Ten minutes after leaving my house I regret not taking the motorcycle. The light morning drizzle has disappeared, and I envy the occasional cyclist who passes me on I-295. I sign in at Spingarn High School at 8:30 and have 15 minutes to collect myself before assuming my duty post in the hall outside Room 311. I field the usual queries about bus token slips ("No, but I'll get some.") and the days's activities ("Regular bell schedule today.").
Today's classes are well-attended, which is vocabulary development day in my four 10th- grade classes. My students enter this week's 10 new words into their notebooks from the blackboard as I patrol the room admonishing them to dot their i's and cross their t's. My SAT preparation class at fourth period responds with uncharacteristic alacrity to an analogies exercise.
At 3, I remember that I promised the faculty coordinator of this year's talent show that my quartet (The Oreo) would rehearse in the auditorium. Only one of my student singers can be found, so I promise a skeptical Mrs. Williams that we will have our "Sha-na- na" routine down by Thursday's rehearsal.
Monday evening is Kath's one free weeknight, so we have a quiet dinner with the children. While she puts the kids in bed, I review some material for use in class tomorrow.
With an 80 percent chance of rain, I mount my Suzuki and warily cruise into work at 8 a.m. to practice with the Spingarn Concert Choir. Morning rehearsals are difficult for basses, but our choir director, Paul Gatling, puts us through a long warmup of "mums," "hos," and "wees." We're singing at the Capital Centre in two weeks, and rehearsals will be daily.
For my 10th-grade classes, I have planned a two-day lesson on Dickens' "Oliver Twist." The movie will be on TV, and I want my students to watch it with some background about Dickens and early 19th-century England. But the principal calls an "emergency" assembly for all girl students at third period to discuss the consequences of fighting in school. I spend third period rapping with the boys, giving extra credit work and making horrible puns.
As the school day ends, the skies open up. I don my rainsuit and drive through a deluge for 30 minutes, thankful for the plexiglass windshield.
I arrive home just as Kath is preparing to leave for her part-time office job in town. We exchange news, a short kiss, and I become bachelor father for five hours. A pile of uncorrected themes awaits me at my desk. I throw the casserole Kath has fixed into the oven.
After biking in, I meet with the National Honor Society kids and discuss our upcoming induction ceremony. The superintendent wishes to attend, so we're trying to get a date from her office.
Choir practice at 3. We have a new piece to learn, so I ask Paul to record the bass part for me -- the only way I can compensate for not being able to attend the choir class sixth period. I stumble through "The Last Words of David," a tricky piece, knowing I'll have to listen to the tape at home to learn my part well.
Kath has already left for work when I get home. A neighbor takes the kids when there's going to be a short gap between my arrival and her departure. Kevin's sitter arrives, and Amanda and I drive to our group piano lesson in McLean. She has practiced, and does well. I lurch through the notes and ask the instructor's patience and forgiveness -- I'll practice harder next week.
Then it's back to the house to drop off Amanda, and I rush to an hour of choir rehearsal at Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
Choir practice is at 8, and as the Suzuki wobbles past the Blue Plains treatment plant in crawling traffic, I know I'll be late. My voice feels raw from last night's hour of hallelujahs. Traffic breaks free just north of the Bolling AFB exit, and I get to work at 8:15. Having missed the warmup, I'm not prepared to hit some of the higher bass notes and simply fake it.
In homeroom, I'm besieged by requests to unlock the girls' bathroom, which is across from my room. In requesting 311 this year -- my room last year was a horror of antiquated desks and windows that wouldn't open -- I didn't consider the problem of having the girls' lavatory so close. Our security people lock the lavatory door each time they pass, and with minutes I'm accosted by girls with every urologic disfunction known to medicine all pleading, "But it's an emergency, Mr. Reid!" To argue would disrupt my classes more than would opening the door.
Getting through "Oliver Twist" is not as painful as I expected; my students actually seem interested in talking about the Industrial Revolution and its effects upon Victorian England. Such heady stuff is interrupted during the third period by a fight between two girls down the hall. I run down the hall to assist in breaking it up, silently praying it ends before I get there. Luckily, it does. I know one of the girls, and I'm surprised that she would be involved in a hallway brawl. A security person, his ear glued to his walkie- talkie, hustles Brenda down to the office.
My afternoon classes go smoothly, and at 3 I scour the building for the rest of The Oreo quartet. I can only find one, the always dependable Sherwin. We discuss what song we'll sing in tomorrow's show. "Get a Job" and "The Duke of Earl" had been considered earlier, but it's too late to rehearse songs that complicated. Sherwin suggests "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight." It's simple, and the audience will recognize it from the old Sha- na-na show. We vow to practice tomorrow after lunch (after theirs, during mine). I am getting very nervous about getting our act together.
Yet another 8 a.m. choir rehearsal. We run through several numbers which we will sing next month in a joint concert with the Howard University Gospel Choir, which Paul directs.
My early classes get their regular Friday spelling and vocabulary quiz, but at the outset of the third period we're told over the intercom to evacuate the building. A fire has either been set or has started from spontaneous combustion in a small storage room off an old, unused chemistry lab down the hall from my room.
My students are elated as we troop down the stairs. It's pleasant outside, and the late morning sun feels good. From across the street we watch dense smoke pour from an open window. The fire engines arrive within minutes, and the firemen in their dirty yellow coats are all business, commanding us to move down the block.
Damage from the fire is slight, but the third floor smells terrible and we're told to stay clear of that level until sixth period, two hours from now. I usually have lunch in my room, but today go to the lounge. Colleagues are there whom I hardly see during the year because of our conflicting schedules, so it's like a small reunion.
Sixth and seventh periods are sparsely attended because many of the kids went home after the fire. Those who stayed are put out that I'm still going to give the test.
At 3, I meet with my quartet in the auditorium. The boys sing bass with me in the choir, so we at least have fairly solid voices with which to do an 11th hour rehearsal. We run through our song twice. We're not the Platters, but we're not bad, either.
I hurry home and hastily throw together a costume for the performance tonight: black loafers, white socks, black pants pegged with straight pins, white T-shirt rolled up at the sleeves, '50-ish "shades" and a garish gold chain which droops down one pant leg. I meet my group back at Spingarn and we change into costume. The finishing touches to my "look" are a large red heart tatoo on my left arm and a duck-tailed hairdo, greased and sprayed until it's immovable.
The crowd is large, and as all the acts wait backstage I experience a few butterflies. The student performers are incredulous over my appearance: I look like a cross betwee warmup, I'n the Fonz and Mr. Rogers. Students rarely see teachers out of character, and I wonder if my straight image (the Suzuki notwithstanding) will suffer permanent damage from this lapse into fantasy.
We're sixth on the bill, and follow some very talented routines. Spingarn has a lot of student talent, and some of these kids sound like pros. When the curtain opens and "The Oreo" prances out, the audience goes wild. We do "Goodnight, Sweetheart" almost without a hitch, and the kids applaud and scream as Stanley's rumbling bass goes into its last "dip-did-dih, dip-did-dih, dip-daw-w-w!"
In three minutes, it's over. As we leave the stage I glance down at the judges' table with its monstrous gold trophies. The judges are from outside Spingarn, and includes a local DJ.
I quickly change, thank my singers for a great job and leave. We're having an old friend over for a drink. Around 11, a colleague who also performed calls to say The Oreo won first prize. I'm stunned. Amanda, still not asleep, is very excited. So Kath, Larry and I toast my new show biz career.