Friday, June 10, 2011

Sums and Differences
original draft 1997

This is a sad place. "Shabby" or "run down" do not begin to describe it. "Worn" is more like it. It must have been splendid in its heyday. The drapes, the wood, the magnitude of the space are testimony to a time when this was a fabulous vacation destination. Now the next generation flies away to an exotic tropical place for less than it cost Mom and Dad to drive here from the city.

"To the Association of Math Teachers" cries the DJ before playing Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot." The groups of teachers are giddy from escaping the classroom for a day or two, pumped up from the workshops and the textbook sales reps and the astronaut's keynote speech. They notice, but do not seem to mind, the cigarette burns in what was once a mod carpet.

A woman in the elevator confides that it is rumored that Donald Trump is interested in this hotel for casino gambling. My new friend from New York's North Country grumbles that the Superintendent hired a techie from Clarkson University to "do" the computers, and stuck him with elementary remedial math. He loves teaching, he assures me, but he wanted to "do" the computers, he says. I try to be sympathetic, but the feeling isn't genuine, so I do my best to lose him in the crowd, and I am successful. Another teacher tells me that there is a lot more food beyond the bar in the other room. I walk through a wall of smoke into that room and make a bee-line for the hot appetizers. Ten people ask me what each item is. Do they think I work here?, I wonder. Or is my culinary expertise obvious? Perhaps it is this stupid red "speaker" ribbon that I am wearing.

My dinner companions laugh because everyone thinks they are a married couple. She explains how funny this is since he is old enough to be her father, and the thought is revolting. I am surprised by how straightforward she is, but he takes her remarks with good humor, and tells me he is disappointed because the TV in his room won't pick up the Buffalo Bills game. Although I didn't think they were married and have no reason to suspect an affair, I do notice that they are very cozy about sharing their food. I tell them that I am not one to judge age differences, that my grandparents were thirty years apart and my nephew dates a woman who is fourteen years his senior.

She says she can't imagine how that works. I smile. I like her. He asks me how my family handles it, and I tell him that there are so many more important things to worry over. He says that is a wonderful attitude, and suddenly I can imagine him working at a Catholic all-boys prep school. I decide that I like him, too. They start to talk about geometry with great enthusiasm; I stare at my plate, then finally shut my eyes to hide my amusement at the irony of me in this place.

Later, in my room, I read two chapters of a book while sitting in one of the filthy lounge chairs and then skim the State Education Department's learning standards booklets. My mind is wandering and I promise myself a writing reward when I am done. I wonder about the vacationers who have passed through this place. The intrusive noise of a television comes through the wall from the next room. And I know that there will be at least two friendly faces at my session tomorrow, the '90s version of a May-September romance.

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