Friday, December 14, 2012

Making Sense of the Senseless

I first became at least vaguely aware of the tragedy in Connecticut this morning when, as my wife texted me to let me know she was safely landed in New York she mentioned, ever so briefly, "There was a shooting at an elementary school in CT."

Embroiled as I was all day in the usual string of emergencies that is my job as a high school administrator, I couldn't follow the story as closely as I would have liked.  At one point, at the end of the day, I caught a glimpse of President Obama on my secretary's computer.  As he fought back tears, describing the collective grief of his nation, I began to understand, for the first time, and in a very real, very visceral way, the severity of the situation.  I could see it on Mr. Obama's face.  His very demeanor made me understand the loss our country suffered today.

The real emotional work came when I picked up my sons from school.  As I said, their mother had arrived in New York earlier in the day, so the task of talking with them about what had happened fell on me alone.  Normally, Jeanette and I would have gotten together and discussed this first.  Today I didn't have that option.  I think my children knew, almost immediately, how heartbroken I was, and, before setting off in the car, I told them I needed to talk to them about something serious and horrible, and that I needed them to listen.

This got their attention, and both looked at me from the back seat of my car, a bit of fear in their expressions, as they strapped into their seat belts, just as they do each and every day I pick them up behind their school.

"A man went into a school today and killed some people, people who had done nothing wrong.  A lot of people died, including children."

I was a little shocked by my own words, and by how matter-of-fact they came out.  It was as though I needed these two boys to know that I was in control, that I was still their father.

And that they were safe.

The questions came fast and hard, one after the other.  "Who was he?"  "Why did he do that?"  "Is he still alive?"  "Will he come here?"

I did my best to answer all the questions, and I found this last one most interesting of all.  "No, Jackson,  he's not coming here.  He's dead now.  And you guys are safe in your school.  Your teachers make sure you're always safe."

We do lockdown drills at my school, just as they do at every single public school in the United States.  Always, there are those teachers who take it a little less seriously -- I had to speak to one recently, who seemed somehow put-upon as I asked him to find a classroom and hide with the students and teachers, instead of making the photocopies that were so important to him at that moment.  I suspect our next drill will be taken more seriously now.  I don't know how effective these drills are, but we do what we can, and I can do nothing more than hold my sons tight, tell them I love them, and reassure them that as their father I will do all I can to keep them safe.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Judge Number One, Daniela Fuchilicious
As soon as I put in my falsies last Friday, I knew I’d made a mistake.  They were too perky for a man of my age – not to mention I’d neglected to buy a brassiere, thus allowing the gals to float around like cosmonauts in the International Space Station.  (I eventually chose to "go natural," scrapping the falsies.)  In addition, I’d failed to anticipate how hot I would be in my XXL, ankle-length dress I’d just purchased at Goodwill, so I immediately sweated through it. 

Sitting backstage, waiting to go on as Judge Number 1 in the first annual Raiders and Tiaras pageant, I did find myself having second thoughts.  I wasn’t the least attractive man in drag, sitting back there.  In fact two of the three other staff members (who I won’t name here) were downright – well, I don’t want to be unkind.  Let’s just say they looked like people you might wake up next to in the local lockup’s drunk tank, just before being called in to appear in night court. 

Many of my colleagues have given me the impression, although they were too polite to say it out loud, that they felt it was a foolish move for me to agree to appear in drag in front of three hundred students and their families.  But you know what?  I disagree, and I do so for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, this was a charity event, raising money for a cause about which I care as an educator, our PALS program, which trains our students to mentor and otherwise work with younger kids.  I don’t have any real data to back this up, but I’ll just bet you that when students found out there was an opportunity to see one of their male assistant principals in ladies’ clothing, it caused some to shell out the five dollars that got them in the door. 

My second reason for choosing to dress up as a woman was because I am a lover of the theatre, and have always been a frustrated actor.  If you ever get an opportunity to see a video of my performance as Daniela Fuchilicious, Judge Number One of the first-annual Raiders and Tiaras pageant, (and I hope that you do) you’ll see a full-on character, start to finish.  I did work on my character, and anyone who’s ever taken an acting class knows what I’m talking about.  Indeed, those of you who have studied theatre know that there is a long, rich history of male actors appearing in female roles on stage.  The Greeks did it, and so did Shakespeare. 

So there.

Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret:  This was not my first time.  It was my third.  The first time was when I was 20.  My girlfriend and I were living in Provincetown, Massachusetts for the summer.  Provincetown is replete with drag queens, some of them world renowned.  We did it for no other reason than pure boredom.  As I remember it, the day was rainy, and we began with an outfit, then the makeup.  Amazingly, I fit into her clothes, and, in the end, I’d say I looked, well, kind of pretty. 

Fast forward ten years, and picture a staff and student Halloween fashion show in a tiny, alternative high school in New York City.  My advisory group came up with the idea, and they collaborated on a garish costume, with huge hind quarters and breasts, and overdone makeup.  They called me Juwakateema, and I embraced the part – sprinting around our tiny lounge, my dress billowing like a multi-colored sail behind me – much to the delight of my students and horror of a couple of colleagues. 
Interesting, now that I think of it, how I’ve appeared in drag every ten years for the past thirty years.  

The first time I was “kind of pretty,” the second I was “garish,” and this time I was “not the ugliest.”  I shudder to think what 2022 may bring.