Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Deep End

I love my job. I love my students. I love my hours. And I could pin June, July and August down and kiss them full on the lips. But as a teacher in the great state of Arkansas, my salary leaves a bit to be desired. With each passing year of service, the dollar signs inch ever so gradually away from the poverty line. But without my master's, by the time I retire my salary will still be in the same tax bracket as your average paperboy. Of course, we won't have newspapers anymore by then, so a teacher's salary may be in a class by itself.

Surprisingly, we're doing fine. Our ends are always neatly dovetailed. Jesus thought he was all that with his loaves and fishes trick? He should see what I can do with a bag of pasta and a can of beans. We don't need more money. Still, I've decided to go back and get my master's. Honestly, it probably has more to do with my ego than my wallet. It rubs me wrong that other people in my building are making more money than I am for doing the same job.

And so, last week, school began—both the one where I am the teacher and the one where I am the student. Immediately, a strange inverse relationship became evident between my confidence levels in each role. As a teacher, I'm kicking ass. Already, I have my new group well in hand and foresee a very smooth year. As a student, however, the tables are most assuredly turned. Other than mandatory "professional development" sessions, I haven't been on the receiving end of a lesson plan in a solid decade. It's daunting. I feel like I've just jumped into the deep end of the pool without my floaties. Meanwhile, all around me, everyone is kicked back on a chaise, slathered in Hawaiian Tropic, margarita in hand. In each class, I sit smack dab in the front row, biting my fingernails and trying to remember to breathe, while my classmates all look more like customers in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube than grad students. Maybe I'm mistaking apathy for confidence, but I really wish just one of them would do me a favor and quit acting so damn comfortable.

Here's a tidy example of the disparity between me and the rest of my classmates. Just last night, one of our professors expressed her concern that she had packed our syllabus a bit too full. A concern, I am not ashamed to admit, that I shared. So she offered to lighten the load by dividing the reading list among us. One group would read this stack and the rest of us would read that one. Before I could even get the sigh of relief out of my mouth, a twenty-two-year old named Jennifer chirped, "But I think we'd get a richer experience if we all read ALL the books, don't you?" Thanks for your input, Jennifer!

So I'll keep treading water, keeping my head above the surface until the doggy paddle comes back to me. I may never become Michael Phelps, or Jennifer, but I'm not going under either. Wish me luck.
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Saturday, August 22, 2009


Before an actor takes the stage, well wishers tell him to break a leg. In my father's case, it was his good fortune to break an arm. After he did, his best friend, Art Connery, came by the hospital to visit. Art's girlfriend, Judy, tagged along.

Today, Judy and Ed celebrate their Golden Anniversary. And we celebrate them.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for showing us what true love looks like.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Did you see God?


I had spent the day at Six Flags and still hadn't quite gotten over it. My body held up remarkably well. At 44, I had my doubts. Three minutes on a playground swing and I'm left retching and wrecked. Other moms arrive and find me there, pale and quietly heaving. They cast a scornful eye at me, scan the ground for telltale empties, then usher their kids to the far end of the park. Even the rhythmic sloshing of the spin cycle is enough to set my belly on edge. Which is why I have no choice but to leave laundry duty to my husband.

But at Six Flags, my stomach was on its best behavior. We had an unwritten pact that I'd continue to fill it regularly if it promised not to surrender its contents in public. Or maybe it just understood that I was shelling out forty bucks for admission so it better not give me any shit. I know where it lives.

Instead, it was my psyche who decided to get uppity. I forgot to consult her going in, but she was determined to get the last word. It wasn't my fault, really. The trip to Six Flags was so spontaneous I didn't have time for a debriefing. Of course, in retrospect, I can see where she's coming from.

One minute, we were here:

A phone call later, we were here:

You can see why she may have been upset.


Sasquatch looms in the distance as you make your way north into Lake George. You see it there, a comfortable mile or two away, and think: Oil rig? Cell phone tower? Electric Substation? What you do not think is: Golly, in a minute or two my ass is going to be strapped to that motherfucker! You park the car, still a good mile from the actual park even on a slow day, and Sasquatch continues to rise in the horizon. It demands your attention, but in a completely nonthreatening way, like a Republican candidate on a presidential ballot. Oh, I see you there, but ain't no chance in hell I'm getting anywhere near you.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting on Sasquatch's lap. I'm still not sure how it happened, but my money's on Rohypnol. The first thing I remember is an apathetic seventeen-year-old named Baku. He set aside his BlackBerry just long enough to give a perfunctory tug on the scrap of fabric securing the skinny metal bars assigned the responsiblity of stopping my body from becoming a projectile. I wouldn't say Baku was bad at his job, it's just that I give more focused attention to my popcorn in the movies. What with him keeping me on this side of the morgue and all, I hoped for that extra touch. Maybe just ramp up the enthusiasm to, I don't know, awake.

As soon as Baku had jiggled the fabric between all his prisoners' passengers' legs and returned to his Shakira video, we were ready. Three seconds later, we were teetering two hundred feet above Baku, my sister, my son, and what remained of my sanity. And there we sat, precariously perched on the ledge of a twenty story building.

(Me, seated third from right.)

We were held hostage, dangling in the clouds, for somewhere between ten seconds and eternity. If I were a bigger pray-er, that would have been the time for it, what with us being walking distance to God's house and all. But instead, I limited my activity to more pressing bodily matters, like coercing an eye open and a bladder shut. Not that peeing on the strap before Baku had to touch it again would have been the worst idea of the day.

Tom Petty knew what he was talking about. The waiting is the hardest part. Except for the dropping. After the torture of being held captive in another latitude, Baku has a sudden change of heart and releases you, allowing you to free fall back down to earth. Your body knows what's coming and does its best to escape, rocketing itself upward until it strains the metal bars thrown loosely over your shoulders. Miraculously, the bars hold. Your body isn't hurled into space as you are sure it will be, but a tiny splinter of your sanity is thrown clear.

That night, I curled up in bed with my five-year-old and told him all about being up there in the sky. Fresh waves of terror churned the pit of my stomach with each detail. All he wanted to know is, "Did you see God?"

Yeah, honey. I think I did.
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