Monday, October 22, 2012

"Fairchild Tropical Garden"

My fifth-grade teacher took our class on a tour of a potato-chip factory. Her uncle was a manager there and made sure we got the best treatment - a free bag of Red Dot Chips for each of us, along with a red Red Dot baseball cap, a red Red Dot balloon, and a red round Red Dot plastic change purse you squeezed to open and close. We saw crates of potatoes poured into machines that washed, peeled, sliced, and sent the glistening discs on conveyor belts to boiling vats of oil. We saw fried chips draining and drying. The men and women who worked there were so covered with grease - it misted the air - that they seemed ready for frying themselves. Not doing what they had dreamed of doing as children, they took no pleasure in being observed by us. They understood that we kids were hoping we would never be them. Our teacher had arranged the tour to get herself out of the classroom in which her own dream was dying. She had always wanted to be beloved by her students. But none of us did love her - her gestures were stiff, her voice failed in the afternoons, her eyes wandered out the windows as often as ours did. Now, in the chip factory, as our cheeks swelled and reddened from humidity and oil, she nibbled at a new strategy, displaying the consequences of indifference to teachers and their lessons. You grew up and took readings on grease vats while kids watched.

- Lawrence Sutin
A Postcard Memoir

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