Stupidly, I decided to dash back down the block and into the school building to retrieve the Builder’s Bar I’d left in the staff refrigerator, leaving 10 of my ninth and tenth graders at the corner store to wait for me. We were on our way to Battery Park for our weekly field trip, and the ritual is to stop at the store on the way to grab some food for the journey – apparently, the cafeteria food is inedible. It is probably illegal to leave your students on the street corner while you retrieve your snacks upstairs, but I did it anyway, sternly eyeing two of my wiliest students: “I. Will be right. Back.”
I flew down the street and disappeared into the building. Striding back toward them not 90 seconds later, I peered into the distance: no chaos, no shouting, no blood…They were standing soberly in front, staring at me.
“Hey, shawty,” I heard someone say.
“This your teacher?” another guy said.
“Hey, y’all, can I come to your school? Y’all go to that school? Don’t you wanna talk to me?” the first one continued as my students started walking quickly toward me. He was tall, loose-limbed, do-ragged, and at least 25 years old. So was his friend. They were lustily taking in my female students’ ample curves, the girls scurrying now in the direction of the Jehovah’s Witness lady handing out pamphlets down the block.
I did a quick head count.
“Where’s…?” I said, trailing off, realizing we were missing tiny, quiet Leeah. I headed for the store’s dim interior, and Loose Limbs and his friend trailed behind, sidestepping in concentric circles around me, presumably trying to discern my figure in my long wool coat.
“Hey, mama, you their teacher?”
“Hey, teacher…Yo, can I be your student? How I get into that school?”
Leeah finally emerged, with her usual faraway face. I sighed with relief and turned around to lead the pack toward the subway. I resisted turning my head and taunting, “Sorry, you have to have been born in the 90s to go here.”
Thrilled and giddy with fear, Tavia eagerly explained that the guys had started by shouting to them across the street; when that didn’t work, they joined them on the sidewalk.
“Ew,” I said, mortified. “Some guys think they own the whole world.”
“I know!” the girls cried, each one launching into an anecdote about a guy (or two, or three) leering at them, following them, talking dirty, right there in public, no apologies. It seemed to be one of the costs of living in the neighborhood, of being born a girl, of breathing the air.
“I call ‘em ODBs,” Star said matter-of-factly, placing them into their proper genus with the deftness of a biologist.
“Old dirty bastards?” I said, cracking up.
“Yeah,” she said, laughing.