“No one will ever be rooted from the earth as brutally as you.”

A kid in 2nd period (I call him Tiresias because he is blind but intuitive, not to mention girly) laid it out for me in one sentence today:

“Ms. S., if they don’t get you for something technical, I think you’ll be a teacher for a long, long time.”

Tiresias is dead-on-balls accurate. I got into education by default — ask me about my LSAT score and why I fucked it up! — but I could be a lifer if they don’t get me for something ridiculous on standardized test day. People’s Exhibit A: The Great Bubble-Sheet Ben-Gay Clusterfuck of SADIM Testing Week, 2010, when I was long-term-subbing at Our Lady of Maximum Discomfort Middle School.

SADIM is not the test’s real acronym, but it should be.* Like all standardized tests, it’s riddled with inaccuracies and biases; not particularly related to effective teaching; and limited in terms of measuring learning or ability — but it determines whether students in our state graduate from high school, so we prioritize it and do the best we can.

SADIM was the be-all and end-all of human existence at Our Lady, where I worked with a quartet of women I called Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft. They lived in terror that some 12-year-old might use an answer sheet to bubble in a skull with a snake slithering out of the eyehole, and they weren’t wrong. Adult jobs were on the line. We had a minor mixup  — two kids’ booklets were switched by mistake –and every adult in the room (including me) was required to give a “statement,” which mostly involved ass-covering and blame-shifting. None of these women ever smiled. It’s the most hostile place I’ve ever worked, and I once had a temp job counting bags of money for a televangelist with a camera trained on my hands.

I didn’t think I was going to make it ’til May. Every time I got paid — $775 every two weeks because I’d chosen to spread my checks** out over 12 months instead of 9 –my eyes cried all by themselves.

Anyway. Cheney was a reading specialist who rendered children physically rigid with fear. Half-dead from heart surgery and diabetes (she was about to lose her right foot), Cheney used her dwindling chi to huff and puff down the halls on her walking stick (clump clump WHAP, clump clump WHAP) demanding that teachers count and re-count their allotted SADIM testing restroom passes.

“If you run out of passes,” she wheezed at me, “that’s IT for the restroom. Understand? THAT’S IT. When the kids bring the passes back, sign them, note the exact time, AND LOCK THEM UP. FAILURE TO LOCK UP THE PASSES MAKES US VULNERABLE TO A STATE AUDIT.”

I had to administer SADIM with Rumsfeld, the school psychologist. Rumsfeld was beautiful, which made her constant “fuck-you” expression even more jarring. She hated me. I can only assume virulent homophobia. Being in the same room with Rumsfeld was the icing on the train-wreck cake of this panicky, Pinter-esque scene, so my neck seized up. I went to work anyway, since being absent on SADIM day was grounds for immediate dismissal. But, because I’m not a masochist except in my romantic relationships, I took some self-care measures such as Ben-Gay, hot tea, and a little stretching. At the break, I received the following e-mail from Assistant Principal Cheney:

From: Assistant Principal Cheney
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 1:16 PM
To: ______
Cc: Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft
Subject: Distrcations

Ms. S,

I had some students come share some concerns with me today. They expressed that they found the room to be very distracting for testing. Please make sure to do your best to keep their environment free from such things. Some of the concerns were:

·         The tea kettle in your room was steeping and was very loud. Please make sure your water is heated before testing begins.

·         You were stretching and students were laughing because of it. I understand that you had a recent injury, but you need to be discreet about stretching and taking medication.

·         You were using an ointment or something minty. Students found this odor to be overwhelming. Please do your best to avoid using anything with a strong odor during testing.

SADIM is an extremely important time for everyone, especially for 8th graders. We want to make sure we keep the testing environment distraction free. Please see me if you have any questions.

Thank you.

Later on, Ashcroft stopped me in the hall — no easy feat because she was partial to wobbly hooker shoes with egregious cutouts and bows — and we had the only human interaction I ever experienced at Our Lady.

“I’m so glad I’m retiring,” she said. “I feel sorry for new teachers, because this stuff is getting worse. You might be OK, though. You deserve to be OK.”

Ashcroft wobbled off, swatting at a fly that wasn’t there. I felt perversely encouraged. I hadn’t realized how much I needed another shot of perverse encouragement (encouraged perversity?) until today. That Tiresias, he’s pretty all right. I gave him 10 extra credit points and a granola bar. It was all I had on me.

*Soulcrushing Anxiety Demonstrably, Inherently Masochistic or Sad And Desperate Idiots Mutiny.

**I originally mistyped this as “cheeks.” Which would be more accurate.


I Can’t Figure Out How To Not Care

During first period today, one of the girls sprinted to the bathroom to throw up. A quartet of concerned friends gathered around her afterwards to whisper and comfort.

“She might be…” one of the friends told me, eyebrows raised meaningfully. “But it’s OK, miss! She’s married!”

Here is where I bit my lip not to scream, “NO, THAT MAKES IT MUCH WORSE.” The student, at 17, is married. And academically gifted. And her future is now a fucking waste — or, at the very least, difficult and limited — but none of these girls gets that. They think it’s romantic and sweet.

Then I went to lunch, where a 23-year-old teacher who is clueless was saying how she “wouldn’t mind” getting pregnant this year after her wedding, because “that’s what my mom did, and then she stayed home. Which I wouldn’t mind either.”

Look. It’s great to live the life you choose, if you’re privileged enough to choose it from an array of attractive options. But why are so many women willfully stupid about the consequences of their choices if something goes wrong or they change their minds about what they want?

Why is it not TERRIFYING to contemplate dropping out of the workforce in this economy? Why is it not A VERY SCARY THING to leave school or a career before you have any real skills; before you’re competent in your field; before you have a degree or tenure or any kind of work-related security? Why are women not understanding that economic dependence on a man LIMITS YOUR CHOICES in a very practical, day-to-day way? How can women see all the 30-year-old single mothers; the 40-year-old divorcees; the 60-year-old-widows scraping by and not think: That’s where I’m headed if I don’t take my own life seriously? 

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Tinky Winky, If Only For One Night

Like I said, I never meant to fuck a Teletubby. But it was Halloween night in Toronto and I was cold (having dressed, as I usually do, as a generic Slutty Witch). I was at an outdoor bar with a few women from the Pillow Fight League, wishing I’d brought a jacket to go over my lace slip.

Soon enough, a hot little number in a Teletubby costume sent over a Jack and Coke. She was there with three other Teletubbies, but the others kept their giant head masks on.

“I’M TINKY WINKY,” she yelled over the music as we danced.

“COOL,” I yelled back, because I am known for my lady-conversating skills.

One thing, as it is wont to do, led to another. Tinky Winky, her friends, and I bar-hopped around Church and Wellesley — they in their giant Teletubby heads, me in my pointy hat — until it was just Tinky and I standing in the searing cold air in front of a mini high-rise.

“I live up there,” she said, like it’d just occurred to her. “Want to get warm?”

Did I want to get warm? Did I want a million dollars? Did I want the sky to fill with rainbows?

As we walked into her apartment, I panicked: Her Teletubby head looks different. It’s purple. Wasn’t it green before? Did I go home with the wrong Teletubby?

I held my breath as she unmasked. She was the right Teletubby. She was absolutely the right Teletubby for the next three hours. But in that moment, before I knew for sure, I realized it didn’t matter — if she’d been the wrong Teletubby, I’d have rolled with it.

Which was a new thing. Until I was almost 30 and started sleeping with women, I thought of sex as a sacred promise that bonded me to someone else forever. This ruined the sex itself, since I was so focused on forcing the relationship that my body went numb.

After I re-filed sex under “Research and Development,” I relaxed: What did I want? What did I like? What was I willing to try? My sexuality had been obscured by malecentric narrative and desire, so I really didn’t know. Self-objectification: we’re all soaking in it, until we’re not.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want just one woman to love. I did. But I wasn’t going to keep my lace slip on until she arrived. I was going to find something to love about a lot of different women: Her hair; her laugh; the way she could run a mile in under six minutes. And I was going to discover what I wanted in bed — not what I assumed I wanted, but actually enjoyed.

I cooked a lot of eggs during the next nine years. Scrambled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached — if you liked it, I could make it for you. I’d squeeze you some fresh juice, too, for the road. And I wouldn’t (usually) agonize over whether you called again or not.  I slept with a semi-famous folk singer and got a song written about me, which was fun.

But the best thing I learned from sleeping with lots of women wasn’t about sex, it was about secrets. Women told me things in bed that they wouldn’t have told me anywhere else — stories about their childhoods; their insecurities; their hopes; their ongoing sense of nameless dread. The more they told me, the more I understood how not-alone I was. Things I’d been afraid to share, or even admit, were de-fraught and de-fused, and it created a new kind of intimacy — not “We’re sleeping together, therefore we MUST be bonded,” but something natural and healing: Here we are, in this human thing together.  

And when I fell in love again — whether it worked out or not — sex with that woman was better because of the sex I’d had with women I didn’t love. I knew what I wanted. I knew what was real and what was someone else’s fantasy. I was present and powerful, not acting out a pre-fab script. So when I read things like this, or hear my students slut-shaming, I remember Tinky Winky and her warm, fuzzy hands. And I am so grateful.

The Time I Accidentally Fucked A Teletubby: Life-Changing Lessons From Casual Sex

…is the title of an upcoming essay, to be written when I finish grading this pile of essays (“I personally feel that Lady McBeth is way alot more evil than her husband, Mr. Mcbeth. The McBeths stand as the protagonists of Shakespeare’s book by the same name.”

More possible upcoming titles:

  • I Really Do Know All There Is To Know About the Crying Game
  • Eight Post-Op Transsexuals, One Bathroom, and Me: Adventures At the Recovery House in Trinidad, Colorado
  • I Am No Longer Allowed In The Office-Supply Store
  • Straight Women I Have Known
  • Surprising Injuries One Can Sustain While Refereeing in The Pillow Fight League
  • Choose the BEST Answer: The Gulag Archipelago of High-Stakes Testing
  • The Case For Having Five Cats
  • I Don’t Care How They Do It In Ibiza; Never Put Ecstasy Up Your Ass
  • Plan My Unit, Baby
  • The Kids Are On Pot! The Kids Are All On Pot!
  • The Lonely Planet Guide to My Rental House