As a brand new public school teacher, I didn’t really understand how the organization worked. I really didn’t care either when I went to my first public school board meeting and heard the board chairman, ‘Stan The Taxpayer’s Man,’ as he called himself announce more than once that what they were supposed to be doing was saving money. Fine, I thought. I’m all for saving money. But I naively didn’t realize this translated to simple instructional supplies for my classroom and the classrooms of my new colleagues.
Old Zip, the ancient and venerable custodian was a neighborhood buddy of Stan the Taxpayer’s Man and also a regular voter in board elections. And somehow, Zip had the job of providing instructional supplies such as paper and pencils, pens and chalk to us teachers. But Old Zip took his position very seriously when it came to applying Stan’s slogan for us teachers. He was somehow in charge not only of getting the supplies for us from the supply trailer but also in charge of deciding if the supplies were needed, if we were worthy of these supplies. After all, it was important to save money.
So my first supply conversation with Old Zip went something like this. “Hey Zippy, how’s it going?”
“Fine Bill,” he replied.
“I’m going to need some more pencils and writing paper for my class by Friday. Do you think you could get them for me?”
“Well Bill, that depends,” Old Zip countered.
“Oh, what does it depend on?” I asked.
“What do you want these supplies for?” demanded Old Zip.
I couldn’t resist the temptation and said, “I thought I would use them to teach the kids to write.”
That kind of smart ass answer would piss off Old Zip, and just about guarantee that you wouldn’t get any paper or pencils unless you brought him a donut as a peace offering. I learned this from an experienced teacher. So when my paper and pencils didn’t arrive on Friday, I cut out at lunch to get Old Zip a donut. I brought two donuts into Old Zip’s combination broom closet and office, like I had no idea it was a peace offering and said, “Hey Zippy, I got an extra donut. Want shoot the shit for a bit
Old Zip said, “Sure Bill. How about them Niners?”
After we talked about the Niners for a while, Old Zip remembered that I had asked for some supplies. He said, “Hey Bill, do you still need the paper and pencils?”
“Oh that,” I said, “Sure do.”
“OK,” he said. “I’ll have Bob (another custodian) bring them over to your room after school.”
“Thanks Zippy,” I said. I concluded with a Niner based exit, “Sure hope our team does better this Sunday.”
“Me too,” agreed Old Zip.
Our group of five new teachers had a lot to learn about who was in charge of what at our new jobs. And it didn’t pay to rock the boat. The reason there were jobs for five new teachers is that they had had a revolution of sorts the prior year. The board fired their superintendent, a bunch of teachers left, and we were hired as the new crop. We were enthusiastic, optimistic, and mission driven, and the women in our group were extremely good looking. We also liked to go out and dance and drink at the local bars after school and on the weekends. And in this venue we bonded and were able to gripe about things like Old Zip and the school board connection that gave him ridiculous power over us.
In order to complain, we conspired to first go to the principal who was also new. The principal told Zip to give us what we needed, and Zip in turn told Stan the Taxpayer’s Man who called the superintendent and complained that the new principal was wasting supplies. That ended the option of having the principal help us out.
What we eventually learned came from the surviving teachers. We learned from them that the best way to insure supplies for your room was to collect them when you could, and then hoard them in locked cabinets inside your classroom. It was important to be the only one with the key or Old Zip might try to get the supplies back. One teacher had an entire closet full of the big double-lined paper used to teach primary kids to write. This also gave her leverage over her colleagues.
But as new teachers, we hadn’t had time to collect our own hoards. Still, we were not to be defeated. During one of our beer drinking and dancing occasions at a local bar, one of us hatched the idea of just raiding the supply trailer in the middle of the night. It might be dangerous but it would also be fun, especially if we had few beers prior to the raid. There were no alarms or cameras in those days and the night custodian went home around 9:00pm. But the problem was getting the key.
“Hi Zippy! Come on out in the sun and have a donut and coffee with us at recess,” invited the young women teachers, Maria, Kathy and Susan. “We just picked them up on the way to school this morning.”
Now these women, Maria, Kathy and Susan were not only fine teachers, they were also very fine looking as I mentioned before. Even an old guy who spent his days guarding a broom closet could be interested in a trio of good looking young women inviting him to sit out in the sun and have a donut and talk about the Niners. Thus, through stealth and guile we lured Old Zip away from his broom closet office long enough to get the key. Old Zip was thorough in his key management and hung keys well labeled on a wall keyboard inside his closet. Maria, simply exchanged a similar key with the one Old Zip had hanging on the board while he was outside around the corner with Kathy and Susan in the sun. When we got back to our building at the end of recess, we agreed to make our move at midnight.
There was only one little light in the parking lot closest to our classrooms, so we parked as far away from it as possible. Using flashlights to see our way into the school, we walked directly to the supply trailer, opened the door and went inside. There before us were stacks of colored construction paper in all sizes, crates of pencils and pens, many boxes of lined writing paper for primary and middle grades, rolls of construction paper for charts or wall coverings and what seemed like thousands of boxes of unopened chalk, even colored chalk. There were also treasures such as cases of watercolors, little tin kits with paint brushes inside, hundreds of bottles of tempera paint in bottles, and several cases of classroom pointers, the kind that looked like a long dowel with a rubber point on the end so you could point at something on the board or on the wall in your classroom. There were also colored folders with brass brads so kids could make their own journals or collect their own work in something like little portfolios. We were amazed. And we started grabbing all we could, nervous like good school teachers that we might get caught any minute. We didn’t get caught and we made several trips to the car with armloads of goodies. We didn’t take the pens since they had been ‘saved’ for so long they had dried out. The paints were also dried out but we thought we could add water and make them work. Kathy came out on her last trip with a dozen of the pointers.
The next day Old Zip noticed right away that his supply trailer had been raided. He wandered the school sneaking into classrooms to find the culprits. But the women teachers put padlocks on cabinets in their rooms and when Old Zip asked why, they all said, “Oh, that’s for our personal feminine health supplies.” This turned Old Zip away every time. As a life long bachelor, he was just too embarrassed to press the case. The great triumph came from Kathy. She turned the pointers, those three foot long dowels, into math balances. Her kids understood equations, ratio and proportion better than mine or anyone else’s that year due to this wonderful tool. And Old Zip continued to stare right past the math balances every time he scoured our classrooms for the missing supplies.