One of Those Days
One of Those Days
Some days I know it as soon as I drive into the parking lot. There’s a strange sensation in my mouth: a catch in the back of my throat that skitters like microscopic critters with thready legs dancing down my throat. Down my throat and into my belly. My senses go on high alert. I realize I will need them all.
It’s going to be one of those days.
On this particular one of those days, I chased the feeling with some coffee before class. We had two new students this morning. Both were high school drop-outs. One, however, left school a month ago and was court mandated to get his diploma equivalency. The other, I knew, would leave most of my students incredulous. She’d left school over forty years ago and made a living in some field other than fast food service. I ran the “There was indeed a world before you were born” explanation tape in my head:
Yes, children, there was a time – just barely in my lifetime – when people could leave high school before graduation and earn a living. A lot of the jobs were in the now defunct or dying manufacturing industries, but they were good jobs for the time and supported many a high school drop-out who dreamed of sending his children to college. If that sounds like Utopia to you, bear in mind this was also a time when computers were anything but personal and took up entire rooms; television was new enough to have three channels that you watched on tiny screens in only black and white; and the average family had one telephone, one internal “ringtone,” a receiver to hear and talk into and a rotary dial. And it was oh! So primitive because it had no camera to take all your selfies.
Things have advanced so much since those Dark Ages? True, but so has the demand for knowledge, reasoning and logic. You know, the things you can’t learn from Twitter.
I gave Notta a wary smile before we went with our Civics lesson in to class. Our newbies sat at opposite ends of the conference table. The young man slouched comfortably in his chair and seemed to have a lot to say to the other young men near him. He flicked long blonde hair out of his face and off his shoulders, I guessed, to serve as punctuation. I detected a regular stream of vague “what ‘m sayin?” and some expletives in a rhythm that did not come naturally to him.
“I guess our new gentleman has what you call street smarts,” I murmured to Notta.
She sniffed. “If by ‘street smarts’ you mean he’s just plain rude, I agree.”
The other new student sat almost primly in her chair, smoothing the skirt of her simple, navy blue dress and holding a rather large navy blue handbag on her lap. I did not look at her shoes to see if they matched. She took my offered hand as if she had no idea why I would offer her mine. “Call me Dorothy,” she said. “Only my father ever called me Dot and he was a real – “
“Uh, Dorothy, let’s work on vocabulary, “I said.
One of my regulars bustled in at that moment.
The thermometer read fourteen degrees above zero that morning. Half the six young men in my class arrived without coats and in shorts and T-shirts. The girls wore coats and most of them had sense to wear layers of other clothing. The new arrival, however, took off her puffer coat to reveal a unfortunately tight, short-sleeved to that barely contained what Nature had so generously given.
A crowing sound came from the other end of the table. “Damn, girl!” our new young man sang out. “Why don’t you jus’ let them boobies hang out?” The young lady in question gave him a sour look and showed him two middle fingers. Reg stared. “Bitch, what you gotta be like that for?”
I do prefer my students to feel comfortable expressing themselves, but there are limits. There are lines I have to draw before Notta gets all the way out of her chair. “Reg,” I said, “that’s not really an appropriate observation for our class.” I admit, I half-expected him to puzzle over the meaning of ‘observation.’ He didn’t.
“I’m sayin’ what’s true,” he said. “She don’t want the attention, she shouldn’t dress like that.”
“First of all, you should say, ‘IF she DOESN’T want the attention,” I said passing out the materials for the day’s first lesson. The young lady had the sense to excuse herself for the restroom. “Second of all, why is her wardrobe your concern?”
Reg made a disgusted noise. “Ah, all I’m sayin’ is, she gonna dress like one of those, some guy’s gonna treat her like one of those.”
“One of those what, Reg?”
“One of THOSE. Hoes. A slut, right?” He looked to the other young men with a smile that begged for confirmation. All but one tried to appear more interested in the day’s reading. The one happened to be a bright young fellow who had announced to what that long-ago day was an otherwise all-female class that women could not be President of the United States because the office has always been held by men. I will leave the sight and sounds of the ladies’ response that day to the imagination. This day he regarded Reg with something close to pity.
I set my pen down and gave him my full attention. “Are you saying that you find her outfit provocative?”
“I’m saying, she’s showin’ ‘em off and a guy’s gonna take notice. A guy’s gonna wanna get some.”
“So you think a tight T-shirt is an offer, then?” He made a grunting sound that I supposed meant agreement. “Dressed like that she’s just asking for it?” He frowned and I noticed how well groomed his eyebrows were. His beard was trimmed and his clothes JC Penney or higher.
“Maybe she DOESN’T think she’s askin’, but she’s askin’,” he said.
“Did it occur to you that she might have to wear what she can find? That perhaps she can’t afford to buy a bigger size?” His next sound was simply rude. Notta shook her head at me and I let the lie lay. “All right, let’s say she could. But she’s comfortable in what she has on.”
“Maybe so, but she’s gonna get the guys all hot and hard. An’ stuff’s gonna happen.” Even Dorothy made a disapproving noise to that statement.
“And if ‘stuff’ happens, it’s her fault.”
“’course it is. She chose the clothes and a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” He barked a laugh and elbowed the young man next to him, who wisely did not respond.
“Spare us the clichés, Reg,” I said. “So men have no responsibility at all, when ‘stuff’ happens?”
“I told you. She dresses like that – “
“Yes, we heard you.” I sat back to study the ceiling. “So what you’re saying is that women have to dress uncomfortably and ugly because you men can’t control yourselves.”
“I didn’t say that! Women dress to attract men, is all I’m saying and they can’t act all holy and pure if they put it on display.”
“And if they put it on display, you simply MUST take it?”
He leered. “She offers, I ain’t gonna say no.”
“And if she didn’t offer?”
“Well, what’s she want to get me all…” Dorothy and Notta cleared their throats. “INTERESTED if she’s not offering?”
“Well, WHY are you getting INTERESTED when we’re here to prepare you for the GED test?”
“Can’t help it.”
“Perhaps you’d better learn to help it,” I told him. “Or leave. We’re here to learn and that kind of self-control is not on the agenda. What is on the agenda, “ I continued, “is Civics and we’re talking about elections. How many of you have registered to vote this year?” About half, including Dorothy.
“Oh, I’m really getting involved in the Presidential race,” she chirped. “It’s so critical because there’s ‘one of those’ running this time.”
Notta almost groaned, but shaped it into a sigh.
I rubbed my forehead. “’One of those,’ Dorothy? You mean a Jewish man or women?”
She clucked her tongue and gave me the students’ patented look of disbelief. “Oh no. I mean one of THOSE.”
As I said, it was indeed one of those days.