Monday, September 18, 2017

Fancy Nancy

I am on the bus, squeezed as close as possible to the windowside, in an effort to put a little space between myself and our substitute teacher for the day.

Nancy, the sub in question, is in her early 60s; long in the limbs, gray yellow in the hair, straight in the teeth. An old-timey lech might dub her a "tall glass of water" or some other euphemism involving liquids and large but slender containers for them, then loudly suck his front teeth.

When God handed out personal space perimeters, He bestowed upon me one with ample circumference. To Nancy, He gave none.

She leans close enough to butterfly kiss my ear with her charcoal clotted lashes.

"Now here's another story for you that is do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do." 

All that do-do is the theme from the old television show The Twilight Zone. She uses it to preface stories from her life that contain elements of the supernatural. 

Do-do, I had a dream where I wore a wide-brimmed hat, and a week later, I found myself wearing that exact wide-brimmed hat. Do-do, there is man in Brazil that lets entities speak through him, and I cannot buy Starbucks like you are doing because I am saving my money to go see him Do-do.

"What are you going to see him for?" I ask, sipping my 28 oz steaming cup of spiritual lack.

Nancy gets a far away look in her watery blue eyes and sighs heavily.

"For peace, I think. And comfort."

I picture a sweaty brown buddha of a man on a bamboo platform, spinning a rainstick and palming a turkey giblet in preparation for his next psychic surgery.

The image seems cliche to me, and possibly racist.

I wipe off my mental whiteboard and put up instead a list of pros and cons, circling and then underlining words and concepts that people mention twice. I take a picture of it with my Iphone and present my findings at the next meeting of school administrators, where I am rewarded a consultant fee of two hundred thousand dollars. Since I am now rich, I no longer have to sit next to Nancy on this bus. I pull the stop cord and get off alone, while all the other riders cheer and chant my name. I make a prudent amount of dollars rain upon them.

"So then I was in New York," Nancy continues, "Working for a lawyer with the last name of Birnbaum. So, you know...." 

Here she smiles at me, squinting, almost winking. She does this constantly, trailing off her sentences and expecting me to fill in the blanks, often with nothing to go on, no context or overarching theme from which to infer a likely denouement. 

I cannot finish the thought for you, madame, I know not whenst it came.

"We all had apples, so you can just imagine...."  

What, in god's name? You made pies with them? Juice? Some sort of hard cider???

"The floors were diarrhea, so obviously we couldn't...."  

WHAT? STEP ON THEM?? I need hard facts, information. My understanding of human communication is very limited, and when you don't finish your sentences, I get very nervous and I want to throw up. In this void you leave, do I nod knowingly? Politely chuckle? Hang head and shake jowls? Fart and blame others?

"....obviously, I was the wrong religion," she finishes.

"Oh. He was Jewish?" 

She puts a long, bony finger to her nose and winks. 

I want to tell her that she left out all the in between parts that would differentiate a "story" from what she just did, but she has already moved on to the next thing, and I need to be prepared for when she dangles another participial over my head.

Besides her fingers, the rest of Nancy is quite long as well. In fact, she used to be a fashion model, she says. Back in the day. 

"I went to Studio 54, you know, in it's prime."

"Oh." My toes curl in social agony, but I do my part. "What was that like?" The question ekes out like a death rattle.

"In the bathrooms there, it was...." She tilts her head away and looks at me out of the sides of her eyes. I wonder if my breath is bad.

Most of the time when people talk to me, that is all I am thinking. 

Occasionally I will think, ooh their breath is bad, but this is usually only a lead-in to a consideration of the fear is mine worse? Or, is that my own breath reflecting off their face and coming back to me in terrible waves?

"...well, I was only going in there to wee-wee, but some of those ladies...." 

Wee-wee is Nancy's code word for urination.

She has already gone wee-wee several times since we left the school, and each time, she whispers it and makes a gesture with her thumb and forefinger that looks like she is indicating a unit of measurement. 

It could be that she means she only has to go a little bit of wee-wee, or go wee-wee for a brief amount of time, but I am not sure.

When I ask her questions about her life as a model, Nancy brightens up considerably. 

But it becomes all too clear that her name dropping is lost on me.

"We were doing a show for Dior..."
"What's that?" I ask loudly, swinging my little legs and eating my graham crackers with my mouth wide open.
" you know Vera Wang?"
"Nope." Rub nose on sleeve.
"Coco Chanel?"
"Uh-uh." I miss my mommy.

"Well anyways, I found myself in England, where you can just imagine...." 
And this soft-spoken woman, whose whispery voice I have till now had to strain to hear, suddenly shouts "DO YOU KNOW JOHN WAYNE???" in a broad Cockney accent.

My students look back at me, seeking reassurance. I give them a nod, just a slight bob to say, it's cool, but keep your heads on a swivel, because shit might be getting real up in this bus.

Nancy remembers people by what they wore, recalling fashion in exacting detail.

"And Greta was there, wearing a mint blazer tied in a French twist over a lovely cream taffeta wrap pinned by an heirloom whalebone brooch. Her heels were Monsanto and her clutch, Verboten, in that summer's shade of decadent mauve."

"I used to wear long socks with shorts, but people told me not to do it anymore," I reply. 

An hour later, we return to the classroom.

With despair I realize no one else is around, no other staff present to buffer me from Nancy's relentless half sentences and nostalgic tours of style.

For people like me, being talked at for endless hours is physically painful. I'm not exaggerating. We become fragile eggshells incapable of withstanding another poke; one more tale of house hunting in England or list of the best trade shows for models in the fall of 1983, and there will be yolk all over the floor. 

The yolk is a metaphor for an introvert's wee-wee.

"Do you know what this is?" Nancy asks me slyly, pulling a baggie of something small and brown from her lunch.

"A bag of chocolate chips?" 

"This," she says, as she makes an awkward attempt to lean towards me over the table, "is Vitamin CH."

She waits, watching me, the baggie suspended between us by a shaking hand. Nancy is patient, letting the meaning of her words wash over me.

"Oh," I whisper back. "The CH stands for chocolate."

"Hm," she says, conspiratorially. I am pretty sure I have just been told a secret. 

But being told a secret, and understanding why something is a secret, are two very different things.

"Have you liked the other classrooms you've worked in?" I ask her.

Nancy carefully chews one of the chocolate chips. It leaves a brown stain on her front teeth.

"It's been an adjustment." She lifts her hand to half cover her mouth and hisses, "especially with the toileting."

I hurry to change the subject but she won't let me.

"You know? Like when there's grass on the field," she says, and makes a retching face.

The salami sandwich in my hands feels dry and heavy. I lay it back down on the plastic tray.

"But at least it's meaningful work, right?" Nancy continues. "Not like-" 

She stands up and pantomimes holding something out next to her. Her face stretched into a pained camera smile, she turns the invisible item in her hands to show it from a different angle. 

Then, she starts to walk fiercely down an imaginary catwalk. 

But on the crucial pivot at the runway's end, her knee suddenly gives out. Nancy screams for mercy, stumbles, and falls against the back of her chair.

"Are you okay???" 

The students at the lunch table are watching in horror. One of them has half risen from his seat, still clutching his carton of chocolate milk.

Nancy waves me off, and stiffly, proudly, manages to slide into a seated position.

It takes her a moment to regain composure. When she does, she goes back to nibbling her vitamin CH.

Things are quiet then, blessedly quiet. I return to my sandwich and take a moment to enjoy the solitary sounds of my own chewing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

One more time with feeling

This time of year, you may as well behold me hunkered in the dread trenches of summer school, already having wiped two cavernous anusi, one traditional and one aftermarket, before the sun has even peeked above the morning gloom.

No, you can't have breakfast first, I tell my hungry belly. In fact it's better that you don't.

Of the traditional anus, there isn't much to say, other than that its owner is particularly gregarious while I work on him, insisting on reaching back and patting my head, or feeling around for my stomach, which he has grown fond of, and likes to rub with a soft hand while muttering nice tummy.

"Please don't touch me."

"Sorry," he says, but not in the apologetic way.

How dare I. How dare I prefer you not bring fingers just now exploring your bristling manhood and trace them along my skin and clothes.

Earlier in the week, as I bent over a desk to sign a medication form, he approached me from behind. I felt him grip my waist and attempt to, ahem, conjugate my verb, as the teens call it.

"You need to back off RIGHT NOW."

"Sorry." Again, he doesn't mean it.

People think the developmentally disabled are angels, but they're not. They have the same capacity for heart breaking goodness and unwelcome, over the clothes rutting that all humans do.

Maybe it was my fault for wearing khaki shorts.

The aftermarket anus proves to be much more involved. Its owner, a quiet Asian man, has had to suffer this fool as gladly as he could, trying to be patient while I struggle to figure out his new-fangled ass.

Upon first reveal, I wasn't even certain what I was looking at.

Mounds of rippled scar tissue, folds where folds shouldn't be. And some kind of plastic box under the skin, settled over the spot where the vanilla orifice usually resides.

"Where's your butthole?" I asked, somewhat rhetorically.

A man of limited vocabulary, based entirely in echoes of what others say; he takes up my question with a steady refrain of baht-hole? baht-hole? baht-hole?

I eventually found....something, and attempted to clean it.

"Sorry! I don't....I can't seem to...."

I felt bad. Until an hour later, when he is told to put away his Ipad and starts yelling Ow! over and over again.

Turns out that's his code word for "leave me the hell alone."

Fair enough. If I had a makeshift baht-hole carpetbagging in my perineum, I would prefer to be Ow as well.

The summer crawls on.

As I write this, a student who refers to himself only in the third person sits nearby.

His favorite game is to take a ragged blanket he found in the supply closet and drape it over his head. If allowed, he would sit that way for hours:

Friday, November 18, 2016

Taste the Fall Harvest. Taste it.

My job can be catalogued by its wealth of tiny, mundane hells.

One of which is cooking.

When I cook with the students, when I supervise the slow, ragged chopping of onions for crock pot chili, or the sloppy skewering of mini wieners to be laid out in raw dough caskets, my soul strains against its bony cage and yearns to be free.

So I was not pleased when my coworkers ordered me to supervise a group of kids making applesauce.

They were going to some staff-only "Taste the Fall Harvest" potluck, and they'd forgotten to bring a dish.

I told them I wanted nothing to do with any of it, but my fellow paraprofessionals have recently decided they are in charge of me, and can make me do whatever they want. 

This has opened the door to all kinds of passive-aggressive wackiness.

Two hours later, they came back to check on us and were horrified when I presented them with a large bowl of hot lumpy cider.

"How could this have happened?" they wailed. 

Here is the recipe: 


"I mean, it's applesauce, but it's really loose applesauce. It just falls right through the strainer," one of them observed, barely concealing the rising panic in her voice.

I thought of the German durchfall, literally "to fall through", but also their word for diarrhea.

"We can't bring this to Taste the Fall Harvest. It's embarrassing. It's got like chunks or something in it."

They served it to the students instead. Everyone sat around drinking applesauce from cups.

"Mmm....nice and warm," someone commented.


People asked for seconds.

I glanced down at my mugful of the stuff, cooling and untouched, and smiled.

There was no way in hell I was going to drink it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Memory Yields

There was a girl on the bus yesterday with no pants on.

I didn't want to stare, because that would be creepy:

but it certainly seemed like the near occasion of nakedness, anyways.

I was concerned my student A.J., sitting right by her, would say or do something tacky or inappropriate. 

He is a great lover of women, and not subtle. 

As we walk down the city streets, he wolf whistles, does extremely exaggerated double and triple takes, and stops just short of blowing an "AHWOOOGAH!" at every girl we pass. 

He grimaces as he does it, or looks furious, as if his lust is painful and pisses him off.   

I noticed him behaving this way on the very first day of school, and when I asked him to stop, he shrugged.

"You know how I am."

"Not really. I just met you two hours ago."

"Basically, I like the hotties." 

A.J. starts almost every sentence with either 'basically' or 'apparently', which he pronounces 'apparaclee'.

He is also a terrible liar. 

When he misses a day of school, he gives the most ridiculous excuses.

He said that he single-handedly bankrupted his former school district by convincing the superintendent to switch all the cafeterias over to Mexican restaurants.

"So the coroner really said that he did not know how to use his own tools?" I asked.

"Yep. Apparaclee, no one had showed him how to use his evidence tools. So I showed him."

I studied his face for a long time. 

There was no hint of guile in it. It was a scraggly, acned up country boy face, but it did not seem to know that it was telling really silly lies.

When the pantsless girl got off the bus without incident, I relaxed. 

Though I've noticed, as I've aged, I can never really relax all the way. If I do, I dribble a bit of urine into my underpants.

So part of me, somewhere, is always tensed. 

That's not really relevant to my story.

A.J.'s general tactlessness extends beyond his reactions to the opposite sex and into the workplace.

Tactless people scare me.

I had a tactless friend in high school, and he never hesitated to say very loudly that my breath smelled bad, or to point out my dandruff.

Social rules don't apply to the tactless; they can say and do whatever they want, like Nietzschean supermen, and no one stops them because no one wants secret farts outed or angry pimples highlighted by pointing fingers.

I made a rule that, while we are at work, A.J. cannot speak unless it's an emergency.

One of the few joys of my job is the freedom to make up as many rules as I want. I get to be the bossy older sister I never was.

While he cleans the toilets, I study the wall of Personas.

These are composites of real people types used for product development.

Each one features a photo, a name, a few facts about their personality, and then a quote from the Persona, which is supposed to sum up who they are in one simple statement.

There's "Vinnie", who for some reason has an enormous 18th century style pipe in his mouth. He says he's not up on technology.

"Gary" works hard and plays hard at the local VFW.

One of the facts about "Toby" is that his nickname is "The Tool". He uses the keyboard with two fingers.

My favorite one is "Desmond". The only thing the Persona card says about him is "good with his hands." Desmond's personal quote echoes that belief.

Desmond is a total dreamboat and one day I will make him my bride.

A.J. is all right with the 'no talking' rule, but the second we leave the job site, it's like all the things he wanted to tell me have built to a boiling point, and once we're out on the sidewalk, the kettle shrieks. 

The time he invented iPhones (as we pass an Apple store). The time he had a breakthrough in his search for a cure for diabetes (as I test one of our diabetic student's blood sugar). 

The time he and his friends were digging a hole on the playground and they found a weird plant.

"Smell it," his friend commanded.

"Ok." He sniffed the plant. It was garlic.

They dug deeper and found a baggie of white powder. 

"Smell it," his friend said again.

"Ok." He sniffed. It was cocaine.

"What did you guys do?" I asked.

"Basically, we took it to the principal. He said thanks. He said he knew about the garlic on the playground already, but not the cocaine."

We usually walk from work back to the classroom. It's about two miles, past all the university buildings and streets clogged with hurrying college kids.

On the day of the girl without pants, I decided we should take a detour through the grounds of the Law School. Stonework walls and stained glass surround a beautiful courtyard covered in the dark orange leaves of late fall.

"Yep," A.J. said.

No one was talking, but some people like to fill silence with random things like that.

I wish I could leave silence alone, or let myself off with just a lazy yep.

But I scramble frantically for things to say, panic rises, and the silence becomes as loud as a drunk and crowded room.

Sometimes I think that's why I do better with nonverbal students. Talk if you want to, or don't, they seem to say. I don't give a shit.

"This reminds me of Transformers 2."

"What does? The weather?"

Instead of answering me, A.J. summarized every Transformers movie in a ten minute soliloquy.

There was a soothing quality to his talk of Dark Moons and All Sparks; it was a wall of sound that asked little of me in return.

I watched the dry leaves chased in circles by the breeze and pretended to listen.

Monday, October 31, 2016

When he pours, he reigns

I'm sitting across from one of our speech therapists as she teaches a student how to use an Ipad.

This therapist is a very nice woman.

I won't say anything critical of her.

However, I will say, if you are bothered by people who talk to disabled adults using squeaky baby voices and enormous facial expressions, you might find it difficult to be around her for any length of time.

If she gets frustrated (and I am not sure that she does), the therapist only expresses it as an intensifying of her enthusiasm, a tightening of her happy screws.

How is it possible to sustain such enthusiasm in the face of repetitious defeat?

I couldn't do it. I' be a lousy speech therapist.

Not really. They are nice people. Good, dependable people you can set your watch by.

Though I don't like it how her mom gets upset if we have not removed her daughter's jacket the instant she has arrived at school.

 I wish I was a holy fool of something.

Over the summer, I was almost a holy fool of butt wiping.

It had been awhile. During the year, my class is almost all girls, so most of the butts I see are by accident and very embarrassing.

The discipline of the senses required to effectively clean another person's shit plastered backside had grown flabby on me; I was all over the place, seeing and smelling everything.  

But as the long summer wore on, a kind of bathroom confidence blossomed in me.