Throwing up is an almost every day event in the first grade. As a result, I have countless puking stories, (they seem to come in "chunks"), but I have yet to share my favorite. Today, that changes!
My first year of teaching was eight years ago and I can honestly say I was a little bit mortified the first time a kid in my class puked all over his desk. That was day two. For the next two months or so, the puking incidents began to pile up and I my mind started to numb to its nasty, sour smell.
An interesting side note: I was shocked to see that the custodian doesn't throw sawdust on the vomit anymore. When I was a kid, I was always comforted by the smell of sawdust after a peer's throw-up-fit at school. It was almost as if I looked forward to it. Nowadays, they have a giant Vomit Vacuum that simply rolls over the pile of puke, sucks it up, shampoos the carpet and gives you a pedicure all in one motion.
One day, for old-times sake, I threw some sawdust on the vomit that I had hidden in my cupboard. The custodian arrived, looked down at the spread before him and proclaimed, "What did that kid eat?!"
After my class's 14th vomiting episode of the school year, our carpet screamed for mercy and about the same time the months changed to October. Fortunately, the carpet gods were indeed merciful and the students in my class made it nearly three weeks without a single burp-and-flurp episode! It was heaven. (I assume kids don't puke in heaven. They just dry heave, but the heaves makes them feel warm and comfortable, as it should in heaven.)
October was also the month that our school hosted our annual "Vehicle Day". This was a very special day in which dozens of different kinds of vehicles cluttered the playground, waiting to be probed by the hundreds of sticky-handed children at our school. At the event there was an ambulance, a dog catcher truck, a fire engine, something that looked suspiciously like the Pope-Mobile and an ice cream van, fully equipped with a greasy, child-molesting-looking driver.
My class rotated through the stations with intense interest. The dump truck man showed them how to dump a load. They oohed. The city sweepers showed them how to turn on the brooms. They aahed. The ice cream man showed them the spot in the truck where he slept. They lost interest. (Later, we learned that the ice cream man had not even been invited to Vehicle Day. He had just shown up, which makes me believe ice cream men cannot be trusted even MORE than I had originally thought.)
With one rotation left, we hurriedly ran to the last stop on our Tour-De-Automobiles. Much to my shock, the last vehicle that my class would be exploring would be a Hearse, complete with empty casket sitting on the ground and an rickety, nightmarish driver. This should be interesting.
Now I wish that I could tell you that I was kidding, that a funeral home would think twice about sending a Hearse to show to a group of 6-year-olds, but that was indeed the case. Of this death car, I tell the truth and only the truth. I am Honest Abe. Truth is what I do.
Believe me, there was a Hearse sitting next to the jungle gym on our playground and my students were fascinated.
The driver greeted us coyly and I SWEAR he started his "presentation" with the line, "I bet you kids are dying to get a look at this car, right?!"
I was the only one that laughed.
The driver then began to explain the ins-and-outs of the car, showing them the automatic windows and the dashboard. He then showed the children where the bodies go and explained what the car is actually used for. A collective gasp could be heard from the bundle of adolescents huddling together in the cold, staring at the brand new reaper-wagon as if it were Spongebob himself.
"YOU KIDS WANT TO TRY LAYING DOWN WHERE THE BODIES GO?!"
It still doesn't sound right, but that is in fact what the old man said, while patting the top of the car as if it were his grandson's matted hair.
"Why, I don't know if we have time. I mean, we probably should go in.", I protested, assuming that the old craggy dodger would simply accept my somewhat authoritative, half-assed stance.
"Why nonsense! You guys are the last one of the day. Bring those kids in and make a line. We've got plenty of time!"
Without a chance for me to get a word in edgewise, the kids cheered in unison and lined up, eager to try their hand at an early death. Then, one by one, they lay down in the back of the Hertz for two or three seconds, giggled and then exited through the back door. As they left, the feisty old man gave each of them a pencil with "Johnson Mortuary, Serving the community since 1905" stamped across the side.
I imagined my students handing their mother the pencil as they walked through the front door. "Mom, dad! GUESS WHAT I GOT TO DO TODAY!" they would proclaim as their parents would listen in horror.
About half way through the line, I noticed little Sarah, the smallest student in the class was about to enter the Hearse. Sarah was shy, kind and cute-as-a-button, but way cuter than the Mortuary buttons the driver was handing out. I was lucky to get Sarah to say more than five words a day to me. She was painfully timid. Today would not be different.
Sarah pulled herself into the Hearse, laid down, turned her head and puked all over the brand-new, carpeted interior of the drivable tomb.
The driver and I both rushed to the scene; he was yelling something about the wood paneling, I was trying to help Sarah out of the car. I pulled Sarah free from the sticky, napped rug as she coughed and cried. The driver rushed to his glovebox, grabbed a pile of napkins and started dabbing the chunky slime. After 15 seconds of dab-dab-dabbing away, his napkins were full. He looked up at me with a half disgusted, half angry glare. I shall never forget that glare. I'm sure I'll be still thinking of it during my own Hearse ride. I told little Philip to run and get the custodian.
"Do it now Philip! HURRY!"
A few minutes later, the custodian returned with a bucket, some rags and some sort of scraping device. He began the vile clean up process and for the first time since I graduated from college, I was grateful for my degree. Four years of hard work and study had separated me from being inside that car with the puke or outside the car with the kids.
I walked Sarah to the office, where the secretary put her on a bed with some of that thin wax paper across the top. When I returned, my class was sitting on the grass, some clearly ticked that they did not get a chance to lie in the Hearse. I walked over to the veteran driver, who was still standing outside the car, watching our sweaty custodian clean the inside of his brand-new Mercedes Hearse the best he could. We stood for a few seconds in silence and finally I had to say something.
"Look, I am really sorry about this."
He was still angry, but cordial. "Yeah, crap like that happens sometimes, I guess."
"You have no idea!" I replied smugly, checking off good old number 15 in my brain.
We stood in awkward silence for a few more seconds while the custodian finished up. Finally, the humbled driver spoke up.
"Hey, don't they use sawdust for that anymore?"
"No, weird thing - they stopped using that years ago."
"That's a shame. That stuff was great."
"Yeah, I know."