Scratch what I said about Cathy, the student whom I said her boyfriend would probably throw her out of a moving jeep. Today, as I was walking through my apartment complex to school, I saw her walking. She gave me a big smile and waved. I walked over to her and was about to start a conversation but then I realized neither of us had much to say to the other so I told her I would see her in class and I sped on to school.
Now, I know I do like her. Maybe this has to do with the fact that she smacked William (ya-know-what-kinda-eyes-he-got) with a plastic bottle. Or maybe since that day in the design room, I have not taken the eighth graders back to that Dionysian design den. Now, we stay in the classroom and draw designs.
Yes, the days are getting better. Maybe I am taking this much more in stride, maybe. Maybe I just need to listen to more Sabbath:
Where can you run to…What more can you do…No more tomorrow…Life is killing you…Dreams turn to nightmares….Heaven turns to hell…Burned out confusion…Nothing more to tell.
At my desk, I watch the classes do their morning routine to music that sounds uncannily like Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Lonely Bull, Taste of Honey, Tijuana Taxi?
My first class of the day is the seventh grade readers. Yesterday, I gave them homework. Sooham forgot his homework. I tell him he has to write ‘I will not forget my homework’ 200 times. He tells me he will not do it. I tell him he has the choice between that or swats.
“What is a swat?” he asks me. I do an air swat. He tells me he will write the sentences. He writes two and tells me he is finished. I tell him we will have to talk to Athena about it. Under his breath, Kevin says ‘Uh oh.’ Into the teachers’ office, I lead Sooham who does not want to go.
This is the thing. I do like Sooham but I am afraid if I do not tow the line with him, I will be showing favoritism. I want to be as fair as I can. Maybe this is too heavy handed. Maybe I could handle this differently but at this time, I think this is the best way to handle it. I tell Athena what the problem is. I go back to the class.
A few minutes later, Athena comes in to ask me how many times Sooham has forgotten his homework. I tell her four or five. She then tells him he has to write the sentences during recess.
He sits down and writes and complains and writes and complains and so of course the rest of us giggle under our breath. I tell him this will teach him to not forget his homework. Sumran puts the finishing touches on her homework. Sooham calls me evil. I give Sumran an Anne Frank handout that I copied from a virtual textbook. Lillian works on a Prince and the Pauper handout. As the write and read, I daydream about going back to Oklahoma in the summer, where you can sometimes smell the grass as you walk to the car at the airport.
Ev'ry day's an endless stream…Of cigarettes and magazines…And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories
Across the room; Neisha, Eric and Venus (Mary’s English language math class) sit by themselves at a table like abandoned children. Mary called in sick this morning. Whether she is really sick or not, I have no idea. Maybe she is just not very healthy. This is none of my business. I am happy that I make it to class to teach every day but then I am the sober one.
My cleaning lady, what is the story? The story seems to be she went on holiday. No one told me. Maybe that is what the landlord was trying to tell me two days ago, three or four weeks after the fact. Now that winter is coming, Michael asks me if the cleaning lady can come on a weekend morning instead of in the evening during the week.
This is not an exciting prospect. The weekends are the one time that I like to have free. Now that I have joined the working week, I would like to have my weekends free but then I think I sound very spoiled. She is coming to clean my apartment. This is something for me, yes, a clean apartment, yes.
Today is Meg’s birthday. I think of her all day. I think of our random suppers in New York down in the East Village. How this came about I do not remember. She is vegetarian; I was trying to curb my cheeseburger addiction. This brought about random suppers like chocolate in my peanut butter, peanut butter in your chocolate.
The random suppers seemed to usually involve spinach. or at least in my mind the suppers always seemed to involve spinach, spinach from the St. Marks Market.
Friendship is one of those tenuous (Can I say tenuous?) elements in your life that is difficult to put into words. Actually, maybe, maybe I mean intangible instead of tenuous, or maybe I mean ephemeral, indefinable and indescribably. That is how difficult this is because no words seem to fit when you really want to try to say something that means something that doesn’t just end up sounding stupid but then language is language.
The beginning of a friendship often cannot be pinpointed. A few of my friendships I can pinpoint the pivotal point where you go from small talk to deep thoughts and the meaning of life questions – or at least what in the hell am I doing with my life questions.
For me, my friendship with Meg hit that pivotal point on one of the most horrible days in recent American History – 9/11. When the planes hit the towers, we were both in midtown in NYC at our advertising jobs at Grey Global. Meg worked in human resources. She had recommended me for a job as a long term temp in broadcast traffic.
Before the horrible day, we occasionally had lunch. We ran around with the same Okie - and honorary Okie – crowd. On that sadly historical day, every one was panicking, trying to decide what to do. We did not know the extent of what the terrorists had planted or planned for NYC. Most people were a bit nervous to stay on the island.
Grey Global is in close proximity to the United Nations and Grand Central Station. At that point, we did not know where the missing planes were headed. We did not know if bombs had been planted around the city at the same time. We had no idea what the plan of attack was. For something as horrific as the twin towers to have happened, we did not know if there was more in store or if that was the extent of the overwhelming tragedy.
As we were watching the events unfold on the television, we realized we were probably not in the safest city in the country. Every one was in shock. There is no other way to describe it. This is Life during Wartime, the real thing. Staying at the office made it worse.
The television was in the human resources reception area. A few employees huddled around it. We were up on 50th and Lex. Out the window - cars, trucks, busses, taxis jammed the streets. Pandemonium had officially begun. People were running in the streets. It was like a war without the tanks or bullets. Meg’s boss, or at least one of the women with whom Meg worked, told us to take care of each other. We told the woman we would. At that point, we decided to try to make our way to Steve and Brian’s apartment.
At the time, Steve and Brian lived down at 36th and Park. Taking a bus or the subway was hopeless. We decided to go on foot. This was like a movie. We told each other that it felt like being in a movie. “I feel like we’re in a movie,” was what we told each other at the same time as we were trying to decide which street to run down as horns honked and people ran into us and around us.
It seems like we were running, running in that way that the lead actors do in the movies. Maybe I was a shorter version of Jeff Goldblum. Meg was an updated Carole Lombard. It was like an epic Cecil B. DeMille adventure with thousands of extras. We had somehow walked into an action adventure, two unlikely partners like Hepburn and Tracy, Hepburn and Grant, Hepburn and Bogey. Meg was the star. I was the sidekick.
Everyone was running and flying around, trying to get somewhere safe but no one knew where the safe haven was. We had to walk by Grand Central (a potential target) to get to our destination. The honking and the noise made it seem like Dolby Surround Sound.
Finally, we did make it to Steve and Brian’s where everyone met to discuss the horrific event. Everyone was safe. Later Meg and I walked together downtown to our neighborhood. By that time, the streets were deserted. This was the post-apocalyptic part of the movie. We were alive. Looking back, we were not in danger but at the time we did not know if we were in danger or safe. We were happy to be alive.
Without a doubt, that day was one of the most tragic in recent history. America truly got a glimpse of a sad reality, a sad reality that others across the globe face every day. That was the day that Meg and I became best friends.
I am sitting with the seventh grade readers. We are reading a Roald Dahl essay about a green mamba that he witnessed being captured. Neisha knows of Roald Dahl. When I tell the others that he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they are more enthused about reading it. However, Jacky, today, just keeps making stupid comments that would be funny if they were funny but they are not funny. Originality, I applaud; Banality, I do not.
I tell him maybe he needs to go down and run some laps to burn off the motor mouth energy. Or maybe he needs to write 200 times some stupid sentence, anything to get him to shut up. Finally, he starts reading the essay. He actually is very involved in reading the essay. We then answer guided questions. He answers all of them with no problem. He is a smart kid. But, after class, naturally, I have to put him in a headlock. He thanks me for this. Somehow, his watch was lying on the floor by his feet. We are in the library. I ask him how his watch got to be there. He says he does not know.
At this point, Sooham comes charging into the room. He is breathless. When I look at him, I laugh. He just has one of those little boy faces, a face that makes you laugh because he is so serious when he looks at you, like a tiny barrister, or a midget Hamlet. He has a bunch of loose papers in his hand. I assume he is going to hand me the 200 sentences I made him write.
“Teacher,” he exclaims as he catches his breath. “I found my homework! I had it with me the whole time.”
“Give it to me tomorrow,” I say and then I start laughing.
Happy Birthday Meg!