At Ralph's the elderly woman in front of me was buying a six-pack of Charmin, three tubs of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and eight cans of Red Bull, and I was trying to interpret what those groceries said about her when In Touch Weekly caught my eye.
There amidst the upscale C, Los Angeles Magazine and Bon Appetit, was the February 1, 2010 issue of the shoddy tabloid, but I couldn't take my eyes away from the cover graced by a photo of one of the most recognizable and beautiful women in the world, Angelina Jolie staring into the distance, perhaps wistfully recalling a romantic moment or trying to remember the names of all her children. And adjacent to that photo, in bold, banana yellow, I read the words "AFFAIR WITH A TEACHER."
I was thrilled, if unsettled by the fact that both the preposition "with" and the article "a" were capitalized.
You see, I teach English in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I've long thought that we teachers who are underpaid, overworked and scapegoated for our students' failure (when we all know it's because their parents who suck), face problems not so much political as stylistic.
That is, our problem is we don't look good.
We don't look like other white collar professionals. Like doctors in their Armani slacks and flowing white smocks; like hip advertising execs in their $600 titanium eyeglasses; like lawyers or accountants or architects in their Hugo Boss blazers and Cole Haan shoes.
We look more like people waiting for the unemployment office to open its doors.
We looked faded, our crumpled shirts stained with permanent marker ink. By October we walk around looking like the "Before" picture in a Zoloft ad.
In short, we don't look like Angelina Jolie, and people like Angelina Jolie don't usually look at us.
What we teachers need to upgrade our professional status and the rewards that accompany professional respect is not more charter schools or merit pay. What we need is some good PR. Some positive spin. Image makeovers. But given our salaries, we'd have to go 50-50 on a Botox injection with one teacher getting her upper lip injected while another settled for only the lower lip.
But there I was in the line at Ralph's and out of the blue, without our even having to contemplate a strike or a march outside the District Headquarters carrying a bilingual sign, was one of the world's most desirable women doing the unimaginable - shtupping a teacher.
This was too good to be true.
Here was one of us rubbing shoulders and god knows what else with one of the world's sexiest leading ladies.
I sprinted back to the pet food aisle and returned the Vitality Duck Breast Jerky, my dogs' favorite treat, to its proper shelf. In its place I purchased In Touch Weekly and rushed home and read the article.
Of course it's probably not true. Not one line in the story corroborates the word of a Waldorf-Astoria housekeeper who reported that while Brad was away, Angelina was repeatedly visited late at night by one of her dialect coaches. A voice teacher. A guy who prepares actresses for movie roles. So he wasn't really a teacher teacher - not the kind of guy who has to assign research papers to his class of 40-plus or a dude who ever had to take a class in how to teach students who have illegally crossed the border.
I returned to Ralph's and went on to Gelson's and finally to the 3rd Street Promenade newsstand, searching desperately for another magazine that would corroborate In Touch Weekly's "find." I found nothing.
Deflated I realized it's unlikely the big image make-over that could lead to a healthy dose of respect for teachers won't be happening anytime soon.
In the meantime I scour magazine racks, not to peruse the covers of Time or Newsweek or Esquire but to check out the tabloids, forever hopeful that maybe, just maybe, George Clooney will fall for a second grade teacher or, better yet, Jennifer Aniston will become engaged to a substitute.
Until then we teachers will likely face the real possibility of forced furlough days, pink slips, more students per class, higher co-pays and more taking the blame for those in power who look great, dress beautifully, speak confidently in front of cameras and have no clue how to fix the mess they've made of everything.