Debh2010's Blog

Books and Knitting – go figure

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When Mr. Pfizer asked Betsy Banner to stop by his classroom at the end of the day, Betsy thought maybe he wanted to discuss her photojournalism project.  After all, the assignment was “Trends” and she’d gone a little more extreme than her usual by choosing tattoos.  Maybe after reviewing some of her preliminary shots, he wanted her to reconsider her subject matter. 

As she stopped outside his open classroom door, Betsy say Mr. Pfizer lay her project portfolio on a desk in the front row.  Betsy knocked on the metal door sill.

“Ah, Betsy!  Come in.  Close the door behind you if you don’t mind,” he said.

Betsy did as asked and swung her backpack down off her shoulder.  “Is there something wrong with my project?” she asked.  “I have time to change it if you think it’s wrong.”

“No, no,” Mr. Pfizer said, “Your project is fine.  I have it out on the desk to misdirect the thoughts of anyone who might be passing by and happen to see in through the very slim window by the door.”  Mr. Pfizer walked around to his desk chair and waved Betsy into a seat.

Betsy was confused, and growing more concerned by the minute.  If she wasn’t here about the tattoo photos, what on earth could it be?  “Mr. Pfizer, if you don’t mind my asking…”

“I asked you here to talk about something, Betsy.”  Mr. Pfizer removed his wire-framed glasses and began to carefully wipe them on his shirt tail.  “I want you to understand that no matter what is decided in this room today, our conversation must, and I must insist, must be kept confidential.  Of course, I do not mean that you could not discuss it with your parents, but it must remain confidential from your peers and the staff of the school.” 

The weight of his words seemed to suck the air out of the room.  “What on earth could be so secret?” Betsy asked.

Mr. Pfizer opened his desk drawer and withdrew a red manila folder.  He held it up towards her and Betsy got up from the desk and took it from him.  She laid it on top of her project file and started to open it.

“Am I to assume that I have your promise to keep this confidential?” Mr. Pfizer asked.

“Of course.  I wouldn’t have taken the folder from you if I didn’t think I could keep a secret,” Betsy said.

“And that’s one of the reasons I thought to ask you to take on this job,” Mr. Pfizer said.  “Go ahead, open the folder.”

With her hands almost trembling, Betsy slowly and carefully folded out the cover of the manila folder.  Inside lay a thin stack of typed sheets.  Aloud, she began to read:  “Dear Answer Annie…” she paused.  “Oh, Mr. Pfizer, you can’t be serious!” she blustered, her blue eyes wide behind her glasses.

“Oh, but I am indeed very serious,” Mr. Pfizer said.

“But this column is a joke,” Betsy said.  “You wouldn’t believe the crap that goes on when a new column is written.  The bets about who wrote the letters and the speculation about who writes the answers and what makes them such know-it-alls to write an advice column.”

“That is another of the reasons I thought to ask you, Betsy.  You have a very serious grasp of responsibility.  I think you may very well give out better advice than has been offered in the past,” he said.

“What do I know about putting on…” she’d almost said ‘condoms’ which had been a big topic with a wild response earlier in the year.  “…makeup?  I barely wear any.”

“Well, obviously there are more subjects to cover than ‘makeup’, Mr. Pfizer said, “but instead of just answering from your personal experience, I think you’d be clever enough to find a knowledgeable reference for the things that you are not an expert on.  There’s a whole set of guidelines that I’ll give you to look over, and of course Mrs. Parker and myself will always be available to help you if you get stuck.”

“I was just about to ask you what happened to Mrs. Parker.  I know she hasn’t been here for a while and that she’s the newspaper advisor,” Betsy said.

“Mrs. Parker is away, tending to some family matters, but she will be back the second week after Spring Break,” Mr. Pfizer said.  “Mrs. Parker asked me to cover the advisor post with the newspaper for her until she gets back and of course I’m glad to do so.  When the Answer Annie position opened up unexpectedly, she asked me to find a suitable candidate to take it over in the meantime, and if it isn’t working out when she gets back, she’ll be glad to look for another candidate.”

Betsy mulled it over in her head.  Between homework and working part-time at the bakery, she wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to give to this new project, and though she wondered what kinds of advice she’d be expected to give, the idea kind of intrigued her.  She’d be a Secret Agent of her Student Body.  Hmmm…

“What happened to the previous Answer Annie?”  Betsy asked.

“Her father got transferred to the west coast for his job, so there was no choice for her to resign from the advice column,” Mr. Pfizer said.

“So Rachel Sumner was Answer Annie?” Betsy asked.

“Your a friend of hers?” Mr. Pfizer asked.

“Not really, but I know who she is.  What I do know of her makes me wonder why she didn’t do a better job with the answers.  She’s a smart person, but her answers were always hokey-jokey or something,” Betsy said.

“Well, not to defend her columns, but I think you’ll sometimes find that the subjects you’ll be asked to advise on can sometimes be a little ‘blah’, though sometimes quite serious.  I think Ms. Sumner’s approach to dealing with the seriousness of some questions was to try and interject a little humor,” Mr. Pfizer said.

“I just wished she’d been a little funnier, if she was going for humor.  I’d hate to think that people will read my answers and make fun of them like they have done in the past,” Betsy said.

“That’s why you’re being offered this job on a contingent basis.  If you try it and really don’t like it, you may hand in your resignation and no hard feelings,” Mr. Pfizer said.

“How many columns a week?” Betsy asked.

“Well, it always has been three when the school paper came out on Fridays, but after Spring Break, the paper will be going 100% electronic and will be displayed on the wall monitors in the halls, and updated each day.  We were talking website for a while, but that’s really Mrs. Parker’s area of expertise, so if a website happens, it will be sometime after she gets back.  Potentially, you would need to answer at least five letters a week – one for each day – or if you can’t keep up with that, at least three.  There will still be a wall box outside the newspaper office for people to drop off questions, but you will also start getting email requests, after the change away from the paper format.  You will be AnswerAnnie@gmail.com.  We were going to use one of the school email accounts, but there’s no good way to shorten the address to something easy to remember, so we decided to go this way.  If you have a cellular phone, you can set it up so that you receive emails from the Answer Annie account on it.  This is all, of course, contingent on your agreement to take on this challenge.”

“And how do I get the letters from the wall box without anyone seeing me?” Betsy asked.

“I will collect them, and you will find them in the back of your photojournalism project folder.  No one will be the wiser,” Mr. Pfizer said.

“You’ve thought this all out,” Betsy said admiringly.

“Well, actually Mrs. Parker had already figured out how to do it, but I’ve had to adapt it to what will work for us,” Mr. Pfizer said.  “Oh, and you will send your columns in via email through the Answer Annie account.  That should maintain your mystery identity.”

“And do I keep this?” Betsy said, closing and then holding up the red manila folder.

“No, I’ll take that.  There are enough completed columns in the folder to carry us through our re-launch date, and that will give you enough time to have a go at answering some of the letters and sending them to me for a proofreading – not that I don’t have the utmost confidence in your abilities – just for safety’s sake, and compliance with the school corporation newspaper rules.  At least until you get more familiar with all those rules,” Mr. Pfizer said.

Betsy gathered up her backpack and coat and handed the folder back to Mr. Pfizer.  “You know, at first I thought you’d wanted to talk to me about my tattoo essay,” she said.

“Excellent subject matter, in my opinion,” Mr. Pfizer said.  “Some of those tattoos are serious works of art.  Have you given any thought to getting some action shots?”

“That’s a good idea,” Betsy said.  Mr. Pfizer handed her a half-inch stack of stapled copy pages about the newspaper and the rules and regulations, and the email addresses she’d need to send in her answers.  Among the other pages were some photocopies of old Answer Annie columns and handwritten comments from Mrs. Parker.  Betsy packed up all of her stuff and made for the door.

“See you tomorrow in class,” Mr. Pfizer said.

“See you then,” Betsy replied.

Betsy trudged across the snowy back parking lot and stowed her gear in the front passenger seat.  Her dad had found her baby blue Volkswagen Bug sitting on someone’s lawn, as he drove back from a bakery convention last fall in Indianapolis.  He had stopped and made inquiries, and the next thing Betsy knew, she was the proud owner of her own little putt-putt car – and she loved it.  Of course, getting the car had burned most of her Christmas gifts, her birthday and all minor gift-receiving-holidays for the next year, but having her own private mobility made up for it.  Betsy had promptly christened her “new” car,  Bluebell, though once the truly cold weather hit, she wondered if she might have better named her Ice Queen.  Never known for their heating and cooling capabilities in those years, Bluebell’s main source of warmth was a pitiful stream issued from a weak fan pulling air over the engine.  Betsy had already permanently installed a can of de-icer and a scraper in her glovebox, and wearing winter gear was truly required.  Fortunately, what Bluebell lacked in heat, she more than made up for by being sure-footed in the slick and snowy weather, and that made Betsy feel far more confident in her driving than she had anticipated she would.  Looking forward to talking over the day’s developments with her parents, Betsy slowly made her way to the parking lot’s exit.  Oh, and she also wondered if she could convince her dad to go with her to a tattoo parlor.  That might not be too hard.  Convincing her mother was a different story.

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