India Choquette is a writer, a trainer, a teacher, a breakfast sandwich eater, a person in love with a person, and a FOrmer Vermonter living in New York City.

Things Other Than April Fools

It took me until almost 9:30am today to remember it was April Fools. I had breakfast with S., commuted, and saw my first client without even thinking about it. I even saw some snippets of the news and read another chapter in my book without it occurring to me. Here are the things I remembered before I remembered the holiday:

1.       I get paid today.

2.       Rent will be withdrawn tomorrow.

3.       We have a month until we move.

4.       I have one month left of teaching at Columbia and Barnard for the Spring semester.

5.       Did I miss any due dates for submissions?

6.       I have two weeks until S. and I celebrate another month-versary. (Yes, we celebrate every month. Leave us alone.)

I have never done anything epic for April Fools. In middle school, my friend tried to organize our class to stand up and salute the clock at a certain minute mark. She thought it would be funny if, without explanation, we all did it simultaneously. The teacher would be the target. I don’t think we did. I can’t remember, but I have a feeling most of us, myself included, didn’t like drawing anymore attention to ourselves. Existence was already painful enough. Plus, we were all scared of our teachers just a little.

Well, every teacher except one: Mr. S., our math teacher.

There was an urban legend, or local legend, about some kids who released two pigs into their school’s hallways. The pigs were labels “1” and “3”, and the entire staff spent the day searching for number 2. We thought that was brilliant.

But the logistics of pranks always got to me. Even then, I was already overscheduled (part time job, running, two households) and hated planning anything. I already had to plan how many pairs of underwear I needed when I left my dad’s for my mom’s. And I was always forgetting an important notebook or my track uniform at the other house. Planning was the worst.

I’ve never even planned a birthday party for myself. At that age, I had homework, yes, but if we are really being honest, I didn’t spend more than an hour on homework at night. I had zero qualms about cutting corners. I remember that the answers to our homework questions were printed in the back our math textbooks.

The theory was that if we couldn’t check our answers, how could we know if we were doing the problem properly? The teachers required us to show our work, yes, but it was easy to look at the answer first and then solve. Solving a+b=x when you can just plug in x from the beginning.

There were always kids that would get incorrect answers in math, and that blew my mind. Who were these kids who were straight up too lazy to look in the back of their books? I think it has to do with parenting. My mother taught me that my time was valuable, and to this day, if I have any kind of safety video training, which I sometimes do for CPR or work place harassment, I fast forward to the end and guess the answers until I get them correct. That may make me a horrible person, but I don’t have time to worry about it.

My middle school math teacher would have been the perfect person to prank. He was a former success, but in midlife, had decided that his life would be better spent educating the next generation. What a jerk. His mother in law was a former governor of the state of Vermont, the first woman governor. That impressed my mother a lot, and she mentioned that to me on the phone just the other day. “Remember Mr. S? His mother-in-law was the first woman governor.” It wasn’t a total non sequitur because she saw her speaking at the state house. Mom emailed me pictures after. They were blurry and from a bad angle.

Anyway, Mr. S. lived a few towns away in a much nicer town. But, unfortunately for him, he was an avid biker and would ride to work. It wasn’t bad that he biked. I mean, the rednecks would never do anything so stupid, but there were a good number of hippie kids like me. It was that he wore the Biking Outfit. My boyfriend’s dad called them “Unisex Bikers” because he claimed you couldn’t tell their gender in their ridiculous skin tight elastic gear.

This was also a different time and different place. Girls would violate dress code if they wore leggings as pants. My mom and I used to talk about how gross it was to wear just leggings. How it left nothing to the imagination. We might not have said exactly that, but something close. Now, I wear leggings 99% of the time. Funny how times change.

Mr. S.’s biking outfit was red, ,silver, and black. Maybe there was some yellow in there. I can still picture him carrying his super expensive lightweight bicycle up to his classroom. He also wore a helmet. Setting an example. He’d change, of course, into his teaching uniform: a button up shirt (often with a grid on it) and a tie. But I wish I could have told him about the drama he created: a middle aged man in skin tight clothes. The boys didn’t respect him, and the girls all claimed to be grossed out.

In his class, the advanced class, we finished the whole textbook in half a year. The rest of the time, he taught us about Fibonacci and music. He loved me because I loved opera, and we could talk math and music. He was so surprised that this bumpkin of a girl, who wore overalls and eye makeup, had a favorite opera, Turandot.

When my sister and I were tiny, Mom listened to opera while she painted. She would tell my sister and I the plot as we sat on the floor drawing on our own little notepads. “They cut his head off,” could take twenty to thirty minutes of music. She would play The Nutcracker, too, and J. and I would put on our tutus and dance around on our unfinished plywood floors. We loved Peter and the Wolf. We developed a taste for Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, the Temptations, and Mozart.

Mr. S. was one of the better teachers I’ve had. But everyone other than me hated him. I remember a group of parents complained because we had finished the curriculum too fast, because he was going “off script.” He showed me the breakdown of a seashell swirl and the Fibonacci sequence. That is one of the only things I remember learning in math class: that there was some beautiful logic and design behind everything we touched. That the world was a puzzle full of infinite meaning and patterns and connections.

I believe the school assigned him a mentor teacher or something equally patronizing. I’m sure he took it in stride. He had left a better career—better in terms of money, that is—to teach a bunch of little assholes. When you are that kind of person, you can’t be intimidated by learning. His ego was secure enough to wear a leotard to a middle school, for chrissakes. He was fine.

I’m not sure how to relate this back to April Fools. I guess Mr. S. was the kind of teacher kids considered a pushover, and he was the perfect target to prank. He’s the only one I would have considered actually following along for the saluting the clock prank. It’s funny how people pick their victims. It seems the more genuine a person is, the better a target.

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