because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

The Gift of Off-Center

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It was my third week at Metairie Park Country Day School, and I could barely distinguish the administration building from the science building. I didn’t know where the nearest bathroom was, who to call about the broken desk in my classroom, or how to make the copier stop jamming.

For the first two weeks I called him Jeff. By the time I got it straight, I realized that Mark Kelly was not the technology guy; neither was he the Athletic Director. He was the Middle School Principal, and he’d come to the English office to pay me a visit, to see how I was doing, if I needed anything. How nice, I thought, how friendly the folks are around these parts. Little did I know that he was out to get me. Little did I know that I’d come face to face with the meanest practical joker east of the Mississippi. I made the mistake of sounding secure.

Mark Kelly

“Everything is great,” I said, trying to sound confident.

“Have you been to the Lower School?” he asked.

“Been there.” I said, feigning a yawn.

“What about the library?”

“Pu-leeze,” I lied.

“So you know what you’re doing?” he said, raising his eyebrow. “You have it all together?”

I nodded my head, snapped my fingers two times for effect, and headed off to class. Later, after school ended and I had erased the blackboard, reorganized the desks in a circle, and collected my mail, I returned to the English office. I saw it from all the way across the room; my desk had been cleared.

Everything was gone.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, I gasped aloud: “My grade book!” It held all my students’ grades, all my attendance records. I think I vomited a little in my mouth.

Sitting behind me, looking calm, was Mark Kelly. He smiled, arms crossed over his chest.

“Where is it? What have you done with it?!” I squeaked.

“It’s around,” he said coolly.

Suffice it to say that Mr. Kelly sent me on quite a scavenger hunt. During my journey, I located the Lower School atrium, the Upper School attendance office, the library – and I met fabulous folks all along the way. In the end, it turned out that Mr. Kelly had stashed all my goods in an empty file cabinet drawer right there in the English office, about two steps away from my desk. I pulled all my belongings out of the drawer, unharmed, and set about reorganizing.

Mr. Kelly gurgled and chortled behind me.

Truth be told, I miss the way Mark Kelly batted me around the way some giant cat might play with a mouse or a bird. I miss hearing his booming laugh behind me at school plays; I miss his multi-colored Tabasco ties; I miss his wit, his charm, his teasing, and his teaching. Mark put a little bounce in my step. He taught me to stay on my toes.

Mr. Kelly taught me never to brag about being done with something early. He taught me how order in the world is artificial and how easy it is to lose control. He made me explore, go out and meet people, go into unfamiliar territory, and find answers. It is so easy to get stuck in our own little comfort zones.

I like to think that this little Grasshopper has become like her master and that I instill in my students the same thrill for exploration and the same joy at being slightly off-center.

When is the last time someone made you feel a little off-balance – in a good way? What’s the best practical joke someone ever pulled on you? Or you pulled on someone else?

18 thoughts on “The Gift of Off-Center

  1. Mark sounds like a great principal. When that sense of fun and levity starts at the top, it’s a powerful force for a school.

    1. He was a hoot. But also a real intellect. So fortunate to have worked along so many fine people when I was a fledgling.

  2. I agree with Chase. Fun, fun.

    I used to be the joker in our English office. I had one British colleague who was very quiet and very funny. So whenever he’d leave his laptop unguarded, I’d change his screensaver to say something like: “Look out. I was here. Try to find what’s missing.”

    He loved it…I’m almost sure.

    1. I had some amazing colleagues in that English departments. One year we all dressed up for Halloween and my friend Betsy tacked a plastic bat on her shoulder. Whenever someone said, “Is that a bat on your shoulder, she’d shriek, “What? A bat? On my shoulder?! Ack!”

      Everyone knows that folks in the English Department are the best. 😉

  3. My daughter’s father-in-law and I both showed up at her wedding rehearsal wearing atrocious bow ties that did not go with our outfits. She was scared to death we’d wear them to the wedding, and we didn’t take her off the hook until the last minute.

    1. Fantastic! And cruel at the same time! How fun that you and your in-laws were in-cahoots.

      Not for your daughter, but for everyone else. 😉

  4. I love how he challenged you in a prankish sort of way. Was he from Wisconsin by chance? Hahaha!

    1. Oh, he was prankish all right. And I’m sure he still is. 😉 Why do you ask if he is from Wisconsin? Is that the Home of the Prankster? 😉

  5. My dad (who was a teacher and then a high school principal) always used to take the little wallet-sized pictures he’d get from his school portraits every year, cut one out of the pack and tape it somewhere as a surprise for me.

    I got one inside an English notebook when I was at UCLA.

    I got one in the kitchen drawer of my first apartment.

    I currently have one in the medicine cabinet in my guest bathroom which I leave there because A. I love it B. If anyone ever sneaks a peek inside my cabinet they’ll wonder what the HELL is wrong with my family but not be able to ask without admitting they’re snooping C. I am off-center.

    This is no so much a practical joke as something I felt was somewhat related given that my dad was actually the principal at the high school where I taught for one glorious year and he is awesome at sneaking in lessons – both serious and funny.

    So cheers to being off center.
    And loved.

    And cheers to bad school pictures.

    1. Thanks for all of that, Julie.

      I love that your dad tacks up pictures all over the place.

      Fantastic.

      Cheers to being off-center, indeed.

      *clinks glasses*

  6. Enjoyed reading about another person who affected your life. Go Renz!

  7. Oh my, girl. This is c-r-a-z-y!

    But yes, my best learning comes when I’m feeling off kilter rather than “just so.”

    Love this- so very much!

    1. Hi Galit:

      Yes, that man kept me on my toes. No doubt.

      And, like you, I have always found that my biggest growth moments have come when I have felt slightly lost.

  8. Sorry all, but the true home of the prankster is right here in my little head. I love pulling pranks.

    My latest: I told my soccer team’s parents that we would have a pizza party for them after their last game. Of course some of them told their kids. Game ends, all my kids want is PIZZA!!!!!! “What pizza party?” “You told my mom you were going to throw us a pizza party!” “No. I think I told your parents that if they wanted to pay for pizza, you could have that for dinner after the game.” “MOOOOOOOOOOOMMM!!!”

    A couple of seasons ago, I had a girl who had no clue about sarcasm at the beginning of the season. It may have taken 8 weeks, but by golly, she got it in the end.

  9. Ha! Mark is no joke! This is great. My world definitely went topsy-turvy when I had my surprise bridal shower. I love surprises, or so I thought, but that one almost did me in. I thought I was going to my friend Tiffany’s surprise birthday party; I walked in with a gift for her, spotted my fiance’s wife and thought, “How does she know Tiffany?” It just wouldn’t sink in that these people were there for me! LOL!

    1. hahahaha I forgot a REALLY important word up there. I spotted my fiance’s FRIEND’S wife. LOL!

  10. Jeff, I mean Mark Kelly, sounds wonderful! No wonder you miss him! My husband comes from an entire family of jokesters – this one was of my early blog entries writing just about that!! http://kaseymathews.com/blog/2011/3/8/send-in-the-clowns.html

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