Saturday, November 11, 2006

Welcome Back

A few people have asked: "Why don't you ever write about your work experiences?" They figure that working for eleven years with teens dealing with sexual and physical abuse, drugs, and gang stuff and then another eleven years with alternative education (think Mr.Kotter and the Sweat Hogs) that I should have some pretty interesting experiences to share. I do...but. I've always shied away from that. Maybe I'm too close to what I do. Maybe I keep my writing seperate. Some people say that a lot of what I write is autobiographical. I just keep myself hidden so deeply under the words that it's hard to spot me.

Jon, of course, would argue that Rev. James Maloney is blatantly autobiographical. Of course, I would dispute that. I'll agree I have certain characteristics of the character in question, but Maloney is an evil son-of-a-bitch.
Anyway...I've decided to give in and share an experience. If you think it's worth doing this more often, then let me know.

Occasionally I become soft-headed.

I think: "Why not take the alternative education kids to the museum?"

At the moment that thought entered my head the little squirrels joined hands and danced around in circles, the bluebirds sang sweet songs, and the flowers bloomed. I almost went barefoot.

The kids went. It was a chance to get out of the classroom, and some of them felt it might even be interesting. Some of them went reluctantly.

"Boring," said one kid.

He scratched his shaved head. I found myself wondering if the bio-hazard tattoo was painful to have done. I also found myself nodding and thinking: and of course, I am sure you will want to put a list of all your tats and piercings on your resume. Especially the tattoo on the arm: Kill Em All. He should have been a Congressional Page.

We walked into an area that had relics from the turn of the century. "Try and relax for once. Sometimes it's good to stop and consider where we all come from," I was saying to him.

I was going to pontificate more, considering how much he was enjoying what was already flying from my lips, but I stopped to gape at the kid about to touch the original device that Thomas Edison first used to record the human voice. I hastened across the room and whispered: "no-no-no-no-no."

He looked at me and shrugged.

"I just wanted to see if it still worked," he said.

Another teen walked by with something sticking out of his pocket.

I stopped him.

"What you got there?" I asked. He pulled a piece of candy from his pocket and I relaxed. I had images of him pulling out Franklin Roosevelt's pen, or one of the WWI bayonettes that someone had stupidly put within reach of sticky fingers.

My spider-sense went off about then. I turned and looked toward the windows. My kids were rapping on the glass and shouting things. I strolled over and looked down at what had arrested their attention.

A SWAT team had gathered at the house across the street. The police were positioning themselves for a bust, some of them had rifles out, others were crouched near the bushes with handguns. My kids? They were trying to get the attention of the people in the house to warn them of the impending raid. They succeeded in getting the attention of the police. One of the cops looked up and raised his eyebrows. I am sure he was considering raising his gun as well.

I whispered to my wards: "You have three seconds to stand away from those windows. One-two-three."

My students hear me raise my voice a good deal. It is when I am soft-spoken that they become uneasy. I smiled at them and said inaudibly low: "Now, follow me quietly down the stairs and to the parking lot." The smile terrified them.

I nodded to the other teacher and instructed her to get the other students, who were no doubt somewhere getting ready to draw moustaches on important works of art. I then went downstairs and the students followed me in silence.

Before stepping outside, the spider-sense went off one more time.

A student of mine was squatting beside a Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala that had taken a visiting group of monks at least a week to set down. I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking: What if I touch it? That's when the rays coming from my eyeballs hit him. He stood, zombielike, and followed us out. Good thing, too...another two seconds and the lethal rays would have evaporated him.

I know. I know you've all seen "Dangerous Minds" and that made you gooey inside. I get gooey inside when I see films like that too. They make me want to throw up. I think the only film about teaching that gave me the warm fuzzies was the one with the teacher who ran around menacing people with a baseball bat.


Charles Gramlich said...

This kind of experience would make great essay material. I'm reading a collection of essays by Jim Sallis right now, called "Gently into the Land of the Meateaters," and your piece reminds me a bit of some of the stuff in that collection. Funny, in a dry way that I find hilarious.

miller580 said...

"My kids? They were trying to get the attention of the people in the house to warn them of the impending raid." I actually laughed out loud.

You know Stewart, personal essays and memoirs are hot sellers when you have an interesting topic. And personally, I think they need to be kinda funny. Which yours was.

Have you ever read David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs? These are two gay guys who have published both essays and memoirs. They are funny as hell.

Frances bo bancess said...

Personal experiences are incredible to read, as there is so much real life in them, that the reader can see, feel and relate to. As was yours, though I wouldn't have been near any paintings with permanent markers. But I think that some stories that we need to keep to verbal tales. Once you write it and share it, the stories belong to the readers. Not that I know from experience.

I would also like to thank you for your kind and encouraging words on my blog. It is wonderful to know people are reading it, let alone enjoying what is there.

SQT said...

Oh man. I ocassionally substituded in Special Ed. classes and your experiences remind me of that. Fortunately I'm pretty no-nonsense and kids pick up on that quick, otherwise you're dogmeat!

What you say about getting the kids attention by getting progressively quieter is so true. My kids always knew I had passed the point of casually annoyed if I got quiet. They only pretend they don't know what's going on.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Oh man.
I don't know how you do it.
I find a 'normal' class of teens hard enough to deal with..even when I WAS a teen.

Susan Miller said...

Great story, Stu. In a past life I organized recreational outings for troubled teens and pre-ads. And, yes, it would've been okay if I could've just organized and then left but then some teacher or social worker would've hunted me down and killed me. Anyway, your story is great and brings back many crazy memories. Thank you for that.

Christina Rundle said...

Great story! lol. You have a way with writing memories. I don't think I've laughed so hard.

Yeah for "fashion"

Happy Writing.

Crazy Eddie said...

I work for the Salvation Army and am hands on with the Mentally Challenged, so I can see where people may see the interest in writing about the challenges both fields bring on a daily basis...

Although your past work may have been more diverse, I can see how you might want to steer clear of writing about it...

You know what's best.