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.


Deb Acanfora said...

What a funny story. Poor Michael, but I so love his mom.

Adam said...

Ha! Loved it.