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!”