Friday, September 26, 2008

My Night with Elie Weisel

Not many people actually get to meet their hero.

Last night, I got to meet mine.  You see, there's this man named Elie Weisel.  He's a Holocaust survivor and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  His memoir Night tells of the year he and his father spent in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the names of two places I wish I didn't know.

I've been teaching his book to sophomores for the last six years.  I know it so well that I sometimes think I can tell you on which page you can find Moishe the Beadle or the gold tooth or the injured foot or the incredible death march at the end.  Weisel made it out alive; his father did not. 

So my good friend Debbie called me earlier this week and said that she had two tickets to see Elie Weisel speak; did I want one?  

Yes.  Yes I did.

So Debbie picked me up and on our way to Saint Xavier University where he was speaking, we talked about how neither one of us could let ourselves believe this week that we were actually going to see him.  I had to keep pretending that it might not happen just so I could contain myself.  I'm not kidding.  I'm that neurotic.

Debbie got us seats in the VIP section (she's got connections) and we waited.  Of course we were there an hour early so we had quite a long time to wait, but we needed to be there that early.  It was Elie Weisel.  He survived the holocaust. 

My sister-in-law Vivian sent me a text.  She said she'd been talking to Elie and he thought we should come over afterwards to drink sangria.

Debbie said, "Well, he survived the holocaust.  We should listen to him."

It's the kind of hilarity that arises when you're nervous and giddy and can't wait for something to happen.  The man in front of us turned around.  He was a teacher, too, he said.  What did we teach?  Debbie said she taught eighth grade and they bonded over their mutual love for middle school.

The three of us managed to get over our nervousness with shop talk until someone finally came to the stage.  Of course, they spent about ten minutes on introductions and honorary doctoral degrees (the man's got to have at least two hundred thousand of those) and then Elie Weisel began to speak.

He's a little guy, and spry, with an excellent Einstein look to his full head of hair.  He wore a tailored velvet jacket and spoke with an accent that wasn't German but sounded a little like it, not French either but sounded a little like that too.  I was instantly enamored of him, and could see me making a fool of myself over him.  Seriously.  He's got sex appeal.  Are you allowed to say that about Elie Weisel?  Are you even allowed to think it?  I mean, the man's got the kind of stature that few can equal.  The Dalai Lama, maybe.  Yes.

I took out my cell phone and zoomed in as close as I could and snapped a picture.  Of course it turned out blurry, but I'm posting it anyway, because it's my picture of the day I saw Elie Weisel.

He began to speak, and as he spoke, I began to repeat sentences to myself so that I could remember them later.  The longer he spoke, however, the more sentences I repeated until I knew I could never possibly remember them all.  That's when I began digging in my purse for my pen.

Of course, genius me hadn't thought to bring any paper.  I mulled over this for a while while Elie spoke about Cain and Abel.  Why did the Bible start with such a dark story? he asked us.  Two men in all the world, brothers, and one kills the other.  Why would this be the first story we hear after creation?  Perhaps, he said, perhaps it is because anytime we kill, we kill our brother.

I held my breath as I heard this.  This I would remember.

Finally I came to a realization: the back of my ticket was blank.  I furiously scribbled the things I could remember.  I've forgotten so much.  I wish I could tell you everything he said, but I'll content myself with what I did manage to walk away with.

He began to speak of the Bible.  God's only mistake in writing the Bible, he said, was in not getting copyright.  He could have been a millionaire many times over.

Yes.  Elie Weisel is funny.  I didn't expect that one, either.

He then recounted a conversation he'd had with a friend.  Who is the most tragic figure in the Bible?  the friend asked him.

Abraham, because God asked him to kill his only son?  But no.  Not Abraham.

Isaac, because his own father stood over him with a knife, ready to kill him?  But no.  Not Isaac.

What about Moses, who was alternately loved and hated by both God and his people his whole life?  But no.  Not Moses either.

The most tragic figure in the Bible is God.

No human being is alone; only God is alone.

Since he was speaking at a Catholic university, he spoke at length about the relations between Catholics and Jews.  Then he told a story about Pope John the XXIIIrd.  He had a friend, you see, a Jewish friend, who came to him one day and said do you have any idea what the Catholic liturgy actually says about the Jews?  And the Pope said no, and they examined it together, finding anti-Semitic statements everywhere.  And do you know what that Pope did?  He changed the liturgy.  Anyone who's Catholic knows what a big deal that is.

I certainly had no idea.  

Then he spoke about my cousin, Pope John Paul II.  (He's a third or fourth cousin; I'm not kidding.)  He spoke about how John Paul invited a rabbi over every week to study the Bible together and promote dialogue between the faiths.  Relations between Catholics and Jews have never been better than they are today, Weisel told us.  He only made one mistake: he should have invited a Muslim, too.

This sent him into a discussion on hatred.  Hatred is always born of fanaticism, he said.  And fanaticism, whether political or religious, has always been the author of the worst things we've ever done to each other.  It's when religious fanaticism is married to political fanaticism that things get really dangerous.  

You see, a fanatic by his very nature negates the idea of dialogue.  He says to himself that only he has God's ear.  And if he truly believes that, what can I do, what can anyone do to convince him?  

He makes God his accomplice.

That one nearly knocked the breath out of me.  I wish I could retell it with the same eloquence.

He didn't spend a lot of time talking about the Holocaust.  He said only a few things.  Why, in all that he went through, did he never lose his faith?  

A heart that is broken is the most whole.  
A faith that is wounded is the most pure. 

The question is not how remarkable it was that he survived.  It is how remarkable it was that he retained his sanity.  And he did that by turning to study.  He's a professor of Judaic studies, you know.

Another, that if he carries any anger over what happened, it is that people knew, and they didn't warn them.  They had a maid who brought them food at night in the ghetto.  She snuck in and risked her life and said that if they wanted to hide in the mountains, they could stay in her little hut.  The Nazis were not penetrating that high ground.  They would have been safe.

But his father did not know.  They listened to the radio at night and never once in all over their speeches did Roosevelt and Churchill say to the Jews of Eastern Europe what was happening at Auschwitz.  Nobody told them to stay away from the trains.  And get this: the Russians were only thirty kilometers away.  That's eighteen miles.  Eighteen miles to safety. 

But people were indifferent.  They were insensitive to what the ramifications of not speaking would be.  Insensitivity, he said, is the biggest sin of all.  

He spoke of Joseph at the bottom of the pit, surrounded by snakes and scorpions and crying for his life.  His brothers threw him into that pit and then went to have dinner.  A feast.  They were insensitive to his cries for help.  It is the darkest moment in all the Bible, he said.  It is because they were insensitive to what they were doing to him.

Insensitivity is never an option.

This, by the way, is the part of his speech where he made me want to be better.  He said that people are always feeling shame that they are hungry.  That is wrong.  We should be ashamed that they are hungry.

Insensitivity is never an option.

When someone is suffering, we may not be able to do something to end their suffering -- the AIDS patient who is going to die regardless, for instance -- but we can be with them.  We can be sensitive to what they are going through.  We can say to them, I cannot save you, but I think of you.

Insensitivity is never an option.

Did I mention that I got to meet him?  I shook his hand and my mind went blank.  All the things I wanted to tell him about how important his book was to me left me and all I could do was say how very pleased I was to meet him.  He smiled and gently clasped my hand.  We posed for a picture with the photographer and someday I'll show it to my grandchildren.  That's the day I met Elie Weisel, I'll say.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Letters from the Front

So they told our kids when they were freshmen that they would be in the same homeroom class all four years of high school, and that their homeroom teacher would remain with them throughout. This didn't work out exactly as planned -- with the dropout rate as high as it is and teacher attrition as high as it is, most of the time the homerooms ended up getting combined or their teachers replaced.

Last year, I inherited a sophomore homeroom of all boys. I'm not kidding. All boys. They were so mad at me from the first day simply by virtue of me not being their old teacher. I'd met their old teacher, too, and he was fun, but in the end, he left them. Moved back to Ohio. And so they were angry with me for not being him and for making them do things because he never did.

Here's the thing about homeroom: you can't give a grade for it. So, the school will tell you that you need to get a, b, and c done, and if you have a freshman homeroom they do it simply because they're freshmen. Sophomores? Not so much. No grade, no work. Or only a little work.

So I felt like beating my head up against the wall half the time last year because they fought me over Every. Little. Thing. Fill out this form? "This stuff is whack." Have a conversation? "We don't have anything to say." Use this time as a study hall? "We don't have any homework." I'm going to have one-on-one conversations with each of you for your grades today. "Do we have to?" It's a nice day. Who wants to go outside to play football? "I hate football."

This was my third period all year. Actually, only half of third period: the other half was lunch. My toughest class was the one that was supposed to be my easiest. No papers to grade, right? Only twenty minutes long? Ha. Twenty years, more like.

Anyway, as the year went by and every teacher complained of the same issues, someone finally came up with an idea for the coming year: homeroom would be renamed something else and would become a credit-bearing class with real work and grades. They would hire a few teachers just to take care of that class and the kids would be reassigned to different homerooms and existing homeroom teachers would simply be subject area teachers again with office hours in place of our homeroom class.

So. When my homeroom found out that I wasn't going to be their teacher anymore, they were livid. You'd think with the way they fought me all year, they'd be happy, right? Nope.

And just like last year, when they met their new advisory teacher, they gave her hell, too. Because get this: she wasn't me.

So she did what any other right-thinking teacher would do: she had them write letters to their old teachers, saying goodbye to the old class.  The results are more than a little hilarious.

A sampling (some parts have been redacted because they're private):

"I appreciated the times that you tried your best to get me to care more about school. Even though I didn't care I appreciated it. There is nothing else that I really enjoyed except for playing football and chess. Other than that I was bored out of my life. Though I hated when you tried to make us conversate or had us fill out papers, I won't complain."

"I miss coming to sit in the corner being left alone. [Ed's note: I never let that happen.  He tried to sit in the corner, but nope.  Sorry, kiddo.  You're going to talk.]  In seminar we have to do work now and talk to each other. I can tell I'm not going to like this year very much but I have a nice fun teacher. So I think I just might enjoy it. Who knows."

"Wuts up home skillet biscut pimpin! Haha lol. Well I'm pretty sad that we are not in your advisory this year. I'm gonna miss our crazy talks that we would have about random things. Haha. I'm even gonna miss how for a white girl you knew all of our dances..."

"I appreciate the way you took your time out of the day to talk to me about my problems ... I also miss the way you organized our class, like you made our advisory different than others ...[Ed's note: this one shocked the hell out of me, because this one complained about EVERYTHING I made them do. EVERYTHING.]"

"We had a good time ... we also had a good time putting questions in the box and listening to you answer them. We really don't miss all the surveys and the practice tests. That's all."

"...Don't worry I will stop by to say hi all the time and let you know how I'm doing."

"Man it's boring in the new homeroom. I miss being in there we always had something to do. [Ed's note: Seriously?]"

"I also liked when we went to McDonalds but we ruined it [Ed's note: they got in huge trouble with me for insulting a crackhead on the street and I told them I'd never take them to McDonald's again. I didn't, either. They thought this was grossly unfair because McDonald's is only a block away and other homerooms got to go all the time.] ... You also made us learn about current events even though we didn't want to."

"I had a very good year with you. Although you use to yell at us all the time. [Ed's note: I did, too. Yelling is perhaps overstating it, but oh, the number of stern 'Get your grade up, boys' conversations far outweighed the sweetness & light.]"

And the one that made me cry:

"I know its been awhile but I'm still a good boy. Part of that was because of you ..."

Oh, P.S. : [sic] for all of this.

Anyway, just thought I'd share because I found them in my mailbox one morning, read them over my coffee, and proceeded to laugh and cry like a madman. It's a good thing nobody walked into my classroom, because they would have thought I needed a straightjacket.

My boys.

They're still mine.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My life story on a postcard

There's a writer named Michael Kimball, who for an arthouse project decided to start interviewing people across America and writing their life stories small enough so that they would fit on a postcard.

Of course as soon as I heard about this, I knew that he should do mine.  Because I not-so-secretly want to be famous.

That was some time ago -- he posted the story today.  Enjoy:

By the way, he's always looking for people who want their lives on a postcard.  On that same page, there's contact information ... your life is probably a lot more exciting than mine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Street cred

"Yo, Miss Baader," said Maurice.  He was stowing his gym shoes in my cabinet on Friday, as he did every morning because he didn't trust people not to steal them from his locker.  "Did you almost get jumped yesterday?"

I looked up from my laptop.  Um.  No?

"You sure?  Nothing happened to you yesterday?"

Well, I considered.  I guess when I went grocery shopping some homeless guy asked me for some money and when I didn't have any, he cursed me out.

"That's it?  Nothing else?"

What are you getting at, Maurice?

"I was just wondering, you know, because Marvin and Dante said you almost got jumped in the parking lot."

Where?  Here at school?

"Yeah.  And they said that you didn't get jumped because you told them that you knew me and they let you alone."

Who left me alone?  

"I don't know.  Some gangbangers."

Some gangbangers.  So let me get this straight: Marvin and Dante told you that I told some gangbangers that I knew you and therefore they didn't jump me because of your street cred?

His face fell.  "Yeah.  I guess."

I could tell he was really disappointed, so I did my best not to laugh.  No.  I'm sorry, Maurice.  It didn't happen.

"Oh," he said, and lit out of my classroom, pretending to slam-dunk an invisible ball on his way out the door.

He didn't drop by my classroom this morning because he doesn't have gym on Mondays.  In fact, I didn't see him all day but at lunchtime I ran into Marvin and Dante in the lunch line.  

Hey, I said.  Did you tell Maurice that I almost got jumped?

Dante had turned the corner inside the lunchline and Marvin pulled him back.  "Say that again so Dante can hear you," he said.

I sighed.  Did you tell Maurice I got jumped?

The two of them exploded into laughter.  "He asked her.  I can't believe he asked her," Dante said, nearly crying he was laughing so hard.  "Hey Carl," he said, and pulled Carl over.  "Maurice asked Miss Baader if she got jumped.

The three of them fell all over themselves, they were laughing so hard.  Juniors, these three.  They've had three years to hone the sophistication of their practical jokes.

I've got half a mind to find the most popular girl in the junior class and tell her that exact story, make Maurice into a local hero.  All the girls will fall all over him.  

Payback.  Watch me, I'll do it, too.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fashionista

Every woman goes through it, this self-loathing.  Sometimes I think I go through it more than most, but of course that's not true.  It's just that lately, it's crept up on me again.

For a long time, I'd been on a huge exercise kick, getting healthy and losing weight.  I've even run a race or three, but lately I've plateaued.  (This photo is from my first race, an 8K called the Shamrock Shuffle that I did back in March.)  Maybe it's school starting again and I'm so tired I don't want to do anything, but I've been a giant slug, and it's got me down.

So.  The other day, one of my girls stayed after school with me.  She hadn't typed her assignment, and I was letting her use the extra computer in my room while I attempted to get some work done.  It's the part of my job that sucks, grading.  When I first started teaching, I put so much effort into every paper that I wanted to cry when I saw kids toss them out on the way out the door.  Now I put more effort in the conversations, in the one-on-one contact I have with my kids every day.

This was one of those days.  Ashley sat at the computer, typing away for some time and when it looked like she was getting to the end of her paper, I told her I was going to start closing up the room.  

There's a whole procedure to this when you work in our neighborhood.  We're in Washington Park, an odd little neighborhood sandwiched between Englewood, Bronzeville, and Hyde Park. Not too long ago, our building was surrounded by the projects.  They've been knocked down, but we still have to be careful to lock everything down every night.  The windows have to be locked and shades pulled down so they don't steal anything important.  (I try not to laugh too much at this statement, as the computer in my classroom barely starts.  What are they going to steal, my markers?  But again, I do my job and batten everything down every night before I leave.  The last thing I want is for somebody to accuse me of being careless.)

So I'm closing and locking things and Ashley is shutting down her computer and she stands up and says to me, "Miss Baader, do you know I talk about you at home all the time?"

I didn't.  And frankly, I was surprised.  Ashley is the kind of girl who keeps things to herself, and there have been times in our relationship when I wondered if she liked me at all.  This is the second year I've had her in my class -- she started out so painfully shy that I counted it a victory if I got her to say one word in a class period.  

But I worked on her.  You can't survive in the real world if you're afraid to speak.  I used to make her so angry because I wouldn't back down over this.  "I do my work," she'd tell me.  "Why do I have to talk?  It doesn't make any sense."  And I'd tell her why her entire future would hinge on her ability to present herself.  We talked about ways to get over fear, ways to make people think you're not afraid when you actually are, and I told her that I, too, was insanely shy but most people don't know it because I keep my fears to myself.  But this was all last year.  This year, she walked into my classroom and raised her hand more times in the first three weeks than she did all fourth quarter last year.  I'm proud of her, and I tell her all the time, but I can almost never tell what she's thinking.  Unless, of course, she's mad.

Anyway, Ashley had clearly been working up to this conversation, because she looked down, looked up, and said, "I talk about you to my parents every day, sometimes even on days when I don't have you.  My parents know all about you."

And this is the time when I'm almost overwhelmed with chagrin, because hey.  I'm fallible.  I'm always telling kids to do things, giving them advice about this and that, and I sometimes wonder what I they tell their parents about me.  I hope it's good, but oh, I know in a case or two thousand, it hasn't always been.  That's when I get the phone calls.

But I've only met Ashley's parents once or twice, and frankly, I'm surprised as hell.  Like I said, I could have sworn that I was just another teacher to her.  I've got kids that I know are attached to me -- I often have to kick them out of my classroom -- but my interaction with Ashley is usually a word here, a word there, a letter to me in her notebook.

I said I hoped it was all good, and she assured me it was.

"You remind me of my mom," she said, and clearly she meant it as a compliment.  But see, she's a sophomore, and she thinks I'm old enough to be her mother.

Come to think of it, I probably am.  Just barely, though.  

"You remind me of my mom, and then you're the opposite of my mom," she said.

Why is that?

She hesitated.  "Please don't take this the wrong way."

(When somebody starts out a sentence with that little phrase, I know whatever follows is going to hurt.)

"See, my mom is a little ... bigger too, and I'm always telling her how you carry around some extra weight, but you never dress badly.  You always look real good."

I didn't know how to respond.  

"My mom, she doesn't try real hard, but you?  You're always so pretty, with your skirts and your heels and your dresses.  I tell her she should meet you."

Oh, god, I thought to myself.  Her mother probably hates me.  

"Just because you're a little bigger, doesn't mean you can't still look good, right?  You're not mad, are you?"

No, I said.  I'm not mad.  I know I've got some work to do to get smaller, but I've been working on it.

"I know," said Ashley.  "I told my mother that, too.  I told her how you used to be so much bigger, and you run and you exercise and you dress so well."

I wasn't sure whether to be hurt or pleased.  Clearly she meant well.  I'd like to see your mother again, I said finally.  Is she coming to open house?

"I don't know," said Ashley.  "My dad met you once last year, and he always says he thought you were a real nice lady."

A real nice lady.  How sweet.  And how appalling.  When did I become her?

But here's the thing: I've never heard so many words from Ashley in one sitting in my life, so I wasn't going to show even a hint of dismay.  I told her instead that she was so kind, and it made me feel good to know she liked my clothes.

And in truth, it does.  I wasn't always put together like this.  I can remember ten years ago when I ran around for most of the year in fuzzy sweaters and turtlenecks and corduroys and jeans.  I didn't own a single pair of heels and I certainly didn't take care of things like my eyebrows.  These were things I discovered for myself gradually, mostly over the years I lived in New York.  I threw out half my wardrobe after moving there, and turned into the woman who wears nice clothes almost all the time.

Kids notice these things, too.  I guess I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was when I learned that my clothes had been the topic of such conversation.

Life, however, never throws just one of these things at you.  Ashley and I had our little talk yesterday.  Today, I made my usual lunchtime trek to the sandwich shop to pick up some lunch, and the lady behind the counter said, "Oh, it's you."

Hello, I said, not terribly surprised that she recognized me.  I don't like to pack my lunch, and so I get sandwiches from there a lot.  And also, Chicago's pretty segregated.  I'm probably the only white woman they have walking in there most days.  The surrounding neighborhood is sketchy to say the least.

"What do you have on today?" she said.  "My sister said you came in on Monday and you had on a real nice dress."

She did?

"Yep.  We decided we want to go shopping in your closet," she added.

I grinned.  Thanks, that makes me feel good.  You know the only reason I wear skirts all the time is my butt's so big.  It's the only way I can look halfway decent.

"We don't care why.  You look so good all the time.  You make us want to wear dresses," she said.  "We talk about it.  We call you the dress lady."

The dress lady.  I could live with that.

All this is just to say that this week, I really needed to hear good things about myself, and I did, from the most unlikely people.  And because of that, I've gone and registered for another 5K.  Next weekend.  And, I'm going to do two races next month and one in November.  Time to break through this wall.  Time to stop feeling bad.  Time to run.

Nobody ever sees you as poorly as you see yourself.  This much I know is true.  But today, I believe it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Mailman

The beginning of the school year always brings a lot of talk.  We put the kids in a giant room that, because we have no air conditioning at our school, has to be cooled by giant fans.  Then, various members of the faculty get up on stage and try to talk the kids into not doing anything stupid this year.

This method, of course, doesn't work at all.  Instead, the kids drift off, followed soon by the teachers.  We're supposed to stand and supervise and make sure that nobody does anything wrong.  I know this.  And I try, I really do.  But here's the thing, that even though I'm staff, I can't deny: it's boring.  And I do what anyone else does in a boring situation: I sit back and daydream.  

We do this all the time.  One good thing about being a teacher, however, is that you get to choose where you can stand.  And me?  I often choose the doorway.  There's more wall to lean on there.  It's set far enough back, too, that if I start to drift off, nobody notices.

So I'm standing in the doorway on the first day of school and they're talking to the freshmen -- we make them come a day earlier than everyone else -- and Michael walked in, followed by his mother.  He had to buy a new uniform shirt, and they've got the table where they were selling them set up at the back of the gym.  

So he has to wait.  They're still talking, you see.

I wasn't sure what they were talking about at the moment -- staying away from gangs, probably, or drugs.  Maybe it was about keeping your shirt tucked in and not letting your pants hang halfway down your arse.  The messages never change.

Michael leaned against the wall and sighed.  "How long are they gonna talk?" he asked me.

I didn't know.  We have a new dean this year and I had no way of judging.  Depended on how much he liked to talk, I said.

"We could be here all day," said Michael.  "All I want is my uniform."

Be careful what size you buy, I told him.  They're cracking down this year on boys who should be wearing mediums buying extra-larges.  They'll make you buy a new shirt if you buy the wrong size.

"I told you," said Michael's mother.  "And I'm gonna buy you the shirt they tell me to.  Look at you.  I think you're a small."

"A small?"  A look of panic spread across his face.  "No, no, no.  I am not a small.  You buy me a small and they're gonna jump me on the bus.  I'm an extra-large, Momma.  I am."

She winked at me.  "Okay.  Maybe a medium.  And you're going to tuck it in like you're going to work."  

Michael groaned so loudly then that people in the main gym actually looked toward the doorway.  I shook my head at him in warning.  He collapsed against the wall and sank to the floor.

"Where's my cell phone?" said Michael's mother.  She went digging in her purse and pulled it out after a while triumphantly.  "I want to show Miss Baader those shoes."

"Aw, no.  Mom.  Please, no."

She looked at me.  "Now, Michael and I were out shopping for school shoes yesterday and he assured me that these shoes fit the school's dress code.  Can you check these out for me?  I don't want to spend a hundred dollars on a pair of shoes and then have to return them the next day."

Sure, I said.  Long ago, before I had anything even mildly resembling a career, I worked in the men's department at JCPenney's.  If there was one thing I knew how to do, it was tell the difference between a dress shoe and a gym shoe.  

Michael's shoe?  Not a dress shoe.  I told his mother she was about to waste some money if she bought him that shoe because it didn't fit the dress code.

"Miss Baader," Michael broke in, jumping to his feet.  "But look."  He pointed to the shoe.  "It's black leather.  That's a dress shoe."

I shook my head.  His black leather shoe had a gym shoe sole.  They were making shoes like that these days, and though they were fashionable, they weren't dress shoes.  Much as he wanted that shoe, agreeing with him now would only cause problems for him later.  They'd start assigning him so many detentions for that shoe that he'd never forgive me.

"I knew it!" said his mother.  "I knew that was not a dress shoe.  I knew he was lying to me."  Michael's mother and I had a conspiracy of sorts.  She checked up on him with me and I always told her the truth.  Her theory was that the only way to keep him in line was to know what he was doing all the time.  Me?  I fully supported her efforts.  He was the kind of kid who was basically good, but needed to be watched or he'd slip.  His father died last year in a shootout with the police.  We both watched him carefully.

"I wasn't lying," he protested.  Again, his voice got just a little too loud.  Voices were still droning on from the stage, but one or two people looked over.  

His mother elbowed him, then winked at me.  "You know what I'm going to get you?  I'm going to get you a bus driver shoe.  All shiny and patent leather.  That's the shoe I'm going to get."


I took pity on Michael.  Perhaps not a bus driver shoe?  He'll need something he can walk in.  He's got to get to the bus stop, you know.

"You are absolutely right, Miss Baader.  I have it now: a mailman shoe.  That's what I'm going to get.  A mailman shoe and a size medium shirt."

At this point, neither one of us could contain our hilarity and we had to step out the door so we both could laugh.

Michael just plain looked miserable.