Wednesday, June 14, 2006

One Thing I Do Well

There are a few things that I am good at. This is one of them:

Yesterday was the last day of school. I joined all of the parents and children in saying "goodbye" to the Jawa's teacher, who will be taking her Judy Garland-as-Dorothy self back to South Carolina, where she and her husband have already bought a house, which is something two teachers can do in Charleston but not in San Francisco.


The girls all cried loudly as they hugged the teacher, who eventually broke down, too. The boys, being boys, generally ran around yelling loudly.

Also leaving was the class comedian, whose jolly, blue necktie (nak u tai in Japanese) was completely at odds with his stern efforts to hold back tears as he watched the only friends he's known since kindergarten all leave.

Through this chaos came the Jawa and his friend, the self-named Shaman, only child of the Hammer. They burst out of the classroom wearing gigantic smiles, ready for summer which, for me on this day, stretched out before us as five empty hours waiting for someone to fill with fun things to do.

On the way out of school, I also stopped to give a wave to frequent blog contributor Zelda on my way out. Apparently, she was a mess (self-proclaimed), but since I was also chasing two Jawas at the time, I didn't really notice anything untoward.

Five hours is a long time to entertain multiple children and, if it were a day like today, where the children are in the house with me, I might have just told them to "go play" while I worked. But yesterday was sunny and warm, and I know the Shaman well enough to know how he works. And as I said above, there are a few things I am good at. Urban Camp Counselor is one of them.

First, we blew off the traditional fast food establishments in favor of Whiz Burger, a run-down drive-up at 20th and South Van Ness. We dined with hip office workers, construction guys, high school kids and a few homeless people, sitting outside where the jawas could stretch their legs and speak in voices several decibels above what was required for conversation. Then, I smoothly manipulated the conversation to avoid going to Metreon or a playground at Golden Gate Park, offering up instead the "video game museum" at Fisherman's Wharf.

Now you're thinking, "But Lefty, Fisherman's Wharf?" What are you, an overweight tourist from Illinois? An ill-prepared German traveler in strange tennis shoes? No, and no. What you may not know is that children have the exact same interests as tourists. They like cheap electronics, wax museums, theme restaurants and sea lions. I have never had less than a great time with the Jawa at Fisherman's Wharf, so to the Wharf we went.

I love letting kids go nuts in city settings. Here, as a parent, your primary responsibility is just to get them to notice stuff they don't normally see, and to make sure no one steals them. It's a pretty simple job. You do alot of hovering, just out of view.

So I purposely parked several blocks away from the video game museum, knowing that in the time it took us to walk there, I would be enjoying many Art Linkletter-esque moments.

The first came when we passed Hooters. "My mom says that Hooters only hires women with big bazooms," blurted the Shaman. The Jawa considered this, and returned, "I'll bet it's a great place for men, then. Non-gay men."

"I'm usually gay when I play Life," added the Shaman, thoughtfully. "Last time I wasn't, though. I married a girl."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, kids do say the darndest things. Especially in San Francisco.

It was almost 3 by the time we reached the video game museum, ice cream in hand. As the Hammer would say, we didn't walk, we "meandered." We ditched our ice creams and walked through Laughing Sal's mouth into the arcade, though the Jawa did offer up a warning, saying, "If that's really Laughing Sal's mouth, I'm not going in."

Once inside, the Shaman spent most of his quarters on the old-style arcade games -- where you put a quarter in and some robot dances around, or you see pictures of the Great Earthquake of 1906. The more arcade-savvy Jawa (that is an indictment of my parenting, not an endorsement) went straight for the games of my youth -- Centipede, Asteroids, Battle Zone.

In a short 25 minutes it was over. $10 was gone. We walked back out of Laughing Sal's mouth -- not actually walking, but more like stumbling violently, on my suggestion, as if Laughing Sal had consumed us and then thrown us up. 30 minutes and hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars spent on strange little items with "San Francisco" written on them later we were back at the car. The Shaman admirably tried to carry my own Jawa up Larkin Street, which I found amazing, and was done in spite of a rapidly declining Jawa mood, which at one point inspired the Shaman to say, "What am I doing now that's bothering you? Breathing? Existing?"

We were home by 4:30. Four-and-a-half city hours had passed in what seemed like a second. And as we were walking down on Fisherman's Wharf, I kept wondering what it is that makes a day memorable. Was this one of those days? All we did was drive, get a hamburger, drive some more, walk around and play video games. I'm hoping that the pace of the day -- their pace -- will somehow stamp it into their memories as this great day that happened on the last day of third grade. Either that or the Shaman will remember it as the day no one would give him $3.34 so he could buy that Nintendo DS game he wanted.

This I am good at. Today, though, the three jawas I have upstairs are running around madly while I try to put together a presentation I'm giving tomorrow. Entertaining jawas at home is something I am not good at.


Anonymous flush puppy said...

ah, if only you had a giant cardboard box. My own Tusken Raider has one erected in the living room, window cut out and adorned with a photo of a Tusken Raider Lookout and Female Tusken Raider. Thank God for I must confess to occasionally calling Jawa, as it has a better ring to it than Tusken Raider. But he prefers the Dark Side, so TR it is. Can't WAIT to see how these two SW fans interact in a few short weeks.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous flush puppy said...

I meant "calling HIM a jawa"...

2:36 PM  
Anonymous zelda said...

i WAS a huge mess! the grown-up accessories that i so esteemed as necessary for the one day of the school year when teachers can dress up and not have to actually teach (unlike the first day where you have to make a stellar impression PLUS give a spelling pretest and do recess duty) were all failing me: lipstick smeared on countless shoulders from goodbye hugs, waterproof mascara that wasn't, edgy wedgy chunky blister-inducing heels, and that dress--what crack was i smoking?! strapless + third grade = madness.

i am so glad that you and jawa and the shaman had a day that i know with certainty will live on in their minds as a very fond memory. yet, at the same time i am sad as i read it too. every year as the end of the year approaches, parents ask me both jokingly and in seriousness: "aren't you so glad it's almost over?"

umm, no. because the last day of school is, for teachers, like getting broken up with twenty times on the same day. we spend hours and days and weeks and months on end with your kids and then suddenly they've outgrown us, they're too big and we're too little, they're in fourth grade and we're still in third.

so to answer the shaman's question, what all of my students are doing now that's bothering me is not breathing or existing, but doing those things far away from me :(

chag summer sameach kulam, happy summer everybody...

8:33 PM  
Anonymous The Hammer said...

The Shaman is still glowing from his day with you, his favorite dad to hang out with (other than his own). He certainly does come up with some classic comments, as you know. Outspoken, he is not. You are hired as Urban Camp Counselor. I look forward to my day with the boys; also considering SF tourist meccas e.g. a walk across the GG Bridge and playing in the water at Crissy Field. We're back to Fisherman's Wharf tonight to dine at Rainforest Cafe with preschool friends. The fun never stops.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Lefty said...

zelda -- you just summed up one of the reasons i am no longer a teacher. graduation day was always the best and worst day of the year. and the toughest teacher in the school (in our case, the feared ms. pat thenell) cried the most. i couldn't take being puff the magic dragon.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous zelda said...

hmm. so it's not just me? while sad that it was your experience also, it somehow feels better that i'm not alone. my years in hanna-lee (where puff the magic dragon lives according to the song) might be almost over and this heartbreak really is one reason.

i am glad there are parents like you out there who get it. i think some just assume the year is over and their kid's teacher is ready for the three best reasons for going into education: june, july, and august. true for some, but for others like you and me there are three other top reasons like making a difference, having fun every day, and leaving our fingerprint on the future.

it might not be less sad, but it's also probably *differently* sad for teachers who have their own families than it is for teachers who don't have a family yet but wish they did.

an item for the summer vacation to-do list, once i actually stop going to school every day to clean, work on report cards, etc.: consider possible new (less emotionally-involved) careers.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Lefty said...

now is the time for parents like me to give you the impassioned speech about how wrong it would be for you to leave the profession...parents out there, how about it?

10:47 AM  
Anonymous The Hammer said...

Hey there Zelda, and all those other fab teachers. You truly do make a difference in people's lives. While not a bona fide teacher, I have taught numerous classes, albiet to adults. I find it one of the more rewarding things that I do. There are very few careers that offer the daily variety and potential for immediate gratification that teaching does. Teachers are rarely compensated for all that they do, but suffice it to say that your efforts are appreciated by many. Young Shaman misses you already and wishes to correspond. Feel free to contact us outside of the blog over the summer.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Marky said...

Is Clown Alley still around? That used to be my favorite hangout, while pretending to be 10. Remember, we took Sandra Bullock there on her 2_th birthday?

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Shaman said...

Lefty, it was really great hanging out with you. The milkshake was great, the video games were fun and my back still hurts from carrying Jawa.

We just returned from New Orleans. Bourbon Street reminded me of Hooters.

By the way, I needed the $3.34 cents for a PC game, not a DS game (and Dad took care of it for me).

Thanks for a fun day.

7:41 PM  

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