March 1, 2013
writing about a field trip instead of chapter "Messin' with Moses"
In that rural long ago, my principal was a firm believer in field trips. Consequently, every year, there would be days when we teachers met in front of the school before the sun came up, loading our students into chartered, sleek buses for field trips that would put them on the road early and bring them back late. The field trip to the Smithsonian is a good example of one such trip.
Each of us, of course, was responsible for our own designated group. Mine included some of my slow section, but that was fine with me, for most of that group had never been anywhere, and they needed it. The Bontragers, a Mennonite family, had already been in to see me at school, and Mr. Bontrager had charged me with the responsibility of keeping his children "away from those deenosawr bones." I assured him I would see to that. Those two children wouldn't graduate from our high school. They would be transferred to someplace up north, after a certain age, to learn about farming. So if seeing mummies was all right and "deenosawrs" wasn't, it was all right with me.
However, there wasn't any way I could shield any of the students from Charles County. In those days, as you passed through to D.C., you would encounter groceries and gamblling combined at stops on the way. Elderly folks were pulling the handles of the one-armed bandits, gambling their social security checks away. I was as fascinated as the students were to watch it. The trip was a long one, and the stops broke the monotony of it all.
Once there, Big Guy discovered an escalator. He'd never seen one, and he rode it up and down, up and down, over and over, until I pulled him off. Some of the students discovered the freight elevators and had to be yanked off those. Shrimp stationed himself high above the big pendulum that proves the rotation of the earth, and from there he dropped lifesavers, trying to hit the long arm as it moved back and forth. He had to be persuaded to come down from there. There was nothing that couldn't be handled. The students were impressed with the immensity of the place, and I dared to hope they would stick together as I had told them to. At one point I saw smoke coming from behind a statue in a room where some rejected statues (George Washington in a toga) had been placed, but that turned out to be Maggie, one of our teachers, smoking and complaining she had a migraine already.
Then, suddenly, I saw our students (my group, specifically) in a clump, gathered around something, along with other students. When I rushed over, I found lying on the floor a tourist, an elderly man, who had a heart attack. Students had to be made to back off, not cut off air, not be watching out of curiosity, taking up space the medical staff needed. Reluctantly, they backed away.
Yet, a few minutes later, I saw them clumped up in the same way as before. I rushed over, angry they were being so in the way --- but this time it was different. Behind the glass of the display wall, there was a painted idol of some heathen tribe. It stood about four feet high, its arms upraised, head held high, eyes all pop-eyed, as if celebating its gifts. Which were extraordiary. Its painted wooden tongue was lolling out of its mouth, reaching down to its waist. Its legs were a'spread, bent at an odd angle, and its painted penis was hanging down, so long it was dragging on the floor. The Bontrager children were among its admirers. They all peeled off and stood to one side or the other when I swooped in. They enjoyed my awestruck reaction, giggling and laughing themselves silly. After that, there was no keeping them together. They just knew there must be more stuff like that in this huge place, and they, by God, were going to find it.
By the time I got my group, intact at last, to the room where the Hope diamond was dispayed, the Smithsonian guards had had it with our kids. I found the folding metal gate shut tight. Behind that were some angry men who had suffered indignities: students were rubbing their feet vigorously on the carpet, then touching the guards' arms, causng static electric shocks. They also had been leaning into some of the exhibits, messing with the cameras, so that the Hope diamond and other exhibits weren't really protected as they should have been. I was told by those faces behind the metal baby gate they didn't care if I reported them to CORE, the NAACP, and SNICK (whatever that was), they had it with all of us, and we weren't coming in, and they wanted us to get on our buses and go away and never come back again. I retreated.
Since we had some time left, we took a whirlwind tour of the Arts, where Shrimp called attention to the statue of Hermes, naked as he was. Didn't seem proper to Shrimp. I allowed the ancients carved the human form as it really is, but Shrimp pointed out to me that the statue looked pretty silly -- he was naked, all right, but he had a hat on. What was the idea of that, Shrimp wanted to know.
In those days, There was a display of medical oddities and war wounds there on the mall, contained in a small buildling. There was no restroom in there. Students wanted to go in, nonetheless, in spite of my warnings that if they got sick at their stomachs, they were to come sit on the front steps till all of us came out. It ended up being me sitting out there.
When we finally got on the bus, waiting till all the buses were loaded, a squirrel nearby caught the students' attention. The bus was swaying back and forth, right and left, as students zoned in on its movements. By this time, I was feeling a little seasick anyway, and this just made me even more irritable. On the way home, the little girl sitting next to me fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, and I allowed her to stay that way -- she came down with the measles shortly after she got home. A few days after, I also came down with the measles.
Well, at least I can say the Bontrager children did not get into the "deenosawr" room.