Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Voggy Valentine

Vog = smog + fog - a few letters and + one. Easier: volcanic air polution.

A volcano north of us (the tippy-toppiest one of the Marianas that starts with an "A," is errupting. Yesterday, the air smelled sulphuric.

Today is Valentine's Day. On the mainland, it's still the thirteenth, so you probably aren't in a sugar coma yet. My Aunt Sharon sent me an entire package of V-Day decorations and candy, cushioned by a gallons-worth of foam heart stickers, of which I have one remaining: on my face. School parties are a bit tiring. There's the prep, like blowing up balloons. And I hope it's the vog that made that so difficult and not a seriously diminished lung capacity, because I had to sit down halfway through my first and last balloon. (Thank you, first period, for coming to my aid).

This is, perhaps, the first Valentine's that I have felt giddy with love for everybody. Candygrams came flooding into various students all the day long, everyone was in high spirits. All of my classes signed a pink banner that last period carried to the office to hang on the bulletin board. Three of the boys asked if they could bring their ukelelis to play for the principle. Sure. We arrived to the office, and the principle, who was having a late lunch with his wife, suggested we find the vice principle near the library . . . who was entertaining a member of the Board of Education.


Miss Elkins (now wondering if this were a wise idea) and her troop crossed campus and found our audience.

It turned out to be magical. We all stood in a circle, and listened to a song about what the speaker would do for his lover if he had all the money in the world. But the refrain was nothing that money could buy.

As we walked back across the field, I looked back to the students singing as they came and found that it was quite easy to breathe. In fact, I think I could have tackled that balloon with ease.

Love you all.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The main themes

Third period, Giqo asked if I would help him write a poem about eczema.

“Let me guess, it has to rhyme, and it’s for your fourth period health class?” He snapped his fingers with a smile, found out.

Another student in second period had asked me to look at her poem . . . at least she had already written it. Lot’s of suffering and isolation—I can’t even remember what disease she had written about, just that the speaker was on the verge of death and no one appreciated him. I forget how much high schoolers love drama. For the poetry slam in November, the winner did a teary performance about someone wishing she could come back from the grave after dying in a drunk-driving accident. Ah, if only such steep tragedy had half as much literary quality as it does exclamation points.

At lunch, I walked across the “Sahara,” the rambling grass field between my building and the library, to Ben’s ceramic studio. I passed students eating beneath the trees where I took my fourth period to read Beowulf the last time the power went. They sit in clusters, some wishing they were in other clusters, some all alone together, some all alone. Any high school anywhere.

I was carrying a manila folder with things for the librarian to laminate, things that are a lovely cross-section of what I get teach. The thirty-one rules of courtly love (for an AP exercise in which each student took a rule and wrote a scenario, Cyrano-de-Bergerac-style, in which it would apply), a page from Vogue showing a slew of runway fashions inspired by medieval armor (for The Canterbury Tales), and three of the best flyers last semester’s students designed for their performances of Macbeth.

When I arrived at the studio, Ben and P.E. teacher Glen were watching a muted basketball tournament alternatively with the presidential debates. Glen discovered a lady who makes Thai soup for three dollars. You pick it up in knotted bags: one with the noodles, one with the broth and greens. Two smaller bags tied come together: one with vinegar seasoning and the other with salted chilis.

As I walked back to my room beneath the covered walkways—it had started raining—I passed the senior boys singing island songs to ukulele. They sing beautifully, and I always stop to listen. I don’t have to understand Chamorro to know that they are singing of the same things we study in literature, the same things they like to write and read poems about. Life, love, loss.

Such is every day. Such is a Friday at Saipan Southern High School.

Anna, athletic?

On Martin Luther King weekend, islanders could be seen driving by a baseball field to see grown men in pink tutu’s limping in flippers to hit a volleyball they couldn’t see through their goggles.

Context. That weekend, I took the ferry to Tinian to join twenty other contestants in a volleyball championship. Which, me being me, is funny enough. Funnier: it is the Rudy Rudiger Volleyball Championship.

Now there’s the difference. At the opening of every game, one player from each team had to run up to the net and chug a beer. Whoever finished first could chose court side or first serve. If the other team served a ball and it touched the ground in bounds, your team had to chug a beer in thirty seconds, or . . . (I was never sure about the “or”, thankfully, my two teammates were both seasoned beer-bongers in their forties, and they always managed to come in well under twenty seconds. Bravo, boys).

And it’s a game in which the better you are, the worse you get. Example: if you make two good serves in a row, you might have to wear a flipper on your hand, serve from your knees, or don a pair of snorkel goggles with the left eye magic-markered black. If you spike that ball, you might get tied at the waist by a ten-foot rope to your team mate. If you argue the score with the ref (likely a team member you just beat in the last game), you get to wear a sumo-wrestler’s wig or a green princess dress. Even I did well enough to don many of the assorted handicaps at one time or another.

Surprisingly, none of the locals were interested in joining the tournament. They preferred to watch a field of expatriates, gowns and wigs blowing in the trade winds of January, downing beer and devouring cheddar Pringles for sustenance. And I thought I’d have a relaxing weekend with lots of time reading on the beach.

My weekend warrior-edness continued. Last Saturday, Rebecca, fellow English teacher Autumn, and I went sea kayaking from Autumn’s house down to Sugar Dock where we all often swim after work. You could spot me a mile off in hat and sunshirt, as ever. It was a crystalline day and the lagoon felt more like open ocean, with swells you could glide to shore on.

And tonight, it looks like I’ll be doing my first hash run with the Saipan Hash House Harriers. This sort of hash is not to be confused with a condensed form of a certain weed but is rather a creation of frat-boy track runners once upon a college. The island version involves a someone called a “hare” who hacks a trail through the jungle that the harriers run through . . . .

My default being inertia, I was about to say I'd rather be on that beach with a book. But although I won't be seen jumping from an airplane any time soon, adventure is beginning to get to me.