Overcast Sunday morning.
Brisk north wind.
Two boys play soccer in practice field next to deserted high school.
One wears olive green hoodie, red mesh shorts, fluorescent orange cleats.
Friend wears grey beanie cap, black Adidas sweats, blue t-shirt over black long-sleeves.

Early teens, perhaps thirteen or fourteen years:
That tender age when child’s body stretches
Over a lithe, growing frame;
When youthful energy meets budding strength,
Resulting in effortless, tireless athleticism;
When cell phones and Snapchat porn
Vie equally with Legos and hide-and-seek matches;
When dreams begin their inexorable march
Against the onslaught of daily existence.

Hoodie boy scores goal against friend;
Yells in victory, voice cracks;
They switch places.
In ten, fifteen years’ time, where will the boys be?  Who will they be?
Will they remember this cold November morning?
Will they remember to dream?
Do I?
Would that I could talk to my fourteen-year-old self.
Why does it take us a lifetime to figure out how to live?


Do Fish Sneeze?


Students (incredulous): Wait, are you, like, a PhD doctor or a real doctor?
Me (amused): The latter, though some of my grad school colleagues might object to the distinction.
Students (confused): Huh?
Me: I’m a real doctor.
Students (suspicious): No offense, but why is a doctor subbing high school chemistry?
Me (cagily): I have a gap year before starting my residency and figure sub teaching is a nice way to give back to the community.
(Truth: I took time off to ‘find myself’ and, after finding myself drunk, unemployed, and penniless in Costa Rica, found myself living at my parents’ house and substitute teaching in the school district I had attended as a youth.)
Me (redirecting): And on that note, could everyone get out the worksheet that Mr. McKinley gave you yesterday?
Female student (cheerleader, archetypal Valley Girl, annoyed): Um, Mr. ‘Doctor’ sir, we don’t actually work in this class.
Me: You do today. Now, who can tell me about ionic bonding?


Unknown teacher: Hi! Are you covering Mrs. Finny, today? I’m Ms. Ellmon, just next door, English lit.
Me: Pleased to meet you. This is my first time at the middle school; I usually do high school sciences.
Ms. Ellmon: Oh, well, welcome! The kids are great. 8th graders, ya know? Enthusiastic, but too cool to show it.  They’ll turn anything you say into a ’69’ joke.
Me: Do they even know what that means?
Ms. Ellmon: A couple we found under the gym bleachers last week certainly did. Anyways, watch out in fourth period for a kid named Wayne Fleeton. Crazy. Already suspended twice this year—robbing the soda machines and setting a desk on fire.
Random student (enters classroom): Whoa, sub day! Hi, Ms. E. Did you warn him about Wacko Wayne?
Ms. Ellmon: Terrence! No name-calling…but, yes, I did.
Terrence (appraising me): You don’t look like a softie. Maybe Wacko won’t kill you on the spot.
(Truth: Mr. Fleeton is a quiet, well-mannered, intelligent lad who is criminally bored in a watered-down public education system filled with ‘phonies,’ to use his own Salinger reference.)


Me: …and that covers most of what Ms. Hammel wanted you to know on forensic odontology. Remember, for the quiz tomorrow, focus mostly on the slides about tooth development and dental records. Any questions?
Sophomore male (jet black hair, Metallica t-shirt, urban camo pants, bright pink boots, earnest mien): Is it true that zombies can tear out a person’s windpipe with just their teeth?
Male chorus: Yeah, is it? It was on ‘Walking Dead’ last night.
Me: Hmm, mechanisms of injury during assaults by the undead. Excellent question. If I remember my neck anatomy correctly, the trachea—or ‘windpipe,’ as you call it—has three major cartilaginous anchor points, the most superior of which is often…


Intercom: Attention teachers. We are under lockdown. Secure your classrooms.
Me: What the hell?!
Students (7th graders, tittering): Did you hear that? So cool! He said ‘hell.’ I like this sub.
Me: Guys and gals, is this a drill? The office didn’t mention it.
Students: They never tell us nothin’.
Me: Watch the double negatives. Ok, we’ll treat it as legit. Lights off. Close the door. Everyone into that corner, away from the windows. Now!
Students (alarmed, yelling): What if there’s really a shooter? I don’t want to die. So cool! Our Father, who art in heaven… Is the door locked? My brother said the glass is bulletproof. Your brother’s full of shit. Does anyone have a phone charger?
Me: Shut it! Sit down. No one talks, got it?
Intercom: Attention teachers. We are under lockdown. Secure your classrooms.
Students (whimpering): Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Young boy (sandy-haired, class clown, suddenly stands): Guys! What are we worried about? If anyone gets shot, we’ve got the Doctor Sub!
Classmates (pausing, considering): Hey…that’s right. We’ve got Doctor Sub!
Me: Shhh, be quiet. I can’t do much if the gunman kills us all.
(Truth: I can’t do much, regardless. The only gunshot wounds I saw in medical school were in PowerPoint slides during trauma lectures.)
Principal (several minutes later, opens classroom door): Excellent! Looks like you’ve got things under control. In case the office didn’t tell you, we’re having a lockdown drill this morning.


Me (taking attendance): Wow, where is everyone today?
Students: There’s track, tennis, and swim meets all week. Football team’s on a training-camp field trip. Baseball’s getting ready for tomorrow’s pep assembly. Cheer and pom are at nationals.
Me: Odd, I thought sports were extracurricular activities.


Substitute teachers, ephemeral creatures,
Filling in quickly when staffers fall sickly.
Oftentimes pressed, though not knowing squat-diddles,
Answer they must life’s important big riddles:
Is it possible to break a penis?
Why is smoking so heinous?
What exactly does a spleen do?
Coffee makes you short. Is that true?
How did the Earth’s rotation start?
When should you listen to your heart?
Can ice freeze?
Do fish sneeze?