Nikki T and the Spagery Man

Too tired to can today. Made some quinoa salad (that is superb enough for me to post the recipe), but my thoughts ranged nostalgic today. Working summer school this year has made me appreciate anew the support I have at my new school and district and caused me to remember the handful of people who have proved good enough friends in my life that they can no longer just be considered support, but scaffolding.

I give you the story of Nikki T and the Spagery Man.

Once upon a time, I worked next door to and across from two people I’m happy to call friends. We acted up, sang, goofed off, and made school our playground.

In-between classes, I mean.

We never goofed off while teaching.

Fer totes.

Except sometimes…

If you teach, you know what a mind-numbing, soul-sucking, bureaucratic piece of evil the phrase ACTIVE MONITORING is, especially when talking about STANDARDIZED TESTS. You walk around and watch the kids. Watch for cheating. Watch for instruction-following. Watch to make sure they’re not bubbling in wrong. Watch to make sure they’re not doodling on the side of scan-tron. Watch and walk. Watch and walk. If you have a typically active mind and the thought processes of a hummingbird on a full tank of Starbucks, this is torture. I hated the ACTIVE MONITORING almost as much as the kids dreaded taking the TESTS.

I couldn’t chat with the kids about what they read. I couldn’t offer suggestions or tell them if they were even on the right track. Heck, I couldn’t even read the story or the questions or the answers. And all I could say  in response to any heart-breakingly desperate request was, “I’m sorry. I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.”

Once again, if you’re a teacher, you know.

We used to have four days of this for the state test. Four days straight. Two days for a different one: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Hours of ACTIVE MONITORING and stifled brain activity.

And so we found an outlet. Nikki T composed a poem one day. A poem that stemmed from a Honduran student who was learning English for the first time. A student who decided that Benry looked like “spagery.”

For this, if you’re a teacher of English learners, you’re trying to sound it out as if it’s in Spanish.

And you’re realizing that the student was reaching for “spagedy”…spaghetti. Tall, lean Benry. Our Spagery Man.

Nikki T draws inspiration from many things obscure and bizarre, but for this brilliant piece of writing, she mimicked the great Maya Angelou. The poem itself is genius. Nikki T, as usual, gets it and runs with it.

What was the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top, the sprinkles and whipped cream and glitter and fireworks was what happened during our break after the days of ACTIVE MONITORING. We were venting (as teachers are wont to do…if you’re one, you know), when Nikki T busted out her masterpiece…and performed it. As Maya Angelou. Perfect pitch. Perfect cadence.

I remember my eyes blurring with tears. I remember getting that stitch in your side that only comes from the best, deepest, purest laughter. I remember choking down the laughs when other teachers came in to complain about the noise…then laughing all the harder when they left. I’m glad that even at the time I recognized this moment as a big one. A powerful, heart-filling, magical sharing of silliness and camaraderie of such magnitude that it called out to be recorded and shared.

So, dear friends, I have shared that memory, and now I give you…Spagery Man in its entirety:


Spagery Man, you stand, a beacon, in the marinara-soaked night.


A pillar of starchy perfection.


Not a hollow, Manicotti Man,

Not a crooked, Macaroni Man,

And not a Ravioli Man, ever-full of himself.


No, Spagery Man.  You are tall—a big boy.


A sculpted carbohydrate of inspiration.


You are brave, Spagery.

Do you mock boiling water, knowing that it will bend—not break—you?

Do you laugh at the Wall in China, dubbing it “Not-So-Great?”

For you, Spagery, have the courage to stick to your conquests.

You encourage us to stick together when at 212 degrees.  (210 at higher altitudes.)


And you are a saucy chameleon of flavor combinations.


Linguini, Tortellini, Rotini, Bow Tie—they will never match your glory.

Angel Hair?  Spagery wants not hair; Spagery needs no hair.

His head is filled with gems and pearls.

Wise shall you ever be—requiring a special spoon to collect your wisdom.


It is not the Tower of Pisa that leans, but we who lean on you.


Spagery Man—pontificating pasta pilot in the journey we call…life.


Spagery Man.


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