The Day Before (See Footnotes)

Not shown: tropical birds in the trees,
 and the ice cream guy behind me

It’s the Day Before. *1 Kids come to school tomorrow, and Escuela Campo Alegre is ready. Yesterday, a crew of maybe 27 blue-shirted maintenance workers hosed down every outdoor horizontal surface and pressure-washed most of the vertical ones. Teachers have been staying late in classrooms for days, getting bulletin boards hung, labs set up, and syllabi printed. *2 When I get bogged down in my own prep, I wander down to the wide elementary school hallway and wedge myself into a mini-chair, breathing in the cheer and colorful you-can-do-it spirit, checking out the classroom-helper charts. I signed up to be a third-grade Calendar Monitor for next week. Pretty psyched about it.

Good news on the residential locksmithery front: I’ve identified two more keys for my apartment. *3 Total time spent locked in accidental captivity this week: five minutes, mostly in the basement storage closet where I keep my bike. Easy room to get in to; hard to leave. I still have four mystery keys, which I keep on the ring anyway, in case they are the literal keys to my freedom some day when I’m trapped in a garbage chute or something. *4

Ladies at the park.
They’re not scared.

Last week I promised to tell you about the US Embassy man sent to scare the new teachers. A former Marine, current tough-guy-in-a-suit *5, he sipped coffee and told us stories about “insecurity” in Caracas. That’s the word they use, “insecurity,” which seems like more of a psychological term than anything else. Woody Allen’s movie characters suffer from insecurity, I thought. Cities are dangerous . He also said it’s a “high-risk environment,” a more appropriate term, I thought. “Could you drive with your windows down?” he asked rhetorically. “Sure you could. I wouldn’t.” Then, “Could you go for a run in the park? Sure you could.” A pause–a long pause, another sip of coffee. “I wouldn’t.” *6 But we’re not a bit scared, just careful. Don’t worry, Mom.

Bolivar, looking haughtily
over his shoulder at me

When the work day is over, there’s lots to do here, in and out of the teacher bubble. Last night was poker with the fellas. I was a surprise winner, coming home with enough to buy a blender at Caracas’ inflated housewares prices. That’s all I was thinking about: Papi needs a new blender. C’mon baby, show the full house to Papi for the blender. *7 A few nights ago, it was short-court indoor soccer (terrible–the other guys were either British or kids who grew up playing sand-lot ball in Peru) and basketball (better–there’s not a lot of basketball in England, it turns out).

I walked one afternoon to the broad pedestrian mall down the street, where I saw the same things you see everywhere: teens breakdancing to bad music in the plaza, terrified children bawling on rickety carnival rides set up in a sunny corner, couples simultaneously holding hands and texting (each other?). When I came home, I chatted with my apartment doorman/security guard about it. Jose says I can go down there and have a good time, as long as I’m back by 8:00. Or 9:00 if I promise to take a cab back. Delincuencia, he says. *8 

My friends (and official school Buddies) Chris and Jess took me yesterday to El Hatillo, a nice old-town neighborhood not far from here. It’s one of the few remaining historic districts in Caracas, and locals flock to its charming square, with obligatory statue of Bolivar. They also spend like crazy at the many handicraft and t-shirt shops behind the colorful adobe facades. Overlooking the square, on a hillside far above, is one of the barrios, or slums, that suffered badly during last year’s torrential rains and floods. Thousands lost their homes.

On a happier note: school starts tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it. A few kids have been wandering the halls already, like scouts for the advancing army. But this is a welcome force–we’re ready and happy to see them. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(Remember, if you’d like to subscribe to this blog, use the form in the upper-right of this page, where you can enter your email address and get a note whenever I update. Not a requirement, but it might be a convenience for you. [If I get over 100 subscribers, I’ll get a little cash prize, enough to get a thermos mug for my new-blender smoothies!] *9)


*1 You might remember the much-hyped Television Event back in ’83, “The Day After.” It was a Very Special Film about a nuclear-war holocaust somewhere in America’s Heartland (there were a lot of Capital Letters back in the ’80s.) School counselors around the country were on full alert for waves of terrified, disturbed kids to show up the next day in their classrooms. Didn’t happen. Terrible movie.

*2 That’s not really true, about the printing. Mostly, this is a paperless school, and I’m pretty impressed with how much teachers in the high school do with technology, making almost all their materials available to students online.

*3 That’s not really true, about who i.d.’d the keys. It was my friend Chris, who has lived in Venezuela a year already, and who seems to be a kind of Key Whisperer, taming the most unruly ring.

*4 Or maybe they’ll be keys in some more metaphorical way,  cf. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, where the young hero searches for the lock to match a mystery key, and in the process unlocks his own little heart.

*5 Think a younger Bruce Willis in Die Hard, a modest and weary John McClane who’s seen things. Things he doesn’t want to talk about, but will, if you press him. Also, he’ll kick your ass.

*6 Was he thinking about that time in Mogadishu? The harrowing escape in Yemen? The night his gun jammed and he was left with only his wits and fists in a dark Afghan alley?

*7 Seriously, this was a surprise. I’m a terrible poker player, but I read wikipedia on Texas Hold-Em before the game, and I played with a combination of newly web-won strategy and some good cards. Maybe not the best introduction to a group of veteran teachers: “Hey guys, I’m new here. Give me all your money.”

*8 That’s one of those words that works better in Spanish than English. A “delinquent,” in English, is like a kid from the ’50s who skips school, maybe steals a candy bar from the corner store. My grandfather called people “delinquents.” Here, it means motorcyclists who cut through rush-hour traffic looking for drivers on cellphones, who they can rob. Anyway, that’s what John McClane says (see *5).

*9 Not true. Total lie.


3 thoughts on “The Day Before (See Footnotes)

  1. OK–I am on board here, but I have high expectations–the Turkey blog was A-to-the-wesome. Things are cool and mellow here in the Heart of the Heart of it all. I'm totally rooting for you. xoPetePS: TFB removed and stole the apostrophe/quotation mark key from my laptop. Amazing what she is capable of.

  2. i subscribed! i also taught my mom what a "mom joke" is. she was appalled.have a great first day of school! mine's 8/24… i'll keep you are probably the worst delinquent in caracas,jen

  3. Awesome. I love when Marines are allowed to give orientations. When I was in Russia the Marine who gave me my security brief told me to beware of the Turkey Drop and always date NATO. I only hope you were given the same sound advice.

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