May/June 2014

Gus, the custodian at Eastside Grammar, is the creation of Richard W. Smelter, a retired school principal, now a Chicago-based college instructor and author.

About every two weeks, Mr. Keck holds a faculty meeting after school’s out. These staff get-togethers last only about a half hour so folks aren’t too put out about staying a little later. The meetings generally have a definite agenda, and Keck does a pretty good job with the various topics in a timely manner.

Sometimes, however, he’s thrown for a loop.

Last week the entire faculty meeting was supposed to be about implementing the new math curriculum developed by the district curriculum director. I’ll try to reconstruct what went on as close as I can recall, with everyone competing for time to be heard.

Keck wasted no time gettin’ right down to business.

“Well” he began.

“You’ve all had half a year using the new math curriculum. How’s it working out with the students?”

“Speaking of math, Mr. Keck, has anyone else noticed that we’ve used up about three-quarters of the supplies in the supply room?” asked Art Merriweather.

‘Yeah we’re almost out of construction paper, unless you want to use gray. There’s tons of gray paper. Not much green though,” added Sue Jeffries.

“How about dry erase markers … they’re almost all gone,” noted Don Jennings.

“Doesn’t bother me much,” Art replied. “I’ve got the only classroom in the building that still has a blackboard. There’s enough chalk left over from the old days to supply me for the next 10 years.”

“You always did like ancient technology, Art. That’s why you have that collection on VHS tapes.”

“They’re classics!”

“I thought you’d say that. Classics huh? Sorta like that 1983 Cadillac you bought.”

“Can we get back to business?” interjected Mr. Keck. “I’d like to …”

Keck was interrupted by Mary Edwards.

“Wait, Mr. Keck, This is important.” Are you the one who owns that huge car, Art? That old caddy that’s sometimes in the space next to me?”

“Yeah, guess so. I traded in my old Volkswagen three weeks ago.”

“Then you’re the person who’s putting all those dings on my right passenger door!”

“Don’t blame Art too much, Mary,” chirped Bob Burnett. “The problem is that the parking space is too narrow. Seeing as math is on the agenda today, has anyone ever measured the width of the parking spaces to see if they conform to the general standard?”

“Speaking of measuring… Do you know how far my classroom is from the parking lot, Mr. Keck?” Mary asked.

“No I don’t really know,” replied Keck.

“It’s about a city block! You know I’ve got severe arthritis! It’s very difficult for someone with shaky knees to walk that far! Next year if I don’t get a classroom closer to the front door, I’ll file a grievance!” Mary wailed.

“Oh, Mary,” said Chuck Watkins. “You’d file a grievance if it was raining and you got wet walking into the building. I’ve got a concern, on the other hand, that pertains to all of us … the faculty restrooms. At least the men’s room, which is the only one I’m familiar with.”

“What’s wrong with the faculty men’s room?” asked Keck.

“The wash bowls are too low and the stalls are too narrow, that’s what.”

“Same thing with the ladies’ room,” remarked Ann Levin. “Were these washrooms originally designed for students?”

“I really don’t know,” replied Keck. “I know I’m older than most of you, but I wasn’t around when the building was designed. Now if we could get back to …”

“Hold on, Mr. Keck!” interjected Tom Burroughs. “This stuff’s important. And it all has to do with math in some way or another, so we’re really not off the agenda too far.”

“Well, then… let’s talk about the gym for a minute,” suggested Carl Tomlinson, one of our two PE teachers. “Have you ever noticed at basketball games how many people have to stand ’cause we don’t have enough bleachers? Talk about math … somebody ought to do some measuring in the gym to see if we could install additional seating. We don’t want to drive folks away from our basketball games ’cause they can’t sit down. The kids need their support.”

“The gym needs lots of work,” remarked Sue. “About half the overhead lights on the stage don’t work. That makes for very gloomy-looking class plays and musicals.”

“Speaking of lighting … do all of your classrooms have the same number of windows? I could swear I got fewer windows than the rest of you. Aren’t my students entitled to the same amount of sunlight as other students? Kids need sunlight … it cheers them up.”

“Oh, Chuck … are your kids depressed?” asked Tricia Barnes.

“Hey … Mr. Keck, notice the time? It’s 4 o’clock. These meetings aren’t supposed to go longer than a half hour. It’s in the contract,” noted Mary.

“You’re right, Mary” responded Keck. “We’ll have to table some of these issues for four weeks from now.”

“Why wait four weeks? These issues are important.”

“Because, two weeks from now we’ll be discussing the new math curriculum, Keck said. “In case you haven’t noticed, Mary, we never got to it.”

“Oh, yeah.”

On the way out the door I stopped Keck and told him I wanted to discuss some custodial concerns.

“Not now, Gus,” he said. “I need to breathe deeply, count to 10, go home to the wife and take her out to our favorite restaurant, where I’ll order an extra-large steak and try to relax.”

Mr. Keck should know how best to calm down … after all, he’s the principal.