Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blame Kindergarten

For as long as I can remember, people have been asking me the same question.  It's a question that seems simple at first, but it's actually kind of complex.  I've had the question asked with a degree of pity, I've had it shouted at me in a fit of blind rage.  It's been asked by friends and family, and on more than one occasion (such as the time I accidentally dumped an entire buffet table on a group of college professors) it's been asked by complete strangers.  The question's been accompanied by terms of affection, such as "sweetie" or "honey," and it's been followed by streams of profanity like "you fucking asshole" and "God dammit, you clumsy brain-dead moron, now I'm covered in clam dip!"  But finally, after many years of pondering, I've been able to answer the question that's been asked of me my entire life:

The question being . . . "What is wrong with you?"

The short answer is "quite a lot."  But it's not my fault, no, no it isn't.  There is only one person to blame for all my quirks, screw-ups, annoying habits, and personality flaws.

I'm speaking of course about my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Fisk.

The year was 1970.  The Beatles had just called it quits, Apollo 13 narrowly averted disaster, and in Staten Island a child was born who would one day change the course of television history -- Ricky Schroder.  While all of that was taking place, a 63-year old dragon lady named Abigail Fisk went about her daily business of tormenting a classroom full of kindergartners.

Mrs. Fisk was tall and spindly with gray hair, and glasses so thick the New York Rangers could've used the lenses as practice pucks.  She probably would have been a good teacher, though, were it not for one minor detail.

She hated children.

While most kindergarten teachers are kind, nurturing, motherly types who do everything in their power to get students excited about the whole going-to-school experience, Mrs. Fisk was just the opposite.  Simply put, and here I am being kind, she was a bitter, evil, heartless, soul-sucking bitch.  She not only got us kids to hate school, she made us despise everything associated with it.  We hated the alphabet, we hated crayons, we hated Curious George and the man in the yellow freaking hat.  In our classroom, the Keebler chocolate-covered graham crackers tasted like painted cardboard and the milk was always curdled.

Because the local elementary school was over-crowded, our kindergarten classroom was located in a nearby firehouse.  You're probably thinking, "Wow, that must've been cool for the kids, getting to see fire engines and meet fire fighters and maybe even feed dog biscuits to a sweet old dalmatian named Sparky."  You're not even close.  No matter how many times we asked Mrs. Fisk if we could go look at the fire trucks and maybe ring the bell, she never let us.  Not once.  And we knew they were parked right there in the attached garage because we saw them drive out whenever the alarm went off.  Who the hell can concentrate on counting when there's a really awesome red fire truck in the very next room?  Not me, that's for sure.

All the kids in my class lived in the same neighborhood, which was within walking distance of the firehouse.  On rainy days, we'd all show up in our yellow raincoats and thick rubber galoshes.  One boy in our class, a shrimp of a kid named Thomas, could never manage to get his galoshes off.  This created a significant problem for Thomas for two reasons.  First, Mrs. Fisk had a steadfast rule that stated, "all coats, jackets, boots, and other outdoor garments are to be kept in the cloak room at all times," and second, it was her personal belief that, and I quote, "Five-year old children are more than capable of dressing and undressing themselves."  While that was mostly true, it was not the case when it came to Thomas and his galoshes.  No matter how many times Thomas asked, crying, "Mrs. Fisk, can you help me take these off?" she would always reply, "You're a big boy, Thomas, you can do it yourself."  But he couldn't, so every rainy morning Thomas sat dripping wet on the floor of the cloak room while his two best friends Eddie and Mark tugged and pulled at his galoshes until they came off, at which point Eddie and Mark flew across the cloak room and slammed into the far wall.  After regaining consciousness, they reached into Thomas's galoshes and removed his tennis shoes which had come off as well.  God forbid that his shoes had become untied because Mrs. Fisk wouldn't help with that either, and no one in our class knew how to tie shoes except Elizabeth . . .  and she hated boys.  In the land of kids with no manual dexterity, the shoe-tying girl is queen.  Most of the time, though, Thomas's shoes stayed tied and he was pretty good at slipping them back on without having to untie them.

Like most teachers, Mrs. Fisk assigned specific weekly jobs to students in the class.  "Line leader," "paper passer" and "milk monitor" were positions of prestige, highly coveted by everyone.  Other jobs, though, you simply didn't want to get saddled with.  The worst of the lot was "eraser cleaner."  In the era before white boards and dry-erase markers, classrooms came equipped with blackboards, chalk, and felt erasers.  At the end of each day, the "eraser cleaner" had to take all six erasers out behind the firehouse (you couldn't see the fire trucks from there either, dammit) and slap them together until all the chalk dust was gone.  Since we were five, this task was harder than you'd think so the "eraser cleaner" always ended up with white chalk dust in his eyes, on his clothes, in his hair . . . basically he looked like a powdered doughnut with feet.  And what did you get as a reward?  A bath when you got home.

Mrs. Fisk assigned these jobs at random, rather than by any particular skill set possessed by individual students.  This only presented a problem when Zolton got the job of "cookie monitor."  Zolton Blomfeld was a year older than the rest of us, and he looked exactly like a kid named Zolton Blomfeld should look.  He was three and a half feet tall by three and a half feet wide, had a gigantic head bursting with curly red hair, and he smelled like cheese.  When it was his job to pass out the cookies, Zolton helped himself to as many Chips Ahoys or Nilla Wafers as he wanted while skipping other kids entirely (and I'll point out here that while the overall gloom in Mrs. Fisk's class caused even cookies to lose their flavor, they were still cookies and as such, we wanted them).  Anyway, it was always traumatizing for the kids who Zolton skipped on his cookie-distribution rounds, but there was nothing they could do about it because Mrs. Fisk had another steadfast rule which said, "Don't be a tattletale."  This pretty much gave Zolton free reign, because unless Mrs. Fisk actually caught Zolton in the act, he'd get away with his cookie swiping.  Witness statements amounted to tattling and were therefore inadmissible.  While this "don't tell me your problems" approach is just terrible for a teacher to have, it could be much worse.  Imagine if Mrs. Fisk worked as a 911 dispatcher:

"911, what's your emergency?"


"Don't be such a tattletale."  


To sum up, during my year in firehouse kindergarten, I learned that adults won't help you even if your galoshes are stuck, if someone treats you like crap you just have to deal with it, and no matter how hard you work you'll still end up having to clean erasers.  These are the building blocks upon which my psyche was formed.  So the next time you think to yourself, "Damn, what the hell is WRONG with that guy?" . . . now you know.

It's Mrs. Fisk's fault.

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Eva Gallant said...

That was hilarious! Wonderful. As a former teacher, I knew a couple who hated kids, too. But they were at the high school level.

ReformingGeek said...

Ha! There were definitely not any gardens for her kinders.

Now we know why you are the way you are.


Grumpy, M.D. said...

My 6th grade teacher had a loose 1970's pacemaker. It was great. Whenever she got angry and raised her left arm too high, the lead would move out of place and she'd black out.

WannabeVirginia W. said...

I loved my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. De La Torre. She smelled like bread and she fed us chicken soup. She had this turkey neck that kind of freaked me out though.

Suldog said...

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Eva, seemed about 106 to us kids. In reality, she was probably 40.

Great stories, as always.

Heff said...

I think we ALL had a "Mrs. Fisk" at one point or another in our lives.

Jenn Thorson said...

Great piece-- this now goes among my faves of yours. Couple of beautiful lines--

"In the land of kids with no manual dexterity, the shoe-tying girl is queen."

Thanks for continuing to raise the bar for humor blogging. It's nice to know there's somewhere to go where the author will sit down and tell you a story...

No cardboard cookies needed.

IT said...

It was fourth grade. Just when I thought I had a handle on the teacher, they switched a bunch of us out and we got a new teacher... they both hated kids.

Mrsblogalot said...

I only wish I could drill down the answer to the "What's wrong with me?" question as awesomely as you have.

I now have a strong urge to punch a kindergarten teacher in the face.

Oy, what the hell's wrong with me?

CatLadyLarew said...

You hated slapping erasers? How could Mrs. Fisk have drilled that pleasure out of you? I'm tattling on her... she should be shot for that, alone! And to think of that perfectly good firehouse going to waste... the shame of it all. You are hereby forgiven for any idiosyncrasies you may have developed under the dreaded Mrs. Fisk's tutelage. My condolences...

screwdestiny said...

Wonderfully written explanation! I'm so confused as to why she would have that job if she hated children. Makes no sense.

Mariann Simms said...

I have to agree with Jenn...that was my favourite line as well. :)

My Kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Craig but I was the only kid in the class (and three on the whole friggen bus) who rode the bus to school. All the others got to walk and I was so envious.

The cloak room - it brings back memories. I guess when I think of it, I was always a bit paranoid...they had the hooks at neck/head level and only one "galoshes pull" away from death. I always envisioned some kid getting impaled on one doing something like that. I hate those hooks to this day because of it...they scare the hell out of me.

Siren said...

I wish i had someone to blame. Murphy's Law i guess...

Thanks for the great read.

Jeanne said...

Mrs. Floyd (first grade, 1961) sounds like a dead-ringer for Mrs. Fisk in both looks and attitude.

She once made me stay after school practicing taking my snow pants off and on while she sat in a straight-backed chair timing me with a stopwatch until I could do it fast enough to get to class on time.

AND she kept the whole class after school for talking. On the first day of school. At LUNCHTIME.

When we still had to walk home, snarf down some chicken noodle soup and get back by 1:00.


Chris said...

My daughter had the exact opposite teacher for kindergarten last year - the woman literally has a halo. She has taught kindergarten at the same school for over 40 years (there were some parents who had been in her class). She's not that old, either - she must have started there when she was fresh out of college. Every child loves her, listens to her, and she's a great teacher. It's amazing. Me? I had my Mrs. Fisk in the 4th grade. That woman despised children - she actually told us that. I was put in the gifted program while in her class (for 1 day a week), and she took me aside and told me that I wasn't fooling anyone - she knew how dumb I really was (math was not my strong point). Nice.

Richard said...

My fifth grade teacher was along this mold...and then she died. Committed suicide actually.

I was not sad at all.

Agent 54 said...

Whenever someone asks me "what the hell is wrong with you?" I respond with:

"Do you want me to make a list?"

So, I started my own blog.....

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