Thursday, August 9, 2012



At the risk of revealing my exact location to those individuals who might turn around and show this blog to my employer, I'll just say that some people in the general region where I reside might refer to this particular moment in my life as "nut cutting time".  Others with more delicate sensibilities would call it "The Eleventh Hour". To me the next eleven days more accurately resemble a sad and panicked ON ramp into nine months of H-E double Hockey Sticks. That's right. It's time to go back to school. I could be wrong, but I'm using last year as my predictor and since I'm looping up with this same set of inmates--from 4th to 5th grade--I feel safe in the assumption that there is little I can do to escape all the crazy that's going to come raining down on me in Biblical proportions.

I have a lot to do in the short amount of free time I have left: 1) Finish Stephen King's "11/22/63",  2) clean out my closet,  3) lose 10 pounds, 4) move the youngest son into his new college home and 5) learn how to make popsicles out of Robitussin for those especially frustrating work days when simply nothing seems to be going as planned and the prospect of taking an all expense paid vacation to the Manson Family Compound seems like a viable alternative.

Like many other teachers, I've spent the last couple of weeks getting caught up on self-maintenance so that it doesn't cost me a sick day later on when I'm not so much sick as I am parked in a waiting room with bad wallpaper and raggedy issues of Highlights and Consumer Reports. So yesterday I drove myself and a questionable looking mole to the dermatologist where the traditional wait time is usually so lengthy that whatever skin infirmity you think you might have has for sure already morphed into full blown melanoma by the time you actually see the doctor. Upon reading that last sentence I feel I need to clarify that I had a mole growing on my arm that I was concerned about. I did not provide automotive transport for a strange looking mammal belted into the seat next to me. Because that would be weird. Moles don't go to the dermatologist.

                                                  MOLE: NO   MONKEY: YES

My friend Mrs. G recently related a tale about her great-uncle and his Capuchin monkey named Judy. I insist you click over and read it --right after you read this. Anyway, her tale brought to mind my own monkey story. Everyone should have a monkey story. I'm completely serious.  Good stories usually have a beginning, middle and an end. This one? Does not. Because of all the parts where I would typically write pertinent information--but instead am forced to write I DON'T KNOW due to crucial facts that I lack. Trust me--there are more of those spots than there should be. Anyway, here goes.

When I was little I had a much-older-than-me (13 years) cousin who was either drafted or elected to go to Vietnam. I offer both scenarios because....I DON'T KNOW which is true because I was a little kid.
Anyway, when this cousin (I'll call him Adam) came back he had a Silver Star and all kinds of fascinating half-stories about mysterious bath houses where women were paid dollar bills to walk on your back in their bare feet which my grandmother--who didn't even like it when you played cards in her house because of possible gambling--didn't like. I say half-stories because that's about all my sister and I were able to hear before my grandmother hushed him up. Insert another I DON'T KNOW here since I never heard what else he did there. 

Anyway, one day Adam came by with what he said was a "gift" for my grandfather. Later, I learned that--aside from the normal kind of present which comes wrapped and can mostly be counted on to smell good--receiving a gift from your grandson who is still not quite the same person after Vietnam can really mean that he needs to park his squirrel monkey at your house for awhile. The same squirrel monkey that seemed so cute and a really, really good idea to buy at the time but which now makes an unholy mess and mostly just smells bad. Oh yes--and he bites when you pick him up. 

"Happy Birthday, Pops! His name is Hambone.  Say, where do you keep your band-aids?"

My sister and I already loved visiting our grandparents, but they just had one television which was frequently tuned to the news or Lawrence Welk and most forms of entertainment were exhausted pretty quickly there, so you can imagine the unbridled excitement we felt over the prospect of a monkey playmate right there in the house. However, our dreams of dressing Hambone in baby clothes and cunning hats, carrying him on our shoulders or teaching him to eat with a fork were dashed when we realized that Hambone was going to be the kind of pet you mostly just looked at due to his predilection for grabbing your nearest appendage--usually a finger-- with his tiny monkey hands and sinking his needle-like teeth into them.

Sure, it was entertaining to watch him eat with his fascinating fingers or imagine what he was thinking as he watched us with his glittery black eyes. His expressions were inscrutable which made it tempting to put small items close enough to the chicken wire in the hopes that he would take whatever it was and turn it over and study it the way a human would do. Things got really exciting when it was time to clean out his cage because Hambone had to be removed so that fresh shavings and newspaper could be spread on the bottom of the cage and the old poopy liner carried out --and hopefully-- burned. This required the use of heavy falconer's gloves for the person holding him. If all went well, he would sit quietly on the curtain rod and not choose that moment to release the contents of his digestive tract nor resist the attempts to put him back into what must have been his own personal Hanoi Hilton when the time came.

Both my grandparents were scrupulously clean people, but my grandmother was more vocal about her simmering hatred for Hambone and--truth be told--his entertainment value didn't play out nearly as well as we children had thought. Also? The smell. I won't camp too long on the description, but if you can imagine a baby's fully loaded diaper dipped in a mixture of hot mayonnaise, pencil shavings and old celery, you'll have an idea of what an assault the monkey's presence had become when it came to our olfactory sensibilities. Sorry for over sharing. The standard for cleanliness was also at stake and people were running out of fingers. This--we came to understand--wasn't going to end well.

One day we came to visit and Hambone was no longer in residence. The enameled table which normally held his cage now featured a doily and a non-ironic bowl of bananas which had no connection to the departed guest. Or so they said

There were vague explanations about where Hambone had gone, though I'm almost positive that no foul play was involved, but where exactly had he gone? I DON'T KNOW. The End.

See? I told you the ending was inadequate.

Anyway, I'm going to try to be positive about the school year despite my feelings regarding the dreadful way the last one unfolded. It may require starting every morning by playing "Eye of the Tiger" on the classroom boom box and possibly something involving a starter pistol.

And --of course-- alcohol popsicles.


  1. Actually, "alcohol popsicles" sound like a BRILLIANT idea...

  2. Where to start.....

    1. What's the story on your mole?

    2. Enough with the middle schoolers. I think you've done your time in the trenches. Have you thought about college-level English? Seriously. Maybe it's time to teach people who want to be there, or who you can kick out if they get on your nerves. Something to ponder.

    3. I had a squirrel monkey in high school. I, too, succumbed to the fantasy you described above, and the reality was, again, what you described above. Yes, he was cute; he was also hostile, suspicious, agressive, and ready to bite anyone who was foolish enough to touch him. My parents decided he might benefit from a romp around the living room, and let him out one day. He was so freaked out by the overwhelming freedom that he immediately scampered up the drapes to the rod, where he proceeded to (a) defecate tragically, and (b) chatter/scream at everyone in the room. We finally had to throw a towel over him (which no doubt added to his hysteria) and wrestle him back into the cage. He went back to the pet store the next day. They probably made a fortune selling and re-selling that poor creature, since his expensive accoutrements were, naturally, not returnable. Lesson learned: wild creatures are not interested in bonding with us. I've been a cat lover ever since.

    Good luck with your upcoming year. Someone has to fight the good fight, so I'm glad you're still on your feet.

  3. Nancy: Awaiting the biopsy results.

  4. "his own personal version of the Hanoi Hilton." You kill me!

  5. I do have a monkey story, as a matter of fact! How odd.

    It's nigh unto impossible to get into a university or even a community college to teach English around here, so I'm guessing it is there, too. And the pay is usually quite a bit less than the avg. public school job, incl. benefits. Having said those depressing things, I'd piggyback slightly upon Nancy's remark and say that, if it's possible with your licensure, the high school classroom might be more your speed. It's bigger kids, somewhat bigger discipline issues, but less custodial-type crap, and you can at least approach material that is meatier and more engaging for YOUR brain.

    Try to avoid a calendar these last 11 days. Oh, how well I remember!

  6. Nancy and Nance: You are both mind readers, however, it's not SO much the fact of elementary school that is tough (although it is because you have to WALK them damn near EVERYWHERE but the bathroom!), but the fact that I teach in a low income school where parents wander at will through the teacher's lounge, use our only restroom apportioned just for us, and scream at us when we voice the opinion that they should be reading to their children at night). My degree is called EDCI (Education, Curriculum & Instruction) and it is geared toward Secondary kids in the fields of English and History. Id did my student teaching with juniors and seniors. I returned to my hometown after graduation and there were no high school English jobs, so I went to 8th grade. This wasn't too bad, but when the first kid was born I decided I was going to put my energies into writing while we raised our kids. This is exactly what happened.

    By the time our oldest two were in elementary school I was thinking about how I missed teaching...a bit. I was surrounded by excellent examples and found myself drawn over and over into roles where I was teaching. Anyway, about five years ago I decided to go back as a paid tutor and there was a wonderful woman who had been the kindergarten teacher for two of our kids and was now the principal of a tough little elementary school on the east side of town. (It's always the east side that is tough. Why is that?) I wound up adding to my certification and headed to teach 5th grade Reading. That first year was hard...but rewarding. But the realities of our little school and district are tough to ignore. In our district you have to teach in a school for three years before you are eligible to transfer (within the district) to another school and as I waiting for that chance, the educational funds in this state went into the crapper. This situation was handled by trimming essential support personnel and increasing class size so that teachers could be moved around and some were even surplussed, which is a fancy word for "laid off with pay". A hiring freeze was put into place and all teacher-requested transfers were eliminated. There were some lovely schools where I had connections and there were openings, but the district was using their self-created slush pile to stock all openings. Last spring there were five openings at the public high school where my kids graduated. It's the oldest and largest (and --right now--academically highest) public school in the city. I applied for any and all of those slots, but they were filled by surplus people....and COACHES!! Thank you, school district! Four weeks ago another slot opened up in English dept and I applied for it. I have friends who teach at that school and they all appealed to the principal (she's new), but they hired a surplus person. Then last week, the surplus person quit and the slot was opened again...but only to coaches. WTF?? By now, it's too late, even if they ASKED me to work there. I'm the lead teacher for my level, Student Council representative and I'd be screwing over a fantastic principal (they are rare) by leaving at such a late date. I'd be screwing myself, since I'd have no time to get adequately prepared.

    So that's my story. Everyone at my school is trying to leave who isn't a gnat's eyebrow away from retirement. The population is increasingly violent and the district is so afraid of a lawsuit that parents can pretty much say or do anything to us and get away with it. Without being too specific here I'll just say that last year was the worst and I didn't miss ANY of these kids once the last day rolled around. But there's no way out short of heading to private school and --trust me--despite the decrease in pay, I'm almost ready to do it.

    1. Ugh, that's such a depressing summary about public schools. What a mess. And still, Oklahoma teachers are flocking to Texas. What does that say about OUR situation? Yikes.

  7. I love your writing. Hambone was much more entertaining than Judy.


Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.