Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Cookie Party
My morning double period Level 2 class is my best of the day. They talk, they sing, they eat candy and chew gum, there was once something very close to a sexual act in the front row, but by and large we get something done everyday, and things never descend into total chaos. I judge this as significant progress for me, because there are a few pretty crazy kids in there, and I think that last year they would have run all over me the way my afternoon class does now.

There are a good half dozen kids in there that are real trouble. Maria Maldonado is 18, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, and she behaves like an absolute idiot. She shows up 20 minutes late every day. When she arrives there is usually a smattering of applause and a few spontaneous rhythms beaten out on desks. “Boriqua, Morena, Dominicana…” She sashays over to my desk and sits down right next to it, where I have placed her so she’ll chill out and act right. It works a little. Still, she talks constantly. At least once a day she stands up, leans over, puts her hands together on her desk and gyrates her big round ass like she’s at Magic City and not in the basement of Shitty High School. It is somewhat difficult to maintain the flow of my lesson while this is going on, but it is an improvement over her behavior last year.

Another girl in this class is by far the single most obnoxious person I’ve ever come across. Frankie is loud, shrill, mean-spirited, and absolutely shameless. When she’s not screaming, sneering and cussing in class she can often be found on the corner by the train station – screaming, sneering, cussing and fighting with any girl unlucky enough to cross her path. Frustratingly for me, her English teacher, Frankie Garcia refuses to ever speak English, preferring to jabber Spanish at a ridiculously fast pace and then look astounded when I don’t understand. Apparently she thinks that since I have learned to say “sit down,” “shut up,” and “listen to me now,” I am somehow fluent. She is wrong.

Frankie has developed some sort of rash on her nascent little round beer belly. She may have tried to tell me this, I wouldn’t know, but I couldn’t help but notice when she walked to the front of the room, unbuttoned her jeans, lifted her shirt and exposed an oozing map of Hawaii sprayed across her spare tire. I promptly wrote her a pass to the nurse’s office.

I’m not sure what the nurse did for Frankie and her rash, but ever since then she has brought with her to class a bar of Secret brand antiperspirant (“strong enough for a man…”) with which, at some point during class she will stand up, let loose her stomach, and rub the rash, all the while cackling, brandishing the deodorant over her head and screaming, “Victoria Secret! Victoria Secret!” There is no rational explanation for this.

Maria and Frankie fraternize, through gyrations, gropings, and general flirtation with a couple of gangsterish boys. Baby-faced and light-skinned with a long black pony-tail and dark mischievous eyes, Carlos reminds me a little bit of Bugs Bunny. He’s a sharp kid. He’s Colombian (hence his nickname “Colo” which one can find scrawled all over Shitty’s walls and desks and stairwells – dude gets up) but was born here and speakie de English just fine. He reads ok as well, but the poor kid can’t spell a damn thing. This is his second semester in my Level 2 class, and I am in the process of convincing him to show up to class (and stay awake) often enough to pass. So far so good, mostly. Colo seems to be smitten with Maria (who, thankfully, doesn’t show up that often) and went out of his way the other day to inform me, “Mista, hey Teacha, Maria nipples is hard! Look! Look!”

Colo’s buddy Roulo isn’t quite as handsome (he once spent an entire period with his head buried in his arms hiding a massive zit on his nose) but he’s pretty damn funny. He’s been in New York a year or two and his English isn’t very good, but what he lacks in finish he more than makes up for with enthusiasm, creativity and the hottest street slang. He usually manages to get his ideas across.

“Yo nigga. Whaspoppin'?”

“Are you talking to me Roulo? I’m really not comfortable with that word, especially not when in reference to me.”

“Wha'appen, nigga?”

“Roulo. Don’t call me that.”

“Oh, I sorry, Meester.”

This foursome, Maria, Franki, Carlos, and Roulo, tend to dominate class, but there are a bunch of other talkative little punks and punkettes in there, and all of them are constantly asking me for a bathroom pass, so they can go down the hall and buy some cookies.

Shitty has a “supermarket” in the basement, you see, right by my class room. Here students can purchase such necessities as Tupperware, tampons, bleach, ramen noodles, and the only item they seem to really move; fresh, hot, Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.

The intoxicating aroma of these buttery oven-baked goodies permeates the basement throughout the morning, and the kids (many of whom don’t even have lunch on their schedule) are understandably distracted. I looked the other way at first when they would eat them in class, but the cookies got really out of hand. Money and chocolate chips would fly back and forth across the room, and much more attention was being paid to who was or wasn’t giving who a macadamia nut than whatever it was I was trying to teach. The class would end, and the students would scatter, leaving the room strewn with wax paper wrappers and half-eaten, stomped-upon cookies, so I put the kibosh down and banned cookies.

This has mostly worked, but hasn’t stopped the kids obsession, and they have a new mantra led by the lead little gangster Carlos.

“C’mon Mista, when we gonna have cookie party?”

“Yeah, nigga, cookieparty! Cookieparty today!”

I fended them off for a few weeks and finally acquiesced last Friday, as it was Halloween, and only a half-day anyway.

I bribed them into doing some work, “no Do Now, no cookie party,” and then peeled off a stack of ones and sent a trustworthy little Mexican girl down the hall to buy the cookies.

Everyone had a grand old time. Maria did a pole dance against the radiator. Frankie screamed and stomped and rubbed deodorant on her belly. Carlos and Roulo taught me some gang signs, showed me how to differentiate Latin King beads from Crip beads, and led a spirited Crip-walk dance across the front of the room as Carlos rapped the words to Snoop’s latest, “I keep a blue flag hanging out my backside/ but only on the left side, yeah that's the Crip side.”

On the way out Carlos came up to me and said with great earnest, “Hey Mista, you know wha' we needs, what really set dis cookie party off?”

“What’s that man?” I was almost afraid to ask.

“Some milk, yo. I be like dippin’ 'em in there. Some milk for da cookies.”

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