A Gigolo's Tale

In my previous post, about the fake names used to spam me, I mentioned liking the name Tad Bacon, and thinking it sounded like the name of a gigolo, or a character from a John Water's movie. Imagine my surprise then, when I got an email from a real Tad Bacon, a scientist, not the hoped-for gigolo, but that's probably just as well.

There is a back-story to my affection for the name Tad, and since it's Saturday, and I'm avoiding the inevitable school work, I don't mind spinning a tale.

Several years ago I moved back to California after years spent on the East coast. While essentially rebuilding my life from the ground up, I went through a series of mishaps and tragedies that would have made me an excellent candidate for that old '50s TV show, Queen for a Day, where the woman with the most compelling sob story wins a washing machine, and is wrapped in an ermine-lined red robe with trailing train, seated on a throne and crowned with a lopsided tiara, sobbing all the while.

There was cancer in the family, a hellish control-freak boss who re-named me to his liking on my first day at work, breaking up with a sweet-but-hopelessly-prodigal boyfriend, renting a room from a pathologically needy, soul-sucking egotist I dubbed 'Worm-Woman', plus many, many other pranks on the part of what seemed like my personal demon, culminating in my car, on long-term loan from a step-sister, being stolen, then found driven into a telephone pole and inexplicably filled with thousands of used golf balls.

All through this series of plagues, I was emailing my best friend in Boston, and when she got news of the stolen car, she sent me back something roughly like this:

"OK, I get it now. You're sitting under a palm tree, nightingales singing in the branches, soft tropical breezes wafting by. A scantily-clad, painfully buff waiter appears, to offer you, oh so solicitously, on a silver tray, a capsule of ecstasy. You brush him away. You have no time for this now. You need to write another chapter in the story of your life, 'CAUSE YOU MUST BE MAKING THIS SHIT UP! GIRL, NO ONE GETS THEIR CAR STOLEN AND THEN GETS THE F***ER BACK BEFORE THEY BURN IT AND YOU COLLECT THE INSURANCE MONEY!"

Taken with the imagery, I quickly wrote back:

"You clever thing. You've seen through my little ruse. (Oh Tad, dear, bring me a little drinkie, there's a good boy.) Such a dear. I don't know what I'd do without him. He used to be one of my bearers, right front position, but the sedan chair was terribly heavy, and he was such a sensitive boy, so when he developed that horrible allergy to nightingales, I thought he'd be so much more useful around the house anyway. He's now my social secretary and I've come to rely on him for so many little details of everyday life, you see. "

Thus Tad the gigolo was born. Email mentions of him and my enviable lifestyle got more and more elaborate, and began to spread, as my sister and other friends were brought into the collective fantasy. One family friend, a very stylish, dandified gay man who makes his living as a society jeweler, began inviting Tad to visit him, and got so insistent, even after I protested that I simply couldn't spare him, that he actually broke off communication with me. I felt bad, but as I had explained to him, Tad was just so busy closing up the house for the season, wrapping linens in tissue, polishing silver, putting the dust covers over all the furniture and chandeliers, leaving instructions for the groundsmen and grooms, and similar tasks that just must be seen to. You'd think he would have been more understanding under the circumstances. Oh well, que sera, sera, as they say.

Eventually my friends tired of hearing about my little domestic arrangements, and who can blame them? I think there may have been a hint of envy, but I like to keep a positive outlook so I don't dwell on such unpleasant thoughts, preferring an attitude of noblesse obligee. (Tad, be a darling and fetch me my riding crop, would you? And have the chair brought to the front gate. I'm going to pay some morning visits. Thank you dear, dear boy.)



I'm getting a new strain of spam every few hours now, with a decidedly different flavor from the usual afrospam, which reads like that game called 'Ad-libs' that we used to play at parties back in the day. One person asks you to think of adjectives, nouns or other parts of speech, fills your answers into a paragraph you can't see, then reads the whole thing out loud including your answers, to create a completed story that makes everyone howl with laughter.

Dear (affectionate salutatory name). I am writing to you personally on behalf of my (type of relative), formerly head of (name of military or government branch) in (name of African country). Just before the unfortunate (name of some tragedy or upheaval) that took his life, he entrusted me with (large amount of money) which I now must deposit into an American bank. I ask your assistance in this urgent matter, because our mutual friends have confided in me that you are totally trustworthy. Once the money has been deposited in your account, I will give you (percentage) which comes to (amount of money over 1 million dollars) cash as your fee for this noble assistance...

You get the idea.

I used to collect afrospams, but I've gotten so many hundreds, or maybe thousands, that I just hit delete and go about my business. But now there's a new spam scam whose chief amusement factor is the wildly improbable name of the sender, obviously generated at random. At least they make me laugh while I'm hitting the delete button. I've started a running list of these fine names, in case one of you out there is with child and needs a monniker for the new tyke. Those baby name books are all alike, but here, HERE are some NAMES:

Shriveling Q. Opportunism
Penny V. Spartan
Goatee K. Marat
Nutritionist P. Christ
Adult D. Spore
Malevolence S. Weatherizing
Holly Apologia
Tad Bacon
Outbursting S. Overdressed
Sunburning D. Minx
Breeziest L. Fawn
Redid U. Lodged
Solidifying O. Boardroom
Hereby L. Skivvied  
Oppressed T. McDonnell
Leathernecks B. Funicular
Walloped B. Clot
Junkyard I. Hubbub
Elvis Eckert
Phoebe Salinas
Minnie Finch
Wrongdoer B. Conks
Bora Storey
Ruby Tulip

Oddly, Ruby Tulip turned out to be email from a friend. Oops. My favorite, and it was a tough choice, is Tad Bacon. I think this would be an excellent name for a gigolo or a character in a John Waters movie. Maybe he could date Breeziest Fawn, but quickly drop her for Sunburning Minx. Perhaps he'd get mixed up with Junkyard 'Junky' Hubbub and do some hard time, only to find salvation through the gentle ministrations of Minnie Finch. The possibilities, like spam, are endless.


Merci, Monsieur!

Like most sullen middle school students, my biggest inner whine was that I was wasting my time studying subjects I was never going to use and had no interest in. So it was with great disgust that I discovered I was required to take a foreign language. My choices were French or Spanish, and I chose French because it seemed arty.

My first teacher was from Texas, and spoke English with a drawl so thick it made the class an exercise in futility. I do remember her telling us about some big-deal bicycle race, but since this was forty years before Lance Armstrong came on the scene, we had very little interest. I don't remember a thing about my second French teacher, except that she was not from Texas.

Then I got to high school, and once again French was on my schedule. I slumped in the door. A very tall, very thin, elegant man with mocha-brown skin dressed in an immaculately tailored suit stood at a podium at the front of the room.

He had two little puffs of hair, one on each side of his head, which met in the middle in a widow's peak. Everything about him gave the impression of length, his high forehead, long face and body, long fingers. We could tell his French accent was the real thing, and his English was strangely inflected. There were all sorts of rumors about him; a Creole mother, a previous career as a concert pianist, someone who had heard him speaking perfect English... One impertinent boy asked him if he was married. His reply: "Sometimes kids, sometimes"... accompanied by a radient smile and arched eyebrows."Sometimes."

His mannerisms were supremely dignified, formal and totally effeminate, a strange combination. He looked out at us and smiled his special smile, his beaming, heartbreakingly vulnerable and innocent smile bubble that no one, not even the most nasty, cynical rebellious boy had the nerve to burst. This smile was his weapon, a trusting expression that only puppies or children under the age of two could pull off, that miraculously, he had, and wielded like a laser beam.

Another facet of his stage persona was that it was completely asexual, despite his obviously queenishness. He could, and did, do outrageous things, and yet there was never the slightest taint of impropriety.

He had a huge poster of Bridgette Bardot, then a reigning French sex goddess, leather-clad astride a motorcycle. Occasionally, while quizzing us on verb tenses, he would dust Bridgette's body, all the while smiling at us with the most innocent look imaginable, and if his hands were not attached to him at all.

The smile was part of a very complex persona, full of odd mannerisms, expressions and peculiarities, and every day he combined them to give us a new show, all the while being a very rigorous teacher, and keeping a tight reign on the class without breaking character. He used this persona as the fourth wall, that invisible wall created by unspoken agreement between actor and audience, that says, "I act—you watch."

He had us sit alphabetically, and began to call role, saying each name and peering over his reading glasses, fixing each student with his smile and bobbing his head a bit in recognition.

Each and every name was mangled in an absurd, and often pointedly funny way. If a student had an older sibling Monsieur would manage to reference them in the name. My own name, spelled Bein, pronounced Bine, he proclaimed, "Beentz!" and the smile he flashed while saying it precluded any correction. I spent two whole years in his class without knowing the names of my fellow students, only the weird nicknames he had dubbed them. Some names evolved as the semester went on and he got to know us better.

Directly facing me across the aisle sat identical twin boys, the type who were athletic and got all A's. Monsieur immediately took a shine to them, and when it came time to call their names, he indicated one and said "Bob." The boy looked startled, but it was obvious he was being called on, so he said, 'Here.' Monsieur turned to his brother, "Bob deux" and the equally confused brother said, "Here." Thus he dubbed them the Bobsey Twins. To this day I have no idea what their real names were.

He varied their names each and every time he called on them, which was often, and he usually called on the second brother right after the first, with a variation on the name he had just used, saying, "My Boy," then, " My Other Boy" or, "Bobsey", "Bobsey Deux." The variations were endless, but I only remember a few;

Bop-sie, Mopsey
My Bob, Bobsey Boy,
My Un, My Deux, ,
Boy Un, Boy Deux,
Bop-sie Boy, Boob-sie Boy,
Boobs Un, Boobs Deux,
Babs, Babs Deux,
Bobbert, Robbert,
Rob's Bob, Bob's Rob
My favorite, My other favorite
Mon Préféré, Mon autre Préféré,

And all the while, as we silently convulsed with laughter, Monsieur beamed his innocent, "I know nothing about this and don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about." smile and did his quick little head bobs and raised his eyebrows, making him look even more cartoonishly naif.

My neighbor was called Bree-zay, which morphed into Breezy, and Breezy Boy and Windy. My own name was fairly stable at Beentz or Beentzie, but one day, perhaps in honor of my well-endowed chest, I was called 'Beentzie boobs.' I'm amazed he could do any of this with a straight face. I only once saw him come close to losing it, but more of that later.

The seats were arranged in two sections which faced each other, separated by a central aisle. At one end of the aisle was his podium, at the other was a blackboard with a door on either side of it, leading outside to the hall. He would take his pointing stick which was three or four feet long and slowly twirl it in one hand, using his elegant fingers, each in succession, which is ridiculously difficult and ackward to do, but which he did effortlessly.

As he twirled his pointer he paced back and forth from his podium to the blackboard, quizzing and drilling the class about grammar. He would pose a question in French, then pause, and POOMPH, his twirling stick would dramatically land point-first on someone's shoulder. This was not a class where students dozed. He would fix his victim with an expectant smile, his face open and trusting, and at that moment, even the most testy student would want to please him. If the answer was correct, our reward was a bobbing head and pleased expression. But if the answer was wrong, there would be a horrible pause, and his entire face would crumble. Even slacker students like myself would feel terrible for letting him down, and vow to be prepared the next time.

Sometimes, after a particularly bad answer, he would blurt, "Well, you've made a complete salad of it, kid." Except he pronounced kid with a 't' instead of a 'd', calling us kits. Later, when he spoke only French to us, he would simply say, "Quelle salade!" We never quite got the reference, but we figured it was a mix-up.

Continuing his verbal quiz, he wanted to use an example of two girls going to a pool, and the sentence was acted out in pantomime. As he said, "Bridgette," one hand rose to his chest, his long fingers squeezing an imaginary breast, " et Sophia," (an obvious reference to Sophia Loren, a very busty actress) the second hand rose to make the same outrageous gesture at a second breast, "vont a la piscine." And he walked around repeating the sentence, long fingers fluttering in front of his imaginarry breasts, bobbing his head slightly, beaming, while we intoned, "Brigette et Sophia vont à la piscine." and tried not to laugh in shocked disbelief.

One day he was doing his usual verbal grammar drill, pacing back and forth. He called on one student, smiled expectantly, and received the wrong answer. His face fell. After a dramatic pause, he turned to another. His face lifted into a beatific smile, and he said, "Babs knows, kits!" Babs didn't know. His face fell. He went on like this all around the room, fixing each of us in turn with his 'all innocence' face, getting the wrong answer, face collapsing like a brick wall turning to rubble. Not one student knew the answer. Even the Bobs let him down.

There was a terrible silence. He let our a sigh and walked to the podium. He looked out at us and picked up a book, raising it in both hands without opening it. SLAM! It fell to the podium. Again. SLAM. pause. SLAM. He was slowly, methodically dropping it onto the podium. What the..? Then he took his lovely long hand and SLAM, brought it down onto the podium, knuckle-side-down. SLAM. Pause. SLAM. We now felt horrible. Suddenly he blurted out "Well, kits, I'm going to pump gaz!"


Then, so fast we could hardly catch it, "I'm going to pump gaz. Maybe I'll be good at pumping gaz since I'm obviously not good at teaching French!" The picture of this refined prince-of-a man pumping gas was so ridiculous we almost burst trying not to laugh, and blessedly, the bell rang.

Occasionally, when students were talking out of place he would say loudly, "Don't be foolish virgins, kits!" Just the fear of hearing that silenced many. Every once in a while, when the occasion called for an enthusiastic response, he would blurt out the word 'Oui,' in such a loud, visceral manner it sounded like a huge belching WUP! Boys tried to imitate it, but no one could come close.

He told us stories about France, and French provinces, and one memorable time, about the author Rablais. He used his long body to mime various points, and between his words and actions, we understood him so well we often forgot he was speaking French.

He began his lecture on Rablais,
"Quand Rablais était un petit garçon, (his hand makes a gesture at his side, showing us the height of a small boy) il était très religieux (crossing himself frantically and very dramatically) TRÈS religieux (Putting his long hands together in prayer, closing his eyes, sighing, shuddering, crossing himself again. Dramatic pause to let it sink in)

Mais....quand Rablais était un jeune homme (his hand makes a gesture, showing us the height of a larger boy), il était très religieux (again with the praying hands), mais ... il aimait des filles (his hands slowly outline the sinuous curves of a female body, his little eyebrows arched), du vin, (he mimes drinking down a glass of wine with obvious relish) MAIS, TRÈS religieux! (He again crosses himself frantically). The story was so vivid that thirty-five years later I still remember his exact words and gestures.

He had other tricks for making us learn. He used to write on the board in very swishy handwriting, making elaborate tails on some letters, and just when he got to a word or phrase that we were supposed to have looked up, his writing would become illegible. He would say, "It's simple (pronounced 'sample') kits, it's sample. Just like math; X plus 4Y equals 3Z! " And he would beam at us, his smile saying, "Look it up yourselves, you lazy little shits."

One day he was writing furiously on the board, which was between two doors leading into the hall. He came to the end of one word ending in 'y' and continued the flourish on the tail of the 'y' along the board, onto the wall, out the door, back into the room via the other door and dotted an 'i'. We spontaneously burst into applause and he bobbed his head and smiled in rare acknowledgment.

Sometimes, during one of his demanding written tests, as he moved around the room, he would reach down and without looking, or making any change of expression that might acknowledge what he was doing, take the pen from one of the Bobs, tucking it neatly in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. The flustered Bob would raise his hand and ask for his pen back. Mr. Johnson would feign ignorance. "Ce stylo, c'est à toi? Non!" "Yes. Could I please have it back, Monsieur? "Vraiment, c'est à toi? Tu es sûr?" He knew very well that Bob would ace the test, even with this little diversion.

He did something else to tweak the perfect Bobs. They both had large metal clips on the cover of their notebooks, holding loose papers in place inside. As Monsieur paced back and forth in his daily grammar quiz mode, pointing his stick and firing questions at us, his hand would reach down and take the clip off a Bob notebook. Usually he would clip the lapels of his suit together with it, which looked totally ridiculous as he continued to pace and turn, this highly proper man with a clip sticking out of the middle of his chest. Sometimes he would clip it onto his pointing stick and wave it around, making the stick even more ominous. He would never acknowledge any of this, naturally.

The Bobs finally decided to get revenge. One day, as we sat as usual, trying to remember French verb tenses, hoping the pointing stick would mercifully skip us when we didn't know the answer, Monsieur was up to his usual tricks. We watched as he went for the clip. He did so without even a glance in the direction of his hands, and clipped his suit together. Bob was doing something though. He had tied almost-invisible mono-filament thread, used for fishing lines, onto the clip, and he was reeling it out as Monsieur continued to pace back and forth, oblivious to the addition. We watched in mute fascination as Monsieur became more and more tangled up in fishing line with each turn, back and forth, back and forth. We were dying to laugh. We were bursting.

Finally, Monsieur went to turn, but he had reached the end of the line, and only got half-way through his turn when he was stopped by a tug. He looked slowly down. He was completely wrapped in fishing line. He turned his back to us and put his hands to his face. We could see he was vibrating with laughter, struggling mightily not break up. We lost it. Kids were actually falling out of their seats onto the floor laughing, howling. Finally, after considerable time had passed, he turned to us, and with every ounce of self-control he could muster, made an incredible pun in French about how it wasn't nice to keep your teachers tied up. The bell rang. We poured out of the class in hysterics. We had almost seen him crack. He never messed with Bob's clip again.

Even though I was a lousy student, I adored Monsieur and was in awe of him. My friend and I had heard him talk about opera, and how he loved Wagner. When we heard the Metropolitan Opera was coming to town, and was performing Wagner, we saved up and got him two of the best tickets we could. He was very pleased, and when he came back after the performance, he said, in typical fashion, "Oh kits, I just died."

I've had a few inspiring teachers since, but he did something none of the others did; he made me love something I was prepared to hate. Eight years after his class, with no additional preparation, I went to France and could get around and be understood. My grammar is horrible, because I never studied, but I have a feel for the sound and rhythm of the language that most French majors envy. I'm imitating him. He managed, single-handedly to imbue me with a love of a language and country. And what a show he put on. Merci, Monsieur. Merci bien!


From Among my Memories

In the small Vermont town where I went to college, there were several characters, people who made the little picture postcard come to life, but none as memorable as the proprietor of the local Texaco Station, George Boardman.

Imagine, if you are of an age to remember, the actor Robert Mitchum. Strong, straight Roman nose, eyes that seemed to see everything at a glance and could stare the truth right out of you, a tangible sensuality, and the feeling that things could turn violent just like that. On less of a man the cleft chin would have been weak and slightly receding, but by some inner force his gave the impression of jutting out, like a dare.

George Boardman had these same looks, alright, although most who knew him then would have laughed long and hard at the comparison. He was grizzled and bear-like with a barrel chest and a gut from the beer that often accompanied him. His face was dark with the grease of a thousand cars, giving him the look of a coal miner, and contrasting starkly with light blue eyes that crinkled in the corners, broadcasting his roguishness.

The closest thing to the sound of his broad Vermont speech was a cockney accent. In fact, in the unlikely event that the town ever staged a production of My Fair Lady, he would have made an excellent Alfred Doolittle, father of Eliza, retired dustman and scamp extraordinaire.

His Texaco was the only gas station in town and was always full of cars in various stages of being worked on by him and 'the boys.' The building itself was generally what one would expect of a structure inhabited by car guys: filthy in the extreme, and if I remember correctly, Texaco eventually got wind of this and took away its patronage, which made absolutely no difference whatsoever to George or anyone else. George kept a couple of German Shepherds hanging around in the back, which was another time-honored gas station custom, before gas stations lost their individuality and became sterilized convenience stores with gas pumps out front owned by faceless corporations.

George's grown son worked at the station too. Feature-for-feature he looked just like him, but where George radiated a manly presence his son seemed a product of the unlikely mating between his father and Ray Bolger, the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, with George's Roman nose, but a weak chin that held back where George's provoked you to poke it, and a taller, thinner, hunched body which gave the impression that it would clinch back into a fetal position at the smallest provocation. Perhaps because of this, perhaps because of a million other things we will never be privy to, he carried a perennial sourness about him which contrasted greatly with George's robust self-confidence.

Heavy arctic Winters lasted six months in this Vermont hamlet, followed by mud season, which is six weeks of just what it sounds like. Spring was the blink of an eye, then black fly season, hot and buzzing and lazy, then a magnificent Fall where every view was a page torn from a calendar. Three weeks or a month into it, the tourists left, silence engulfed the town and Winter seemed to say, 'it was all a dream. I am the only real season you will ever know. I am the real Vermont. Get your boots on and start shoveling.'

It was during just such an unrelenting winter in 1970 that this daughter of Los Angeles drove her small black 1965 MGB sports car into town. It was only a matter of time before I met George Boardman. I don't remember the exact circumstances, but I do remember the steamy gray morning that I stood shivering outside his shop as he took a cursory glance under the hood and said, 'Bring ol' 'enrietta in 'ere, Sus'n, an' let's take a look at 'ah.' My car was thus christened, Ol'Henrietta, and from that day forth I was one of the faithful who came to beg and tithe at George's greasy altar. He and the boys usually worked late into the night, especially if some desperate and savvy customer thought to bring a few six packs. Passing by you could see lights burning and steam and exhaust outlining the silhouettes of noisy men, dogs and cars within. They always seemed to be having one hell of a time.

On nights when it was especially cold, implying temperatures under thirty below, George would stop by my apartment, announcing his presence the same way everyone did in those parts, by stamping the snow off their boots outside the door. Walking right in with my car battery gripped under one arm he would deposit it on the radiator. Early the next morning, on his way into town, he would stomp in, heft the battery back out to my car and hook it up again. I'm not sure why I didn't have an engine block heater, but it wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining.

My last year in Vermont, a college girl started working for George, sitting in the cramped office, writing up invoices and taking care of the paperwork. She was taller than him, with short hair and a tomboyish look to her. Occasionally I would see her riding shotgun with him in the wrecker. She seemed to fit right in. Some time after I left, I heard that George had stopped drinking, trimmed down, cleaned himself up, divorced the wife no one ever saw and married this girl.

I never heard more than that, but in my own private movie of his life, that is the happy ending, the one we all know isn't really an ending, but will just have to do, because it's all we're going to get. In the snow-globe in my mind, George will forever be working with the boys, hammering out bent frames, fixing fuel pumps, covered in grease, smelling of beer, laughing and cursing in his thick Vermont twang, looking, I don't care what anyone says, just like Robert Mitchum, while the snow falls silently outside.

Ah, the quiet times

I've been quiet here only because I've been reassessing my entire job situation, going through the anger phase (their position is simply draconian!), the self-pity phase (When I think of all I've done for them…), the depressed phase (oops, there went the weekend and all I did was mope, eat and do crosswords) and finally coming into the creative solution phase (I'm going to swoop in with a totally new job description, completely eliminating everything I hate doing, and create my own new position)

Today the very man I wanted to pitch my new idea to, the Techno-Tzar for the entire school district, asked me for a ride, yes, stuck his thumb out, hitched up his pants to show a bit of ankle and wiggled his derriere. I sensed the time was ripe, despite the fact that my car smelled like a wet dog and the seat was so far forward that he had to scrunch himself in half to get in.

Once he was trapped inside my fetid pupmobile, I blurted out my pitch, offering to teach three design classes and spend the rest of my time training teachers, writing grants and coordinating websites for the district, instead of teaching night classes and goddamn video and going to inane meetings. He was so taken with the idea, he gushed that just training teachers would probably be enough. So, first hurdle cleared despite the fact that he was covered in musty dog hair by the time I dropped him off.

It didn't hurt that I had been in a meeting with him all day, formulating a new district technology plan so that we can go to the school board and ask for tons more money. I was assigned to work with two others drafting a new mission statement, and in addition to the usual lofty fluff, I had produced a pithy alternative, expressing what we really wanted to say, which I recited while suddenly, inexplicably seized with a Jamaican accent:

(XUSD= my school district)

We gots a new plan for da XUSD
It's a great big plan fo' da tec-no-lo-gee
It's gonna help de kids, and we know you like-a dat,
So you betta pull some mo-nay from you' big fat...hat.

It was well-received by my fellow meeting sufferers, who then accepted our 'real' mission statement without a change.

Meanwhile, back at school, a stranger with no computer skills or design knowledge was substituting in all my classes. I got back to a note telling me that one newly-blonde vixen had been caught visiting 'Lives of strippers' websites and regaling her fellow students with all-too-vivid snippets. She had been sassy and defiant when confronted. It seems she was impressed with their earning potential, because next day, when I asked this candidate-for-future-hootchie-mama about the incident, she said, "Oh, you mean my research project for Economics?"

They had been extremely busy, my little designers, cutting paper snowflakes, strings of hearts and paper dolls out of the pink scrap paper, festooning the room, strapping several to my desk with yards of tape bearing silly messages, like 'we love you miss bean, get well soon', "We want to have your children,' 'I love lamps' (huh?) decorated with little pictures. Oh yes, so glad I wrote elaborate instructions about what they were supposed to accomplish.

During office hours a sweet freshman boy came in to ask a favor. I hadn't met him, but I quickly connected his name with an email his proud father had recently sent, telling me about this son who was already making animated games and knew more programming than I will in three lifetimes. The boy had made a video for science class about the lives of a cell, and was having trouble with a technical glitch.

We put it in the DVD player and began to watch. It was like an elaborate Saturday Night Live skit, with costumes, characters, and props, shot against a green screen he had rigged up, so that he could superimpose people in front of different photos he had gotten off the internet. One part of the cell was personified as a club bouncer who wouldn't let salt past the membrane, but let sugar in. Another was a Godfather, stroking a lapdog as he gave orders to eliminate an intruder. It had a soundtrack. It was funny. It was better than any video any of my students has made all year. He is fourteen years old. Later, in the last period of the day, we went to a concert given by the school jazz ensemble, and there he was, doing a solo violin riff that brought down the house. This kid is going places.

During my 25-boy free-for-all video class, a terse note came from the vice principal, telling me to keep all my students inside. Campus guards herded in several whining boys who had been out filming, and suddenly several more had to go to the bathroom or get drinks or go to their lockers. I felt like I was trying to keep restless cattle in a corral without a gate, but I stood as tall as a five-foot-two person could and held them back. I had a funny feeling.

A counselor came around to all the classes with a message from the principal to be read aloud. A troubled freshman boy had brought a gun to school with several rounds of ammunition. One of his friends ratted him out and he was quickly carted away to the hospital to be 'evaluated.' He won't be back. The vice-principal later told me he was a drug baby raised by grandparents, and there were some synapses not firing. Kids told me he had taken money for sex with other boys in the bathroom and sold drugs, which might or might not be true. Tragic that his life trajectory could be so off-course by the age of fourteen.

But the drama wasn't over. The vice principal suddenly appeared in my room, with a burly man holding a black labrador on a leash. The drug sniffing dog had arrived to search the room for drugs and/or traces of gunpowder. Twenty-five boys were herded into the hallway while their backpacks stayed inside to be sniffed. Much to my surprise, he didn't turn up anything, and while my boys made jokes about that, drug dog and company moved on to the next class.

Another note arrived, this time summoning a model student to the office. A model student with a quirky wardrobe, he of the PJs and Homer Simpson bedroom slipper incident, the boy who once wore a sarong to school, not to be confused with the boy who wore a skirt. He was wearing his pajamas to school yet again because he had been up most of the night finishing a project, and there were snide remarks about the fashion police, but he didn't return. During my prep time he was escorted in by the guard to get his things. The drug dog had found something in his car, which turned out to be incense, but meanwhile they had found a small pocket knife in his glove compartment, so he was being suspended for having a weapon at school. Even the guard was livid about this. After pressure from parents, the administration came to their senses, and he returned to school, wearing a tight, bright yellow woman's pantsuit from the '70s and matching yellow sunglasses. He too did a solo turn at the jazz concert, on electric guitar, looking like a deranged rock star in a banana suit.

In my ongoing dispute with the administration over my schedule, my supervisor sincerely apologized to me for having addressed me as 'missy,' as in 'You're full time here, Missy," which took that thorn out of my side, but left me still determined to redefine my job, and find a way to change the principal's mind. And so ended my week at school in this sleepy little tourist community. We have a week off, in which I will attempt to recover, or perhaps regenerate would be a better word, so I can go back for more.