Sunday, May 01, 2011

I'd be safe and warm

I had double teachers for fifth grade. Two rooms seperated by folding vinyl partitions. But the partitions were never closed. Miss B and Mrs. White. Both very large women who wore Mu-Mus and Birkenstocks with pantyhose. I believe they may have both worn wigs. The only reason I am hesitant about this is because I don't understand why they would have chosen these wigs. Miss White had white curly hair and Miss B had a brown greyish curly mop.

This was in San Jose, California. You didn't walk down long stuffy waxed hallways like schools in Illinois to avoid below zero temperatures. To go to the boys bathroom (a frightening destination whatever the climate) you had to go outside and cross a large sunny concrete courtyard. I tell you this not because it has anything to do with anything. Just to remind myself of the feel of California. Cacti and palm tree landscaping. Those dry bark wood chips on the playground (another frightening place). The boys bathroom, playgounds, parties- I don't like places where you encounter other people and are expected to socialize with them solely because you are in their proximity.

I don't know if Miss B and Miss White were married to men or not. I do know that they were lesbians. Any two portly teachers, with complete disregard for fashion, who insist on having their classrooms combined are lesbians in my mind whether or not they actually are. I can see them intimidating tall, lean, eighties mustached principals and school district superintendents- insisiting that it was their way or the freeway.

Each morning we were given mylar packets of something called Swish! and a paper cup. We were told to swish this mixture of flouride and artificial sweetener for 30 seconds and spit it in to the cup. California must have been pushing dental hygiene for children.

The atmosphere was dictatorial. I realize I would have gargled gasoline if thats what I was told to do by these ladies. They had a reputation for being evil. Something I never witnessed. They just looked crazy and mean.

We had to memorize poems every month. Standing single file in line, we waited our turn to recite with Miss B. or Miss White. Like a literary DMV. They looked at us over their thick glasses and either passed or failed us. We were then waived away and it was the next persons turn.

We watched a seventies Canadian public television show called "Wordsmith." It taught us the basics of word building- latin and greek root words. We took very difficult exams every quarter based on what we had learned from this program. Those who passed the tests were invited to a buffet held in the classroom. Those who failed the test were sent to the library. I think I only made it to the buffet once. It was a St. Patrick's themed affair. I remember mini bagels colored green. And I remember the greek and latin root words and still use them to decipher words I don't know.

Miss Benassi used those scented markers whenever she needed to make a sign of some sort. She would use all caps to write "Math Test Today" and then outline the letter with a very thin Sharpie. I still use this technique from time to time and think of it as very elegant and sharp looking.

I was not a very social child if you can believe that. I think I was already blanketed by mild fear and depression at this age. My goal was to make it through the day and go home to listen to my records- The Sound of Music Soundtrack or "Barbara Mandrell Live!"

One or two children would be offered the opportunity to leave class early each day and work in the lunchroom. A sweet deal as far as I was concerned. Helping the cafeteria ladies set up milk cartons or small foil trays of warm food. Then I worked the milk line. Passing out chocolate or plain white milk to my customers.

I did have one friend named Cykathia. A black girl, with braids that defied gravity. She was a tough, funny broad who liked my style I guess. This choice of friend continues to this day. Any friends were never met outside of school, however. I don't remember this every being requested by me or suggested by my parents.

After fifth grade, we moved to Illinois. Sixth grade, whether just by the nature of it being sixth grade or because it was a new school- it was very difficult. Puberty taking over young brains like very serious cases of schizophrenia or psychosis. These groups of children seemed to know each other from birth. I was a strange outsider with a potbelly, bad teeth and an appreciation for the arts. No one was having any of it.

I miss the weather in California. The dewy mornings and gentle warm sunlight. Smells of Eucalyptus and Pine. I don't even know if there was Eucalyptus - but something cleansing, mentholated and sweet is in the air. Maybe it's a blip in my medication, but I just realized that is where I want to end up. That's where I want to expire. On cool sheets in Northern California.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:48 PM

    Those two teachers were evil!! They had been there forever and the principal was afraid of them. I remember other parents praising these two women and I always wondered what the alternative would have been. Really, could it have worse?