I’m really tired this week. I went into Monday morning having not slept well over the weekend, and with a nasty cold nipping at the edges of my immune system. I knew I was subbing every single day this week, and busy every evening as well. I yearned on Sunday for an easy week, and I immediately felt tired thinking of how it might go. It’s only Wednesday. Nothing has been easy this week.
Monday was hard. Tuesday was hard. I’m losing my voice. Today was another long, brutal day. I’m too tired to draw a comic, so you know it’s bad.
This morning I subbed kindergarten; in the afternoon, a third grade class.
The kindergarten class was unruly and misbehaved. That’s not so unusual. But my introduction to a day of bodily fluids was rather a shock.
There was a little boy misbehaving during group time on the carpet, so I sent him to his desk for a time-out. There was no crying or whimpering or noise of any kind. No tears. But about three minutes later I noticed a string of mucus stretching from his nose to his desk, with the consistency of a chilled dollop of sweetened condensed milk, or cheap viscous hair gel, like the maximum hold one from L.A. Looks. But he wasn’t crying, he wasn’t doing anything but staring at this incredible vertical sculpture of mucus. I called the TA over to help him, thinking it needed immediate attention.
I found out later that this kid, when he gets in trouble, sulks in place, lets all of his muscles go and completely relinquishes control of his sinuses, and oozing waterfalls of snot slowly pour from his nostrils like a playdoh spaghetti maker. After the TA cleaned him up, the boy started again. Within minutes there was a brand new cascade of snot. He was fascinated by it. It wasn’t bothering him at all. He was studying it – poking and prodding it with fingers. The most interesting thing is how he tried to clean it up. With a tissue he would gently try to pick up the mucus from the middle and would never actually wipe his nose. Like a carnie pulling taffy from a machine.
After recess I went out onto the yard to pick up the kids, and this same little boy was sitting on the asphalt, his body gone completely slack. At first glance it looked like he had thrown up a little bit of milk. Kids do that all the time. Most of their vomit is pretty tame, looking a lot like milk or juice, and that’s what I thought I saw here. But it turns out he was just letting saliva fall out of his mouth. I was alarmed again, but the TA told me the boy does this every single day. In this case the boy had punched another kid and the TA told him he was in trouble. He proceeded to collapse and drool in response.
But what about the milky stuff? If it wasn’t puke, what the heck was it? I followed the trail of it, and it led to one of those liquid yogurt bottles, full, opened and upended in a ziploc bag with a hole in the bottom of it, being held by some oblivious classmate. I thought at that point it couldn’t get worse than a sulking sadsack drooling into a yogurt trail who refused to stand up and get in line.
At about noon I reported to my third grade room. The class had just come back from lunch. Within minutes a boy in the back simply puked into his hand. I suppose it’s actually quite courteous of him to put it there rather than on his desk or friends. As I’ve said, puke is par for the course in primary school, so his neighbors let me know in a non-urgent voice, “He’s throwing up,” “Yeah. Probably too much pizza.” So I sent him to the sink and he threw up in the sink.
Except the sink was full of milk. Kids at this school eat breakfast in the classroom, and they have to pour out their unfinished milk before they throw away the cartons. But the sink in this classroom was clogged. And it was now full of milk. Warm, used milk, about three hours old. He turned on the faucet and water was running into this sink of milk, creating more milk-like liquid backup in the sink, gallons of it, pristine and white. And he puked right on top of it. A floating rust-colored mound of vomit. It just sat there on top of the milk.
I turned off the faucet and sent him to the bathroom. I had to hide my hand behind my back when I turned to calm down a different boy who said, “I think I’m going to puke now from watching that.” Because my fingers had chunks of puke on them from the faucet. And the only place to wash them off was in a sink of puke milk. There was no soap. This is California after all, we can’t afford such things. So I wiped off my fingers on a dry towel and tried to move on.
About a half hour later, it was time for math. Absently brushing my formerly pukey not-quite-clean fingers against my pants, I began reviewing geometric solids with the class. I held up a cube. A cylinder. They knew what those were. Lastly, I held up a cone. I asked “What’s this?” A girl answered, “A clock.” She wasn’t trying to be funny. They both start with “C” after all. Dual language kids do that all the time. No big deal. But I was really tired and I had had enough, so I just blurted out, “WHAT??!” And the boy beside her jumped in to help and correct her: “She said CLOCK. But it’s a cock.”
The day finally ended. I began my drive home. About 2 miles from school a bunch of traffic was inching along behind this old Camry with a blown-out right-side tire. The car finally pulled over and a Hasidic Jew in full regalia got out of the front passenger-side seat. He didn’t change the tire. He proceeded to walk around the back of the car and got into the rear driver-side seat and the car began moving once again, apparently having successfully shifted ballast to the left. My mind was blown.
It was surreal, like an Israeli avant-garde student film from the 70s. And after an exhausting day like I’d had I thought I might be hallucinating. But it was real. I eased past the car as traffic started moving again and managed to catch a glimpse of the Hasidic man. As I passed it became less surreal and more impressive. I realized that I suddenly had some huge respect for a guy who can wear a hat like that in the back seat of Toyota.
And you know what? To be serious, it takes real chutzpah to walk with confidence from a stopped vehicle in the middle of a busy street, only to get back in on the other side, sending the message to every onlooker that a flat tire cannot stop a determined man. He sent a message that an accident that should make a vehicle unfit for road travel can simply be ignored and overcome by sheer willpower and, well, some sort of load-bearing and balance theory I would never have the balls to try out myself.
The flat-tire incident totally made up for the mucus and the puke and the R-rated geometry lesson.
I think that bearded fellow in the Camry knew what he was doing. To quote Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing: “Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.”