I take my desk roughly two minutes after the bell rings. I start by flipping through a Vonnegut novel that makes hardly more sense than my profession. They trickle in, slow, casual, all with that strut and a laugh. The shield that masks the fear that is their lives.
They take to the phones. Rows of glows, a blast of inhuman light on brown skin. When I began in the fall, twenty years ago, I thought it would be rough. And it is, it’s soul-sucking and thankless. And there’s no money or help and it’s only getting more hopeless every year. I’ve tried. I’m tired. Now I’m asking friends about jobs.
I start to get up, to begin class, which means shutting the door and getting back to my desk when Quentin barges in, all wired up and making a fuss.
I nod in acknowledgement. Tartar Sauce. It was too funny to fight, so I ran with it. Think Dangerous Minds, but lazier.
Now he just stands there, part of his routine. Every day it’s something with Quentin. “Yes Q?”
“I didn’t do my homework.”
“I don’t remember giving any.”
“Oh,” his bright eyes flash around the room, only a few heads are paying attention, but that’s enough for Quentin. “Can I tell you why?”
I rest my head in my hand, tap my cheek in thought. “Dog ate it?”
He feigns astonishment. “Well, yeah.”
“Okay, the dog ate your homework. That’s the reason you don’t have the assignment I didn’t give?”
He shoots me a look that says, Come on, play along.
I’m a sucker. And Q’s my favorite, hands down. His file shows a kid who’s ADHD. Dad dead. Mom in jail. Brother just got arrested. But the class shows a kid with a stadium smile on his face, pulsing to please. Yeah, I’ll play along. I set the book down and set my feet on the desk. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
Quentin licks his lips, wipes a hand over his head and points out to the class, one-part rapper, one-part philosopher.
“A fortuitous thing happened to me this morning.”
“Remedial English, Q.”
Quentin nods at me, tongue poking his cheek. Then he’s back, slam poetry day in Mr. Tartar’s room. Q clears his throat. “A fortuitous thing happened to me this morning. You see, I’ve been embossed by these halls, frosted by this smog, but today, I was accosted by this dog.”
An applause of yawns greets my go-getter. He plows ahead. “This dog was a pit, with ears like burnt plastic, growling and spastic, not fantastic, but ugly as Miss Haslett.”
A few oohs in the class. Some phones hit the desk. I shoot him a bemused look, but that’s all the defense I have for our fearless principal. He shrugs.
I nod and he continues. “This dog though…with a chest like a boulder, and he had Serena Williams’ shoulders…” Q hops up on my desk. Thunk. A few drops of coffee bounce onto my leg. I’m okay with it, I’ve worn these pants all week, and that last line has me cracking up.
“And this ugly dog…he could talk, with eyes that were…gleamish, voice that was….steamish?”
“No making up words, Q.”
“Dr. Suess did it.”
Q smiles, dives back in. “Dog said, ‘give me your homework, I’m hungry for English, I’m a pit bull terrier, so don’t be so squeamish.’ So, I handed it over, this dog was funny, and let me tell you Tartar, that dog called you a dummy.”
The class is into it now. Anytime you insult the teacher you get props, and now Q’s taken on the principal and the teach. He’s got their eyes now, phones down, looking my way for the first time in weeks.
“The dog’s like, ‘This manuscript! Man you sick! Where can I get more? I demand you sit.’”
Q drops his arms, and I find myself rooting for him to continue. He puffs out his cheeks. “That’s as far as I got. And that dog was on a roll,” he says, hopping off my desk. “But he had to bounce, because of animal control.”
The class groans. But I see a few smiles out there. Q walks to his desk, slapping palms on the way. I get to my feet.
“Well, Q. That was something. I uh,” I wipe at my pants, feeling, inspired? The class is still looking. Waiting. I pounce. “Here, take out your books, turn to page…uh…”
More groaning. More phones.
“Okay fine, who’s next?”