William Henshaw had just lost the respect of his class. He let himself get offended when a student didn’t like his favorite piece of all time, Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and lost his composure in only the fourth week of class; he still had fourteen more with this specific group of uninterested illiterates. They weren’t illiterate, of course, nor were they uninterested in learning, just that they were easily distracted by the myriad of entertainment sources that life in 2012 offered. Whether that was the cleavage of Mikayla in the back row, the bizarre tics of Cameron, the autistic kid who probably shouldn’t be in a normal classroom, or the newest viral video secretly watched on a smart phone in a purse or under the desk, away from the glazed eyes of Mr. Henshaw who was currently extolling away about the exquisite prose of Mr. Fitzgerald. Nathan Mitchell, instead of reading along with the class, was watching one of these video clips that would exceed 20 million views by the end of the week, when Mr. Henshaw lost it. Nathan read the first few paragraphs of the story along with the classroom, and was immediately bored. Settings in Paris in the 1930’s, and French words like “chasseur” meant nothing to Nathan, who had no greater dream than having 30 thousand twitter followers, and maybe being an ESPN anchor. Nathan tried to conceal his laughter. But the video had everything a man wanted: violence, an attractive woman, and a hilarious payoff. The violence was a low budget MMA fight, set in some small city venue with maybe 300 drunk fans loudly cheering. The arena was basically an old boxing ring, and the fighters were guys in decent shape for their late 20s, but by no means professional fighters. The one lucky roundhouse kick that knocked out the guy in the red trunks, and the ensuing chaos afterward, was the only highlight of the entire evening for those who paid the eight-dollar admission fee that evening. But online, the clip had been edited down to twenty seconds of sparring, before the consciously fatal kick landed on the jaw of the guy in red trunks. That alone, could’ve made it a decent online video, as the guy’s head is blasted to the right, and then instantly he belly flops onto the canvas. The fact that his top left lateral incisor tooth and root, along with saliva and blood, were all dislodged and ejected in a wonderfully parabolic arc clearly captured by the HD video being shot by a fan’s iPhone 5, made it immensely better. Then the flying tooth took an almost vaudevillian or Family Guy-ish move by landing square on the chest of the girlfriend of the now unconscious and recently de-toothed man in red trunks. The girlfriend, wearing a new prom dress from JCPenney meant for someone ten years younger, but equally as alluring, had already won the most important prize in her itinerary: Most beautiful woman in the room. The wife of the lucky roundhouse kicker looked tired and aged and was disinterested in her husband’s violent hobby, she wasn’t even in the top third of “lookers” in the room. The girlfriend, on the other hand, used every punch, every grapple, and every lull in action to scream encouragement to “her man.” Of course, she wanted each scream to bring the attention to herself, as she danced and shimmied, and gesticulated wildly in every conceivable way to show off her figure and her $180 dollar dress. The dress was even lower hung than the skimpy outfits she wore to her job as a receptionist that had gotten her fired after repeated talks of her attire’s inappropriateness. She exceled at inappropriateness since her days in middle school. Attention, like she was currently getting, was exactly what she craved on an everyday basis. Perhaps it was this, which attracted the tooth to her. Like some sort of carnal enamel magnetism, it found the spot directly above her cleavage and lecherously slid down the mammary canal where it lodged itself at the base of her leopard print push up bra. Her initial dumbfounded look was gold, but it was her hysterics afterwards that made the video an internet sensation. Like a child thinking a spider had landed on them, or like a hiker unexpectedly finding himself swarmed by bees, the girlfriend frantically swatted at her body while shrieking, and every muscle which normally made her face an attractive site was turned inside out, distorting in inhumane ways only Jim Carrey could fabricate. The “get if off me” dance was like the Ickey Shuffle and the Gangnam Style horse ride combined in double time. In a way only live video can document, it showed that the girlfriend was uncaring towards her boyfriend, probably unbalanced, and falsely beautiful. Eventually the tooth falls to the floor below, and she makes no effort to collect it and save it for the dental surgery “her man” would no doubt need soon afterwards; no, instead she wipes the saliva/blood off her boobage, and with mascara tears forming at the edges of her painted face, she quickly rushes out of the arena in an attempt to save what little face she has left. She never checks on her boyfriend, who is still out cold. Nathan, caught when his laughter betrayed him, and now trying to save face himself but also impress the class, said, “Sorry, Mr. Henshaw, it’s a funny clip, maybe we could show it on your projector at the end of the class.” “I’m not showing any stupid ass YouTube video now or ever, Mr. Mitchell. Bring me your phone and you can get it back at the end of the day.” Henshaw immediately regretted the harsh tone and the A-word escaping his mouth. Maybe it was the mild expletive, maybe it was the fact that Nathan’s parents had recently separated, maybe it was not having breakfast, or that he was benched in the second half of the latest varsity football game, but Nathan decided today, as a junior in high school, that he had enough of this high school’s stupid rules. “No can do, Henshaw, I got important calls coming in today.” Nothing was further from the truth. Nathan received or sent maybe fifteen texts in a day, but none were of any more importance than, “txt me when u get online for COD 2nite!” “Mitchell, you can bring me your phone and wait outside the class, NOW, that’s not a request, that’s a command, mister. ”“Man, I said I’m sorry, okay. I’ll read your stupid French Babylonian story and we’ll be cool, okay.” Henshaw knew better than to escalate the situation. Directly challenging a student or getting into a verbal altercation never ended good, even though Henshaw was vastly more intelligent (or so he hoped) then his student base. He should’ve just given the class a homework assignment, and while they were preoccupied with this task, walked over to Nathan and quietly let him maintain his pride while still facing the consequences of direct insubordination. Nathan wasn’t a bad kid, he was just a now cornered kid who had already crossed the line and was seeing how far he could stretch it. But Henshaw took it personally, this attack on his favorite author, his favorite piece of all time. The passages in Babylon could convert any kid to a reader, he thought. The prose could inspire a generation of new writers, who could pen the emotional complexity and interpersonal dynamics that convolute and substantiate the life we all live in. Kids would see that, if they gave the story a chance. Having Nathan challenge not only his authority, but diminish the genius that Fitzgerald’s story is by watching an inane viral video? Not today! Thought Henshaw. Maybe during Steinbeck, or Hemingway, or Salinger, or poetry, or grammar lessons, but not during my hero’s forgotten masterpiece! This deserved a sociological diatribe! “You want to know what’s stupid, Mitchell, are students like you, who think they know something about life, ‘cause they saw it on the internet. They think these dumb videos are art, or some lame band’s lyrics are poetry, but they’re all crap, Mitchell. They’re worse than a bad Eddie Murphy movie, and contain less intelligence than all the guests on the Jerry Springer show combined. Whatever video you hoped to show me, will fade into oblivion in a month, and yet, this masterpiece by Fitzgerald will still be here, proving how far we as a society have fallen in creativity, intelligence and literary beauty. Because of your generations reliance on reality television instead of literary masterpieces, your generation will never be able to write anything better than a decent episode of Two and a Half Men, and that, Mitchell, makes me sad, and pisses me off at the same time. This (holding the photocopied Fitzgerald story) is art, what you were watching is graffiti. A disgusting addition to a civilized society. So give me your phone, Mitchell, and decide if you want to be an appreciator of great art, or if you’d rather be a hoodlum supporting graffiti!” Mitchell, thoroughly red in the ears, adrenaline pumping and emotionally charged, only heard the words “stupid, and hoodlum.” Mr. Henshaw, this wholly average, almost 40 teacher had just called him a dumb punk. Mitchell wasn’t used to this. He was usually a good kid, rarely involved in the misdemeanors taking place in and out of school, and yet he had just lumped together with the drug dealers, skanks, and gangsters who profligate around certain corners of the school campus. And it ticked him off. “Well, here you go William,” Mitchell sardonically said as he tossed his $400 dollar phone across the room (which thankfully Mr. Henshaw awkwardly caught). “I’m going to check and make sure you didn’t look up porn with it when I get it back!” And then, because he had never before had a melt down in class, had never been this emotionally charged, he just stood there, as the nervous laughter of the classroom died down. He knew it would’ve been cooler to nonchalantly storm out of the room, but the fear of further worsening his punishment stopped him from making any kind of move. “What did you say?” Did this punk kid just call me a porno addict; was he implying that I’m some kind of pedophile? “What did you say, you stupid son of a bitc…” Henshaw stopped himself. Or he thought he did, he hoped he did. The class was silent; this wholly embarrassing exchange had only taken one minute. A minute that normally Henshaw would use to wrap up the lesson, remind kids of upcoming homework, or chit-chat about the upcoming game or dance; for in those last seconds before the bell rings, in depth instruction is not possible. So he too, having said too much, stood awkwardly silent. The class anticipated something epic; almost forgetting that one of the participants was an authority figure, and hoping that it might end in fisticuffs. Neither of these two participants, though, had ever been in a standoff. They would’ve made horrible gunslingers; the fear both were portraying was visible even to the most socially inept student in the room. Then a hooded boy in the corner, headphones on, oblivious to any of the excitement of the last few minutes of the class period, started throwing his backpack on, knowing that within seconds, he would be free of another torturous class period. Brrrriiiinnnnngggg Brrrriiiinnnnngggg. Saved by the bell: those two loud annoying monotonous tones, which predictably propelled the herds of students into the halls. Yet, for the first time in his 12-year career, Henshaw’s class stayed glued to their seats. There was still unfinished business in this classroom. But then another kid threw on his backpack. Freedom, for the four minute passing times, was more important to some than a potential gunfight. He along with the head-phoned kid made their way out into the already packed hallway. And then, for what seemed like eternity, nothing. Finally, Mitchell, not willing to fight, despite the insult he was dealt, forced his body to move. He grabbed his belongings, threw them carelessly into his backpack and left the room. The rest of the class followed after, whispering in awe the scene they had all just witnessed. The Xeroxed copies of Babylon Revisited lay scattered across the desks. A few had carelessly fallen to the floor in the chaotic hustle of students out the door. It was instantly quiet. 6th period would be starting in a minute, and Henshaw had no students coming in--it was his prep period. He slumped down into his cracked pleather desk chair and exhaled. It seemed like forever since he had taken a breath. His heart was racing; his blood pressure was through the roof. What had he just done? His shocked expression turned to ironic smirk as he found the poster of Martin Luther King Jr. near his desk with the large title: Integrity. He forced himself to read the subtitle: When your character is built on spiritual and moral foundation, your contagious way of life will influence millions. Henshaw suddenly wanted to cry. Why today? Of all the difficult kids, and hairy situations, and heightened emotional exchanges of hormonal kids; why had he chosen today to retaliate and say those thoughts he had always had, yet had always easily held in check? Where were you Dr. King, ten minutes ago? This philosophy of integrity that he had worked so hard at emulating, was gone. Poof, like that, he was a hypocrite. The exact kind of teacher he hated when he was a student. Holden Caulfield would’ve called him a phony. And what about his job? Surely it wasn’t in jeopardy. It’s not like he touched a child. It’s not like he hit a kid, or said something sexually inappropriate to a kid. His union would back him, if it came to that. He wasn’t a new teacher. He had tenure. That stupid kid! No, the student wasn’t stupid, it was just a stupid exchange of emotional beings, and Henshaw had briefly lowered himself to their maturity level. Henshaw felt the familiar pangs of anxiety. It’d been so long, he almost forgot the fear, the millions of thoughts flooding the mind overloading the body and causing it to quake. He deeply inhaled and exhaled again, like he did in college before he gave a presentation. He was a teacher now, he gave presentations everyday, thousands in a year, but that old fearful sensation was never that far away. Right now it felt like he had never beaten it down. Surely he would be summoned by administration. Oh how he wished he had been more supportive of the newest batch of principals. He had already outlasted four head principals, three moving on to whatever greater roles existed for that ladder climbing species, and one to a sudden heart attack that knocked him into retirement. All four had been friends of William’s. Or as friendly as a working relationship of employee and supervisor can be. But William had stopped trying to impress all the new faces that just kept rolling in. He holed up in his room, and studied the curriculum, trying to become the best teacher he could be, while ignoring the social political aspect of his job. The new Athletic Director didn’t know him, as he gave up coaching girl’s basketball years ago, nor did one of the vice principals. His bi-annual review was coming up, and he had only briefly emailed the new Head Principal, James Cladwell, as to when he would be available, it was their only source of communication in the first four weeks of the school year. Henshaw had also stopped voluntarily signing up for committees: like the curriculum committee or the literary committee. He was tired of wasting his time talking, arguing, creating, changing, motivating, presenting, accommodating, and negotiating and then not seeing anything significant really change. The only thing he could directly impact was his own classroom. Plus, he was no longer a new teacher, his family, his daughters were growing up, and he wanted to actually be there for their growth. But now, as a teacher who wasn’t heavily inundated into the current school culture or brand, one only concerned with events inside his own classroom, he realized he was an outcast. He was expendable. He had selfishly sought familial harmony over workplace advancement. Did he have any allies of importance in the current administration? Surely, his department head would vouch for him, but who else would have anything positive to say? He was merely an average teacher. A few students had come back and visited him, a few told him he was their “favorite teacher,” and he was generally liked by the teaching staff, but would anyone, past or present go to bat for him? He couldn’t rely on the 5th period students. They were there, they knew the truth, and they would mostly side with Mitchell. Someone probably recorded it on his or her phone as well, as this generation of kids were always savvy about documenting socially awkward situations the moment they develop. It was probably on YouTube already. Both Mitchell and Henshaw were in the wrong, but Henshaw was the professional. He, like all teachers, was held to a higher moral standard than almost any other job. Again he looked at the Integrity poster. He had always shown such great judgment, but today, for whatever reasons, he slipped. He let it all, 12 years of teaching frustrations, build up, and got offended over a stupid short story, and he cracked. Maybe it was time for a vacation. He tried to remember the last vacation the family took. It was Disneyland, the kids were tiny then, they barely made it half the day. Henshaw felt ripped off. Maybe the district would put him on administrative leave. A vacation could be a positive; an administrative leave, though, especially if the local media, or if the students found out, would be a blight that would follow him his whole career. All I did was call that Nathan kid stupid and a son of a bitch. That’s all. This stuff happened all the time in the 70s and 80s. But William knew it was different. Teachers today don’t get away with anything. It’s guilty first, innocent later, forgiven eventually, but never forgotten, regardless of guilt. He remembered how old retiree teachers of bygone eras would sometimes eat lunch with them in the lounge, sharing stories of a different time, when you could call out feminine boys as “queers,” or give two kids a pair of boxing gloves to “settle the score.” Henshaw never liked these stories. He wasn’t jealous that they were virtually free to do whatever they wanted in their classrooms with very little oversight by anyone in administration. Instead he got mad at how some of these “teachers” were spineless in stopping racism, or bigotry, or belittling kids with mental deficiencies. How some could care less whether the “dumb” kids learned anything. Of course, he was stereotyping them, they weren’t all bad…The bell ending 6th period interrupted his thoughts. His last class of the day, Freshman English, would be starting, and William hadn’t done a thing with his 50-minute prep time. He had sat, nervously predicting his next chess move, if he wasn’t in checkmate already, and hadn’t come up with anything. His best hope was for a stalemate. The first few freshmen started filtering in. “What are these packets on the desk, Mr. Henshaw? Is this what we’re doing today?” one of his still unknown acne faced adolescents asked. Freshman always wanted to know what the agenda of the day was, so that they could respond to the teacher’s answer, whatever it was, with a groan. “What? Oh, no…uh…we’ll just pass those forward when class starts.” Henshaw looked at his lesson plan for Freshman English and decided to scrap it. Too much interaction. The tardy bell finally sounded, and the least mature, and most easily distracted of all of Henshaw’s classes finally calmed enough to listen to their teacher. “Guys, I’ve got a splitting headache, so please turn to page 456, and read The Most Dangerous Game silently and answer questions 1-8 at the end of the story.” (Loud group groan). The idea of not talking through Game usually would sadden Henshaw, since it was one of the few highlights of his freshman curriculum (as young boys love its violence). But today, Henshaw didn’t care, and neither did the students. Probably half the class didn’t read the story, and many were openly copying the smart kids’ answers. The class was verging towards anarchy by the time the last bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. The freshman noisily made their way outside his door, and the silence again befell the room. Another fifty minutes of time to build a strategic defense, gone. Any minute now, Cladwell would waltz into his room with a scowl on his face, with questions that needed answering. He tried to breath it out at his desk, but the anxiety wouldn’t let him sit still. He made his way to the men’s room, relieved himself, and then lost his lunch all over the urinal. He quickly flushed away the evidence, but seeing the orange bile swirling next to the deodorant cake made him heave again. It had been years since William had thrown up. Afraid it might happen again, and not wanting to face inquisitive students or faculty, he locked himself in the handicapped stall and sat hoping the world would stop whirling around him. He had no idea how long he sat there when the secretary’s voice interrupted his thoughts. The partially muffled intercom voice said, “William Henshaw, please report to the front office please.” William lurched forward and violently turned toward the toilet opening. He tried to vomit again, but there wasn’t anything left in his system. He thought about leaving for home, but he still was technically supposed to be on campus for another 30 minutes; eventually, it would catch up with him anyway. The two hundred foot walk, past colleagues’ rooms, the library, the counselor’s office, the campus security wing, the janitor happily waving to him, and various students either greeting or ignoring his presence, before he reached the office lasted an eternity. Twice he had to brace himself against the hallway wall, like a drunk college kid trying to find his dorm room. He could smell the bile on his breath, and he thought he would be sick again. When he got to the office door, he saw Nathan Mitchell standing there impatiently. William pushed the door open unsurely. The secretary smiled at him, and said, “I believe you have something of Mr. Mitchell’s?”William looked up and saw Principal James Cladwell emerge from his office and perch himself at his doorway. “What? I have what?”“My phone Mr. Henshaw, can I have it back now, please?” Nathan Mitchell said, with a sly grin. “Oh, uh, yeah.” Henshaw fumbled through his pockets and found the phone in his front pants pocket. “Here you go.” He shot a questioning look at Nathan, but saw nothing but his fading grin. “Thanks…” “Oh, and I accidentally took this, your story, here you go.” William reached out and took back his Babylon story, and thought he heard Nathan say something else, but was too distracted by Principal Cladwell’s gesture waving him into his office, to hear it clearly. He made his way into the office like a beat dog. “Sit down Henshaw, I’ve been meaning to have you in here for a heart to heart for some time, and then, when Mr. Mitchell came in here…” “Look, before you say anything, he had it coming. He was watching a YouTube video on his phone during class and when I asked for his phone, he got sassy with me. I asked twice and he started getting insubordinate…”“William, relax…”“No, that kid, I wasn’t calling him stupid, I was saying his generation is stupid, and who knows, he might be stupid himself, but he just kept needling me, and I didn’t mean to call him a son of a bitch, or a hoodlum, or stupid, but he was calling me a porn addict and a boring old…”“What did you say to him?”“Well, I’m sure he already told you, I’m just giving my side of the story…”“Your student, Mr. Mitchell, came in here saying he wasn’t paying attention in your class, and you called him out on it, and he realized you were right. He said that story you taught today was really good, and he thought you were a really good teacher, and he wanted to apologize to you for using his phone in your class, but you weren’t in your classroom after school.” “What are you talking about? Are you telling me you cussed out one of our students, William?” “Because, that…But William, now, wasn’t listening. He had just noticed the blue ink scribbling that defaced his copy of Babylon Revisited: Mr. Henshaw. I’m sorry for what happened in class today. It was more my fault then yours, and I realize why you got all angry. I’m not a bad kid, really. I read this story during my math class, and you were right. It’s a great story about maturity and forgiveness after a lifetime of making the wrong choices. My life is really crummy right now, and I think I took that out on you. I’m trying really hard to make the right choices. You talk a lot about integrity and I think we both kind of sucked at that today, so for my part I’ll try and be a better student. Sorry again, Nate.P.S. Sorry I just “graffitied” this copy by writing on it. William, tears in his eyes, looked up at Cladwell, and interrupted him, “I uh, I have a ton of sick leave, would you okay some time off. I think I need a vacation to get my priorities straight.” How long had he been correctly analyzing complex literature, and now, in real life, he couldn’t even recognize good characters anymore, even when they’re right in front of his podium. “I’m glad you said that, cause I was going to recommend something very similar. And when you get back, I’d love to have a real conversation. It’s about time we got to know one another, William. And also, I think you’d be perfect for this committee I’m setting up on education reform.”“Yeah, okay. I was just thinking I needed to get involved with people again.”“Not now, though. Make some sub notes, and get out of here. Take your wife to Paris or something and get your head on straight. But before all that, go find Mr. Mitchell and apologize, I don’t need his angry parents in here cussing me out tonight.” Yes, all roads do lead to Paris. Of course, on his teacher’s salary, William would probably have to settle for Paris, Texas.
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