Monthly Archives: October 2017

Symphony 18

Day One

School began on Friday the second of September. All of the other teachers complained about having the students for only one day and then losing them for the Labor Day weekend. They said it was like having to do the first day of school twice. For Neil, it was a Godsend. It allowed him three days grace to rethink his ideas after having a day with his students.

Even the weather relented and gave him a day that did not reach above ninety.

When Neil arrived, there was a short line of students with their parents in front of the secretary’s desk. Half a dozen early arriving students had begun a baseball game out back, and there were half a dozen more hanging around the doors of some of the classrooms.

Neil unlocked his door and propped it open with a chair. He had arranged the student desks in straight rows, and had put a student name tag on each desk. Neil’s mother would not have approved, but she had been teaching elementary for thirty years and could handle less restrictive seating arrangements. Neil intended to have everything orderly, at least at first. He had even seated the students in alphabetical order to make it easier to learn their names.

Neil was in his room by eight o’clock in case any parents came to meet him. Only four showed up and two of them dropped their children off at the door without coming in. Mr. Kruger brought Kenneth in and introduced himself briefly. Then Mrs. Whitlock brought in her son Larry and stood by while he introduced himself, squirming with embarrassment, and stayed to chat for a few minutes. Neil found out that Larry always did well in school, that he always liked his teachers, but that he sometimes forgot to do his homework, and that Neil was to call her immediately if anything went wrong. Neil said that he was happy that she cared enough to come in. He meant what he said, but privately he reserved judgment. She was a little too good to be true. He wondered if Larry loved school as much as she thought he did, or if she was reading her own enthusiasm into him.

By the time Mrs. Whitlock left, the room had begun to fill up with children. Some stood in small knots, talking and trying not to be seen looking at Neil. Others ignored him quite completely and wandered around the room without self-consciousness. One skinny blonde girl went up to look at the books that Gina had left, and began telling a dark haired friend which ones she had read. Three boys looked at a display of National Geographic maps Neil had put up.

Larry Whitlock had joined a trio of other boys in the back of the room and already two of them were beginning to scuffle. Neil raised his voice until his baritone filled the room. “Gentlemen,” he said calmly but sternly, “people don’t wrestle in my classroom, even between classes.”

The room was instantly silent, and all eyes were on him. He turned to look at the papers on his desk — papers he had no need to look at — and seemed to ignore the boys. They eased out the door and began wrestling again under his window. He continued to ignore them, so they went out onto the playground. more tomorrow

418. India by Dirigible

Today the British dirigible Henry V, nicknamed Harry, reached western India, then traveled south from Goa — still in Portuguese hands in 1887 in our world and theirs — to Mangalore (now called Mangaluru) where they will follow the Netravathi River in their crossing of the Western Ghats.

God, I love writing novels

This morning, so far (I’m writing this on Sept. 29), I have four views of various posts. Three are from the USA and one is from India. That is no surprise. As I reported in a previous post, India is the third most common country of origin for those who view my blog, after the USA and Canada. I don’t understand why, but I like it a lot. I have had a strong connection with India since 1967.

(This is in textual parentheses because it is a parenthetical event. I took a brief break to watch Well Read on my local PBS and found a rerun of an interview by Indian author Anuradha Roy. It was both another connection, and a caution that what I know about India is small compared to a writer who is a native.)

During my first year in college, I switched to Anthropology because Biology was going through a phase where, if a study didn’t require an electron microscope, it wasn’t worth doing. I was there to study ecology, and couldn’t see spending my life wearing a white coat in an air conditioned lab. Anthropology seemed a better bet, and I soon became enthralled with India. I even ended up taking a year of Hindi, but a language you don’t speak, goes away. I could still tell you how to get to the Ajmiri hotel, and that’s about it.

When I  was about to graduate from college, my wife and I volunteered for the Peace Corps and were assigned to a project in Mysore, the Indian state which is now called Karnataka. Between my draft number and Nixon’s cancellation of the Peace Corps deferment, we never got to go. Instead, I spent the next four years in the Navy, and then returned to college for an MA where my thesis was on Indian village economics.

Then I became a writer, and I never got to India.

India, however, always remained a part of my writing. In A Fond Farewell to Dying, a young scientist from post-apocalyptic America goes to India which, two hundred years from now, is the only refuge of civilization. In the steamunk novel I am now writing (still in search of a good title) Lieutenant Commander James of the dirigible Henry V is caught up in a conflict between Britain at her peak and her Indian possessions which are beginning their long fight for freedom.

Incidentally, at the other end of the Netravathi River which was mentioned in the first paragraph, is Mysore, the region I was assigned to almost fifty years ago. I never made it in the flesh, but I’m looking forward to going there by dirigible.

God, I love writing novels

Symphony 17

After his conversation with Carmen, Neil changed his plans. Instead of spending his pre-school days in academic preparation, he worked at getting to know his children. The cumulative folders were a gold mine. He found out who had been suspended during previous years. He found out which students needed the most academic help. He could see which students had a pattern of mid-winter absences to Mexico.

One boy had been registered originally as Dean Mason. Then his name had been changed to Dean Solstenes, back to Dean Mason, and finally to Dean Smallwood, all within three years. It was easy enough to read an unstable family situation from those changes.

On Dierdre Galloway’s folder he found a note that said, “Needs glasses and won’t wear them. Must sit up front or she won’t be able to read the chalkboard.”

Before he met them, he knew that:

Brandy Runyon had repeated kindergarten, and then had repeated third grade. She should have repeated fifth, but at fourteen, she was far too physically developed. She was marking time while waiting for the paperwork to be completed to transfer her to a school where her learning disability could be dealt with.

Oscar Teixeira had been making outstanding scores on his yearly tests every year since kindergarten, then in fifth grade he had scored almost zero. In the last two years, he had been suspended five times, always for insolence or insubordination. Every parent letter made reference to Oscar as being bored with school. He had failed last year’s test deliberately, and had been suspended for it.

Not every folder contained a problem. Some told stories of unbelievable progress. Tasmeen and Rabindranath Kumar had first enrolled four years ago, in first grade. They had come from Madras, in India, and spoke no English. Their first year scores were nearly zero, but by the second year they were only a little below grade level. At the end of the third grade they were both skipped ahead to bring their grade level more into line with their ages. Despite this, their fifth grade scores showed them to be well above their classmates.

Their fifth grade teacher had wanted to advance Tasmeen another grade. She was a year older than her brother, scored consistently higher, and the teacher felt that he was holding her back. The parents would not agree. They said that they both could be advanced, or Rabindranath alone could be advanced, but Tasmeen was not to be placed above her brother.

With sixty-seven children to remember, Neil fell back on a system that had worked for him in college. On five by eight cards he placed name, age, test scores and a four or five word physical description of each child. For most of the children, he could do no more until he met them. For students like Tasmeen, Oscar, and Brandy, his notes filled the card.

# # #

The night before school was to start, Neil sat in his apartment considering the string of students that had passed through his classes during his years in Oregon. The number was staggering. He had been seeing 170 to 180 students each day for four years. Seven to eight hundred students, and he could only remember about two dozen of their faces.

He had a feeling that he would remember these sixth graders long after he had forgotten every high school student he had ever taught.

417. Sturgeon and Steampunk

If I’ve learned anything in my ongoing study of steampunk, it is that Sturgeon’s Law does not apply. [Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety percent of everything is shit.]

Sturgeon’s rule applies to science fiction, fantasy, literature approved for the college curriculum, and the work of prominent philosophers. It applies to fields where there is some objective means of determining quality.

Steampunk, on the other hand, is so wide ranging that it would be hard to find any two fans who agree on precisely what it is, far less what constitutes good steampunk.

After I read and reviewed Steampunk by the Vandermeers (see 411. Steampunk I II III), I checked out how it fared in Goodreads. The reviews were all over the map. More notably, when reviewers told what stories they liked or hated, no one liked or hated the same stories.

So if Sturgeon is not useful, let’s try this: [Logsdon’s addendum: I don’t like ninety percent of what I try to read.] That is why I’ve read so many first-twenty-pages-of-novels, without finishing them. I’m referring to all novels, not just steampunk.

The Addendum is not just a matter of putting my name beside Sturgeon’s. You could call it Wilkes Addendum, if your name were Wilkes, or Jones Addendum if your name were Jones. I suspect it would still hold. Quality and liking are not the same thing. I frequently read works that are marvelously written, but I simply can’t find any interest in them. That often happens when I dip into the Classics. It happened in some of the stories in the Vandermeer anthology.

On the flip side, some stories are pure fun, even though I can’t claim that they are intrinsically good.

This like/dislike issue comes up all the time when people “like” one of my posts. I always visit their websites. A lot of them are very young or deeply wounded, and are baring their souls. Occasionally I say hello, but mostly I withdraw silently, just happy that the internet is there for them.

Frequently I find a writer who is displaying his work. I always read, but rarely comment, because, “Who am I to judge?” It was under those circumstances that I recently read the first chapter of Echo by Kent Wayne (very much not steampunk). It is a fine piece of fiction, powerfully written, and it will clearly have much to say in coming chapters. It is also quite violent, and the character at the center is not someone I could like — yet, although there are hints of coming change. I short, I rank it high for quality, but I won’t read it further because it takes me places I don’t want to go. My shortest honest response would be, fine work, but not for me.

On the other hand, I also found Michael Tierney through a “like”, bought his purely steampunk ebook To Rule the Skies, and am presently 77% of the way through it. That’s an ebook workaround for the lack of pagination. The novel reads like Tom Swift, the Steampunk Professor and I love it for that very reason. I’ll devote a post to it shortly.

Another thing I have tentatively concluded is that lots of steampunk fans must also love Downton Abbey and Fear of Flying. I’ve lost track of how many heroes and heroines are members of the Victorian upper crust, the heroines also being spunky and liberated.

Oh well, it’s a big tent, with room for everybody. Most of the people inside seem to be wearing top hats with gears on them, but it isn’t required.

Symphony 16

Carmen tapped the folder and said, “This is a typical pattern for a Mexican child who has been in this country for two or three years and is doing well. If she is nurtured, she will probably make it. Her language could improve very quickly if she gets the kind of stern but understanding attention she needs.”

Carmen looked at Neil as she said, “Please don’t think I’m lecturing you, but this is critical. Rosa — all the Rosa’s out there — will not sound intelligent. She won’t be able to think clearly because she won’t have the internal language skills necessary for clear thought. But she is potentially intelligent.

“If you lose her this year, you will have lost her forever. Right now, she could catch up if you push her hard without breaking her spirit. But if she slides through this year it will probably be too late.”

Carmen thumbed through the file and withdrew another folder. This student’s picture showed a skinny blonde with a cocky grin. “This is Rosa’s competition,” Carmen said. “This is the kind of student that will take all your time if you let yourself be seduced by success.”

“Please understand, I don’t know these children. I have met Rosa through her older brothers and sisters, but I don’t know her personally and I don’t know Stephanie at all. I’m just trying to show you the general patterns to look for while you are really getting to know them.

“Stephanie is a top student. That 12.+ means that she got every question right on that particular test. The point is, Stephanie will sound smart because she had mastered her language far beyond what we expect of an eleven year old. Rosa will sound stupid,” Carmen made a face as if the word were distasteful, “because she has not mastered English. The Stephanies of the world always get more than their fair share of attention.”

Neil glanced quickly at Carmen, and caught her face in such an intensity of expression that he could almost see back into her own childhood to the time when she had learned how the “Stephanies” stole attention away from the dark, quiet ones.

Carmen returned to the file and pulled out a third folder. The girl’s name was Rita. She was skinny and smiling from behind a huge pair of glasses.

Neil looked at her test scores and just shook his head. “Why is she in sixth grade?” he asked. “She can’t do the work if she is scoring at a second grade level. Why wasn’t she retained?”

“I know this one,” Carmen replied. “I had her when I taught third grade. She is almost fourteen. Her family moves back and forth from Mexico even more than most. She went to first grade here. Then she disappeared for a couple of years, and came back for third grade, but she only stayed until Christmas and then we didn’t see her until the middle of fourth grade. She went to three other American schools during that time, for a few months here and a few months there. Who knows what she did in Mexico. Even when she was enrolled in school here, she seldom came. She has seven younger brothers and sisters, and her mother keeps her home to baby sit.

“She hardly speaks English at all. I’ve tried talking to her in Spanish, and her Spanish is terrible, too. Just when I thought I was going to get close to her and make a difference in her life, she went back to Mexico again.” more tomorrow

Symphony 15

“Two years ago a team from the state told us we had to go to a middle school arrangement. It’s the latest thing, putting sixth grade up with seventh and eighth. Never mind how poorly it works! That’s when we put in the portables and built a fence between the two halves of the campus. That’s when we worked out this schedule.”

Neil was surprised at the bitterness in her voice. He guessed that she had fought against the change. The schedule looked beautifully logical and balanced, but he had an idea that it would not work out in practice as well as it did on paper.

He remembered the three brown faces in the road ditch. “What about those students who don’t speak English?” he asked.

“Hopefully, there will only be a few, but some of your students may not read or write.”

“You mean they may not read and write well.”

“I mean they may not read or write at all. In English or in Spanish. That happens when they shuttle back and forth to Mexico every year.”

Neil caught Carmen studying him with a look of puzzled curiosity that she tried to hide. “Have you studied your cumulative folders yet?” she asked quickly.

“I don’t know what they are.”

She led him to the teacher’s lounge and showed him the file cabinet where the folders were kept. The folders for each group of students filled a fat cardboard box. They took the two sixth grade boxes back to Carmen’s room where she took a folder and laid it in front of Neil. It was for Rosa Alvarez. Along the top edge of the folder was a row of six small photographs — Rosa’s pictures in every grade from kindergarten to fifth. She was dark haired and brown eyed with a round face and a solemn expression.

Covering the front outside of the folder were strips of computer printed labels with esoteric columns of numbers. Like the pictures, there was one label for each grade. Carmen tapped the labels with her forefinger and said, “These are test results. You will find them most useful for getting to know your kids quickly. Every year all of our students are given a comprehensive battery of standardized tests. They can be very useful, but you should remember that they aren’t always accurate.”

Carmen smiled for the first time. “You can also use them if you have a weakness for soulful brown eyes. I sometimes develop such an affection for my students that I stop pushing as hard as I should. Lately I’ve made it a practice to come back to these test scores at least once a quarter to remind myself of where each child really is.”

Neil studied her. She was beautifully proportioned. Her hair and coloring were pure Chicano. Her facial features were quite small. She kept her feelings hidden behind the smooth perfection of her face. Neil wondered how much Bill Campbell had told her.

The computer label was covered with data. Carmen said, “Look under the name. You see the 5.7? That is the base of comparison for the other scores. It means fifth grade, seventh month. That is when they took the test. A student who was exactly dead average would score a 5.7 across the board. Now look at Rosa.”

“Rosa’s reading scores show her reading almost a year below grade level. That isn’t as bad as it seems. That kind of variation is still fairly close to the norm. Her language score, though, is nearly two years below grade level — she scored at a high third grade level when she took this test. Her math score is above grade level, which puts her total somewhere near normal.” more Monday

416. Steampunk I II III

If you go to Amazon, select books, and type in Steampunk, you will get a supposed 100 pages of 16 entries each. No, I didn’t tap through all of them.

In the novel I am presently working on, I had cause to quote Samuel Johnson’s A man who is tired of London, is tired of life. I think I could paraphrase that as a man who is tired of steampunk is tired of reading. Steampunk seems to encompass everything, which makes it a little hard to throw a rope around.

I have been reading proto-steampunk all my life, but the genre (if it is a genre) has only been identified as such since about 1980. What is it, other than everything? I feel a little like a wild kid in a permissive household; how can I be a rebel if I can’t find any boundaries?

Following that train of thought, I recently got hold of the 2008 anthology Steampunk by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. There are also a Steampunk II and a Steampunk III, hence the post title, but I haven’t seen them. Let me start by quoting from their preface:

In this anthology, we’ve tried to provide a blend of the traditional and idiosyncratic, the new and the old, while remaining true to the idea of steampunk as dark pseudo-Victorian fun. You’ll find stories about mechanistic golems, infernal machines, the characters of Jules Verne, and, of course, airships

The anthology Steampunk consist of thirteen excerpts and short stories, and three essays tackling history and definition of steampunk. I read only bits and pieces of the thirteen, and that needs explaining. I generally don’t like short fiction. I read tons of it when I was growing up and some of it was superb, but generally it is long on the clever and short on humanity.

Perhaps if someone had held my feet to the fire and required that I finish them, I would have found more to like in these short stories. Probably not. I skipped Moorcock because I had read the novel from which the excerpt was taken. I skipped Blaylock because I am reading one of his novels now. Both authors are excellent.

Many of the other stories left me cold. They were strings of events happening to people I could not care about. Also, the stories seemed universally dark. That is a valid anthologist’s choice, but I don’t care for horror and I outgrew dystopias thirty years ago. Life is a mixture of light and dark, and literature has to mirror that if it is going to hold my attention.

Mind you, most of what I sampled was reasonably well written. It didn’t fail for lack of skill, but there did seem to be a lot of throwing ideas around without linking them together. Short stories can sometimes get away with that. The steampunk novels I am presently reading all seem far better structured.

However, there was one shining light. Jess Nevins’ introduction: The 19th-Century Roots of Steampunk was a superb explanation of steampunk’s precursors. I learned a lot from Nevins.

Symphony 14

He opened all the windows and propped the door open with a chair but it didn’t help much. Then he surveyed the room. He opened the doors under the counter that ran the length of the window wall and found it mostly filled with sealed cardboard boxes belonging to Gina Wyatt. It was just as well; he had nothing to store. All of the paraphernalia he had accumulated during his years of teaching were stored in his mother’s garage in Oregon. They would be of no use to him at this grade level.

The west wall of the room had a generous blackboard. There was a battered metal teacher’s desk jammed against the wall, a row of coat hooks at the back of the room, and some empty bulletin boards on the walls. The walls were of faded blue plaster. The acoustic tile ceiling was discolored where the roof had leaked.

Jammed into one corner, beneath the blackboard and against the counter, was a battered bookcase. Neil sat cross legged to examine it. It contained a dozen dictionaries, an ancient set of encylopedias, and about fifty books. They were a mixture of rescued cast-offs and modern but much worn children’s paperbacks. There was a note taped to the shelf that said, “Don’t let the kids steal too many of these. Good luck, Gina.”

Neil smiled. The note made him feel less alone.

That note was the only piece of paper in the room, so Neil went to the office and filled out a requisition form. An hour later the janitor delivered a cart load of materials: reams of newsprint, binder paper, drawing paper, construction paper in assorted colors, crayons, tape, paper clips, and staples. But there was much missing. There were no colored markers, no stapler, no pencils, no pens, no binders, and no spiral notebooks.

At the bottom of the requisition form was a note saying, “The school doesn’t supply everything you asked for.” Then it went on in parentheses: (Sorry. Low budget. You’ll get used to it. Ask Pearl for help — she’s our best scrounger. Evelyn.)

Neil didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Enough. He was spinning his wheels here. He still didn’t have a clear picture of what he was supposed to teach, so he crossed to Carmen de la Vega’s room.

The air conditioning wrapped him up in a rush of cool air. Carmen looked up with a distant, measuring coolness of her own. He reminded her that she was supposed to show him the ropes.

She began by sketching a grid on paper. “The students have seven periods of classes. We teach six and have one period off for preparation. You’ll need that to grade papers. In order to make it all work, our preps are staggered. Yours is fourth period, mine is seventh, Pearl’s is first, and so on. 

“We have about sixty-five students in the sixth grade.  They will be divided into two groups, and they will stay in those groups all day, moving from teacher to teacher as a unit. They will have one period each of math, history, science, and P.E., except that Tom teaches P.E. four days a week and art one day a week. The rest of the day they will spend with you.”

Carmen had sketched in the schedule as she explained, and it was clear enough. She said, “That means that you will actually teach only two classes a day, but each class will be three periods long.”

“Isn’t this a bit of a strange schedule?” Neil asked. more tomorrow

415. Life-long Day Job

After twenty some years of teaching
science, I finally got a lab.  SL

Continuing from Monday’s post — Jandrax came out and I went back to writing full time. Those were the years of A Fond Farewell to Dying, Todesgesanga (FFTD translated to German) Valley of the Menhir, Scourge of Heaven, Who Once Were Kin, and the first iteration of Cyan. I know you’ve never seen half of those books, but you will. I promise.

There is no better feeing than sitting down every day and writing, when the results are good. And they were. However, there are few more frustrating feelings than writing good books that don’t sell. After most of a decade of full time writing, it was clear that I couldn’t go on that way, and equally clear that I couldn’t quit. I needed a day job that would leave me some time for writing.

My wife suggested that I substitute teach. The pay was good (compared to minimum wage) and I didn’t have to look for jobs. I signed up, and the jobs came to me. It worked as a stopgap.

I couldn’t do it again, after being an actual teacher. Substitute teaching is to teaching, as going to the dentist is to being a dentist. The best one word description is probably painful.

However, I didn’t feel that way at the time. Yes, the job was boring, and yes, it was glorified babysitting, but I had made a shocking discovery.

I liked the kids. A lot.

You have to understand, I was an only child, raised on a farm, having little contact with other kids. I never had children of my own — by choice. To me, babies are just pre-humans. Kids under ten bore the hell out of me. But these kids were interesting and fun to be around.

I had discovered that middle school kids are more fun than a bucket of puppies. I realize that I am a minority in that opinion, and I also realize that part of my feeling comes from not having to take them home with me, but there it is.

Most teachers want to teach high school or fourth grade. Not me. My days as a substitute teacher in high school were dismal. My days teaching kindergarten were horrific. But middle school was my Goldilocks age — not too young, not too old.

By that time I had two masters degrees, so it didn’t take long to tack on a teaching credential. I took a job in one of the schools where I had substituted and I was still there twenty-seven years later.

In my mind, it was a day job. I continued writing. I continued working on the novels which weren’t quite right, and I wrote Raven’s Run. Years went by. I wrote a novel about teaching, Symphony in a Minor Key, which is running over in Serial right now.

I could tell you all about my first years, describe my first room, and give you insights into the joys and pains of teaching — except that I already have, in Symphony.

After about ten years, it was obvious that I wan’t going to get back to full time writing any time soon. After another decade, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t just a writer who was teaching. I was a teacher. It took me that long to be able to say it without having it sound like a defeat. I never stopped being a writer. I just became a teacher as well. I had two careers, parallel and simultaneous, and there was nothing wrong with that.

I was a writer, and a good one. I was a teacher, and a good one. Nothing wrong with that. After about twenty five years, I could even call myself a teacher out loud.

Now I am a retired teacher, and a full time writer again, with a new book out and another working its way through the computer. But I wouldn’t trade those years of teaching for anything.

Symphony 13

When he got back to his apartment, Neil dug around in his still packed boxes to find the few books he had kept as personal treasures from his childhood. The formula books had not worn well; they held little that the adult Neil McCrae could find worthwhile. But there were others that had kept their value, and he spent the next four hours accompanying the young Hunt brothers as they continued the expedition their father had had to abandon, collecting zoo animals while floating downriver on their Amazon Adventure.

# # #

On Monday morning, Neil arrived at work five minutes late in order to avoid meeting his colleagues before Campbell had a chance to introduce him. They were laughing and joking as old friends will when they have not seen each other for months. Neil was the only newcomer; their responses to him were quick and friendly.

Pearl Richardson was broad and heavy, with short white hair and a mouth full of laughter. Fiona Kelly sat beside her, sharing a joke, with a dry chuckle to Pearl’s hearty guffaw. Fiona was slender and pale with hair that might have been red even before her hairdresser got hold of it, and was absolutely red now.

Donna Clementi was petite and quiet. Neil thought it would take a long time to get to know her. Delores Zavala sat a little removed from the rest of the group as if she were not quite sure of her place there.

Tom Wright was well formed but slender. He had straw colored hair and a runner’s body; sitting there in gym shorts and a tee shirt he looked precisely like a P.E. teacher. Glen Ulrich looked old, tired, and ill. His eyes had the look of repressed physical pain.

“Finally,” Campbell said, completing the introductions, “is Carmen de la Vega. Her room is just across from yours, and she is teaching core to seventh graders. She will be the one to go to when you don’t understand something.”

Neil felt something like a shock run through him. It was not recognition — he did not know her and she did not remind him of anyone he knew — but it was a spark. A recognition of possibilities. It took him completely by surprise. It went straight through his smiling, guarded mask and gripped his heart in with both hands. 

But when she raised her eyes to his, there was no answering spark in them. They were cool and hooded. She smiled and said hello, but it was a distant, formal smile that brought no feeling to her eyes.

# # #

The morning was devoted to discussion of the changes in the language and social science frameworks. Neil was barely aware that such things existed and had never read one. He followed the discussion as best he could and offered no comments.

After lunch, they were free to work, so Neil went to his room. The walls were bare. It would remain a place without personality until he put his stamp on it. The student desks were a mixture of styles and colors. Some were new, but most were battle scarred veterans made of dark, much carved wood. He compared their number to the list of students he had been given and made a note to ask for two more.

It was one o’clock and the temperature outside was in the high nineties. In only a few days, Neil had come to know Modesto’s end-of-summer weather pattern. It would continue to grow hotter until four or five, and hold that heat until after sundown. The room was an oven. more tomorrow