The Utility Player, Chapter 4

Wait. What? The up is now running for Dean of Students at his high school?

I’m confused.

I thought the striped bass were running! Har har. Yeah that’s what everyone says but the up is 0-for-striped bass on this visit to Fiyo Island. He is 0-for-nibble, despite fishing where the birds are.

Oh, they were swooping down at the dock yesterday. They say he saw a seagull fully submerge — and by that I mean, the white bird vanished below the ocean’s surface. Yet still, when a salty pickup truck driver asked the up, “Well, do you have breakfast?” the up replied, “I’m making pasta!”

The salty pickup driver laffed and laffed. Meanwhile the up felt like Thoreau out on the Concord turnpike, greeting passersby in the midst of his famous solitude.

Meanwhile, may I please observe that it is windy as fork here. It is as if the wind is speaking in fluent, emphatic English, saying, “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.” I myself don’t even know how many layers of clothes I am wearing. It’s all right, though, because the tall dead fronds of seagrass look pretty swaying back and forth?

Because even the disliked holly trees look merry with branches wiggling and jiggling? They are only disliked because of their sharp pointy leaves which poke at bare feet on the walkway. Otherwise, tree on, holly. Tree on.

Well, are we going to talk about the up running for Dean of Students at his high school or what? From what I hear, it just riled him up that they announced the window to apply was open on the same day it closed.

The up was like, “Really?” Fortunately, he still had his resume updated from last year when he applied, ran, and got trounced. Oh yes, it was a trouncing all right. And then the up spent all year saying, “Wow, I sure dodged a bullet not getting that Dean’s job.”

To which I say, how much longer are any of us going to be able to say that we have dodged a bullet? The up does not have any terminal illnesses that he knows of; however, somewhere out there a deranged person with a few assault rifles might decide today is the day to take up their beef at the Fiyo Island Ferry, where he is scheduled to disembark at around 2:15pm local time.

He had just been thinking that thought the other day when his phone gurgled to announce a deranged person had taken up their beef at a grocery store in nearby West Egg. You just can’t… you can’t just… sorry, I’m just having a hard time processing all these mass murders in my country right now.

The truth is, the up himself has a beef. He is tired — pronounced in this context “tarrrdddd” — of his fellow English teachers so-called teaching To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye year after year after year to the 70 percent Latinx, 10 percent Black, 10 percent Asian kids at their school. Not even the 10 percent white-looking kids want to read those oldies.

Are they all great books in their own ways? Sure.

But you may not have heard the soul-deep satisfaction of students pronouncing this character’s name — Noemí — in the book Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. You may not have heard their wonder in noting that the book was published in 2020. Did you know people have published books since 2004, when most of the 11th and 12th graders still being forced to read The Crucible were born?

A: Yes, apparently so, although you would never know it by the golden-oldie reading foisted on them by the up’s fellow English teachers.

Follow-up question: But wait, isn’t this story supposed to be about playing baseball?

A: (deep breath first) — Yeah. You’re right. It’s just that… this is what’s on the up’s mind right now. I can report that he is wearing a garishly blue and orange Mets hoodie in a medium-successful effort to achieve bodily warmth. The hoodie used to be even more garish but it’s gotten washed out over the years so it fits in with the weather-beaten palette around here.

Q: Got it. So all right, spill it. Why not run for Dean of Students? Our guy is the utility player — he’s game to play any position. Right? That’s the secret hidden meaning, is it not?

A: Well, not that hidden, apparently, but the meaning, yeah. Why not? Sure! Talk to some teachers while we’re getting ready school to semi-re-open. Ask them what they think the Dean’s priorities ought to be. First ask how are you, though. Listen to wherever they go with that lead-in. Teachers are especially prone to handling the simple question “How are you?” like a hot potato.

Still, the up has no particular plans to do anything in his room until students show up. Then, his basic plan for return-to-school is what it has been all along: power up the subwoofer and see if they can crank Ragged Glory loud enough to put a crack in the cinder block wall. With lesson planning out of the way, the up thus has all the time in the world, or, tomorrow and the next day, assuming he is not mass-murdered, to hear out his colleagues’ on the question of how are you.

Then, his plan is to ask, “This dean’s election — want to talk about it?”

And if they say yes? Is the up gonna rip right into his fellow English teachers? Yeesh, I sure hope not.

I hope the up says something more akin to… well, whatever their vibe indicates. That would be my recommendation. No script. Speak from the heart, listen from the heart.

The up does have three specific beefs, though:

  1. The school is lagging on culturally responsive pedagogy (jargon alert, alas, too late! It means teaching kids about people with accent marks and/or many vowels or consonants in their names).
  2. The school is lagging on meaningful involvement of BIPOC. The up bases this on the one community outreach meeting he attended, where he and one single parent were the attendees other than admin. This parent claimed that Abraham Lincoln was an enslaver, an assertion the up questioned. That was the highlight of an otherwise pulverizingly dull hour. Couldn’t you get better community representation by reaching out to the student clubs representing BIPOC? This is the up’s main idea on the topic.
  3. Shouldn’t students have a major say in determining the priorities of the Dean of Students? It seems right now that the Dean serves the interests of the administration. Maybe that’s just the up’s perspective. Something worth discussing, perhaps?

It does seem worth discussing. The up really just wants to discuss it. Hold on a sec. Let me reach down into his soul and see if that’s really true.

Yeah it is. He wants his school to be more culturally responsive and representative. He wants the Dean’s election to be a platform for constructive conversation about this. This being, making the school more culturally responsive and representative. OK. He’s repeating the same story over and over, it’s starting to ring true.

Now. Maybe — just maybe — there is a striped bass out there ready for a nice glob of clam belly on a hook.

Let’s find out!

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