Wawa's Divine Sign
© Copyright 2022 by Alexi Dinerstein
Photo by Artturi Jalli on Unsplash
September 17th, 2018: my first day teaching at a Catholic High School. While for some this occasion may have been a rudimentary occupational exercise, I found myself in the midst of yet another professional predicament. It was my second year of teaching, at a new school, the school year having started two weeks before. I had been interviewed the week before and offered the position two days later, with 5 days to relearn high school physics and attempt to learn forensic science, a course I had never studied. On top of all this, it would be my first time ever having set foot in a parochial school, as I am not Catholic and had never had a reason for such an occasion.
What was I thinking? This pivotal question was one among many as I began my first commute to my new job. Attempting to beat any morning rush hour traffic, I left even earlier than I normally would have. Every stoplight brought with it another bought of anxiety, compelling further self-inquiry that led to self-condemnation over the unanticipated calamities that were mounting in my mind. What had I been thinking?
The week prior, I had interviewed for a position that I was told would be a chemistry and biology teaching position but which morphed into teaching biology, physics and forensic anatomy; I later learned that another teacher had been offered the position I had initially sought, though she would leave half way through the year. I would be replacing a teacher that had been at the school for many years but, with the tumultuous state of the school and administration (I later learned), she opted to retire a couple weeks before the start of the year. Her potential attempt at sabotage had led to me being interviewed, a peculiar circumstance since it was clear that I was not Catholic from the outset. “What would you do to promote Catholic values?” the principal had asked. “Well, I guess I can make sure we follow the 10 commandments.” I meekly replied. As an unaffiliated Jew with a latent concern for any incrimination, I did my best to conceal my identity lest I compel another Inquisition. All of this because I had applied based on my mother once mentioning a Jewish person she had met who had taught at the same school, extolling its orderly, obedient student body, though the name of this woman would never be identified.
As is apt to happen in my life when presented with a new situation that offers little preparation and which leads my imagination to identify every possibility for humiliation, my bowels began to riot. Despite dutifully emptying my innards prior to departing, nature was making a surprise and urgent call. Only a mile and a half from home, I veered into the Wawa gas station on Grant Ave and Krewstown Rd., desperate to avoid having to call out my first day of school because of an unforeseen soiling. I hastily parked and then hurried inside, a patron inclined to take advantage of Wawa’s complementary free tire inflation as well as its free lavatory. As I clenched and raced to the bathroom, my pace slowed slightly. Two employees stood outside the bathroom, staring at the door, each other and then me with a look of concern.
The fury of my intestines prevailing, I hurried inside to find a scene I never would have expected in a Wawa at 7:15 in the morning on a Monday. Up against the urinal was a man in an EMS t-shirt pressed against another man in a dirty white t-shirt, punching him in the stomach. Had I just walked in on a bathroom rape in a gas station convenience store? Fortunately, I would not be exposed to such horrors that early in the morning. My unexpected arrival led to the momentary separation of the two who stood and stared at each other in an awkward fury. The EMS man presented his case: apparently he was using the urinal and the man in the t-shirt made some provocative gesture, a trigger for being pummeled in those parts.
The man in the white t-shirt, a likely Russian immigrant (as Northeast Philadelphia is an unofficial expatriate hub for Russia and its Soviet Satellites) took another swing at the man in the EMS shirt. Without thinking of what I was doing, I stepped in the middle and spread my arms apart, an instinctual teacher separating these overgrown children. “What are you doing?” I asked rhetorically. The man in the EMS shirt turned and, to the employee now opening the door, indicated for them to call the police. The man in the white t-shirt disappeared into the only bathroom stall and locked the door.
My plan had been foiled! Here I found myself locked out of the only bathroom stall, my digestive system having been temporarily distracted by this unexpected ruckus. With the situation somewhat diffused, my colon reminded me of why I was there. Without delay, with no need nor desire to involve myself further in this morning chaos, I rushed out of the Wawa and hurried to the Northeast Racket club located catty corner to the Wawa, the only other venue that was open at that time. I rushed inside and pleaded with the woman at the front desk. “Please, can I use your bathroom, there was an incident at the Wawa and…”
“Sure,” she said, surprised at my desperation at that hour. I thanked her profusely and rushed up to second level and made a beeline for the bathroom. So many times I had driven or been driven past the Northeast Racket Club, curious about what lurked behind its industrial façade, and now I was privilege to intimately know its restroom facilities.
Time was ticking, and my early departure was becoming a late arrival. My business finished, I rushed down from the bathroom, thanking the woman at the front desk again before jogging back to my car. I hopped inside and resumed the commute, now frantic to arrive somewhat on time. I meandered through the city-suburban transition, doing my best to break the speed limit without being caught.
I swerved into the parking lot, rushed to present my id to the keyless identification system and rushed up the stairs. I arrived at the end of homeroom, the bell ringing a couple minutes after my arrival. Fortunately, the school was desperate enough to hire me, an unseasoned Jewish teacher, and I was graced with a great deal of leniency that day and for the rest of the year. The leniency may have compensated for the disarray that had embroiled the school; unbeknownst to me at that time, the rest of the year would be a series of unexpected follies, gaffes and shocking developments that led to my first day of my only year at that school. It would also be a year that would make me re-evaluate my spiritual trajectory and life path, my life’s meandering finally gaining some traction with respect to metaphysical intervention. In the time since, as I have evaluated the clues that indicate why things happen as they do, I am reminded of this first day as a signal of when assuming the best doesn’t always go according to plan. As my early assumptions about this teaching stint were eventually proven wrong, I should have expected nothing less given my first day’s dose of Wawa’s Divine sign.
biographical description: I am an aspiring writer who
works as a freelance writer, ESL teacher and amateur daydreamer. This
autobiographical excerpt is one of the many crazy moments in my life.