Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Room dividers from hell.

When I was a kid, going to school in LA, we had a lot of bizarre building arrangements in schools.  Especially suburban LA, where things basically popped up in less than five minutes to serve a brand new community.  Because after all, if you build it, they will come.  And they did.  And we did. 

One of the schools I went to, had old fashioned bungalows for the younger set.  We weren't in the main building, but in something that sort of resembled a slightly more substantial food truck.  The bungalows were in rows, and located across the playground from the rest of the school.  My memory of these little buildings is skewed, of course, because I was small.  They seemed enormous to me at the time, but if I were to go back as a 36 year old 5'7" woman, I would probably think they were right puny.

Anyway, later on, as I went to a different school, on the other side of the Santa Susana Pass, things got even more bizarre.  The school consisted of three buildings; one was the office/nurse/counselor's area/cafeteria with patio.  One was lower school.  The other was upper school.  The school buildings; beige, stucco, and flat-roofed; had enormous, thick eaves that I hated walking under.  Earthquakes can kind of do things to your brain, and make you question why the hell someone would design a building that could potentially kill people, just so there was a little extra shelter on the outside. 

And, let's face it.  This was LA.  It rained... maybe 3 days out of the year, there.    Thankfully, I was only around for the Whittier Earthquake in 1987, and the eaves stayed put.

Earthquake drills unnerved me, because they were so unexpectedly rude.  The principal would come onto the intercom and say: "DROP!"  Not "Drop, please!"  Or... "If you don't mind, we need to get under our desks now."

But, I suppose that's sort of how earthquakes roll, too.  They don't give a shit, and neither did that guy.

The rule involved crawling under our desks.  Because a desk is what will save you from a fallen roof.  It will.  They said so.

School lunch at these places, was a trip.  Everything came pre-packaged in cardboard, with plastic over the top.  This included salads. Sometimes, there would be a tiny apple sitting on top of the salad.  I have no idea where they got those little apples, but they tasted like crunchy, mealy desiccant, meant to kill us, or at least make us not want to eat them.  I only ever ate one of those apples, because I was sure they were evil .  The salad was usually wilted, and the other half of the lunch was usually some gross entree that the lunch lady would heat up.

Later, when I moved to Oregon, I was taken aback by food that was actually prepared in the school cafeteria.  It wasn't necessarily better, but eating from a plate with actual metal utensils, was pretty foreign, and almost novel enough to compel me to buy lunch there, rather than make myself a delicious sandwich, made of some odd Jewish delicacy that other kids would revolt at the sight of. (My dad was really into chopped liver, and the like.)

More for me!

Between the three buildings, there was a courtyard that was all lawn, and beyond that, a sidewalk, followed by hill that led to a ball field.  Rolling down that hill with my friends, was always great fun.  None of us cared that we would end up with burrs in our clothing from the weeds that they simply mowed with the rest of the grass.

But, back to the buildings.  This is where it gets interesting.  I am sure you are probably riveted by this point, right?  Anyway, in these buildings; with the exception of the first, everything was separated by enormous, heavy, metal partitions, covered in a rose-tan, fabric that had a really heavy, heathered weave to it.  It reminded me of chocolate milk, poured over Mini-Wheats.  I don't think there were actual walls separating the rooms from the main area, and the partitions could actually be rolled, and folded together, to create one giant room, inside the confines of each building.  They even had doors, and those doors were made of the same materials.  When they closed, they were closed tightly with levers.  It was all very space-age.  The levers had black knobs on the ends of them, that made you feel like you were doing something very official when you were permitted to close them.

Well, one day, some friends and I were playing, during indoor recess.  It was one of the rare days when it rained there.  When it did rain?  You took that shit seriously.  It may not have actually rained cats and dogs, but I had seen garbage that resembled cats and dogs floating down the road when the streets would flood.  Our car would always stall out, because for some reason, water would splash under the distributor cap, and then... yeah.  For some reason, it had no undercarriage cover. We... didn't go out much when it rained.

Anyway, as we ran through the common area of the building, my friends entered our classroom before I did.  I grabbed hold of the door jamb, as if to fling myself into the room, for added drama.  Only... This did not work!  Oh no! 

See, they closed the door, not realizing it closed... on my hand!

And then, I saw the lever rotate.  I am pretty sure my eyes rotated in every direction they would go before  I screamed at the top of my lungs.  I am not a master of  much.  Delayed reactions?  Yes.  Even when reacting is probably THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO! 

Upon receipt of my eventual vocalization, the lever went back up again, and my hand; purple, and quasi-flattened, was released.

I could not write or do much with my right hand for many weeks after this happened.  My friend who made the offending maneuver felt so ashamed and awful, that she carried all of my books, and dictated for me until I could write again. 

And to this day?  The finger nail beds on my right hand are flatter and wider than the ones on my left.

School can be a dangerous place.


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