Everybody secretly wants their own bronze statue. So I thought, Why not? They’re seniors and probably want to give back something lasting and meaningful. I said, “You’ve all benefited from great leaders at this school–classroom revolutionaries, visionaries, pioneers. You also have a Metal Shop, Art Department and $30,000 raised by your Duck Derby fundraiser…” Then I winked, struck a pose, and waited for someone to make a suggestion. The class went silent. Nobody moved. Finally, Amber slapped her desk: “Lets buy Ipads for Art and Shop!” she said. “Then their work will mean something forever because it’s on the Internet!”
“We’ve put a school on 436b,” said The Sup. “We need teachers.”
I raised my hand.
“Newhart, you really think you can teach Shakespeare to a colony of Dwarlacks on the twilight side of a frozen planet?”
“Then pack your bags and catch the six-o’clock. You’re an American hero, Newhart.”
“Thank you, sir. One question, sir.”
“The final test, sir. What is the protocol?”
“No test? How shall I assess progress?”
“How about you don’t let the little cretins eat you the first day?”
I saluted, “Sounds like a dream job, sir.” I said.
I ate a cold dill pickle this morning and choked on it for 6 long seconds, staggering around my classroom, before tiny Angie Chin pounded my back with karate chops and I finally retched it up, launching the thing flying across the classroom where it landed on top of the class copy of Romeo and Juliet that Merril was reading. I found my breath, calmly paced a few laps, apologized to Merril and scooped the still-cold pickle off her book, thanked Angie for saving my life, and then gave them both ten thousand points toward their grade. Blake objected. He thought it was wrong for me to give “A”s to people who just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. He thought that witnessing my choking, staggering, dying self was traumatic and emotionally scarring and that everyone who was affected should receive extra points as well. But I explained that the law of Karma did not entitle mere observers to anything–even if he was scarred for life–because the scarring belonged to his own internal, imagined response to the event and not, as with Merril’s and Angie’s, a participating, event-changing response that changed the external conditions of the world. Blake said that my definition of Karma was incomplete and subjective because I did not take responsibility for the unintended consequences of my actions and that perception was reality and his world had been changed whether I acknowledged it or not. I told him that his invigorating logic was its own response that altered my understanding of the principles of Karma and that this was worth a thousand points. He insisted that his comment was worth two-thousand, but we settled on fourteen hundred. He’s still failing, the little shit.
He burst through the front door with a gun. We slipped out the back door with my stack of uncorrected essays and favorite mug. He could keep everything–the house, car, his own version of events to tell friends and family. All she needed was me and the baby she claimed was ours.
From across the street we heard an angry scream, a shot, then an explosion.
She said, “I stuffed the bed, locked the door, ran the gas.”
“Because you hate administrators?”
“Because I always win.”
“Not this time.” I said. “This time you’re mine.”
She kissed my mouth. “Crazy teacher! I love you!”
Students know that I have a violent temper and that at any moment I might snap and go nuclear on them. I might punch a wall or kick a desk across the room or sweep my computer off the desk–though I haven’t had to do these things for weeks because the threat alone keeps the kids in line. I tell them that I have been to prison for a violent crime (released on a vague technicality) and that my first wife disappeared under “mysterious” circumstances. When I stare down chatty, disruptive students I think very dark thoughts about them, which causes them to gulp the air and settle down quickly. Every teacher needs to keep a raging psychotic maniac in his back-pocket and flash it to the class once in a while.
Mad as a Hatter
If I could learn a trade I would learn something that everyone needs–like how to build a car from scratch or how to fly a jet airliner or how to cook nutritious food for a starving person. If our schools taught everyone to master a single skill instead of making generalists of everyone our society would run much more smoothly. I could cut your hair or give you a pedicure and you could snake my toilet. Instead our education system produces do-nothings who can read and write okay, but they don’t know which way to turn a screw! I mean when was the last time you called a “reader” to come over and read you something? Never!
Parents tell me “Education is about jobs, not happiness”. They want their little Freddie or Nancy to learn how to work for the Man so they can bring home the lettuce. Well, I don’t believe in working for the Man–I believe in working for yourself, and even if you don’t make any money because your ideas are stupid or because you are too far ahead of your time, you know how to be happy. That’s what I teach: how to be happy with yourself, even if you are a complete failure. Anybody can get a job: There’s a retarded guy who serves me ice-cream down at the Big Spoon and I tell my students: “If a retarded guy can get a job so can you!” But can you really be happy being that retarded guy scooping yogurt for the rest of your life? For that you need Shakespeare and Homer. And that is why w read literature! Of course if you are retarded you might want to get the Sparknotes.
I’ve recently taken up Falun Gong. I don’t know what it is, but based on what I’ve seen of people practicing in the park you fight the air in extreme slow-motion. At school I practice on the stage in the quad during lunch and I’ve attracted quite a few observers. Unfortunately I can’t speak to people while I am practicing so Principal Grunk yelled at me because I will not answer his questions. Some students practice beside me, mirroring me, and others take Snapchat videos or yell jokes or silly questions such as, “Are you retarded?” “No! I am not retarded!” I want to say, but can’t because I am practicing. Yesterday it started to rain in the middle of my practice and a small Chinese girl walked over and held a red umbrella over me while I practiced. She asked if I was doing Falun Dafa and I stopped and said “I think so”. She told me that her father was in prison in China for practicing Falun Dafa and that officials had removed one of his kidneys to give to a wealthy Chinese businessman. I said that I knew exactly how he felt because people were yelling mean things at me and hurting my feelings. She walked me to class and cried for me. This made me recommit to Falun Gong (or Dafa?) and now I do it in class, too, while the students are reading.
I love texting! It is the perfect communication because every statement is a kind of command–no questioning looks or frowns or eye-rolls–though they do have emoticons for that now. If someone sends me a text that I don’t want to hear I simply ignore it and it is almost as if it never happened! Lauren texts that she needs my body–well I hear and respond instantly, but then sometimes she texts that she wants “to talk”–and those I don’t always notice. When Charlie the Dog texts that he’s coming over with beer to play ping-pong I’ll clear my schedule, but when he needs to borrow $20.00 for gas I can jump in the car and park around the corner! Texting is great for school, too. Sometimes I’ll project a literature conversation with the entire class onto the large screen–nobody talks, only flurries of deep-thinking texts! Today we discussed Huck Finn:
“hck finnz my dog”
“you da dog”
“wanna co and ‘paint my fence’ fo an apple?”
“dats tom syer, btch”
“$much fo a smokin’ apple?”
“10 a bag fo greenist apples!”
“I’ll paint yr freakin’ fence, fool!”
I have this reoccurring dream wherein I wake up, prepare for school–dressing nattily in a blue suit with a red tie and a black felt derby, spats–pick-up my antique leather satchel and ebony walking stick and launch through the front door…only to find that I am falling, falling, falling to the street below. Then I am suddenly standing in class in my underwear–no lesson-plan, their cruel laughter and a shrieking school-bell pounding my head. Then I wake, bathed in sweat, kill the alarm, prepare for school–dressing nattily in derby and spats–launching myself into the cold urban twilight without cares or plans–only possibility.