My first encounter with Ann Arbogast was in late summer 2000 as we were both hired by the Mariemont School District. Surely, you clearly realize Ann’s much older than me. I was entering a new battleground, Ann was merely taking her second tour of duty at the high school. She had served as a counselor at the junior high.
Ann is big on tradition. She’s not as keen to take part in some of the mandatory annual MHS traditions, but is rather quick to sing the word “tradition” ala the Russian milkman Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof,” clapping and chanting “Tradition…tradition,” rather sarcastically as she explains the Mariemont rituals that we all love to hate. As I recall, she skipped the tradition of the event-filled, awe-inspiring yellow school bus tour of the district for new employees, though she was entitled to it via her lateral move from one counseling office to the other.
But she certainly worked her way into the traditional New Teacher luncheon down at the Mariemont Inn on the district’s bill. Ann, Jim Renner, Tom Crosby, Luke Wiseman, myself, and the other new blood gathered in this quaint restaurant to get oriented. I recall our first conversation. It was about the menu. Ann made what was meant to be humorous point about the “Al B. Core Tuna” sandwich and stood there awaiting my response. Which caused me to ask myself, “Who the hell is this lady and what is she trying to say to me?” I didn’t get the joke. I didn’t know about albacore tuna. So I simply didn’t get the lame connection between “albacore tuna” and the “Al B. Core” listing on the menu, like Johnny B. Goode. I sat there trying to act like I understood her, but I didn’t. I didn’t get the piss-poor play on words on the menus, nor could I understand Ann about how lame it was.
Nor did I appear to have any wits whatever to Ann. She kind of froze and starred at me, you know, like when Ann’s trying her hardest to understand something or someone that is simply incomprehensible. Something she’s had to do a lot over the years, and may have to do more so in years to come.
Despite our awkward, initial encounter, I got to know Ann pretty well in my first year at the school. I never saw Ann teach, but I could soon tell that Ann was educator. She cared about kids. About learning. She was obviously good at counseling. Like educators often say after an interview or when meeting a new teacher, “You could just tell.”
I also got the sense that Ann knew what time it was. She was part of a cadre of teachers who shaped the high school after a post-strike shakeup. She was in tight with administration in at least two buildings. She commanded a degree of respect. She stood up to the raspy, angry school secretary. Was Ann cool with me? Somehow I’d made the cut. I was now in “‘da club.” Somehow Ann saw something in me that seemed worthy. Something that entitled me to hang out with her.
It may have been our common affinity for whisky. Ann goes with Scotch, I like bourbon. No matter, that makes us family. Big sis.
Over the next year or two, the partying faction of the faculty was a little more active. There may be some witnesses here who can attest to an evening at Zips, the Mt. Lookout tavern, where Ann was one of many strong voices lubricated by alcohol on a day of drinking that began quickly after an early dismissal. We weren’t asked to leave verbatim, but some strong body language from the wait staff sent the message. Bastards.
Over the following years, I latched onto Ann. She serves as one of many mentors. After all, I was teaching seniors and running the Student Council, two areas of experience for her. With this mentor-friendship, Ann also got another person to counsel. From time-to-time I found myself walking past her secretary’s desk, asking if Ann was in, then going into her office just to bitch about this or that.
After four years of Student Council drama for me, and my resulting trauma, I wanted out. The same homeroom teachers that nagged Ann to determine if a Hawaiian hat would count on Hawaiian shirt day, the same float freaks that had cried foul to her on Homecoming night years earlier were wearing me down. Other faculty sought transitions. I told her I needed to get out of the Student Council gig. She took me into her office, shut the door, sat me down to counsel me for a session, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You bunch of pussies!” Ann is in the truth business. She put in her dues at the school, a dozen or more years of Homecoming dances. She felt the new blood should too. She was right. You could just tell.
Her no-nonsense approach is obvious in other ways. She knows precisely how to deal strongly with the pampered children of Mariemont. And she never shies away from helping out those who need some quiet assistance that they rarely get. We get our fair share of unreasonable parental requests. I’ll never forget when she referred to the “Nut Du Jour” who had called or emailed earlier. “Nut Du Jour” became part of the office lexicon. That’s NDJ if your texting.
My most awkward moment with Ann occurred at Alyn’s Café. The Days of Zips, the Koehnes, and a thirsty crowd had subsided at MHS, but we’ve had some good happy hours since. A few years ago we invited some new staff to Allyn’s for a couple cocktails. Carrying on a side conversation of our own at the far end of a long table, Ann began telling me about an episode of one of her favorite TV shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm. She asked if I knew about the “pitched tent.” I hadn’t seen the show, but was real proud that I had figured it out. So I quickly demonstrated. I grabbing the lap of my khakis, pulled up a large wrinkle, to create the pitched tent. I quickly leaned back for her to inspect and awaited her reaction. As Ann said, “Yeah that’s it,” and shook her head, one of the new female hires looked straight in my direction to see me grab and pull my crotch to Ann’s approval. I don’t know about Ann, but I’ve had a hard time forging a professional relationship with this unfortunate witness to our Allyn’s escapade.
Look, Ann is someone who questions things. Though it didn’t appear she questioned this retirement too long. Ann was a leader in a Warrior Renaissance. A department chair. Ann is a literate, sophisticated woman who can use the word “pussy” fluidly. She’s someone who has served the profession honorably. She’s someone I will always respect and remember. She’s someone who’s going to be fine in retirement. You can just tell.