May 13: Fourth graders entered the music room where I substituted all week. “We know you! You’re the underwear lady.”
Oh dear. I’m sensing a theme here — because the previous class similarly recognized me from my day “teaching” Spanish on April 5. Indeed, one boy, after taking his seat, looked at me and pointed to his rear end. Oh double-dear. “Why did you point there?” “Because you told us about babies’ bottoms.”
Gulp. “Tell us the story again,” they implored. I asked them to tell it to me. And so they did, each unrolling the story in morsels and handing the bits off to their classmates. It goes something like this:
“When I was little, my Great-Aunt Querina would give us a bath while our Mom worked. We’d splash around and eventually Aunt Rina would ask us to roll over ‘so I can wash your coolie.’ We quickly figured out what she meant, although we didn’t know it was Italian.
“Years later, I took an Italian class in college. As we worked through kitchen vocabulary, I offered to say the word for knife. The word is ‘coltello,’ but somehow I said something that sounded like ‘coolie.’ The teacher gasped and then laughed. “You just said ‘baby’s bottom!!’”
Even though they knew how the story ended, my students gasped and laughed too.
. . . . I’m afraid I’m getting a bit of a reputation across the school because yesterday….
“Mrs. Ogle! We had you for Tech!” Uh oh. I taught Tech to the fourth graders on Earth Day when we talked about, um, sanitary waste.
That day, April 25, the fifth graders exhibited curiosity and self-control. In contrast (and as British blog-friend Platypus Man guessed), the fourth graders exploded in horror to learn that our (exquisitely treated) drinking water is drawn upstream from the same river that receives our (exquisitely treated) waste.
I entered the lion’s den. First, they asked if I had told my third grade classes all this. No way. Then I asked a question: “What did you learn about?” One boy, who I recalled as one of the leaders of the uproar, said simply “sewage treatment.” Nice. And the girl behind him, almost under her breath, said “poop.”
May 14: On my outing today, I noticed dirt roads spinning off toward distant mountains and a surprising number of iron cattle gates that could clang shut if the need arose. I learned, while touring a 19th century jail in Warrenton, that this part of Virginia is the Moonshine Capital of the world. Among other things, that means, in case of fire, the fire chief drives out to the mountains first to assure suspicious householders that (good news!) it’s just a fire, not a raid. And it also means that a bobbing blue balloon tied to a post doesn’t celebrate a new baby boy: it announces a fresh batch of hootch.
May 15: My Slovenian-Italian blog-friend Manja has whipped me into a froth over the NBA playoffs. Manja is a Dallas Mavericks super-fan who rejoices, agonizes and writes poetry about her basketball team and their young phenom, Slovenian-born Luka Dončić. (She also watches their games live at 3 am Italian time.)
Today would be game seven, with the winner entering the Western Conference Championship series. The Mavs needed to travel to the Phoenix Suns’ home court, and the home team had won decisively every previous game.
I turned on the contest late and nearly dropped the remote. At halftime, the Suns had scraped together 27 points. Dončić alone had scored that many, and his teammates added 30 more for a thirty point lead. The Mavericks glided to victory, with Dončić pouring in 35 points in just three periods.
I frantically scoured my emails for one of Manja’s posts. Beautiful flowers; that would do. In a comment, I sent her whoops and hearts and exclamation marks. And birthday greetings: my friend had received the best (sports) present she could have imagined.
May 16: At 10 pm last night I agreed to substitute for a fifth grade class today. Everything was fine, but I just couldn’t summon the “Mrs. Ogle” energy that’s earned me hugs and hellos in the hallway.
And, resolutely, I’ve decided that’s ok. Nobody (else) expects me to score 35 points each time I hit the court.
Then I looked at the bouquet of birthday flowers from my son Nate. Here, on day eight, the sunflowers have started to wilt but the lilies are finding their glory. The components keep changing and, as artist Alma Thomas would say, everything is still beautiful.
May 17: For me, the dentist’s drill is the worst sound in the world, especially when mixed with the smell of tooth dust. (Ok, I’ll stop.) So I tried to reframe: does a dentist’s drill sound like anything else?
The whistle of a tea kettle! I stretched hard in the direction of a cup of anxi tea and the orange scone our bakery gave me for my birthday. I smoothed the tablecloth, inhaled the steam and closed my eyes.
Doctor, I’m ready for you now.
Bonus: What? A emergency root canal? Now? …. The only (!) problem was that I’d walked to the dentist’s office; it would take me 20 minutes to get home and another 15 minutes to drive to the endodontist’s office. So: my dentist drove me home (!); my root canal doctor squeezed me in; and all I needed to do was open my mouth, muffle everything with the soundtrack to Hamilton — and treat myself to a chocolate milkshake when it was all over.
May 18: After my emergency root canal yesterday, I needed an emergency salon visit today. My dear sister-in-law Karolina struck gold, and within 4 hours of Kevin’s and my arrival in Des Moines, Iowa, my toes were swishing in fragrant suds..
I looked up from my bliss to see, across the room, a stylist combing and coloring a customer’s hair. I looked away and back again, and then gasped: The stylist was now carrying the head in her hands.
“Oh, they’re just practicing,” my nail technician said, as the stylist moved the manikin’s head to another tripod and carried on.
May 19: Karolina and I slipped into Immersive, a splendid four-artist exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center. The Des Moines Art Center sprinkles a fine permanent collection of Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Alice Neel and Carrie Mae Weems in buildings designed by Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and Richard Meier. Pretty cool. And it’s all free.
Immersive, which combined video and sound (and, in one case, sewing pins and crystals), invited us to be part of — and, in my favorite pieces, to alter — the artists’ work. The pieces were five, even ten, minutes long; sometimes “nothing” happened. They rewarded both patience and a willingness to trust the artist. I found patience and trust, as well as disorientation, discontent, and awe. Pretty effective exhibition, I’d say.
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