More stories from the second week of school

1c96f3844Today started and ended rather poorly, with some not-bad shoved in the middle.  I had a moment of pure assholery from one of my anger management cases when the simple act of saying “good morning” less than a minute after walking into the building earned me an eye-roll and preadolescent stomping away.  They try to train us to not take this personally when it happens, and I do my damnedest, but fuck it’s 7:30 in the Goddamn AM and I don’t need this shit this early in the morning.

I had a similar moment with another kid earlier this week when I was supposed to escort a line of them somewhere else in the building.  I didn’t know most of them, and I asked the first kid in the line what his name was, intending to segue directly into Okay, Jimmy, I need you to walk to this corner and stop, and the motherfucker told me he didn’t know his name.

I blinked at him a couple of times and repeated the question, trying to assume he hadn’t heard the question.

“I ain’t got one.”

Goddamnit I am neither in the mood nor do I have the time for this shit.  I asked you a simple and friendly question, you little fuck, and it’s a goddamn crime that I’m not allowed to resolve this situation by just punching you in your stupid throat and then asking the second kid what his name is, assuming that your crumpled, gasping body would give him some evidence as to whether he should answer the fucking question or not.

This; this is the shit that makes me not want anything to do with this job anymore.  I know intellectually that this kid’s life has got to be fucked in some way because no one is this goddamned noncompliant and aggressive over simple shit for no fucking reason.  My problem is that it’s not even September and I’m already not even close to the point where I can care any more.  I’ve been in the trenches for fourteen fucking years.  That’s enough.  I need one kid who has a shitty home life and awful parents and needs someone with some compassion around him and instead I have hundreds, and I just can’t fucking deal with it any longer.

Thank fuckin’ God my homeroom is so nice.  It ensures I still have some patience left when my much more problematic afternoon class comes along, because that’s the class with the special ed kids and the behavior problems.  I found out today that one of my afternoon girls is the second child of the lunatic at the end of this post, a fact that does not surprise me at all given her behavior, because Mom has absolutely no ability to deal with anything in any way other than swearing and cursing and screeching at the top of her lungs.  She’s been issued a restraining order by the school I worked at in that story, in fact.  The very first time she tries this shit with me will be the last, one way or another.

(I mean, Christ, does this shit actually ever work for you?  What the hell kind of life do you live when swearing and screaming like a lunatic at life’s every setback is your only way to cope?  Does getting arrested and kicked out of/banned from ever reentering places all the goddamn time appeal to you?  Because I know this nonsense isn’t getting you what you want.)

I’m glad it’s the weekend, is what I’m saying.

The holy water story, plus some other stuff

article-2185554-14656D19000005DC-909_306x423I have some really angry kids in my class this year.

That’s new.

I should explain.  I’ve had plenty of kids with anger management issues.  I’ve had plenty of kids who had explosive tempers.  That’s part and parcel of working in an urban middle school, and frankly is probably part and parcel of working with middle schoolers no matter where you find them.  But I’ve got a handful of girls in my afternoon class for whom pissed off at the world seems to be their only available emotional state.  They walk in angry and they somehow manage to stay angry for the entire time they’re in the room.  That’s the weird part.  Kids get angry all the time; they get angry at me all the time.  I’m used to that.  They don’t stay that way for long.  For a kid to keep up an angry mood for three successive class periods is exceptionally rare, and to do it for multiple days in a row practically unheard of.   Being mad is hard.  It takes work.  Most of them don’t have it in them.

And somehow in this group I have more than one of them.

I’m being weird today.  My son’s birthday was last Sunday, and today he got a gift card for Toys R’ Us in the mail from my aunt, so the three of us went to the comic shop (it’s Wednesday, after all) and to the toy store after I got home from work.  And the toy store managed to depress me.  I don’t even know why, but I’m still fighting it off.

I owe you two stories, I think.  The first one is the Holy Water story I teased the other day. One of my girls in my afternoon class– not one of the angry ones– came up to me on Monday and asked if she could go to her locker.  Later in the year this will be met with a near-automatic “no” except in case of emergencies, but they’re fifth graders and they’re not used to having to bring all of their stuff with them into classrooms so I’m being nice.  I do generally ask what they need, though.

“I need to put something in my locker,” she says.

Ah.  This is automatically lower-priority than needing to get something from a locker.  “What do you need to put in your locker?”

“My holy water.”


“You’re carrying holy water with you?”


Parts of my brain immediately start a cage match with other parts of my brain, doing their best to starve the entire thing of any residual oxygen.

“Why, my dear, do you have holy water with you in class?”  Because Holy shit this is actually a new one.

“It helps me concentrate.”

“And… you have decided that you don’t need to concentrate any longer?  We still have an entire class period left after we finish with math.”

“No.  I’m tired and I think I’m done concentrating for today.”

“I think your holy water needs to stay with you, then.  Perhaps it could use a recharge this Sunday; it appears to be losing some of its potency.”

“So I need to keep concentrating?”


She stands there and stares at me for a minute.

“Back to your seat, dear.”

She turns and leaves.

Today, as we’re working on two-digit multiplication, a concept they all appeared to have a decent grasp of until I began trying to teach it, one of my girls came up to me and demanded that I yell at her.

“Why do you need me to do that?”

“Because you yelled at me yesterday and I went back to my seat and did my work.”

I think about this.  I didn’t yell at anyone yesterday.  In fact, I’ve made a big deal with this class that I didn’t even need to raise my voice on Monday or Tuesday after a reasonably rough first couple of days.

“I don’t remember yelling at you yesterday.”

She thinks for a minute.  “That was my teacher last year.  Sorry.  Can you yell at me anyway?”

Brain, cage match, starving, etc.

“Honey, I don’t think–”

“I really think it’ll help.”

What in the blue sadomasochistic fuck is going on right now.

She finally got me to bark GET AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NOW at her, at which point she smiled, thanked me, and literally skipped off back to her seat.  I watched her for a moment and then looked over my shoulder, fully convinced that one of my bosses would have taken that moment to appear in my classroom for the first time all year.  No one was there.  The kids all looked shocked for a moment, then realized what was going on and went back to what they were doing.  They were so blasé about it, in fact, that I find myself suspecting that this was a regular move that this kid pulled last year.  Which… hell, I don’t even know what to do about that.

I’ll stop being tired all the time soon, right?  How the fuck is it 9 PM already?

#Weekendcoffeeshare: things are looking up


If we were having coffee, you might notice that I was eyeing the cup rather warily.  I haven’t touched coffee in a week (note here that this is not a metaphor, but represents a thing that is actually happening as I’m typing this) and I’m hoping that this cup isn’t going to trigger the shakes and shivers like my last cup did, because if it does the next post really is going to have to be called Weekend Milk Share.

(Drinks 1/3 of cup, initially feels fine)

Anyway, I took my blood pressure last night with my new blood pressure cuff, which is a thing that I have now, and it was firmly in the “prehypertensive” range, which isn’t necessarily good but is hella improved over the holy shit you’re gonna die range of a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve lost nine pounds in August, too.  So… getting better.

Sooner or later we’d get around to talking about school.  The first week went well.  Too 

And then– right there, that exact second, as I’m about to post something positive for once, in a month that has been almost nothing but stress and negativity and bullshit since the second it started, my wife’s elderly cat tumbles off of the arm of the chair we’re both sitting in onto the floor in a massive seizure.

It’s about two and a half hours later.  He’s gone.

Fuck you, August.  Fuck.  You.


b6937021It’s been interesting, over the last several days, going through literally every single post of my previous blog in search of material for Searching for Malumba.  My previous blog started in 2004 and finally petered out in 2009 or so, with a brief revival before moving to this space a couple of years ago.

I was really really angry during those years.  Like, all the time.  This isn’t a revelation to me, mind you; it was the Bush years, and I have not forgotten what those years were like, but getting the compiled output of my brain for five straight years of that nonsense– plus a year or so of startled relief toward the end after Obama’s election– all dumped into my brain at once has been a little sobering.  I also had a horrible job for a good chunk of that time that didn’t help at all.  Right now I’m just compiling these posts, but once I start actually rewriting and editing I will be removing a lot more profanity from the earlier posts than I will from the newer ones.

(I won’t be removing all the profanity, mind you, which will make my book a bit atypical in the “teacher memoir” genre.  Most of those books are sanitized for the delicate sensibilities of the elderly kindergarten teacher.  I will not be doing that.  My policy on profanity for The Benevolence Archives has always been to remove about half of it on second pass, and I’ll be following more or less the same policy for Searching for Malumba.  I’m considering putting a parental advisory sticker on the cover.  I need to find out if that image is copyrighted or not.)*

Actually, speaking of copyright, the other thing I need to do is contact William Carlos Williams’ estate and see if I can get permission to reprint This is Just to Say in the book, because one of my favorite pieces is about that poem and it won’t work if I can’t actually include the poem.  I’d quote it, but it’s only about 50 words long, so “excerpt” becomes “reprint half of it” really quickly.

Anyway.  The image, in case you’re wondering, was one of my favorites from that time.  I have no idea if I found it that way or if I added the speech bubble, but either way I cracked up and immediately saved it once I found it.

CLMZjQ7UkAEYTNj.jpg-largeI’m starting to Sunday a bit, I think.  I haven’t gotten a single callback for an interview all summer despite applying for several jobs that I’m perfectly qualified (if not actually ideal) for.  I’ve told my principal I’ll be back at school on Monday; the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stuff we ordered at the end of the school year is currently strewn in boxes throughout the building and it will take at least a week to get through everything in anything resembling a coherent fashion.  I still have one solid chance at a position that will keep me out of the classroom but I don’t know how much I should get my hopes up, especially since it comes with its own baggage anyway.

If I get the other job I intend to keep looking for other work, because it’ll be a job I can quit midyear without screwing anything up too badly.  If I’m in the classroom… I don’t know.  My wife insists that I need to keep looking even if I’m teaching.  I don’t know if I can quit on a group of kids partway through the school year.  And you never know; I used to like teaching quite a lot, and I’ve been reading lots of stuff about liking teaching.  It might end up being a good year.  I might not want to leave.  But one way or another this has to be my last year with this district.  Cold reality is starting to creep up in a way that has nothing to do with me and I need to be gone before all the rats flee the ship.

Actually, that’s not true.  I still love teaching, if by “teaching” you mean “helping other people to understand things.”  It’s everything else about teaching that I hate.  All the non-teaching stuff is awful and gets worse every single year.  Entertainingly, the IDOE is commissioning some sort of group to figure out why nobody seems to want teaching licenses in Indiana anymore.  It’s been fun, because every article I’ve seen about it has been swarmed by teachers going “Are you kidding?  You need to ask?”

The reason no one wants to teach in Indiana anymore is that the laws and policies passed by the Indiana legislature over the last dozen years or so are having their intended effect.  This is exactly what they wanted, and no one anywhere has any right to pretend to be surprised.

So.  Yeah.  Plenty to do today; I just need to decide if I want to focus on fiction, nonfiction, getting my head back on straight, or getting my house back under control.  Only a few more days before my time gets substantially restricted again.


(* Answer:  No!  It’s basically just text and as such is ineligible for copyright.  At least according to Wikipedia.  So I probably will be including it, because doing so entertains me.)**

(** Slightly more complicated than that, but it still looks like it’s free so long as I file the proper paperwork.)

In which a perfectly good hate-rant is ruined by the weather

71sUV0236aL._SL1500_So I ordered this beautiful bastard for myself last Thursday. I have been saying “I’ll order a telescope next summer” for at least two or three years now and the combination of the end of the school year, my upcoming birthday, and (at the time) the approach of Father’s Day meant that I finally cracked.

I am an Amazon Prime member, which means that I get everything shipped two-day priority.  I ordered my telescope along with a few other telescope-related items on Thursday.  It was to arrive on Saturday.

I spent all day Saturday staying in the house and waiting.  I had a bunch of things to do that day but it seemed like poor decision-making to allow the post office to leave a $500 telescope plus another $100 or so in other miscellaneous items on my doorstep, so I stayed home until it arrived.  I happened to be looking out my front window at the exact right second (okay, fine, I’d been pacing in front of it for hours) when I saw the mailman struggling to carry a package up my driveway.  I raced out there to take it from him, both from impatience and compassion, as he was old and seemed to be having a hard time with it.

Now, context: that scope is just over four feet tall.  It’s huge.  So I was prepared for a large and heavy package.

I was halfway back to my house before I realized that while, yes, the package I’d been handed by the postman was large and heavy, it wasn’t nearly large and heavy enough.  Somehow, though, by the time I turned around– which didn’t take that long– the postman who had been old and decrepit a second ago was fucking Usain Bolt all the sudden and dude was gone.

They’d just shipped me the base.  Or at least I’d just received the base.  I’d only gotten one tracking number.  So… did the scope itself never ship?  Or was that just still in transit?

I place my first call to Amazon customer service, after finding their number online.  A very helpful man named Jin answers.  Jin instructs me to wait until Monday afternoon and see if the scope is just delayed.  If it hasn’t shown up by Monday, he says, he’ll call me and we can send another scope.

‘Kay.  This is disappointing, but I can deal.

On Sunday, I take another look at the box and note that it says “1 of 1” on it in very small print on the shipping label.  I email customer service and point this out and suggest that this means that the scope never shipped.  On Sunday, I receive the rest of my order, but not the scope itself.  I am frustrated, but I follow instructions.

On Monday I talk to Jin again.  Jin agrees to ship me a second entire telescope.  It is to arrive on Wednesday.  On Thursday, I am to take the box with the superfluous base in it and place it on my front porch for UPS to collect and return on Amazon’s dime.

I spend all day Monday and Tuesday looking at the tracking information for the new box and noting that it is not updating.  At all.  On my way home from work today I basically follow the postman to my driveway as I’m getting home (right behind the driver, I swear) and am not startled to discover that he has no box for me.

Okay.  Now I’m mad.  Amazon says the box is still in someplace called Lebanon, Tennessee, where I have never been but I uncharitably assume is a hellhole where they don’t like science and so they’re not shipping my telescopes.

But okay.  It’s just late.  It’ll be here tomorrow, right?

Waiting on my porch.

While I’m at work.

Where UPS is expecting to find a package to pick up and send back to Amazon.


I place my second call to Amazon customer service.  I speak to Dee Dee.  I explain to Dee Dee that I need the UPS pickup cancelled.  Dee Dee isn’t quite as on the ball as Jin was, and doesn’t quite understand why, and I have to go through the whole thing with her again, and I have to explain to her that I don’t want UPS to take the telescope that Amazon just sent me and send it right back to them, and since no one will be home and no one ever reads notes I really don’t trust UPS to just figure this out.

She eventually figures it out and cancels the pickup and sends me a prepaid label.  I have to mail the box back myself now, but that will be fine.

I look again at the tracking information.  Can she explain to me what’s going on here?  This has been the sole tracking information for something like 40 hours at this point:

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 7.32.26 PM

“Call USPS,” she tells me.  “We sent it.  It’s their problem now.”

At this point things begin to go wrong.

Go ahead.  Google the phrase “real person USPS customer service.”  Their fucking robot is horrible, refusing to connect you to a real person ever, helpfully reading information back to you that is already on the computer screen in front of you, and generally inspiring hate-filled, frothing rage.  My normal trick whenever faced with voice-recognition customer service robots is to begin spewing racial epithets and profanity into the phone.  Believe it or not, this frequently actually works.  You just have to make absolutely sure you’ve turned off the spigot before the person picks up, or they will be quite upset with you and for good reason.

This method does not work.  I call this computer everything but a child of God– and I am a very creative cusser-outer– and it gets me nowhere.  Actually, it gets me hung up on.


Long story short, the solution is to mash 0 over and over again, regardless of how much the computer complains at you.  Just keep hitting 0 until she shuts up and you’re clearly on hold.  Which will take 25 minutes.  message-on-holdOh!  I almost forgot.  While all this is going on, I’m attempting to create a myUSPS account, because their website suggests that doing that will provide you with additional tracking information about your packages.  In order to do this, you have to answer several multiple-choice challenge questions about, like, your fucking life.  Things like which of these streets have you lived on? and, alarmingly, which of these five companies holds your mortgage?

How the bloody blazing fuck does the USPS website have access to this shit?  Are you fucking kidding me?

This does not help my mood.  At this point my head is full of fuck and my brain is full of murder.

chainyEnter Cece.  Yes, I just went from Deedee to Cece.  Cece, who may very well spend all day every day dealing with angry psychotics who have been driven insane by the USPS’ horrible phone service, is incredibly good at her job.

She also cannot help me.  But she’s got me apologizing to her by the end of the conversation, and I wasn’t even mean.

Here’s the deal: Amazon uses– wait for it– UPS to deliver packages from their warehouses to the USPS.  Those packages don’t get UPS tracking numbers.  UPS just picks them up from the Amazon warehouse and drops them off at whatever post office they drop them off at.  That tracking status I’ve been looking at means that USPS was told a package was coming and it never arrived.  This is still Amazon’s fault.  Well, technically, it’s UPS’ fault.

“You tell me.  Who should I call next?” I ask.

“Try UPS,” she says.  “But don’t expect much.”


UPS has an online live chat system, which I use so I don’t have to listen to hold music or talk to a computer.  I get Justin.  I begin the conversation by asking Justin what the main ingredient is in tomato soup.  He gets it right, proving himself to my satisfaction to be a person and not a chatbot.

Justin cannot help me. He refers me back to Amazon.  This is disappointing but not surprising.  I can imagine a world where a dedicated customer service person with access to a lot of information might be able to help me out here but I doubt he has the access.  At this point, I’m pretty sure the telescope has fallen off the truck and I basically just want someone to tell me what the procedure is when your shit has been stolen.

(A pause for an important note: I have placed 23 orders with Amazon in 2015 alone.  Nothing like this has ever happened before, and I do a lot of business online.  Just for the record.)

I take a few deep breaths.  And I call Amazon for the third time.  I get Karen.  Hi, Karen!

I explain everything to Karen.  I tell her that at this point it has been over 40 hours since someone called the post office and said “Hey, we’re bringing this over” and that I just want to know what to do to convince Amazon that 1) No, I’m not a thief (because I know that not getting two $500 items in two days is kinda suspicious) and 2) that this thing is gone and that they need to send me another one, and this one bloody fucking well better be overnighted.

“It’s in Kenosha,” she says.

“The fuck you mean it’s in Kenosha?” I ask, the profanity slipping out without me meaning to, and luckily she laughs.

“The tracking update came through thirty seconds ago,” she said.  “It’s in Kenosha.”

I look.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 7.55.25 PM


I find myself in the distinctly odd position of being pissed that my shit isn’t lost.

So… UPS’ job is to get it from Amazon’s warehouse into the post office’s hands… and they took it from Tennessee to Wisconsin?

Because, note, it’s still not with the post office.  Arrived “at Amazon facility.”

“Okay,” I tell her.  “I give up.  I’m going to assume it’ll be here tomorrow.  Thank you for not being mad when I cussed at you.”

“It’s all right,” she says.  “Happens all the time.”

And I hang up.

And then it hits me.  This thing was supposed to cross through Illinois into Wisconsin yesterday, from Tennessee?

The weather was hell yesterday across most of the midwest.  Tornadoes and derechos and all sorts of nasty shit.  Illinois in particular got hammered.  I don’t know if it got shipped via ground to Kenosha or flown, but either way wasn’t nobody going nowhere yesterday safely.

So, 1750 words later:  Amazon!  You can’t email a motherfucker and say sorry, the weather sucks and it’s gonna make your shit late?  Because that woulda been okay.  And it ain’t like you didn’t know.

Damn thing best show up tomorrow or we gonna have a misunderstanding, though.