Too late. The copy line was insane. Mr. Webb groaned as he took his place. Ms. Killian turned. “It’s worse than that. Only one copier is working.” Mr. Webb slouched in desperation and groaned louder.
Mr. Friendly had just got in line behind Mr. Webb. “What’s wrong, Webb?”
“Only one copier.”
“And you expected better than that the day before school started? No wonder you’re miserable.”
“Let me guess, you were expecting they were all out of action.”
“Yep. With only one working, I’m ecstatic.”
“No. But at least I’m not as miserable as you.” Mr. Friendly grinned proudly.
“At least it’s not an inservice.” Everyone that heard that nodded and grunted approval. Saying that made Mr. Webb think about the H.L. Mencken quote:
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” During those staff development sessions, Mr. Webb indeed was sorely tempted to do those very things. Quiet, patient endurance certainly didn’t make anything better. The inservice days just kept getting more useless and mind-crushingly boring. That made Mr. Webb consider the Frank Zappa quote:
“Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.”
Mr. Webb read that in a biography of Frank Zappa, “No Commercial Potential”, which was in his junior high library. Ever since 8th grade, Mr. Webb took those words to heart. To Mr. Webb, teaching wasn’t a matter of stuffing facts into heads as it was a matter of making people aware of their surroundings, causing them to learn as much as they could so that they wouldn’t get taken down like some punk. That last bit came from another inspirational quote from some random caller on the Tom Joyner morning show:
“If I could only have one thing on a desert island? It would be an assault rifle with plenty of ammo. I’m not going down like no punk.”
That guy had his head screwed on right, all right. One of Mr. Webb’s proudest moments when teaching a World History class would be whenever he showed “The Battle of Algiers” at the end of the year. He’d pause at the start of the film when French paratroopers fired into a door. “Why did they do that?” Mr. Webb would ask.
The kids that hadn’t paid attention said stuff about locks being shot off. The smart kids would say, “To take down any hostiles on the other side.” Bingo. Mr. Webb would pause again on a scene that had Ali LaPointe wearing a trenchcoat, walking through the Casbah.
“OK, what’s going on here?”
The sluggards would shrug and comment that maybe he was going to do some shopping. The clever youths would laugh at such pedestrian ideas. “He’s got a gun under that coat. See how his right arm isn’t in a sleeve?”
“Very good. He’s got a gun, all right. What kind of gun does he have?”
This led to a discussion over the best ar 15 optics. The students would reason that it had to be bigger than a pistol, otherwise why keep the right arm out of sight? Some students suggested a rifle, but others said that that wouldn’t be appropriate for close quarters, such as in the urban environment. A shotgun, perhaps? Yes, good for close range, but low rate of fire. Assault rifle? Yes, that must be it. “Is it an assault rifle, Mr. Webb?”
“Very close. I’ll give it to you. It’s actually a submachine gun, but the idea is the same. Put as many bullets in the air as possible, so as to injure or incapacitate your opponents.”
And so it would go through the movie. Mr. Webb was so proud of his classes in moments like these, because it meant that they had a shot at surviving. They knew how to think critically, really critically, in times when rapid reactions were important. They liked to say that, “You know you’ve been in Mr. Webb’s class when you have a plan for what to do when you see a live grenade drop in front of you.” Or something like that. Mr. Webb’s kids weren’t going to go down like no punk.
He refused to let there be an environment of fear in his room. There was always hope in Mr. Webb’s room! When the district started to require lockdown drills, as in “there is a shooter on the campus, so go into lockdown” drills, Mr. Webb hated them. They were as useless as nuclear defense duck and cover drills. All they did was instill a sense of fear and helplessness. The drill was simply this: turn off the lights, then lock the door and move away from it.
There were so many problems with that drill. First of all, if the kids didn’t clear all their stuff, then it would be obvious to anyone looking for targets that there were some in that room. Next problem was that the hall-facing walls in most rooms were drywall. Some of the older rooms had cinder block construction, but not the hall Mr. Webb was in. Therefore, having students standing on the other side of a drywall was not much better than having them stand in the hall itself. The biggest problem was what to do if the shooter or shooters decided to break into the room because they were after someone in that room.
Mr. Webb freely acknowledged that, if anyone was going to be deliberately targeted, he had a pretty good chance of being that target. Hiding on the other side of drywall in a dark room was not how anyone wanted to go down. So, when it came time to get ready for the lockdown drill, Mr. Webb went the extra mile.
“OK, lockdowns… We clear our desks completely and then move to the back of the room, and get totally under the tables. Move things so that they block your view of the window in the door. You don’t want anyone seeing you.” That took care of the stuff in view problem and the drywall problem. Putting some wood and metal between you and a crazed gunman was always preferable to just drywall.
Then there was the matter of defense. Mr. Webb identified the people with the best upper-body strength and asked them if they would be willing to volunteer. Of course they would. “OK, you ever hear of a shield rush?” If they had, it made explaining what to do with the smaller, square tables near the door much easier. “If someone tries to break in, he’s probably coming for me first and foremost, but he’ll likely as not want to off any witnesses. When he breaks the perimeter-” It should be noted that Mr. Webb had instructions to shove the sofa in front of the door and to wedge the book cart between the sofa and a wall-anchored bookcase. “- you should have this table perpendicular to the ground so that you can hold the central support and use it like a battering ram. If someone comes through that door, someone’s going to die, and I’d rather it not be any of us.”
Everyone liked that. They saw collective hope in teamwork. Mr. Webb had dowel rods that could be used for mayhem. Gymnasts and martial arts students would volunteer to go to the top of the wall-anchored bookshelf so that they could “go ninja” on anyone breaking in. Everyone practiced total silence, down to keeping their phones off so that it wouldn’t accidentally light up or make sound. They didn’t have a lockdown drill. They had an ambush drill, and they felt the power they now had over their situation. A little imagination could turn helpless sheep into a flock of wolf-killers. Mr. Webb himself would stay towards the front of the room, because he knew full well that soldiers followed a commander that shared their risk and hardships with great loyalty. He wasn’t going to ask them to make any kind of sacrifice that he himself wouldn’t make.
Mr. Webb admitted freely to himself and anyone that questioned him that his plans were more than a little freaky and intense. But did anyone actually object to them? No, they did not. They liked having a plan. They liked that there was always hope in Mr. Webb’s room.
They also liked how he’d tell things straight to them and that he’d done his homework. Invariably, some kid would say, “Man, this stuff is boring! Why don’t we talk about something interesting, like dope?”, followed by a second yelling out, “Yeah man, mango dream is my favourite strain! Talk about weed Mr. Webb!” I always loved hearing him surprise these kids and lay some truth down.
Mr. Webb was ready. “You got it. Marijuana was first cultivated as a food in South and Central Asia, about 6000 years ago.”
“Yeah, dope, wait, what? It’s a food?”
“The seeds are highly nutritional. The fibers were also pounded out, to make cloth.”
“It’s clothes, too?”
“Yep. Highly versatile, the hemp plant. The first written evidence we have of it being smoked was in a Chinese medicinal text from 1000 BCE, in which it was mentioned as a cure for headaches and anxiety, but that it should not be smoked too much, or ‘demons would enter the body of the smoker.’ So, obviously, they knew of its potential for hallucinatory and paranoid effects on the mind.”
“Hehe. Demons. Cool. Hey, do you think it should be legalized?”
“No. I think it should be decriminalized, but not legalized.”
“Dude, if it was legalized, the government could tax it and solve the national debt!”
“And then you’d have a situation like in China during the 30s, when the government there legalized opium. Eventually, opium could only be purchased at government dispensaries, independent dealers were executed by the state, and when the government needed more cash, it pushed the drug harder and tried to get more citizens addicted to it. Not a good model for revenue generation. By extension of this model, take a look at what happened in The Netherlands when they allowed cities to create zones for legalized prostitution. First to open up were massive Wal-Mart sized buildings that packed in as many prostitutes as possible and held them to very strict schedules and timetables. Their owners and shareholders stood to make even more money if they hired illegal aliens and paid them less than the legal rate.”
“What? A Wal-Mart full of hookers?”
“Yes. Welcome to Amsterdam. Now, there were other towns that didn’t like that arrangement, so they decided to have the city run the brothels. There were better conditions for the prostitutes at first, but then they began to copy the Wal-Mart style brothels when they wanted to increase revenue. Like the Chinese Nationalist government, they began to push their vice all the more when there was an economic downturn.”
The stoner that had started the whole conversation usually had an expression of severe disappointment by this time. That, or confusion. “Wait, how did we get to prostitution?”
“It’s the general idea of legalizing things that people become addicted to. I see it as a form of slavery or as murder to get gain.”
“Murder. If I kill you with a bullet all at once, it’s a crime. But if I sell you a substance that kills you slowly, over time, and you can’t quit using this substance, the law does not see that as a murder. But I do.”
“Dope is safer than smoking or drinking though.” Other stoners would “yeah” at that comment.
“I disagree. Inhaling smoke is bad for you, no matter what the smoke is. Turns out, marijuana smoke has as much junk in it as does tobacco smoke. That will tar up your lungs and mess up your cardiovascular system, just like tobacco. I used to live next door to a neo-Nazi homosexual drug dealer that worked in a porn shop. He smoked dope all day, every day.”
“Wait, a neo-Nazi homosexual? What?”
“Yeah, and he beat up his boyfriend a lot. The apartment manager tried to get the cops to evict him, but since he was collecting evidence for them against his supplier, they said they wouldn’t evict him.”
“That’s just messed up.”
“Sure was. Anyway, the guy only smoked dope. He said it was safer and all. The guy practically had emphysema, the way he woke us up by coughing up a lung every morning. I don’t need that legalized.”
“But tobacco and alcohol are legalized. That’s hypocritical.”
Mr. Webb grinned. “Guess what else I want to ban.”
Someone, maybe the stoner or maybe someone else, would say, “But prohibition doesn’t work.”
“Yeah, that’s what the rich people that still want to do the drugs want you to think. A former Marine Corps Major General, Smedley Butler-”
“I don’t make these things up. General Smedley Butler ran the Philadelphia police department during prohibition. Within 48 hours of his taking the job, he had raided 900 illegal bars and broke up a bunch of upper-class drinking events at hotels. That last part got him in hot water, even though it meant that he really was cleaning up the town with strong enforcement. The rich people got him run out of town. They’re the ones that owned the newspapers that attacked him. The regular people like the way he got rid of the criminals and they didn’t want to see him go. You had a similar situation in the early 40s, when heroin was almost totally unavailable in the USA, due to World War Two. Street quality of heroin went way below the 2% necessary for it to be potent with an injection, and all the junkies were going through involuntary withdrawal. We could have ended heroin addiction in the USA after that, but the USA made a deal with the Mafia: if they would help liberate Sicily, then the USA would turn a blind eye to any crimes they did after that.”
“And the heroin came back into the USA. It also came back into Italy. Mussolini had nearly wiped out the Mafia in Italy, so they were ready to topple him and to get a government more to their liking. Communists also wiped out drug growers and dealers. The Chinese Communists destroyed the opium problem in China that way. The Nationalist generals that we supported were all major drug lords. Remember, that’s how the Nationalists funded their government. During the Vietnam War, the CIA made deals to let the South Vietnamese heroin dealers have immunity from prosecution in the USA and Vietnam if they would inform on the Communists. Not surprisingly, that coincided with a massive increase in heroin availability in the USA. Ironically, it coincided with Nixon’s declaration of a War on Drugs.”
Everyone was paying attention to Mr. Webb by now. “Carter didn’t declare a war on drugs, but he actually ended the deals of the Nixon administration and began to prosecute heroin traffickers. They didn’t have immunity in the USA, any more. That, and a major drought in Southeast Asia in the late 70s nearly wiped out heroin use in the USA. Prohibition works, so long as everyone is part of the fight and we don’t cut deals with the devils out there.”
“So why do we still have heroin?” It was no secret that the affluent neighborhoods north of Garson were famed as the “heroin capital of Texas”.
“Afghanistan. Carter wanted to take the Russians down a peg, and one of his advisors had a plan to stir up Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan to draw the Russians into their own Vietnam War-type conflict. Now, while opium had been grown in that land since around 1300, when the Mongols introduced it there, heroin was unknown there until 1980, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. Heroin became the drug that supplemented their income very handily. See, it takes ten pounds of opium to make one pound of heroin. It’s worth more that way. So they’d grow it in Afghanistan, and then move it into Pakistan, where all the heroin labs were.”
Invariably, there would be a Pakistani student in the class that either knew an army officer that was involved in heroin production or trafficking or who was the son or daughter of an officer. “My dad told us that he either had to have his trucks transport heroin, leave the country, or we’d all be killed. He didn’t want anything to do with drugs and didn’t want us to die, so we moved here. He can never go home, though.”
Mr. Webb thanked the student for adding valuable details to his story and then continued. “The Reagan administration and later the first Bush gave all these guys a free pass. The leader of the biggest heroin-making faction, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” any Afghan students in the room shuddered at the mention of that name, “wiped out all the democratic factions first and then solidified the mujaheddin under his leadership as a combination heroin-trading outfit and anti-Russian resistance. Similar thing happened with the Nicaraguan Contras – who were a bunch of death squad thugs – and cocaine. That’s why crack became so huge in the USA in the 80s. All of Reagan’s buddies in the Contras were flying tons of cocaine into the US, where gangs were baking it into crack. The guys on the street would get busted, but the major dealers all had immunity from prosecution as intelligence assets. That’s why prohibition doesn’t work: we’re too willing, as a nation, to make a deal with the devil.”
Silence pervaded the room. As Mr. Webb made ready to put up the pictures of polar bear cubs, someone would ask, “Man… where did you learn all that stuff?”
Remembering the great Frank Zappa, Mr. Webb would say, “I read books.”
He also wrote them, which was why he was in the copy room. He had a 36-page dissertation, “Economics Gone Wild!”, that he used as his text for AP Economics in place of the woefully outdated and inadequate textbook. The AP kids were free to read it as a supplement, but Mr. Webb no longer assigned any readings or assignments out of it. His text and released AP exam materials were sufficient for the need at hand… provided he was able to make copies of the text in time for the start of school.
Finally, he got to the copier and scanned in his originals. But after only two packets, the copier seized up, displaying a cursed “PAPER JAM” on its informational screen.
The blasted copiers were so complicated and finicky, they were constantly breaking down, and this was the last copier available. It was hot and humid in the copy room, so it was likely that the paper was starting to stick to itself or the drums inside.
“Oh great, Webb broke the copier.” Mr. Friendly said the exact words needed to steel Mr. Webb’s nerves and get him to fling open the copier doors, to plunge into its innards to clear the jams. Mr. Webb refused to be That Guy that broke the last good copier the day before school started.
When he pulled out the main bank of drums, Mr. Webb heard the worst sound possible when clearing a copier jam – the tear of paper. A sheet had been stuck somewhere in there, and now a tiny bit of it would shut down the whole operation, unless Mr. Webb found it and extricated it from the belly of the beast.
The guilty corner was there, way in the back, just past an overheated cylinder. Would Mr. Webb be able to reach it without burning himself? Would he even be able to reach it? Not even hesitating, Mr. Webb blindly thrust his arm into the narrow gap afforded him and prayed silently that his fingers would find their target without his forearm getting singed.