The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
The air's already tainted with the swarms
Of insects which against you rise in arms: ...  ... Andrew Marvel in To his Noble Friend, Mr Richard Lovelace, upon his Poems.

Commentary of the Day - October 9, 2005:  The World According to Señor Poje´.  Guest commentary by Felice Prager.

What I said was, "Which part of 'NO' don't you understand?" but what my son said he heard was, "I'd just love to have a tarantula living in my house."  I've considered having his hearing checked, but instead, I was deciding which piece of furniture was the highest off the ground so that when Señor Poje´ opened the latch on his tarantula cage and came looking for the mean lady who wouldn't give him a home, I could be high enough off the ground to jump to my death rather than being eaten alive by an irate arachnid.

It's when my son used school as his reason for needing Señor Poje´ "just until school starts" that I became suspicious.  "It's for school," had always worked in the past with things like expensive calculators, software, and top-of-the-line backpacks.  However, I had him this time!  I mentally went through his class schedule.

"Gotcha!  You don't have science this year!" I said.

My son countered with, "Remember, my biology teacher from freshman year?  He keeps pets in his classroom.  I'm going to trade Señor Poje´ for a letter of recommendation for college."

Thus, Señor Poje´ was alive and well and eating crickets in a cage on a shelf in my 17-year-old son's bedroom until the third day of school this year.  I wrote up a formal contract and had my son sign it just in case his freshman biology teacher said he had enough class pets.  "He's going back out in the desert where he belongs if you can't find him a home," I said.  My son nodded and signed on the dotted line, but I knew he was already at Step Five when I was just coming to terms with Step One.

On the third day of school, Señor Poje´ found his new home in the biology lab at my son's high school.  There was no need to negotiate for a letter of recommendation.  A few teachers enthusiastically told my son they would write letters for him.  Not one of them required an arachnid as payment for services rendered.

We have gone through the class pet thing a few times.  Caring for the class hamster for a weekend in first grade led to the adoption of a series of pet hamsters.   When I learned the average life-expectancy of a hamster is about two years after a $100 vet bill for which I was told that there was nothing one could do to stop the blood coming from Xena, Warrior Hamster's rear end, I told my son to find a more cost-effective pet.

That's when the hermit crabs moved in.  My son fed them garbage and discussed how hermit crabs are environmentally important.  We watched them move in and out of shells until they finally shed their crusty outer bodies one last time, shriveled up, and died.  I saw nothing environmentally important about hermit crab bodies rotting in my son's bedroom.

There were several fish which kept living and living and living.  These were not class pets.  These were school fair prizes.  My son did not actually do anything to win these.  He simply batted his eyelashes and his teacher handed him a plastic bag with two gold fish in it.

Then there were those swimming things he brought home from the drainage ditch by his elementary school playground.  They started as a school experiment, and then my son volunteered to continue the science project in his bathroom at home - in my house.  The swimming things lived in a fish tank with a giant rock in it so the swimming things could become tadpoles and then toads which needed to eat things that others pay exterminators to get rid of.  I believe my older son added aftershave or cologne to the water in hopes that the tadpoles would die and he would have more counter space, but that's debatable because they did not die and eventually my son, the science experiment caretaker, was forced to put the frogs back by the drainage ditch because they were starving to death.  They did not like store-bought bugs.  At least that's how I interpreted my lack of desire to keep buying them.

My older son never got into unusual pets.  I think that's because when he was in third grade, his teacher made him mount and identify bugs for a project.  I watched as he scooped bugs from the pool, and with tweezers, collected his bugs.  He was okay until he had to push the pin through the bug to mount it.  I believe Tarantula Boy did that for him.  I certainly did not.  I was fine with all of this because it was "for school" until a scorpion he found at the bottom of the pool proved that this species will outlive man.  With the pin pushed through its back, after spending a good deal of time at the bottom of the pool, the scorpion came out of its water-induced coma, pulled his body -- pin and all -- out of the cork board, and was found walking on my son's pillow.

For years my sons have heard me mutter things about school projects, class pets, and hands-on science experiments.

It's not as if my sons have been pet-deprived.  We have four cats.  We have always had cats.  If you look at my carpet and find a stain, I can name the creator of that stain in four notes.  We have more litter boxes in my house than bathrooms because the cats do not share.  My husband and I share a bathroom.  I could say I won't share, but that won't get me my own litter box.

I blame the unusual pets on teachers.  I know I am a teacher, too, but I specialize in English, so I am above reproach.  English teachers do not do parts of animal anatomy; English teachers do parts of speech.  However, just point me toward a science classroom or an elementary school classroom, and I will bet something is alive or has been alive in a cage or a tank within that classroom at some time in that teacher's career.  You are guilty!  Admit it!  You are why Señor Poje´ and the other menagerie of unusual pets have lived in my son's bedroom.  You are why my son could not mow the lawn last week when he had to go to PetsMart to buy crickets for Señor Poje´ because that was part of the terms for his adoption by the biology teacher.  And you are why my son has left the spot on his shelf open because Señor Poje´ is returning at the end of the school year. "You said he had to be out by the third day of school," said my son, "but the contract didn't say a thing about his return engagement."

©2005 Felice Prager.
Felice Prager is a freelance writer and former English teacher from Arizona.  She publishes the Write Funny pages.

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