Tuesday, April 12, 2005

life of buddy don, chaptur 134: crossin the tracks

twuz easy a nuff fer me to say i wood be walkin to n frum knoxvull collidge whenever twuz a sunny august day n i wuz a'walkin home frum the grossry with emily on laurel avenue in fort sanders. twuz a nuther thang whenever i had to doot finely, witch the furst day wuz windsdy, september 22, 1982.

i had dun been back to visit docter streeter a time or two. he showed me whar my offus wood be, witch twuz downstairs in a hallway that had nuthin but piano practiss rooms, with the offus of the voice instructer rite nex door to mine n the offus of the piano teechur jes across the hall. twuz a cold n drafty lil space n mos students wood half to go outta thar way to visit, but i dint have no cumplaints. i had other thangs to wurry bout lack how wuz i a'gone teech a grammar class when i wuznt shore whut a danglin modifyer wuz nor lots of other finer points bout it.

innywho, that furst mornin wuz a lil brisk, so i loded up my book bag with sum copies i had made of a questchunair i lack to hand out to students the furst day. twood ast em thangs lack thar name n birthdy n favert book n music n movie n who thar hero wuz, that kinda thang, stuff that mite give me sum idees bout whut ritin assinements i should give em. i put a few other books in the same bag, my bible n harbrace handbook n dickshunairy n sum other books of that ilk, the kinda books ye mite wonta have sittin roun yer offus ifn ye wuz a perfesser of english.

thay wuz sum histry twixt the hill i wuz a'leevin out frum n the hill whar knoxvull collidge is. durin the civil war the union wuz deefendin fort sanders n the cunfedrussy wuz attackin frum the hill whar knoxvull collidge wood later be bilt. seemed a strange historicull coincidents that the side fitin to keep slavery legal wood be whar a uncf collidge wood live, but twuz so. tiz also purty amazin to thank how a cuple of presbyteryun ladies gut the collidge a'goin in 1863! twuz sponsord to sum eggstint by them presbyteryuns ever since.

i thought bout sum of that as i wuz walkin down 17th street tords the collidge. onf of the furst thangs i noticed that hadnt been obvious whenever we went over thar by car is how as soon as ye gut under the overpass fer the i-75/i-40 innerstate, ye wuz in a nuther worl. on the side i cum frum, mos everbidy wuz white. ye had fine homes ifn ye went down kingston pike tords west knoxvull n ye had yer student nayborhood in fort sanders. as ye gut closer to that innerstate, the houses give way to old industrial bildins n the railroad tracks. then ye crossed under the overpass n found yerself suddenly in the black part of town.

in them days, they wuz a bunch of brick apartments all along collidge street, borderd by westurn avenue on one side n university on tuther. i dint know till much later that twuz a housin project. it dint look lack nuthin i had been tole of housin projects on a counta how the yards wuz all kep up with flowers n such. the apartments wuz in good repair n ye dint see nun of the decay n desperayshun ye wuz led to thank ye had with inny housin projeck. but i dint know that till much later. far as i could tell, twuz a nice set of brick apartment bildins.

but everbidy on the street ceptn fer me wuz black. it reminded me a lot of whenever i wuz a lil boy n we furst moved to oak ridge. mama hired a woman name of ethyl n twuz a shock whenever i finely real eyesed how she lived in the same nayborhood as the collidge. i membered whenever i wuz lil n we wuz drivin thru to pick her up or drop her off. me n eli used to hope fer a view of a baseball field. we used to wunder why all the yung boys wore the same haircut, far as we could tell. we wuz that ignernt bout the races.

but thay wuznt hardly nobidy on the streets that mornin. my furst class wuz at 8 am, so i had left in time to git to campus by 7:30. i trudged up the hill n waved at the guard, witch he dun knew all bout me sumhow, n walked over to the colston center fer the performin arts. tho the sun wuz up, that bildin wuz cumpletely dark. i tride the door to one end, witch i wuz sprized to find it open.

i went in n soon as i gut away frum the glass door, twuz pitch black dark. i kindly wunderd how wuz i a'gone git the lites on n how wuz i a'gone find my furst class. twuz so dark to whar i couldnt hardly see nuthin. i knew i wood be cummin to sum stairs, three or four a'goin down, so i wuz feelin my way along as keerful as could be.

as i walked, i wuz sprized by the smells: thay wuz coconut n musk n lots of other smells that i wuznt specktin. i wunderd did black folk smell differnt? seemed to me lack i could smell the blackness in that hallway, witch lord knows i wuz a'seein it. i wunderd wuz it racist to thank folks of differnt races mite smell differnt. but dint matter nun on a counta ye couldnt deny the evidents of yer nose. mayhap tiz the use of differnt soaps n shampoos n hair treetments. i couldnt splain it but it cum as a bit of sprize to me. n it reminded me of ethyl, witch twuz a good memry.

i finely found them steps n made my way down em. then seemed lack i could here sumthin, lack sumbidy breathin. i gut real quite n tride to look into the black, but i couldnt see nuthin n gut to wunderin whuther i had imagined the sound of sumbidy breathin till suddenly a feller name of jerome johnson sed sumthin bout he wuz thar n i probly couldnt see him but he could see me. i ast who he wuz n he sed, 'jerome johnson frum libertyville florda.' so i sed i wuz the new english teechur buddy don duncan n ast im did he know how to turn on the lites. he sed he wuz hopin i wood know.

while we wuz standin wunderin whut to do, we herd sumbidy flip the switch n the lites flickerd n flickerd n finely turnt on. i looked at jerome. or should i say, i looked up at jerome on a counta he wuz a good six foot six inches tall n had to outweigh me by bout duble, all muscle. i real eyesed whenever i wuz a'lookin at im how i had sumhow been trained to be skeerd of such folk. but i figgerd thay wuznt nuthin to gain by lettin on, so i ast im did he know whar our class wuz.

purty soon i wuz thar in frunt of the entire class. twuz a odd feelin to be thonly white persun in the room, but i tuck roll n then tride to git order. folks wuz a'talkin n laffin n probly makin fun of the perfesser. i wuz wearin sum good pants n a white shirt with a tie, but thonly shoes i had wuz a pair of old boots i had been a'wearin since befor we lef fer west germany. they wuz purty wore out n later on i wood larn how my students wunderd why i wood wear such awful lookin 'kicks,' as they wood call yer shoes often as not.

i tride to git thar attenchun, but dint seem lack they wonted to pay no tenchun to me. sumbidy pointed out how the clock wuz rong. i wunderd how i wood git that fixed n how i wood git cuntrol of the class. i only knew the one name, but jerome johnson dint look near as friendly now as he had dun in the dark whenever i couldnt hardly see im. now it looked lack he wuz wunderin whut i could show em. finely i ast jerome wuz he tall a nuff to fix the clock. the hole class gut quite on a counta how nobidy speckted me to know inny names. now thay seemed to be wunderin whut else i mite know. jerome looked at me lack he wonted to ast why i thought he wuz my servunt, so i went to the wall n reached up tords the clock. i couldnt cum close toot.

i menchuned how everbidy had sumthin they could do that couldnt nobidy else do quite as well. sum folks had minny a thang they could do. whut i needed wuz a tall man to git that clock. but jerome jes sat lookin at me lack he wonted to see how i wood handle the situwayshun. finely, i walked over to im n put my hand on his sholder n tole im ifn he wood do me that favor, i wood owe him one. the class overherd n broke up. thay wuz a moment whenever i figgerd i wuz bout to lose that class. then jerome stood up n looked at the res of the class n ast wuz they thar to larn or make fun of the goofy lookin teechur? he wuz a verr imposin presents n seem lack the class dint hardly know whut to do. they wonted to laff at im callin me goofy, but he dint seem to be makin no joke. i finely sed twood be fine with me ifn folks wonted to do bof: make fun of the goofy white guy n larn. dint matter nun to me long as they wuz a'larnin.

jerome turnt to me n sed, 'you all rite, mr d.' then he reached up n tuck the clock offn the wall n set the time. i sed twuz time to git to wurk, so they tuck out thar notebooks while i checked the role agin, trine to larn me a few names. once i knew who wuz thar n who wuznt, i give em the questchunair n whenever they had dun finished that, i ast em to git out sum paper sos they could rite a in class essay. they anserd with moans n groans on a counta they dint eggspeck to rite thar furst day n all. i let em grouse fer a bit n then ast em to cum to order. nuthin. i ast agin, witch i dint wonta raze my voice, but i did intend fer them to rite. finely jerome turnt to em n sed he wonted to larn n this wuz his chants that he dint wonta waste, so innybidy that had cumplaints bout it orta take it outside.

the class gut quite as could be with occashunull bursts of giggles n talk, but i ignored em. in sted, i gut into a lectchur i wood be a'givin overn over agin in my teachin career. twuz bout how ye larn to play basketball. i ast em did they lack the sport, witch everone of em did. so i ast em how wood thay larn to play basketball ifn they dint know how? they dint anser, witch that wuz ok, so i carrd on. i ast em wood they larn it by readin books bout basketball n a verr dark-skinned feller name of rufus coales sed ye mite larn the rules but not how to play.

rite then the class wuz innerupted by the entry of dolores g miller. she wuz dressd up as ifn she wuz on her way to church n i wuz sprized by how short her skirt wuz n how long her legs wuz n how she wuz a'wearin verr hi heeled shoes. fer sum reason i felt a lil sorry fer her. i wuz so biased that i couldnt hardly see my students, couldnt see how attractive she wuz. fer me at that moment, twuz lack a verr fat woman trine to wear tite cloze. i jes figgerd black women couldnt be purty the way white ones wuz. i thought bout how racist such a thought wuz, but i also wunderd ifn i could change my taste on the basis of whut i figgerd i orta feel, not on whut i did. i made sum kinda smart remark bout how nice twuz fer her to grace us with her presents n that gut a round of laffs, so on we went.

i ast em wood they larn to play basketball by watchin tv. i sed they mite pick up sum tricks n they mite git the rules. but wood they larn to dribble? to pass? to set screens? to pass? how wood they larn to do inny of that? woodnt they have to git out on the cort n start tryin to dribble n pass n shoot? woodnt they larn by doin?

twuz a lil quite on a counta how they mite wonta git out on a basketball cort, but dint innybidy really wonta rite no essay the furst day. i tole em not to git in too much of a hurry on a counta they wuz a'gone need to know my gradin n whut i wuz a'lookin fer. i tole em how thay wuz seven dedly errors: subject verb agreement, pronoun n pronoun antecedent agreement, comma splice, sentence fragment, improper use of adverb/adjective, improper verb forms, n improper case. i could see the frowns a'cummin out on thar faces. i promissd to teech em how to avoid them errors, but only by practicin. then i sed that ifn they had two deadly errors in a essay, that essay wood git the grade of a f.

ye mite could thank i had tole em they wood half to take a whuppin everday. whut a chorus of cumplaints i gut. i looked at jerome fer a mint. he smiled. i held up my hands n sed that failure is part of larnin n aint nobidy in a one of my classes that had to ackcept thar f. ifn they wonted to rite the essay over, they could git a better grade.

dolores razed her hand n when i called on her, she sed, 'but mr d! dont that mean nobidy has to fail?' i tole her i couldnta put it no bettern that ceptn to say that nobidy has to ackcept failure.

then i give em the assinement, witch twuz to rite at least 200 wurds on one of the followin topicks: my furst eggsperients with death, my mos embarrassin moment, or the bes present i ever received. i tole em whenever they wuz dun they could hand in thar papers n go. purty soon they wuz all ritin.

i watched em fer a lil while, thankin bout how i had figgerd teechin at knoxvull collidge mite be safer than teechin at utk on a counta how i had dun had sevrul young ladies in my classes at utk that lemme know they had crushes on me. thay wuz a temptayshun thar, speshly when emily n i wuz havin sum trubles. so i figgerd i wood be out of the range of temptayshun. bout then dolores tride to pull her skirt down a bit n then crossed her legs. i wunderd whuther i wood ever cum to see how sexy she wuz, whuther she wood have been able to be a temptayshun to me. i couldnt magine it, witch tiz a shame i dint have no better imaginayshun than that.

i had two other classes that day, one at one pm, tuther at 2, witch thatn wuz the grammar class. but as the students put thar papers on my desk n filed out of that furst class, i wuz glad i had gut that far. jerome wuz one of the last to leeve n he sed he hoped i woodnt go easy on im. i tole im twuznt my plan to go easy on nobidy. he sed, 'you all rite, mr. d.'

dolores looked up n sed, 'all rite? he be trippin ifn he thanks we ritin a essay every class.' i laffed n sed i reckund i mus be trippin, then, witch that made her laff fer a mint, then she bent over her paper agin. i watched for a mint as she crossd her legs agin. then she sed, 'you serious? ever class?'

i laffed n sed i wonted her to larn. she gut up n looked around. she wuz the last to leeve.

'you a trip, man. i aint never been the las one out.' i tole her twuz a good time to start.

i wuz feelin purty good bout that class. i had gut past a tuff moment, thanks to jerome. n i had the questchunairs n a small pile of essays to read. i went down to my offus n looked em over. i wuz shocked by whut i found. sum of the papers dint use a sangle period or capital letter. nuthin wuz spelled rite. but whut they had writ wuz cumpellin: furst eggsperients of death? kamal 'too short' trotter writ bout seein his bruther die in his arms frum a gang shootin. dolores writ bout how embarrassin twuz furst time she larnt she wuz a nigger, witch thats the verr wurd she used, splainin how the wurd had been ok till she herd it cummin as a insult frum a white mans mouth. jerome writ bout the bes present he ever gut, witch twuz the furst time a woman let im 'have sum,' witch he wuz thirteen year old at the time. i red n red, too engrossed to make a mark on a one of them papers.

as i red, i felt the hairs a'risin on my neck: i had dun crossed the tracks into a worl i dint know nuthin bout.

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