Monday, April 25, 2005

All I Ever Wanted
Mr. Babylon is on vacation. Look for him soon in a Chingo Bling/Paul Wall "Kingz of Spring Break" video. He'll be the guy with the cup of lean in his left hand, chalk in his right, telling everybody to sit down and be quiet.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Horror
It's been a month or so since I got my two new classes, and they're going fine so far.

One of the classes was previously taught by an over-achieving super-teacher, the type of woman who says things like, "I just wish the periods were longer, we were getting so much done!" and who finds "classroom management issues" to be simply incomprehensible. Her class is like Switzerland. She has molded them into a rigid, well-oiled machine, making my life that much easier for the forty-five minutes a day that is 5th period. Still, I secretly despise her.

The other class was taught by the infamous Ms. Wayne, and although she's just as anal as Ms. Perfect, she's not nearly as effective, and these kids hadn't done jack-shit all semester beyond advancing to the latter stages of a high-stakes, emotionally charged, in-class dominoes tournament. Both groups seem to appreciate my own comparatively laid back, "Yo, Mista Babylon been smokin'?" style.

I started off both classes reading an abridged version of "The Cask of Amontillado," the only halfway interesting story in their book. Somehow, in the midst of in-class readings and comprehension questions, in a fit of improvisation necessitated by failed lesson-planning, I decided to begin what will undoubtedly be an egregiously incomplete study of genre, beginning, obviously, with Horror. I laid out five, wholly self-proclaimed, "Qualities of Horror" - Suspense, Surprise, Violence, Death, and Scary Imagery (which started out as "Gore." "Villains/Bad Guys" also made an appearance on the list in the early stages of theory development.) I had the kids discuss how Poe utilized these qualities, and then, brilliantly, decided the students should write their own Horror stories.

For a week I had the students write a paragraph a day as homework, I instructed them to try to incorporate my "Qualities of Horror", but wasn't much of a stickler about it, and I told them again and again, "make it scary." They did not disappoint.

Many of the stories, in a sort of urbane, post-modern take on the "Alien vs. Predator" concept, blended icons of cinematic scream and splatter with fictionalized versions of characters from the kids' daily lives. "Chucky vs. Freddy." "Mr. Babylon vs. Jason." "Mr. Babylon vs. Chucky." I am happy to report that despite numerous gunshot wounds, stabbings, eviscerations and even one decapitation, I (or my fictional counterpart) emerged victorious in almost every one of these bloody sagas.

The exception to this string of triumphs came from the pen of Juan, a budding erotica scribe, who delivered another classic in "Sex on the Bathroom," a somewhat misleadingly titled epic (seven pages!) in which he got me drunk on "Blue Label" and buried me alive because I had stolen his girlfriend, Jenna Jameson.

A number of girls wrote startlingly realistic tales of domestic abuse, infidelity, and jilted lovers' revenge, displaying a familiarity with and firm grasp of both the "psychological thriller" drama and the ins and outs of unhealthy sexual relationships.

One girl either wrote a brilliant character description and deep psychological probe of a mother murdering sociopath, or she’s about to actually commit matricide. This story was so vivid and frightening, ("I look down at the blood in the nife and laugh, ja ja, ja, she can't never tell me to clean my room again...") that i would have reported her to social services, if she hadn't followed my assignment so perfectly. I gave her an A+ and commented, "Good job, this is really, really scary!"


On Tuesday, the day after I gave the first drafts back, a fifteen year old student from a nearby high-school was murdered at the train station on his way to school. In an apparent dispute between two Dominican gangs, Trinitarios and DDP, he and two friends were jumped and attacked with machetes. His friends escaped, wounded but alive. He died of stab wounds to the head and back. The suspects are rumored to be Shitty students.

Monday, April 11, 2005

I could spend all day enumerating the myriad indignities I suffer every day due to lack of space, lack of funds, administrative buffoonery, and kids… Who. Just. Won’t. Shut. Up. I could tell you how I spent an hour today - when I should have been correcting and responding to the truly frightening Horror stories I solicited from my kids - running off and collating copies of a short story because we don’t have enough books. I could describe in lurid detail the sounds of toilets flushing and pipes gushing that permeate one of my basement rooms, located, presumably, beneath a sewage treatment plant. I could try to convey the absolute insanity that jumped off today when some assholes bullied a nerd into trying to urinate in my classroom. But that would depress us all, and I try my best to spread sunshine around here (can’t you tell?) so today we will focus on one specific beef, one small wish that if fulfilled would my make my job infinitely more effective.

I want my own classroom.

I’m sick of running form one far-off corner of the basement, through the filthy, crowded, insanely loud students’ cafeteria, up three flights of crowded stairs, and through another crowded hallway (often while trying not to spill my coffee) to get from one class to the next between the bells, and with enough time to spare to scribble the “Aim” and “Do Now” on the board whilst somehow ushering the less-than-eager students into the room.

I’m sick of being harassed over the state of my non-existent, out of date, or not appropriately perky, bulletin-boards in rooms I share with five or six other teachers. Rooms that are never empty (or clean) during the day, leaving no time during the day to perform this perfunctory decoration without disturbing someone’s class.

I’m sick of walking into classrooms to discover the desks in complete disarray, to step into the stench of garbage and the sticky mess of a giant Kool Aid spill, to find obscenities scrawled on the board and the various surfaces covered in chalk-dust, or worse, ink.

I want my own classroom.

I want somewhere halfway convenient to keep my coat, somewhere quiet to get some work done during my free periods. I want a bookshelf, equal parts great literature, comic books, glossy magazines, and trashy “Urban Fiction.” I want to be able to use my CD player without carrying it around with me everywhere I go all day long. I want to hang up posters; Woody Guthrie, the Clash, Goodie Mob, Tego, Futura, Banksy. I want a whole wall devoted to student art/graffiti (keep that shit off the desks, yo.) I want some fucking houseplants. Hell, I might even hook up some mood lighting.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

El Jefe
The ESL/Foreign Language department at Shitty High School is stumbling towards death like a blind old drunk who‘s managed to wander out into oncoming traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. We started off the year down six teachers from last year, and since then one more has quit out of disgust, one is out indefinitely with Crazy-ass Bitch Syndrome, and now another has gone missing, and rumors say he’s been suspended for the unsolicited rubbing of a rash on a female student’s lower belly.

We had a couple of vacancies already, and now with these added holes in the schedule to fill, the office is abuzz with a steady stream of bored, confused substitutes wandering in to pick up “lesson plans,” which are nothing more than manila folders filled with Xeroxed worksheets, worksheets poor Mrs. Robbins has to scramble around all morning to run off.

If all that weren’t bad enough, the AP is a doddering old fool.

She’s absurdly short - under five feet - with a short, curly perm of unnaturally red hair, and big, ‘70s, Grandma Magoo glasses. She spends her days puttering around the office, muttering to herself, napping, and misplacing things. She’s a sweet old bird, mostly, but she’s pretty useless, and actually manages to do more harm than good.

She speaks to the kids exclusively en Espanol which wouldn’t be a problem if the kids actually heard English anywhere other than in their ESL classes, but they don’t. She also never fails to take the students’ side in any dispute with a teacher, so, for instance in my first weeks at Shitty, when I wrote a referral for some aspiring young fast-baller who had beaned me in the back of the head with a spitball, and that young man’s mother came in to insist that her little angel would never do any such thing, I got sold down the river.

She’s almost zen-like in her adherence to the path of least resistance. When she does flex her puny administrative muscle to forbid teachers from using her mini-fridge or keeping their coats or papers in the office, she makes the lovely Mrs. Robinns be the bearer of the bad tidings. Her conflict avoidance is what leads to situations like Kuntstein’s attempted usurping of my class, but it also means as long as I fly under the radar, I can do whatever the hell I want. I think she’d grade me “Satisfactory” on an observation if I was doing a crossword puzzle while the kids ran a train on each other to the tune of 2 Hyped Brothers & A Dog’s “Doo Doo Brown,” (a song that turned one raunchy 2 Live Crew lyrical couplet - “lick my asshole up and down/lick it ‘til your tongue turns doo doo brown” - into a Miami bass, dance-floor anthem.

These “satisfactory” observations are sporadic and spontaneous, when she does bother to warn me that she’s going to observe she doesn’t show up, (I learned not to do any extra planning after the first couple of times this happened) and are then followed by long months of silence. When she finally does get around to going over the observation with me, it’s been long enough that she has clearly forgotten everything that she saw. She’ll ask a few leading questions, which I’ll answer politely, and then she’ll have me sign the necessary paper-work, back-dating of course, in order to comply with the myriad rules and regulations she is no doubt in violation of.

Her aversion to food or clothing or any other sign of actual human presence in the department office has but one notable exception, her rambunctious little three and half year old grand-daughter spends every afternoon in the office, clambering atop the copier, banging away on the file cabinets, pasting sticky notes all over the walls, and generally bugging the fuck out of me.

The little girl is actually quite a little cutie, and makes for a great procrastination device. I go into the office after lunch to make some copies, sit down for a second to rest my weary bones, and all of a sudden there’s an adorable little toddler in pigtails leaning on my knee and badgering me to draw pictures of her pets.

I oblige of course. What am I an asshole? How could I not? Besides, can you imagine a better way to score Brownie points with la hefa? Whatever it takes to keep those “satisfactories” coming.

Friday, April 01, 2005

RIP Hector
If Francisco Garcia isn't the toast of New York, he should be. That's the American Dream right there, y'all. Go Cards. Go Francisco. Do it for NYC. Do it for the Boogie Down Bronx. Do it for your Dominicanos. Do it for Boquita.

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