Stay Low

The day The Streak ended, I was having a beer with a friend after work and I kept bringing the topic of conversation back to the insanity at Patriot, despite my best efforts.

She interrupted me and said, “You know, I actually sincerely feel bad for you.”

Embarrassed by the sympathy and by my own bitching and moaning, I hemmed and hawed about how it wasn’t all that bad. I’ve adjusted to the stress, I said. I get a lot of vacations, and there are some real sweet kids that I get to interact with. But even though I was trying to hide it, the truth was streaming through, like sunlight through a bullet hole.

I was trying to put together an escape plan, I said. But I was worried that I might not make it that far, or even to the next vacation. It wasn’t that I thought I was going to have a break down, I just felt like something was going to happen. I was scared I might finally punch a kid, or that my long walk to the subway station prove to be a little too long, a  too exposed, too dangerous. I had violent, dangerous enemies and I was always looking over my shoulder. The vibes weren’t good.

“Just lay low!” my friend implored.

“That’s the thing,” I said. “I can’t. It’s the opposite. I’m getting into kids’ faces more and more now. But you’re right, I just need to make it through this year and get out.”

“Stay low. Please.”

Her words echoed through my head when I arrived at school this morning and saw three police cars already sitting out front. They’ve been providing a regular show of force like this for a while.

Once inside, I was rushing to my first class when I passed my boss in the hall.

“I covered yoah classes,” he yelled over his shoulder.

Of course there was no explanation as to why, just this cryptic addendum,
“Be visible in the halls today. Very visible.”

In his office later, and I asked him what was up. He didn’t even look at me as he rattled off something about how, two years ago at Patriot, a 14 year old kid got arrested for trying to get a pistol through scanning. After serving a year’s suspension he came back a little older but not much wiser. He’s been involved in a lot of “click-clacking” in his hood recently (violent conflicts between cliques), including one incident where he fired shots at another one of our students on a city bus. His hood is one of the roughest in the city and the kids that come to Patriot from there are forever embroiled in beef with other kids, other gangs, and other families. It’s a place where projects war against projects, and if you step out of your territory you’re almost guaranteed to get jumped, robbed or worse. Now the clackin’ had found its way into school in two recent incidents that involved a whole lot of bleeding faces and one shirtless Ukranian thug rampaging from classroom to classroom looking for people to hurt while a bunch of Safety Agents and I followed a few steps behind, updating his location on the radio but not much else. We’re just the shit sweepers. Cleaning up after the horses. The lowest of the low.

“He needs to be cuffed!” I had said. “I just heard him yell that ‘bullets are gonna fly’ and that he’s gonna come back and ‘smoke these niggas’. He’s looking for people to attack. He needs to be cuffed.”

“He always says that,” said one of the agents dismissively. “Besides, the kids he’s looking for are already out of the building. Ain’t nothin’ gon happen.”

So we just kept following him and eventually he left. A couple weeks later though, he did find the people he was looking for, breaking a chair over an agent’s back in the process.

So word today was that the kid who brought the gun in two years ago was gonna come to school today to shoot this Ukranian dude, among others, and ominous reports and predictions were flying all around Facebook. Nervous parents were calling the school, nervous teachers were calling administrators, and nervous kids were pouring out of the building in droves as soon as the official attendance period ended. Yet somehow, this was the first I had heard of it. So now it was my turn to get antsy.

But that wasn’t all.

Another kid, unrelated to the first one, felt disrespected by something posted on Facebook and put word out that he and his family were coming up to school with guns today also. In addition, the police told us that one of our students was arrested last night in possession of a loaded gun – just in case anyone thought they were bluffing with all this burner talk.

As usual, I spent the day going chest to chest with fight-battered beasts and their screeching birds, all trying to run the place, and run me. But at least no one got shot. But when that final bell rang, and I walked out onto the street and over to the subway for the last time in 2010, you can be damn sure I stayed low.

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