Thursday, December 23, 2004

Airing of the Grievances
Mr. Babylon is going on a much needed vacation. I'll try to post a couple of times over the break, but you know how that goes.

Keep an eye out for exciting future stories from the inside including, "My Arch Enemy," "Squirrel In The Classroom," "Mista, You Used to Smoke Mad Weed, Right?" "I'm A Grown Ass Man, And You're A Punk Little Boy!" and "Roulo, Get Off the Desk and Put Your Pants On!"

Also Mr. Babylon has made it his New Years Resolution to refrain from posting while drunk and emotional. Your support in this difficult endeavor would be appreciated.

Happy Festivus y'all. Good luck in the Feats of Strength.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Things I learned (or was reminded of) at my department's holiday dinner:

Teachers like to hear themselves talk and are unaccustomed to letting others have their say.

A male teacher at Shitty recently punched a female student.

There is a large group of kids at Shitty who actually try to get sent to Detention every day so they can link up with each other and then pursue further nefarious activities.

Shitty’s college counselor only helps “island blacks” and reportedly encourages others to pursue less extra-curricular activities.

An effective way to stop students from stealing peanuts from your bag is to replace your regular peanuts with an extra-spicy kind. “Eso pique! You Mexican!”

I can eat a shit-load of baked clams.

I can drink a shit-load of crappy red wine.

I can discretely throw up in the bathroom and then come back for another round of food and drink.

Many teachers find off-color jokes, involving tampons and dildos in conversation with one another, to be offensive and not the least bit funny.

I’m not proud. Or hungry.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Tough City
Colleague, classmate, and friend, this guy will be greatly missed. Rest in Peace, brother.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dotted Line
I talk a lot about gangs at Shitty, but I really don’t know exactly what’s going on with them. The kids all say that gangs are a big problem, and that there are a lot of them.

There’s certainly a lot of gang graffiti scrawled on the desks and doors and walls. "Somebody Bonez." Latin King crowns. "Bloody This" and "Bloody That." Red B’s or blue C’s with an upwards pointing arrow piercing their hastily scrawled loops. DDP (Dominican’s Don’t Play) is a common motif, and in out of the way corners I’ve even noticed a few pitchforks, six-pointed stars and other, more explicit references to People and Family.

When it comes to which is which and who is who though, things become much less obvious. Kids wear all red, kids wear long white tee’s, kids wear beads and braids, and I honestly don’t know what’s what. I spent the better part of last year thinking their was some sort of “pink gang” running around the Bronx, until I realized they were just jocking Dipset and Kila Cam’s trendsetting styles.

My confusion is mostly due to my own ignorance, but some of this stuff is just mixed up. The Bronx is rough, no doubt, but this isn’t LA, we don’t have drive-by’s, and I’m not sure how organized or cohesive any of these gangs really are. Kids do get shot, stabbed, and beat down, and I’m sure there’s plenty of low-level drug-slinging and small-time robbery, but Shitty kids aren’t running any major schemes. I just can’t see it.

I’ve been curious as to Roulo’s gang affiliation for a while now. He regularly wears Latin King beads, and has proudly shown them to me along with a couple of LK hand-signs. He’s also prone to Crip-wlking quite adeptly across the classroom floor, often while rapping the Crip-centric lines from Snoop and Pharell’s mega-hit, “Drop it Like it’s Hott.”

Which is it? Crip or King? Are they mutually exclusive, or in cahoots?

Roulo and Colombia strolled into class together ten minutes late today, just like every day, boldly ambivalent to my ire. They settled in to their seats with relatively little fanfare and began to intently study a yellow sheet of paper.

I strolled over and snuck a glance, curious as to what other teacher’s homework might have them so enthralled. It was a contract, professionally rendered as far as I could tell from my quick glance, for entrance to the Latin Kings.

Roulo, I guess, is not certified gangster quite yet after all. I called him over to my desk after class, I had to return the cell-phone I had confiscated from him yesterday (he kept playing his “Gasolina” ring-tone) anyway. I’d like to say I did something profound like rip the contract to shreds, or make him rip it to shreds, but I didn’t. I told him I knew what it was.

“How you know what’s dat, Mista?” he asked, visibly nervous.

“I’m not stupid, Roulo.” Mysteriousness is always more menacing than literacy.

“Don’t do it, Roulo. You’re a good kid. You’re smart and funny. I don’t want to see you in trouble…”

“I not get get in trouble, Mista, I…”

“I don’t want to see you in jail. I don’t want to see you in the hospital or…”

“I just looking it, Mista, I just want look.”

“Don’t do it, Roulo.” With that he left.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Like rats from a sinking ship, or cockroaches from behind a pissed-upon classroom radiator, teachers are leaving Shitty in droves. The ESL department is three teachers lighter than it was last year, despite the fact that there are at least a hundred more students. This means whole classes have been being taught by substitutes all year long. It’s kind of funny when you ask a kid who his English teacher is, and he furrows his brow and replies, “Meester Vacancia,” but it’s totally unfair to the kids, and certainly doesn’t help with the generally pervasive level of I-don’t-give-a-fuck around the building.

Well, one more teacher quit a couple of weeks ago, an enthusiastic young woman fresh off a couple of years in the Peace Corps. She had actually lined up a job at another school over the summer, but Principal Popeil refused to release her, setting the stage for a series of increasingly hostile conflicts between the two and culminating in him cussing her out for sending “unauthorized” letters home to her students’ parents.

She left. This was a good move for her, but it’s bad for me. I picked up one of her classes. This puts me over some sort of contractual limit on hours of teaching, so I’m making a nice chunk of extra money, but I’m earning every penny.

Teachers throw around a lot of words to describe their students, words that those that don’t deal with the little brats on a daily basis might find a tad insensitive. “Animals” and “Monsters” are the two you hear most often in reference to a particularly unruly and disrespectful bunch. I try not to repeat the “animal” invective, because I feel like it often has unsavory racial implications.

The children in my new 7th period class are Demonspawn. Satan’s Minions. Other teachers complain of their students talking too much, sleeping, or, Heaven forbid, getting up and walking around the room. I’ve got girls singing Daddy Yankee tunes while they projectile vomit and violently masturbate with a crucifix. And those are the good ones.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Paddy Wagons Are Not AWD
It’s been a crazy couple of days at the Shitty Educational Campus. I should have known things would go badly when three trains passed me by in the morning, too full to board. A freezing rain was coming down in sheets, and the wind blew out my umbrella when I finally made it up to the Bronx. I was soaking wet and shivering when I scrambled into my morning class, operating sans coffee and my morning muffin, as the late bell rang.

Things were nice and calm for awhile. The rain had the kids sleepy, and Roulo and Colombia and Frankie (there’s been no sign of Maria for weeks) were so enthralled with the packets of condoms, lubricants, and dental dams they had all somehow acquired from the clinic that they weren’t distracting anyone but themselves.

Once the second half of the double period rolled around, though, things started to pick up. Kids began coming by and poking their heads in my door’s window, and as soon as they did Roulo and Colombia began asking me for the bathroom pass. I wasn’t dumb enough to say yes, but this action in the hall gave birth to new life in my students, and the noise level began to rise.

Roulo held up a tube of strawberry flavored lubricant.

“You know what’s dat, Mista?”

“Yes, Roulo,” I nodded.

“What’s dat? What’s dat is, Mista?” Roulo persisted. Perhaps he had seen the beginnings of a flush flooding my cheeks and ears.

“Lubricant, Roulo. It’s lubricant.” I decided the fact that it was flavored lubricant was extraneous information.

Roulo most likely knew damn well what the tube was, but I figured I might as well be honest with the kids about this stuff. They obviously need all the help they can get.

“Why you need that, Mista?” Roulo now had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

I began to attempt to explain why one might need a tube of Astro-Glide, when Colombia stood up, removed the dental dam (a safe-sex tool I myself was not before familiar with) and held it up for all to see. He glanced back and forth between the instructions, which showed the crudely rendered outline of a naked woman with a shaded rectangle over her genitals, and the fruit roll-up looking piece of plastic, then screamed, “Ewww!”, and tossed both to the floor.

Roulo retrieved the dental dam and held it at arms length with his nose upturned.

“Wha de fuck?!” He yelled. “Mista, you know what’s dat?”

This one was going to be even tougher to explain.

“It’s to prevent getting an STD from oral sex,” I attempted, and thirty kids stared back at me blankly. Normally in such a situation I would attempt pantomime to get the meaning across, but felt that might be inappropriate in this case.

Mercifully, I was once again interrupted, this time by an announcement on the loudspeaker stating that no passes of any kind were to be given out and all “comp-time persons” were to report to the halls. That’s code for some serious shit is going down, watch the fuck out.

A few minutes later another announcement crackled forth. No passes were to be given for the rest of the day, and comp-time people need to get to their positions now. Something REALLY bad was happening.

Gangs were rumbling. Bloods vs. Bonez. Blacks vs. Dominicans. Fights broke out all over the school all day long, over a dozen in all including a massive rumble in the lunchroom. A number of kids were sent to the hospital, including one poor soul whose eye was impaled by an umbrella, and at least as many kids were arrested and dragged off in handcuffs by the police.

The cops were everywhere, at least a dozen on each floor, strapped, and dressed to the nines in their bullet-proof vests.

I dashed out during my free period to catch some air and grab a sandwich from the bodega and saw police cars parked everywhere, stopped at all sorts of odd angles all over the sidewalks and driveway. Two paddy-wagons were right in front of the school’s front doors, but it was another paddy-wagon that caught my eye.

Some dumb cop, drunk with the awesome power of having the authority to disobey parking laws, had decided to park on the lawn in front of Shitty. I guess he didn’t notice the torrential downpour occurring or the fact that very little grass actually grows in the dirt, now mud, in front of the school.

The van was stuck. All four wheels buried at least a foot and a half in the mud and a thick spray of that same mud spread forth behind onto the sidewalk and the front of the building from where Officer Dumbass had spun out, stomping away on the gas, digging himself deeper and deeper.

The van was still there when I left in the afternoon. They had a tow-truck out and a thick metal chain, but had succeeded so far only in breaking part of a fence separating the lawn from the driveway.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Report Cards, Part 2
This was the second marking period of the semester, and required a little extra thought. The second marking period is the only one that really counts, because it determines whether or not the kids get programmed for the next level. Conceivably if they failed the second marking period then got their act together and passed the third someone could figure things out and get the their new class changed to the correct level, but around Shitty the chances of that not actually happening are pretty close to certain.

There are some tough calls, mostly involving kids who have failed a couple of times already. Stacey for instance is 18. She wears thick black eye-liner – in a Tammy Faye Gothic style - and revealing tank-tops out of which her rather large belly spills and squirts. This is her fourth straight semester in Level 2 and second in my class. She often mispells her own name and misses at least two days a week. When she does attend class she talks a lot but always makes a point to grab my hand, bat her goopy eyelashes at me and say with great earnestness, “Meester, I need pass you class. You see, I working. I working everyday.”

She doesn’t deserve to pass. She has neither done the work nor learned what she needs to learn. I passed her anyway. It’s not as if it’s possible for her to learn any less in Level 3 than she’s learning now. Maybe getting a new textbook will inspire her to actually open it instead of just leaning on it as she gabs away.

Then there’s Ivan. Ivan is good-looking, light-skinned and tall with long black braided ropes of ahir hanging past his shoulders, and highly intelligent. He likes to rib me about football.

“Yo Mista, you saw my Eagles yesterday? They goin’ Superbowl. Your Falcons suck. Vick’s the truth, yo, but the offense sucks. Falcons aren’t shit without Crumpler.”

His analysis is astute. Ivan does very good work when he comes to class, and is more than ready for Level 4, in fact, he could probably handle monolingual classes. Ivan, however, is certified gangster, often found prowling the corner by the train-station, up to who knows what trouble. He cuts class a couple of times a week, and actually has the balls to do things like come say hi to me before he does so, or to slap me five on the street after school immediately after.

Will failing Ivan further his burgeoning criminalization, driving him to drop out completely? Will passing him be considered unfair by other kids who do show up and do the work? Will it send the wrong message to Ivan?

Life’s not fair, and that wrong message can’t be worse than the ones he’s getting elsewhere. Ivan passes too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Report Cards
Grades were due yesterday, which shouldn’t have been a particularly big deal. The grades don’t take long to fill out, it’s a standard scantron, bubble-sheet. It doesn’t take me to long to calculate the kids’ grades either, since we’re only allowed to mark in five point increments and any failing grade is a “55.” I don’t even use a calculator, just average their test (or essay, or whatever) scores, add or subtract a little based on whether they do their homework, show up, and behave somewhat respectably, and that’s that.

In addition to the number grade, there is also a field for comments. I hope to one day find a use for such codes as “Required Dental Note Missing/Certificado del Dentista Falta” (74), but in the meantime I gain some catharsis by saying mean things about the kids that drive me crazy. As much as I enjoy malevolently bubbling the code that corresponds to “A Distractive Influence in Class/Interrumpe CLase sin Razon,” (57) or “Uses Inappropriate Language” (94) over and over, these codes are often insufficient.

“Melvin is a great kid,” I would like to say. “Inexplicably, as he is a beginning learner of English, he was placed in Level 3, and due to administrative incompetence this error was never rectified. Melvin works as hard as any student I have, is an eager and good-natured participant in classroom discussions and activities, and is one of the funniest and nicest kids I’ve ever met. Unfortunately he does not know nearly enough English to move on to Level 4, and I am forced to fail him. With his sharp mind and continued hard work I trust that he will do great next semester.”

“Shows a great deal of effort.” (12), “Low Grades on Class Exams/Examen es con baja calificacion” (51) I bubble in instead. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, huh?

Friday, December 03, 2004

I had my Level 2 kids write acrostic poems about the Bronx. They sucked, but after we were done we wrote, with the help of a few leading questions and grammatical clarifications from me, a group poem that I quite enjoy. All the big ideas were the kids’ own, I just prodded them for more details.

Big buildings on the block
Racism between Blacks and Dominicans
On the
Nasty streets
X-men and the Incredibles will save the city

I thought it was funny that every single one of the thirty-something kids in the class used “X-men” as their X word, but it was even more telling that so many of the kids suggested “Racism” (or racismo, for the less English proficient) for R.

“Racism?” I feigned confusion. “What’s that? Who is racist against who?”

“Morenos, Meester, Morenos,”
the chorus of voices screamed back at me.

“Fucking Morenos, mista.”

“Black people?”

“I fuckin’ hate the black. Fuck dat shit, nigga,” said Roulo as he flexed and popped his collar. Roulo, a mocha-skinned, kinky-haired young man with a broad, acne-covered nose, gets away with a lot in my class. Roulo cracks me up. We get along well. Often in quieter moments Roulo will show me snapshots of his toddler-age baby nephew.

“I want son, Mista,” he will confide in me.

“You want a son?” I will laugh. “Are you crazy? You’re too young, man. You’re not even responsible enough to do your homework.”

“That’s stupid, Roulo,” I said when he told me how he felt about black folks. I was dead-ass. I never call kids stupid, felt bad, and quickly decided I hadn’t called Roulo stupid, I had called what he said stupid.

“Why do you hate black people, Roulo?”

“’Cause the fuckin’ black hate Dominicanos, nigga.”

The irony of Roulo’s language and dress, not to mention his appearance and biological make-up, was apparently lost on him. And maybe it’s really not that ironic after all, since what he said is true. Most of the serious violence at Shitty is Dominican on black or (rarely, since the Dominicans outnumber everyone else by a wide margin) vice versa, but that still doesn’t mean it makes any sense.

This is what they call a “Teachable Moment,” I knew, but had no idea what to say or do.

“You know, Roulo, a lot of people in the world probably think you’re black…”

“Fuck you, nigga. I not fuckin’ black!”

Ahh. Another “Teachable Moment.” Don’t say “fuck you” to your teacher, dumbass, no matter how casually it might flow off the tongue.

I pretty much let it slide, though. I was done talking to Roulo, but I didn’t write him up or anything. I shut up, sat down, and stared at Roulo long and hard. It wasn’t one of my usual stares. It was not my bemused, slightly annoyed “you’re acting like a fool, please stop” stare, not was it my seething, furious, “I’d kill you right now if I thought there was a chance I wouldn’t get caught.” This was more like “I know you, I know you know you fucked up, and I’m not about to let you forget it.”

Roulo pouted, puffing out his lips and blinking at me, before looking down at his desk.

“Why you look a’me li’ dat?”

I shook my head slightly, weary disappointment.

“Why not?”

“I don’ like it.”

“I don’t like it when you say racist things and disrespect me.”

“I not disre’pect you, Mista.”

I cocked my head a little, “oh, really?” He looked away ashamed.

That was that. Did Roulo learn a lesson? Will he thinks twice next time he and his boys are about to jump some black kid at the corner by the train station? Probably not, but maybe one day if and when he grows up a little and gets a job or something where he gets to know some black people, he’ll remember our conversation, and it will be a little easier for him to let go of his old prejudices. It’s possible.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

With Donuts in His Braces
After Tuesday’s orange/humping/wrestle-mania incident, I was in no mood Wednesday to put up with anything from my afternoon class. As the usual suspects straggled in one, two, five minutes after the bell, Stanley came in and perched his desk in the back doorway, propping the door open. I deal with Stanley and the doorway everyday.

“Close the door Stanley.”

“C’mon Mista, why? I’m not talking. I’m not doin’ nothin’,” Stanley will plead in between craning his neck down the hall to scream obscenities at (and somehow garner kisses from) passing girls, and then yelling across the classroom a play-by-play report.

“Yo nigga! Did you see that ass? Omigod, yo, that shit was bangin’.”

“Stanley. The door. Pedro. Sit down. Nicholas you. Siddown!”

“You see,” Stanley addressed his classmates. “I told ya. These teachers don’t care about us for shit. I hate this fuckin’ school, yo.”

That pissed me off so much that I did not feel it even dignified a logical response.

“Now Stanley, I want you to close the door and pay attention because I care about you. I want you to learn and grow and your future and blah, blah, blah…”

Nope. I went with a more direct tactic.

“Get out.”

“Wha’? What you say to me?”

“Get out. Go. You can stay here and sit down and close the door and be quiet, or you can go.”

Stanley went, and by this point I was about as heated as I can get. When I turned around and some of the other kids were in fact sitting in the windowsill and throwing stuff towards the street below, I lost it.

“Pedro. Sit down now, boy!” I came at Pedro with jaw and fists clenched, kicking a desk out of my way and banging it into a locker as I did. Pedro is a big kid, 6’4” and shaped like a giant pear, he’s got at least 80 lbs. on me and could probably break me in half. When I ask him to do something he typically responds, "Ss'ok, Main" in a cartoon Tony Montana voice, then takes his sweet time. He sat down, though.

The kids stared at me wide-eyed for a little while, whispered about me "ODin' on Pedro," but after they settled down we a good old time. Only nine kids were there, all boys. We read Chief Joseph’s surrender speech in honor of Thanksgiving. Then I busted out a dozen donuts that I’d bought for my co-workers and hadn’t gotten eaten. Everyone had one, and then I officiated a spirited Hangman tournament for the three remaining goodies.

At some point Pedro stood up and unbuckled his giant clown jeans, which until that point had been carefully strapped around his hips, just below his fat ass.

“Pedro! What are you doing, man?”

“Wha’s crackin’ Mista? Ss'ok main.”

“Your pants, Pedro. Put your pants on. Why are your pants off?”

“There’s no girls. Ss'ok.”

Apparently he was just rearranging things. It takes quite a bit of work to keep everything in order when your pants are three times too big. In addition to the thumbtacks required in the back of the shoe to keep the cuffs off the ground, frequent adjustment is required.

Everyone was looking at Pedro now, and someone made a crack about him being fat. Pedro sensed an opportunity and seized it. He hiked his pants up as far as they would go, which, due to their enormity, was just below his neck. He strapped the belt and proceeded to waddle around the classroom looking like some sort thugged out cross between Steve Urkel and Tweedle Dum.

I noticed for the first time that big-ass Pedro has braces, just an overgrown kid playing at being hard.

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