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Outkast (Hey Ya!)
The School Desk
The hallowed ring of the academy school bell was enough to wake me from my daydreaming. I’m almost as bad as the day-old, fledgling junior class here at Willa Cather Academy, who stare absentmindedly out the windows and wish they could fly far, far away- even though they’ve put their book bags down but twenty minutes ago. Homeroom at WCA is a chore for every academic advisor, teacher/overseer, and student, but it’s a mandatory class, and punctuality is expected of everyone. I’ve worked here at this “academy” (it’s actually just a dumpy high school) since last year, when I was shipped out of one of the Unified School District’s many warehouses for misplaced, misused, or outgrown district artifacts. Since my installment into my current school in Homeroom 3A, I’ve truly began to understand the predictability of the hormone-driven teenage years.
I glanced at the analog centered on the far wall: 7:30. A teacher I’ve never seen before- probably due to my lack of mobility- clicked over in her heels and quietly shut the door to the classroom as the last student entered and took her seat. “Good morning students, this week I’m assigned to Homeroom duty, so let’s all just try to bear the hour we have together.” She smiled with calculated friendliness, and I knew from that moment on I would only imagine her with the same, precise grin plastered on her Barbie-doll face, no matter what she was doing in my mind. She was at home, in the car, at the supermarket, reaching, reaching high up for the peanut butter, but no signs of struggle were visible from her expression, save for the small prickle of sweat coursing down her perfect neck.
I picked up on the way this school- academy, whatever- is run soon after the students arrived to begin classes in September of last year. To my distaste, in my long retirement from the public school system, views on education and how to bring up a child into a mature adult drastically differ from the perspectives I once was accustomed to. Take my own student, the boy assigned to my seat.
The door to homeroom blew open and a frazzled, wide-eyed seventeen year old rushed over and plopped down on me, carrying with him a faint, yet sweet aroma of smoke, a nonfat mocha, and the freedom of the outside world. “Perry, how many times do I have to tell you?” the new homeroom overseer breathed, so maybe only I heard her. I realized her calculated appearance was diminished because of her off-script comment at the boy. The outcast assigned to me goes by the name of Perry Martinez and just as he had stumbled into 3A late on the first day of school, he carried on the precedent for the second day. My first impression of the delinquent was cynical, and unsympathetic, and I have yet to feel any remorse for Perry, so I’ll admit I’m slightly worried that my first impression about him is true. I’ve been at this school a year now, like I said, so hearing whisperings that the infamous Perry Martinez was involved with the Shanks gang was unavoidable. I also had some first-hand experiences with the bachelor in addition to the gossip I eavesdropped on last year from a group of girls that sat a row away from me. But just because a rumor is universally believed, doesn’t make it true. The boy is perhaps one of the best dressed son-of-a-guns I’ve ever laid eyes on: from his dark, side swept, stylish hairdo, sweaters and tailored pants in interesting prints, and always his favorite pair of sunglasses with some name brand like Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein at hand, he captures the attention of teachers and peers alike. So whenever he would bring a new girl with him into the inconspicuous homeroom 3A and lock the door during break times, I always wandered, blushing, whether a boy as grounded and self-assured to wear scarves to high school and not be taunted as “gay” could be rapt with the Shanks. He sure didn’t have a shortage of girls, he appeared as intellectual as one can be when passing through the public school system, and he was widely revered by underclassmen. But Perry Martinez didn’t belong with the in-crowd, at parties, or even with girls, and it only took me a day with him to sense it. So where does this boy belong? Is he really brethren of the Shanks gang- the same clan of drug-dealing miscreants? Or could he be an aspiring intellectual, lost in the tyrannical rue of maturing teens, trying to fit in but knowing he could never be as narrow-minded as the people he claimed to connect with?
“Perry.” Barbie Teacher feigned a stolid, straight-lipped, crestfallen expression. I just saw her grinning widely as a hyena, laughing stupidly in the face of its prey. “Perry, I’m very disappointed in you. This is the third time this week you’ve been tardy, which means I’ll have to give you a demerit. Too bad.” Perry couldn’t have been more at ease. Barbie turned mechanically to her desk and drew up a slip of paper, sending the showboat off with a quick smile, and shutting the door marked Homeroom 3A with a measured quality and not a trace of emotion. “So class,” she focused her bright white teeth on an invisible point right above Amanda Tulane’s blondish head, “where were we?”
The Vanity Desk
Jodie stifled a yawn and rumbled up from her plush drapery of sheets and wisps of pillows, a slant of dawn falling across her frail body. She shuffled to her bathroom, the ray of soft morning light curving voraciously about her middle as she moved, and I silently wished I had a camera. Jodie is beautiful, and all my time with her, I’ve only hoped she would truly see the soft features I reflect as she stares deep, deep into my soul and prays to see something else.
As Jodie went into the bathroom, her mother peeped into the room, and making sure her daughter didn’t see her, she laid a flowing piece of black material on the bed. Rubbing her eyes, Jodie stepped blindly out of the bathroom and up to my mirror, looking inward tiredly as she popped her morning pills. It was then that she noticed the black form on her bed, shifting slightly in the top corner of the mirror, and her mother, leaning in the threshold and smiling a Mona Lisa smile. She turned grimly on her heels towards the dress on the mattress and in a loud voice Jodie asked, “Why is it that people wear black to funerals? If I was in charge, I’d celebrate the relief of death with vibrant colors, and, and, cascading streamers with little flowers and lots of cake. That’s what I would do.” The many words sounded hollow and echoed strangely off the walls.
“Death isn’t relief to most, honey,” Samantha Merrill sighed, padded over to her sick girl, and helped her into her funeral attire. Jodie sensed the motherly gesture was a guise for Samantha to inspect her naked body for signs of bruising, pock marks, or any abnormalities on her skin. Satisfied Jodie looked all right, I became the primary victim of Samantha’s gaze as she turned her daughter to my mirror and flattened out creases in the fabric of the dress. She reached for the hairbrush Jodie always keeps on my left corner and began to roughly snip at tangles, and it was obvious to everyone in the room that she was avoiding conversation.
Sensing her mother’s discomfort, Jodie awkwardly turned to her mother, and not knowing what else to do, placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, mother,” she began hesitantly, “I didn’t know Nana, but I understand the grief you must be going through.”
Oh Nana, I wilted. Jodie’s grandmother had been my previous owner, until she had bestowed me upon her ailing granddaughter in the hopes that a pretty object would help Jodie feel pretty. My mirror just made Jodie feel worse. Morning and evening, she would routinely check her pulse while quizzically staring into my bowels as if she were asking, “Why me? Why can’t I be healthy and beautiful like the girls in my class?”
The School Desk
I rolled my eyes back just far enough that I could see, in the farthest reaches of my peripheral vision, the ‘I <3 Leo’ gouged into my neighbor’s leg. I know the girl who did it, who sits at that poor desk. Her shallow, gossip-prone posse of blondes call the girl Lucy, and I had watched her use one of her razor blade fingernails to scar her desk with her proclaimed affections for Leo. Stupid Perry was all I could think. I remembered the girl Lucy from last year- her small shirts and even smaller skirts fluttering over the hands of Perry Martinez on one of his excursions to my homeroom. I had put together a speech on celibacy in my head for the two of them, but it recently dawned on me, looking back, that the only one who needed my stern words of advice was the girl. She had nothing to loose, and having nothing to loose is a precarious slope to ride down during high school. A touch of pity shoots through me when I think of her and her perfectly poised lips, not a blondish hair out of place, and those provocative, immature outfits. If only she had known what she was doing. Perry didn’t care about her, nor did she about him. Their five-minute relationship was racy, and the only reason it happened at all was because of their common interest that could only be achieved by locking 3A’s door and touching each other. Acceptance. That’s the golden ticket to a happy existence at Willa Cather Academy, which is awfully ironic, considering that Willa Cather was a lesbian, and an outcast.
A cacophony of upset parrots and squealing pigs running from imminent death exploded into 3A, breaking the silence I’d been daydreaming in after homeroom ended. Musicians, I shuddered. The homerooms here have always had the dual purpose of providing a space for the multitude of clubs to meet during free period. Looks like this year I’ll be stuck with the zit-faced guys who grow out their hair long and never give up their fedoras, even when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the mornings. The boys began to oil their trumpets and the primary fedora-offender slipped a new reed into his clarinet mouthpiece. Someone called out, “one and two and three an….” And a sole trumpet rang out, it’s brass note hanging in the air with startling clarity. They’re good? I imagined my eyes growing wide with incredulity, until the rest of the band began to play. Oh, same ol’, same ol’, I relaxed to the tuneless, harsh discordant of Hot Cross Buns and settled into the comfort of familiarity.
The Vanity Desk
Following the joyful wake of Nazi liberation, I was relocated from Nana’s house in the warn-torn city Celle, in the Lower Saxony, to a summer home in Freiburg im Breisgau, six-hundred and forty kilometers away, near the border of Germany and France. Nana was depressed in the days leading up to our move, but getting her away from the horrible images circulating around town that had leaked from Bergen-Belsen was pertinent. She didn’t bring much with her, just a suitcase and some choice antiques to furnish the nearly barren summer home. I, obviously, was brought along. For three years Nana and I shared a pint-sized bedroom overlooking a vast field of thriving green forest, consistently cooped up during the long winter months around the hot iron she used to heat her room. But at that time, Nana wasn’t “Nana” yet. She was Lucy Austerlitz, aspiring journalist extraordinaire. When the weather permitted, Lucy left the house and took a taxi across Germany’s border to spend the weekend in France. On Mondays she would come back to the house in Freiburg im Breisgau, smelling of hard liquor and French perfumes, on her arm a brown paper bag of French jam. She’d puff up the narrow Dutch staircase of the summer home and we would lean over her fleur de lis stationary while she wrote letters to a Birdie and Grant Tulane. Sometimes we would have to restart because her tears had soaked the parchment. I never did learn who the couple was that made my master sob like she did, but I do recall the one of the letters she wrote:
6 December 1948
Congratulations on your successful move to America. How is the baby doing? Have you decided on a name for her yet? Currently, I’m presiding in Freiburg im Breisgau, in a summer home Ida Seitz purchased for me from Celle. I plan on joining you and the baby in California soon- catching wind of the proper papers to travel at this time has proven difficult enough. The luck you have to not be of German descent! Meanwhile, there is a vacancy for a job in Saarbrucken for teaching. I am thoroughly sick of Germany though, and I don’t want to take it, but it’s the only choice I’ve got to do something respectable. I’ll be on the lookout for jobs in France- I’m spending more and more time in the ‘City of Lights’ you see- after I’m settled in Saarbrucken. Although I’d enjoy it, hopefully I can skip the whole fiasco of moving to France and head straight on to America soon, because I’d enjoy that salvation much more. Send the baby all my love and best wishes to you, my friends.
The School Desk
The summer of 1950 was cold, and not the kind of cold where snowflakes land on the tip of your tongue and the children make snow angels and sing carols and count down the days until Christmas. The children’s feet were constantly damp and slightly warm from five layers of socks, so gangrened suddenly didn’t seem so far-fetched. The kids couldn’t focus on their schooling because the change that was supposed to be their lunch money had frozen in the tips of their gloves. The wheezing teachers rapped little frostbitten fingers and scolded the youngsters for crying harder when their tears froze their eyelashes together. This was not the cozy, chimney-aroma sort of wintertime, and the Saarbrucken Kindergarten was in desperate need of some form of salvation.
Salvation arrived with a single book, and not enough clothes to weather the snowstorms southern Germany was experiencing. She had a funny hat on, with a nest of two bluebird eggs perched on the brim. Her name was Lucy, and nearly every boy in Saarbrucken fell in love with her. She had blonde hair, startling blue eyes, and was quick to smile, even when one of her new pupils knocked over a paint jar on her dress. The woman who had run the kindergarten for many years was in dire need of an immediate successor; her old age had finally caught up with her. Lucy became the spoonful of sugar that helped young children digest the medicine school was to them. Her laugh was rich and deep like rum cake, the color maroon, and the warm, salty earth in the summertime all rolled into one. Even I was captivated by her eccentricities: the way she brushed her hand against me when helping the boy who sat in my seat, the days she would sit on me after school hours had long gone, reading a book with her feet up and her long hair sending shivers down my back. She read aloud on those days. It was from Lucy that I became to love learning. Her classroom wasn’t run in a totalitarian manner like most schools, it was a democracy. The youngest kids, stretching all the way from three to eleven, practiced memorization, a stage in learning Lucy called grammar. The teens delved deep into subjects such as writing, arithmetic, and science- but mostly spent long hours curled up together by the furnace in the corner of the classroom with their books. The teens that were almost as old as Lucy exercised their rhetoric skills by reciting their knowledge of the world to the small children; they frequently inspired debates between the whole classroom. The two-room schoolhouse became a sanctuary for bullied outcasts, an outreaching community destined to touch the sun by its success. The kids were happy to go to school when Lucy came around, including the boy who sat at my desk.
Hal Julep huffed and puffed and sniffled and snuffed and… sneezed.
If I’d wanted to have a nice taste of peanut butter jelly boogers I’d have you asked you for it, kid, I thought contemptibly. I never enjoyed Hal’s disregard for me, but at six, respect for something as ordinary as a school desk isn’t easily come by. I regularly was barraged by bits of chewed up food and smothered in cold, dirty fingers. When Hal had to use the outhouse he would jump up and down on me with his legs crossed awkwardly, and I swear I could feel my wooden back cracking at his enthusiasm.
Hal was no different from the twenty other boys and girls that crammed into the schoolhouse four days a week save for one outstanding characteristic. Hal Julep was plagued with a mild form of autism. One chilly mid-winter afternoon, Teacher Lucy sent her student home with a letter addressed to his parents, obliging them to visit the school right away, because she felt it necessary to speak with them about Hal. The next morning, the family arrived bright and early, to Lucy’s delight.
“Mr. and Mrs. Julep,” Lucy rushed out of the room to greet her guests, and I noticed she had forgotten to put on her shoes for the walk outside. The melting snow on the lawn would freeze her toes together if left wet, and she would surely catch a cold, maybe even a case of hypothermia if she didn’t get inside. Lucy Austerlitz didn’t seem to notice.
“Hal,” she leaned down and tussled his hair, “I have an excellent lesson planned for Monday, do you want to hear about it when this meeting is over?” she whispered into his ear. Hal tried to suppress a grin, and shook his head violently up and down. Lucy straightened up and proclaimed in a loud voice, turning to the adults, “Well, I’m glad for that. Shall we adjourn to the office?” Lucy fixed her shining blue eyes on Hal’s parents and led them through the congregation of desks into a back room. I struggled to hear the conversation going on through the wall. Sludge of melting ice, like molasses, must’ve slid across the roof to the center, where it sagged, because a steady stream of icy water began to drip through right onto my head through the roof. I grouchily gave the ceiling my best death stare in the hopes that its incompetence would cease, but of course the old collection of tile and mortar wasn’t going to magically fix itself. The tip-tip-tip of the drips muffled the low voices speaking rapidly in the other room, but I could make out a few words they said:
“Vaccine…at birth… America…. friends…. trust me….” Little did I know those seven, insignificant words would change the course of my life.
Mrs. Julep stepped out of the office first, followed by Lucy, still barefoot, Hal, holding his teacher’s hand, and lastly Mr. Julep, grasping onto his son’s other hand. “And, ah, Miss Lucy, you do know that you’ve got no shoes on?” Mrs. Julep cocked her head at the woman who had so wholeheartedly taken in her handicapped son. She knew that the so called educator wasn’t an educator at all, she had no credentials, but she had something that made the children of Saarbrucken want to follow her, know her, be part of her family of pupils. And she treated Hal as if he was like any other kid who came unto her classroom, eager to learn. For making Hal feel normal in a special sort of way, Mrs. Julep was most grateful.
“Oh,” Lucy looked down at her pink feet and for the first time noticed her lack of foot attire- no socks or shoes, which were essential to keeping warm during the winter months in Germany. “Well, she attempted to save herself from looking stupid, “I must’ve left them in the office. Silly me. But that is hardly important at all- what’s important is that you,” here she paused to take Mrs. Julep’s gloved hands into her own and glance down at Hal, “are getting your darling boy out of this frigid place. It’s a matter of health, Mrs. Julep. America is the kind of place that’ll cure anything.
“And you truly believe that?” Mr. Julep’s skeptical question rang out from the back of the group.
“Actually, Mr. Julep, I know that it does.”
The School Desk
The Vanity Desk
The digital clock on Jodie’s nightstand read 6:00 am and chirped out a Demi Lovato tune. I hate Demi Lovato.
It must be awfully backwards for me to have as cynical an outlook on the world as I do. As an ancient vanity desk, of all things, I feel my perspective on life should be solitary, grimly sweet; I should be a steady hand accustomed to the ways of man and dreadfully all right with them. I feel I should be distinctly level-headed in response to humans’ blatant ignorance. But I’m not. It is almost tradition that I am inherited by a younger generation of Tulanes after the older ones pass on, yet through all my years in the family, I’ve not felt an inkling of sympathy for their shallow idiocracy, always looking in my mirror and never feeling blessed with what they have. Humans are stupid.
Jodie stirred, a feathery sack of bones under her comforter. She yawned, rolled over, and her tired body slipped off the bed. Thud!
“Everyone okay over there!?” Jason Mack, the other boarder in the hospital home called out from across the hall. Samantha Merrill raced up the staircase and appeared, breathless in Jodie’s room. “Honey, what happened? Was it a seizure? Did you check your pulse?”
“Mom, I’m fine. Jeez, can’t you just lay off?” She took a deep gulp of air and managed to spit out, “Everything’s all right, Mack!”
“Then try not to scare me so much!” The friendly boy called back. Jodie smiled to herself, but her small bit of sunshine faded as her mind returned to earth and she realized Samantha was flustering over her bedside equipment again. “Mo-om, I’ve told you a hundred times I can take care of myself. Go make some breakfast and I’ll be down in a jiff.”
Ms. Merrill hated the way her daughter bossed her around, treated her as if her incompetence was a pain. Which she guessed it was to the quick-minded Jodie, but Samantha had a life before Jodie arrived with all her medical problems. The two girls trapped each other in their own webs of self-importance. The moment either one of them, struggling for face-room like obsolete politicians, tried to catch something more than what they had, the other woman would come crashing down in her wake. Their gormless cycle was waxing for Samantha at the current period, but she knew that soon enough she would have her chance in the spotlight. A one-up from her demanding daughter, she called it privately.
Samantha had moved into the Blue Goose Hospital Boarding Home when her
daughter was twelve years old, after a particularly vexing episode Jodie had. Jodie was a bit of a martyr, fabricating tales of her condition to affiliate doctors and subsidiary nurses, but if Samantha was honest, the girl’s talent for lying was her own. I could hear, downstairs, Doctor Mason knocking delicately on the front door. “Hello, hello. I’m just here for a checkup,” he called through the screen. The familiar popsizzlecrackle sounds of Ms. Merrill frying potatoes in the kitchen wafted up to Jodie’s room. The tasty reverbrations quieted down as I realized Samantha had shut off the stove and answered the door.
“Hello, Doctor. I’m afraid Jodie isn’t awake yet. Maybe tomorrow you can have this check up.”
“Ms. Merrill, you know how important these visits are, but if you insist…”
Jodie’s ears perked up as she flattened out her wispy hair at my mirror. She banged down her hairbrush and stormed to the top of the stairs, where the doctor could clearly see her. “Actually, mother, I’m awake now.”
“Ah, wonderful. So it’ll just be a quickie today, Jodie,” Doctor Mason replied with an air of relief. He didn’t seem to sense the tension in the room as he sat Jodie down and began to poke and prod at her ribs and the catheter situated perfectly like a heart with its arteries severed peeking out from her chest. “How have you been my dear? You look great, those bruises on your forearm have cleared up nicely.”
“Actually Doctor, I’ve been very well and I think that it’s time to-“
“It’s time to move these checkups from every two weeks to every four weeks,” Samantha interjected.
“Mrs. Merrill, I’m not sure that’s the best decision, medically speaking, but emotionally, if that’s what you believe is best for Jodie, then you have my consent. Unfortunately, the board will have to O.K. that.”
The School Desk
Perry’s reticent footsteps took me by surprise. His shifty eyes roamed the hallway to make sure no person saw him enter homeroom 3A as he creaked the door open and slipped inside. This is odd, I speculated, he has no girl with him, and he certainly didn’t come here to do extra work. He wouldn’t falter in his appearance in order to pick up his grades or get some learning done. He needed the manifestation of perfection his popularity provided him. Tacitly, Perry shut the door and walked to the center of the room, a dandelion in a field of desks. I was too short to see out the bottom of the window, so I just envisioned the throngs of clique-ish girls chattering mindlessly in their circles; the boys shooting hoops on the half-court at the far corner of the campus; I saw Quinn and Ashley making out on the “Kissing Bench”. In my mind’s eye, these images were natural and familiar, although I’ve never actually seen them happening. My line of vision doesn’t sink as low as the blacktop and tops of heads- I’m stuck with the patch of skyline at the upper half of the window; I’m accustomed to observing Heaven. One day, just one day, I’d like to really see the sins of Will Cather Academy that have evaded me for so long. As soon as the kids are released from the teachers’ clutches, I no longer am part of their lives.