|Niagara Falls from the US-Canada pedestrian bridge|
The school administrator (who was a long-time fan of my books) had asked me to speak to Mrs. Persimmon's (not her real name, of course) 7th grade English class for the Great American Teach-In. I had to scuttle my schedule, but yes, I agreed to do it, remembering the dozens of rewarding times I'd spoken to students about being an author in years past.
So the Teach-In day arrived and I, along with numerous other tote-lugging adults of varying professions, trudged what seemed like five miles across the expansive campus to the school's media center to check in. There, we were each assigned a classroom and a semi-reluctant student to escort us there.
My escort was a curly-haired young man of about 13 who couldn't seem to find it within himself to make eye contact (or offer to carry any of my bulging cases containing my laptop, projector, books, or props) or answer any of my ice-breaker questions with more than one syllable.
I couldn't hold that against him. I was young once and didn't have a clue how to talk to strange adults. And as far as grown-ups go, I guess I'm about as strange as they get.
So we finally made it round the bend, up the stairs, and down the never-ending hallway it to my assigned classroom, only to find it dark and deserted. Hmm. It was 15 minutes before my scheduled starting time, and I had made it very clear in my previous correspondence with the administrator that I needed a minimum of 15 minutes to set up.
"No problem," she had said. Well, it was a problem now.
"What should I do?" I asked my young escort. "If I don't start setting up, I won't be ready to start when the bell rings."
"I dunno," he replied, reaching forward and trying the doorknob. Surprisingly, it turned. So he pushed it open and went in. I followed. Then without a word, he flipped on the light, turned, and left.
I waited an additional five minutes, but still no Mrs. Persimmon. As uncomfortable as I was making myself at home in the classroom of someone I didn't even know, I really didn't see any way around it. So I unpacked my equipment and began to set it up as the students trickled in.
And then the unthinkable happened. As I bent over to plug in my projector, the cord somehow got wrapped around a metallic piece of equipment about the size of my kitchen mixer that was sitting on the table and sent it crashing to the floor.
"Oooooh, are you ever gonna get in trou-ble..." became the taunting chant of a cluster of bug-eyed boys who immediately gathered around the busted high-tech electronic device.
"Those things cost about a million dollars, I think."
"Mrs. Persimmon is gonna blow."
"You better tell her you did it, lady, cause if she thinks it was one of us, we're dead meat."
I hadn't a clue what it was I broke, but I had a sinking feeling that I was sunk.
So the bell rang, and finally Mrs. Persimmon made her entrance. She marched directly over to me with lips pursed, glanced up at my first slide I was attempting to center on the wall screen, and barked,
"Who are you?"
"What is this?"
"Who let you in here?"
Taken aback, I replied, "I'm Debora Coty, an author. I'm sorry - didn't the administrator tell you I'd be speaking to your class today? The door was open but no one was here to meet me so I started getting my presentation ready."
"I don't know anything about it," she said curtly. With that she turned on her heel and went over to her desk across the room, where she turned her back to me and began typing on her computer.
The 30 or so students sat mutely staring at me, and I back at them. What was I supposed to do now?
And then I noticed the pathetic broken high-tech mixer-thingie sitting on the table. I knew before anything else happened, I had to do the right thing, if nothing more than to be an example to 30 impressionable kids who were waiting to see how this would play out.
So I walked over to her desk. "Mrs. Persimmon," I said in a voice that sounded extraordinarily timid even to me, "I need to tell you something. While I was setting up, that white piece of equipment over there got knocked off onto the floor and appears to be broken. It was an accident, and I'm truly very sorry."
Mrs. Persimmon's eyes grew to the size of Frisbees as she took in the electronic gizmo with its little head cocked askew. Her face turned this amazing shade of maroon-purple as she leapt to her feet.
"WHAT?'' She shouted. "You broke my machine? Do you have any idea how MUCH they cost? I don't know if we have any more and I use it every day. I can't believe you broke it, OH MY GOSH, how could you be so clumsy? If you only KNEW what you've done! This it TERRIBLE! TERRIBLE!"
And she went on and on for what seemed like an eternity, alternating between fretting, fussing, yelling, and berating me. Right there in front of the students. As If I were a bad dog who'd peed on her carpet. She just couldn't get over it and move on ... the more she stormed, the madder she got.
Okay, since this is getting a little long for a blog post, I'm going to pause here and continue the story next time. So tune in for my next post, same time, same channel!