How we roll

You begin by accepting the charge to organize a “reward” field trip for the school where you work. Recognize that it’s an honor to be considered for such a job, a privilege. And what with permission slips, insurance, and transportation to consider, a supreme mind-fuck. Two-hundred teenagers. Feel both pride and confusion. You love them; you don’t want to be responsible for them. Consider planning a day that includes culture, maybe a museum near the beach or a hike along the smogless upper ridges with views of the city.

They will respond to your idea, emphatically, with a veto. We’re going to Six Flags.

You may internally cringe, you may secretly thrill–either way, they will look at you with eyes like kittens, too big for their faces as they plan how to scale the curtain and jump onto your head.

Reserve five charter buses; sign a requisition form for two thousand dollars. Assure your boss that the kids will volunteer to reimburse upfront costs by donating ten dollars each. Later, in the lounge, under florescent light, propose this idea to the staff; they can help you collect money. Come along, it’ll be fun, you say. Again you notice the kitten-eyed look, but these are the cats, ones who scare and abscond at quick movement. Some teachers will laugh at you, their mouths full of sandwich.

Call the 1-800 Group Reservations line for the amusement park. Speak to a woman with a smoker’s voice. She will be kind, full of information. It’s never a problem to reserve 200 tickets for a Thursday. You wonder if she is trained to overbook, like airlines. Imagine yourself waiting in a 14-hour line for a ride that will possibly give you brain damage. You read that in the news recently, or heard it on the radio–some of your capillaries always explode, but you know you’ll roller-coaster-ride anyway. You are like so many others who willfully rattle their own sensations: you smoke cigarettes and drink only on Friday nights, then roll around languidly in bed on Saturday with a hangover and a death cough.

The day of the trip will be exceptionally warm. You will need sunscreen. You will apply sunscreen to others. You will pass out all your cash, because you are like that, despite your dwindling bank account. Students have been asked to wear mono-colored clothing, in school colors of blue or grey, so they can, you will advise, be easily and properly identified once in the park. It’s for their safety, you will say, lying.

Direct students to their buses. Check the attendance rosters. Check the permission slips. Count money and teenagers. Speak politely to the drivers. Someone will tell you that a student is missing. Check everything again.

Students will board the buses, jostle for the seats in the back; boys with crushes will attempt to sit slyly next to their girls. The buses will be nearing retirement, formally serving the city, with seats along the windows and raised benches in the back. Your bus will smell like urine. Reserve a seat near the front.

On the loopy ride through Los Angeles, itself like a slow-mo nausea-inducing coaster, students become friendly with you and the other teacher riding. They feel no nausea. They twitter with excitement, the freedom of the day. This is who they must become once they’re at home teasing with their cousins, or sitting on the front wall with friends after school. Guards come down. Feel yourself relax. Ignore the smell of stale pee. They begin to ask personal questions, and refer to you in their habitual address, their version of maestra, which they translate to “miss” in English slang. No last name, just “miss.” Remember that you hated being called it when you first came on the job, and secretly felt it was disrespectful. By now you will have learned to love it, see it as it’s meant: endearing and familiar. Teacher, they call you.

So, miss, do you have a boyfriend? you are asked.

Your affirmative response causes grins and a group giggle. It is likely they will imagine you making out with some faceless man, perhaps in your underwear. You have become three-dimensional to them, finally.

What about you, mister? they ask your co-chaperone, who is gay.

Do I have a what, he will say, without inquiry, and with, perhaps, a bit of defense?

A girlfriend.

Students are excellent theorists. They have hypothesized and gossiped about your coworker for months. He will be neither out nor in to the students, and if he is gay, they will have decided, he doesn’t fit the category of flamer or puto. Watch your coworker consider the question, internally calculating, a slightly tortured grin on his face. Imagine you are him. Is it the cowboy boots? he wonders. The occasional hip movements when he’s on a roll in class? It’s the end of the school year, you would like him to think–what the fuck. Egg him on with a specific and deliberate raise of eyebrows.

Well. Have you ever seen me with a girl? He queries, offers data.

And, like a choir: No…

Have you ever heard me talk about a girlfriend?

Watch the kids watch each other. See shapes of knowing in their glances.

Mister! a boy commands. Are you… and he will slash a line through the air, slicing top to bottom. Or are you…? drawing a squiggled, crooked line with his finger.

Yeah, um, from another, are you, um, complementary…or supplementary?

Your coworker is a geometry teacher. You laugh a little to yourself.

I’m impressed with your…questions, he responds, though you’re not accurately using math terminology. See, supplementary means…

Mis-ter!! they whine.

No, I do not have a girlfriend. He smiles, letting them into his life a little more.

Students in the back will point at each other. Told you! they will scream into their friends’ faces. I knew it, one will whisper.

As the buses pull into the theme park, take in the roller coasters: huge steel structures, shaped like insects, painted green and red. They form an eerie horizon. You swallow deeply, like a cartoon character. Notice little tiny people in cars way… up… there. You pause to listen to distant screams.

It will be approximately 10:30 a.m. It will be approximately 103 degrees. Try to remember what you learned in first aid about dehydration and heat exhaustion. Hand out tickets. Smile.

The rest of the day passes; the insane heat does not. You ride progressively dangerous coasters with a crew: the math-teaching coworker and the students who semi-outed him on the morning bus ride, and a few straggler kids who are considered “loners.” As you exit each ride, your body vibrates on a low but visceral frequency, and the students plead with you to join them on the next terror-inducing contraption, as if your participation somehow makes it less scary for everyone. Observe the students in a roller-coaster haze, full of Coke and caramel corn. You will be pulled along by it, by the appropriate thrill, if you will, of each ridiculous, defies-the-laws-of-physics piece of machinery, though the math teacher will argue that the rides exist because of physics.

For the finale of your day, ride Tatsu which, after strapping in with legs dangling, rotates your body 90 degrees backward so that you lay (yes, really) with your back to the track as you fly along, headfirst and upside down and around and around. You are terrified. You experience an utter agony. The digital photo posted near the exit ramp looks as if you are crying and slobbering. Feel a bit jealous of the students’ faces in the picture: they are laughing, open-mouthed, overjoyed. The math teacher will look serious, as if he is studying the ride’s potential and kinetic energies. You are no longer a teenager, you realize, because now you believe in science and fallibility and that you will actually die someday, perhaps on a roller coaster.

By 5:30 and 102 degrees, you will have accomplished the following: helped a student change his vomited-on shirt, defended yourself as best you know how in a water gun ambush, embraced your willful flirt with exploding capillaries and ridden six roller coasters, one twice. Without sarcasm, remember that you love your job. Re-board the buses. See students worn out and somehow more innocent than that very morning. Feel a bit more innocent yourself. The bus resumes its twitter; the personal questions for you and your coworker return; the students become progressively bolder with their inquiries. They’re asking if you want kids, if you’ve ever been high. Eyes like kittens.

Rest. Behind your eyelids, see yourself inching, jerking, up-up-up the inclines of each coaster, leading to the inevitable, impossible drop. Consider points of tension and release. Think, what the fuck. Think, ask me anything.

16 responses to “How we roll”

  1. Scott Godfrey says:

    Once, while on my way to work, I ran into Lisa who was leading a class to a local playground. I stopped and said hello. She introduced me to some of her favorite students while the others looked bored.

    I saw her several other times with her students, but didn’t interrupt. She was actually the one with the widest eyes I’d ever seen.

    Don’t try to hide it Miss, you’re a rockin’ teacher.

  2. bryan says:

    Not to mention the fact that you’re an awesome writer — what a great post! Wow, this is one of my favorites so far. I loved the recipe/imperative mood. Welcome to TGWednesday!

  3. Tim Wager says:

    Hi Lisa!

    Great, great post! I, too, loved the use of the implied second-person and imperative (or here maybe just ‘suggestive’). Many intense experiences like this one, in which one feels outside of one’s body, cannot be rendered with the first-person. You found the perfect way to do it.

  4. Jeremy says:

    I hope this doesn’t cause too much friction with our other Lisa, but… great post here, Tremain.

    And, what with my fear of rollercoasters and all, “How I Roll” might go something more like this: “For the finale of your day, [gaze at] Tatsu [while everyone else straps into that death ride]. You are [not] terrified. You [do not] experience an utter agony. The digital photo posted near the exit ramp looks as if [everyone else, not you, is] crying and slobbering…”

    (Yikes, how does anyone ride such a monstrosity?)

    Anyway, this was so fun to read…

  5. Lisa Tremain says:

    Aw, thanks guys. I love you too. And hope to post again sometime. But quit trying to pin me against Lisa Parrish. I got nothin’ but props for her, man. I bow down.

  6. farrell says:

    lisa. fantastic post. as mentioned a zillion times, i also really like the voice you adopt here. and, as a short-lived highschool teacher, those intrusively personal interactions you described were spot on. i hope more of these follow.

  7. Stella says:

    An excellent post, Tremain. Welcome to the Whatsit! I hereby declare there is room enough for two Lisas.

    (but no more!)

  8. Lisa Parrish says:

    Whoops. Prior post from L. Parrish, the computer illiterate!

  9. bryan says:

    I kind of liked the idea of Stella declaring room for two Lisas.

  10. WW says:

    joining the chorus — fantastic post, Lisa of the 2 Lisas, whom I don’t think I know even though a mere 45 minutes separates us. Lorrie Moore’s first short story collection, “Self Help,” is written entirely in the 2nd person; your post rolls right beside her fine work. Cheers. Hope to meet you someday.

  11. Lisa Tremain says:

    Yessss….approval from the Original Lisa.

    And, Wendy, thank you! Two things you should know:
    1) I was totally ganking Lorrie Moore’s “Self Help” style for this post — an exercise, if you will, and 2) we’ve met, through Jeremy, I believe at a SilverSunPickups show at Spaceland a while back. You’re pretty.

    Anyway I do love Lorrie Moore, whom you’ve quoted in your bio, but Bryan should know that Amy Hempel sincerely rocks my world forever more, amen.

  12. Lisa Parrish says:

    Bryan, Stella will have no choice but to make room for two Lisas if everyone keeps, in the words of L. Tremain herself, pinning her against me. Oh, my. It appears that New Lisa fits in with the GW crowd better than we ever anticipated.

  13. WW says:

    right right right right — that was a fun SSPU show — they were “unplugged,” I believe. Well then, here’s to more hanging out in the future. Hanging and ganking, as you say. Ganking. What a good word.

  14. bryan says:

    hooray! glad to know AH worked for you, lisa t. i have lorrie moore’s self help, but i’ve never read it. will go back to school. it’s been so long since i’ve read contemporary fiction, but i did read an amazing george saunders story this summer on farrell’s recommendation and an amazing collection of amy bender stories at scott and stephanie’s house. i want more amy bender.

  15. Lee Anne says:

    That was fantastic.

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