A Brief Study of the Hormonally Challenged

Artwork by Mel Bochner; photograph by Julien Foulatier.
Artwork by Mel Bochner; photograph by Julien Foulatier.

Many hours of my life are spent trapped in a moving vehicle crammed with middle school girls. In the clear minority, I have had to relinquish radio control and speaking rights in exchange for survival.

More than once, I’ve thought about that scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles where Steve Martin says: “When you’re telling your little stories, here’s a good idea: Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”

For some unknown reason–perhaps I was too exhausted to say no–I recently found myself chaperoning 400 sixth graders on their field trip to the Academy of Sciences. Now, I do love the Academy, but you can imagine how much inane commentary filtered through the scientific learning experience.

The trip also involved walking long distances with hoards of whiny youth and taking public transport without losing anyone. Imagine the expressions of the other folks riding the bus when they saw a group of 75 12-year-olds poised to board. Priceless. I’m sorry I didn’t snap a photo of that scene.

In fact, the only photo I took was of some poor stuffed creature who symbolized for me the gangly-awkwardness of this particular age of kids.

I mean, he’s getting some leaves, but he looks ridiculous.

I began to pretend I was an anthropologist, studying an unknown community of slightly shorter, hormonally challenged humans. When possible, I surreptitiously typed notes on my phone to review later. I only wish I’d taken more. A sampling:

“We had very, very different ideas about what toast is. It all has to do with the multiplicative inverse.”

“My feet hurt. I should have worn a wheelchair.”

“Everyone knows unicorns poop strawberry cheesecake.” Well, I do now.

My approach made the whole experience bearable.

As a special bonus, chaperoning “allowed” me to drive two extra carpool loads last week. Though I can’t take notes while driving, bringing a ton of snacks does cut down on the chatter somewhat. That will have to suffice until I can get a decent recording device set up.

Not Their Real Names


From www.astorservices.org
From http://www.astorservices.org

Mrs. Steinbeck taught ninth grade English; Mr. taught social studies across the hall.

They were constantly feuding.

While we were diagramming sentences, she would moon about, saying things like, “If only I’d met Ted Danson before marrying Mr. Steinbeck.”

During tornado drills, we crouched in the hallway with textbooks over our heads, while Mrs. Steinbeck dropped bombs. “It would take a pretty big wind to lift you up, wouldn’t it, Mr. Steinbeck?” she yelled, trying to get a rise out of him. He narrowed his eyes and tightened his jaw, but always kept his cool.

Then one day, Mr. marched right into our class, raging that Mrs. had stolen his desk chair.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, shrugging. “I’ve had this chair since the beginning of the year.”

She tried to continue our lesson.

“I know my chair,” he huffed through clenched teeth. “If I pick it up, the back right caster falls off.”

Mrs. Steinbeck sat very still. Nobody breathed.

“If that’s really your chair, Mrs. Steinbeck, you wouldn’t mind if I tried picking it up, would you?”

Mrs. Steinbeck stood very, very deliberately, staring him in the eye all the while.

He grabbed and hoisted it triumphantly in the air.

It hung there for a long, silent moment.

Then, lo and behold, the back right caster hit the floor.

Nobody said a word as he wheeled it out the door.

Now, back to dangling participles.