a satire by Christopher Paslay
When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.
Part 10 of 25
Willard Fairweather ended up calling the Kid about a month later, outta the blue. Dom was in his office dealing wit the accreditation folks from EAAS, going over school budget stuff, when his secretary popped her head in and said that the School Board president was on the phone; all this was detailed in his journal, too. Dom told her to tell Fairweather that he’d call him back, just as soon as his meeting wit the accreditation team was over. The secretary left, but like a minute later she was back, saying it was urgent that Dom talked to Fairweather, that it was a matter a funding for his World Peace Charter School. All this was going on in front a the EAAS people, who was sitting right there wit Dom, trying to decide if they should give Eisenhower High School accreditation or not. The Kid had already failed the audit in the winter . . . it was determined Eisenhower wasn’t fiscally stable cause there was a crazy unexpected $100,000 shift on the books . . . and Dom didn’t wanna fail the audit a second time.
So he takes the call wit Fairweather, even though the Kid wasn’t ready to talk to him. Dom still hadn’t bothered to find an address for World Peace Charter and figured he’d just end the charade by letting the whole thing go bust. Course, when he got on the phone wit Willard Fairweather, the actual President a the School Board—who also controlled Eisenhower’s budget—the Kid lost his nerve. I guess he realized it was a lot to lose . . . his job, his reputation, everything he had worked so hard for.
The call wit Fairweather didn’t last long, and the guy was pretty polite, according to what the Kid wrote. Fairweather was quick and right to the point, saying that he’d talked wit the State people, and that they was concerned about the address a Dom’s charter school. There was no address, and although this might be a joke to some people, it was real serious business for the State. Sure, paperwork mistakes could be overlooked, but it was now May and the State Department of Education wasn’t gonna release one cent to fund a charter wit no address.
“Yeah, I meant to call you about that,” the Kid says, trying to smile in front a the accreditation folks. “I’m very sorry. I’m in the middle of this meeting now, with the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools, but I could—”
“There’s no time,” Fairweather says. “The people from the State aren’t too happy. Now if you could just give me the correct address of the World Peace Charter School, I’ll be on my way.”
“Funny you should mention that,” the Kid says, still smiling, and tells Fairweather that something had come up wit the building that he was gonna use for the charter school; the lease, he said, fell through. It was an asbestos issue, as a matter a fact. Dom thought the asbestos would be taking care of by now, but the owner was lazy and unreliable, a total letdown.
“Asbestos?” Fairweather says. “You’re kidding.”
“Not at all.”
“Which building is it?”
“It’s up in the Northeast,” the Kid says. “Up a ways. The Far Northeast.”
“Not the old St. Boniface building?”
“Yeah, that’s it, the old St. Boniface building.”
“Really? You were gonna lease that? Wow. God bless you, son.”
“Yeah, I got a good deal. Or, I thought I had one. But you know . . . the asbestos . . .”
“Bummer,” Fairweather says, and tells Dom they can’t have a building wit asbestos in it, not around children, no way. The students could get that lung cancer disease, that mesothelioma, and then the district could get sued, and wit the way the budget was, they couldn’t afford no lawsuit. He would have to find a different building, then, Fairweather told Dom. A clean one, where nobody could get sued. Fairweather said he’d talk to the State people and explain about the asbestos, explain that Dom was looking for a new building. The State folks might be put out, might be pissed about the change in the paperwork, but caner was cancer, and lawsuits was lawsuits. But, Fairweather said, Dom had better get right on it. Dom had better find a new building wit a real address soon, cause time was ticking and come July 1st, when the State budgets was due, charter schools filled wit asbestos—or ones that had addresses of Chinese restaurants—well, they got no money. Not a penny, see. Not a single penny.
So the Kid hadda find a building, a real building, that the State and the School District could visit and walk around in. Dom was so busy running Eisenhower and trying to get past that last EAAS audit that he asked me and the Gorilla to help him out wit this. I was actually glad to help the Kid and do what I could for him. Like I says before, he was kinda like a son to me, so I talked to my people and put the word out that we was looking for a building to lease for a beautiful new charter school, that anything they could do would be a great help to the children a Filthy-delphia, especially the coloreds. It was crazy how nowadays everybody was falling over themselves to help the coloreds, when before, not even 30 or 40 years ago, most people could care less about the coloreds. Not today. It was also crazy how people all wanted to help out wit kids’ educations, that whenever somebody said the word education, people was all ready to donate and give money or buy what was being sold—never really asking what it was or how it could help.
Me and the Gorilla tried to, um, take advantage a this attitude and use it to find a building for Dom’s new school. But most a the people we talked to—landlords and real estate guys who knew Tony—they was already running other scams and bending rules for other folks and couldn’t help us none. We kept at it, though. Kept calling guys we knew who had buildings to lease or rent. We called our union guys, too, to see if a local union hall had some extra room in it, a place to put a charter school. Course, all those halls was filled, all booked up. Yeah, forgetaboutit. After a week a doing this, I’ll tell ya, me and the Gorilla was starting to get . . . what’s the word . . . agitated. We had a little talk wit each other and decided it might be time to stop being nice and to start breaking heads to show these sonnavabitches we meant business.
And that’s what we did. We took a ride around the city in the Gorilla’s Escalade and scoped out some places that might be good for Dom to put his charter school in. Up in Northeast Philly, coincidently, we found the perfect spot for a school. In this big old open field, across the street from this shopping center, was an empty office building that had a big sign on the front of it that said, Available for Rent. When I saw this I just looked at the Gorilla and he looked at me and we both knew this was it, this was where the Kid was gonna put his charter school.
I called the number on the sign and some broad answered and said yes, the building was still vacant, that we could come to the rental office downtown wit the proper identification so they could run a credit check. Me and the gorilla made an appointment and met the woman at the office the next day. She went over all the details about the building, the space, the utility fees, the monthly rent and the deposit we was gonna have to leave. I said it all sounded perfect, just wonderful, that’s we’d take it—where do we sign? Course, we wasn’t gonna pay a penny for it, and if they got testy about collecting backed rent, they could meet me and the Gorilla in my office, could say hello to my power drill, or perhaps my good friend Mr. Vice Grip.
There musta been something in this broad’s ears, cause when I told her we’d take the place, she didn’t give us no keys. She started babbling about credit checks and $5,000 deposits and all kinda nonsense. She said she needed to see me and the Gorilla’s drivers licenses and Social Security cards, and would maybe need a few references—names and numbers a people she could call to make sure we was okay and on the level. I just waved my hand and told her this wasn’t necessary, that if she hadda problem she could talk to Tony Genitaglia and he’d gladly vouch for us. She said she didn’t know who Tony was, and I told her that that was unfortunate, cause Tony was a good guy to know. Tony was a very generous man, see, and he helped people, like wit the charter school he was opening up. The charter was gonna be 100 percent whatdoyacallit—green, and it was gonna run on wind energy. The students was gonna learn Egyptian Math and Israeli Science, and they was gonna join solar panel clubs and electric car teams so they could help the environment. That’s why we wanted to rent the building, so we could put a school in there; it was all for the educations a the children. Course, if you wasn’t Tony’s friend, if you got on his bad side, that could be a problem. I asked this rental office broad if she wanted to get on Tony’s bad side and she said again that she didn’t know no Tony Genitaglia, and that if me and the Gorilla didn’t show her any ID and agree to put up a deposit, then we had better leave or she was gonna call the police.
“Actually,” I says, “there’s somebody ya can call. Why don’t ya get your manager on the phone so I can talk to him and straighten this whole thing out.”
The manager, as if he just heard us talking about him, comes walking through the front doors a the office. He was a heavy set fella, wit wire glasses and a beard. He saw me and the Gorilla making a fuss and asked what the problem was, and so I told him: we was gonna rent that place in the Northeast across from that shopping mall—we was opening up a charter school—and we needed the keys so we could get things moving. But just like wit the woman, the guy said we needed all these documents and deposits and on and on, and I’ll tell ya the truth, it was making my friggin head hurt. So I says to this prick, I says, “Me and this gentleman here is associates a Tony Genitaglia. Now, I know we’re all very busy so I’m only gonna say this one time, see. We’re renting out your freakin office property in the Northeast, and we came here to get the keys. Now is you gonna give them to us, or are we gonna have to fold you up like a goddamn card table and stick you in the back a the Gorilla’s car?”
All of a sudden the guy, the fat manager guy wit the glasses, he starts grabbing his chest and. . . what’s the word, hyperventilatin . . . gasping for air like a friggin beached fish. He falls down and rolls around on the floor and his face gets all red and sweaty as he starts choking, and the broad gets all panicky and dials 911. Not even two minutes later an ambulance comes barreling down the street and pulls into the parking lot a the rental office.
“Jesus friggin Christ,” I says to the Gorilla. “Jesus friggin Christ.”
The fat guy didn’t die, but he did have a minor heart attack. The next day, when all his famb’ly and relatives had left his bed at the hospital, me and the Gorilla went to see him and talk some business. When he first saw us he started yelling for the nurses to come—he even tried to push that emergency button thing next to his bed—but I grabbed it from him and the Gorilla shoved a hand over his mouth. We explained the situation to him a second time, that we needed the keys to the property ASAP. If he didn’t give us the keys, well, we just might need to blow that office property sky high, see; we gave the guy 24 hours to, ah, comply.
A day went by and no dice. Two days went by, then three, and still nothing; neither the man nor the broad was at the rental office when we came by. In fact, the rental office was closed for the week. Finally, I told the Gorilla to get some dynamite from Tony’s demolition guy—a licensed wrecking crew foreman, actually—and to meet me at the rental property in the Northeast after midnight. The Gorilla, cause he’s so frigged up in the head, he doesn’t care about blowing shit up. He doesn’t care about handling bombs and dynamite and all that; he doesn’t care about killing people, neither. Me, I don’t handle no bombs, no way. I ain’t trying to blow myself up, see. And I don’t kill people, not a chance. I might torture and rough them up a bit . . . use heavy equipment like a power drill or hacksaw on a sorry sonnavabitch that’s late wit Tony’s money . . . but I don’t do murder, and I don’t do bombs.
The Gorilla did bombs, like I says, and I gave him very specific instructions about what to use on that office property in the Northeast. We didn’t wanna blow the whole place up, that would be a waste a time. We just wanted to scare that fat shit rental manager, scare him into giving us the keys free a charge; and he’d better not even think a charging Tony or the Kid one single dollar. The plan was, see, to just blow up the atrium, show these rental pricks we meant business. Once we blew it up we’d make another visit to their office and find the broad or the fat guy wit the glasses and say something like, Next time it’s gonna be your house, got it! And after the owner collected the insurance and rebuilt the atrium—which wouldn’t take but maybe a month, we’d make sure of it—we’d make that office property there in the Northeast home to Tony’s and the Kid’s beautiful new charter school. In the mean time, course, we’d have the keys and the Kid would be able to give that Willard Fairweather a real address of a real building.
That was the plan, according to me and Petie. But when I got there that night, when I was coming down the road approaching the property in the Northeast, I couldn’t believe my friggin eyes: the whole place was blowed up, the whole freakin thing—flames coming outta the windows and the roof, planks a wood in the field and broken glass in the street, and smoke, too, thick plumes a smoke. There was cop cars and fire engines everywhere, sirens blasting and lights flashing, hoses running from the trucks and fire fighters trying to aim the hoses onto the office building, which was only left half standing. The Gorilla was actually still there, the moron, walking around in circles like a friggin goon. He was a real piece a work, the Gorilla. IQ of maybe 75, maybe. He was all of 44 years old—a little older than Dom—but I’d bet his real mental age was something like 12. No bullshitting around.
“Petie,” I says, rolling down the window a my car, “hey, idiot. What the hell’s the matter wit you, ha? You trying to get us locked up? Let’s go. Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“My Cadillac,” he says, and points down the street to his Escalade, which looked like it was on fire.
“Forget your car,” I tell him. “There’s cops all over the place. Come on. Let’s go.”
The Gorilla gets in, and I make my way around the cop cars and fire trucks and back out onto the main road. “Jesus Christmas. You blow up the whole building?” For the first time I get a good look at the Gorilla’s face, and see that his hair is all singed and his eyebrows is burnt off.
“The detonator,” the Gorilla says, and looks at his hands, which is black wit soot.
He starts coughing from the smoke, and can’t get the words out. He makes these motions wit his hands, like he’s playing charades. “Oops . . . kaboom,” he says.
“Yeah,” he says, and tries to explain that he made a mistake, that he didn’t mean to blow up the whole building. It’s hard for the Gorilla to . . . what’s the word . . . articulate what he’s saying. I’ve known the Gorilla his whole life . . . since he was 13 and started making deliveries for Tony . . . and part a me always felt bad for the guy, especially how Tony treated him. It was Tony who named him “the Gorilla,” which ya have to admit, is pretty friggin rude. The name came from a PBS nature special on primates that me and Tony was watching. “Hey Manny,” Tony says, pointing to the television, “look, it’s Petie. Petie the Italian Gorilla!” The name caught on quick. A few weeks later, at football practice, a buncha kids on Petie’s 8th grade team started breaking his balls about it.
“Hey Gorilla! You gonna climb up a tree and get a coconut?”
Yeah, forgetaboutit. Petie went nuts, took off his helmet and smashed six guys over the head wit it, knocking them out. When an assistant coach came running over to break it up, Petie grabbed the guy by the head and bit off both of his ears and spit them out on the ground. There was blood everywhere, at least that’s what the other kids standing around watching told the cops. I hadda go down and get Petie outta jail, and that’s when a detective told me that one a the kids Petie hit wit his helmet was in a coma, and that the assistant coach was in the hospital getting his ears sown back on.
What did Petie learn from all this? That you can’t be beating people wit the equipment; he was suspended for two whole games.
All the cops and fire trucks was fading in my rear view mirror.
“I guess we gotta find a new building for the kid,” the Gorilla says.
“No shit, Petie. No shit.”