When I was a rookie teacher in the Spring of 1982, I had to take two busloads of eighth graders nearly a hundred miles to see the State Capitol in Austin for their annual 8th Grade Field Trip.
If you don’t see the potential for disaster in that, well, you are in for a tougher life going forward than the one I am about to complain about.
Anyway, it was an extra-warm sunny Texas day and we had an endless-hours journey in an un-air-conditioned bus with sixty kids and four teachers per bus. And I was the new teacher filled with sizzling rage from enduring eight months and fourteen days worth of get-the-new-teacher tricks by fourteen-and-fifteen-and-sixteen-year-old kids (I didn’t have to rage at the eighteen-year-olds on the field trip because the same things that kept them in the eighth grade until they were eligible for Medicare were the things that disqualified them from going on the field trip). And because the principal was convinced that you could prevent death by throwing things on a bus by having a teacher sitting near the perpetrator, or the potential target, the teachers had to spread out and sit with the kids. Of course, our bus had 59 perpetrators and one potential target (Tomasso, the kid nobody could stand). And the coaches got to sit by the vatos locos most likely to fling metal and hard food. I, of course, got Tomasso.
So, I sat for five hours on the way up to Austin practicing trying to kill apple-core tossers with my best teacher’s stink-eye while ducking gum wads, wrapper balls, and half-eaten Rice-Krispies Treats. And I was also listening to Tomasso’s endless weird questions and comments about penguins that made him the popular target. I got extra practice recognizing bad words in Spanish and resisting the urge to call them “pendejos” in return.
And we got to Austin tired, sweaty, and hungry because it took extra time in both San Antonio and San Marcos traffic, and we missed our lunch connection in a parking lot in central Austin. The kids were mostly not hungry. They were full of chips and hot Cheetos and other salty, unhealthy snack food. Instead of hunger, they were dying of thirst. And while the History teacher in charge of the trip and the coaches were consulting maps and trying to reach the lunch connection with a walkie talkie, I spotted a herd of students going over a wall into a nearby parking garage. I followed to see them walking over the hoods of parked cars to get to a fire hose that they were using as a watering hole.
We were, of course, unable to single out any individuals for punishment. They were dying of thirst, and it was a three-hundred-degree-in-the-sunshine parking lot where we were waiting.
We got to the Capitol and walked around, bored by the tour guide, and found the one entertaining fact about the Texas Capitol Building. Governor Hogg once had two daughters named Ima and Ura. Their pictures hang in an upstairs display case. Kids laughed and called them “pendejos”. Even the white kids.
Then, the way home took an additional seven hours. All of the coaches fell asleep on the way home, and I was the only teacher awake and standing between unpopular nerds and death by de-pantsing. I was told that somewhere in the middle of the writhing masses of eighth grade arms and legs and ultra-loud voices, a shy kid the teachers all liked lost his virginity to one of the more sexually aggressive girls while the other kids close enough to see in the general darkness watched. Was it true? When he got asked in the classroom, he just grinned.
I remember a lot of “Oops!” School Stories happening on field trips. I went on more than twenty of the big trips like that one, and I only remember a handful that went smoothly. But this one stands out in my memory because it was the first. And first experiences set the standard the rest are judged by. And I tell you this because, this time of year, if things were still like they used to be, and there was no pandemic, field trips to hell like that one would be going on for first-year teachers.
I am used to complaining about the heat. More than one summer I have endured 100 days of 100-degree-plus heat. When I lived in deep South Texas in the town of Cotulla, one summer we averaged 104 degrees.
The heat sits on you like a wool blanket that presses you down towards the surface of the frying pan. You almost wish you could set yourself completely free of clothing so that you could be as cool as possible, and at the same time get an all-over tan. (Or an all-over sunburn as the case always is with me.)
But this, of course, is Bible-belt Texas where the Baptists threaten you with eternal Hellfire if you even think about being naked.
And the heat makes for oppressive summer laziness, where you can’t seem to do anything but sit and sweat. Of course, when I was a kid, summer days were for chasing leopard frogs down on the banks of the Iowa river. Or watching the butterflies in Mrs. Stokes’ flower bed where petunias and daisies, and black-eyed Susans seemed to bloom all summer long. Or explore the Bingham Park Woods on my trusty-rusty bicycle, biking along the forest foot-paths. Nowadays, kids can sit in an airconditioned room and play video games from the time they wake up in the afternoon until four o’clock the next morning.
This summer hasn’t been quite as hot as some in the recent past. There has been rain off and on. But it is even more oppressive with the pandemic going on. And the George Floyd protests raging on as much here in Dallas as in any city. The heat and diabetes and poverty and the inability to get anything done that actually feels like progress have me depressed and moping and completely stifled… and using the word “and” too often.
It is even hard to write a blog post. My energy is gone. All I have done is dither on the WordPress site. But at least I have ticked off one more tick-box on the to-do list of a hot Texas day.
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Filed under artwork, battling depression, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Paffooney, Texas