Sunday, May 20, 2007

Freemdom Sandwich

Freedom Sandwich
This occurred in the fall of 1998

In high school I had become friends with a Biology Teacher named Mr. Hanley. I took his class in my sophomore year and then acted as a teacher’s aide for my junior and senior years. As his student I learned a lot, but not necessarily about biology. His main agenda was always to free our minds through his teaching. The classroom was very large, but only half of it had the standard black veneer toped 300 lb lab tables. The other half was full of cages with animals of all types; opossums, monitor lizards, lab rats, hissing cockroaches, a six foot iguana named Iggy with a horrible temperament, and partially bald white cockatoo with a nervous condition that caused him to pluck his own feathers. The floors were dirty, literally, not filthy, just had all kinds of debris on them. The smell of the classroom was sometimes very overwhelming, different animals, their food, their waste, and not to mention all of the filthy teenagers covering in overflowing hormones.

Mr. Hanley was on the outside of the group when it came to other teachers. He probably preferred it that way. As a highly exuberant and excitable individual, generally charismatic with students, outspoken, and totally in your face he was certainly not well liked by his peers. Does this sound like the average teacher? Later I learned he also did not get along with the administrators or the principle. Some kids absolutely loved his class because there was not a lot of homework; he prepped students for tests extensively, and did lots of exciting demonstrations in the class to solidify important principles. Explosions, potato guns, arcing electricity, and movies were a common occurrence in his class.

His class was not straight forward because he was not teaching us biology… he was teaching us about just biology. He was using his biology class to help us think critically about life and to question societal norms. After my time as a student in his class I continued to work as his aide because I admired him, and wanted the easy credits. It was not as easy as I thought. It was not hard work, but it was a great responsibility to feed animals and clean their cages everyday. When Mr. Hanley accepted my friend David and I as his aides I chose to care for the reptiles rather than the mammals because Mr. Hanley always said that mammals were filthy. His influence over me at this time was already evident. I played mother to the relatively clean and efficient reptiles for two years, while David was scraping up piles of mammal dung and urine. Hanley was right, reptiles are cleaner, but what he was really telling me was that human mammals were filthy.

After high school I stayed in contact with Mr. Hanley because I thought he was a powerful thinker and a real character to boot. The fall after my graduation form high school I went to see Mr. Hanley to chat and to catch up a bit. He said hi and in usual Hanley fashion he seemed almost frantic, typing on the keyboard quickly here, stuffing something in his pocket there, walking form corner to corner in the classroom moving items, feeding and animal and talking to me the whole time.

He turned and made eye contact for a short moment and said, “Walk with me, I have some stuff to do.” I followed him out of the classroom, around the corner to the right, down a dark hallway, and through the teachers lounge to an enclosed garden area. He spilled out some explanation about the plants being prehistoric and how he planted them right under the teacher’s nose because of the perfect environment of the enclosed area.

After he finished I followed him out the gate to the trash collection area behind the cafeteria. He stopped his explanation in the middle of a sentence, looked me in the face and said, “What day of the week is it?” I replied, “Thursday.” He said, mostly under his breath, “Sandwich day.” He promptly walked the short distance across the lot to a 3 yard dumpster and half hung over the side. He moved a couple of bags around and ripped one large black plastic bag open. “Payday!” he exclaimed. I heard the crinkling of stiff plastic packages as he pulled 3 prepackaged sandwiches out of the bag and handed them backwards to me. Trying to be helpful I received, and held them gingerly, thinking about how dirty they must be. He took three more out and turned to back to the classroom.

As we walked he took the other sandwiches from me, opened one packages and started taking large bites out of the mixed meat hoagie, all the while still talking about prehistoric plants. Just before we reached the dark hallway again he abruptly stopped and said, “I am so rude. Would you like a sandwich?” He held out the one of the packages, while cradling the other 5 in his left arm. I reached out to take it because it was a gift from someone that I respected, but intended to carry it around and through it away after I got home. With my right hand still grasping the sandwich, face to face with me he must have seen something in my posture or eyes that told him exactly what I was thinking. A man like Hanley must have seen it a million times.

He said, “You see the school regulations say that the cafeteria workers must throw away any food that has an abnormal package. They put them all in a large black trash bag and through them out at the end of the day. The bag is on top of the pile, separated from the rest of the trash by another bag, and they are still prepackaged, just abnormally. I don’t know many people who would go looking through the trash for them, but they are quite good.” What he was really saying to me was, “Don’t be like all those other small thinkers who just say everything inside a trash can is filthy, chewed up, sticky waste. The sandwiches are fine, there is nothing wrong with them, but they are cast aside because of some wasteful government regulation. If you don’t eat it then you cannot see past the bull crap and you are just like the morons that make up the school administration.”

As all of the implications raced through my mind I hesitantly opened the package and exposed the contents. I was hungry. I took my first bite, and he smiled, turned, and walked back to the classroom with me close behind.

I ate that sandwich and it changed the way I looked at the world forever. It tasted sooo good. It tasted like freedom!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Man that is so Mr. Hanley. Awesome story!