Sunday, October 15, 2017

Terror Dome

On Friday, we took the class to see a movie.

We go see one every month. It's usually pretty terrible.

This time, however, we went to a horror movie.

People screamed at the screen for ninety minutes. They yelled advice, criticism, even threats.

Students leapt out of their seats like they were at a baseball game and something good just happened. What that would be I don't know, because I hate baseball and have willed myself to stay completely ignorant of its mechanics.

I imagine it involves balls, but I am only inferring that from its title.

I am really good at inferring things.

Like if I walk into a room and people begin to gag, I infer that I smell.

The problem with my inferences is that they are very subjective, so when I infer, I always infer conclusions that involve me somehow.

Do you walk into a room and immediately think everyone is talking about how good-looking you are, sighing and murmuring what a man?

Ha ha. Me neither. Unless my wife is the only person in the room, then I know everyone is thinking it, me and her.

You've probably noticed over the years that many of the things I talk about are predicated on me entering a room with people in it. That's because I often do that, since I am late to almost everything.

Being late to things is one of my strengths. If I was early, then we would have a few moments to chit-chat, and no one wants that.

When I forget who I am as a person and arrive at one of our inservices too early, I am forced to chat over the long folding tables laden with quiche, danishes and cereal.

At that point, I talk really animatedly about innocuous topics such as the weather or baseball, only to draw attention away from how much food I am grabbing, how quickly I am grabbing it, and how odd it is that I am shoving so much of it into the front pouch of my sweatshirt to save for later.

It's not odd to me, mind you. It's sneaky and wonderful to me to hoard food.

I am just inferring from the scowls on people's faces and mutters from the kitchen staff about how someone is a "selfish lard ass" that my actions aren't going over so well.

Then I scurry away to eat all of the smuggled food by myself.

By the time I get back to the meeting, it is half over. I have a moustache made from whatever the cheese in a cheese danish is, and everyone starts talking about how good-looking I am.

For the horror movie, I was made to sit by Bimwe.

Not because we are good friends or anything. Bimwe, a short, stocky Nigerian girl with Down Syndrome, doesn't really like me for some reason.

It could be because she has seen me raid the snack cupboard for the Teddy Grahams, which are her snack of choice. When you must compete for food with others, you begin to hate them. That is why my children and I are enemies.

I am made to sit next to her because I am the biggest. 

Bimwe has a bad habit of screaming in the middle of a movie and running out of the theater as fast as her squat little legs can carry her. Not because she is scared; she has run out of some pretty harmless films, such as Hidden Figures and Race: The Jesse Owens Story. She screams and runs because she has grown bored. Or because she found the Jesse Owens story very inspiring.

In special education, its best to not get too attached to your identity as a person. Be prepared to be thought of as "the warm body that makes the lunches", "the warm body that waits here with the students while the important people do the grown up things" or "the warm body that wipes the butts."

For this movie, I was "the big warm body at the end of the aisle blocking in Bimwe".

She did not try to flee, however. Instead, she made observations about the film to me in her hushed, slightly accented English.

While Bimwe sat calmly, hands folded in her lap, the rest of the students went completely bananas.

JJ especially seemed to enjoy it. 

He started laughing hysterically about four minutes or so after the opening credits, and did not stop until the lights came back on and people stood up, stretched, and filed out of the theater.

Because he is nearly blind, JJ uses an Assistive Listening Device when he goes to the movies. He puts on headphones and a narrator describes what is happening on the screen.
He was wiping tears from his eyes, still smiling, as I took the ALD off of him.

"That lady talked to me through the whole movie," he said, pointing at the headphones. "Put'em on, Brob; she'll say something to you too."

Looking up at the screen, he let out another little giggle.

"Damn, that was the best movie. Best movie I've ever seen."

The theater is across the city from our classroom, and it takes a lot of bus hopping to get there and back.

I usually try to sit next to one of the more unpredictable students for the duration of the ride, but sometimes things are so crowded it's not possible. 

I have to stand suspended from the overhead handles like a defeated gymnast, my butt on the shoulder of some tired looking woman on her way to the Social Security office, my crotch spoiking an elderly Chinese man in the temple with every bump in the road.

JJ is on the other side of him, and I am nervously expecting my student to blast out a string of profanity or a random racial slur at any moment.

But, after looking at the Chinese man, looking away out the window, then back to the man again, basically doing a slow double take fifty times in a row, JJ starts telling him about how great the movie was.

The old guy gives JJ a wide smile, showing brown crooked teeth. He nods and says something very loudly in Chinese.

"Maaaan," JJ says, looking genuinely frustrated. "I don't understand a thing you sayin' to me."

At that, the elderly man began to laugh and vigorously shake his head.

 JJ, always up for a good chuckle, begins laughing too, and the two of them ride for awhile just like that, rocking in their seats and laughing at nothing.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Showing Out

Though I have four children, and have for some time now, I would be hesitant to give any kind of parenting advice to anyone who asks.

No one has asked, ever, but that is not the point.

The point is that my five year old son is really bad at magic.

For his birthday one year, I bought him a vintage Fisher-Price My First Magic traveling box of tricks and illusions.

Like everything I buy for my children, it was used, incomplete, and reeked of attics and deferred dreams.

It was from my style of gift-giving that the phrase "the thought that counts" was born, and my thought when I buy presents for my children is:  

I had this when I was a kid; I desire to own it again. To disguise my wasteful spending, I will call it a 'present' and choose a recipient at random. Everything they own is really mine, anyways. Ha ha. Their belief in their personal agency and ownership are amusing to me.

Because nothing is more interesting to the general public than a retelling of an anecdote about one's child, I will return to the topic of my budding Blackstone.

One of the flaws in his magic act is his sense of timing, as in, when is it an appropriate time for magic?

Though he is bright (in his little way), he has proven to be incapable of reading the language of the face. And of the body. And of the spoken word.

When I protest that I am too tired for magic, he understands that to mean I am so desperate for magic that if someone doesn't start doing some card tricks or separating rope illusions right this second, I'm going to freak out and put my head through the bedroom window.

But to give this gripping yarn a bit more grip, you will have to be patient with me as I delve into a little exposition.

Speaking of exposition, I recently submitted a story I'd written to a group of online critics.

I received a lot of encouragement, but it wasn't the kind of encouragement one gets that makes one think, gracious, I might be the next Edna Ferber.

It was more like this kind of encouragement:

One critic told me to keep trying and never give up.

Another wrote, "I understand your desire to minimize lengthy exposition, but in doing so, you seem to have eliminated other important things, such as 'plot' and 'description.' What we're left with is a few lines of dialogue apparently spoken by no one, and a little drawing of a cat with 'possible cover art?' written beneath it."

Several more people wrote that they couldn't read it at all because it was in a weird format. Those ones stung the worst.

The bedtime routine for my children has been, to my eternal detriment, an enthusiastic reading of four story books and the tender singing of six songs.

Though the four books count across the board, each child requires a separate song list. 

To one of my delightful loinspringa, I have had to sing "Life is a Highway" every night for seven years straight.

My grasp of the song's lyrics was pretty shaky in the beginning, and over the passage of a decade, with all the collapses of an aging mind, it has only grown worse.

I had a friend in college who thought the song "Take on Me" went "Sa-a-a-y Gandi".

That's about where I'm at with "Life is a Highway."

Old standards fill out the rest of the set: "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain", "Workin' on the Railroad", "Put a Jelly on the Sill for Tom Picker"; all the sleep summoning ditties long beloved of urchins and hobos. 

Then comes the eternal wrestling match that is the brushing of the children's teeth.

"Say ahhh."
"Don't bite the toothbrush."
"Say eeeee."
"No, eeeee."
"No, don't put your beloved stuffed elephant with the unpronounceable name of Phbbooo in front of your mouth."
"I don't appreciate it when you lock the toothbrush between your back molars."
"Yes. I know you can say eeeee with your lips clamped tightly over your teeth. It's a hilarious thing that you have discovered you are able to do, however-"
"No, no. Phbbooo does not have teeth. He's not real."
"Those aren't teeth. Those are mottled fabric extrusions vaguely resembling tusks. I refuse to brush them."

Now at last does the magic set rear its head.

The pageant mother in me cannot resist giving some direction.

The show finishes near dawn, but I do not see the sun rise.

I have passed away some time during the night.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Schedule Man

I am standing at the urinal in the men's room of my local Target.

Behind me, someone snickers.

"What's so funny?" I ask over my shoulder.

"Oh my god, Brob, it's just you peeing right there. It's just all coming out."

Finished, I turn around and zip up. There is a crowd of young black men hovering just inches from me, JJ at the fore.

"Does anyone else have to go?" I ask, pushing through them to wash my hands.

One guy puts his backpack and coat on the floor by the urinal. He starts to undress.

"Wait a minute," I say, moving towards him. A Target employee comes in whistling, surveys the scene with a sweep of his head, pivots, and walks right back out.

Realizing he must have committed some kind of error, but not waiting for me to point out exactly what it was, the half naked student hurriedly redresses himself.

"It's okay if you have to go, but you don't want to put your stuff on the nasty floor."

He looks at me blankly.

"Do you have to go?"

He shakes his head.

We all walk out of the men's room, a parade of African American special needs adults headlined by a chubby, badly aging white man and his kugelstein of Starbuck's coffee.

Why did he take his clothes off if he didn't even have to go? 

Why does he take his clothes off to go, anyways?

Why, when an old lady pushing a stroller passed by, did JJ suddenly turn back to her with hands up like he was ready to fight, and yell, "Did ya'll just see that dude? Damn!"

Engineers ponder torque and the tension of bridges. Doctors ponder what's beneath a putrid bandage. Librarians ponder the expiration date on their validity as a profession.

Me, at my job, I ponder which Target aisle has Apple Blossom Liquid Dawn, as carefully written on our little shopping list, and I ponder which student to ask, "Would you like to carry the Dawn?"

There's no hiding from the fact that working in special education can be pretty dull, pretty tedious.

Many of the classrooms around here have narrowed it down to a weekly rotation through the special needs community trip trifecta: the mall, the grocery store, and Target. 

It's that enslavement to the schedule that I don't understand. I have watched this exact thing happen:

Whole rooms full of people, decision making adults, teachers and educators, bound by a handwritten schedule on a dry erase board, bound even by typos and misdates.

"Well, the schedule says it's Wednesday."
"But it's Tuesday."
"Schedule's calling for Wednesday."
"Look at the calendar that the rest of the country is on. See here, in real time, on the computer."
"The schedule is not on the computer. It's on the white board. And it's telling me Wednesday."
"I know, but-"
The unyielding, imperturbable Finger of god and special education points like a monolith at the word 'Wednesday' inscribed by smelly green dry erase marker on the board and pokes it twice, for emphasis.

"The sub teacher says his name is Charlie."
"Sorry, schedule says 'Charie'."
"Come on, it's-"
Again comes the Finger. 
Charie hangs his head sadly and stands in the corner. 

Not me, baby. I've always been a seat of my pants, skin of my teeth, hair of the dog kind of special educator.

I like to immediately convince the kids that I am crazy, way out there, and basically capable of anything. 

I'll do things such as go up to the whiteboard and write the date in really big handwriting. Like no way could it be my real handwriting; it's too oversized and silly.

Or I'll read off the lunch menu for the day in an accent. Indian, maybe, or Australian; one of the hilarious ones.

The kids look at each other and think, this is easily the coolest, most nonconformist, schedule shunning teacher's aide we've ever seen. We will follow you to the ends of the earth, oh Captain our Captain.

There is a problem, though.

It turns out that I am really bad at thinking of things for the students to do.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What a piece of work is blog

Between rustiness, lack of time, and a frustration with the tedious nature of it, the cartooning aspect of this blog has grown increasingly hard for me to do.

This is part of the reason I go months without posting.

Some things just work so much better when there are pictures with them, but I sit down to draw and suddenly feel like a flat sack of flatty flat flatness.
Even now, I can barely manage to eke out these doodles on the most basic of Paint programs.

Writing is just so much faster, and easier.

It takes me two seconds to tell you that one of my new students is like a nearly blind, always angry J.J. from Good Times.

But it takes five hours to draw it:
Anyways, JJ can't seem to remember my name.

First he called me "Bro", then "Dog". He tried "Rob" for awhile, but he could tell something wasn't quite right. 

At last he settled on "Brob", which is not even a name.

It just seems kind of forced, with pictures for no reason. Are you trying to be funny? 

I don't know. I want to get the mania back, the rapid fire creative thinking that inspired my posts from four years ago. It's been gone so long and I miss it. Now I barely manage to post twice a year.

The smaller the grape, the sweeter the wine, as they say. 

I don't want to be a sweet little grape. I want to be a giant disgusting watermelon that leaves a puddle of red water all over the kitchen counter.

Hmmm. You can't make these things happen, but you can be ready and waiting, primed for the lightning strike of a creative thought. Have you primed for the lightning?

Well, I started a journal with ideas for things to post on Twitter. Because Twitter is the home of witty banter and clever discourse. 

I think you need to search your wheelhouse for another kind of jam.

Argh. I tried really hard. But the only tool in my toolbox is a very round knife made specifically for playdoh and people who can't be trusted.

We need to stop using management metaphors we hear in teacher inservices.

Help me! How do I get funny again?

You must go back to first principles. Has anyone around you farted recently? 

I accidentally farted while walking around the block with JJ.


And he did something really strange. He bent down behind me and vigorously swirled my buttocks with his hand. I got the impression that he was trying to get the fart back in there.

He also said, "You nasty, Brob."

That's kind of funny, I guess. Anything else happen?

Not much. We passed a really big loading dock for like truck deliveries or something, and he got all excited, saying "Damn, that's a big garage. I gotta get my stuff over there and have me a garage sale."

See, now that vignette I would think of as mildly amusing, not really "funny" funny. Tell me more about JJ. Maybe once I have a better contextual understanding of the subject, I can appreciate your little stories a bit better.

Ok, let's see. 

"Though he frequently gets angry, JJ is actually very good natured, and presents a child-like curiosity about the world around him."

That's how his paperwork describes him, anyways.

When we get new students, all we learn about them beforehand comes in the form of a few pieces of paper.

These "reports" are often vague, inaccurate, or from twenty years earlier, when the student in question was a toddler.

We must rely on our own experiences to fill in the blanks.

What the report on Ezra neglected to tell me was that, within the My Little Pony fan community, there are several subsets, one of which took a good hard look at the ponies and decided, Damn, you all horses is fine.

They fetishized elements of their horsiness; gave them heavy, swinging breasts and a cavalcade of genitalia.

The act of self-husbandry that invariably culminates the viewing of these saucy horses is referred to as "clopping".

Ezra is a devout clopper, an observation I will be adding to his paperwork. Then I'll write, see below, and include this picture:

Did you draw all that horse anatomy from memory?


Her cleavage doesn't line up with her udders.

They're not udders; they're teats. Horses have teats.

JJ's paperwork left out some important details, too.

Like the fact that he compulsively steals objects of marginal value.

I was on my way to the bathroom, whistling and doing a little soft shoe routine like I always do before having a BM, when I came upon JJ filling his silver parachute pants with as many toothbrush holders as he could fit in there.

Before I'd said anything, he bolted. Toothbrush holders spilled out over the top of his elastic waistband and slid down the legs of his pants. They clattered onto the floor.

I blocked the doorway with my body, but JJ did not even try to get past me. Laughing maniacally, he held his hands straight up in the air and yelled


"Are you supposed to take things that aren't yours?"


JJ often does an about-face when he answers questions, usually signified by an abrupt shout of WAIT! or HOLD ON.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters, JJ?"

"Naw, man-WAIT!-yes I do. Contagia, Melanomia, Arijuana, and Ridge,"

"They live at home with  you and mom?"

"Yeah-HOLD ON-no-WAIT! Sometimes they is living there."

I explain to JJ that he cannot steal. He nods agreeably, and a few minutes later steals a business card and a bottle of whiteout. A search of his backpack reveals he has also helped himself to a pair of broken sunglasses and a small spool of dental floss.

On one of our regular walks to the nearby park, I ask JJ why he steals so much. 

"I don't know-WAIT!-I forgot." He seems lost in thought for a moment. Then he asks me if I am a good "holdhander."

"What do you mean?"

He scoffingly clicks his tongue, a reflexive reaction he has whenever he can't believe how stupid I am.

"You know what I mean, dog," he says, giggling conspiratorially. "Are you good at holding hands?"

JJ carefully enunciates each word, his voice almost at a whisper, then suddenly snatches my hand.

He has wide palms and long fingers that reach near to his knees. In order to hold hands comfortably with him, I have to cant my body to the right.

We walk along the sidewalk for awhile, thus entwined.