The Haven
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The Haven

A Leak, Me Thinks

As a young elementary school teacher, I was a perfect target for pranks from precocious and not-so-precocious students. One of the funniest ones was the “switcheroo.”

This happened when twin boys, both in different third-grade classes, decided to switch classrooms after lunch. Since they were identical — both slim with short dark hair and infectious smiles — there was no way the average person could tell who was who. All that registered in my novice mind was that a kid who looked like the kid I taught in the morning session had seated himself at his assigned desk and was paying attention.

Of course the rest of the class gave it away with their laughing and pointing at “Toby,” so it didn’t take me long to figure this puzzle out. Every one one had a good laugh including their teacher.

So I was getting used to the foolishness that comes with dealing with eight-year-olds. One morning I heard a lot of giggling and looked over to see students whispering and looking down on the floor. The desks were in rows and columns of 5 X 5, and the kids were staring at Row 3. The boy seated in the second seat of that row was a PIA (pain in the ass) who was late with his assignments and joked about it as if that was the accepted norm. I was tired of his lackadaisical attitude and even more tired of his silly grinning.

This time, though, he wasn’t grinning. He was pretending to look through his reading workbook, in which I’d assigned some new pages. But his head was down, his chin tucked under and he was squirming around in his seat. My eyes latched onto his, and he regarded me in a bashful way. I knew “Neil” wasn’t a shy kid, so I figured something was bothering him.

And then my eyes traveled down under his desk and chair. There I saw a puddle of what I presumed was water. We hadn’t been doing any art work so I knew that it wasn’t from watercolors, but it had rained pretty hard the night before. Obviously there was a leak in the ceiling. What else could it be!

So without thinking too hard about the situation, I decided to call the janitor and see if he could do something about the leak. At least mop up the mess.

No sooner had I gone to the intercom to report the leak than a wave of laughter rose up in the classroom and spread to everyone except Neil, who sat quietly with his head down on the desk. That was so unlike the chattering, happy-go-lucky boy I knew that I realized Neil was sending vibes of embarrassment and shame, which I now was picking up on.

Okay, I said to myself. Why is he chiding himself over a leak? It wasn’t his fault. Shit happens, I said to myself. This time Neil wasn’t acting up, passing notes or tripping other kids as they walked by.

But of course Neil really had delivered a one-two punch. Suddenly I realized that the innocent puddle of water on the floor wasn’t getting any bigger. If it were a leak — even a slow leak — wouldn’t it be spreading and covering a greater area?

Then, of course, it finally hit me. Granted that I was slow on the uptake, but this wasn’t kindergarten either. And my college education classes hadn’t prepared me for “accidents.” Especially ones perpetrated by housebroken eight-year-olds.

Still, I figured my ridiculous conclusion might just come in handy. The class continued to titter and Neil had tightened his body into a terrified ball. I had to help Neil — and myself — to save face.

When the janitor arrived, he looked at me and said nothing, but I took the bull by the horn and quickly dashed off a note to the front desk at the school office, folded it and gave it to the janitor. Then I said to Neil, “Go with Mr. Dave.”

By now the rest of the class had quit laughing and quieted. In fact some of them looked downright puzzled at my behavior. I was too. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, but I was sticking to my story. “Help Mr. Dave with the leak,” I said pointedly to Neil.

Sometimes you just gotta lie to save face, and Neil and I both needed to salvage our reputations.


A Place to Be Funny Without Being a Jerk

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Janice Arenofsky

Humorist who aims to make it to the big leagues. So laugh like a hyena and pretend i’m Fran Leibowitz. What? You don’t know her. Get a life!