Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Conversationalist

I spent the day cooling my heels at a local science fair. My little team came home with a 1st Place record of 67%. Just think, if they were all rolled into one baseball player, they would be batting .667. Not too shabby. But I'm not here to brag about their scientific methodology. I'm here to relate a tale of what happens when teachers stop teaching school, and start interacting in the real world.

First cat out of the bag, I was accosted by a clinger. I sent my students on the bus with another teacher, and got to the college early to stake out our spot. I felt like Elaine saving movie seats. "Taken. That's taken. Taken!" The science fair is held in a field house, with participants set up on the gym floor. The bottom section of bleachers are folded up, and off limits. We take the front row of the upper section, the walk-around section. I put down my son's project board and wooden tray of cups full of nails. I set down my bag full of glue and paper and pencils and water and bifocals. I spread out my coat. I laid down my wet umbrella. I figured I had the whole section covered, from the wall to the first set of steps.

But no. I did not even have a chance to sit down in the middle of my barriers before Clingy appeared. I am not a very nice person. I'm sure she was just trying to be friendly. However, it's not my job to nurture the fragile self-esteem of strangers. My students, yes. I AM paid for that. But this was not my student.

The initial greeting went a little something like this:

"I didn't bring my wheelchair today."


"I always sit here. So I can put my back against the wall."


"We brought two buses. I couldn't believe the school told the parents they had to bring their kids."


"They had the nerve to say that if the kids weren't there by 7:30, the bus would leave without them. A lot of parents can't get them there by then. They work."


"That's our kids lined up. We brought two buses."

"Our bus isn't here yet. Oh, there's my son."

"My daughter is here. I brought some sewing to work on. She lost her junior jacket that had a bunch of letters on it that need to be transferred. So I'm sewing them on."


A director came up the steps, and hollered down that participants might want to get a chair off the racks in the corners of the gym. Clingy asked, "Can I get a chair?" Not with the inflection that she wanted to walk down the steps and get one, but with the inflection that she wanted somebody to bring her a chair. The director gave her a blank stare. Clingy sat down sideways on the bleacher, with her back against the wall. I saw a colleague walk in behind Clingy's line of vision. Clingy continued her soliloquy. "I have one child here, but about five of them will call me Mom. I've been the director of their scout troop all along. That girl there with my daughter is her best friend. She split her head open in daycare, and the next day sent her to the hospital."

Colleague rolled her eyes. "Don't we want to sit farther down this year? People will walk in and stand in front of us."

I started gathering my stuff. "That's right! Help me carry some of this. Let's go over a section, right in the middle."

Clingy's jaw dropped. How dare her new best friends/captive audience high-tail it out of hearing distance! We made a big show of rearranging our stuff, checking out our viewing angle, pantomiming picture-taking toward the awards table. It's not that we were being mean on purpose. You can only take so much. And this lady was not getting the hint. At least a student will eventually get the message that you're just not interested in chatting at that moment. But not Clingy.

I don't know how else to have handled it, but then again, I am not a people person. I might have said, point blank, "Ma'am, I am not interested in talking right now. I am looking to see if my students are checking in. I can not do two things at once. In a few minutes, I would like to read the book I have brought along to pass the time." That seems rude. Now I know why people complain about being trapped next to a Chatty Cathy on a plane. It's hard enough to worry every minute so that plane doesn't go down, without also humoring a non-stop conversationalist.

Your right to talk does not take away my right to not-listen.

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