Monday, March 17, 2014

My Boy George: LUNCHTIME

“Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.” - The Stranger, The Big Lebowski

Any teacher that claims that they don’t have a favorite pupil(s), or claims that they like all their students equally is full of shit...or is at least halfway lying.  I’m not saying that all teachers make a list of kids they love and a list of kids they’d love to go all “Dark Knight interrogation scene”...
In only my second year of teaching, I was fortunate enough to have an excitable young gentleman in my class.  We will call him George.  From day one, I knew that George was a bit different, but he was special in many ways...
George was autistic.  For those that are unfamiliar with autism, it is a disorder that affects the brain’s development of social and communication skills. There is a very broad spectrum; every case is different. They may not “get” sarcasm, or understand tone.  They may not possess the capability to read into things in depth.  More commonly put, their brains tend to be “one track” and focused on simple things. George?  George loved himself some lunch.

*It should be noted that students with autism crave structure and routine.  So, as I explain a little more about George, just imagine these types of conversations happening EVERY SINGLE DAY. You will get an idea why I loved that damn kid so much...

At the onset of the day, the teachers would often get their rooms prepared and mingle a little bit before students arrived.  As buses and cars with students trickled in, we would often be in the halls, greeting students as they walked by;  maybe even hassling a few.  As we did this, one of our duties was to take lunch count.  The students basically had 4 choices:  whatever entree hot lunch was, Chef Salad, Taco Salad, or Packed Lunch. The scene is now set.  Now...enter our hero.
Walking into the front door, the first thing George always did was greet the secretary in his kind of high pitched, nasally voice: 
“Good morning, Miss Wynn!” he would bellow. 
“Good morning, George,” she would always politely retort. From there, George’s mission was simple:  find me, and inform me is choice for lunch.

Now, that’s not to say that George would ignore people.  He would always greet his fellow peers and teachers as he walked by them.  But he did not stop to chat; no time for small-talk.  He did not stop for a drink of water.  He didn't even stop to put his book bag down.  George was having lunch today.  And he would be damned if anyone deny him that.

So, every morning, George would greet me the exact same way:  
“Good morning, Mr. W(of course, my full last name)!”
“Good morning, George!” I always reply.
“What’s for lunch today?” George would then ask.
“We’re having pizza.”
“I want pizza!” George declares.

Regardless of the entree, George always gets the hot lunch.  He never once got a salad or packed.  His daily inquiry was irrelevant.  Still, it made me happy to oblige him daily.
Now, conversations weren't always that easy.  I would be a liar if I didn't have some fun with it every now and again…
George enters the room.
“Good morning Mr. W!”
I dive below my desk.
“Ah, George you got me! It’s chicken sandwich!”
“I want chicken sandwich!”
“You got it, George!”
George claps, happily.

George turns the corner in the hallway, heading toward my room.
“Good morning Mist-”
I turn around and run.
“MR. W!” yells George, laughing.
Eventually, I stop in another teacher’s room.
“Mr. W, I found you!”
“You sure did. I’m not good at hiding.”
“What’s for lunch today?”
“I want tacos!”
“Si, senor.”
George applauds.

George enters room.
“Good morning Mr. W!”
“Hey George!”
“What’s for lunch today?”
“I want some spaghetti!”
“Chef salad. Got it.”
“Oh, sorry. Fruit salad with a ham sandwich on top.”
“(laughing) NOOOOO!”
“How bout spaghetti? That OK?”

Imagine beginning your day with that.  Every.  Single.  Day.  How could you be upset?
From there, the countdown would begin, as George would wait in pure ecstasy, almost salivating at the mere thought of sinking his teeth into that delicious bread product smothered with a type of tomato based red paste/meat concoction, topped with government cheese.  It didn't matter what was going on or what time it was, George couldn't contain his excitement, and he never hesitated to let people know.  “I can’t wait for that pizza!” he would say.  “Oh I know!" I would reply, "I saw them unloading it from the truck this morning!”

You could probably count on two hands the amount of times George would inform me of the menu of the day.  When he did it, it was always in a less than tactful manner, and irrelevant to the current topic of conversation...or even sometimes during a dead silence. George would just perk up and proclaim for all to hear, “We’re having pizza today!”  I would usually tell him that lunch was still two hours away, but he doesn't care.  And honestly, I don’t either.

Mr. W: “What are the benefits of using renewable energy sources?”
George: “We’re having pizza today!”
Mr. W: “Yes we are, George.”

Finally.  The time arrives. Lunch.  The apex of the day.
For lunch, each student had to merely line up in alphabetical order.  I would then read off the names from the attendance sheet and what lunch they ordered.  The student would then collect his/her lunch, and begin his/her feast.  George was in the middle of the line.  And you always knew where he was in line, based on the localized movement of the people he would bump into as he seemingly vibrated in place in anticipation of his slice of Italian heaven.  George gets so excited, that he calls out students’ names as I do until it is his turn…
George: “James!”
Mr. W: “James…”
George: “Kyla!”
Mr. W: “Kyla…”
George: “Christian!!”
Mr. W: “Christian…”
And then…
George: “GEORGE!!!!!”
Mr. W: “I’m sorry, I don’t have a George on my list.”
George: “Mr. W, NOO!”

George then claps so hard, the blood vessels in his hands are likely destroyed.  Merely a small price to pay.

George collects his pizza, sits down, and begins to eat a meal that he will probably love and savor more than I could ever love a single entree and/or woman.  “This is a good lunch!” George shouts to me across the lunchroom.  I smile and nod my head an approval.  Sure, it’s the same food I used to eat 15 years ago, but to George, it’s like dining at a 5 Star restaurant, or a really really nice Denny's.
Once his meal is finished, George informs me (with sauce typically on his face) that he did not save any of his lunch for me because he ate it all.  I call him a jerk.  He laughs and asks how my protein bar was.  I tell him it was good, but probably not as good as his lunch.  He claps in excitement and then sits back down in his seat.  The countdown renews yet again...

You often hear the phrase “negativity breeds negativity.”  With George, the opposite holds true too.  It was impossible to converse with him without having a giant smile on your face.  If you didn't, it was likely because you had no, literally no soul because you would have to be dead. I think if everyone had a little George in their life, the world would be a better place...or at least lunchtime would be.

George will return in many more adventures, including:  "The Repeater" and “Mom Jeans.”

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