Tuesday, March 29, 2005

One of the toughest parts of the daily grind of being a teacher is that you can never take it easy, never half-ass it. If you’re tired, upset, hung-over, or even just afflicted with spring fever, there’s nowhere to hide out, no way to make it look like you’re working when you’re not. You can’t sit at your desk on the internet surfing gossip blogs all day. You can’t make frequent and unnecessary trips to the break-room (in my under-funded and over-crowded school, I have no access to a computer, and there is no break-room). If you come in and just go through the motions, if you’re unprepared, you still have to be in that room with all those kids for the same amount of time, and if you’re not on top of them they’re going to eat you alive (even more-so than usual).

There’s also no cutting out early, or sneaking in late. Bell to bell, you’ve got to be there, and day in and day out I am.

Yesterday was a first for me, though. I was late for school. I’ve managed to make it on time to Shitty High School, an hour from my apartment, every day for the entire year and half I’ve been teaching. Although it is an accomplishment, it’s not quite as amazing as it sounds. I’m on the late-shift so don’t start until 9:25, and I’ve been known to take a sick day in order to nurse a particularly nasty hangover. Still though, I go to work most every day, and I not only get there on time, I’m usually early.

I hop off the train and stop at the snack truck where Fabricio, the truck's mustachioed proprietor, without fail greets me with uncommon friendliness.

“What’s happening, how ya doin’?” I’ll grumble, fumbling for my banana-nut muffin and huddled against the cold.

“Like a young man!” He’ll reply, bursting with energy and grabbing my hand in a strong embrace. “But not as good as you! Ha!”

It’s hard not to like the man. He even insists on giving me extra muffins on Fridays when they won’t last over the weekend.

Muffin secured, I head inside where I have enough time to shoot a couple cups of coffee, make any copies I need and finish up (okay, start) my lesson plans for the day.

Not today though. In an act of pure malevolence the City required us teachers to arrive at 7:45 this Monday after Easter. Over the weekend I had rented a car and driven to visit the in-laws. We got a late start back on Sunday, and traffic on the Turnpike was at a crawl, so I figured I’d just return the car in Manhattan in the morning. The rental place was, after all, on the way.

Big mistake.

I left the house a little after 6:30, figuring a conservative 30-40 minutes to get the three miles into Manhattan was plenty, and from there I’d hop on the train and be on my merry way. Nope.

Everything was gravy for a little while. In my shiny new Malibu, I cruised the rain-soaked streets of Brooklyn bumping some Chingo Bling and thinking I could get used to having my own ride. Then I got on the bridge and everything stopped. And stayed stopped. I did get to pull over a couple of inches in a vain attempt to let a screaming ambulance by, but there was nowhere for the bumper to bumper traffic to go, so it just sat there, siren blaring and lights flashing as the rain came down.

That lasted over an hour, but I did eventually make it off the bridge, to the car return spot and onto the train, resigned now to my tardy fate. The ride up was uneventful - save for a crazy woman, dressed in grimy sweats and a Captain D’s hat and clutching tight to an ancient cassette-deck walkman - who got on the train singing in a painfully tuneless, and embarrassingly uninhibited, warble and was still belting them out when I got off.

No one stared or said a thing, but a couple of other passengers and I did giggle a little when we finally recognized this classic:

“Only when I'm dancin' can I feel this free.
At night I lock the doors when no one else can see.
I'm tired of dancin' here all by myself

Tonight I wanna dance with someone else…”

It was odd though, those banal words, coming from a woman who had probably never danced with anyone else besides herself, rendered themselves transformative, and through that poor, crazy woman’s bleating (and without benefit of that irresistible, '80s disco beat) I suddenly remembered what it was like as a child to hear sexy, catchy, pop music. I remembered that spell that songs could cast, when a lyric about dancing with someone else or seeing a fire in someone else’s eyes seemed to offer a glimpse into a magical fantasy world of adults, a world some of us apparently never learned isn’t real.

Anyway, I finally made it up to school a few minutes before 9:00, got yelled at by the payroll dragon (I’d like to think the stress I caused her helped further along her female pattern baldness, if only by a couple of wispy strands,) and dashed upstairs about twenty minutes late for my first class. I found my kids there, unattended and sitting quietly, looking bored but quite peaceful. Two girls were playing a game of hangman and the hidden answer had almost been revealed…

D_nd_ _sta t_ lat_ pass?”

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