The Big Reboot: 16

And then the bell rang to dismiss everyone for B Lunch, smack in the middle of 4th period. 28 minutes of either standing in a cafeteria line to buy something that could be wolfed down in the time remaining after purchase, or of warming up something in a microwave… and wolfing it down in the time remaining after warming up.

Mr. Webb was now to the point where he’d eat soup straight out of a can, just to save time. Travel in Russia had taught him that there were times when food was fuel, nothing more, and that it wasn’t necessary to have a culinary delight at every meal. As long as he had a spot of something sweet to chase the rough lunch, that would be all that would matter. If dessert was to be had, it wasn’t necessary to have the most flavorful or palatable lunch. Time was of the essence in the high school lunch game.

When he did microwave something, he preferred simplicity. None of this, “put a slit in the film above the pasta and cook on high for three minutes, then remove the film and cook on high for an additional minute and a half”. How about just cut the film and cook four minutes? Or better still, get something that heats up in a minute? That’s more like it. Who’s got time for putting slits in the film, anyway?

Eating in the teachers’ lounge was totally out of the question. First off, it was a three-minute walk to the lounge. That meant a trip to the lounge would leave a guy with just 22 minutes for lunch… and a line at the microwave, behind every teacher whose classroom was closer to the lounge. Minutes would burn as other teachers dutifully put slits in their films.

Worse, though, was the poison in the air. True, dealing with idiots always requires a certain amount of venting in order to cope with the ordeal. But the purpose of the venting was to ascertain in your peers a hope that not all humanity was doomed, that there was at least one other person that had decent sense and at least rudimentary problem-solving skills: in the lounge, there were those that vented because they were, at heart, complainers. They didn’t want to see things get better. They just wanted to wallow in the mire of self-pity and enjoy the sickening chemical releases in the brain that went along with such activities. They were teaching because of some deep masochistic streak in their core. They would always have something to complain about.
Being around those kinds of teachers was a vampiric experience. Lunch would be a net drain on the soul, after being in a room with those guys for 22 minutes, in addition to the grind of standing in a line just as frustrating as the one the kids had to endure.

A Lunch came early in the day, but there was always plenty to be had in A Lunch. The cafeteria lines were well-stocked and if someone had put goodies in the teachers’ lounge, there were plenty to be had. B Lunch was all right. It came at the right time of day for lunch and there were still some decent scraps to be had after the A Lunch crowd had had its fill. C Lunch was often an exercise in compromise and being philosophical. Many was the day that the pizza or burger line ran out in the cafeteria by C Lunch and no teachers’ lounge treat survived past B Lunch, not even the nasty stuff. If you wanted to eat well in C Lunch, you had to bring your own food.

Or, you could have it brought to you. Although the office had stopped accepting bags of fast food dropped off by parents in the middle of the day, kids in the know could still have a friend hold open an exit while they ran to the parking lot to get a sack of burgers or tacos from mom. There wasn’t really enough time to get out to a lunch place and get back in time, unless one had both a car and the luxury of not having a class scheduled during third period. It was most unusual to have a gap in the middle of the day, but not impossible for the seniors signed up for just the right classes.

There was also the boon of a lenient 4th period teacher. If someone mentioned a trip to the egg roll factory from Bistro V, lenience could be had for two or three egg rolls in Mr. Webb’s room. Nicky Tran knew how to bargain her way through the system last year: “The egg rolls are four for a dollar, and they’re the best in town.”

Mr. Webb had but one question: “Are they Vietnamese?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t even bother to ask if they weren’t.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Vietnamese egg rolls are the best in the world. One does not pass up on an opportunity to savour the delights. Mr. Webb let other kids chip in their dollars, and Nicky would take the hit on tax and Mr. Webb’s share. The trip would take maybe five minutes more than what everyone had allotted for lunch, so all Nicky needed was to be able to leave a little early and for someone to be ready to let her in when she showed up with the hot, steaming, delicious delights from cooks that had once known the streets of old Saigon.

Oh, it was worth it, all right. The second half of fourth period always went well when it was cushioned with an actual decent lunch that could be eaten somewhat leisurely. It was a basic human dignity denied to everyone else in the building without knowledge of or access to the amazing egg rolls of Bistro V, but Mr. Webb saw the need to carve out an exception to the rules to make way for something that was good for his students.

And though there were times when Nicky Tran abused the privilege, she was never arrogant about it. And though there were times when students got a little rebellious, they never threatened blackmail over the egg roll express. It was too important, too transcendent an institution to be petty about. It cemented the loyalty of the class, as they combined against the inhumanity of a damnable 28-minute lunch.

There was always the chance that Mr. Webb would be caught and found out in this scheme, but he had a card in his hand that he was ready to play if it led to anything more than a “don’t do that again.” State law required all teachers to have a 30-minute, duty-free lunch. Not 28 minutes. 30. As in two more than the high school allowed. One headline would follow another: “Teacher Fired in Egg Roll Incident”, then “Principal Sued Over Lack of Lunchtime”. Mr. Webb’s legal experiences in the EDCISD had taught him to never sue the district, always sue the individual. Always.

There were other campuses with smaller enrollments that had 45-minute, or even hour-long lunches. Teller was just too big and its cafeteria too small to accommodate such basic decencies. The full-size fridge and two microwaves in Mr. Webb’s room were not just for his own use: they were for everyone. Lunch demanded humanization when it was only 28 minutes long.

Which was why, as some students filed in to watch the Bollywood, Mr. Webb finished off his can of soup. More time for the kids to use the microwaves, that way, and that meant that much more kindness and mercy in their lives.

“What movie are we starting with this year?” A regular from the last two years popped her head into the room.

“Kal Ho Naa Ho.”

“Oh my gosh, I love that one!” Before you could say, “Naina kaash mein tumhe bataa sakta”, she and three friends had already moved into the front seats, ready to cry their eyes out.

Changes for the US Senate?

The short answer is, yes, in that it will be Harry Reid blocking everything with a filibuster instead of Mitch McConnell. So what if the GOP gets a majority of anything less than 60 of 100 senators? Short of that number, the opposition can block everything, which is exactly what they did while in the minority.

I’d expect that if the GOP wins in the Senate, we’d see the celebrations cut short by the rift within the Republican party between the old hands and the young bucks of the Tea Party faction. We may yet see the Democrats yield the floor to filibustering Republicans shooting down their own party’s agenda.

Sure, the President can veto bills that cross his desk – it takes just one guy to block a law – but those laws don’t even get to his desk if at least 41 guys in the Senate decide to block a law. The Democrats could barely trickle out legislation with a majority of 55 in the Senate. The GOP will be hard pressed to do better with a majority of 51.

And as for the nearly $4 billion spent on the elections this year… it’s just more evidence that the people that do get into government are strongly beholden to certain interests, at the very least. Quite a few are bought outright. This is why the richest Americans get Quantitative Easing bank account boosts and the poorest get a no-fly zone and assaulted journalists when they have unaddressed needs. We’ve got Soviet-style apparatchniks engaging in a kleptocratic, autocratic looting of the nation. This has been going on for some time. It’s just more apparent with each passing election and mania/crash economic cycle.

Putin’s Valdai Conference Speech

Go here: Club Orlov and scroll down to read the speech, then back up to read Dmitri Orlov’s analysis. This is a very important speech. It defines the threat posed by the USA to the rest of the world as clearly as Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech drew out the perils of the USSR. Russia today is not the USSR of old: and, the Cold War over, the USA’s empire building has become progressively more apparent and violent.

I do not admire Mr. Putin, but I respect what he has to say, which itself can be interpreted on many levels. He’s a hardliner, no question about it: there is not a shred of idealism in what he has to say. On the other hand, his honesty is refreshing. His strategy is such that it can play out successfully even if his opponents are aware of it.

This, then, points out the danger to the USA, particularly a danger from within. The USA is acting as if it were the sole superpower in a world that is no longer unipolar. China and Russia have no intention of running their nations to the benefit of Wall Street bankers, and they are enabling other nations to break free of entanglements with American financial and power structures. When the USA “steps on the same rake” over and over again by using extremists to topple democratically-elected governments that won’t dance to the tune playing from Washington DC, it further antagonizes the rest of the world, which is by now tired of seeing US-sponsored “freedom fighters” turn out to actually be al-Qaeda affiliates, neo-Nazis, and Islamic State soldiers. Remember all those Baathists that the USA ejected from power in Iraq in 2003? They’re turning up in IS forces.

Putin’s speech is very important, and it points to how the USA must now behave as it did in the Cold War: taking measures carefully, so as not to make mistakes that would destroy nations.


It finally arrived, and none too soon… I love fall rains and listening to sparse acoustic guqin or koto music. I like to smell the earth, as the microbes in the ground release their water-activated scents… are they giving thanks? Not in a scientific sense, no… but spiritually, the music tells me that there is a harmony involved, that in the harmony, there is a love, and where there is love, there is gratitude.

The plants, the soil, the rains, the winds, the clouds, the vines, the rocks, the insects, the worms, the mushrooms, the grasses, the birds, the squirrels, the bushes, the unity of all these things and more, such is life. Such is the stuff of life. And here, I take pleasure in the way it is all brought together in the world of the shower.

Periodically, the leaves bend to let the water fall closer to the earth. The leaves take a rest from eating sunlight to drink their fill from the water as it returns to the earth. And there is harmony, the likes of which it takes a great stillness to see.

I love the rain, because it causes me to pray without realizing it.

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Last year, I started listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween. Truth be told, I received some rightly deserved criticism for slighting Thanksgiving in such a fashion. In my defense, there is not much music about Thanksgiving in an outright way like there is about Christmas. So, this year, I took on a challenge to find the music of Thanksgiving, and, in the process, find the Spirit of Thanksgiving, which I expected to be every bit as vital and life-affirming as the Spirit of Christmas, which I have grown to love over the years.

My journey started with Johnny Cash. He has two songs about Thanksgiving, and both brought warmth to my heart and tears to my eyes. Johnny Cash knew what it was like to be a tree shorn of its leaves, to not have much, but to be thankful for what it still had… to be thankful for intangible, spiritual things such as love and hope and peace.

There were the novelty songs about Thanksgiving, sure, just like Christmas, but not in as great a number. Thanksgiving is not a worldwide holiday. It is a holiday of the United States of America when we observe it in November. No one else is a co-celebrant with our nation on our day of Thanksgiving. It is a holiday of North America, with its climatologic particulars that bring a grey, drear weather to much of the nation for much of the month as the leaves fall to the ground after the brilliant, fiery beauty of October that is the equal of April’s grand blossoming. The harvest is in: there is no more planting or growing until springtime. Winter comes soon, and we must pass through its trials if we are to survive. The Pilgrims of old chose this time of year to offer thanks for their survival thus far and to look forward to their anticipated future in their New World, where, more than anywhere else they had been, they felt as if they were in God’s hands.

Eventually, I arrived upon this song: David Johansen singing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”

It’s my favorite rendition of the hymn/folk tune, however you want to see it. It is what Thanksgiving means to me: the sound stripped-down like the trees, leaving one with little to cover the truth beneath. The reflection on life’s essentials goes well with the coming starkness of the season. It provides fuel for the coming winter, a reminder that the light will come again to our lives.

I’ve discovered that often, autumn songs are used to sing about loss, breakups, or other misfortunes. But they can also be about digging deep into the soul to find that inner strength to carry on, knowing that things must yet still get worse before they can get better. They can be songs about brave dignity, simple victories, and lingering hopes that will one day bear fruit.

After all, the trees lose their leaves, but they are not dead. The animals burrow in the ground to hibernate, but they are not dead. The land and air turn colder and whiter, but they are not dead. Life goes on. Life perseveres. But, in order to do so, life must shed nearly all of its summer glory and return to its fundamentals.

What are we truly thankful for at Thanksgiving? A roof above our heads. Heat in the home. Food on the table. Family gathered together. We are thankful for a catalog of the essentials. Music that is bereft of ornamentation, with an honest voice and quiet accompaniment, that to me is a pure expression of the spirit of our American Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to look upon our essentials and to give thanks for their presence and for our own endurance.

Even if those essentials are present in our lives in a diminished capacity, they still remain. There is a way to be thankful, even if those essentials are all but eliminated in our lives. The fact that they are not totally gone means that we are not totally gone. The fact that they are not totally gone means that, though a rough and cruel winter may lie ahead, we will survive it, even barely survive it, but we survive it to find the springtime on the other side.

And that is what I hear in this song. I hear the Spirit of Thanksgiving.

The Big Reboot: 15

Fourth period, AP Economics, the smallest of the classes. Thanks, scheduling mess-up.

Mr. Webb didn’t really blame any person – setting up a schedule for a high school as big as Teller wasn’t a job Mr. Webb was about to assume that he could do a better job of than those involved in the process. Each year had its own idiosyncracies. And, as small as 12 this semester and 9 the next seemed, it was nothing like the 5th period of 2008.

In 2008, Mr. Webb actually had an AP Economics class with only 2 students in it.

2 students, and both of them were pretty sharp, so covering the material for the day sometimes amounted to 10 minutes of discussion, 10 minutes of doing an exercise and grading it and then… 25 minutes of… huh… not anything in particular, really.

Both of those guys also left after 5th period, so the tempation for them to leave early was very strong. The temptation was even stronger once they’d both taken the AP exam in early May and had nothing to do for three weeks after that. Many was the day they asked to go see Mr. Whatshisname about a project and left after checking in. That was fine with Mr. Webb. Telling two people that were done with a class that they had to stay there just because they had to stay there was ridiculous. By rights, they should have been able to enjoy that time, and Mr. Webb was happy to have given them that gift.

And if it meant that Mr. Webb could take a nap in the middle of the day, so much the better. Naps were awesome things to have. Why was it that kindergarteners got to take naps and high school kids couldn’t? The kindergarteners didn’t want them and the high school kids did… it made no sense.

Then again, if something made sense, Mr. Webb knew it was a matter of time before someone in the state legislature or an administration somewhere would make a rule requiring that it be replaced with something that didn’t make sense. Watching the parade of nonsense was always a disenheartening experience, but if one focused more on the victims of the nonsense, one could always try and do something to keep it from ruining lives.

To a point, that is. The nonsense in ECISD in 1995 had gotten to the point where Mr. Webb couldn’t stand it anymore, what with the corruption, criminality, and general paranoia and all that. Mr. Webb did not want to go back to that again, ever. If things in Garson ISD ever got that bad, no, if they ever got close to being that bad, Mr. Webb had zero plans of sticking around to see a second time through that wringer.

But 12 kids… that wasn’t such a bad number. There were enough of them to where there could be a conversation and not just an echo chamber. That made the class fun. As long as they were all up to speed, or close to it, good class discussions made everyone’s day. And if there were kids that weren’t up to speed, discussions would reveal that lack of speed.

There were kids that liked to hang back and use other students to advance their fortunes. “Scholastic dishonesty” was the fancy, multi-syllable expression that was fashionable instead of “cheating.” Whatever it was, there were a million ways to do it, and only a few ways to expose it. Class discussion was one of those ways.

Homework could be copied – easily – so checking homework only revealed people that didn’t like doing homework, not cheaters. Tests… true, greenhorns would copy perfectly or copy weird stuff, making spelling mistakes that only people who had no clue about what was going on would make, like writing cleprcssiom instead of depression… but truly experienced test-cheaters would know enough to copy carefully, check for spelling mistakes, and then change a few answers so that their papers wouldn’t be the same as the ones they copied. Research papers were a joke: the same Internet that produced full research papers would betray them to any teacher that cared to run a Google search on sentences that simply rang far too scholastic-sounding for high school seniors. Assigning research papers would reveal cheaters, all right, but with a grade that was almost always too highly weighted to allow anyone with a zero on it to pass, and taken too late in the grading period to allow anyone with a zero on it to recover.

Class discussion, though, that was the ticket. People who knew the answers could not only give the answers, but talk about them, discuss them, ask about what they didn’t understand, the works. Those that didn’t know the answers, they’d hem, they’d haw, and they’d fall flat. The falling flat would be early enough in the game and with little enough of a penalty so that anyone who fell victim to a bad run of discussion could always recover in time to where they didn’t have such a bad run again – and to where they’d know things well enough that they wouldn’t need to cheat.

That, or they’d stay clueless enough to where they’d realize that they needed to get out of the AP class if they wanted a chance of passing the course and graduating high school on time.

Class discussion covered all kinds of things, not just correct answers. Good questions were just as good as good answers. Good attempts to answer problems were just as good as attempts that went awry. Didn’t want to talk in class? Then see Mr. Webb before or after school, or during his conference period, and he’d discuss things there. Some kids were so afraid of speaking in front of others that they would do just that… only to realize that they knew things well enough that they didn’t feel bad about speaking in front of others. If they knew that they weren’t going to sound like idiots, they had no fear about sounding like idiots. Funny how that worked out… but anyone could have 100% in class participation just for showing up sober and participating in some way.

And that participation made kids really understand the stuff. For the last four years, Mr. Webb had graded AP exams, and every year, the graders there said that getting kids to be able to discuss the material with knowledge and confidence was the way to go. They were right. The kids with the best class participation grades were the ones that came back with the best scores on the AP exam. So, Mr. Webb made class participation 50% of his grade, with 25% coming from tests and 25% from classroom quizzes.

He had the same grading system in his regular classes, but allowed for notes to cover a big chunk of class participation points. For AP, though, it was vital to stress the need for quality class participation. And so, on that first day, he’d show his AP students clips from “The Paper Chase”, scenes with John Houseman as Professor Kingsfield, grilling his students like cheese sandwiches.

“Loudly, Mr. Hart! Fill this room with your intelligence!”

Mr. Webb had those Houseman scenes memorized so well, one year he was able to reproduce them, word for word, on a student that had missed the first day. Her responses were practically identical to those of the hapless Mr. Hart, to the amazement and delight of her fellow students. They let her know that that’s what they had seen the day before, but she had lived through it.

“How long are you gentlemen planning to stay?”

“Three days.”

“THAT’s how you should study for the AP exam!” Mr. Webb basked at the dedication of the law students as they checked into a hotel, chucked out the teevee, and threatened blackmail on the manager if he threw them out in order to study for their exam. “With dedication like that, how can you fail?”

The students got the message, if such messages could reach them, and class participation went very well after seeing the clips from “The Paper Chase.” Better still, whenever Mr. Webb wanted to spur answers and give his students an adrenaline boost, all he had to do was say, “Fill the room with your intelligence!” and fill it, they would.

Nine of the twelve students in fourth period were talkative enough after the clips, but three of them just smiled like idiots. Smiling like an idiot was often a good sign that an idiot was involved in the smiling process. OK, idiot wasn’t a fair word… but smiles like that were nevertheless signs that the persons making those smiles were out of their league and that they didn’t even know that they were in over their heads.

These three even looked like that they would be at a loss in a regular class. Something about the emptiness in their expressions betrayed the blankness in their minds. They weren’t lazy, but no amount of hard work could compensate for a lack of sufficient neuronic connections necessary to put two and two together. Guys like that could make it out of high school alive, but not if the path took them through an honest class that demanded more of its participants than they were able to deliver.

Maybe Mr. Webb was wrong in his first impressions, but class discussion in the next few days would see whether or not he was right.

The Big Reboot: 14

Third period. Same routine, different names. Teaching involves a great deal of repetition, but with different variables of human interaction affecting the outcomes. The same lesson plan can be repeated four, five, six times a day, once a year or semester for many, many years, and still nobody can guarantee that everyone learns that lesson.

Absences, tardies, of course those can affect things. Kids in class drunk, or high, or just deprived of sleep from working all last night – there goes the attention span. Text messages, websites, breakups, hookups, emotional confusion – even before cell phones, the last three things were enough to distract many a mind.

The biggest killer of them all, however, was the perceived pointlessness of it all. “How do I use this in real life?”

A highly compelling argument, that one. Mr. Webb’s answer typically went, “If you don’t learn it, there’s no way you can use it in real life, should the need arise,” but did that cover all the bases? No, it did not. While Mr. Webb went out of his way to use what he had learned in real life, not everyone was as diligent or as dedicated to lifelong learning. Some folks just wanted to take a mental holiday.

Honestly, forcing people to learn things was analogous to to trying to teach a pig to dance: complete lack of success and it only annoys the pig and the teacher. Some people saw a value, any value, in completing high school economics – even if only to get a degree – and so, those people could be reasoned with to cooperate with the learning process, to participate in it and to not disrupt the flow of the class.

But then, there were those that never saw any value in what was being taught. Such was the case of Ali Gaber, Adam Robertson, and Efraim Zapata, three young men in Mr. Webb’s third period that sat together, towards the side and towards the back.

Mr. Webb was familiar with the Gaber name: the father owned a car dealership, and the family had plenty of cash, which the Gaber boys consumed conspicuously. There were four of them, and Ali was the youngest. Mr. Webb had taught two of them before, and they were completely useless in class. They were completely self-centered, and Ali didn’t seem to be any different.

He was fine, as were all the kids, filling out the yellow textbook forms and taking care of the administrative functions like that. But as soon as Mr. Webb asked, “So, what is scarcity?”, Ali groaned aloud and cursed.

“You’re seriously not giving us notes on the first day?”

“Yes, I am, and you’re not going to talk that way.”

“It’s the first day of school. Nobody’s getting written up, and the police won’t ticket you anymore for cussing out a teacher.” One had to commend young Ali for keeping up on current events, even if he had an aversion to developing his technical vocabulary.

“Coach Sheppard reads his emails.” Ali was on the varsity squad, a starter, and didn’t want to lose his place. The threat carried weight.

Ali was no pushover, though. “You would do me like that, on the very first day? You would punk me like that?”

Adam had to jump in, now. “Man, we got a punk for a teacher.” Ali’s motion was seconded.

“Damn. A punk.” Efraim carried the motion.

Mr. Webb quietly typed out an email. Then, he looked back at Ali. Mr. Webb’s voice ran cold. “You got your future in your hands, Ali. You apologize, even if it sounds sarcastic and without meaning, and I don’t punch the send button. You don’t apologize, and then we got us a war. For me, war does not end until one party or the other is completely disengaged or destroyed. You apologize, and then we can keep the negotiations open and I don’t have to complain about how you showed up drunk in my class.”

“Drunk? What the hell? I’m not drunk!” Ali’s face betrayed an angry panic.

Mr. Webb kept his sangfroid demeanor. He’d seen this dance, before. “You acted out, you cursed at me, you argued, you disrupted class. Classic signs. Counselors and student resource police officers always tell us to watch out for those signs of substance abuse in our students.”

“Smell my breath, I don’t have any liquor on it.”

“That can be masked. Your behavior doesn’t lie. That’s what I go by. You act drunk, I gotta call it the way I see it.”

“But I’m not drunk!”

At this point, Adam and Efraim were tapping Ali on his shoulders, trying to calm him down, whispering, “Just say you’re sorry, dude.”

Ali relented. “I’m sorry! Geez!”

Mr. Webb let a thin smile appear. “I accept your apology. And don’t forget to show up sober every day in here. It’s one of my pet peeves, kids showing up drunk or high or both.”

“Man, I’m an athlete. I don’t do any of that stuff.” Ali was already acting like he was cool again. Good. It meant he could be reasoned with, after a fashion.

For his part, Mr. Webb knew not to press too far. “I’m glad to hear that. I hope you set a fine example as a scholar-athlete.” Ali, Adam, and Efraim laughed at that one. So be it. Nobody looked surprised that those three acted the way they did.

Veronica Carranza raised her hand. Mr. Webb nodded at her. She said, “Scarcity is the foundation of economics. It is the problem of unlimited wants and limited resources. Scarcity refers to how there are insufficient productive resources to fulfill all wants and needs.”

“Nice reading, Veronica. What does that mean in your own words?”

Veronica grinned. “Ahh… ahh… I don’t know?”

Celina Castillo, who sat next to Veronica at a table with Maria Cardenas and Victor De Leon, raised her hand. “It means that there’s not enough to go around.”

Ali re-engaged with a self-promotion. “There’s plenty of me to go around.”

Mr. Webb responded, “So, you’re saying that you’re entirely up for grabs? Free to anyone that asks?”

“Hell no! You got to pay to take your turn!”

“Can such payments be regulated and enforced?”

“My boys got my back on this one.” Seconded and carried, Adam and Efraim.

“Ah, then there is a scarcity of you. If there’s the ability to control access to you via a price structure, then you are scarce. If everyone had an Ali-”

“Barf!” Veronica said what everyone else was thinking.”

“If everyone had an Ali, then there truly would be plenty of you to go around, and there’d be no money in charging to get to you.”

Adam was ready with a betrayal. “Ali removal services would clean up, though.”

“Indeed they would, Adam.”

“Hey!” Ali looked like he was about to go all Three Stooges on Adam for realizing a business opportunity of that nature.

Annie Zhao and Janice Fung looked very confused. Ester Bakhoum looked like she was having trouble whispering an explanation of what happened to them.

Mr. Webb clicked on that arrangement. ESOL. They moved in groups like that, helping each other out. From looking at how they were dressed, Mr. Webb figured that Annie and Janice were intermediate in their English speaking and Ester was more advanced. ESOL kids betrayed their familiarity with the language with their clothing, more often than not. Simple dress: basic skills. A few accessories and makeup: intermediate. A brand-name t-shirt and evidence of hair care products in play? Advanced, my good friends. Advanced.

And if they acted like Ali? 100% American. Mr. Webb was betting that Ali didn’t speak a word of Arabic. To make sure Ali didn’t disrupt things as Mr. Webb re-explained scarcity to the Cantonese girls, he looked at Ali and, changing his voice to speak from right to left, said,

“أنت مجنون.”
Ali didn’t get mad until after both Ester and Saiful Islam Zogby laughed. “Hey, what was that?”

Saiful kept laughing. “It was nothing. He just said you were crazy.” That got the others to laugh.

“Well, maybe I am a little crazy.”

With Ali feeling pleased in his craziness and not wanting to explore his Arabic deficiencies any further, Mr. Webb took on the task of working the ESOL angle. “Scarcity…” Then he got up, and held up a box of pens. He stood to one side, faced the middle of the room and said, “多少?” Then, taking the other side of the transaction, Mr. Webb pressed a few buttons on a calculator and held them up to where he used to stand.

Annie said, “Oh!”, then turned to Janice and said, “ga dou chin!”

Janice smiled and repeated, “ga dou chin!” Mr. Webb didn’t speak a word of Cantonese, so it was good to have Annie around to translate from Mandarin to Cantonese. True, they were supposed to learn in English, but Mr. Webb knew that if he tried to speak a little bit of their language, it went a long way.

Many years ago, in his second year of teaching, Mr. Webb had a student that came to his class in the fifth six weeks. The counselor said, “Tran here doesn’t speak any English at all. Try and do what you can with him.” For an entire week, Mr. Webb pointed at pages in the book and, for the same entire week, Tran blazed through those problems, nothing doing.

Obviously, Tran was not getting challenging work. Mr. Webb wanted to test his skills, so he went to a group of Vietnamese kids that were in the Algebra class. He asked, “Hey, do you guys know Vietnamese well?”

Sure, they all said they did. So Mr. Webb asked, “How do you say ‘solve this equation for x’ in Vietnamese?”

That was a stumper. “Mister, we don’t know how to teach math in Vietnamese.”

“Well, could you ask your moms and dads for me?”

The next day, they had an answer. They also said that, since there was no x in Vietnamese, that the statement should be about solving for y. Later that day, Mr. Webb handed a sheet of 20 introductory Algebra problems and said to Tran, “Làm mai bài đó để tìm hiểu ý.”

Tran blazed through the problems, handed in his worksheet, and said, in perfect California-accented English, “Here ya go, mister. They were easy.”

Everyone, Mr. Webb included, could not believe their ears. Tran spoke English, and plenty of it!

A few days later, Tran was in an Algebra class and making great grades.

Mr. Webb had two theories to explain Tran’s sudden revelation of his English skills. The first was that, by going out of his way to speak a little Vietnamese, Tran would meet him half-way and speak a little English. By speaking a little Vietnamese, Mr. Webb would have shown Tran to not be afraid of testing out his knowledge.

The second theory was that Mr. Webb’s Vietnamese was so bad, there was no way that Tran’s English would sound worse by comparison and that, in order to not have his ears bleed from overmuch linguistic slaughter of his native tongue, Tran would resort to as much English as possible to keep Mr. Webb from subjecting Vietnamese to any further tortures.

In weighing the theories, Mr. Webb gave more precedence to the latter one. It would always be easier for a student to try and speak English than for Mr. Webb to try and learn a student’s native language, and that’s how things went.

Truth be told, though, there was some comfort in hearing familiar-ish tones, even if they weren’t perfectly put. And for a big white guy to be making an effort with their language instead of yelling at them to learn English, well, such gestures were welcome, indeed. Teller High was a multicultural place, and every welcome gesture counted.

Back to the scarcity issue, Mr. Webb explained, “If you have to pay for something, it is scarce. If there is no cost for it, it is not scarce. Do you understand?”

They all nodded, even kids that spoke good English, but who were just a little slow. Victor De Leon asked, “Can you say those every time, mister? Your definitions are better than the ones in the book. They’re shorter.”

“Well, ideally, they’ll be what you’re able to say. I have never liked copying definitions out of a book except as a form of torture. I want you to learn, so I want you to take the words from the book and translate them into words of your own, words that you can use and understand.”

Victor nodded like he was pretending to understand. Then he looked at Celina’s notes to see what she put down.

Nigel Jackson, who sat in a low, comfortable chair in the front, raised his hand. “Say, do we have to copy down all these notes?”

Mr. Webb said, “Only if you want to. I give a certain amount of class participation points for having notes. If you think you know them well enough to make useful comments in class, then I give you points for the good comments, and you won’t need to show me notes, if that’s how you want to roll.”

“Good.” Nigel shut his book and capped his pen. “I’d rather answer questions than write notes.”

“Just make sure your comments are appropriate for class. When you make an inappropriate comment or cause a disruption, I take away points.”

Ali piped up. “Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. When does this start?”

“Already has. I suppose I should tell Coach Sheppard that you’re already failing my class with a negative five.”

“Mister, I’m sorry. Really. I didn’t know. Give me another chance.” The desperation in Ali’s voice was hilarious to all who heard it.

“Ha. You did know, you were just banking on the general lax enforcement of rules here in the first two weeks to get away with as much as you could, Ali. You’ll get your chance when you earn it. What’s a shortage, Ali? And don’t read it to me from the book. Your own words.”

“Mister, how about I just do my notes and show you at the end of class?”

“I do notebook checks on Friday, not before. Your only way out of the hole you dug with your mouth is with that same tool. What’s a shortage?”

“Umm… the opposite of surplus. How do I make that shorter?”

“Start by explaining what a surplus is.”

“Umm… uhh… It’s, ahh…” Ali read the definition to himself. “It’s, ahh… when there’s more stuff than what people need.”

“And the opposite?”

“When there’s not enough stuff.”

“Right. And now you’re not failing.”

“Can you tell Coach Sheppard now?”

“I didn’t tell him anything yet, and no news is good news to him. But back to a shortage. It’s when there’s not enough of something to satisfy everyone’s needs. It’s when the price goes up very quickly, because there’s not enough of it.”

Nigel had a connection. “Like in an auction, when there’s something really rare.”

“Right. Bidding goes up on that.”

Ali found a way to earn points and glorify himself at the same time. “So since there’s only one of me, there’s not plenty to go around. There’s a shortage of me, right? So let the bidding commence.”

“That’s only if more than one person is willing to bid on you.”

Ali made an appeal to the ladies of the class. “Well? Any takers? I promise the best homecoming, ever.”


Mr. Webb brought it back to the topic at hand. “So it would seem there’s a surplus of you at this time.”

“Wait until they get to know me.”

“We shall see.”

They talked a little more about Economics, but time ran out for the period, so Mr. Webb put on some Jay Chou, causing Annie and Janice to start laughing excitedly. Ester joined in the fan reaction: obviously, she shared more than just an ESOL class with her friends. Then Mr. Webb put on “Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio” by Flaco Jimenez and all the Mexican kids fell over, laughing.

Efraim said, “Mister, that’s old people music. You got anything, like, from this century?”

Olga Tañón’s “Me Cambio Por Ella” was Mr. Webb’s musical response. Efraim smirked, not happy with the song’s utter lack of gangsta rap, but Maria, Veronica, and Celina were singing along as Victor danced an expert merengue with an imaginary partner.

But Mr. Webb won everyone over when he fired up War’s “Low Rider”. Efraim gave him a fist bump on the way out and everyone was smiling.

So far, so good. Mr. Webb added Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” to the playlist and went back out into the hallway to guide in his fourth period.

The Big Reboot: 13

“Scarcity is a condition where the wants for something are greater than its availability. If something is scarce, there’s a price for it. Not scarce, no price. Consider air.” Mr. Webb began to hyperventilate. “I do that, and nobody’s panicking that I’m taking all the air. Nobody’s thinking that I’m getting more than my fair share. But if we all chip in for a pizza and I take half the slices…”

Meron objected. “Hey! Not cool!”

“Exactly. Not cool. There’s a scarcity of pizza, so we consider its price when we figure out who gets what, and how much. Let’s not confuse scarcity with shortage. A shortage means there’s not enough of something, at all, so its price goes through the roof. Like bottled water right before a hurricane. If you don’t get it fast enough, you won’t get it, no matter how much money you may have. That’s a shortage. Scarcity means that you can get what you want, but you’re gonna have to pay for it.”

“So the more scarce something is, the higher the price?” Salina was sharp.

“That is correct. Or at least, the more scarce something is made to appear, the higher the price.”

“Huh?” Meron and Sakura had the same expression.

“Consider diamonds. Their price is artificially kept high. There are enough gem-grade diamonds in the world for everyone to have a cup of them. That’s seven billion people, each with a cup of diamonds. Synthetic processes can make even more of them.”

“That’s like everyone having a cup of dirt.” Sakura looked puzzled, wondering why anyone would want to walk around with a cup of dirt.

“It is. Diamonds are only so much carbon, smooshed together. But if the guys making the diamonds can promote them like a rare commodity, then they can make that cup of dirt very profitable for themselves. Before the 1940s, diamonds were like any other sparkly rock. Then the DeBeers company said, ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ and suggested that men spend three months’ salary on one of their sparkly rocks.”

Edgar admired the chutzpah of DeBeers’ campaign. “Daaaaaaaaamn. That’s straight-up gangsta. And people believed that?”

Mr. Webb shrugged. “You see jewelery stores everywhere, making big profits on those rocks.”

Pamela had a question. “So, wait, those blood diamonds? The ones that little children are being enslaved to dig out? Wouldn’t releasing all the diamonds make those worthless? Wouldn’t that end that problem?”

“And then it would create another. The guys making the blood diamonds to fund their civil wars or whatever aren’t misguided angels. They’ll do anything that makes money. That’s why places where drugs are legalized see a big spike in child abduction and exploitation. If drugs don’t make money, then the local thugs get into businesses that will make money. In fact, that also happens wherever the UN goes in to try to resolve a conflict: the UN officers on the scene get involved in human trafficking, big time. There’s one UN general that is notorious for creating child prostitution rings, but because he’s way up in the UN and is protected by powerful people, he just gets transferred from one UN peacekeeping operation to the next one.”

To head off possible cries of BS, Mr. Webb Googled up “UN officer prostitution” and let everyone take notice of the 3,310,000 results. “Scarcity. There’s a price for satisfying that want. I believe that there’s enough stuff in the world to take care of everyone’s needs, but when we allow our wants to be unlimited, we see stuff like this. The textbook would have you think that unlimited wants is a normal situation and that markets can resolve all the issues of unlimited wants, but I see something like this, and I have to say that it’s up to us to find ways to put limits on our wants, so that we don’t create situations where someone is enslaved or otherwise exploited in order to satisfy our wants.”

Pamela blinked slowly. Sakura looked like she was either about to cry, or had begun a slight flow of tears. Time to step back from the edge. “I believe that if we’re aware of evil, we can try to keep it out of our lives, that we can try to keep from being evil, ourselves. I believe that there’s a higher power that we answer to and that we’re accountable for what we do in our lives.”

“Is what you’re saying against the law?” Michael Wilkins, a young African-American skater, looked concerned – he didn’t want Mr. Webb to go to jail.

“No, I can talk about belief. I just can’t promote any belief. I can’t force anyone to agree or disagree with a particular set of beliefs as a condition for passing this course. I think it’s important for us to realize that we’re allowed to believe whatever we want to believe, but that we should also be willing to consider our beliefs in light of facts that we discover. I don’t think that we should suddenly reject everything we’ve ever known just after seeing one or two things that are shocking, but that we need to carry on a reasoned inspection of our own beliefs throughout our lives.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I do. And I have friends that are atheists. If I don’t pester them by saying they’re going to go to hell, they won’t bother me by trying to convince me that there isn’t any heaven that I’ll be going to.”

Some laughter.

“But we all agree that there’s a reason to live. It may be one reason for one person and another for another person, or it may be a whole group of reasons… but there’s a reason to live. No matter how awful things may seem to be in the world around you, there’s a reason to keep going, to keep striving. It may seem so easy to extinguish the light within and become part of the darkness that surrounds you, but there’s a reason to keep that light shining.”

Michael asked, “What’s your reason to live?”

“Like I said, I have many.” Mr. Webb Googled up images of “carne al pastor.”

Sakura said what everyone else was thinking. “Those tacos look delicious!”

“They are. And if you’re dead, you can’t eat them.” Many nods acknowledged the wisdom in that sentiment.

Mr. Webb noted the time. The bell was about to ring, so he fired up Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” and said, “That’s all for today. We’ll get more into chapter one and how I do grades in my class tomorrow.”

As the guitar solo began, the bell rang and the class filed out past Mr. Webb’s desk. He took the “you’re an awesome teacher” and “this is already my favorite class” comments in stride, accepting them with grace. He wasn’t going to be everyone’s favorite teacher, but it was always nice to know that what he said resonated with a pretty big cross-section of his classes.

After everyone left, he queued up Blues Traveler’s “Run Around”, followed by his song. The playlist ready, he went back to the hall to keep the traffic moving where it needed to go. He smiled when he noticed that nobody had torn down his sign by the bathroom. It augured well for this year’s students.

The Big Reboot: 12

“OK, the books… I’m not a fan of them, and I’ll let you know that up front. However, I know that some of you like to do things by the book, and you can certainly get full credit for an A in this class, if you go that route. If you don’t like the book, that’s fine, too. I’ll still use the book as a basis for our discussions in class, and if you do a lot of discussing, that will be equal in my mind to what others may be doing with definitions and chapter questions. Everyone will need to be familiar with the definitions in the chapter and everyone will need to participate in class. You decide how you want to earn your grade in here. But we all get a book, so everyone come up here and get a book and a yellow form.”

And so, everyone from Preston Agee down to Paulina Vasquez came up and got a book and a yellow form.

“Make sure you fill out your yellow form completely and then bring it up here to me, with your book. I’ll check them off and you’ll be good to go.”

Calvin asked, “Do we get a grade for this?”

“No. I only take grades for things that have to do with Economics. You’re going to be financially responsible for this book if you lose it, so you got money riding on this, even if you don’t have GPA invested.”

Rashawn Turner said, “Wait, we don’t get bonus points for bringing in tissue paper? That’s how I passed Mr. Byer’s class last year.” DJ and Calvin laughed.

“You’re free to bring in tissue paper to share with everyone. I myself have a stash that I provide to everyone in my classes, along with fridge and microwave access during lunch. But if you want extra credit, you have to do Economics. Which reminds me of a story… there was a teacher here at Teller, before I got here, a really big guy… he had a schedule of various baked goods and how many points they’d earn. There were kids that baked their way to an A in his class.”

Cristina Orozco smacked her teeth and said, “Daaaaaang. I bet he was real fat.”

“I said he was a big guy. The man had a price and let it be known. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to bake, it’ll be to share with the class. You’re free to eat and drink in here, provided that you don’t leave stinky trash in my can, don’t leave any trash where you sit, and your eating isn’t a distraction. If I say it’s a distraction, it’s a distraction. To give you an example, there was this one kid that I had that brought an entire loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter every day to class. In class, he would make peanut butter sandwiches of the entire loaf and eat them. Made the whole class smell like white bread. Worse, he smacked his food.”

Cristina smacked her teeth and said, “Stoooopid!”

Mr. Webb smacked his teeth and said, “Stooooopid, indeed. We made him stop.”

Cristina and the other Mexicans laughed. “Man, you’re trippin.”

“I taught at Sunflare for two years. I picked a few things up there.”

Edgar Rocha said, “Man, that place is straight up ghetto. How many times did you get killed there?”

“About once a month.”

Smacks. “Stooooopid,” in four-part harmony.

“Yeah, I learned the ways of the cholo there. Good times. The kids were all right there, but the administration… those guys you had to watch out for.”

Back to the task at hand, though… one by one, Mr. Webb called up the students. He made sure they had the correct book number on their forms and that they had their names in their books. He entered the book numbers in his grade book and collected the yellow forms. And he waited for the inevitable question…

DJ asked it. “Can we keep our books in here?”

“Sure. Provided…” Mr. Webb pointed at the freezer part of his fridge. “You keep them in there.”

“The freezer?”

“Yes. A nicely chilled book is a pleasure on a summer’s day.”


“Leaving them on the shelves, they get picked up by other people there and find their way to other classes. You’re on the hook for the loss, and that’s no good. Sometimes, I can track down the wandering books, but I found that they’re less likely to grow legs if they’re in my freezer.”

DJ shrugged and put his book in the freezer. “I got football first period. Might be nice.”

As he stood up, he revealed that his pants were sagging. Badly. Mr. Webb had to comment. “And, while you’re up, DJ, you need to hike up the pants. I can’t stand the sag.”

“Aw, mister, the ladies like the fashion.”

“Not me!” Sakura was adamant.

“It’s so tacky.” Salina offered her cold opinion.

“Yeah, tacky.” Meron spoke her words with passion.

Mr. Webb took a survey. “Do any of the women here think that sagging is a good look?” None of the twelve women raised their hands or spoke in the affirmative.

“Well, I’m not trying to go out with any of the chicks here.” DJ backpedaled.

“Good.” Salina didn’t let up.

Mr. Webb tried to offer a reasonable argument. “Part of school’s mission is to prepare you for the workplace. You really can’t sag anywhere where it’s decent to work. Might as well get used to it. Pull ‘em up.”

DJ had a ready response. “Dude. I’m gonna be a rapper. I gotta sag if I’m gonna rap.”

Mr. Webb wasn’t impressed. “A rapper, eh? So, let me check to see if there are any rap shortages anywhere in the USA…” He pretended to type and click on his laptop. “Oh, here’s an opening. They need a rapper in Lincoln, Nebraska. They’re offering $8.50 an hour.”

“Really?” DJ looked hopeful.

“Seriously?” Mr. Webb shattered those hopes.
“Man, don’t hate.”

“I’m not hatin, just letting you know… making it in the arts can be very difficult. Chances are, you’re going to need a day job until you get enough interest to be able to make a living on the road. I did stand-up comedy a few years ago, during the summer. I saw a lot of great comics that were just looking for that one break. Some of them were actually able to work the club circuit, but they were always on the road. No family life for those guys. It was a hard life. The rest of the comedians worked during the day. It wasn’t because they weren’t good. They were hilarious. They just didn’t have the same luck that the others had.”

DJ didn’t seem to be moved by reason.

“Also, I’ll email Coach Sheppard that you’re sagging.”

DJ pulled his pants up. Although everyone knew that the office wouldn’t take referrals for tardies or dress code violations during the first two weeks, Coach Sheppard, the athletic director, held his athletes to a higher standard. Falling short of that standard meant not playing or running extra laps. As long as DJ was a starting fullback, he had a reason to keep his pants up. If he played basketball, they’d stay up through the end of the semester.

“As long as the belt loops are above your butt muffin, I’m cool.” Sakura and Meron nearly choked with laughter at “butt muffin.” Mr. Webb continued, “I don’t want to bust your chops, either, but this is a rule I do feel strongly about. That and no pickles.”

“No pickles?” Sakura had to ask.

“I cannot stand the smell of pickles. At all. Do not bring any into my class, not even as a test. I will smell them and I will lose my mind and I will come up with some kind of punishment that you will not like. I don’t know what it will be, but I am a creative man and I will think of something that you will not like.” A look around the room confirmed that, yes, Mr. Webb had creativity, even if he didn’t have the best taste in décor.

“I could bring a durian, for example.”

Quynh Nguyen gagged. “God, no.”

Sakura looked confused. “What’s… durian?”

“The worst-smelling thing in the world, with a hint of onion, right, Quynh?”

Quynh nodded. “I hate it whenever my grandma brings it over. She loves the stuff. They have to eat it outside, though, or I’ll die.”

Sakura looked terrified. “You’ll diiiiiiie?” Meron also looked terrified. Salina looked moderately concerned.

Mr. Webb said, “It’s against the law in Singapore and Malaysia to bring durian into public transportation or hotels. It’s a massive, spiked fruit whose smell can draw elephants from two miles away. It’s absolutely horrid. It’s a weapon of mass destruction. And I love the way it tastes.”
Quynh couldn’t believe what he just heard. “You… like… it?”

“Love it. Two out of every three people in the world find that, after tasting it, it’s not so bad. Half of those people absolutely love it, in spite of the way it first smells. Eating it makes it change how it smells. It’s amazing.”

“Not for me, mister.”

“Well, you’re in the one out of every three humans that find that it tastes as bad as it smells. Sorry.” Mr. Webb addressed the rest of the class. “But now you all know that it’s not an idle threat. No pickles, and I’m serious as a heart attack about that rule.”

With the books and basic rules out of the way, Mr. Webb saw fit to commence the Economics lesson: “OK, kids… scarcity… that’s the foundation of Economics. Scarcity. What is it?”

Dead air. Time to fill the void with information.

The Big Reboot: 11

“Oh my gosh, you actually have your own theme song!” The young lady in the front was obviously impressed.

“You just heard it.” Mr. Webb was glad to be impressive. It helped to let everyone know that this was his room and that things ran his way in here. Not someone else’s way. His way. It was a nice way of letting them know, and Mr. Webb was all about using soft power to keep the peace.

“How much did you pay to have that done?” The young lady was starting to go beyond impressed.

“Nothing. I did it myself.”

“Wowwww, that’s like Harry Potter amazing.”

OK, it wasn’t that amazing. “Not really. Just a simple sound editing program.” Some of the other students were concurring. A few simple operations were all that were necessary to produce a track like that.

The young lady was undeterred in her adulation. “Oh my gosh, that’s so way over my head. I don’t understand computers at all. I wish I did, but, like even Word freaks me out when I try to use it. My big sister tells me to just calm down and type, but, like, I’m not typing, I’m like trying to change a font or put a picture in, and it’s so frustrating and am I the only one talking, OK… that just got… awkwarrrrrrd… I’m sorry… I’ll shut up now. You probably want to call roll or something. OK… still awkwarrrrrrd… oh my gosh… why can’t I stop.”

“Please stop.” Mr. Webb spoke his gentlest words.

“Thank you.” The young lady seemed eternally grateful for Mr. Webb’s assistance in avoiding any further awkwarrrrrdness.

“And, yes, I do need to call roll.” Mr. Webb addressed the class. Calling roll was one of his classic bits. “If I get your name wrong, please correct me on the pronunciation or if you go by a different name, just let me know, and I’ll make note of it.”

And he began: “Preston Agee.” Except he didn’t pronounce it “Preston Agee.” It came out more like “Pre-stone Ag-eh-eh”. Nobody responded. Mr. Webb repeated, “Pre-stone Ag-eh-eh.”

Preston got the clue, the bright lad. “Uh, that’s Preston Agee.”

Mr. Webb sounded pleasantly surprised. “Thank you. Preston Agee. That’s a beautiful name. Where is it from.”

“Uh, I don’t know… my dad’s from Ohio…”

Mr. Webb smiled, counted him present, and then went to the next name. “Marr-ee-line Boo-tleh-yarrr?”

After some thought, Marilyn Butler said, “here.”

“Did I get that name right?”

“Close enough.”

“Well, OK… Kahlveen Dahh-vissss?”

Calvin Davis laughed, “Yo.”

Mr. Webb smiled and continued. “Meron Defar?”

Meron looked shocked to her core.

“Did I get your name right?”

“You totally nailed it. I thought you were going to mess it up like the others!”

“I usually say it the way it’s spelled. Works just fine, usually.”

“All my other teachers mangled it. You’re the first one, ever, to get it right.”

Mr. Webb kept his smile. “It’s all hit or miss, really. Melanie Escobar?”

Melanie raised her hand and nodded.

“Salina Gebreselassie?”

Meron flipped her lid, again. She pointed to Salina and said, “She’s here! Oh my gosh, do you speak Amharic, or what?”

Salina got a little cross. “Oh hush, Meron. You’re making a scene.”

Meron made a “oh no you didn’t” face and then said, “Oh no you didn’t!”

Salina was as cool as cats. “Yes I did.”

Meron kept her face and looked at Mr. Webb for some kind of support.

None was forthcoming. “Salina, would you like me to move her?”

Salina smiled. “Oh, no, we’re totally besties. She’s just a little immature, every now and then.”

Meron’s jaw about hit the floor.

Salina looked at her. “Well, it’s true.”

Meron’s face went to normal. She nodded and shrugged.

The young, excitable lady sat on the other side of Meron. “Oh my gosh, that’s even more drama than what I caused at the start.” Suddenly realizing that everyone was now looking at her, the young lady said, “Oh my gosh, awkwarrrrd… shutting up…”

A few people, including Mr. Webb, couldn’t help but laugh. The young lady tried to shrink into her chair as she said, “Even more awkwarrrrrd… please call the roll again, or I’m going to cry.”

Not wanting tears on the first day, Mr. Webb asked, “Pah-mee-lay Kharr-ice?”

Pamela Harris had the worst confusion, ever, on her face. “I’m pretty sure I’m next on the roll, but that’s not my name at all.”

“I’m so sorry. How is it pronounced?”

“Pamela Harris.”

“Pamelah Kharris?”

She laughed. “No, Pamela Harris. Ease up on the H sound.”

“Pamelah Harriss?”

“Good enough.” Pamela sure was a good sport.

“Xochitl Izaguirre?”

A very surprised Xochitl Izaguirre said, “here.”

“Xochitl is the Nahuatl word for flower.”

“What’s Nahuatl?”

“It’s an indigenous language from Central Mexico. The Aztecs spoke it.”

Xochitl had just learned something new about herself.

“Have you ever been to Mexico City?”

Xochitl nodded.

“Ever been to the Xochimilco Gardens?”

“Oh wowwww.”

“Right, there’s flowers there. Xochi-, flowers. Milco, place of.”

This was news to Xochitl, and made a connection. “Kids learn something every day in here if I do my job right. Dah-vide Hoh-nez?”

David Jones raised his hand. “I go by DJ.”

“OK, DJ Hoh-nez?”

“You got it.” He laughed at the Spanish version of his last name.

The excitable young lady was excited again. “Oh my gosh, I totally get it!”

“Get what?”

“You’re messing up the easy names on purpose and you’re getting all the hard ones right! It’s like, the opposite of what normally happens. You must be the opposite of, like, a normal teacher. Like, you have tables and chairs and no desks and you have a theme song, and I’ve never ever had a teacher with just tables and desks and never ever EVER had a teacher with a theme song so it stands to reason that you’d also do that trick with the roll and oh my gosh people are looking at me again, awkwarrrrrd…” She shrank into her chair.

Meron raised her hand. “Can you please move her?”

Salina smacked Meron on her shoulder, causing her to make a dramatic “Ow!” face.

“She’s no more distracting than you when you get wound up.”

“Ah! That’s so not true!”

The young lady leaned towards Meron. “It’s true. You can get as bad as me. Shutting up before it’s awkward.”

This was going to be a great class. Mr. Webb finished the roll, according to the pattern that the excitable young lady had discovered. After finishing, he realized that he hadn’t called the name of the excitable young lady. Was she actually in the right classroom? “OK, I didn’t get your name. Are you supposed to be here?”

“Oh my gosh, am I? I have a schedule, here.” She produced her schedule. It said, “ECONOMICS… WEBB… A121″

“And I know this is the right classroom because I saw the sign on the boy’s bathroom after I walked in there and saw all the guys in it and it was really awkward and I almost cried but then I saw Meron and Salina walking by and they helped me out when they pointed at the sign and they’re like my best friends, ever, and if I’m not in the same class as them, I’m gonna cry.”

“Hold on.” Mr. Webb refreshed his online roll card. Another name popped up on the screen in the refresh. “Sakura Berry?”

The excitable young lady raised her hand. “Me! And you got my name right because it’s half Japanese!”

“Actually, I got it right because I wasn’t trying to mess it up. It says here, you’re African-American.”

Sakura took a deep breath. “My mom’s Japanese, and my dad’s black and I guess that makes me Tiger Woods except I don’t play golf or anything and I don’t always feel black because I’m part Asian even though my grades aren’t what anyone would call Asian but at least I pass my classes and I try really hard and my name translated into English would be Cherry Berry, which always messes me up because cherries are a fruit but because of my name I think they’re berries but they’re actually,” and she paused here, “fleshy drupes.”

That made everyone in the room laugh. Sakura blushed. “I know that sounds like something nasty, but that’s what cherries are!”

“Actually, Sakura means “cherry blossom.” Not the cherry.”

“I know, but I like to eat cherries, so that’s what my name means to me.” Sakura smiled proudly. “So why did you mess up the names, anyway?”

“When I was a kid, teachers always messed up my name. My first name is actually Lowell.”

Sakura had to repeat it. With emphasis. “Lowell.”

“Yes, just like that. Except, growing up here, teachers always said Loyal or Lau-ell or, one day, one said, Larry. It was a sub in my 6th grade class. I popped off on her. I mean, seriously, where’s the a, r or y in my name?”

Sakura thought a little. “They’re not in your name!” Meron rolled her eyes and Salina smacked Meron for rolling her eyes, which caused Meron to act like she was about to hit back, triggering Salina’s reaction to point a finger of doom at Meron, causing, in turn, Meron to de-escalate the situation by turning her move into part of a chair dance.

“Anyway, I started to go by my middle name. Dean. That’s easy for a Texan to pronounce.”

Sakura dropped into her deepest East Texas drawl. “Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeean. Hey, it came out OK!”

“Indeed it did. And does. So when I started teaching, I thought I’d like to give some relief to the kids that got their names messed up and some of what I went through to the kids that don’t get their names messed up.”

Pamela raised her hand. “You’re not going to do that every day, are you?”

“No. Just for the roll.”

“Good. Because that would get annoying.”

“Yes it would, and I’m annoying enough, as is.” Mr. Webb clicked submit on the online roll. “And now, let’s talk about the useless books we’re going to use this year.”

Sakura raised her hand. She had a sad, confused look on her face. Meron said, “Wait. I know what’s bugging you. How can a useless book be used?”

Sakura nodded. “It’s totally contradictory!”

Meron nodded back. “I know. It’s my question, too.” Thereupon, both turned to face Mr. Webb, with their hands raised defiantly. Salina facepalmed.

“You sure you don’t want me to move you or them?”

Salina kept her face in her palm. “I’m seriously considering your offer.”