The Yearbook Express
|With a drawn–out grunt, I yanked the last 50–pound box off the floor. I panted like a flabby furniture mover as I lugged the box five steps to the wooden cart. I plopped it partially on another box and slid the new box into position. I then hunched over and grabbed my knees. Ordinarily, teaching wasn't so strenuous. Dropping from exhaustion after taking attendance or handing out a worksheet was uncommon. This particular afternoon's task, however, zapped me of my energy. Making matters worse, I was not in the best of shape. As proof, I had recently demanded a breather while playing a game of one–on–one basketball. I was down three baskets to two; we were playing to five.|
Several seconds after moving the box, I pulled my handkerchief from my back pocket and wiped beads of perspiration from my billboard–like forehead. I stood erect and gazed at the onslaught of Jostens logos. With the logo ornamenting all sides of each box, Jostens made it clear which company printed Greensburg Community High School's (GCHS) 2000–2001 yearbook. The boxes, however, failed to reveal something only I knew. Having already scanned a copy, I knew hiding inside the boxes was the best GCHS yearbook created during my dozen years as yearbook advisor.
I stuffed my handkerchief into my pocket, and I tugged on the waist of my sagging slacks. Moments like this made me wish I possessed a real butt. My flat excuse for an ass failed to offer my belt any assistance. I was stuck with a cookie sheet for a butt. The good Lord had tried to make amends by serving me an extra helping of forehead, but thanks to aging, my billboard now transforms into steps whenever I wrinkle my brow. My wrinkled forehead is like the grand entrance to a museum. Add some occasional acne, and the steps look as if they have been damaged by mortar fire. Blemished steps or not, my forehead has done nothing to keep my pants from drooping.
Returning my focus to my mission, I grasped the metal handle with both hands. I pushed the cart from the journalism classroom and down a deserted hallway. If things went according to plan, at least 14 of the 21 yearbook boxes would be empty when I returned the books to the room that night. I was assuming many students would attend the evening's school dance, and in the process, pick up their yearbooks.
The loose handle squeaked as I approached the ramp leading to the lobby. Once in the lobby, rolling the books to the auditorium stage, the site of the dance, would be simple. The tricky part was getting the cart down the 50–foot ramp. Assistance would have been helpful, but no teacher or student was nearby. Usually a handful of teenage nomads wandered the halls each class period, but, of course, the afternoon I needed a student, they all felt the vile urge to attend class.
"All right, I'll just do it alone. It couldn't be that hard," I said uncertainly to myself.
I stopped the cart and walked to its front. I faced the cart, grabbed the other handle, and planted my shoes on the ramp's drab carpet. I slowly pulled the front two wheels on the ramp while the rear wheels remained on the linoleum. I backed up a step and pinned my puny biceps against my sides. I eased the 1,050 pounds of books toward me and continued backing up until all four wheels touched the carpet.
Then the cart nudged me.
The previous autumn a member of the local teachers' union had asked me to tally the hours I worked as yearbook advisor. Tracking only the time spent outside the seven–hour school day, I clocked over 700 hours by the time the yearbook was completed. I spent a slew of evenings and weekends in the journalism room, either assisting yearbook staff members or checking the computerized layouts and copy. I spent so many evenings in the school that I knew the custodians' routines. This included their suspicious custom of emptying the green, recycled–paper containers in with the rest of the trash.I frequently didn't leave the school until after 9 p.m. I was also frequently the sole employee in the building on Saturday and Sunday. To combat the isolation, I screamed at the computers and Bob, my name for the printer.
"You piece of junk! What the heck is the matter with you?" I would say to a computer.
"If you couldn't print the big picture, couldn't you have just said so instead of making me wait 15 minutes? I can't believe this! And Bob, you aren't foolin' anyone with your flashin' light! In case you haven't noticed, you ain't printin'! Quit pretending to print, Bob, or I'll unplug your butt!"
For my vigilance and perseverance, I received a head–of–publications stipend of $1,498. That breaks down to $2.14 an hour, similar to what a waitress earns. Unlike a waitress, I didn't receive tips, unless two female golfers saying "you need more coverage on the girls' golf team" counts.
Persuaded by the cart's nudge, I took a backward step on the ramp. I felt my biceps inflate as I struggled with the cart's weight."Easy does it, fellas," I told the books. "Let's not get in a hurry."I gritted my teeth and slowly backed up another step. As a single vein bulged in both of my forearms, I was filled with apprehension. Maybe taking the cart down by myself was a bad idea. Maybe it was another in a long line of bad decisions, like the time in class I chose to wing the pronunciation of "Chihuahua," a word I had never before seen in print. At the time, we were going over grammar sentences, and I did not want my high school students to know I was an ignorant rookie teacher.
"The Aztecs gave the Chi–hoo–a–hoo–a a reputation of intelligence and independence," I read to the class.
The students erupted in laughter.
"What's so funny?" I enquired.
"That word is Chi–wah–wah; you know, the dog," a student explained.
I assumed Chihuahua was the name of an Indian tribe. Trying to salvage the smidgen of dignity I had left, I solemnly looked at my students. And then I lied.
"The word can be pronounced both ways."
Unfortunately, lying wouldn't get me out of my current predicament. I could only finish the downhill journey and hope for the best. Squeezing the creaking handle, I retreated two more steps. The cart's momentum on the five–foot incline quickly forced me to take smaller, faster steps. Soon, my shoes" rubber soles clung to the carpet. Battling the force of the accelerating cart, I unintentionally moonwalked down the ramp.
"Guys, you need to slow down," I warned, impersonating Michael Jackson.
The cart of yearbooks failed to obey. Instead, the velocity steadily increased, causing my moonwalk to mutate into a power walk which evolved into a jog. All the while, I was stuck in reverse.
"Work with me, fellas."
By the time the cart was halfway down the ramp, I was backpedaling at full speed. Strangely, I was still grasping the handle. I had become a 165–pound hood ornament.
The 462 yearbooks ignored me. The cart continued to pick up speed, leaving me no opportunity to turn and flee. If I attempted to escape, I would be flattened. The rest of my body would then match my butt. I had no interest in becoming road kill. If I could only last a few more moments, I would be off the ramp. But the terror wouldn't be over.
Waiting a few feet from the ramp was a glass display case. The 10–foot–wide case ran parallel to the ramp. If the cart veered slightly to the right, it would zoom off the ramp and smash the display case, detonating glass, sports trophies, and me.
Feeling both scared and foolish, I finally took my first running step off the ramp. Instantly, the runaway cart hit the floor at full speed. I kept backpedaling. I realized I neither possessed the strength nor the time to stop the disaster. My only chance was for the cart to continue rolling straight. Since the cart was normally difficult to steer, I didn't like my odds.
My shoes smacked the terrazzo with each backward step. The cart and I motored past the display case. I planted both of my feet when I realized I was out of danger. With the cart pushing me, I skidded across the lobby. The cart then slowed and stopped.
"Boys, was that really necessary?" I asked, patting one of the boxes. I then hunched over and buried my head in my trembling hands. After I regained my composure, I hiked up my drooping pants and rolled the cart toward the auditorium.
I tell the story of the runaway yearbooks whenever English students need an illustration of the term "irony." I worked my butt off, from all appearances, overseeing the creation of that yearbook. I proofread each story and caption at least three times. If a story referred to teacher Miss Sue Jensen as Mrs. Jensen, I wrote a sarcastic note to the author, stating "I doubt Miss Jensen married one of her cousins over the weekend. Please fix this." If a sports caption read "Senior Spencer Hagerty won the cross country race with a time of 1: 08: 45," I wrote a smart–ass note to the student responsible, saying "Was Spencer racing against the team from Shady Hills Retirement Home? I don't believe Spencer finished a three–mile race in over an hour. If he did, maybe he should consider switching to golf. Fix your mistake."
Besides making sure all copy was accurate and mistake–free, I inspected each picture. Any substandard photograph was replaced. I also checked to make certain the required paperwork for each shipment was filled out properly. Simply put, I did everything in my power to insure the book was devoid of errors.
In return for my hard work and dedication, the yearbooks almost killed me.
Thus, the creation nearly destroyed the creator.
End of lesson.