As with all hells, they are paved with good intentions and one of mine was a desire to write a novel that would expose some of the nefarious things that are going on in education today. As you can see from the sample pages under “Goodbye the Dream”, I didn’t get far at all! (Boy is that an understatement.) So perhaps if I just keep adding pages here, I will end up with a short story. But it doesn’t look likely. Perhaps it will just be individual “parts” of a long essay. Or maybe a Mosaic?
When the sun burns hot the mid-day California earth, nothing escapes change. The soil becomes dry and cragged like the face of the old man in Aurora's only barber shop getting his last few sprigs trimmed. Cold tin roofs become fry pans even for experienced cat feet and lizard legs who only this morning needed the blessed rays in lieu of a morning caffeine fix. Even those who wouldn't live anywhere snow has ever touched earth, curse the oppressive heat that grabs them by the throat and presses them like shirts at the Chinese laundry at the corner of Delaware and Hite.
Nearly done to the bone, twenty-five teenagers sit in the oven trying to concentrate on something other than the broken air conditioning in the windowless Room 201 North least not on what Dr. Malingo is trying to teach them about the jumble of numbers and figures on the dry erase board. It doesn't help that all the markers on the tray at the bottom of the board are dried up to a crisp and no matter how many times Dr. M. tries each of them , they still only make a faint hint of the illustrations he is trying to draw. He has told the office several times this month to order more the damn things but they keep forgetting and, that when they do finally remember, he knows that they will be low-bid and will only last a week at best. Low-bid has become standard in the lexicon of the School Board. It also doesn't help that this is the fifth time in as many days that the air conditioning has been out. "Yes, a call has been placed Dr. M., but we have to wait our turn and, as you know the repair of all air systems has been given to the low-bid company." "I, am sure they will come as soon as they can."
When the heat burns hot in the mid-day California classroom, nothing escapes change either. The air becomes stale with the scent of teenage sweat, feet start patting on the linoleum floor, pencils begin to beat out rhythms of discontent and attitudes are slowly brought to a boil. Rebecca casts a glance at Jonathan, thinking; "I don't give a shit about this crap, just get me out of this hell hole." Jonathan, winks at her wondering what his sweet friend was thinking about while his thoughts turn to practicing that difficult shift in the first movement of the Delius piece they were working on in 1st period orchestra. As far as he can tell, only one person is still trying to pay attention to the lesson at hand and he smiles knowing that it is his trusted friend Victor, who wouldn't let himself be detracted if spontaneous combustion lighted all of his mates aflame at the same moment. Not only would he not notice, he would probably ask them to "keep it down" so he could hear the good professor talk music-to-his-ears-math.
Considering that twenty five seasoned, baked and boiled teenagers met a few hundred likewise stewed students crammed in the too narrow halls of the North Wing when the bell rang for lunch, what happened was not a surprise to any of them, although Admin was heard - as always - saying that they just couldn't figure out why it happened.
The fine arts kids always tote around the accoutrements of their various trades; some cellos with great end pins sticking out of their bottoms, some brushes and canvases, some carrying tubas on their back, others with demure tights and ballet slippers from the barre room, and Jonathan with his ever present partner in life - his violin, The parcels of their talents mark them with dignity among the close circle of their fine arts family but they also mark them with the sign of the cross at which the slings and arrows of hatred are frequently aimed at them by the neighborhood students who bide a deep resentment and disgust of their talents.
Just after Jonathan made it to the first floor hall on his way to lunch, a fist hit him in the back along with the frequent warning heard by many before him; "Get out of my way honkie, faggot ". "This is our hall, stay outta here." Stumbling to keep a balance on his emotions as well as his feet, he lurched forward toward a group of four or five "First Hallers". Like a death cry , one of the girls screamed; "That boy push me 'bout to the groun". The fister yelled; "Don mess wif my bitch, queer boy." At the first sign of trouble, teenagers run, not away from trouble, but right in to the middle of it as fast as their excitement can carry them.
By the time the school's Bouncer, the A Team and the school's Resource Officer reached First Floor North, is was as calm and quiet as the deserted Mojave desert after a sand storm - except for the moans and groans of five innocents scattered across like fallen pins on the alley of FFN still clutching the symbols of their talent as sacred relics. In times of great stress and fear we scarcely know what happens as the slow motion of disbelief and horror meets the quick time of fists, screams and tears. One thing of which he was certain was that he had been badly damaged, his nose broken, cuts and bruises from feet flying fast at his head, sore muscles catching their breath from beating but most of all, his love of the school was wounded forever. Some things can heal, some things cannot.
What could Jonathan tell Admin about what happened? What did he feel safe to say? Where are all the witnesses now that blood mopping is all that is left? Who would tell the story as it really happened? Jonathan, a boy of great principle, an inheritor of his Mother's great sense of rightness and of his faith's teachings, would set the school straight and make sure that Admin knew about the evil that is creeping down every hall of Aurora High School.
Reginald Washington was an imposing figure of the first order, fashioned from a discarded frame of a mack truck and made to absorb the worst possible hits from whatever opposition team his college team faced. Although that frame had been overlaid by pounds and pounds of muscle and grit in his playing days, now as a 55 year old Principal, most of those pounds were lost memories. But like most of mack trucks turned administrator, their aggressiveness, their size and their intimidating way of relating to the world were still 'of the field'. Once it is in the blood, it is there forever and marks your territory wherever you go.
Washington had done his research before calling Jonathan to his office, contacting the teachers nearby about the alleged incident, interviewing a few of the students who he knew were in the hall after their FFN class, examining all of the support staff who showed up too late to support anyone and then he set about organizing a few of his own plays to call when Jonathan arrived in his office promptly at 10:30 a.m. the following morning. It wasn't that he wished Jon any more ill-will or harm than he had already encountered, he just wanted to be sure that no one laid blame at the door of the administration or at the feet of the kickers of the scattered pins.
A huge white toothy smile greeted him as he entered the office along with a hand shake that would crush a bear paw and a, "Jon, my main, com'n in and let me look atcha". If the salutation was meant to put Jonathan at ease, it had just the opposite effect since Jonathan hated bear paws, mack trucks, false teeth and especially "my main"s. Only in this office for 30 seconds, he already felt like a VW Beetle about to be crushed by the man who holds his future in those huge hands. "One hell of a game last night with the Cougars, wasn't it?" "Too bad about the loss, but we put up a great fight."
I remember asking, "Mr. Howard, may I please, please stay in the orchestra room and practice instead of going to the pep rally today?" I have All-State auditions coming up and a paper due for Advanced Placement Theory class on the development of polytonality during the Renaissance. Gosh, that was just a week ago and here we go again, trying to figure out a way to avoid another one of those terrible hours The band will be blasting away in the echo chamber of the gymnasium painfully killing a musician's greatest asset, their hearing. That would be a lot like the quarterback having his throwing arm fed through a tree shredder. And we have to sit there again watching the jocks be praised and worshipped, cheered and honored for having a mack body. We are told that it is for school spirit. If they want school spirit, let's have a rally for the ballet class and have them pirouette through the arch of victory as they are called one by one listing their names like the gods of the Greek temples. Or maybe a rally for all the art students whose soul-creations were awarded a first place in the State "Fine Arts Championship". Better yet, the Honor Society members could run out on the court and chest bump each other for their triumphs in deciphering the hieroglyphs on Dr. Malingo's marker board. Why is it that 2500 students, each with their own unique God given talents are paying homage to 25 football players week after week?"
He heard The Wash saying, "You were there weren't you Jon....at the big game?", seeming to notice that Jonathan was elsewhere. "Too bad about your little problem yesterday, too." "We just can't have this kind of thing happening at Aurora and will do everything we can to make sure that you don't have that kind of trouble any more." Like the quarterback who keeps running and dodging in order to stay on his feet, he quickly continued, "I've had all forces out looking into the incident and, unfortunately we haven't yet been able to nail it down to a single person but, we are working on it." "You might want to be a little more careful in those crowded halls in the future and, since the first floor north is more crowded than other floors, you might want to avoid using that hall." "Be sure to tell your parents that we are doing everything we can, and Jonathan, I'll really try to come to your concert Thursday night but I do have a girl's volleyball game and a track meet to attend also." "Thanks for coming in to see me and be sure to take care of that face." Followed by a big, toothy, "Ouch!"
As he was ushered out of the office, less than four minutes after entering, Jonathan began mumbling details of what happened yesterday but, with a gentle football pat on the sore back and a couple of "attaboy"s, he found himself alone in the maze of administrative offices. A "Hi ya, kid" from the Dean of Boys and a thumbs up from the Resource Officer as he slowly made his way back to his homeroom, didn't ease the physical or mental pain that he carried on the day after THE day.