Monday, June 20, 2005

Shaking off the Dust


In highschool, my English teacher's favourite expression was, "Shake the dust off your feet." He was always saying it at the end of class, or at the end of the school day, or when I would talk to him about graduating and moving on. He was a good teacher, and I still remember his question as to what the last words of Kurtz from Heart of Darkness meant.

Mr. C was the type of teacher who asked questions not because he thought he already knew the answers, but because he himself was baffled and genuinely interested in what you might make of something. I remember writing an essay called "Killing Kurtz" in which I attempted to address the riddle of Kurtz' epithet, and while Mr. C said he was impressed by my work, I somehow doubt the mystery was resolved for him by my early attempt at literary criticism.

I have some better ideas now as to what "the horror" could have meant to my high school mentor. He was a poet, who liked to spend the summers at his northern cottage hammering nails into wood--and forgetting about all the idiotic hypocrisy involved in the business of education. He was a great teacher who made a big impression on me, and, like one of the fellows from the steel mill cynically said in the swimming pool change room a few days ago, "I pity the poor bastards who actually give a damn about the kids they're teaching."

I like to flirt with the idea of employment from time to time, but only so I can renew my sense of unemployed satisfaction at the end of the day. For the majority of jobs I have held in my life--and there have been quite a few of them--the greatest pleasure they have afforded is finally being able to shake the dust from off my feet when enough becomes enough. I probably don't set my standards for satisfaction high enough, but I suspect that even the best job in the world has it's unpleasant aspects. And how many people would actually work a job at all if they didn't have to?

Unless you're a car thief, it's hard to find work here in the north end. I've applied at the dollar store several times, and each time I drop off my resume the manager looks me over like I was there to rob them. It's his loss, I suppose. My secret weakness--my Achilles heel--is that the combination of air-conditioning and Muzak has the soporific effect of turning me into a model employee, ever eager to serve the public and my employer to the best of my abilities. But Mr. Dollar Store Owner Guy will never find that out, because though I dropped off my resume again today, I made a secret resolution never to work there--even if they call me back this time.

I'm rinsing my feet of the whole affair and turning my attention to what leisure activities my limited Fakiegrind budget will permit. Call it an early retirement of sorts. My English teacher, Mr. C, has long since retired, and I hope he has made a good shaking of the dust from his feet, hammered a few more nails, and forged a decent metaphor or three. I always wanted to go visit him, but may never get to now. The last time I saw him he gave me a lift downtown in his army green jeep, a vehicle that looked like it could be from the TV show M.A.S.H..

As for becoming a high school teacher, all of my favourite teachers themselves subliminally advised against it. Mr. F was always very good to me. When I ran the teaching idea past him he called it, "the golden handcuffs" --stressing the noun over the adjective. Mr. F had wanted to be a lawyer, but got sidetracked through circumstances beyond his control into being a top-notch librarian and undercover misfit student advisor. He said to me one day, while the seemingly endless minutes were ticking away until I could get outside to skateboarding and freedom, "Flatlander (not the name I was actually going by in those days) just might make it."

I went to visit Mr. F a few years ago at my old highschool. The library was under renovation so I found him in a remote room in which they had stuffed all the books and computers until the construction would be completed. It was Mr. F's last semester before he himself would retire. Another teacher had just unexpectedly passed away of a heart attack, only months before retirement. Mr. F. spent some time with me, expressed regret for the sad irony of the recently deceased teacher, and told me of his own plans for spending his golden years. Before leaving I reached into my knapsack to retrieve a gift I had brought. I think the look of relief I detected in Mr. F's countenance had to do with my gift being a book of self-published poems, and not some sort of weapon with which I intended to wreak vengeance on my old alma mater. You just never know, these days.

Sometimes I think of the plight of baby sea turtles. Sea turtle eggs hatch by the thousands along sandy beaches, and each tiny turtle immediately starts the long and dangerous scramble towards the ocean deeps. There are so many predators and perils that only a very few baby turtles actually make it out to sea, but those that do can grow to a great size and live for hundreds of years. "Making it" for humans might be seen as the same sort of process: there are so many hazards on the path, so many outlandish circumstances and hidden hurdles to get snagged upon. But who can really say what "making it" even means? And if all human life is one vast, interrelated web, can any one of us actually have "made it" unless everyone else can somehow share in the victory as well?

For the past little while it hasn't seemed that Mr. F's encouraging words regarding my future would really come true. Sometimes, despite all attempts to swim, the waters just aren't sending you the Big Kahuna you need to surf it out to sea. Maybe it's just my imagination playing tricks, but lately I've been sensing a shift in the ether-tides. And, like some slackerly descendent of Mary Tyler-Moore, I just might make my way after all in this bizarre congregation of forces we arbitrarily name "the world". Whatever happens to me, I wouldn't even have made it this far without the help and kindness of friends, teachers and family for whom shaking the dust off your feet never means forgetting those dear to you.

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