevitable.

360 seconds are all that separate us from leaving school for a full week. Each second  like a degree in a circle, making its way around to a complete rotation. Pulses begin to speed up, hearts begin to race, all the syncopated rhythms of anticipation.

On any given day, the last five minutes of the class period serve as the signal for the unofficial gradual dissent into the post-school recuperation period. The day before spring break, or any vacation however, we are already five minutes into that decline. The physical pain begins to set in, with legs weakened, arms become too heavy to lift, and spine collapses in on itself, creating not only poor posture, but slumping, zombie-like figures. And that’s just us teachers.

Unable to resist the urge, mutinous rebels begin to unzip, forcibly stuff, and re-zip backpacks. Cacophonous whirs and zips, quick and bee-like, pollinate the classroom. Four minutes until the drones fly this hive and swarm the campus.

2:12: someone, sniveling in the corner, is in tears. This is too much, this infernal waiting, cruel and unusual and torturous. When one breaks, others will follow, clawing at their skin and gnashing their teeth. The natives are restless, and I hunker back, checking my exits, perspiration dotting my brow.

At the two-minute marker, they’re all on their feet, jockeying for advantageous, chair-on-desk positioning. Backpacks clash not unlike oversized beetle shells, sending bodies awhirl, staggering, wobbling insects bounce off one another. Hydroflasks are casualties, their metallic and distinct clinks resonating against the tile, denting and chipping in the arthropodal chaos.

A collective and audible gasp, one giant breath inhaled by all at once, fills lungs, depleting the room of oxygen. One, light-headed minute clinging on the clock. An adolescent mass, phalanx-forming, inches incrementally toward the exit. Although no one speaks a word, you’d swear you could hear them countdown each second. Lost amongst the human wrecking ball, a small member of the herd collapses, at risk of being trampled, a victim of vicious, impatient beasts.

Five: each takes a step back.

Four: one severs from the herd.

Three: she reaches forward, fingertips grazing the door.

Two: the handle begins to turn.

One: in a outward-moving thrust, the door springs open, hinges nearly severed.

Sky parting, the sweetest chorus of angels’ voices pours forth from the heavens. The final bell signals Spring Break.

Let us all rejoice.

Hallelujah. 

Amen.

 

In Response To: Puddles

When the sun finally breaks free from behind the clouds, silver reflections across the rain, gathered in the ground, brilliantly sparkle, bouncing back the rays now pouring from above. The earth smells clean and damp and renewed, refreshed by the day’s early downpour. Droplets gather on the leaves, and the birds begin to make their way back out from the refuge, singing their songs, rejoicing in the reclaimed light.

The beauty that remains after an early spring shower makes you forget all about the stress that comes from rainy days on the road. Growing up in Southern California, drivers tend to forget all that they’ve learned from years of experience as soon as tiny droplets come forth from the sky. Drivers, especially those in SUVs, seem to be terrified, as though their wheels will certainly lift from the road, sending them into a spiral, leading to their damp demise. White knuckles grip their steering wheels for dear life, tired wipers waving like angry arms: back and forth, back and forth.

As luck would have it today, I spent minimal time in the car while it was raining. My commute to work, a measly 4 miles, means I have very little to worry about, even in the worst of downpours.

Counting my chickens before they hatch, I still managed to find myself soaked at two separate occasions. The first was during a walking tour at the local high school. An annual tradition, busloads of our eighth-grade students journey to preview their home for the next four years. Mother Nature cared not for our human plans, and the clouds gathered in an angry cluster, gray and furious and full of rain, colluding to obstruct what five minutes prior, held the sun in full force. Caught without shelter, it was all I can do to hurry my pace, skipping from one awning to another in a fickle attempt to keep myself dry, all while bounding between adolescents.

Stubborn and proud, the sun could not be upstaged for too long, the true star in any day’s show, its rays peering from behind the storm’s curtains. During the length of today’s performance however I spent the majority of my time indoors, coveting the warmest part of the morning and afternoon. After and afternoon spent in the IEP meeting from hell,  and finally making my way towards home, the clouds again proved to be a formidable opponent. As it began to pour, harder than it did earlier in the day, I pulled into my mother-in-law’s driveway to pick up both my toddler and my seven-month-old puppy, both of whom have an affinity for the rain. Timing, as you know, is everything.

In spite of my lack of patience, weathered by a far too long Thursday, the two of them acted like the rain was the best thing that ever happened. After struggling to get the dog in the backseat of the car onto the precariously placed towel, the one meant to protect my seat (prior to her scratching and pushing it off), the time arrived to corral Ezra. Before I could gather him in my arms and load him in to his car seat, his eyes lit up, reflecting the concrete surface, slick with rainwater, in front of him.

Pooled about three inches deep, gathered in an indent in the driveway, deliciously tempting in its splash-worthiness, lay a puddle. Magnets to children, these nature-made spills beckon to be jumped upon. Droplets fell into the puddle, creating ripples, widening in concentric, outward circles. Mischievously splashed across Ezra’s face, a smile spreads.

He’s going to jump.

Finicky me, a dirty wet child means a cleaning, drying parent. I looked down at his feet and see that he is appropriately clad in his waterproof shoes, the ones I put on him knowing he is going to step in mud, dig in dirt, or get generally filthy. Designed specifically to be washed and cleaned easily, they are my obsessive-compulsive dream.

Compressed with in the millisecond of parental decision making, I nodded his way. “Go ahead,” I encouraged, ” Jump.” He gives me a look of disbelief, unsure that he heard correctly. “Jump!” I say more loudly, practically yelling over the beating rain, almost begging my child to do what I know he wants to.

Arms swinging, ankles pressed together, Ezra swings his arms back-and-forth, preparing for his bodily trajectory. From the moment he rises from the ground and begins his grand journey, I can tell it’s going to end in a monumental splash.

A wave of wetness rises from the ground, reaching me at about chest height, covering Ezra. Like the torrential downpour of rain, an outburst of laughter more refreshing than the spring storm, poured from his mouth.

Spring splashes make for incredibly joyful moments with my child.

Moments later, I am buckling him into the car, very wet a little worse for the wear. My body only halfway in the backseat, my legs continue to get pelted by the downpour.

“Dad,” he lets out with a grin, “That was the best splash ever!”

After today’s literal and figurative rainstorms, most restorative and healing was letting my kid be a kid, and having the fatherly intuition to do so. It only took one jump into nature’s smallest of lakes: the puddle. That was perhaps the most refreshing moment to be had during (or after) a rainstorm

In Response To: Diagnosis

It is said that children pay for the sins of their fathers. I often wonder: what did mine do? What God or gods did he aggravate to such a degree that I would bear the burden? What god would be so vengeful to alter my life’s course? What if there were no God? He or she seemed to be hiding beneath a rock, cowering somewhere out of reach, unable to hear the plaintiff calls of someone clearly in need. I guess I wasn’t loud enough.

Although I can’t definitively answer those questions (because there may be time and place for such hypotheses to be made), there was a moment when everything changed – my cataclysm – a godless warp in my continuum of time. What was previously one way, became something entirely different, like blinking an eye and reopening it only to find a pale green sky, filled with clouds, hanging just above the ground, close enough to touch if you just strained enough. I’d know exactly what I was seeing (the sky), but at the same time, would be startled by its utter lack of familiarity (it’s green?). From one instant to the next, I was left with the unpleasant certainty that there would never again be a blue sky, so to speak, in my life, and this green would be the new normal.

Each layer of this memory is onion skin – thin and difficult to separate from the next, delicate and difficult to peel back, triggering involuntary tears. At age 19, I became, partly, who I am today, on a Wednesday morning in the fall of 2004. The exact moment I can recall with such clarity, precisely wedged between my mother’s nervous foot-tapping and my father’s vacant stares, my silent sentinels standing guard, unable to protect me from the hidden attacker. They were a useless phalanx against an invisible army. I sat on one of those doctor’s chairs, the thinnest layer of paper product separating me and a history of previous patients, still warm from whoever sat there before me. That was not that long ago for me, and it’s true what they say about memory, that you may not remember every detail, but you will remember a feeling or feelings, and that I do. Those feelings, no matter how cemented you try to make their feet in the cinderblocks of repression, they resurface from the lake in which you try to drown them. At first, the bubbles come to the surface slowly until, all at once, the memory surfaces facedown, bobbing in an otherwise placid pool, forcing itself to be addressed, swollen with the weight of history. So much for sleeping with the fishes. Looking back, I realize that there I still sit, 19, on that bed, listening to the clinical pronouncement of my future.

Doctor’s offices are places where diagnoses happen sterilly, devoid of humanity. Places where the bright white lights match the bright white walls and the bright white lab coats of trained professionals who swear to do no harm. Places where there are so many answers, but ever more questions.

The cleanliness made me uncomfortable, and I’d shift repeatedly, each time causing the rustling of the crepe-like paper beneath, like the crunching of snow beneath heavy boots, but without any of the nostalgic winter underpinnings. Smelling of some disinfectant, the room felt more toxic than clean, as though I could close my eyes, breathe deeply, and achieve some sort of half-rate high from the noxious fumes. But no such luck; I tried.. There were no clocks on the wall, so time passed at freakishly slow, as if carried by an snail through quicksand. Each tick of a second hand seemed to measure five, and I would have loved a glass of water to wet my dry mouth. The irony is that this moment is timeless, and even if there had been a clock, time stopped for me altogether.

Sweat formed around my brow, causing the light in the room to reflect directly downward into my eyes through which I bore witness to the events to follow. The entire experience was outer-body; hovering above myself was me, looking down on the room, hovering to bear witness. My heart was pounding in my chest as if awaiting some judge’s sentence, but that was to come.

Two years prior, I found myself in a similar setting, equally clinical, just a hundred-plus miles from this room. A high school senior, my routine doctor’s visit had turned dark after a series of accusations were made by a less-than-couth doctor, more concerned that his office door would revolve x amount of times per day than with the fragile state of his patients. My feet, size eight (eight-and-a-half, depending on the make), had gone into hibernation; they’d taken a long nap, and the pins-and-needles feeling of sleeping limbs persisted for the past two weeks.

You can imagine, person with two feet of your own (assuming) just how uncomfortable / annoying / infuriating such a nagging, yet benign sensation would be. It was a person talking at a movie bad. That person on their cell phone at the register obnoxious. It was downright bothersome. A varsity athlete, playing soccer had become complicated by the unnatural clumsiness brought on by the lack of feeling in my cleats. I’d lumber as I ran, one foot clumsily clunking over the other, cinder blocks in leather boots. Falling unnaturally, I looked like a clown in a striped uniform, and was pretty much useless as an athlete and teammate at this time. I may have stood more of a chance being bound at the ankles with rope.

Rationalizing, I gave myself countless, trite encouragements. It was probably nothing. It would go away. I would run normally again. Yes, but when? Patience was not my virtue.

By the time I found myself sitting before the least friendly doctor this side of the Mississippi (because east-coast doctors had to be even less friendly – especially those in Manhattan, dealing with endless traffic or subway stops, and in the middle of winter? Forget about it!), I had reached max capacity for the tolerance of sleeping feet.

“You have poor nutrition,” he accused, or maybe he asked? “You have poor nutrition?” Either way, it felt suggestive and accusatory. My mother would be mortified at such an accusation / inquiry.

“No,” I responded, slightly off-guard.

“You using drugs,” again a question or statement. Who could tell? Maybe it was his accent?

Again, “No.”

“You sure?” Question this time, I’m certain.

“Yes.”

“You’re sure you’re using drugs or not using them?” Tiring of his Gestapo tactics, I sighed, sinking into poor posture.

“I am sure I don’t use drugs – “

“Because this is a safe place,” he claimed, although it became increasingly clear that this was anything but. (Didn’t he take some sort of oath? One hand, parallel to body, elbow bent at an acute angle. Or is that Boy Scouts?)

“I’m sure.”

“Well,” he rubbed his chin, quizzically, as though he were thinking about what to get for lunch (because that’s what I do when I’m thinking about lunch), and not about my physical (and at this point, mental) well being. “It’ll probably just go away. Come back in two weeks if it doesn’t,” followed by the most vague of all doctor statements learned in their doctor classes, “If not, we’ll run some tests.”

There I had it – perfect clarity. It was nothing. Probably nothing. Probably (certainly) nothing.

Fan-fucking-tastic, I thought, tests, something this AP-loaded high schooler just could not get enough of. Bring them on (or don’t. hat would be fine, too).

Within two short weeks, it did go away. Magic! Oh you, human body, with your trickster ways. You almost had me panicking there, the whole numb-feet thing. So, feet rejuvenated and gait restored to typical levels of clumsiness, I returned to my normal life and over-scheduled program, soccer included. Good morning, feet! My, you feel rested. There were no more tests, No more inquiries into my nutrition or drug habits – that is, until the time when my parents came to support me with their best intentions and palpable nervousness.

Awakened by my father’s cough, I distract myself from whatever impending doom would follow, taking in my surroundings. Doctor’s offices are wretched places. Their ambiance really is shitty. Plastered around the room beneath the flickering fluorescence were seemingly infinite brochures addressing you-name-it health concerns: breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, acid reflux, obesity – a robust plethora of conditions. A who’s who of life-altering ailments.This was a veritable smorgasbord of menu items for the budding hypochondriac in such a setting. What will I choose today? Will it be one from column A or column B? So much to choose from. How does one ever decide?  Do I have that? (No, that one is for ovarian cysts. You don’t have ovaries.) There was, it seemed, something for everyone, membership, if you will, into exclusive clubs for the infirm that few would willingly join. The faces on those brochures were so normal, and that’s the point; he or she on the cover could be you – you could be them, with their golden retrievers and smiling toddlers, helmets atop a tricycle or hand-in-hand with a paid-model-to-look-like loved one. The woman on the acid reflux brochure looked like my fourth-grade teacher. Was it her? Did she carry Tums in her purse and I never noticed?

It could be you, taking the trifold from its plastic casing, thumbing through the well-organized and visually appealing content, staring down the barrel of your medical future. In a split second, your mind climbs the ladder of assumption, making arrangements for your future as a member of Club Sick. Do you get a membership card? A tote bag? Is there an elected body that runs the meetings? Are there cookies at the meeting? That would somehow lesson the despair. I could use a cookie right now, maybe two. This office could really use a plate of cookies, especially when I am forced to wait in the clockless room for an indiscernible amount of time. Lost in transient thoughts of absent sandwich cookies., the door to the room opened and the doctor, heavy footed in shoes only doctors and Dr. Frankenstein’s monster should wear, ominous in their leaden thuds, steps in, and everything changes. If there had been a clock in the room, it would have stopped. I gulp. The white lights flicker and the recycled air pipes through the vents. Which brochure would I be?

In Response To: Detention

Campus beautification should be brought back in place of our school’s current detention system.

If a student gets detention on a weekly basis, is it really serving its purpose for that student? Being the questioner that I am, I often ask myself how useful detention is, and in my opinion, it’s about as effective as wearing sunscreen in a rainstorm.

Twice a year, our staff is asked to consider, as it’s not mandatory, hosting detention. The rule is, you cannot assign detention unless you are willing to host it on two occasions annually. One would think teachers line up to offer their services, except they don’t. Each time the signup is passed around at our first staff meeting, I contemplate signing up, although I never assign detentions. The way I choose to operate, I never need to, but that is not to say that my days are without challenges. My classroom is mine to manage, and I make it my responsibility to deal with disruptive behaviors, yet I’m always reminded by one staff member that in order for anyone to have that option, we need to buy into the system. So, I buy into the collective bargaining that is site peer pressure.

Fewer people are seeing the necessity, however, and we are in a detention-host drought.  It is now second semester, and we have about eight detention days unfilled, and since we only allow students after school detention on two days a week (to accommodate late, after-school buses), that totals about four weeks worth of un-hosted detentions.

Several of my students earned a detention today, their somber faces telling tales of woe and sorry-for-myselfness.  Not interested in asking question, I refrained, but I could hazard a guess as to why those particular students would find themselves in such a predicament. There are times, I do admit, that students receive such “behavioral supports” and “opportunities to grow” because it is easier than actually managing a classroom. Teacher survival relies upon the power-play of the carbon-copy detention slip, and without it, some colleagues face mutinous situations.

Problematically, nobody acquiesced to host those in need of “opportunities for growth” today. Generous me. E-mailing the administrative assistant, I volunteered to host today’s detainees.

Approaching the line of students awaiting to be escorted to the hour of doom, their sullen faces and detention slips in hand, my teacher gaze of disappointment and “you could do better” pierces their stubborn, adolescent veils. If I am going to tack an additional hour onto my day, allow me to revel in the authoritative mode. According to the chicken scratch annotations on the slips, 10 of the twelve lucky, soon-to-be-reformed citizens earned their trip to post-school attitude adjustments by way of a single teacher,  all for the same vague reason: not following directions.

Color me shocked. Adolescents not following directions in a middle school classroom? That seems more like a normal day than one that warrants assigning 10 detentions.

“Why do you think you were assigned detention?” I ask.

One of the students responds, “Because we are generally loud or off task.”

“And why is that” I probed, authority and concerns peppering my voice. “You know the difference between good school behavior and bad. Why would you do something in that class he wouldn’t do it mine?”

“Because we’re bored,” another blurts out. Unsympathetic to that behavior, I can at least understand it. Both the behavioral supports that need to be implemented in this class, but also support for the teacher who clearly feels as though he has no other option but to assign detentions to students, need to be reevaluated.

After the hour I spent with the detainees, I felt like I had been in detention, too.

It has been a very long time since I felt like that.

My sophomore year of high school marks the only time I earned detention in my entire school career. Chemistry could have been one of my favorite classes, except it was taught by an eccentric and close-to-retirement teacher, Mrs. Lundie, whose penchant for a good ol’ story ran deeper than her love of the chemistry she taught. Possessing the strangest ability for getting us to remember things, her mnemonic devices were particularly peculiar. My favorite story she ever told us starred her sister called “Effie.”

Balanced between bunsen burners and beakers, the day’s experiment had to wait. Effie’s history beckoned. We were in for a long one.

Mrs. Lundie, from a small town in Missouri, in full possession of a sweet southern accent, proceeded to tangentially recount a 30-minute story about her tomboy sister. It turns out, Effie really enjoyed lifting weights. She was the strongest member of the family, so strong in fact she seemed like the kind of brute broad who could till the plow with bare hands. I have to admit, we were all enthralled by Effie, imagining her bulging muscles hunkering inside overalls, skin suntanned from her hours toiling beneath the harvest sun. Her aptness for manual labor rivaling only that of her family’s oxen, cooperatively reaping the fall harvest, Effie and beasts. We were all enthralled, hanging on each word, dripping with molasses and suspense, tipping our work stools towards the storyteller. The pastoral scene was resplendent with stuffs by which legends are made.

Mrs. Lundie’s big reveal came not in mid-America themes, nor did she wrap us in the warm blanket of a Aesop-like morale. Nope. Her sister’s name, in the end, may not have been Effie. Hell, I don’t even know if she had a sister at all. She wasn’t just duping us, it was for the sake of learning. Effie, the letters F and E in sequence, represent the atomic symbol for the element of iron.

Effie pumped iron. 

Turns out, this woman with a supposed rich, family history, was a spinner of periodic lies, a teller of tales taller than an ox car. Mnemonic devices, I warned were her specialty, yet and I remain unamused, robbed of a half-hour by her story. My last name, Ferro, literally means iron. It begins with the letters F and E.  

Teachers are just damn lunatics.

For the remainder of the year, my lab partner Rachel and I, made terrible jokes emulating Mrs. Lundie’s “Effie” model. “Did you know that salt is the nasty appetizer? N and A. Na. Sodium. Salt. Or we’d laugh aloud as one of use would shout, “Eh you! I found gold!!’ A and U. Au. Gold. Get it? 

But it wasn’t all fun and games in chemistry class. We did more than memorize elements on the periodic table, balance chemical equations, or, for extra credit, design a physical beanbag mole to represent the chemistry concept of a “mole.”  (Sidenote: it was 2000, and I named mine “Mollenium.” You’re welcome.) From time to time, people got in trouble.

Mrs. Lundie was the only teacher to ever assigned me detention. As she strolled down the rows of high tables, our lab stations, where our chemistry learning occurred, she approached the back of the room where I sat next to Rachel, beside the cabinets with ancient, yellowing textbooks, and jarred, unidentified substances. Glancing at me with lips pursed, she asked, “Are you chewing gum in my classroom?” It was pretty obvious; I was chewing gum in her classroom.

“Spit that out!” she commanded, in her kind of official-but-I-am-sweet-as-sweet-tea way.  Rising to find the nearest trash can, Mrs. Lundie started her way back to the front of the room, passing my desk again. “Are you still chewing?” inquiring with incredulity, like more than ten seconds elapsed. The answer again, was an obvious yes. “I’m gonna give you detention for your defiance! she exclaimed.

“But I barely had time to spit it out,” I argued, but it was all in vain.

That afternoon, I met on the blazing blacktop with our school security detail, another member of the detention chain gang, plastic bag and gloves in hand. I received an hour of work detail, beautifying the campus by picking up all of my schoolmates litter, scraping desiccated morsels, likely, of Winterfresh gum like that I failed to spit out.

Considered cruel and unusual punishment in 2019, my district abolished the practice of campus beautification as a means of behavioral modification. No longer do you see hordes of students, lined up like complicit little ducklings pecking at scraps of paper and detritus. Instead, they are forced to spend a quiet hour pondering the errors of their ways – in my classroom because no one else volunteered.

While pondering their misdeeds, the 14-year-old me, is still upset about Effie, and even more upset that I didn’t have the opportunity to spit my gum out.

I take an Altoid out of my drawer and compromise, the memory’s minty freshness on the tip of my tongue.

In Response To: Monday Blues

Mondays. Need I really say more? They really are the red-headed step-child of the weekdays.

Each start of the week is semi-predictable in its awfulness, but with each Monday comes a different set of trials and tribulations. Try as I may to pretend they’re not awful, like they may hold untapped potential, I accept that it would make me somewhat delusional in believing so, the blindest of faiths. Even the thought of saying “good morning” seems like a lie. Would just “morning” be acceptable? Instead, I suggest we all just look at each other and grumble, thus acknowledging how pessimistic we all feel on this given day.

But then, completely unprecedented and set off by some unforeseen twist of fate, your first period class is really excited as they walk through the door – not out. The energy is contagious, and the lesson you planned to get them pumped about the otherwise-lame-to-8th-graders content, goes off without a hitch! They are engaged, interactive, and more awake than you’ve seen them in months. Rather than presume some sort of witchcraft, you roll with the momentum.

During your prep period, you catch up on your grading, all of it! You look at your gradebook and realize that you don’t have any outstanding assignments. OK, fine. You have an assignment, but that one you plan on saving until Spring Break anyway so you’re still ahead of the game. Congratulations!

Maybe this Monday thing isn’t so bad after all, but it’s too early to tell.

As the day progresses, worlds open for you, and opportunities abound, peeling themselves back for you like a juicy beginning-of-the-week orange. You can hardly contain yourself! Your spouse brings you a treat, unexpected, unsolicited, and brightening what would normally be a dingy Monday. Beginning to feel warm inside, almost tingly, it’s like your insides have fallen asleep, but instead, you recognize the faint tinge of excitement. Uncharacteristic, you don’t usually feel this on Monday, and you feel your skepticism melt away with the Monday blues.

Boldly, you begin to believe this week may not turn out to be half bad, especially if today is any indicator. The student sitting outside your door at lunch is playing that “Sicko Mode” song, and it doesn’t even bother you. You even nod at him like you know what’s up. “This Monday is on Sicko Mode,” you think to yourself, than immediately oppress that outburst. But you do know what’s up. It’s Monday, and you’re having the best one ever.

After a calm lunch where nobody either asks you for anything or expects you to do something for them, you approach the last two periods of the day feeling inspired. Sixth period allows you to coast. You’re on Teacher cruise control and you can see the very bright light at the end of today’s tunnel, but there is only one thing in your way: period seven.

If ever there were a class that made you contemplate leaving teaching for the Peace Corps, it’s this one. All the students who together, and one incredibly horrible dynamic, have found each other, you now approach this class which trepidation every day. Even as a veteran teacher, they are the fly in your Chardonnay. The rain on your parade. But you love them and want the best for them anyway because they are your students, so you put on your growth-mindset pants, and Brene Brown the hell out of them on the daily.

As luck would have it, this may be one of their best days ever. When the final bell rings, you practically click your heels in the air a-la Fred Flintstone. You did it! You survived Monday – no, better than that – you kicked this Monday’s ass.

As you pack a few things and grab your planner to review tomorrow’s lesson (which by the way you’ve already prepared, made copies for, and reviewed the homework assignment you plan to give, because, you know, it’s that kind of Monday), you see it circled on your calendar in big bold letters: STAFF MEETING. An audible gasp leaves your slightly parted lips.

You almost had it. Touché, Monday. Touché.