On the way to work today I heard the song "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band. In a flash I remembered sitting on a school bus in fifth grade and hearing the song over the bus’s radio, which the driver had obligingly turned up for us. It was the sort of song that made me feel odd, as if I had suddenly acquired a vision of infinite wisdom that I couldn’t communicate. The school bus smelled of warm vinyl bus seats. We were on our way back from a misguided enrichment class put together for the good students. This was the 70s, and even in the backwater I lived in, some loopy educational programs leaked in. I remember making candles, learning to count to 10 in Spanish, and eating churros. Making the candles was great, although mine looked crooked and lumpy. Melted wax has a very comforting smell. If I actually learned anything substantive, I don’t remember it.
Anyway, we were on the bus with 'Fly Like an Eagle" on the radio. Stephen Walker (I still remember his name) was turned around in the seat in front of me, making some sort of withering commentary. He was a skinny kid with long dirty blond hair that he wore in a ponytail. Sometimes I saw him riding his bike to school – one-handed or no-handed, of course. He was the most sarcastic person I had ever known, and I was filled with awe and admiration. I was also rather scared of him, since it was no fun to be the recipient of one of his verbal barbs. I remember an art project in which we made placemats for our family members, decorated with drawings that said something about that person’s life. He took one look at my mom’s placemat, which I recall had a drawing of a vacuum cleaner and cooking pots, and sneered, “I guess your mom doesn’t work.” Of course I knew women weren’t just housewives, but I hadn’t considered what it would be like to have a mom who worked at a job. My mom was pretty much incapable of holding a job. Given that I had already vastly inflated my mom’s housekeeping skills (I had to draw something, after all), I suddenly felt deficient. My mom didn’t work.
I don’t know what became of Stephen Walker. After fifth grade, my mom put me in a private school, to keep me away from the “bad elements” in the local public schools. That was code for “black people,” but also demonstrated a bit of class snobbery. My parents were from a very humble background, but my mom, at least, was determined to impress upon me the importance of taste, intelligence, and keeping the right sort of company. She did this to counter the "trashiness" of my dad's side of the family. Thanks to my mom I don't live in a trailer on the front lawn of my parent's house, with a meth lab, a skoal chewing husband, a shotgun and two grimy children.