Robinson Elementary School

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Farewell Message From Interim Principal Phil Cott

I must admit that I have been dreading this week.  I have to say good-bye to all of you and I knew that I would struggle to figure out how.  I decided to try to leave you a little gift in the form of a story.  I hope it conveys the message in my heart better than I could with the usual farewells.  Of course, I recognize that since I am not much of an author, the results could fall a bit short.  I hope you appreciate it for what it is.  If not, take it up with Mrs. O’Sullivan.
The Ruby Boxers
This is a story about a man - an older, retired man – and his lucky ruby boxers.  We’ll call him Phil.  He had been the principal at an idyllic little elementary school for a long time before finally retiring.  It was more than a job or even a career to him.  It was a huge part of his life and helped him define himself as a worthy human being.  As crazy as it sounds, Phil loved being the principal.  Imagine that!  But the time had clearly come to retire, so he did.  He has never regretted that decision, but he found that he was sad that the right time ever had to come. 
Still, he enjoyed rolling out of bed between 10 and 11 – OK, closer to 11.  He would stumble out to his backyard deck with a cup of tea and read the sports page.  Then he thumbed through the other sections, grumbling under his breath about the wretched state of the world.  For the record, this was an actual, physical newspaper that he lovingly held in his hands.  He liked sitting in the sun, knowing full well that ultraviolet rays were contributing to the multiplying lines around his eyes and, honestly, everywhere else.  He didn’t even mind that new age spots kept appearing on the exposed areas.  It was a new, simple, stress-free lifestyle and, of course, he grew restless.
Just when Phil felt that he couldn’t go on this way much longer, his friend Mike called with a job offer.  Mike happened to hold the lofty post of Superintendent of Schools in Manhattan Beach.  He needed someone to serve as the principal of Robinson School for three months.  Phil would even get paid!  He had never been in the position of temporary replacement before and he couldn’t decide if it would be easy or awkward, fun or drudgery, reminiscent of his glory days, or so different as to be unrecognizable.  So he said, “Sure.  I’d love to.”  His long-suffering wife was positively beaming.
Phil arrived at his post on that first day feeling a long dormant sense of excitement and anticipation.  After all, what could go wrong?  He had done this before and been pretty successful.  And just to make sure, he was secretly wearing his lucky, ruby-colored boxers, as he did every day (not the same pair!). He felt ready for whatever came his way.
Most of you know the rest of the story.  Robinson turned out to be another idyllic little elementary school.  Phil was welcomed warmly, and it only got better from there.  The kids were bright, personable, and completely comfortable talking and joking with him.  The parents were all of that and more. They were totally committed to the success of their joint enterprise and worked tirelessly to make Robinson the very best it could possibly be for all the children, not just their own.  They seemed to appreciate Phil, and more than a few claimed to enjoy his sense of humor.  On more than one occasion, parents told Phil that he “was a breath of fresh air.”  Imagine that!
His office staff was not only extremely competent, they staunchly defended his territory as he fumbled for his keys, phone, glasses, or calendar.  They asked only that he willingly apply his signature to whatever documents they placed in front of him.  Happily, this was one of Phil’s strengths as an administrator.
Even the teachers seemed to accept Phil and value his contributions.  Phil quickly learned that the faculty was extremely talented, passionate, and professional.  As a little fellow, he couldn’t help but notice that they all seemed so tall (with one notable exception) and pretty intimidating.  But they were tolerant of his age and stature and didn’t press their advantage. The whole scene was pretty darned close to a lovefest.
Naturally, Phil was very pleased that the school community had embraced him as their temporary, interim, lame duck leader.  But to him, the experience meant more than he could possibly express – far more.  He felt virtually reborn.  He had been certain that his days as a school principal were over, never to return.  Suddenly, all of the feelings that he cherished were flooding back.  He reveled in the daily interactions with dozens of talented, interesting adults.  He could not suppress the joy he felt as he mingled with the students – his students.  He wished he could convey to everyone at Robinson just how impactful his three months there had been and that they would all understand what they meant to him.
On the day before the end of his tenure, Phil was pulling his car through the drop-off in the morning, heading for his cherished parking place.  He was musing about how to properly say goodbye.  Perhaps his mind wandered a bit; it does that these days.  He had to squeeze by in the left lane due to the line of cars behind a big SUV that, unaccountably, was just sitting there, idling.  As he maneuvered past the large, still motionless vehicle, he lightly clipped its bumper.  This would have been a non-event – the driver didn’t even look up from her phone – but his Takata airbag exploded and knocked Phil unconscious.
He fell into a weird, completely unique nightmare.  He was transported inside his Hyundai to a strange land.  He awoke to find himself wearing ruby-colored yoga pants.  He looked down and thought, “Hey, those look pretty good on me.”  He was comforted by the knowledge that his lucky ruby boxers were still securely in place.
Strange characters began to tentatively approach his vehicle.  There was a dolphin
dancing on the hood of the car.  Two lovely but exhausted looking women introduced themselves as the Hot Witches of the Sand Section: Andrea the Good and Kristen the Edgy.  She stared at Phil and said, “I’m from Jersey.  You gotta problem with that?”  Andrea disappeared with a pooper scooper in one hand and hedge clippers in the other.
Before he could respond, Monica the Healer materialized and wiped a bit of blood off of his brow.  She began dialing up his mother, who had passed away years ago. Monica was undeterred and Phil thought she might have actually spoken with her.  Monica summoned Richard the Giant to dispose of the bloody gauze.  He grumbled that he would get to it when he could.  He was tired from working all morning setting up for a rehearsal of Bebop With Aesop.  After three snorts, two grunts, and a statement under his breath about the Union contract, he tossed out the gauze.
Phil noticed Miss Joni the Stalwart and Miss Patty the Guardian standing on either side of the Hyundai keeping at bay a large group of Helimoms.  They were all reaching out to Phil, saying that they just needed five minutes of his time. Next, he spotted a group of tall (with one notable exception), very busy looking women scurrying around in all directions.  One of them, Kim the Diminutive, loomed in front of him and insisted that he immediately memorize a long list of strange names.  He doubted that he would ever straighten out the Kristins, Christines, and Megans.  And even more daunting were the Nuttalls, Whalleys, Wissels, and Yerkes.  They sounded like Muppets.  He hoped none of them slipped on a pool of slime.
Phil was understandably confused and bewildered, and that was before he saw teenagers skateboarding on the roof of a nearby building that looked vaguely familiar.  At that very moment, Wendyfinster the Eternally Hopeful appeared before him.  Somehow, her just popping like that did not surprise him.  She took Phil’s face in her hands and said with incredible sincerity, “Nice pants!” 
Phil told her that he had to get back to Robinson or he would be late for a Student Council meeting.  There was no telling what might happen in his absence.  He didn’t want to have to veto Barefoot Day or Candy Day.  Wendyfinster kindly explained that he had possessed the power to return all along.  He simply needed to hold a kindness rock in each hand and shake his ruby boxers three times and he would return to his normal life.
Phil followed her instructions and chanted his mantra, “I must get back!  I must get back!”  He was confident that he would wake up in his chair in the Robinson Office, just like he did most afternoons after his nap.  But something went wrong.  There must have been a glitch in the tesseract.  Phil awoke instead on his deck at home.  His tea was cold and the sports page had fluttered away in the breeze.  He noticed what looked like a new age spot on his wrist.  His head was throbbing and his pants looked ridiculous.  He was consumed with thoughts of all of the wonderful people at Robinson who had literally given him back his life.  He had never had a chance to say goodbye.  “Goodbye, Riptides,” he said out loud.  “Thanks for everything!  I’ll never forget you.”