Kitchen Facts & Fictional Living: Feeding Starving Minds at a Buffet of Questionably Prepared Food for Thought
Kid in a wheelchair. Half-bald. Students.
Day one was non-descript. I think. I remember terror. Serious, palm-sweating, fear of death terror. Perhaps my memory fails me or the psychotropic drugs blocked it all out. Either way, the patchwork of the early days is sewn together with very loose threads. Some of fact, some of colorful recollections that I believe to be true and some complete fallacy. And I am quite okay with that. So, my first day no longer exists in my mind. My first week, month, year are all flecks of light, a twinkling of blips and colors. Red rage, “I can’t believe I left cooking for this” melded with Blue sadness, “I really can’t believe I left the kitchen for this” even Green with envy over teachers that have serious schooling of their own that really seem to know what they are doing.
My classroom doubles as a little dining room. I am a cook, so it makes sense that I would be relegated – by choice – to feed other teachers. Rarely, mostly out of fear, did I venture out of my cave. Upon reflection, I still do the same; I stay where the fire is warm, the surrounding’s familiar and the population less out of control. Swimming upstream in a very crowded stream of a high school hallway is off-putting; the “GAHHHHHHHHH” of the bell that signals the end of class is second in anxiety-stoking only to the next “GAHHHHHHH” of the bell that starts the next class. This aural attack somehow reminds me of cattle being herded from one section of the stockyard to the next, and that is not a far stretch of the imagination. I did have to actually meet my students at the door, I was told by the outgoing teacher whom I was replacing. She was off for a higher paying position in the War Room of administration. Before her departure, she assured me that she would allay my concerns and smooth the transition over the next few weeks.
“I’ll be right here!” she conveyed.
Here must be a very subjective term, because those keys to my classroom went from her hands to mine and I didn’t see her again. Taxpayers and parents alike had left me in the trust of their children. And what I remember most from my first day standing aloof in the fluorescent-washed hallway is that a boy in a wheelchair rolled by, tethered to a dog! I had not ever seen either apparition within the confines of my ostentatious high school. But, here, I saw them both. At the same time.
What have I done? Can I go back? Who are these people streaming into my room? What do they expect from me? Lastly, and most importantly, do they come with a manual? I quickly learned, just after being called a “Half-bald mother f*****” that, indeed, there are no manuals included. Alas, there are no returns or exchanges either. Working with this crew of loud- mouthed, hardly-driven kids was what I signed up for. Problem? I was expecting stardom. I got terror, I got irreverence, I got lackluster and I got nauseous teaching to (at?) the tattooed, Literacy Post-Apocalypse, Plugged-in, Attention-craving, Digital Generation. And only a scant thirteen years separates us. Is thirty that different from 17? Effing right!
***“The opposite of love is indifference”
I introduced myself to the crew and they, for the most part, were not awful. Rather, it was much like acknowledging a friend of a friend of a friend; not much care, a little head nod and the anticipatory wait for fireworks to shoot from my ass or something. The role of being an entertainer very quickly became evident. This, I learned quickly, was not a head-down, book- open, pencil-moving pathway to learning. Instead, I had to be on stage. The teacher I was replacing, Valerie, was, for the most part, very much a mother figure that soothed the easily- bruised sensitivities of the adolescent struggles. Val told me of little Ally and her need to raise hell for attention as she struggled with figuring out if she was gay or not. There was Amanda and her four-hundred pounds of heft that moved through the class gracefully much like a snow plow careening out of control on I-95. There was James, quite the ladies’ man, charismatic and interested in cooking. Of course there was little, Jannel, wiry and talkative, that looked at me through skeptical eyes, curious as to why this tall, white guy was kicking out her beloved teacher that nurtured her and held her close. Anthony, was an anomaly; he really wanted to cook, enjoyed being in the class but seemed, like me, very much an outsider in a place that should be, at least a little bit, a comfort. He was a big guy with a big questions and, more than anything, a curiosity. Andy and Chuck were “brothers from other mothers” in that Andy was as black as Jay-Z and Chuck was alabaster with the boyish looks of a kid right off of the family farm, only his farm would have had to have been dropped right in the center of a crappy urban calamity that surrounded Dilbert High. Lori seemed nice enough until she opened her mouth; the slang- twang, lip-smacking, attitude carrying Poortarican that will kick your silly white butt up and down an alleyway just because she lost her lip gloss or the Beeeotch at McDonalds forgot my fries, yo! Alayna was, well, just mean. She leered at me, I think never blinking the first three or four months of our class time together. Little spits of venom from each eye, I am sure, were marking me for termination at just the right moment; I am pretty sure she carried a shank or bullwhip or a broken bottle that had my name on it.
And the bell rings. Time to cook.