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Ms. Davis.

[Note: When I say, Ms. Davis, I am talking about the school teacher; when I say Sally Jo, I am talking about my wife. She was the same person, but then again, not. If I say SJ, that is because I wasn’t sure which way to go. Yes! I’m fallible. I’m sorry. — You would have learned that, sooner or later.]

In the fall of 1995, Group Health, the Seattle-based HMO which my dear, departed wife, Sally Jo Davis, and I were members of, published an article in their member’s magazine about tattoos and piercings. At that time, very few middle-of-the-road, mainstream types were getting tattooed or pierced. I think many of us wanted to; but we’d heard too many tales about seedy parlors on First Street where conditions were not all that sanitary. We were concerned about getting an infection, or maybe even a disease.

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Group Health’s magazine, actually called “View” when this story was being played out.

The magazine article was called something like, “The mainstream individual’s guide to safely getting a tattoo or piercing”. The article featured a checklist one could follow when evaluating a particular emporium. If the business met the standards which the checklist lined out, well, then the article pretty much said: “Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Get ‘Mom’ tattooed on your arm. Or hey guys: get an earring”.

gold hoop earring

I hope N.A.D. will forgive me for using his photo. His ear was just too perfect to languish in internet obscurity.

Armed with this helpful information, I immediately found a shop on Broadway where I could get one of my ears pierced. I was a cross between a punk rocker and a hippie (I know that sounds like an odd combo; but really, there are many of us). So, I was the perfect candidate for an ear piercing. — Even though I was working as a “temp” in various stodgy offices, having given up my full-time career in music. (Not because I couldn’t cut it. I became allergic to cigarette smoke, and had to quit playing in bars. — I compulsively had to add that.) But I knew most office managers wouldn’t get too upset if I were to walk in with an earring in one ear. They probably read Group Health’s magazine, too. So I went and got one at the emporium known as the Pink Zone. I picked out a gold hoop. I guess I was going for the pirate look. Whatever; I thought I was mighty hip. I felt like spending $35 dollars had made me look like a million!

I remember coming home, sporting my shiny new hoop earring, and showing it off to Sally Jo. I thought I was so cool. Suddenly, much cooler than her!

Well, Sally Jo was an extremely competitive person. There was no way on Earth she was going to let me get one up on her. Sure, she had earrings in both ears; but she was female, so that wasn’t looked upon as cutting edge at all. She had to make a statement. She had to do something which would far surpass me in hipness.

grateful dead tatoo

Not Ms. Davis’ actual Big-Ass Grateful Dead Rose Tattoo. Hers was bigger, with lots of thorns.

So, a couple of days later, Sally Jo came home with a Big-Ass Grateful Dead Rose Tattoo on her left shoulder and arm. It was magnificent. It was large and colorful. It had thorns. It blew me away. It showed me who was boss.

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The old Whittier Elementary, pre-total demolition.

Did I mention Sally Jo was an elementary school teacher named Ms. Davis? She taught in a multi-age classroom at Whittier Elementary, for Seattle Public Schools. Through her, I met quite a few school teachers during our marriage, and I can say that many, that is, most, were not exactly super-cutting edge types. I mean, really. But then, most of them had bigger things on their minds than throwing their money away on a “cool” tattoo or a piercing. Such as, being an effective teacher. Educating our young. Being good role models. Maintaining discipline in the classroom.


He looks almost supernatural here….

I’m not saying SJ didn’t share those goals. She did. But she was also a huge Grateful Deadhead. You know: Jerry Garcia. JERRY! He had passed away in July of 1995, only months before our story takes place. In addition to wanting to put me back in my place, it was Sally Jo’s intention to pay tribute to JERRY and his band, her band, by permanently adorning herself with the rose which was so symbolic of the band. — Whether she was a school teacher, or a stevedore. That’s what she was gonna do.

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The fierce Ms. Davis, or Deadhead Sally Jo? Both.

SJ got her tattoo on a Friday, after school. She understood it might sting a little, for a while; plus it needed some care: she was to rub Vitamin A oil on it periodically. So she went under the needle on Friday, in order to have the weekend to care for her tattoo, before having to return to school on Monday.

cardegan grey

And Monday came. It was a little nippy out that morning, so Ms. Davis threw a sweater on top of her school teacher jumper (my grief, I got tired of those same old, boring jumpers). But yeah, it was a little nippy out, as it was November. So, while she wore a plain, drab school teacher blouse with her blah jumper, her arms were bare. The grey cardigan sweater she draped over her ensemble was just the thing to keep her warm and covered. So drably garbed, or garbly drabbed, out the door and off to school she went.

room 15

Room 15, containing Ms. Davis’s multi-age, third-fifth grade class, was located up an old flight of stairs in the ancient Whittier Elementary (it has since been replaced by a modern facility). But in 1995, it was an old, decrepit structure. It had that smell. Like hundred-year old books or something. — Wet cardboard. Like our clothes closet, after she had worked there for five years. — That’s right! My clothes smelled like old Whittier Elementary too! People would, I guess judging by my smell, ask me if I was a school teacher. I’d say, “No, I’m an architect”.


So Ms. Davis tripped lightly up the stairs, ready to show her class, as she loved to show me, who was boss. No kid crossed paths with Ms. Davis without learning to regret it. She was the Boss. I remember her showing me letters which her graduating students had written to her new students who would be starting in the fall. The theme was the same: “Do not make Ms. Davis mad”. Newer or less-skilled teachers may have had problems keeping order in their classrooms; not Ms. Davis.

Ms. Davis’s reputation was not only with her students. The entire staff and administration knew she had an iron grip on her classroom. Her sterling reputation as an effective disciplinarian was unrivaled. Whenever the subject of who would make a good principal was raised, Ms. Davis’s name was always mentioned.

sj classroom

Arriving at the top of the stairs, Ms. Davis unlocked her classroom, went in, and got things ready for the arrival of her charges. Having a plentiful supply of fresh chalk, clean erasers and yellow Dixon #2 graphite pencils was vital to the success of her 1995-era classroom. — In a few minutes, they came. Knowing which side their bread was buttered on, the children soon took their seats and quieted down. Ms. Davis stood at the front of the room and welcomed everyone back to class. She hoped they had a good weekend. She knew they would be ready to put their one hundred percent into studying and learning, now that the weekend was over.

school black board

Not Ms. Davis’s actual blackboard. Comment one: The Apollo space program is over, folks. Now, it’s the Tesla-Amazon space program. Comment two: Wow, what if it said Apollo 13! Oh, the ramifications. Not quite so cut and dried. After the sentence, they will look closely at the moon, Ms. Davis would have to insert, “They will nearly die”.

On her way to the blackboard, where she typically wrote down a quick list of weekly goals, Ms. Davis paused to remove her sweater and place it on the back of her chair. She turned to the blackboard, which suddenly afforded the entire class a view of her left shoulder.

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I’m proud of myself for finding such an evocative photo! And no, this is neither the Apollo nor the Tesla-Amazon space program.

Little Anthony Apsay was the first to notice the Big-Ass Grateful Dead Rose Tattoo. Unable to contain himself, he yelled, “Ms. Davis has a tattoo!” The entire class went ballistic. SJ later described the scene to me as, “Thirty little rockets, all launching at once”. Knowing there was nothing she could do or say to calm them down, Sally Jo – sorry – Ms. Davis — simply put her sweater back on, sat down at her desk, and began to silently pray. Why she bothered to pray silently, I cannot say; no one could have heard her anyway, over the shouting, laughing and exclaiming which was going on in Room 15.

praying hands

Hip Seattle Insider comment: no, these are not Mark Pickerel’s praying hands.

Ms. Davis was not actually a praying woman. But she told me she was praying hard at that moment. Praying that her principal, Ms. Punyan (known to her husband as Ellen), didn’t choose to walk down the hall at that moment, hear the clamor taking place in Room 15, and come in. Praying to JERRY that she hadn’t let her deal go down.


Bonus coverage:

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Sally Jo doing her ecstatic Grateful Dead dancing, right by Peter Himmelman, at his Bumbershoot concert (FYI, he is Bob Dylan’s son-in-law).

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Artwork by Anthony Apsay from Ms. Davis’ class. Help me find him so I can return it to him!

I’ve written about young Mr. Anthony Apsay previously. I am trying to find him, now that he is all grown up and haired-over. Here is that story: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/a-nine-year-olds-vision-of-the-cosmos/