I have been put in charge of an “assembly”, here, in my father’s high school. He is the principal. I am a substitute teacher whom he pulled many strings to hire, for I just got out of prison for drunk driving.
Presently, I live “at home”. With Dad and Mom. In my childhood house. In my childhood room. Which, upon arriving three days ago, I refurbished & redecorated.
Pulled all those silly artifacts of teen angst from the wall, in a fury. The Rolling Stones poster. The Einstein picture. The map of the world. The cool anatomical depiction of the human body, all the organs labeled, even the sexual ones. A nude man and woman with hands outstretched for me to look into their guts. Oh, and the copy of the constitution dad gave me for my 12th birthday. All stored away.
Now just blank walls.
I am a blank man. I wear white shirt & blue tie and blue sportscoat to the high school, over my faded jeans from 1990 or so. My mom does a mean wash. Nothing ever disintegrates or loses solid reality . I am wearing clothes from the 80’s and 90’s, stored away in the attic for my eventual return, I must assume. “So good to have you home again, James,” Mom gushed at the dinner table (pizza, my favorite) the night of my release. She cast an evil eye on Dad, grunting as he ate his pizza. “Finally someone I can talk to! This man..oh…”
So , my second day as a substitute, I was to lead an “assembly”--- a holy word in Dad’s lexicon---to address the problem of bullying. I would have a Psychology teacher, Miss Rena Oblong, to assist me.
Dad had disappeared, for another pipe smoke. Rena and I waited for the students to shuffle in. When it seemed that there were no more latecomers, we entered the gym. She looked magnificently confident, in the world’s longest cardigan sweater and a pair of eyes that saw more than I could. These eyes of hers registered every emotion capturing her ephemeral attention. She also had her thin but attractive lips to help her in this ; several tight smiles were sent my way.
Oops, Dad had not at all disappeared. He was in the corner of the gym, talking to his pally-boys, a bunch of teachers he was fiercely loyal to & had kept on despite mandatory retirement age. This school was run by very old men. Serious ones. Hard drinking and smoking, as their generation did, especially at my father’s pool parties in the summer. I knew these old rascals. They all still deferred to my dad, though his mental acumen was on a huge downslide. They protected him, I think…
When all the students were seated, my Dad raised his right hand and there was utter silence. He had commanded 1400 kids to be quiet, somehow, with just a gesture. He cleared his throat.
“Today , students, I call you to an assembly. Most unusual, I know, some of you may be thinking.” He paused. Bowed his old froggy head. Looked up. To the flag. It was a damn big flag. Some stray air caught it, and it riffled as if on cue.
“There is a problem with our student body, I have been told. You have seen it on the news. I , “ (chuckle), “hope you all watch Walter Cronkite every night. There is no more reliable reportage of our world than his. I , uh, “ he pulled out his pipe and lit it. There was a bit of a gasp, and concerned teachers were squirming, but he was the principal, and he made his own reality.
“I remember being young. I was just the son of an immigrant. My father came to this country in 1904, with 4 dollars and little English. I know what it’s like to be teased. I was teased because I was German. You all know your history. Yet I made it. Yes, “ he faltered, took a drag, and fell silent.
I had to step in. I didn’t want to. I have not one ounce of his magnetic , gravitational, whatever it is, gravitas. I took him by the shoulder. Whispered, “Mom says come on home. She has dinner ready.”
He muttered back, “Ach, chink food?”
“No, Dad, a steak. With baked potatoes.”
“Oh, gosh. When is dinner?”
“As soon as you get home, Dad.”
This got him marching out of the gym to the students’ surprise and laughter.
I took charge.
“ Bullying.” I said.
They fell silent.
Mz. Oblong sidled up, using those eyes to gauge my reception. She stood a foot away and crossed her arms.
“New policy. Zero tolerance, “ I snapped, as my cell phone vibrated. Mom, worried about Dad.
“ Yo, whattas that mean, man?” said some punk with the look of an abused child.
“It means what it says. New policy. Mz Oblong here, whom you all know, will set up a system where all incidents of bullying are investigated to the fullest,” I extemporated.
Bless her, she caught my drift. “Yes, “ she said, her voice reaching the far rafters, “ and I want to enlist your help. I want a team of students to help me investigate any complaints. Any one up for that, see me in my office after this, uh, assembly.”
Ok. Now we got something, here.
Assembly dismissed in muttering.
She winked at me, and walked off.
“where is he?”
I texted: “on his way home”
“hope he remembers the way”
“mom, stop it.”
“he’s getting Chinese tonight!”
“mom, no. get out a steak.”
“why? Are you coming home to eat too?”
“yes. I want steak. Ok?”
“anything for you. French fries or mashed potatoes?”