Monday, March 08, 2004

Fire and amongst the Flames, Freaks
Finals were given (by requirement) last Thursday and Friday, and Regions testing is next week, leaving this week with nothing to for us to do and no motivation for the kids to do it. I signed up for the VCR on Thursday, but neglected to plan on what movie we would actually watch. Last minute, I borrowed a copy of “Amelie” from another teacher, and popped it in for the kids. The fact that this movie is in French and way too subtle and sophisticated for my class full of Spanish-speaking 15 year olds was not to deter me from not teaching jack-shit this week.

The kids didn’t seem to have any idea what was going on in the movie, but neither did they seem to mind much. Some slept, some talked amongst themselves, and some even laughed at bits of Jeunet’s wacky visual humor, this despite the fact that the fire alarm was (as it is want to do) screaming incessantly from the hall.

The alarm went on for a minute or two, and we all ignored it as usual, until AP Motto’s voice crackled over the intercom, instructing us to evacuate the building immediately.

“Let’s go, now. Vamanos, ajora.” I was calm but deadly serious. I don’t know where this voice of authority and steely resolve came from but it worked. The kids were up and heading for the door immediately. I don’t think they’ve ever responded to me with such obedience.

I shut the VCR off, thinking this was probably the last time I would see the thing, seeing as how the classroom door doesn’t lock.

We shuffled into the madding crowds and downstairs and outside into the 20 degree air where I suddenly remembered I had no jacket. There were no signs of fire, but fire engines began rolling up almost immediately as thousands of kids milled about on both sides of the street and frantic deans directed traffic around the crowds.

I stood across the street, a little away from the crowds and watched my kids interact sans supervision. It wasn’t much different than usual. I saw fellow teacher Sexual Yeti walking away towards a parking lot down the street, and wondered if maybe the old codger had finally had enough and was burning off for good. He sidled up to me a few minutes later, now clad in a purple fleece and a downright fruity purple and pink knit cap.

“This is a real wake-up call,” he informed, managing to be loud and overbearing even as he talked under his breath.

“Yeah, sure is… uhh, how’s that?” I asked, thinking he was talking about the danger of all the false fire alarms or something.

“Well, in this time – post 9-11 – of international or domestic terrorism or what have you, you can never be too prepared,” he replied, and I was immediately sorry I had asked.

Apparently he had grabbed the jacket and hat out of his van. He just happened to have them because he’s an avid skier and hiker. This was some sort of providence, and he was now convinced he needed to fill his car with canned food and kerosene (with which, by the way, one can heat a cabin for five years on a couple hundred dollars), for when the shit, inevitably, goes down.

He then told me of finding a hat in the school library. It had been there for a few days, he said, left by a student no doubt, so he grabbed it and wore it home. Then his head started to itch, despite the fact that he had inspected it for lice! The freak then generously offered to get me a hat and jacket out of his van/survivalist machine. I politely declined.

Anyway, after about 45 minutes we were allowed back in the building where my class and I sloppily reconvened to watch some more “Amelie” (the vcr, miraculously, was still there.) The fire alarm immediately began going off again, and, a little nervously, again we ignored it.

Motto kept coming over the intercom every 30 seconds or so pleading, desperation palpable in his voice, for all students to return to their classes, and for all teachers who were available to help herd the kids out of the halls. It soon became apparent why.

A low rumble from down the hall grew louder and louder, until it was a roaring tornado right outside the room. Dozens (hundreds?) of kids then appeared, running, screaming, fighting, and banging on everything in sight, including my classroom door, which, you remember, doesn’t lock. The riotous crowd would move off, down the hall or into the stairwell, and then it would roar back towards us. My kids were pressed up against the windows, watching, but even the crazy ones were too scared to actually open the doors.

Nothing happened, to us anyway. The rioting stopped, and the period eventually ended. It turns out that when everyone re-entered the building some students took advantage of not having to pass through the metal detectors and snuck in knives. Somehow, no-one was stabbed. The fire, by the way, was relatively small. Someone had set a bulletin board on fire. The plastics had made a lot of smoke. They arrested two kids for arson the next day. They were bragging about their mischeivous deed.


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