Not Long Tales … August 27th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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3.

The Assignment

Miss Tamara Taylor was thirteen days into her sixth year of teaching third grade at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Shimmering Pines, Virginia.

She was a single woman—not by design. She did favor the attention of a male admirer. Matter of fact, in her twenty-six years of being “the great American girl,” she had encountered three lovers, one actually a suitable suitor. He had been willing to share her bed and consider “wed,” until all at once, he got frightened by the specter of a never-ending future, and bought himself a one-way ticket to oblivion. He hadn’t been heard of since.

Tamara had not given up on possibilities but had learned the charm of dinner for one. She told her closest friend that she “didn’t mind dealing with children at work but did not want to come home to one.”

After six years of teaching, she found it beneficial to develop a philosophy. Some of her fellow educators were intent on the program, the knowledge, the books or the discipline. Tamara’s thoughts were much simpler. She decided the best way to teach young children was: don’t harm them and awaken something. She permitted her students call her “Miss T.” She didn’t mind at all, and being part of the present generation, they were absolutely enthralled with the abbreviation.

After thirteen days of cafeteria lunches, her class was gradually getting used to seating assignments and her style of conveying information. So Miss T decided to offer an assignment. She phrased it this way: Write two hundred words on ‘If You Had to Decide Today What or Who You Would Want to Be When You Are Old Like Me.”

The whole class giggled when they heard the title, which was her intent. It didn’t stop them from grumbling over the notion of having to put together a paragraph or two, but the subject matter certainly stirred their brains in the direction their hearts were already mounting a desire.

The papers were turned in yesterday, and she spent the night reading them. She found that the choices her students made fell into categories. When it came to the matter of who or what they wanted to be, king or queen were quite popular. Of course, President made an appearance. Ballerina and rock star were favored—one girl dreaming of being a ballerina by day and a pop diva by night.

There were a couple of firemen, a doctor, a nurse. Money was brought up quite often. Several wanted to be a mommy and a couple, a daddy. And for some reason, one student wanted to manufacture ukuleles.

Then she came to Andrew. He was a quiet, shy, frightened, bullied, smiling lad. Andrew was thoughtful. Andrew refused to follow the color scheme of the common playground. Andrew noticed bugs on the sidewalk. Andrew was the only one who observed that Miss T had changed her hair.

So Andrew’s essay was as different as his choices. It was entitled, “Not Sour.” It read:

My dad likes grapefruit. It is sour. One day he asked me to eat some. He had that smile on his face that told me it was a trick. I took a bite. My mouth puckered. He laughed as I tried to spit the bad taste out. He said, “Grapefruit is sour.”

Dad told me that people can be that way, too. He said that grapefruit needs something to make it sweet. Sugar, honey, that pink stuff, or the blue. Is there one that’s yellow? Or maybe green? Anyway, every sour needs a sweet. The Chinese people figured that out.

My Dad said it’s our job to make our grapefruit taste good. But remember, sweet isn’t good all by itself. It needs a job. It needs to sweeten something.

I don’t want to be sad about the sour in life. I want to sprinkle. I looked that word up. I want to be a sweetener. Maybe I can just go out and join the mess but make things sweeter. I hope that’s not too weird. I don’t think I want to live in a sour world, but I don’t think it will get sweet by itself. So I guess if I have to grow up and do something, I want to be a sweetener. Yeah, I think that’s it.

But maybe driving a limousine, too.

Miss T finished reading the essay and sat back, engulfed in smiling tears. It was so beautiful that she knew all the teachers and grown-ups would want to hang it up, print it or ask young Andrew to read it at some sort of assembly. This was a problem. He was already battling being different and bullied. What would the rest of the kids do if they found out that he wanted to be a sweetener? Clever is a wonderful thing, unless you live around people who are dull.

Miss T wanted to reward his beautiful thoughts.

Miss T wanted to stimulate his budding creative energy.

Miss T desired to have the essay read and understood by everyone at John F. Kennedy Elementary School.

Miss T even knew that the citizens of Shimmering Pines, Virginia, could profit from listening to little Andrew’s ideas.

But Miss T also knew that what was a solution for others could be a huge problem for Andrew.

She took a solid hour considering what to do. Finally, on his paper she wrote A+ Good Work, and tucked it away in her folder.

She needed time to think about it.

 

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Putting Her Finger On It… November 1, 2012

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She didn’t get the promotion.

She had allowed herself permission to think about it, but had not yet said the words out loud to herself–let alone to her mate and husband of twelve years. It was just too painful–too real in a way that forbade revision.

It was a classic American injustice. She had entered into competition for this new position in the company with a younger man who was her subordinate–and everybody knew it. The idea of her receiving “the boost” was not hers alone, but held by everybody around her, who just took it for granted that she was the next in line to be … well, the next in line. Suddenly it was over and her young fledgling apprentice was promoted over her.

There seemed to be only one reason. He was a man.

She suspected that the male-dominated company reasoning was that this young fellow had recently impregnated his wife for a third time and that his financial responsibilities were more excessive than hers, since she was childless with a working husband. Of course, this was not stated aloud. That would be an admission to favoritism and sexism. But once again, as is often the case in business-driven America, the sperm whale swam away victorious while she was relegated to being a “mummy,” declared corporately dead and shoveled into a neglected tomb.

She felt bruised. Her whole being had the sensation one experiences the day after a car accident–seemingly free of injury, but the morning after, displaying the creaks and twinges of unexpected damage.

What was it that bothered her so much? The rejection? The unfairness? Was it the loss of money? It was certainly all of them–but mostly the money. There was just something magnificent about continuing to do excellent work and knowing that the paycheck reflected a better return.

Now she found herself sitting next to her husband, partner, best friend–or maybe just roommate–in their smoke-gray BMW, driving away from her job in silence. She wanted to talk but her lips were sealed because her heart had declared a moratorium on all further emotion. And she wasn’t quite sure that the man sitting next to her was prepared to be the sympathetic ear instead of the instructive father. Yes, it seemed that every time she came to share her ideas or sentiments with him, he took the profile of the professor encouraging the flailing student instead of just going eyeball-to-eyeball with equality–to embrace her as himself.

So the silence continued. The only sound in the whole car was this man of hers, tapping his fingers nervously on the steering wheel as if playing percussion for a rock and roll tune, unheard.

She was angry. She was disappointed. And she was distressed.

All at once she noticed a big, black van up ahead, with its turn signal flashing, sporting Florida license plates, trying to get over in front of them. Her melancholy and bitter spirit sprang forth.

“Don’t let them in!” she bellowed at her husband. She didn’t know why she suddenly wanted to release the pain from her own heart onto these Sunshine State strangers, but her husband obliged, speeding up and forbidding the Floridians to get in front.

As they drove by, she looked over and saw a fat, bald, aging fellow with sunglasses, who was smiling at her. She determined it was not friendly, but rather, a smirk of condescension, similar to the look on her boss’s face earlier in the day when he had gently explained how much he valued her work and that the next opportunity available would be hers.

She couldn’t take it anymore. How dare this stranger smile at her?

She rolled down her window, extended her arm and gave him the middle finger of disapproval. She tried to accentuate her disdain and displeasure with the biggest frown that her memory could manufacture.  The driver of the van just tapped his horn, waved at her, and pulled in behind them–the beneficiary of a nicer couple to the rear. She continued to keep her finger pointed to the heavens in defiance for another few seconds before yanking her arm in and restoring her window to the closed position.

All at once, she had transformed from a promising forty-year-old woman with a great future in her company to an angry peasant, hurling insults at the king who had already escaped into the castle. She became the princess at the snack bar at the bowling alley. She was the dim-witted young lass who couldn’t watch reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies without becoming homesick. She was the young mother toting her eight-year-old daughter to beauty pageants, discussing the slight differences between brands of hairspray. She was Bonnie, sitting next to her … well, in this case, Claude.

And worst of all, that big, black van with that big, bald man kept following along behind them. Was he harassing them? Was he gong to continue to tail them all the way to their home, to produce some sort of confrontation with her husband, whose virility seemed to peak at the point cheering for his favorite football team? She thought of calling the police, but what could she say?

“There’s this big, black van with Florida tags, driven by an older gent, who seems to be following us because I gave him the finger, and I think we might be in danger …”

Fortunately, her apprehensions were alleviated when two blocks later, she and her husband turned right and the van continued on its merry way. She had squandered part of her arsenal of fear for no good reason. She had given a nasty gesture of disdain and hatred to a stranger–an action she would later have to justify by embellishing a storyline about this innocent driver’s supposedly untoward behavior.

She was going home without a promotion, without a conversation with her husband–but  with a little less dignity.

Meanwhile, the black van rolled on toward Richwood, Ohio. The incident was long gone in the memories of its two passengers. They had laughed it off and moved on to more congenial pursuits.

The reason I know the story so well, of course, is because I played the part of the tubby character in the dark van. And the reason I constructed the story about this woman who gave me the finger is that I always find it easier to forgive people when I understand that they don’t know what they’re doing.

A friend of mine taught me that.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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