RIP, Mrs. Gates

image-29403_20180310.jpgxI got a text from my mother just now, while I was eating dinner, that my second grade teacher had passed away, at the admirably ripe old age of 92.  Mrs. Gates is one of the several teachers that my book Searching for Malumba is dedicated to, one of only two from my elementary/primary school years.

I had found myself wondering about her many times over the years.  My second-grade recollection of her was that she was one of my older teachers, but that could have meant she was 40; kids are terrible at pegging how old adults are, right?  As it turns out, she was nearly 60 when I had her, so she was probably nearing retirement at the time.  I remember her as being probably the best example I ever had of the “strict but fair” teacher, which was something I always tried to emulate in my own career.

The funny thing is that when I try to unearth specific memories of what she was like as a teacher, I can only come up with one or two of them, and the clearest memory probably counts as educational malpractice, to the point where I almost feel disrespectful for talking about it.   Mrs. Gates was always big on cleanliness– keeping the room clean, and in particular, keeping our desks clean.  She’d actually inspect them from time to time– I have no idea how frequently; this could have been a daily or weekly thing for all I remember, or it could have been more frequently than that.

I am still in touch with literally no one who was in my second grade class, but I can think of perhaps four or five kids who are no more than a quick Facebook search away.  And I guarantee each of them remembers the day Mrs. Gates got tired of Jonathan W. (I remember his full name, but why let him Google this?) having a sloppy desk for like the nine hundredth time in a row and in a fit of frustration dumped it out on the classroom floor in front of everyone.  Objectively, with thirty-some-odd years of hindsight, this was probably a terribly humiliating thing for Jonathan and was not the proper way for her to have handled the situation.  certainly can’t imagine dumping a kid’s desk out on the floor in front of the whole class.  And yet, I think for most of us, it made us more fond of her– and make no mistake, strict as she was, the kids in that class loved Mrs. Gates.  Because this lady wasn’t taking any shit, and chances are most of our moms would have done the same damn thing in similar circumstances.  I stayed friends with Jonathan until he moved away, I think in middle school sometime, and that story was still getting told at slumber parties years later.

For whatever it’s worth, I suspect he’d probably still laugh at the story.  I dunno; maybe I shouldn’t have told it.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Gates.  I hope wherever you are, all the desks are pristine.

Hooray for metaphors!

(Writing this at work, on my phone, so expect typos and formatting nonsense.)

I had a dream last night. I was at the Student Union at Indiana University, where I went to college, and I came out over this large staircase they have in the back of the building.

The stairs led down to desert, which is not there in the actual building. I got halfway down the stairs and realized that ahead of me there were snakes– sidewinders, specifically– as far as the eye could see. Thousands of them.

I turned around, and the path behind me back to safety was full of angry hornets. Where I was was moderately safe but I still had to kick a snake away or swat a stinging insect every few seconds.

I stayed there, growing gradually more terrified, until I woke up.

Shut up, brain.

Three quick anecdotes

dd7065d25a40c3ebc3df5c394d80aab9.jpgNone of these are really worth posts on their own– well, one, maybe– but I wanna record them, so here you go.


Driving home from dropping the boy off at school one day last week, a bird happens to catch my eye at a traffic light.  It’s probably a blackbird, but it’s a bit too far away for me to be sure– crow-shaped, and black, but too small to be a crow unless it’s a juvenile.  So, sure.  Blackbird.  As I’m watching it, it abruptly does a tight 270° turn and heads straight down to the ground, wings out.  I think at first that either the bird has been shot and what looked like a turn was actually a tumble or I’ve literally just seen this bird die in midair— which has to happen to birds sometime, right?  Surely once in a while a bird just has a stroke or a heart attack or something?

At any rate, it pulls up right before it hits the ground and lands and then I lose track of it. If it had dove down at an angle, I’d not have said anything about it and just assumed it was going after a mouse or something, but 1) it looked way too small to be a bird of prey and 2) I have never seen a bird fly straight down before.  It was weird as hell.


I’m at work, and I notice a spider perhaps two feet above my eye level and maybe three feet off to my right.  The building I work in has very high ceilings, and my first thought is where the hell is his web attached, because if he’s coming down a string of silk it’s gotta be thirty or forty feet long by now.  Then I notice that he’s coming straight toward me, which is not something I’d expect a spider coming down a strand of silk to do.  He’s a tiny spider, and I’m not frightened of them, so this provokes fascination rather than oh god kill it fear.  As he gets closer, I realize that he’s not attached to anything and he’s not acting like he’s climbing a web– he’s got his legs curled up underneath him, in fact.  The damn thing is floating.  I even wave my hand above him to check, and the breeze from my hand stirs him a bit but I clearly don’t break any strands of web.  I try to film him but he’s too small for the resolution on my phone to handle.  I watch him drift onto a sofa and crawl away.


Yesterday, first customer of the day.  He waves me off at first, saying he’s only looking, which is just fine.  I tell him everything in the store is on sale (which is true, and is useful information, I figure) and that the way our current deal works is “spend more, save more.”

He looks dead at me and says “You mean Jew more, save more?”

It takes me a second to process yeah that’s what the fuck he said.

“No,” I reply, shifting into my Teacher Voice.  “I said spend more, save more.”  And then I walk away and let my manager know that this fucker will be receiving no help from me whatsoever while he’s in the store and that if he speaks to me again we’re all lucky if the only thing I do is refer him to another salesperson.

The man and his wife circle the sales floor and leave without speaking to or being spoken to by anyone else.  I spend the rest of my day with half of my brain proud of me for not losing my job by lighting this fucker up and the other half of my brain ashamed of me for not lighting the fucker up anyway.

I am, much later, trending toward the second option, for the record.  How the fuck are you so fucking comfortable with being a bigot that you’ll just say shit like that to random fucking strangers in public?  I shoulda thrown his ass out.

So um okay

My mother-in-law passed away in January.  She died of… well, everything.   That’s both less disrespectful and closer to the truth than you might believe; my father-in-law is fond of saying she had everything but cancer, and the way he describes it never fails to bring this to mind:

My wife’s family, for reasons that have never been clear to me, does not seem to be overly fond of winter funerals.  This is, I think, the third family member of hers who has passed since we were married, all of them in the dead of winter, and each and every one had a spring funeral.  There has thus far been no service of any kind, and the first formal acknowledgment of her death is going to be May 20th when her ashes are interred.  In, uh, this:

IMG_20170513_150021770_HDR.jpg

She went to see her dad today, and he showed her this; her ashes are inside of it (presumably inside some sort of urn and not, like, poured out all over the bottom of the thing) at this very moment and in fact were there when the picture was taken, but he’d decided he wanted to inter a few other things with her– among which were a crucifix, which my son took one look at and excitedly declared to be a “trophy.”  He, being the eminently practical and utterly unsentimental person that he is, looked around the house and decided that this plastic goddamned cooler was the most size-appropriate object he had for the items he wanted to bury with her.  And the decision was made; this was to be her eternal resting place, tradition and propriety be damned.

My wife enquired as to whether the gravediggers knew that they were providing a hole for a cooler and not a (presumably) much smaller urn.  He, of course,  had already made all of the appropriate arrangements.  I guarantee he measured the damn thing and sent them precise metric dimensions.  Guarantee it.  He’s going to do some work in the next few days to get it glued shut and waterproofed (and judging from the way the man wraps Christmas presents, life on Earth will be extinct before water gets inside this thing) and that’s going to be it.

The great part of all this, of course, is that absolutely no one can argue with me when I insist on burying her father’s ashes inside an empty bottle of Beefeater gin when he dies. He’ll appreciate it.