A career in decline is a sad thing, Think of it, a stud athlete, Years of cheering, amazing gracefulness and power, Then time gets a foothold Robbing the stud of athleticism, Leaving polite cheers, memories, and the sadness of retirement. Or how about the politician, So with it early on, so charismatic, so caring, Then, after all the voting, The debating, and the shaking of hands, The politico starts spouting some dumb shit, Becoming an editorial caricature. I’m feeling that way as a teacher. Adults are time thieves, stealing every bit of time from our kids, It’s not just teachers, but also administrators, and parents Forcing subjects, high level math, unnecessary languages, and Hours of homework on kids Who never really get a chance to just be kids. Our children are always on, If not homework, Then on the phone, rusting surfers of the internet, Maybe they are scheduled into programmed play where Sports leagues are more interested in the payout for the owners Than the development of the kids. I hate that it’s this way for kids, Without being a curmudgeon, my career is on its decline, School used to be about relationships, learning, and social health Now it’s about grades, nothing more, it’s a numbers game. Hell, we’ve even taken snow days away from kids While pontificating on how stressful the virtual setting is. SHAME ON THE ADULTS.

Note: I’ve been taking Master Classes during the shutdown. Currently, I’m taking one by Joyce Carol Oates and in it, she has given an assignment to write for 45-minutes without stopping. I used the program, Flow State, to keep me writing the whole time. This is the rough draft. I have not done any editing but I thought I’d see if there was any reaction. It’s about 1,600-words, a little out of my comfort zone.

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Perfect lessons travel like express trains. The problem with learning is that there are often more trains on the track than can be handled and often that leads to some sort of derailment or headon collision. Such is the life of a teenager in townhome community. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to be be a kid, nature or China or some other entity threw a novel virus into the world and locked everything down for the unforeseen future. Kids were left out at what is supposed to be the most important time of their lives, at least as far as social development is concerned.

So the kids were left to the devices, literally, phones, tablets, computer screens, and gaming consoles became their only way to communicate with friends or go to school. Luckily, the start of the lockdown came when it was still cold and rainy, but then there were a few May days where the sun invited the kids outside, the need to hang with friends was greater than social distancing, and outside beckoned to the youngsters.

Back to the community thing, the kids live in a neighborhood that is notoriously polar. There are long time families without kids, senior citizens who have mostly forgotten what it was like to have children. They walk around eyeballing every little thing in the community and reporting back to the association any and all violations of the bylaws. Mostly, they have nothing else to do and are left to making themselves feel important in their waning years.

At the other end of the neighborly spectrum are the young parents. They have kids who are just beginning to walk and talk. For these families, life during the pandemic must be a nightmare. To have screaming, attention seeking, young and impressionable minds, and their insatiable need to love and learning around all the time have got to be insufferable. These families get out and walk with their large, three-wheeled strollers talking on the their phones, chatting with a walking partner, or baby talking their babies. They don’t have a care for the community at any junction of their walk because they are free, able to walk wildly, without the worry of entertaining the little rugrat who is bound and gagged in the over priced stroller.

So, it is at these two ends of dementia, I mean life, that teenagers get squeezed. The old farts don’t want them climbing trees. The young upstart parents want to make an example of them to impress their children. All in all, both are asinine.

I grew up in an apartment complex. I was loud, played outside most of the time, and I am absolutely sure that people were not happy that we were out so much. If I could go back an apologize to the people who lived where we played football, I would, but they’ll have to be satisfied with a big point to the sky because, well, I actually don’t feel like I need to apologize for being a kid. If we had been out tearing things up, I would feel badly, but for playing, no, I’ve got nothing to apologize for. The problem is that today’s adults have become little “bitches” who think that the world is only about them. Their memories have been crushed by the politically correct, my feelings matter most, I empowered to have my right trump yours, kind of thinking.

The older sect, their empowerment comes from the belief that the fifties were the golden years of America. I don’t think they remember that the Civil Rights movement was finally gaining steam, that wars would bookend their decade, and that John Wayne and John Huston were creating some of the worst stereotypes in the name of cinema. It’s that inability to disassociate themselves from the worst of their youth when they judge the kids of today that drives me crazy. Bad stuff happened when old people were young. I bet they did some of it themselves. Today, they’d call their actions, mischief. When the describe today’s kids, they call them hoodlums.

It’s the younger ones I have trouble with. These parents who are just starting out are not too far removed from the indiscretions of their youth. Heck, the little ones in those fancy strollers might even be mistakes. For these just out of adolescence parents to be so uptight about what teenagers are doing is beyond comprehension. What happens to us when we make another? Do we lose all sense of reason? Are we so desperate for control that we lash out at others in an egotistical power play?

I don’t know, but I do get tired of hearing people bashing kids all of the time. Please, don’t get me wrong, I equally hate excusing childish behavior as, “Ah, shucks, they’re just kids,” but so much of the hate put on kids is really a distorted perception on the parts of adults with nothing better to than the be… adults.

All of the issues that people are having right now relating to people are understandable. Covid-19 and the shelter in place orders have put everyone on edge. The lack of money flowing has got to be stressing people out. Then, they have to interact with others, either on a walk, in a store, or watching kids play outside of their windows and they have no idea what it means to be a human being. It means we support each other. It means we take on challenges. It means we are not dicks to each other.

Maybe that sounds a little difficult to some, but you’ve got to get over yourselves and understand the patience goes a long way right now. The walls are closing in for everyone, but having kids outside might be the best thing for them. They need to be outside hanging with their friends. They need to be outside running around strengthening the bodies. They need to be outside getting exposed to whatever germs there are so that their immune systems will get stronger. They don’t need to be sitting around anymore. A lot of adults who are wanting kids to stay inside once thought this way. Get them off of their X-box. They should be outside like we were when we were kids. You didn’t hear about people in our generation dying from stuff. We were tough.

Ah, the good old days, when a little bit of dirt was just enough to figure out what to do, but now, these young as parents who were raised in programmed play, travel sports, and play dates don’t know what can be done with a little dirt. It can be a base, turned into a place to play with cars, gotten wet and turned into a mudpie that is good for throwing on someone. What do I know, I’m just a guy who is somewhere between old head and young parent watching two teenage kids deal with the malaize that is adults who forget what it was like to be a kid.

Maybe we should send them back to school. After all, you need a license or certificate for just about anything. One major exception is becoming a parent. Any couple smart enough to dip a wick can make a kid. Any couple smart enough to want to do should have the wisdom of the past and be able to know that sometimes kids make mistakes.

But wait, they should also have the grace to accept that adults do too. Things are not what they seem. Maybe the events of a situation didn’t happen quite the way they thought. The adults should spend a little time watching Law and Order, the witness usually mess things up with some lapse of memory. Instead of jumping to conclusion, they should remember the lessons Elmo sang about taking a breath and go back to their recliners or quality time with their dirty diaper training wheel organic Kryptonite kids and learn what is real. Kids make mistakes. If they didn’t, there would be no need for diapers.

As my time here winds down, I’d like to thank twenty-six years of working in public schools for my warped wisdom. I spend a great deal of time with kids, mostly teenagers now. I look at them knowing that they are in learning mode. They have to be taught and as hard as it is to get through to them, I’ve got to be as patient as I can be. I’m not always good at it and I’m sure it will be tough to get back in the groove one the pandemic subsides, but I can sit back and laugh at my neighbors who have no clue what it means to raise other people’s children. They don’t know the effect they are having on their kids by yelling at other kids. They don’t know how their baby talk and coddling is creating some manipulative little mofos. Maybe then, I’ve found some sort of Maslow certainty where I’m comfortable with kids. I don’t really have to worry about the neighborhood kids. One, most of them are too young to bother me. Two, their parents are always hovering over them.

That’s not good…

“The quarter is stuck, but the machine is still working,” said Steve.

Each of us looked like we were seeing our first Playboy, wanting to look, but afraid of being caught. We had just hit a potential arcade gold mine. The quarter in the Skeeball game was stuck and the game kept giving us free plays. For fifth graders, there could be no better luck. The key was to make sure that we didn’t blow our good fortune.

Next to the food at Busch Gardens, the arcade and games of Germany sucked up money the fastest. Once our cash was gone we were forced back to the lines and rides. The rides were fun, but they didn’t offer the chance to hang out, win prizes, and pretend to be much cooler than any of us would ever become.

“Let’s play a couple of games and then go ask the guy for some change,” said James.

“Yeah, but only get change when he’s by the door to the arcade. He always stands down there for the air conditioner,” I said. “We don’t want him coming down here. And run back…”

So began our first life scam. Young kids were taking on the behemoth, Anheuser-Busch, in an epic game of profiteering at Busch Gardens. On one side stood the corporate giant famous for Budweiser, clydesdales, and “knowing when to say when.” This is the company that saved Williamsburg with a brewery, gated community, golf courses, and a modern sense of business. For three fifth graders from Magruder Annex Elementary School to think that they could out wit a titan of industry was ludicrous.

But, boys will be boys.

Steve was the coolest of the kids. He was a side arm throwing pitcher who grew early, which made him seem like he was a better athlete than he was. James was a straight haired bowl cut kid who lived next to an abandoned Mack truck. His house was cool for the pitch-back that he had and for the truck that we were forbidden from going near. Right…

I was the gypsy who had just moved across town, but who still kept in touch with my old friends. The funny thing about Williamsburg back then was that the two counties really did not mix. Kids in York county stayed there and Williamsburg-James City kids stayed there. I was lucky to have friends on both sides and on this day York county was in full force.

Steve was territorial, “Whatever we do someone has to stay with this game. We can’t lose the lane.”

James was the scout, “Ah, shit, the guy is going in the arcade. I’ll go get change.”

I was the babysitter, “Stop cussin’ or the guy might come over here.

Our little trio were Skeeball upstarts. We had learned to bank the ball off the side rail for a better chance at making the fifty point shot. One of us would point to the spot where the ball had to hit while the other watched out for the guy. We decided that we would only collect on medium or large prizes. This was mostly because we didn’t want to carry around the little stuffed animals, but also because we didn’t want the money man coming down to our lane very much. The three of us became totally focused as Steve started a really good game. In fact, we were so focused that we lost track of the guy who we had started calling The Bank.

“You guys really love this game,” said the Bank.

We each looked back as if we had been caught with the Bo Derek issue in hand. “We sure do, but it is so hard,” I said.

“Well, have fun,” said the Bank as he turned and headed back for the arcade.

“Man that was close,” said James.

Steve shook his head and kept bowling, but guttered the next three balls to win a small prize that would go unclaimed. We continued playing and working our quarter scam for a couple of hours. I went for pizza. James went for chocolate. Steve kept honing in on a large prize. Each of us had won a medium, but none of us had ever won large one. It seemed the St. Louis based conglomerate had us beaten.

“Damn, me,” said Steve after a 260 game and another medium prize. “I’ve got to get 280. I’m so close.”

We ran out of money and the Bank was starting to get suspicious of how we were still playing. He came around more frequently and we resorted to striking up conversations with him. He went to Christopher Newport College and wanted to be a teacher. He had a girlfriend who worked at the LeMans cars. I ran over there and met her. She sent the Bank a note back, which seemed to make him happy. The distractions were working as the mojo was returning to Steve.

Ball 1 = 50
Ball 2 = 50
Ball 3 = 50
Ball 4 = 50
Ball 5 = 50

“Last ball,” said the Bank. “You guys are done. I know there is something wrong with the machine.”

Steve lined up his shot and rolled the ball down the lane. It ricochetted off the wall and hit short on the lip of the thirty point score. Somehow it caught and edge and caromed up to the lip between the forty and fifty point holes. The ball hung for a second and dropped off to the side where gravity deposited it in the ten point hole.

“Ahhhh!” screamed Steve. “I was that close.”

“Come on, Bank man, one more game. He’s so close,” I pleaded.

“Naw, y’all have to go, but pick a big one, you earned it.”

Steve grabbed a panda and we started heading for the parking lot. My mom would be picking us up soon. As we crossed the bridge into Hastings, Steve stopped and sat on a bench.

“What’s wrong, Steve?” asked James.

“I can’t take this bear. I didn’t win it.”

“You played the whole day on their money. Of course you can take it,” I said.

“Naw, it just doesn’t feel right,” said Steve.

With that we started walking back toward Germany, past the wolf sanctuary, the bird show and the sky ride. It was there that Steve turned left.

“Brad, you know who the Bank’s girlfriend is, right?” asked Steve.

“Yeah, that’s her over by that gate.”

Steve walked over to her, “Hey, your boyfriend works by the games, right?”

“Yes.”

“He sent this for you.”

Steve handed the panda to the Bank’s girlfriend. He never gave her a chance to give it back and took off running towards us. We ran the rest of the way back to the parking lot, getting there just as my mom and my family’s paint peeling AMC Hornet pulled up.

“Did you have fun?” she asked.

“It was alright,” I said.

 

The quest to be best
Is maddening to those of us
Who would rather sit and rest.

Perfect scores and the fastest run
Mean little to those of us
Only interested in having fun.

We’re pretty sure you are a school fanatic,
So while we wallow in just good enough, you can
Simmer down your over achieving antics.

 

(My students challenged me to write a poem in the last few minutes of class. They had been discussing their “school commitment” when one said to another, “Stop your over achieving antics.” I thought that very funny.)

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What is it about kids
That make me sound
Like my parents?
How universal is
The genetic code
That others feel the same way too?

Shut the door.
Walk the dog.
Get a shower.
Eat some vegetables.
Go to class.

I guess it’s just how it goes.
Our destiny is to raise
What we once were.
Kids.
Like it or not,
They are us.

Waiting for some biscuits
With gravy of course
Hanging with my kids
In a greasy spoon
At the end of a long drive
Is pretty cool
Because they’re growing up
And I’m really just along for the ride
As they tell their tales of youth