Category Archives: The Big Reboot

The continuing online serialization of a teacher’s last year. Totally fiction. Any resemblance at all to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The Big Reboot: 17

The bell to end lunch rang, right when there was about to be a big reveal in the Bollywood. Mr. Webb hit the pause button, causing all the kids watching it to go, “Awww! Just one more minute?”

“You’ll get your minute tomorrow. Time to get to class.” The film fans filed out as the AP Economics kids shuffled back in. Before Mr. Webb could get back to the tunes to shuffle into class by, one of his AP students, the very art-student-y Michele Barta, asked as she entered, “How come you’re not teaching AP Government anymore?”

It was the first day of school and all the books had been handed out… why not give her an honest answer? It would kill off the rest of the period, but what the heck, right?

“I don’t teach AP Government anymore because the material tested on has no connection to reality anymore, and there’s not enough time to cover reality in addition to teaching the stuff you have to know for the test. AP Economics is also divorced from reality, but it’s not as complete as in AP Government, and I also have enough time in AP Eco to cover what’s actually going on. Rather than choose between teaching propaganda and getting good test scores, teaching the truth and getting ripped up one side and down the other by administration for a poor passing rate, and not teaching it at all, I choose to not teach it at all.”

“What do you mean it’s not connected to reality anymore?”

“Well, Michele, it’s like this… AP Government is about how things are supposed to work, with a few considerations for some issues, for lack of a stronger word, that face the system. It’s a curriculum that, at the end of the day, holds a view that the system is functional and that our votes matter and make a difference in every election. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, and that it hasn’t been that way for over a hundred years.”

“A hundred years? What?”

Some other students had come in and were standing beside Michele, as outraged as she was. They didn’t know exactly why, but they were anticipating something huge. Mr. Webb had a reputation for being right, a reputation Mr. Webb himself promoted and reinforced with his “told you so!”-style commentaries on current events.

“Have a seat, ladies and germs, and I’ll spill the beans on the whole government caper.”

They took their seats and got ready for the big answer to Michele’s question. Pretty much everyone was back, except for Isaac Feknes, one of the guys that seemed to be without sufficient clues to make it through the year. Oh well, this stuff wasn’t on the test. He could miss it and still live to see another day.

Mr. Webb displayed a one-page document on the overhead for everyone to read, then zoomed in on the text so that everyone could really read it and not just nod their head at fuzzy-looking letters. The document read:

The Control of Political Machinery
The American government,—city, state and nation—is in almost the same position as the schools, newspapers and churches. It does not turn out tangible, economic products. It depends, for its support, upon taxes which are levied, in the first instance, upon property. Who are the owners of this property? The business interests. Who, therefore, pay the bills of the government? The business interests.
Nowhere has the issue been stated more clearly or more emphatically than by Woodrow Wilson in certain passages of his “New Freedom.” As a student of politics and government—particularly the American Government—he sees the power which those who control economic life are able to exercise over public affairs, and realizes that their influence has grown, until it overtops that of the political world so completely that the machinery of politics is under the domination of the organizers and directors of industry.
“We know,” writes Mr. Wilson in “The New Freedom,” “that something intervenes between the people of the United States and the control of their own affairs at Washington. It is not the people who have been ruling there of late” (p. 28). “The masters of the government of the United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States…. Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the biggest stakes—the big bankers, the big manufacturers, the big masters of commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of steamship corporations…. Every time it has come to a critical question, these gentlemen have been yielded to and their demands have been treated as the demands that should be followed as a matter of course. The government of the United States at present is a foster-child of the special interests” (p. 57-58). “The organization of business has become more centralized, vastly more centralized, than the political organization of the country itself” (p. 187). “An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy” (p. 35). “We are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless” (p. 10).
This is the direct control exercised by the plutocracy over the machinery of government. Its indirect control is no less important, and is exercised in exactly the same way as in the case of the channels of public opinion.
Lawyers receive preferment and fees from business—there is no other large source of support for lawyers. Judges are chosen from among these same lawyers. Usually they are lawyers who have won preferment and emolument. Legislators are lawyers and business men, or the representatives of lawyers and business men. The result is as logical as it is inevitable.
The wealth owners control the machinery of government because they pay the taxes and provide the campaign funds. They control public officials because they have been, are, or hope to be, on the payrolls, or participants in the profits of industrial enterprises.

– Scott Nearing, The American Empire (1921)

This excerpt details the connection between interest groups and political influence, including the “revolving door” phenomenon described at the end. Another strong connection between interest groups and government is the “iron triangle” where interest groups, government bureaucracies, and congressional committees all work together to create legislation and regulation regimes that ultimately work to the benefit of the parties involved, even at the cost of uninvolved groups.

“The last paragraph is mine, and Wilson’s comments come from his 1912 presidential campaign. That’s where I get the 100-year figure. Stuff like this was obvious even back then, and it’s much more pervasive and powerful now. I can’t in good conscience teach that politicians vote according to the dictates of their conscience, not all the time. These guys in Congress spend well over half their time in office raising money in phone banks organized by the party and big fancy dinners.”

“Half their time?”

“At least.”

“So when do they meet in session?”

“Not often.” Mr. Webb’s assessment brought out a frown on everyone’s face but one: Jerome Hudl had fallen asleep already.

The bell rang for people tardy to the second half of 4th period after B lunch. Still no Isaac Feknes.

Matt Woyzeck raised his hand. “Do they still get paid if they don’t show up to vote or meet?”

“Yes. Their salary is something like $174K a year. Nice work, if you can get it. But they get sweeter bonuses with the information they have from being in Congress. What’s insider trading for you and me is Congressional privilege for Senators and Congressmen. They make out like bandits, literally. Only the honest Congressmen die poor. Looking at the net wealth of the average Congressman, there aren’t many honest ones in either house.”

Chas Carson chuckled from the thrones. “Hey, go big or go home. My dad’s a lobbyist, and he’s always complaining about politicians calling him up, begging him for money, promising votes on this or that if he comes across with a donation.”

“There you go.” Mr. Webb pointed at Chas. “I can’t teach a course that ignores stuff like that. Therefore, I can’t teach AP Government any more. I mean, if we have time at the end of some classes, I can show you stuff that I put together over the years, but it’s way too cynical for the test. Way way way way way too cynical.”

Stan Keller, another throne man, asked, “Like… how cynical?”

“Cynical like this.” Mr. Webb fired up another document, Notes.pdf, and the page that came up read as follows:

How a Politician Gets Elected

1. If the politician is an incumbent and didn’t make any interest groups angry while he served his term of office, he gets re-elected.
2. If the incumbent dies, makes an interest group mad at him, or gets caught in a major scandal, someone else must fill his seat. There will be a for-reals election.
3. All politicians that are neither Democrats or Republicans are free to contest the election, but they will lose. They need to have a job to fall back on after November.
4. The Democrats and Republicans will hold primaries to determine who will represent them in the November election. Whichever persons appeal most to the radical, goofball, and raving lunatic sections of each party will win the primary.
5. Once nominated, each candidate will claim that they will run a clean campaign, then they will set about mudslinging and negative campaigning. Whichever candidate runs the most negative campaign stands a good chance of winning.
6. If neither candidate runs a negative campaign, or the campaigns are equally negative, whichever candidate looks the best will have a good chance of winning. Ugly candidates can ask good-looking people to campaign for them.
7. If a candidate lost a primary election, he can run as an independent to keep the guy that beat him in the primary from winning the November election.
8. If both candidates are equally negative and equally ugly, whichever one gets mentioned the most has a good chance of winning. Getting mentioned involves spending money on advertising, so whoever can raise the most money stands a really good chance of winning the election.
9. Raising money involves going to people and interest groups and grovelling. Whoever can grovel the best will raise the most money.
10. Often, interest groups will give money to a candidate on the condition that he will prostitute his vote for them. This is known as a “reciprocally beneficial relationship.” Prostitutes prefer the latter term, as it means they won’t be compared with objectionable politicians.
11. If a candidate looks like he’ll lose the election if it is contested fairly, he can try to win it by engaging in criminal activities. Criminal activities include the following activities, but are not limited to them: bribery, acceptance of cash from illegal donors, blackmail, whisper campaigns, vote tampering, vote fraud, vote count tampering, threats of violence, assassination, burglary, vandalism, “clearing” of voter records.
12. Whoever counts the votes has ultimate say on who the winner of the election is and if the election will be fair.
13. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. This usually means the best-looking candidate with the most money raised and connections to interest groups that has a sympathetic election judge and no “independent” challenger to deal with will win. Provided he doesn’t get caught for any dirty tricks…
14. In a 2-man race, a majority of votes wins. In a 3-man (or more) race, a plurality wins.

“Daaaaaaamn, that’s cynical.” Stan let his jaw hang open after saying that.

Michele looked like she was about to cry. “I want to puke.”

Chas laughed. Mr. Webb figured that he probably knew that it was worse than what was in the notes. Optimists always know things can be worse, which is why they find it so easy to laugh.

Everyone else was in shock, except for Hudl, who slept on. Isaac Feknes walked back in.

“Where the hell have you been, Feknes?” Mr. Webb wasn’t happy with the break in the revelations, but the rest of the class was glad for the comic relief.

“I didn’t know lunch was over.”

“How long have you been a student here?”

“This is my fourth year.”

“And you didn’t know how we roll with B lunch? Are you an idiot or something?”

“No.” Isaac’s back stiffened at the insinuation that he might be an idiot.

“Then you admit you’re lying about not knowing lunch was over. What were you doing, making out with your girlfriend that has C lunch?” Mr. Webb didn’t know for sure, but it was an educated guess that was what was going on.

Isaac went from indignant to shocked.

Chas, Stan, and the third throne man, Sean Ortiz, shouted in unison, “Called it! Boom!”

Mr. Webb broke out in laughter and decided, then and there, that these three guys were going to do just fine in his class. They had the right attitude and weren’t afraid to participate. Isaac Feknes, on the other hand, seemed likeliest to join Mr. Hudl in making this time of day his little nap-time.

Mr. Webb cut his laughter off, suddenly and completely, and fixed a cold glare on Isaac. “Don’t you dare come in late to my class like that again, Mr. Feknes. Do you understand me?”

Isaac nodded, but it was the unenthusiastic nod of a person that had no intention of keeping his word.

Mr. Webb kept mental note of that reaction and pointed at a chair. “Have a seat. Try and keep up. We’re talking about the near-complete control major corporations and interest groups have on the government.”

Michele groaned and pitched forward, her face almost hitting the table.

Mr. Webb put a picture of baby otters on the overhead. Michele looked up and smiled. All the girls and most of the boys said, “Awwww!” Only sleeping Hudl and clueless Feknes had no reaction.

Mr. Webb minimized the picture so the cruel assessment of the election process was back in view. “Uhhhh…” Michele was sad again.

“I’ll have more happy pictures before we leave, OK?”

Michele perked up a little. “OK.”

Matt asked, “So, there’s nothing we can do about this?”

“Not unless you have a few million dollars, and then you become part of this with that kind of money.”

“What about a revolution?”

“Not likely. We’re much more likely to see a suspension of liberties and the imposition of an authoritarian regime that has the trappings and procedures of democracy, but actual power concentrated in the hands of a few. And liberties have been steadily eroded for quite some time, now, so what’s in the Bill of Rights is only so much window dressing, when it all comes down to it. You have the rights the government allows you to have. If the government calls you a terrorist and chucks you into a prison somewhere in Egypt or Poland, how are you going to let your lawyer know that your rights are being violated? You won’t. Heck, you don’t even have to leave the country. There are federal medical institutions where people can be involuntarily committed without access to lawyers or due process. Medical incarceration is an old KGB trick, by the way. But if you’re in one of those holes, how do you get out?”

Matt had no fire left in him for the revolution. “You don’t.”

“You don’t, that’s right, which is why I’m making a study of life under authoritarian regimes. I want to be ready for the future. It’s not all that bad, really. Some freedoms, they don’t care if you have or not.”

Feknes was already asleep. Wanda Ngo pointed at him and Hudl with a questioning look, as if to ask what to do about them.

“Let ’em sleep. Don’t do anything mean to them, but don’t wake them up. If they can’t stay awake here, they seriously need to consider dropping the course.”

Wanda looked confused. “But you can’t drop an AP course in the first six weeks.”

“You can if you’re about to fail and your parents demand that you get out of there, which is what’s going to happen to them both if the counselor won’t listen to reason.”

The bell was about to ring, so Mr. Webb put up a picture of a baby girl in a swing decorated with brightly-colored primary color beads. The baby girl was holding a sleeping kitty.


The bell rang and Feknes and Hudl woke up. Mr. Webb called them to his desk. “You guys need to drop this class and get into regular.”

Without saying a word the two almost nodded and shuffled out. Mr. Webb played Foghat’s “Slow Ride” as they exited the room.

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.

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.”

The Big Reboot: 10

First period duty on the first day of school involves lots of directing panicked freshmen and other new kids and a fair amount of playing goalie with parents that had wandered past the lecture hall, where they were supposed to register their students. Truth be told, the parents were supposed to have registered their kids before school started, but you know how confused and addled parents that age can be.

Most of them had smaller kids with them. A fraction of those kids had no intention of behaving, so when their parents popped them on the head and then yelled at them to quit crying, it gave the school a down home feeling, not unlike a Walmart at 5 PM. Hustle, bustle, and awkward moments like nowhere else in the world.

And when those parents had enrolled their students, they were the ones most likely to act like unsupervised teenagers running amok at a Walmart. They made it horrible for everyone when they showed up, and everyone rejoiced when they were absent.

“Hey Mr. Webb, Dontavius isn’t here today!”

“Don’t play with me, Shenequa! You ain’t lying?”

“Straight up, he ain’t here. We’re gonna learn today!”

“Well, let’s not waste any time! But first, let’s enjoy this moment.”

Mr. Webb would then ask everyone to be quiet. In seconds, the room was at peace. “That’s the sound of no Dontavius. Enjoy.” And enjoy they did.

Sometimes, though, Dontavius was just late. As in, he woke up in time to be fifteen minutes late to third period. Mr. Webb tried to keep the other students from moaning in disappointment, but wasn’t always successful. Dontavius constantly made disruptions, constantly stole time from the entire class, so they wanted to punish him. There were kids as disruptive as Dontavius that couldn’t help it: nobody wanted to see them suffer, except maybe Dontavius, which helps to explain why others figured he had coming whatever he had coming. If he was high and passed out in class, everyone let him sleep.

They let him sleep, but Mr. Webb wouldn’t let them get totally quiet. Total quiet tended to wake up sleepers. If there was a constant level of noise, there was a chance that Dontavius would sleep well into the start of the next class. Was that mean? Mr. Webb thought of it as tough love. Dontavius had to be responsible for his own alertness during the day.

Besides, it made up only somewhat of the surly pleasures Dontavius could unload on the days when he was coming down from his high. Pot made a guy really mellow on the way up, but pretty harsh on the descent to reality. “How do you know about Africa? You ain’t never been there!” Ah, it seems Dontavius decided to show his butt…

“I’ve talked to people from Africa. I’m repeating what they told me.” Sure, Mr. Webb hadn’t been witness to the horrors of the civil war in Liberia, but two of the girls in second period had lived through it. Their eyewitness accounts only added to the deep pain of the historical accounts of that paroxysm of violence.

“So you’re just gossiping, huh?” Dontavius, obviously, was not moved with compassion.

“No, Dontavius, I’m teaching. I’m explaining about the horrible civil war in Liberia. Or do you not care at all for anyone but yourself? No, wait, you don’t.” Risky, but Dontavius tended to contradict Mr. Webb when he was sobering up, so better to have him argue that he was a good person and not a bad one.

“No, I care.” Score! “But why are you talking about stupid Africa? I thought this was economics class?”

“It is economics. Here’s the payoff. During Liberia’s civil war, it went into default on its debts. Just before it came out of civil war, some bankers bought up Liberia’s debt, sued Liberia in court, and since Liberia couldn’t sent a representative to court, they won the case and got triple damages. They settled with Liberia for 3% of its national budget, down from 5%. The nation was trying to rebuild, and these guys, vulture fund guys, swept in without any concern at all for the harm they were causing.”

“Dang.” Dang was right. It also put Dontavius’ churlishness into perspective. Jerk though he was, he wasn’t the kind of guy to pull bread out of the mouth of a baby to buy himself another yacht.

“And these guys make donations to both parties, so they make sure Congress won’t pass any laws to stop them from doing what they do.”

“How come I never heard about this before now? You making this up?”

“A reporter, Greg Palast, did a story about this for the BBC. It aired over in England and the next day, Parliament passed a law against vulture funds. The next day. The news in the USA is controlled by people that don’t want that story on the news. So, it never aired here.”

“I’m bored, mister. Why can’t I just copy definitions?”

That usually broke the patience of the rest of the class, who would shout out for Dontavius to shut the hell up. He’d respond, “You shut up!” and Mr. Webb would have to intervene to stop the shouting match.

A jangly, familiar guitar riff got everyone moving and ready to join in with “Rollercoaster… of love!” as the Ohio Players started cooking up a hot stew of funkalicious. There were only five minutes left in class, so Mr. Webb kept people happy with a game of “Name That Tune.” Big hits and current faves were easy pickings. If he reached back far enough, though, he could find one that would make everyone go, “Man! I know this one!” and go out of their minds trying to guess it.

Then some kid that had no familiarity with the genre would use his phone to find out, and everyone would yell at him for cheating. But everyone would be back to being brothers and sisters again as they left to the sounds of the O’Jays singing “Love Train.” On his way out, Dontavius would offer to fist bump Mr. Webb.

“Sorry I was arguing with you earlier.”

Mr. Webb offered up his bump. He smiled as he made peace. “It’s alright. Just show up sober next time.”

Dontavius would laugh. “Alright, mister.” Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But he wasn’t all that bad, really.

Mr. Webb showed the mom of a future Dontavius the way to the lecture hall as he noticed there were only five minutes before the bell rang to end first period. After school got underway, duty first period would have a different, calmer rhythm. Today, it was all crazy. Thankfully, he had enough time to hustle back to his room and get ready for the passing period between first and second.

He unlocked his computer and got his music program started. He built up a playlist for the first day hall music. Classic rock was a good way to start things off. First in the queue was Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. That would get people to move along briskly. Next was “Shambala” from Three Dog Night. That would put everyone in a groovy mood as they entered the room.

Mr. Webb then lined up his theme song so that he could make a big entrance. It was a fun saxophone solo, “Telefone” from Bossacucanova. Mr. Webb mixed his voice on top:

“Good morning or afternoon as appropriate, and welcome to Mr. Webb’s class! Broadcasting at you -live- from beautiful Garson, Texas, in the heart of Teller High School, room A119B. Got a great class for you today, so get your stuff out and get rrready to learn! We’re going to have a -wonderful- time, and here he is now, the one, the only, Mr. We-eeeeeeebb!”

Then, on top of the solo finishing up, came the applause track. Mr. Webb burst into the room, and the class joined the crowd in applauding while Mr. Webb pointed at people in turn, saying “Thank you! Thank you!”

The Big Reboot: 9

It was hard to fall asleep, but Mr. Webb managed to get six solid hours of sleep before the big first day. There wasn’t anything special to wear or anything special to eat: what made the day special was getting to school in time to get a decent parking space. The faculty lot was on the side of the building opposite Mr. Webb’s room. That was a huge schlep, so Mr. Webb parked in the student lot that was practically outside his door. If he got there early enough, he could get a pull-through spot in the first row.

Lucky day! Mr. Webb got the spot he wanted. He got out of his car and waved at the other teachers and the students he knew as they wended their way into the building. As soon as Mr. Webb got inside, hapless freshmen asked him about where their fist classrooms were located. It seemed to be a rule to have the freshmen schedules set up so that they would criss-cross the building from period to period. Passing periods were six minutes, so they could get from one end to the other in that time, but there would be no time for getting to the bathroom. Kids weren’t supposed to be allowed to use the bathroom for the first fifteen or the last fifteen minutes of a 50-minute class, so that really limited their opportunities to feel comfortable in the educational environment.

Mr. Webb saw a senior that he knew was in one of his classes. “Say, Oscar, can I see your schedule?”

Oscar smiled as he pulled out his schedule. “Sure. You have a good summer?”

“Yes, I did, thanks. And you?” Mr. Webb looked to see what room the schedule said he was in.

“I had a good one. Went back to Manila to see my grandma. What do you need my schedule for, anyway?”

Mr. Webb pointed at his room assignment. “That.”

“Yeah, I’m in your class. I’m stoked.”

“No, you don’t get it. Look at the number.”

“It says A121.”

“OK, now look at the number on the men’s room here.”

“A121 – oh snap!”

Mr. Webb’s room was actually A119B. The ISS room was A119A. Every now and again, not only would the scheduling program put Mr. Webb’s AP classes against other sections that were more in demand, the scheduling program would also decide that it couldn’t handle an A or a B after a room number and would assign Mr. Webb to the next available room number, A121. A120 was a computer classroom, so that wasn’t available.

While people that had been to Teller before were pretty familiar with where Mr. Webb’s room was by the time they were seniors, students new to Teller were going to try and find Economics in a men’s room, which was an uncomfortable prospect, at best. Mr. Webb went to his room to make a sign to put up next to the bathroom so that the kids would know where to find the real classroom.

Waiting for Mr. Webb were the kids that knew the score. Three students stood outside, waiting to put their lunches into Mr. Webb’s fridge. “Hey, Mr. Webb! Do you know what lunch you have?”

“Nope. They don’t announce lunch assignments until third period.”

“What the hell, Webb?”

“They’ve been doing that for the last few years. It used to be that the Social Studies department classes always got B lunch. Some people complained how other departments would grab up the A and C lunches, so now Mr. Hradzin makes the assignments himself.”

“So did you get, like A lunch?”

“No, I keep getting B lunch. But now I have to wait two more days to get it.”

“At least it’s not C lunch. The cafeteria always runs out of the good stuff by C lunch. All they have left is the plate lunches. It’s nasty.”

“That’s why I eat my own lunches.”

The kids put their lunches in the fridge. “What if we don’t have the same lunch as you do?”

“Just heat it up in the microwave and don’t disrupt my class, that’s all.”

“Cool. OK. Can we wait in here until the bell rings?” Nobody liked those cafeteria seats.

“Sure. Make yourselves comfortable.”

A few other kids walked in to sit in Mr. Webb’s room instead of the cafeteria. Mr. Webb started his computer so he could get some music going. “What do you guys want to hear?”

“Something mellow.”

“OK.” Mr. Webb put on some nice bossa brava. That made for a cool vibe.

“Are you gonna show movies during lunch again this year?”

“Planning to. I’m going to start with ‘Dhoom’. Get some cool action.” Mr. Webb pointed at the poster for “Dhoom” on the wall. The students nodded approvingly.

“It’s got motorcycles in it, right?”

“Yeah. Lots of ridiculous chase action. Great way to kick off the year.”

“Say, did you hear about Coach Guffman?” That was the coach that was recently fired for his sexual indiscretions.

“Yes, and we’re not supposed to discuss that with students.”

“Not discuss with students? What if we’re emotionally distraught and stuff?”

“You talk to the counselor. Any of you emotionally distraught?” They all shook their heads. “Well then, that’s a non-starter. We have a replacement for Guffman, so school keeps going.”

“Does the new guy know how he got the job?” A little giggle went through the students.

“Heh.” Mr. Webb had to laugh a little, too. “I don’t know. Be kind of a bad shock to find out after you got the job. Kind of like buying a house without knowing it’s built on an Indian burial ground.”

“Dude, that would suck.”

“Indeed it would. That’s why I don’t plan to ever move. The house I got now isn’t built on any kind of grave or what-not, so I don’t want to press my luck by buying another house.”

“You know who I wish they would fire? Mr. Benton.”

“Who’s he?”

“He’s an assistant band director.” That explained why Mr. Webb didn’t know him. “Total jerk.”

“If you don’t like him, why don’t you quit band?” Year in, year out, Mr. Webb asked this question.

“This is my fourth year, I want to see it through.” And that was the answer every year.

“Well, do you like band?”

“I like concert season. I hate marching.” It seemed like the only people that liked marching were the clarinets.

“You could always start your own band if you want to play concerts. You don’t have to merge your personality with a nameless mass in pseudo-fascist performances reminiscent of Hitler’s Nuremberg Rallies.”

“Wow, way to make it sound creepy, Mr. Webb.”

“It’s what it is. Aldous Huxley wrote about them in his book ‘Brave New World Revisited.’ When you march around at night, your sense of reason is diminished. When everyone else is wearing a uniform, you lose your personality. You become the mass of marchers, you merge with them. If they wanted you to become Nazis, that would be the time to do it. You should quit before they do that.”

“But I’d miss the trip to Corpus this year.”

“You know, you’re allowed to go to Corpus whenever you want to. Does band pay for the trip?”

“No, we do.”

“Well, you don’t miss anything if you bump the trip up to the summer and do a road trip on your own.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“You could probably get a better hotel, too.”

“Yeah, we could.”

“So why stay in band?”

“It’s my fourth year. I’ve made it this far, I might as well see it through.”

“Or you decide that having only three years of something you don’t want is better than having four, and you enjoy the difference.”

“But if anyone tries to quit, Mr. Mastiff really lays on a guilt trip.”

“So you go to the counselor, drop the class, and tell them that you feel uncomfortable about talking about this with Mr. Mastiff.”

“But then he’d tell my parents, and my mom would kill me! She did four years of band and she’s secretary in the band booster organization.”

The bell rang. End of that conversation. The kids said bye and everyone filed out. Mr. Webb locked his door and went to his first period duty station, the tardy station by Mr. Powell’s room. Mr. Walker did duty there, too, but he’d be there in a few minutes, since he had to wrap up his zero-hour class. For the first week, most of what they’d do would be to tell people where to go. For the second week, it would be giving warnings about dress code and tardies. Starting in the third week, it would be time to enforce the rules.

The rationale behind that was that kids needed an adjustment period to get back into school mode. Mr. Webb doubted that wisdom. It’s not like the kids weren’t in a school the year before, where the exact same rules applied. So the result of the two-week grace period was that kids that wanted to make trouble, made trouble, and got away with it.

Mr. Webb wondered how many names he was going to learn this year for all the wrong reasons.

The Big Reboot: 8

Heat pervaded the innards of the copy machine. There was no way to avoid it, so Mr. Webb aimed his arm for the center of it. His arm went in sideways and he could not see where it went. Carefully, deliberately, he let his fingers stroke the air ahead of them for a tiny brushing against that substance most familiar to teachers: paper.

Ever so gently, he discovered the demon corner of paper, the devil in the details. Blindly, but with precision granted by his heightened sense of touch – well, to be honest, there were times when he was an absolute butterfingers, but he had to believe in himself in times like these if he was to have any hope of clearing the entire jam. So, back to that heightened sense of touch, he used it wisely, cautiously, delicately, to pinch the paper corner between his forefinger and long finger and then tug it out of the press where it was pinched.

He pulled it out, but that was not the whole of the battle. Now, it had to come back out. If it fell out from between his fingers, it was all over for the copier, that grand, magnificent beast.

Seconds felt like centuries.

But success was Mr. Webb’s, as he completed his operation without any loss.

Right about then, Mr. Friendly got his job going on the other copier. “Wouldn’t you know, the thing was just out of paper and nobody cared to look at the error on the screen. Tsk, tsk, tsk!”

Seriously? That was all that it took to get the other copier going? And that was the good one, the one that didn’t overheat as easily. Well, at least it was going, and that meant Mr. Webb wouldn’t get crucified for printing a 36-page packet, 20 times over. With front and back printing, that was 360 pages, which, at even the top speed of 60 pages per minute, was a 6-minute job. When it was already after 4PM on the day before school started, nobody wanted to wait 6 minutes plus time to clear jams before doing their job, let alone if others were ahead of them. Mr. Friendly’s timely loading of paper meant that the line would move faster, the frustration would recede, and everything was going to be all right.

15 minutes later, Mr. Webb was finished with his printing. Thankfully, all the other jams didn’t involve any paper tearing. Still, that copier had a serious attitude problem. If it was a kid, Mr. Webb would refer it to the anger management counselor.

The anger management counselor was a really nice touch at Teller High. Mr. Gil Gutierrez was a real ace in the hole, when it came to the poker game of student discipline. Say some kid was really acting out, really having a bad day… say this kid was having a bad day, nearly every day. He’d have his altercation all scripted out:

“Ricardo, you need to settle down right this instant!”

“Yeah? And what? You’re gonna send me to the office?”

“You bet I will!”

“Well then, get busy with that referral, ’cause I ain’t stopping.”

At which point, the teacher would write up the referral and Ricardo would get an hour-long vacation from school as he cooled his jets in the assistant principal’s office. Mr. Webb knew that strategy and had a counter for it. His discussion went like this:

“OK, Ricardo, that’s about enough.”

“You gonna write me up?”

Mr. Webb reached for his paperwork. “Already on it. You are leaving the room.”

Ricardo would almost nod, satisfied his work was done so quickly.

“There, get on out of here. Come back when you’re ready.”

Ricardo would grab the paper, but it wasn’t an office referral. Noting the unusual weight and lack of triplicate, Ricardo would look down. Confused, he’d ask, “Who’s Mr. Gutierrez?”

“He’s the anger management counselor. His office is across from the cafeteria, by the courtyard.”

“I thought I was going to the office?”

Mr. Webb made his best surprised face. “Why would I send you to the office?”

“Because of the way I was acting and stuff.”

“Well, did you want to go to the office, or did you want to go somewhere where you could do better than the office?”


Mr. Webb smiled. “You don’t need the office. You need Mr. Gutierrez.”

Ricardo would then walk down to Gutierrez’ office. He’d come back, half an hour later, apologize, and then, with regular sessions with Mr. Gutierrez, he’d get to where he wouldn’t act out so often or to such an extreme. Mr. Webb would meet with Mr. Gutierrez and learn what was pushing Ricardo’s buttons so that he could do something different in his class. It didn’t work every time, but 90% of the time, it really helped. Maybe five of the 200-odd teachers at Teller actually referred kids to Mr. Gutierrez, but it made all the difference for those kids that went to see him.

And who should come around the corner, but Mr. Gutierrez? He feigned surprise. “Mr. Webb! I thought you were in jail!”

Mr. Webb feigned equal surprise. “And I thought you were dead!”

Both responded, “Well, things got better!” Their greeting ritual really got good laughs from students, but they enjoyed it just as much on their own.

“So, Dean, are you all ready for tomorrow?”

“Helluva question to ask me at 4:30 in the afternoon, Gil. Good thing that I got my copies. So, yes, I’m all ready. I think.” Mr. Webb grinned.

“Hey, belief is everything. If you believe you’re ready, then you’re ready.”

“How about you?”

“Got my act together. Say, is it hot in your room?”

“No, it’s freezing. It’s always like that when they kick on the AC for the start of the year.”

“Man, it’s boiling in my office. I’d put in a window unit, if I could open my windows.”

“Come and see how cold it is in my room. It was tolerable around lunch, but now we can hang meat in there.”

Mr. Webb led Mr. Gutierrez to his room. “Touch the handle.”

Mr. Gutierrez grabbed the metal door handle. “Wow! It’s like ice! If I lick it, my tongue’s gonna stick!”

Mr. Webb opened the door and the arctic blast poured into the hallway. Although it was August in Texas, Mr. Webb pointed to a small supply of blankets in one of his closets. “Oh yeah, I’m ready. I’m on the same register as the cafeteria and the lecture hall, so if those places are warm, I get to freeze. Every year, this happens, and every year, the custodian adjusts my vents just so after two weeks, then it’s fine until we kick over to heat.”

“Why is it two weeks?”

“That’s how long the request takes to work through the system. He could do it today, but he doesn’t have a work order, so it’s unauthorized work and he could get fired for it. Isn’t that crazy? Naw, I got blankets. I can survive.”

Bad phyiscal plant, goofy kids, inservices, book room drama, copy room trauma… yes, Mr. Webb could survive. So long as the central administration didn’t go completely insane like EDCISD’s did, Mr. Webb could survive. That’s why he chose to work in Garson ISD: their administration had had a long history of not being completely insane.

Mr. Gutierrez left and Mr. Webb straightened up a few things, putting his finishing touches on his room layout, with benches, tables, and chairs organized to allow for good traffic flow and orientation towards his projection screen that hung just over his left shoulder. Copies went on the cart next to the book cart, along with textbook checkout forms. Everything was ready to go. Mr. Webb turned off the light and locked his door.

In the hallway, the cheerleaders were hanging “Welcome back Titans!” banners in the hallway. They’d finally gotten to this part of the building, so they were almost ready to go home. Some of them could be full of themselves, but for the most part, they were some of the nicest people Mr. Webb had ever met. They showed up to every game, even the sports that didn’t draw big crowds, and they really did support the athletes on the field or on the court. They worked hard at what they did, and not everyone realized just how much service they gave to their school.

Bravest was the mascot. She had to wear an outfit that retained moisture the way a hoarder socks away back issues of National Geographic. And what moisture did the Titan costume foam retain? Best not to think too much of the sweat of generations that languished within its odorous interior. And that odor – its source? Suffice to say it was a germophobe’s nightmare.

The cheerleaders arrived early and stayed late. They walked quickly in the hallways. It was almost like they were teachers, themselves. That’s why Mr. Webb liked to talk with them when he passed by. He’d go on about their posters like they were fine art hanging in a museum: “I love how the black outline around the red T here illustrates the inner conflict of humanity in the balance of the 20th century! And here, in the way you dotted the i with a heart, this speaks to the hope that we can overcome man’s inhumanity to man!”

They’d laugh and he’d wish them good luck and thank them for all they did. Showing gratitude was easy to do, went a long way, and made everyone feel better about life. Best of all, it was free. As an Economics teacher, Mr. Webb knew that there wasn’t such a thing as a free lunch, but that man does not live by lunch alone.

Besides, teachers and students at Teller only had 28 minutes from bell to bell in the lunch period. If they lived by lunch alone, they would surely perish.

As Mr. Webb drove home, the ennui and depression of the staff development uselessness lifted from him and a true excitement about tomorrow welled up in his heart. He had but one problem between now and tomorrow morning. Would he get enough sleep before the big day?