Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pistol P
My buddy P, aka The Pistol, has a very similar gig to mine. He’s a first year High School ESL teacher too, only he’s out in Ozone Park, Queens, old Gambino stomping grounds. The Gambinos and their goombahs are still around, but they’re getting pushed out fast by a wave of South Asians. P has a ton of Bengalis and Indians in his class. I don’t think he has too many Italianos.

P played in the student/teacher basketball game at his school one Friday and you know, despite the nearly two-hour Subway ride from Shitty to the OP, Mr. Babylon had to be there.

P and I shared MVP honors on our 8th grade basketball team. This, along with the time I came really, really, close to dunking, was the highlight of my basketball career. P, however, was just getting started. He grew tall. He honed a killer jumpshot (hence the Pistol,) he developed his handles, and somewhere came up with a deadly quickness that no-one knew he had.

He led our tiny high school to the state championship game, won lots of awards, and went on to play for a couple of different colleges, and even got in a handful of professional games over in Europe where he did quite well.

Now he’s in Ozone Park teaching ESL, and this basketball game offered the perfect opportunity for him to show some of his students that he’s more than the buttoned-down grammarian they’ve come to know every day in English class, or so I hoped.

I rode the A-Train way out deep through the vastness of Brooklyn all the way into the OP. I grabbed a couple of White Castles (jalepeno good, cheese bad,) and made my way around to the back of the gym, where P had told me I was expected. I just needed to mention his name.

I had to yell back and forth with an old deaf coach for a while but was finally allowed inside the gym where things were already bumping, packed to the rafters with rowdy High School students. The OP High School boys’ varsity squad was warming up and putting on quite a dunk show. This one kid, #11, could absolutely fly, which must have had something to do with why the crowd called him “JFK.” The crowd was loving it. Girls were dancing and screaming, and the boys were pushing each other and running back and forth waving their hands like they just got religion.

Then, not to be outdone, the teacher’s squad, which included a short, fat guy who had to use both hands to dribble, came out with du-rags on and started zig-zagging around the court in some sort of imitation of a figure-8 drill. This soon morphed into your standard tap-drill, where the first guy dribbles up to the basket like he’s going for a lay-up, jumps up and bounces it off the backboard to the next guy who runs in, jumps up and bounces it again, continuing until the last guy jumps up and lays it in or, hopefully, dunks it off the carom.

The crowd was already howling with laughter over the sight of all these middle-aged white guys running around with du-rags on, but when the tap-drill started, and quickly went south (some of these guys couldn’t even get off the ground, let alone put the ball back up where the next guy could get it,) they went absolutely ape-shit. P, the only teach not wearing a du-rag, was the final man in the drill and made a valiant attempt to finish, but the guy in front of him whiffed so bad he wasn’t even close.

I was not optimistic about what was fixing to go down.

It started off okay, the teachers starting five wasn’t as bad as I expected. They had a few guys that were clearly YMCA veterans, passing well, setting nasty screens, banging the boards, and knocking down some open jumpers. P missed a couple of open 3s (his specialty,) though, and otherwise was being way too passive, and the students were hitting absolutely everything they threw up. They must have shot 75% in the first half, which they ended up by almost 20.

P owned the 3d quarter, though. First he went up really high and intercepted an alley-oop tossed to #11, who was pissed. While “JFK” was pouting his missed highlight, P took it the other way, crossed somebody over, and had a sweet no-look pass to another teacher for the lay up. The crowd started to murmur. P then went on a little scoring roll, hitting a couple of step-back 12-footers, and driving to the hole for a couple of nice lay-ups. The students’ lead was down to single digits. The crowd was actually cheering for P now.

Then P poked a pass away and headed down the right sideline with a speedy, pesky, little, water-bug guy guarding him tight. P went behind his back to the left, spun back around to the right and jammed it all over the little speedster’s head.

Oh shit.

Half the kids in the stands were stomping up and down and falling out, while the other half began heckling the student team.

JFK blew another alley-oop and P had a couple more buckets and another dunk in transition to wind up the third quarter with the students clinging to a slight lead. Then the inexplicable happened. P went to the bench. The teachers apparently were operating under some sort of Mighty Mights, equal-minutes-no-matter-how-sorry-you-are rule. By the time he got back in the game it was over, and the students won handily.

P and I left after politely declining to hit happy hour in the OP with his teammates. On the way out a couple of lady security guards looked him up and down before slapping him 5 and declaring, “You da man!”

Outside a group of girls were walking ahead of us.

“You the teacher dunked on them boys?” one of them turned and asked.

“Yeah,” he nodded, and we kept walking.

“What your name is?”

“Mr. P,” he said, a little louder this time.

“Mr. P!” all the girls screamed in unison.

“Next time we see you walking down the hall,” the lead girl continued, “we all gonna be like…"

"Mr. P!” they all shrieked again in unison.

P and I just smiled.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Iris Goldstein is my mentor at Shitty Bronx High School. It’s official. She gets paid to do it. I didn’t know she was getting paid for quite some time and thought she was just being nice, which I found odd, because she’s not a very nice person.

Goldstein is in her 50s and is old-school Bronx Jewish all-the-way. She actually went to Shitty Bronx High School a million years ago when she was a young (and presumably less bitter) lady. And she is very bitter indeed. She also has a hunchback, which her students, of course, love.

She tried to help me at first, I think. She gave me a bag of little plastic animal toys that she had used when she taught elementary school. She suggested I might use them with my Level 1 kids. These young people are 15 to 19 years old. Most of them are sexually active. Many of them are in gangs. They were not interested in toy giraffes.

Mostly though, her mentoring consists of one-liners delivered from her phlegm-filled throat through her garishly lip-sticked lips.

“No one does any of the work I assign,” I will tell her when she asks me how my classes are going.

“They are not exactly intellectual giants,” she will respond, which is mostly true, but not very helpful.

I shouldn’t have expected much, I guess, because Goldstein is a terrible teacher herself. She writes an assignment on the board, then sits at her desk and reads the Times whiled the kids eat candy and, litter, and simulate sex in the back of the class.

That’s when she’s there. She uses a sick day at least twice a week. She even faked a broken arm that kept her out for almost six weeks. Loud weeping was heard coming from the student bathrooms on the day of her return.

In her ultimate bid to get out of work she accused a student of sexually harassing her by looking down her shirt. This is a 50-something year old woman… with a hunchback. All the students in the class claimed that she was leaning over, her saggy flapjack teats dangling, while everyone did their best to avoid the horrific sight before them.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Coffee Clutch
Chock Full O’ Nuts is terrible coffee really, under any circumstances, and I’m not a coffee snob. I don’t like instant, my parents drink that Folgers Crystals stuff and it sucks, but I’ll drink most anything else. Deli coffee, fine. Cofee-cart coffee, not bad, 2 sugars please. Starbucks too strong, too bitter, too corporate? Tastes great to me.

Chock Full O’ Nuts is crap though, and that’s what we have in the ESL department of Shitty Bronx High School. I don’t know who makes these decisions, but it’s not me. I’d complain, but I’m sure the alternative is worse. I paid $20 (to Mrs. Robinns of course) for the privilege of drinking this coffee daily. They call this arrangement, this co-operative effort, a “Coffee Clutch,” I don’t know why.

There’s no milk or cream, or any refrigerator to put such delicacies in for that matter, so the options are non-dairy creamer or black. I choose black. I also go no sugar. I went with the creamer and the sugar at first, but it still tasted like shit, so I figured black was healthier, or not quite so toxic at least.

So I choke my little Styrofoam cup or two of coffee down - black, weak, soapy - like it’s cough medicine or a shot of Jagermeister, and it gets me through the day. I try going without every now and then if I’m feeling adventurous and reasonably not hung-over. My subsequent low energy level generally rubs off on the kids and we have a relatively mellow day. I’d do it more often if I could.

The worst part about the coffee is the water. I know where it comes from. Sometimes I even go to get it myself. I know what you’re imagining. Most offices have one of those big, blue water cooler things, glug-glug. We don’t. It’s a school though, right? So we’ve got water fountains. Nope, they’re broken and filled with lung-oysters and sometimes even urine.

So when I must play martyr and go fill up the coffee pot with water, I trudge down to the teacher bathroom, unlock it with my key, brace myself for the wall of disinfectant/urine/sewage stench and wade in, nostrils flared. There I must fill up the pot in the sink, the same sink everyone (or everyone who’s not completely disgusting) uses after they’ve taken a dump, approximately six inches away from the pube-garden of the urinal. This is not a quick process either. The faucet is the type you punch down on causing an allotment of water to spurt out. This allotment of water is not enough to wash your hands with or even get them wet. It could make them damp, if you had small hands. So I stand there surrounded by stench, coffee pot wedged into the sink, trying not to touch any tainted porcelain, and punching the faucet over and over until the pot is full. I then emerge - inevitably a student is there and looks from me to the bathroom to the coffee pot with visible disgust - and return to the office to brew up another pot of Chock Full o’ Nuts.

Here's to You
My department at Shitty High School in the Bronx is filled with all sorts of people, diversity at work. A patchwork quilt. A tossed salad. Mixed nuts. My favorite co-worker of all is a lady we’ll call Mrs. Robinns. I’m not sure what her official title is - School Aide, Para-professional, Head Flunky to the AP? – but nothing happens around the office without her touch. She doles out stacks of dog-eared books from the bookroom to which only she has a key. She knows where the coffee filters and cups are kept, a secret place she disappears to without a word as soon as someone whines that our supply has been depleted. She’s the only person who knows how to fix the copy and Rizo (high volume copier) machines.

Pretty much every morning the first thing I do is walk in and ask Mrs. Robinns for something, and pretty much every morning she responds by pausing, smiling genuinely, saying “good morning,” and then doing whatever it is that I need done.

An angel in a pantsuit and tacky red lipstick, Mrs. Robinns makes things happen, and that insistence on polite pleasantry in every interaction is often the only thing keeping me from stalking around all day in a black cloud of rage.

Mrs. Robinns is also the one around the office who’s always nagging for $2 for a card for the retirement of someone I’ve never met (which often makes those storm-clouds rumble,) and she’s always the one organizing end-of-semester dinners, happy hours and the like.

It was at one such Happy Hour where the subject of Mrs. Robinns’s illustrious tennis career came up. Once a week or so she’ll cut out of work early (or, more accurately, not stay late, as is her usual) to play tennis. She seems reasonably fit for her age, mid-fifties. She’s slender, not very strong (she’s often asking for my help lifting boxes) and she never takes the stairs. So I figured she played tennis for fun once or twice a week. Perhaps she used to be good as a younger lady. Turns out she’s a superstar.

She started playing on a whim when she went back to college. The overhand smash came naturally to her, as did a powerful forehand and a ferociously accurate two-handed backhand. Her topspin lobs dropped like bricks, rocking opponents tumbling back on their asses. Fans kept track of her ace’s as if she was Dwight Gooden throwing strikes. She’d never heard of a double fault in her life.

She lost only once her first year, playing against men because there was no women’s team. Every match was a Battle of the Sexes. Every small college tennis complex was the Astrodome. Every cocky, preppy, 20 year old was Bobby Riggs, only Mrs. Robinns didn’t even have Billy Jean’s youth and experience on her side, only her nascent talent. She had never played before in her life. She was 42 years old.

They ended up starting a women’s squad just for her (and likely so she’d stop embarrassing 18 to 22 year old men) and she went undefeated her next three years. Ten plus years later she still regularly wins tournaments playing against men and women half her age.

My hero. She ought to have her own postage stamp.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com