Robert Gallagher, WakeRecognition
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Sunday, November 15, 2020
My father must have had a hundred jokes. That sounds good but actually there are three hundred sixty five days in a year. And he told more than one joke per day.
When I was ten, I spent a lot of time in the math lab and the teacher's lounge at Northwood High School, where my father worked. He was the Math Resource Teacher by that time. The position gave him a bit of extra money and responsibility. He got to plan the math class schedules, hire teachers, and assign them to classes.
One day, a medium-tall black man walked into the lab. He had on a suit jacket and glasses. He asked me who I was and then ignored me while I played. When my dad walked in a few minutes later, the man greeted my father with a big handshake and a smile.
"I got the transfer," he said. "I'm already teaching history."
"Good," said my father. "How do you like it?"
"Way better than math." They both got a big laugh out of that.
I asked why the man didn't like math. At ten, I thought it was fine enough. My father responded with some sort of joke. He would never have explained it, I guess, not to a ten year old. It was the black man who spoke up.
"No one in the county would hire me," he said. "But a friend of mine told me about your dad. Your dad got me in the system. I had to teach math for a year. But I always wanted to be a history teacher. Once I was in the system, I transferred. See, I could even transfer to where they didn't want me."
"They need history teachers there, too," said my dad.
"Your father is doing a good thing."
By this point, I sensed an adult-world sort of mystery. There was something going on that they hadn't explained. I kept asking. It took them a few minutes more to fully reveal my father's method. It wasn't something my father would have told me on his own. But the other man thought it was important. He insisted. In fact, he did most of the telling.
At the time, the county teacher hiring forms went through one woman in the central office. It wasn't that this woman controlled the decisions, really, just that the paperwork all went through her. She refused to process the hiring of black teachers for any place that she didn't consider a black school. That meant there were hardly any black teachers hired each year, sometimes none.
My father didn't have the ability to hire black History teachers or English teachers or foreign language teachers. However, the county had made an exception for math teachers. As usual, no school could get enough of them. So the local principals and math resource teachers were allowed to hire candidates 'on the spot.' My father's principal had given him the freedom to hire anyone who he wanted. The word got out. Robert Gallagher was hiring blacks at Northwood High School.
Yes, you had to teach math in your first year. After that, you were expected to transfer out to the job you really wanted. Then my father would hire another black teacher and the cycle would start again. It was their way of beating the county hiring system, which was one that wasn't admitting more than the minimum quota of African Americans.
It wasn't a major rebellion on my father's part, I think. He felt that he was doing the right thing and it was nothing more than that. He never said anything more about it aside from that one conversation. He was committing a series of small acts that, by necessity, flew under the radar of everyone except his principal and a few fellow teachers. For a while, one of those teachers he hired, Regina Skyles, did socialize with us and we got to know her family until she transferred. Other than that, the teachers remained co-workers who we, in the rest of the family, never thought about.
For less than a decade in the late sixties and early seventies, my father found it necessary to trick the system a little. Tricks like those were his strength. And mostly, he did them with a laugh.
Sunday, November 8, 2020
|Straight jacket by Rodw, Wikimedia|
This is the scene: a crazy man stands on the edge of a garden, waiting to attack.
Why he waits is hard to know. He stares at Eqbal, the groundskeeper. Eqbal's job is to cut the grass, trim the hedge, and supervise the five supposedly-therapeutic gardens. He kneels, now, in a vegetable patch. He holds a small hand spade in his left hand. The crazy man, whose name is Monroe, stands at the edge of the patch. He is pale and wears a straight-jacket.
The straight-jacket has not become untied. It is simply old, as many of them are at the home. The straps were frayed. Monroe broke out. He popped five straps at the seams, where they had been re-sewn many times. Now they flap as he moves his arms. This is his third time out of a jacket.
Monroe is taller than Eqbal but less massive. The gardener has very strong arms, a lot of bulk. He looks less like a desert Arab and more like a drawing of an old Persian king, except for in his face. His face is plain and, because of it, Eqbal appears slow-witted. He is not. Even some of his friends think he has a dull mind; this is because he does not speak much and is reluctant to act on an impulse. Also, he has not been to school since he was nine. He only came to America on the recommendation of one of his younger brothers. It was this same brother who got him a job at the home.
So Monroe stands trembling, hovering at the edge of the garden, as if waiting for Eqbal to become aware. It would not be fair to say the two do not know each other. Eqbal has often been cruel to Monroe. He has described the horrible things doctors will do, has made faces behind his back, has made hand gestures towards him, and has been a general nuisance. These are all things he does out of fear. Eqbal cannot understand why the violent cases are allowed to live. He does not like his job and, in the morning, trembles at the thought of going to work. His wife tells him he is silly, a coward.
And here a violent man is, free, standing at the edge of the tilled soil. Eqbal, who had been bending over to check a sprout, feels the shadow across his back. He stands up.
He stares at Monroe. In the first second, he thinks, Where did this man come from? Why is there no nurse with him? In another second, he wonders, Is this patient escaping? Why did he come here? To find me?
Monroe trembles. He begins breathing louder. Eqbal can see the terrible, unreasoning rage in those eyes.
Monroe runs into the garden, a mad bull, an animal, swinging his fists for twenty feet before he even gets to Eqbal. When Eqbal gets hit in all this flurry of limbs, it surprises him. It knocks him back a step and turns his vision purple for an instant. Monroe swings again. So Eqbal hits back.
Up to this point in his life, Eqbal has never hit with all the force of his being. This punch is inspired by fear. It has all his concentration. It sends a shiver through his body. Monroe goes down. A second later, he pops back up, swinging all the while, driving Eqbal out of the garden.
A few punches later, flesh stinging, Eqbal says to himself, Enough of this, and hits Monroe again. This punch is like the first one, only more deliberate. Even Monroe notices it; he coughs up a bit of phlegm and falls to one knee. By his knee is the hand-spade. Monroe blinks at it. He picks it up.
Holding the implement like a knife, the patient charges. At last Eqbal knows what to do. He steps to the side as Monroe begins his wide, wild swing. He grabs the offending arm by the wrist and twists, hard. It is an old army move. His reflexes are in action now. He twists and drives Monroe to the ground, slams an open hand to the back of Monroe's elbow, and feels a pop. He thinks he has broken Monroe's arm.
"Drop it," he says. "Drop the knife and I'll let you up." He knows his accent is not good. For a moment, he is afraid the patient cannot understand him.
Monroe thinks about it. His eyes are watery now, not only because his arm nearly snapped but also out of frustration. He strains, kicks, tries to stand, to shake Eqbal off him, but Eqbal is immovably immense. He lets go of the hand-spade.
"Okay." Eqbal grabs the spade and throws it into the bushes, where Monroe will think it is lost but where it can be found later.
While Eqbal throws the gardening tool, Monroe rolls and scrambles, fighting to get to his feet. This isn’t necessary. Eqbal lets him. Once standing, Monroe dashes away toward the trees for three or four large strides. Then he turns around again and rushes back, swinging his fists on the run, at Eqbal.
Eqbal is all army, now. He takes Monroe up, puts him down, hard, on his back, on the ground, on a little piece of shale that bruises Monroe in the middle of his spine. That done, Eqbal steps away. He cannot bring himself to do any more.
Uneasily, Monroe stands. For a moment, he wonders where he is. He feels his need to fight draining away. In its place, a sickly dread arises. The world seems new and terribly uncertain. He wobbles; he cannot believe his legs will not obey him. He makes fists but they feel weak. He is afraid to charge again.
Eqbal studies him, waiting for the attack. He does not accept that Monroe is no longer dangerous until the pale, mop-haired man begins to cry. The tears well up and the sound that comes out of Monroe's mouth is a wail Eqbal has never heard before. It is a sound he does not want to hear, a beastly cry, the cry of a child's voice in a man's body. It is horrible. Yet even after this cry begins, Eqbal cannot believe Monroe is not dangerous. The crazy man leans back and cries to the sky, to himself, to everything.
Eqbal takes half a step forward. Monroe does not move; he only cries. The next few steps are more difficult. Eqbal is trembling. He is still frightened by Monroe but, of course, he has learned he can beat him, can beat all that rage and hatred by sheer, physical force. Eqbal walks forward because he must do something to stop the crying. He holds up a hand; Monroe only cries. He embraces Monroe. Monroe cries.
Then something strange happens. Monroe puts his arms around Eqbal, gently, as if afraid to touch him, afraid to hurt him. He hugs Eqbal and his crying changes. He begins to say the first words he has said in two years, though he and Eqbal have no sense of that.
"Oh God," Monroe says. "Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God."
He keeps repeating it. The words have become his litany, his wailing. His hug grows tighter and tighter still, until Eqbal is trembling under it. He is amazed by the strength in Monroe's arms and further amazed that he is not hurt by it. Monroe continues to say Oh God, Oh God as he cries. Eqbal wails along with him. It is too horrible for one person, alone, to be as sad as this.
Out the window of her office, the Chief Psychologist sees Eqbal and Monroe embrace. It takes her a moment to realize what it is because most of what she sees is Eqbal's huge back.
She drops her fork and part of her carry-out Szechuan Chicken lunch. Coincidently, the words she utters to herself are, "Oh God." This comes when she recognizes Monroe for who and what he is. She prides herself on knowing many case files by heart and she knows instantly this is the first friendly contact Monroe has made in years. A breakthrough has been made. She rushes out of her office and down the stairs.
Monroe seems better for a few days. He talks, though he does not form complete sentences. He eats his meals with a fork and takes his medication orally. There is no repeat of the hugging incident. He refuses to let the doctors touch him. When his relatives come to visit, he becomes violent. He blackens his father's eye. The old man is nearly eighty and quite frail; he is fortunate not to have been hurt worse.
That afternoon, Monroe is put back into the straight-jacket.
A doctor recommends electroshock to return his lost complacency and the administrator agrees. Up to this point, the family has resisted permission. After violence toward one of their own, however, they seem to relinquish their previous sense of hope. Over the course of the next month, Monroe's father, mother and older brother are won over to the idea. They agree there is no possibility of a cure. Fortunately, the therapy goes well. The patient is reduced to manageable hostility.
When the administrators find out how this all came about, this is what they do for their poor, Arab groundskeeper: they fire him. Witnesses say he provoked the violence and that he is cruel. Eqbal does not argue. The administrators tell him they will refer him to another facility if he will agree not to contest the decision. His brother advises him to agree. So he does. He goes to his new job, in fact, before Monroe has had shock therapy. When he leaves, he thinks that his new friend is on the way to a cure. On his way out, he stops by Monroe's room to say goodbye. Monroe cries and tries to hug Eqbal but he is confined by a straight-jacket. He touches his forehead carefully to the gardener’s forehead.
The attendant starts to make a note about this additional incident of friendly contact but, feeling tired, she sets it aside for later and never actually writes it down.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
His wife screamed, "You hit it!"
as he got out of his car to look, hands on hips,
scowled at nine feet of black snake, head as big as his fist.
The serpent regarded him not at all
and only continued its slow crawl across the gravel.
"It’s fine," said Theseus. “I didn’t hit it.”
Then he surveyed the watery ditches on each side
and complained, “There’s no way around.”
"Well, you can't just run over it."
And that was that.
He picked up a dead branch and snapped off the twigs,
paused to loosen his belt a notch,
nervous and overweight, a long time since
battling Sinis or Skiron
or the embarrassing incident with the snapping turtle.
This monster looked heavy, riddled with rabbit-sized lumps,
then chipmunk-sized, mouse-sized towards the middle,
nibbles at the tail.
Quick, like a whip it snapped
when he touched the body with the stick.
His wife screamed.
The serpent did not bite,
nor did it even even try,
but hissed from the indignity,
Weary, it twitched to avoid the stick,
and in a minute hissed again
from the ditch on the other side of the road,
after he tossed it a few feet
to where it wanted to be.
It crawled into the grass, invisible in a few seconds,
ready for the next unwary chipmunk.
They stared for a moment, silent,
at the tall weeds and ditch water.
Although Theseus killed the centaurs
and the minotaur, long ago, to his shame,
he did manage to rescue one thing, at least.
He tossed away his weapon
and swung back into the car.
His wife tucked in his shirt.
“You’re getting slow,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah.” He slipped the car into gear
while she flicked off leaf fragments and dirt from his jeans.
Her lips brushed against his cheek
and they rolled forward
slowly, again, through another enchanted forest.
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Wounded are the weak and mighty
Yet few of us laid low.
Our arms may shine with sweat
And our spirits brightly glow.
We shall toil and rage and cry and sing
Like others, bear blood upon heroic masks.
Despite the bruises from our struggles
We persevere in loving tasks.
You will carry on your work, love
And I'll toil by your right arm
And I'll dry your tears of anguish
And I'll shelter you from harm.
Wounded are the weak and mighty
And those who don't yet know their might
And some feel half-defeated
But you and I persist to fight.
When you're tired, I'll lift you up.
I'll heal your wounds and soul.
You're mightier for each recovery.
You will again feel whole.
Your sadness, it injures me,
But it won't tear me apart.
I'm tougher now than ever, love,
For wounded is my heart.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
|Glantz Island, McConnolley, Wikimedia|
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Sunday, October 11, 2020
|by Arturo Mann, Wikimedia|
At The End Of The Day
Justice may be blind but love is willing
To see what isn’t there or what could be,
To make the mundane look like it’s thrilling,
To peer behind tired smiles, as should be.
Resolve may be deaf but love is able
To resolutely listen to a hush
Between married people at the table
As they speak with shared sips, so sweet and lush.
Protests may be dumbed but love speaks loudly
Without contradicting hate in any way -
Just showing what is known, stating proudly
The loyalty abiding day to day.
Handicaps won’t kill love, although Death hovers.
Blind, deaf, and dumb are many good lovers.
Sunday, October 4, 2020
|By Maimaid, Wikimedia Commons|
Roses Are Reddish (The Valentine Hunt)
Carnations are red
But roses take credit.
The muses inspire
But publishers edit.
Publishers side with roses
Due to ads they receive.
You thought editors edit?
How delightful. Naive.
Roses are gross
In twelve dozen counts
Because that's how we buy them
In wholesale amounts.
The price of each rose
Is, by season, comedian.
While a math teacher's bouquet
Stays efficiently median.
Roses are bloody
And violins should be banned
If you think I mean "violence"
You don't understand.
Slow, whining sounds
Are for deflating balloons
While Beethoven's ninth
Should be played with bassoons.
Valentines are red
Except when they're pinkish.
Verses are lovely
Except when they stinkish.
Love is divine -
At least, loving you.
I'm glad that you're mine
And that I'm yours too.
Foxes are red.
And gray-furred and brown.
Berries are blue
like jewels on a crown.
Love's expressions are weird
like fox ears on a bunny.
Human hearts are so pure
but human nature, so funny.
Roses are pink.
Violets are perse.
They are; look it up.
It means nothing perverse.
Oh wait, yes they do.
They've been naughty for hours.
Violets are blue.
Tulips are yellow.
Silk are the sheets
In the bordello.
Drunk are the ladies.
Broke are the men.
Lying in silks
and flowers and gutters, amen.
Love makes us wander
and in gardens malinger.
Age makes us feeble
Like wine into vinegar.
I'm not as mature
As my license discloses
And no one's as old
As poems about roses.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
or is it silver -- if it's even there?
Would you hold hands and in spring fields play
or would you rest on an autumn day?
Many are the nights we have to hold
Fewer are the years 'till we are old
So dream of me with light brown hair
and overlook the silver there.
Bright like a sword, your wit beguiles
and I live to witness your daydawn smiles.
I never notice a crease in your eyes
or mark the spaces between your sighs.
I don't see your roots of gray
and I can kiss your years away.
All I ask is that you be my friend,
blind to my earthly body's end.
I sigh for the days and chances past
but can be contented with what will last,
which isn't loves or shallow goals
but peaceful joy within our souls.
So live with me and be my bride.
Forever feel my youth inside.
Dream of me with light brown hair
and overlook the silver there.