HOLLYWOOD—A lot was going on, a bloody awful lot. Jason shuttled between Hollywood and the Valley, the ESL classes at San Anselmo Church in the mornings and out to Jefferson at nights. The days lost their distinguishing marks: Wednesday lost its Wednesdayness, Thursday lost its Thursdayness. Monday alone retained its stark Mondayness, viewed from the precipice of Sunday, when people glimpsed a utopian vision of what life could be, should be, what they achingly yearned for all week long. Getting back was always one hell of a drag.
So the days lost their names and life approached one long unrelenting moment. Jason Finch truly dwelled in one enormous moment, vertically and horizontally. There are a certain kind of acorn seeds that are very tough-shelled, and only do these seeds open up when a forest fire passes through. Jason, the father, the teacher, the actor, now had a fire under him 24/7. His soul's acorn now opened and sprouted a great tree. Constantly on the move and striving to meet obligations, he shed all his useless baggage, the phobias and misgivings, to keep moving, moving, moving. Acquitted of these hindrances, he acquired a weightlessness that merged into light, and the performer in him lit up the drab lives he touched.
One night, Jason spaced out and missed an important school meeting. He had to depend on secondhand versions of a plan to eliminate adult classes. During this time, his bond to teaching, ever foundering and hovering between the poles of love and hate, solidified; his standards rose ever higher. Jason now held the standard so high, he was one of those rare teachers who believed he was only as good as his worst student. And he was quite capable of ignoring those thirty for the sake of that one lost sheep.
Another meeting was held, anticipated with much dread, to welcome the gentleman heading the accreditation committee. Jason had a chance to atone for his previous flakiness. Seated primly at the library table, Jason noticed that the teacher's ranks had thinned. Many older teachers weren't in attendance. Where were Mr. Perlmutter and Janet Gilmore? The two teachers were nowhere in sight. The one old-timer present was Abby Fenwick, who came in late with the nervous and distressed air of a prison escapee who's trying to act natural while being pursued. As Abby headed to one the many empty seats, she bestowed on no one in particular crooked smiles that weren't smiles, more grimaces, and she hunched over, willing invisibility.
The library was eerily quiet. Everyone came dressed in their Sunday best and readied themselves for an invasion of people wearing white gloves, ready to run gloved fingers around the dusty rims of their dry-erase boards. The head of the accreditation team possessed a hearty laugh (he seemed to have inherited all the merry laughter that had fled Abby Fenwick) and was just enough of a lunatic to wear a florid silk necktie, graced by a cartoon Goofy. It turned out he was a former music teacher.
“He's going to love our musical,” gushed Principal Cloud in an aside to Jason.
That meeting instilled a sense of complacency, even of delight, given the starchy misconceptions held of the former music teacher, Mr. Beattie, on the eve of his arrival. Relief spread all round: they'd expected a stuffy personality, an embodiment of intimidating condescension. Mr. Beattie even joked, “I was a music teacher. Now the music has stopped in all the schools. Thank God I became an overpaid administrator.”
Goodwill sprang from the meeting. The teachers warmed to the man who asked to be called Dale and not Mr. Beattie, please.
Jason's was the last of the cars in the exodus from the lot. He edged the Sentra into forward and swung out onto the broad avenue in front of the adult school's bungalow office. He couldn't wait to stop by and see what was going on at San Anselmo. Night and day now, hammers were hammered, boards sawed, drywall raised, paint dried, and cigarettes smoked, their ends clustered just outside the social hall. Scenes were blocked and songs tweaked; sets went up for a classroom and an elaborate church tower.
Before braving the Hollywood Freeway, Jason braked at the intersection of Roscoe Blvd. and Arleta. He had the delayed, time-released perceptions of an event that took place in a highly compressed amount of time, broken apart into discrete units, each separated and individualized: Jason stepping on the gas. . . Turning into the intersection. . . A loud thud on the right fender. . . Jason's car shuddering. . . Then: jamming on the brakes. . . Books on the back seat and Kit's stuffed plush cat flying forward into a goulash of junk. . . A gigantic wing swooping across the streetlight-dappled hood, as the giant wing resolved into a windbreaker-clad man who wore glasses, silver framed, and whose head was sparsely populated by steel-gray hairs. Then: the taut piano wire of Jason's nerves tensed and jolted Jason. His brown hair rose on end, his twin eyes leapt a full six inches out of their sockets. Beyond the hood, a red bicycle flew gently into the air and somersaulted over to the curb, it handlebars and spinning-chrome wheels agleam in Jason's headlights.
"Leapin' Lizards," Jason gasped, "I ran over a biker!"
(To be continued...)
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