Saturday, March 24, 2012
Teen Voices, Stephen King, and a Big-time Bonehead Moment
I was ecstatic to learn that Stephen and Tabitha King awarded a grant to the “Teen Voices” program at UMF so they could buy dozens of my Young Adult novel, Grumble Bluff, for their curriculum. It was thrilling to think that maybe—just maybe—one of the world’s most famous authors read something I wrote–and that he liked it enough to donate money so that other Mainers could read it, too.
Mt. Blue Middle School students added Grumble to their program, and I was asked to go to UMF to speak to the group of teenagers and their mentors at a Teen Voices dinner. I enthusiastically agreed. The coordinator asked if I’d consider speaking to the full student body of Mt. Blue Middle School in an end-of-the-day assembly, first. I said I’d be happy to.
The time and date were set last fall. I noted the details on my calendar. It was on my mind. On my ‘list’ of things to do. I was good to go!
I went. Last Tuesday at 1:15 pm, just as I was passing Jack’s Trading Post, I was filled with confidence. Excitement. I was early for the 2:00 appointment. I’d have plenty of time to set up my simple Power Point Presentation. I’d meet with the school’s librarian and establish a rapport. All was well.
My cell phone rang. I answered it.
A voice said “Karen! Are you okay? Have you been in an accident?”
Oh…my…God. You have no idea how badly I wanted to say “Yes”!
My confidence disappeared in a puff of smoke. Jody wouldn’t have asked me that question unless she believed I was late! But… I WASN’T late!
Oh, my God! OH MY GOD! There were a hundred students sitting in a gym waiting for me! I was sure—positive!--my appointment was for 2:00 pm! But she was telling me that the middle school principal was preparing to send students back to their rooms to prepare for their TWO O’CLOCK BUSSES unless I could get there, PRONTO!
I told her I’d be there in five minutes.
I wasn’t sure where Mt. Blue Middle School was. I’d asked Jody for directions, and she told me it was located on “Middle Street, very close to downtown”.
I turned off Main Street and onto South Street. There were UMF students all over the place. They lived in Farmington! Surely they’d know where Middle Street was!
Nope. Clueless. After the fourth “detain and question” session in the middle of a crosswalk, one young man finally said, “It’s up there.”
And it was. I turned by the Legion Hall. I was still relatively calm. Still marginally cool. Still somewhat collected. I turned into the school’s driveway and parked the truck. In a hurry, I grabbed a copy of Grumble but left everything else and fast-walked to the school’s front doors.
Locked. The doors were LOCKED! But… they were expecting me, right?
I hurried to the next set of doors. One opened into a glass-enclosed vestibule. I could see real live humans on the other side. They could see me. There was a buzzer, of sorts. I pushed it. The woman within magically unlocked the door and…voila! I was in.
Triumphant, I stood before them, Grumble Bluff held before me as proof that I was a respected author and not some threat to students’ safety.
“I made it!” I crowed.
They stared at me in silence.
“Um…aren’t there 100 kids waiting for me in the gym?”
I was at the wrong school! It was the right road, but the wrong school. How many schools does one town need? I wondered—while feeling a pang of jealousy. We lost our precious Central School in New Portland school a few years ago, and yet--Farmington had more schools than you could shake a stick at!
I was told the school I wanted was a mile further down the road. A tingle of panic niggled at me. I ran back to the truck…and discovered I was parked on a one-way driveway. Naturally.
I maneuvered over and around speed bumps, raised crosswalks and snow banks until I reached Middle Street again, and drove the extra mile to Mt. Blue Middle School. In my hurry to get there I overshot the first driveway, so I took the second entrance and parked at the rear of the building.
Grabbed keys. Copy of Grumble. And trotted in high heels and skirt from one locked door to another! What was up? Since when had schools become fortresses? They were expecting me! WAITING for me! Sitting on bleachers anticipating my arrival! Why was I locked out?
A man looked up as I came to a halt in the middle of the room, out of breath and slightly agitated.
“Hi! I gasped. “I need to get to the gym!”
He raised his arm and pointed to the window…
“Okay. You go outside and…”
“NO!” I hollered—not really meaning to shout but definitely intent on getting my point across. I held my book in front of me, as if one glimpse at it would explain everything.
Taken aback by my spontaneous shout, the gent led me into the hallway.
“Follow these stairs up and around and when you get to the top, you’re there.”
I could have kissed him, but I saved my breath for the climb. Four flights of stairs brought me—gasping—to another steel door.
Which was locked. What the heck was up with that? And who puts a gym upstairs, anyway?
At that very moment, I came close to crying. But I was LATE and didn’t have time for such foolishness. There were 100 kids sitting on bleachers, waiting for my words of wisdom and inspiration! I trudged back down two of those flights of stairs. I looked at the door I’d passed on my way up. What did I have to lose? Tentatively, I reached out a hand and pulled.
Holy cow. The door swung open…
And revealed a dozen children practicing dance steps in the middle of the gym. The bleachers were empty. I sighed and walked across the hardwood floor.
A teacher separated himself from the dancers.
“Are you the author?” he asked, as if uttering a dirty word.
“Yes.” I nodded, despondent.
The teacher shook his head.
“You’d better go to the office,” he said, pointing to a door on the other side of the gym. “It’s down the hall and to your right.”
Oh, sure! NOW I got good directions!
It’s been 30 years since I was sent to the principal’s office, but it’s a feeling I hadn’t forgotten. I’d screwed up. It was unintentional, but that didn’t change the fact that I’d blown it. And for my sins, I was sent to the office in humiliation.
On the bright side—the program at the University later that night was amazing. Great attendance, wonderful feedback and participation, and I left there feeling like I’d really helped a group of young adults find some inspiration and hope. Afterwards, I’d been surrounded by a mob of young women with questions—questions about bullying, and about death… and life. It was an awesome experience.