They Write of the Living Dead
-UFT New York Teacher
Ghouls Out For Summer
From her vantage point Jane could see all angles of attack. Repeat-offenders, or what Mori called “residents,” would enter from the left staircase from the entrance of the school. Students in Mr. Dimtry’s math class would head down from the right and new-admits to her special circle of hell would come from straight ahead. Mori watched as Eric Bloom (a part-time resident) walked from the lower end of the hall straight toward her. She wrote his name down, put a check next to his name and nodded to him by the time he walked through the door to find his seat.
The halls had cleared and she could hear Mr. Dimitry starting up his class: “Is this all of you? Why is only half the class here?” he said, only sounding partially annoyed. She was about to turn in to begin shuffling paperwork when something to the left caught her eye. Near the end of the hall she could see a student standing looking at a locker a couple inches in front of him. His head was hunched forward as if he was about to nod off while standing. She could empathize. She watched for a few seconds expecting him to remember his combination and open his locker or move back to class. He did none of the above. She opened her mouth to speak, but for some reason couldn’t find the words. She felt strange. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a student try to eek out a few extra minutes away from class, especially in the beginning of the day, but his hunched figure didn’t seem to fit that scenario. She now noticed that his arms hung slack and loose at his sides like the hair that covered his profile. She thought she could see him moving his mouth as if he were whispering something menacingly to the wall. She opened her mouth a second time. This time the words were there: “Find your way to class.”
He didn’t move. From this distance she couldn’t tell who he was or what he was looking at and she certainly couldn’t hear what he was saying. Why was he just standing there? Why did she care so much? She jumped back as a hand suddenly slapped the doorframe in front of her.
“Miss M., are you coming in? I’ve been tryin’ to talk to you for the last minute” She hadn’t noticed that she had instinctively moved halfway into the classroom. Eric was standing at her side. His left eye-brow lifted a question to her. She looked back down the hall and noticed that the student had left. She turned back to Eric, lifted both eye-brows in response to his quizzical look and motioned to the empty seat two rows back. He sighed realizing she was going to continue ignoring his question and went to his seat for the rest of the day.
She continued to shuffle forward and finally grasped the coffee pot that had been brewing in the teacher’s lounge kitchen. It’s been harder to wake up each morning, she thought. She poured the coffee into a Styrofoam cup and then added too much sugar as she turned to face the habitual morning groan from her colleagues.
“They don’t listen. Let me tell you!” yelped Mrs. Drescher as her eyes lit up with eagerness. To Jane she seemed either immune to the early morning demands of the school day, or, more likely, had already drank large amounts of coffee before coming in. Jane stirred her coffee and listened as if she hadn’t already heard this or something like it before. “Eric was sitting in my 4th period class yesterday and after I had already spent Fif-TEEN minutes explaining and re-explaining directions on what they had to do, a simple worksheet on conjugating verbs, he turns to me with this blank look, nothing on his face, and says, ‘What do we have to do?’ ‘What do we have to do?’ Can you believe that? They don’t listen. They simply don’t listen” She brought her hands up and down for emphasis.
Mr. Hahn’s head bobbed up and down in perfect unison with her arm gestures. “It’s like they shut off their brains. Half of my kids act the same way. But some of them just feel compelled to get up and walk around the room. No regard for rules. They walk and hit others on the head just to get a reaction, and then shamble back to their seats. It’s like they need to remind people they’re still there, you know. ‘Hey, I hit you in the head…I whacked you, therefore I am.’”
It was way too early for Hahn’s quasi-philosophical meanderings about the existential crises of young adolescent minds. As Hahn began a new train of thought—“I believe that graffiti is a symbol of…”—Jane headed for the door out to sit in the in-house suspension room for all the wonderful existentialist students teachers like Hahn and Drescher sent her way.
* * * *
“Here. Over here. No, no, that’s whack. Do it like this.” Jayson was moving his arm in quick steady swings almost as if he didn’t care how it looked, but as usual his tags were better than mine. I rubbed my eyes thinking about how his texts woke me up this morning: wE GoTTa gEt in 2 SkOOL earLy! Meet me at 7:10 in the park. I was surprised by the quick switch to “traditional” texting. It wasn’t like him; it wasn’t “G” enough for him. He must be serious, I thought. When it turned out he just wanted to give me an art lesson in the girls bathroom before school started it was too late to argue with him. He wouldn’t have listened anyway. Tagging had become his recent obsession in a long list of obsessions.
He stepped back and admired his artistry: Eat me Dresher!! in bold red sharpie with black shadows. “It’s glorious!” he said. I held back from pointing out the missing comma, and his misspelling of Drescher (who had taught us for the last two years). He’d probably say it was on purpose anyway, that she didn’t deserve her name to be spelled right.
He handed back the markers and I went over to an empty pink wall—a new canvas. I wondered whether I should tag my name, an attack on Mr. Hahn or a note to one of the girls who would come in to check her hair in the mirror. Maybe I should write it backwards so she could see it flipped correctly in the mirror, that’d be hot!
“What are you just standing and staring at, Fatty?!” I jumped at the sound of Melanie’s voice. I guess I wasn’t going to write the message backwards or forwards.
“Oh God, here we go. “The Critic” is going to jump in…check out my masterpiece M.”
Melanie paced in a slow semi-circle around the side of the stall one foot crossing over the other in order to get in between the two of us. I noticed that she was wearing her hair differently and she had a new chain around her neck. I wondered where she got it. “You spelled Drescher wrong dumbass.”
“So?” He sucked his teeth. “She don’t deserve it to be spelled right” I held my hand over my mouth as much to hide my grin as to keep from pointing out the comma they had both missed.
“You two are stupid. What are you doing in the girl’s bathroom anyway? Can’t you trash up your own bathroom, or have you already used up all the wall-space in there??”
“You should know, since you were in there trying to suck face with Jonathan yesterday, right Eric?” My hand fell from my mouth, but I should have left it to keep my face straight. Instead I stood gaping at them both like a fool. Jayson had his “hey-look-at-me grin on” as Melanie turned and looked straight into my eyes. Was she trying to see how I’d react, to see if I cared? Just as quickly she turned back to Jayson and started clawing at him. Jayson dodged to his left and ran past me back out the door to the hallway. He ended up pulling Melanie with him as she tried to get a solid grip on his backpack. I added a comma before chasing after them.
“Stop running, I said!... They never listen.” Mrs. Drescher was standing in the middle of the hall with Mr. Hahn. They were circled around a puddle of spilled coffee as if they were protecting it from the students. She looked after Jayson and Melanie as they pushed through the growing crowd of students coming in before the first bell. They were safe for now. Mr. Hahn, however, was looking past me at the door to the girl’s bathroom.
“Don’t move Mr. Bloom” he said now staring at me, then at the markers in my hands, then back into my eyes. I stared back without blinking. “See, Mrs. Drescher? I told you. They use graffiti to—”
“Alright Eric, you know where to go.” I played dumb and just looked at her. “Eric, do I really have to spell it out for you? (Yes, I thought still staring blankly at her). Go to the dean’s office” Mr. Hahn and Mrs. Drescher looked at each other and shook their heads. I stepped into the coffee they were protecting and headed to the Dean.