Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Teacher Writer

An Excert: NaNoWriMo Novel, 2007*
Carol Sliwka

Seriously, almost every time I get in trouble it’s because someone doesn’t understand me. I do not try to get in trouble, honestly I don’t. Well, at least most of the time I don’t. On that particular day, I was just coming from phys ed class and running late as usual. I like to stay after to help Mr. Gilbert pick up the basketballs or baseballs or whatever equipment we have used that day. He’s a nice old fart and I noticed early on in the year that he makes little grunting noises when he has to bend over, so I figured from the beginning I’d stay after a couple of minutes each class period, all casual like, to help him. Anyway, on that day we’d been playing tennis indoors, which is one of the stupidest things I can think of because if you really smack one of those balls, especially if you are Tom Streeland, the biggest kid in four counties, those balls are going to go flying and you’ll practically have to climb up on the ceiling supports to get them all. By the time I had retrieved about a million tennis balls, there was not a spare second and I did not have time to take a shower. I know, I know—I know what you are going to say. Gross and stinky. I agree. I didn’t’ want to turn into Stinky Boy, but it was risk that or be late to class and I hate being late to Ms. Dub’s class.

Here’s the thing about Stinky Boy. There is one in every class. Ask any teacher and they will tell you this is true. No matter what, you are going to have a Stinky Boy. Sometimes the Stinky Boy is really a girl, but usually it’s a boy. The Stinky Boy is the one who smells like he never bathes or showers. His hair is greasy and he has dirt under his fingernails and his clothes looked they washed up on some distant shore and he just put them on when they dried—all wrinkly and smelly from the sea. No one ever wants to sit by him or even worse, work with him, but once you get past the hell on earth that we call middle school, everyone is mostly polite enough not to hold their nose or make gagging noises and they just politely shift away and casually wave a hand in the air to deflect the stench in another direction. It is important that you understand how important it was to me that I not be Stinky Boy.

I finally got to class with about thirty seconds to spare, and I found a substitute teacher in the room. Now normally I would enjoy tormenting a sub, but not today. Ms. Dub specifically asked me to make her proud while she was gone (which is teacher-talk for you better not screw up, buster, or I will bust you so fast your head will spin.) In any case, I got the point. I had every intention of being a good little boy, but as you will see, I can’t control the whole universe.

The cool thing about Ms. Dub—or one of the cool things—is that she does not look out at the class and see one gigantic blob of kids. She sees each one of us as individuals and she does not play favorites. Seriously, as hard as that is to believe, it is true. Almost every teacher I have ever had had their few special pets who could get away with murder. Literally. Like in Mrs. Ellis’s class in 8th grade, her special pets were the cheerleaders and I swear if one of them had pulled a Magnum .357 or a grenade launcher out from under her skirt and started blasting away, Mrs. Ellis would have just worried that they were going to break a nail while handling those big guns with their delicate little cheerleader hands. I, on the other hand, who was never a favorite, could not sneeze without a twenty-minute lecture on hygiene. But for Ms. Dub, who had no favorites, every incident and every student got its own consideration.

One example of this consideration is that she knows I sweat a lot. I just do. Call it the Watson Curse if you like—my dad is a sweater, too. (Ha, ha, you know what I mean. Not a fuzzy itchy woolen garment but a person who sweats a lot). This is a good thing if you are trying to lose a couple of pounds for wrestling weigh-in days, not such a good thing in the middle of the school day. So Ms. Dub lets me sit by the window after phys ed class. There is usually some sort of breeze coming in and it helps dry the sweat. I need that cool down to prevent being Stinky Boy. Strangely enough, although I sweat like a horse, I don’t stink unless I sit in my sweat and let it get putrefied. If I can dry it fairly quickly, I escape the dreaded Stinky Boy Syndrome. I flop in that desk for the first few minutes or until my sweat dries up, then I move to my Assigned Seat. That’s why I tried to do with the sub, too.

“Young man,” she said. “Where is your Assigned Seat?”

“It is over there, third row, right in front of Alice Mary Reynolds,” I replied in my most polite tone, something subs are not used to and therefore served to raise her suspicions.

“Then I suggest you move there, pronto.”

“I will in a minute, ma’am,” I tried to explain. “Ms. Dub lets me sit here until I cool down from gym.”

The sub was not one who had ever heard the phrase ‘pick your battles,’ because she clearly was not in the slightest bit interested in hearing my explanation. “Move now!”

So again I had to make a decision. Do I do what the sub is asking and move and turn into Stinky Boy and sweat all over myself and my desk and probably everyone within a six seat radius and then cause those people in turn to get nauseous from the smell and sight and have to go home and miss a valuable day of school? Or do I stay where I am even though the sub will write me up and complain to Ms. Dub and I’ll wind up getting sent down to Mrs. Allen’s office? My loyalty to Ms. Dub won out over my own common sense and I unfolded myself from the window seat, pushed through the rows to my Assigned Seat. The short walk seemed to take forever because not only could I feel every eye in the classroom on me, but the sweat glands seemed to be calling for an all out war on my body. I didn’t usually mind the eyes on me part—I’ve been going to school with these people since pre-school and they could always count on me for some unusual entertainment, which I am generally happy to provide, but the sweat sliding down my face was troublesome. My eyes were stinging and wiping them with my forearm only made things worse because that was a sweat factory too. A tiny drop of sweat on the top of my head had to decide which way to go—to follow its brothers down my forehead to wind up somewhere on my chest, sucked into my shirt, or to forge a new path down the back of my head and join the revolution brewing on my back. It decided to trickle down the back, and soon a drip became a torrent. The sweat was rolling down my head so fast I could feel it pinging off my shoulders. This was not good.

I finally reached my seat and flung myself into it as casually as possible, desperately hoping that the sweat wouldn’t act like a slip-n-slide and cause me to flip right out of the chair onto the floor. I made a casual grab for my desktop as I landed and in the process, my back hit the back of my chair pretty hard. My head whipped back and deposited a healthy dose of Sam Sweat on the pristine desk top of Alice Mary Reynolds. Of all the people in the room, she was the most immaculate, the most tidy person there. She reacted in a predictable way to the wave of sweat landing on her papers.

“EEEEWWWWW!” she screamed, scrambling to her feet and backing away as if I’d just dropped a snake down her considerable cleavage. “That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!!” She was furiously backing away and wiping her hands down the sides of her neatly pressed jeans.

The sub was not in any happier of a state of mind. “Get to the office!” she yelled. Boy, did her face get red!

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I tried to get out an explanation, but really, what could I say? I’m sorry I’m such a drippy pig that my sweat covers anyone and everyone within a six-mile radius? I’m sorry that I didn’t mummify myself before I left the gym? I’m sorry I was born? I decided not to bother, just gathered my books and slid my slippery self out in the hall and down to the office.
I wound up with a two-day suspension for that incident, thanks to Mr. Coldwell who never believes a word that comes out of my mouth. The funny thing is, I have never lied to him. Not a big lie anyway. I have said, “have a nice day” to him when I really wanted to say, “eat shit and die” but I am not sure that counts as a lie. The record for this referral was officially titled “causing a disruption” but what I remember most about that was my mom’s reaction. As crabby as she can get, she at least always waits to hear my side of it before she decides whether it’s worth busting out a lecture. When I told her what had happened, she asked her usual question, “Are you sure you aren’t leaving anything out?” and then she called her friend Mrs. Carpenter who is a special education teacher at the high school and always hears all the “Sam stories” and can be counted on to give a fair description of what happened. Mom did a lot of hmmmming and ahhhhhhing and Oh?-ing before she hung up but when she did, she had a sort of smile on her face.

“Well, this is a first, Sam. You are probably the first student in recorded history who got suspended for sweating.” She thought for a second, and then said, “You will be coming to school with me for those two days.” She held her hand up in the do-not-even-bother-to-argue-with-me sign, and added, “It will be good for you.”

So I spent those two days in her room, scrunched down in those midget desks and having a bunch of 8 year olds crawling all over me like lice. But at least the time went fast and all in all, it was a much more enjoyable punishment than cleaning out the basement or garage, which is what my folks usually resort to when the school asks me to “spend a couple of days at home.” We have the cleanest basement and garage in the country, I bet.

*Editor's Note: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in the month of November.