walk through the underworld

Our induction ceremony (we can’t say initiation. ) was a symbolic trip through the underworld, beginning with a barefoot walk in the river Styx, a pan full of ice cubes and marshmallows.

There is an association manual with suggestions for the ceremony, including handing  the initiate ( oops, inductee) the eye of the Cyclops. A troublemaker mother organized the event.  Same mom who provided the blue eyeshadow.

What blue eyeshadow? Go back and read all the older posts right now or you’ll have them for breakfast.

“I wasn’t sure where I could get enough eyeballs for everyone, but I thought about a wholesale butcher shop”

Her son commented,“ Yeah, but when they take off the blindfold and see what they have in their hands they’ll freak out and throw it”

Me: “Wait a minute. Aren’t these like, Halloween candy gum eyeballs? We’re using REAL EYEBALLS?”

“Well, “  she said, “the manual  says eyeballs, and I’m not sure I can get enough. They must have sheep or cow eyeballs at a butcher shop”

I envisioned students screaming and hurling real eyeballs into my classroom walls and then the slime not being totally cleaned up.

( It sure wasn’t going to be me cleaning them up. Suppose they watched you while you scraped them off?) The eventual smell of rotting eyeballs….I couldn’t even look at a disembodied eyeball, much less go buy a bag of them and use them to torment adolescents.

I love this woman.

But we used plastic.

The apology

I used to teach French to kindergarten through 4th grade. None of them knew my name, I was just The French Lady. This was my teaching technique:

“You guys won’t remember anything I teach you. ”

“Oh yeah? We will so!”

“Nope, you won’t. I’ll prove it to you.  If you remember these four words, you get a point. If you forget them, I get a point.”      Then I made the scoreboard.

me you guys scoreThis generally put them into a feeding frenzy. If any classmate had dared to forget a word they would have lynched him.  Every point I got took up the whole board. I made their  points  tiny dots on the board. If they started to win, I would say,

“You know, I really hate kids.”

“Oh yeah? Then why are you here teaching kids? You don’t hate us. You LOVE us!”

I first heard my dad say this to my daughter when she was four years old, and I was appalled.

“Why should I give you lunch? I don’t even like you.”    She didn’t even bother to look up from her book.

” Yes you do Pop Pop. You love  me lots and lots.”

So I tried it.  The kids don’t believe me either.

One day a first grade class got very rowdy.( I’m sure I had nothing to do with that at all)  The teacher was mortified and made every child make me a card with an apology.  One card said this:

im sorry but thas all

Thas  it.  Thas all I’m getting.

Ten years later a student stayed after class to talk to me and mentioned where she had gone to grammar school. It was where I taught ten years ago. And then it hit me. “Did you have really blonde hair and a ponytail?”

It was her.  And I still had the card.  Which I of course brought to class and told this story to her mortification every chance I got.


the duck caper

One day a French teacher decided to kidnap the German  class mascot, a tiger striped wooden yellow and black  duck. Yes, I was wondering the same thing.  Who knows?  German, its like a cult. They don’t need a reason.

Anyway, a substitute teacher told us  the duck  was  in French class. So at the end of the day, my kids trooped down to her class with a diversion, leftover cake, and in the confusion we snatched the duck and ran like hell.

Now, the duck isn’t little. At least four feet long.

tiger striped wooden duck with roman helmetWe sent a picture of the duck to the Germans with a message:  ” We have the duck. Send ten thousand deuche marks.” Yes, the duck is wearing a Roman helmet.

We then hid the duck as carefully as one can hide a four foot tiger striped duck in a classroom. We then sent another photo of us all gloating over the duck.

The substitute teacher, in a moment of sadistic glee, did not tell the French teacher who stole the duck. The French teacher walked around frantically, no doubt  muttering      “Oh, merde! He’s going to  kill me!”  meaning, no doubt, the German teacher.

While I was out of my class for ONE period, SOMEONE came in, found the duck and absconded with it.

The Spanish teachers all acted totally innocent, like they hadn’t seen anyone running out of my room and down the hall with a four foot tiger striped duck in tow. Right.  Channel 6 news would have shown up for a shot of  people running down a hall with a contraband duck.

This incident clarified for me a glaring lacuna among my possessions. I do not have the equivalent of  the duck. So I set my students to making a Trojan Horse.  And its bigger and taller than the duck.  The problem was at the end of the year when I had to do something with the horse.  My husband looked at the horse and said, ” Just what are we going to do with that?

horse looking out windowHe looks out the window, waiting for the day he does battle with the duck.

more memories from a juvenile delinquent

Back in the day ( what does that mean, anyway? ten years ago? five hundred ? my childhood?)  everyone had to buy their own padlock for their lockers, they weren’t  built into the locker like they are nowadays.

We  (me and  my partner in crime, Scuz )hatched a new plan. We casually stood around and talked to our friends while they were unlocking their lockers and memorized the combinations. We got about ten locker combinations.

We came in really early and switched them. Some of them we put on backwards so that the numbers were facing the locker. You would have to get down on your knees and try to lift the lock up to see the combination and then it still  wouldn’t open.  We also selected people who all didn’t know each other.

And this time, as a protective measure, we selected people that didn’t know me or didn’t know Scuz, so we would not be targeted as the obvious perpetrators.

This one was a victory. We were never suspected.

Well, we were never accused, anyway.

the school sleepover

One night Scuz and I  decided to spend the night in the high school.  Another venture for which we would no doubt be arrested nowadays. Scuz  has carefully hidden her checkered past from her three sons, whereas I have entertained my daughter with stories of my questionable character for years.

We hid in the auditorium at first, on the stage under the grand piano.  We brought submarine sandwiches which we unwrapped and began to eat while we waited for everyone to leave the building.  And then… Drama Club!   They came in to rehearse!  We had never thought about that.  There we were, under the piano, and suddenly the smell of the ham and cheese and olive oil was so strong we were sure people could smell our subs two blocks away. We would surely be discovered.  But we weren’t.  After at least an hour of quietly chewing and crouching under the piano the Drama Club left.  We got up and stretched and as we ventured out from behind the curtains we had another rude shock.  The janitorial staff!  The building was crawling with custodians! Something else we hadn’t thought about.

As I think back, I wonder. Did we ever think about ANYTHING? 

Scuz stepped behind a stage curtain just before a custodian walked in. Her black high topped converse  sneakers stuck out from behind the curtain.  How could they not spot her?  But they didn’t notice.  We  snuck out and tried to get in a classroom.  It was locked. And so was the next. And the next.  They were all locked! Why?  Why would anyone try to get in a classroom if they didn’t have to?  We had figured we would steal hall passes and look up people’s grades. Possibly  leave a souvenier in a desk.

When we were in 8th grade, Scuz  found a baby frog that had been run over by cars about a thousand times and had flattened out till it was like a piece of cardboard. She held it up to her lapel.

“You think it would make a nice pin?”

After 8th grade graduation  we snuck in the classroom of a particularly deserving teacher and left it in her desk.  I would hope that an entire summer  in a hot desk would have done wonders for its odor, but the guts had been squished out of it pretty thoroughly.

Anyway, the high school sleep over caper was pretty much a wash out after we climbed up the clock tower and found a box of food to be used in case of air raids.  We had done the old,

“I’m spending the night at her house, she’s spending the night at my house,”

routine with our parents. Now we had the dilemma of  how to get back in our houses at eleven pm.  We told our mothers we had a fight.

bippity boppity boo

For years my classes have acted out fairy tales in a foreign language. I write fractured fairy tales myself. The evil queen lives with a wolf who admires himself in a talking mirror and four blind dwarves live in the forest with the seven bears. I am thinking next of three blind evil queens. How do I fit in Cinderella? Cinderella turns into a pumpkin? Then what? The prince makes her into a pie?  And why do all the boys always want to be the princess? Doesn’t matter what age. The schools are rife with closet drag queens. The happiness that a one dollar cardboard crown brings.

The dollar store had a plastic yellow magic wand. It makes this sparkly  noise like the  wands in cartoons. It is noise activated and sometimes I can’t shut it up. Hid it in my drawer and you could still hear its energetic twinkling. One day I went across the hall and knocked at another  teacher’s door. He answered it looking concerned.

“ Is everything ok?”

I handed him the wand.

“ Hold this. I’ll be right back.”

A day in Spanish

I sit in on a Spanish class. I never had a Spanish class before this, and this is  Spanish 3.  I understand most of what goes on because its so much like Latin.  The first couple of tests I scored pretty high. It makes the kid in front of me crazy.

“Its because I cheat off you.”

He brightened up.



The kids in the class don’t understand why I come.  Why would I sit in a classroom when I am obviously not compelled to be there? The presumed objective, learning stuff, is not immediately apparent to them. There is a commentary on education here.

The teacher is a young guy, (well, compared to me I guess) a surfer with a ponytail.  He checks to make sure the door is locked, a school rule in case we have a Columbine type incident, which makes sense if the potential killer student decides to flip out while he is alone out in the hallway and everyone else is in class. Well, I guess he could kill everyone in his own class first and then venture out, but be foiled in his attempt to exterminate us. He would probably be out of ammunition at that point anyway.

The teacher checks the door. It is unlocked.

“O gosh, it’s unlocked.  Someone could sneak in and steal me.  (Pause.)  And take me to that place.

The kids don’t think this is nearly as funny as I do.

A dirty word by any other name…

For years I’ve been asked to teach  some dirty words in Latin (although not by the administration), and for years I said I didn’t know any.  I didn’t.  You know where I finally learned them? Latin  poetry.  A college Latin poetry class. And  more in a graduate poetry class.  And it was pretty filthy stuff, too.  I was so excited, I came to class the next day and announced, “I learned some dirty words.”

Notebooks were whipped out at the speed of light.

Scortillum. The little  whorelet.  Lentulus, the little pimp (pimplet).”

I managed to work in a little grammar lesson on diminutives. Never know when the opportunity will arise.  Then I  gave them the dirty stuff.  Or what they thought was the dirty stuff. Had them out there calling each other “gravy boats.”

They haven’t totally figured out yet a word is not foul in itself, but is offensive because of what we associate with it.  Otherwise its just a collection of syllables.

Two Israeli boys taught me some profanity in Hebrew.  I realized just how bad it was from the look of horror on their faces when I pronounced it correctly. They had just taught a teacher something really nasty and it was disturbing to hear her say it. To me, the words were just random sounds.   One day I had a study hall and two  other boys were talking in Hebrew in the back of the room. I understood nothing until I  suddenly I heard my newly acquired vocabulary .

“Hey, hey, keep it clean!”  Their shock  was extremely gratifying.  But to this day I still don’t know what it means.

Don’t try this at home. Professionals only.

Speaking of things that no one found out about — my best friend, Scuz and I (Scuz was a shortened and pejorative form of her real  name) grew up on HARRIET THE SPY.  If you haven’t read this book, go buy it and read it immediately. So what if you’re thirty five? Pretend it’s a gift.

Anyway, the two of us spent time thinking up creative ways to torture various people of our acquaintance. One of these victims was The Mop.

The Mop sat in front of me in homeroom and had a lot of hair. I suppose I must have liked him and that’s why he was a target, but that’s beside the point.

We  had the brilliant idea of putting a pink bunny decal on his locker.  A permanent decal.  You bought them in paint stores. They were for baby furniture. You  put them on furniture by rubbing a wet sponge over them and they stayed forever.

We bought a really really big, really really pink bunny rabbit. We stayed after school one day and did a really really wonderful job of applying it to his locker.

It would never ever come off.

The Mop went to Burke and told her what we had done. He knew that the only teacher who would know for an absolute fact that we would do this to him was Burke, and that she was  the only teacher we were afraid of. She called us on the carpet.

“Get rid of the bunny.  Now.”

We tried to deny all knowledge.

“What? What are you talking about?”

She gave us The Look.  “Don’t even try.  Go.”

The problem was that it was a permanent decal.   You couldn’t remove it.  That was the point.

Eventually we had to scrape the paint right off the locker to get it off.  It stayed scraped up like that for years.

Um…is the statute of limitations up yet?  When I reflect on this now, I recall that not a single adult stopped to ask what we were doing, and that nowadays we would be arrested for vandalism.

Our Lady of Mendacity

I wasn’t a big fan of high school myself.   The only reason I stayed in school the whole day was because the only class I liked was 8th period, and coincidentally it was Latin. I was so annoyed I didn’t have  third period Latin I, because I would have been out of the building every day by the beginning of fourth. Well, I like to believe that I would have boldly walked out of the building and cut class every day, but the truth is I was afraid of getting in trouble. I had a long history of being blamed for things I hadn’t done.

My chief problem was having a best friend who wanted to be a nun and looked the part, even though I knew she was the devil incarnate. She never ever got in trouble.

In eighth grade she went up to the trash can next to the teachers desk, dropped in a piece of paper, climbed in the trash basket and began to vigorously leap up and down, stomping that poor little piece of paper to smithereens, smiling  sweetly at our teacher the entire time , who nodded back and beamed at her. She must have been whooping it up in that wastebasket a solid two minutes.

Now SHE could have cut class every day and brought in a forged note, with not the slightest effort made to disguise her handwriting with little hearts and smiley faces dotting the “i”s, saying she had to leave early to go to church for the festival of Our Lady of Mendacity, and totally get away with it.

But am I bitter about this, more than thirty years later? Of course I am.