Writing questions



“The Sanctuary of School” LYNDA BARRY I was 7 years old the first time I snuck out of the house in the dark. It was winter and my parents had been fighting all night. They were short on money and long on relatives who kept “temporarily” moving into our house because they had nowhere else to go. My brother and I were used to giving up our bedroom. We slept on the couch, something we actually liked because it put us that much closer to the light of our lives, our television. At night when everyone was asleep, we lay on our pillows watching it with the sound off. We watched Steve Allen’s mouth moving. We watched Johnny Carson’s mouth moving. We watched movies filled with gangsters shooting machine guns into packed rooms, dying soldiers hurling a last grenade and beautiful women crying at windows. Then the sign-off finally came and we tried to sleep. The morning I snuck out, I woke up filled with a panic about needing to get to school. The sun wasn’t quite up yet but my anxiety was so fierce that I just got dressed, walked quietly across the kitchen and let myself out the back door. It was quiet outside. Stars were still out. Nothing moved and no one was in the street. It was as if someone had turned the sound off on the world. I walked the alley, breaking thin ice over the puddles with my shoes. I didn’t know why I was walking to school in the dark. I didn’t think about it. All I knew was a feeling of panic, like the panic that strikes kids when they realize they are lost. That feeling eased the moment I turned the corner and saw the dark outline of my school at the top of the hill. My school was made up of about 15 nondescript portable classrooms set down on a fenced concrete lot in a rundown Seattle neighborhood, but it had the most beautiful view of the Cascade Mountains. You could see them from anywhere on the playfield and you could see them from the windows of my classroom—Room 2. I walked over to the monkey bars and hooked my arms around the cold metal. I stood for a long time just looking across Rainier Valley. The sky was beginning to whiten and I could hear a few birds. In a perfect world my absence at home would not have gone unnoticed. I would have had two parents in a panic to locate me, instead of two parents in a panic to locate an answer to the hard question of survival during a deep


financial and emotional crisis. But in an overcrowded and unhappy home, it’s incredibly easy for any child to slip away. The high levels of frustration, depression and anger in my house made my brother and me invisible. We were children with the sound turned off. And for us, as for the steadily increasing number of neglected children in this country, the only place where we could count on being noticed was at school. “Hey there, young lady. Did you forget to go home last night?” It was Mr. Gunderson, our janitor, whom we all loved. He was nice and he was funny and he was old with white hair, thick glasses and an unbelievable number of keys. I could hear them jingling as he walked across the playfield. I felt incredibly happy to see him. He let me push his wheeled garbage can between the different portables as he unlocked each room. He let me turn on the lights and raise the window shades and I saw my school slowly come to life. I saw Mrs. Holman, our school secretary, walk into the office without her orange lipstick on yet. She waved. I saw the fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Cunningham, walking under the breezeway eating a hard roll. He waved. And I saw my teacher, Mrs. Claire LeSane, walking toward us in a red coat and calling my name in a very happy and surprised way, and suddenly my throat got tight and my eyes stung and I ran toward her crying. It was something that surprised us both. It’s only thinking about it now, 28 years later, that I realize I was crying from relief. I was with my teacher, and in a while I was going to sit at my desk, with my crayons and pencils and books and classmates all around me, and for the next six hours I was going to enjoy a thoroughly secure, warm and stable world. It was a world I absolutely relied on. Without it, I don’t know where I would have gone that morning. Mrs. LeSane asked me what was wrong and when I said “Nothing,” she seemingly left it at that. But she asked me if I would carry her purse for her, an honor above all honors, and she asked if I wanted to come into Room 2 early and paint. She believed in the natural healing power of painting and drawing for troubled children. In the back of her room there was always a drawing table and an easel with plenty of supplies, and sometimes during the day she would come up to you for what seemed like no good reason and quietly ask if you wanted to go to the back table and “make some pictures for Mrs. LeSane.” We all had a chance at it—to sit apart from the class for a while to paint, draw


and silently work out impossible problems on 11×17 sheets of newsprint. Drawing came to mean everything to me. At the back table in Room 2, I learned to build myself a life preserver that I could carry into my home. We all know that a good education system saves lives, but the people of this country are still told that cutting the budget for public schools is necessary, that poor salaries for teachers are all we can manage and that art, music and all creative activities must be the first to go when times are lean. Before- and after-school programs are cut and we are told that public schools are not made for baby-sitting children. If parents are neglectful temporarily or permanently, for whatever reason, it’s certainly sad, but their unlucky children must fend for themselves. Or slip through the cracks. Or wander in a dark night alone. We are told in a thousand ways that not only are public schools not important, but that the children who attend them, the children who need them most, are not important either. We leave them to learn from the blind eye of a television, or to the mercy of “a thousand points of light”1 that can be as far away as stars. I was lucky. I had Mrs. LeSane. I had Mr. Gunderson. I had an abundance of art supplies. And I had a particular brand of neglect in my home that allowed me to slip away and get to them. But what about the rest of the kids who weren’t as lucky? What happened to them? By the time the bell rang that morning I had finished my drawing and Mrs. LeSane pinned it up on the special bulletin board she reserved for drawings from the back table. It was the same picture I always drew—a sun in the corner of a blue sky over a nice house with flowers all around it. Mrs. LeSane asked us to please stand, face the flag, place our right hands over our hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Children across the country do it faithfully. I wonder now when the country will face its children and say a pledge right back. Thinking About The Text 3. Barry uses the expression “the sound off” or “the sound turned off” three times in the essay (3, 5, 10). In which instances is it meant literally and in which figuratively? How does the repetition of this language help make the point of her narrative? 4. Barry concludes her essay with a call for the United States and its education system to make a “pledge” to children (24). Although her proposals are not spelled out, what can you infer about what Barry is asking the schools to do? Provide examples from the text that indicate what she thinks is important.


“Clean Sweep” RYAN KOHL S Forty thousand people are packed into the Rogers Centre to watch the Toronto Blue Jays. Right now, the stadium still belongs to the players, the fans and the vast, expensively-produced spectacle of professional sports. But at gate three, a group of about fifty congregates. Some stand alone, or pace and listen to music. Others sit on wooden benches nearby and enjoy a final cigarette. It’s 10:30 pm, and these grim-faced men and women are waiting for work to begin. Standing on the curb as the game wraps up inside, these are the cleaners. They’ll work until dawn, gathering up some 15,000 pounds of garbage, scrubbing, rinsing, bending and lifting with painstaking thoroughness. By morning, the stadium will gleam and the cleaners will go home to sleep with the blinds pulled tight against the sun. Now, they try to relax, joking to keep the mood light. “Are you ready for more torture?” one of them asks. Spread out across 12.7 acres, the Rogers Centre, once known as the Sky- Dome, is one of Toronto’s most recognizable landmarks. Every year 3.5 mil-

lion people attend events at the mammoth complex. The big crowds mean big business—baseball’s Blue Jays, whose eighty-one home games provide the stadium’s main attraction, are worth an estimated $568 million. One season produces 1.2 million pounds of garbage. Eventually, someone must clean it up. Enter the cleaners—exhausted, poorly paid and largely anonymous. Without them, the game can’t go on. On a given night, anywhere from thirty to one hundred cleaners scour the stadium. Most of them work for Hallmark Housekeeping Services, a Torontobased janitorial agency that holds the cleaning contract at the Rogers Centre. These workers are experienced; Hallmark employees clean after every event. The other cleaners come from Labor Ready, a huge company that supplies temporary blue-collar workers across Canada and the United States. These employees book the Rogers Centre gig on a nightly basis and typically work a shorter shift. Both groups of workers are predominantly immigrants or down on their luck. In the summer of 2012, I worked as a cleaner, on-and-off, for three months. I participated in roughly twenty-five cleaning shifts as an em-

ployee of Labor Ready, joining the agency after struggling to find journalism work in the city.


Most cleaners patrol the stadium with brooms and large transparent garbage bags; a handful of more seasoned employees take leaf blowers. With the motor slung across their backs and a long black nozzle pumping out air, they blow the garbage from two parallel seating sections into one aisle. The blowers weigh about 25 pounds. One worker described it as being like “carrying an obese baby around all night.” Once enough garbage reaches the aisle, the sweepers climb to the top of their section and begin to slosh the mess downwards. In time, the pile turns into a cascading waterfall of miscellaneous trash. Beer-soaked hot dogs mix with ketchup-infused popcorn and the ubiquitous shells of sunflower seeds, which are maddeningly hard to persuade off the wet concrete.The mixture leaves behind a slick residue that makes the stairs treacherous. Workers sometimes slip and hurt their backs. Some stadiums have tried to control the garbage, but at baseball stadiums, seeds cannot be so easily dispatched—they’re an iconic part of the game. “Getting rid of [sunflower seeds] would be like getting rid of beer and hot dogs,” says Wayne Sills, the director of facility services at the Rogers Centre. The last stage of cleaning is accomplished with four thirty-metre yellow hoses, spraying highly pressurized water into the aisles, aimed by workers in rubber boots. The Rogers Centre is one of the few North American sports stadiums to get the pressure-wash treatment—visiting teams have been known to remark on the building’s uncanny cleanliness. Around 2:30 am Rosario Coutinho scans the Centre with binoculars. She’ll spot a sweeper slacking off and radio the nighttime supervisor to assess the situation and get things moving. Coutinho then heads to another location where she can remain unseen and watch closely. “I’m the ghost,” she tells me one night. Coutinho, now fifty-two, serves as the resident manager of the cleanup operation. She pulls her black hair back in a ponytail, wears glasses, a black fleece and black pants, a BlackBerry headset and a crucifix on a chain. Coutinho knows more about the cleaning process than anyone. She’s been at the Rogers Centre for nearly twenty-five years. The workers are on to her tactics. Once, a group of Mexican cleaners developed a system of whistles to alert the others when she was watching. Coutinho translated the calls and changed her moves accordingly.

To become the binocular boss, Coutinho had to start from the bottom. In 1989, just a month after the SkyDome opened, she immigrated to Canada from Portugal. Her husband already lived here and told her about the opening of an amazing new stadium. Coutinho remembers being unimpressed; some stadiums in Europe hold 100,000 people. But the retractable roof that


gave the building its name was, she was told, a sight to behold. Before her arrival, Coutinho was prepared to work hard. “I knew I would be doing jobs that no one else wanted to do,” she recalls. “If I’m cleaning shit, who cares? I’m going to make it smell better.” Two months after landing in Toronto she was cleaning at the SkyDome. Her first assignment was the luxury boxes. One night she found a briefcase containing $10,000 cash. She returned it. The job meant everything and she couldn’t risk losing it. This atypical attitude caught management’s attention and within a year she was promoted to team leader. “Seventy percent of people in the cleaning business have no pride,” Coutinho says. “Earn what you make, that’s what counts.” By 1995, she was managing the entire operation. Few cleaners are as scrupulous as Coutinho. Many hate being there—some show up drunk, others get drunk in the stadium bathrooms on left-behind tallboys from the stands or their own flasks of hard liquor. Still others find their pay-off elsewhere: take Mark Stanton [not his real name]. It’s his third season cleaning at the Rogers Centre and his favourite part of the job is finding money. After the Jays’ home opener, sporting a leaf blower slung across his back, he guides sunflower shells, empty beer cans and half-eaten hot dogs across an aisle. Out of the corner of his eye he spots a wallet. He flicks off the blower, bends over and plucks it from a pile of trash. He can’t get too excited; he has to act calm: someone could be watching. He hunches over, peers inside and sees the cash. Quickly, with a practiced motion, he slides $30 into his pants. “Sometimes I go to work and I’m flat broke,” says Stanton. “If I find $30, there’s $30 in my pocket until pay day.” He will eventually return the wallet, a little lighter, to security. Stanton is adept at working the stadium’s unofficial and technically illegal lost-and-found system to his advantage. At last year’s home opener, he scored five wallets with $30 or more and two half-packs of smokes. When he cleaned up after the 100th Grey Cup, he found $150, three Grey Cup souvenir glasses and three t-shirts. After Ultimate Fighting Championship 129, he found a judge’s scorecard and three bloody hand wraps. The excitement

creates plenty of opportunities for fans to drop things. After every event, without fail, an array of valuables remains behind. For the workers, this is a perk, a way to make the job feel worthwhile. Some nights pay off huge. At UFC 100, one worker found and kept a wallet with $1,500. That’s a month’s wages. Other cleaners have found diamond rings, iPhones, BlackBerries, digital cameras, transit passes, sunglasses and umbrellas. The treasure hunt is on everyone’s mind. Having a successful night requires skill and attention. You can’t just sweep or blow the garbage, you have


to watch and listen. Over time, workers learn to hear the difference between a sliding beer tab and a coin. One worker uses his haul to pay child support for his three kids. He found $150 once and used it to buy his son a stroller. When the clock hits 3 am, the stadium falls silent, and the workers break for “lunch.” There’s a cheap hot dog stand on Front Street that’s popular. Most of the cleaners can afford a meal using the spare change they’ve found during their shift. Only three-quarters of the workers return after the break. Labor Ready workers are generally only used for sweeping and bagging. They’ll get paid for four hours of work. As they disappear into the night, some head to bed, but others walk back to Labor Ready to collect their cheque and secure the next job. The company’s offices at 195 Church Street don’t open until 5:30 am, so many nights they’ll wait in Dundas Square. If they time it just right, they’ll score a free breakfast from the Salvation Army truck that passes by Labor Ready every morning.

Thinking About Text:

1.) Ryan Kohls begins with a description of the ballpark’s splendor and the cleaning process that keeps it that way, but the focus soon shifts to the cleaners themselves. What is his purpose in this profile ? Point to examples in the text to support your answer.

3.) Kohls is clearly happy to no longer work as a stadium cleaner. Despite having moved on in his own career, what is his attitude toward his former colleagues? How does he portray them and their work? Point to examples in the text to support your response.