Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 34byrpsuch©
Jennifer was still trying to arrange for me to visit her class, but wasn't getting much cooperation so I decided to use my business skills.
My family contributed lots to money to all kinds of things so we were known in the community. I called the Mayor's office.
He referred me to the Superintendent of Schools.
I called and told him I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I wanted to explore teaching. I may have stretched the truth just a bit beyond recognition.
I told him about Jennifer's efforts and how much I would like to be able to view teaching from her enthusiastic eyes.
He gave me the go ahead and told me to give his regards to my parents. I didn't mention that he might see them before I did
So, armed with his blessing and his Letters Plenipotentiary, I arranged to spend an unspecified amount of time with her and her class.
There was a bit of a roadblock I had to negotiate first. The director of the project, Elaine Hickman, had visions of additional funding from the Fine family and insisted on showing me around.
She took me into a seventh grade class and the problem was immediately obvious.
The boys didn't even hear the sound of my voice. The girls weren't much better. I don't even recall what I tried to speak to them about, but all I got in return were obsequious noises not much better than gibberish.
I gave Mrs. Hickman a story about suddenly feeling ill and arranged to return the next day, health permitting.
I needed to find a way to downplay my looks, no easy task. I had the disadvantage that I didn't wear much makeup so I couldn't just go without. I also needed something to hide my sensational body.
My clothing collection is so large it's obscene for one person to have that much. I had more clothes in my wardrobe that I never wore than most women ever own. I owned clothing for every occasion. I was sure that if I needed it, I could find clothing appropriate for the first landing of aliens on earth in one of my walk-in closets.
For this occasion I located a straight blue skirt ending below my knees and a matching blue blazer which gave no hint of any curves. Under it I wore a pointlessly ruffled white blouse. It looked out of place beneath the stern blazer.
I considered granny heels but they would have made my efforts too obvious. I tried on quite a few pairs until I was satisfied with how little flats did for my legs.
I overdid the makeup. I put on rouge until it was pretty obvious that couldn't possibly be my natural coloring. I went overboard with eye shadow, though that tawdry display fell far short of the clownish makeup of Mimi on the Drew Carey Show.
I considered putting on additional layers to appear a bit chunky, but when I looked in the mirror I decided this was as bad as I ever wanted to look.
I let myself into Jen's room without an escort. She turned to me and said, "Can I help you?"
I knew I didn't look good, but I didn't think I was wearing a disguise. I walked towards her. "Jen, I'm here to observe your class."
"Oh, my God, Ashley." She was so stunned she couldn't think of anything further to say.
"Where should I sit?" I asked her.
"I'm sorry. Here, sit at this desk in the corner. I didn't recognize you."
"How could you?" I asked as I took my seat.
I was able to observe the children in their natural habitat. It wasn't pretty. Had we been like this just a few short years ago? Yuk.
It wasn't that they were rowdy or unmanageable, though they were that some of the time. It was the way they had set up their own caste system, without any guidelines to follow.
At the top, they were beautiful, a jock or wealthy, though the categories could overlap. Below them were ordinary looking people who could look nice when they cleaned up. This was the largest group.
Further down were the nerds. It wasn't a strict category. You could attain membership just by looking or dressing a little strange. At the bottom were the losers and freaks.
Anyone below the favored caste could attain temporary status if they had something to offer, even the losers. Perhaps one of them had a location for a party. He would be invited to the party, maybe at his house, and be treated well until the party was over. Then he reverted to loser.
Character, loyalty, intelligence and empathy were factors which didn't count at all in their social structure. We had been like this. Why is it so easy not to see when you're the one doing it?
I had been successful disguising my looks. While they all treated Jen with reverence, they avoided me like a bag lady. She was gorgeous, mature and ran with a crowd they aspired to. I was inconsequential.
This was the breeding grounds that led to Columbine. Sure, it was important to improve their reading skills. But who was going to teach them to be human beings?
If I'd ever had this kind of rumination in the past I'm sure I handled it with a simple, "Let's party." This was further confirmation, as if I needed it, that I had changed.
"What's with the look?" asked Jen when we sat down for lunch.
"Have you noticed the way your kids fawn over you?"
"Yeah," she said with some disappointment.
"I was actually here yesterday with the director. I met another class. Fawning would have been an improvement. It was like I was a freakin' pop star."
"Did you have to go this far?" she asked.
"I didn't know what it would take. You can rest easy. I don't think I'll be using this look again."
"Did Jeff like it?"
"He may see my hair in curlers, my face covered with cream and my pregnant belly out to who knows where, but he won't see me like this."
"Too bad I don't have my camera handy," said Jen, probably forgetting her phone.
"You'd be risking your life taking that picture."
"So how is Jeff? Is that still going well?"
"Jeff is fabulous in every way," I said.
I'm not sure I said it so much as gushed it.
"You should double with us," I said.
"I don't have anybody to take at the moment."
"I'll see if Jeff can find somebody from work."
"You've obviously changed, I've gotta say way for the better, but has Jeff changed that much? The idea of Jeff setting someone up for a blind date seems, well, kind of silly."
"Well, I can't guarantee it," I said. "But I'm sure he's met a bunch of guys at work this summer. I'll see what he can come up with."
"This could be quite an adventure."
Funny, I didn't even think to set her up with someone I knew, one of the kind of guys I used to date. I wanted more for her.
The afternoon session gave me a much better idea of what could be accomplished by a program like this.
Jen didn't ask them things like what is the symbolism and how are all the instances tied together to produce a symbolic framework in some book they'd read. That was the kind of stuff that made me nauseous when I had to go to English.
She asked if they liked it or not, and why. She asked which characters they liked and why. She asked which characters they'd like to see "get it" and why.
She asked if they reminded them of characters they'd met in other books they had read or people they knew. And they didn't have to answer the questions if they didn't want to.
"The point is to have fun reading," Jen said. "And while you're having fun, you'll learn something.
"You may learn how brave you had to be to move from the east across the prairie in a covered wagon.
"You may learn something about yourself, why you do things or what's important to you. You may learn those kinds of things about other people as well. You're not reading to learn those things. They come along as a bonus.
"Read. Have fun. Your life will get better."
That last statement brought groans. But they did participate in the discussion. I think it was, in part, because she didn't require them to. They could answer, or not. They could wander off topic and ask questions of their own.
Someone raised the issue of authors writing to make things hard to understand. He was asked to clarify.
"Like that Shakespeare they're gonna make us read when we get back. He's always writing shit that doesn't mean what it sounds like."
There was a general murmur of agreement.
"Alright, let's take a look at that," said Jen. "I'll use a quote from Romeo and Juliet you've probably all heard. 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' What does it mean?
"First, I want to hear from people who haven't read it, and especially haven't read a study guide."
The boy who had started it, raised his hand and Jen nodded.
"It means it don't matter what you call it. You call it a truck, it's still a rose."
Jen scrunched up her face. "Yes, but you wanted to talk about something not meaning what it sounded like. They're really not talking about a rose. Jesus."
"Just because I'm Latino, doesn't mean I can't do as good a job as an Anglo. You judge on the work. They always say they have other applications they need to go over and they'll get back to me. Unless it's just labor."
"Yes. That's another way to see it," said Jen.
"I'll go you one better," I jumped in. "Next time somebody tells you he has to look at other applications, you say 'That's cool. I think you'll find I can do at least as good a job as any of them. A rose by any other name.'
"He'll be thinking about you when he looks at those other applications, if they exist." I couldn't suppress my enthusiasm. The class seemed to agree with my concept.
"How about someone who has read the play?" asked Jen.
A boy who could have been dressed by Jeff's mom looked around and decided to join in.
"It actually does refer to a name. I think the line before it is, 'What's in a name?' The two families are feuding and her family would be against him just because of his last name.
"But, of course, it's really about all kinds of judgments and assumptions that label people in some way without really knowing what they're like. Like you, Melissa."
He gestured to a girl wearing all black, with black eye shadow and black lipstick and black nail polish.
"All people see is Goth. They don't know a thing about you but you're going to scare them."
"Thanks," she said, her face twisting into kind of a sneer. She was less than thrilled to be used as an example.
But it really got the kids into the discussion. They made fun of each other, but it was in a light, joking atmosphere; not the way they would ordinarily put each other down.
For the duration of the discussion and for some period after, good will seemed to reign. They would be back to their usual behavior tomorrow, but maybe this was a first step for some of them.
They talked about other lines from a book or a movie and what they thought it meant. There was learning going on and they were having fun.
And while that was going on, I was thinking that I might not want to remain a business major.
There was a bell at 3:00 and most of the kids left. A few hung around to talk with Jen. When the last of them departed she came over to me.
"Oh, my God, did you see that? For a while there they forgot about who they were and why they didn't like each other and just talked about something that interested them.
"A few weeks ago they were all saying they had to come because their parents forced them. But they wanted to be here for this discussion."
I had never seen this level of enthusiasm from Jen. She was so juiced there was no opportunity to break in.
"And they came up to talk after class. I've never had a single kid stay after class before. That was amazing!"
Eventually, she burned herself out.
"That was amazing," I told her. "Who knows, perhaps it was life altering."
She gave me a strange look.
I nodded meaningfully.
"So, lets' go out together on Friday. We can double date."
"What if Jeff can't find anyone?"
"We'll have a threesome."
She gave me a shocked look.
"Just kidding. I'm sure Jeff will find somebody suitable at work. They're real adults."