Another Chance

“Are you really going to?”  Carol asked me quietly as she handed me my slice of pizza.  We were sitting in her classroom over lunch, which we’d ordered for delivery from a Greek pizza place a few miles away.  It was definitely an indulgence:  thick like Chicago style pizza, loaded with cheese, thick crust and in our case, crab and lobster.   The seafood pizza we shared was a bright spot twice a month, something to look forward to as the days grew warm and the student behavior did as well.

“I got the call yesterday.  I have an interview next week,” I replied just as quietly, looking around to be sure no one could hear our conversation in the back corner of her classroom.

Upon my return from Tucson, I felt a renewed sense of purpose in trying to get my life on track.  While I was theoretically doing as well as I could at my urban teaching job, I felt often like I was beating my head against a brick wall.  We were still understaffed, even at a magnet school.  The middle school students had a healthy disrespect for academia in general and as magnet school students, a sense of entitlement too.  If I didn’t leave our urban system soon, I would be stuck in a loop that I simply couldn’t get out of.  To leave the system would mean starting again at the bottom of a districts’ pay scale, which inevitably meant a pay cut.  Twofold, actually, because if I went to a suburban system, they typically paid less in general; pay was one of the ways the urban system could attract teachers.  Benefits was another, and I had fantastic ones.

But I was tired.  The commute was long, especially in the winter.  I had moments where I liked my job, but they weren’t even a daily occurrence.  I’d LOVED going to work every day when I student taught; it was part fun, part challenge, part making a difference.  I didn’t feel like any of that was happening much these days, except the challenge part.  I’d actually gotten hit breaking up a fight last week, and instead of admonishing the students, my principal and admonished me for getting in the middle of it.  It had been the straw that had broken my own spirit, and I was ready to move on.

The district I’d applied to was an “inner ring” suburb, meaning that it was bordered on one side by the city.  A gateway suburb.  Ironically, one of my first grade students three years ago had mentioned it (she had been Native American) when she told the class where she was moving to.  She had proudly told the classroom that she going to where “the white people lived”, which in the Detroit area meant somewhere across Eight Mile Road.  East Detroit, so ashamed of its proximity to the city that they had actually voted to rename their town Eastpointe, was where I’d applied to work.

The district was actually expanding due in some part to parents fleeing the city looking for a better education.  There were middle school positions opening up due to an expansion of the school; a new wing had just been built.  I was applying for an eighth grade math position.  It was a subject I’d never taught before, but I hoped my middle school experience at the magnet school and the smattering of mathematics I was responsible for would put me over the edge.  Urban experience would make me a good candidate for any position in the suburbs; it should mean that I could handle anything.

“Won’t that mean a pay cut?” asked Carol.  This would be Carol’s sixth year in the city, as opposed to my fourth.  I could see she was incredulous.

“Yes, it will.  I’ve already looked it up.  It’s about seven thousand dollars less a year.  Plus they are HMO, not traditional insurance.  I know it seems crazy, but how nice would it be to have substitute teachers you can count on?  Or a principal that backs you up instead of the students?  Or a reasonable class size?  I’ve taught in two city schools now and it is clear to me that the things that make this job the most difficult are always going to be there as long as I stay in the city.  I never wanted a city job; I’m not that altruistic to think that little old me can cure urban ills.  I always wanted a job near home, where I might have the same days off as my own kid, where everything makes sense.”

Carol laughed and started in on her second slice.  “Does that even exist?  I’ve forgotten what it is like.”

“I know it’s not for everyone.  I respect you so much for wanting to stay.  I do.  But it’s just not for me.”

Carol sighed.  “Don’t respect me for wanting to stay.  I’d get out too if I could.  I’ve got too much time in now to leave.  I would in a heartbeat if I could.  Take your chance while you can.  Seriously.”

I swallowed, hearing students down the hall coming in from recess.  “Party’s over.  Back to reality,” I said, packing up the rest of my pizza to take up to my classroom, to take home for dinner.  “It probably won’t happen anyway,” I said quietly as the students started filing in the room.

But inside, I was hopeful.   Other dreams had come true for me recently.  Maybe things were on the upswing.

Games Kids Play

I was on a school bus with twenty or so of our magnet school students, leaning back on the seat and watching the snow fall outside.

It was quiet.  The bus ride up to Flint had been loud and raucous, the students feeling their oats about having three days and two nights without parental supervision or school work.   They were excited about staying in a hotel and having just my friend DC and I as their chaperones.

We were returning from the state wide Academic Games tournament.  Our students had formed teams to play different games relating to math.  DC and I had started them in our classrooms playing competitively against each other.  The first game, Equations, was a math game that could be as simple or complex as the students playing it.  It was played with dice and a simple board, but could be made very challenging.   It could be brought to nearly any level of math after grade three, and so we used it widely in class.  It wasn’t long before we discovered which students had an affinity for the games, and before long we were spending one Saturday a month competing against students from other schools in the Detroit area.

When my curriculum coordinator asked us if we’d be interested in going to the Grand Tournament in Flint, I was skeptical.  I thought back to our experience last November, when all of the staff at school had been required to overnight in cabins with students as we took our thematic approach of learning to the outdoors.  I’d come home with a miserable cold and about seven hours of sleep over the three days.    But as we talked to the students about it, I had felt more confident that we could effectively chaperone about twenty of them off site in a closed environment.

They were motivated by the thought of competing on a wider scale.  When we got to the hotel, rather than running up and down the escalators like some of the students did, our kids would challenge each other to practice games to hone their skills.  They were required to learn a second game in order to compete at the Grand Tournament:  On Sets, a game about set theory.  They picked it up very quickly and I conducted extra practice sessions that first night after they got clobbered in the first round.

The days were regimented with gaming sessions from 8 am to 5 pm with breaks for meals.  When we weren’t eating or playing, we would practice.  I shouldn’t have worried about the kids in their hotel room that night, though DC and I nervously paced the hallways and put tape on the kids’ doors until we were satisfied that they were asleep or at least up to no shenanigans.  By the second night we knew we didn’t have to worry; the kids were exhausted from using their brains all day.  Several times a day the rankings of students would be posted and it motivated our students even more to practice just one more time to beat the students from the other schools.

By the end of the third day, we showed respectable rankings in both games, just missing a trophy in the second game we’d just learned.   But moreso, DC and I had connected with the students in that way that only comes from being with students outside the classroom in an unstructured environment, in a way where they get to show their mettle of who they really are.

As I watched the snowflakes slip past the bus barreling down the highway, I was proud of all of us.  We’d all overcome our fears and taken on something we weren’t really sure if we could do.   I yawned and thought about how good this feeling felt, and wondered how long it would last.

Land Of the Grown Ups

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  My friend Carol and I were looking out at a sunset over the Mackinaw Bridge late that June.

“Absolutely.  Almost makes the rest of it worth it.  Well, maybe.”  I chuckled and nodded as we both sat in a comfortable peace together on the ferry back to the mainland.

Carol and I had been sent for a weeklong summer course on how to teach with a method called the Writer’s Workshop.  It went hand in hand with another method for language arts instruction called Reader’s Workshop.  It was a very child focused, more independent way of delivering instruction for reading and writing.  Instead of having reading books full of stories, children chose books of their interests and were grouped and ungrouped flexibly, thus increasing their motivation.

I had been surprised and somewhat elated when our principal had, at the end of the previous school year, told me I would be swapping subject matter with another teacher in our building.  It was a major, and very obvious, commentary on my colleague’s effectiveness as a teacher.  And while on some level I felt a little badly for him, a man twenty years my senior, on another I felt vindicated that someone had indeed noticed how much effort I put into my job versus how little he’d put into his.

Of our seven staff members from the previous year, two left voluntarily, one was asked to not return, and one had his current level of responsibility curtailed to a subject that would not appear on any standardized testing.  I worried about the heavy turnover rate at our school but after a year under my belt there, I was hardly surprised.  City schools, even magnet schools, were difficult places to work.

I was now being given a regular classroom on the second floor (replacing the man who had been asked to leave) and was going to be teaching Language Arts and Math, my two middle grade specialty subjects.  My friend Carol taught the rest of the sections of Language Arts that I did not, and a new teacher, someone whom we hadn’t met yet, would be teaching next door to me, responsible for the other sections of math.  I was the only hybrid teacher at the school, another compliment that I didn’t take lightly.

Being singled out for extra training was another compliment that I was happy to accept.  The weeklong course had a hefty tuition bill and meant a week’s hotel stay during high vacation season on the western side of the state, near Traverse City.   It was an investment in my skill set.  My sister and my fiance were tag teaming caring for my son for the five days I’d be away; I thought it was a good time to perhaps give Z and R a little alone time, to see how things fared in my absence.  Overall, I thought that they got along very well, but without me as a buffer, I was curious to hear if there were any problems.

“You know, Carol,” I said as the boat started making its final turn towards the mainland, and the end of our evening sojurn out to the island, “I think we have arrived in the land of the Grown Ups.  And honestly, I’m kind of amazed at how awesome it can be sometimes.”  I thought of how nice it was to be here, to be traveling to a place I’d never been, to be getting ready to be married, to be getting trained for something that would make me better at my job.

“I’m not entirely sure that we’re all that grown up,” Carol answered.  “I was just thinking that we needed to find a liquor store on the way back into town to take back to the room.”

“Actually, that’s exactly what I do mean,” I countered.  “Grown ups can, and actually are legally able to, buy a drink when they want.  And they can afford to.  They can afford the nice meal we just had.  They can learn to enjoy not just ‘partying’ for having fun, but experiences like being trained to do something new and better at your job.  Call me crazy, but our workshops today were just as fun, if not more, than a night of partying would be. It’s like…how can I explain it.  I still feel like a kid, but I also am able to enjoy all of those things that I did as a kid because I have a job, and a life, and…it’s like the best of both worlds.  Young enough to have fun, but old enough to afford it.”

“No, I know what you mean.  I think as we get closer to thirty than twenty we are all looking for that balance.  Family, work, responsibility but still fun and friends and enjoyment too.   It’s when you start to realize that you can make all of that work, and be happy about the trade offs, that you’ve landed in the Land of the Grown Ups.”

I sighed happily as the boat gently nudged against the dock.  “It’s not really that overrated, after all.”

Making a Tough Job Harder

I sat with Carol in her classroom that January, calculating grades.  The school district had called a snow day, but in our urban district, that meant that staff usually still had to report to our buildings.  I had dropped Z off at my sister’s house for a day of fun with his cousins and then made the hour and a half long extended trudge through the snowy highways to work.

“Can I ask you a question?” I asked Carol, my brow furrowed as I looked at my grade book.  The students were an interesting mix of city kids.  Some were studious and motivated; but they were the vast minority.  A good chunk of students were here because their parents had made them attend; they could be motivated with the right mixture of parental communication and interesting lessons.  They of course would test the new teachers to see how far they were willing to go to make them do the work; I’d discovered this the hard way during the first marking period when a good third of my students had failed and more than half had Cs or below.  I had been called into the principal’s office and told in no uncertain terms that I was to fix this problem with my students’ grades, pronto.  Whatever it took.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

But there was a third type of student at our school too; the completely uninterested student.  Their parents weren’t involved, and it was a miracle that someone had even bothered to take the time to enter them into the lottery to attend our magnet school.  This group of students, in each and every one of my classes, could be the difference between a day that went sort of OK versus a day that was a complete disaster.

“Sure,” Carol responded, looking up from her grade book and bubble sheets.

“I feel like I’m going in circles,” I started, trying to find words for the frustration I was feeling.  It wasn’t just the kids, although they presented enough of a challenge.  “I don’t know how to say this, but the kids don’t feel like my greatest problem in this school.” I paused and lowered my voice.  ” Do you know what I mean?”

Carol nodded knowingly, leaning in.  “I do,” she said quietly, encouragingly.

I went on, ready to say more with the affirmation.  “It takes me all hour to calm the kids down when they came from the other English teachers’ room.  And I can HEAR them through the walls in the science room next door.  I don’t know what is going on upstairs but they are like wild animals sometimes when they come down from the second floor.  How much learning is really going on with these kids?   Have you noticed that the kids really are going nuts for some of the other staff?”

Carol smiled at me and put her pencil down, pausing to choose her words carefully.  “I hear you.  It’s a lot harder to do your job when other people aren’t doing theirs.”  She too lowered her voice and looked out her open door.  Seeing no one, she continued:   “One of the math teachers upstairs is not teaching at all; the principal doesn’t know it yet because he just gives out As and Bs so the parents are happy. The kids told me that they turn in papers and he just puts them in a cabinet, never checks them, never returns them.”

“How can they get away with that?  I got called in for having too many Ds on my students’ report cards last fall!”  My sense of fairness rose up in my chest like a five year old who has been reprimanded for someone else’s wrong doings.

“The kids tell me, but their parents don’t know because they don’t want to have to do any more work, so they don’t say anything to anyone else.  For some reason, they trust me.  It’s like they want to have someone know about it, but not any one with any real authority to do anything.”

I swallowed.  “It explains why I have such a hard time motivating the kids to do social studies.  They aren’t even tested on that on the standardized tests at this level.”

“Exactly.  When I make them do their work and tell them why, some of them counter with the fact that Mr. O doesn’t make them do work in there.  I have spent hours talking to them about why that feels good now but it really isn’t in their best interests in the long run.”

“Really?  What do they say?”

“Well basically three different things.  The ones that are pissed that they’re not learning are grateful that someone actually said something and thank me.  The middle ones, you know the ones, the ones that pretend not to care but know they will get their asses kicked for a C or below?  They front and talk big but then they get down and do what I’ve asked them to as well.  Because at the end of the day they too know they need to know things to get anywhere in life.  The ones that don’t care because their parents don’t care, they still misbehave and I spend the rest of my time keeping them at a low boil so the rest of the kids that give a crap can get their work done.”

I thought for a minute before I spoke.  “I never thought that part of the difficulty in teaching would not only be the students and their behaviors, but also the other teachers too.  When there isn’t a uniform level of expectation or discipline, it makes it that much harder for those who are expecting more than those who are accepting less.”

Carol nodded.  “Listen, these kids aren’t stupid.  They know they’re getting away with something, but some of them also know that they are losing opportunity with every day they don’t learn what they are supposed to.  Work with those kids and just manage the rest.  That’s how I get through it.”

I nodded and went back to my bubble sheets, the silence between us easy and comfortable with shared outrage and experience.

Crazy Exists Everywhere

“Well, how’d it go?”  Carol poked her head in my classroom.  It was the end of our first day of school; she and I had carpooled into the city together.  She took in the disarray slowly, and walked in.

“Well…” I started, looking around and trying to see what she saw, how she was interpreting the mess before us.

“I tried to tell you it wasn’t a bed of roses,” she interrupted, sensing my answer wasn’t a glowing rendition of the Best Day of Teaching Ever.

“I know, I know.  And it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t.  First of all, yay for air conditioning.  That right there is worth something.  I used to come home last year in September and take a cold shower, first thing.  So crazy plus air conditioning is still better than crazy without it.”

Carol sat down on one of the long tables that counted for seating in my room as I started shuffling papers into my teaching bag.  “”Define crazy,” she prompted.

I looked around the classroom.  “Well first of all, this is not exactly the best set up for a classroom environment.”

I’d made the best of the room I’d been assigned at the magnet school.  But me being the low teacher on the totem pole meant that I got the cafeteria room.  Our building was rented space in a commercial building; we took up the basement and part of the second floor.  The building had been thought out with three grade levels in mind.  We now had four, which meant space was tight.

The room I was situated in was used as a cafeteria midday.  It had functioned as the teacher’s room for the rest of the day prior to my arrival.  It was a smallish room that had long cafeteria tables that folded up rather than desks or chairs.  A white board was waiting to be installed and perched up lengthwise against one wall.

The seating right away became obviously an issue for me when my first section of 8th graders had entered the room.  They were a decent enough group of kids, but my usual tricks of dividing and conquering them didn’t work in the tight classroom.  Long legs tucked under the table snuck a kick at friend while I had my back turned at the dry erase board;  books and papers were knocked to the ground as each student jockeyed for their own personal space.

“Yeah, I can see that.  I do feel badly for you trying to teach in here.”

“That wasn’t the biggest problem today, though,”  I said, walking around to pick up the sheaf of extra worksheets that were left behind by my last class.

“What was?”

“It’s hard to put into words.  They just kind of looked at me like I was crazy for even trying to do anything with them.  I think, at least with the eighth graders, that they didn’t take me the least bit seriously.”

Carol smiled.  “Well you’re already a step ahead of the game if you’ve figured that one out.  That took me a while.”

“Yeah, that takes a while,” Carol responded.  “They’re just testing you, same as anywhere else.  Some are tougher than others.  Just keep at them, make it fun, and be serious with the follow up when you do reprimand them.  Get the parents involved right away.  For most of them, that makes a difference.   This isn’t an easy crowd, you’ll see.  I struggle every day too.”

“Still?” I asked.  This was Carol’s third year at this school.  For her to say that getting to these kids was hard even now struck a note of dread in my chest.

“Yes, still.  But you get used to it, you really do.”

I looked around, my eyes resting on my still neat desk, the phone perched in the right hand corner.  “Well, there is a phone too.  A phone, air conditioning and a Xerox.  It’s still better than the alternative,” I laughed, putting the last of my things in my teaching bag, a gesture meant to convey that I was ready to go.

“That’s the spirit,” Carol laughed and led me out of the room.

Every Ending is A New Beginning

“Thanks so much!” I stood and accepted the award that Becky and I had received, “Best Team Teachers”.

We were all assembled at long tables at a local restaurant celebrating our end of year luncheon with the staff of FR Elementary.   My usual cohorts were all assembled near me:  Michelle, my friend who planned on staying at FR another year; Christine, who was pregnant now with her first child and planned on leaving the school when her child was born in December; Laurie, who had spent her first year down the hall from me teaching third grade and whom I’d met years ago in college; and of course, Becky, my partner in crime who was leaving for Virginia next week to relocate with her husband.

“Not a surprise at all,” said Christine.  “You guys really did do a great job with your co teaching this year.  It does always make it all a little bearable when you have a friend.”

What everyone was not saying at all was that I too, was leaving FR Elementary.  I’d spent my last week quietly removing my personal items from my classroom.  I hadn’t told anyone outside of my circle of close friends at the school yet; I didn’t want to have any repercussions or altercations with my principal.

My interview with the new principal at the magnet school had gone off flawlessly; I’d raced down there before my school day even started at 7:30 in the morning one day.  I’d brought in my portfolio of lessons and photographs from my own classroom.  While teaching first grade was nothing like teaching at this magnet school of middle grades, it showed that I had energy and initiative.  I immediately recognized the principal’s style:  seemingly warm and friendly (certainly moreso than my current principal) but with an edge to her that had allowed her to move up the ranks in our public school system.  She was happy to hear I was friendly with Carol, because she liked Carol and recognized her as a strong teacher with a commitment to urban teaching.  Likely that weighed far more in my favor than any of my answers or materials I had brought with me.  A few days after my interview, the call came that I was being offered the position.  A school to school transfer within the system was easy; meant no change in benefits or pay scale; and could be completed after I’d finished moving out of my classroom.

And so I wasn’t entirely present as I ate my french dip sandwich surrounded by ebullient colleagues on this warm June day.  They were all ready for a summer vacation that would allow them to recharge their batteries.  One colleague was gleefully drinking a toast to his retirement; several more were looking at the light towards that end in their own tunnel.  Becky and Christine were toasting their new and different futures.

Me?  I too was looking at a bend in the road of my future, a new opportunity and hopefully a less stressful job.  I knew I was trading some of the problems of my job here for different ones there, to be sure.   But overall, as I thought of my tiny hatchback stuffed full with my reading chair and hundreds of paperback picture books, I felt like I was moving down the right road.

I looked over to see Paul standing with a glass in his hand.  “We’re all here today celebrating the end of the school year.  For many of us, this ending may be a relief,”  he paused for the obvious chuckles that were sure to ensue, “for some this ending may just be the beginning of another chapter.”  He raised his glass first to our retiree, then to his girlfriend Crystal, who was just starting to show her pregnancy.  “Let us raise a toast to all of us here today.  Let us celebrate the time we’ve shared together towards a common goal:  educating the children of our community.  We are all in varied places in our journeys.  Let God give us the strength we need wherever we may be headed. Let us ask for His blessings and thank Him for the graces that each of us has shared with one another this year.”

I looked up to see Paul’s gaze resting on me.  I gave him a slight nod, and watched as his chin imperceptibly did the same in my direction.   Applause erupted for his astute words; I joined in, looking at my friends gathered around me and feeling truly blessed that I’d had all of these people together with me as I navigated the scary waters of my first urban teaching position.  All of the good, all of the bitter, all of the difficult; it all melded together as I sat there.

I knew I was ready to move on.

Opportunity

“Really?  I leaned in closer to Carol, a friend of my colleague Christine’s.  She too was a teacher in our large, urban school system and had taken to recently joining our small group for drinks on Friday afternoons.  It was that time of year in Michigan when you wore short sleeves one day and went digging for the winter coat that you thought you were done with the next.

Carol taught at a magnet school downtown, a small school of only about 200 students.  She’d been there for two years including this one, and while it wasn’t exactly heaven on Earth, it did enjoy a group of active parents as well as adequate funding due to its magnet status.  The students were chosen by lottery from all over the city, which is why the school was located centrally, right downtown, near where I’d attended university.

“Do you think I’d have a shot at it?”  Carol had just informed me that the school was adding a grade level next year, and was looking for a K-8 certified teacher who could be flexible enough to teach social studies, English or possibly even math.

“Sure, you’d have a shot.  Since you’ve already taught in the system, they’ll know you can handle teaching in the city, which will give you an edge.  I mean, it’s no picnic; these are older kids.”

I nibbled on some of the nacho chips from the basket in front of us.  “What’s your highest class size?”

Carol smiled at me, knowing I’d like the answer.  “Thirty two,” she answered.  “But they’re supposed to cap us at 30.”

Thirty students in a class.  It sounded like a dream.  “I wonder if it is worth making the switch.  The commute is so much longer.”

Christine and Becky looked at me like I was nuts.  “Are you kidding?  I’d trade a longer commute for an easier job any day of the week,” Christine answered.  She wasn’t ready to move out of our school because they were planning on starting a family soon.

“Well, Becky leaving makes the idea of leaving a lot more appealing,” I answered.  Becky had informed our little group this evening that her husband had just landed a job with a company out of state.  She would finish out our school year, and then spend the summer hunting for a house out East.

“I can’t really imagine being at FR without you, so I could completely see why you’d consider moving elsewhere with me not being there,” she agreed.

“And of course there’s the Paul thing…” Michele echoed from across the table.  A collective groan erupted from the assembled women.

“Agreed,” I laughed.  “Finding another place where my ex whatever he is isn’t glowing about his new baby with the woman he cheated on me with doesn’t exactly sound terrible.”

Carol held up her hand in caution.  “Before it all sounds like paradise and roses, let me tell you the downsides. ”

All heads turned towards her, listening to anything that would make them feel better about their current employment.

“First of all, the principal is not exactly strong.  She will side with parents over the teachers any day of the week.”

Michelle laughed.  “Parents actually show up?  I haven’t even met two thirds of mine yet, and we only have a month and a half left of school.”

Carol nodded, her face all seriousness.  “They do.  These are parents who chose this school, and they think that because of that, the teachers should be able to wave a magic wand and have all of their students be perfect.  Often, without the parents or the students having to expend any effort whatsoever.”

I looked at her, confused.  I couldn’t imagine such a scenario in an urban setting.  “OK, overinvolved parents.  Still not as bad as thirty eight kids in my room.  What else do you have?”

“OK, they don’t hire substitutes at my school.  At least not often.  So you might come in one day and expect to have your prep period to run copies and plan lessons, but instead, you have to cover someone else’s class for an hour.”

Becky asked, “Wait, did you say that you can actually run copies at your school?  Do you have to bring your own paper?”  She was referring jokingly to our own brand new copy machine that was purchased this school year, but that we had to purchase our own paper for.  It worked.  Sometimes.

Carol smiled.  “Yes, we have a copy machine that has paper in it that we don’t have to buy.”

I shook my head.  “You’re not doing a great job of deterring me.”

“I don’t want to deter you.  I’d love to have you working in my building.  There are only seven teachers, so we all work very closely.  It would be fantastic to have you there.  I just don’t want you to get there next fall and find that you hate it, and hate me for not giving you all of the facts.”

Michelle laughed.  “I think we’re all about to apply for that position, Carol.  It sounds about as good as you could get teaching in the city.”

I nodded, draining the rest of my margarita.  “I’ll apply.  That’s the first hurdle, anyway.  If I don’t get the job, then that answers the question.  If I do get it, then I can always choose one way or the other.  But all of it is moot if I don’t even try.”

“Fair enough,” Carol replied.

“Another round!” Christine shouted to our waitress.  “We need something to toast our futures with.”

“Amen to that,” I answered.  Onward and upward.

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