I tried to think of when I was last in an elementary school and concluded that to the best of my knowledge it was 13 years ago when I went to pick my nephew Eli up from school to take him to the hospital when his brother Henry was born. I once walked over to Holy Souls to to get FSO's boys when she was jammed up at the restaurant but I didn't get have to go any further than the playground. Suffice it to say that it had been awhile.
But there I was a week or so ago at Marguerite Vann Elementary School in Conway to be the "secret reader" for my nephew Max's second grade class. While I had never done anything like this before I figured I could get through it as I can read pretty good for a lawyer. Besides it beats working.
I stood in the office and they called for the Vice-Principal who would usher me back to Max's class. There was artwork up and down the hall at chest level to me. I forgot that's how they hang art at a kid's school.
After a few minutes Jeanne the VP showed up. I actually have known Jeanne since the 7th grade or so. She still speaks to me despite that fact.
"I'm glad you could do this," Jeanne said, as we walked arm in arm down the hall. " Max will be so surprised."
"I know," I said. " He hasn't seen me sober very many times."
She stopped and looked at me over the top of her glasses. Whoa. I hadn't gotten an official "teacher look" since high school. It did not bring back fond memories.
" It better be."
I kept my mouth shut until we got to the class.
"You stand here out of sight and look through this window. I'm going to go in and tell the class that I have a surprise for them. When I tug on my ear, that's your cue."
I stood in the hall and bent over to look through the glass. It was like I was in a structure that was designed for midgets. Which in a very real sense I was. Young teachers were going up and down the hall. I never had elementary school teachers that were as hot as the ones I beheld that afternoon. Probably just as well. I had focus issues as a young kid. Having sexy teachers would not have helped on that score.
I looked back through the glass to see Jeanne yanking her ear lobe as if it were the pull cord on a lawn mower. Shit. I was on!
As I walked in, Max's little eyes resembled a slot machine.
" Who's that, Max?" Jeanne asked.
" It's Unc...Unc...I mean it's my Uncle...."
"Paul." she said gently.
"It's Uncle Paul!"
"This is gonna be fun." I thought to myself.
"Class," the teacher said. " This is Max's Uncle Paul. He came aaaaallllllllllll the way from Little Rock to read for us. Say hello."
"Hello Uncle Paul!" came the voices below me.
There were two chairs at the front of the class. One for me and one for Max. The teacher asked me to tell the class what I did for a living. Explaining the practice of law to 8 year old kids is not the easiest thing.
" Wellllll," I said. " Sometimes when people can't agree they have to go see the Judge, who is very wise, to decide stuff for them. And people hire lawyers to help explain their side of it to the Judge."
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" was the response.
A hand shot up. I pointed.
"What do you like to do for fun?" a black kid asked.
I told them that I liked to read, take pictures, play golf and libel people on this blog. I then put Max in a headlock and started acting like I was pounding his head.
"And I like to beat Max up!" I yelled.
"He really does too," said a familiar little voice from beneath my armpit.
The class roared. Like I said, this was gonna be fun.
After that, I read a couple of books. One was about a little Chinese boy named Ping who wanted to grow flowers to impress the Emperor. The other was about a teacher who liked to wear funny ties.
And that was that. I thanked the class for letting me come read to them and I wished them a good day. I also told them that if they studied hard they could go to LAW SCHOOL!
Ok. That part was a lie.
I asked Max's mom the other day what he had to say about my cameo appearance.
" Not much," Shirley said. " He said he got to sit next to you in the front of the class."
"Look," she said. " Small children are in their own little worlds. They don't remember what you DID. They only remember that you were there. And because you were there Max got to sit in the front of the class."
Which I guess is pretty big stuff when you are 8.
The teacher asked me if I would come do it again. I told her that I would be happy to.
I have to come aaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllll the way from Little Rock. But Max will get to sit in the front of the class. I guess that's pretty big stuff when you are 8.