Chapter 2 December 23, 1994, Christmas Eve-Eve
The truth was Julie Green had thought school would be out that Friday. It was Christmas Eve-Eve after all. It wasn’t until Mark told her he would see her tomorrow that she realized she was wrong. Most of the students must have figured the same as she did, as only half of them showed up to school. Attendance was not counted the week before Christmas. Therefore, there was no curriculum or teaching required (or expected). And it’s not like there was some weird rule in place which required teachers to work the week before Christmas. If she would have asked off, she would have been given the day off. She just didn’t think to ask, and this oversight irked her immensely.
Julie had been saving The Lion King as a surprise for the students to watch the day before the holiday. Didn’t she even make a big deal about how it was the class’s last day surprise when she pressed play on the VCR? She thought she did. And not one student even suggested the contrary. She really was not terribly surprised no one said, ‘But we still got a day of school left tomorrow Ms. Green.’ It was The Lion King after all, and The Lion King evokes a certain code of silence; what the Italians call Omertà.
So on Thursday, Ms. Green’s fifth grade class watched The Lion King, and they were thrilled. While it played, Julie had been thinking the students’ behavior was reminiscent of something, but she didn’t know what. It wasn’t until she got home that afternoon she was able to put her finger on it. It was like when she was in high school and went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
But hadn’t The Lion King just come out on video? she thought. How in the hell do they already know all the damn words?
But now it was Friday Christmas Eve-Eve, and Julie had nothing planned for her students. Not to mention she had the extra stress of having to make sure she got the hell out of class fast if she wanted to beat the holiday traffic that evening. She could have the students see how many words they could find using only the letters of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. But, C’mon, she thought to herself. That’s a weak follow-up to Mark from Tool-Time belting out how he couldn’t wait to be King. Julie laughed at her own joke.
The joke which was neither correct nor funny was nonetheless inspirational in that in conjured up memories of how the Rocky Horror Picture Show often encored and no one in the audience left the movie theatre. With that, she knew the only follow-up to watching The Lion King is watching The Lion King. It was already in the VCR. After roll-call and the Pledge of Allegiance, Julie pressed play. Her students loved it.
The cafeteria really phoned it in with the lunch offering that day. The menu read: Hot Ham and Cheese Po-Boys. However, this was misleading, as the serving turned out to be no more than a thin slice of ham and processed cheese on a stale hotdog bun. The sides included a bag of Fritos corn chips and chocolate pudding. All of it was served on paper plates. Even the damn dishwashers had enough sense to ask for the day off, Julie thought later as she ate her Fritos.
Only half of the cafeteria tables were pulled out, and Julie knew without a doubt her class would wind up seated by Mark Nelson’s class - and she’d wind up sitting next to him. She was not sure if he was trying- if she was- or if it were divine intervention, but they always seemed to be paired together. They even shared Duty together.
Mark was cute enough, four or five years older than she was, and he was smart. Too smart to be teaching the fourth grade, Julie often thought. And maybe too smart to be teaching at all. There were things she liked about him, and things she was not sure if she liked about him. Mostly, Julie was not sure if he was a smart-ass or just smarter than she was. It was not knowing that bothered her most. Whatever it was, Julie often returned the smiles she received from Mark, and did then as she sat next to him at the cafeteria table.
“This day is dragging,” Julie said. “How you passing it by?”
“Yea, us too. But I’m fresh out of ideas. Today is the second straight we sang along with Mark from Tool-Time not being able to wait till he became King,” Julie said, knowing that Mark would like the pop culture she sprinkled into the conversation.
“No you haven’t.”
Julie took Mark’s statement as an interrogative. “Yea. I’m telling you, two days in a row. I don’t know if I can get away with playing it again after lunch.”
“But, it’s Home Improvement not Tool-Time and- ”
“Oh, same thing,” Julie said, cutting him off.
“And the voice of Simba -,” Mark began again.
“Is Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Yea yea yea, you get it now”
“But Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays Randy not Mark in Home Improvement- and in The Lion King, he doesn’t even sing.”
“What’s your point?”
“The point, Ms. Green, is that your class hadn’t watched Mark, Randy, or any of the characters from Home Improvement sing.”
“I know it’s not the same characters from the show that are in the movie. Ok, whatever, I screwed up on the names. Sue me. But I knew the actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the one in Home Improvement, Tool Time, - whatever - was Simba. And that’s the joke.”
“But it’s not funny, and it still doesn’t work,” Mark said, smiling.
“It is funny and of course it works, dammit.” Julie said back to him, making sure to whisper the expletive so the students wouldn’t hear.
“Jason Weaver is the singing voice of Simba, not Jonathan Taylor Thomas.”
“Oh, whatever. Why do you have to try to make me feel stupid all the time? And here now with the most trivial shit – a cartoon lion’s singing voice? Really? What a Smart-ass.” Julie said with a smile. “What did ya’ll watch, anyway?”
Favoring the smile Julie presented over the content of what she said, Mark replied, “We watched a blue Ms. Doubtfire with arm shackles give three wishes to a street rat with a pet monkey.”
Julie knew she had him. “It is Mrs., not Ms. Doubtfire.” She said, before following up again nice and long so he got the point: “Missss – esss.”
Mark acted unfazed. “Cool. Let’s trade for the afternoon. My class will watch The Lion King, and yours can watch Aladdin.”
Julie couldn’t believe her ears. Did Mark just attempt to dodge the fact that he - the know it all movie buff- had been had by the school teacher whose knowledge of pop-culture started and ended with knowing that Kramer was called Kessler in the Seinfeld pilot? He did. She couldn’t let him slide without saying the magic words.
“So, you can’t lecture me on the singing voice of Simba,” she told him, “and not take your licks when you screw up your own joke not even a half second later. Now what do you say?”
“Ok. You got me,” he said with a smile.
“And, you were right, and I was wrong.”
“And it won’t happen again, Ms. Green.”
Julie really hoped to elicit an apology, but the promise not to do it again was just as good. She thanked him and switched the subject. “Ok it’s settled then. After lunch, I’ll send one of mine over to your classroom with The Lion King and you send him back with Aladdin. Now eat your Fritos before they get cold.”
Later while sitting in his desk, Mark constantly replayed the conversation with Julie in his head. When did it get out of hand? Right after the joke she tried to make about the lion. Had he gone too hard on her? Dammit, he knew he did. The part of the conversation that kept replaying the most was when Julie asked him: ‘Why do you have to try to make me feel stupid all the time?’
Mark kept swearing to himself it was not intentional. Making someone feel like they were stupid was the last thing he wanted to do, especially Julie. So, what the hell he was trying to do when he kept pressing her then? He guessed he was trying to show her how smart he was. She was right though, Who really who gives a shit about Simba’s singing voice? She had called him a smart ass - and she was right about that too.
But she quickly got him back with the Mrs. Doubtfire quip, right? And it was not as if he had taken that personal. In fact, he admired how quick witted she was and thought it to be the perfect retort. Did that mean they were even? He wondered. She made the joke about cold Fritos. Did that mean they were cool? He didn’t know.
The only part of the conversation Mark had trouble remembering was whether he apologized. Once he realized that not remembering likely meant he hadn’t, he wondered if the apology ship had sailed. Thinking it better late than never, when Julie sent Tommy Peoples from her classroom to swap movies, Mark sent Tommy back with a rewound Aladdin and a yellow Post-it note to Julie which simply read, “Sorry.”
Shortly before the final school bell, Tommy Peoples came back to Mark’s classroom with Aladdin in hand. Mark smiled when he saw Tommy, because immediately he saw that stuck to the movie was a yellow Post-it. Seeing this Mark knew that Julie’s act of returning the movie was no more than a cover for her true mission, passing notes with Mark.
To Mark, what Julie had written on the note was perfect. She struck through the word sorry, and beneath that written, “Hakuna Matata.” It means no worries, Mark said to himself, and felt a little better about the Late Duty he was to embark upon with Ms. Green in only a few minutes time.
Earlier when Julie received the Post-it note with the word “Sorry” written upon it, she was less than thrilled. Julie had nearly forgotten about her and Mark’s discussion at the lunch table, and did not care for it to be brought up again. To Julie the whole thing was no big deal back when it happened at lunch, and now with this Post-it note Mark was trying to make something out of nothing.
Besides, in Julie’s experience, apologizing after the fact like this was just a way re-open old wounds that had already begun to heal. These ‘Sorrys’ are less of an apology but more of a way to assert dominance. Like a little reminder that relies more upon the act done to hurt you than the repentance. And, always, always, always, these ‘Sorrys’ tend to show up mere moments before you completely forget what necessitated them in the first place, moments before you move on. Julie’s Ex-husband, Ernie, was the poster child for these serve serving “Sorrys,” and Julie was the poster child for forgiveness.
Of course, Mark could never have known his belated sorry would bring on such negative thoughts with Julie. Thoughts that opened up wounds left by her Ex. Thoughts that moved from Mark being a smart ass to thoughts of Ernie Green being a piece of shit quicker than they ever should have. Unaware of the time passing, Julie sat in her chair consumed by this toxicity - until finally a loud click from the VCR snapped her out of her trance.
Looking up at the clock, Julie realized that the school day was nearly over. The movie had finished playing and the click was the video cassette tape stopping after it had been fully re-wound. Hoping it would make Mark forget the whole thing, Julie grabbed the Post-it, crossed out the word Sorry, added “Hakuna Matata,” and sent Tommy Peoples back to Mark’s classroom with it.