“It never hurt anyone to smile,” Mrs. Turpin said. “It just makes you feel better all over.”
—“Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor
The schoolteacher winced, but almost at once he was smiling again.
—“The Violent Bear It Away,” by Flannery O’Connor
What A Teacher Did During his Summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Breaks ... So Far!
THE SUMMER ATTITUDE LASTS ALL YEAR!
MEWSINGS AND NEWS TO AMUSE!
Certain Rebel Activity Seen And Heard On The Roadways!
In The Local Bookstores!
And In The Public Houses!
I SLAPPED A LOT OF PAINT ON THINGS
Which led to this! www.actionjacksonart.com. Enjoy!
THE GRAVY TRAIN IS ALWAYS LATE
On a lot of mornings during the breaks, because it’s a scary place in the middle of the night, I've eaten a few breakfast meals at the Waffle House near where I live. During the summer, teachers can sleep late and eat breakfast with the late lunch crowd.
The Waffle House near where I live is a place that offers to the social observer a bunch of what you call local flavor. The Waffle House is right next to a highway, so it also offers a lot of state, regional, and national flavor. I would say that from time to time the restaurant offers some international flavor, too, and the expressions on the faces of the international flavor families when they walk in prove to me that there are no restaurants like Waffle Houses on the foreign continent on which they live. Japanese families love to point at the picture of what they want on the menu and I believe they're fascinated that when the plate of food is plunked in front of them it looks just like what they pointed at. When this particular cultural occasion was unfolding, some older local flavor behind me said them people sure do jibber-jabber. His dining companion, who was rooting around in her purse for some tip change, and who already had the post grits-and-bacon parking lot cigarette between her lips, said their children always beat us on them tests.
I always get one of three waitresses, and every time I have ever eaten there over the years, which is a lot, all three of them always forget to bring the country gravy that I order in addition to my entrée selection in a fairly loud voice always and accurately aimed at their order pad. Their names, as noted on their nametags, are Jennifer, Cinnamon, and TJ. TJ goes by her initials, so I don’t know her real name. The other waitresses and the cooks call her TJ.
One morning, Cinnamon, who seems like she'd have a heck of a life story to tell, convinced me to buy a Waffle House coffee mug. She may be a lunatic with a good heart, but she made a wonderful and convincing case about why I should buy a coffee mug because I said I would buy one even though she never told me the price. She’s that good. When Cinnamon closed the sale, I reached for the mug she'd been waving around in my face, but she snatched it away and said that she had to go wash it out and dry it off. It was the law.
I ate breakfast in the Waffle House near where I live the other morning, and along with the sausage and cheese melt sandwich and hash browns and a glass of water and a cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice, I also ordered from Cinnamon a bowl of the country gravy, which is extremely harmful to the human organs it comes in contact with, but it’s also so delicious you find yourself eating it with a spoon, like soup, after you look around to see if anybody’s watching you and before you dump the whole bowl over your already-smothered and scattered and cheesed-up hash browns.
A short while later, Cinnamon plunked down the sausage and cheese melt sandwich and hash browns and a glass of water and a cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice. She even plunked down the ticket and she said she hoped I enjoyed everything.
Who says the nation’s in trouble, or even the world. Everything’s normal here among all this local, state, regional, national, and international flavor on a beautiful teacher's summer morning.
I slurped down my sausage and cheese melt sandwich and hash browns and a glass of water and a cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice before I waved at Cinnamon and told her that she forgot the country gravy. Again.
I thought Cinnamon was going to faint. I always leave Cinnamon, Jennifer, and TJ the best tip a teacher can leave, and I like to think they fight over me when I walk in. These three, at the same time, no matter what they're doing for other diners, sure do tell me where to sit. Cinnamon made a weird noise in her throat and started to run for the cook’s station. I told her to hold up … and asked her why every time I’ve ever been in here ... over the many years ... and ordered the country gravy ... why do y’all always forget?
Cinnamon leaned down, and with her bug eyes juking back and forth to see who might witness an intimate waitress-to-customer conversation, which is everybody, she said that the cooks don’t pour your gravy. Cinnamon said that when it comes to pouring your gravy the waitresses have to pour it in a bowl themselves and when we go get your food we’re worried about getting it all to your table quick and then we forget about going back to pour your gravy. The cooks don’t pour your gravy. Cinnamon asked do you still want me to pour your gravy.
I sure did. Pour away.
Cinnamon brought back a bowl of gravy and I ate it like soup. She wasn't horrified by my local flavor table manners, but stood there watching me with a smile, satisfied, with her odd job well done.
ROLL TIDE THAT WAY
I was running … jogging … slogging … whatever you want to call it on a new road near where I live called Ronald Reagan Parkway. How social studies is that?
Anyway, it wasn’t pretty, but all I can say is that I was slogging in a forward direction. At the intersection across from that haunted Waffle House an old lady hauled off and asked me, while she had a cell phone mashed against her ear, for some directions.
Once I started giving her the directions and pointing in a number of various directions with both arms and hands her eyes glazed over and she shoved her phone at my face and said talk to my dang daughter.
I started talking to her dang daughter.
Her daughter apologized for her mother being from Alabama.
I told the daughter she didn’t have to apologize for her mother being from Alabama because her mother seemed like good people to me. I was a local social observer, I told her, and knew crazy when I saw it. Sometimes, I said, I even give it a nice tip.
The daughter said I do not know what in the hell you are talking about, sir.
The old lady’s car was packed with stuff. I guess she was coming up from Alabama for the rest of the summer. I’ll bet her daughter just had a baby or two.
The old lady shouted at her phone mashed against my wet ear in her Alabama accent that her daughter was from Alabama, TOO! That she was BORN in Alabama!
I finished talking to her daughter on her cell phone and when I handed the cell phone back to the old lady she must have been real grateful for the directions because she didn’t say a thing about her cell phone being covered with sweat. I know I felt like a real ambassador.
HOOKED ON BOOKS
Teachers have summer reading responsibilities, too. On our own, though, and with our own money, and that's okay. I just finished a book about Ernest Hemingway's life after he got his fishing boat. He named the boat Pilar. The book's titled, Hemingway's Boat. It's for folks interested in reading about the life of a famous writer, and maybe even for those who enjoy reading about big game fishing.
I read Gregg Allman's autobiography, too, My Cross to Bear. It's an honest and sometimes raw account of his life, so far. It's for fans of the Allman Brothers Band, but not for church goers.
I'll say something else about geniuses I've read about. Geniuses in all kinds of areas. Art. Music. Sports. They're usually addled by something else that's powerful and scary ... that either adds to their genius or rips it apart. Good to have you back, Gregory, among the living and those who listen to the songs you sing and write.
FORGIVE YOUR CHICKEN
I got an e-mail from a famous person! I immediately alerted my mother who sprayed coffee out of her nostrils.
The e-mail was from the acclaimed novelist and magazine writer, Susan Orlean, who said it was okay with her if I used a bunch of epigraphs here and there in A Dixie Diary pulled from her New Yorker article, "The It Bird."
"The It Bird" is an article she wrote about how fun it is to raise chickens and how rich people think it's the thing to be seen doing now. I'm wondering, though, what rich people do with the poop of their chickens. I'm thinking they pay somebody to haul it away. That's what I'm thinking.
Anyhow, being a responsible teacher, of course, I went ahead and used the epigraphs for a whole long while, and then thought to ask the famous person for forgiveness.
Susan Orlean ain't no chicken. She forgave Todd ... cheerfully! Now she's my It Bird! Honestly, just look at the joy that comes from hugging a chicken. We should all find one to hug right now.
GO-GO A NO-NO!
I got to poking around in the unpublished archives of A Dixie Diary because something weighty occured to me: questionable behavior ain't exclusive to kids. I sprayed coffee out of my nostrils upon this revelation. Then I re-lit my breakfast cigar. Then I burped while I scratched my armpit.
I taught the kids that when you gaze at human history you'll discover some things that will definitely confuse you. And if you've got questions, then the people to clear things up for you are your parents, God forbid, and maybe even your teachers, God forbid. Grandparents, from time to time, can be real handy in figuring stuff out, too.
Anyhow, as for Claude, he had a lot of questions. Good for Claude.
So gaze with Claude at some human histrionics at ...
October 22: The Homework Dance
I know Claude gazed as long as he could. His mother told me so.
Your positive response to A Dixie Diary, Gently Herding Cats, and all the rest of some of the loftiest moments in modern American education have been overwhelming—and much appreciated—so your attentive teacher has added some historiographic new stories for you. Mischievous and irreverent are darn applicable adjectives, too, and easier to pronounce.
Your rebel yelling for more Spike stories has also been heard by your humble diarist. Believe me, I understand your insatiableness for the elf’s magic.
I was a wide-eyed and freaked-out substitute teacher for the school when I first met him. The school asked me if I’d like to add to my uniquely madcap experience and teach a Tuesday after-school manners class to kids who got signed up by their exasperated parents. Of course, anything that helps foster social success in America’s youth was fine with me, especially since an hour and a half of giggling Please-and-Thank-you and Yes sir-and-Yes ma'am role play drills fosters twenty-five easy bucks every Tuesday into my cheap cigar fund.
Spike's mother signed him up. I was instantly amazed at the first moments of THE SPIKE EXPERIENCE. The naturally orange hair. The piercing eyes. The electric wit. His electric energy. There were millions of freckles involved, too. Spike was a fourth grader then and about seven inches tall. I knew in my heart that Spike would one day rule the world and that I would become the president of his fan club.
Now, having been in shock and awe of Spike for a few years, I wonder why this kid doesn’t have his own unreality show on national TV, but he should.
So to quench your thirst for more spikenaciousness, or to possibly scare you into getting back to work instead of sneaking around in my dang diary, enjoy ...
Does Spike rule, or what? He sure does, but in a different way than regular kids. Spike rools. Know what I mean?
Spike taught me some things about the world and the universe I didn't know and I subscribe to the National Enquirer. In other words, while pondering Spike, you may get all philosophical and mumble ... Who teaches the teacher about kids like Spike?
Spike does. Spike teaches teachers.
One day I asked Spike to deliberately fail eighth grade so I could have him again the next year and let some hellacious history repeat itself. Spike said he would, but squeaked on out anyway while he whipped his new monkey tail around.
Selfish, I know. But teachers have funny feelings, too.
TODD SENTELL, Somewhere in Dixie