Saturday, October 17, 2009

A gray Saturday in Virginia

Today is Saturday and it could be the first day of the rest of my life.
But then so could any day.
The leaves lie limp on the tree outside the office window and there's a grayness hanging over the squat buildings of the toy soldiers' compound across the street and the gantries of the great shipyard beyond.
Soon the leaves will turn into a beautiful portfolio of red and russets although it's hard to imagine anything beautiful growing from the limp yellow offerings hanging outside the office.
It's funny how a densely populated city on a Saturday afternoon can feel like the surface of the moon. There's not a soul on the streets, trash is being kicked along and abandoned in cold corners by an aimless wind and even the linear highways are bereft of all but the occasional car. I hear a low whirr from my office window and it's gone.
There's a scanner voice out there in the areas of the office that still lie in quasi darkness like the half abandoned strip malls round these parts.
And information lies all around me, but nobody's making any sense of it. My redundant notepads are still here, a testament to two years of collecting information for people who will quickly forget.
Who now remembers Mary S. Thomas, two counts of child neglect or Christopher A. Judkins, abduction and kidnapping?
These nefarious acts that scour and scar and ruin existences, are commonplace on the yellowing pages of my notepad. The shorthand outlines take on a life of their own on the page. I can't even recall if they made it into print.
So many lives and deaths are forgotten about. Today I am driving through the city to see a woman whose uncle was blown away outside a convenience store two years ago.
It was the first day on my job as a crime correspondent. I heard the call but my predecessor went out and covered it. She wrote of the everyday nature of death. The school bus that had just disgorged its cargo when the youth worker was peppered with bullets outside the store.
The store closed for a while. Then it reopened. Life went on.
A few days later I went on the peace march. A small crowd lighted candles and placed flowers on every street corner of carnage, before they went home to finish off another day. So many victims: all forgotten now.
My predecessor ignored the quotes I had collected and put her name alone on the story. I only cared in passing. She went on to the education beat but left soon afterwards. Everbody's forgotten about her now.
Like the wind that batters old papers and sends them skidding from gutter to sidewalk, we are buffeted along uncertain paths and we play many roles before we return to a second childhood.
And we forget. Many of us completely, but some of us not so well.
I have a problem forgetting. Like I said I am a collector. I hoard memories, I miss faces; I reguarly make futile searches on Facebook for my best friend at university.
I miss people. I miss whole continents. I often see the late afternoon sun caught in the windows form a dazzling sculpture of mirrors on cliffs of Positano when I close my eyes.
Then I open them again. And it's still a gray Saturday in Virginia.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The First Month of School

Today I saw a girl in a busy hallway who I dimly recognized.
"Mr. Cifaldi," she said, and gave me a look as if she was unsuccessfully trying to reconstruct a relic from a lost age.
"Macaulay." I mumbled, as I struggled to remember her name.
Then it all clicked into place. I think the expression is epiphany. I should know as I've spent most of the week trying to teach epiphany in My Left Foot to a bunch of unreceptive 10th graders.
Roberta was another new teacher at my school back in the day, somewhere in the Jurassic period or at least in the dark ages when Beowulf was written.
A month ago to be exact.
We hung out one lunch time on the whirlwind induction week and talked about teaching. In measured tones and idealistically.
Have I mentioned it was only a month ago? Before the age of students.
Neither of us has got out much since; not out of our classrooms let alone into the sunshine.
Except when the school holds fire drills.
And the only contact I have had with my fellow students on the career switcher course has been on taut emails when they have described their nervous breakdowns.
The girl who landed a job teaching at the school I wanted to teach at quit after a week-and-a-half.
She couldn't stand another day trapped in a "windowless hell."
My classroom hasn't got windows either. And it can resemble hell.
Whenever an administrator comes in and all hell is breaking loose I tell him or her we are rehearsing Milton's Paradise Lost. There's a limit to how many times I can use that excuse.
The trouble is that, while I like many of my students individually, collectively they can become a rowdy mass that's hard to bring to heel.
But then sometimes, against all odds it works. The class is silent and I have to pinch myself to believe it's true.
Then a few minutes later it isn't. I'm floudering like a big filleted, flat fish on a beach as the tide recedes.
And inevitably time becomes the tide. I'm looking at the electronic slab of a clock, at the angular red letters on the gray wall, wondering if my material will run out before the bell. I know chaos could ensue on the next digit and if I lose their attention for a second, I'm doomed.
But let's look on the bright side. I survived a month and June is just round the corner. Kind of.