The sublime beauty of teaching high school in New York City is that no matter how impoverished your neighborhood, the grandest cultural institutions are merely a train ride away. On any given day, I can escort my rapturous children to ponder Fellini at Film Forum, inhale the scent of cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, catch a diminutive diva belting out Gypsy on Broadway or a not-so-diminutive diva aria-ing La Boheme at The Metropolitan Opera, and end the outing lolling on Strawberry Fields, nibbling on cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery and reflecting on all we have learned.
If I have the opportunity to so enhance the cultural life of my precious cherubs, why in heaven would I deprive them of this experience?
Victor was a twinkly-eyed sprite in my ninth-grade English class. He breezed in early, grinned charmingly and inquired about my weekend. He consumed Romeo and Juliet with such relish and performed Romeo with such feeling that he was undoubtedly destined for a brilliant career at the Old Vic. After class he washed my blackboard on his own accord and pitter-pattered away on his two little feet.
That was the occasional Victor.
The frequent Victor spun into class like a whirling dervish, put his ghetto-fabulous sneakers up on his desk and sprung multi-colored rubber bands at his classmates, inciting a rainbow-hued rubber band war.
Once he inquired, “Why white women can’t match their clothes? You bitches color blind?”
Hysterical laughter ensued.
Another time he threw our precious books out the window. There was something poetically melancholy about tattered copies of Flowers for Algernon lying spread-eagle on the roofs of teachers’ economy cars.
But in spite of his shenanigans, he was better in my class than in others. In science, he flooded the lab, pirouetting across tabletops with an umbrella à la Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.” In math, he galvanized his minions to chant “math is fun!” for forty-three minutes straight, compelling the teacher to take a “mental health” week off. And in advisory, he called the teacher fat, prompting her to galumph out blubbering.
Ironically, he was about to be rewarded for his outstanding behavior.
I was sitting in my corner of the teachers’ lounge grading papers when I overheard Mr. Blanc and Miss Pettit planning an outing.
Mr. Blanc, who resembled a plucked chicken, was a failed comedian turned history teacher. A couple of days earlier, students had passed a ferret around his class for the duration of the period, but Mr. Blanc never noticed its presence. In other words, the ferret could have been sitting on his desk eating a five-course meal on Fabergé china and sipping Dom Pérignon and he also would not have seen it. Clearly he was as talented a teacher as he had been a comedian.
Miss Pettit, who had protruding eyeballs accentuated by Coke-bottle glasses, was a recent Vassar graduate and science teacher. She resembled Kermit the Frog bred with a Smurf. Inept in pedagogy, she took her frustration out on students by insisting she was too good to be teaching them.
And now these master teachers — who also happened to be lovers — would be escorting pupils to the grandest of cultural institutions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
When they recited the list of attending children and I heard Victor’s name, my ears burned. And when they invited me along I declined, since I wasn’t a masochist. I couldn’t help, however, giving the kind of unsolicited advice that I was becoming infamous for in certain learned circles.
“I wouldn’t take Victor,” I offered.
“Why not?” Miss Pettit challenged me. “He promises to be good.”
“Um…” I replied. “No.”
Her eyes were magnificently buggy at that moment. I chuckled.
“You know, Miss Rodov,” Plucked Chicken piped in, defending his Kermit-Smurf. “You are really … mean.”
I was impressed by his facility for adjectives.
“Have some compassion,” he implored melodramatically.
“Taking Victor to The Met is a marvelous idea!” I exclaimed. “Have a splendid time!” I added and trotted out.
The next day, Mr. Blanc and Miss Pettit escorted their Victor-led assembly of cherubs into The Met’s light-filled rotunda, where they split them into groups and delivered instructions for returning at a designated time. And so, the unsupervised seraphs wandered through the stately halls while the paramours, arm in arm, took a romantic stroll through the garden.
Ever the revolutionary, Victor splintered from the pack and began exploring the museum alone. He strolled through this hall and that one, but nothing struck his fancy until he came upon the Roman Sculpture Court.
Looking around, Victor landed a discerning eye on the freestanding Marble Statue of a Youthful Hercules: classically featured, weapon wielding — and buck-naked.
Carnally inspired, he approached this model of male pulchritude from behind, spooning him and caressing his pectoral muscles.
Patrons noticed, but unused to such a display of affection, stood in shock.
Victor’s fingers continued their dance down Hercules’s torso and landed on the most prized part of his anatomy, with Victor moaning breathlessly, his cries of pleasure reverberating through the storied court.
By now, guards had taken heed of the situation and called for backup.
In the rotunda, Mr. Blanc and Miss Pettit had rendezvoused with the other children, performing a head count and noticing one celestial being missing.
Back at the Roman Sculpture Court, Victor was humping Hercules and groaning.
It was at this juncture that the incident — and Victor no doubt — was reaching its climax.
Finally too much for lovers of art to withstand, patrons and guards alike worked together to pry Victor from Hercules’s anus.
Just then, Plucked Chicken and Kermit-Smurf dashed in, assessed the situation and joined the heroic effort.
Since Victor had been absent from my class, I floated into the teachers’ lounge that afternoon on a tremendous high to find the principal hovering over my startled colleagues.
“The head of security at The Met just called,” she said grimly. “Our school is banned from ever visiting their institution again.”
I walked over to my corner of the teachers’ lounge, took pen to paper and opined:
If I, a dedicated educator, have the opportunity to enhance the cultural life of my precious cherubs, why in heaven would I deprive them of this experience?