HOLLYWOOD—In the pitch-black dead of morning, a teen father and juggler of three jobs, Walfredo, jogged up the jacaranda-lined lane. On the stoop to Abby Fenwick's coral-pink duplex, a sharp thump announced the arrival of the latest news to Sherman Oaks. The news was a harmless voyeuristic delight in Abby's snug, unchanging corner of Sherman Oaks.
She didn't even hear the thud, she was so engrossed in school paperwork. In the fruitless quest to perfect the imperfectible, she would burn the 4 a.m. oil. As the dawn seeped around the drawn curtains she called drapes, she would set her five alarm clocks—yes, five—to be sure that she roused at the crack of noon. Her time as Vegas showgirl and summer stock actress left her allergic to mornings. She was a night person. The five alarms were staggered, each at regular five-minute intervals. After the first alarm sounded she knew she had 20 more minutes of sweet slumber left.
At the first clanging and jangling ring of the wind-up alarm clock she roused, long enough to yawn and harbor the deluded notion that today was a Friday and her presence was not required at night school. The second alarm, an obnoxious buzz, left her mulling her role in “Night School Musical,” that of a humorless bureaucrat who denies benefits to Martha and Abel because they filled out the wrong form. At the shrill electronic beeping, the third alarm, she reminded herself that today students would review that past participle. (In this predilection to expose them to the participle she clashed sharply with Principal Cloud, who felt intermediate students were not ready for the participle.) The fourth alarm, mellow FM jazz interrupted at maddeningly frequent intervals by its sung station identification, “94.7 tha Wa-a-ave!”), brought a sensation of a frigid air hugging her neck and shoulders. She burrowed deeper into the covers. The fifth and final alarm—a Big Ben chime evoking a country she loved—revealed that the coffee pot on its timer had begun to do its thing, and its rich awesome fragrance of fresh-brewed coffee wafted to her nose.
At last her body emerged from under the covers to endure the chill that persisted into some spring days, and she went outside to retrieve the paper from the doormat—astroturf and plastic daisies—that said “Welcome” to the legions of visitors who never paid Abby a visit.
She laid aside the front section. International strife and massive lay-offs—that wasn't her cup of tea. Instead, she thumbed the funny pages and entertainment: she still considered herself an entertainer at heart. Not until a couple of hours later she was dressed and wore a jaunty flowered scarf, she consulted three enormous file cabinets, great magnets for paper that overtook her living room, and carefully selected participle worksheets for this evening's lesson. She gave her students her all: the students, even though they were adults, were the children Abby never had.
An hour later she was scrubbing the kitchen sink when a front-page headline caught her eye: “Night School Confidential.” It said: A reporter goes underground for three months at the local night school. Miss Fenwick zoomed in on the byline, Fermin Acosta. He was that problem student who couldn't write his own name, jagging all over the paper; Jason Finch swore up and own he was adept at texting in English.
Abby Fenwick now read that Fermin was not only capable of texting in English, he could also pose a rhetorical question. The article (the first in a series) began:
"Rosa De La Cruz takes four city buses after work to be at her ESL class at Jefferson Polytechnic Adult School. Then she hurries home early on her fifth bus to get home in time to make her children's lunches, go over their homework, read them a story, go to bed, and be back up at the crack of dawn to sew labels on T-shirts in a downtown LA sweatshop. But is it worth it? For Rosa night school spells opportunity for her and her three children, but Mr. and Mrs. California taxpayer may disagree. Rosa De La Cruz the devoted student is also a thief. She leaves class forty minutes early to take a fifth bus home; she is effectively robbing money from law-abiding taxpayers who foot the bill. Should a person like Rosa De La Cruz, who is a drain on the system, even be allowed to study?
This is just one glaring example of excess in the adult-school classroom. Jason Finch, an inexperienced teacher, while on the clock, lamely tries to teach students the 'To Be or Not To Be' soliloquy from Hamlet. There is plenty of flirting and chattering in Spanish, particularly in the back rows, but precious little English..."
(To be continued...)
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