THE AYATOLLAH is holding hostages and the price of oil is going to go up and U.S. Steel is laying off thousands and poor women have to pay for abortions and Lynn Brice Rooney, 30 years old and the owner of a Pinto with a busted water pump, cannot get her paycheck out of the District's school system.
Her problem, you have to admit, is different from the others. The others can be solved.
Lynn Brice Rooney teaches at the Ellington School for the Performing Arts. She is an hourly employe and what she does is teach kids something called movement for actors. This is the way actors are supposed to move on the stage. If you have a school for the arts, this is what you teach kids.
She was hired in September. She was hired by the principal, a nice man who has supported her every step of the way. She was hired to teach movement and this she did even though she had not really, truly, officially been hired. It was a matter of paper work. This form had to be signed and that form had to be forwarded and she had to have a TB test. Person called person and her file was on the move. It went from office to office but most of the time it just sat. By the end of November, Lynn Brice Rooney had been teaching since September. But as far as the school system is concerned, she does not exist.
Lynn Brice Rooney has taught elsewhere. She has taught at the University of Maryland and the National Cathedral School and Montgomery College. She knows about paper work. She talks the language of forms and as she speaks you can see envelopes being opened and papers being time-stamped and then things being put into files. You see people writing in corners of the papers and then going out to lunch and then someone coming by to pick up the files and take them somewhere. At the moment, the file on Lynn Brice Rooney has been picked up and it is gone.
It would be interesting to bug the file -- to put something on it like one of those radios you put on porpoises to track them. It would be wonderful to know where the file is all the time and then ask someone how come 10 days have passed and nothing has been done. You could do a film about it called "File." It would be a horror film. It could star the District of Columbia's school system.
Maybe that is unfair. In New York once, I could no register for summer course in college because the school did not hve the proper form. I needed the course, but they needed their form and so I did not go to school. This made sense to them. Once, I could not get paid at a job because the check-writing machine had been disconnected while the wall got painted.No one could get a check until the wall dried.
I worked for an insurance company. I lost files myself. I was in the Army. The Army loses files in a monumental way. I do business with a bank that loses my checks. I bought furniture from a store that lost my table. Doctors lose sponges in patients and hospitals lose the patients and Lynn Brice Rooney is about to lose her mind.
Lynn Brice Rooney sips a tab. We are having a snack. Lynn Brice Rooney has brown hair.She walks like a dancer. She is well oiled. The District owes her something like $1,000. She gets $12.83 an hour and can't teach more than 10 hours a week. Still, she could use the money. I was on the phone with her when her car, the Pinto, got towed away. By the service station.
When Lynn Brice Rooney calls downtown, people tell her she will be terminated. It is like the CIA in Vietnam. People say that if she does not get a certain form into them by a certain time, she will be terminated -- blat! blat! All the time, no one has asked her about her kids, the ones she teaches. No one has asked what would happen to the kids if Lynn Brice Rooney gets terminated. She is waiting for them to ask. Her principal asks. Her principal has fought for her. Maybe downtown they will terminate him, too.
For a time, three teachers were not getting paid. Now it is only Lynn Brice Rooney. All three stopped teaching for a while to see if that would matter. It didn't. Now they are all teaching again. Even Lynn Brice Rooney. She has been told she will be paid soon. They even said the check is in the mail.
Lynn Brice Rooney teaches movement for actors. I think I know what that is. It is not the sort of things lots of people can teach. There are no substitutes. When Lynn Brice Rooney does not teach, then no one teaches. The kids do nothing. The kids stand around. No one downtown seems to care about that. Downtown, they think in files. Lynn Brice Rooney is depressed but then she gets a thought. She smiles. She sees the answer.
"I can't wait for that baby to drop," she says.
"What baby? I ask.
"The mayor's" she says, "Four, five years after that, it'll be in school. Then they'll find the files."
She has a point. But it's a long time to wait for a check.