I remember the excitement of receiving my first job offer to teach. It was about 28 years ago. I remember the interview — two guys talking education, my hopes and dreams for my new career, and then finally, when this young principal said he knew I was the perfect man for the job.
And I remember not needing any time to think it over. I thanked him profusely, then turned him down flat.
I didn’t see myself teaching first-graders then, or ever. And it had nothing to do with teaching 6-year-olds reading, writing, and arithmetic.
It was because first-graders, as I learned the hard way as a student teacher, are in constant need of zippering. And I have zipper issues.
An elder once told me that the best thing about getting older is that memories of the good times gain clarity and meaning. The bad stuff? Those recollections fade like cheap polish on an old pair of loafers. Or something like that.
A lot of bad stuff continues to earn a lot of interest in my memory bank. For example, each time I zip a jacket, a pair of jeans or a suitcase, I get flashbacks of running blind across the Madison elementary school playground, my winter jacket pulled up over my head, arms flailing and wild snorts piercing the icy air. Once again, something had gone terribly wrong as I attempted to zip my jacket. The teeth did not fully squeeze together, as designed. Instead, my jacket remained partially open, but not enough to extract myself, even after several attempts to pull it over my head.
While I couldn’t tell for sure, I imagined my friends standing back to enjoy the show, waiting for a female classmate to end my misery. In the years since, I’ve had countless zippers replaced because I’ve mangled them. I was sure I’d ruined my dog’s car carrier before I made it to the check-out line. Just testing it out, I told myself. Wow, that opened smoothly. Now, if I can just zip it back up — you know the rest.
I placed it back on the shelf and watched, crestfallen, as a millennial, who no doubt had observed my rank ineptitude, re-zipped it in one fluid motion.
I love hotels, but those high-techie plastic key cards sure don’t love me. It’s happened in Nashville, the Napa Valley, and in Naples. The one in Italy. And it happened again recently in Tombstone, Arizona, and it was nearly the death of me.
My wife, Betty, and I had just checked into a funky little hotel not five minutes from Boothill graveyard, where hundreds rest for all eternity, including Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, members of the infamous Cowboys gang. They tangled with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday one too many times. We couldn’t wait to stroll down dusty Allen Street in Tombstone, in its heyday the biggest city between San Francisco and St. Louis.
But first we had to drop off our stuff. So I looked for the arrows on the card, positioned it firmly into the slot, watched for the green light, and voila...the door wouldn’t open. I tried five more times. Then five more times with the second card. I pushed up on the handle. I pushed down on the handle. I swear I could hear the ghost of Johnny Ringo, the worst of the Cowboys, laughing at me.
Negotiating tumbleweeds and colossal cactus needles the whole way, I made it back to the office and explained my predicament to the guy at the front desk. With a skeptical grin, he followed me back to the room. He inserted my key, just like I had. The green light shone brightly in the desert dusk, just as it had for me. And the door opened, unimpeded, not exactly the way it had worked for me.
The key, he said — what a jokester — was to remove the card before pushing down on the handle. So I tried it. Of course it worked. With our stuff now safely in the room, I went outside and tried it again, as directed. Nope. Here we go again.
Betty let me back in, and Jack Bauer, our dog, gave me that mournful look, the same one Bill Clinton wore when he told us he felt our pain. We decided to go to dinner and hope we could open the door when we returned.
We had a great time at the Crystal Palace Saloon, one of the originals still standing in Tombstone. Such a great time, that I didn’t mind pulling the key card 12 times from the slot before our hotel room door opened, unimpeded. I paused, looked up into that starlit sky, and I swear I thought I saw Wyatt and the rest of the Earp brothers give me a standing ovation.
John Edmondson writes from Londonderry.