The variations continue with the kids’ footwear. Boys whose shirts look like they haven’t been washed in a week sport brand new $300 Jordans, or one of dozens of other sneakers, often in ludicrous color combinations. The girls are mostly wearing brand name boots like Uggs or Frye or some knock off designer thigh high monstrosities. The style for socks this year seems to be that, if they can be seen, they mustn’t match any other article of the wearer’s clothing. I must confess that even I am caught up in the wild sock trend and I am wearing a pair of brightly colored, tribally patterned knee highs under my stretchy khaki slacks.
A moving mountain of a boy holds out his hand to me as he passes. Almost sixteen years old in the eighth grade, Juan Carlos is a full head taller than me and easily as broad. The thick, still growing muscles of his upper body bulge from beneath an old blue polo shirt at least two sizes too small for him. The bottom of his shirt flaps about six inches from the top of his beltless oversize pants that hang down so low that it is impossible for him to walk without bowing his knees out past his already impressive girth. Walking next to him is a tiny slip of a girl that only makes him look bigger by comparison. Maria is Juan Carlos’ thirteen year old little sister who is also in the eighth grade. One day when we were talking alone, Juan Carlos shed a few tears when he confided to me that he is embarrassed to be in the same grade as his little sister. I slide my palm across his until out fingers link and curl around each other ending in a kind of shake – the latest preferred greeting for most of the Latino kids.
Behind him, impossibly taller still, but much slimmer and so dark skinned that his face shines midnight blue under the harsh fluorescent light, Treybon says to one of the two girls under his gangly arms, “That’s my favorite teacher.” Unlike Juan Carlos, Treybon’s clothes are new and neat and well-tailored and he takes pride in looking good. I met Trey’s mom when he was in my class so I know where his fashion sense comes from. Usually I don’t take well to fur coats but she made it look good. She spent our entire twelve minutes together at parent teacher conference night telling me how Trey’s dad is some semi-famous sports figure who takes good care of them though he divorced her many years ago. As she left she took both my hands, rubbed my forearms suggestively and gave me a leopard spotted card with her personal cell number that I should call “anytime, day or night.”. As she at least mentioned Trey’s name once during her 10 minutes, so I checked the box for “concerned parent” on the Parent Contact form we have to fill out. Trey stretches one arm out past one of the girls’ shoulders and holds out his fist. I bump knuckles with him gently so as not to disturb the girl.
“Good morning Trey, girls,” I say with an exaggerated politeness, bowing my head slightly. Despite his almost daily fights due to his complete lack of temper control, with his good looks and ever present bright smile, it’s hard not to like Treybon and seeing him happy and carefree like this is almost enough to cut through the heaviness in my soul. Almost, but not quite and I’m sure my eyes are dead and unfocused again as I turn my head away from Trey and scan the crowd.
“Of course,” I mutter sarcastically aloud as my feet start to move. Two doors down, something is up in front of the English teacher’s doorway. She is absent today and her sub still hasn’t arrived. I spot what looks like a small, square mylar balloon on the ground and adjust my pace. Just as Jesus’ foot is coming down on it I bend and snatch up the stink bomb, leaving him to stomp on nothing but tile.
“You crazy Mr. E,” says my former student Carlos with a big smile. “That thing gonna blow up in your hand.”
Idon’t smile back. “Oh well,” I say with more calm than I feel, “that’s life. Guess I might not smell too good.” Carlos probably does not hear that last sentence as I am already through the double door to the staircase as I speak, moving quickly but steadily down the two flights of stairs to the back door. I spin as I hit the bar to open the heavy door with my butt, make a 180 and toss the stink bomb to the asphalt, then turn it into a 360 degree spin as I head back up the stairs and the door slams shut behind me.