Eye Seventy Five

A potted plant with a leggy herb of some sort sitting on a potting bench.

She carefully took the paper out from the bottom of the secret shoebox. She handled it with care because she’d touched it many times. She was worried that it was becoming fragile. Sometimes she simply opened the box, moved aside the things on the top and caressed the parchment with her eyes. Just to make sure it was there. And to remind herself.

Other times, like today, she unfolded it. There were many folds and there was a specific order. She always enjoyed folding it back up. Matching the up grooves in the paper, seeing where the breaks were. Opening and closing when it didn’t line up right, triggering more study. It was a silly puzzle, but one that required just enough concentration to make it seem important.

Unfolding, on the other hand, now that was an exercise in revealing. The first open was like a book, really more like a pamphlet. Then she released it like an accordion, or, maybe, a fan. She used to pretend she was playing an instrument and pull the folds open and closed. She didn’t do that anymore. Mostly because the creases lost their spring over the years, and increasingly because she thought she should be more gentle.

After she spread out the panels, she unfolded it from the bottom, doubling the size in her hands. She could start to see markers appear. She unfurled another layer and it was spread out all in front of her.

She ran her finger along the long red line. There were other red lines that were parallel, others that crossed, but there was only one that followed from the top all the way to the bottom. From the beginning to the end.

She lived near the top of the line, relatively. One time she got very close to the top, crossing over the Mighty Mac for a family trip that began with such hope, as they always did, but ended in a worn down cottage and standard issue disappointment. The bridge was impressive, though. And a little scary.

But the most scary, and the most wondrous, was the endpoint of that long red line. One thousand, six-hundred and twenty-six miles away. But she only knew about 175 miles away, personally. The possibilities of more than a thousand miles away was exhilarating.

She only knew from TV. Palm trees. Alligators. Salt water. Hurricanes. Coconuts. Shrimp. Black beans and rice. Spices!(!) Waves. Rocks. Bright blue water with concrete pylons and a road connecting rocky islands.

She was from the world of cars, of motoring. And yet she took her beat-up green short bed truck only within a sixty-mile radius of her home.

When she took out her map, and opened it up, and laid it out, the entire world was in front of her. At least a world that was near the 1-75 corridor. That road that would take her to paradise.

She opened up the map and imagined her adventure. She swore she would take the road herself, one day. But she had to finish high school. She hoped to make it to the next stop, maybe along that corridor. She wanted to see a bigger world. That kept her in school. Kept her working to make some grades. Kept her from messing with the boys that called her cute, after they called someone else out.

She heard the argument getting louder downstairs. She very very carefully refolded her map. She put her dream back in the box under her bed. But in her head, she was trying to push the accelerator down with her right foot. As hard as she could.

Bully Pulpit

A school playground that looks inviting. And fun.

Kyle was the biggest kid in the school. The school itself was small, with just three groups, pre-school, pre-k and kindergarten. Pre-school was in the front room with the guinea pig named Piggy. Pre-k and kindergarten learned together in the next classroom over, on the other side of the kitchen where the littlest kids opened the huge refrigerator door to store their lunches.

Kyle was the oldest. He may have waited an extra year before enrolling, as was the fashion for boys then. Their parents thought it would give their sons, especially the ones younger or less mature, a better start.

Kyle definitely took advantage of his advantages. He was taller and stronger than the other kids. He was more coordinated. He had more words. And he was more aware of the way the world worked, or at least the ways he could work the world.

His mom and dad were full professors at the university. They were old parents with graying thinning hair, knees that sometimes popped and less patience. Their short patience span was manifest in letting Kyle be Kyle. They saw no reason to fully resist him. He could regularly wear them down without too much effort, so why not skip the struggle and just let him be? They were happiest when he was happy. Whether that was an occasional ice cream bar for breakfast, watching more TV than was allowed or skipping his bath some nights, they’d go along to get along.

The school was focused on letting the kids be kids. It wasn’t a free for all. No, not at all. The teachers and their assistants were well in control. They let the children lead their learning via their activities. This worried some parents. They wanted worksheets and homework so that their offspring would be “ready” for big-kid school. The faculty resisted. They guided lessons through the curiosity of the kids. The success of their approach was evidenced by ten years’ of kindergartners leaving their tutelage reading books. And asking wonderful questions. And taking responsibility for their learning.

The kids would make up their own games, build forts under blankets hung from cubbies and publish their own books with stapled spines. Sometimes, when the teachers weren’t looking, Kyle would walk by a classmate and push off of them with his hand. Or, you could say, he’d walk by and shove a kid. If there was any resistance, he would claim that he was misunderstood. If it was an extremely egregious hit, he would sheepishly apologize. His physical outbursts weren’t frequent.

More frequent were his exclusions. His parents thought that he was a natural leader. He would provide value–usually his attention–to some of the kids in order to isolate another. This was a rotating position, the one of outsider. One day you’d be out and the next day you would be part of the group barring someone else. It was fair, in a weird way. Except if you were Kyle, because you were never out. Kyle was always in. Everyone loved him, despite the hitting and despite the emotional manipulations. Kyle was the oldest and the biggest and the best.

There was at least one mother who noticed the dynamic. She noticed even before the day her pre-k son, a year or maybe two, younger than Kyle came home sad that he was sidelined. When her boy told her that he couldn’t play the game around the tree and that he felt left out, she felt left out, too.

“What stopped you from playing the game around the tree?”

“Kyle said that I couldn’t play.”

He needed some tools. They role played and practiced. Sometimes she was Kyle and sometimes he pretended to be Kyle. They sometimes played out their script in the car. There were no further incidents.

The mother brought him into school late one morning, after snack and before lunch. He had a doctor’s appointment. The school was adamant about taking the kids outside everyday, rain or shine, hot or cold, snow or wind, but today the downpour was too much. Some kids were playing “fort” near the cubbies. There were blocks stacked to protect from intruders. Her boy approached the “entrance” to the fort so he could drop off his backpack and hang his wet jacket in his cubby.

“Stop!” It was Kyle who stepped out from the group huddled in their “fort.”

“You aren’t in the club. You can’t come in here.”

The mother drew in a breath and felt her hand tighten on the handles of her satchel.

“Kyle, you aren’t the boss over me,” said her son, just like they had practiced. And he stepped over a block to his cubby.

Kyle didn’t miss a beat as he stepped aside. “You can be in the club.”

The boy hung up his coat and stepped back out of the fort. “No, I’m going to paint over there with Emily and Christine.” This second part was a freestyle. Not bad.

The mother’s heart was beating faster. First, because she was afraid, and now because she didn’t need to be. Her lesson was to let him find his own way with her guidance. Perhaps the school was teaching her as much as they were teaching him. They both had a lot to learn.

Dub Squad

Empty swings in the schoolyard. At least it's a sunny morning.

Zoe had been hoping that her orthodontist appointment would last longer. Or that it would start late. Or that the dentist office would catch fire. Anything to delay or, even better, avoid going to school. Mom wasn’t having any of it.

But Mom was being selfish. Said she had to get back to work. Zoe felt very strongly that it would be better if they had lunch together, then maybe go shopping. She made her case smartly and forcefully. Mom was having none of it. Stupid office.

Things didn’t go so well at the end of yesterday. Somehow the day got out of hand. It was that idiot project. She was working with Emily and Emma, like they almost always did. They were all in the gifted and talented program. They were all in the orchestra. She and Emily played flute. Emma played the violin. They were all on the same soccer team. Emily’s dad coached. They were called the Purple Reign because their uniforms were violet and they loved to sing “Let’s Go Crazy” on the sidelines. It psyched them up. They all had iPhones and sent each other the most hysterical emoji messages ever. Their moms couldn’t decipher their code.

They stopped singing the songs from Frozen this year. They switched over to binge watching The Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss was more relatable than the cartoon Elsa. The archer’s moodiness was more like they sometimes felt. Alone together. They were growing up.

Yesterday was ridiculous, though. They were close to being finished with their presentation. They worked in Justin Bieber’s Sorry from YouTube. The project was on language and the concept just worked. They agreed that the dancing would be a great way to finish off. Creativity points and maybe some cool points, too. Somehow, though, everything went south.

Emily started by saying that she didn’t think they should spend so much time with a dance video. It made them seem less serious. Zoe felt stung. She was working on their choreography. It was actually her major contribution. She made different signs for them to hold and swap as they were dancing. Using the classroom speakers and a YouTube video was uncharted for the students. She had to get Ms. Waldorf’s permission. Zoe explained how they were integrating a pop video into their research. She was pretty proud of her negotiating.

Before Zoe could respond, Emma piped in her agreement. She said it in a thoughtful way, like, “I hear what you’re saying, Emily. That makes sense.” But she said it as soon as Emily finished her sentence. As if they had discussed it before. Zoe felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She took a big breath through her nose. She blinked her eyes quickly to quell the rising salt water. She exhaled and then took another deep breath.

Emma’s left eye narrowed just a bit and the one side of her mouth turned down. She was thinking for real this time. “But maybe we can keep it and just only do it for half of the time.” It was Emily’s turn to stiffen a little.

“If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine,” Zoe said with a bit more force on the fine than she was intending.

“No, no, no. I’m okay with Emma’s idea. Let’s just cut the dancing short.”

There was a bit of shortness in Emily’s response. All three girls were feeling edgy. Zoe quickly packed her notebook and markers in her backpack. She put her half-eaten Lara Bar that fell out of it’s wrapper in there, too. She didn’t care that it would be gross. She was ready to go. She needed to go.

“Okay. I just remembered I needed to see Mr. Ripley. See you guys tomorrow.” She stood up and shook her stuff to the bottom of her bag, awkwardly zipping it as she walked away. She hoped that they didn’t see the back of her hand run across her eyes. Her last few steps out the door were a sprint.

She was quiet at dinner. She couldn’t stop replaying the conspiracy in her head. Why were they ganging up on her? They had been working on this plan for weeks and this was the first she heard about “too much music.” When she thought the words “too much music” she thought them in a sarcastic baby voice.

And this was after she cleared it with the teacher. After she made the signs. After she figured out how they would use them to “convey their educational messages in an authentic fashion to their peers.” Those words got her the approval. A flare of pride pushed away her gloom.

Were Emily and Emma mad at her? Did she do something to make them mad? Why were they rejecting her? She started to feel a tennis ball sized mass in the middle of her chest rise to the back of her throat. She swallowed it back down before it reached her eyes. Mom started to ask her something but her brother and his friend came home and the dog went off.

Zoe put her plate and silverware in the dishwasher and decided to call it a night. She walked upstairs. She stared at the foam from the toothpaste leaking from the edges of her mouth. Like a sad clown face. She felt a little sorry for the girl in the mirror. She downed a glass of water and watched a little water drip down her chin. It spotted her t-shirt. She pulled on her favorite nightshirt and curled in bed with an unopened book. She gazed absently at the ceiling, her hand resting on the cover of her book, her mind spinning through the end of the school day and cycling through emotions of confusion, anger, sadness and doubt.

Now she had to go back to school and she didn’t know if her friends were her friends. She made herself stop. Mom pulled in front of the school. If Zoe looked at her, she would have seen her mother’s head tilted to one side, studying her daughter with pronounced lines on her forehead. But Zoe had the car door slammed behind her–not slammed hard but with a little extra force–before her mother could finish her assessment.

Crap. It was lunchtime. Everyone would be in the cafeteria. She didn’t want to go in there, but after she checked in with the school secretary, she had no where else to go. She grabbed a tray and kept her head down as she approached the food kiosk.

She put her tray down on a table and felt someone sticking an earphone in her ear. She heard the tinny sound of a song. Emily was attached to the end of the white wire and held the other bud next to her own ear. She looked at Zoe all wild-eyed and crooned, “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Emma was horse stomping her right foot in rhythm to the song. She finished with her best Michael Jackson flourish, which meant she lost her balance. While she did stagger, she stayed standing. The three of them doubled over. Zoe’s snort was followed by another round of shrieks.

Those two Ems knew her well. And, they were exactly right about cutting some of the music at the end. In fact, all was right.

Corporate Doughnuts

cake donut. mmmmmm

When I was in school we’d raise money selling donuts and coffee.

You had to reserve the space in the Union. Sign ups for student groups–mostly progressive and then finally the Young Republicans when they finally cracked the code since the progressives weren’t sharing–were at the beginning of the semester. You tried to get as many days as you could. Donut selling was easy money (see more below).

Most student groups used the same coffee makers. I forget who owned them. It might have been the PIRG. There were two big multi gallon machines. No decaf, just regular coffee. I think we bought the coffee from the PIRG, too. Or at least reimbursed them.

There was sugar we’d put in a styrofoam coffee cup with a plastic spoon. There was powdered coffee creamer which got the same treatment. My tenant’s rights group supplied our own cups and coffee modifiers, and our own napkins, too.

One day our director thought it’d be better if we owned our own coffee makers. Then WE could rent to other groups–like the Young Republicans–and it would pay for itself in a few months. Such entrepreneur. Much pain in ass.

Boss man didn’t manage the coffee makers. They’d come back dirty. They’d not come back. We had to chase down our friends in the other student groups for payment. And they’d want to pay in donuts.

All the student groups got their donuts from the same donut shop. I don’t remember the name, but it wasn’t called donut. I think the goods came from a place called Dairy Something or Somebody’s Dairy. I don’t really remember. I might be making the name stuff up.

We’d order the donuts in two dozen increments. Someone with a car–not me since I only had two wheels–would pick them up before the crack of dawn. I would be there for setup. I’d get the coffee started, lugging the big pot to the sink in the janitor’s closet to fill it. I know. Don’t judge me. We all did it and drank the coffee, too.

The donuts were all cake donuts. In fact they were all the same donuts. The differentiator was the covers. There were chocolate, grainy sugar, toasted coconut, cinnamon (with the grainy sugar) and peanut. Sometimes there were maple, but they weren’t big sellers. If the director picked up the donuts he would get those even though they didn’t sell. He must have liked them, or he wanted more variety for our display. The sprinkles on the white frosting either sold out fast or not at all. On Valentine’s Day there were donuts with red and white sprinkles. THOSE were popular. My personal favorite was the plain.

When I was on donut duty, I would eat two. Usually one cinnamon (with the grainy sugar) and a plain one. Yes, eating our profits, because although the money was easy, there wasn’t a lot of it. We might clear between $35-$65 after costs. And be super pleased.

I prefer cake donuts over yeast donuts. I’ve had good yeast donuts in the past, but it seems that nowadays everyone is imitating those Krispy Kreme donuts. Those donuts with the slippery, greazey sticky coating. I don’t know that it’s sugar. I do know that it’s nasty. Like I said, I like good yeast donuts, but these aren’t those.

The best donuts I’ve had since being all the way grown are Downyflake donuts. They have two types, plain and chocolate covered. I only like the plain. They are sinkers. If you leave them in a paper bag they grease it all up. So good. When you buy a dozen in a box and there’s some left for the next day, you pop them in the toaster oven on toast. If you put a paper towel underneath it and can avoid the paper catching fire, it will crisp up really nice. If the paper catches fire it crisps up, but not really nice.

I’ve often wondered what happened with that other New England donut, Dunkin’ Donuts. I thought they were decent, but someone brought them into work and they were absolutely inedible. It’s like they are diet donuts–in fake flavor and in rubbery consistency. It seems like they switched to good-for-you oil. I like the bad slash-tasty oil. It’s not good for you. It’s just good.

These gross corporate donuts, DunkinD and KrispyK are lousy excuses for donuts. I miss donuts cooked in good fat and that taste good. And that you could sell at school and make $45 for your cause.

But I don’t want artisanal doughnuts that cost $2.50 each that claim to be good and just aren’t that good.

Donuts have become a memory for me.