Sunday, April 29, 2018

Wind Chimes

Except for Opie erupting with rage whenever someone has the temerity to walk a dog on the public city street in front of the house, it is very peaceful here. We are too beaten down, and adjusted in expectations, to fight anymore.  While Himself's ideas come from ideas, my ideas come from people.  We continue to burrow closer to the core of each other's essence.  Himself prods me to take a more philosophical approach.  Alternatively, Himself is exposed to people.  As I go through a fraught transitionary part of my life, here at our house, we are content and easy with each other.

We sleep with the windows open.  Generations of cats ago, one of the felines, maybe Gary or Mary, gnawed through the screens.  It takes us a decade to get them replaced and now we have heavy gauge screen doors and a sweet pleasure is a warm bed in a cool breezy room.  Clean sheets on Saturday. The 110 a couple blocks away is a gently flowing river.   There are windchimes on the deck. 

The education folks from the gallery come to my classroom to help with a follow up with our field trip to the Sveeman exhibit.  I have the students write about a loved one who they’ve lost, although many of them don't get the dead part. I have to ask for clarification so that I can instruct them what tense to use.  I tell them to text me photos of their loved ones, so I can print them.  Only Jacob comes through with two photos of himself kissing a stunningly beautiful girl.  I ask him, “Is she...dead?” “Nah.  She break up with me.”

Students submit three sentences describing memories of their loved ones to me for proofreading and I attach for each some clipart.  Lots of tamales. Churches. Chickens. Cigarettes. Countryside. Christmas.  They are to neatly write their corrected sentences in a little wide-ruled box.  And then we make collages, backed by papel picado (those lacy tissue paper cutouts). 
The museum people have a Powerpoint for the students, which they narrate in English and Spanish.  It starts with 15th century cabinets of curiosity and then shows modern rendition by Rosamund Purcell from the Santa Monica Museum of Art.  Then, the tiny elevator gallery of objects called Mmuseum by Alex Kalman. It continues to Day of the Dead Altars. They demonstrate that objects, and what they express, is legitimate fodder for art.  The final slide is a photo of group at the Sveeman exhibit.    The museum folks walk around and chat with the students, while they assemble their collages.  Jacob, the boy with the dead-to-him girlfriend works intently.   I red ink his memories and I find some nice little woodcut of books and flowers.  He cuts each one out carefully and mounts tape behind each picture so the books protrude and jiggle slightly.  He colors the flowers brightly. He writes, “She gave me some books.  We went for a walk. I gave her flowers,” in his finest hand.

I've used the same textbook now three times in a row and know it by heart.  It isn't scintillating the first time around.  I've honed my jokes now.  Gloria and Juan are standing in front of a fast food restaurant and Gloria pats her stomach.  What do you think Gloria is saying to Juan?  “I'm pregnant.  It's yours.” Always one of the biggest laughs of the trimester. 

Now we're on the food chapter.  I give them my little speech with shopping hints and show them the benefits of bulk buying.  And that certain items like milk and eggs that are cheaper at Trader Joe's.  And that I don't grapefruit.  I give them a list of foods and they have to ask each other “Do you like pizza? Tacos? Fish?   Yes I do.  Or no I don't.  I like fish.  I don't like fish.”

The girls are badly outnumbered for The Battle of the Sexes game I have on a Powerpoint.  And I choose a particularly difficult one I've made.  Kelly's schedule is on a grid.   Kelly (fill in the blank-- always, sometimes, seldom, never) has English class on Thursday. The question mark to connote “sometimes” is a bear. Girls 8. Boys 15.  We won't play again until more of the smart girls are there.

Thursday night is always a big breath out.  I work from home, braless, on Fridays with CNN in the background.  This Friday however is the final meeting of a textbook committee I've served on.  There have been four meetings with different textbook reps. The slick, for profit publishers bring us Panera or Mendocino Farms box lunches.  One of the non-profits has a tray of depressing sandwiches from  Ralph's.  The other non-profit passes out highlighters.  For our final meetings someone throws some leftovers from a student event on the table.  A wilting vegetable platter (and does anyone really eat raw broccoli?) some soggy fruit salad and a tray of Smart and Final muffins.

Unfortunately, the school is inflexible about marking up student textbooks by 25%.  Three of the four textbooks will run the students about $35.  The National Geographic series that I prefer will cost $40. I hesitate about the steep charge, even though our classes are free.  But, the Stand Out series not only has a robust online component and professionally produced videos, it is a beautiful book, printed on paper with a good feel and filled with glorious National Geographic photos.  I take the gamble of advocating for the more expensive tome, hoping that giving the students a book that they can love might engage them more.  The turkey avocado baguette from Mendocino Farms has nothing to do with it.

Getting into to the rhythm of thirteen ten-hour weeks, rinse repeat, I guess I am a bit more emotionally distant.  When  students don't pass a class, they are automatically sent to another teacher to repeat it.  After three trimesters, a couple of the sweet older ladies who can't read or write return to my class for a 3rd session of ESL 1B.  I notice that the ladies speak a bit better and with greater confidence and are better able to sound out a simple sentence. We refer to them as terminal Level Ones but for a handful, I think that persistence may ultimately pay off.

Most of the others are lovely people too but after three classes of fifty students, there are only a handful of standouts.  Graciella, crew cutted, covered with amateur tatoos and clad in loose shorts and baggy tee, sits with the twenty-something boys and they snort and snicker together.  Graciella is the only student in the class without a phone so I loan her mine when we play phone games.  “I'm getting a phone soon Teacher,” she promises each time.  One night she arrives early and beaming, presents her new phone.  I hug her and then help her install all of the apps we use.  We send each other text messages via the school app.  A week later she texts that she'll be absent due to a family emergency.  I've text her a few times to see what's up.  The boys ask about her every night.  Radio silence.

Another student who stands out is Freddy.  He is the only student from Venezuela.  He lives in Silver Lake but dislikes the local adult school and drives the extra five miles to ours.  He is erudite and shows me pictures of Botero statues at the National Museum in Bogota and a trip to Rome with his mom.  He finishes his work quickly and sits playing with his phone.  I think that the other students find him a bit haughty although he is generous about helping out.  I am careful not to embarrass him but while he is likely one of the better educated students in the class, his English proficiency is really only slightly above average and sometimes his corrections of other students’ work is incorrect.  I offer him some extra worksheets when he finishes ahead of the other students.  He rushes through them and returns to his phone.  During the break he is eager to talk to me about Silver Lake restaurants and places to eat in Thai Town.

I feel terrible when I see a former student and while I can usually remember certain idiosyncrasies and details, I go blank on the name. Then, when I'm driving home or on the verge of sleep, it comes to me.  Juana.  Demaris.  Eldoberto, Arturo.

Himself reconnects with a friend who we haven't seen for over twenty-five years.  I remember only a couple of details, mainly that he rhapsodized over his mother's scrambled eggs, salt added only after cooking.  At a professional event, I meet someone I know from teaching over thirty years ago.  I would never recognize her, but for her name on the board.  My memory is of a dinner at her valley ranch house with a combo of ESL teachers and some of her husband’s film industry friends. My escort overhears another guest allude to some legal problems my father had had a decade before. 

--> I don't know why I remember what I remember but for the most part pleasantness or weirdness overshadow the painful or humiliating.  The teaching itself continues to exhilarate and I’ve grown a bit more numb to the ludicrousness of bureaucracy.  While not teaching I spend a lot of time on the phone with lawyers and tracking down ancient documents.  I imagine, in a few years, I'll be in the cool bedroom remembering.  I hope that the memories of our current hurdles and travails are relegated to the dead file.  We have this house and the babies who became men here.  And I’ll sleep beside the man, who except for shaming me into occasional intellectual rigor, knows me and is easy with me.  The hanger of the wind chimes.

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