Thursday, December 8, 2011

Banana Splits and Advice for the Next Generation

For me, a perfect day at work is having a lot of time to walk the La Mesa campus, a lull in between calls, an opportunity to read while at lunch, and spending most of the time by myself, save for supervising the kids at brunch and lunch and making sure they get to class in between periods. I don't talk much with my fellow campus supervisors because there's not that much to say. I'm there to do a job well, to get paid, and go home. And I still love that once the day's work is done, it's done. There's no overtime, nothing to think about at home. I have the rest of the day and night for myself, to read and to write.

Yesterday was a perfect day because of all of that and more. I was subbing for Carmen, who had to take her daughter to a few appointments, since her husband had done it the past few times. I'll take any hours I can get, though Carmen's aren't my favorite because it's five hours and 30 minutes, and not a full six hours as I get with one of the two Alexes and Liz.

Nevertheless, it felt like a Friday, looking straight at the weekend, even though it was a Wednesday. It had that easygoing feeling that aligned the universe. Plus, Meridith was working too as a substitute in the kitchen. The last time she and I were at the same school was a year at Riverside Elementary in Coral Springs, Florida, when I was in fifth grade and she was in kindergarten.

Meridith and I graduated high school in 2007 (Valencia High) and 2002 (Hollywood High), respectively, and spent a few years each at College of the Canyons. We're at a campus again because we don't have to learn anything anymore. We have jobs that are a requirement on a middle-school level (and elementary and high school, though neither of us want to work at a high school): Kids have to eat and there needs to be supervision. In fact, once we get to Henderson, Meridith's thinking about working in the cafeteria of an elementary school, since she loves little kids. I want to stay on the middle school level because in high school, to drag out the moldy cliche (though it is true, I know), those students so obviously know everything. I like to be in that gray, in-between area, which middle school is. There's room for more ambiguity than there is in high school. Plus, it appeals to one of my major interests in my writing: Self-contained worlds. La Mesa is part of a school district, but it is by itself during school hours. No actions by any other middle school can affect it. Tom Flores, one of the assistant principals, splits his time between there and Sierra Vista, but the dynamics in each campus are most assuredly different.

Plus, with weekends off, holidays off, and teacher workdays off, no other job can possibly match that. And because Meridith and I have been at Silver Trail as students when Dad taught there, and just in general when he had to be there at night for various happenings such as open houses; and I have been at Flanagan High and Hollywood Hills High as a student when Mom worked at each campus, we know all about the inner workings of administrations, what helps the school run. From student to employee, it was an easy transition for us to make.

In the kitchen yesterday, there was also a birthday celebration for one of the women, so at one point in the day, Meridith was making banana splits for them. I had come in just when I had started my shift to say hello to Meridith, and then before lunch, I popped in again before the rush began and Meridith asked if I wanted a banana split. Mindful of the roasted corn and french fries to come at Six Flags Magic Mountain on Saturday (I may have one order of each or more than one. I'm not sure yet), I said no, but Meridith is deaf to the word "No" unless you keep remaining firm enough to show that you don't want whatever's being offered. So she said, "Ok, I'll make you one," and who am I to argue when a banana split is being offered on a Wednesday afternoon during work hours.

After lunch was over and I had swept my share of the campus free of lunch debris (La Mesa is the only campus in the district in which the campus supervisors also sweep up trash after brunch and lunch. If a custodial job involved only sweeping, I'd apply for it, but I don't want to do all else that's involved, such as shampooing carpets, staying late into the evening, and sometimes cleaning up puke. So a campus supervisor I'll happily be), I went into the kitchen, Meridith gave me my banana split, and when I took it from her, I was floored because that freezer in that kitchen works so much better than what we've got at home. I know it's an industrial freezer and it has to work properly for reasons of food safety, but even so, while I was taking my banana split to my favorite spot toward the back of the school to sit down and have it, there was no threat of it melting, even with the day having become warmer.

In this banana split were three long sections of banana, chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and walnuts. The walnuts were an unexpected surprise, since I don't see walnuts that often anyway because of how much they cost in the bulk aisles at Sprouts.

I sat down, tucked under the bowl the napkins Meridith gave me, and tucked in. Imagine that anywhere else: Eating a banana split on a Wednesday afternoon at work. The radio was quiet, no one to pick up to bring to the office, so I had plenty of time to eat the entire banana split. I know there probably won't be banana splits at whatever middle school in the Clark County School District will have me as a full-time campus supervisor, not very often anyway, but this is truly the job for me, for moments like this that are so incongruous to what we think of as work during the day. But you know, a job's a job because it brings in a paycheck. It pays the bills. At least for this weekend, part of it gets me a slightly overpriced Superman t-shirt at Six Flags (From the check I deposited yesterday that was from two days of work a few weeks ago).

Before the banana split, at about 11:30, I went to lunch. Carmen's hours, as well as Liz's, and one of the Alexes, puts lunch at 11:30-12:15, which gives a 19-minute leeway before lunch begins for the kids.

I keep my lunch in my dad's fridge in his classroom (in a small room off the classroom, where he also keeps boxes of crackers in a cabinet and assorted other snacks), and I wish I didn't have to. The temperature control in that fridge is so out of whack that spinach and shredded carrots I store in there in a plastic container are always frozen whenever I open it up in the teachers' lounge upstairs. I can eat a few leaves and a few carrots, but have to wait until nearly the end of lunch for the rest of it to defrost. Fortunately, I'm the sort who can go from dessert back to lunch, and since I always have a banana for dessert, it makes no difference. But it's still plenty annoying when there's 45 minutes for lunch that I don't want to rush through at any point.

Later in the day, the head of the kitchen said to Meridith that whenever I'm working, I can have whatever I want from the kitchen. I wondered if this meant I could put my lunch in one of those fridges so I don't have to chisel spinach leaves apart. Yet, I'm iffy about taking advantage of such an offer when Meridith's not working in the kitchen. I don't feel it polite to impose if I don't have a connection to the kitchen. I don't take advantage of that connection anyway, since I have my own lunch, but it just seems easier to go about it when Meridith's there.

Dad's classroom. Lunchtime. I walked in, going to the tote bag I kept under the table near Dad's desk, getting out the plastic shopping bags in which I brought my lunch, to bring to the fridge and load it up. Dad saw me, stopped me, and said he wanted to introduce me to a student, and was going to have me paged on the radio if I hadn't shown up.

The student he introduced me to wanted to write books and poetry, and he told me to talk to her and give her some advice. It was a brand-new situation for me. I've always been on my own with my writing. I've never imparted any experience of mine to anyone curious about what I do, because there's been no one curious about what I do. Yet, here was someone.

She told me that she wanted to write poems of sadness and despair. I don't know if any aspect of her life brought her to want to write those, nor was I going to ask. I figured that maybe she thought those were deep poems, and therefore more likely to be remembered. That didn't matter to me, because she asked, and that was most important to me.

I told her to read often and read a lot. Read enough poetry to get a feel for how others do it, how they form their thoughts into whatever style they choose. Type out favorite poems to get a deeper feeling for them. Always try.

She asked for poets that matched what she wanted to write. On the computer she was using, I steered her to Sylvia Plath. In Google, I typed "sadness and despair poems" and told her to read through those, and if she found a poet she liked, to read everything that poet wrote. It's most important that she follows what interests her. I emphasized over and over to her the importance of reading, that in order to write well, you have to read. You have to know what has come before and from there, you can figure out what you want to do, but also never to be intimidated by what came before that seems great, because you can still do it too.

She went back to Dad later in the day to say thank you, because I had changed her life. What she had learned from me was much, much more than any guidance department or set of English teachers so far had done for her. I hope in high school, she has an English teacher like Roberta Little, who I had in 11th grade, who introduced me to Tennessee Williams through The Glass Menagerie (My favorite play), who showed Mark Twain Tonight! starring Hal Holbrook in conjunction with a unit about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and which I not only bought on DVD years later, but I saw Holbrook perform it live at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center. She sought our opinions about works, fostered great discussions, and never believed her own opinion to be greater than any of ours. In literature, we were all on an equal level, all exploring together.

By the way, she's 12. There's a potentially good future for this country.

I had done my mitzvah for the day. Totally unexpected, and it's best that the young ones learn what those of us in the trenches have done so far and apply it to how they want to do it.

None of the rest of my day compared to that, though it was just as peaceful as it had been from the start. At one point, Mr. Kerman, one of the guidance counselors called at five-minute intervals to bring three girls into the office of Mr. Patterson, one of the assistant principals. I answered all three calls, figuring something had transpired that took some time to sort out. Not my place to know and I didn't want to know. I'm there to help make the day run a little bit smoother for the administration and the running of the school, and that's enough for me.

Today, there's been a new development. There will be five days in the four-week pleasure cruise instead of four. Dad got a call today that an influential bigwig at K12, the online school he works for, is flying to Burbank for business and wants to meet him on Sunday. This means going to Burbank, where Dad will likely drop us off at IKEA, before meeting this guy at whatever restaurant he chooses. This is most important because it could bring us closer to becoming residents of Henderson, being that the job Dad's seeking at K12 is in Las Vegas.

For Mom, Meridith and I, this means Swedish meatballs at IKEA, plus there's a mall within walking distance where Mom's wanted to go to the Macy's, but there's never been enough time on past visits. There's also Barnes & Noble across the street from IKEA, but I don't feel an urge to buy any books since I've been ordering the ones I want online. Yet I say that without having been there yet, and with a burgeoning interest in Steampunk and a deepening interest in Superman. Plus, they've got a vast collection of magazines, and it was at that Barnes & Noble that I discovered The Normal School (, a literary magazine run from the Fresno campus of California State University. Just from the issue I found there (, I went to the website, found out where to send a check for a subscription, wrote one, and sent it off. And I will happily renew my subscription once the third issue in my four-issue subscription arrives. They publish twice a year in the spring and the fall, so I have time.

I've also been thinking about the $1-only used bookstore that we went to in downtown Burbank in January (, but considering how many books there already are in my room, that may not be wise. And yet, there may be an author there I've never discovered before who I just have to read. And yet, I already have many of those in my room. And yet, maybe there's one or a few there who could inspire me further as I work on my second book. And yet, maybe it's best to shrink some of the stacks first before I go nuts again for more. And yet, isn't that what being a bibliophile is about? For the sake of space, no. For the love of reading, yes.

Besides, Dad's meeting is happening later in the day, so by the time he's done, we'll have to get home anyway because Dad has to go to work on Monday. It's no great loss to me if we don't, but there's always something about those used bookstores, going in, not knowing what you're looking for, but always finding it.

I've also found immense pleasure in The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel, who writes as Barbara O'Neal now, and whose The Secret of Everything makes me want to visit New Mexico one day. I'm impatiently waiting for her The Garden of Happy Endings, which is coming out in April, so I ordered this, Lady Luck's Map of Vegas (which arrived today), and A Piece of Heaven, to pass some of the time until April when I can finally dive into that one. I haven't yet ordered No Place Like Home and Madame Mirabou's School of Love because I wanted to see how these first three go, but just on page 146 of The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, I'm seriously thinking about bringing those two in. I can't go wrong with any of her works. Plus, I intend to re-read The Secret of Everything before April.

The pleasure cruise continues.

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