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:
"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.