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(with all due apologies Mr. Steinbeck, the title was just too perfect not to use)

*

Of all the professions out there, no one has to answer to more masters than teachers do. Between the school boards who hire them and the principals who monitor their every move, to varying degrees, teachers also have to deal with the competitive, and often times petty nature of their colleagues. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the dozens, if not, hundreds of students that come and go each day.

Having been a teacher for going on seven years, 31 year old DeeDee Alexander knew these pitfalls all too well. Having spent the first six years working in the city of Sacramento’s school system, DeeDee suddenly found herself in the rural outpost of a small San Joaquin Valley town. A stressful shake-up under the best of circumstances given she’d lived in the state capital her entire life, DeeDee found herself having to pick up the pieces of her professional life at the same time a pending divorce was still hanging over her head.

Needing a fresh start, DeeDee stumbled into the job opportunity in the Valley and decided to take it, desperate to just get away from all the old, tired faces back home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before she became burdened by a bunch of new, and equally, tiring souls.

It didn’t take long before DeeDee came face to face with the one other master not mentioned above, the parents of her students. Back in Sacramento, it was unusual if DeeDee received more than three or four communications from a curious parent during any given week, and that was with a roster of over 150 kids. While there is certainly something to be said for parents taking an active role in their children’s schooling, their over-involved meddling can, at times, drastically complicate a teacher’s efforts to do their job.

Her 8th grade roster at Bradford Middle School was far smaller, but by the time her first Friday on the job rolled around, DeeDee had received at least 40 phone calls, texts or emails for the 105 kids she saw on a daily basis. While a few were from very nice people wanting to welcome her to the area, more than half were from parents who wanted to make it known early on they were keeping an eye on her.

Not wanting to sound like a cry baby in front of her new colleagues, DeeDee kept the burden to herself for the first few weeks, but the amounts of daily contacts still hovered around five or so. If she had inquired early on, DeeDee would have discovered the overbearing behavior of the parents in the area was the main reason the job she filled came open in the first place.

There were several factors that played into the differences between the two school districts. The most obvious was the affluence of DeeDee’s new digs. Back in Sacramento, over half of her students didn’t have both a Mom and a Dad around on a regular basis, and that single parent usually had to work so much they didn’t have a lot of time or energy to spend fretting over the minutia of their child’s academic experience. Where she was now, the family unit was much more stable, with the father generally out winning the bread, and the dotting mother left to her own devices at home to fixate over every single thing when it came to little Johnnie or Jenny’s school life.

DeeDee also discovered the local private school had closed down a few years earlier as well. When the economy began its downward spiral back in ’06, many of the citizens there suddenly weren’t as financially set as they planned and the tuition dues for the private school were one of the major things that got cut. Inevitably the school had to shut it’s doors, which created an influx of kids into the public education pool.

Needless to say, that put a lot of strain on the public school teachers in the area. Finding a way to keep the at-risk students from falling behind at the same time adequately challenging the smarter kids with huge class sizes and budget shortfalls would prove to be a constant grind for teachers like DeeDee Alexander. Certain parents’ constant badgering only made the vice she was stuck in tighter.

The biggest culprit in DeeDee’s impending breakdown was named Lucinda Epstein. While most of the parents who were putting their $1.02 in about how DeeDee was running her class were genuinely concerned with how their kids were handling the workload, Mrs. Epstein came across as a much different animal defending her son, Sam. Most of the nosey parents wanted to discuss the finer points of the syllabus, or the attention (or lack there of) they felt their child was receiving. Lucinda, on the other hand, seemed hell-bent on communicating an air of superiority and condescension.

By the third week of dealing with Mrs. Epstein’s constant meddling, DeeDee was on the verge of telling the woman she could come in and teach the 100 plus kids she dealt with everyday. What made Sam’s situation so difficult was that he was clearly showing signs of a learning disability, and from güvenilir bahis her experience, DeeDee knew he should be getting some special care in the LD program the school offered. Telling Mrs. Epstein that about her Son was tantamount to telling her he had been diagnosed with leprosy. She was insistent Sam should be placed in the advanced, high school prep classes.

It wasn’t until nearly a month into the new school year that DeeDee Alexander ran into a ten year veteran teacher at Bradford who finally gave her the skinny on who (and what) Lucinda Epstein truly was.

DeeDee sat at the other woman’s desk, cold chills running down her spine as she lost her appetite for her yogurt listening to some of the Epstein’s background. Lucinda and her Husband Chet owned one of the largest vineyards in the area, and considering they were smack dab in the middle of California wine country, they were one of the largest wine producers in the country. Chester Epstein had started out as a doctor in the area, but over the past 20 years had mainly focused on the vineyard. With his growing profile, he’d also developed a keen dose of political aspiration, and with the tide in 2010 to run out anyone who was an incumbent, Chet Epstein was taking a stab at town mayor’s seat on the November ballot.

He wasn’t the only one in the household on a ballot either. Lucinda was conveniently making a run for a spot of the city school board as well, and if both won suddenly they would become what amounted to the first family of the San Joaquin Valley.

Sensing the gravity and depth of who she was dealing with, DeeDee had shoved her spoon all the way into the half eaten tub of Yoplait and sat back dejectedly in her seat.

“Mrs. Conner..she was the lady you essentially replaced. She’d been here at Bradford for five years I think..very good teacher,” the sage veteran offered. “The instant she saw Sammy Epstein’s name show up on this year’s class roster, she took a position over in Fresno. So..in a roundabout way..Lucinda Epstein is the reason you’re here.”

“…Whoa…..,” DeeDee slunk backwards in her seat and groaned.

“No kidding,” the older woman continued. “I think young Sam had been going to Brushwood, the private school that closed down, then they tried home schooling him for a year or two. Once Lucinda started showing some interest in bullying her way onto the school board, she had to enroll her Son into the school system just to make things look good.”

“Apparently Mrs. Conner saw how much trouble having Sam in class was for the seventh grade teacher last year and she decided she wasn’t going to be a sitting duck…..”

“….Which now I’ve become,” DeeDee deflatingly finished the other woman’s thought.

DeeDee proceeded to explain Sam Epstein’s assumed learning disability, her wish in hindsight that someone would have warned her what she was getting herself in to, and the further frustration she sensed was coming now that she knew she might be having to face down all of City Hall in the Epstein clan. Going down the laundry list of her concerns with quite the flair for the dramatic, DeeDee could feel herself finally coming out of her shell somewhat as the experienced teacher sat there nodding and listening.

“Better you than me,” the older woman smiled and laughed, patting DeeDee reassuringly on the shoulder as she left to teach her fifth period class.

____________________________

If withstanding Lucinda Epstein on the phone, or trying to decipher the woman’s vitriolic emails made DeeDee cringe to no end, actually coming face to face with the bane of her month long aggravation was far more intimidating.

It wasn’t Lucinda’s physical presence alone that sent shivers down DeeDee’s spine. That said, having to stare up at the 5 foot 10 inch Mother of one her students when she barely topped out at 5’4″ herself was a tad unsettling. Add to that the heels Mrs. Epstein wore, along with her willowy arms and legs, and the woman appeared to be a 6 foot 2 inch tree standing above her.

Lucinda’s polished air also played with DeeDee’s head. It was obvious the woman spent quite a bit of time getting her hair and make-up just right (when you’re running for ‘Queen Bitch’ you do have appearances to keep) and the lavender business suit, complete with gaudy shoulder pads just completed the imposing look.

“Not exactly a fair fashion fight with me standing here in a pair of black slacks and a sweater” DeeDee cringed to herself.

More than all that however, the thing that continued to churn DeeDee’s insides was the sound of Lucinda Epstein’s grating and pompous voice. If dealing with the woman on the phone had been misery, to be standing less than two feet away as Lucinda glared down at her filled DeeDee with cataclysmic disgust. At some point, all she wanted was to reach up and rip her own ears off as the woman’s shrill, perfectly spoken English echoed in her head.

Through it all, DeeDee managed to nod along with türkçe bahis all the professionalism and patience she could muster.

“I just happened to be here visiting the school today,” Lucinda snottily peered down at DeeDee and offered. “I wanted to go over a few things with the Principal, Mr. Rose, and figured while I was here, I’d introduce myself to all of Sammy’s teachers.”

It wasn’t lost on DeeDee how Mrs. Epstein’s tone had changed ever so slightly when she mentioned the Principal’s name, as if to communicate that ‘if anything ever comes up, he’d have no choice but to be on my side when I get elected to the school board in a few weeks’.

Pressing her hands together and swallowing her tongue as Lucinda passed by to spread her joy elsewhere, DeeDee re-treated back inside her classroom, wishing she had her old job back.

_________________________________

In the hustle and bustle just before 1st period that morning, very few people took notice of the really tall, and rather belligerent looking woman introducing herself to the new teacher at school in what looked to be a decidedly one way conversation. In a curious twist of fate and timing, one person did.

Wilfred Ramos had been a janitor at Bradford Middle for going on six years. Having migrated to the States soon after Bush II took office, once Wilfred had settled and got all his papers in order, he was eventually able to bring his Wife, Brother and two of his Nephews up to live in California.

Having just turned 50, Wilfred had several health issues that prevented him from doing a lot of farming work, but he’d made out quite well for himself in a series of mechanical and service industry jobs until he’d landed the gig at Bradford. The three male relatives he’d brought North, however, had all made quite a living for themselves in the fields, groves and vineyards of the San Joaquin Valley since arriving.

In the classic case of the second degree of separation, Wilfred did recognize the imposing woman who was clearly marking her territory with the new 8th grade math teacher. A confluence of varied emotions rippling through his body as he watched the two women converse, Wilfred’s left hand would occasionally ball into an involuntary fist until Lucinda and DeeDee peeled apart.

Standing emotionlessly against the far wall of the hall as the last few 12 and 13 year old stragglers made their way to class, Wilfred also watched as Lucinda rambled by, her vision clearly tunneled as she continued to her next appointed round. It wasn’t like she would have even acknowledged Wilfred if she had seen him, she’d never met the man in her life, and he was after all, just the school janitor.

And Wilfred was content to keep it that way, for now.

Heading back down the hall at the sound of the first period tardy bell to continue with his daily rounds, just by chance, Wilfred crossed paths with DeeDee Alexander just before Noon as he headed to the office to clock out at the end of his morning shift.

______________________________________

If there were two things DeeDee had learned during her brief teaching career, the first was make friends as quickly as possible with the school secretary and the other was make it a point to keep the janitors on your side as well.

She remembered introducing herself in passing the Mr. Ramos the first week of school and from what she could gather, he came across as very shy and reserved. With her schedule so backlogged with morning classes, very rarely was she out roaming the halls while he was on duty, but she was pleased with herself that she at least remembered his name without having to steal a peek at the tag on his shirt when he approached her that afternoon in the hall.

Her Spanish rather spotty, she was thrilled that Wilfred spoke English well enough that she could at least follow through with a coherent conversation.

Happy to make some polite small talk with the older man, just as she was about to mention that a few of the ballists in her classroom might need to be looked at, Wilfred adeptly turned her away from the flow of students milling down the hall and proceeded to ask her about a few things far more interesting than faulty light fixtures.

________________________________

On first blush, if DeeDee had heard what Wilfred had to say from a reporter on the news about someone on the other side of the country, frankly she wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Having the high and mighty Lucinda Epstein’s name attached to it however, made it far more juicy and caused the younger woman’s heart to pound excitedly in her chest.

Mr. Ramos explained in the clearest English he could how several of his relatives had worked for the Epsteins over the years, and even though he didn’t think they were bad people at their heart, they had hired their fair share of undocumented workers over the years and not exactly been forthright when it came to paying them what they’d earned.

DeeDee güvenilir bahis siteleri stood with her arms crossed, anxiously taking it all in.

“And she’s running for a spot on the school board…,” she shook her head and sighed.

“…And her Husband is running for Mayor,” Wilfred added on.

“That’s not the type of stuff in this climate you want dogging you if you’re on a ballot,” DeeDee brought their shared epiphany full circle.

Thanking the older man for the information and the pep talk, the two shared a few more pleasantries before going their separate ways. for the day.

What Wilfred had told DeeDee stayed with her over the course of the following days however, making it just a little sweeter each time she got an email or text from Lucinda concerning something to do with her Son in class. There wasn’t any hint of anger of threat in the way Wilfred laid out his knowledge of Lucinda and Chet’s dealings, simply a local sharing some tasty town gossip with the new girl in town. DeeDee had no clue that the school’s head janitor had dirt on the Epstein’s that went far beyond a few mundane issues of immigration and labor.

___________________________________

Chet and Lucinda had been married for 14 years. For Chester it had been his third stab at wedded bliss. A full 11 years older than Lucinda, Chet had been a well known physician in the area for a number of years, but between rising insurance costs and the difficulty dealing with many patients’ willingness or ability to pay, he decided to pursue the passion he’d developed for wine making.

The former Lucinda Cornbluthe had grown up in one of the wealthier families in the San Joaquin area. Her Father had been an avid horseman and polo player and she’d certainly grown up with the appreciation for the finer things in life. Becoming a wine snob at a relatively young age certainly fell into that category and through those same social circles, she met Chet.

It was clear early on passion wasn’t at the heart of their attraction to each other, rather a shared view of an ideal lifestyle and a collection of business interests that bonded them together. There were no qualms on Lucinda’s part over marrying an older man, it was sort of how she envisioned her life turning out, in fact.

Sensing early on Chet had no interest fathering any children, that’s when Lucinda pushed to adopt. A year or so into the marriage, that’s where little baby Sammy came from. To this day he had no clue he wasn’t the biological offspring of his parents, but it was growing increasingly clear to Lucinda the young boy didn’t come from as good a stock as she had hoped.

His struggles in school had become a noticeable issue for Lucinda, but to admit he had problems would be having to somehow admit that she was flawed as well, and that was part of the woman’s emotional toolbox that was sadly lacking. Instead, that’s when the bully inside Lucinda Epstein would come out. Go on the offensive, make the problem about the people in charge of young Sammy’s school life instead of certain shortcomings he may have himself.

Perhaps that was one of the underlying reasons she was running for a spot on the school board as well, a way to overcompensate of an internally perceived sense of inadequacy. Consolidating the power in her sphere of influence by placing herself on the school board along with her Husband in the mayor’s office would fill that void. At some point however, if you step over enough little people to reach for a goal, you may twist an ankle or two.

_____________________________________

While the Epstein’s business practices certainly troubled Wilfred after seeing how they treated several of his relatives and friends when it came to matters of pay and work conditions over the years, it wasn’t at the core of his true distaste for the couple. Wilfred’s plan was to still keep all that secret rage bottled for good until he saw Lucinda roaming the halls of Bradford Middle School once again a few minutes before first period on a chillier than normal, late October Monday morning.

Making his normal morning rounds, Wilfred watched the intently focused school board nominee turn the corner of the hall and make a bee-line towards young Mrs. Alexander’s classroom. Subtlely keeping his distance back, Wilfred parked himself close to where he’d been weeks earlier when Lucinda Epstein first gave the new math teacher a tongue lashing. The intensity and volume of this second encounter was far more pronounced from Lucinda’s end, and Wilfred could almost see DeeDee reduced to tears as he looked on from just a few feet away.

Having heard stories about how people Lucinda felt she had dominion over seemingly melted in her presence, Wilfred was now able to see for himself. While the caustic woman basically used her tone, body language and omnipotent gaze to get her point across with Mrs. Alexander the first time he spied on the two women conversing , it was clear whatever had precipitated this meeting was causing Lucinda to escalate her efforts to show who was boss. And from DeeDee’s reaction, the withering degree of intimidation seemed to be working by the way her shoulders began to slump and her head began to bow.

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