(I’ve come to the part in my new novel where things get serious and the story starts to race from here to the end of the book. I put a lot of humor in my books, but at this point I need to get rid of it all. School let out because of the heat. Somehow that struck me as funny, so I wrote this article. It’s silly, unpolished and too short to try to sell to a magazine. I’m posting it here to let you see how my mind works. It’s scary sometimes.)
My brother went to college to be an English teacher. Later he went back, got another degree and became a principal. I often quoted him the F. Scott Fitzgerald line, “Those who can do. Those who can’t teach, and those who can’t even teach become principals.”—or something like that, I can never remember. He must have been good at being a principal, because recently he took a job as a superintendent of schools. My first question was: what are you going to do with all the free time? A Superintendent has a lot of time on his hands because he gets paid seventeen million dollars a year and all he has to do is decide if the weather is bad enough to have a snow day. My brother informed me, rather indignantly, that the figure I had quoted was almost twice as much as he actually makes, and there was more to the job than just deciding whether or not to give a snow day. He also had to decide if it was too hot to have school. I apologized profusely for my ignorance.
When I was young, we never got out of school because of the heat because there was nowhere to go that wasn’t hot. (This was back when even the filthy rich didn’t have air-conditioning. They were the filthy, stinking rich back then, because BO knows no economic borders.) We sat at our desks with our leather shoes being ruined and our socks soaked from sitting in the pool of sweat that gathered around our desks. On some days the teachers would have to wear galoshes to splash through the salty sea that covered the floors. My second grade teacher, Miss Philips, was one of the nicer teachers. She had a hard and fast rule: if more than three students passed out in an hour, she allowed us to go one by one out in the hall and get a drink from the water fountain. On one particularly hot day the fountain ran out of water. Miss Phillips said the city shut the water off for repairs, but I think Eric Henfler drank it all. He was just the kind of kid who would do something like that. So we sat in our own sweat, feeling the drops of body fluid running down our backs and gathering on the seats of out chairs until it looked as if we had wet our pants, which was lucky for the few who actually did wet their pants. We were hot but happy, because we didn’t know anything else.
We did have snow days when I was young, but they had a way of determining whether the weather was bad enough not to have school without a principal–I’m not sure what principals did back then. If the weather was bad, ten kids were picked at random and sent to school. If after an hour less than half of the kids had made it to school, they would call school off for the day. It was something like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery except we didn’t even get to throw rocks at anyone. I remember by the end of one bad winter, Whitey Johnson and I were the only ones left in our fourth grade class. In the spring when it started to thaw, the others began showing up one by one.
Nowadays everything is air-conditioned, houses, cars, schools. People run out of one air-conditioned place into another, and then complain for an hour about how hot it was for the three seconds they were outdoors. Same thing in the winter, warm house to warm car to warm school. What we need is some good old heat and cold. The young people need to know that a little sweat and shivering never hurt anyone. Me? I’m cranking the air-conditioning up and watching a little TV.