Sunday afternoon at the dining room table with my laptop. Billing for the week past and accounting for the year past. Not so bad– it’s a limited exercise. I don’t bring material work home very often ever since I retired from teaching. Back then, ten years ago, most Sunday afternoons were spent at this table with a mountain of papers that had to be graded and recorded. Five piles that kept me chained to the chair some nights till 11 p.m., when it was futile to continue. If I was not depressed when I began working after church, I was by the evening. It was endless and usually felt pointless. Each week a new pile of piles would grow like cow pies in my dining room.
Teaching is a hard gig. I enjoyed aspects of it and hated other aspects. The front end was energizing. Making up lessons and then presenting them to the kids was the good part. To me that is teaching. The second part was the bludgeoning the kids to do the work and then turn it in. The third part was evaluating the one hundred thirty five or so papers. It was about bean counting, and slippery beans like steamed edemame at that. Finally, you had to enter the grades in some form that approximated a fair system. Of course, when the papers were returned there would always be some disgruntled consumers in the room. Ah, the joys of edjumacation.
The best moments I had were teaching drama, where the end result was a twenty-five minute play put on by twenty five kids who just happened to be traveling together. Oddly enough, these goofy presentations usually worked on some level… despite sets falling or props not being where they were supposed to be, or actors being absent, or fire drills or power outages. Yup, if you can imagine it going wrong, it went wrong. But then those patches were often better than what we rehearsed.
One of my favorite plays was a spoofy reduction of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Somehow the kids figured out how to put on three scenes from this goofy movie. Of course, there was the black knight fight during which the black knight loses his arms and legs in swordplay. Our black knight ran offstage several times, each time returning with one less limb, finally appearing on a shimmy board as one stump of a man. It was absurdly precious. In the middle of the play the boys with wooden swords and shields attacked the Castle of the Babes, all the female actors behind the set. The girls pelted the attackers with marshmallows, which the boys ate as they delivered their spunky lines. You had to be there.
Another memorable performance was the Circus play, which another group of rambunctious kids wrote and delivered with zest. One of the skits involved the left over coffin from an earlier production of Dracula. Two tiny seventh graders cramped themselves into the coffin, which had been cut into two sections and covered by a drape. In the skit The Great Zorando sawed the box in two, including drawing the saw through some red tempera paint with his final pull. He smirked to the audience, “Oh, I must have hit an artery.” Circus assistants carried the two boxes to opposite sides of the stage as the head, Liz, shouted and demanded her feet back. Meanwhile the feet, Billy, wiggled on the other side of the stage. The unsophisticated audience gasped at the trick. It’s not hard to fool twelve year olds.
One year I began school with an Ace bandage on my right wrist because I had strained the tendons from swinging a machete while keeping up with the brush beyond my back yard. Being a creative storyteller, when the kids asked me what I’d done, I told them they would not believe me. Of course, they took the bait and demanded to know as they swore to suspend disbelief. That’s when I began the story of the severed hand. I explained to them that I had been touring England over the summer and had rented a car. I overexplained how the Brits drive on the left side of the road and demonstrated shifting with the left hand while signaling with the right. When the kids were all nodding in rhythm, I brought in the fantastic elements.
“I was cruising outside of London trying to get used to the rental car when I put my right hand out of the window to signal my intentions. As I signaled, an ambulance was racing in the opposite direction, and my hand lined up precisely with the rear view mirror of the ambulance. I was going 38 kmph and the ambulance must have been doing 50, so that’s like 100 mph in America. Anyway, the outer edge of the mirror must have been sharp because it sheared off my right hand at the wrist joint. It happened so fast. I couldn’t feel it at first. Blood gushed out of my wrist socket and I knew I’d bleed out if I didn’t act fast.”
“Nooooo. What didya do?”
“Well, the only thing I could think to do was speed up to increase the windpressure against the blood flow. So I cranked it up to 60 kmph and turned my wrist into the wind. I tried to hold the speed at that level in order to hold the blood in my vessels, but I knew I had to find that ambulance with my hand on its rearview mirror. I drove in circles, hoping to run into the ambulance when suddenly I heard its sirens a block away. It was zooming into the Emergency entrance, so I slammed on my brakes and slid across the parking lot sideways. I screamed out to the nurses at the ambulance that I had severed my hand. They were freaked out as they saw my pulsing bloody stump.”
“Uh uh. No way. What happened next?”
“You won’t believe it. I had the wrong hospital and ambulance. The hospital staff looked over all the ambulances for my hand, but they couldn’t find it! Lost on the murky streets of London.”
“You’re lying! Your hand is right here.”
Deep sigh. “It’s a transplant. Belonged to an accountant. Don’t you think they did a nice match with the size and skin tone? The only thing is that every once in a while the fingers just go off on their own like they’re adding up numbers on a calculator.” And of course, after a sufficient dramatic pause the fingers fired off a few rapid taps into the air, as if from beyond the grave a neural signal had passed into my fingertips from a deceased accountant named Lloyd.
“Gasp” and jump back. “You just did that. Take the bandage off. Let’s see.”
“The surgeons told me that I have to keep it on for another week. Then I’ll be glad to show you.”
“Okay, but I don’t believe it.”
A week later my wrist felt better and I was on my way to school without the bandage on. I paused and thought, ‘This is the unveiling day.’ I got out a black marker and drew a broken line around my wrist as if it had been stitched roughly. Then I bound it in the bandage.
At school the kids demanded to see the accountant’s hand, so I dramatically unveiled the marker line and did the digit dance one last time.
“You faker. I can’t believe you…but it was pretty funny. Do it again.”