Friday, August 26, 2005

Rapid Transformations

I’m giving detention now. Moments ago, a couple of minutes before “Marcos” Smith entered my classroom to serve his Friday afternoon half-hour punishment for breaking Rule #1, I witnessed my first fight. It took place just beyond my portable, on the other side of the chain link fence. I had returned to my room after the pep rally, which had demanded frightening maneuvers through the vocal battling of students screaming ’08 and ’07, fresh out of the first pep rally of the year. As I entered my darkened room I heard a louder than usual commotion outside my windows by the buses. There was a gang of wiry boys, shirts off, half strutting, half marching, focused that appeared to be heading purposefully toward some immediate objective. They made a show of their chests and what height they had - performers in front of my windows and before the loaded buses, packed full with a perfectly bored and captive audience. None of them was one of my students, to my relief, as the gang became a crowd around the eye of the fight.

The “pep” assembly beforehand had been frightening in and of itself. We – the teachers and administrators - were fortunate nothing broke out in the small dilapidated gymnasium that was forced to hold at least three times the number of bodies appropriate for the space. I had had a brief, throat-choking notion when momentarily gripped by claustrophobia that had anyone wanted, a violent riot of angry, or even just exuberant, youth could have erupted unstoppably within seconds. Not everyone would have wanted that - certainly not Marcos Smith, or my goofy but well-intentioned football boys – but as is the case with mobs, they all would have participated, joining in with the beating, smashing mallets of the drummers, the clashing fists of the cymbalists, the bleating cries of tubas, the grinding hips of the cheerleaders, and the indecipherable hollers of screaming students. There was a dangerous sense of excitement given the extreme adrenaline, noise, and prospective bodily conflict hovering in everyone’s pre-football game subconscious. Any notion of the prospective injury, destruction, pain, or damage absolutely inconsequential.

Now it’s quiet outside. No irreparable damage done, my room once again in its usual vibration to the air conditioner. There was a tenth grader beside me at the assembly who persistently and repeatedly stepped over the blue line – an illegal assembly action - right next to me. His movement was deliberate. He appeared to want conflict with authority. I had never seen him before. His eyes were narrow, chin cocked upward; he was angry and could have cared less about the assembly or the “fun” on the gym floor before him. His expression and proximity to me made my heart rate quicken, the whole gym grew smaller, and I felt afraid at Wingfield for the first time this year.

The students bolted before the assembly officially ended, before the football players were sent off with climactic fanfare. The tenth grader who attempted to intimidate me led them out with that shoulder-shifting, menacing, out-of-my-fucking-way strut with which the gang of boys outside my window headed into the fist-throwing crowd.

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7:52 PM

 

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