“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing. What do you think he means by that?” I look around the classroom. Twenty-six sophomores are either trying to avoid eye contact with me or are more deeply absorbed in their Macbeth books than I would have thought possible. No hands go up. “Jennifer?” I ask.
Jennifer looks up from whatever was happening on her phone that she was not-at-all-subtly concealing behind the Macbeth book standing upright on her desk. “I don’t know. That the play is boring?”
A couple of students laugh, and the bell rings, giving Jennifer the last word. “You guys can put your papers on my desk on the way out,” I say. Most of them will do it. It was stupid of me to try a last-ditch effort to try to get them to think a little more deeply about the play.
Like most things I try these days, it was a failure.
I push my way past the exiting students and stand in the hallway. This is per the orders of Assistant Principal Vince LeClerc, who says teacher presence in the halls during passing periods will cut down on chaos.
Probably true, but it also means that you are now only allowed to pee when you have a planning period. I have four classes in a row this morning. And I’ve been mainlining coffee. I’m filing a grievance over this, but Tommy Santangelo, our union rep, is not the most motivated guy. It’s been a week and I’m sure he hasn’t moved on it yet.
So I stand in the hallway. To my left is Sandy, our department head. She has stopped Vince LeClerc in the hallway to have a conversation with him, which means I can’t abandon my post to go pee. Dammit. Across from Sandy is Lindsay. I can hear her grating, screechy voice even over the student-generated noise in the hall. “Kaitlyn! Isn’t that skirt a little short?” Christ. How she has the energy for dress code bullshit is completely beyond me.
Across from me is Kevin Connolly, who greets literally every student who walks by with, “well good morning, my friend!” Everybody’s his freaking friend. I don’t know where he has the energy for jollity.
The kids in the English department call us the four horsemen. Not sure which one I am--I hope it’s Plague, though. When the four of us started, we were the kids in the department, uniformly despised by the crusty old fuckers who started teaching when we were in diapers. Now we’ve been through two divorces (Mine and Lindsay’s), four children (two for Kevin, one for Sandy, one for me), one coming out (Sandy), and one cancer scare (Sandy again, though Kevin and I are rapidly approaching prostate cancer age).
I don’t really think of any of them as my friends--it’s not like I call them up to hang out outside of school or anything. I guess I think of them more like family--they’re the people I’m stuck with, whether I like it or not.
Down the hall, I see Christina. She’s got a bunch of students clustered around her, and she’s just beaming at them. She is so beautiful it hurts. She glances down the hall at me staring at her, and she gives a big smile and a wave. I wave back and feel dirty and pathetic, which I guess means I see myself relatively clearly. Two more pointless classes, one nearly explosive pee, a lunch duty, and a free period later, it’s 2:35 and I am thinking only about the beer I’ve got in my fridge at home. It’s a Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer Imperial Stout and it is the second best thing in my life.
I make a deal with myself. Ten Macbeth papers and I can go home.
I used to love Macbeth. I still kind of do--I think it’s the tightest and darkest of Shakespeare’s plays. I just really hate teaching it.
Though, honestly, teaching is kind of prettifying what I do. I give the assignment. The teens of Oldham read the Sparknotes and pretend they’ve read the play. I pretend I believe they’ve read the play. I assign a stupid department-approved essay on Macbeth and give good grades to the student plagiarists who at least have the courtesy and respect to paraphrase the internet source they’ve plagiarized.
I’m starting to wonder what the point is.
A lie. I started wondering what the point is five years in, as soon as I knew how to teach. But for many long years I was able to push those nagging doubts to the back of my brain and put on a tie every morning and come in here and give it my all and get voted second most popular teacher at Oldham High after Kevin Connolly, who called everybody “my friend” even then. But then something changed. Or I guess what actually happened was that I got competent at my job, and then I had time to think about what I was doing. And that’s when I started to notice how pointless it was.
I last made the “Favorite Teacher” list in the Oldham High yearbook ten years ago. Connolly still tops it every year.
Ten Macbeth papers become twelve, because it’s only three thirty and I’ve only got the beer to look forward to tonight. Beth, sweaty from field hockey practice, pops her head in.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey!” I say, probably a little too brightly.
“Just wanted to say hi. Haven’t seen you all day. How’s it going?”
“More of the same. You know. Macbeth.”
“You know, it is kind of a masterpiece.”
“So why do you bitch about it all the time?”
“Touche. How was practice?”
“Coach R is a bitch.”
“Yeah. She is.”
Beth smiles at me. If I could hold on to the feeling this generates in me I wouldn’t need beer. I mean, I’d probably drink it anyway, but I wouldn’t need it.
“Okay. We on for Friday?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” I say.
Beth walks down the hall chanting, “I’m on a boat!”
Beth’s mom is probably in the parking lot waiting to take my daughter away.
Being apart from Beth five days a week sucks. Being apart from her mom is fantastic. Mostly. Not having to listen to someone echo my own subconscious doubts about myself and whether I’m a failure as a teacher, a husband and a father is great. I admitted defeat on the husband front. I try to think I’m not a completely failed teacher, though as the yearbook shows, I’ve failed to be anybody’s favorite teacher for the last decade. I guess the father question is up in the air, though I’d trust Beth more with the answer to that than I do her mom.
These days, I get home, it’s quiet, I listen to whatever music I want to listen to, eat what I want to (apparently it’s “just not that manly” to not eat meat, but now I get to enjoy my gender-bending tofu burrito in peace), and go to bed alone, and I don’t have to hear anybody but me telling me how much I suck at everything I try to do.
And, best of all, I got to get the fuck out of Oldham and back to Salem where I belong.
Yeah, it’s not bad. But I miss my kid a lot. Maybe because I feel like she’s the only worthwhile thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Ten more Macbeth papers, and then I’ll go home.
Ten papers come and go, and then it’s 4:20 (duuuuude!) and I can hear Carlos running the floor-buffing machine at the other end of the hallway. Christina walks by and pokes her head in.
Christina is tall--nearly six feet by my guess, and so can’t get skirts long enough to cover her fantastic legs and because she’s 24 and doesn’t quite get professional dress yet, her shirts are often too tight or too low-cut which is not something I am going to complain about. Or even mentor her about. Since I am, technically, her mentor, in the district's "hey if the young people keep quitting because you old people are so unpleasant, we'll have nobody to teach these kids in ten years" program.
My mentorship of Christina involves me being available if she's got questions about the school or a student issue and observing her teaching three times a year. She'll also be observed by her department head. I observed her once, saw that she was better than me, told her that, and pretty much called it a year on the mentor thing in the second week of school. But here she is in my doorway.
“Hey,” she says. “what are you still doing here?”
“Macbeth papers. What about you?”
“A bunch of us are going out, so I figured I’d catch up on some grading beforehand. You wanna come? ” She gives a smile.
A beautiful, long-legged woman who can’t quite keep her gorgeous breasts totally covered just invited me out for a drink. On a Tuesday night. And I really want to go, but what I don’t want is to be the pathetic drunken 45-year-old revealing his pathetic crush on a 24-year-old who probably sees him as some kind of father figure.
“Oh. Thanks, Christina. I really appreciate it, but I can’t tonight. Plans.”
“Hot date?” she asks, smiling. Her smile is stunning.
“Um.” Lie, so as to make myself look like a hot commodity? Tell the truth, so as to make myself look available? “I’m having dinner with an old friend,” I say.
“Friend with benefits?” she asks. Why is she flirting with me?
“Well. There used to be benefits, but I think they expired. I’ll let you know if the benefits get renewed.”
She winks at me. Do people actually still do that? “Here’s hoping you get lucky,” she says.
“Uh. You too?” I ask.
She laughs, this beautiful musical sound, and says, “well, my boyfriend's out of town, so anything goes.”
“Ah. Well, in that case, I guess I’ll just say be good,” I say, turning my face down toward my papers so I don’t stare at her tits.
“I’ve always had a tough time with that,” she says, and walks down the hall. I reach up to wipe my brow. I am literally sweating. And it’s mid-October in New England and the cheap bastards in the central office won’t turn the heat on in this glass-and-cinderblock box until November First no matter what the temperature is.
I’ve got one class set of papers done. And Christina’s stoking my long-dormant libido is not helping me focus on Macbeth. “Is this a dagger I see before me, or are you just happy to see me?”
I close my laptop, slide it into the sleeve, put the sleeve in my bag and head out the door.
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Quincy, M.E., with Jack Klugman. It was kind of like 70’s CSI, with a crime-solving coroner. Who lived on a boat. I always thought that was the coolest thing ever.
So when I moved out of the house I shared with Beth and her mom, I answered a Craigslist ad for a free, non-working powerboat. Perfect for liveaboards! I got it towed to Salem Harbor and worked on it pretty relentlessly over the summer just to make it liveable. It’s still not seaworthy. And now, like Jack Klugman, I live on a boat.
Except Jack Klugman lived on a boat in L.A., which I’m guessing does not get as bone-chilling cold as Salem harbor.
It’s not just the Quincy M.E. fantasy that’s got me living here, though. I pay the marina a fraction of what I’d pay to rent a halfway decent apartment and put the rest into Beth’s college fund. And really good beer.
I climb aboard, fire up the space heater, open the fridge, grab the Vampire Slayer and settle down to watch something stupid on the computer. I eat lowfat Triscuits and hummus while I drink.
The beer is ten percent alcohol, so it gets me nicely buzzed and I fall asleep with the computer blaring at me.
Wednesday. Department Meeting Day. This makes it difficult to get motivated to get up. That and the fact that I’m still a little groggy from the beer, and my mouth is dry. I grab all my clothes and head down to the shower located in the Marina building that I get free access to as part of my rent. This is really fun on rainy mornings. Fortunately it’s not raining.
Shit, shower, shave, and I’m on the road to Oldham High.
In my third period class, we’re doing our connection day, which is what we do after we finish every book. The students have a discussion about what other stuff the book reminds them of, and I sit back and take notes on how everybody’s participating.
So Macbeth leads to a lot of stuff about murders that’s not really that insightful, but then Bryan O’Malley says it reminds him of Scarface.
Which is fair enough because they’re both about guys undone by their ambition. But then Bryan takes it a step farther and says that Scarface really shows how immigrants are ruining America. While he’s at it, he gives this sidelong glance to Jorge, The Only Hispanic Kid in Oldham. Jorge started at Oldham High at the beginning of this year.
And Jorge does not take this shit sitting down. As a matter of fact he pops out of his chair and says, “So who ruined this shithole? Cause I just got here!”
It’s my job to defuse conflicts like this, but I’d like to go get behind Jorge and throw down with Bryan O’Malley’s ignorant ass.
Also, Jorge is right about Oldham being a shithole. I hated living here and I hate working here, and being able to move out was the second best thing about getting divorced. And the worst part about this shithole is that the people who live here think it's freaking paradise. Like O'Malley here.
O’Malley is a cunning little fuck, and he calls out, “Did you hear that language? That’s an automatic suspension!”
“Bryan, Jorge, in the hallway now,” I say, putting on my angry teacher voice. I mean, it’s not a put on. I’m angry. I’m angry because O’Malley is a racist little puke but also because now I have to deal with shit I don’t want to deal with and possibly talk to Assistant Principal Vince LeClerc, who is an asshole I like to avoid whenever possible.
“I have to go in the hallway? Me? What about the gangbanger who’s swearing and threatening me?” O’Malley’s good. And I can see him dragging a few of the weaker minds in the classroom along with him.
“You tried to start trouble, Bryan, and you did. You might save the goon behavior for the ice next time.” This is, as the kids were saying a few years ago, a sick burn. I can tell because a few kids in the audience--which is what they are now, as this stopped being a class the second O'Malley opened his mouth--put their hands over their mouths and have that "oh, snap!" expression on their faces. I never go to OHS hockey games, but everybody knows O’Malley’s job on the team is to plow into people that threaten his team and take them out of the game if possible.
Into the hallway we go, and Jorge is clenching his fists.
“Okay,” I say. “You guys want to do this the easy way or the hard way?” They don’t answer. “Let me explain what this involves. The easy way is that you apologize to each other, shake hands, and we all go back to class like nothing happened, and you both serve detention with me today.” I don’t say that detention with me involves a short conversation that boils down to “don’t be an asshole.”
“The hard way is we go down to Leclerc’s office and you guys tell your story and I fill out an incident report and you both get suspended for three days. So what do you like?”
Silence as they glare at each other. “Easy way,” Jorge says.
Bryan glares at me. This was supposed to just get Jorge suspended, remind him he doesn’t belong and put a mark in his file that will help with the eventual expulsion. And I fucked up the plan. “Easy way,” he says.
“Beautiful,” I say. They mutter halfassed, insincere apologies at each other, shake hands, and turn to go back in the classroom. “See you both at 3:30,” I say.
Three-thirty comes, and Jorge shows up. Bryan does not. He’s an old enough hand at this place to know that I will probably not bother to fill out the paperwork that earns him a week of school detention for skipping a teacher detention.
I have my phone on the desk and tap the screen to turn on the voice recorder. I do this whenever I’m alone with a student. I just like to have an objective record of events in case anything I say is misconstrued.
“Um, so I’m supposed to see Ms. Jeffries too,” Jorge says, standing and motioning toward the door. If I was him, I’d rather hang out with Christina than me too.
“It’s cool, Jorge. I just have some advice for you.”
His face hardens. “What,” he says. I guess he’s anticipating the whole ‘this town isn’t for your kind’ speech that other people have probably already given him.
“Kids like that, and frankly some staff members as well, are gonna try to bait you like that to get you to go off so that they can get rid of you. And I know that when they disrespect you, you probably want to punch them in the head. But I’m just letting you know they’re gonna try this stuff again, and the minute you go off, the minute you lose control and give them a reason, they’ve beaten you.”
Jorge looks at me like he can’t quite believe what I’m telling him. Or, rather, that he can’t quite believe that an old white guy might sort of be on his side. He’s wary. I can’t blame him.
“I got you,” he says.
“Good,” I say. “The best way for you to beat that mindset is to walk across the stage in two and a half years and stick your diploma in their face and let them know they didn’t win.”
“Okay. Go see Ms. Jeffries,” I say. “Did you get in trouble in her class too?”
“Nah,” he says. “She’s helping me. I missed some time last year--we had to leave town for a family thing, so my math skills aren’t exactly on point. She’s been giving me extra help every Tuesday.”
“Okay. Well go learn some math.”
He grins and runs out the door.
I am late to my department meeting. These are always depressing anyway. I sit there and reflect on how I used to be the bright-eyed, under-30 teacher who was going to change the world. Now I sit with the other three horsemen, or possibly horsepersons, and I can't even be bothered to learn anybody else’s name. If recent history is any predictor, they'll leave within a few years anyway, off to better districts once they've learned how to teach here.
Sandy, our department head, gives me an exasperated look as I enter the room. "I had a kid for detention," I say.
"That Salem kid?" Kevin Connolly asks.
"Well, him and Bryan O'Malley, but O'Malley didn't show up. Coach." I stare at Connolly, who, in addition to being the most popular teacher at Oldham high and everybody’s friend, is the varsity hockey coach.
Connolly smiles. "You know O'Malley," he says, smiling and shaking his head in that "oh, that rascal" way.
"Mmm." I say. Because what am I going to say? Your goon is a goon off the ice? Fuck all you suburban mick bastards? I'm one too, so that won't really fly.
"As I was saying," Sandy says, giving me the pointed stare again, "our MCAS scores took a dip this year, so we're putting two more weeks into test prep for the sophomores this year."
I do not roll my eyes, which counts as a victory. Two more weeks of real class--well, as real as it gets around here--lost to test prep bullshit. What the fuck are we doing here, anyway? I do not say this. But really. We do even less teaching than usual so that we can get our students to score a few more points on a test that is supposed to measure how much we're teaching. I say again: What the fuck.
A bunch of young hands go in the air--young teachers wanting to know how they’re going to manage to cover everything. Because if your students pretend to read a certain number of books per year, you know you’re teaching.
Sandy tells them that MCAS is our priority. What she means is that she’s taking a lot of shit for the scores going down, and real learning doesn’t matter until the scores go up. Not that the dance of deception that goes on with novels counts as real learning. But I guess it just seems like it’s closer to real learning than test prep. You hand out a novel or a play, there’s at least a chance, however small, that a kid is going to actually read it and maybe have some kind of meaningful artistic experience. It’s a slim chance, okay, but it’s there. Whereas you hand them a bunch of boring-as-shit nonfiction pieces and tell them how to write a formulaic paragraph in response, all you’re doing is teaching them how to bow down before idiotic authority.
Which I suppose is what employers ultimately want. So I guess we’re doing awesome.
We go on to talk about how we really need to make sure we're getting all the books back after we teach them, and when I'm done with Things Fall Apart can I get it to Lindsay who is treading water until she can get her hands on a class set?
"I just handed Things Fall Apart out today at the end of class. We had to get the Macbeth stuff done before I could start it," I say.
Lindsay rolls her eyes. "Well, great. Can you get it done by Friday?"
"Lindsay. Are you kidding me? Can I get my students to read a two hundred and nine page book and write an essay in three days? No, I cannot."
"Well," Lindsay, a thirty-eight-year-old woman whose face is starting to show her age but who still rocks the tight body of a twenty-five-year-old, and who is therefore used to getting what she wants from men, and is clearly pissed about me breaking the pattern, addresses Sandy and not me, " I don't think it's fair that those of us who can stick to a schedule are penalized by those who can't."
This shit. This is the shit that takes up my days. This is the shit I have to pretend is important. This is the shit I have to listen to without actually getting out of my chair and choking someone.
I say nothing, because I'm afraid I will say something really inappropriate and get fired. "Let me check the budget," Sandy says, sighing. "I'm sure we can find some money for another class set."
This leads Connolly to insist that if Sandy is throwing money around, she can buy him another class set of Old Man and the Sea, and I do not say anything about how much that book blows and how my kid shouldn’t have to suffer through it in his class.
Out of nowhere, Lindsay brings up her typical hobbyhorse, which is dress code. Have we seen what the girls are wearing, and it's just inappropriate, and we all need to speak up when we see these things because it leads to a chaotic atmosphere. I do not say anything about Lindsay's outfit, which is probably a bit too tight to be professional because if I had that body instead of this doughy, shapeless mess, I guess I'd show it off too. It’s just the hypocrisy that grates on me. I grind my teeth and don’t say anything, and Sandy placates her, which she’s very good at.
Somehow the meeting eventually ends. I spend the last several minutes doodling horrifying monsters in my notebook.
I stop at the liquor store on the way home and get a bomber of Pretty Things Baby Tree. at 9%, I'm not sure it's going to be enough to wash the stench of the department meeting out of my brain. Then I hit Sal’s Falafel Corner and get a nice falafel (nobody to kiss goodnight, so no worries about what it does to my breath), and I head home and start drinking. And eating.
My phone buzzes when I’m halfway through the bottle. Beth. “Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” she says. “Can you help me with English?”
“I dunno,” I say. “Did you read the book?”
“I mean, I ran my eyes over the pages, but it just doesn’t sink in, you know?”
I sigh. I am familiar with that phenomenon. “What’s the book?”
“To Kill a Mockingbird.”
I bite my tongue. I had really wanted to name my daughter Scout. And when that failed, I went for Jean Louise. I got Beth instead. This is the book she was nearly named for, and she can’t be bothered to read it. On the other hand, Connolly is her English teacher, so anything I can help Beth do to get over on him has to count as a win for both of us.
If I still lived with her, I might launch a lecture at this point. But I don’t. She’s no dummy--she’s probably counting on this. “Okay. Whaddya got?”
Forty minutes later, I have helped my daughter successfully fake her way through her English homework. I’m so proud. Well, I actually am proud because I didn’t ask what her mom was up to, though it did occur to me.
I am awakened at five in the morning by the sound of rain hitting my deck. It's actually quite pleasant, and I lie in bed for a few minutes just enjoying the sound of the rain and the sensation of being warm under the covers. And then I get up and face the cold air and the rain that chills me both on my way to the shower and my way back. I could use my own head instead of the marina showers, but I can't really manage decent water pressure, so I'd be dealing with a trickle of lukewarm water instead of a steady stream of hot water followed by cold rain.
I guess life is all about tradeoffs.
It's a miserable day, though, and I have to admit, that inability to feel completely warm outside of bed is a pretty big downside to the whole liveaboard lifestyle.
By the time I've sucked a modicum of warmth out of a cup of coffee, it's started pouring rain. I check my phone, which informs me that it's 38 degrees. I get to my car and blast the heat, though of course that means blasting the cold until the engine warms up, and just as the car is starting to warm up, I cross over the Salem/Oldham line and see Jorge standing at the bus stop, drenched to the bone with no umbrella.
I'm not an idiot. I know I should never have a kid in my car. But, at the same time, I can't really be expected to drive past this soaking wet, freezing cold kid and just leave him at the mercy of the elements and the bus company, can I? I mean, I got into this business so I could help kids, and now I have to leave a kid in the freezing rain? Fuck that. I hit the record button on my phone, because after all you can't be too careful, and I pull up to the bus stop and open the door, trying to silence Sting's voice in my head singing about wet bus stops.
"You want a ride?" I say.
"Fuck yeah," Jorge says, and jumps into the passenger seat. He sticks his hands out toward the heating vents, and I see that he is actually shivering.
"So." I say. "Did you start Things Fall Apart?"
"Yeah," Jorge says. "It's kind of hard to follow at first because of everybody's name and stuff. But the dude hates his dad. I can feel that," Jorge says.
I don't know what to say to that. "Mine's dead," I offer, and then realize that it sounds stupid.
"Mine’s not," Jorge says. "But he used to beat the shit out of me and my mom. So fuck him."
What do you say to this? I’m sorry? That doesn’t cut it. I say it anyway.
"I’m sorry.” and silence descends, so I fill it with, “Mine just died," I say. "Cancer. But he was a mean sonofabitch right up till the end. So yeah, I feel Okonkwo on that too."
Why the hell am I telling some kid this shit? No idea.
"I guess you and me got something in common. You like tostones?" he says. Twice-fried plantains? Damn right I like them.
"I love tostones," I say.
"Well then. We got two things in common." He smiles, and we don't say anything else until we get to school. "Thanks for the ride," he says.
"Any time," I say, but that's not really true.
Jorge climbs out of my car and dashes through the rain into the building while I gather up my bag. I look up at the school and see Sandy up on the second floor staring out the window of her classroom right at me.
The day is uneventful; after Jorge and I made connections between literature and life on the way in to school, nobody else says anything even remotely interesting about Okonkwo all day. It’s just fluorescent lights and linoleum, and Kevin calling people “my friend,” and me walking around the cafeteria at lunch picking up kids’ trash because it’s easier than fighting with them about doing it themselves.
3:30 comes and it’s still raining and the sky is slate gray and nobody’s here and I feel like it’s the middle of the night. I’m sitting at my desk grading some quizzes, because I guess it’s easier than sticking knitting needles in my eyes, and Sandy appears at my door. “I need to talk to you for a minute,” she says.
I try to paste a happy smile on my face. “Sure!” I chirp. “Come on in!”
She comes in, shutting the door behind her, and stands in front of my desk. “You want a seat?” I ask.
“No thanks,” she says. Clever. She’s neutralized my power position behind the desk by forcing me to look up at her. I guess she’s an administrator for a reason.
“So what’s up?” I say, as though I really have no idea what she’s here talking about.
“What’s up is you having students in your car,” she says. “I don’t need to tell you what that looks like.”
“Like helping one of our students who was standing in the freezing rain get to school a little less drenched?”
She takes a deep breath. “No. It gives the appearance of impropriety.”
My rational brain shuts down as anger floods my brain. This kind of mealy-mouthed bullshit is a hallmark of the way Beth’s Mom argues, which might be why it pisses me off so much.
“So, according to you, I look like a child molester because I gave a kid a ride on a freezing cold day.”
“I didn’t say that. I just mean...it looks like you’re crossing lines.”
“Which lines, specifically? Do you think I’m giving him a handy while I drive? You know I have a stick shift, right? So my right hand is really already occupied.”
“This is the kind of thing…” She closes her eyes, presses her right thumb and middle finger to her temples for a moment, then drops her hand and looks at me. “it’s not just having a kid in the car. It’s having that kid in your car.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that politics is part of my job and part of your job, and you know damn well what this kid represents. I’m not saying I agree with it, but you know goddamn well what people are saying.”
“I moved to Salem. I don’t know what people are saying in this town anymore.”
“Well, let me tell you, then. ‘This is how it starts. Another five years and we’re freaking Salem. Ten more and we’re Lynn.’ ‘Pretty soon I’ll have to press one for English when I call town hall.’ Do you need any more examples?”
“So it’s not that I shouldn’t show kindness to a kid because it looks creepy, but because it might piss off racists.”
She stares at me. “Yes. You know it’s only a matter of time before Vince pulls the Burton on this kid. Do you wanna go down with him?”
The Burton is named after Richie Burton. Richie was kind of a dirtbag--bad attitude, late all the time, clothes reeking of weed, Jack Daniel’s t-shirt, knuckle tattoos at age 16, dad in jail--very un-Oldham, but he had an aunt in town and moved in with her, so we got the pleasure of his company one fall in the late 90’s. Vince provoked him day after day after day until finally, after taunting Burton about how his dad was doing 8 to 10 in Walpole for blowing up a trailer while trying to set up a meth lab in it, things got physical. Vince got a broken nose; Burton got expelled and his own little trip to Walpole for assault and battery.