I used to want to be a dad. Sure, I knew it was unlikely given my sexual orientation, but the internal desire to nurture another human being coupled with the allure (vanity) of having a little"you" walking around stuck with me well into my 20's. At about 30, I saw how much work it was to raise a human being as my friends married and started families. There was some relief in that, knowing I was forgiven for not carrying on the family name (well, I forgave myself), having children just wasn't part of my path. Or was it? Skip ahead 10 years and I find myself teaching children of all ages. I marvel at them, each so different, their personalities so distinct, and yet all sharing that quality of "I can't wait until I grow up." I have pictures of most of them and remember little things that happened between me and each one. Some of them have very busy dads (or dads abroad) and they treat me as a kind of dad too. I talk to them all like they are adults. I think this is key. Since I give private English lessons to kids, the relationship is much more intimate than say, in a large classroom. Bonds are developed, connections are made, tears are shed at the final goodbye. Do I make a lasting impression? It's not something I pondered really until yesterday - do I remember any special adult who made a lasting impression on me. I didn't have to think long before I remembered Gina Limongelli. (I swear to God that was her real name.)
Gina Limongelli (a college student) was the playground attendant slash classroom cleaner at the small private school I attended. So small in fact, my 6th grade year was spent in a combined 4th-5th-6th grade class where I was one of two sixth graders. The other families picked up their kids from our class at the end of the school day, and I had to pass the next two and a half hours with stinky first and second graders whose parents worked late like mine. (I hated that, it was a prison, I passed the time by hiding and sucking on rocks, but that's another story.) So I was the oldest kid on the playground and wound up drawn to Miss Gina and learned a lot about her. Unless she was scolding (I had to be scolded often), she spoke to me like I was an adult. She told me one of the funniest stories I have ever heard and caused me to pee my pants laughing. Miss Gina had a stout, plump frame and liked to rest her feet by sitting on the swings. I sometimes sat in the next swing and we had conversations about movies and music and her boyfriend trouble. One day, she said "Ricky, you'll never believe what happened to me last Friday." "What? tell me tell me tell me".
-I finished up on Friday at 6 and I had to get to the Photomat kiosk to pick up the pictures that I was using in my presentation for my art class at 7. So you know the shoes I like to wear with the high platforms and the strings all tied around? Well, those are really difficult to drive with so I take them off in the car, you just can't work the pedals well with them on. Anyway, I picked up my pictures at the photomat and raced to school to get ready for the class and my presentation. When I went to get out of the car, I only had one shoe. I looked under the seats and had to conclude that I lost it somewhere. I started to panic. Then I remembered that I had had to open the door a little bit to get my pictures at the photomat booth. Oh, I hoped that it would be there. So I raced back to the photomat and the worker was just locking up the booth. There was no shoe on the ground. So I asked him "Excuse me but did you see a shoe around here" and he said "With a lot of strings, you mean?" And I said, "yeah, yeah do you have it?" And he informed me that he had taken it to the dumpster behind the Sav-on with the trash. So I walked behind the Sav-on to see a huge blue dumpster, not the regular kind, a really big one two feet taller than me. I saw a little ladder on one side of the dumpster and climbed up to look inside and there, in the far corner at the bottom was my shoe. But I couldn't reach it and went to get a hanger out of my car and then climbed back up to reach and hook one of the stringy parts. And then something terrible happened - I fell in!
By now I am giggling helplessly, the vision of her wallowing in the garbage.
-It wasn't too bad, mostly paper and fast food bags, and there wasn't very much trash either so I was maybe a foot off the floor. Then I realized that there was no ladder on the inside of the dumpster. Oh, no I thought. I could reach the top of the edge of the dumpster but I couldn't pull myself up. I threw my shoe out of the dumpster and started to pile the trash into a corner. It was about then that I heard a grinding engine sound, something familiar about that sound, a trashtruck sound! No, that couldn't happen. I got mustard on my shirt while piling trash and started to cry. I was already late for class, stuck in a dumpster and now, mustard. Cursing, I continued to try to get enough trash to reach the top, but everytime I stood on it, it sunk down again. Then the trashtruck sound was getting alarmingly close. "This cannot be happening to me" I thought. And then it was upon me. The trashtruck approached, and I started screaming. The two arms of the trashtruck cl-clunked into place. At that point I was hysterical, screaming and crying and throwing paper in the air as the dumpster slowly started to rise.
This is when I peed.
-I managed to throw a sizable box out and the rising stopped, and slowly the dumpster returned to the ground. I heard Spanish voices, and then a small face appeared at the exterior ladder edge point. "What you doing there?" I couldn't speak, only sobs came out. The little man disappeared. About 3 minutes later he came back and had a ladder with him that he put inside so that I could climb out. He asked again "What you doing there?" I went and grabbed my shoe from the ground and I shrieked "looking for my shoe!" He looked profoundly puzzled and I went back to my car. I got to class late but I had another blouse in the car, so it turned out ok. But can you believe that that really happened to me!
I expressed my doubts ("No way!") and she produced the receipt from the photomat from the previous Friday evening. She told me that one day, that would be a chapter in her book. I don't know what ever happened to Gina Limongelli, maybe one day she'll google her maiden name and stumble onto this post and have that great feeling when you realize you made an impression on someone. And it's something I will remember too as I go to my weekly lessons with the kids.