I had a liberal arts degree, and it was spring, and my friend Dolores told me that elementary schools needed men. ‘We are woefully deficient in elementary schools,’ she said.
‘Of men?’ I was eating peanuts, I think. We were at McDougal’s Tavern. The smell of old carpet. Soft lighting. Bald shame.
‘Of positive male role models.’ Dolores had the most serious eyes. Everything she said was like an explanation. ‘And not just locally,’ she continued. ‘Even in the good places to be from. The entire American educational system.’ She gestured at America and gulped her Pabst. ‘It’s shameful.’
The week before, Dolores had gotten drunk on my balcony and screamed down at some dude-bros with sideways ball caps and sagging cargo shorts that all men should ‘Go home and jerk off to death!’ They shot her some gestures and staggered across my parking lot to wherever, and Dolores hollered out, ‘Jerk off to death!’ one last time as they faded into the distance. She was so amazing then.
‘You think you could get me a gig for next year?’
‘Positive,’ she told me. She touched my hair. ‘We just gotta get you cleaned up some.’
Here’s something bizarre: in the spring of 2008 I tucked in my shirt, cut my hair and got a job.
I don’t want to bore you with all the details of how I became a prekindergarten teacher, but what you have to know is: it wasn’t my first gig at Brogan Elementary. My first year, I did fifth grade. My second, third. I sort of failed my way down to it.
For all my faults – I’m disorganized, I’m spacey, my hands are too small for my body – I’ve got a few things really going for me:
1. I show up. Every day. And on time.
2. I don’t bitch, ever.
But I’m probably not a good teacher. I couldn’t explain negative numbers to the fifth-graders and I couldn’t explain nouns and verbs to the third-graders, but I can set out snacks and open finger paints better than nearly anybody alive. I can take my students to gather fallen leaves in autumn and help them do crayon rubbings. I can pour flour on the floor in December and have the kids pretend it’s snow. ‘I’m making an angel,’ they say looking up at me, doing horizontal jumping jacks on the tile, the air in the room chalky with the dust of it all.