New stuff from the story (and I’m working on more).
Having accepted his new job in dinky, rural Mantorville, Iowa, and endured his first inservice days, James Arkham now explains the ugly opening day assembly that began to turn him sour on this new experience…
Opening Day Assembly (1)
They opened the year with an all-school assembly. If there was a point to that assembly, I donʼt remember it. The only purpose it served, as far as I could see, was to introduce those of us who were new. And that wasn’t very impressive to the kids sitting on the bleachers. First they introduced the new faculty, me and the math guy. No one — not even my fellow faculty — especially not the kids, seemed very impressed to meet me. However, a couple of kids I could hear comment about being related, however distantly, to “that-air math guy,” as they put it. Then it was time to introduce the new students. This was when it got really strange. This is when I first felt really sorry for these new kids and got over feeling sorry for myself — which is where the assembly had led me until then.
There were two new students in the upper grades, a girl and a boy: Edy Allan and Frank Long. Both came from families brand-new to the area. Neither was related to each other nor to any other families in the area, so of course that made them, like me, Outsiders.
Here’s what happened at the assembly. Howie had taken charge of introducing the new teachers, but once that part was over (thankfully from my perspective), he turned the meeting over to his secondary principal. As I guess in many small communities, Howie as superintendent served as elementary principal. Our principal was a good old boy from Quetzal County, of course — Roger Davis, who appeared not only to know every detail about every kid in the school but also about everyone in the county. Pretty much everyone.
Davis had been snickering as loudly as any kid during introduction of us new teachers—especially, you probably guessed it, at me. I hadn’t liked him from the in-service days. When Howie ran the meetings, things got done. Our meetings with Davis were pretty worthless, and me starting a new job and buried under the paperwork and preparations for classes that meant, I didn’t feel I had time to waste. I’m pretty sure he sensed my antagonism. Being a real good old boy, he didn’t hide his feelings much, although he never hesitated to slap me on the back and laugh in my face. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like him. And probably I was too citified for him. Our Mr. Davis prided himself on being just about as rural as you can get — big hunter, had his own farm, worked for the seed company in the summer even. Just a good old country boy.
It didn’t help that he talked like a yutz.
He was okay about Chuck, just smiled and nodded with the things that Howie and Chuck himself had to say. And Chuck played to the crowd, emphasizing his local relatives and the supposedly fun times he’d had when he’d visit during the summers here in good old Quetzal County. Howie teased Chuck about his youth — being fresh out of college, the guy was just twenty-two, and he suggested that the kids needed to take it easy on this “kid.” I don’t know if Chuck liked being a kid or not, but he smiled and when handed the mike, talked about his youthful enthusiasm and how he hoped to get close his students but also to keep them on track to really learn some higher mathematics. Then it was my turn. Howie joked about me correcting his grammar (the oldest, tiredest joke English teachers always have to hear) before letting me say a few words about myself. I talked about how I hoped to get the best from every student in each of my classes and how much fun we could have in English (that got a vast laugh — especially from Roger Davis). Then Howie wrapped it up, suggesting the students make the most of all their opportunities ahead this school year, and let Roger take over.
Even though we were a pre-K through twelfth grade district all in one building, meaning that we had kids as young as four years old at that assembly, Roger Dodger thought it was appropriate to cackle about the kinds of opportunities the football team would find on Saturday nights if they did good (that was his exact phrase, by the way, “did good”) on the gridiron Friday nights. And he whooped it up as loudly as the big guys I assumed were the football team, sitting right down front on the outside edge of the bleachers.
He gave a nod at us two newbies on the faculty (his words again: “newbies on the fackle-tee”) and then launched into about three minutes on the kinds of nonsense that uptight prigs often thought was best for their little minions in some of the less “valluhbuhl ree-quired courses. Guess we’ll jus’ hafta show our newbies what’s what, what?” And the crowd went wild on that one too; even Chuck looked a little green having his expectations cut out from under him like that.
Then Davis moved on to new kids. There were several in the elementary — one younger brother of the new girl upstairs and a kid from a third new family entirely, a couple of transfers — open enrollments from other schools in the area. For the youngsters, he just made them stand up as he said their name and something about where they’d come from and what grade they were in. Motherly and grandmotherly elementary teachers kept close watch on their kids through these introductions, usually holding a hand on the little ones as they stood.
The high-schoolers got handled differently. Very differently.
First up was Frank Long, who owned his name. First, he was the most open, honest and sincere kid I ever taught — completely frank in every situation (which was going to count against him at that assembly and every single day at school). Second, he stood about a head over six feet, tall, lean and topped with a mop of sunbleached auburn blond hair, worn casual and long. He liked large T-shirts and baggy shorts — unfashionable in contrast to the sports gear, jeans or camouflage looks favored around Quetzal County. (A good portion of our girls dressed as if they hadn’t heard the Eighties ended a long time back: big curly hair and lots of wedges boxing out their dresses.) And even more unfashionably — flip flops. He looked like a very cool surfer and would have fit in perfectly where he came from — southern California. Here, somewhat appropriately, he was a fish out of water. They knew it and they glared. He knew it, too, and did not care.
Evidently Roger D was going to rectify that situation.
Our esteemed principal called Frank out on the gym floor to stand beside him. Old Rog took wicked delight in pointing out that “Frankie boy” — as he insisted on calling the kid — didn’t look like “good material for our football team.” Really funny observation,right? He also spent a long time exploring the fact that Frank had moved in from Southern California, “and he looks it, don’t he?” That remark got the kids started, pointing out the ways poor Frank looked effete and wondering what kind of stupid ideas a kid from those parts must have. The football guys seemed to lead the heckling; Rog just smiled at them with every wicked comment. Frank, standing embarrassed in front of the entire student body, writhed, turning deep red, even his knees, visible in his surfer shorts — increasing the crowd’s vocal amusement.
About this point, Howie looked troubled and headed out of the gym. I guess he knew it was only going to get worse.
Frank turned to his principal, who should at least in my opinion have been his support and not the leader of the attack, and asked if he could sit down now. Davis smirked, “What? Gonna leave the little missy — that cute, little new girl — all alone?” So Frank grimaced and stayed in place uncomfortably.
And it does get worse. I just have to make up what happens. There will be more to come, eventually.
For tomorrow we’re back in the “comfort zone.”