If Miss Bauer was not the most reviled teacher at Shikellamy High School in the early '80s, odds are she was in the top three. She was guilty of that most horrific of teacherly sins: she had high expectations for all of her students. On the first day of freshman writing, I remember her referring to herself as "tough but fair." Her fairness was hotly disputed, most notably by students who had failed to complete assignments on time or who had completed the assignments to a lower standard than Miss Bauer thought them capable of.
I incurred Miss Bauer's wrath on only one occasion and it was unrelated to any academic effort or lack thereof. One afternoon, I had stretched my legs out too far from under my desk and she nearly tripped on them during one of her pacing rants. The rant was likely about "alot" and the fact that it was not one word and even as two words should not be used if it could be avoided at all. That was a particular pet peeve of hers, though she had many others as well.
I played along with the "I hate Miss Bauer" thing, but the truth is I didn't hate Miss Bauer at all. If you did your best, and avoided "alot" and "a lot," Miss Bauer was fairly easy to get along with. And, of course, an "A" in her class meant all the more because I knew her standards were high.
It helped that I loved writing--and I especially loved writing for someone who loved the English language the way Miss Bauer did. She was not one to give gushy compliments, but she did occasionally scribble "good job" or "nice work" across the top of an essay that had particularly pleased her.
The first and only time Miss Bauer spoke directly to me about my writing was the day after I'd turned in an assignment on how to plan a trip to Alaska. I don't remember much about the essay, other than that I had put a humorous spin on it, including things like being sure to factor in time for highway closings due to herds of migrating caribou and so on. I walked into her classroom in my usual hunched-over-to-avoid-eye-contact fashion and took my seat. I was the first one in the room.
Without preamble she said, "You know, I love reading your work. You have a pleasing sense of humor.* You should really let it show more; you should smile more and talk to people more."
I may have managed a nod before someone came into the room and the weird moment was blessedly broken. I was spared having to formulate a spoken response. If I'd had to say anything, I would have sputtered something about my shyness as an explanation for that gap between who I was on paper and who I was in the social jungle of 9th grade.
It's been a long time since 9th grade. I've thought a lot (heh) about that moment with Miss Bauer since then. I have written here and elsewhere about the difference between the person I am on the page and the person I am in the real world. Although some differences remain, I feel the two are closer now than they've ever been. And I also feel it's always been true that neither one is more valid or "real" than the other--they are just two parts of a whole.
S is for Shyness
*Miss Bauer also had a pleasing sense of humor. For example, she once told us a long joke, complete with character voices and sound effects. Here is an abridged version:
Once upon a time in the faraway land of make-believe, there were two towns called Tridvillage and Tridtown. In between these two towns was an enchanted mountain. Now the only way to get from Tridtown to Tridvillage was to cross the enchanted mountain through the enchanted forest. One day, Baby Trid wanted to go visit his friend in Tridvillage so he went to the enchanted mountain and at the top of the mountain he met up with an ogre, who blocked the road. Baby Trid asked the ogre to move out of the way, but the ogre roared, "NO!" and kicked Baby Trid so hard he bounced and rolled back down to the bottom of the mountain.
Baby Trid went to Big Brother Trid and told him what had happened. Big Brother Trid said, "Don't worry! I'll take care of that ogre!"
He went to the top of the enchanted mountain, met the ogre and the ogre kicked him so hard he bounced and rolled back down to the bottom of the mountain. Big Brother Trid told Papa Trid who said, "That's it! No one messes with my boys! I'm going to the top of that mountain and take care of that ogre."
So Papa Trid climbed to the top of the mountain, where he met the ogre and was promptly kicked back down the mountain just as his sons had been. As Papa Trid was dusting himself off, a rabbi came walking along the road. He said, "What's going on Papa Trid? Is there anything I can do to help?"
Papa Trid told the rabbi the whole story and the rabbi said, "Well, I'll go up there and talk to the ogre and see what I can do." When the rabbi reached the top of the mountain, before he could even say anything, the ogre moved over and let him pass. The rabbi said to the ogre, "Why didn't you kick me down the mountain?"
The ogre said, "Silly rabbi, kicks are for Trids!"
(This joke is a play on one of the longest running advertising slogans ever. I do realize that not all my readers are the connoisseurs of TV commercials that I am, so here's why this joke's funny, if it is in fact funny at all.)
The Traveling Salesman
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