Every few months my district has what they call a "free sale". They basically take donations and hand-me-downs from the big corporations all over the area and stack everything in the parking lot of the district office for teachers to come by and grab. First come, first served. It is much like going to a Goodwill full of office supplies except without the price tag, and while on some level it is depressing to think that the best our state can do for our teachers is some old engineer's throw away swivel chair, we teachers will take what we can get.
I went to a free sale at the beginning of the school year, and this one was open only to new teachers in the district. All of us came laden with bags and pull-carts, and some people even brought trucks to haul away file cabinets and desks. I looked around before taking things, making sure that someone near me wasn't eyeing the same box of ball point pens I was. 'No, no,' my fellow newbiea said. 'You have it!' I left with a sore shoulder from carrying boxes full of folders and rolls of butcher paper, but also feeling as though I had a good start to the school year.
Today was another free sale, this one open to the entire district. Teachers who had been around for decades came not only with push carts, but with boxes with their names labeled on them and husbands ready to haul away large items. I came early and saw the hoard of people standing at the gates of the parking lot like lions ready to pounce. 'They're early,' I thought, my inner lioness growling. 'Dammit'.
The gates opened at 3:30 exactly, and by that point teachers had their arms and legs dangling over the chain fence that sectioned us off. The race began, and I can only liken it to the first time I went to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon. It was a flood of people, all racing and clawing and pushing. As I walked (rather, was shoved) into the parking lot I felt as I often do in claustrophobic situations-- short. All five feet two inches of me were swallowed up by a sea of shopping bags and elbows.
Somehow I wound up at a shelf full of pens. There were about fifteen boxes of red Sharpies in front of me, and they seemed radiate a light of awesomeness.
'Grab those for me!' a woman behind me yelled to the man next to me. 'I need red pens!'
The man next to me, or should I say the man whose breath smelled like the tuna sandwich he surely had for lunch said, 'How many do you want?'
'All of them!' the lady behind me shreiked, and I dodged a woman carrying poster board on her head as she walked through the crowd at decapitiation level.
'But I want some too,' the man said, grabbing two boxes for her.
The woman groaned. 'You teach math,' she said. 'You don't need them as much as I do.'
As a general rule, I don't correct papers with red pen. But suddenly I found my hand inside the basket, taking three boxes of pens, and slipping away to the next bookshelf. I left with my hair a wreck, a few ripped boxes of file folders, and the red pens I will never use. I looked as frazzled as I felt.
I thought that this whole woman in her thirties bit meant that I was supposed to have developed a tolerance to unpleasant situations, and a general patience for people and things. Stealing pens just to be mean was something I would have done in my passive aggressive twenties, right? I'm supposed to be beyond such triviality by now, unable to be moved to anger over Sharpies.
I guess not. As I left I imagined myself at the next free sale, armed with stilts and a semi-automatic weapon.
'Back away from the whiteboards Mr. P, and no one gets hurt,' I will say to the teacher lunging for the items I need for my classroom. He will, and that way I will take what I need and leave with my lip gloss in place, the way a woman in her thirties is meant to.