Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 35

Negative Information

    For a short period, while the others were patrolling, dancing, or going to the rest room, Tim sat alone in his chair. It was getting uncomfortable, so he stood up and looked around. A lot of the girls weren’t particularly attractive, but some were. In particular, there was a tall black girl dancing with a boy who might have been the local Enoch. They danced expertly, but relatively conservatively, in a way that was dignified, and even elegant. She had on a loosely cut dress with a hem slightly above her knees, and seemed to move and twist inside it. Tim knew that he would never have anyone like that himself, but it was a delight to watch her.

     Tim then sat with Meredith and Jane Heber as they arrived from different directions. He had already realized that Meredith was more spontaneous than she had been previously, and she suddenly asked, “Why aren’t we all social workers?”

Jane replied, “A teacher like myself in a school like this isn’t that far from being a social worker. Why do you ask?”

“Since the recent departure of my former boy friend and Enoch’s pending retirement from football, we don’t have anyone in our group who does anything superlatively well. That is, well enough to justify one’s existence on that basis alone. That being the case, all that remains is to help other people. Social workers, and probably teachers, are the ones who most obviously attempt to do that.”

Tim had always thought of social work as an extremely dismal vocation, and he now said, “My picture of a social worker is one who’s assigned a large case load, and who has to deal, most of the time, with people who can’t be helped very much in any meaningful way.”

Jane said, “That’s often true. There’s a tendency to dump the most difficult people, if not in jail, into the social worker’s lap.”

Meredith replied, “Okay. There’s no point in trying to scale Mt. Everest with coat hangers instead of ice axes. But, then, why aren’t we all teachers?”

Jane replied, “There are a few charismatic school teachers, like my Samoan colleague, who almost glory in it. But, for most of us, much of the time, it’s close to drudgery. In particular, I wonder if any of you would have the necessary patience. As in repeating the same thing to the same students a dozen times a week.”

“How does your Samoan friend handle that?”

“He does lose patience. He told one boy that he was ugly, and that his mama dressed him ‘funky.’ That solved the immediate problem, but none of the rest of us could get away with that.”

Tim replied, “I couldn’t do that either. Quite apart from that, I don’t think I’d be a good teacher.”

Meredith agreed, “Tim is just too diffident and questioning of himself.”

Jane nodded, and said, “Strong people can afford to question themselves. But kids don’t look beneath the surface. If you’re a reflective person, you have to have a false persona which doesn’t allow any questioning of anything.”

Meredith replied, “I bet I wouldn’t last a week as a teacher.”

Jane made a dismissive gesture, but Tim noticed that she didn’t deny the assertion. It was becoming clear to him that there wasn’t a single person in their group, including Jimmy, who would be able to do what Jane did. He replied, “We did have it in mind, when we came out here, to be educators of a kind. But we’re now thinking of educating only a few persons at a time.”

“That would multiply your chances of success.”

“Yes. However, we’ve been around kayak instructors who deal with small groups, often single individuals. Their teaching sessions are successful, but the students often don’t come back.”

“My teaching sessions often aren’t successful, but the students are forced to come back.”

They all laughed at the absurdity of it all. Jane then said, “In any case, you people shouldn’t be discouraged. You’ve done wonderful things with Chris. I’ve never seen him so happy.”

Meredith replied, “It’s the others who’ve done that. I’ve just come back to the city, and I’m trying to build myself up after a breakdown. I divide my consciousness in a Zoroastrian way between good thoughts and bad ones. If I expand the one, and minimize the other, I’m okay.”

“Well, that’s an accomplishment. And not a small one, either.”

“But there’s going to have to be something that isn’t just turned inward.”

“If I were young and starting out, I might think less about educating young people than in keeping them from making serious mistakes.”

“Like getting addicted to drugs?”

“That’s the extreme case. That, and the girls getting pregnant. But I had in mind such things as making poor career choices, pairing up with the wrong people, and so on. Things which aren’t necessarily bad in themselves, but which are bad for the particular persons.”

That caught Tim’s attention. He had thought only of doing positive things to help people. But, it might be that people would help themselves if they didn’t start out with serious mistakes. He replied, “Career choices seem to be bad only if you get sucked into continuing something you know to be mistaken. That’s happened to some extent with Enoch. But he’s out now.”

“How about you?”

“I’m out, too. No question.”

“I was thinking of more mundane careers. I don’t really want to switch, but I know a lot of teachers who should have switched when they had the chance. Even so, they’re better off than the people with bad marriages cemented by children.”

Meredith broke in, “We girls who’ve just been dumped aren’t likely to climb back into the dump-truck anytime soon.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No need, really. Perhaps I’ve been cured. At least of that.”

It seemed to Tim that Meredith was revealing more of herself to a relative stranger than a normal person would. But it was all right. Jane didn’t seem to mind. Tim was sure that this wasn’t the first time she had heard such things. While Meredith was perhaps a bit euphoric, she had a slightly apologetic look as she spread her hands and concluded, with a little smile, “Anyhow, we’ll manage somehow.”

      The other teacher-chaperone joined them at that point, and reported, “I’ve been prowling around, but everyone seems to be under some sort of control.”

Jane responded to her, “That’s heartening news.”

“We’d better not boast about it on Monday. We might be detailed to do it again.”

Jane then said to Tim, “It’s never been made clear to us exactly what we’re supposed to do if things do get out of control.”

The other teacher replied, “I’m for calling the police, going into the teachers’ rest room, and locking the door.”

      Before this subject could be explored further, the dance ended. When the other two couples came back, Enoch announced, “Diana and I are going to England for a couple of months. I’ve just got too many people hounding me here, and, over there, no one will know who I am.”

Jane remarked, “Stay away from American ex-pats. They follow sports here religiously.”

Diana replied, “The moment we hear an American accent, we’ll speed in the opposite direction.”

It was apparently something that had been decided during the last dance. And, of course, something like three quarters of those present had been intermittently staring at them. Perhaps that had done it.

     When Tim was alone with Enoch a little later, Enoch said, “Fame is bullshit.”

“People seem to eat it up like crazy.”

“It was great the first time I was famous and went home. I could snigger at all the people who thought I’d be worthless and in jail. That included my mother.”


“However, it was like having your team win a game. It just doesn’t do you any good.”

“Such fame as I’ve had certainly hasn’t done me any good.”

      The journey to take Chris home, with the same seating arrangement, was as jolly as anyone could have wished. When they all tumbled out, Tim looked in the mirror to see if Sharon kissed Chris good-night. In fact, she did. Not the exaggerated teen-aged version of the ritual, but something a little more than sisterly.

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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