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9/2/13

Fifty Sons and Daughters: Dr. Fischer’s Visit Looming

I’ve written this piece in 2007, part of a cycle called Fifty Sons and Daughters that gathers my college teaching experiences in New Jersey.

[College Adjunct Professor sits all bunched up on a sturdy wooden chair, her feet on its metal rail. Reads from loose student homework papers she keeps in a manila folder.]

College Adjunct Professor
The homework essay question for my Composition 101 class was: “What does it take to make a man/woman happy?” This is Nanique Farquharsen: “Men and women have different needs. Being a female I feel as though both need love and affection. However women may be happy when they have materialistic things or money. When it comes to relationships, usually a strong, gentleman, smart, independent and trustworthy man is wanted. Males are happy generally when there is room to do whatever he pleases. Money is also a factor and just leisure. When it comes to relationship, strong, independent carrying and a woman that can cater to them.” Megan Floyd: “To make a woman happy I think you would need to treat her with respect, almost how you would treat your mother. It always helps to listen and show interest in her life. And what girl doesn’t like gifts? J for some men it may be the same as women as far as listening. Attention and gifts go. Not all but to make a lot of men happy, you have to have sex. It sounds sleezy but it’s true, sad to say some guys don’t know what’s more important.”
Quinisha Fells: “It would take compassion, suitable and comfortable lifestyle and finding true love to make a woman happy. For a man to be happy I believe they would gear to a nice job, cars and material items and also a good family with a somewhat lavish lifestyle.”
[Shuffles thru the papers.]

Anna Magriplis: “In the video,” I showed them two monologues from Latinologues, Macho Busboy and Virgin of the Bronx. “The actors are showing the stereotypes of male/female latinos. The male latino was portrayed as macho and low-class. He claimed he was looking for the ‘American dream’ and he was constantly after every woman he saw. Stereotypically, he worked as a bus boy in a diner. The female in the video was a pregnant latino girl. She told everyone that she was a virgin, even though she clearly wasn’t. the girl explained that the child was from god and the actual father was said to have disappeared. This is another example of a stereotyped latino woman that gets pregnant and the father leaves her. I think that in our society, women are more open with their sexuality and a lot of them don’t mind talking freely about it, as opposed to staying a virgin until marriage.” And so it goes.
These are my students. I read some of these to Denise from the ASC, the Academic Student Center, the tutoring department where I work twice a week for two hours after I teach my superb English 101 classes and I’m supposed to help them improve their grammar and essays, but no one ever shows up, so I get $50 while I check my e-mail or grade papers. Denise says I shouldn’t take it personally, I’m very likable, but it’s a national crisis, students don’t ask for help. That’s fine with me. At times, I read to Denise the most interesting papers. Yesterday I read her their Valentine’s Day poems. Jonathan’s: “Valentine comes just one a year/ A time for us to be for real/ kissing and hugging, midnight loving/ maybe tonight we’ll make something.” Denise said, “He’s no Hemingway.” I didn’t say anything, because I pretend I concur with whatever the full-timers say. I don’t want to get caught up in any departmental politics. But to me their poems sound endearing. The things they write me!
Some of them have hard lives.
One assignment in the book asked them to write about their lost loved ones. One of them wrote me she lost her twin sister when she was 12. And then went straight into telling her sister, “I’ll never forget you, my sister. You are always in my heart.” These kids don’t know about using effectively direct speech, but she used it instinctively.
Another one wrote me about her upstairs neighbor who died of cancer and they were very sad, her baby brother and she, because the neighbor was like a grandmother to them. I was startled when she said the neighbor was a Caucasian woman. I thought they’d pick on me because I’m white. I thought they’d be racist. But at times, I feel…
I suffer from void nest, vacated nest, how do you say? Empty nest syndrome. My son is a teenager and he’ll go to college soon. Since I’ve started teaching at this college I feel I have fifty sons and daughters, but I can’t tell my students that, they’d laugh at me, mushy teacher. So while officially I teach them about writing research papers and reviews and reports and grammar and apostrophes and subject-verb agreement and commas and semi colons, on the sly, I teach them about life.
Take today: today we had descriptions. How to write a description. Use telling details and figures of speech, metaphor and simile, but sparingly, sparingly, and no clichés. No, ‘Her eyes sparkle like diamonds!’
Also today I was tense because Dr. Fischer was scheduled to show up for teacher evaluation, to decide if they’ll let me teach or not the next quarter, since I’m a mere adjunct.
Dr. Fischer is a full-timer. He wears neckties, and I ingratiate myself by complimenting his necktie. They all dress drab at the department. Beige and brown and gray and beige and brown and gray. “Oh, what a chic necktie, Dr. Fischer,” I say, thinking it’s a Japanese design, wisps of egret wings, and Dr. Fischer patting his necktie says, “Yes, it’s seasonal. Rein deer horns.” End of conversation. Dr. Fischer brought us candies, peanut candies. After Halloween, he dumps them on the shelf by my desk—I don’t have an office. My desk is in the Adjunct Haven or Heaven, this is how the Department Chair calls it,--he’s an asshole that one. When he hired me he said I’d get $48 an hour but when the check came it was only $45!—Anyway, our Adjunct Haven is between a metal shelf and a photocopying machine in the corridor. I jungled it up with a sprawling plant that grows and grows. Everything is green now in my corner, otherwise I’d be engulfed by beige and gray surfaces.
The peanut candies: it came out Dr. Fischer’s kids are allergic to peanuts. Loren, an ascetic blonde, also dumps cookies and cakes after the holidays, because she wants to stay slim and loves taking care of us, so we, the adjuncts, wolf them down between classes, our suspicions deepening with each new cookie batch. “What are you exactly up to, Loren? Trying to kill us?”
So expecting Dr. Fischer ‘s‘descent, I dreamt up a scenario. I was standing in front of the class, with the projector on and on the screen I was demonstrating my students, who were all eyes and I was witty and captivating, and they were all listening, which never happens. After three, two minutes of teaching they all fiddle with their cell phones and text messagers and palm pilots, so captivating I am.
But in my scenario they listen to me, “Today we’ll apply what we read in the textbook essay. Think of a tool, a value that was handed down thru generations in your family, like the father in the essay who passed his carpentry tools to his son and grandson. I’ll do my own writing on the screen while you work at yours. Or let me just demonstrate. Please pay attention, don’t mind Dr. Fischer here. He’s a benevolent presence.
Okay, here I go:
In my family, I was handed down the gift for words. I didn’t know that my grandfather was the one who passed it down to my mother until this last week. My mother got on e-mail two months ago and now she writes me a letter every day and I don’t know what to write her every day because I don’t have the kind of news she expects me to deliver, The Happy Pursuit Of The American Dream Series, so to occupy her I asked her to write me the fairytales of my childhood, The Man With The Beard Made Of Flowers and The Clever Gypsy Girl, and childhood memories, and traditional food recipes. I also made her write me all about the pig-killing procedure and her pork meat recipes. She wrote me a booklet about how you kill a pig, how you wash its intestines by hand, with coarse salt and vinegar, how you make sausages, blood sausage and liverwurst and tobă,--I don’t know the word for it, you chop the head of the pig and its ears and the pig skin and you put it into the pig bladder, how do you call that? Cheesecake? No, it’s not cheese cake, it’s round like a soccer ball. Head-cheese.
So, she writes me in all gory details, how you stab the pig in its jugular, how you drain the blood in a basin, how you singe its hair with a straw fire, and so on. I read her letters to my son who vomits. He’s totally assimilated, all-American, no hearty Eastern-European diet for him…
But in one of the letters she wrote me how my grandfather whom I never met was such a good storyteller. The entire village would gather in his blacksmith shop or on the porch on Sunday and listen to his stories. He was an avid reader and walked to town to the cinema. He’d tell stories about the war, how he was
lăsat la vatră/let go to the hearth, home, because he had duodenal ulcer. My mother is always clinical in her descriptions. She has great respect for doctors. Got her own—my little sister. Grandpa had to walk from Russia to his village in Transylvania. He came along the train tracks. When my grandmother saw him, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She thought she’d never see him again. All those mouths to feed. Sixteen children! But there he was, thinner, weakened, but there he was.
His stories were so beautiful that the villagers would applaud.
My grandfather! So I resemble him!
My mother is also a fantastic talker. I always cry when she tells us how when she was eleven her mother had to send her to work as a maid, because she couldn’t feed her anymore. The mean mistress beat her and made her scrub the floors in the harsh winter and bring buckets of water from the frozen well. My mother was purple with cold, only in her wet raggedy dress, and weakened by hunger. The woman gave her to eat only one stuffed pepper and only one ladle of soup. Ever since she always loved stuffed peppers. She always filled our plates with food.
But she also makes us laugh when she tells us how she caught father in the backyard, behind the chicken coop, kissing the widow next door thru the hole in the wire fence. How she told the flushed neighbor, “But do go on, Missus Farkas! Do go on! Don’t let me interrupt you. I’ll just feed my chicken and be gone in a jiffy!” and she called her chicken throwing the corn grains about the yard, pelting father.
And she passed her gift to me, I’m making a living by teaching others how to put words and stories together! Isn’t that something, Dr. Fischer?
And Dr. Fischer smiles magnanimously and grants me right then and there free passage for the next quarter. And the students beam with delight and write feverishly their own stories, and I hope they’ll always remember me in their hearts, my sons and daughters, and they’ll always do good deeds because I taught them so.
I inspire them.
In my scenario.
Alas, Dr. Fischer doesn’t come to class. Kid school pick up emergency.
He’ll come next class.
[She gathers her folder and chair, and exits.]
New York
 September 2nd, 2013


 
 
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.

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