All hail Lord Cockroach! (It’s only a matter of time.)

At my old job, if a cockroach was spotted in the front office or hallway, I was the one who dealt with it. It wasn’t in my job description but beings how I didn’t run off screaming at the sight of them, it fell to me.

I will now pause to discuss the two types of cockroaches of which I am most familiar. My plan was to add pictures of real live cockroaches, but I feared some of you might run off screaming. Therefore, I shall try my hand at drawing them.

The cockroaches of my youth, the little ones who regularly visited my childhood home, were these guys:

cockroach german

They are commonly called German roaches, though as a rule, cockroaches care little for ethnic labels.

They are about an inch long, have a dusty brown coloring and can be found most anywhere, such as in your kitchen right now.

They are looking for a snack and really wish you hadn’t tossed that rotting fruit as it’s one of their favorites. That was very wasteful of you.

They’d also prefer it if you’d stop cleaning so much. You’re wiping away all the good bits. And not to make too fine a point of it, but you’re cramping their social life. How do you expect them to find their friends if you keep wiping up their poop trails?

Honestly!

The other roach of my childhood was not as frequent a visitor, though he made quite an impression with my family nonetheless. My mom referred to him as a sewer roach, but he’s more commonly called (at least in the U.S.) the American cockroach.cockroach germanYou’ll note I used the same picture, just made it bigger. It’s not just that I’m lazy… okay, yeah, I was being lazy. But really, their bodies aren’t that different. It’s all about size and coloring.

He’s much bigger than his German counterpart and more of a shiny, reddish-brown.

Oh, and here’s an interesting fact: the American cockroach didn’t originate in America. He came from Africa. Wanna guess how he got here?

That’s right! It’s commonly believed they arrived on slave ships. So the next time you see one of these buggers, meditate on that.

The reason my mom called them sewer roaches (many in Phoenix do) is that they often come up through the drains. Plus, they’ve got that shiny thing going on, giving them a lovely sewer aesthetic.

Ah, the memories these fellas conjure up for me. I can still see Brother running out of the bathroom screaming, streaking down the hall because a roach came up the drain as he showered. Or my parents practically tearing apart our T.V. room because they spotted a particularly large one scurrying across the tile. “It’s as big as my foot!” my mom sputtered, somewhat known for exaggeration but in this case, she wasn’t far off.

Good times, good times…

It was the American cockroach I dealt with at my old job, back when I worked at a high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sometimes we’d find them in the hallways, but more often they hung out where we did, in the offices and our break room. One of the offices was very close to both the break room and janitor’s closet. Meaning it saw a lot of cockroach action. Sadly, the secretary who used this office really really really hated cockroaches.

She and I, we became friends. All she had to do was come to my desk and give me that look.Bonnie

I’d ask her where it was; she’d give me its last known whereabouts. I’d open my cabinet and withdraw my tools: a plastic cup and a stiff piece of paper. After locating the little fella – who was rarely little – I’d slip the cup over him and slide the paper underneath.

cockroach method

Live capture, folks. I only do live capture.

Once he was safely ensconced within his plastic dome, I’d take a walk outside. He and I, we’d make our way across the staff parking lot and over the rocky landscape, out to the tall chain-link fence that held us prisoner. There I would set him free.

cockroach leaving

You see, I wanted to give the guy some options. He could take his chance crossing the street to enter one of the nice Scottsdale homes on the other side, where they probably served premium cuts of meat and world-class wines. Or he could return to our break room for a stale donut and old coffee.

My method had its detractors.

It is amazing, is it not, how many people are in favor of capital punishment? “There’s a roach in the kitchen! Kill it!”

I never argued with them. Instead I would say, “I don’t like to hear the crunch.” Because, you know, there’s always a crunch.

And besides, I liked getting outside. Dawdling by the mesquite tree, breathing in the city air… ah, the smell of exhaust fumes on a hot afternoon. There’s nothing quite like it.

“They’re just gonna come back!” my detractors would say in a terribly condescending tone. (My detractors were always men.)

I’d say, “probably,” and return to my desk.

The truth is, I kind of knew they were returning. I figured that was why they became so easy to catch. I think they recognized me.cockroach waving

“Oh, it’s the blonde – no need to worry. Field trip!”

What I didn’t realize was that they were returning for a reason and that reason was not stale donuts.

It happened during my last summer at the school. Our bookstore manager was trying to track down a package and was concerned it had gotten mixed in with some other boxes headed to storage. “I really don’t want to go in that room,” she told me, “but I think I have to.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“It’s the Roach Room.”

Gasp!

I’d heard tales of this room but I’d never actually been there. Now was my chance! I quickly offered my assistance. She said yes!

We made our way down the empty hallway. The room was at the end of the Social Studies department, where students learn history, political science, and how we got into this mess.

The bookstore manager got out her keys, unlocked the door and shivered a little. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked me.

“Yeahyeahyeah,” I said.

She opened the door and flipped on the light. I expected to hear scurrying… there was none. We stepped in. No roaches. None!

I was indignant. “I thought you said—“

She turned to face me and her eyes got wide. She pointed behind me. I turned toward the wall…

Holy hell!cockroach wall

It was just like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland where all those bugs are crawling up the cave wall!

It. Was. So. Cool.

She did not share my enthusiasm.

Anyway, here’s the thing: there were no drains in this room! No sink, nothing containing water or food. Nothing! Just boxes and boxes of books and old files. That’s it.

So what were the roaches doing there?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? They’re educating themselves. Reading up, studying our history. No doubt making notes of our failures and weaknesses.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. They will one day rule us all. They were here long before us and they will remain long after. We have to come to terms with this. There’s little sense in fighting it.

And when they finally rise to power, who do you think they spare but the one who showed mercy?

So the next time you smush one under your shoe and hear that crunch, remember there’s another one nearby. They’re always nearby.

They’re watching you.

They know what you’ve done.Cockroach mad

The Secretary, the Worm, & the water cooler: A morality tale in three acts

You may remember Worm from our post a couple weeks ago: a high school teacher with a reputation as a scavenger. I mentioned there was a shady incident involving him and the water cooler.

Prepare yourself. Here it is in all its gory detail.

Act 1

Scene: Break room of a suburban high school. Near the door is a reverse osmosis water cooler with instant hot and cold spouts. It is nectar of the gods for the 15 staff members who together pay its annual lease. (Their district office would not approve it as a budgetary item, saying the brown water from the tap was–this is a direct quote–“fine.”) The Worm is  filling his mega slurp cup. The Secretary, who pays the monthly invoices and therefore knows exactly who chipped in for the water cooler, enters.

Worm: (greeting her) Hey good buddy.

Secretary: What are you doing?

Worm: Filling my cup. Hey, were you the one who made those cupcakes? They were good. I had three.

Secretary: (conflicted; should she say something?)

water cooler

Worm: Course they were the last three! Haha! You snooze, you lose!

Secretary: (decision made) I don’t remember you paying to use the water cooler.

Worm: (acts flusteredmoves to sink – sloshing water on floor – starts pouring water down drain) Fine… I… I just won’t use it then!

Secretary: Oh come on, you had to know! It says so right there (points to sign on cooler).

Worm: (still pouring water, it’s a helluva big cup) All right, fine. Just tell me this — how much is the lease?

Secretary: What?

Worm: (still pouring) How much do you pay? What’s the total cost?

Secretary: A month or a year?

Worm: (finished dumping water, now filling cup at fridge dispenser) Gimme the annual cost.

Secretary: Three hundred and twenty a year, plus tax.

Worm: And how much does each person pay?

Secretary: (points at sign again) Twenty for the year. You know that—

Worm: Okay, so you need 16 people to cover it. What happens when you get more than that?

Secretary: (pauses; briefly impressed with his math skills) What do you mean?

Worm: What if more than 16 people pay for it? What happens then? What happens with the extra money?

Secretary: (keeps her voice steady) If there’s money left over, it would lower the price for everyone.

Worm: Well, I’m not going to do it.

Secretary: What?

Worm: I’m not going to pay, so I just won’t use it anymore.

Secretary: (sighing) Fine.

Worm: Fine.

Secretary: Fine.

(Worm leaves, from the hallway we hear one last “Fine”)

Scene 2: Secretary reenacts the incident for her coworkers in the front office: the receptionist, the other secretaries and clerks, even a few Administrators. They are universally charmed by her performance and outraged at the audacity of the teacher. The verdict is unanimous. The Worm is the worst.

Act 2 – The following day.

Scene: Secretary is at her desk; Attendance Clerk approaches.

Attendance Clerk: Guess who I just saw using the water cooler?

Secretary: I don’t know, who? … (gasps) … He wouldn’t!

(They pause as Worm walks by, carrying his full mega-slurp cup. They wait until he’s out of view.)

back of worm

Secretary: Why that little–

Attendance Clerk: He’s such a–

Secretary: I’m gonna kick his sorry little–

At this point the dialogue takes on a more profane nature than this blog typically uses. Therefore, we will fast forward to Scene two.

Scene two: Secretary relays information of Worm’s misdeeds to her previous audience. Her acting is top-notch and the judgment against Worm is swift: He’s guilty as hell.

Scene three: Secretary is at her desk composing an email to Worm. It takes several revisions. Finally she decides on a direct approach. Just two lines:

Hello _______,

Since you decided to continue using the water cooler, I'll need you to pay $20 for the year. Please submit it by the end of the day tomorrow.

Thank you,
Secretary

*send*

Scene four: Nighttime.

Secretary is home, telling Husband of her day. He rubs her back, says things like, “He’s the worst,” and “I’m sorry you have to deal with jerks like that,” and so forth.
Flash to Worm at home, watching TV. Wife calls him to dinner. It’s Hamburger Helper, the Stroganoff one. His favorite.
Back to Secretary, now in bed tossing and turning. At 2 a.m. she puts her robe on and sits at a window. She sighs heavily.
Now we see Worm in bed. Sleeping. Undisturbed.

Act 3 – The third day.

Scene oneSecretary is at her desk, completely absorbed in her work, when suddenly she is struck — PLOP — by a wadded piece of…. money?
She looks up in time to see Worm walking away. She looks at the wadded money on her desk: a $20 bill.
She laughs.

Scene twoHer final performance, she makes it a good one. She tells each audience member not to look at her, just pretend they are working. Then she walks by and tosses the wadded money at them.
Does it hit them a little harder than the original? Perhaps.
Does she stomp away a little more childishly? Definitely.
Yet all are astonished, outraged on her behalf, and immensely entertained.
Could we ask for a better ending? No. We could not.

Moral of the Story

Let us consider: In this Water Cooler saga, who behaved best?

On the one hand, we have Worm. He knowingly used something that other people were paying for, with no intention of paying himself. When confronted, he grew defensive and went so far as to hint Secretary was using the money to fund her lavish lifestyle. He then lied by promising he wouldn’t use the water cooler, then turned right around and used it again. Eventually he paid, but he did so childishly. Never once apologizing or admitting any wrongdoing.

What a Worm.

On the other hand, what did our Secretary do? (You know it was me, right?)

It’s true that Worm mistreated me, but he only mistreated me. Whereas I abused him to everyone in the front office. I gleefully told of his misdeeds and every time I told the story, it grew in detail. I tore the little man to shreds. Sure, I withheld broadcasting it to his fellow teachers, but — oh, hey there! — I’m now splashing it on the internet.

Truth is, I kinda hate myself a little bit over this. For one thing, I hate that I let it bother me so much. It’s a flippin’ water cooler, for crying out loud! No one was being harmed. Not really, anyway.

For another, I know that if I had the chance for a do-over? Um… yeah… I’d probably behave the exact same way. I mean, how could I not?! It was funny, and I’m all about funny.

But the thing that bothers me most? He was the one who made the first attempt to make amends. (The encounter I described in the other post actually came after the Water Cooler Incident.)

All this means is that… *gulp*… *gritsteeth*… Worm comes out ahead. He behaved better.

Damnit.

worm victorious

Lamentations of the Teacher

What does the Teacher require, but to sit still, do your work, and keep your eyes on your own paper?

Bring me a student who desires knowledge and I will fill her up.
But yea, the students of Babylon do not study.
The Snapchat and the Tumblr, they cry out to them.
They hear not my voice,
I weep for this generation.

Sad teacherThus says the Teacher:

Concerning Cellphones

There shall be no cellphones in this classroom. No cellphone shall be on your desk, nor in your hand. Nay, I do not wish to see it. Put it away, for it displeases me.
It shall make no sound and neither shall you text. Not to your friend nor your mother shall you text.

Laws Pertaining to Food and Drink

You shall not have snacks in the Classroom; the eating of food is strictly forbidden. You shall not bring in bags of potato chips and open them, neither shall you eat them, for I hate the crunching noise.
Of crunching you shall not do.
Of drink, you may have bottled water. No soda may you drink, neither shall you have anything with a straw, for then you make that slurping sound when it is almost gone and push the straw up and down so it makes that squeaky noise.
There shall be no squeaky noise.
And when your bottle of water you have emptied, you shall not squeeze the bottle in your hand and make the crinkly sound.
Lo, how I detest the crinkly sound.

Of Tardies and Absences

For the first two days, of these you may be late, but after these two days you shall not be late. No, never shall you be late.
Why are you late? No, do not speak. I turn my ear from your excuses; they displease me. You shall be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.
I say it again: do not be late.
Of absences, there shall be none. But if you are absent, your parent or guardian must call, or else there shall be no makeup work. You will fail, and oh, how great your failure!

Concerning Homework

Woe to the student who does not do their homework, for they shall lose points.
Of Extra Credit, there is no Extra Credit. O Foolish one, why do you ask?
Do the work, and no Extra Credit do you require.

Limitations of Teacher Authority

There are no limitations of Teacher authority. Nay, I say it again, there are none.
Do not question my authority, for the one who questions my authority will be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.

I, the Teacher, have spoken.

Sharpen your pencils! Grab your notebook!
For I shall put you to the test!
It shall be multiple choice and short essay.

Blessed are they who listen, for they shall find wisdom.
Their grade point average shall not falter, forevermore.

O Legislature! O Destroyer!
You cut funding and raise up standardized tests against me!
But I, the Teacher, shall not fail,
Neither shall I surrender; nay, never shall I surrender.
Though one day, maybe next year, I shall retire.
A condo by the lake would be nice.

How pleasing it is when a child learns,
It is like honey on the lips and lovely to my sight.

I, the Teacher, have spoken.

happy teacher

Here’s wishing all my teacher friends their best year EVER! ❤️

School Stories From Olden Days: Trust Me, We Got it Better

As much criticism leveled against public schools nowadays, it might be tempting to think it was better in the past. Back when there was no standardized testing or government interference, back when parents had complete control. Then you read something about that earlier time and you realize it was only the rich who could afford good teachers; the rest of us poor slobs were on our own.

Continuing on with our perusal through my Great-Aunt Clara’s writings in Pioneer Memoirs, we come across her memories of school, or rather, the pioneer version of school. Specifically, two teachers whom she remembers fondly, however incompetent they turned out to be.

Keep in mind she’s writing this in 1911, regarding events that happened nearly 50 years prior. Imagine in this small country parsonage, somewhere in Dane County, Wisconsin, there lived our spunky writer, along with her parents and 10 younger siblings.

Someone must teach the children, yes? With no Board of Education or government funding, you take what you can get.

“One of them was old Berentsen. He must have died years ago. He came from Lindesnes in the southern part of Norway; “near the lighthouse at Lindesnes,” he said.

He had been a teacher of navigation. He tried to get a job teaching parochial school and pestered the minister with his many and lengthy testimonials. Once he was really allowed to try teaching, but he was not fitted for it, for, as a farmer declared, “We might just as well have a cow to teach school as this Berentsen.”

It was his first and last effort in these parts.

I remember Berentsen well — the square figure, the red wig, and the straggling hair handing beneath it. He had all his belongings in a bag that he carried on his back. He always shook hands, Mother said, with such a fierce grip that her fingers tingled.

She always treated him like a guest and never showed that he was not especially welcome. It amused us children to see him eat, for he had an unusually good appetite. He was not troubled with dyspepsia.

When he had eaten he always read the newspapers. He also read certain books. He asked permission to read Holberg’s Comedies nearly every time he came. He sat and read in a half whisper, chuckling as he read. Poor old man! Then he forgot his troubles and sorrows and lived in another world far away, where no doubt schoolmasters led a far more honored existence than fell to his lot.

Old Hans Heegaard was in many respects a complete contrast to Berentsen. Tall and thin I remember him, with an almost military bearing.

His long, well-worn coat was carefully brushed. He had a large neckerchief that he tied with great care. He would stand before the mirror as long as any lady of fashion. He would spread his silvery locks to cover his bare head. I remember how pleased he was once when Mother gave him a new neckerchief. He did not like to share the bedroom with John, the hired man who had been with us so long that he was a real factotum.

Heegaard once told Mother something about himself when he was in a talkative mood. In his youth he had been a clerk in one of the larger cities in Norway. He had gotten into gay drinking parties with like-minded companions and so gradually he went down. In brief, it was the old story — he lost, step by step, money, position, friends, health, all. By an accident he came to America, where for some time now he had wandered about in the Norwegian settlements.

He had also tried his luck as schoolmaster, presumably with not much better success than his colleague, Berentsen. When Heegaard came to us, he always asked Mother in his most polite manner, “O dear Mrs. Jacobson, may I stay a couple of days? I’m so tired and poorly.” Mother, of course, could not say no. The “couple of days” usually became weeks.

I remember the time brother Jacob was to learn to read. He was rather slow and had no liking for the A-B-C’s. As Heegaard happened to be there at this time, Mother proposed that he should undertake to be Jacob’s tutor. Heegaard expressed his willingness, and the lessons began quite impressively but were very short ones. The boy read about five minutes and then had a recess that lasted till Heegaard saw Mother, when he would tap at the windowpane and call, “Jacob, Jacob, you must come in again.” Soon both teacher and pupil became sick and tired of the reading and the boy had a vacation until Mother took hold in earnest.

As much as I love Clara’s description of these two men — it’s a wonder she never attempted a novel, right? — for my own part, I appreciate our modern version of schools. In particular, our teachers.

Here in Arizona, we are in our fifth day of teacher strikes. Their demands are modest. In a nutshell: competitive salaries and for school funding to be returned to 2008 levels. It is expected our legislature will have a favorable meeting today and classes will resume tomorrow. (Keep your fingers crossed.)

Due to being out-of-town, I haven’t been part of either the marches or the “Stand-Out” groups on city corners. But I have to say, the site of our downtown being turned into a sea of red is indeed lovely…

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 10.25.33 AM.png

Hug a Teacher Today ❤️

A Thank You Gift From Larry: A True Story of Honest Work, Grateful Emails, and Tea

In the festive month of December, when holiday cheer filled the air, the high school office workers chatted happily and spoke of their plans for the coming break: a flight to Chicago, another to California, still another to Oregon.

But one worker, the quiet one in the corner, what plans did she tell? Nary a one, for she was on the phone.

It was a parent, a father, seeking information on a program Quiet One knew little about.

Did that stop her from helping? Of course not. Transferring the call would return her to office chatter.

Quiet One listened. He was out of the country, he said. Frustrated, lost, bereft. No communication given. Could she help?

She made notes, spoke with student’s counselor.

What’s this? Father’s name is not in database? He is not an approved contact? Calls are made, mother is reached.

But he’s in London, mother said. Why list him?

If his name is not listed, they told her, we cannot talk to him. He remains frustrated, lost, bereft. No communication given.

His name is added.

Father is called. Quiet one explains, he is grateful. He tells her what he seeks, she sends it.

He has a hotmail account.

She tries not to judge.

Me, email 1He is appreciative.

first thank youA week goes by, it is the day before winter break. Cookies in the break room, someone says.

Homemade?

Store-bought.

Quiet One opens her email.

emailShe frowns. Help a person once, help them always. That’s how it goes.

Quiet One contemplates. Respond thoroughly, she decides. Consider every angle. Anticipate every problem.

FinalHe sends his gratitude.

heart attackQuiet one is pleased. She has done well. Her work is now complete.

Another email arrives.From him , email 4Not necessary, she tells him. Just doing her job.

He insists.From him, email 5He must be joking, she thinks. He’s in London. What can he do?

She plays along. Response, email 5Quiet One turns off computer. Coworkers leave. Good wishes for a nice winter break.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Two weeks pass. The workers return. The mail is sorted. Quiet One received a card.

A card from Larry.

She opens the envelope. Tea bags fall to the desk.

TeaHer first cup of the day, Countess Grey from Fortnum & Mason.

A twist on the traditional bergamot-infused blend, Countess Grey is based on well-twisted orange pekoe teas, lifted by classic bergamot and a light orange flavour. Its light and delicate character makes it ideal for morning or afternoon drinking, when the spirits require a little reviving.

Quiet One is revived. She emails her thanks to Larry.

He responds.Final emailTo a man in London, she is his dearest.

A job well done.

Happy New Year. ☕️

The Story of a Young Girl’s Faith in Santa, Her Ensuing Disgrace, and Her Rescue From Certain Despair

The year was 1970. I was in the first grade, and I was being punished for believing in Santa.

Rather, to be more clear, I was punished for defending Santa.

srikanta-h-u-51975

You see, an unbeliever in the ranks – a heathen – was casting doubt on his existence. Pointing out irregularities in the Santa Claus canon. Casting aspersions on his good name.

Several of my classmates were listening and their faith was shaken. You could see it in their eyes.

I’d had enough. I proclaimed in a voice for all to hear:

There is so a Santa Claus! He’s been to MY HOUSE!

Gasp!

Unfortunately we were in class at the time and our teacher was not fond of loud proclamations. Even those in defense of Santa.

It was the time-out table for me.

I must pause here, for I need you to understand the overall makeup of our teacher’s time-out table. Only then can you grasp the true horror of what was before me.

Miss September — okay, my teacher’s name wasn’t really Miss September. It was something similar to Miss September. Something like Miss Sembler… or maybe it was Stremble. Honestly, I don’t know.

The fact is, I was never very good with names, even as a child. For those I didn’t recognize or couldn’t pronounce, I’d come up with a close approximation and stick with it. No doubt Miss September corrected me plenty of times before giving up, figuring there were worse things to be called than the name of a centerfold.

In any case, it wasn’t enough for Miss September that a noisy child sat at the time-out table. The point had to be driven home, which was why there was a stack of index cards on the table. Whoever sat at the table had to do so while keeping an index card in their mouth. The entire time.

I had never, in the entire history of my academic career (now spanning kindergarten and a few months of first grade), been punished for speaking out of turn.

I can still hear Miss September’s voice, “Who said that?!” Adding, in disbelief, “Christi? Was that you?!”

Was there a moment of hesitation? A possibility of reprieve given my incredible track record? Was consideration given for the fact my outburst was a necessary one? The foundation of our faith was being challenged! A defender had to rise up!

I was that defender.

But no. Consistency in punishment, that was Miss September’s way. She pointed to the back table without saying a word. I made my way, my head cast low.

The truly frustrating thing was that I had no reason to stand up for Santa.

Santa had never brought me a present. There was no chimney in our house for him to come down, no stockings to fill. My parents never threatened us with “Santa won’t come if you don’t behave,” because we were always to behave. Santa had nothing to do with it. And Santa never came on Christmas morning, presumably, because we celebrated on Christmas Eve. It was our family’s tradition from ages past.

Clearly, Santa and my family had denominational differences.

But being the broadminded people they were, my parents were not Santa-deniers. They never spoke out in favor of him, nor against him. They simply never brought him up.

What I learned, you might say, I picked up on the streets.

My faith was a pure one. Not born out of fear or greed, but out of sincere philosophical musing and sound theology.

Plus, as I said, he’d been to my house.

Santa and me 2

Many years later, as my mom was showing family pictures to my husband, I asked her who the man was who showed up at our house one December day so long ago, dressed as Santa.

She laughed. It wasn’t a man. (Gasp!) It was the neighbor lady from across the street. The people who bred Boston terriers and decorated their house with blue Christmas lights. It was her.

Honestly, I had no idea.

Back to Miss September’s class: I approached the time-out table, sat down heavily, put the card in my mouth. The tears… oh my friends, the tears! Never has a child suffered so much, nor felt it so deeply as I. Shame and misery were mine.

But the story doesn’t end here, for there was another student at the time-out table. She was a frequent visitor, a regular felon in our classroom. In truth, she was our class clown, and though we weren’t close friends, she gave me a gift that day.

I’m very sorry I don’t remember her name. A better writer would make one up for you. Just name her Angie or Susan or Debbie. Invent a name and run with it. But just as it is with Miss September and my Santa lady with blue Christmas lights, I cannot lie. Her name is lost.

I have failed you. Mea culpa.

All I can remember are two things: her hand sliding across the table until she got my attention, and then, when I looked up… do you know what I saw? This little comic genius had taken the index card, folded it in half, put it in her mouth and was now impersonating a duck!

Soon my tears of sadness were tears of joy and I could hardly stay in my seat due to giggling. My misery forgotten, my day instantly brightened.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what impact we can have on others? Whether we dress up as Santa (remember ladies, it’s an equal opportunity position), or we cheer up a tearful child with a goofy face. It’s the little moments of kindness that matter.

So as we make our way through this holiday season — indeed, as we approach a new year — let’s look at the ways we leave our mark on others. The memories we give them, the words we leave them.

Let’s make them count, yes?

brigitte-tohm-162814

And please, put in a good word for Santa. There are enough doubters in the world as it is.

First picture: srikanta H. U on Unsplash
Second picture: Author’s own, and ain’t I a cute one?
Third picture: Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Cursive Schmursive: If It’s Legible, Who Cares?

If I were looking for a new job — I’m not, you know, but if I was — there’s a new skill I can add to my resume: Handwriting Translator.

Reason being, throughout the day students approach my desk and show me a yellow slip of paper. They ask in meek tone, one befitting Oliver Twist: “Please, ma’am, I don’t know what this says.”

Well, maybe not that Oliver Twistish. But you get my point.

The yellow slip is our school’s “student request pass”. The student’s name will be there, usually written clearly, we hope written clearly, the rest… well, the rest is a crapshoot. It might be written clearly. It might be like a doctor’s scribbling.

I do my best to decipher the note. Usually it’s from our Attendance department, sometimes the Nurse’s office. Back in my greenhorn days, I used to follow up with a polite email, suggesting the scribbler fill out the passes more carefully or give up cursive altogether. After all, most of our kids don’t read cursive.

I no longer do that. Reason being, it usually triggers a rant:

How come they don’t teach cursive anymore?!

Why in my day…

Everyone is so lazy nowadays!

Cursive handwriting is the hallmark of civilized society!

I usually enjoy seeing people on their high horse. It can be quite entertaining and worthy of a blog post or two. But after the fourth or fifth time around the track, even I grow tired of their raging.

Pity they don’t feel the same.

In any case, I’ve come to realize that people of a certain age, the age being somewhere on the far side of 40, tend to feel strongly about this issue.

Well, at least women do. I’ve not witnessed any men going off the deep end regarding cursive. Maybe they do. I’ve not seen it.

In any case, I’ve noticed the arguments for returning cursive to the curriculum range from the ridiculous:

“You’re more creative when you use cursive writing instead of a keyboard”

(Oh, if only Hemingway, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, et. al., not insisted on using their typewriters! How much greater their works might have been!)

To the nostalgic:

“Remember those lined workbooks with the letters to trace? I loved those!”

I didn’t. As much as I tried to replicate the letters and follow their lines, my clumsy little hand would not cooperate.

And having to make such BIG letters too. The capitals absolutely insisted on touching both top and bottom lines. Not to be undone, several of the lower case demanded it too.

Cheeky little devils that they were.

Cursive alphabet

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. McCullough, was not a patient woman. She rarely approved of my feeble attempts.

Ms. McCullough and me

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact several letters are battling identity issues.

The letter A, regretting her cross line and open bottom, caring little she represents my favorite article of apparel (A-line skirt), chucks it all away to look like an abnormal apple:

Cursive A

So too is S, no longer content with his smooth, sloping shape, chooses instead to shroud his silhouette.

Secretive little sneak:

Cursive S

G, ever the garrulous gent, decides he can’t give ground. He follows S’s guide and makes a point of it:

Cursive G

And what are we to make of Q?

It’s shameless, really. Q, in her printed state, is round with a little tail; the cousin of O with a quirky flair.

Yet in script, she opts for something different, a queer and querulous affair:

Cursive Q

Yet none of that comes close to Z, that zany zealot who zigzags his way in print.

For cursive… well, at first he seems to copy Q. He zips onto the page, zeroes in toward the bottom and… what’s this?

He zooms below the line, where he has no business being!

Cursive Z

Breaking all zoning laws!

You know what I think? I think Q and Z got together and hatched this devious plot!

“Why won’t they use us more in their writing?” Q queried. “I say we make them quiver and quake, every time they pick up their quill!”

“Zounds, Q, that’s zelicious!” And with that, Z zapped and zipped his shape in a most zesty fashion.

Q looked at him quizzically, but remained quiet.

For most of my early schooling, I disliked my handwriting. No, more than disliked. I actively despised my cursive skills. No matter how I tried, Mrs. McCullough’s elegant swoops and flourishes would never be mine.

Then sometime in high school, I was looking through old records and came across Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years.”

Ignoring the cheesy mustache, I latched onto the words at the top.

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Look at those S’s folks! Sure, Z still gets down and dirty, but capital S remains true to form!

Only then did it occur to me how adults (as they do in so many things) throw out the rules and do what they want. I decided right then and there, Mrs. McCullough be damned, I’d write how I wanted.

Which is how I finally embraced my own version of handwriting (more like smushed together printing) and never looked back.

 

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All this is a long way of saying, I don’t think it’s a big deal students aren’t being taught cursive. Maybe you disagree with me. If you’re anything like the women I work with, I know you do.

I still say it’s not a big deal. If our youth want to learn cursive, they’ll figure it out just like my kids did. On their own, with no Mrs. McCullough breathing down their neck. There’s no age limit to acquiring it, and there are plenty of sites offering free lessons.

And of course, they can always make up their own rules.

As for the argument that it teaches them fine motor skills and helps brain development, art lessons and playing a musical instrument do that too. And I’d argue do a much better job of it.

Now as for students not being taught how to properly diagram a sentence?

My God people! When will the madness end?!

Diagram

Under the Sea and Over Their Heads

Our school’s homecoming was this past weekend. To promote it, as they do every year, our Student Government ordered t-shirts and passed them out to Admin and other staff.

Personally, I’m on the “thanksbutnothanks” list. Meaning I missed out on this one:

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The Homecoming theme was “Under the Sea”, so the front of the shirt has a shark. But for some reason, the back has a whale tail.

Get it? Whale tail?

Just do a quick search. First thing that pops up (from Urban Dictionary):

Term used to describe the visible part of a thong on a chick’s butt when worn with low rise pants – resembles a whale’s tail

Certain questions arose:

  • Are our students able to tell the difference between a shark and a whale?
  • If they are, do they understand what a whale tail represents?
  • If they do, did they think they’d make fools of our Admin?
  • And if they did, were they surprised when the Admin wore the shirts, despite being fully aware of what ‘whale tail’ represents?

Whale Tail

Yes, I work for a fun-loving group. 😄

Reportedly, the students who designed the shirt did not — repeat, did NOT — know the meaning behind “whale tail.” And obviously don’t know the difference between a shark’s tail and a whale’s.

Since we run a full service blog here at Feeding on Folly, here’s a brief lesson:

Shark's tail
Shark’s tail
Whale's tail
Whale’s tail
Thong
Whale tail

I believe kudos are in order for Adults Who Caught a Pop Culture Reference before the Youth did.

Also, here’s a Thumbs Up 👍 to our Admin, for not taking themselves too seriously, having some fun in the process, and not making an issue where there was no issue to be made. Bravo!

(Though I gotta say, I’m still relieved I didn’t get a shirt.)

🐋

When Teachers Quit: A Lesson in Two Daves

Readers who follow this blog know that in my other life, I work as an Admin Assistant to the Principal of a large suburban high school.
Readers who don’t follow this blog… well, they know now. 

Monday morning, my administrator greeted me with, “I hope your weekend was better than mine.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“A teacher quit!”

My mind raced over the staff list, the various possibilities. Was there a news report I missed? Was someone arrested? I asked who it was — braced myself for the possibility it was someone I liked.

She said the name. It was one of our new teachers. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call him Dr. Dave.

Dr. Dave was one of the first of our new hires, and we considered it a stroke of luck someone with a doctorate was going to teach at our school. First and second year Spanish, no less.

Let that sink in: a man with a doctorate was knowingly accepting a position to teach lower level high school Spanish.

Amazing.

I met Dr. Dave about a month ago. The Department Lead was going to show him his classroom and give him a tour.

Dr. Dave had white hair, thick and wavy. He was stout, but not overly so, and he had a pleasant face.

Also, he spoke like Ricardo Montalban.

Yeeaahhh.

He sat on the couch near my desk and told me stories as we waited for the Lead.

He told me of the time he taught in Costa Rica. Everyone in the village told him not to open windows. They didn’t say why, just don’t open windows. He figured it was because of bugs.

But one day he was in his classroom alone and it was stifling hot. He decided to open two windows. Within minutes, the room was full of monkeys!

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He told me other things too. The important thing to remember is that he lived in Costa Rica for a time. Got that?

Three weeks later, I’m walking him to his classroom and he’s complaining about Phoenix’s humidity.

“I guess you’re used to it, but my god it’s humid here!”

I looked it up. On that day, the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, was 91°F and our humidity was 36%. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the same day was 82°F and 94% humidity.

Yeeaahhh.

I realize I’m suspicious by nature, and just a tad cynical, so I let it pass. Maybe the guy just didn’t like heat. Maybe Costa Rica was long ago and he only remembered the monkeys. Maybe he was just having an off day.

Then, after eight days of school, he gives his notice. But not much of a notice. Monday would be his last day.

The reason? He said our kids weren’t smart enough.

Actually, what he said was that they didn’t know English well enough. He shouldn’t have to spend time explaining sentence structure or reminding them what a predicate was.

Also, they expected him to speak English. He refused. You can’t teach a foreign language by speaking in their native language. “That goes against everything my 37 years of training taught me.”

He quoted Shakespeare in his letter too. Or as he referred to him, “Billy Shakespeare”.

Yeeaahhh.

Later that same day, we had another resignation. By another Dave. We’ll call him Dave G.

Dave G. was hired under an emergency provision, allowing non-teachers with bachelor degrees to take “hard-to-fill” positions.

Not sure if you heard, but there’s a teacher shortage. Especially in Science, Math, and Special Ed. Dave G. was hired to teach Earth Science. 

I met Dave G. about a month ago as well. I showed him his classroom, found a teacher’s edition of the class textbook, and listened to his story.

He had been a meteorologist. He worked for a news station for awhile, then for an airline. They moved to Arizona about a year ago and he decided to try out teaching.

After eight days, he realized he was in over his head. “This is the hardest job I ever had,” he told my Administrator. She was sympathetic.

He said he’d stay on until we found a long-term sub, and given the fact he looked like he aged four years since we last met, I thought that was pretty swell of him.

So what are the lessons can we learn from our two Daves?

I believe there are three:

  1. Humility is Always Better than Arrogance
    If you’re having trouble with a job, admit it. Don’t push the blame elsewhere or claim you’re too good for it.
  2. Leaving a Job With No Notice is Not Cool
    Especially for some jobs. Like brain surgery. Not cool. Granted, teaching isn’t brain surgery, but it’s still not cool to leave your post without warning. For our school, five teachers gave up their planning periods to cover the classes until we could find a sub.
    Not cool.
  3. If You Live in Costa Rica, Don’t Open Your Windows
    Whether or not the monkey story is true, it sounds like good advice.

One final note: If you happen to know any teachers, tell them there are a few positions open in Phoenix.

Daves need not apply.

Lead Photo by JJ Thompson and
Monkey Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash