One of the perks of teaching is that you get ten sick days every year in addition to your vacation days. Our principal has started trying to crack down on our usage of sick days, though. Now, if you take a Monday or a Friday, or any day that runs up against a vacation, a fat elf will slide a letter into your mail box demanding documentation for your absence.
The last time this happened I was already prepared with a doctor´s note which I gave to the principal’s secretary as soon as I saw her in the hall. She glanced at it, handed it right back to me and said, “It doesn’t say what you were treated for. She won’t accept this.”
I grabbed the note, scribbled “Treated for Job-Related Homicidal Tendencies and Anal Warts” and gave it back to her.
“Thanks,”she said and scurried back to her lair.
In reality, I asked her if the principal really had the right to pry about my medical information. “That’s how she is doing it now,” she said, but then added that since it was me, she would take the note to the principal and see if she would be willing to accept it. I saw her later that day and she told me that the principal had said that “because it was me”, she would take it, “this time”. Whatever.
The way sick days work is that at some point before 6am you have to call a phone number that is connected to an old, cassette-tape, answering machine. A scratchy recording greets you with, “Please leave youah name and depahhtment aftah tha tone.” Then there’s a beep. Then you just say, “Mister Pistol. Deans Office.” And hang up. And you’re free. The trick, of course, is making sure that no drunken background bar noises get captured on your message also.
So one evening, not long ago, my throat was so red and swollen from a particularly vicious onslaught of cigarettes and booze that I couldn’t swallow or sleep. I really didn’t want to take the day off because there was a lot going on in my class, and I hadn’t updated my absentee lesson folder recently, and I just always feel guilty about leaving the rest of the deans to deal with everything.
So I waited until 5:55 am, hoping that my condition would improve enough to allow me to go to work, but try as I might, I could not envision myself parting the Red Sea Hallway and yelling about science over the Dominican street fair in my classroom with this sore throat. So I made the call and collapsed back into bed.
I woke up a few hours later from a phone call from Dean Dave. In the past few days, he had been on a merciless string of nasty cases involving all sorts of fights and gangs and horrible parents and long, complicated suspension processes. At times like that, it’s hard not to begin to feel a little resentful of other deans who you sense might be avoiding the toughest and most stressful cases by conveniently disappearing from the office when calls start coming in over the radio about fights in progress.
“Hey, how ya doin’ Pistol? You feelin’ alright?” Dave asked.
“Yeah, just a sore throat. There was no way I could teach and do halls today though.”
“I feel you, man.”
“So, how’s it going?” I asked. “Busy?”
“Well as soon as I finished up with that last Superintendent’s Suspension I was dealing with, there was another incident. I mean the very second – the SECOND I got done and I was like “Phew, finally over,” there was an assault down in the basement.”
“Yeah, I was in the halls and I see Dean Becky talking to this kid, and he’s holding his eye and it’s starting to swell up. And I ask Becky what’s going on and she says that he doesn’t know who hit him, But I notice he’s not saying anything, so I ask him, ‘Who hit you?’ And he says. ‘Nahh. Don’ worry about it. It’s nothin’.’ And then I turn around, and Becky is fucking gone. Vanished.”
“Ha! Typical!” I said, grabbing my throat in pain.
Dave continued, “So now I had to take the kid to the nurse. And anyway, it was Luke Kowalski who did it. You know Luke?”
“Not really,” I said.
“He’s a white kid. They actually call him ‘White Boy’.”
“I know the name but I don’t really know who he is,” I said.
“Well, Luke is a thug. He’s not – look, I like Luke. But he WILL hit you. I think Luke is actually gonna be okay once he gets out of school. He’s not a criminal. But he is a fighter. He’ll fight you like THAT. Kind of like, ‘What? You want some?’ He’s a bruiser, Luke. That’s what he is, a bruiser. And lemme tell you, it really was a heinous act. And you see the whole thing on the cameras. And he’s supposed to gradutate, this kid. He had three fucking days of school left! And then he’s bitching and moaning about it to me in the office. So I said, ‘Luke, you’re kidding me right now. Right?’
And he said, ‘I know. I know, Mr. Dave, I know I shouldn’t a did it. I was tellin’ myself, Don’t hit him. Don’t hit him.’
So I say, ‘Well why the fuck did you hit him then?'”
“Seriously,” I screeched out through the throat pain. “So what was the attack like anyway?”
“Well the reason that it was a heinous act is that he wines and dines him first. You can see him put his arm around him, and start sweet talking him, like, ‘Hey man, how’s it going? Let’s talk for a second. So, what’s up with you and your girl? You like hittin’ girls, huh?’ The truth is that the kid didn’t even hit a girl. But he did grab a girl. He grabbed her by the shoulder, but when she told him to let go, he did.”
“So did Luke see that happen or did he just hear about it?”
“He doesn’t even know either of them. I think the girl was in class and she was talking about it and he overheard it and he said something like, ‘Ey, don’ you worry ’bout it, honey. I’ll take care of it.’ And that’s Luke. In fact, I think that’s exactly what he said. ‘I’ll take care of it honey.’ And she was like, ‘No, don’t do anything.’ But she’s a fuckin’ moron, this girl. She’s a lying idiot.
So Luke leads Martin into this little alcove. And he’s even got a lookout. This kid with his arms folded, looking back and forth to make sure the coast was clear. But it’s all on video. And it was bad. The kid was definitely hurt. He hadda go to the hospital. And Luke is lucky they didn’t press charges. The parents were beside themselves. And they really thought long and hard about it. They were in the office for like six freakin’ hours today. And then they were calling me a million times. They wanted copies of everything. They wanted to talk to the principal, to me, they even wanted to talk to Luke (chuckle). Of course they couldn’t do that, but he’s damn lucky they didn’t end up pressing charges.”
“So you think he’ll graduate?” I asked.
“Well, I guess it depends on his teachers. He’s gonna miss half of his finals. But Lord Christ I hope so. Get the fuckin’ guy outta here.”
“Right on,” I replied. “Well, my friend. Job well done. And better you than me. Or Becky.”
“You said it. Feel better, buddy. Luke Kowalski misses you.”