reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in
trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the
--George Bernard Shaw
THIS TAKES PLACE JANUARY 2001
"Locking a teacher in the supply closet," accused the principal, Cynthia Wood. She looked concerned.
"He got in there voluntarily," I said.
"Leaving him there for three periods," she went on as if she just couldn't see how anybody could have done something so terrible.
"He said he wasn't hungry," I justified.
"Jordan, Jordan, Jordan."
She always repeated my name like that, as though it would somehow make me totally remorseful all of a sudden for everything I'd done. Like that was happening.
"Cynthia, Cynthia, Cynthia," I said.
"You know we can't just let you go with a warning this time," she said.
That was stupid. When had they ever let me go with just a warning?
"J.T., you know very well that this isn't your first offense."
"I've never locked anyone in a supply closet before yesterday," I informed her, putting my feet up on her desk.
"I don't just mean this incident, J.T. And I am not only referring to the fact that you are failing over half of your classes. For the last year and half, we've been putting up with your pranks, your practical jokes, your lack of application..."
I took out my headphones and prepared to put them on, letting her know I didn't care to hear the list.
"...your defiance, your complete disregard for the rules...and then of course there's your drug problem..."
"I'm not on drugs," I interrupted.
"I'm not here to judge, J.T."
What the hell? "I'm not on drugs!" I persisted, although it was, for some reason, a pretty common misconception.
bothers me most," said Ms. Wood seriously, "is that the entire student body looks
up to you. If J.T. Tyler locks a teacher in a supply closet, seven hundred
and nineteen other children are going to lock teachers in supply closets. Don't
you see the fix I'm in?"
"Don't you see I don't give a shit?"
She sighed. When I'd first come to the school and said something like that, she'd freaked out. Now it was expected.
"Look. J.T. They follow you. They want to be like you. For some reason that I can't possibly comprehend, you're a role model--so you should try setting a good example every once in a while."
"You don't get it," I realized, leaning back to balance the chair on two legs, holding onto the desk to stay up. "Maybe this is why they look up to me. I have the guts to do what they want to do but don't. Listen. I locked McDillan in the closet because he was being a jackass. The whole class knew he was being a jackass. They all wanted him to be locked in a supply closet. Any one-a' them woulda' been the one to do it if they weren't so fuckin' scared of you. Dig?"
She had her arms folded now. Something about this meeting was different than all the other times I had been sitting there in Ms. Wood's office. I should have known what it was, because I'd already been expelled from four elementary schools. This was a middle school, though. It had been a full two years since I had been expelled. I guess I'd forgotten what it was like, talking to a principal when he or she was about to tell me not to come back. At least, it was usually a principal or vice principal. Sometimes it was just a guidance counselor.
I looked around the office in boredom. It was bigger than it had to be. All that was in it really was the oak desk and a few chairs.
called your parents, Jordan," Ms. Woods said. "They should arrive at any
She was right, because they showed up pretty soon after she said that.
The last time they had been in the office with me it had been pretty embarrassing. I'd been in trouble for a repeated offense of public displays of affection, which basically meant I'd been making out in hallways too much. They made a huge deal about it. In high school they don't care, but they crack down on it pretty hard in middle school. And in elementary school. And in preschool. I thought the whole thing was pretty stupid. It was just kissing, really, but they acted like I was hosting orgies in the middle of the cafeteria. The overreaction of adults is often hilarious.
"Please sit down, Mr. Tyler, Mrs. Tyler."
My parents sat. They were pretty normal people, actually. People thought that because of the way I was turning out, I must have had a broken family, or abusive parents, or something. Nah. They were assholes, but not criminal assholes, and they even had a perfect marriage and everything. I never understood what the big deal was with broken families, anyway. If my parents had been divorced, I wouldn't have given a damn. If they had never been around, I wouldn't have given a damn about that either. I guessed that it would have sucked to have abusive parents. My dad had hit me once a year or two ago, but I had just hit him back harder--so it never happened again. It would have happened again if I hadn't hit him back.
My dad was a tall, balding electronics engineer, with a pretty clueless expression on his face most of the time when it came to stuff about me. He had a pretty high IQ--not as high as mine, but pretty high. He wasn't stupid about everything. He was just stupid when it came to me. He was smiling then, like this was a tea party or something. My mom had the same clueless expression. She was a few inches shorter than my dad, and was not going bald. My parents had been hippies when they were my age. Basically that meant that they used to have long hair and made love not war.
Oh, I don't really know if I can call what my parents had been hippies. Now they seemed too square to have been mixed up in drugs or anything. Plus they'd lived in Canada at the time, where there was no war to protest. They had sure as hell dressed like hippies, though.
They weren't a thing like hippies now. Their clothes and hairstyles had changed with the times. My dad had even been in the Canadian Air Force at one point, after his hippie stage.
I had seen a picture of my parents taken in the sixties and laughed at it, wondering why anyone ever would go out in public like that. A second later I'd had an image of a later generation of kids looking at a picture of the middle school me and laughing at it. Still, I thought anyone would be able to see that my generation dressed better than hippies. I was against war, and I'd always wanted to go to a protest, but even if I had lived in the sixties I wouldn't have been a hippie. I would have looked really bad with long hair, I didn't like tie-dye, and I didn't like drugs. If I had lived in the sixties I most certainly would have been a hood. Man had they been cool.
"I assume you're aware of the trouble your son has been causing," Ms. Wood said strictly, frowning like this was important. She didn't wait for an answer or anything. She talked to my parents for a pretty long time about boring grown-up stuff.
I put on my headphones, and they didn't even notice until I blasted "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"J.T., it's hurting our ears..."
Yeah right. Then they went telling us kids not to exaggerate. Oh well--it wasn't as hypocritical as some other things people did. Everybody was a hypocrite. Even I was a hypocrite.
"So I can't imagine what it's doing to you," my mom finished.
"I'm alright, really," I said. I could hear her because at that point I was between tracks.
"J.T., you should be listening to this," said Dad.
"I am listening," I informed him. "I have an incredible ability to double-task." I took the headphones off, but only because I wanted to switch CDs. "What's up?"
Ms. Wood cleared her throat. I took out Nirvana and flipped through my CD case.
"J.T.," Ms. Wood said. "J.T. Listen to me."
They kept on saying my name. I don't really know why. Ms. Wood had said my name about a thousand times in this meeting.
"I am beginning to think..." She took a deep breath.
That's when I realized what was coming. I had mixed emotions about it. On the one hand I had a lot of friends there, but on the other hand I figured I would probably end up at River Heights Junior High, where all my friends from elementary school went, including my best friend, Dave. "That's good," I said. "I begin to think sometimes, too."
"Yes, well...J.T.,"--there it was again--"we're beginning to think that West Street Middle School is not the right place for you."
No shit, Sherlock. I almost laughed. West Street Middle School wasn't the right place for anybody who wasn't a studious square who got straight A's and actually liked history class, or at least thought it was okay.
"You're kicking me out," I said emotionlessly.
"She's only saying that maybe you should try something else, J.T.," my mother started. My mother was a very deluded person.
"I'm kicking you out," said Ms. Woods. It sounded weird coming from her. You'd think she'd have had some more polite way to say it.
"It's okay," I told my parents. "RHJH has openings."
"J.T., I don't think you'd do any better at River Heights Junior High than you are doing here," said Ms. Wood.
"Me neither," I agreed. I didn't think that meant anything.
"I think there is a better alternative," said Ms. Wood.
I guess I was kind of curious about that. I wondered if they could get permission from the government to let me drop out of school completely. I wondered if that were at least possible. I wondered if I'd like that if it were.
"When my son was your age, I sent him to St. Joseph Hall."
"What is that, some private school?" I asked. I had kind of a grudge against private schools.
"Yes," she said, but she sounded as though there were more to it than that.
Oh, no, I thought. It's a juvenile correctional facility. I had never been to one of those, but there had been some close calls. My cousin Jace had been in a reformatory once and juvy a couple of times, and he was only a couple of years older than me. Of course he wasn't from River Heights. I bet a River Heights kid would get killed in juvy.
"It's a Catholic boarding school for boys."
I burst out laughing. That was, of course, a million times worse than a juvenile correctional facility.
She went on and on about the great education I would receive in--get this--Oregon. Like my parents were going to send me out of the state because she said so.
My parents sent me out of the state because she said so. It was insane!
Thank god St. Joseph Hall had gone co-ed, or I probably would have gone even more postal. My parents really thought that sending me to a school in Oregon--where for all I knew nuns might teach the classes or something--was the way to go. Ms. Wood had them absolutely brainwashed! They weren't completely sure about it at first, but she gave them about a million pamphlets to continue the brainwashing process.
They told me to read them but I didn't; I didn't want to encourage them. I made one exception merely to find out when I had to get up and when classes ended.
Pretty soon, they were telling me St. Joseph Hall was one of the best-ranked schools in the country, wasn't that great? (So was RHJH.) And hey, guess what? They had a golf team. Wasn't that great? I didn't like golf! And they went on and on as if I had begged them for years to let me go to a school with a golf team. It was as though when they were hippies the grass made them want to try something stronger, and the effect was still messing them up. (I didn't really think that, in case you were wondering, since like I said they were probably too square even for grass.)
"I don't want to go, Mom," I said plainly.
"You'll love it there!" was her response. That was their response to everything I said, just like my response to everything they said was a blandly sarcastic, "happy, happy, joy, joy." This phrase seemed to have been inspired by Ren and Stimpy. That was strange; I really hated Ren and Stimpy and most other cartoons.
My parents were insane. They kept telling me we'd see each other every month--as if I wanted to see them every month.
Not only that, but I was pretty sure the food was going to suck. That was terrible. I was big on food.
As if all this--the potentially bad food and going to a school with a golf team, but no basketball team--wasn't bad enough (considering how great my life had been so far), my plane was delayed. I got stuck waiting in the airport for hours. My parents were there. They seriously thought that I wanted them there. Like I would want to be with people who sentenced me to bad food and everything.
"You can go, really. I'll be fine."
They acted like they were gonna miss me so damn much. They were the ones who were sending me there! It was their fault! Some of my friends wanted to come to the airport to say goodbye and everything, but my parents said it was a family time. A family time!
I absolutely, positively did not want to go. Before we left in the car to go to the airport, I tried to consider all the other options, until I realized there were none. I hated that. I was going to Oregon. At least I wasn't the type who got homesick.
* * *
Because of the delay, my taxi got to St. Joseph at about one in the morning. It was a pearl-colored, grandiose building, the kind that invited snobs. It was full of pillars, and wide marble steps led me to the huge doors. They had to wake the headmaster up and everything to get me "settled in." I could tell he was tired as hell. He was this thin, curly-mustached guy--kind of young for a principal and looked it, but he also seemed ancient somehow. I don't know if you know what I mean or not.
"So you're Jordan Tyler," he said, like he was meeting some famous outlaw. That made me kind of proud.
"Yes," I muttered.
He gave me a short tour, which could hardly be called a tour, since it was basically just pointing to the cafeteria and what I suspected was my first period classroom. Then he handed me this folded sweater-vest, tie, slacks, and a collared shirt.
"What the hell am I s'post to do with this?" I asked.
"Wear it. It's your uniform. And don't talk to me like that."
"I'll talk to you however the hell I want, and there's no way I'm wearing a sweater-vest," I said. I said it loudly, but he was halfway down the hallway by then and he didn't even hear. He'd told me on my arrival he was hard of hearing. I realized that I was supposed to follow him. He stopped, and slowly opened a door.
He told me, "This is your dorm room." Then he left--just like that. I was starting to wonder if this was one of those freaky lockup schools you read about in magazines.
I dropped my stuff by the empty bed and surveyed the room. It was small considering that it was supposed to house four guys. There were two sets of bunk beds, and I was stuck on the bottom. I stood on the end of my bed and held onto the rail of the top bunk to see who the other guys were. Above me was this kid who looked as much like an insect as he could have without actually being one. In the other two bunks were identical twins, big, red-haired kids with freckles. At the end opposite the bunks was a bookshelf. I wasn't tired, so I thought maybe I could use a flashlight to read something, but there were only textbooks and four different copies of the bible. I went back to my bunk and lay down, with my arms behind my head. Man, this was gonna suck. I had thought it would at least be cool to live with three other kids, but come on, Insect Boy?
I sat up, bumped my head, and cursed the bed for being too low, myself for being too tall, my parents for giving me the genes to make me so damn tall, and God too, because everything was supposed to be His fault, wasn't it? I thought about waking up the other kids to say hey, but I knew some people didn't like waking up at one in the morning. I personally didn't like getting up at six o'clock, but according to the many pamphlets, that's when everybody had to get up in this place. I didn't think I would be able to survive that.
I fell asleep after awhile. A few hours later--I thought it was a few minutes later, but my watch never lied--a bell rang real loud, so I put a pillow over my face until it stopped. A couple of minutes later, when I'd just managed to fall back to sleep, somebody was shaking me. I moved the pillow so I could see. It was that Insect Boy.
I was so tired that I was kind of delirious, so I think I actually called him that. I said, "Hey, Insect Boy."
Those three annoying guys spent half the morning trying to get me out of bed. The human insect's name was Nathaniel McAllen, but he was already Insect Boy to me permanently. The twins were Evan and Daniel.
Back in River Heights, I'd sometimes had to get up that early for hockey practice, but that had made sense; we'd needed the ice time. Here, it was like, why, why, why?
I yawned. The others were dressed already. Nathaniel looked even more like a bug with his glasses on, and the twins had uniforms that must have been bought years ago, because they were much too small. Basically, they looked like total losers. Maroon sweater-vests never added to anyone's appearance.
I kicked my legs over the side of the bed. I tried to start a conversation, but my new roommates seemed focused on getting ready for class--going over homework and everything. Plus, I was trying to talk about music, and they seemed to have no idea what rock and roll was. It was scaring me. The annoying thing was, they were looking at me like I was the idiot. They were such dorks they didn't even recognize cool when they saw it.
"You'd better be ready soon," one of the twins told me on his way out. My other two roommates nodded. All three of them left in a hurry.
I pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt, and packed my backpack with some binders and paper and my CD player.
The bell rang, telling me I was supposed to be in class in five minutes. I had already missed breakfast, and I still had to gel my hair and everything.
I did show up eventually. As I pushed open the door, fifteen faces turned towards me. Standing at the front was--get this--a real live nun, in a habit and everything. I choked back a "holy shit" and almost swallowed my gum.
"You gotta be kidding me."