Originally published as a three part story in January, 1998
Conners, Richards, Peterson and the Physics of Getting out of Physics
Lemme get you up to speed. See, I didn't do so well this term, what with Mr. Conners telling me it was about time I did something with my life. I was sitting in his office listening to him go on and on about career decisions. For cripes' sakes, I just turned 17! Why should I care about jobs, careers, family! I hate it when ancient people try to tell me what's wrong in my life.
It was the middle of March, and my latest report card was sitting on his desk. I was barely floating along with a grade in the low 60% level. Old Conners is telling my I might be transferred to General level classes, and you know what that means, don't you?
"It means, young man, you will not be able to go to University. You need all your classes to be Advanced level, dontcha know?"
I hate it when people call me young man. I really do. Old man Conners probably weighs a good 30 pounds less than me, and he stands about 4 inches lower than me, and here he is, calling me 'young man'. I hate that.
The truth is, I don't know what I want to do with my life. Actually, I don't want to know what I want to do with my life. I'm playing football, and I like that. I'm playing baseball, and I like that. I ride my bike with my friends, and I like that. I'm dating girls and I like that. What's more to it?
See, the deal is, I'm doing bad at my school. Really sucky in fact. I flunked outta math last term, and they are talking about me getting a 50% in Math just so's I can get my diploma one day. I got kicked out of that old fart Richards, Physics class, and I don't think I'll ever be let in. In fact, it was really funny to see the reaction of that old fart the day I got the boot.
Richards was teachin his usual bullshit about this and that, and he was tellin' all of us 'bout hair shampoo. Hair Shampoo! Woo, something real useful and like for us in our immediate and far off future, right?
So anyways, old fart Richards was telling all of us that shampoo, no matter what brand it was, was exactly the same. You cold get a bottle of Pert and a bottle of Studio, and the ingredients would be exactly the same. 'Cept the color of course, he says. That's just different dyes used.
Since I didn't like the old fart much, I took any opportunity I could to dispute him. See, I knew how to get old fart's goat. I specialized in that. I could twist him around my finger, and it was always a riot. It killed me. I made a hobby of it, and it was 'specially funny because he was like 90 or something, and didn't have much time for 'them young'uns'.
So anyways, old fart was telling us about shampoo and all, and how it was all exactly the same, and I piped up.
"What about Head 'n Shoulders?"
"It's all the same, Prince. All the same"
"Yeah but they say they get rid of dandruff. How can it all be the same if they get rid of dandruff and others don't? And what about Johnson's baby shampoo?"
"Prince, are you trying to start me again, because I'm tellin' ya, I'm not in the mood for it today. I'm the damned teacher here, and you know nothing. So shut up."
Yeah but see, Johnson's is the 'no tears' shampoo, which I guess means it doesn't irritate your eyes. We used it on my little brother, and I even tried putting it in my eyes. It stung a bit..."
"Prince, I said shut up!"
"... a bit but not nearly as much as that big bulk no name stuff my Mom buys. So it has to be different, what?
"PRINCE! I said SHUT UP!! It's all the SAME!"
"...An then my Dad, see, he has this condition, and he buys this really expensive shampoo he gets by persciption, and it costs like $50 a bottle and stuff, and if they are all the same..."
"Prince, I'm warning ya...."
".. then it stands to reason that my Dad's bein' ripped off, right? So if they are all the same, then what's the deal with all these different shampoos? Is my Dad bein' ripped off? Should I tell him that?"
I thought the old fart was going to have a heart attack right then and there, but instead he moved pretty fast for an old fart an' he leaped over to my desk. I was sitten with Jeremy Bitters, some goof of a guy from my homeroom, and old Jeremy moved pretty fast to let the old fart get at me. We was sitting at these little lab tables. Each has a sink, two burner gas things and this black top. Old fart Richards leaped over to my lab table and reached over the counter, grabbing my by the collar. I swear he was going to hit me, I really do, but instead he just roughed me up a bit, shaking me a lot.
He was saying stuff, but I couldn't make out what he was sayin'. He was speaking gibberish, all at a high volume, and all with his little spittles flyin' in my face.
All I could do was laugh.
Then he really kinda lost it. He dragged me over the lab table, and I bruised my arm. He pulled me to the doorway, and literally, I swear, threw me out into the hallway.
"Never again in my class, you little prick!!"
Yikes. This guy had a few screws loose, I gots to tell you. Peterson, one of our school's two Veeps, called me over the intercom at lunch that day, so I had to go pay the piper, but you know what? I don't think I did anything really wrong. Still I hated Peterson and his office. He had it set up so's you were always intimidated.
Take his chairs for a minute. See, I was around my full height by this time, about 6 feet tall. But when you sat in one of Peterson's chairs, the ones that face him and his desk, you are looking up at him. He's not much taller than me! I swear the bastard cut the legs on those chairs so you sat like 10 inches above the ground. I bet he's got this complex, working in a High School and all. A complex where he has to feel so much bigger than all the students around him.
So I was in Peterson's office sitting just a few inches above the ground, and he's wailing into me. He's tellin me what a shit disturber I am, in not so many words. He's tellin' me I have no respect for my teachers. He's tellin' me what's all wrong in my life.
I hate that. I hate when old people tell me what to do with my life.
I sat through all of this, but I was getting angry. I was getting a bit perturbed, so to speak. When Peterson was finished, I only said one thing.
"I guess we are not supposed to ask any questions in school right? We're robots who just listen, and never question."
Peterson sat there for like an hour in silence. I could tell he was tryin' to figure how to answer that question without comin' off as a hypocrite. Finally as the sun started to set, he goes, "Mark, of course you ask questions, that is how you learn. But you have a history with Mr. Richards. You like to ask non-sensical questions. You seem to know how to anger him to the point where he's not an effective teacher. That is not right."
I repeated what happened, as far as my view of it was, in the Physics class. Peterson nodded. And nodded. He was the kind of guy who liked you to think he was this big time thinker and all. He nodded all the time, when I bet he was thinkin' about which kid he could intimidate next, or which car he was gonna buy next. He always drove these flash cars, you see.
I was wonderin' where old fart Richards was, but Peterson would only say that he had discussed this with the old fart earlier. Then he was noddin' again. Then he really surprised me.
"This doesn't jive with what Mr. Richards told me, young man, but you've repeated the exact same thing twice in one hour. I'm going to look into this a bit further. For now, you're dismissed."
Ever notice how old people use words like 'jive'? That killed me. But I'm digressin' again. Old Peterson, actually listenin' to me? That's a first! Normally he's yellin' at me like a lot of old farts do, or lookin' at me with this stern look, thinkin' I'm up to no good. Now he's listenin' to me? That is freaky.
To make a really long story short, Peterson asked Jeremy, the guy who sat next to me, his version of the events. I guess Jeremy kinda remembered them like I did, because the next day Peterson called me in again for another meeting. What would happen was this - I would be given a passing grade for Physics, so I could get my diploma, but I would be spendin' the rest of the year in a study hall class during my Physics period. They could tell, he said, I had no aptitude at all for math and sciences, so I would have to concentrate my abilities in stuff I was good at - writing, drawing, sports, and stuff like history and geography.
So that's how I got out of taking Physics.
Boy, I can really get off track, eh? I was talking about sitting in Conners' office with him telling me I had to find this kind of direction in my life. He was askin' me about my interests and stuff, and I was not being too helpful.
I guess Conners could see it was just goin' in and out of my ears, so he dismissed me. Ever notice how old people like to dismiss people? The story of my life. I get dismissed everywhere.
I was walking back to my locker when old Whiteman, my English Comp teacher saw me and pulled me aside to talk about some upcoming project. Whiteman was cool as far as teachers go - he was also my little league baseball coach. You see, I played first base for him, and we went to the city championships last summer. No fairy tale though - we lost.
So old Whiteman pulls me aside to find out about my term project. Whiteman always had some big kind of concern over my affairs, but at least he treated me okay, not like the way Conners, Peterson and Richards did. Those guys had definite superiority complexes when it came to us lowly students.
"How is the project going Mark? Have you decided on your topic yet?"
"I was thinkin' about Billy Bishop. In history we watched that film, ya know the one, 'The Kid Who Couldn't Miss' or somethin' like that, and I thought it was all pretty cool and stuff. I'd like to look more into it and see if there's a story there I can write."
"Hmm yah... hmmmm..." Whiteman says as he nods away. He's another nodder, just like Veep Peterson. "But Mark, isn't that more of a history project?"
"Well, yah, maybe, but I wanna write it from a first person perspective, as if I was Billy's Mechanic or something."
"Okay. Well, keep to it, okay? Don't forget this is worth half your term mark." He says as he starts walkin' away.
Whiteman. Always concerned about me. Last summer he was askin' me all sorts of questions about my school work and stuff while we were in our baseball season. But somehow he's a bit different. He didn't seem so pushy. Maybe it's just because he never really acted like he knew better than me, y'know? I kinda like that in the old folks.
I wrote the composition as a first person narrative, and I got good grades on it. In fact, I always got decent grades in English and History. Nothing spectacular, mind you but at least I cruised them.
Cruise them. I guess that could describe my entire eleventh grade experience. I cruised it at my own speed. I finished off that school year with a 63% average, including a 50% in Physics and Math. I was never to take those courses again, and it was none too soon for me, let me tell you.
Those Crazy Welsh!
One good thing happened towards the end of that school year. I started goin' out with this chick named Elyned. Weird name, eh? It was welsh, and all her brothers and sisters shared the same kind of name. Her Mom was big on all things Welsh.
Len was one of those A+ students. Always did her homework, she did. Always studied hard for tests. And she always scored high on them. Parent pressure, I always thought when I first started dating her. During the summer I found out it was something different.
That summer I had a bit of a revelation, I suppose you could call it. Elyned never criticised me in the stuff I did with my life. She seemed pretty content with it overall, but she also showed me how and why she got such good grades. I was wrong about the parent thing, to a certain extent. She was overachieving in school partially because she had big plans in her life. And she showed me for the first time what big plans I should have. The time is still fresh.
We were sitting on a bench by the canal. We just came from a rather schlocky movie - Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures. I was talking to her about the upcoming school year, and my plans with sports and stuff.
"Mark, is that what you think you'll do? Get really serious about the football and play it professionally?"
"I dunno". Geez, who wants to think about this stuff!
"The thing I always noticed about you was that you could get awfully damned creative when you want. Didja know you can make money doing that?"
It was true, I could be creative when I need to. I got awfully creative a few times when I had only hours to finish off an essay, and I always scored okay on them. "I suppose. But who's gonna pay me to be quick on my feet?"
Bingo. It hit me like a brick. The one ability, or talent I suppose you could call it, of mine that I knew of was my ability to be creative, in words or in art forms. I couldn't draw people or landscapes and stuff worth a lick, but I could draw. I loved to doodle, and I was kinda famous for my abstracty stuff. I liked drawing cartoons is what I'm tryin' to say.
I sat there realizin' what I just said - who's gonna pay me to be quick on my feet. Of course! Lotsa people are paid the big bucks for being quick on their feet! It struck me how stupid I can be sometimes.
Elyned just looked at me, and I guess she saw the lightbulb because a smile came over her face. At that moment I kinda figured I loved her. She was just so cute. She had this strawberry red hair thing happening, and she had freckles in all the right places. We were steady, I suppose ya call it, and at that moment, I was happy I found her.
Len had this way about her, y'see. She rarely got mad and stuff at me, even when I was bein' a complete jerk. The times I could count on how I was drunk at parties, an' she was always the sensible one there, not bein' condescending to me, but bein' patient. I loved that about her. I remember the one time at a party at this chick Lisa Law's house where I was makin' the fool and even hittin' on this other chick from Lisgar. Elyned an' I weren't even an item then - just a few dates here and there.
So anyway, here I am, three sheets to the wind, and I'm making time with this Lisgar chick. At one point I look over at the livin' room and there's Elyned, cryin'. Then she looked up at me and dead sighted me right in the eye. I could read everything - I was hurtin' her. Man, I tells ya, I never felt so low in my life before. This never happened to me before. Most of the girls I dated or fooled around with weren't the commitin' type, or at least I wasn't before that night.
I made it up to the old girl though, and I sure was happy to have her sittn' with me on that warm night watchin' the phonies in their rented sailboats go up and down the canal. It was a real moment in my life, I'm tellin' ya. That simple moment of awaking, if you want to give it some fancy title, did change my life.
"Mark, if you want to make this work for you, you'll have to go to university, y'know."
University Babes and Stuff
University. I always wondered if I would go to University. I figured, when I was a kid a million years ago, I'd be one of those guys who got a football scholarship or somethin' and not have to worry about paying for school or even studying. They always let the jocks do what they want, right?
And University was cool. I figured it would be just like Animal House, that cool movie with that dead guy. Party all the time, piss off the Dean, and get the babes. I knew there was probably some kinda work in between, but I'd been to a few Uni parties by now, and they were always cool and always fun. So much fun that by the time I finished with the cocktails and the beer, I was incoherent.
But I started to think I'd need to do something to get into a school. After all, it was only a couple of years away. I'd have to study of course. I'd have to figure out what I was gonna take. I was sittin' there thinking all of this for quite a while. I was also kinda excited.
"Do ya think we'll go to the same University Len? What's it like? Do ya think its full of parties and stuff? Do they really not get mad atcha if you don't do your homework? Is it true they don't care if ya ditch classes or not?" Boy, I sure can get excited when I get an idea I like.
"Slow down, willya? Yah, we might go to the same school, I dunno, but I'd like that." She could tell I was excited, but I think it was catching because she had this goofy grin on.
"As for the parties, I dunno. We went to that one a month ago, but that was their end of exam thing, so of course they're gonna party."
"Exams. I guess that's tough. There was that guy last year who killed himself. Remember him?" I was thinkin' about that now. I was thinkin' why would anyone kill themselves over a few marks in school. It seemed really crazy to me for a guy to go an' kill himself over a bad grade.
See, there was this guy they fished out of the Rideau River. He'd been missing for a week or so, and some kids found him while playn' with their little boats. Kids love those little boats. I wish I had one when I was a kid sometimes. Anyway, these kids found him, and the docs said he drowned himself in the Rideau, which when you think about it is kinda a hard thing to do since the Rideau ain't all that deep. Later in the week the stories came out about how he did himself in because he got these bad grades. He left a letter to his dad, apologizing or something. It was pretty weird, and I kinda thought it was stupid and funny at the time.
"Some people take this stuff seriously Mark. I guess he was under pressure and figured his life was wasted if he didn't do good. But yeah, those exams can be pretty tough I hear. A lot of stress, and that party we went to was a release of it, I suppose." Man, this girl is smart. I always thought so. Not just book smart either. She really knew the score on a lot of things. She could figure out a lot of things using common sense, which was very cool. I didn't know too many girls who could do that.
I was so excited about this University thing. "So okay, the exams are tough, but you get to set your life, dontcha? You get to figure out what stuff you wanna take, and go for it. No required crap, no teachers tellin' ya you need to do this and that?" I was kinda bouncing in my seat over the prospect, I'm tellin' ya. All of a sudden I figured I was a University man. I was cut out for that kinda life. Then Len burst my bubble a bit.
"Not exactly. You have to figure out what you wanna take and then plan out your course over that goal. You have to figure out your major, y'see, then there's required things you need to take to get that degree." Elyned was sure smart, but the thought of school rules again kinda brought me down. And I suppose she could tell, 'cause she noticed my giddiness slow down a ways.
"Hey, it's still exciting. You just have to map out things if you wanna do it Mark. Remember, you're fast on your feet, and you're a good planner."
I suppose I was.
The rest of that summer I got kinda juiced over the idea about goin' to University. I visited my high school near the end of August to check out the Uni books, which were in the counseling offices. Conners was manning the fort and let me tell you, the guy was surprised.
"Mr. Prince, you're interested in Universities? Why the change?"
I didn't exactly tell him, mainly 'cause the guy was such a nosy buddy. I let on I wanted to get into art or writin' or something. He was still surprised, and I guess he was even suspicious of me, I dunno. He did lend me the books from some of the local Universities though, and I brought them home to devour them page by page. Once I get excited about somethin', I am veracious 'bout reading all there is about it.
Whereby I Learn to Live a Colour Coded Life
Elyned was a great help - the old girl was really great, I'm telling you. She had her own books, havin' sent away for them on her own already. Elyned was sort of accelerated at school, taking some courses in a grade higher than what she was in, so it was a natural that she'd already be decidin' on what school she was gonna attend. But that's not how she helped, me, nope. She helped me learn how to be a good student.
She taught me three things that she thought made her the student she was, getting' the grades she got. The first thing was takin' good notes in class. She had this color coded thing happening, with her main notes goin' in her books with black ink, important stuff underlined, and a summary kinda thing in the side margin. Gee, I always wondered all my life why my lined paper had this line goin' down the left side of the page! She used it to put further notes in, after she got home that night.
Now note takin' is something I rarely did in school. I was one of those fake note takers, y'see. I used to pretend for the teacher's benefit that I was writin' stuff down like a madman, when in actual fact I was doodlin' here and there, writin' notes to the girls in class, or writin' notes to pass to Elyned in between classes. I did a lot of that, you know. I was the note writing king when it came to these little love notes passed in the hallway. I was famous for them. I'd write little bits of poetry to impress the chicks, or when the mood struck, I'd write down some funny little joke I invented or I'd write a story.
Yep, I'd write stories in note form. Kinda serialized, if you must know. I'd start the story in the morning, and usually finish it by late afternoon. My fave character was Bob the Eunuch. Poor Bob had his penis cut off when he was about my age because he was sorta destined to be part of Cleopatra's guard, but government cutbacks eliminated his position just as he finished his training for it. Man, was Bob a pissed off Eunuch, lemme tell you.
I'd write about Bob and his adventures all over Egypt and Greece and Mesopotamia and even Rome. Bob fightin' the Duke of such and such, and Bob getting' drunk with a buncha Jews just of the rowing detail, and Bob goin' to a party at some Greek atrium and getting' hit on by some chick, but havin' to tell her he had no dick, and stuff. Poor Bob.
So I was really famous for these things. One of the yearbook geeks heard about my Bob the Eunuch series and wanted to put them in the yearbook, but there was two problems with that. Old man Turner, the teacher advisor for the yearbook, felt that Bob was a bit too racy for the yearbook. And besides, I didn't want to be in the stinkin' yearbook. Only the geeks and stuff wrote for that thing.
And that's how I spent my time in classes. I wrote notes and I doodled. I musta wrote my signature out a million times in the front and back covers of my binders. I always liked practicing my signature, let me tell you.
Elyned said I had to take good notes if I wanted good grades. I would need them to study, she said. I guess that made sense. I always sorta relied on my memory in the past, but in my old age now, it was kinda faltering. That or maybe there was just so much more stuff remember. So she made me practice the color coded note taking thing, and I didn't like it much, I can tell you. I guess it was because it was her way of doin' it. I figured I'd come up with my own way.
I think I was talkin' about the three things Len taught me to do to get better grades 'n stuff. Taking notes was important, but she was also talking about doing my homework 'n doing my studying.
Doin' homework for Elyned was a mighty lot different than doin' homework for me. For me it was doing all that stuff the teachers insisted on getting' done for the next day. Len did a lot more.
"Every night you need to go over you notes from the class that day and write your analysis of it." She was talkin' about her nifty color coded note takin' system again. Len was tellin' me that every night, she went over her notes and in the margins she would write down what was most important about it. Then every weekend she'd go over those margin notes and make up a kinda crib sheet for the week, outlinin' all the important stuff. Man that sounded like a lot of work. I wasn't lookin' forward to doing it that way.
She was also one of those zealous types who always did her homework when she got home. Okay so not when she got home exactly, but she usually had it done before dinner. Heck, when I absolutely had to do my homework, it was usually after I watched some Carson on the TV, or that Mission Impossible they showed at midnight on that crappy local station. I guess I was never quite right to do it that way, what with my brain slowing down for the night and stuff.
But that's how I probably developed my "quick on my feet" specialty. I can remember one time I had to write an essay on MacBeth, which I didn't ever read fully. I put it off and put it off, until it was the day before I had to submit the essay. I got the Coles Notes for it an' I read that. Then I went over to Jeff's place to swim in his pool. Then I went over to Adam's place to play his Coleco. Then I got home around 11, had some dinner, and then I watched Mission Impossible. At around 1 am, I sat down at my desk.
I was staring at my dinky Atari 1200 computer my Dad bought me. I guess I shouldn't call this thing crappy. My Dad ain't getting rich by delivering bread at six in the morning, and he got this for me last Christmas - probably blew the bank account doing it. I think it cost $700 or so. It was pretty cool to own, what with the floppy disk thing and the ball print printer and stuff, but computers confused me. I didn't know how to program that BASIC stuff, and even though it has a lot of memory for a computer (128K - which is double the Commodore 64 and a billion times more than the Jeff's TRS-80. But computers frustrate me because I suck so much at math and it seems that other than the cartridge word processor I use, the only thing this is good for is math.
Okay, so I am staring at my not so crappy Atari and look, the clock says 1:30 am. I guess I should start this essay.
And that's what I did. I finished my first draft by about 4 in the morning, and got a solid 2000 words, which is what I was supposed to produce. I hit the sack knowing my Mom would wake me by 7:30, when I figured I'd do a final revision and print the damned thing out.
So that's what I did. Except the printer was busted again. I have to tell you, this stuff frustrates me. I cracked open the printer case which I guess I wasn't supposed to do, and set down to try to fix it. I tinkered here and dinkered there, and I guess whatever I did worked because I was able to fix the thing just minutes before my cut off time - the total minimum time I needed to get on my scooter and boot to school. And you know what? I got a decent mark on it. Not bad!
So getting off my digression again, I did homework a bit differently from what Elyned did, but I figured if I followed her process, I'd be getting better marks in the courses I sucked in.
As for the third thing - studyin' for tests, I already did that. But I usually did it by tryin' to remember what I learned in class, reading the textbooks I barely cracked the binding on, and through a little crib note cheatin'. Yeah, I cheated on my tests from time to time. Usually in geography or math or science. Sometimes in French or Latin or English Lit.
Okay, so cheatin' isn't so cool, I suppose. But the way I see it, it had to be done. I'm not necessarily proud of it, but heck, I wasn't the only one doin' it.
Elyned said I didn't have to do that. Takin' good notes in the classroom was a good thing in a lot of ways because she said she remembered stuff a lot better when she wrote the stuff down. An' she explained how doing the rewrites and the weekend crib notes helped further 'cause the most important stuff was a lot more in her brain.
I guess that made sense.
Conners' Office, Redux
So okay. I'm here in my homeroom. I got to tell you, this was the first year in my whole life that I actually wanted to go back to school. I was so juiced about it, I was thinkin' about it all over the Labour Day weekend. I was really lookin' forward to actually goin' to school!
So I'm sitting in my first homeroom of the year, and I'm lookin' at my class assignments. I purposely planned it out so's I'd be in a lot of classes with Elyned, but it didn't work out that way. Man was I pissed. I betcha that bastard Conners purposely put me in classes I didn't ask for. I wanted to chew him out. Didn't the bastard realize I was plannin' to do something with my schoolin' for once? I guess not - I should really tell him.
And that's what I did.
Our school rules changed again. It used to be that you could drop in on your guidance councilor when you wanted. Not anymore. You had to be all civilized and make an appointment. So I did that. The next afternoon, after I started attendin' all my screwed up classes, I went to see Conners.
"Look Mr. Conners. I want to do well this year, I really do. I picked certain classes because I wanted to be in the same classes as Elyned..."
"Yeah, Elyned. She's my girlfriend, see..."
"Let me get this straight young man..." Chrissakes. I hate that crap. I hate bein' called 'young man'. I'm not young, you bastard! "... you want me to put you into certain classes so you can be close to your girlfriend? I think not!"
"No no no! you don't understand sir! (Old farts like it when you call them 'sir') It's not like that at all. I swear. I want to get better grades and stuff, and Len and I were talkin' about it..."
Conners was lookin' over my record and noddin' away as I explained stuff to him. It was quite obvious that it was goin' in one ear and out the other. This goof never believed a word I said.
"I just don't see it happening Mark. We simply don't transfer students so they can be closer to their girlfriends. In fact, we prefer it when you are further away from them for a lot of the day - causes less distractions, y'see." Blah blah blah.
I was getting nowhere with Conners. I wasn't stupid enough that I could tell he thought I was lyin'. But it pissed me off to no end, lemme tell ya. I hate it when these old farts think they knows better than me. I hate that crap, I'm tellin' ya.
I got so pissed off at the guy I walked out on him. Just like that! He was in the middle of his lecture and I picked up and got the hell outta there. His jaw was dropped. Old Conners was not the type to have students up and leave him. It should happen more often, I'm tellin' ya.
I am so pissed at this point. I hate it when they don't listen to me. But what can I do? I wanted to punch a great big hole in the wall outside Conners' office, but I didn't. I really wanted to, I tell you. Maybe I should just say screw all this shit, and forget about it. No one cares. No one listens to me. Well, that's not entirely true. Len listens to me. She believes in me.
Wait a sec. Maybe even Peterson believes in me. The old guy really surprised me last year when he listened to me. And he is the Veep, isn't he?
Right now, I'm starin' through Ms. Johnson's class door window. Starin' right at Elyned. I need to talk to her now. Right now. I don't know how I got here. While thinkin' about her and Peterson I guess.
I figured knocking was the polite thing to do, especially since I was about to do something us lowly students don't do...
"Ms. Johnson, can I see Elyned for a moment? It will only be a second, I promise."
Ms. Johnson was easily the coolest teacher in the school. She taught history, which I freely admit is one of my favourite subjects. I think I enjoyed myself more in her class than I did in any class. She made it fun. She had this way of presentin' the stale old facts in a neat way. She could take some of the most boring history on the planet - the history of Canada, and make it sound like some grand adventure. I had her last year for Canadian History 11, an' she made me think of Dollard Des Armaux as some kinda swashbucklin' hero.
Well, not really. She always found a way to emphasise the facts while makin' them interesting. Dollard was kinda boring at times, and she didn't glorify the guy or anything, but she kinda put us into the time this French guy was paddlin' up and down the Ottawa river, fendin' off Indians in some cases, but makin' deals with them in most cases. She gave us a feel for the kinda shit he would get into. It was like we was all there in that canoe with old Dollard. She was pretty cool for a teacher.
So she looked me over for a while, and then she said "okay Mark, only for a short time, okay? We're teaching a class here." She was pretty cool, I'm tellin' ya.
Len came out and asked me what was up. I told her about old fart Conners as we were walkin' down the hall to the front offices.
"What are you doing Mark? What do you want to do?" She was kinda pissed at me. She didn't like leavin' Johnson's class, I suppose.
Peterson and his Chairs
The truth was, I didn't know what I was gonna do. I wanted to see Peterson. I was still pissed, but not as pissed when I left Conners. I burst into the front office with Len in tow, and I asked to see the Veep. Normally you need an appointment, what with these new rules and all, but I guess Mrs. Franks could tell I was in a hurry. She went to check if he was in, and told us we could go in.
"What seems to be the problem Mr. Prince?" Old Peterson said, as he pointed to his chairs.
Len and I sat down in the chairs - those really low ones that Peterson loves having so students can look up at the guy. I was out of breath, and didn't quite figure what I was gonna say. Then it just came out.
"Look sir, I figured out this summer I want to go to University. I want to get into writing, or art or history... I dunno what exactly I wanna get into, but I wanna do it anyway. I wanna go to University so I can do something with my future. Len an' I talked it all over this summer. She's the one who actually got it into me, but only 'cause I needed someone to point out the thing that was in front of me."
Peterson nodded away... he loved doin' that.
"See, Len here gets awfully good marks, you know, and she's goin' to help me this year with studyin' and research stuff, and writin' and stuff. We worked it out all this past summer, you see, and we got this plan, you see. We worked out doing stuff color coded, y'see. We figured out how I would use the margins in my binders. Its stuff I never did before y'see. I'll be makin' the crib sheets every weekend, 'cept now I won't need 'em to che... "
I kinda stopped there because I was tellin' him more than I wanted to. I'm pretty excited right now, an' I always shoot off my mouth way too much when I get excited. I took a breath, and a really cool thing happened. Len took my hand and gave me a good squeeze. That really meant a lot, I'm tellin' ya. At that moment, I got an awful lot of strength from her, somethin' I didn't think was possible before.
Petterson was noddin' away and a crooked smile stretched on his face when I almost said the word cheat.
"Sir, the problem now is, Len and I picked certain courses so we could be in the same class. Not all of them of course - Len is very smart in science and math, and I suck, I mean I'm really bad in them, of course you know that..."
Nod nod nod...
"...an' the problem is sir is that when I got my class assignments yesterday I wasn't in any of Len's classes. We worked out the thing where we could study together, work on projects together and stuff and now we can't. I went down to see Mr. Conners like I'm supposed to about class assignments and, well sir, he thought I was lyin' to him. He thought all I wanted to do was be in classes with Len so I could be near her. It ain't like that sir... well, I haveta admit I wanna be close to her, sure, but the fact is Sir..."
Len squeezed my hand again and took over. "The fact is sir," she said, "is that Mark and I will be really working hard to bring Mark's grades up and help him learn to be a good student."
We didn't say anymore. Peterson stared at us during one of his famous day-long stares, nodding once in a while. Then he finally spoke up.
"Mark, I'm really impressed. I have to admit it's not often that students with rather poor records show this kind of initiative. I'm not very happy with you bursting in here and skipping out of your classes, but I can understand the frustration you feel."
"I have a question for you though. What do you mean by color coding?" He said that with that goofy grin.
Len just laughed and explained to him her system of takin' notes.
"Okay Mark. This is very unusual, but I'm willing to do it for this semester. If your grades show improvement, we'll let it continue, but if they don't, we won't. And Elyned, if your grades falter, we're going to put an end to this PDQ!" The guy liked expressions like PDQ and stuff. Some of them I still don't know what they mean.
But I didn't care about that stuff! The old guy really surprised me again! I think I misjudged him a bit... he was listenin' to me again, and even more importantly, he believed me! I was set. All the stuff Len and I talked about this summer was set. I was on my way to actually doing something with my life!
I Always Wanted to Say the Name 'Jim Andrews'
(ed.note: this is the lost chapter - I am still not sure if I should include this or not)
Two years later. I'm sittin' in the crowd in the auditorium, listen' to Jim Andrews give his little validictorian thing. I'm not listenin' to him very much, because my mind's somewhere else. I'm thinkin' about how I went from bein' a guy considered for "general" level classes to a guy who scored in the low 90s in all my courses. I'm thinkin' about Len, who's sittin' beside me and how she did so much for me. I'm thinkin' about Peterson and his 'takin' a chance on me' thing that he never failed to remind me about.
Just yesterday the guy was stoppin' me in the hall and once again sayin' stuff about how he's so glad he took the chance on me, how he's proud of me, how he thinks I'll be doin' all right with my future, at least where school came in. He's so full of it.
Hey don't get me wrong. I am grateful that Peterson did what he did. I really am. I'm grateful to Len too, because she really changed me without actually trying to change me... know what I mean?
But the guy who did this all was me. I didn't think I had it in me, but I guess I did. Someone believed in me, and I started believin' in myself. Not that I had a problem with that in the past, y'see. I always felt confident about some things. I felt good about playin' first base, for example. I went to the city championships, and I batted over .500 for the playoffs. But this ain't baseball. This is learning.
This is learning how to actually write stuff down. This is about learning to express things in a creative style that is your own, in proper grammar, spelling and structure, or in whatever forms y'think might be necessary t'get the point across, even if ya have to break a few established rules. This is about learning how to properly research subjects to be able to know all about them. And even more important, it's about how to research things adequately enough so you can draw your own conclusions. I never was able to do that before, at least on a scholastic level.
I did all of this. I had help, but it was me who actually did it. It was me who got the highest grade on a history research report in the entire school this year - 100% for a paper that was worth half a term's total mark. It was me who won the J.Franklin award for essay writing in Ms. Closkey's English comp class. I got $50 for that! To do all of this stuff, one person was crucial. Me.
For the first time in my life, I was actually proud of myself. I didn't have this feeling much before when it came to using my brain. It's kinda neat, and you know what? Maybe just a bit scary. Not scary 'cause of the future, but scary because of the past. If this was so cool, why didn't I do it before?