Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Miss O' Show: A Fantasia

When you dream about being a teacher--and let's face it, who doesn't? (And if you don't dream of being a teacher, you dream about doing one. Just ask Mr. Newt Gingrich.)

Here is my version of what you think teaching will be like, and how your dream begins to go horribly, freakishly wrong. Because you are, of course, an idiot.

ACT I, Scene 1

[AT RISE: Darkness. Then strains of a TV theme score from the 1950s, for example, reach a crescendo. Enter, as lights come up, MISS O’, in a gorgeous brocade, high-collared, floor-length dressing gown-style frock. She whirls in, hair done, heels on feet, hose in place. She is beaming, Loretta-Young beaming. (Look up Loretta Young on the Wiki.) AUTHOR’S NOTE: The actor playing MISS O’ is meant to play all the parts. Good luck with that.]

MISS O’: It was simply grand of you to come. [beat, takes in the scene; looks at roster, surveys the room.] Shall I call roll? When I call your name, please raise your hand and say, “Present.” Molly. Mary. Jack. Ann. Mary. Maryann. Billy. Michael. Michael. Rose. Jack. Michael [he corrects her]--Mike. Tommy. Mary. Michael. Rose. Jack. Tom. Tom. Tom. [beat] Mary. Tom. Susan. [smiles] Welcome, Sophomores. Welcome to English. I’m Miss O’, and I’ll be your Teacher!

[Lights change. Set reveals: a teacher’s stainless steel desk, stream-lined steel chair, blackboard on which “Miss O’” is written, empty chalk holder and eraser in tray, gradebook on desk, along with pen holder, name plate, blotter, a few books held in metal bookends. MISS O’ swirls over to her place behind the desk. Surveys it. She stands there, powerful, beneficent, your hostess. She loves her desk items.]

MISS O’: [proffering from a side pocket what looks like a silver cigarette case; pops it open; beat] Chalk? [starting to lift one out; pause] Do you mind if I . . .? Thanks. [Takes one. Snaps the case closed, slips it sensuously back into her side pocket. She crosses to board, places the chalk in the holder from the blackboard tray; she lofts chalk in hand as one might raise a cigarette to one’s lips; deeply inhales the dusty odor of...chalk. No, not chalk: Of success.]

MISS O’: Now, class, we have a lot of work to do, so let’s get started. Who’s up for some grammar? [a seduction] I know you know all about nouns: Nominative and objective cases. Verbs:  Action, linking, and helping, and all the conjugations. Clauses:  independent . . . and subordinate. Subjects and predicates. Modifiers, adverbial and adjectival. And of course, the phrase. I like to start my structural workout by getting a leg up on the prepositional phrase. A firm grasp of the workings of the prepositional phrase will unleash the body of the English language, the workings of that language, that body, and open wide your mind to the intricacies of our Mother Tongue. Are you ready? Open your notebooks. [stalks to the board] If you can hunt down and cage off in parentheses each and every prepositional phase in any sentence, you go a long way toward cracking the code of subject-verb agreement, to say nothing of selecting the correct pronoun in a compound construction. You’ll notice I said, “ go a long way toward cracking the code.” The British would say “towards,” as well as forwards, backwards, and bonnet for hood. But in America we don’t use an s where it’s just plain silly, and what we call things makes sense! They can have their foolish flats. We live in apartments! And they can take their boot and trunk themselves! SO: It’s toward, as in toward the door. [Writes (or pulls back small curtain to reveal, etc.) on board as she says:] She walked toward the door. “Toward the door” is a prepositional phrase, used as an adverb that answers the question “Where?” Where did she walk, this woman of ours? Toward the door. “Toward” is the preposition. “The” is an article, as we know, a kind of adjective modifying the noun, “door.” The three words together form what is called a prepositional phrase.  [Places parentheses around the phrase.] What is a preposition? Prepositions like “toward” are direction words, placing a noun in relation to the rest of the sentence: This stick of chalk, for instance, can be [models each]: IN my ear, UNDER my arm, AROUND my head, ON my clit. In, under, around, into, among, beyond, below, beneath, atop, on. [Writes:] The woman on drugs (is, are) here. [spoken as “is comma are”; beat, waiting for answer] How do I select the correct form of the verb “to be”? I think we can agree that “woman” is a singular noun, and that “drugs” is plural. And I just used the singular verb “is” in pointing out “drugs is plural” because I’m talking about “drugs” not in the plural sense, but as a single word example of the noun in question. Now in the sentence, The woman on drugs IS/ARE here: What is the subject? Are we speaking of the drugs or of the woman? Let us remove the prepositional phrase and all is revealed. What is the prepositional phrase? [Beat, expectant of an answer so she can begin to set off the phrase “on drugs” in parentheses]

KELLI [stereotypically blonde, all tits, but she is sincere]: OK, stop! Miss O’, like, this is stupid. What are you talking about?

MISS O’: [confused, apologetic to class] Excuse me, I seem to be picking up signals from outer space. [KELLI looks around.] Hmm. You are . . . [checks roll] Who are you?

KELLI: Kelli. With an i.

MISS O’: You are in my class?


MISS O’: I’m a little confused. Well . . . Kelli . . . with an i . . . did you have a question? I didn’t see your hand.

KELLI: I totally don’t know what you are doing.

MISS O’: May I finish, and then I’ll review?

KELLI: Whatev.

MISS O’: [Confused, but pressing on: puts “on drugs” in parentheses; then speaks and writes] Mr. Hotman is coming with Totsie and (I, me) [say, “I comma me”]. Which pronoun is correct? I or me?


MISS O’: Kelli is it? Kelli. You have a hand, you know, Kelli. You might use your hand to gain my attention rather than speaking rudely out of turn. [KELLI raises her hand, sort of.] Pay attention, Kelli. Listen to me, class! Here is the secret! The great secret! NOW: Remove Totsie and from the equation.

KELLI: Oh, God, why did you have to say equation? What, is this math? I can’t do math!!

MISS O’: Kelli, HAND. [KELLI raises her hand, a little more committed this time.] Now, we just take Totsie and, out of the sentence, strike Totsie and the conjunction she rode in on OUT! [does so, covering this part of the sentence with hand or eraser] NOW! Kelli, read the sentence. Mr Hotman is coming with . . . !!!

KELLI: Mr. Hotman is coming with . . . . Oh. With I sounds weird. Um. With me. But when you have two, it’s Totsie and I. You always have to say the other person and I. Right?

MISS O’: Wrong. So very, very wrong. You make me weep, Kelli. You and all your bottle-blonde, honey-skinned, tight-tittied kind. So many modifiers, so little to describe. [sighs] Prepositions always take the objective case. Now why would you change a clearly objective case pronoun “me” to the nominative case pronoun “I,” just because someone else is coming with you and Mr. Hotman?  The answer is, YOU DO NOT. [writes and says] Willy and (she, her) [“she comma her”] will come with Mr. Hotman. [KELLI raises her hand, quickly.] Kelli.


MISS O’: I’ve tricked you! I’ve thrown you! This is no longer a prepositional phrase, Kelli! Look at the whole sentence! Look at it, I say! We’ve got a compound SUBJECT here, Kelli! Take Willy  out  . . . of the sentence! NOW read it again!

KELLI: Her will come . . . no, not Her. Wait. SHE. She will come with Mr. Hotman.

MISS O’: Yes! Yes, don’t you SEE? This is a compound subject, meaning you need the nominative case pronoun she. [speaks and writes] (Her, She) and I will eat out.

KELLI: Her and I will eat out. Right? Shit. Wait. I know that look. Stop giving me that look, Miss O’. [ KELLI raises her hand perfunctorily; MISS O’ covers “and I.”] Her will eat out. No! SHE will eat out.  So it’s not Her. But Her and I is right, though. I know that. She and I sounds wrong.

MISS O’: Do not rely on your ear, Kelli. Use what you know. Use what I am teaching you. USE this knowledge I offer you, Kelli.

KELLI: Her and I.

MISS O’: Don’t fight me, Kelli. I will win. You must know I’ll win. [lifts up her gradebook] You know what this is, don’t you?

KELLI: It’s . . . your gradebook.

MISS O’: That’s right, Kelli. It’s my gradebook. Don’t make me use it. Because I can, you know. And at each quarter’s end, I must.

KELLI: But I don’t understand! I don’t understand any of this!

MISS O’: Because you, young hussy, are what my mother would call Willfully Ignorant. I’m sorry I had to say that.

KELLI: But when you know what I mean, when I, like, talk . . . like when I say “her and I,” if it’s supposed to be, like,  “she and I,” why does it matter, why does anyone care what I say, as long as they understand me? I don’t care!


lO’: [beat] Did you hear that, Kelli?

KELLI: Hear what?

MISS O’: The sound of the entire English language collapsing into a pile of  babble––vomited, spewed, scattered, irredeemably illegible, forever indecipherable.


MISS O’: What the fudge is your fudging problem, Kelli? [uberbeat] Why in the name of holy fucking GOD do I do this?

[Silence. Lights change. Music. In smooth, balletic gestures, or possibly defiant, militant ones: MISS O’ removes her wig, fluffs out her hair; her frock is removed to reveal toreador pants, a simple blouse; she replaces her heels with practical flats or boots;  (or, if desired, a Dominatrix ensemble.) She blots off the lipstick. She removes from a drawer a bottle of Scotch and a bar set-up, pours a stiff one, lights a pipe. Once fortified, she moves to the front of the desk, shoves the books into a waste basket, and sits down on the desktop; a hard, flat foot comes up, as well. She addresses the class.]

MISS O’: Now shut up and do your worksheets. [Music, 1960s jazz, heats up as on a console. MISS O’ looks out into the audience, puffing. Lights dim. Music fades. Lights up on LEO TOLSTOY, “Tolstoy on Education Seminar” poster in flames.]
[End scene 1]

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. That is exactly how I remember your classes.