“The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2
AERIAL VIEW of a vast rural area of Southern California where the flat sands meet the rocky foothills of Joshua Tree National Park, where the craggy outcroppings of ancient rocks meet twisted desert flora.
ZOOM IN on hikers, campers, rock climbers, monks, and meditators. Artists en plein aire. Weddings in boulder caves with bamboo flutes. School children on a field trip to Barker Dam. Groups of Big Horn Sheep. Iconic desert fauna such as tortoise, jackrabbit, coyote, quail. Flocks of turkey vultures and solo red-tailed hawks.
SWOOP DOWN and follow the steeply curving ribbon of Highway 62 after it climbs past the windmills and the wide flat expanse of Desert Hot Springs, where a concrete median separates two lanes in each direction up through the Morongo Pass.
SOAR UP and over the highway towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms.
GET AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.
PAN its hundreds of square miles of rugged training areas, including an entire ‘Iraqi’ village.
SOUNDS OF HOWLING WINDS MUFFLE THE RUMBLE OF MILITARY TRAINING BOMBS.
GO BACK for silent close-ups of Pipes Canyon, Pioneer town, and the Village of Joshua Tree. Include a montage of trailer parks, homestead cabins, and patchwork neighborhoods on both sides of the highway.
FOCUS on a small elementary school, built 50 years ago. This already condemned campus consists of rows of portable stand-alone classrooms. It is architecturally akin to a prison. Each classroom is an isolated cell. Inmates enter and exit by one door.
Each classroom has a ramp and railing, connected by long sidewalks. One sidewalk runs from the cracked parking lot past a portable office and restrooms, straight east to the blacktop playground and the endless sand beyond.
From the air, the layout of the school is a giant capital E made with strips of pasta.
The playground is sectioned by lines painted white to define game areas. There are swings with rubber seats that hang by chains from tall pipe structures.
Nearby is an all-inclusive climbing apparatus. Underneath the bright yellow, blue, and orange slides and ladders lies a bed of state-mandated wood chips.
CASSANDRA BANKS STANDS ON THE BLACKTOP WITH HER WHISTLE. It is attached to a plastic slinky bracelet, royal blue today.
Meanwhile, in the parking lot on the west side of the buildings, long yellow buses and short-bed pickup trucks are dumping children in front of the office. Kids scramble along the sidewalk like steers herded down a chute into the rodeo arena.
MS. BANKS is aware that invisible receptors personally guide each child toward a specific spot on the playground. This function is handled by Amygdala, who lives deep inside each cerebral hemisphere and discerns by smell the emotional significance of everything. Amygdala is the gatekeeper of the levels beneath the surface of appearances.
MS. BANKS is quickly surrounded by children in various pursuits. Some choose pickup games of basketball, tether ball, dodge ball. Or friendly chasing games, up the bright-colored climbing gym. Screaming down one of the three slides, hoping to catch air, landing in the district-approved wood chips.
Others are instinctively pulled to the swings. They need the vestibular fix. The rocking motion helps them sort out and process the sensory overload.
To some, that flat expanse of blacktop might as well be a tightrope stretched over a chasm.
Their sense of balance is challenged by every runaway rubber ball or darting dragonfly, and the never-ending hormone driven flocks of their peers, gathering like the Borg, scattering like tufts from over-the-hill dandelions. These children don’t yet appreciate the graceful murmurations of starlings in their playground mates.
Beyond the blacktop and landing areas, the ground slopes down to a massive field of dirt. Several makeshift games are in process simultaneously. A black and white soccer ball flies through the air, and two dozen ten-year-old boys hone in and thunder along together on its projected course.
In the backfield, a partly deflated football holds a surprisingly solid spiral at a lower altitude and perpendicular to the path of the soccer ball. Eight or nine boys and a couple of girls follow the football’s trajectory at full speed.
Only one kid leaps off the ground with astute enough timing to snatch the ball, pull it to his gut before the tuck and roll and the final landing, upright and victorious, beyond the stampeding rivals, who fall out of formation and reverse direction, watching where the victor will throw it next.
CASSANDRA BANKS is in the trenches on the playground, where it all happens.
SHE ROTATES SLOWLY, LIKE A LIGHTHOUSE, SCANNING THE SCENE LEVEL BY LEVEL.
She is legally responsible, but politically impotent and dispensable. Her keen social triage skills are grossly under-valued.
Unless you are a tiny kid on a big playground, with hordes of galloping peers, and your repertoire of social skills is a blank slate. And it feels like you are in the middle of quicksand or a black slimy swamp. Then MS. BANKS looks like a flashing neon Life Saver.