Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Human Than Human

In his waning years as a sturdy oak of junior high largesse, my eighth grade science teacher leaned a bit psychotic. It’s not that this sudden brain tic made him less amenable to students or faculty – both of whom respected the man in the way you might honor a former NFL legend-cum-broadcaster at the close of a storied career – but when certain cards in everyone’s deck of 52 get lost, an odd fungus tends to erode the mind. Simply put, if you heave an overhead projector from its stoic desk perch into the hallway, mid-lesson, while attempting to verbally discipline twenty-five or so uninterested snots, you command attention. Naturally, once said projector slams against the far wall, ricocheting like a bad car crash or serious industrial accident, you’ve earned certifiable bragging rights in the dangerous yet coveted “totally fucking insane” realm of educational lore. And congratulations, because that tightrope on which you’re now balancing is one for which an entire district’s worth of teachers would carve out their kidneys. While the meek and compliant enforced rules via rationality, eighth grade science was now policed with the suggestive power of imminent physical harm, random or otherwise, and forever coupled with a dollop of eye twitching insanity. Suddenly, trivial infractions like forgetting one’s homework or passing notes could have resulted in being made to eat chalk, having our hands submerged in jars of hydrofluoric acid, or, shudder to think, our brains eaten by the newly minted mad professor after a lovingly slow roast on the Bunsen burner.

Whatever the curriculum lords may have intended, this class was never a traditional foray into textbooks and mundane lectures. Prior to the bizarre “feats of strength” display, our master of ceremonies sawed batteries apart, ignited and exploded them, lit gaseous substances ablaze on his ceiling, and simulated the creation of a fireball. Package these curious ventures into a fan-friendly Mr. Wizard’s World on crack cocaine, toss a few pieces of machinery to ensure that the master/servant relationship is understood by all, implicitly convince the true believers of your looming psychosis, and bingo: You have the makings of a funhouse doubling as a science class masquerading as an even bigger funhouse where no one really learns anything. Except under this circus tent, the knife thrower flings real weaponry. And you don’t need to volunteer to be targeted. And sometimes he misses. Because he’s a goddamn old man, older than dirt.

Yes, Dr. Frankenstein’s venerable ubiquity was taken for granted. He seemed like he’d always been around; just as apt to have been present at the dedication of the school cornerstone, in a “Science Faculty 1947” yearbook photo, on the Zapruder film, or even etched into cave drawings extolling the merits of the wheel. And while his tales of greatness spanned an amazing spectrum of bygone days, with events unthinkable in politically correct times (i.e. tackle football games of teachers vs. students and pig roasts in the courtyard, to name a few), the year his mental faculties derailed was to be his last. He knew this. Yanking a large metal device out of its outlet, and tossing it against an outside wall with Tarzan-like precision and Godzilla-fueled strength wasn’t exactly placing the twilight of a career in jeopardy, nor was it risking a hefty pension. In other words, when you’re old and fully cooked, you’re entitled. And when you’re overly entitled, and deemed to be halfway between solitaire and senility, you can scare the bejesus out of the most hardened future drop-outs with a few metered bouts of unpredictability.


And that’s not science, it’s art.

16 comments:

Chris @ Maugeritaville said...

Gotta love the teacher stories. And now that you mention it, somewhere around frame Z316, I did notice a frazzled-looking older man chucking an overhead projector at Governor Connelly. Hmmm...

MVD said...

Hey Chris - This guy was one of those super popular ex-jock teachers who, presumably back in the 50's and 60's, was quite the cool cat beatnik on campus. By the time I sat under his tutelage, in 1988-89, he was washed up, forgetful, and a bit insane.

I didn't convey this in my piece, but that kind of transformation is quite sad, yet all too common.

Nonetheless, he still had a wicked arm.

Ron said...

Ok...I'm thinking Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.

Either that, or one of my catholic grammar school nuns.

The whole "chalk-eating" thing brought back so many fond memories because I was a "note passer."

...but when certain cards in everyone’s deck of 52 get lost, an odd fungus tends to erode the mind....

Love it!

Theresa said...

I wish I had teacher stories. But I don't. Not one teacher in all my years as a student stands out to me. But that's okay because I don't think any one of them would remember me either. I was the consumate wall flower, even in the classroom. Thanks for sharing your teacher story. Well written, as always.

MVD said...

Well, Ron, he never threatened any of us with a sharpened wire hanger (nor did he actually eat anyone's brain, though we considered it a fair presumption), but he certainly scored points for unique violence. Why break a yardstick ruler when you can destroy school property and cause a few loose bowels to fail?

Jen said...

No violence was ever perpetrated but I did have a high school English teacher that we all believed was either ex-CIA or in the witness protection program. He always liked me, not in that creepy Lolita kind of way (at least I was too naive to know at the time), but scared the crap out of the boys. Let's just say it was a demeanor thing. I still wonder whether or not he was stealing secrets from the Russians during the sixties or just stepped on some mafioso toes. I have a feeling my imagination is more interesting.

Suldog said...

Damn! Over the last two days, between you and Mauger, I've gotten to read two of the most interesting tales, concerning teachers, that it has ever been my pleasure to read. Excellent.

Pam said...

As a Seinfeld fan, I am offended that you did not give credit to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld for the "feats of strength" quotation.

Nightmares of Mr. L. said...

My "totally fucking insane" eighth grade health teacher would hold students suspended by the feet out the window of his 3rd story classroom to discipline them.His class was the most dreaded class in the district and my heart still pounds when I think about those 50 minutes of terror twice a week. Would you believe he was never disciplined for these actions and made it to full retirement?

MVD said...

Hey Jen - In our district, certain teachers were viewed as closet drunks, communists, and womanizers. Most of these claims could be attributed to overactive imaginations, but once the rumor mill starts spinning, it spins through retirement.

MVD said...

Good catch, Pam. The "feats of strength" quote was indeed lifted from the mind of Larry David. Speaking of which, I should probably remit another check to The Human Fund.

MVD said...

Ah, Mr. L, there's nothing like a healthy touch of incredulity to spice up the comments section. Is this the same teacher that fed his D students through a wood-chipper behind the utility shed?

Out-Numbered said...

Dude, my 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Bossy, had a wooden leg and used to call everyone, "a fucking asshole" if you got a question wrong... Good times.

MVD said...

I'm guessing, Out-Numbered, that his wooden leg was hollow, used to store the contents of Wild Turkey bourbon (or something equally enjoyed by hard living maniacs). Too bad you didn't introduce termites to the classroom.

Matt Shea said...

Mike, my science teacher wasn't insane like Mr L's, or a pirate like Out-Numbered's (unfortunately). He did, however, bust me and my brother stealing magnesium from the labs to put on the bottom of my brother's radio controlled Formula 1 car (tehe). I think he let us off with a warning simply because he spotted some elements of his own nerdy past. As for your teacher, are you sure it wasn't Mr White from Breaking Bad?

MVD said...

Excellent query, Matt, although I'm fairly certain that my teacher wasn't peddling methamphetamine in the school parking lot during his free periods. Even so, I don't remember decayed teeth, so I can only assume he wasn't addicted.

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