Thursday, February 09, 2006

There’s a supermarket tucked in an out of the way corner in the basement of Shitty High School. I’ve mentioned it before. My first year in the building I’d only heard rumors of its existence. I tried to find it once or twice, got lost, and ended up smoking cigarettes and listening to sports-talk radio with the custodial staff down in the boiler room.

Last year I had the fortune of teaching a couple of classes right across from the store, and finally got to check the place out. Officially, it’s some sort of business vocation class for the Special Ed. department. The kids learn how to take inventory and use a cash register and make atrociously spelled hand-lettered “maximum occupancy” and “employees must wash their hands” signs.

The place was filled with a half dozen Special Ed. kids laying about listening to Hot 97 or La Mega, and the shelves were lined with dusty, out-of-date, economy-size packs of diapers and tampons and tooth-paste and laundry detergent and cereals and other random crap that no-one would ever have need to buy in the basement of Shitty High. They made cookies, though, Otis Spunkmeyer, sweet and aromatic and gooey, just like at Subway, and those things sold (and continue to sell) faster than coco hielos at a baseball game

This year is different though. Some enterprising Special Ed. teacher looked at that decrepit old supermarket with its stock of useless crap gathering dust and saw dollar signs. The supermarket was reborn. They would have chips and sodas and candy bars, but that wasn’t all. They would have hot food too. Hot Pockets. Beef-patties. Cup o’ Soup. Chef Boyardee ravioli. Sausage biscuits. Frozen White Castle burgers. If you can microwave it, and it’s loaded with chemicals and generally terrible for you, they would have it.

I must admit I have succumbed to its hot, greasy temptations. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’m lazy. It’s right there. It’s quick. It’s cheap. It’s 750 calories. It’s a mozzarella and meatball Hot Pocket. It is better in theory than conception, but somehow I always go back for more.

I am not the only person at Shitty high who thinks this way. The revamped supermarket has been a rousing success. The supermarket is constantly a bustle. The staff of layabouts has multiplied. There are surly, sour-faced girls in pajama pants whose entire job it is to grudgingly pour hot water into your Ramen noodles. I love them.

The line to get in is five wide and extends down the hall past three or four class rooms. Towards the end it grows chaotic and sprawling as kids socialize and fight and try to get someone who actually has a hall-pass (ostensibly a requirement for supermarket entry) to buy them something or, if they’ve already bought them something, to give it up along with whatever change might be owed. I’ve heard rumors that the endeavor, despite its high traffic, is not a money-maker due to high rates of shoplifting, but profitable or not, it’s definitely a hit.

This goes on all day everyday in the hallway right outside of classrooms. I teach in those rooms in the afternoon, and my hungry, pain-in-the-ass, kids are constantly bugging me for a pass and/or sneaking food into my class. According to Dominican folklore I ought to have a golf-ball sized sty on my eye by now for all the pregnant girls whose hunger cravings I’ve denied.

At least they ask, though. God forbid I’d have to physically snatch food from the hands of a pregnant teenage girl. The boys however, especially the fat ones, are a different story. Know this; if you’re a guy and you’re tying to eat in class, Mr. Babylon will snatch your snacks.

Adalberto Caba is one of those kids that slips through the cracks. He is neither clever enough nor annoying enough to attract my attention. He sits in the back. He is quiet. He never does any work. Every now and then I make a perfunctory stab at motivating him, but mostly I just mark down his zeros and move along. He’s a pudgy guy of some girth, but he’s still a little dude. The other day, he waddles into class with a bag of cookies in his hand. I tell him he can’t do that. He ignores me. Sits down. Squeezes into the desk. Eats his cookies. Tosses the wrapper on the floor. Reaches in to his big black coat. Pulls out a can of Pringles. Eats that. Washes it down with a 20 ounce Hawaiian Punch. For dessert, pulls out a king size Snickers bar. Starts in on that.

Would it have been wrong had I became exasperated at the sheer slovenly enormity of his gluttonous sloth? Would it have been hypocritical if I had yelled, harshly, for Adalberto to take the candy bar out of his fat mouth and take out his notebook and do some work so that he might not fail and maybe would be able to afford more junk-food crap with which to stuff his fat mouth in the future?

Did I actually say all that? Buy me a Hot Pocket, maybe I’ll tell you.

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