Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Love Poem
Teaching at Shitty is a frustrating endeavor. Dealing with an administration that views teachers as adversaries and is concerned only with numbers and saving their own asses is frustrating. Teaching classes where half the kids are bored to tears and the other half have no clue what’s going on no matter how many different ways you attempt to explain it to them is frustrating.

What’s really frustrating though, is getting punked by some 15 year old little aspiring gangster with a sculpted hairline wearing giant clown pants, a ridiculous pink t-shirt hanging down to his knees and matching pink Nikes on his strangely tiny little punk-ass feet. It happens all the time.

“Anthony, take your hat off, please.”

“Anthony. The hat.”

“Hey! Anthony! Take. The hat. Off.” This stern admonishment is accompanied by my bug-eyed and ultimately impotent “I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ ass” stare and a herky-jerk hand-gesture wherein, eyes still bugged, I point to my head and then down.

“Hat. Off.”

Anthony, of course, doesn’t want to take his fresh new fitted flat-brim off, and I can’t say that I blame him. The wearing of head-gear and ability to be educated don’t seem to be mutually exclusive. Perhaps, deep down, Anthony senses my ambivalence, and that is why he refuses to do as I ask. Perhaps he just enjoys pissing me off.

Once this power-struggle starts there’s no way it’s going to end well. I try to remain calm and mature, Anthony spouts whatever obnoxious, offensive, disrespectful, smack he can come up with (often en Espanol). If Anthony is an idiot and says something really weak – “Fuck you, Mr.” - for instance, I can come out looking okay.

“Huh? What’s that Anthony? I know you’re not talking to me?” Anthony, being unimaginative, fears he has crossed some sort of line and retreats.

“Nothing, Mr.”

"That’s what I thought,” I say, real tough-like. Often I’ll add on to this with some sort of condescending self-righteous bullshit, once I’m sure Anthony has been beat.

“That’s real smart, Anthony, cussing at me. You think I’m gonna help you out when you talk like that to me. You don’t wanna mess with me. Don’t play with me.”

Yeah boy! Unhhh!

Sometimes though, Anthony is not an idiot, and I get dragged into a little back and forth. This is where I come out looking bad. I can’t win. I’ve already lost the moment I start playing.

There’s a kid named Ignacio in my Level 3 class, the class where all the other kids are native New Yorkers, who speaks no English at all. He’s straight off the boat from the DR, and clearly in the wrong class. This scheduling problem should be resolved sometime around February, so for now I just have to deal with it.

Ignacio is a fucking nightmare. He never shuts up. He never sits down. He wanders around the room jabbering Spanish a mile a minute, smacking people in the head, throwing things across the room, slamming the window blinds, and smirking in my face as if he actually wants me to backhand him.

He was really getting to me on Friday, screwing with the blinds and flipping the lights off, then running away, screaming and giggling when I walked over to stop him. I tried the polite route. He didn’t understand. I tried Spanish.

“No espaneesh, no espaneesh!” he replied with palms up and an exaggerated shrug. The rest of the class thought that was really funny. So he’d pissed me off, and I responded by insulting him in English, sneering, speaking quickly and using big words, a tactic that allowed me to say whatever I wanted, and convey a feeling, if not a meaning.

“I feel sorry for you, really. I pity you. What’s it like to be a smarmy little punk kid who’s too immature and hyper to sit down for five minutes. It’s pathetic. I feel sorry for your mother. You’re not funny. You’re acting like an imbecile, you childish punk brat.”

It wasn’t my finest moment. It didn’t work either, so a few minutes later when Ignacio, who was now sitting in the back of the room singing dirty songs in an exaggerated falsetto, caught my attention again I decided to try a more subtle tactic.

I walked over and sat right next to him, but didn’t say a word. This seemed to freak Ignacio out and shut him up… for about 30 seconds. He then decided it would be a good idea to try out his extremely limited English on me. This is when I realized that Ignacio was not just a pain in the ass little punk kid, but a certifiable fucking genius.

“I love you, baby,” he said to me pleadingly. “I’m sorry, baby.”

As pissed off as I was, that was funny. The class went into hysterics.

“Oh shit! Maricon! Yo, nigga say he love Mr. Babylon!”

Recovering from my own fit of laughter, I kept trying to get Ignaicio - who, flush with success, continued to repeat his two golden phrases of English, "I love you, baby, I'm sorry, baby!" - to shut up.

“That’s good! That’s good!” I told him. “Write it down. Escríbame un poema del amor!”

Ignacio, he’s a genius remember, had a better idea. He began, spontaneously and dramatically, to recite aloud his love poetry to me.

My Spanish wasn’t good enough to know exactly what he was saying. I caught a little. “La luna, mi Corazon, Palpito para usted con el deseo de un llantén que se bombea.” Even without the other students rolling on the floor and howling with laughter, I knew I’d been played.

How do you respond to that? I did my best. I swooned. I recited a few couplets of poetry of my own. Ignacio was not to be derailed though. Dude was inspired, and my consternation was his muse.

I slinked away defeated to the shelter of offering my individual help to a quiet, illiterate girl in the front row.

“No, not when, went. W – E, no E… E, that’s I, good, W – E – N – T.”

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