DEPTH OF FIELD—I didn’t really mind being assigned the class. I guess I’ve developed a reputation for being good with the ED kids, and pretty much all the kids at Automotive are emotionally disturbed, so I was surprised when Mr. D took the time to run it by me beforehand.
“Um, Kevin. The principal and I were trying to figure out what to do with all the students who failed English 1, and we decided after some feedback from scheduling to give them English 1 and 2 in one double period.” He let his gaze wander above my head—issues with eye contact.
“So…you want me to teach two hours with kids who couldn’t manage one hour? Sure. I’m game. No worries.” They set it up this way to make it easier for scheduling, but what can you do? I wasn’t going to whine and bitch about it.
“Well…You know half of them are probably just ghosts anyways. It’ll be a small group.” He turned to look out his office window, out onto Bedford Avenue. Bangs and tight jeans on 24/7 rotation.
Glazing over like an autistic kid is Mr. D’s way of telling you the conversatio
n is over. I’m curious to find out where he lands on a psych-ed evaluation. He’s gotta be on the spectrum, functional enough for the Department of Education, but definitely on the spectrum.
And you know he’s not gonna assign the class to the latest crop of Teaching Fellows. That bullshit has to be supporting half of Massachusetts. I’m not kidding. In the ten years they’ve been rotating in and out of here, I can count on my fingers the ones who weren’t from some suburb of Boston that starts with a W: Weston, Winchester, Weymouth. They don’t last. One kid calls them racist and they’re out, crying all the way back to their apartment in Park Slope.
So they give me the Bad News Bears. Why? Maybe it’s because I don’t take this shit to heart. I mean I care about the kids…to a degree. It’s not the end of the world if they leave here not understanding what a motif is. I guess I should say boys not kids, since there’s like five girls in the whole school.
The Dominican boys are going to be driving a car service, or if they’re lucky, owning a cell phone store down on Broadway. Most of the other boys are from Flatbush and East New York. The good ones end up in the military and the best ones go to CUNY. That’s just how it breaks down. Look—I didn’t invent the class system in case you feel the urge to judge me. I’m just an observer here. It’s not so different from Manhattan Beach, my own stomping grounds, or as I like to call it: The Land that Time Forgot.
So they give me Mr. B’s old classroom since they finally got around to sending him to the rubber room. That guy wore the same dirty Giants running suit every single day and never stopped talking for nothing—completely geeked out. If you left the room and came back in he’d still be ranting on about crop circles or the Knights Templar. If it was football season you were lucky. Non-stop Giants analysis hell.
That’s how I ended up in the broken-down classroom with the broken kids. It still had 1940’s wooden desks—the ones with all the wrought-iron scrollwork (I took one home to use as a planter). The slate of the blackboard was so riven and fractured I gave up on it. The windows looked out on the parking lot, which was cool, since I could keep an eye on my ride.
I’m lucky the kids like me. I do have to put up with being called “Seinfeld.” I don’t even know how I look like Seinfeld. I’m straight up Norman Irish—more of a Liam Neeson type. I think, basically, they can’t tell white people apart, or they can’t tell funny white people apart, and me and Seinfeld are the only funny white people they know.
So this is how the class broke down: 1/3 ghosts (kids who never show up), 1/3 Bloods and 1/3 Crips. You might think I’m being hyperbolic, but it’s the truth. Just because it was a freshman class that doesn’t mean they were freshman age, and most gang recruiting happens in Junior High anyways. Raymond, for example, was seventeen years old, and he was a Blood Leader, which is the equivalent of a sergeant or something. He was a really smart kid. I passed him even though his notebook was full of diagrams and secret codes and all that gang stuff that makes them feel like they’re in a club that makes them special.
We read Drown by Junot Diaz and they got into it. Their favorite part was when one drug dealer pisses into the mouth of a passed out customer, and their least favorite part was when the narrator gives his homeboy a hand job. Predictable. I thought the class went pretty well all things considered. It only got really out of control once.
They were coming from science class, bumping desks and jostling for attention, and I could hear this kid Lamont, a real Napolean type, yelling, “Bloods ain’t shit. You don’t bust no guns. You don’t be flagging,” followed by some kind of fart/gunshot noise with his lips, “Brrrrizzaap!”
Raymond kept his cool, parked himself in the backseat, staring icily at Lamont.
“Lamont… Lamont!” I tried to shut him up, but he was in his little-man-frenzy-mode.
He stopped suddenly and addressed me with mock formality, “Mr. O. You know what we learned in science today?”
“No…What did you learn in Science today.” It was sixth period, and I was too beat to buck his energy.
“We learned that blood ain’t even red! It ain’t even red! It’s blue when its inside us. Blood ain’t even red, bitches!” He jumped up and down, busting invisible guns—his expression ecstatic.
I saw Raymond rise from the corner of my eye, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch him. He brought the oak-heavy desk down on top of Lamont’s head before I could split the distance between us. Lamont crumpled in on himself, and the class exploded. I pulled off my sweater and pressed it to the crater-shaped head wound. I waited for security to appear, yelling things I can’t remember as my sweater soaked with his blood.
And Raymond singing, “It looks red to me Mr. O. It looks red to me.”