Even Rat Pups Laugh Once In A While Part 3
Tuesday — The Bells of Frederick Winslow Taylor Middle School
The bells of Frederick Winslow Taylor Middle School divided each school day into uniform periods with a total of 17 rings: Two rings for each of the eight periods plus the ring that released the students to their homes at day’s end. Students, faculty, staff, and administration all referred to the ring that signaled a period’s start by the position of that period in the day: First Bell, Second Bell, and so on up to Eighth Bell. Rings that ended a period had no name, except for that which ended Eighth Period: Last Bell.
For as long as he’d been employed at the school Stu had assumed that somebody, in some scientific journal published some long time ago, had demonstrated irrefutably that dividing the day into timeslots then devoting each slot to instruction in a specific discipline was the optimal means for delivering knowledge to developing minds. But he’d never actually seen the paper, let alone read it. He had looked for it once, in the Principal’s office. He had turned up many interesting documents, all composed in language von Grawbadger would describe as ‘high-falutin’, but none that justified the bells. The paper’s existence was an article of his faith in people much smarter than him.
But as smart as those researchers might have been, Stu was unimpressed by the results of their theory as applied at his school. His own evidence-based conclusion was at odds with that of the paper. So early in his career, still idealistic, believing he had the power to effect change, he had started a letter to the journal’s editor in case he ever discovered the one that had published it. The letter read:
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Regarding [insert paper title here]: As a janitor, I can tell you the paper was very well written. I commend the authors for their diligence in hewing to scientific discipline. However, I respectfully submit that their bells are the solution to a problem other than that of how best to educate a human child. I wonder in particular whether they have confused ‘optimal’ with
He had taped the unfinished letter to the filing cabinet directly behind his desk in the custodial office, expecting that its prominence would agitate him to finish it. But the first time he read it, which was at the end of the very shift he’d been on when he started it, he decided that the letter, truncated at the moment a bell had shattered his concentration, made his point better than any further words he could have written.
Eighth Bell on the day Tim had ventured into the drop ceiling had just rung when Stu settled into his chair to begin reflecting on the day’s events. The memory of Tim nearly falling for having been startled by the bells prompted him to turn in his chair to read his letter now. He chuckled just a little on re-discovering that von Grawbadger had penned ‘dis’ in red ink over the space just ahead of the word ‘respectfully.’
He laid a finger on the trailing space and spoke out loud the word he’d intended to write there.
From the date of that letter forward, Stu resisted the temptation to believe the bells were animate and aware of any humans subject to their tyranny developing insurrectionist ideas — or any ideas, for that matter, requiring more than 45 minutes to refine.
Because he had also failed, while searching the Principal’s office, to locate anything that might be a Permanent Record he took it upon himself to write one of his own. On the date of that unfinished letter, he also decided that the Shift Transition forms he was required to fill out each evening would serve his purpose perfectly.
Tuesday — Stu Appeals for Mercy
Because cleaning at any time near Last Bell was pointless — the students made a mess of every square foot of the school on their way out to the buses — Stu set aside Eighth Period for his favorite exercise of the day, which was the composition of his Shift Transition Form, the communiqué of sorts left from one shift to the succeeding shift that he had decided would be his Permanent Record.
Departing Custodian: Mr. Stuart
Arriving Custodian: Mr. von Grawbadger
That a fatherless family of rats has taken up residence in our office will not have escaped your powers of observation. No doubt you are at this moment reading my words with hopes of finding in them the answer to the question now consuming your faculty:
“What the fuck?”
Allow me to explain. While I do, I appeal to you to show mercy on this poor creature and her family by staying your hand against the violent action you are likely to be considering even now.
Today I discovered this mother rat and her pups languishing under the well-intentioned but clumsy care of Miss Johnstone’s sixth grade class. Immediately upon my introduction to the family I noted the conspicuous absence of a father and the family’s involuntary occupation of a cage poorly fashioned to serve in the capacity to which it had been applied. From these observations I was able to reconstruct our fair rat mother’s recent history: capture, captivity, romance, courtship, marriage, consummation, pregnancy, and childbirth in hostile environs and always under the watchful eyes of uncouth hairless apes.
Further contributing to her hardship was the loss of her mate sometime between her litter’s conception and today. She is as of now either widowed or estranged.
Her biography has led quite naturally to an infanticide. Evidently she chose to cull young Phineas from the litter, so as you read my words please know that she is now enduring the delicate emotional condition that plagues one who has recently devoured one’s own offspring. Treat her appropriately.
I, for example, have tuned the radio here in the custodial office from my beloved country music to a classical music station.
You and I understand that the mother rat’s brutal act is in fact the perfectly natural and correct response to her circumstances — if rats could think, we’d call the mother’s act ‘rational.’ Forced to live in an environment to which her species is poorly adapted, she destroyed the weakest in her litter to maximize her succeeding generation’s potential for success.
But on learning the whereabouts of Phineas, the principal caretaker (“Shelly”) wrongly concluded that the mother had murdered him out of some derangement.
I attempted to explain to Shelly what you and I know: Toss an animal into an environment starkly different from that to which its specie has evolved over millions of years to occupy and you ought not to be surprised when that animal reacts in a manner that seems distasteful, if not savage. But Miss Johnstone objected. She drove me from the room, insisting I take the family with me.
When we were both just outside the room she closed the door gently, then turned on me with a hostile whisper. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Pardon?” I said.
“Telling a twelve year-old girl that her rat ate its baby?”
“Pup. The rat ate her pup. She wanted to know where Phineas is. That’s where he is.”
“I understand that now.”
“It seemed like a teachable moment. I thought you and I made a great team.”
“We are a great team, Stu, but I’m the teacher. I decide what the teachable moments are. You leave that to me, I’ll leave the rats to you.”
“Understood, Miss Johnstone,” I acceded. I left her. I placed the cage on your desk because you don’t seem to use it very often.
While I have not made any promises to Shelly that her rat family would evade extermination, I would appreciate if you could help me to demonstrate the correct way to nurture the unfortunate Phineas’ surviving siblings to adulthood.
Last Bell’s about to ring. I must leave you now. Enjoy your shift! And thank you in advance.