Lenny Gates or One Morning In The Life
There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his sentence.
…The three extra days were for leap years.
from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
As I park my car this morning, I notice some guys working in the football field, and others carrying bricks to the football field.
Lenny Gates bought the newspaper today. That’s so we can take roll. We pass the newspaper around. By the time it gets to me, the sports section, the funnies, the editorials and most of the news is gone, leaving me only the law and order section. But that’s all I need. That’s how we take roll. Or at least part of it. We check the newspaper, the law and order section, what my wife calls “the murder and mayhem page”, to see which of our students have been arrested. I’ll have two absent from my second period.
Lenny has instructed his first period to bark today. The educational consultant is supposed to be helpful. She has the people skills of a wolverine in heat. Last week, she told Lenny’s department chair that his classes are “going to the dogs”. The department chair immediately told Lenny. She’s supposed to inspect his first period today. So Lenny’s instructed the kids to bark at her. I can already hear a few woofs down the hall.
While we wait around before school starts, Lenny tells me how took his social studies class to the state penitentiary yesterday. It was supposed to be one of these “Scared Straight” sorts of things. Instead, it turned into a reunion. As he and his class walked down the central corridor of a cell block, instead of feeling intimidated, he kept hearing stuff like, “Hey, Mr. Gates, remember me? It’s Dontel Freeman. I’m the one who got the B+ on the mid-term in 1993!” The students weren’t scared. A lot of them spent their lunch hour with friends and family.
Lenny spent his lunch counseling a kid, a kid in his first period, about how to get his homework done. The kid lives in a one room flat with his mother. Between about four in the afternoon and one in the morning, the mother needs the flat. It’s where she turns tricks. The family business. The kid’s out on the street. There’s no public library near-by. Hell, there’s nothing near-by except crackheads and Crips. So no homework. But Lenny knows an old, retired teacher just off a bus route near the kid’s flat. He called her last night. Lenny tells me she’s cool with the idea of helping the kid with his homework. She stays up late anyway, now that she’s retired. So he’s got good news for one kid today.
Just before the bell rings, I mention the bricks. Lenny knows about the bricks. These workers don’t have anything to do. So one of them wrote-up a work order for a wall. Just that. Nothing more. “Wall. One. Brick. Metropolitan High School.” The principal had no idea what to do with the workers or the wall, so he tells them, “I don’t give a damn. Build it on the fifty yard line of the football field for all I care. Just get this damn thing out of my life, and don’t tell me about it.” So they do what they’re told. Wall. One. Brick. Metropolitan High School. Fifty yard line.
Apparently they go and like lay a row of bricks across the fifty yard line, take a three hour breakfast, lay another row, a three hour lunch, and so on. But the story has a trick ending. It’s freezing cold right now, so, when it thaws in the spring, when the ground gets soggy, the wall will fall, and have to be rebuilt who knows where but anywhere but there. (I suggest the principal’s office.) But at least those workers are getting a paycheck this winter.