Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Latest Job Interview Has Harry Seeing Ghosts

. . . Fearing the Cadaver Could Be His Career, Mills is Last Seen Cleaning His Fuel Injectors Southbound On The 110

The following is the 6th installment of a series of stories depicting the odyssey of teacher Harry Mills as he searches for a new public school from which to resume his teaching career after his previous school was handed off to a private charter operator by the Big City School District after years of low scores on standardized tests. Previous stories are available by searching the blog archives to the left (scroll down a little.) It is a fictional story, as are all the rest. The characters are not intended to represent any individuals you may know. Coincidences do occur, however. These stories are written solely for the reader's entertainment.

By Mark J. Blocker

It was nine Wednesday morning in mid August, and Harry was sleeping lightly--his head sandwiched between two pillows successfully blocking the cacophony of jackhammers and wrecking balls across Pacific Coast Highway tearing down an abandoned boat dealership. The phone started ringing. A 310 area code meant it was another school calling for an interview. English teacher Harry Mills, unemployed since June, gladly picked it up.
“Yes, this is Harry Mills.” The clarity and the energy within his voice surprised Harry.
“Yes Mr. Mills this is Samantha Richards at Yardin High School how are you this morning are you still looking for a teaching position?”
Harry immediately recognized the rapid-fire staccato voice as that of his favorite ex-principal who left Missouri Compromise Middle School three years ago. Although many teachers disliked Ms. Richards, some even transferring, Harry always enjoyed her. She seemed to like Harry, too, taking time out, after reprimanding him for some chicken shit reason, to learn about the man's personal life. She was an attractive, energetic woman probably nearing 50, with skin the color of coffee and cream, who favored golf attire—even while on the job. Through conversation, Harry learned Ms. Richards was raised on a truck farm outside Beaumont, Texas, the middle of 7 children. She got a full scholarship to the University of Houston where she had the lowest handicap on the women’s golf team. She and her husband still played weekly at any given course anywhere in Southern California.
“Well, hello, Ms. Richards, remember me, Mr. Mills from Missouri Compromise?”
“Well, I’ll be! Mr. Mills! I thought I recognized that name. How are you?”
“Better now that you called. I’m still looking for a job.”
“Well, Yardin has a position to fill. Are you available for an interview Friday?”
“Yes ma’am.” The idea of working for Ms. Richards once again was exciting. Mills remembered giving an annual test years ago to his ESL students which could qualify them to enter regular English. It was illegal to provide answers to the students, so during the oral portion he set a table outside the classroom door so they couldn’t hear the answers. Ms. Richards didn’t like that. Harry had to be inside supervising his class. She told the ESL chairman Mr. Superna to have Harry figure out another way. Harry suggested the school provide an aide to either administer the test or supervise the room. The next day Superna told Harry Ms. Richards said there wasn’t any money for aides. So Harry moved the table halfway into the doorway, with him and the student still outside the room. No, Ms. Richards told Superna—that is a safety hazard because the table blocks the exit in case there’s a fire. Harry said to hell with it and moved the whole god damned table inside figuring nobody gave a shit if kids heard the answers.
Approving this new set up, Ms. Richards herself stood outside the door, smiling, flirting with Mills, telling him “Not only is Mr. Mills smart, he’s downright handsome too! Right class?” To which the class responded with a lukewarm endorsement smattered with outright denials. After that Mills was one of Ms. Richards’s minions. Maybe the only one. When she announced her transfer the following June, the faculty’s reaction was quite a bit more jubilant than that tepid display by Harry’s 5th period on that hot and windy October afternoon.

Mr. Mill's, tomorrow's not Friday!
“Very good, I’ll see you tomorrow at 10,” Harry confirmed.
“Err, yes,” Ms. Richards answered, “Friday at 10.”
“See you tomorrow.” Harry hung up, enthused at the possibility of reconnecting with Ms. Richards. She had life. Personality. Something he had not witnessed out of an administrator in a while. Just then the phone started ringing again.
“Mr. Mills, this is Samantha Richards again. The interview is Friday! Tomorrow's Thursday. Today is Wednesday!”
“Ooops! I’ll be darned. I’ve been on vacation so long I’m losing track of the days.”
Just like old times, Harry thought.

Yardin High? More like nursing home
Harry parked across the street from the campus and killed 15 minutes listening to nearby traffic and chirping birds while admiring the newly planted magnolia trees establishing themselves on Yardin’s front lawn. He crossed the street against the gaze of a silent crow who flew off when Harry returned his stare.
Inside the front office a slow moving, heavy-set woman with her hair frizzing crazily out her head watched Harry from behind her desk. It was as if she was wishing he would simply walk out the other door without bothering her. Harry told her his business, and she shook her head as if to say, oh no, not more of this bullshit. Then she laboriously got up and shuffled off to disappear behind a partition that separated the principal’s office from the view of anyone on the street side of the front counter.
After a moment, the woman reappeared. “They’ll be with you in a moment,” she uttered, moving back toward her chair. “They’re in some kind of meeting.” Harry figured she was talking to him, but a head turn and a little eye contact would’ve confirmed his suspicion.
Harry couldn’t figure out whether it was the aged teachers who entered and exited the office, or their groans and sighs while they checked their mailboxes, but the place seemed as lugubrious and lethargic as the lobby of a rest home. The only things missing were the smell of piss and ammonia and simmering, poorly paid attendants wearing scrubs. But this was the Big City School District. And a high school, too.
Suddenly, Ms Richards burst in like sunshine. “Good morning Mr. Mills do you have a resume or anything for us?” She took the papers, smiled, turned around and marched off to the copying machine against the far wall. Done, she came back carrying the originals.
“You can keep those, Ms. Richards. They're all for you.”
“Oh, really? Well, thank you.” Her sincere gratitude struck Harry as odd. What the hell could he do with his own cover letter and resume after the interview? Autograph it and hang it on a wall as a souvenir?

Goodbye, Ms. Richards
Ms. Richards marched off, and Harry never saw her again.
Instead, a woman who was 8-months pregnant came and got Harry.  He enjoyed walking down the hall with her toward the library. Her youth, Harry guessed mid 30s, and her fertility made Harry feel better amongst an unmistakable pallor he couldn’t quite figure out. Even the rack of florescent tube lighting overhead seemed to cast insufficiently at midday. Perhaps it was the considerable fog that clung to the air outside. No, the cool, moist air felt refreshing. It wasn’t the walls; they were recently painted beige with forest green trim—just like his previous school. Strange.
They entered the library. Six people who all looked to be nearing retirement sat at a table waiting for Harry while reading his paperwork. The lady quietly introduced him to the assembled as Mr. Miller, and they silently returned his nod. After his escort excused herself and left the room, the sole remaining empty chair beckoned from the end of the table. Sitting down, it momentarily felt to Harry like Thanksgiving, and he was head of the household.
But this was no celebration of gratitude; he was just some out-of-work fool propped up for a cursory probe. In fact, the whole scenario felt more like a wake: somber and strangely reflective. Harry looked at the faces of those assembled. Nobody smiled. Their cheeks sagged into jowls. Eyes that looked like rocks sunk into threadbare, blotchy pillows stared at him but would drop once Mills tried to make meaningful contact.
Finally, a lady who looked like she never even bothered to brush her teeth anymore whispered, “How do you use data in your instruction?”
Since June, it was the sixth time Mills had to formally answer that question. It echoed in his head. He wanted to deliver a fresh answer, but all he could come up with were retorts that sounded sarcastic, so he stuck with the stock answer he had told so many others before but without any favorable results.
It was time for the next query, but nobody said anything. Instead, they cradled their chins in their palms, or bobbed their heads slightly as if surrendering to late morning slumber.
It was then that Harry noticed a man who looked like Abraham Lincoln: tall, wearing a black suit, old-fashioned shoestring tie and a stovepipe hat. He stood behind the others who were oblivious to his presence. He motioned Harry to come over. Harry did, and as he walked over Harry noticed the man presenting an open mahogany casket. Its interior was tuck-n-roll white satin. The handles polished brass. The man seemed proud of the coffin, and he motioned for Harry to get inside and try it out.
Harry looked back at the table. All the teachers and assistant principals were now rubber necked, dozing with their double chins resting upon their chests and breasts. Some were drooling.
Harry knew he was no spring chicken anymore. Sometimes his white and gray hairs, sizable gut and labored gait frightened him when glanced out the corner of his eye to a surprise reflection from a storefront windowpane while he strolled along downtown sidewalks. But he had a lot of time left-- a lot of work and a lot of fun. He was determined to fight for every hour, and he figured he had at least two decades of prime time left. He wasn’t going to spend any of it inside the tomb called Yardin High.

Light traffic and a lead foot
Pressing his foot upon the accelerator, hearing the pistons churning up a storm, Harry wondered whether Yardin High could be lively once neighborhood teenagers were back cavorting through the halls and raising hell in class. Harry gunned his silver Prius and was already passing traffic before the onramp leveled off. He merged left, and before his signal clicked three times Harry established himself as the pacesetter of the southbound Harbor Freeway. He was Mario Andretti; not the punk kid, but the old man, the patriarch, himself. Even the sun above positioned itself through the dissipating fog for a clearer view from which to admire Mills’s flight away from Yardin.
Two more interviews had passed when Ms. Richards called again a week later to inform Harry that he wasn’t hired.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Harry replied. She was the first principal who had the courtesy to call him back. Harry always liked Ms. Richards. He always will, too.

1 comment:

  1. I bet a lot of my peers in the English Education program at CPP would be interested in this series.