There are about five minutes in mid-dawn, when drivers in Springfield, Illinois motoring east on Lawrence Avenue on a clear day, face temporary blindness and extreme likelihood of a fender bender in the early rush half-hour traffic, if their windshields are not crystal clean and free of humidity from a surprise overnight freeze. So Job Conger learned on his first day of sub teaching for academic year 2008/9 as he pointed his “Blue Goose” directly into that snarling sunrise for all of 18 seconds before pulling off the main road onto a side street to consider his options.
When the call from the substitute teacher calling service came Sunday afternoon, Conger was up to his agate in rockhound club poetry judging and having a decent afternoon. From habit alone, he almost heaved a sigh of regret and explained he had a deadline to meet or that a part-time employer asked him to come in Monday. (He’s being henpecked through semi-abject poverty by part time nice people, and if you don’t believe it, look at his teeth. Another subject; he’ll spare you for now.). Truth was, Conger needed to get back into substitute teaching. He had taken the workshop last September, thoroughly enjoys his interacting with what he calls “21st Century Yoot” and when the caller said it would be just half a day for a Special Education class at Washington Middle School, that cinched the deal. A former girlfriend who had nurtured him generously through his 21st birthday had been a Special Education teacher at Washington, later at Rochester, and meeting her students — during visits to her classrooms – in the personna of “poet and songwriter” a few times had imprinted on his young mind a cherished appreciation for young people giving life their best under sub-nominal circumstance and dedicated teachers and administrators who help them along. Conger would never decline a call to teach Special Ed when he was not committed to something else.
The frost on the windshield was an unhappy surprise. He fears being late more than he fears arriving at school with his zipper open, so having to scrape thick frost from glass was a fast drag. He’d count on an extremely wounded car heater — which really doesn’t begin to generate heat until it’s 70 degrees outside — to clear what he missed as he drove. Five seconds after he backed out and pointed west on his home street, he groped for a part of the curb where no neighbors’ cars were parked. He was not half done.
He grabbed a green wool flannel blanket to clear what appeared a unique “sub frost,” that from the inside appeared like fog, off the front. He keeps that blanket mostly to cover things that matter in the front seat when running into the pharmacy for a fast package of Cheetos or the like. It was invaluable for the windshield. By the time he turned east from Pasfield onto Lawrence three minutes later and faced the sun again, it was clear (so to speak) he couldn’t stay on that busy street.
The first signs of true clear, helped by the two degree temperatutre differentual from the windshield defogger breeze, had begun to appear as he turned east, but he was being passed during that first tentative block the way people pass 92-year old grandmothers driving ’64 Buick Centuries on the Indianapolis Beltway. He felt if he just gave the defogger a few more minutes he could survive the dash across town into the the sun and self-actualization at Washington Middle.
And so it came to be. The early going was one-way eastbound, so he picked his lane and stayed there. Traffic was not the problem as long has he stayed stable in the lane. And by the time he came out smiling after an enjoyable morning at one of his favorite schools, the last vestige of semi-obliteration had gone away. It would be a clear and cozy-warm drive home.
The morning inside was a delight. Most of the seventh grade students were participating in a field trip to Lincoln Land Community College. And first period was prep time. NERTS! Conger had forgotten to bring a project for slow time — as in prep and lunch — so he read poetry from literature texts on a shelf. Conger noted that in Book 1, information about how to have a poetry reading, and how to participate in one, were in the “Resources Appendix” at the end of the large volume, which included some excellent poems by Emily Dickenson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and some more contemporary writers. Conger was disappointed that the short bio of Hughes mentioned the fact hat one of the founders of the Harlem Renaissance had been a waiter in Washington, DC but did NOT say Vachel Lindsay helped put Highes on the literary MAP at a time when black poets weren’t getting a lot of attention. Book 2 (Conger guessed for 8th grade) included poetry reading info — essentially the same as encountered in Book 1) in the poetry chapter (YES!) and by some newer poets including T.S. Eliot, Robert Service, Pablo Neruda and Ogden Nash. THERE WERE NO VACHEL LINDSAY poems in either book! Those people! (steam) In second hour Conger was delighted to hear one of his students laugh out loud when she read Nash’s short poem entitled Ducks. There were four Nash poems on the page, and he read them all aloud to the class to their clear pleasure. It was a good morning.
One made even better by a chance encounter with District 186 School Superintendent Dr. Walter Milton, whom Conger had met and met with soon after the man’s arrival in this town in 2007. As Conger stood outside the classroom door, he noticed a well-dressed gent who recognized Conger (“Job, is that you?”) before Conger recognized him. Conger even introduced him to his students before Conger explained his ongoing desire to be more than a substitute teacher in District 186. He had met with Milton and an administrative aid i8n early 2008 but nothing panned out. It would be different this time, perhaps. At any rate, the good superintendent asked him to call his office and set up a meeting for next week. This, Conger shall do.
The rest of the day was a breeze. Conger drove home with a beautiful windshield, had lunch, worked a little more on the poetry contest and then began putting together some thoughts for his presentation at Taylorville Public Library in mid April. He had started the real focus on this during prep time at Washington Middle, so seriously he actually printed instead of writing long hand. This is the best way to ensure that a few hours later he could recognize the words. The organizers want him to share some Conger, some Vachel and to bring his guitar.
One terrific aspect of substitute teaching is that he can talk about poetry without people squirming in obvious discomfort. What better place to think poetry, to plan poetry and to learn poetry than at school, sans distractions of phone and matters aeronautical (major distraction in Casa de Ramblemouth)? He can engage the craft and expand his own froggy mind reading what’s in textbooks. No audience in a public library will desire more than what they can understand at first listen. That’s not a bad thing.
Conger tweaked some rockhound poetry contest thoughts and took a nap after lunch. The rest of the day would go just fine.
Live long . . . . and proper.