Sneakteaching by Grant Pylkas - HTML preview
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ZJ and LD knew that they had some new users on the evening route. This was a good time. The first time that they sold drugs to new users, they got to sample the goods. It was an act of faith on the pusher’s part to use with the new client. This was a sales technique that had a history of proven results. If there were any chicks in the crowd of new users, ZJ and LD would party with them until the drugs were ingested, shot, or smoked.
Big Guy knew that he would never tap into the disease of addiction until and unless he introduced the addicts to their new god. This new god was not benevolent; it was one that would consume the individual and produce a stream of revenue to the dealer for years to come, and the younger, the better. Because the longer a junkie used drugs, the longer Big Guy had a customer. There was a high turnover rate because addicts tend to die early in life.
Parents are also very naive about their young children. They believe that they still have children at home. Middle school is the best shot Big Guy had at starting kids on drugs. LD and ZJ had been top producers in middle school. Now, as high school drug reps, they had not been the best he’d ever had. They were still producing, but Big Guy thought that maybe they had become complacent. The two had been the best in middle school. Here they were, only fifteen and already over the hill. Big Guy was thinking that it was time to turn them into customers and retire them from sales.
Before the two had left the apartment, and after the two had sampled the goods, ZJ and LD were getting ready to leave for the appointed rounds.
Big Guy looked ZJ straight in the eye, laughed out loud, and said, “ZJ, just remember, on some days, the bear gets the hunter, and on some days, the hunter gets the bear.” Big Guy was toying with ZJ, and ZJ was not sophisticated or experienced enough to realize that Big Guy was laughing at him. “Be careful, ZJ, tonight may be the night the bear gets you.” Big Guy was really getting a kick out of taunting ZJ.
“Yeah, what?” ZJ was in a drug haze but was intuitive enough to realize that he was suppose to have gotten something out of the lesson that Big Guy was teaching. Just like all the lessons that ZJ was supposed to have learned, this one was a wasted lesson in a drugged mind.
“Yeah, know the situation, ZJ? Remember, be on your toes; the drug drop can turn on you and go bad in a heartbeat. Always beware of the cave, the one where the mad bear lives, because you cannot tell what the bear is protecting, or what it is willing to do to achieve its goals. Don’t tangle with a mad bear, and don’t let the bear get you.” It was a warning, and it would to go unheeded.
All this time, Big Guy is laughing and joking, making light of the task at hand yet warning of the inherent risk that existed in the evening to come. He was remembering back to his own youth, and how at fifteen he had been immortal. He was remembering how drugs had ruined his life and wandering down the road of regrets and lost loves. He was longing for the girl that had walked away from him and his disease. What might his life have been like? If only —— then he stopped himself. He was entering a place that he used to fix with drugs and beer. In an attempt to get the girl back, he found sobriety. But it was too late; she wouldn’t take the risk on him and it was over. He was in a place he didn’t want to be. He had to rely on his AA training to change his thinking pattern.
He then refocused on the home in the Caribbean he would soon have. He thought about the life that he would lead as soon as he had just a little more money. He was also in the presence of two young junkies he was sure wouldn’t see twenty. This quickly brought his attention back to the here and now.
Here were these two punks that had sold their souls, and were, in fact, owned by another. All this had happened because of their youthful passion for sex, excitement, and self-aggrandizement. They were led into addiction, eager for the fast life, and what they got, they had wished for.
Neither one ever understood the warning that Big Guy had issued. When you’re that age, the only way you learn is by failing and paying the price for failure. It would be so for these two.
The two boys left the company of Big Guy, high and loaded down with enough drugs to put any adult in prison for forty years. If caught, these two boys would do no time at all, as they would be first-time drug offenders.
The events of the night went without complication. The two boys partied with several new customers, and they had some fun with a couple of young, female addicts who paid more than money for their drugs. The deliveries were made and the money was collected. Now, it was time to go to the hockey arena and meet another new customer.
The only clue to who this new junkie could be was on the printed computer label. They were to ask for the “Hockey player,” then, Hockey player’s response should be, “Things go better with coke.”
The Hockey arena was like a thousand other hockey arenas across the country. Built with American Legion money, collected from the sale of pull-tabs in the local bars, it was a well-kept facility. At night, with the lights turned on and the parking lot well lit, this was a place that had held the dreams of many a high school hockey player, thinking that he was just a few games away from the big leagues.
Everyone at Northwest knew that ZJ and LD were the go-to guys for drugs, so just their presence at the hockey arena was disturbing to the hockey players and the young ladies that had come to watch them. As LD and ZJ split up, they started looking for the one they were to call, Hockey player.
As ZJ went around to the players’ entrance, he recognized a classmate from my classroom, “Hey, what’s up, man?” Maybe it was time to square up the debt for “Ratting” on him in my classroom. ZJ was famous for never missing an opportunity to bully someone.“Nothing,” replied Hank. “Just hangin’, man?” ZJ was toying with Hank. He had no idea how to treat people.
Intuitively, Hank made eye contact with ZJ and fired off a preemptive communication, “Look, ZJ, I’m not the one you’re looking for.” Hank was thinking that ZJ was trying to sell him drugs, but ZJ was going about the task of picking a fight.
Hank wasn’t sure what ZJ wanted, but he waited until ZJ was starting for him and then called out, “ZJ.” Hank was not totally sure what he was going to say. What he was about to say would even surprise him, so he paused to think. The pause was read by ZJ to be a sign of weakness. ZJ turned to look for LD. He needed LD to make sure that he won the fight.
Hank spoke with incredible clarity, “ZJ, you’re in Mr. P’s class with me, and I don’t like the crap you’ve been giving him, so cut it out.”
This really amused ZJ. In fact, he started laughing. The laughing became irrational. The sincerity with which Hank had spoken was not something that ZJ, the bully of middle school, had ever seen before. What the hell, thought ZJ. This asshole just doesn’t get it; you don’t screw with me. I can still intimidate this little prick, just like I did when we were in middle school.
ZJ finally quit laughing like a crazy man. What he then said was not funny to anyone, especially not Hank. “Look, asshole, I do as I please in every class. If P wants to take me on, I’m ready for him. If you think that some weak, punk-ass, wanna-be tough guy like you is gonna tell me who to leave alone and who to fuck with, your ass is grass. So get the fuck over to the candy store with the other little boys, or go home and tell your mama what a bad boy I am, but don’t ever get in my face again, dick-head!” ZJ was so eloquent and respectful.
Hank just looked at him, not saying a word. ZJ was closing the distance between them, fully expecting Hank to turn and run at any second. ZJ came closer, and closer, until he was right in Hank’s face. ZJ started yelling, “Asshole! Asshole! Asshole!” ZJ was so close that Hank could smell the chemical stink on ZJ’s breath, in fact, he could smell a combination of tobacco, alcohol, and chemicals that were being processed by ZJ’s respiratory system in an attempt to rid itself of the unwanted substances in his system. This was not endearing to Hank who stood his ground, never saying a word. He just stood there, staring at ZJ.
All this didn’t go unnoticed by Hank’s teammates and friends, as they started to gather around Hank. Within seconds, Hank was joined by teammates, hockey players, and spectators, and many had hockey sticks. ZJ, no stranger to a fight, especially an unfair fight, started to be aware of the numbers of loyal mates that Hank had gathered. ZJ didn’t have his group with him. ZJ didn’t even have a group. He was also jealous of Hank and the loyalty that his friends and teammates were displaying.
He realized that even LD was nowhere to be seen. He eventually backed away, but not without a few last words, “Look asshole, your friends can’t be around you forever. Just remember, you don’t fuck with superman, Leroy Brown, or ZJ.” ZJ turned and walked away, something he would not have done if the tables had been turned. These were not street fighters, junkies, or pushers; they were just kids trying to help a friend. ZJ wasn’t laughing anymore.
A few minutes later, and a safe distance away from Hank and his friends, LD walked up to ZJ and said, “I found Hockey player and we’ve had the best day ever. Let’s get this long green back to Big Guy. We’ll get our stuff, find some bitches, get laid, and get wrecked one more time before we go home.”
“Yeah,” was all ZJ could muster, as he turned his attention to the bag of green that he and LD had collected. It held twenty-three thousand bucks, big dough for these two street punks. LD started yelling, “Yeah, a lot of green! A lot of green!”
ZJ started smiling, and his thoughts turned to the drugs and women that this kind of money would secure for him and LD.
LD started walking to the car, away from the ballpark and into the parking lot, but ZJ lingered for a second to see if he had anything to worry about and kept looking back at the hockey arena. As ZJ picked up the pace to catch up to LD, the lights of the hockey arena began to fade, and the parking lot came into sight. There were cones of light raining down from the light poles, with rings of light drifting down onto the blacktop. The night was clear and cloudless. This evening would have been perfect, but for the events that were about to unfold.
As the two caught up to each other in the parking lot, a kid with a dark, hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans, and smooth black shoes came up behind them. It was as if a ghost had appeared out of the dark between the lighted areas of the parking lot. Neither one of the two had even sensed the presence of this silent, small person. ZJ heard a small voice, something that stopped him cold.“Say what, LD?” ZJ hoped he’d heard LD. “What, ZJ?” LD hadn’t heard a thing.
Everything changed in the split second that it took for ZJ to reach for his car keys. ZJ didn’t have a license, but of all his indiscretions, driving without even a permit was just a minor point.
“If either one of you wants to see tomorrow, you
better do exactly what I say,” the voice from Hell had spoken. It wasn’t loud or demanding; it was just there. Both dealers were totally taken by surprise. They spun around and looked at a pair of eerie eyes, the kind that the Goth kids wore to make themselves look weird. Worse yet, the eye coverings were luminescent and glowed in the dark.
“If you reach for a weapon, you’re dead,” a cool calm voice stated. The voice was coming out of the hooded sweatshirt standing about six feet away. In the dark light of the parking lot, the figure looked almost comical. The not so funny part was that he had a pistol pointed right at them.
He was all made up with dark eye shadow, eye inserts, and black, theatrical face paint framed his face in the outline of the pullover hood. ZJ and LD could hardly see the flat, black, .22-caliber handgun with a matt finish, as it was held in a hand gloved in a dark purple, rubber surgical glove. For a split second, the two were all but giddy looking at the attire of their adversary. A feeling that was short lived.
It took them but a nanosecond to realize that the pistol had a silencer on the muzzle of the barrel.
All of a sudden, the gun with its muzzle swollen by the silencer looked huge. Not much went on for the moment that it took for LD to realize that this may be the end of the ride. In some strange way, he was actually feeling relief, and not what one would expect.
The voice was weak and small and as flat as the matt finish on the gun, “If you two would please turn over your car keys?” This came from the strange, small figure with the long sleeved, hooded sweatshirt with the great big gun pointed at them.
It’s funny how sober you can become when you need to, thought ZJ. This was a simple carjacking and nothing to worry about. He didn’t want the sweat soaked jockstrap that LD was transporting in a gym bag. A gym bag at hockey arena could only contain hockey gear, right, ZJ rationalized to himself. The car was all this guy was after.
How could he know what was in the gym bag? “Want to jack the car? Here, take the keys.” ZJ whipped the keys down onto the pavement in front of this strange, little man. “But I’d better not ever catch you,” ZJ warned with bravado and clenched teeth.
He could hear the simple “Swoooosh,” like the sound you hear when you release compressed air from a tire, and then, the sensation of a burning, and the feeling of a liquid running down ZJ’s arm, and finally, the red color on the sleeve of his shirt. He thought he might have felt pain, but the only pain was a burning sensation. It took a second, but he knew that he had been shot. He heard the bullet hit the car door behind him, and he knew that as long as he lived, he would always remember the thud of the bullet hitting the metal of the door.
“What the hell!” were his first words, as he looked this weird, little man in the funny eyes that had been used to conceal his real eyes. ZJ’s eyes were like silver dollars, as wide open as they could get without them rolling right out of his head.
The little man began to speak, “If I’d wanted you dead, you would already be dead.” There was no emotion in his voice, just information.
Again, the funny, little voice came out of this thing that had just shot ZJ, “Now, if either one of you wants to graduate, give me the money, all of it, and every last cent. Got it?”
ZJ thought he was tough, but this guy didn’t seem tough at all, it seemed as though he was a machine, just doing, not feeling. He was a lawn mower, a conveyor belt, just an appliance doing its work. ZJ was a bit numb to all of this because he was bleeding, but it did not escape LD’s attention.
LD went limp and collapsed right on the spot, just like a wet rag. LD was out cold. As tough as he thought he was, as mean as he thought he was, and as mean as he had been to others, he was still just a kid. His pants were wet in the crouch, and the smell of human waste was in the air. This sent a cold shiver through ZJ, as he had never seen anyone react as LD had. He was also loosing blood and beginning to feel physically weak himself. ZJ, who had never had a spiritual thought in his life, found himself making covenants with God. He had never even thought about a Supreme Being in his fifteen years.
He was promising to get straight, clean, and sober if God would spare his life.
ZJ instinctively reached for the moneybag that LD had been carrying and bent down to get the money. He slid it around on the pavement, never even questioning how this strange, little guy knew he had a large amount of money, and he kicked the bag across the pavement to the hooded guy.
The hooded guy then said, “Give me the keys. Pick them up and give them to me, slowly, and no funny business.” ZJ did as he was told. Then, hooded guy got into ZJ’s car with the money and slowly drove into the night. If fact, he was so in control that he drove slowly, using the blinker as he left the parking lot, just like you or I would if we’d just left a McDonalds parking lot.
ZJ automatically called Big Guy on his cell phone. He explained what had happened and asked what to do?
Big Guy said, “Look, you have to call the police and tell them everything except the amount of money that was taken. Tell them about being carjacked and being shot, and do it right now. Don’t worry about the money. I will help you track it down after you get treated for your gunshot wound. Get LD taken care of. Give the police a good description of the car; maybe they can help us find this guy.”
911 was called and the police showed up. LD was revived, and ZJ was taken to Regions Hospital. His mother was called from the hospital and she was on her way, assured that her son would live.
As LD sat waiting for his parents to show up at the hospital, it occurred to him that he could have been killed. LD thought to himself, This is it; it isn’t drugs, girls, and fun anymore; it’s time to get out. I could get straight and put a lot of distance between me and ZJ. I know that things are just not going to be the same ever again.
If he had only known how right, really right, he was, he might have opened up to his parents. If he could have seen things in a crystal ball and predicted outcomes, as my mom had been able to do, I know he would have done things differently that night.
He didn’t open up to the police that night. True to his childhood friend, he was not going to get ZJ in trouble. For LD, this whole incident was even more complicated than just not telling on ZJ. ZJ was his family. It was the only family he really had.
ZJ’s mom showed up and he told her about the carjacking, but that was all. He got eight stitches, four in the front of his arm and four more in the back where the bullet had gone out. He also got some great pain medication by prescription. He would get to stay home for a few days and stay legally high for his recovery. Why the bullet had not shattered the bone and left him crippled for life was a mystery. The doctors were amazed at the small amount of damage the bullet had caused. ZJ seemed to have more luck than sense.
Shortly after the ten o’clock news, the doorbell rang at Big Guys apartment. Big Guy looked out the peephole and opened the door. In walked a little man with a hooded sweatshirt. He handed Big Guy the gym bag full of money. Big Guy opened the moneybag, reached in, got out ten of the one hundred dollar bills, and handed them to the hooded guy. Hooded guy handed the handgun and silencer to Big Guy, and then he asked, “Is that all you need, Big Guy?”
“Get out of here,” Big Guy ordered, as he grabbed the gun and silencer.
“Ok,” was all he said, and hooded guy disappeared into the night.
The news of ZJ’s adventure went through the school like wildfire. Such a tale of violence and gunshot wounds would create a stir at any high school in the country. All the kids were anxious to tell me the tale, none more so than Hank, who had defended my honor just minutes before ZJ got shot. He felt himself a hero in some way, because he had stood up to this now famous thug.
The next day, I was standing in front of my classroom door, saying hi to kids and trying hard to match names with faces. I was waiting for class to begin, when Hank walked up to me and in an immature manner said, “You really care, don’t cha?”I asked, “About what?”
“About kids.” Hank seemed surprised that I didn’t know what he was talking about.
In a knee-jerk reaction, I answered, “Yes, I do.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of the exchange. It was out of place for what little I knew about Hank. I concluded that kids do a lot of strange things that I don’t understand. This was one of them.
Hank went in and sat down next to a pretty, young lady he had met in my class. Her name was Brittany, a bright student that was in my class for only one reason; she liked the teacher. Well, also it was maybe because there were lots of boys in my room. She didn’t care much for the subject matter. The two were talking about what seemed to be nothing, when I heard Hank say, “Brittany, I saw ZJ at the hockey arena last night, and I told him to lay off P. I meant it, too. I really like P.” I was sure that was meant for my ears.
“I really like him, too, Hank, but remember, ZJ and LD are creeps, so you would be better off leaving them alone; P can take care of himself,” Brittany advised Hank.
“Yeah, I know, Brit.” Hank was not all that smooth with girls, but this one seemed different.
“Did you hear the gossip about ZJ and LD getting carjacked in the parking lot at the hockey arena?” Brit was full of the story and really wanted to tell someone. Hank was smart enough, and smitten enough, to just want to hear her voice, even if it was to hear a story he had heard before.
Hank just casually lied about hearing the story and said, “No, tell me. Whad ya hear?”
“The story I heard was that they got carjacked and ZJ got shot in the arm. He had eight stitches, they say.” Brit went on and told the tale, maybe even adding a little drama that wasn’t in the story she had heard. After she was done, there was a short pause as Hank took in what she had said.
Hank was a bit awkward at this impressing a girl thing, but most tenth graders are, and he was no different. As he calculated his response, the thought flashed through his mind that this girl was special, and maybe one that he could really like. “Wow, that will improve sales,” was all Hank could think of to say, not wanting the conversation to end.
“What do you mean?” Brit was truly curious at this point.
“ZJ and LD will talk up the tale and embellish it. They will make themselves look tough,” Hank was really angry as he said this.
“So what?” Brit didn’t understand.
“It’s drama, Brit. Just drama and gossip that is intended to create a story that makes them the center of the bad-guy universe. The better the story, the more the bad guys and girls will want to know them. They will be dangerous and hip, and that will be great for sales. They are going to sell more drugs than anyone else,” Hank’s anger wasn’t hidden as he talked. “Hank, you stay away, please?” Brit sounded honestly concerned.
Was that genuine concern that I heard, Hank was thinking. I hope it was?
“I will, Brit, but it pisses me off.” He was really mad. He was immature, but he was smart enough to know that a lot of kids would be sucked into a life of drugs and all the baggage that went with that life. He knew that the first encounter with drugs was a choice; the rest of the experience would be made by an addicted mind with the disease removing any choice. He was experienced beyond his years when it came to the addict. He knew more than most tenth graders in this regard.
“Hank, class is starting. Just get to work and P will be pleased, I will be pleased, and you can keep that A that P said you’re getting in his class, get it?” She found herself giving him advice that she normally wouldn’t give to someone if she didn’t care about him. It hit her right that minute that she liked this guy, really liked this guy. Wow!
I was taking roll by the time the exchange had taken place, and we were starting the computers and loading the drawings. Hank and Brit approached me. Hank started the conversation with a question, “Do you know Swede, the old hockey coach?”
I had been asked questions like this before by hockey players who were curious about what had happened to this well liked and popular varsity coach. Swede was still in the district, teaching as he always had at a middle school. I knew him from my early days in the district when we met through a mutual friend and had even found some common ground on which to base a friendship. He was a great guy, and I understood why young people would like him. He was personable and a very good listener. He wasn’t the world’s best choice for win/losses when it came to coaching hockey, yet that didn’t seem to matter to his players. They just plain liked and respected him.
I was a bit puzzled and asked Hank, “Why do you ask?”
Hank and Brit were both looking at each other, wondering which one should start the reply, with neither one being quite mature enough to know how to approach the subject with social grace. This subject would be off limits in any other classroom.
“Well, Brit and I were wondering if you had heard the reason why Swede was let go from his varsity coaching position.” I had no idea where this was coming from. The talk in the school, all day, had been of the shooting on the evening before.
Why are we talking about a hockey coach? I was wise enough to know that I could do nothing about what I was about to hear. The two had opened up a dialogue that they had obviously discussed before. “No, I don’t know the reason that Swede was let go.” But I was curious now, “Tell me, what do you think happened?” I had taken the bait. There was no turning back now.
“We think that Fritz canned him because he didn’t win enough games,” Hank spoke for both of them.
Both were nodding their heads in agreement. Now, I had opened a subject that would have meet with an “I don’t know; now get back to work” in any other classroom in the building. If I had known what was politically correct and what was good for me, I would have done the same thing. Instead, I went where I thought we could get some teaching done, hoping for a teachable moment, and asked of the two, “Want to tell me?” I then sat back, ready to listen to the story.
Hank went right into what he thought had happened, as if he knew the exact details. In fact, I thought, given the amount of detail and knowledge he is showing about how athletics works in the high school, he is quite impressive.
He was quite sophisticated in the politics of how the system worked. This story had obviously been told before. He had developed his position and was selling hard.
“The way we think this happened was that Fritz decided that having a .500 season was not good enough for his Eskimos, so he was determined to get rid of Swede. He knew that Swede had just moved to a new house, so he sent out a coaching contract for the hockey season that was to come to the old house. He knew that by the time the mail got forwarded, it would have expired according to the terms that he had written into the new contract. The minute that the time was up, he called Swede and had him come in to the office. He then fired him for not responding to the request for the new contract. Swede was furious, as it had not been done this way ever before. He told Fritz that he had always been given the courtesy of a phone call when he needed to be renewed. Fritz explained that the old athletic director was retired, and now, things were going to be done Fritz’s way. Short of an all-out school board fight, he could accept the fact that he had been fired, or he could fight a losing battle with the board.” That was Hank’s story. He sat back in his chair, looked at Brit, and said, “It’s so, P.”
I know that there had been a problem with Swede. I knew he had left the head coaching position, but I had always thought that Swede decided that life was too short for all the hours he spent coaching. He decided that he would as gracefully as possible go back to teaching at the middle school for reasons of his own. He never shared his anger with me or the school board. He certainly could have and may yet, someday. My guess would be that he would share his story when he thought he had a fighting chance of winning.
Hank just got madder and madder each time he told this story. The new coach was not there to teach the basics of the game; he was there to win at all costs. This included cutting Northwest High students from the team, in favor of out of district students that had been recruited by the new coach. Many of those students had been on that team from before middle school. Hank was one of them that had been cut. He was crushed. As he thought about this his eyes began to tear up, and Britt stepped in to console him.
I told the two students, “Step out into the hallway to collect yourselves, and return when you’re ready.” This was a big risk for a teacher at Northwest High; it was also the right thing to do.
I was told later that the beginning of their dating relationship had started that day in the hall.
We had started class and I was working on something, when a student that had known me from back in our middle school years came to my desk. She had followed my classes, tying to get into them. She liked being in my room. She was certainly more of an artisan than a draftsperson, but she had found a way to express her creativity through the use of the computer, drawing program I was teaching. I was fine with that, since any talent was welcome in my room.
On this day, Stacy pulled up a chair next to my desk, “Mr. P?”
“Yes?” I should learn not to pay attention to kids. I’m being sarcastic.
“I’ve got to sign up for my junior-year classes, and —— would you help me?” She was asking me to help her make some of the decisions she was struggling with.
What a complement, I thought. This was the moment every teacher waits for, the chance to influence the lives of students. In this case, one I liked, and one who had been a loyal friend as well as a good student.
“What can I do for you?” I was pleased that I would have some influence.
“Well, I was thinking that I would like to spend some time at the Jr. College. Maybe attend some of the basic classes that everyone has to do in their first year of college. Some of the kids are telling me that I can get credit for my high school graduation requirements as well as college credit. Better yet, the kids that I talked to said that the school district had to pay for it. They said that no one at school would tell me about it, because the school didn’t want to give up the money that they get from the state. The kids I talked to also said that the school doesn’t want to send their best students to a college. Is that true?” “Stacy, I had all three of my girls do exactly what you’re talking about.” I was telling her that I was impressed with her desire, and that I approved. “How does it work?” she wanted to know.
So, I began to tell her, “The way you get credit for both college work and high school credit is . . .” and I went to great lengths to give her details and pointers that the school would not have given her. I then warned her that the school would try and talk her out of it.
It was wonderful having ZJ and LD gone from the room, while they were recovering from the ordeal they had gone though. Although, I imagined that their idea of recovery was the two of them getting high someplace and partying hardy. Conversation with Stacy could be very productive when students that demand all your time do not distract you.
Anyway, as a way of protecting myself from any further nonsense in the classroom, I had cameras installed by my best, electronics class wizards. It’s unbelievable what a group of kids with a mission and twelve hundred dollars to play with can do to visually surveil every part of the room. This was also a reassuring thing to the kids, since they were even more familiar with the antics of ZJ and LD than I was.
Let’s get back to Stacy’s problem. I was just about to wind up with the big news, finally. I must have been on a roll, as I was talking as quickly as I could.
With every sentence came another reason to further this young lady’s chances at going to college and high school at the same time. The best reason was that if she got some college, albeit at the high school level, I knew from past experience that the chances that she will continue her education would increase greatly.
Finally, I said, as a manor of speaking, and with a wink and a nod, “You didn’t hear this from me.” I knew that the unwritten rule in Fritz’s school was that we didn’t counsel students to use the post-secondary college program because it reduced our budget.
Worse yet, what if the smart kids found out that it was the best way for them to go? We would lose all our precious, academic over achievers. On top of all this, the old hands that had all the really smart kids would have to teach and deal with the middle-of-the-road kids. This was a real problem, as the older teachers have, by their own determination and seniority, the God-given right to deal with only the upper, collegebound kids.
The words, “You didn’t hear this from me,” hadn’t even hit the floor when out of the hall came Fritz at full gait. And, within seconds, he was standing face to face with me. I mean face-to-face, in my personal space, bringing new meaning to the phrase, “Being in your face.”
“Care to repeat that?” he was yelling at me in front of thirty students.
I must have turned a bright shade of red. I was very embarrassed for him. I was ashamed to be in the same room with this trailer-trash administrator. He thought himself a leader and was showing off. How could anybody be this rude? In a world where children do as we do, and not as we say, such deeds are the equivalent of reverse role modeling. Who would want their child to act like this?
Desperately, I tried to change the subject, “Look at what Emily is doing on the computer,” and I pointed out the outstanding work one of my prize students was doing. For just a moment, he seemed to take the bait, realizing that what he had just done had violated the rules of conduct that most civilized people recognized as legitimate behavior.
Quickly, I said, “Look at the detail on Emily’s drawing.” The attention-getting ploy stopped working right there. Please believe me; at this point I had the attention of thirty students. The room went absolutely silent.
Fritz demanded, in a voice that was more siren than request, “What were you talking about with this young lady?”
I didn’t say a word. Shocked and dismayed, I stood there looking like a teacher without pants, not knowing what to say.
He really began yelling now, “You were sitting next to this girl! What were you saying? What were you doing?”
Then he changed his tone, as he turned his attention to Stacy, “Do you need to see a female counselor, or Miss Nancy? I will take you right now? If you need a private moment with anyone, I will take you.” He was selling the subtlety of the implication, as much as selling the idea, that he would be her protector. The classroom got the idea.
The intent was veiled, but even the kids got what he was after. He wanted this young lady to implicate me. He wanted her to imply that I had done, or said, something at that desk that would be inappropriate.
Stacy rather naively looked at him and said, “It’s okay, Dr. Fritz; Mr. P was talking about post secondary classes.”
That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He turned to me, and I swear, there never has been, or ever will be, a look that was as frightening as the stare he gave me. He turned and left, and I knew that it wasn’t over, but then, it never was... with him.
I had a reason to call Denny, the union rep., because what had happened would result in a followup by Fritz. I thought for sure that as mad as he had been that I was going to get the “C Me” note. It didn’t happen, but I did go to see Denny.
Right after school, I went to see Denny. As I walked in the door, he looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “I already know; nothing is secret in this school, especially a visit from ‘Der Furor.’ I had Sue get a statement from Stacy, and she said that Fritz was way out of line.”
“Denny, do you have any idea what it took to get back on task after his majesty was in the room?” My cynical tone was apparent.
“I can guess.” Denny was being sympathetic, in a not too sympathetic way.
“Look, damn it, you don’t have any idea how hard I had to work to get that class back on task. You have no idea of the questions I had to answer. It is not easy to tell kids that an attack on a teacher in the classroom is an okay thing; it’s not easy to tell kids that what happened was really not a bad thing, when it really was. Kids aren’t stupid. They knew exactly what was happening. They knew exactly what was going on. It took the rest of the hour to turn that around.” I was really mad and scared. My anger was at the surface, and an ugly thing it was.
“Well, did you?” Denny inquired.
“Did I what?” I wasn’t listening to Denny. “Turn it around?” Denny already knew, but he needed time to think.
“Of course, I did.” What a lame conversation. Denny knew that this shouldn’t have happened. “Look, Denny, I want to talk to that asshole’s boss. I want to talk to the superintendent?” I was mad and wanted to exact revenge. I didn’t believe that any sane individual would stand for behavior like this. “I can do that.” Denny wasn’t real happy with me at this moment, as he knew that the superintendent would just back Fritz, and that would be the end of that. Then, Denny thought, Well, maybe P should learn that lesson the hard way.
Denny was right; I just wasn’t listing to him. I went to see the superintendent, but it was not even worth the time it took to see him, and, sufficed to say, he patronized me. The superintendent told me that I was exaggerating the situation. There was no discussion, just a short conversation controlled by the “Super,” who frankly didn’t give a damn. He was so removed and insulated from the operation of the schools that he would not have recognized a problem if it had bitten him on the ass.
This is one of the reasons that superintendents don’t last in large school districts. The turnover rate of superintendents also allows the Dr. Fritz’s of the world to keep their jobs, as a new super will not fire a sitting principal. In our district, we always have a new superintendent.
To illustrate this, I bring to your attention the man that this superintendent replaced. The former superintendent was released from his post because of an indiscretion. He lost his job, and the board buried the incident with a “Golden parachute.” He was bought off with an undisclosed amount of taxpayer money. You or I would have been labeled as a social pariah, and we would have had to deal with the incident for the rest of our lives.
This incident never even saw the light of day. The grocery store incident for a young frightened girl turned out to be a pattern for this man of exemplary, high moral standards. She would never forget what she saw that day. How we hire such individuals in the first place always amazes me, but that’s schoolmen and how they interpret their culture.
I did, however, accomplish one thing. I really pissed off Fritz. I’m sure I was back to asshole when he thought about me.
The summer came and went, and we returned to the campus of Northwest High. I had always looked forward to returning to school in the fall, but this year was different.
Over the summer, I had explored leaving my position at Northwest High. I would have to give up my salary; it was at the top of the scale. I would have to start over again in some other school district, at the bottom of the seniority list, at the bottom of the pay scale. I would be the first to be laid off in an enrollment downturn. I decided that I would stick it out until something else opened up in my school district where I would not give up my tenure. I returned to what had started to become my personal Hell.
Think about it for a moment. I was caught in a system that rewarded the teacher for longevity but gave you no way out if the personal conflicts became unbearable. Worse yet, the teachers are caught in a given district with no way to improve their lot in life other than to leave the profession.
Principals from Hell get to operate with impunity for the same reason. They know that teachers can’t leave, so they have no incentive to improve anything that has to do with what happens in the classroom.
If teachers were mobile, with pay and benefits that followed them, they would vote with their feet, leaving principals from Hell behind. This would allow for the marketplace to do its work. Districts wishing to improve would seek teachers with great ideas and improved classroom approaches. Principals that thought of themselves as dictators would soon find themselves out of a job.
Keeping a proven success in the classroom would be important, as you would retain the best teachers and the best principals. Fritz was operating in a closed system where he could get away with what would have been judged criminal in an open marketplace.
All the political pundits who want a free market solution really don’t want a free market solution. Good teachers would become local celebrities and demand larger pay packages. What the hypocrisy of the pundits demands is a system that takes away the protections that are in the union contract. The system then replaces the tenure and due process with the ability to fire teachers at will. What we then attract are those educators who have no choice but to work under any conditions that an administration would impose. Good people don’t work for nothing. Try attracting a nun to a life of service for the church. It’s a tough sell, in the modern world.
Fritz was operating without transparency; what he did was done without supervision or oversight. The law did not govern him; the board was removed from the oversight because that chore was expected of the superintendent. He also had a superintendent trying to survive the initial first few years of his appointment. The situation was ripe for abuse.
Fritz had spent the summer planning his reprisal. It had consumed him. Nailing me was at the top of his list. It’s very difficult to fire a tenured teacher, so the plan was to implicate me in a criminal enterprise or a sex scandal. I have seen teachers survive sex scandals, so my demise would have to be a criminal charge.
To help you understand what it was he had to do, I’ll tell the tale of a janitor that he hated. This particular night custodian was filmed taking a can of gas out of the tractor shed one evening. The security cameras had captured, on film, the removal of the gas can, yet, like the famous eighteen minutes of the Nixon tapes, the return of the gas was lost, somehow.
“The removal of the gas can was theft,” Fritz later shouted at the board meeting. During the hearing that was held to exonerate this twenty-year veteran of the school system, the half-truths and innuendos worked. Fritz’s bullying and bribing of the board paid off. He got the guy fired.
Turns out, this can of gas was used to help this employee’s father, also a retired school employee. His father, who suffered from early stage Alzheimer’s, had let his tank go dry. He had run out of gas in front of the school, a block from his home and a block from the gas station. The gas can was used by the night custodian’s father to go to the gas station were the gas can was filled and replaced in the shed. The film with the replacement of the gas was never shown to anyone, and, in fact, that piece of video mysteriously disappeared. This is Fritz in his world.
Fritz had the luxury of time and timing. He could work his manipulations and schemes all he wanted, or he could just wait for an opportunity to reveal itself.
The problem he had with me was, he had waited to long to get me. The kids really liked me and with that went the parents of the kids who also really liked me. The dreaded parents, the ones who actually elected school board members. The one thing he knew he could not do was raise the awareness of some community activist or certain community groups. They would threaten the board members’ reelections. He had to get me, somehow, on a charge that would not be questioned or investigated by the community.
Fritz was also cognizant of the fact that appearance was as good as the act of misconduct, itself. He had, on other occasions, forced voluntary resignations, his personal favorite, by creating an illusion of criminal misconduct. Most teachers, fearing for their licenses to teach, will do most anything to protect the right to teach. Doctor Fritz had used this tactic very effectively with teachers he had wanted gone.
The teacher I replaced had been forced into leaving in this very same way. It had been so simple to do, as the teacher I replaced had been young and trusting to a fault. He had been recruited out of Jacksonville, Florida. He had come from a tough, inner city, Jacksonville school. This young teacher had a great sense of humor. A sense of the absurd was a real gift when working with the kids that he’d had to work with in Jacksonville. He’d used this sense of humor to disarm this population of kids that had seen every human tragedy known to man.
Drugs were everywhere in Jacksonville, and the teen pregnancy program was overbooked, and as an industrial arts teacher, he’d had the toughest of the tough in his classroom. His particular following were streetwise and raw kids from the inner-city ghetto. Their humor was not that of our Mid-western culture. He had a quick wit and a glib language style that had been developed in this Florida environment. He had to be on his toes all the time. One last thing about this young teacher: He was a good listener and let students know he cared, even when he disagreed with what they were doing. He was like me in that way. It works.
Fritz had regretted hiring him, as he would not tattle on other teachers. Fritz liked teachers who told on each other because it divided them, causing mistrust and open conflict. Fritz saw himself as the CEO of Education Inc., not as principal of a high school. He could rationalize anything he wanted to do without ever taking personal responsibility for anything. He was a classical politico.
This young teacher was kidding around in class and using that sense of humor that had been his friend back in Jacksonville. He’d drawn a simple picture on the blackboard of a robust woman bending over, a simple drawing. He then turned to the class and said, “YO-momma.” The laughing was robust, as well.
The self-appointed correctness cop, a science teacher down the hall, heard the laughter, and was in the room gasping and criticizing in a nanosecond. This young teacher was in Fritz’s office answering obscenity charges after he received a “C-Me” note.
The teacher was going to make a lecture out of this drawing and the comment he had made about that drawing, but he never got the chance. He had dared to take a risk, maybe even a risk he would never take again, but we will never know how the lecture would have gone, will we? Nor will we ever know what innovation he might have brought to the classroom. In this environment, bad moves are not tolerated... if, in fact, it was a bad move.“Get into my office, right this minute!” Fritz was yelling as loudly as he could.
The scene was as predictable as could be. Fritz started yelling at this Masters Degree holder and intelligent professional-to-be. This young teacher lost it right on the spot and told Fritz, “Take this job and . . .” He then stopped himself and told Fritz that his resignation would be on his desk in the morning.
This young teacher, being a man of his word, did exactly that.
Unlike those of us that had been jaded by the likes of Fritz, he had not yet learned to veil his teaching in the role of a sneak teacher. But he was young; He would learn in another school district. He had made the deal, left, and had saved his license. Dr. Fritz had failed another teacher. That young teacher, well, he had to rebuild his life. He left teaching. Once again, the losers were —— the kids.
Fritz entered into this new school year with revenge in his heart. He would not let a teacher tattle to a superintendent and survive in his school. Whatever it took, he would do it. In his mind, I was toast.
Big Guy had been to the executive headquarters of Drugs Inc. I don’t really know what the organization was called, and none of us ever will. All I know is that it was an organization that did its business tax-free and in the shadow of night. The quarterly reports had been good, and Big Guy could report a nice increase in sales over the last quarter. The new steroid products were taking off as the athletic market was beginning to blossom. Ecstasy was moving nicely, since he had picked up some new junkies with connections to a group of kids with a desire to rave.
The con he had worked on two of his salesmen was working. He had told ZJ and LD, “You will have to make up the loss with interest paid on the lost dollar total.” The alternative was that he would have the two of them eliminated, and for good.
He was bragging to his boss about the fact that he owned the two of them. “Those two are my slaves,” he would joke. “I own those two, little jerks, boss, I own their asses.”
ZJ, who had really turned on to drugs, was not too bothered by the threat; he was stoned most the time. Anyway, he could just get high anytime the thought crossed his mind that he owed $23,000, plus interest of 20% per annum.
LD was another story. He was, of the two of them, far more paranoid; drugs exacerbated this situation. The way out for him was to clear the debt. He worked hard to do this. He pushed ZJ to do more and riskier deals, the kind of deals that would eventually lead to a mistake. He was really paranoid about getting ripped off at gunpoint, like they had been at the hockey arena. He was paranoid about everything, and anything would send him into a rage. Afterward, he would become sullen.
Much to his dismay, he had flashbacks to that evening all the time. Sober or drugged, he would flash back. The hooded, gloved kid stealing the money and the car and shooting ZJ. It was about the most coldblooded thing he had ever witnessed. The more dope he used, the worse it got; even booze didn’t help. He was totally without help. No one was around that he could trust, except ZJ, and ZJ was stoned all the time.
The worse it got for LD, the better it got for Big Guy. The worse it got, the better the deals. LD was intent on paying off the debt, but it was growing so fast that it was like a dog chasing its own tail. The faster he went, the farther behind they got. Big Guy loved every minute of it. As a trained drug rehabilitation professional, he knew where it was headed, and he could care less.
The organization loved Big Guy; he had been sober for fifteen years and was the best producer they’d ever had. He wasn’t a threat to the organization, as he was there for the money, not for the drugs. He was a cynic, and he was clean and sober. He was trusted to the extent that the organization was not in danger.
He had not committed a felony in many years and was not sought by the police. He was on his way up and he knew it. This allowed him access to the organization that others could not get. Most of the other pushers had a habit. Most of the pushers were like ZJ but had graduated to the next level of distribution.
The problem with most people in the business was that they, too, were hooked. Drug slaves are unreliable and untrustworthy. They were not good employees under any condition. They will also die of the disease that they have been introduced to. This is not conducive to long term relationships. The retraining of new drug reps is a big part of the business, and Big Guy was good at it.
The organization was reputed to have connections to South America. The top brass didn’t live in this country and operated with impunity. The money was laundered internationally through Caribbean banks. The operation was a well-oiled machine that operated in the shadows of the world.
As Tipp O’Neil, the famous Speaker of The House once said, “All politics are local.” So it is in the drug trade. Without the local Big Guy, the business fails to run. Without the ZJs and LDs of the world, the Big Guys fail. The business is nothing without access to the disease that feeds it. This is all done locally, and it’s done in every neighborhood in America.
We are so easily convinced that the G-men of the DEA can stop the drugs at our border. According to Washington, we will win the “War on Drugs.” But we have had twenty years of a War on Drugs, and profits for drug cartels do nothing but get larger and better every year. We tell our kids, “Just say no,” and drug professionals laugh all the way to the bank.
We create programs like DARE. The drug professionals thank us for advertising their products. DARE hasn’t worked. The War on Drugs hasn’t worked, and anyone who tells you it has is probably working for Drugs Inc.
We are a very duplicitous nation when it comes to the disease of addiction.
We can’t seem to get it. This is an epidemic, not a crime problem. We just don’t get it. We send our children into the infected population of users that gather in our overcrowded high schools. We then wonder why they catch the disease. As the kids would say, “DUH.”
I really believe that Drugs Inc. politically lobbies for the War on Drugs. They can treat the disease with their drugs, and that perpetuates the sickness. Drugs Inc. reaps the benefits of maintaining the status quo when customers are addicted for life. They don’t have to advertise. They don’t have to glamorize. They don’t have to do anything to combat the DEA’s war on drugs. They’ve won it before it even begins.
The disease has a pathology that is so obvious to the suppliers of illegal drugs that they realize the customer will seek them out at all costs. Even when threatened with jail, bodily harm, or even death, the junkies are so strong willed that they will do the work of finding drugs.
This takes the risk out of the equation for Drugs Inc. The organization has a productivity that is the envy of legitimate businesses. The customer does all the work and takes all the risk. The organization is like a machine that prints money.
Those who operate in this drug world include terrorists, revolutionaries, and the just plain greedy. The thugs that operate this business have no need for civility or humanity. Human life becomes a commodity to be bought and sold.
It is a perfect market without regulation and the added value of illegality. Illegal drugs are more expensive, because the risk of getting jail time adds value to the product. The nature of the disease of addiction creates customers for life. We have no cure for the disease. The best we can hope for is remission. This is a plague, not a crime.
All Big Guy wanted was a few salesmen like ZJ and LD, ten years in the business, and then off to the Caribbean to enjoy his new status. I won’t be Big Guy anymore; I’ll be Rich Guy.
For LD, the world just kept getting darker and darker. At times, in his sober moments, he thought about going to his parents and asking for help. After one notable yelling contest with Big Guy over money and compensation, he came home and tried to approach his dad. But, unknown to LD was the fact that his dad was a drunk, a functioning drunk, but a drunk, nonetheless. As LD approached him, he could see that his dad was drinking, which was not an unusual thing. LD knew that there were good days and bad days; there were sober days, drunken days, drunken sober days, and sober drunk days. He also knew that he couldn’t count on his dad for anything; his dad was unpredictable.
LD had learned to cope with his dad’s ways, and timing was everything. LD had a part-time dad. His moods would swing in wild fluctuations, from enormous generosity to deep depression with what seemed like total randomness. The good days were absolutely wonderful, although those days had seemed to disappear, as of late.
More and more, his dad would get into fights with his wife over nothing, and he was always barking ridiculous orders at LD. Once he had told LD, “If you don’t come home with a straight-A report card, I’ll kick you out of the house.” LD, who was a C student, was without options, as it wouldn’t happen no matter what his dad demanded. All of this is hard for a fifteenyear-old to understand. It’s hard for anyone to understand.
LD carefully calculated his approach to his dad and cautiously addressed him.
“Dad.” LD was careful to get his attention.
“What do you want?” LD listened closely for the hints as to his dad’s state of mind. Convinced that the problem wouldn’t wait and feeling pressured, he went forward with the conversation even when he wouldn’t have normally done that. He was desperate for help.
“I got a problem,” LD was being very sincere.
“We all got problems, kid,” his dad was drunk and LD knew it.
The room went silent for what seemed to LD to be an eternity. Then, his dad revealed just how drunk he was with an attempt at some words, but “Ua ua wasifryed” was all that came out. The words were unrecognizable due to the slurring of his speech. For LD, this was like falling off the edge. “Kid, I got problems; you got problems; we all got problems. So what?” his dad was drunk but managed to get this point across.
This wasn’t the time, and LD knew it. LD was not going to open up at all. Certainly not to a drunk that couldn’t even show up for school functions going all the way back to grade school. His mother was not going to be any help, either; she had never been anyone but the person to call his father’s work and tell them he was sick when he was too drunk, or too hung over, to go to work. She had tried in the beginning of the marriage, but was so lacking in her own self-esteem that she just did what she was told and was thankful that she had a roof over her head.
LD just went to his room, popped some pills, and turned the music up.
ZJ picked LD up in his recovered “Car-jacked” car the next morning. He still didn’t have a driver’s license. This morning was the same as any other school day. LD, in a hung-over haze, got in the car and said, “Look, ZJ, we have to clear this debt to Big Guy. So I’ll tell you what we’ll do!”
ZJ, taking another hit of coke off a piece of stainless steel that he kept in the ashtray of his car, said, in as cool a manner as possible, “What?”
“Look, ‘E’ is a big deal with the rave groups. Remember the day we got ripped off. One of our stops was to a customer of Big Guy’s that was buying a big batch of ‘E’. He was worth about $5,000 that night. Let’s get in touch with that guy and set up a big buy. We’ll offer a cheap price, a real deal if he takes five grand worth or better. Then, we’ll rip him. Once we get the green, we pull a gun if we have to and Zero Junk him. Look, they’re not hooked like the others; they won’t be our customers in the future. They’ll get their kicks and then move on to college and the good life. Let’s rip them off.”
LD’s real point was, “Then, we can pay off most of our debt to Big Guy and get him off our backs. We’ve paid back a lot, but if we give him five grand in one hit, he’ll have to back off,” LD wasn’t letting his desperation show.
ZJ really didn’t care if Big Guy owned them, as long as he got his dope. In fact, the only reason he would go along with this rip-off was that as soon as they had the money, he would skim some off the top. He needed to party with some bad girls, anyway. Always thinking, he knew he would also further his image by pulling off a big rip.
“Go for it; set it up.” ZJ was in.
Two nights later, LD and ZJ met a suburban preppy with five big ones in a paper bag looking to score big on the Ecstasy that the two had promised. He would be a hero to the ravers that he hung with. He had stolen the five grand from his dad. What was he thinking, that his dad wouldn’t miss that kind of money? He was sure that he could get the “E” and sell it fast enough to replace the five grand. His dad would never know it was gone. But the money wasn’t even gone five minutes and his dad was on to the problem. Preppy didn’t know that yet, but he would find out — — that, I promise you.
The deal was going smoothly. They had met in the Diamond Ballpark parking lot. The preppy got out of his dad’s SUV with the money in hand. Big mistake, ‘cause ZJ got out of the car LD was driving. ZJ went to the trunk, opened it, took out a bag that looked like the ones that Big Guy used, and started walking toward the SUV. The preppy was naïve, but not stupid. He’d done a few deals with Big Guy and expected to get his dope, pay, and go. He had seen these two before, so he wasn’t afraid.
As ZJ got closer to the preppy, the bags were visible even in the bad light. The preppy noticed that the bags had no preprinted label on them as he had become accustomed to. ZJ immediately knew that something was wrong, as the preppy backed away toward the SUV.
The whole thing was about to go bad. ZJ pulled his Glock, 9mm automatic from the back waistband of his pants. The preppy knew that he was in trouble. He handed ZJ the money, put his hands in the air, and then slowly got into his SUV and left, alive.
“Nailed him, huh, LD. Ripped him good, huh, dawg?”
“We sure did get him, ZJ, just one more naked preppie. We stripped him of his money, and when a preppie don’t have money, he’s naked, ay, ZJ?”
The two got into ZJ’s car and started driving, laughing, knee slapping, belly laughing, and laughing to excess. The adrenalin was running and the cocaine was accelerating the rush of adrenalin. The two believed that they had gotten away with this crime. ZJ reached into the bag and got out a handful of twenties, stuffed them in his pocket, looked at LD, and asked, “My commission, right?”
LD was disappointed, but he never said a word. LD knew, at that very moment, that his friend had taken his pleasures without regard to LD’s welfare. Worse, for that matter, he didn’t even offer the courtesy of a conversation. It looked like even ZJ was not going to listen to LD. LD was hurting big time, but ZJ was numb and without a clue.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
Dr. Fritz got Nancy on the phone as soon as he arrived in the morning.
“Get ZJ in your office, first thing this morning,” he demanded.
Nancy was curious, and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
“Tell him that we know he’s been involved in a drug deal,” Fritz sounded excited.
“Do we really know that he’s been involved in a drug deal?”
“How do we know?” Nancy needed some facts to go on if she was going to face ZJ.
“Just believe me, we know.” Fritz had something, but he was going to withhold it for the time being. He trusted no one, not even his closest allies.
“Tell him that it was the sale of Ecstasy.” Nancy knew she had enough to get the conversation started.
“Do you have the goods on him?” Nancy inquired?
“Yes.” No question about it, Fritz had him.
What Fritz wasn’t telling her was that the preppy from the night before was the son of a friend of his from church that had called Fritz after he’d confronted his son about the missing five thousand dollars. The son had broken down and related the whole story to his dad.
He, in turn, knowing that the perpetrator was one of Dr. Fritz’s students, had called Fritz. He’d told him the story in hopes of getting a solution without involving the police. Fritz had told him that he would see what he could do. Fritz figured that he could get a double bang out of this situation. One, he could force ZJ to get something on P, and then he could squeeze ZJ for the money after he got what he wanted.
“What?” was ZJ’s reaction as he arrived in Nancy’s office?
“Look, we have it on good authority that you were involved in a drug deal last night. E was sold, and you sold it,” Nancy was fishing.
“What?” ZJ was surprised by the level of detail, but without LD there, he would have to figure out this one on his own, which was not something he did well.
She came right back at him, “You betcha we got you.” She knew the dance steps as well as he did, both of them being veterans of the trip to the office waltz. She knew, however, that all she had to do was rough him up emotionally. Fritz would do the real dirty work on this one. No standoff today; this was the real deal, and she would be in on the kill. This was the part of the dance she was really going to enjoy. ZJ and all that were like him were seldom nailed outright. She knew that they had him. She knew who was taking who home from the dance.
“Nancy, get him going, I don’t care what it takes. Lie, cajole, call him a jerk or an idiot; just get him.”
She remembered the conversation from that morning and Fritz telling her to get him on the defensive. Wear him down a bit, and then call Dr. Fritz in. His order to get ZJ mad was not going to be easy because he knew the script, so she was going to try something new, “ZJ, your deal was found out last night, and we think that we’ll get the police to go after your brother.” Nancy began probing, remembering the last time he had been in her office. The conversation about his brother had been repeated last time he was in trouble.
It was working. ZJ became uncomfortable and there was some anger, as Nancy drove the point home, “ZJ, your brother is an adult, and if we can connect him with this crime, he goes to jail for quite some time.”
ZJ was pissed now, and she could tell that it was just about time to bring in Fritz. She abruptly got up and said “ZJ, just sit here. I’ll be right back.”
The silence was horrible. He was left alone in Nancy’s office.
In comes Fritz a half-hour later, “ZJ, you’re in real trouble. Now just be quiet and listen carefully to what I have to say. I’m going to start bringing in kids and questioning them about drug deals that we know you were involved in. Then, I’m going to drop the hammer on you. That’s right, ZJ, the worst assholes I can think of are going to be told that you are the source of the information that lead us to them. I’m going to tell them that you were involved in a deal gone bad. I will tell them that to save your own skin, you were telling all, naming names, and giving details. Then I’m going to expel them and turn them over to the police. I will see to it that they are in trouble extraordinaire. Every last one of them is going to know that you, LD, and your brother are turning states evidence to save your own skins.”
“What the hell you saying? You know that my brother didn’t have anything to do with any of this. He’s gone and graduated from here, he has nothing to do with you or your stinking school.” ZJ had lost it.
Fritz knew he had won this round, “Sure, you’re right, but truth doesn’t matter, punk, just appearances. I don’t expect you to understand what I can and cannot do; it doesn’t matter to you. What should matter is that you, your brother, and LD will be marked on the street as narcs, little birdies that are singing to the police. We can get that done and get your brother on some bogus crap that will violate his court agreement in the hit and run case. He’ll go to jail for a very long time.”
ZJ’s body did not like his mind at this moment. His mind was raw and hurting from the lack of drugs. The cravings for a fix were setting in. The detoxification of his body paled in contrast to the detoxification of his soul. The whole thing was most painful as he sobered up. After all, he was still a kid, and no matter how jaded he was, he was still just a kid.
Just as quickly as Fritz had put on the hard guy act, he now changed his tone and body posture to a softer position, “Look, ZJ, I can help you to... you know? But you need to help me. I can be your friend, or your enemy. All you have to do is help me. Life will return to normal; you can go on running your game, and all will be as it was.”
“What?” ZJ was right in style.
“I need you to get a teacher for me,” Fritz said softly.
“What?” ZJ was surprised at the request.
“I need you to get P. Maybe you can get LD to help.” Fritz made it sound like an everyday occurrence.
“How?” ZJ was truly interested.
“I don’t care; you figure it out and don’t tell me. Just bring me the tale with enough facts that I can make it look good,” Fritz was delegating the task.
“What?” ZJ truly didn’t understand what Fritz was trying to do, but he did understand that he had a free shot at a teacher, and one he didn’t care for, anyway. It was open season and an authority figure was the game, with no consequences.
“ZJ, you already took a run at him. This is your get-out-of-jail-free card. Try a little harder. Just remember to piss him off and then get to Nancy’s office. Better yet, if you can get P to call the hall monitors, it will look better for me. Nancy will help you write a statement, so do whatever she says, write what she tells you, and absolutely nothing will happen to you or LD.”
“And if I tell you to get fucked, then what?” Always testing, ZJ was in form.
“Then the dogs get let out and they bite your ass,” Fritz was stern and direct.
“Okay, okay, give me a day or two.” ZJ knew what he was going to do with the information he’d just heard.
Right after school, ZJ, LD, and the news showed up at Big Guy’s apartment. They were sure this info was worth some free coke. Who could guess what Big Guy would do with the information? Both knew that it had value to him. Plus, they were delivering about four grand to pay on the debt. LD was starting to feel like he could see the end of this debt. He was feeling like the nightmare might end.
As soon as Big Guy had heard the first part, he said, “Stop right there, ‘cause I got something for you guys.” He went to the freezer compartment of his refrigerator and got out a bag of white powder. He handed a razorblade to them from the kitchen drawer and then laid out four lines on the glass coffee table. This was twice what he would have normally paid. He said to them with a big smile and a laugh, “Party, boys, party.”
The two took out MacDonalds straws that had been shortened, and the four lines of snow disappeared.
“Now, finish the story,” Big Guy encouraged them.
When they were finished with the tale, Big Guy had a really wide smile. He then took out the balance of the bag from the freezer and handed it to LD, “Thanks for the low down, Low Down.” He had never done that before, called LD “Low Down.” LD was thinking, With the large payment and the good information we brought, the worst is over and we’ll once again enjoy the status that me and ZJ had in middle school.
LD handed Big Guy four thousand dollars. “Take it off our debt,” LD demanded. Big Guy took the money, looked a bit puzzled, and said, “Done deal.”
ZJ and LD walked into my room with a Gameboy. We had not started class yet, so a Gameboy meant nothing to me. A Gameboy is an electronic hand held game.
I walked around the classroom, past the new tables that I had arranged to be used as computer workstations. As hall-passing time neared its end, I was less and less enthusiastic about the electronic game. The Gameboy was a simple toy like you would see at a retail store, about six inches in length. As problems in the room go, this wasn’t a big one; it wasn’t even a challenge. I would simply take the toy. Sometimes, I could get a chuckle by being a bit dumb about taking it.
I didn’t know it yet, but LD was taking the lead on this one, “Hey, P-Daddy, what’s up?” He was taunting me, and he was an expert at it. LD had lots of experience at this game, and I was just one more teacher to get to. When he doesn’t want to sleep, socialize, or sell drugs, a trip to the office must be quite entertaining, I thought. Working a teacher is great fun, and it’s great advertising because it draws attention to the offender. This may just be advertising, I was saying to myself.
“What do you want, LD?” I locked eyes with him and it didn’t feel good at all; something was way too serious, this time.
“P-Daddy, you suck,” he taunted me.
Not to be outdone, I fired back, “Well, that explains
the noise in the back of the room. It must be the vacuum you created by being here, and vacuums make a sucking sound.” I knew this was close to the line of good taste, but I had not stepped over it, yet.
“Hey, that’s funny, P,” his tone was as sarcastic as could be.
“Well, if you would like to put that Gameboy on my desk, I’ll give it back at the end of class,” I thought it was worth a try.
“Why don’t you take it away?” How predictable LD was.
“If I come back there, I will,” I stated this in my big teacher voice that left nothing to guesswork. He knew what I wanted.
This whole thing had turned deadly serious, and I did not like its direction. It was not time to call for help, but it was getting close. I knew at this point that the die had been cast and there was no turning back for any of us. It was going to play out and end badly. I had no idea how badly, at the time. Even if I had, it was one of those situations that leaves no options.
I remember thinking that all mankind must have certain scripts that when played out have bad endings. This situation leaves no room for creativity; not even humor was going to get me out of the game. I knew that the next lines of the script were not going to be a good thing.
“You suck, P. All these idiots sit here and worship you, and you just suck them in with your bullshit.” The Gameboy was bouncing from hand to hand. LD was baiting me. It was in his attitude and his body language.
Finally, it was my turn to say the famous, ZJ quote, and as closely as I could mimic ZJ, while shrugging my shoulders and looking as goofy as I could, I asked, “What?”
“Yeah, you got it, asshole,” that was two “Assholes” in the same hour —— LD was getting to me. “Most of these sons of bitches will end up being drunks and stoners. They’ll never amount to anything. The school tells them they’re no good from the day they arrive. Some bullshit authority is always right, and these kids are, and always will be, wrong. It was rigged from the beginning; these jerks don’t stand a chance. They aren’t bright enough to understand it.”
LD was on a roll. Somehow, he had taken off in a direction I don’t think even he had intended to go, but there he was. The anger was just spilling out. He then changed his focus from me to the class and went on.
“Yeah, you think they don’t rig everything here? Well, they do. Dr. Fritz and his dudes decide who’ll win and who won’t. They select the chosen few in grade school. You stoners don’t have a chance,” LD was back to addressing me.
“These stoners take tests that they can’t pass or even understand. They were doomed from the start. They were never taught to take tests, much less pass them. They were never given the chance to learn in ways that they could understand. They were just passed along so Fritz could get the money for them from the state.
Worse yet, be black or Asian, or, want a real laugh, be Mexican and try and get this place to care. There isn’t a single black, red, or sand-colored teacher in this place. Not even the janitorial staff has a black,” LD was cooking.
LD had a captive audience, and the anger was driving everything, now. He went on, “You!” He was pointing a finger at me, and he couldn’t stay still, “You’re the worst of all, because you’ve sold out to the bastards, and you’re just a narc for them. You tell these kids, work hard, learn a skill, and you’ll live happily, ever after. What a fucking fairytale!” LD was letting it all come out, all the anger, all the unfairness.
ZJ, sensing that the class was paying attention to LD, thought he saw an opening. He jumped in with both feet. “You think you’re so goddamned funny, P. Well, you aren’t; you’re just a prison guard at this penitentiary for kids. That’s right.” He was looking right at me, “You think I’m so stupid. Well, if I’m so stupid, why can’t you take a stupid game away from me?” he asked, as he grabbed the Gameboy from LD.
The class was out of their seats, now. They sensed the anger, and didn’t want to be in the way when ZJ and LD started throwing punches.
It was my turn in this age-old contest. A challenge had been laid down by ZJ. Take the Gameboy, I thought, Just take it and hold it in front of his face, like a statement of defiance. I got up from my seat and started for him with a deliberate walk and that teacher look, stern and resolved.
I was mad as I approached, and getting madder. I had lost all control in my mind, though not just yet in the physical world. Then, a flashback, but nothing I could put my finger on. It was just a feeling at first. It’s amazing how fast the mind works. Then it came to me, the look on Canna’s face just before he kicked me. It was vivid, in color, and as I saw that anger in myself, I began to mellow. All this in the distance it took to walk from my desk to the young man. He was running a game, and he was running.
Then there was this old man remembering his worst day ever. Then, it hit me. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I would do nothing. You got it, nothing. That was what I was going to do. If I got hit, or if I got pushed, all real possibilities at the time, I was not going to do a thing. By the time I reached ZJ, I was at peace with myself, because I had reached a decision. I was simply a teacher, asking for a toy in a calm and cool way, and that was all.
“Please, give me the game,” I said softly, with a certain grace that even I did not know I possessed.
“Come and get it, jerk!” ZJ was giving me the come on.
“Please, give me the Gameboy,” I said, still using a soft tone.
“You think that because you order me around, I’ll just do what you ask. I don’t do nothin’ I don’t want to do, nothin’. I do the girls. I do to the junkies. I do to everyone who gets in my way. Hell, I’ll do you, too.”
He was taunting me, begging me to lose my composure, wanting me to take a swing, lip off, get down on him, and lose it.
“Please, give me the Gameboy,” I went softer now, and then softer yet. I was falling into a defined cadence, “Please, give me the Gameboy,” again, and again, and again, “Please, give me the Gameboy.”
We were in a standoff, waiting for someone to blink. I really believed that I had defused the situation and that violence was not imminent. Finally, the blink; ZJ threw the Gameboy behind him on the floor. It took a funny bounce, like it had a spin on it, and it made a noise that all the students recognized as the ultimate win in the game. It was really a humorous moment.
Mother Nature and the laws of physics had stepped in to take the final edge off. No matter how serious ZJ tried to look, the path of the Gameboy and the music of the big win was just too funny for this group of kids to hold in their laughter. First snickers, then a giggle, and then all out laughing. Worse yet, ZJ was beginning to look really dumb, and he knew it.
The gods had spoken, and the cards had gone against him.
The Big Lie
Fritz was standing behind his big, oak desk with the oak veranda behind him. This is the same class of furniture that one might find in a Fortune 500 CEO’s office. He was mad, and he was yelling as loud as he could at ZJ, “What the hell?”
“Look, I tried everything, Dr. Fr—” Fritz wouldn’t allow him to even finish a sentence, but ZJ was actually trying to calm him down, which was unusual behavior for ZJ.
“ZJ, you didn’t so much as get him to even raise his voice!” Fritz yelled again. ZJ had made a deal and it hadn’t worked. No one could just keep taking shots without it becoming obvious that something was out of place. Fritz was really angry that this had not yielded results.“We’ll get him, Dr. Fritz, next time,” ZJ was trying to reassure him.
“Look, ZJ, you and LD are going to write statements that I give you. Just write them in your own handwriting. Nancy will coach you; don’t skip a word she tells you, got it?”
Fritz was committing fraud, and he was instructing ZJ as to how he would become complicit in the crime.
“What?” ZJ looked puzzled.
“Just do as you’re told.” Fritz was still mad, and ZJ was still very aware of the threats that had been made concerning his brother’s and his own wellbeing.
Walking down the narrow hall to Nancy’s office, ZJ picked up LD on the way. LD had been sitting in one of the bad boy’s chairs in the hall.
Nancy handed them each a typed statement that was created by her, “Okay, here’s the statement I want you to write. Got it? Copy this, word for word.” The statement had been carefully crafted to achieve a specific objective.
The statement read, “I walked into class with a Gameboy. P came over to me and said, ‘Give me that Gameboy.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ P pulled a knife from his pocket, whipped it open, and said he was going to open the battery door on the back of the Gameboy. The knife threatened me because I felt it was a terrorist threat. I moved away, so he put the knife back into his pocket and asked me for the Gameboy again, and I said, ‘Only if you give it back at the end of the hour.’ I turned it over to him and got it back at the end of the hour.”
ZJ wrote out the statement.
He had just perjured himself on a Northwest High incident report. He had dated it and signed it according to Nancy’s instructions. LD’s statement was just a little bit different, but it said the same thing. He also dated it and signed it. He, too, had perjured himself.
“We finally have the SOB,” Nancy was talking to herself, rehearsing the points that she would make when she went into Fritz’s office.
With statements in hand, Nancy trekked down the hall after sending the two liars back to their class. She arrived, beaming, in Fritz’s office. She announced, “We have him.” Fritz smiled and looked the statements over. He stated that he would call the two boys’ parents and get the ball rolling on the investigation. The charges would be better received by the board of education if the parents initiated the proceedings. That would be more credible than if he started the investigation himself.
Nancy looked at him with a smile that would make a devil shiver. She bragged and stated the obvious, “We’ve got him.”
Dr. Fritz looked at the statements, looked at Nancy, and said, “The least that the son-of-a bitch could have done was swear, or yell, or something. He didn’t even yell at the other kids; he didn’t do anything at all. What’s up with him, doesn’t he get angry? Well, it doesn’t matter; we’ve got enough with these two statements to open a criminal investigation.” He felt that he had me now.
“Nancy, go to our good teachers and tell them that P is under a criminal investigation on a weapons charge. Lay on the words ‘Weapons’ and ‘Criminal Investigation’ as much as possible. Let the word spread on the school grapevine. Spread the gossip as fast as you can. You know which teachers to get this to. Our window of opportunity is very small, as the kids will not lie about what happened in the room. We’ll have to get these reports to the police as quickly as possible.” Fritz was pleased, and it showed in his expression.
There was a moment of silence in the room as the gravity of what the two were planning set in. Then Fritz chimed in, “I was hoping we could get an arrest during class hours with handcuffs and a police escort out of the building. We’d better be careful here; this might not work, so I want only rumors for now. Maybe P will make a mistake.”
He went on to instruct her, “Get him down to your office. Send Grace, the hall monitor, to get him. Tell her to be as rude and disruptive to his class as possible. That will start the rumor with the kids who weren’t in the class that the incident took place. Have her direct him to your office. He will not come to my office without a union rep.” Fritz seemed to resent my caution.
“Once he’s in your office, start in on him, demanding to see the contents of his pockets. He has a jackknife, and I know he has it on him. I’ve seen him use it in his room to strip wire. As soon as you have the knife on the table, ring me. Don’t use my name, and I’ll come right over.”
Fritz had to think for a moment, and then said, “Nancy, he will not be expecting this. Once he’s in your office, we will pressure him, two on one. You and I will gang up on him. He’ll blow up; they all do, eventually.”
He went through his mental checklist and said, “Nancy, one last thing, call the cops and get them over here. If we get lucky, he might do something stupid. Don’t let up on him. Don’t let him talk; just keep making accusations. Accuse, accuse, accuse, and let him read the statements. Get him copies to read. Use statements to lead him along. Now, get to work.” Fritz was excited.
Nancy called the police, got copies of the reports, and sent Grace to get me.
Grace walked into my room with a mission and a swagger. She yelled at me from across the room, “Nancy’s office, right now! You hear me, P? Right now! This is an emergency. You’re to go, right now! I’ll stay here!”
My first thought was that one of my children or my wife had been hurt. I turned and was about to walk out of the door, when Blake, a student aid, lobbed a VHS tape to me. I caught the tape as I walked out the door.
“P, this might help. It’s the ZJ and LD debacle from this morning,” I will always wonder if Blake knew what was happening better than I.
This tape was of the incident that had occurred that morning between me and two junkies. Blake was an amateur video guy. He knew more than I ever gave him credit for. He had gotten wind that something was going to happen to me. He had acted on his own and had turned on the surveillance system, the one that he’d installed earlier in the week. It had captured the whole thing when ZJ and LD had flown off the handle. He’d filmed everything. Bless that child’s heart.
I caught the tape, not for a moment thinking to put the tape down. I was sure that the next thing I was about to hear was that I had a real tragedy on my hands. I was sure that one of my loved ones was in some kind of trouble, and Grace did nothing to dispel that idea. I arrived at Nancy’s office to be met by her and Officer Strand of the North St. Paul police.
I just knew, the minute I walked into her office, that I would hear about the death of my daughter or my wife. I was especially sure of this when I saw the police officer. I was terrified and asked God for His mercy.
Nancy looked at me and said, “Empty your pockets on the desk, right now.”
My reaction was relief, and it wasn’t exactly the reaction she was expecting, as I asked, “What the heck is this about?” I was thanking God that I wasn’t hearing about some horrible accident.
Nancy handed me two written reports that were dated for today and sneeringly said, “Read these and weep, and empty your pockets on the desk! Now!” She was yelling at me in a tone that was not very becoming.
I didn’t empty my pockets, but I did read the reports. I didn’t say a word.
Then, I became aware that the cop was there to arrest me. I issued this warning to both of them, “If either one of you pursue this, big trouble will follow; I can guarantee it.” I was calm, but my voice held resolve. I meant it and they were both a bit surprised. I also demanded union representation.
“Yeah, yeah, they all say that stuff when confronted with Officer Strand,” Nancy was trying to provoke me. She looked the officer right in the eye and demanded, “I want him arrested for weapons possession and brandishing a weapon on school grounds,” Nancy was excited, big time. She knew, or thought she knew, that I had made a threat that I couldn’t back up. She thought she had me, and she was moving in for the kill.
“I will say this one more time, you are both in trouble if you do anything,” I was determined and assertive, not yelling, just stern.
Strand, the cop, looked at Nancy and asked, “Nancy, what’s he talking about? He means business, and I don’t know you well enough to take a risk with this. What’s going on here, and what have you gotten me into?”
Then he turned to me and said, “Look, Mr. P, we have two corroborating statements of an incident. Do you think that these two are lying?” Strand was really getting suspicious now. The reports were very clear; yet here stood a teacher who was not one bit scared. In fact, here’s a teacher making threats that guilty people don’t make. He’s not angry, he’s not protesting too much, and he’s not asking for a lawyer, so something ain’t right.
The intuition of this street cop was telling. This was big trouble for him down the road. A younger cop might have just arrested me and would have been done with it, but this cop was smarter and more seasoned than that.
“P, I need you to clarify the reported incident. Did you or didn’t you pull a knife?” Strand was at least asking questions.
“No, I didn’t,” I was adamant.
“Hold on a minute.” Strand turned to the viceprincipal, “Nancy, I get called down here because you tell me you have a teacher, dead to rights, on a weapons charge. You call for an arrest and then an investigation. How come I’m thinking that this may be a mistake?” Strand was looking Nancy right in the eyes.
“Just arrest him and you can straighten out the rest later,” Nancy demanded. She had a feeling that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted. She wanted me, “The perp,” to walk through the school with handcuffs on and being escorted by a uniformed officer.
I looked Strand right in the eye and said, “If you know that you’re involved in a fraud and proceed in any way, I’m sure that your life as a police officer will change.” Now I was gaining ground, and I could feel the tide turning my way.
“The hell, you say?” Strand was getting concerned, but not backing away, “You threatening me?” He was getting hot.
“Yes, and I will sue and win,” I delivered that line in as matter-of-fact a way as I knew how.
“What makes you so sure of yourself?” Strand wasn’t taking any of this lightly, at this point.
“Just believe me; you don’t have a chance. You can take my word as a professional, or you can start something you can’t finish. You haven’t done a thing here to investigate the charge…………”
I never got to finish the sentence, as he interrupted me and said, “Hold it, no one has charged anyone with anything.” He was backpedaling as fast as he could. I could tell that he realized he wasn’t confronting some street scum or a drunk driver; he must have figured out that he was standing in a vice–principals’ office and becoming tangled up in the middle of what was obviously a personnel or management problem and which had nothing to do with the breaking of any laws. Whatever the weapons charge, if there was one at all, he was getting out of this situation as quickly as he could. He didn’t care how he did it, because the liability to him grew by the second. He could easily be charged with false arrest, and if I struggled, I would claim abuse of power and the charges would go on and on. He would lose his job and probably have to defend himself in court. All this was enough to give him pause. The probable loss of his pension wasn’t worth this.
“Nancy, get Dr. Fritz in here, now,” Strand demanded.
I jumped in at this point, knowing that a yelling contest was about to begin.
“Not without a union rep.”
Strand knew why I wanted a union rep and he backed me up, “Get a union rep in here, also, Nancy.”
What seemed like hours passed, as Nancy went and got Fritz who had been waiting for the call. He was really irritated that the scene had not developed the way he had expected. She also went and got Denny out of class.
I was pretty sure that I had defused the situation. I certainly hoped that I had.
Fritz walked into Nancy’s office before Denny had arrived, and, sensing a window of opportunity, he demanded, “Officer, search this man immediately. I know that he carries a jackknife as described in the incident report.”
I was thinking at the speed of light now, as I could clearly see who was behind all this, so I jumped in, “Yes, I do carry a jackknife, and I also have a shop teachers license that allows me to do just that, and until you have a court directive banning such use, I will continue to carry a jackknife,” boy, was I cocky now.
Before I could get out another word, Denny arrived with an edict, “If we need an attorney here, I need to know right now, officer. If these are criminal charges, I need to get this man an attorney, right now.” Denny didn’t know what had happened, but he knew Fritz.
Strand looked a bit surprised at Denny’s aggressiveness. He immediately made it clear that he had a reason to be there in as much as a weapons charge had been alleged.
“P, who is accusing you?” Denny inquired.
I jumped in so that Denny would know what was up, “ZJ and LD.”
Strand didn’t wait for Fritz at this point, because he now had faces that he could place with the Christian names he had read in the incident report. He hadn’t recognized the formal, Christian names that LD and ZJ had used to sign the incident reports.
Officer Strand looked Fritz right in the eyes and asked, “Dr. Fritz, you called me down here because ZJ and LD told you some crap? You’ve got to be kidding me. We both know ZJ and LD to be two of the biggest junkies in town, and you call my ass down here to arrest a teacher based on the testimony of two dopers?”
Strand knew he’d been had. He was angry now, and not just a little angry, but the kind of angry that made one sure he was thinking, You had better never go even one mile over the speed limit in this town, Fritz and Nancy. He was really pissed off.
Fritz barked at him, “Strand, if I say so, you have to open an investigation based on any student’s written statement, and you know it.”
“OK, if that’s the way you want it.” Then Strand turned to me, “P, why did you warn me not to pursue this when I first came in?” Strand was going to take control at this point, and he was curious as to why I had been so resolved.
I looked at Strand and once again launched into the “You’d better not” speech. I threatened him again with a lawsuit and anything else I could think of. Never once did I lose my cool. I just stated my case as factually as possible. I looked around the room to see if I had everyone’s attention. Then, and only then, did I make it clear that I had the goods.
“I can prove in spades that none of what these two are saying is even remotely close to the truth, and I’m not kidding anymore,” this caught all of them by surprise.
Strand was really irritated at this point, “Dr. Fritz, I don’t know this teacher, at all, but I do know ZJ and LD.”
Now his voice went up about an octave and he was getting red in the face as the anger came to the surface. “You are not being sincere with me, Dr. Fritz. This situation is becoming incredibly out of hand and is totally without any merit at all.” Again, Officer Strand went at him, “You’d better tell me what you’re after, because I don’t think that screwing a teacher is on my agenda for today. What the hell is this all about, Fritz? And I want to know, right now.”
Fritz started to say, “You have to—” when I interrupted him and looked to Officer Strand.
“Let me talk to Denny, alone, just for two minutes, Officer?” I requested.
“Okay, we’ll leave.” Strand was really pissed, and everyone knew it.
As soon as they left, I looked at Denny and said, “Denny, I really don’t know what’s going on here, but believe me, those two jerks, LD and ZJ, are lying, and I can prove it.”
“How?” Denny was really astonished.
I walked over to the VCR in Nancy’s office and put in the tape. I then handed Denny a copy of the statements that the two had written. After I went over and closed the door to Nancy’s office, I hit ‘Play’ on the remote. Denny was reading the statements and trying hard to see the tape.
The whole scene took about two minutes. I was front and center in the TV screen along with ZJ and LD. The tape was dated and timed in the corner of the screen. During the whole incident, my hands were visible and there was no knife.
Denny didn’t even take the time to speak with me; he simply went to the door, opened it, and said, “Officer, please come in here. You two, stay out there,” he was pointing at Fritz and Nancy.
As Strand walked into the office, he said, “This had better be good.”
“Oh, it is,” Denny said, and he was laughing. He closed the door, looked at me, and winked. He then pushed ‘Play’ on the VCR.
Compromise, I Think?
Denny was standing squarely in front of Fritz’s big oak desk, directly across from the seated Fritz. Fritz was starched stiff, his shirt, his pants, and everything was perfect, including his silver gray hair. He was the perfect image of a CEO from a Fortune 500 company. He had an exclusive address in North Oaks, the gated community of St. Paul, the north end home of the rich. He belonged to the North Oaks Country Club. He saw himself as the executive that had not been discovered by the big boys, whoever they were. What a swagger for a guy making $100,000 a year and living in the world of Visa cards and second mortgages in the big house in a gated community of the really rich. He was a ten-cent millionaire, living on cheap beer and talking the talk with no ability to walk the walk. He just kept piling up more debt. The American Dream, right?
Fritz, with no conscious or moral fiber, leaned back in his chair and stated to Denny, in no uncertain terms, “Denny, I don’t care what the tape shows; I’m not about to punish those two boys.”
Denny was totally frustrated at this point, yet he hadn’t lost his composure. Fritz sensed his frustration and that Denny was close to the edge, so just like a wolf moving in for a kill, Fritz sensed the imminent loss of control on Denny’s part. This was the moment that Fritz lived for, when he gained total control through his opponent’s loss of control.
Denny went on, “The statements are false. These two children would have had P’s livelihood terminated if you had not been stopped. But for the fact that the situation is visible in black and white on dated film, you would have fired him, at the least, and have had him arrested if you could. This gives you no room for half-truths, for out of context statements, or for guilt by association. These two boys are guilty, and we, the teachers union, want them punished.”
Fritz was not moved at all, and he was all but distracted by the rhetoric that was coming from Denny. “All of that may be true, but it will take a lot of time and effort you don’t have to even get this heard by anyone who would care. I have it covered at the district with the superintendent. I have all my bases covered.” I might have thought of this as bravado in anyone else, but with Fritz, this was a statement of fact. “So, just drop it,” he was done with Denny.
Fritz was silent for what seemed an eternity, and then he made eye contact with me.
I think it’s important, at this point, to take a moment and explain how teacher contracts really work. Common thought is that teachers belong to this union that protects bad teachers and keeps administrators at arm’s length from the teachers. Well, that’s what people think.
The way it really works is, first off, it’s hard for a school district to fire a teacher. The other side of that coin is that it’s impossible for a teacher to change to a new school district. The biggest reason is the union rules that govern seniority. Once a teacher has been tenured, usually three years, they are locked into a contract that is dependent on the number of years the teacher has been in service in that district. If a teacher leaves a district for another assignment, they must start at the bottom of the pay scale. This means starting all over again. They have to be tenured in that new district just like they had been in the old. This puts a teacher at risk, as they become an employee at will during periods of non-tenure with very few, if any, contract rights. Once a teacher is tenured in a district, they rarely leave.
Remember, a district owns you and they like it that way. This prevents good teachers from bidding up the price of their services and it keeps other districts from raiding the staff of good schools. It is a protection for districts that hire in the early years of a teacher’s career. School districts don’t want that changed. What they do want is to have their cake and eat it, too, by having teachers locked into a district but still be able to fire a teacher at will. This way, districts could fire older teachers as they climbed the pay scale, replacing them with the younger teacher willing to work for lower wages.
Fritz began to speak with a renewed authority, as Denny was not sure how to approach this problem, “Look, P, you got lucky. I will not reprimand you in any form,” as if he could, “so why don’t you go back to class and do your job? I’ll eventually get you. I’ll build a file of small infractions, if necessary. I don’t care how long it takes,” he said this with determination.
“You’re a glib and witty individual who opens himself up to all kinds of interpretations of your rhetoric, both in and out of the classroom. It will take me more time than I would like to spend, but I will get you. You can’t leave the district without a severe reduction in pay and status.”
“We both know that you’re guilty of this weapons charge. Well, I missed you this time, but I won’t the next time, as I’m still your boss, and I hold all the cards. You will say something to a teacher or a child that will get back to me. We will investigate and get you written up. We will eventually get you. You can’t teach without saying things that can be taken out of context and used against you. In fact, the more honest you are with the kids, the more vulnerable you become. You’ll say something I can claim is sexual, illegal, or immoral. You’d better believe that guys like you, who think they’re so good, are the at most risk.”
“So if you’re going to keep your job, you’re going to do little more than take attendance. If you don’t believe me, think for a moment. Two junkies, I own them, and kids talk.”
“Teachers are the worst. They’re all thinking that by competing for my ear, they’ll get something that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. They’re all their own worst enemies ever since Reagan and the enrollment decline of the eighties. We’ve been able to divide you teachers; make no mistake.”
“I was here in the late seventies and early eighties, and I wouldn’t have been tolerated, acting as I do. But times have changed. I have to work hard to get rid of you old assholes, but I get it done, and the boys in the front office love it.”
“Don’t think for one minute that you’re going to pull any of that age discrimination crap on me, either, because you old guys don’t win those lawsuits. The law is so lame that it might as well not exist. One last thing, and Denny will confirm this; turn in your colleagues and you get ahead; keep to yourself and you go first,” Fritz was out of breath, but he had made his point.
All during the speech he had just given, his body language, his tone, and his eye contact were all saying, “Make my day; get pissed off at any one of the things that I just said. Lose your temper, and I have you.” Worse yet, he wasn’t even done yet; he was on a roll.
“Fear me; it’s the answer to longevity here at old Northwest High. It’s the way to run a good school, and the board agrees or they would fire me. Teachers do what I want or they leave. Most leave of their own accord, as, eventually, will you. Some, I pack their file until it takes them down, and some just blow up and give up.”
“Just like I can’t fire you, you can’t fire me. This conversation is over. Both of you, leave now,” Fritz was ordering us out.
We left, with our ears stinging from the truth that had just been laid out before us. Neither one of us spoke, but I thought that I might just take up drinking again.
I didn’t take up drinking again.
The days after that encounter were quite peaceful, for the most part. I went to my classroom, free of the need to hide meaning in coded language. I no longer felt the need to teach with body language and winks, and I no longer needed the sneak teaching methods that had helped me survive as a teacher up to this point. At least, not for the time being. I was out in the open. What I did just didn’t seem to matter anymore; I was going to get in trouble no matter what I did.
In fact, the incident had a certain honesty to it. I knew my days were numbered, so I no longer cared what Fritz did or caught me doing. It freed my soul from the drudgery of conformity for the sake of my job. Now, I just wasn’t afraid to teach. It was intoxicating, and despite the fact that I hadn’t had a drink in thirty years, I was intoxicated with joy, great peace, and energy.
I would ask questions that I knew would force the kids to think. The discussions were great. We talked about dating; We talked about drugs and alcohol; We talked about everything young adults need to talk about. These kids had been starved for real conversation, and the debates were fantastic. That’s what teaching is all about, the delivery of information in an active, open discussion, where you feel safe and can explore. We talked and talked and talked.
We didn’t fail in our primary mission, either. We drew houses, lake cabins, car transmissions, rollerblades; you name it, we drew it, including the kitchen sink, literally, we drew the kitchen sink. The quality of our work soared, and it amazed me that these kids could draw detailed house plans, intricate cutaways of mechanical objects, and also discuss civil rights at the same time. They wanted to know how the real world worked, not the version a teacher that had just graduated from college was selling, and not the cloistered textbook tale that is taught in most mainstream high schools. They wanted the nitty-gritty about how things worked. I was really proud of their progress. ZJ and LD got bored and went to sleep on most days, or, they were noticeably absent.
I was going home every night feeling like I had made a difference. Now, I don’t want to seem to paint too rosy a picture, because the work of learning still had to be done. The paperwork didn’t go away, and the committee meetings were still there. All the kids weren’t perfect. I still had the high jinx that all high school teachers put up with, including the mice that were kept in one of my computers.
To this day, I still don’t believe the tale that was being told about the great mice farce. When those kids, now adults, return to tell me the tale, I always accuse them of “Whopperising,” of outright lying. The tale gets better every year.
I will tell you this and I mean it; I was going home each night very proud of the progress, and I was tired but not beaten. I was always looking forward to the next day. I was fully alive.
My classroom was a vibrant and special place to be, even for the less than brilliant students. In fact, I learned that it was not the smart ones I helped the most, but those who had struggled through school. We all laughed, cried, and cared. I loved it.
I still had to deal with the rumor mill and the smear campaign that had been started by Fritz. Even though we had the film of LD and ZJ, there were those on the staff that still told everyone that I had brandished a weapon and should be arrested and fired. The kids laughed at the lies. Some of the teachers, in as hurtful a way as possible, would ask when I would be fired, but nothing happened to me. This was a humiliation that Fritz just couldn’t take.
Dr. Fritz called ZJ and LD into his office for a conversation. Fritz informed them that they were going after P one more time, and this time, they were going to get it right, “You two aren’t going to get the chance to screw this up. Got it?” Fritz was mad.
The two were amused, then cynical, and finally, they got in Fritz’s face. They knew that they owned Fritz for the moment. They had entered into a fraud with him. Big Guy had explained, in junkie terms, the power they now had if they choose to use it. Big Guy had told them, “Don’t use your ace in the hole until you need to get out of a drug bust or a jam.” But they were feeling a mite powerful at the moment.“We aren’t doing your dirty work, any more,” LD declared.
“Fuck it!” ZJ was being brave, as well as testing to see what Fritz would do. “You can’t get the job done with written lies. You can’t get the job done, period. You’re one cold son-of-a bitch for asking us to do this, Fritz. You put us in a real tough spot; we did as you asked and you blew it.”“You two little punks are going to do as I say. You got it?” Fritz was trying to get their attention.
Slowly ZJ pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and dialed in Big Guy’s number. You could tell that someone had answered at the other end because ZJ started to speak, “Look, don’t ask me nothin’ and just answer my questions.”
Big Guy usually didn’t hear from ZJ during school hours and had told him never to use his cell in school to call him as someone might take his number off the recent calls recall on the phone. But, the damage had been done, and ZJ had Big Guy’s curiosity up.
“Look, LD and I are in Fritz’s office, and it’s like I told you before, he wants us to do some more dirty work for him,” ZJ was taunting Fritz as much as letting Big Guy in on the action.
Big Guy was direct, “Find out exactly what he wants.”
“I really don’t care what he wants; he put us in a tough spot last time and he fucked it up,” again with the baiting. ZJ was having a good time.
“All the more reason to get the scoop, then get over here and I’ll tell you what to do.” Big Guy wanted time to think.
Fritz knew he had a new partner, but he didn’t seem to care. He was on a mission.
“Okay, Fritzy, tell us what the hell you want us to do,” again, ZJ was testing new ground on which to display his irreverence for the unwanted partner he was working with. Fritz was in, and so was Big Guy, even though they did not know each other.
“I want to get P in a room with a girl, all by themselves,” Fritz started to unfold the script he had envisioned.
“Ya hear that?” ZJ was yelling at the cell phone to Big Guy. He then placed the phone back to his ear.
“Look, ZJ,” Big Guy directed, “tell him we’ll take care of him. Tell him you’ll do as you’re told, then get your ass over to my place right after school for instructions.” Big Guy was the boss, and ZJ was going to do as he was told.
“Okay, Fritzy,” ZJ agreed, “tell us what to do, or better yet, we’ll tell you how to do it. Just tell us what you want to happen, and me and LD will get back to you,” ZJ was attempting to take over.
Dr. Fritz had just made a Faustian deal, without realizing to what extent he would have to pay for the favor. Blank checks can be expensive.
Later that afternoon, the security buzzer went off in Big Guy’s apartment, and then ZJ and LD were coming up the stairs. He left the apartment door open for them.
“I want you to get one of the ghetto girls that you’re banging, a good ho that will do as she’s told. Maybe you could use that Brenda girl, the one whose parents are drunks. She really likes you, ZJ. She’ll do anything you ask. Offer her enough green to make it worth her while,” Big Guy was laying out the plot.
“Hell, Big Guy, we owe you thirteen thousand dollars, plus interest! Now, how am I gonna pay her? She, sure as hell, ain’t doin’ nothin’ without being paid. Christ, we’ll never get out of debt. How the hell do we operate without some dead presidents?” ZJ was trying to bargain on the debt and get some operating capital.“I’ll pay her; you can tell her that. She knows who
I am, and she’ll play,” Big Guy was sure of himself. “Okay, but what are we going to do?” LD wanted
to know, as he was about to work his own deal. “I’ll tell you when I’m ready. Now, what I want you
to do is get an audio tape of Fritz telling you that you
are going to ‘Do’ this teacher. Go to Radio Shack and get a small recorder. Don’t let Fritz know your taping him. I want Fritz on tape saying shit we can use. Got it?” Big Guy was doing what all great criminals are famous for, getting the goods on someone and then
ZJ and LD did as they were told, but not before
getting a couple of hundred from Big Guy, and, at
LD’s insistence, without it being added to their debt.
He was bothered by the state of the debt and how
slowly it was getting paid off. LD put up a fuss about
the debt and told Big Guy that if this worked, the debt
would be canceled, paid in full. Big Guy agreed just a
little too easy, LD thought, but he wasn’t going to argue
when Big Guy had just agreed.
As ZJ and LD were on their way to the store, LD
looked at ZJ with a truly puzzled look on his face. He
started to speak cautiously to ZJ.
“ZJ, you ever think about getting clean?” LD was
“Fuckin’ right, just like you do. We all do,” ZJ was
“Then, what’s stopping you?” LD was onto an
honest conversation, the first one he’d had with ZJ in
a long time. It felt good; this was the old ZJ that had
once cared about his friend.
“It’s just like with your old man; he keeps trying but
he never gets sober. Every time he says that he is going
to quit, he goes straight for a week, two weeks, a month,
then he’s right back on the juice,” ZJ was being frank. “I think I can get clean,” LD announced. ZJ didn’t like this subject. He had no intention of
ever getting clean. He’d thought about it now and then,
but he was still at the stage where it was a lot of fun to
get wrecked and laid. He had money; he had girls,
and best of all, he didn’t have to face any of the
consequences of his actions.
In an attempt to change the subject, he abruptly
looked at LD and said, “You want to get some girls, or
do you want to use your hand like those goody-twoshoes bastards we hate. The fastest way to get laid is to
pay for it. You’ll get all you ever wanted, whenever you
want it. Those jocks and geeks, they get nothing. And
you, you get it all the time, and as long as you use
protection, you get it risk free. Think about it, man.” “Yeah, yeah, you’re right, maybe,” LD wasn’t
“Maybe nothing, asshole. You’re just going to end
up a drunk like your old man, anyway. At least this
way, you get pussy,” ZJ was selling hard.
“I have a feeling we’re in bigger trouble than you
think,” LD was now doing a reality check that ZJ didn’t
want to hear.
“What?” ZJ trusted LD, and only LD. He had known
LD all his life. They went all the way back to
kindergarten. They were like brothers, and when LD
gave a warning, ZJ listened. It had saved his life more
“We’re in deep with Big Guy, so we have no choice
but to deal big time. Big Guy isn’t going to let us pay
off this debt. Why do you think he keeps heaping on
charges and interest. He has people he answers to,
and those assholes are cold, real cold, and you know
it. We’re trapped in this game, and if I have to be here,
I’m going to be sober; you got it?” LD was searching
for the will to do something about his addiction. “Sure, sure you are. I’ll believe it when I see it,” ZJ
was challenging him now.
The two bought what they needed at Radio Shack
and then went to ZJ’s garage, as ZJ’s mom was never
She was working all the time and earning a
minimum-wage income that was barely enough to
maintain their middle-class lifestyle. However, if you
add the profits from some illegal narcotics deals, you
can get by.
As soon as they had the equipment working, they
called Big Guy to get instructions. Big Guy told them
get it done.
During my class the next day, the two asked if
they could go down to the office, an unusual request
from them. I called the office and Nancy told me to
send them down. This struck me as unusual. I had
requested through formal channels that the two be
punished for their part in trying to get me fired, so I
figured they might be trying to make a deal. I didn’t
know. I still thought that something might happen. ZJ and LD were especially cool as they sat down
in the chairs in front of Fritz’s desk. LD had closed
“Fritzy, tell us how you plan to get P in bed with
some jail bait? Tell us in detail how you plan to get P
in deep enough to get him fired?” ZJ took the lead. “I don’t need to get him to do anything except be
in a room alone with one of those girls that is willing
to accuse him of certain things. We need someone
with a reputation who is willing to point a finger at
him,” Fritz had the plan scripted.
“Who in this school would do that to P-Daddy?”
LD was curious as to what Fritz was really doing
“I’ve got students that owe me. They’re in debt to
me big time, and I own them,” Fritz was bragging to
these young junkies. How pathetic is that.
“Right, Fritz, sure you do. You don’t even know
your own school. There ain’t nobody in this school who you can trust to do that. The other kids will pressure them into telling the truth. They all look up to P. Even if you do have someone that owes you that much, you’re takin’ a big risk. We can supply you with the right
person, and we’ll take care of it,” ZJ wanted control. “You two have screwed it up every time. I’m going
to take care of this myself, and you’d better just do as
you’re told. Play the part just as I tell you,” Fritz was
not going to give up control.
The two were not about to take the blame for Fritz’s
lame attempts to get P, and ZJ was especially provoked.
He took aim at Fritz and started testing. For a kid with
nothing to lose, it means nothing to take a shot. He didn’t care anymore what Fritz thought. He
had tested enough, at this point, to know that Fritz
was going to take anything he was handed. Fritz was
going to take it, regardless of how crude it might be. It
was the attempted testing that was not answered that
was revealing to a child’s mind. ZJ was just a kid, but
he had learned this trick.
“You doin’ these chicks, or what? Why else would
you be so sure you can get ‘em to make a statement
against P?” ZJ was testing new ground.
“I don’t ‘Do chicks,’ you little asshole,” Fritz was
ZJ had hit a nerve, and he knew it. More testing. “So you ain’t gettin’ none at home?” Now, ZJ was
bold and out of bounds.
“Shut up!” Fritz was yelling now.
“Spankin’ the monkey, asshole?” ZJ had him
going; Fritz was mad and out of control. The crude
comment had hit pay dirt, and it was all on tape. Fritz was really pissed now. He was not used to
having street dirt questioning him in this way. He was
really losing it when ambushed by this street punk. The dirty allegations were more than he could take, and ZJ,
LD, and Big Guy were about to get what they wanted. “You two are just a couple of street punks who will
end up in prison or dead. P wants your asses for lying.
I know that you’re lying; you know you’re lying, and I
can hand P a libel suit that will cost your parents
plenty,” Fritz had just revealed the real Fritz. The two burst into laughter. They were looking at
each other and were so involved in the laughter that
they were actually crying. They were totally out of
control. Fritz had never seen such behavior. They both
knew that they had him cold. It would never be used
in a court of law. There was no law in Drugland. There
were no civil proceedings in Drugland. There was just
the world according to Big Guy, and the extraction of
blackmail, extortion, and the selling of souls. The two
intuitively knew that they had just won and now they
could leave if they wanted. It was just too great a
moment not to savor the victory.
Fritz didn’t have a clue.
When the two finally started to control themselves,
it was LD who first realized the irony of the situation. “Heavy stuff, ZJ,” he said with a wink in his voice.
“Fritzy don’t get nothin’ at home, gets pissed off and
tells us he’s gonna get my drunk-ass dad sued. Wow,
am I scared or what? He must not have read ‘Brer
Rabbit’ when he was little, ‘Oh, please don’t fling me
in dat brier-patch!’ What a joke!” LD was toying with
him and enjoying every moment.
Then, the two started mocking Fritz by saying in
unison, “Oh, please don’t fling me in dat brier-patch!” Fritz didn’t know it, but he was really fighting a
ZJ finally looked at Fritz and chuckled, “If you
want some gal to turn on P, you let me set it up.” Fritz was not happy, but at least the two weren’t
laughing anymore. “No way, you do as I tell you or get
out,” Fritz demanded.
“Okay, just for shits and grins, what’s your plan,
Fritz?” ZJ knew that this was going to be good, as Fritz
wasn’t thinking with his head anymore.
“You two tell P that you have work to make up,
and that you need him to stay after school and help
you. I’ll send in Charlotte to see you two. When P isn’t
thinking, you ask to go to the can, and you and LD
just leave the room. Charlotte will tear her blouse and
scream. I’ll come in to witness the whole thing, and
we’ll have him.” Fritz was a bit lame at this. The two
weren’t impressed at all.
“Why the hell would Charlotte do that? LD was
amused, but he was still probing.
She’s a big jock in school,” LD continued. “She’s a
good girl and everyone knows it. How do you get her
to set up P? This is another loser plan, just like last
time. Charlotte don’t owe you enough to do this. This
is doomed before it starts.”
“I tell you, she doesn’t need to be expelled,” Fritz
“What? She’s not going to get expelled. She’s
an athlete and a good student,” LD was really
“You can believe me,” Fritz was sure of himself. “Sure I can, you liar,” ZJ was baiting him again. “I own her,” Fritz was bragging.
“Yeah, sure you do,” LD taunted him.
“I do,” Fritz was sounding like a child, not a fiftyplus adult.
“How?” ZJ baited him.
“She got drunk and got laid at a hockey game.
Well, more like raped, but who cares. She went to Nancy. She was also in possession of some weed, and you guys probably sold it to her.” They had. Fritz was
LD was on this one like a duck on a June bug,
“Fritz, you getting into her pants? Because if you’re
banging her, she’ll turn on you.”
“I’m not banging her! God! You two are sick.” Fritz
didn’t want to go there, and the two sensed it. “You better not be, Fritz,” LD was scolding him. ZJ was growing bored with this game. He looked
at LD but didn’t say a word. LD knew that they now
had enough to get Fritz into deep trouble.
“We’ll be back to you with a better plan than this,
and you can sure as hell leave Charlotte out of it. In
fact, our plan will nail P for good,” ZJ was bragging
ZJ and LD walked out into the hall of Northwest
High, gave each other a high five, and then ZJ dialed
Big Guy. When he answered, all ZJ said was, “Got him.” The phone went dead as Big Guy hung up. Big
Guy looked out the window of his apartment and said
under his breath, “Got Ya.”
A Walk in the Parking Lot
Big Guy looked at ZJ, walked around the front of the glass coffee table in his living room, and said, “Just kill P.” He delivered that line as if he had only said, “Get me a soft drink from the refrigerator.”
ZJ’s breath was taken away, and he asked, “What you mean is, off P, right?”
“Hold on, Big Guy, we sell dope; we don’t do death.”
“Wanna bet? You’ll do as you’re told, or I’ll have you killed. The boys upstairs want this done their way.” Big Guy had just delivered a life sentence.
ZJ and LD were both sober enough to realize that an act as despicable as this would seal their fate forever. They would never be able to escape such an act of pure evil.
Big Guy began to elaborate on the plan, “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to get this figured out. Hell, get high if you have to, but I want both of you to do this. I want you to solve Fritz’s problem, forever. He can’t get it right on his own. We have enough on tape to implicate him after P is dead. We’ll send the tapes to the cops if we have to. You two will have to fill in the blanks for the cops, but I’ll help you through that,” Big Guy had it all figured out.
“It’ll be great training for your future. I want to remind you that you have no choice in this. You lost your choices a long time ago; now it’s time to pay the tab.”
“I don’t want anything to do with this,” LD was very clear about this. He was also very scared.
Big Guy went over to the coffee table, opened a small drawer under its surface, and pulled out a .22 semi-automatic. Very dramatically, he grabbed the back of LD’s hair and put the muzzle of the gun to LD’s temple. LD could feel the cold steel pressing against his temple, and he knew that Big Guy wasn’t playing.
ZJ got his act together at this point and focused on the event that was taking place. He knew, full well, that Big Guy would pull the trigger as much as take his next breath. Big Guy had just demonstrated how cold he was, and ZJ was getting the main idea of the lesson. “Look, Big Guy, I’ll take LD with me. I’ll see to it that he does as he should. Now, let’s just put that thing down and get on with business. How do you want us to do this?”
ZJ’s play worked, and Big Guy put the .22 with the matte black finish on the coffee table.
Big Guy had listened to the tapes, and he was going to work Fritz but good. This was the opportunity to turn Northwest High into a drug marketplace that would outperform any other high school. The boys upstairs would love this. Once he started blackmailing this principal, he could get his drug reps into the places he wanted them. Plus, he could obtain the school drug counselors’ records of past and present users. He could create a client list that would serve as the marketing plan for the entire district.
Big Guy had some instructions for them, “I want you to work with Fritz, but use Brenda instead of the girl he wants to use. We own Brenda, and she’ll do exactly what we want. Maybe she can get Fritz in bed. Then we’ll really have a lock on the situation. I’ll work with Brenda to get Fritz to make a statement to her that makes it appear that Fritz wants P dead. It won’t make any difference if he makes a statement to her or not. We’ll make one up for her to testify to, anyway. He’ll even look as if he went to bed with her, whether he did or not. Statutory rape is enough to lock him up. Appearance is as good as the deed.”
“Where do we do P?” ZJ wanted to know.
“We do P at school, after the student/parent conferences. We get LD’s mom all worked up and cut her loose on P at the conference. She’s sure that her little boy is just misunderstood, and if we get lucky, the outburst will push P into the after conference hours, forcing him to leave the building after everyone else is gone. God, that poor man; his last images on the face of this earth will be LD’s mom chewing him out for being so unfair to her baby.” Big Guy really thought that was funny.
“You two wait in the parking lot. He always parks at the very end of the parking lot so he can get a little exercise each day. He thinks that he can walk off that fat gut of his. It hasn’t worked so far.” The boys were paying close attention.
“When he gets to his truck, just walk up to him. He won’t suspect a thing when he recognizes you two. I want each of you to put one bullet in his head and cap his ass. Then the gun goes over the side of the Wabasha Bridge and into the deepest part of the river. When you’re done, don’t come back here; go to Brenda’s house and I’ll have cookies and milk waiting for you,” Big Guy thought he was being funny.
He handed ZJ the .22 semi-automatic. He then went into the back room, came out with a silencer, and showed it to ZJ. “Use this in the parking lot so there’s no noise,” Big Guy had said enough.
They left the apartment and had no more than cleared the stoop when LD started talking. Not really to ZJ, but mostly to himself, “I wanted to be bad; I wanted to have sex; I wanted to get wrecked. You, ZJ, you’re my best friend, and now what? What? What the hell! You son-of-a bitch! ZJ, what have you gotten me into? Big Guy would have killed me if you hadn’t stopped him. We’re about to become killers. We’re not even eighteen and we’re about to become candidates for life without parole. What kind of mess have you gotten me into? We sell dope, but we’re minors, so we get probation. We get guys laid, and that ain’t even breaking the law. We get high and we get whores, but that don’t get us nothing except trouble with our parents, and they’ll just say, ‘Boys will be boys,’ so we had nothing to lose,” LD was sounding very worried.
“But if we kill one of the best-liked teachers in school, we’ll be tried as adults,” LD’s voice was now getting louder.
“If we kill a guy who’s been married for twentyeight years, a father of three, and unlike you and me, sober for twenty-eight years, forget the prison sentence —— we are just plain evil. We’re about to kill one of the only people in that school who really helps kids like us, and you know it.”
He was not about to stop, and ZJ was determined to just let him vent, knowing full well that the two would be dead within the week if they backed out. He just let LD go on.
“He teaches when others just talk about it. He don’t lecture at us; he listens to us when others can’t wait to get the class over. He bucks the system and goes to the wall for kids. He stands up to Fritz when others are ass-kissers. He’s more of a rebel than the two of us put together, and we’re supposed to walk up to him because he knows us, trusts us, and he’ll let us. Then we’re going to stick a gun in his face and cap him. You got it, ZJ? Are you going to do that?” LD was hurting.
“What?” ZJ asked, as he was just ZJ at the moment. Not a killer, just ZJ. LD knew that what they were about to do was just plain wrong.
“ZJ —— ‘What’! Is that all you can say, ‘What’?” LD was scared to the soul.
“What, LD, what? What do you want?” ZJ yelled.
“I want you to tell me we’re going to drive to the nearest police station and tell them everything,” LD was serious, and ZJ knew it.
“LD, what are you thinkin’? We work for Big Guy; Big Guy works for somebody who tells him what to do. Big Guy didn’t think up this thing on his own. Big Guy is just doin’ what he was told to do. Someone workin’ the bigger picture is workin’ this one. Big Guy, his boss, you, and me are just pawns bein’ moved around on the board,” ZJ was trying to rationalize having to become a killer.
“This is bigger than just us two,” he went on, “and these guys have got it all figured out. They send us, the sales force, into high schools with years of knowledge about what the high schools will tolerate and what they won’t. All the mistakes have already been made. All the games have been played before, and these guys are sittin’ on years of knowledge that they’ve gathered throughout the decades in which the “War on Drugs” has been in place. They know where they need to place us in the schools to maximize sales; they have the psychological profile of every user down cold, and they know who the junkies are before they know it themselves.” It was obvious that ZJ had been on the streets for most of his life.
“We were taught how to get kids to experiment. The bosses know how to get underage junkies to pitch to the new, younger junkies so we can keep gettin’ high. They keep girls bangin’ us. The whores keep tellin’ us how cool we are so the whores can get high. They own your good-for-nothin’ ass, and they will kill you just as much as look at you. You bet your ass that I’m gonna walk up to that holy, holy bastard and shoot his ass off,” ZJ was telling him the “Truth” according to ZJ. He was now telling the facts of life as they apply to a junkie caught up in the day-to-day life of use and abuse. “Then, when I’m done, you’re gonna take that gun and shoot his ass off, too, because you’ll be alive the next day, and that holy, know-it-all motherfucker will be dead.” ZJ was acting as if he was as bad as they come. It was bravado. He needed to find the courage to do this thing.
LD was asking himself questions now; he was sucking on a bottle of Old Crow that he’d made ZJ stop to get. He took a long pull on the tea colored liquid and swallowed it as quickly as he could. God, it felt good to just plain get drunk. By the time ZJ pulled up in LD’S driveway, LD was absolutely silent, withdrawn in deep concentration. The two LDs in his head were debating. One wanted to run and get help, pay the price, clean up, and live without the constant fear of being caught by the police. This was the LD that had been compromised by Fritz, or worst of all, the one that Big Guy would kill for sport.
Then, there was the smart, manipulating LD, who would look to control this situation and turn it to his advantage. He was totally engaged in this line of thinking when he went to bed. Yeah, he was just like any normal teenager with a drunken dad asleep in front of the TV, and with a mom who was worried sick about the child she had brought into this world. He just got drunk and eventually went to sleep.
The parent/teacher conferences went as expected for me. The parents of the really good students were there in force to receive accolades from not only me but from all of the teachers.
The parents of students that teachers really needed to have contact with never show up at these meetings. This conference was no exception. The kids that the system has given up on are rarely represented at teacher conferences. Worse yet, the number of times that the parents of struggling students have been involuntarily summoned to the school hasn’t made going to a school function any more pleasant an experience. Why should they joyfully show up at a parent/teacher night?
The end of the evening was approaching, when a lady who had been standing in the wings with her fidgety husband approached my worktable. We were in the gym at tables with folding chairs. It was late in the evening, and most, if not all, of the parents had already seen me. I was sitting with a former student’s mom who was filling me in on the progress of her child at college. The conversation was important to me. I was not paying too much attention to the couple that soon became irritated at the length of the conversation I was presently having.
“I think you’ve taken enough time,” was the first thing I heard from this obviously upset woman. “You know that the evening is over, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to you because you seem to take great deal of time with every parent here,” the tone was unmistakable; I was in for an emotional tongue-lashing. This overweight, stout woman and her unshaven, tattooed husband were well on their way to making sure this wasn’t an enjoyable experience for me.“And so I do,” I stated as a matter of fact.
“I’m LD’s mother,” she left no uncertainty in that statement.
“How can I help?” I was half-hoping that I could just listen to her complaints, agree with her, accept responsibility for the child’s state, and go home.
“You called LD ‘Curly’?” LD’s mother’s tirade had begun, and I was about to get both barrels for something she had not even been present to see or witness. She did not understand what the name was about. The use of this pet name had been taken out of context. The real problems that this child faced would now be disguised by this swindle of the truth. So what? It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last, that I took the heat for deep-seated problems.
It all came back to me now; I had indeed called LD “Curly” after he had gotten a new haircut that curled his hair in tight ringlets. I was kidding around, and anyone who knows me knew that I was kidding. It was one of the ways that I got to know tough kids. I would use a kidding manner and lots of winks and nods to soften them up. When LD had shown up with a new haircut, I thought it might be an opportunity to break the ice with him. I thought I might get through that tough, thick skin. He had to laugh at himself, and for a while, I thought that I could get a pet name to stick that we could both kid about.
I guess that if I had it to do over again, as politically incorrect as it was, I would do exactly the same thing.
Believe me, once taken out of context of the moment, and out of context of the conversation, it looked really bad. It took on its own ugliness. It had legs and was now an issue. I had been as self-effacing in that conversation as possible, teaching through example that we could all chuckle at ourselves in a playful spirit.
In the classroom, at that moment, it was as though even LD had bought into it. He ripped me a few times and the contest of wits was on. It was really a lot of fun. The results were that he knew how quick I was, and, also, I knew how quick he was. It all ended in good fun. It was also the end of the “Curley” thing, as I wasn’t sure if he had been as good a sport as I’d thought. Now, I was really sure that I had screwed up.
“Do you really think that a teacher should call a kid ‘Curley’?” LD’s mom was really mad.
“No, Madam, and I’m sorry,” I was admitting my wrongdoing, apologizing, and trying desperately to make amends. I didn’t know where this was going, but it was looking like I was in for a verbal butt kicking, and I was right.
She went on —— and on —— and on. I just listened, hoping that the storm would pass, but she had someone here who had apologized to her. The torrent of anger was dumped on me. The place was empty except for the three of us. Dr. Fritz was the last to see us, and as long as it was me getting the whatfor, he didn’t care to interrupt. He just went home.
Finally, I said, “I’m sorry, but I have to teach in the morning, so this has to end.”
She just got madder and madder, so I said, “Look, you can call and make an appointment in the morning.” After what seemed like an eternity, she finally gave up. I was sure that the chewing out that I had just received was about more than my mistake of calling her son, “Curley.” I was sure that she knew, intuitively, that her son was in trouble. I was the repository of her anger and fear at the moment. He was, after all, her baby. His dad didn’t say a word but just sat and fidgeted. I got the feeling that he really wanted to go home.; so did I.
As I was picking up my papers and grades from the table, I remember thinking to myself that I really didn’t need this. I was very tired, tired beyond what I should have been. I was also suffering from indigestion, something that doesn’t normally happen to me. But boy, did I have an acid stomach. I remember thinking to myself that this was the last time I would eat the free pizza that the PTA provided for the teachers on parent/teacher conference night.
As I finally went out the front door of the high school and into the night air, an attractive young lady stood up from the bench that had been placed next to the flagpole. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen. She wasn’t dressed like a Northwest student, but was disheveled and had worn clothing, and she approached me.
“P-Daddy, talk to me,” it seemed she was talking to me.
I was standing in front of the school in a well-lit area and the security cameras were on. What did I have to worry about? She wasn’t a big girl, and as style goes in high school, no one knows what dress means.
“P-Daddy, stay here and talk to me?” She had become insistent and a bit demanding.
“Who are you?” I wasn’t feeling well and I really didn’t want to deal with this. I was tired and I had a belly full of tacks.
“I’m Brenda. You don’t know me, but I know you.” I was surprised at the articulation of her voice. She really seemed to know me. She was talking in a soft, warm tone. “Brenda, I’m tired and I want to go home. I don’t feel very well. You can understand that, right?” I was hoping for deferment and empathy.
“Sure, sure, but look, I need to tell you a story. Will you please listen?”
She was now changing her tone, and her face was begging for my attention.
I was feeling even worse, and the pizza I’d had on the run between school and the conferences was really taking its toll on my digestive system. “Look, Brenda, I have had it. I really want to go home. Come back tomorrow and I’ll talk to you at school, or maybe after school?”
“Sure, sure, but I think this story is important for you to hear.” Again with the pleading.
I thought, Oh, what the hell? “Please be quick.”
“Well, it starts with a student of yours who was in deep trouble at home and in school. She was like me, a kid off the street, but none of that seemed to matter to you. She wasn’t much to look at until she met you —— she cleaned up real nice. In fact, she told me that you were as close to a father as she’d ever had. Doesn’t say much for her life, does it?”
I didn’t have a clue where this was going.
“Somehow you got to her,” she continued, “and she got into AA and cleaned up her act. Maybe you were just willing to listen. Maybe it was the contacts you made for her to get counseling. You knew that none of that would have happened at school. The best that could have happened would have been a counselor that would have given her numbers to call,” what she said was all very true.
“They’re all scared of Fritz, so they do a half-ass job. They’re not paid to do anything but get kids to pass their stupid test so Fritz looks good at the board meetings. We may be dumb, but we’re not stupid. I think you cared and she sensed it. I don’t know what happened. All I know is, now she has a good chance at a real life and you were part of that solution —— maybe all of it?” Brenda was trying to tell me something without telling me directly.
“She used to tell me that when her parents got drunk, were fighting, and were about to hurt her or each other, she would punch 911 into her phone. Then, all she had to do was hit ‘Send.’ Let me see your cell, yeah, give me your cell. I’ll give it back, I promise,” Brenda was insistent.
She took my cell and programmed in 911 on the speed dial. She looked at me strangely. I couldn’t get a read on it, but it was definitely strange. “There you go. Everyone should have 911 on their speed dial. All you have to do is hit one and you have emergency on the way, in case you ever need it. Hey, P, be careful, okay?” Again with the veiled speech and body language that was saying, “Just do what I say.”
I started to reprogram the phone, when in a stern voice, she said, “Hey, P-Daddy, for once in your life, just do as I ask. It won’t hurt you. In fact, just keep that phone in your hand until you get into your truck,” she was ordering me now.
“What’s going on here?” I demanded.
“Can’t tell you, P.” Brenda was not going to reveal what she knew.
“Why 911 on the cell, and why should I carry it in my hand?” I was a bit worried now, but also tired and a bit scared by the increasing pain in my abdomen.
“Just do it, please. Just this once, do it for me?” she pleaded.
All I could think to say was, “Okay.” I was tired and I wanted to go home. I was sure that tomorrow I could get out of the other kids what I needed to know about Brenda. I told myself this because tomorrow was another day, right?
I turned to go to the parking lot and started walking to my truck, when it occurred to me that I should have gotten more out of her. I should never have walked away without knowing what was going on.
I turned around to see if she was still there, but she was gone, vanished into the night. I thought, How strange, but, for some reason, I left the phone in my hand. In fact, I put my finger on ‘One’ and went on to my truck.
I approached the truck. I opened the door on my small, green Ford Ranger. The night had turned cold and there was a light mist in the air. A voice out of nowhere startled me. Then I saw ZJ and LD standing there looking at me. I could just barely make them out in the mist and the dim light of the parking lot. My chest tightened; it was as if someone had straps on my chest, the kind with ratchets for tightening, and it felt like an invisible hand was cranking down the ratchets so tight that I could not breathe. The pain in my arm and jaw was fierce.
I hit the one on the cell. My stomach was hurting, I was sweating, and I was seeing stars. It was not good and I knew it. I was in trouble, and I felt weak in the knees. I turned to look at the boys, and, Holy shit! was all I remember thinking. I think I said it, too, but I’m not sure. I do remember looking at a flat black gun with a silencer on the barrel. It was looking me right in the eye, but that’s all I remember, because I then went down and out.
ZJ walked up to me as I was lying on the ground. He placed the silencer an inch from my head, pulled back the action, and chambered a .22 caliber bullet. He was ready to take his first life and seal his deal with the devil.
From the boy standing next to him came a loud “Don’t!”
ZJ stopped for a second and looked LD right in the eye. “What?” ZJ leaned slightly forward and opened his free hand, palm up, in a gesture to LD.
“Don’t! He’s dying right now. Hell, he’s probably dead already. He sure ain’t moving. Anyway, he’ll die without us. ZJ, don’t do it.”
“I have to do it, don’t you understand?” ZJ was shaking. He stood upright with arms outstretched and moved his arm outward in an open symbol of vulnerability to LD.
“Let me see if there’s a pulse, ZJ. Just wait until I see if he’s dead already!” LD was moving towards me without waiting for ZJ’s approval.
“What?” ZJ had moved out of the way but he was still shaking. He was squeezing the gun so hard that his hand was hurting. It was shaking hard; he was close to losing control of his body.
LD came over to me to see if he could find a pulse. Those health classes had done him some good; he knew were to look and how to feel for a pulse. He couldn’t find any signs of life. He looked up into ZJ’s eyes and flatly stated, “He’s dead.”
Typical ZJ reaction, “What?”
“Holy shit, ZJ! He’s dead!” LD was sure. He was positive.
“What?” ZJ was stuck in the moment, standing there, cold, wet, shaking, and ready to do what he came here to do.
“All we have to do is walk away; he’s already dead.” LD wasn’t kidding. LD was begging ZJ, his trusted friend for as far back as a fifteen-year-old can remember.
“You’re shittin’ me. I’m gonna cap him anyway. It’ll make Big Guy happy.” ZJ just wasn’t thinking. ZJ just didn’t think, sometimes. ZJ the actor, the bad guy, had to have LD do the thinking. Fifteen-year-old children don’t see these relationships of interdependence on their own. LD did.
“No, no, don’t do that. We haven’t committed any crimes yet. Let’s just go tell Big Guy that Mother Nature beat us to him. We get our money for doing him just the same as if we had capped him,” LD was negotiating with ZJ. He was selling hard.
“What?” ZJ was in perfect ZJ form and using his limited vocabulary to describe with the one word, ‘What,’ all the emotion he could muster.
“Put that gun away, ‘cause I’m walking. Let’s go before the police get here. He has a cell phone in his hand. Come on, ZJ, the police are on their way right now! Let’s get out of here, now!” LD was yelling. He turned his back to LD and under his breath said to himself, “For God’s sake, please come with me, ZJ.”
LD started walking down the parking lot, towards the dark end. ZJ lingered for a moment, thinking that he should just walk over and pull the trigger a couple of times. The further LD got away, the less sure he was that LD wasn’t right. The moment had passed, and so had the passion for killing. The anger had started to calm down. He pulled the action back on the .22 and disarmed the gun, put on the safety, and stuck it in his pants. He let go of the anger, finally, and started walking and then running to catch up to LD.
When ZJ caught up to LD, LD locked eyes with ZJ as only LD could. “ZJ, I’m going to go straight. I’ll get clean and sober.” He grabbed ZJ with both arms, shook him, and smiled. “You’re going to help me. I’m going to help you. I don’t know how or when, but we’re going to let go of this life. We’re going to get right with God and the world. I swear that we will, and you’re coming with me.” The two ran through the parking lot, just like a couple of six-year-olds. They were laughing and shoving each other, and for just one moment, they were the same two little boys that had started school together.
They say that your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I must not have been destined to die. There must have been some deed I still needed to do, because like the proverbial cat, I used one of my nine lives up. The only thing that really stands out about what went through my mind at the moment of truth, as I was going down, was the pain and that damned indigestion. I was so hurting that it occurred to me afterwards that ZJ would have done me a favor if he had shot me dead. The pain in my chest was unbearable; it was the worst and scariest thing I have ever experienced.
I was later told by officer Strand that the 911 call was booked at 9:48 P.M. on May 11, 2001. It had not been the 911 call that had started the rescue effort, but had been a female’s anonymous call at 9:45 that had started things in motion. The call was short but to the point.
Officer Strand visited with me several weeks later. According to him, the first 911 came in at 9:45. He had the recording and played it for me, “I’m at the Northwest High parking lot, and it appears that a man is being mugged.”
The cell phone that had been used was a stolen cell, so the caller ID was worthless to the police. The identity of the caller was unknown, except to me. I wasn’t asked who it was, so I didn’t volunteer anything. I knew who had placed that call and why. I don’t know what I would have said if I had been asked about the caller. It doesn’t matter; I wasn’t asked.
Officer Strand told me that the police arrived at about 9:50 and saw nothing unusual in the parking lot. All that was there was a solitary, green Ranger parked in the furthermost corner of the lot. Because of the call, the officer checked out the truck.
He thought he might have seen a pair of shadows in the distance out on the football field. He might have heard a couple of young guys joking around. Given the fact that he also saw me laying on the ground near the driver’s side of the truck, he gave no pursuit. He did call in the need for medical assistance and for backup.
The next one on the scene was a female, a rookie cop who immediately started CPR. She said in her report that I was not breathing and that she could not find a pulse.
Just minutes later the paramedics arrived. The rear doors of the ambulance opened and one of the young paramedics expressed his own shock, as he exclaimed, “Oh, shit! It’s P!” Without a second thought, and acting on his own instincts, he grabbed a portable defibrillator. He dramatically cut open my shirt, wired me, and, following the recorded instructions that were coming from the speakers in the machine, he hit the actuator. My body jumped to life. The young lady cop was impressed. She started yelling orders at that point. As excited as she was, she kept her attention on the events that still had to take place to get me to the hospital. The scene could have been written for some TV soap opera. I don’t remember any of this; I was later told all of this by Officer Strand.
I was quickly taken to a local hospital with Charlie, the young paramedic, at my side. The whole way, he did as the hospital instructed via radio communication. He was a real professional, and the staff at the hospital had nothing but compliments for him after we arrived. From him, the attending ER Doc got quite a lecture as they wheeled me into an examination room.
Charlie was telling the Doc that I was a special person to him. Since Charlie had gotten me here alive, he expected the Doc to keep me alive. The lecture included the short version of how he had been lost in high school, and that this was the guy who had helped him through it. This was the guy who had helped him even when he should have given up on him. Without P, the world would be a different kind of place for him. This guy had saved his life. Now, it was the Doc’s turn to return the favor. The Doc was not really listening, but Charlie didn’t care. He kept the pressure on to get me stabilized. He pressured until the Doc actually instructed him to leave the ER.
I’m told that my wife and family arrived very soon after the call had gone out to her. My wife is a cardiac nurse with some years of experience. She had called the three children, and if I were the hospital staff, I wouldn’t wish this on any staff. The first daughter arrived with her new husband and waited for the other two daughters to get there. The last two showed up and I’m told that the nurse daughter (Daughter number two), the Medical student daughter (Daughter number three), and the teacher (First daughter) circled the wagons and took instructions from their mother. The place was turned upside down in the search for knowledge of my condition. The poor doctor, just trying to do his job, was faced with a barrage of questions that were pointed and knowledgeable.
Long story short, they took me into the cath lab, placed stints, opened up a couple of closed arteries, and I started looking alive again. I don’t remember any of this. I was out. I’m also a chicken when it comes to hospitals.
Even though I can’t remember, I can share this. I was sure that I wasn’t going to die. If I had been meant to die, ZJ would have put a bullet in my head. Thank God that my family didn’t know about the attempt on my life by ZJ. It wouldn’t have just been the hospital that couldn’t wait to get rid of me. I’m sure that if my wife had known about ZJ and LD, we could have alienated the whole metro police association. The kids and wife are not something that you would knowingly take on, as they are quite a force.
I was not what one would call optimistic about my prospects for a long and comfortable life on this parent/teacher conference night. I found myself really depressed. I was no longer in pain, but here I was, a fifty-one-year-old chump with a sick heart and a drug dealer intent on killing me. Worse yet, I was working for an asshole that really wanted to fire me. I was plenty depressed.
I awoke soon after I was brought into my room at the hospital. I cleared the room of all the people except my wife of thirty years. I began to cry. I didn’t talk. Unusual for me, as I’m sure my students would say. I just held my wife tightly and cried. I also prayed. I’m not a big believer in organized religion. When I had quit drinking, some twenty-eight years earlier, I had relied on a belief in an organizing force in the universe to help me get through the hard times. Now, faced with my own demise, I found myself praying to that force, that higher power.
I was sure that, for some reason, I had been spared. The concept of God had lost its abstract construct and had taken on a persona that I don’t have words for. All I know is, it wasn’t lost in the moment that for some reason I had been given a second chance. I confessed this all to my wife. She just cried through the assurance of her love for me. Over and over again, she said, “I still love you, I will always love you; the kids love you; we all need you, and that’s why you’re still here. Get it, you big dope?”
ZJ and LD went back to Big Guys apartment and announced to him that I was dead. Then LD, with total confidence, told Big Guy that they wanted the debt reduced in accordance with the deal that had been made. Big Guy just looked at them without saying a word; he picked up a phone and dialed it.
The conversation was short, “He’s dead, according to my people.” There was a short silence as Big Guy was smiling and winking at the two junkies. He was sure, at this moment, that the two had crossed over to becoming killers. He really owned them now, for life; he owned their souls. Big Guy was really happy for that one moment in time. He was the ruler of the fate of this pair of young junkies. They were his slaves. He was their god.
Big Guy hung up the phone and dialed a second number; Fritz answered the phone at home. Fritz was drunk. Big Guy paused for a second while savoring the moment, and then stated the facts as he knew them at the time, “This is a friend. P is dead. It was my people who solved your problem. I will be calling on you.” The phone was held in Big Guys hand and the two young junkies could hear Fritz’s drunken yelling. The ranting of a fellow junkie, with just a different choice of drug, could be heard all the way across the room. Big Guy owned Fritz’s soul as well as the souls of the young junkies. It was a great moment in Big Guy’s life; he loved it. “T— tell me wh— who you are, an— and wh— what you wa— want!” Fritz was so drunk he could hardly form the words.
Big Guy hung up, went to the refrigerator, and took out a couple of beers. He handed each one of the young junkies a beer and opened the coffee table drawer. He poured some white powder onto a mirror that he placed in the center of the table. He handed them each a short McDonalds straw and laughed. He started yelling, “Party, party, party, dawgs!”
Just as soon as the last line of cocaine had disappeared, Big Guy’s cell rang. It was Brenda.
“Yeah, Brenda, what’s up?”
The look on Big Guy’s face was one of total disbelief. His mouth hung open, his breathing was shallow, and his face went chalk white. He made eye contact with the two junkies who were sitting in his living room, snorting a thousand dollars worth of cocaine, and asked, “Did you shoot that asshole like I told you?”
“We didn’t have to. He was dead when we pulled the gun. He slumped and LD checked for a pulse. He died before our very eyes. He was grabbin’ his chest on the way down; he was turnin’ white. LD checked, but he had no pulse. He was dead,” ZJ was talking as fast as he could.
“Why didn’t you shoot him anyway, like I told you?” Big Guy was cool as could be. Both boys wished that he would get mad and let them have his wrath. That didn’t happen.
“We weren’t going to commit a crime that we didn’t have to; he was dead,” LD was not going to let Big Guy out of his commitments.
“Well, boys, he ain’t dead.”
ZJ left Big Guy’s apartment stoned on cocaine. LD also left Big Guy’s apartment stoned on cocaine. The two were a pair. They both realized that I would ID them. This meant the police, an arrest, definitely parental involvement, but worst of all, it meant drug treatment, either in jail or out. It was the end of the usage. LD was poised on the horns of a dilemma. If Big Guy didn’t kill him, his parents would surely end his life as he knew it. Even if he managed to elude the killers, he still had to deal with his addiction. He was in for big trouble, big changes, and lots of heartaches.
LD walked around to the back of ZJ’s car and got out a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey. Right there, on the street in front of Big Guy’s apartment, he took a good long pull while staring into the trunk. Under the spare tire, the silencer of the .22 was sticking out. LD started to admonish ZJ for not having completely hidden the pistol, when out of nowhere, it hit him like a metro bus, “ZJ, the night we got ripped off, you told me the guy with the hood had a gun with a silencer, right?”“Yeah,” ZJ was acting like LD was nuts.
“What kind of a gun was it, ZJ?” LD had a change of tone.
“A semi-automatic with a silencer. Oh, my God! Shit! I never thought about it till now. Let me see that .22. I’ll never forget that gun.” ZJ thought that LD might be on to something.
ZJ reached into the trunk, lifted up the spare tire with one hand, and pulled the gun out with the other.
“Yeah, that’s it, LD. How did Big Guy get it? Why would he give it to me to kill P if it was the same gun?” ZJ was putting two and two together, and he was coming up with .22.
LD was way ahead of ZJ; he was always way ahead of ZJ, even though he worshipped him, “ZJ, he wanted us to figure this out.”
“What the hell are you sayin’, LD?”
“The same thing you’re thinking, ZJ. I’m just not afraid to say it. Big Guy set us up for the rip-off and shooting you. He owns us, but we don’t really owe the bastard a thing. We never really owed him a cent. Even with P living, we’re in so deep he will own us even after the police are done with us. We’ll be in debt to him forever.”
LD was catching on, “I always wondered why he didn’t have us beaten to death when we didn’t have the money that night. Now, I know. We’re never getting out of this, not ever.” LD was starting see the hard reality. The life of a junkie had some real downsides. He also started to realize that he and ZJ had been responsible for the creation of a lot young junkies. This hit him even harder.
LD started chugging the booze. He was really putting it away. He also went silent.
They got into the car and ZJ started for LD’s home. As they rode home that night, LD just got drunk. Not unusual for LD, but this was somehow different. ZJ sensed that something was out of place.
ZJ finally broke the silence, “LD, you’re gonna feel like shit in the morning.”
“No, I’m not,” LD shot back in a slurred, angry, yet sad statement.
Not wanting to fight with LD when he was drunk, ZJ let it drop.
LD opened the door of the car in front of his house. He then stood up and straightened his back. He stood in silence with the door open. It seemed like an eternity to a drunken fifteen-year-old child, wise beyond his years and hardened, now, by a life that had started out to be so much fun. As he closed the door, he leaned into the window of ZJ’s car, on the passenger side. Looking right at ZJ as he leaned slightly into the window, he said, “ZJ, I don’t think we can get out of this one. I think the police will make our lives a living hell. I also believe that what the police don’t do, Big Guy will. Big Guy isn’t going to let this go.”
ZJ just listened as he had done a hundred, maybe a million times before when LD was high. Then the pause; it seemed like hours to ZJ. LD shifted from foot to foot, deep in thought. He was drunk, high, and really messed up.
Finally LD spoke, “ZJ, whatever happens, I want you to know that it’s been fun, even when we were just kids, fishing, playing softball, sleepovers, all the things we did before we got mixed up with drugs. How did we get here ZJ?” He paused again, then continued, “I just want to thank you for being a good friend.”
ZJ was a bit frightened by LD’s tone, but he said nothing. Just another LD rant. He would get over it; he always did.
LD went on, “ZJ, no matter what happens, even if you turn me in to save your own skin, I will not say a word to the cops. You can count on me doing the right thing. You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be sober forever. I won’t touch any more drugs, ever again.”
ZJ was really scared now, but he just started talking, not knowing what else to do, “I never worry about you, LD. You know how to keep your mouth shut. You got my back; I got yours.”
“Right.” LD wasn’t even listening.
“LD, You gonna to be okay?”
“No,” LD was serious.
“You mean that? You think you should stay at my house? You’re gonna be really strung out in the mornin’; you’re gonna be sick as hell,” ZJ sounded like he knew the routine.
“No, I’m going to take care of myself.” LD turned to the walkway to the, suburban, affluent home that he had been raised in. He had wealth that most in the world would have killed for. He looked at ZJ, and in an almost whimsical way, just on the edge of earshot, he asked, “ZJ, you ever heard the song ‘The Rose’?”
ZJ looked at him and replied, “No.”
“Well, you should. I really like it,” LD commented.
Something was wrong, but ZJ was stoned and wanted to go home. All he could think of was, What the hell was that all about?
LD was walking to the house, and, in a low voice, was singing the line, “The seed that lies beneath the snow.” Like a lot of drunks, he was obsessed with that one line.
LD walked into the house, so ZJ drove off. As LD opened the door, there was his dad, drunk and sleeping in front of the TV with some TV evangelist talking about the gospel. LD looked at his dad and said, “The apple don’t fall far from the tree, huh, Dad?”
His dad never heard a word. His mom was exhausted from fighting with his old man over making excuses for LD and his irresponsibility. She had also fought with him about his drinking, many times, but she’d also always done what she thought she needed to do to keep the family together.
She had collapsed that night on the bed and had gone to sleep just like she did every night. LD was the final thing on her mind before she went to sleep, because she was worried about his unexplainable behavior. She would get to the problem of the bad grades tomorrow, that threatened to keep him from graduating, if she could find the time.
LD went to his parents’ bedroom door and put his head against the door. In a very soft voice, and in words that were extremely foreign to him, words that he had not spoken in years, he started to talk to his mom, “Mom, I love you. I don’t know how I got here, but I always meant to get right with the world. I always meant to get right with you. Mom, I love you... and I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to do,” LD was saying goodbye.
His mom thought she heard something, but she was sure she was dreaming and went back to sleep.
LD went to his dad’s liquor cabinet and got a halffull bottle of Four Roses. He took a big slug as he walked to the kitchen and got his dad’s extra car keys out of the drawer. LD went into the garage and closed the door to the house. He turned the key in the ignition to start the car, but the damned thing wouldn’t start the first time. The engine needed work like a lot of things in this house. His dad stirred a little in his chair in front of the TV but shrugged it off as nothing. The engine caught and was running. All the doors and windows were shut to the garage.
I’ll spare you the last moments of this child’s life, as there is nothing to be learned from his death.
The call came in to the police at 6:30 A.M., just as Charlie the paramedic was counting the minutes until the end of his shift at 7:00. He had heard the 911 call, and in a soft voice had said a few words to God on the way to the call. LD might have been a few years younger than him, but Charlie knew his family from school and didn’t want to find what he knew he was going to find. He asked for strength and for a miracle. He got neither. This one got to him. Children always did, especially suicides.
They arrived at the house with the flashing lights and the siren on. LD was lying in the driveway and a neighbor was doing CPR. She worked as a nurse at a local hospital and she was doing what she had been taught, knowing full well that she was wasting her efforts.
LD’s mother was hysterical, screaming, crying, and shifting from collapse to standing upright. She was yelling at God, and she was yelling at her husband who had found the boy. She was in shock and was mad as hell. She was in total denial.
The young paramedic walked up to the nurse working on the lifeless child. He had seen death before and his intuition told him that this was a lost cause. He went through the motions, following the instructions being barked at him over the radio by the ER doctors. It was over; this child had been dead for at least two hours.
They put the body into the Ambulance and told the nurse that had worked so heroically on LD that if she wanted to help, she should take LD’s mom to the hospital. The doctors would declare him dead at the hospital. LD’s mom would need somebody with her. His dad was still drunk. The cops wouldn’t let him drive. This was quite a scene. His dad had a dead son, but the argument with the police was about him.
LD’s mom and the lady next door, no longer a nurse, just a lady who lived next door, were met at the ER door by the charge nurse. No matter how many times she had done this, it was always the same for her. There is no gentle way to tell a mother that her child is dead. The words just plain don’t exist in our language.
Like all the other things that LD had done in his life, he had left his final debt to humanity. Leaving this world in debt was his style. He had a social obligation to grow up, and he’d had an obligation to contribute to this world. His gifts and talents would never even be known. Even worse, he would never fulfill his obligation to make the world a little less profane. He was in debt to everyone, and like everything else he had done in life, he now exaggerated that debt in his death. Now, he had left a mess financially, emotionally, morally, and physically that we all had to clean up.
LD’s death took ZJ by surprise. He was in total denial about it, not something unusual for ZJ. He did get it, finally, on the second day after LD’s death. He was in bad shape. Even he could not believe the depth of emotion that he felt. It was bad —— really bad. Worse yet, he could not discharge his feelings. He was feeling this emotional storm. He could not get rid of the feelings. He was in bad shape and surprise; LD was not there to share this with him. LD had been the only family that ZJ had ever known.
ZJ didn’t have a relationship with his family. His dad was in jail and his mom was working all the time to keep the family eating. His older brother was in trouble most of the time. He had learned the family business from his dad and brother, drug peddling. How else would he have met Big Guy at such an early age? LD was ZJ’s family and now he was dead. All the conning, planning, and scamming in the world would not and could not bring LD back. ZJ was hurting, bad. He was angry. He was just plain out of control without his partner to do the thinking. He was also addicted. The disease now took over totally. There was no ZJ left, just a disease that had grown like a fast-growing cancer. ZJ didn’t have any idea how to get well.
ZJ went looking for his answers in the only way he knew how. Getting high was his first priority. This was his only way to deal with the loss and the hurt. ZJ had gone looking for help in the form of a fix. Without Big Guy to supply him, it was a tough world. He really believed that he couldn’t go to Big Guy, because it was Big Guy who’d ordered him shot at the hockey arena. He was done with that relationship unless he could scam or hurt Big Guy. Without LD to watch his back and do the thinking, Big Guy would be a force to be reckoned with. ZJ was right about that one.
ZJ reasoned that he knew two things about life. First, life was miserable without drugs, and, second, it took money to get drugs. He wasn’t in any mood to do without either one. The worst part was that LD was gone. He had left a huge hole in ZJ’s being, so, to keep the shame, guilt, and hurt at bay, he would get what he needed. Getting clean and sober crossed his mind, but LD was not there to help, so, what the hell, he would live life as usual. He thought about talking to his brother, but he had troubles of his own. Mom was out of the picture, altogether; she was selling and using, same as him.
ZJ went back to things he and LD had been successful at as young boys, back when they had just begun in the drug business. Ripping cars in parking lots had always worked for fast cash. He could steal things out of cars and it was a fast way to get cash. It was something he knew how to do, and it didn’t require Big Guy.
ZJ went to the hockey arena, to the parking lot closest to the rear entrance. He and LD had done well here in years past, as sometimes, foolish people put their wallets in the glove box when they went to shoot pucks. A broken window and thirty seconds could yield enough cash to get high. ZJ was strung out and desperate to get a fix. His body was beginning to detoxify.
That wasn’t pretty. He was sick to his stomach and had the sweats and shakes; his mind was playing tricks on him. He was willing to do what had to be done.
ZJ parked his car on a street adjacent to the parking lot and then walked to the part of the lot that was closest to the rear entrance. He began his search for the best car for a smash and grab. He was alone and vulnerable without LD on the look out. He was going to get this done, regardless of the risk. He was getting strung-out and sick, and he needed to fix his problem. The final decisions had always been up to LD. This was not as easy as he remembered.
As he approached the end of the parking lot, nearest the rear entrance, he spotted Hank. Hockey Hank, from my class, had been at the hockey arena and was just leaving. ZJ remembered that Hank had been an easy mark in middle School. He could be bullied back in those days with little or no effort. ZJ knew that Hank was vulnerable and alone, this time. There were no friends around at this time of day. ZJ knew how he was going to get well.“Hank, ZJ here.”
“What do you want?” Hank wasn’t scared this time and harbored a real dislike for ZJ from years gone past.
“I think me and you are gonna be friends,” ZJ said as he approached Hank who was walking towards his car.
“I don’t think so,” Hank said with confidence.
“Yeah, we are, Hank.” ZJ came closer and closer to Hank’s car.
Hank went about his business, paying no attention to ZJ or his proximity to his person. Hank opened the door to his two door, 1966 Mustang, leaned the driver’s seat forward, and placed his hockey stick and bag behind the seat.
Hank and his dad had painstakingly restored the 1966 Mustang. It was his pride and joy. I had seen pictures of the restoration process. I had been impressed by the attention to detail that Hank had displayed as he put his heart and soul into that car. He had approached this project with total abandon. He loved that car and all it represented in his life. It was a success, one of the few he could display to the world.
ZJ had positioned himself on the passenger side of the car, opposite from Hank. The red Mustang glistened and was spotless, inside and out. This was a true reflection of the care that had been taken to build this car. With the car between them, ZJ made the demand that would make him well, “Hank, if you wanna buy some good stuff, I’ll arrange for you to get the best,” ZJ was being sarcastic; he knew Hank didn’t use.
“Hey, just get out of here. I’m not afraid of you.” Hank was not kidding; he really wasn’t afraid.
“Well, you should be,” ZJ was still confident that this would work exactly as wanted.
“Well, I’m not the person you think I am. I’m not that kid you knew in middle school. I know what happened to LD, and I know why,” Hank shot back.
“How the hell do you know?” ZJ was really pissed and was close to the edge of his emotional limits. This was sore stuff that ZJ didn’t need to think about.
“Brenda told me,” Hank replied.
“How the hell does she know?” ZJ was getting really emotional; just the mention of his lost friend all but brought him to tears. He certainly couldn’t share his grief with a kid he was about to shakedown for drug money.
He should have. He would have been surprised.
“She knows all. She also told me that Big Guy sent you and LD to kill P. She and Brit are tighter than you think. She ain’t doing that stuff for Big Guy anymore. Brit and I are helping her get her life straightened out.”
ZJ didn’t care, but he should have. “Well, well, well, ain’t we the little do-gooders,” ZJ was as mocking as he could be.
“I told you before that I’m not that person you knew in middle school,” Hank wasn’t going to budge no matter what ZJ wanted. He was going to stand his ground.
ZJ was mad now. Not thinking at all, it was time to milk this sucker and move on, “Hey, Hank, see this key?” ZJ held up a car key he had pulled out of his pocket.
“Yeah, and if you touch my car, I’ll kill you,” this was not bravado, but ZJ didn’t recognize the threat as real. Hank was still just a little pushover from middle school in ZJ’s mind.
“You and what army?” ZJ took the key and placed it against the roof of the Mustang. “You can get me some dough, or you can get Macco,” ZJ was laughing.
“Don’t do that; don’t do that, ZJ,” Hank was giving him an order.
ZJ opened the passenger-side door while stepping up onto the rocker panel and leaning over as far as he could. He touched the key to the surface of the roof, looked Hank right in the eye, and challenged, “Okay, stop me, pay me, or pay the body shop.” ZJ was going to key the car, no matter what, and still mug Hank since he saw him as a wimp. As soon as Hank stepped over to his side, he would hit him with the car door and punch him. ZJ figured that Hank had to have some money on him. He could take anything of value once Hank was down. He would kill him if he had to. ZJ just wasn’t thinking.
As ZJ was about to start the key on its journey down the roof of the Mustang, a figure stepped into ZJ’s sight. It was Deja vu, all over again; this was someone ZJ recognized. From the sweatshirt’s hood came these words, “ZJ, you and I are going to your car, and we’re going for a ride.”
ZJ couldn’t see a gun but he knew one was there. Now, he had a problem.
ZJ was distracted just long enough for Hank to reach behind the seat and grab for the hockey stick. For ZJ, the next couple of seconds were in slow motion, but for the hooded guy, it happened in just a split second.
Hank, in one fluid motion, had pulled the hockey stick from the back of the car, gripped it with both hands, choked up short on the handle, and in a split second had struck ZJ, mid ear, with a force that was devastating. ZJ was dead in an instant, with blood and bone everywhere. The fiberglass-coated blade had done its work with extraordinary precision for such a blunt tool. The mess was indescribable, and no more needs to be said, I assure you.
This was not a scene that the hooded man was going to stick around for. He did know that if Hank had done this in a premeditated way, he would not have done it in front of a witness. He knew Hank was jail-bound. He ran like hell for about twenty feet and stopped dead in his tracks. He turned and took out his weapon, a 9mm Glock automatic. He walked back to the car, looked at Hank, and said, “This was in his hand.”
He showed Hank the pistol, then, he put it in ZJ’s limp hand and wrapped the dead fingers around the gun. The gun dropped the two or so inches to the pavement.
Hank knew that the gun hadn’t been in ZJ’s hand at the time he’d pulled the hockey stick, but he didn’t object. He reached into the car, pulled out his bag, and took out his cell phone. “I don’t know who you are or why you did what you did, but thanks. Now I’m going to hit 911. You’d better get out of here.”
Hank was crying, shaking, and he felt sick to his stomach. He knew ZJ was dead; he couldn’t believe what he’d done, but he was going to call the police. He would do what it took to pay the price for this act of violence. He wouldn’t allow this hooded guy to get involved. He would take total responsibility. He would, however, let the cards fall as they may where the gun was concerned.
The hooded man looked at Hank and said, “Brenda’s my sister.” Now, he ran like hell. He really didn’t need the police or the questions they would ask.
Hank called 911 and gave the police what they needed through his sobs and tears. He looked at ZJ, then leaned over and tossed his cookies, gagging and crying at the same time. He had never been so emotionally carried to the limit of his very soul, and he did not like what he saw in his heart.
The police were there in seconds. Office Strand was the first on the scene, and he was immediately sick. This was a hardened cop, a veteran of traffic accidents, but the sight of a young boy with his head severely damaged was too much, even for him. He then got on the radio to call for backup since he saw this as a crime scene.
The ambulance arrived, and Charlie, the only witness to any of the other violence that had come from this chain of events climbed out of it. He was stopped dead in his tracks. He had been at traffic accidents before, but he had never seen anything as brutal as this. Charlie, the same responder who had saved my life with his quick thinking had arrived at a scene that would be indelibly stamped in his mind. The same guy that was at the death of LD was here to close out the triangle of violence. He walked over to ZJ just as Officer Strand kicked the gun off to the side. He bent over and tried to find a pulse; there wasn’t one. He loaded ZJ into the ambulance with all the life support equipment still attached to the young boy’s body. Charlie had been the paramedic who had answered the 911 calls on all three acts of violence in those spring days of 2001.
As ZJ was placed in the ambulance, Hank was handcuffed and put in the back of the squad car like a common criminal. Hank ended up in the police station awaiting the arrival of his parents. Hank didn’t say a word to anyone; he just followed the instructions of the police. He wasn’t talking, because he couldn’t, yet.
His parents arrived and it was the first time that he spoke. It was the first time that he felt strong enough to speak. In fact, it was the arrival of his mom and the caring hug she gave him that allowed him the courage to speak.
All that came out was a stare at his father and the words, “Dad, I had to hit him or die.” Every question was answered with the very same answer, “I had to hit him or die.” The police released him into the custody of his parents, and this little boy, who had acted out his anger and fear, was on his way home.
This little boy, in the privacy of his own home, sat down and cried for a very long time. His mom and dad held him, and they cried, too. Brit soon arrived and cried along with all of them.
He would have to live with the memory of his actions for the rest of his life. He knew that what he had done was excessive, and without justification, but he didn’t want to go to jail. What Brenda’s brother had done would relieve him of the need to explain his actions to the police. But he had to explain to another person what he had done, because he knew that he had gone over the line. He needed to accept what he had done and tell someone.
I was still in the hospital and was doing well. I was walking the halls still strapped to an I.V. pole. The doctors had kept me over because my wife had talked about the stress that I had been going through at school. It was thought that a few days away from the influence of Dr. Fritz would do wonders for me, mentally and physically. I hated being in the hospital, but it was a lot easier to be at peace with my wife than it was to argue with her. I’ll choose peace with my wife over righteous attitudes of correctness, any day of the week.
I was close to the ER when I heard the siren and the buzz of the staff as ZJ’s ambulance approached and he was taken into the ER. There was talk of a helicopter and a trip to a class-one trauma center that ended when the doctors saw him. He was declared dead at the hospital. I saw Charlie as he walked into the ER. He had already known what the doctors had just made official. He caught me out of the corner of his eye. “Hi, P,” he said, as he walked over to me. He had a huge smile on his face and was genuinely happy to see me up and around.
I responded with a huge smile of my own. I knew that it was his quick thinking and the trusting of his own instincts that had saved my sorry ass. My eyes began to tear up and I fought back the impulse to cry. I couldn’t help but think that this young man wouldn’t be who he was today if I hadn’t been there to tell him that he had value and was important. Dr. Fritz had written him off as a loser, and here he was, more than respectable. A contributor to a greater cause, he was. I also knew that it was because of me that he had graduated from high school. It was because I had lived out my passion in front of a classroom that this bright young man had found his own passion.
“Hey, P, don’t you dare cry or I’ll start, too. Then we’ll have a mess, and we’ll have to explain to the others that which is ours and ours alone, got it?” Charlie really got to me. He could do that; it was a talent.
“Oh, I got it, Yo-Yo, but just the same, thanks.” I was in tears.
Trying to change the subject, he said to me as proudly as could be, “I’m going back to school again.”
“Really, why?” I was glad that he had changed the subject. I could choke back the lump in my throat if I was given a moment to re-focus.
“I’ll be attending New York University for ultrasound training,” boy, did he sound proud of himself.
“Cool!” was all I could come up with, as I was still fighting the lump in my windpipe.
“I’m going to live right downtown, across from the World Trade Center. Classy, huh?” God, was he happy.
Principal Canna, Roll Over
Dr. Fritz returned to making my life miserable for the next year. After that year I transferred to another school, but that’s another book.
I found out that Hank was free and had told the whole story to the county attorney. He’d told him everything except about the hooded man. He never did explain the gun. He just shut up, refusing to answer questions when the subject of the gun came up. The county attorney was willing to call this selfdefense, but Hank refused to accept the courtesy that had been offered. He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was on probation until he was nineteen-years-old, at which time he would be an adult with a sealed juvenile record. He never had to serve any time, as the judge felt that this had been a bad set of circumstances for the boy. Plus, he had supportive parents who had promised that they would get the boy to treatment.
Brenda cleaned up, with Hank and Brit’s help. I was part of that, as well, I think? She cleaned up nice.
She had been a graffiti artist in her last life and loved to be known as a “Tagger” on the street. She made for me, in memory of Charlie, a large poster of the Twin Towers on fire with the young man’s image transparent and superimposed over the towers. I hang it in my classroom every year. My eyes still tear up every time I look at it. Brenda is in college today and is very politically active. I hope that she is president someday. She should be. The world would be just a little kinder place if she was.
Big Guy is still selling drugs and teaching young people the “Ins and Outs” of the drug trade. He’s a teacher, too —— isn’t he? The last I heard, he had been given a regional managers job in the organization. Every year he gets better and better at selling drugs. He has the school system down cold and trains the best young dealers in the world. As we spend less on education every year, the classes just keep getting larger; all the better for Big Guy’s drug business. His organization is one of the biggest spenders of any cause that politically goes after the public school system. The drug trade just gets better every year, and Big Guy’s annual bonus just keeps getting bigger. He still ain’t in the Caribbean, though.
Dr. Fritz is still killing teachers. Careers end in his office regularly. He keeps hiring for the meat grinder. He will continue to replace all teachers who show their vulnerability. He just gets better and better at hiring the right kind of teacher, the one he can keep in line and who will never make it to retirement in his school. He loves the numbers. He doesn’t care how he gets to the bottom line. Human cost isn’t a hard number that can be calculated, so it is not seen or tallied.
Responsibility for creating the drug trade in large high schools is not ever directly linked to the Dr. Fritzs of the world. The aiding and abetting that the school person gives to those in the drug trade isn’t even looked at or understood. In that process, it is not what the Dr. Fritzs do, but the sins of omission that allows the drug trade to flourish. Whenever we put two thousand young people in one place for eight hours a day with less than one hundred adults in charge, we’re asking the Big Guys of the world to take advantage of us. They do. But as Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is what stupid does.”
The teacher’s union goes on trying to save teachers, but the Fritzs are winning that battle. Hear me, those of you who are young teachers.
Many of my “Loser” students have gone on to be great successes. Some haven’t, but even those who are not setting the world on fire have benefited from having had a teacher that they cared for. That ain’t all bad.
One thing is for sure, I tell this story for all those students who want to get clean and sober. I wrote it for ZJ and LD, who in a different set of circumstances might have found a “P” of their own. I know that I have been a positive influence for those who have crossed my path, and I will try, as I get older, to reach as many young addicts as I possibly can. There is, after all, only one of me, so get off your ass and help me, will you? Maybe if Fritz hadn’t gotten to LD and ZJ first, I could have helped them. I still believe that I could have. Maybe even you could have.
The best part for me is that despite all the labels, despite the efforts of my mom, now long gone, despite the setbacks, the hurts, the pain, and even the successes, I have but one thing left to say. I hope you’re rolling over in your grave, Principal Canna. Too bad I couldn’t say it to your face.Too bad another German schoolman doesn’t follow his example.