Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cuckoo's Nest and Flaming Wicker Baskets.

One year I was teaching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.
Because it has a few f-bombs and Adult Situations in it I had to let parents opt their kids out of reading the book.
I thought this was dumb, because my stance is now and was then that if you are old enough to drive a car, or are within striking distance of driving a car, you are old enough to decide what you are able to read. Plus, if you are a young adult, chances are you have heard a few f-bombs and are aware of Adult Situations.
But I kept this opinion to myself because embarrassing a kid because of a parent's choice is worse than dumb.Plus, I am a big advocate of having choices and so there it was.
I wrote the parent a letter. I asked the parent if The Scarlet Letter would be acceptable.
It was.
A fornicating man of the cloth and the suffering of a single mother and a stalker of a husband was more acceptable than a book that shows us how to be human.
I'll never understand people.
So when the class read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest my Scarlet Letter kid had to leave.
All was well for a really long time.
One day after school I was in my classroom grading essays. I grade in green, the color of hope.
And this woman walks in and says, "Miss Pelfrey!"and I look up and this woman stalks towards me, jabs her finger in my face, and says, "You are going to hell!"
I don't like people up in my face.
If you are eighteen or younger, I have the patience of Job and I think before I speak. If you are between eighteen and twenty-five I cut you a lot of slack because brains take awhile to fully develop. If you appear older than twenty-five and charge into my space all het up and quivering with rage and I don't know who you are I just speak my piece.
So when Quivering Rage Woman told me I was going to hell, I said, "Would that be in a flaming wicker basket? Because I know my ancestors sent people to hell that way."
And Quivering Rage Woman nearly combusted.
It was impressive. You know those fish and you touch them or creep them out and they swell up? It was like that.
"I'm going to see your principal," she said.
"Do you know where the office is?" I always try to be helpful and calm in stressful situations.
So she hissed herself out of my room.
I stop grading papers because grading papers when you are mad is mean.
And I wondered what I had done to get sent to hell. And how this woman knew it. And why she needed to come tell me in person.
It was a mystery.
So I went to the office to tell the principal that Quivering Rage Woman was probably going to call him, and that I was going to hell.
Quivering Rage Woman had just left. I knew this when he said, "Kristen, can I see you for a minute?" and then shut his office door.
And he said, "'Flaming wicker baskets?'"
And then he laughed and laughed and remonstrated just a little for my lapse in Consummate Professionalism.
So Quivering Rage Woman, it turns out, was the mom who did not want her child exposed to Filth.
But her kid heard about some of our discussions about the book and relayed them to the mom.
The mom got upset.
I was still mystified. I did not know that discussing a novel made me a Purveyor of Filth.
Thing is? Some people are going to see evil where none exists, no matter what you do, and they are going to take it upon themselves to Pass Judgment.
Kind of like in The Scarlet Letter.


  1. I could listen to stories from you, Matt and Andrew and Joe all day long. Some of them amaze me but it's more like I'm a child being amused. All of you have experienced so much to my little.

    However, this is not a truly great and wonderful story--it's rather sad because Quivering Rage Woman is so closed minded. I don't like to think there are so many people in the world with minds like that.

    Thanks for sharing, dollface.

    1. Amy, I am honored to be in such exalted company. Methinks that you have many stories you could lay on us.
      Sadly, there are a lot of Quivering Rage People in the world. Happily, there are also a lot of cool people who make the world a better place in many ways. Like you, Matt, Andrew, Joe, A.S., Sara Zarr, and and and...

  2. Great story. People are so silly, really. I don't know how you kept your calm.

    1. Laura, you are kind. I didn't really keep calm at all. Suffering Crazy is just part of the job. Plus, I had green ink on my nose, which probably didn't help my Consummate Professional Look.

  3. Even if you had green ink on your nose, I have to agree with Laura, very impressive that you kept your calm. I've had to deal with some crazy people in my life time, and one of the few major things that sets me off is when they invade my personal space and yell at me.

    Love the post!

  4. Excellent story. I often wonder what it would take to make me 'quiver with rage'. Maybe a few too many Margaritas. Teaching is not for wimps. The kids aren't so bad, it's the parents that will kill you every time.

  5. Wow...I think you handled it well. I really have no criticism of the mom as far as what she allowed her child to read. She was doing what she felt she had to do. It gets difficult when we start to apply arbitrary lines, but in matters such as this, arbitrary lines are the only ones that should be drawn. Parents get the final say.

    What I do criticize her for is the way that she behaved. Imbecilic, rude, c-r-a-z-y. And...dare I say...a tad judgmental?

    I am glad that you took it in stride. Your answer, although it seemed to inflame the mother, sure did make for a great story later. :-)

  6. Teresa, I agree--the mom was within her rights. And The Scarlet Letter is a worthy read. It was a no-harm/no-foul situation until, uh, she came in and went all medieval on me. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting! :)