FROM THE POINT-OF-VIEW OF THE HAPLESS
ENGLISH TEACHER PUSHING ADVERBS...
(from Work Aversion Trauma by Tom Lyford)
“So,” I crow over my shoulder, chalking my scrawling script across the board with dramatic Zorro
flourishes, “take this sentence for example!”
The practically comatose student drools… ____________
“OK! But first, before you all rush to fill in this blank with any number of fifty-cent ‘adverbials’…
somebody parrot back to me the questions that adverbs answer… the ones you’ve memorized just because I told you to— and please, don’t everybody yell out the answers all at once. I know, I know: you’re all eager to contribute, you love this, but control yourselves, people! Raise your hands, please, raise hands!
“Ah! Yes! Eddie… Yeah you, Eddie. (Look at Eddie, ladies and gentlemen— he’s thinking, ‘You talkin’ to me? You talkin’… to ME?’) Yeah I’m talkin’ to you, Eddy. You, the practically comatose student in the fetal position there. The one my sentence was based on and dedicated to. Adverbs answer what questions, Eddy?”
(A very long silence.)
Eddie is glaring. “Didn’t raise my hand,” he growls.
“Ho ho! ’Didn’t raise my hand,’ says he! Didn’t raise your hand when, Eddie? When didn’t you raise your hand?” I hold my ball-point cap-first down into his face. “Speak into the Bic, please. Didn’t raise your hand… when?”
“Just NOW! Jeez! For cryin’ out LOUD!””
“Correctomundo! Ladies and gentlemen, our Eddie here knows more than he lets on. I ask him for the questions adverbs answer, and what does he do? Why, he pole vaults right over that Mickey Mouse crap and hands me one genu-wine adverb bouquet without batting an eye: the perfect adverb: ‘just’ and ‘now,’ with a couple of bonus adverbs, ‘out’ and ‘loud’ thrown in, just to show off…
You know… and I’m serious, you guys, I’ve talked about this before. Really. We need to create a whole new competition next year: Tournament Grammar! You know, challenge other schools! Sentence-diagramming round robins! Play-offs! Bus trips, cheerleaders! Spiffy uniforms guaranteed to impress the opposite sex…because face it, everybody falls for the high school hotshot in a uniform, guys and girls. The varsity letter jackets with the big ‘G’ on the front? You kids are naturals! And you know what I say?
Huh? I say… Eddie for Grammar Team Captain! That’s what I say. Go Eddy!"
("Nice Nixon impression by the way, Eddie. You’ve got that left-right, shifty-eyed scowl down pat.")
“Now I know what you’re all thinking, but let me assuage your fears (no, NO… you don’t even have to ask): I’ll be proud to be your coach! But I digress! “Let’s get back to the ‘drooling.’ What’s another adverb question besides when? Come on ladies and gentlemen. Look at me, look at me! Work with me here!”
Another long silence…
“…OK then, you know what? I am only going to call on people … who DON’T look at me! “Ah HAH! Mary!”
“But I was lookin’ at you!”
“Mary Mary Mary! You are so gullible, it’s… endearing is what it is. Quick now! Adverb questions! And no… peeking… at the chalkboard… where they’re all written down!”
“Where, when, why, how, and to what extent,” sighs Mary in a deadpan sing-song, glaring at the board.
“Mary, you amaze me! OK, ladies and gentlemen! The word on the table is ‘drooling.’ The questions are as follows: Drooling where? Drooling when? Drooling why? Drooling how? Drooling to what extent? We’re looking for adverbs here! Adverbs! Adverbs is our middle name!”
“Like a madman,” a kid with his nose stuck in Catcher in the Rye intones sleepily.
“Excellent adverb phrase, actually! Good job!”
“Everywhere,” begrudges another, and somebody else yawns, “Because.” And now I hear “Wetly!” but also, at the same time, “What do we have to do frickin’ adverbs for anyway? How’s adverbs ever gonna be of any use?” And then of course comes the ubiquitous “Can I go to the bathroom, Mr. L?”
Me, peddling my parts of speech like an auctioneer. The Willy Loman of adverbs and other sundries. The slightly interesting infomercial always going on at the front of the room. And so preoccupied with trying to pull as many of my little puppets’ strings at once that I am oblivious to the fact that the kids’ attention has shifted to focusing on something else, something elsewhere, something out in the hall...
The sound of jogging.
But me, I’m already back at the board, tapping my little white bone of chalk across it, recording the tally of precious modifiers trickling in. I do register, however (on some back burner of a subconscious way too preoccupied with what I’ll be doing as soon as the final bell rings), the slamming of the two hallway firebreak doors just up the hall. And now even I am conscious of the Doppler approach of running-shoes
slapping the tiles. But it’s a leisurely rhythm, a mere mundane jog. Nothing dire or out of the ordinary. And I still have my adverbs to harvest.
And as I turn back to face the seats, lost in my chanting, “Let’s go, ladies and gentlemen! We haven’t got all day. Let’s get on with our lives here. Whattayasay?” the Doppler effect peaks right outside my open door.
“Yes, Sally?” But poor Sally’s gone suddenly bugeyed and slack-jawed And she’s not looking at me, but away...
“THEY DON’T HAVE ANY CLOTHES ON!”
Pandemonium explodes in shrieks and cackles! “Did you see'em?” “Oh my GAWD!” “Whoa, dude!”
“SALLY! QUIET! Everyone!” This is confusing! I’m rattled! And shocked! Outraged? Yes, like a prudish little old 1950’s lady librarian! “WE’LL HAVE IT QUIET, THANK YOU!”
“Holy SHIT!” squeaks little Mr. Arthur Please-and-Thank-You, our reticent gosh-golly-and-gee brown-noser. “NAKED! Totally!”
“Didn’t you SEE’'em?” somebody gasps.
“STOP IT! What IS this!? Nobody’s NAKED!” I am Teacher. What I say goes!
“Get out there, Mr. Lyford!” “Quick!” “Check it out, dude!” “Hurry! They’ll be Gone!”
Damnit, how’s anybody supposed to be able to THINK around here?
“QUICK, Mr. L!”
“QUIET!” I bellow, not wanting the principal to come in and fire me for an unruly classroom. But somehow I’m already at the door muttering, “Gimme a break, for cryin’ out loud!” and then, “All Right! But then this foolishness STOPS!” And pasting a premature There! You satisfied? expression righteously on my face, I crank my head around the door jamb.
A flashcube pops behind my eyes! Down at the end of the hall, down by the exit… a tableau is ‘photographed’ and indelibly etched in my memory. For all eternity I will be able to slide this image out of my head like an old family album Polaroid and examine it. And when people enquire, “What were you doing when Kennedy was shot?” I’ll always tell them, “Sitting in Foxcroft Academy’s Guidance Office, hiding from the assistant principal with Neil Mallett.” And if and when they ask, “What were you doing when the streakers struck?” I’ll remember this image and say, “Teaching adverbs.”
Although it is a scene in motion, it appears to me in extreme s l o w motion, like a dream, nearly a still-life. The rectangular dimensions of the hallway diminishing into the perspective of distance… the pastel sunshine, diffusing its gauze of fire through the safety glass of the exit doors to silhouette the two foreground figures. And then, with my eyes adjusting to the light, the colors and details developing
darkly back into view: two ski masks seen side-by-side from the back… two pairs of running shoes… and bracketed in between? Twin gods, David and Adonis— lithe, animated museum statuary departing the confines of the fine arts museum in a leisurely jog, the exit doors swinging gloriously wide before them upon contact, opening directly onto a lush, green, freshly manicured lawn sloping down and away under an idyllic blue summer sky. Their Olympian tans glowing bronze now in the light… only their unsunned buttocks retaining the white marble of the sculptor...
...and then the doors beginning to slowly swing back, in closing. Our marathoners descending the grassy ramp to the playing fields below, to disappear into the landscape like a brace of white-tailed deer— one turning to the other conversationally in the silence of distance, as if to ask the other for the time of day perhaps. And the doors closing like a curtain as the raucous roar goes up from the interrupted soccer game on the phys. ed. playing field below.
With the automatic closure of the doors, life blinks back to normal. What was poetic is now back to the prosaic: a typical, empty school hallway. Empty, that is, except for at least what looks like one trophy-mounted human head hanging out of each classroom doorway… heads which, one-by-one, rotate back toward me to display their goofy jack-o-lantern grins, one of the other English or history teachers, or perhaps even a student. We share only eye-contact with one another; but words fail us now. We’re like the stunned survivors of a twister that just passed harmlessly down tornado alley.
And then, following suit, I too turn to gawk back down the hallway where still other heads with pasted-on smirks shot silly with infusions of adrenaline are rubbernecking. We’re all shaking our heads in awe, rolling our eyes, communicating silently: Well, did you EVER! and Never thought I’d see the day! or… Holy shit! Naked! Totally!
Now all the classrooms are a-roar. After all, it has taken nearly a decade since its inception in the sixties for Streaking to finally reach this western Maine school. But now, all of a sudden, we’re just a little more on the map than we were yesterday. From now on, when our sports teams travel to compete with other schools, they will arrive with a certain air of prestige: Yes, yes… that’s right… we’re the school that was ‘struck.’
And you can just imagine all the conversations that’ll be going on around the dinner tables this evening, not to mention the eternal re-hashing and re-chronicling over generations of high school reunions for years to come. This is big!
But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s third law.
Just as the English and History wing struggles to compose itself, to inhale its first normal breath after such knockout excitement, the firebreak doors are once again unexpectedly flung wide with a slam!
ENTER the grave Principal and his equally grave Assistant! And they are marching to a different drum, one with a military cadence! They’re on the hunt, but they refuse to humiliate themselves by running. They personify instead that old unwritten school rule: No running in the halls, but there’s no speed limit on walking! (If ever I were to direct this scene in some high school teen flick, the soundtrack would be “Walk, Don’t Run” by The Ventures.)
Left and right, they glare and they glower at us, shaking their heads with dramatic sternness. Their not-so-subliminal message is cogent and clear: This is ‘officially NOT funny.’ LOOK at us, Ladies and Gentlemen!! This is the Official Facial Expression. Memorize it! And assume it! This is NOT a clothing-optional school! Dressed appropriately in their puritanical blacks and greys, it’s easy to picture them in steeple hats, knee-length knicker pants, and buckled shoes, threateningly brandishing their blunderbuss frowns.
Up and down the hall, blanching faces are disappearing behind closing doors with the speed of a Chinese fire drill! Yes, message received. But we all really have to struggle to wipe off these darn smirks.
I mean, it’s The Puritanical Keystone Kops on parade! Oh, you can see they would really, really like nothing better than to run these dastardly culprits down and throttle them good, but they must maintain dignity in their carriage. No... much more likely, they probably realize that they wouldn’t exactly know what to do with two naked young men if they actually did apprehend them. (I know I wouldn’t.) I mean, would you wrestle them to the ground? How would that look?
I wonder what the Principal’s Handbook has to say about proper seizure and restraint of nude transgressors...?
And then there would have to be the long, embarrassing walk back to the office with the little
felons in custody, giving the student body even more glimpses of…
No, best to let them escape for the short term.
Catch’em later… when they’ve got some pants on at least!
Yeah, that’s the ticket.
So in the meantime, the administration is doing the only thing it can, which is to Set the Tone!
To CLEARLY and UNMISTAKABLY set the official tone…