Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 16

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 16 of 25

World Peace Charter hadda have security cameras, that’s what the Philadelphia Unified School District told the Kid.  There wasn’t no discipline problems at the school so far—not a single suspension, expulsion, or “serious incident” reported—but somebody decided from the School Board that World Peace Charter needed security cameras, even though the clipboard folks on the walk through last month said everything was pretty much up to snuff.  I had an idear who this person was, and so did the Kid; it wasn’t hard to figure out.  U.S. Rep. Barry Al Akbar’s son, Barry Al Akbar, Jr., owned a company called SunTech Communications, which, among other things, just so happened to install safety cameras in businesses and schools in the city.  Well, in the middle of October, right around Columbus Day, the Kid gets a letter from the School District saying that World Peace wasn’t in compliance wit their safety regulations, that to keep the children safe and to, whatdoyacallit . . . promote a healthy learning environment, World Pace needed to have safety cameras.  And, wouldn’t ya know it, included in the letter was a helpful suggestion of a company that could possibly do the work—SunTech Communications.

For a while, the Kid wrote in his journal, he thought this was his golden ticket outta the whole mess wit World Peace Charter.  He’d refuse to comply wit the School District safety regulations and they’d shut him down, game over.  But there was a problem wit this: if World Peace got shut down for a safety issue, Dom, as the C.E.O., could be held, um, liable, and could possibly lose his principal certification over it.  Course, that would mean he’d be replaced as head a Eisenhower, and there was no way in a million friggin years the Kid was gonna let this happen.  So, the Kid hadda play the game and have a buncha safety cameras that he didn’t need installed into an imaginary school that served students that didn’t exist.

Now, the Kid wasn’t dumb; like my brother Tony, he didn’t come down on the last drop a rain.  Dom had a good buddy who he went to high school wit who owned his own security business, Royal Guard Security, and so Dom called him up and explained the situation and asked for a bid from him.  Turns out, Royal Guard could do the whole job, could put in a dozen cameras, six on each floor, for $12,000.  Just to make the whole thing legal and above board, as they say, Dom even solicited a bid for the job from SunTech Communications, who wanted, get this—$145,000 to do the job, twelve times as much as Royal Guard—I swear to Christ on my mother’s grave.  Well, this was a no brainer for the Kid, who gave his business to his high school buddy at Royal Guard.

Course, Barry Al Akbar . . . the U.S. Rep., not the son . . . went friggin ape shit over this, sending letters to Dom saying that Dom was violating Affirmative Action laws and whatnot, that Dom had a whatchamacallit . . . an obligation to give at least 10 percent a World Peace Charter contracts to minority owned firms, which SunTech Communications most certainly was.  Was Dom some kinda racist?  Oh, and by the way, Al Akbar Sr. also had his people look up the owner a this so called Royal Guard Security firm and guess what they found?  The owner, a guy named Jason McDonald, just so happened to go to the same high school and graduate during the same year as Dom, wouldn’t ya know it.  Could it be that this Jason McDonald guy and Dom was friends, maybe?  That Dominic Rossetti, C.E.O. a World Peace Charter, was giving out contracts to his old buddies?  What kinda friggin bullshit, um, nepotism was this, huh?

Al Akbar . . . the U.S. State Rep., not the son . . . said that Dom had better get his priorities straight real freakin soon, or he might have to go to the papers about this, call up that reporter from the Philadelphia Post and go on the record saying how Dom Rossetti was failing to support minority-owned small businesses, and given out contracts to guys he graduated high school wit.  Al Akbar said he had the Post programed into his cellphone, as a matter a fact, and that Dom may have screwed him once by getting his World Peace Charter approved over the much better and much more experienced Achievement Kings Charters, Inc., but he’d be damned if he was gonna let this little white asshole do this to him a second time.

So the Kid had no real choice but to give the contract to SunTech Communications.  The only problem, though, was that the job was already half done by Royal Guard, and the Kid had already given $6,000—right outta Eisenhower’s budget—to Jason McDonald.  No big deal, said the guys from SunTech, we’ll just go in and take out the old Royal Guard cameras and put in the new better ones, the ones from SunTech.  So they did, and they spent exactly five full days working on it . . . one, two, three, four, five . . . doing a job that shoulda took maybe a day-and-a-half, especially when they used seven friggin guys to do the job.  They gave the Kid an invoice an the bill for the equipment and labor, which came to $155,150, wit tax.  The Kid had no money to pay for it and couldn’t take another penny outta Eisenhower’s budget—he’d already cut all the sports programs at Eisenhower cause he needed that money for the wheelchair ramps—and so SunTech and little jack-wad Barry Al Akbar, Jr., got no money.

After a few weeks, when the Kid didn’t respond to any a SunTech’s inquiries about the money or even make any kinda good faith payment whatsoever, Al Akbar, Sr., threatened the Kid, actually sent somebody to throw a rock threw the Kid’s window at his Center City condo wit an angry note wrapped around it that said, Screw me once, shame on me.  Screw me twice, you go down.  The first thing the Kid did when this happened was come to me wit the note, and right away we took the note to Tony at his house in the suburbs.  Tony looked at the note, listened to the Kid tell about what happened wit the security cameras, and then waved his hand, like it was no big thing.

“Frig Al Akbar,” Tony says.  “He’s nobody.  Neither is his son.  I shit bigger than the both a them put together.”

“He knows a lot of people, though,” the Kid says.  “He’s a U.S. Rep. and all that.”

“I’ll friggin slap Al Akbar in his face.”  Tony spits on the floor.  “Friggin maggots.  Who’s he been wit, huh?  Who’s his son been wit?  A U.S. Rep., forgetaboutit.  I’m a made man, Dominic.  Your uncle Manny is a made man.  You know who got this clown elected in the first place?  Me, that’s who.  Me, and Manny, and the Gorilla, and Jerry D., and Big Johnny Calamari.  Let me tell you something, kid.  The day I let that cocker-roach push me and my famb’ly around, is the day I trade in my balls for a friggin vagina.  Manny, find out what kinda car this prick drives.  I’m gonna take a baseball bat to his windshield.”

“Uncle Tony,” the Kid says, “can’t we just—”

“I’m done talking about this!” Tony says.  “You came to me, kid.  So I’m doing it my way.  Al Akbar knows me, he ain’t stupid.  He’ll get the message, no doubt about it.”

So me and the Gorilla go to Al Akbar’s office on Horizon Drive the next morning and wait in the parking lot in the Gorilla’s new Cadillac CTS; he hadda buy a new car cause his Escalade was ruined in the office building explosion.  At around 10:00 a.m. Al Akbar pulls up in a black Lexus GS, gets out, goes inside his office.  When no one is around, the Gorilla puts on a ski mask and grabs a baseball bat from his back seat and goes over to Al Akbar’s car and smashes out both the front and the back windshields, and outta nowhere pulls out this big freakin Tarzan knife and jams it in both front tires, making them flat as pancakes.  I tell the Gorilla to come on, let’s get the frig outta here, that he’s done plenty a damage.  No, he says, I gotta deliver Tony’s message, and he starts carving the words, Bambino owns you on the hood of Al Akbar’s Lexus wit the knife.  Finally, the Gorilla gets back in the car and we drive away.

“That’s that,” the Gorilla says, but it wasn’t that, not by a long shot.  Al Akbar was friggin furious, that was the word in town, and not one bit scared.  At the time nobody knew how angry he was, but later we all found out through some a our guys on the street that Al Akbar went . . . what’s the word . . . ballistic, and checked the tape a the video camera in the parking lot a his office and identified the license plate on the Gorilla’s Cadillac.  He knew who did this to him, people was saying, but this is what Tony wanted anyways.  Course, Tony didn’t know that Al Akbar had some connections, too, some muscle on the street and even some contacts in the Philadelphia branch a the F.B.I.  Apparently, what got Al Akbar the most pissed was when the Gorilla wrote Bambino owns you on his hood—was this some kinda reference to slavery or some shit, Al Akbar supposedly wondered—and he wasn’t gonna back down.

It was then, the Kid found out a few months later, that Al Akbar wanted blood, see.  It was also then that Al Akbar made the connection between Tony Genitaglia and World Peace Charter, that something fishy was going on there.  Dom Rossetti, C.E.O. of World Peace, was Tony Genitaglia’s nephew, after all.  Was the mob behind the charter?  Al Akbar used all his, um, resources to find out, and even got help from his F.B.I. guys.  Al Akbar dug into the background a Dom, hired a private investigator to keep an eye on him.  Like I just says, the Kid found out about all a this later on.  But the rumors was slowly gonna start coming out, about Dom’s relationship wit his uncle, and about the Kid’s past gambling problem.  The rumors was gonna start coming out, oh yes, and by the spring, the newspaper scumbags would be sticking their noses in everybody’s friggin business, trying to tie Tony and the Kid together, trying anything they could to dig up a little dirt in order to sell a few papers.

_______

There was no track team at Eisenhower no more, so the girl Tamarra lost some a her drive and focus.  Cause a money problems there wasn’t a lot a things at Eisenhower no more—like a librarian, and art and music teacher, and a reading specialist—but it was not having a track team that really knocked Tamarra off her game.  Track, see, was her thing, what gave Tamarra her . . .  howdoyasayit, her identity, and without it, she kinda lost her way.  Lamar Reed, Eisenhower’s guru track coach and history teacher, well, he also lost his focus, according to Dom’s journal.  When the Kid was forced to shut down all the sports programs at Eisenhower, and all of Reed’s hard work building the track team from scratch went down the toilet like a pile a turds, he took a job offer teaching and coaching in Springbrook High School, a suburban school North a the city; the rumor was that Reed was gonna lose his position anyways, cause the School District was cutting teachers and he was young and woulda been the first to go.  This put the Kid in a tough position cause now he was short a World History teacher, which meant he’d have to deal wit a long term substitute for prob’ly the entire school year, and that was bad for both learning and discipline.

There was nothing the Kid could do, though.  It wasn’t just World Peace Charter and his uncle Tony that was blowing up Eisenhower’s budget, it was everything put together—the Philadelphia Unified School District’s horrible finances and, what’s the word, mismanagement, and the fact that the white yacht club Governor thought that the city public schools was a cesspool and decided to cut education funding, figuring the less he gave the School District, the less they would waste; course, the fact that a buncha residents a Filthy-delphia was deadbeats and owed something like $500 million in unpaid property taxes didn’t help the schools, neither.  The teachers union was a factor, too, even though it was really tough for the Kid to say that out loud, being that he was an ex-teacher and dues paying member a the union; if anybody deserved their little bit a money it was city schoolteachers.  Still, the Kid knew their pensions was killing the budgets, even though the teachers was paying an arm and a leg into the state retirement system.  Oh, and speaking a union dues, the Kid still hadda pay the city teachers union $3,150 in something called “fair share” dues . . . this was state law, actually . . . even though World Peace Charter had seven fake teachers, and these seven fake teachers wasn’t even union members.

The Kid didn’t wanna cut sports, no friggin way, but he had no choice.  He’d already saved something like $25,000 in salaries, equipment, and transportation costs in the fall by not having to fund football, cross country, and soccer, money that could go toward keeping a counselor, for one, and a fulltime nurse.  The School District cut a buncha counselors and nurses over the summer, and it was up to the individual principals to, um, prioritize their own budgets; the Kid wrote that you couldn’t scrimp when it came to treating asthma, epilepsy, and suicide.  Now, having to pick between a counselor, nurse, and sports team was pretty friggin pathetic and sad, but that was reality, even if it sounded like a goddamned plot to some cheesy movie.

The hardest hit a the three fall sports teams was definitely cross country, the Kid said.  There was something about the famb’ly unit that Coach Reed had established that made the loss a the cross country team . . . which was basically fall track . . . extra hard on the kids.  There was something like 31 boys and girls on the cross country and track teams last school year—hard working kids that gave everything to the sport—and a lot a them was hurt and disappointed when the team was shut down, and when Coach Reed split to teach and coach for another school in another town.  It was more than just disappointment, though, cause these teenagers was knocked outta their routines and secondary famb’lies.  It was friggin true, and the Kid spent a lot a time talking about his guilt over this at our addiction meetings.  Some a these young folks started getting into trouble after school, and some even joined gangs.

Course, the worst case was Tamarra, like I was saying before.  After her mom died, she’d basically turned to track to find balance in her life.  Losing track was kinda like losing her mom, and this new void came along and really knocked the wind outta her.  She now had all this extra time after school, and at first she used it to study, but soon she was getting distracted.  Coach Reed wasn’t there no more to reel her in and give her guidance, and neither was the Kid; she was starting to skip the talk therapy sessions wit Dom at lunch in his office.  And by the middle of October, right around the time the Gorilla was smashing out the windshield of Al Akbar’s Lexus GS wit a Louisville Slugger, Tamarra was even thinking about dropping outta school.  According to the Kid’s journal, Tamarra was getting in fights wit her father at home, and he even threatened to kick her outta the house if she didn’t start acting right and treating him wit more respect.  But by then Tamarra had basically moved outta her dad’s house anyways, and was living wit her girlfriend, Crystal, whose mom worked the nightshift as a whatdoyacallit, a nurse’s assistant, and was never home; at least this is what Tamarra told Dom during the meetings in his office that she did go to.  Tamarra and Crystal would stay out late at night, past the city’s joke of a curfew, and go up to Belmont Plateau—“the Plat,” as the moulinyans called it—and sit in the back a Crystal’s boyfriend’s fancy souped-up car wit about 20 other fancy souped-up cars, listening to that “gansta” rap rubbish and smoking the, um, the blunts, which was like a marijuana joint only they used an empty cigar wrapper to roll it.

At first, Tamarra didn’t wanna smoke the blunts . . . or to drink the beer outta the brown paper bag . . . cause she was still in running shape, still had that mindset of an athlete, see.  For a while, for the first coupla times her and Crystal went up to the Plat, Tamarra just said no when they tried to pass her the beer and the drugs.  She was on the track team, she’d tell them, even though this was a lie, cause Eisenhower didn’t have no track team no more, and Mr. Reed got a new job at that white school in the suburbs.  After a while, though, Tamarra started feeling depressed, according to what she told Dom at one a their sessions.  She would sit there in the backseat a the car and see Crystal and James passing the blunt and cracking up laughing, laughing hard and not caring about nothing, their eyes all red and glassy.  So finally Tamarra just said frig it, I wanna just laugh and not care about nothing, too, so she took the blunt and smoked some of it, and after a minute she started feeling funny, and the music in the car started sounding real good.

“Here,” Crystal said, “take another blast,” and Tamarra took one more hit, and all of a sudden she just looked at Crystal and the two a them just burst out laughing, laughing at the fleck a cigar paper that was stuck on Tamarra’s bottom lip; the Kid told me all about this after one of our addiction meetings.  The two a them just sat in the backseat cracking up laughing, passing the blunt and the brown bag a beer, listening to music, feeling okay for a while.  And Tamarra and Crystal and James did this a few times a week, even on school nights.  Course, the next day they’d miss school, but what did Tamarra care?  It’s not like she hadda go to track practice anymore.  And now that Tamarra thought about it, school was pretty dumb anyways, cause all the stuff you learned didn’t matter—what was you gonna need Shakespeare for when you got older?  You wouldn’t need it, that was the thing.  What you did need, Tamarra told Dom, was street smarts, how to survive and make money out there on the streets and in the real world; in a way, I guess what Tamarra was saying to the Kid was true, at least in me and Tony’s case.

The thing was, though, Tamarra was smarter than this, and Dom knew it the whole time. Dom used to say to me in private, while we was leaving our addiction meetings, “Uncle Manny, I can’t let Tamarra slip away.  I just can’t.”  Like I says before, the Kid was one big friggin ball a guilt over the way things was going at Eisenhower, and he knew he hadda find a way to make things right.  So Dom did his best to keep Tamarra in school and on the right path.  He set up special intervention meetings wit the school counselor and Tamarra and her dad, and sometimes her dad would show, and sometimes he wouldn’t.  Sometimes Tamarra would cut school and not show up.  The Kid didn’t give up, though.  He tried to get Tamarra a special one-on-one whatdoyacallit . . . wrap-around TSS worker, who would work wit Tamarra hands-on all day and make sure she went to all her classes, but Tamarra didn’t qualify as special needs and didn’t have an official Individualized Education Plan, so the District wouldn’t pay for it; Dom said even if she did have an IEP, there was still no money in the School District budget to pay for it.  So you know what the Kid did?  He went and took money outta his own pocket—something like $5,000—to hire a TSS worker from a private contractor to work wit Tamarra for the entire second quarter a the school year.

Course, Tamarra didn’t want this, not in the beginning, and so it didn’t do nothing to help her.  Dom wasn’t surprised by this, he told me.  After spending all those years going to addiction meetings to battle a lifelong gambling problem, the Kid knew all about change, real change—not the bullshit political kind—and he knew that it always started from within.  You could spend a million dollars . . . a billion dollars, even . . . on trying to get somebody sober, but if they didn’t think they had a problem and really want to change, they’d never get any better; I was the perfect example, and knew this better than anybody.

And at that point in her life, the girl Tamarra didn’t wanna change.  She liked hanging out wit Crystal and James up at the Plat smoking the blunts and listening to the gangsta rap, and there wasn’t much the Kid could do about it.  So he hadda lie down at night in his bed in his expensive Center City condo and think about it, lose a buncha sleep over it, feel the anxiety churn in his stomach like he’d swallowed a 100 pound weight.

Part 17

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 15

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 15 of 25

The clipboard folks from the School District and State Department of Education showed up the next day at World Peace Charter, right on time.  They came directly to my office to see me, Mr. Bradshaw, the principal.  They was no nonsense, and said they had this whatdoyacallit . . . protocol to follow.  Dom was there, too, and was part of our official walk through team.  The first thing the clipboard folks wanted was a tour a the building, and me and the Kid gave them one.  We walked them through the empty main office down the hall to the Gorilla’s office, who was playing the C.F.O., Mr. Kaplan.

“This is Mr. Kaplan, our C.F.O.,” the Kid tells the clipboard folks.  “He takes care of payroll, accounting, basically all of our financial operations.”

“Yeah, hi,” the Gorilla says in this low voice, sitting in a chair in front a this wooden table.  On the table is one a those ancient Gateway computers the Kid tried to, um, reassemble.  It’s not turned on, and there’s just a black screen.  The clipboard people stay in the doorway watching the Gorilla, who is now just kinda staring out at this point in space.  There is silence for a while, and the Kid tries to make some conversation, but the clipboard people ain’t biting; for some reason, they stay focused on the Gorilla, and jot some notes.  The Gorilla starts to get nervous, cause he knows how important this is, and after like maybe 30 seconds he starts to sweat, and says, “What?   Is my zipper down or something?  What is you’s looking at, huh!  I oughta—”

“Okay, very good,” the Kid says, shutting the Gorilla’s office door, “that’s Mr. Kaplan.  Let’s move on down to see the counselor, shall we?”

We go down the hall, pop in and say hi to the phony counselor, and start going from classroom to classroom, to observe the phony teachers teaching the phony students.  The first class we go to is, you’s guys got it, math, where they was doing the cutting edge Egyptian stuff.  Ms. Dickey, who is being played by 22-year-old blond exotic dancer Cindy Dickey . . . this girl was freakin hot, holy Christ . . . she is standing at the front a the room drawing pyramids on the blackboard wit chalk.  She draws a big pyramid, and a small pyramid, and a medium-sized pyramid, putting the words big, small, and medium underneath them.  Under the pyramids, she writes down a math problem: what is the area of an Egyptian temple if its length is 103 feet and it’s width is 78 feet?

“Okay class,” she says, “how is everybody this morning?”

“Fine, Ms. Dickey,” her students say.  The actors Eddie hired is doing a good job, and really look and sound just like freshmen, even though some a them is 19 and 20 years old.  The boys is wearing hoodies and baggy pants and fancy sneakers, and the girls have on tight jeans and T-shirts and lots a make-up and jewelry.  Some a the kids is snapping gum, and all of them have their cellphones out on their desks.

“Now,” Ms. Dickey says, “we’re gonna do something called Egyptian Math.  It’s not only a way to learn math, but to appreciate other cultures, too.  Does anybody know about the cultures of Egypt?”

A boy wit a thick brown goatee in the front a the room raises his hand.

“Yes?” Ms. Dickey says.

“In Egypt they have the Great Sphinx, which is in the desert.”

“Very good!” Ms. Dickey says.  “That’s right.  Does anyone else know anything about the country of Egypt?”

“King Tut is from Egypt,” a girl says.

“Very good!  Anything else?”

“Inside the pyramids, they have mummies and tombs.”

“Yes!  Yes, they do!  You guys are doing sooooo good so far.  Now, before we get to the math, we’re going to play this game where I name something from Egypt, and you tell me if it’s small, medium, or big.  If it’s small, I’m going to write it inside the small pyramid on the board, and if it’s medium, I’m going to write it inside the medium pyramid, and if it’s big, I’m going to write it inside the big pyramid, okay?”

“Yes, Ms. Dickey.”

“Okay, how about the Luxor Temple?”

“Big!”

“Good,” Ms. Dickey says, and writes Luxor Temple in the big pyramid.  “How about a grain of Egyptian sand?”

“Small!”

“Yes!  How about a sarcophagus?”

“Medium!”

“Excellent!”  Ms. Dickey finishes writing on the board and goes back to her desk, where she looks through the notes the Kid gave her.  “Now, we’re going to get to the math real soon, and believe me, it’s going to be good stuff.  First, though, let’s talk about something called the ‘Arab Spring.’  Does anyone know about the Arab Spring?  Yes, you in the back?”

“It was a bunch of protests in the Middle East, where people rose up against the government and fought for freedom.”

Ms. Dickey is looking real hard through her notes, cause she doesn’t know the answer.  Course, she realizes it is right and then says, “Yes!  That’s great.  Now, um . . . let’s talk about democracy.”  She looks through her notes.  “Is it right that other countries should be bullied by the United States?  Is it right that other cultures should be forced to fit the standards of white people?  Yes, the girl in the front?”

“No, actually, that ain’t right,” she says.  “I’m white, but a lot of people in America are African American and Latino, and some are Asian, too.  They have their own cultures, and their own ways of doing things.  Why should we force these people to act white?  That ain’t right, I’m sorry, but it ain’t.”

Some a the clipboard people is now listening close, and I can see that they is interested cause they is kinda shaking their heads to what the student is saying.

Ms. Dickey goes through her notes.  “Okay, yes, but how about . . . how about something called ‘white privilege’?  Do you know what that is?  Anyone?  Okay . . . well, let me tell you about that, then.  Um, this is when white people . . . when they get privileges that black people don’t get.  Like when white people go to the store, they don’t get followed or watched as close as black people do.  Or when white people are outside and need a cab, they can get one easier than black people, because cab drivers think that all black people are criminals and are going to rob them.”

“That’s right,” one a the colored students in the class says.  “That happened to me before!”

“Yeah!” another colored student says.

“Are all black people criminals?” Ms. Dickey says.

No,” a student says.  “No way.”

“Very good.”  Ms. Dickey flips to the next page in the lesson plan on the desk in front a her.  “Great, great, great.  Now, we’re going to do another activity before we get to the math problems, and this is an exercise about racism in America.  I’m going to say a statement out loud, and you have to decide if it’s a racist statement or not, okay?  You guys ready?”

“Yes, Ms. Dickey.”

“Great.  Here we go, first statement: ‘All black people eat fried chicken, watermelon, and macaroni and cheese.’  Racist or not?  That boy there, yes?”

“That’s racist.”

“Good.  Why?”

“Because not all black people eat those foods.  That’s a stereotype.”

“Excellent!  You are right, that’s a stereotype.  Next statement: ‘All black people have weird names.’  Is this statement racist?  Yes?”

“That’s racist.  Definitely.”

“Why?”

“Because not all black people have weird names.  Some black people have normal names, like ‘Joe’ and ‘Mary.’”

“Umm, well . . .”

One a the clipboard people waves her hand, walks up to Ms. Dickey and waves her hand.  “Do you mind if I jump in here, Ms. Dickey?  I’d like to say something about this answer, if it’s okay with you.  I’m Dr. Trowbridge, by the way.”

“Hi.  Nice to meet you.  Sure.  By all means, go ahead.”

“Wonderful.”  Dr. Trowbridge, a plain, beefy woman in her mid-50s, rolls up the sleeves a her blouse.  “Now, the last student there just said that the statement ‘All black people have weird names’ was a racist statement, which it was, but he didn’t know why.  He said that some black people had normal names, like ‘Joe’ and ‘Mary,’ but that was actually a racist thing to say, inside a racist thing to say.  Who knows why, hmm?  This is very important, and I want to make an example of this.  Yes, the boy right there?  Why was this racist?”

“Because the names ‘Joe’ and ‘Mary’ aren’t normal names,” the boy says.  “Well, they are normal names, but they’re not normal.  What I mean is that if you have a name that is not a normal white name . . . if you have a name from a different culture that is different from a white sounding name . . . it doesn’t mean that this name isn’t normal, cause what’s normal, you know?  Who decides what normal is?”

“That’s it, you nailed it,” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “Very good.  White isn’t always normal, and normal isn’t always white.  One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter . . . or should I say one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, sorry about that—I’m sexist and I don’t even realize it.  We’re all sexist, and racist too, even if we don’t know it, like what that student said earlier about black people having weird names.  Anyway, you are learning some great stuff here, and your teacher, Ms. . . . I’m sorry, I forgot your name . . .”

“Ms. Dickey.”

“. . . yes, your teacher, Ms. Dickey here, she is doing a wonderful job, and I’m actually very impressed.  This is your very first day at World Peace Charter, right?”

“Yes, Dr. Trowbridge.”

“And you’re all freshmen?”

“Yes, Dr. Trowbridge.”

“Wonderful.  That’s great.  Well, you’re lucky to be learning Egyptian Math, which I’ve heard a lot about, and I’m glad I’ve finally got to see it.”  She points to the math problem still up on the board.  “Sure, it’s important to know the area of an Egyptian temple if its length is 103 feet and it’s width is 78 feet, but there’s more to education than simply memorizing rote numbers and formulas, and I think your teachers here at World Peace understand this.  But enough from me.  Let me excuse myself so you can get back to your lesson with Ms. Dickey . . .”

The clipboard people leave the classroom.  Dr. Trowbridge is all excited and whatnot, and wants to have a word wit me in my office in private.  She tells the rest a the walk through team to go ahead, to move on wit the visit, that she’ll catch up later.  I look to Dom and he just gives me a nod and a thumbs up, and that was that; the Kid split, leaving me alone wit the Trowbridge broad.  Before I can even get nervous she starts talking, just running at the lips about how impressed she was wit the Egyptian Math, and how World Peace Charter is really living up to the hype.  She’s so impressed, she wants to bring some a her former colleagues from Columbia’s Teachers College to observe the school.  See, Dr. Trowbridge used to be a whatdoyacallit, an adjunct professor at Columbia, and this is the kinda stuff she’d like to see taught to the students there.

“Where did you get your principal’s certificate?” Trowbridge asks me.

“My who?

“Your principal’s cert.  Let me guess, U. Penn, right?  Did you get your cert from Penn?  For some reason you seem like a Penn grad to me.”

“Yeah,” I says, “as a matter a fact, I did.  I got my . . . my principal thingy from Penn.”

“I knew it,” Trowbridge says.  “I can spot a Penn grad a mile a way.  I mean this in a good way, I’m sure you know.  Penn’s not Columbia, but hey . . . not many places are.”

“Penn ain’t Columbia,” I says.  “No ma’am, it sure ain’t.”

“Yeah, well, so who actually designed the curriculum for World Peace Charter?  The Egyptian Math?  Was it you?  It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Well I . . .”

“Come on, don’t be modest.”

“Well, it was actually my nephew . . . I mean, it was actually Dominic Rossetti, the C.E.O.”

“Dom Rossetti wrote it?  Hmm, how come that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Yeah, Dom’s a pretty . . . a pretty talented kid, it’s true.”

“He is.  Which reminds me, I wonder how things are going with the Israeli Science.  Do we have time to observe a science class?  If not, we can wrap things up here, I know you must be swamped with work on your first day . . .”

“We’re pretty swamped,” I says.

“No biggie, I’ll take a rain check.  Like I said before, I’m going to contact some of the professors from the Teachers College, and maybe we can set up another walk through.  It would be great to get some of the staff and students down here to see all of this . . .”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to Dom about it,” I says.

“Great.  I look forward to it.”  She checks her watch.  “Well, let me go and find the rest of the walk through team, and get out of your hair.  It’s been a real pleasure to meet you, and to get to see your charter school.  Keep up the good work, and we’ll be in touch soon.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to Dom then.”

“Great.  Have a good one.”

“You too.”

So this Dr. Trowbridge broad meets up wit the rest a the clipboard folks, and they all shake hands wit the Kid, and then shake hands again wit me, and then hand us a three page report, and then leave.  The Kid pages through it and reads it to me, reads it real quick, and we realize all of it is good—real good stuff—and I can see that the Kid is feeling a whole lot a relief, see.  There was only two suggestions for improvement on the report.  One was to have the teachers put more student work up on the classroom walls, and the other was to make sure the state academic standards was posted on the bulletin boards for everyone to see.  Other than that, we was golden.  World Peace Charter was the whatchamacallit . . . the gold standard of public schools.

_______

The first time the Kid had sex wit Gina . . . I don’t wanna disrespect him here, but I’m gonna have to repeat the private parts a his journal cause I’m telling you’s guys his story . . . was when he went wit Gina to put her grandmother into that, um, Alzheimer’s home.  It was the beginning of October, and the Kid and Gina was starting to get serious.  Dom was going over her house for dinner all the time wit fresh cookies and pies that he picked up from Sabrina’s on 9th St., and after dinner for dessert, in addition to the cookies and pies, Gina and the Kid would have each other—not going all the way but coming really, really close.  It was hard, see, to go all the way, not wit little Ashley right upstairs trying to sleep; Gina set a 9:30 curfew for Ashley even though she was being home schooled fulltime by several teachers from Penn’s Port High.  They did end up in their underwear on the living room couch a coupla times, Gina’s hand inside Dom’s boxers, Dom rubbing her hard nipples under her shirt.  I don’t mean no disrespect to the Kid or Gina . . . I ain’t no dirty old pervert . . . but, hey, I read the copy a the journal the Kid gave me.

So the two was doing real good, calling each other every night on the phone for like three friggin hours, and saying how much they missed each other, and looking forward to the time when they could go all the way.  Anyways, it finally happened the night the Kid went wit Gina to put her grandmom away in an Alzheimer’s home.  Alzheimer’s is a pretty sad and tragic thing, let me just say that, and people who never hadda deal wit somebody wit Alzheimer’s don’t have no clue what’s it’s like.  The Kid knew what it was like, though, cause his grandmother—my mother, God rest her soul—had it bad, and about 12 years ago, me and Tony and Theresa hadda put her into a home, see.  Our dad died when we was kids, and Ma was a strong lady and took care a herself most a her life, but when she turned 80, she stared having problems wit her memory and whatnot.  At first it was just little stuff, like at church she’d call me Tony by mistake or forget our birthdays, but then it started getting worse and we all knew something was wrong.  This one time we was at Sunday dinner and she says to Tony, she says, “Hey, does your mother cut your meat for you?” and Tony just thinks she’s kidding and says, “Real funny, Ma,” but Ma ain’t joking and she keeps talking and says, “I know your mother, I know Clara, and she still cuts your meat for you,” and Tony gets worried cause it’s obvious that something’s wrong wit Ma.

So me and Tony and Theresa take her to a doctor and they run all these tests, and they come outta the room like two hours later and tell us that she’s got the Alzheimer’s, that Ma’s got the Alzheimer’s, and Tony can’t believe it.  He puts his hands over his face and starts crying, then he stands up in the middle a the crowed waiting room and starts walking round and round in circles, banging his fists on his thighs, then he screams, “No!  Not Ma!” and goes over to the doctor and says it ain’t funny, this joke ain’t funny, that he better run those tests again cause Rose Genitaglia ain’t got no Alzheimer’s.  Course she did have it, and Tony never really accepted it.  For a while Ma was still able to live by herself, and all of us hadda go over and take care a her—the Kid, too—but after a year or two it got worse and she started having this thing called . . . ah, Sundown Syndrome, where Ma’s symptoms would get worse as it got dark out.  She’d be okay in the morning and afternoon, but at night she’d start getting confused about stuff, calling me Tony by mistake or worse, not knowing who I was.  Right around sundown, when the light was going away, she’d all of a sudden get angry or upset, and say stuff like, “Who are you!  What are you doing in my house!”

This happened to the Kid a coupla times, where Ma didn’t know Dom, her own grandson.  When she hit Dom in the head wit a rolling pin and called 911 on him by pushing that emergency button thing around her neck—and when she blew-up her microwave by heating up a lasagna wit a fork in it and almost burned down her house—Dom knew it was time to start looking for fulltime care for Ma.  After a year, when things was real bad, and Ma was shitting and pissing herself every other day and me and the Kid and Theresa hadda bathe her in the tub by hand . . . Tony, by the way, never once helped wit this . . . we found a home to put Ma in, a nice private one, where she didn’t have no roommate and got round the clock care by all these nurses in green scrubs; it cost us $10,000 a month, me and Theresa and Tony combined.

It made us all sad to put Ma in the home, especially Tony, who was never really able to deal wit it all that well.  The people who was in charge a running the home, the nurses and the doctors, they came over one night to Theresa’s and explained to us the best way to put Ma in the home, see.  They said we hadda trick her, make it look like we was all gonna move into a retirement home together.  We all sat down wit Ma and showed her pamphlets a the “retirement” place, all the cool stuff they had—the private room, the lobby wit the big TV, the nice bright kitchen—and told her how she was gonna go there, how we was gonna go there.  She agreed it would be nice, going to the “retirement” home wit us kids, then we all took her in the car and went, me and Tony and Theresa . . . Dom driving separate so he could sneak her bags through the door in the back . . . and then we got there, and showed her around, took her to her room.  It was nighttime and she started getting confused again, so the nurses gave her a pill and we all left.  We was told not to see her for at least two weeks, so she could get used to the place, but Tony wanted to see her the next day.  Even though we said, “No, Tony, you can’t go see Ma yet,” my stubborn prick of a brother went anyways.  When he was alone wit her and Ma said, “Tony, hey, you gotta get me outta here, please son, please,” he did it, the jag-off did it, put her in his Cadillac and took her back to her house and dropped her off there.

The next day I got a call from the home that they was gonna put a silver alert out on Ma, cause they couldn’t find her nowheres.  Me and the Kid ended up driving all over the goddamn place looking for her for like three hours, until Ma’s next door neighbor called up Theresa and said that Rose was wandering around in the driveway wit just her slippers and shower cap on, my hand on a stack a Bibles.  Me and the Kid went and got her and put some clothes on her, and took her back to the home.  And everything was straight for a while, and Ma seemed to be getting used to the home.  She was meeting people and making friends and whatnot.

A coupla months later for Christmas, though, we all go to see her, me, Tony, Theresa, and the Kid.  When we get there the nurse says, “Merry Christmas, Rose is right this way in the TV lounge,” and we all follow the nurse to the TV room and there’s Ma, sitting right there on the couch, holding hands wit this other patient, this old tall guy named Earl.  And the nurse points to the two a them and says, “This happens a lot, our patients like to pair up,” but Tony, see, he doesn’t like it, not one bit.

“Who’s this prick?” Tony says to me, staring at Earl.  “What’s he doing wit Ma?”

“Tony,” I says, “it’s okay.  The nurse said that they pair up sometimes.  The guy’s just making friends.”

“Not wit Ma,” Tony says.  He walks up to Earl, who’s prob’ly 85 years old, and says, “Scuze me, but what do ya think you is doing?”

Earl thinks Tony is somebody named Harold, and says, “Oh, Merry Christmas, Harold.”

“You’re a real comedian,” Tony says.  “But ya know what, I ain’t laughing.  Now I’m only gonna say this once, so you better get the potatoes outta ya friggin ears and listen.  You take your friggin hands off my mother, or I’m gonna grab you by the back a your bald head and toss you through that picture window, got it!”

“Mr. Genitaglia—” the nurse says.

“Hey, hotshot!” Tony says.  “I’m talking to you!”

Tony,” I says, and it takes me, and the Kid, and Theresa to pull Tony outta the place, to get him in his Cadillac and to calm down; for like a month, Tony kept saying he was gonna bust into the home in the middle a the night, kidnap Earl and take him round back and put a bullet in his head.

So anyways, the Kid knew all about putting his grandmother in a home.  He knew all about the Alzheimer’s, and how sad and tragic it was.  Gina knew about it, too, cause she was going through the same kinda stuff wit her nanny.  Gina was close wit her nanny, maybe even closer than the Kid was wit my mother.  On the day Gina and her famb’ly put her nanny away into a home—a low cost one paid for by whatdoyacallit, Medicare—little Ashley was at a sleepover birthday party at her girlfriend’s house.  Now, Gina was sad and teary cause her nanny was still pretty sharp and knew what was going on, and when Gina got back home to her own house in South Philly, she was feeling lonely and upset.  She wasn’t supposed to see the Kid that night, cause he was away at the fall education conference down at the Convention Center—the Kid went every year.  But when the Kid called her just to say hi, just to see how things went wit her nanny, she told the Kid that she was sad and feeling blue and could he come over later that night after the conference was over?

Sure, the Kid said, and according to his journal, left the conference right smack in the middle a some presentation on how listening to rap music during math class can sharpen brain pathways and help students learn geometry; the Kid didn’t care about leaving early cause he thought the whole thing was a buncha baloney, anyways.  He got in his Porsche and drove to Gina’s and when he got there, Gina was sitting on her couch drinking a glass a wine, sniffling into a tissue and wiping her eyes.  He sat down next to her and put his arm around her, and she hugged him and put her head on his shoulder.  She just talked for awhile and the Kid just listened.

“I know, it’s really hard,” the Kid finally says, and tells Gina a little bit about his own grandma, and about how there was almost a silver alert issued that one night when Tony snuck her outta the home in his Cadillac.  This makes Gina laugh a little, makes her feel a little better.

“Your uncle Tony sounds like a real character,” Gina says.

“Oh, he’s nuts,” Dom says.  “Seriously.  I’m afraid a my uncle Tony, totally.  One Christmas, when we went to visit my grandma, he almost assaulted one a the male patients cause he was holding my grandma’s hand.”

“Shut up,” Gina says.

“I ain’t kidding.  The guy’s name was Earl, and he was like 85 years old, and Tony tells the guy to listen close, to get the potatoes outta his ears and listen, and says, ‘Get your hands off my mother or I’m gonna throw you across the room like a midget in one a those midget tossing contests.”

Gina laughs at this, laughs so hard that the wine she’s drinking comes outta her nose.  The Kid gives her another tissue and helps her wipe her mouth and she laughs some more, starts to feel better.  The two start kissing then, according to Dom’s journal, and Gina invites Dom to spend the night.  Little Ashley’s away at Tina’s house for a sleepover, see, and it would finally be just the two a them, no distractions or, um, interruptions.  Dom says sure, sure he’ll spend the night, no problem.  Gina says great, and tells Dom that she needs to go upstairs to freshen up a bit.  She comes back down in this white lace teddy and see-through panties and nothing else, and walks over to Dom and pushes him down on the couch and gets between his legs and says, “I wanna taste you,” and she does.

Dom repays the favor, and there’s not enough room on the couch so the two go upstairs to Gina’s room and Dom gets on top a her, puts all his weight on her petite body, and he pushes deep inside her and she gasps, moans and gasps, and they go at it hard, good and hard, make love till they both grit their teeth and grunt and when they’re done, after they wipe up wit the Kid’s undershirt and get a bottle a water from the fridge downstairs, they finally roll over and fall asleep, Gina laying on the Kid’s bare chest, the Kid holding her close like he’s never held a woman before.

Part 16

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 14

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 14 of 25

The Kid wasn’t angry about World Peace no more; he was happy.  He said in his journal that he had this new energy, and he was ready to take on the new school year, full force.  He’d run both schools, Eisenhower and World Peace Charter, as best as he knew how.  Everything was pretty much set to go at Eisenhower—the Kid had put in 10 and 12 hour days all summer—and as for World Peace Charter, well, he would do all he could to keep up the charade, at least for a while.  There was no way he could just pull the plug now, not wit the, um, prospect a having a relationship wit Gina.  If he came clean about World Peace Charter now, that would be the end a her, no doubt about it, even if he told her his whole story, showed her his journal and his newspaper articles and all that.  Anyways, the Kid had a plan how to stop the whole thing naturally, without Tony flipping out and without the Kid ruining his reputation and going to jail.  He was gonna make sure World Peace failed the state math and reading tests, failed them horribly; this way, the District would close them down and prob’ly revoke their charter.

Now, though, the Kid had a bigger problem to deal wit: folks from the Philadelphia Unified School District and State Department of Education was gonna be coming to World Peace Charter on the first day a school and doing a whatchamacallit—a walk through.  They was gonna be walking around wit their clipboards and taking notes and whatnot, expecting to see all the great programs the Kid had promised, all the cutting edge instruction.  See, like I says before, just cause World Peace was a cyber charter, that didn’t mean they didn’t have to have a real building to serve as a headquarters, to be the place where they had meetings, kept the supplies, and ran the books.  The principal was supposed to be there fulltime, five days a week, and so was the C.F.O.  Once a week—every Tuesday—all the teachers was supposed to be there, and the counselor, too, having meetings, getting supplies, checking in wit the principal; the other days the teachers worked from their computers at home, teaching their students daily lessons on these . . . what’s it called . . . Internet webinars, which was all done online by text and email.

Course, the only time the students didn’t learn online was the first Tuesday of every month, when the students hadda come in to school in person and have a regular school day wit regular classes, where they had the opportunity to talk face-to-face wit their teachers and counselors, and wit the principal, too.  They was supposed to check in about how things was going wit the cyber curriculum.  Was there any problems they wanted to talk about?  Anything they still didn’t understand?  Was their laptops still running good, or did they need to talk to the computer tech fella in his office?  This was supposed to happen the first Tuesday of every month, see.  Which meant on the first day a school, when the District and State jack-wads was coming in wit their clipboards to observe the Kid’s state-a-the-art charter—100 percent green, home to Egyptian Math and Israeli Science—there was supposed to be a building fulla happy teenagers, getting their rosters and going to class to meet their new teachers, the counselor going from room to room to see if any a the students had any problems or issues, and the principal overseeing it all.

What was in World Peace Charter now, six days before its grand opening?  Nada.  Zilch-o.  Zero.  Nothing but empty desks and classrooms, blank freakin blackboards, and a room fulla textbooks and junked computer equipment.  How in God’s name was the Kid gonna pull this off?  Make it look like World Peace Charter was up and running and living up to all the hype and hoopla?  The Kid didn’t have no clue.  He didn’t, but I did.  I hadda plan to make the whole thing work, just like magic, badda-bing, badda-boom.  I told the Kid my plan over dinner at the Butcher’s Café in South Philly, my treat.  We hadda get people, I told him, a buncha people to pretend to be students at the school; that was the hard part.  We also hadda get some folks to pretend to be the teachers and staff; that would be a bit easier.  Then we hadda set up the school to make it look like classes was in session, that all that good stuff that Dom wrote about on the World Peace Charter website was taking place.  And we hadda do all of it—the whole kit and caboodle—without any a the people knowing what we was really doing; Dom shook his head and said it was impossible.

But I had that part covered, too, see.  There was this guy I knew from the old neighborhood. . . we went back a long time, prob’ly 50 years . . . and he was a partner in this movie casting agency, and he owed me this favor, see.  His office was based in Philadelphia, and about five years ago, he was helping this movie director set-up a scene down at 3rd and Arch Streets where a crowd a like 200 extras was to stand outside this big building that was supposed to be a jailhouse and shout, “Free Bob-Bob!  Free Ta-Ta!”  It was some movie called “Comet Man” about these religious cult leaders who stole all this money in a whatchamacallit, in a Ponzi scheme, and end up getting caught and locked up by the cops, but the true followers a the cult can’t believe it, and was trying to bust Bob-Bob and Ta-Ta outta jail.

Now, my casting agent friend from the old neighborhood—Eddie Gunsenhouser—he had a problem: there was this big old union beef going on down at 3rd and Arch Streets, and a buncha union guys was picketing the movie, cause the producer a the movie . . . not Eddie, this other guy . . . did some rehab work on the building that was supposed to be the jailhouse, and he didn’t use union labor.  The job only cost something like $30,000, but the local wasn’t having it, they wasn’t gonna let some Hollywood piss-ant and his private contractors take bread outta the mouths a their members’ famb’lies, not a friggin chance.  So like a dozen union guys was down there wit the big inflatable rat, screaming and handing out flyers, telling everybody on the street not to go to “Comet Man,” that the producers was thieves and anti-union.  A coupla union goons even threw around some a the camera people setting up their equipment, and according to Eddie, told them that if they didn’t get their cameras outta there, they’d stick them so far up their asses that they’d have to open their mouths to take off the lens caps.

Eddie was all besides hisself about this, see, cause his client, the director a the movie, was supposed to do this scene in one shoot and then fly outta Philly to Arizona where he was gonna film the spaceship landing, and he didn’t wanna be behind schedule; his backers would have his nuts on a plate.  He didn’t know what to do to get the union guys to back off so he calls me up, outta the blue, and asks if I could help him out.  Could I talk to some people a mine, get shit straightened out.  Well, I hadn’t seen my boy Eddie in a while, but we went back a ways, so I took care of it for him; by that afternoon, the union backed off.  He was all happy and thankful and whatnot, and he says to me, he says, “Manny, if you ever need a favor, don’t hesitate to call.”

I told the Kid I could call Eddie up and see what he could do for us.  The Kid rolls his eyes, and says, “I don’t know about this, uncle Manny.”  But I didn’t care, see, I just went wit my gut; the Kid mighta known about education, but I knew about stuff like this.  So sitting right there, sitting right at the table in the Butcher’s Café, I take out my phone and dial Eddie’s number.  It goes to voicemail, and I leave a message:  Hey, Eddie, it’s Manny Genitaglia, long time no see, babe.  Just calling cause I need a favor.  Member Comet Man, and how I helped ya wit those union guys, well, I got this thing . . . and I need your help.  Call me back as soon as ya can.  Tell Marie I says hi. 

The Kid just rolls his eyes again.

“What?” I says.  “I’m trying to help you out.  I would be nice if—”

But then my phone rings, see.  My phone rings and it’s Eddie, and so I answer it.  “Eddie?  Hey, ya fancy-shmancy movie prick, how the hell’s it hanging?”

Eddie says it’s hanging a little to the left—a stupid joke from when we was kids—and then we start talking, catching up on the past five years . . . his daughter just made him a proud grandpa and the new baby’s name is Cassidy . . . and Dom gives me this look and kicks my leg under the table.

“That’s great,” I says, “but let me get down to why I called.  I got this favor to ask ya, and let me just say this, I’m really in a pinch here, Eddie, a pinch-and-a-friggin-half.”

And so I tell Eddie the deal, the whole deal, cause I know I can trust him.  Eddie just listens, occasionally saying stuff like holy cow and sheesh and oh man, and when I’m done telling him everything, when I’m done asking his advice on what to do, he says real casually, “Well, I could just pretend to shoot a promotional video for your charter school.”

“A who?” I says.

“You need 100 kids to pretend to be students, right?”

“Pretty much.”

“And you need them to show up at 7:45 and stay until 2:45, right?  Go through the day like they’re taking classes at this charter school?”

“Yep.”

“No problem,” Eddie says.  “I’ll just make a casting call, and hire 100 actors to play students in the promotional video we’re gonna shoot.  I do stuff like this all the time.  I’ll need to get on it first thing tomorrow, but I think I can pull it off.  Course, if something happens, I’m gonna play stupid.  In fact, I’m gonna need Dominic to sign a contract and officially hire my services for the filming of his video.  Just for liability, you know about that stuff, right?”

“Liability?” I says.

“Yeah, liability.  I know you saved my ass a few years ago, Manny, but I got a reputation to protect.  If you guys get caught, I can’t lose my job.  I can’t go to jail.  We have to do this legally, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” I says, “well you owe me, Eddie.”

“I know I do.  That’s why I’m gonna help with this, and keep my mouth shut about it.  Now listen, here’s what we need to do . . .”

And so Eddie tells me how it’s gonna go, and I sit there and listen, even though I wasn’t too hot about having the Kid sign any contracts.  Eddie says he’s gonna get together a shoot for a promotional education video for World Peace Charter—like an advertisement for the school—and that he’s gonna hire 100 actors to play students in the video, and these actors is gonna be ready and prepared to go through a whole school day, from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., just pretending to be students during their first day a school.  It wasn’t really that hard, actually.  There was no set lines or script, it would just be . . . howdoyasayit, ad-libbed, kinda like one a those reality TV shows.  Eddie would tell the actors: you are all freshmen on your first day a high school.  Listen to the teachers, and do what you are told.  Oh, and by the way, don’t look for the cameras, cause they are hidden, see.  And the cameras are always rolling, so don’t say nothing to no one about the shoot, or it will ruin the video.  There are no breaks, no changing scenes, just one big take—so don’t frig it up.  You are all freshmen, happy freshmen, on your first day of high school.  Understand?

That’s what Eddie told me.  The only problem, though, was that he couldn’t hire a buncha 14 and 15 years olds, that wasn’t legal.  He hadda hire actors that was at least 18 years of age, and he was gonna have to pay them for a day’s work, too.  He said he’d do the rest free a charge—cause he owed me—like writing up the contract for the video, and advertising the casting call, and all the other bullshit he said went along wit setting this whole thing up, but he hadda pay the actors; there was just no way around that.  He didn’t need to pay any cameramen or crew, cause there wouldn’t be any, but the actors . . . yeah, they would get paid, absolutely . . . he hadda reputation to keep.

“So what’s the deal?” the Kid asks after I hang up the phone wit Eddie.

“We’re good to go, kid.  In like flint.”

“What did he say?  How’s it gonna work?”

I tell him everything Eddie told me, and the Kid actually thinks it has a chance to work.

“We gotta pay for the actors, though,” I says.         

“What?  We have to pay for the actors?  How much?”

“Not much,” I says, and play wit a piece a lettuce in my salad on the table in front a me.

How much?” the Kid asks again.

“I don’t know . . . something like $11,500.”

What?

“Yep.  That’s what Eddie told me.  He said it’s standard pay.  Background actors, cause that’s what they’ll be, get paid $115 a day, which really ain’t much, when ya think about it.  Do the math, kid: a hundred times $115 is $11,500.”

The Kid was pretty pissed, I ain’t gonna lie.

“Where am I supposed to get $11,500, uncle Manny, huh?”

“I don’t know, kid.  I don’ know.”

Eleven thousand, five hundred dollars?

“Yep.  And the actors will all be 18 and 19 years old, maybe 20.”

Huh?

“Yep,” I says.  “Why don’t you eat your soup, kid, before it gets cold.”

But the Kid didn’t eat any a his soup, see.  He didn’t eat anything the whole rest a the night.

_______

The Kid went to Gina and Ashley’s house that Monday for a Labor Day barbecue.  At first he didn’t wanna go, cause schools was opening the following day and he was real stressed out just thinking about it, but Gina said pleeeease, and even put little Ashley on the phone and she said pleeeease, so Dom had no choice.  He’d pop in and stay for maybe an hour or two, he wrote in his journal, eat a hamburger and some corn on the cob, then split.  There was too much going on in the morning, too much at stake for him to get all caught up at some Labor Day party.  On the drive over to their house he almost had one a those howdoyasayits . . . panic attacks, but he pulled over and did his deep breathing and visualization exercises and it passed.  Still, he wrote, he couldn’t keep his mind from racing a million miles an hour.  Opening day at Eisenhower was all set, and the Assistant Principal, Mrs. Lankford, was gonna run the show.  Course, the situation at World Peace Charter was much different.  Nothing was certain there, see, and the whole plan could unravel at any time like a friggin ball a yarn.

Seeing Gina and Ashley made him feel a little better, though, he wrote.  The barbecue was in back a Gina’s rowhouse in South Philly on her small cement patio, where she had a grill, a picnic table wit an American flag table cloth, a few deck chairs, and a cooler filled wit cans a beer and soda.  The party was small, only a coupla neighbors—Darryl and Debbie from across the street, and Margie and her son, Chris—and that was it.  Chris was Ashley’s age, but was all worried about the Phillies game inside on TV, and so he pretty much ignored Ashley.

Ashley had a friend to talk to, though, so she didn’t care that Chris was on the couch in the living room watching baseball.  She was talking to Dom, see, and that was good by her.  She liked Dom, thought he was neat and cool, and I ain’t simply saying this cause I read about it in the Kid’s journal, no; I seen the two together myself a few times, and they was quite the pair.  The two a them was out back in the sun, Dom sitting on his chair and drinking a can a cola, and Ashley in her wheelchair sitting next to him, her legs propped up on a bench.  They was talking about going swimming, and how much it bit the big one not to be able to go in the pool in the summer when you was in a cast.  Ashley was a little sad, cause two a her girlfriends was at a swimming party that very day, see, but she couldn’t go cause a her legs.  She coulda went if she really wanted to, but she woulda hadda watched from the side a the pool, and that woulda been friggin torture for her.

“How long until you get your casts off?” the Kid asks.

“Between two and three months.  They put screws in my feet, and they have to heal all the way.”

“Did it hurt?  The operations?”

“A little,” Ashley says.  “The next day it hurt bad, but it got better.  Now it only hurts a little when I walk on them.”

“It stinks not being able to go in the pool, huh?”

“Oh my God, I know.”

“I remember when I was like eight years old,” the Kid says, “and I had an ear infection this one summer, and all my friends were swimming in the pool at our swim club, and I couldn’t go in, I wasn’t allowed.  And this one girl, her name was Dawn, she kept swimming over to the side of the pool to talk to me, to try to make me feel better.  She handed me this penny, and told me to chuck it into the water, and she would dive down and get it.  She was trying to include me into the fun, but watching her swimming wasn’t that fun, you know?  I chucked the penny into the pool a few times, then I just took it and threw it at this fat old lady who was floating in the pool like a giant whale.”

Ashley bursts out laughing.  “No you didn’t!”

“I swear to God.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“Nope.  The lady started looking around, but I left and went to the snack bar and got a hotdog.”

“That’s so funny,” Ashley says.  “Hey, Mr. Rossetti, wanna sign my cast?”

“Sure.  Gotta marker?”

“My mom has one inside, I think.  Hey mom!  Can you get the magic marker so Mr. Rossetti can sign my cast?”

“What’s the magic word?” Gina says.

Please.

“Okay.”

Gina gets it, comes back, hands it to the Kid.  He leans forward, draws his name—Mr. Rossetti—in big block letters on Ashley’s left cast, and feels Gina leaning next to him, watching him.  He looks at her and she’s smiling, admiring him.  He smiles back, and Gina leans forward real quick and gives the Kid a kiss on the cheek, just a peck, he wrote in his journal, but it got him going, got the butterflies flying in his stomach.  He liked Gina, a lot, and he was nervous just how much he liked her.  The thing that got him nervous most of all was how much Gina seemed to like him back, how everything he ever wanted was right there for the taking, but wit this came the, um, pressure a not screwing it all up.

He hadda take a leak, prob’ly cause he was excited and still a little nervous.  He stood up and went to the bathroom inside—it was at the top a the steps all the way down the hall on the left, Gina’s neighbor Debbie said—and when he went in and looked into the mirror, he wrote, all his anxiety came rushing back.  The first thing he thought of was World Peace Charter, and how folks from the Philadelphia Unified School District and State Department of Education was gonna be there first thing in the morning, clipboards in hand, ready to write their freakin reports.  He thought a the stupid plan wit the 100 actors, how they was all set to show up at 7:30 acting like teenagers during their first day a school, roleplaying the part down to the nostril—clothing and everything.  He thought a the phony teachers and staff, too, and their instructions, how I was gonna play Principal Bradshaw, and how the Gorilla was gonna be Mr. Kaplan, the C.F.O., and how the other teachers was gonna be played by five a Tony’s girls from Straight A’s, the ones that was college students and actually studying to be real teachers.

He thought a the school itself, he wrote, and wondered if the way he’d laid everything out was gonna be good enough to fool the folks wit the clipboards.  He’d cleaned the place from top to bottom, tidied and straighten the desks, reassembled the busted computers as best he could, hung inspirational posters on the hallway walls and the school’s mission statement on the bulletin boards.  He brought in globes, and maps, and stuck a small American flag in the corner of every classroom.  He tested the PA system to make sure it worked . . . and it did, just fine . . . and programed the bell schedule in the main office.  He brought in plants for the main office, and an old desk and leather chair for the principal’s office.  He put phony names on the mailboxes in the mailroom, brought in one a Eisenhower’s photocopiers as a prop.  As for lunch in the café, this was easy: the kids were required to brown bag it, which is what the actors playing the students was told.

Course, the thing that really stressed the Kid out was the lesson plans, and whether the phony teachers would be able to teach the material that he had written.  He’d set everything up for them before hand, made the copies, put a textbook on every desk, and wrote step-by-step instructions on how to do the whatchamacallits . . . the activities, and even left scripts on how to answer the questions a the folks wit the clipboards, if they came up.  It’s all a dog-and-pony show, Dom told everyone on the phone, including me.  Just go through the motions, and show these jag-offs what they wanna see.

The Kid was still looking in the mirror, he wrote, still looking at his face.  For a second he didn’t recognize hisself, how he’d let this whole friggin World Peace Charter thing spin the frig outta control, and he needed to start doing his breathing exercises and his mental imagery to stop from having a panic attack.  He breathed deep, in and out, in and out, and tried to think a something pleasant, something to help him to relax.  He thought a Gina, sweetie-pie Gina, in her white short-shorts and Hard Rock Café T-shirt that she was wearing, her brown hair pulled back into a sexy ponytail.

There was a knock at the bathroom door.

“Yes?” the Kid says.

“Oops,” little Ashley says, “sorry.  I’ll use the bathroom in my mom’s room.”  She hobbled on her crutches down the hall.

The Kid comes outta the bathroom and Gina’s standing there, standing and just looking at him.

“Sorry about that,” she says.  “We didn’t know anybody was in there.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Thanks for coming here today, I know you’re busy with the start a the school year and everything . . .”

“No problem,” the Kid says.  “I wanted to come, I like you guys.”

“We like you, too.”

Gina puts her hand on the Kid’s shoulder, and for the second time that afternoon kisses him, this time on the mouth, and the Kid can’t help but kiss her back.

Part 15

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 13

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 13 of 25

Funny how things worked, cause right when World Peace Charter was getting some bad press about not having wheelchair ramps—the opposite thing happened once the Kid put the ramps in: Education World did a story on the charter about how it was now, howdoyasayit—handicapped friendly.  I forget what it said exactly . . . I got the newspaper clipping here somewheres in the package the Kid gave me . . . but the headline went something like: Fancy New Charter School Now Takes Crippled Kids.  I don’t remember the words, um, verbatim, but it was a front page article about World Peace Charter and how they was now not only teaching about being green and teaching intolerance—no, my mistake, about teaching tolerance—now they was also doing good cause they was taking in the crippleds, too.  There was even a quote from those IDAG people who had protested the charter not having ramps, and they was now actually talking good about World Peace, talking like Dom and them had worked it all out.

Here, I found the clipping, let me read it.  The Kid already read it out loud to me a buncha times when it first came out, and I think I can remember the words:

Philadelphia’s World Peace Charter High School, set to open its doors in the fall, is home to many new cutting edge instructional programs, including Egyptian Math and Israeli Science; it’s also run on 100 percent wind energy, to boot.  One thing WPCHS was lacking until very recently, however, was an environment friendly to Philadelphia’s disabled children. 

Brice Desjardins, President of Individuals with Disabilities Advocacy Group (IDAG), was the first to call attention to the issue by staging a protest rally outside the school earlier this month. 

“For all the great things this charter is doing,” Desjardins said, “we were very shocked and surprised that it didn’t have wheelchair access ramps at the main entrance.”

A red flag was raised when the father of a disabled boy contacted Desjardins, explaining that the new charter, lauded for it’s cutting edge educational pedagogy and promotion of green energy, was not in compliance with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), mandating equal access to public education for children with disabilities. 

According to Desjardins, after the protest demonstration of approximately 200 people was staged, WPCHS soon came into full compliance with the law. 

“They acted very fast and we were very pleased,” Desjardins said.  “I don’t know if it was simply a misunderstanding of the law on their part, but the bottom line is they now have access ramps, and that’s all we wanted in the first place.” 

Dominic Rossetti, CEO of the charter, had no comment . . .

Yeah, so, any damage done to the school by the protest and news coverage was undone by the Education World article.  In fact, if I recall what the Kid said correctly, this whole fiasco actually made the charter even more popular, made even more people wanna apply and try to get their kids in, especially parents a crippled kids.

Which is why Gina Grasso, sweetie pie Gina Grasso, wanted to get little Ashley into the Kid’s charter.  Gina was a petite Italian single mother who had a beautiful young daughter wit pigeon feet . . . no, that’s not right . . . she had I think club feet, and that Education World article made Gina call the Kid about getting little Ashley into World Peace Charter High School, cause they had the great education programs and the crippled ramps and all that.  Little Ashley was about to be in 9th grade, but her neighborhood school in South Philly, Penn’s Port High, was a sad pathetic joke.  Member all the stuff I said the Kid would do to keep Eisenhower organized and safe and whatnot?  How the Kid had the parents pitch in, and how he brought in the positive behavior supports and all that?  Well, the folks running Penn’s Port didn’t do half this stuff, at least that’s what the Kid told me.  The principal and the teachers kinda just accepted that it was a pathetic joke and gave up on the place, just kinda . . . how did the Kid say it . . . kinda just coexisted wit the students, let the teenagers do their thing while the teachers and staff did theirs.  It wasn’t really one person’s fault, according to the Kid, but the whole culture a the place made it hard for good teachers—and good students—to be successful.

And Gina didn’t want little Ashley going to a school like that.  Plus, she had the club feet and was in a wheelchair, which just made it even worse; Gina was afraid the jungle animals running the halls, the poor coloreds in the gangs and the white trash kids wit the brown crooked teeth who was hooked on OxyContins, was gonna do something bad to her.  So she applied to World Peace Charter, and you’s guys guessed it—Ashley was put on a waiting list.  Course, Gina was a real good mother and always fought the good fight for Ashley, so she didn’t take no for an answer.  When she got the email that said Ashley wouldn’t be admitted that September, she hunted down the Kid’s number and called him on the phone and said she wanted a meeting wit him to discuss things.  Dom wrote in his journal that he kept blowing her off and whatnot, that he wasn’t returning her calls or emails.  At first, he wrote, he didn’t think anything about it, cause his real work wasn’t at some fake charter but at Eisenhower, where young girls like Tamarra needed his help and guidance.

But Gina kept at it, kept calling and leaving, um, voicemails, till the Kid finally hadda deal wit the situation.  A week before school was set to open, the Kid agreed to meet wit Gina in his office at Eisenhower.  He wasn’t too happy about it, if I recall correctly.  See, the Kid had just got the news that the State was gonna be doing their first visit and observation at Word Peace Charter the day after Labor Day . . . September 4th, I think . . . the first day a school in Philadelphia.  Dom had no idear how he was gonna deal wit that whole friggin fiasco, especially cause he hadda get things ready to go for the first day a school at Eisenhower.

His anger, though, disappeared when he met Gina that first day in his office, at least that’s what he wrote in his journal.  He was sitting at his desk going through his mail when his secretary popped in and said Ms. Grasso was there to see him.  Dom said to send her in, and in she came, in this plaid skirt and white blouse, her pretty face and brown hair done up all nice.  She smelled good, too, like body lotion from that place, that place all the hip broads went to, Victoria’s Secret, that’s what Dom really remembered.  Course, at this point Dom started getting nervous, cause that’s what always happened to him when a pretty girl came near him.

“Ms. Grasso?” he says, and the first thing that came to his mind was his breath—was his breath fresh?—and his nose . . . was his nose clear, or was there any, um, boogers hanging.  This is what he thought, my hand on a stack a Bibles; like I says, he wrote all a this down in insane detail in his friggin journal, and I’m trying to repeat it as best I can.

“Mr. Rossetti?” Gina says, and the Kid said he felt better then, cause her voice was kinda timid, like she was a bit nervous.  Well, they started talking and things got easier, things started to click and flow together.  They was sitting and talking about getting Ashley into the charter school, nothing more, but Dom said there was this feeling underneath all of it, this electricity, and he was positive he wasn’t the only one feeling it.  They talked about Ashley for a long time, and Gina told Dom how smart she was, how she wanted to be a therapist and counsel people, that she was only 13 years old—just turned 13, August 1st—but already knew what she wanted to study in college.

“That’s wonderful,” Dom says, or something like that.  “Kids are never too young to set goals.”

“She’s an amazing girl,” Gina says.  “That’s why it would be great if she could go to World Peace Charter.  She loves the environment, too.”

“Hmm,” Dom says.

“We can’t really afford private school . . . it’s just her and me.  I guess if she has to go to Penn’s Port High she will, but I’d really like to avoid that at all costs.”

“Have you considered home schooling her?” Dom says.

“Yes, I looked into that, but I’m not sure I could work that into my schedule.  I’m an x-ray tech at Graduate Hospital, and I work these real crazy hours.”

Ashley’s club feet came up, and they talked about this for a while.  See, Ashley hadda get an operation when she was real little to fix her feet, cause they was turned in, like kickstands and whatnot.  Gina thought the operation had fixed the problem for good—it was supposed to, the doctors said—but now that Ashley was going through that growing period, puberty, the problem popped up again, and Ashley was complaining a having pains in both a her feet.  Gina did an x-ray on Ashley at work herself, and the orthopedic doctor said that she would need to get another operation on each a her feet to straighten the bones or some such craziness, so that’s what the doctors did, see.  Ashley wasn’t in as much pain anymore, but both her feet was in a cast and she would be in a wheelchair for a while, maybe two or three months.

“Is she on medication?” the Kid asks.

“They prescribed her pain pills, but she doesn’t take them because they make her tired all the time.”

“Hmm,” the Kid says.

“So anything you could do to help her get into World Peace charter would be greatly appreciated,” Gina says.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

The Kid wrote in his journal that it was right then that he felt like the biggest asshole in the whole goddamn universe.  “Yeah, I’ll check into things, and see what comes up.  I’d try to home school her for now, just in case.  Things are pretty tight at World Peace right now, especially after that article in Education World magazine.”

“I can imagine,” Gina says.

“I like to be honest and up front with people, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high.  The home school route may be the way to go.”

Gina nodded.  “I understand, Mr. Rossetti.  Completely.”

“You can call me Dom,” the Kid says.

This seemed to surprise Gina a bit, and she smiled, or so the Kid wrote.

“Well thanks for your time,” Gina says to Dom, and held out her hand for the Kid to shake.  He shook it, and wrote that he had this warm feeling in his stomach, this excitement.  He also wrote that he felt anxious, that he had too much on his plate as it was.  His sponsor, Gordon W., he told Dom no new relationships wit women for one whole year, cause he was supposed to put first things first, to work the 12 steps for 12 months straight before going down the romance road again; the Kid didn’t need to end up in Atlantic City hocking a goddamned pear-shaped diamond engagement ring, that was for damn sure.

Gina turned and left his office, and the Kid went back to checking his mail.

_______

All of Gordon W.’s words a wisdom went out the window when Gina called the Kid up that night after their meeting in his office.  She called the school phone, at about 7:00 p.m., right as the Kid was leaving to go home for the night.  Now, the Kid usually never answered the school phone—that was the secretary’s job—but he was the only one left in the building and he just had this feeling, this, um, hunch it was Gina.  Turns out, it was.  She was calling to ask the Kid if he could help wit the home schooling he mentioned earlier, if he knew of anybody who could come over to the house and help little Ashley wit her studies.  It didn’t have to be full time, just enough to keep Ashley sharp and help her learn the stuff she’d need to know to get into a good college and study, whatdoyacallit, psychology; God only knew what kinda education she’d get at Penn’s Port High.

So the Kid says sure, course he could help find little Ashley a tutor, or somebody to home school her part time.  He said he’d talk to some a the teachers on Eisenhower’s staff to see if they would be interested in being a tutor, but this would prob’ly cost her money, see, cause it would be a private tutor, and that wasn’t covered by the School District.  If Gina was interested in getting free services from the District, she’d have to go through Penn’s Port High, her neighborhood school, and request Home Bound for little Ashley.  This would be free, as long as Ashley qualified for it, and being that she was in a wheelchair and all that, Dom said he didn’t see why she wouldn’t qualify.

“So the district would pay for it?” Gina says to the Kid on the phone.

“Absolutely,” the Kid says.  “It’s the law.  All you need to do is call Penn’s Port and tell them you’d like to set up Home Bound for Ashley.  I’m sure she would qualify, at least for the first marking period.”

“Why just the first marking period?”

“Well, for as long as she’s in a wheelchair, or is recovering from the surgeries.  If you put pressure on the school, if you had a note from a doctor, you could prob’ly keep Home Bound longer.”

“Okay,” Gina says, “I think I’ll do that.  Thanks for your help, Dom.”

“No problem,” Dom says.  “Just call the school.  Oh, and I’ll keep you posted about finding a tutor as well.”

“Thank you so much,” Gina says, and then there was this pause, this silence on the phone.  Dom wrote in his journal that he was just about to say screw it and go for broke, just ask Gina if she wanted him to maybe come over sometime and help her out wit all this.  That’s what the Kid was thinking.  But before he could say anything, Gina says to him, as if she was reading his mind, “Hey, Dom, I don’t know if this is appropriate or not, but would you mind coming over to the house sometime and helping me out with all this?”

The Kid says yes, yes, course I could come over and help you’s guys out.  And he did go over, that very night, as it turned out.  He went home and quickly ate some left over pizza, showered, brushed his teeth and mouth-washed, slapped on just a dab a cologne.  He stood in front a his mirror and after combing his dark hair . . . he still had a nice full head a hair, he took after me and Tony . . . he tried to decide what to wear.  What he decided to wear, according to his journal, was what he’d wear to work on a casual Friday, cause in a way, he was going to work.  That’s the way the Kid said he was gonna look at the whole situation: it was just business, he was just going over to Gina’s to help little Ashley, and that was that.  If anything should happen extra, well, that would be . . . howdoyasayit, icing on the cake.  So the Kid just put on a nice pair a gray slacks, black belt and shoes, white dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar.  I seen the Kid dressed like this at work, and I always thought he was an okay looking guy—he was stocky, maybe 230 pounds—and had a face wit lots a personality.

When the Kid got to Gina’s, little Ashley was sitting at the kitchen table reading a book and drinking a glass of iced tea.  Ashley had just turned 13 that August, but she was still more of a little girl than a woman; she had her pretty brown hair in a long ponytail.  Dom said she was maybe five feet, and not even a hundred pounds.  She had plaster casts on both her legs, and they was all covered wit drawins and signatures from her famb’ly and girlfriends, doodles a flowers and smiley faces and such.  The book she was reading was Flowers for Algernon, which was summer reading for incoming freshmen at Penn’s Port High.

Gina introduced the Kid to little Ashley, and Dom shook her hand.  Dom said in his journal that she was the cutest little girl that he’d ever seen, and was the spiting image a Gina.

“You’re reading Flowers for Algernon,” the Kid says to Ashley.  “I read that book when I was in ninth grade.”

“I read this already in eighth grade,” Ashley says, “with Ms. Rupert.  But I’m reading it again now, for Penn’s Port.”

“Good for you,” the Kid says.  “Your freshman year in high school is real important, especially your English classes.  Colleges really look at math and English.  What do you think of the book?”

“It’s one of my favorites,” little Ashley says.  “I really feel sorry for Charlie, how he gets smart but then goes back to being dumb again.”

“Did you know that Algernon, the mouse, can be a symbol for animal cruelty?”

“Yeah,” Ashley says, “and the story is also about the mistreatment of the mentally disabled.”

“Jeez,” the Kid says, “your mom said you were smart, but I didn’t know you were that smart.  You should come to Eisenhower High School with me next week.  You can help teach English class.”

Ashley laughs.  “No, I couldn’t do that.”  She shifts the pillows that’s under her casts on the kitchen chair.  “I want to be a psychologist when I get older, not a teacher.”

“That’s right, your mom told me that.”

“Yeah, and I want to maybe work with people with drug and alcohol problems, so they can get better.  I read in this one book that addictions . . . like drinking and gambling . . . are a disease.  My aunt, she had to go to this rehab for a real bad drinking problem and—”

“Okay Ashley,” Gina cuts in.  “I’m sure Mr. Rossetti doesn’t want to hear about aunt Jackie.  Why don’t you read upstairs in your room.  It’s almost time for bed.”

“I got until ten o’ clock,” Ashley says.

“I know, but me and Mr. Rossetti want to talk.  In private.”

“Okay, fine.

Ashley gets up and grabs her stuff, her book and her crutches, and Gina helps her walk upstairs to her room.  Ashley can walk wit the casts on her feet, see, but only real slow like; for longer walks, the doctor said she needs to be in her wheelchair, or so Dom said in his journal.

Gina comes back down and pulls up a chair and sits next to the Kid at the kitchen table.  They make whatdoyacallit, small talk for a minute, and then Gina says how worried she is about Ashley going to Penn’s Port High, and that she wished they could afford a private school.  They talk a little bit about World Peace Charter, and how it would be great if Ashley could get accepted there, and Dom reminds Gina that the freshman class is packed up tight, tighter than a nun’s asshole . . . these is my words, not his . . . and says that Ashley should apply for Home Bound, that he could help wit the paperwork.  That’d be just great, Gina says to the Kid, and then goes and pours a glass a wine for herself, and asks Dom if he wants any.  Course, he tells her he doesn’t drink, and she says that’s great, but does he want anything to eat, some chicken, maybe?  They got a grill out back.  No, the Kid says, he’s fine, he already ate before he came over.

The two move out into the living room on to the couch, and Gina takes off her sandals . . . she was still wearing her skirt and blouse from earlier . . . and bends her legs under her on the couch.  She’s got her wine glass in her hand, and she sips it and smiles at Dom, and Dom smiles back, and according to his journal, his eyes was drawn to Gina’s feet, her sexy bare feet, and how she had this red toenail polish that was just driving him friggin mad.  She had a gold toe ring, too, and a thin gold ankle bracelet.

It got silent for a minute, and so the Kid asks about Ashley’s father, and Gina sips her wine, nods, swallows.  Good question, she says, but it was a long story, see.  The bottom line was he wasn’t in the picture, he was living wit his girlfriend some place, and good riddance, too; it was better that he wasn’t in Ashley’s life.  Sure, Gina said she’d made a bad decision when she was 22, got pregnant and married real quick—boom, just like that—and wasn’t that a mistake . . . the marriage, not having Ashley.

“You have a toe ring,” the Kid says.

“I do.  Wanna see it?”

“Sure.”

Gina unbends her leg and puts her foot right in the Kid’s lap, showing him her toe ring right up close, and says, “You like?”  According to the Kid’s journal, he said he didn’t know what he was supposed to do then, if he should just grab on her foot and start handling it like some pervert, so he said he just kinda touched it real lightly wit his fingertips, like he was a doctor inspecting it.

“You’re funny,” Gina says, keeping her foot in his lap.  She sipped her wine some more, and the two talked some more—this time about the Kid and his situation—and when it was time to go, when the Kid finally got up from the couch and Gina walked him to the door and they shook hands and hugged, a long hug, it was understood that the Kid should call her, sooner rather than later, cause the electricity that the Kid had felt earlier in his office, well . . . it was still there and stronger than friggin ever.

Part 14   

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 12

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 12 of 25

On Monday, July 9th, 2012, Tony’s charter got its money; the Kid called me on the phone and told me everything.  In a bank account opened in the name of a phony charter, controlled by a phony C.E.O. and operated by an imaginary Board of Trustees, was deposited the sum of $1,187,071—the budget for World Peace Charter High School for the 2012-13 school year.  Crazy shit, huh?

Yeah, well, Tony was in friggin hog heaven when he heard the news.  He thought he was only getting a cool million, so the extra $187,000 was an added surprise.  At first the Kid wasn’t gonna tell Tony about it—he figured he’d skim the extra cash off the top so he could put it back into Eisenhower’s budget, where it was badly needed—but Tony, see, he wasn’t having any a that, no friggin way.  See, Tony wanted to see the actual approved budget for World Peace Charter, line by line.  Tony might not a had a high school diploma, but he was a master criminal, and he didn’t come down on the last drop a rain, as they say . . . at least not when it came to money, his money.

I was sent to pick the Kid up wit the, whatchamacallit, itemized budget and bring him to Tony’s mansion for a meeting.  When we got there, just like the last time, Tony was sitting in his big leather chair behind his desk in his office watching his giant 10 foot flat screen TV, a lit cigar in his mouth, a glass a whisky in his hand.

“Hey, come here and give your uncle Tony a big hug, will ya!” Tony says when he sees the Kid.  “Ya did good, Dominic.  Real good.  Here, have a drink a whisky.  You want a cigar?”

“I don’t smoke, uncle Tony.”

“No?  Okay.  How about a shot, then?  Do a shot wit your uncle to celebrate.”

“I don’t really drink either, uncle Tony.”

Tony looked like he was offended.  “Ah, forgetaboutit.  This is a special day, and ya did good, and you’s gonna celebrate and have a drink wit me.”

“The kid doesn’t drink no more, Tony,” I says, “and neither do I.  Remember?  We’re in recovery.”

“What’s a matter wit you’s, huh?  Recovery?  Forgetaboutit.  You’re here wit me now, this is Tony talking.  Here, have a friggin drink wit me before I give the both a you a beating.”

I took the glass a whiskey just to shut my jackass brother the frig up.  The Kid did, too.

“Salud, kid,” Tony says, and gulps his shot in one big swallow.  Me and the Kid just toss ours real quick right over our shoulders.  We all slam our empty glasses down on Tony’s desk.

“Ahhhh,” Tony says.  “Burrrr.  That’ll put some hair on ya chest.”  He puffs his nasty friggin cigar and spits a piece a tobacco off his tongue.  “So, let’s see this budget thingamajig.  Where’s the papers at?  I wanna count my money.”

The Kid takes out World Peace Charter High School’s budget, which was only five pages long.  He leans over Tony’s shoulder and the two go over it, line by freakin line.  Like I says before, most a the money was going to teachers’ salaries and benefits, computer equipment, and the license to use the cyber curriculum.  There was a few other things in there, like rent, utilities, building maintenance and whatnot, but nothing major.  It was a real learning experience for me watching the Kid explaining the budget, I gotta admit.  The District was giving Tony’s charter almost 1.2 million bucks, which in comparison to the Philadelphia Unified School District entire 2.7 billion budget, was friggin small potatoes.  Course, if ya think that’s a lotta cash, it ain’t nothing compared to the State education budget of almost $12 billion, or total federal education spending, which I think was around $130 billion in 2012.

“So bring me it in cash,” Tony is saying to the Kid.  “No checks and shit like that, I can’t have this traced to me.  But you ain’t stupid, kid.  I know you know what you’s doing.”

The Kid was getting mad now, I could see it in his face.  He was tired a being bullied by my brother Tony.  But what could he do, ya know?  What could the Kid really do?

“You want it all in cash?” the Kid says.

“Yeah, cash.  You gotta problem wit that or something?”

“How am I supposed to get it here, all that cash?”

“Hello?  What, is you friggin stupid or something?  Put it in a bag like you did before, in a duffle bag.”

“A duffle bag, uncle Tony?”

“Yeah, a friggin duffle bag.  A nice leather one.”  Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out a money roll in a gold clip.  “Here, here’s some friggin money for you so you’s can get a nice big duffle bag.  Jesus friggin Christ, kid.  It ain’t rocket science.”

The Kid took the money—$200 in fifties—and put it in his wallet.

“You’re welcome,” Tony says.  “Where are your friggin manners, kid.  Now take that friggin money and buy a nice duffle bag to stick my million bucks in.  And stop looking so sad, you little spoiled prick.  You should be proud.  We just opened a charter school to help kids, right?  You like helping kids, don’t ya?”

The Kid just nodded his head.

“Good.  Now get the frig outta here, the two a you, before I give the both a you a beating.”

_______

The Kid didn’t end up giving Tony his million bucks in a big leather duffle bag, that just wasn’t gonna work.  Instead, Dom ended up contacting Sal DiSimone, the famb’ly lawyer, and giving the money to Tony through him.  Dom wrote in his journal that this, um, transaction was so easy it was scary.  All he hadda do was go down to the bank where the World Peace Charter High School account was set up wit two forms of ID, and as the sole controller a the account . . . he had the power to withdraw funds, after all . . . simply request a certified bank check payable to Sal DiSimone, Enterprises, for a sum of $1,086, 071; the Kid hadda leave $1,000 in the account so it wouldn’t close.  From there he simply gave this nifty little paper check to Sal, who put it in the account he had set up for Straight A’s, of which Sal was a partner.  Bango—that simple.

In a way, the Kid was relived the deed as done.  He wrote in his journal that he was super pissed about the whole thing, that at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, he was gonna have the balls to confront Tony about the whole thing, but not just yet.  There would come a time, the Kid wrote, when a line would be crossed—when the Kid’s anger or courage or both would, um, overpower his fear, and then he would end all of it.  Just end it quick and cleanly like they says in the Steinfeld show on TV about taking off a Band-Aid—boom, right off.  The Kid would do that someday.  Still, he was relived Tony had his money, that my overbearing prick-of-a-brother was off his friggin back for a bit.

That July the Kid put all his effort into going to meetings and working at Eisenhower, getting the building ready for the next school year.  He had it cleaned real good, and some parts repainted, and went through all the rooms from top to bottom, including the supply closets and book rooms.  That nonsense that went on at Langston Hughes Elementary, where there was entire rooms filled wit stacks a textbooks and piles a broken computer parts—well, the Kid didn’t stand for that B.S. at his school, not a chance in hell.  Everything in Eisenhower was organized and accounted for—every freakin thing.  Dom used to talk about that at meetings wit me all the time, how big-ass school districts in big-ass cities like Filthy-delphia was so giant that all kinds a stuff got lost in the cracks; the Kid said there was lots a waste.

Not at Eisenhower, though.  That summer Dom and a team of about six volunteers . . . the younger teachers who was all enthused and wanted to help out for free . . . they went around the building, room by room, and organized and recorded everything, starting wit the textbooks.  Now, most a this stuff was organized and recorded already from the year before, so all they hadda do was just update stuff and fix it up a bit.  The Kid said these rooms was like a library where some a the books wasn’t put back in the right place, or a store where people tried on clothes and just threw them wherever—that’s the kinda stuff they hadda deal wit.  After a year a this, though, things could get out a whack.  Things could get broken or stolen this way.  Even worse, they could get lost or misplaced, making Dom buy a new one only to find it later and realize he’d just wasted a buncha money.

Dom liked doing this stuff, he said.  Cleaning and making order outta disorder was fun for the Kid, very . . . what’s the word . . . Zen-like.  It was good energy and such.  It gave things the, ah, proper flow.  So he did this kinda stuff all of July, cleaned and organized the school, removed graffiti, had the grass cut weekly, worked in the zucchini garden, made schedules, rosters, tweaked up the curriculum.  He accounted for every penny in Eisenhower’s budget—he was even tighter wit his cash than his uncle Tony—stretched every dollar as far as it could go.  See, the Kid used to be a teacher, and he knew the system from top to bottom.  He knew what he needed and didn’t need, knew what went directly to the classroom to improve the students educations, and what was simply what he called dog and pony show bull crap.

Like paper, for example.  Paper was like gold at the school, cause teachers used it like crack cocaine.  There was this notion started by someone somewhere that paper was bad, see, that all it was used for was meaningless worksheets for the students, and that if you put a squeeze on the paper, the teachers would be forced to improve their instruction.  The Kid said he didn’t buy into this malarkey, not for a second, cause when you was teaching you hadda always put something in the students hands, to keep them focused, to keep them, howdoyasayit—on task.  So the Kid made sure there was plenty a paper at Eisenhower.

He also made sure the printers and photocopiers was always working, everyday.  Like wit the paper, there was this idear that making all these photocopies was somehow bad—that it wasn’t real teaching—but the Kid knew this was crap-ola, too, cause how was you supposed to get the materials to the students wit no photocopiers?  How was you supposed to print out lessons wit no working printers?  So he made sure this stuff was working good and smooth, and that July, had service people come in and tune this stuff up.  He made sure the heat and the air condition was running right, cause in a buncha the schools in Filthy-delphia, it didn’t run right; it was too hot or too cold.  He made sure he kept connections wit parents over the summer—the ones that was in charge a helping run the “safety zones” and real important stuff like that—so they could be ready to get down to business come the beginning of September.  The Kid kept in touch wit Coach Reed, too, who was coming up to the school every Tuesday and Thursday to work wit Tamarra and the other kids on the track team, doing workouts right out there on the track he built on the side a the school.  Dom would take a mid morning break and come outside to watch Reed’s track practices, watch about a dozen poor kids wit barely enough money to afford shoes run their hearts out under the hot summer sun, run good and hard, making the Kid feel guilty that he should be doing more to get in better shape, now that he was the big 4-0.

Dom was happy that July; he said it point blank in his journal, and at our weekly meetings.  He was contacted by the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools and informed that—hallelujah!—Eisenhower passed the audit and was officially given accreditation.  Dom finally started to forget about World Peace Charter, and all the guilt over helping Tony steal all that money started to fade just a little, and so did his fear and anger.  Course, speak a the friggin devil . . . you’s guys know the saying.  Right in the beginning of August, right when the Kid was coming down the home stretch a the summer and trying to kick things up a gear to get ready for the school year at Eisenhower, World Peace Charter jumped right back on the Kid’s radar—like a dirty old man jumping outta the bushes in a trench coat and flashing you his wrinkled package.  One day, outta the friggin blue, the Kid gets a call from a reporter at the Philadelphia Post, saying that there was a protest down at World Peace Charter High School, and did Dom wanna comment about?

According to his journal, the conversation went something like this: “Scuze me?” Dom says to the broad on the phone.

“Is this Dominic Rossetti, the C.E.O. of World Peace Charter?”

“Yes, this is him,” the Kid says from his office at Eisenhower.

“Would you like to comment about the protest rally going on this afternoon at your charter school?”

The Kid wrote that he didn’t know what to say to this, that he was caught, um, flatfooted.  “No comment,” he says to the reporter, and just hangs up.  Now, at this point the Kid wrote that he was so pissed off and angry that he just figured screw it, I ain’t gonna worry about this nonsense, I’m done wit this whole charter school train wreck.  He wrote that he pretended that the call never happened, and went back to working on the rosters for the Eisenhower students for September, and even turned on some music in his office to block all the other bullshit out.  This only worked for about five minutes, though, before the Kid started having this crazy anxiety and feeling like he was on the verge of a panic attack.  Things was really starting to spin outta control, he wrote, and at the moment, the Kid felt like his whole life was just gonna crash and explode, that the sky was gonna fall right on him.

He hadda make it right, he knew.  Not wit Tony—he wasn’t up to that yet—but wit these people who was protesting at the charter school.  So the Kid just jumped in his car and drove as fast as could to the Langston Hughes Elementary School building—the site a the new cutting edge World Peace Charter High School—and started thinking about ways to do damage control when he got there.  He didn’t know for sure what they was protesting about, but he had some idears.  The main thing he was thinking about was his connection wit his uncle Tony—that his school would be linked to the mob.  Or, it could be about all the missing money in the budget, the fact that not even two months after 1.1 million of taxpayer dollars was deposited in the account, only a grand was left.  That could be it, too.  Either way, the Kid thought he was toast.  Whatever it was, he’d simply tell the truth.  He was very clear about that in his journal.  The Kid wasn’t gonna make this any worse than it was, and would simply come clean if they asked him about the cash or his ties to the Genitaglia organized crime famb’ly; he may have had a problem wit gambling and made a few bad decisions in his past, but he was no coward.  He’d even turn over a copy a his journal to the newspaper people, hoping this would win him at least some sympathy.

The Kid got to the charter building and he couldn’t believe what he saw.  There was a protest, a big one, wit about at least 200 people.  Al Akbar’s people was there—the Achievement Kings Charter School scumbags—but at the time, the Kid didn’t realize this.  There was also another group there, these jack-wads called IDAG, which stood for I think Individuals wit Disabilities Advocacy Group, and as it turns out, they was protesting cause Dom’s new charter school didn’t have no ramps for wheelchair access.  That’s what all the brouhaha was about, what the whole protest was for—frigging wheelchair ramps.  It took the Kid a little while to figure this all out.  According to his journal he parked his car—his candy apple red Porsche—on a side street, put on a baseball hat and sunglasses and walked right up to the people and started asking questions, asking what all of the commotion was about.  He was pointed in the direction a this one guy, this the tall fella in a suit and tie, who was supposedly the parent of a boy who was handicapped and didn’t get into World Peace Charter High School.  His son applied, back in the winter when he was supposed to, and he filled out all the paperwork and had all the proper records and whatnot, and he completed all the essays, but he still didn’t get in, and the boy’s father was hopping mad about it, see.  He was pissed.  And as it turns out, there wasn’t even any wheelchair ramps at the school, and God only knew if the 2012-13 freshmen class at World Peace Charter even had any disabled students on roll at all.  He’d bet that they didn’t, bet the house on it.

So Dom was listening to this guy pitch a fit, just shaking his head and listening, hoping that this guy wouldn’t recognize that Dom was the C.E.O. of the charter.  It was hard to hear the guy, Dom wrote in his journal, cause people was shouting “disabled students have rights too!” and “support ramps, not intolerance!” in the background.  There was news cameras there, too, and newspaper reporters.  Dom tried to avoid the reporters and decided to kinda slip away and get outta there.  He wasn’t really ready for any of it, and he hadda take some time to think about what to do.  The friggin thing caught him off guard, especially the part about not accepting any disabled kids to the charter school.  No kids got accepted, cause the freakin school didn’t even exist, except on paper, so the father a this boy needed to calm down and take a deep breath.  Course, the father didn’t know that, and who could blame him for wanting the best for his boy?  Still, Dom was tired a the whole damn thing, this phony charter was a serious drain on his time at Eisenhower, and that was the real . . . whatdoyacallit, injustice.

Anyways, Dom wrote that he was surprised that there was complaints about admissions into World Peace Charter, cause he’d already prepared for this problem back in the winter.  In February or March, the Kid held a fake lottery in the auditorium of the Chestnut Hill Youth Center to select the kids who would be accepted into World Peace Charter High School’s, um, inaugural freshmen class for the coming 2012-13 school year.  He invited all the parents and students who officially applied to World Peace to come and watch to see if their name would get pulled from a hat.  Dom actually had me and the Gorilla send out the letters—something like 180 of them, that’s how many actually applied—folding them up and shoving them in envelopes, putting on the address labels, stamping and sticking them in the mail.  It was quite a buncha bullshit, I’ll say that, but Dom insisted on it; that was the rules a running a charter . . . you hadda have a public lottery, give all the kids in the city an equal chance to get accepted to the school.

Like I said, Dom did all this in I think February or March, before he even hadda building, and it was, um, excruciating for him, seeing all the eighth graders and their parents sitting there in the auditorium of the Youth Center, crossing their fingers and hoping that their names was gonna get called, that they was gonna get to go to World Peace Charter, that they was gonna get to learn about Egyptian Math and Israeli Science, join the Wind Farm Club and Solar Panel Team so they could learn about how to be green and help the environment.  It was tough for Dom to watch this, see.  Cause at the end, after he picked all the names and the lottery was over, no one in the audience got accepted to the school.  Every name Dom picked from the hat—it was a wire drum that you spun around, actually, me and the Gorilla, wearing hats and sun glasses, was there to see it—every name that was picked, they just happened to be absent.  And the next name is  . . . Bill Jones.  Is Bill Jones or his parents here?  No?  Okay, we’ll move on.  The next name is Mary Smith?  Mary’s not here tonight?  We’ll have to email her that she got accepted.  And the next name is Tyrone Brown . . . And the Kid did this for like 45 straight minutes, calling out 100 names a kids who just happened to be absent, and the parents a the eighth graders sitting there was just looking around, wondering where the people was, but nobody said nothing, cause they was just keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that their name would be called next.  Plus, the Kid kept saying that the people who didn’t get called would get put on a waiting list, that it was good that all the people wasn’t there, cause if they didn’t show up at the school the next year, the people on the waiting list would get called up to take their place.  In the end some people did think something funny was going on, that Dom was pulling a fast one, like the father a that handicapped boy.  And technically, he was right: no disabled kids was accepted to the Kid’s charter, not a one.

Not a damned one.

For a minute, at the protest rally, it looked like this one TV news chick recognized Dom from interviewing him years ago when he won teacher a the year, but she didn’t, at least that’s what Dom wrote in his journal; he was in clear now, at least for a while.

The Kid got into his car and left the protest, now more guilty and confused than ever.

_______

Tony saw the protest rally on TV, and was all worked-up about it.  Not that him and Dom coulda got caught . . . what’s the word . . . embezzling a million bucks form the city and taxpayers, but that World Peace Charter High School didn’t have ramps for the poor kids in wheelchairs.  This wasn’t freakin right, Tony said, and they hadda do something about it.  How could you treat crippled kids like this, kids wit frigged up legs and whatnot, how could you just kick them to the curb like last week’s garbage?  You couldn’t, it wasn’t friggin right, and Tony made this clear to Dom.  See, our uncle Giovanni, me and Tony’s favorite uncle when we was growing up, he had Polio as a little kid.  This put him in a wheelchair, and he used to always tell us stories about how he got teased by the older kids cause his legs didn’t work, and how they used to push him down hills and into trees and all this other horrible stuff, and how this one time, these rotten kids in his neighborhood pushed his wheelchair into a whatdoyacallit, into a manure field, and how he flew outta his wheelchair at like 50 miles an hour and landed in a big pile a cow shit.  He said he fell face down in it, and that he was covered in shit, from head to toe.

Anyways, uncle Geo told me and Tony about this when we was just kids, and told us never to be mean to crippled people, to always treat them wit respect and whatnot.  I guess Tony never forgot this, which is why he was all serious about Dom putting in ramps at World Peace Charter.

“I’m not talking about this anymore!” Tony says to the Kid, this time at the Kid’s house; Tony had me drive him over to the Kid’s condo the next day after he saw World Peace Charter on the news.  “You put those goddamned ramps in, before I make a ramp outta your head, understand?  What’s a matter wit you, huh?  Why’s you treating the crippled kids like that?  Now, my uncle Geo, he was in a wheelchair, see.  He had Polio, and the kids on the block used to make fun a him . . .”

“I know about uncle Geo,” the Kid says.  “You told me this already, uncle Tony.”

“Yeah, well, you need to start treating those crippled kids wit some respect.”

“But there’s not any kids in the charter school.”

“Huh?”

“There’s not any handicapped kids in the school,” Dom says.

“Dah.  Don’t ya think I know this?  That’s why you gotta put in the ramps, so you can have the crippled kids in the school.”

“But uncle Tony, the school . . .”  The Kid just stopped talking then, cause he knew it wasn’t no use.  Tony wanted to have ramps put in at World Peace Charter, so the Kid would have to have ramps put in.  About a week later, the Kid calls me up and asks if I can go to Tony and ask for some money to do the job, being that the charter school’s budget was down to $1,000—he’d already given all the money to Tony for his Straight A’s strip club—and I told the Kid I’d see what I could do.  Now, I’ll be honest, I was nervous about going to Tony, cause he’s such a friggin nut case animal.  But I did it anyways, just cause I like the Kid; he was like a son to me, ya know.  So I call my brother Tony on the phone and tell him that the Kid is gonna put in the ramps, just like he wanted, but that Tony was gonna have to pay for it, being that the Kid gave him the million dollars outta the charter budget.  At first, I thought Tony was gonna go for it, cause he was already giving me names a people who could do the job.  Tony wanted his union guys to do the work, it would only be fair.  They was union, and they was good guys.  Course, I didn’t care who did the work, just as long as Tony would pay for it.

“Pay for it?” Tony says.  “What in friggin Christ is you talking about, Manny?”

“You know,” I says, “pay for the job.  To build the ramps at the charter school.”

“I told you, Jimmy’s gonna do the work.  He’s union.  We gotta look out for each other.”

“He’s gonna do it for free?”

“Free?  Noooo, you dumb goombah!  Jimmy’s getting the contract.  Free?  Forgetaboutit.  How’s he gonna do it for free, Manny?  How’s Jimmy gonna eat?  How’s he gonna feed his famb’ly?”

And that was it.  Tony was done talking about it.  I told the Kid the news and the Kid was super pissed off, all bent up and whatnot.  He said I made the whole thing worse, and maybe I did, maybe.  Turns out, Jimmy charged the Kid three friggin times as much as Toban Masonry, Inc., who gave the Kid a bid of $8,000 to put in concrete ramps at the main entrance a the school.  This came to a grand total of $22,500, which the Kid hadda pay for, hadda take outta Eisenhower’s 2012-13 budget.  He didn’t know exactly where it was coming from, but he’d have to figure it out, fast.  There was exactly 17 days until the first day a school.

Part 13  

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 11

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 11 of 25

While me and the Gorilla was running all over creation trying to find a building for Tony’s charter school, the Kid was spending a lot a his time attending Eisenhower’s, whatdoyacallit, extra curricular activities.  That May, he went to the prom, and a buncha baseball games, and even to some a the track meets.  This one track meet, the District XII Championships, it was a big deal cause the girl, Tamarra, she had qualified to run the mile and the Kid was real excited about watching her.  Tamarra was doing real good, and the Kid had gotten her pretty straightened out by springtime.  Her and the Kid kept meeting once a day in his office, and her intrusive thoughts about what she’d seen New Year’s Eve was almost all gone.  She wasn’t scratching herself no more, neither.  She was living wit her father in West Philly and had gotten in a regular routine, doing her visualization and deep breathing exercises, studying hard in school; Tamarra actually made Eisenhower’s honor roll for the third marking period.

The thing that really got it all to fall in place, though, the thing that kept the girl centered and on the right path, was running track.  It was crazy how things worked.  In January, when the girl was hanging on to her sanity by a thread, when she was having all that anxiety and crazy thoughts about seeing her mom’s brains blowed all over the place, when she would burst out crying in class outta nowhere, Dom had suggested to her to go out for the track team, just to keep her mind occupied.  Dom wrote in his journal that he said this just on a . . . on a whim, not really thinking the girl would go and do it; most a the students at Eisenhower weren’t big on sports.  Plus, at the time, the track team wasn’t really much to brag about, cause Dom had just brought the program back to Eisenhower that year after not having one for a long time.

The guy that Dom got to coach the track team—this young colored kid, who also taught history at Eisenhower—he was like a friggin guru when it came to coaching track.  I think his name was Reed, Lamar Reed.  Well, this Reed kid not only got the girl Tamarra into running, but managed to build a pretty respectable track and field team at Eisenhower High School that year.  Eisenhower didn’t have no track, so Reed hadda build one outta scratch, outta thin air, and he did.  He cleaned up the vacant side parking lot next to the school and used one a those odometer things, a whatdoyacallit . . .  surveyor’s wheel . . . to measure out a 400 meter oval track, and then spray painted lanes right on the blacktop.  On the side field he dug out one a those long jump pits—had the students fill it wit sand—and made a runway and a takeoff board.  Wit Dom’s help Reed was able to also buy a buncha used track equipment, like rebuilt hurdles, a high jump pad and bar, a tape measure, and even a shot-put and one a those frisbee looking things . . . a discus.

Reed held fundraisers to get enough cash to buy warm-ups and uniforms for the kids, which was, according to Dom’s journal, the karat that kept them coming out to practice.  See, the kids loved the warm-ups—the nifty sweat jackets wit Eisenhower Track sowed on the back, their name and year of graduation sowed on the front.  The jackets prob’ly made the kids feel like they was a part of something, like they was a mini famb’ly, gave them direction and purpose; they didn’t need to join no gang since they was already part a the track team.  Course, it wasn’t just the jackets that made the track team—which was boys and girls by the way, a coed squad—feel proud.  They was actually good, which was a compliment to Coach Reed, who Dom said was like a Vince Lombardi a running.  They had a handfula boys and girls who was winning medals at meets, and as a team, they was prob’ly like fourth or fifth best outta 30 teams in the Philadelphia Public League.  This wasn’t bad, being that the program was only in its first year.

The practices and workouts, they was pretty tough, I guess, or so Dom said.  In the late fall, when the team first started, Coach Reed had the kids doing all this distance running, but he kinda tricked them into doing it, making it fun, making it into these competitions so the kids wouldn’t get bored and whatnot.  He had them running laps around the makeshift track in the parking lot, and even took them out in the school van to Fairmount Park so they could run on trails, run up hills and all that.  Slowly they started getting in shape, and soon was going on like six and even eight mile runs, and they started to like it, cause they was a team, a famb’ly, and they was proving something to themselves and each other.  And when the weather got real cold, like from December to the beginning a March, they ran inside Eisenhower in the halls, even jumping hurdles inside, and practiced handoffs, and practiced how to start—Coach Reed telling the kids, Ready, set, go!

Tamarra joined the team in January, and from the start, she ran her guts out.  The Kid would watch the practices, cause they was right there in the hallways, and he wrote in his journal that Tamarra, ah, inspired him.  She ran hard, he wrote, put it all out there on the line, every practice, every day.  So did most a the kids on the team, if you’s guys can believe that.  I know a lot a people think that poor people is poor cause they is lazy, that they deserve the life they got, but these kids . . . they wasn’t lazy . . . not when it came to running, at least.  Course, Tamarra was the hardest worker on the team, and I think if I recall what Dom said correctly, she never missed a single practice or workout, not a single one.  Sometimes she ran till she puked, or till she broke down crying.  Now, I actually seen her crying at practice one time, I actually seen it.

I came up to see Dom at Eisenhower once that winter, cause I needed to talk to him about this thing wit Tony . . . he was trying to get that $100,000 advance on the charter school money . . . and while I was waiting for the Kid to come outta his office, I was standing there watching these kids running through the halls, Coach Reed in sweats shouting out times from his stopwatch.  They was running fast, from one end a the hall to the other, back and forth, like five or six times in a row; later, Dom told me they was doing something called 600 meter repeats.  But at the end, instead a stopping, the runners hadda turn and go up the steps, all the way up three flights to the third floor.  They was all looking real tired, and some a the kids was slowing down a lot, but not Tamarra.  She was still running hard, and she was up front wit the boys, and the coach was yelling, “Come on Tamarra, push it now,” and even I could see she was feeling it, that she was in pain cause she was near her limit.  She kept running, though, and headed up the steps, and Coach Reed was telling her to dig down deep and finish strong.

She kept pushing as hard as she could, up one flight, then two, and as she was getting to the top she starting crying, cause it hurt—I could see her legs was like sandbags and her lungs was on fire—but she wouldn’t submit to the pain.  She ran through the pain, and when she was done and finally at the top, she had no shame and just cried, bent over and put her hands on her hips, crying and sucking wind.  Coach Reed came over and told her great job, that she had incredible heart, and after five minutes worth a recovery, she was back doing another one.  After the practice, I heard Coach Reed say to Tamarra, “You gotta hurt all week in practice so you don’t have to hurt in the race,” and she musta believed him, cause according to Dom, she got faster and faster as the season went on.  For some reason, I don’t know why, I remember the times she ran from reading them in the Kid’s journal; for a while, when I was in my 40’s, I would run for one mile on the treadmill and could barely break 10 minutes.

Anyways, the girl Tamarra ran a 5:47 mile in her first race, than a 5:39, than a 5:31.  By the end a the season, she was running around 5:22, but she was stuck there . . . she couldn’t get under 5:20 no matter what she did.  Then came the District XII Championships, the race that could qualify her for the PIAA State Championships.  She would have to run under 5:20 to have a chance to qualify for States, which was one a her, ah, personal goals.

Dom was at this race up in the stands, like I says, all excited; he told me about the whole thing later that night after one of our addiction meetings over a cup a coffee, and I’m gonna do my best to repeat what he told me.  So anyways, the Kid said the mile run was the 8th event a the meet, so he hadda wait about two hours before he got to see Tamarra run.  When the race finally went off, though, it was a . . . howdoyasayit . . . nail biter.  The top two finishers would automatically qualify for states no matter what their times was; course, the top two seeds in the race was running a 5:16 and a 5:19.  The Kid said Coach Reed had talked to Tamarra and explained that she needed to go out wit the top two girls and stay right wit them, to stay right on their heels until the last 50 meters and then turn on the gas and try to go by them.  Tamarra, see, had more speed than the other two girls, but she was a little bit younger and hadn’t been running as long, and didn’t have as much strength.  But if she ran a smart race, if she hung back on the two front girls and let them lead most a the race, she had a chance to maybe win and qualify for States.

The gun went off and right away, everybody was cheering and on their feet, the Kid and Coach Reed included.  The first two laps Tamarra did just what Coach Reed told her, she stayed right behind the front two girls, hanging back.  During the third lap the top two girls started pulling away, and for a while it looked like one a them was gonna win easy, but Tamarra held on and pulled right back behind them.  The final lap—the bell lap, as they say—was super exciting.  Tamarra stayed right wit the top two girls, and the three a them pulled way ahead a the pack.  Wit a half lap to go, one a the girls tied up and fell behind, leaving just Tamarra and the other girl fighting for first place.  It was a fast pace—the winner was set to run around a 5:15, the Kid said.  Right on cue, wit 50 meters to go, Tamarra made her move.  She turned on the gas, but so did the other girl.  The two dug down and gutted it out, giving it their all.  According to Dom, the whole place was going friggin crazy.

“Push it Tamarra!” Coach Reed shouted, and the two was neck-in-neck, pumping their arms and gritting their teeth, their faces twisted wit pain, and wit about 10 feet to go—so close to the finish line they coulda reached out and grabbed it—Tamarra fell down.  Course, I wasn’t there to see it, but the way the Kid described it, it was a goddamn shame.  See, Tamarra’s mind was ahead a her body, or so the Kid said.  I think his exact words were: her mind said go, but her body said no.  What actually happened was that she was going so fast down the finish that she could no longer get her own legs under her body and she lost her balance and fell forward, right onto her face.  When she hit the ground the whole crowd a people watching went ooohhh at once, like they’d been slugged in the gut.  The girl that Tamarra was right next to ended up winning in a time of 5:14.  Second place was the girl who was right behind Tamarra when she fell and she ran I think a 5:17.  Tamarra did her best to get up and finish, but by then she was third in a time of 5:23 or 5:24, I forget what it was exactly.

The Kid ran down to the track wit Coach Reed to meet Tamarra as she left the infield.

“Great race Tamarra, really great job,” Dom said.  “You should be so proud of yourself.”

“We’ll get ‘em next year,” Coach Reed said, and gave Tamarra a hug.

“Thanks,” Tamarra said, wiping her eyes.

Course, there would be no track team next year, cause Tony’ charter school would suck so much cash from Eisenhower’s budget, the Kid would be forced to drop the entire program.

_______

At the end of May the Kid ended up finding a building to use for his uncle Tony’s charter school.  It was the old Langston Hughes Elementary School in South Philly, which was shut down by the Philadelphia Unified School District the year before cause enrollment was low.  See, the District was experiencing a howdoyasayit—a financial crisis . . . they was like $300 million in debt, I kid you’s not . . . and they had hired this fancy consulting group to help figure out a way to balance the budget and make things work.  The financial planner was called the Global Achievement Consulting Group, or some such nonsense, and the District was paying them I think $4 million to come up wit a report of recommendations about how to fix the District’s financial problems.  The Kid said that these bigwig financial planner fellas spent like six months working on the report, sitting in a big room at the District central office in front of calculators and, ah, spreadsheets, mostly talking about cash, talking about who should get the money and who shouldn’t get the money, and at the end a the meetings, at the end a the six months sitting in the room, the District held a School Board meeting and announced the recommendations in their report.  Basically, the report said that about 30 city schools needed to be closed, cause too many a them was only like a quarter full, and they needed to put the resources into newer schools, charter schools, like Tony’s.  Course, the Kid explained to me that it was mostly cause a the new charter schools that the other neighborhood schools was only a quarter full to begin wit, but that’s a whole different story.

After a howdoyasayit—a unanimous School Board vote, the District closed down a buncha schools in Filthy-delphia, mostly in the colored neighborhoods.  It was actually a shame what the District was doing to the kids in these type a schools, bending the colored kids and their famb’lies over and ramming them up the keister, just throwing these kids outta their home schools and telling them they hadda now travel across town to go to some other school, maybe a charter, if they got accepted.  Member when I says that nowadays people was falling all over themselves to help the coloreds?  Member that?  Well, not in the Philadelphia Unified School District, I can tell you’s that.  See, the District was basically run by all coloreds—who was teamed up wit a buncha bigshot rich white people like the Governor—so they was able to get away wit sticking it to the coloreds.  It was all actually a pretty good racket, when ya think about it.  Tony woulda been proud.

Anyways, the building that used to be Langston Hughes Elementary was now just empty and collecting dust, cause the District was having trouble selling it.  That was also part a the recommendations a the Global Achievement Consulting Group—to sell off the buildings a the schools they shut down and bring in as much cash as possible for them.  Everybody on the School Board liked this idear, cause they all knew people who might want the buildings, and wit a little . . . what’s the word, negotiation, they could work out a deal that was good for everybody.  And the City Council people, including the mayor, whoa—they liked the idear, too.  They knew lots a people who could use these buildings, who could buy them up and turn them around in some type a scam.

Course, some a these buildings was real big and hard to heat and not in good shape, wit like mold in the ceiling and lead paint on the walls and whatnot, and not a lot a people was interested in buying them.  From what I read in the papers, the District was having a whole lot a trouble selling them and they was getting frustrated cause they was so broke.  This is how the Kid ended up using Langston Hughes Elementary for Tony’s charter school, how he was able to sign a three-year lease on the place for a total of $108,000 . . . which came to $3,000 a month for 36 months.  He hadda pay $36,000 for the first year, which ended-up coming outta Eisenhower’s budget, cause Tony wasn’t gonna part wit one single penny—not one penny—of his titty bar start-up cash.

Langston Hughes Elementary was actually a good building to use for Tony’s charter.  It was good and clean, wit no mold, asbestos, or lead paint anywhere in the joint.  It was small, just two floors, and could, according to the Kid, hold about 400 students total.  There was still a lot a school stuff inside there, too.  There was desks, and black boards, and these things called white boards—which was these electronic chalk boards that you could hook up to a computer and do all kinda crazy stuff on.  There was also other school supplies left over in a back room, like boxes a chalk, pens, pencils, paper, erasers, markers, paperclips, binders . . . just sitting there in a big stack, and the District said that Dom could use this stuff if he wanted, that it was part a the deal.

Now, on the second floor, in a giant storage closet, the Kid actually found even more stuff, and he wrote in his journal that he wasn’t sure if the District even knew it was there.  The District might a known it was there, but prob’ly not; the Kid said the District was so, um, disorganized that they didn’t know where half their shit was from one year to the next.  Anyways, upstairs in this storage closet was all these textbooks—stacks and stack a them—just sitting there on the floor in messy piles.  There was prob’ly 1,000 textbooks, the Kid said, maybe more.  All different kinds a books, old ones and newer ones, some a them math and some a them science, some English and some history.  Just sitting there, in stacks that was about to fall over.  There was also workbooks to go wit the textbooks, and these was in crooked stacks, too, covers missing on a few, pages falling outta others, there was even a bunch written on in permanent marker—prob’ly the work a some asshole graffiti artist.

On the other side a the storage closet, though, was what really messed wit the Kid’s head.  Stacked in a junk pile, up against the wall in the corner, was all this computer equipment.  Most a it was real old stuff, Gateway towers and monitors and whatnot.  It was all taken apart and just sitting in pieces . . . cords and wires here, a mouse and keyboard there.  There was some printers, too, maybe a dozen a them, just sitting collecting dust.  Dom said he went over to this stuff and tried to put it together, but it was so old that it was a waste a time; it would cost thousands a bucks just to upgrade the equipment and make it work wit the current technology.

There was no real surprises wit the rest a the school, though.  It would do just fine for Tony’s charter.  The Kid officially gave the address a the building to Willard Fairweather during the last week a May, and by the middle a June, World Peace Charter High School was back in good standing wit the Philadelphia Unified School Board and the State Department of Ed.

The Kid, as they say, was given the green light.

Part 12

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 10

Illustration by Sean Wang

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. 

“Huh?”

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.

“Oops, kaboom?”

“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.”

Part 11

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 9

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 9 of 25

The grand opening of Straight A’s just happened to be one day before the grand opening a the Kid’s World Peace Charter High School—Monday, September 3, 2012.  In case you’s guys don’t know it, that was Labor Day.  It was quite an opening, wit a live appearance by porn star Jenna Blu, the queen of on-screen double penetration.  But I don’t need to tell you’s guys about that, just like I don’t need to describe how friggin insane Tony’s strip club was; it’s all been written up in the newspapers.  Plus, I know for a fact the F.B.I. was running some kinda undercover sting in there, which means you pricks prob’ly got pictures and videos a the place, inside and out.  But cause I’m an older man who’s dying of friggin ass cancer and has only a few months to live, I’m gonna talk about it anyways; I put my fair share a work into the place, my fair share of elbow grease and worry, believe you me.

So once Tony made settlement, he went bananas trying to make the place the best gentleman’s club in Baltimore.  Straight A’s suddenly became his, ah, baby, and I swear to friggin God, watching him slave over its renovation I thought I was watching Dom, the Kid . . . only it wasn’t a school he was building, but a multimillion dollar knocker and beaver extravaganza.  Now, the name Straight A’s, that’s caused lots a confusion over the past year, made some people think the broads in their that was taking off all their clothes had small tits, A-cups and whatnot.  But that’s not what Tony was thinking when he named the club, see.  When Tony named the joint Straight A’s, what he meant was that the broads working there was all grade-A material, first rate T and A of the highest, whatdoyacallit, pedigree.  And this was true, just ask all the guys—and even a few a the girls—that came to the club on a regular basis, especially the folks wit money who were V.I.P. members.  Ask them about the girls and they’ll tell ya: they was some a the most beautiful women in the world.

Course, I know what you’s guys is prob’ly thinking right about now.  You’s is thinking, You and Tony is some real pigs, the way you talk about women and everything.  You and Tony is  . . . what the frig’s the word . . . misogynists, you and Tony is male chauvinists, I think it’s called.  I can see why you’s guys would think that.  But let me just say this: Uncle Tony—that’s what they all called him—loved the girls that worked at Straight A’s, and they loved Uncle Tony right back, my hand on a stack a Bibles.  There was no, um, glass ceilings wit Uncle Tony, see.  He took real good care a the girls, and they made a whole, whole lotta cash working at his club.  I’m talking six-figure incomes, and you can check the books to prove it.  It wasn’t no big thing for one a the more popular girls to make one or even two grand in tips in a single night, minus the nightly $150 stage fee, and that was just by giving legal private dances on the second floor; the girls could make even more cash when you added in what went on up on the third floor.  Some a the girls even met up wit talent agents and got contracts to be models—real models, not just porn stuff—and this one gorgeous green-eyed Irish chick even signed a deal wit a Hollywood agent and moved out to L.A. to do car commercials.  Oh yeah, and then you had what’s her name . . . the cute colored girl, Sidney something or other . . . who actually became a dance team member for the Washington Wizards.

Uncle Tony treated his girls right, believe you me.  And they loved him for it.  By the sixth month anniversary of the opening a Straight A’s, right before you jag-offs came along and shut the place down, there was a stack a applications on the desk in Tony’s office of gorgeous girls just waiting to work for him.  And some a these chicks, Jesus friggin Christ, they wanted to work bad.  They’d practically do anything to get a foot in the door at Straight A’s.  Could you blame them, though, wit the frigged up economy and all that?  Like I says, these girls was high class, smart and all that, and some even used the cash they made dancing to pay for their tuition at that one college down in Baltimore there . . . Johns Munchkins University or some such ridiculousness, you’s guys know the one I’m talking about.

Course, the place was a shit hole when Tony took it over.  First thing he did, after him and Sal took out a $250,000 home equity loan cause Tony’s charter school cash was in some other asshole’s bank account till July, was to call Frankie Jr. and his guys to come down and rehab the whole joint, redo the bars and the floors and to extend and remake the main stage on the first floor.  There was a nice big kitchen in the back, wit an oven and deep fryer and a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, and all this stuff was still in good working condition.  There was a dishwasher, too, and prep tables, and a buncha stainless steel pots and pans and slicers and mixers, all kinda stuff, just sitting there waiting to be used.  Frankie had his boys clean this up, and even called in this restaurant guy to help get the kitchen up and running, which would eventually serve-up some a the best steaks in the city, some a the best food in the city, like shrimp, lobster, calamari, Chilean sea bass, pork chops, crab ravioli . . . all kinda soups and salads . . . and even warm chocolate cake for dessert.

The second floor Frankie basically gutted, threw out all the nasty red velvet couches and ripped up the floor.  He put another bar in up there, and built a partition and divided the room into two—one side wit six couches for private lap dances and the other a whole lounge of its own, the Emerald Lounge, where there was a small private stage, a pole, and a coupla couches.  They installed mirrors on all the walls and put in a dozen 60 inch flat screen TVs on the first floor so the guys could watch their favorite sports in, um, high definition.  They put in two 20 foot brass poles on the main stage a the first floor, too, so the girls could swing on them and flip upside down and do that fancy maneuver where they stick their bare ass in the air and spread open their legs so you could see everything, the whole works, that beautiful pink pussycat wit perhaps a whatdoyacallit, clit ring or two; at Straight A’s, the dancers was totally nude, see.

Now the third floor . . . I ain’t trying to get into all that.  But like I says, I’m dying, so I guess I’ll have a little fun talking about it.  The third floor was the V.I.P. lounge, and you couldn’t get near it unless you was a card carrying member.  The membership fees . . . jeez, what was Tony charging . . . I think it was like five grand to join and then five hundred a month after that.  Course, unless you knew Tony or was somebody important, forgetaboutit—you wasn’t getting a card or setting foot in the V.I.P. lounge.  A whole buncha stuff went on up there, drugs, sex, gambling, all kinds a crazy stuff.  Besides the oak bar in the middle a the room, Frankie built four private bedrooms up there, one at each corner a the room, but these costed extra for people to use.  They was like about 300 square feet each, something like that, wit a queen sized bed, a minibar, flat screen TV, and mirrors on all the walls and ceiling.  Some a the girls, I ain’t gonna lie, they would spend the night wit you and screw ya if you met their price, or if you gave them the drug a their choice, or both.  I heard stories about people, important people, who was public officials, paying Tony for one a those rooms.  One time, during a certain political campaign, this one politician . . . I ain’t gonna say who, not just now . . . supposedly paid for not one, not two, but three girls to spend the night wit him in one a the rooms in the V.I.P. lounge.  After giving the manager this big pile a crisp hundred dollar bills in a rubber band, this particular politician took the girls into the room and did this, ah, role playing thing, where he dressed up like a little baby in a diaper and bonnet and sucked on a pacifier and held a rattle in his hand and made these baby noises like goo-goo, ga-ga, I swear on my friggin mother’s grave.

That was just the beginning, though.  See, he had arranged wit the manager before hand to go through this whole script wit the girls, to do this whole . . . infantilism scene, I guess it was called . . . and the girls all agreed, cause they was getting paid from that big pile a cash.  So this particular politician—he was naked except for the diaper and the bonnet—he supposedly said something like, “baby needs to be fed” or “baby needs his ba-ba,” and then the three chicks gathered round him and one-by-one breast fed the guy and also let him play “motorboat” wit their tits, and then after he was done having his fun, he grunted and made this ugly face and says, “baby needs to be changed,” and then the chicks came over and hadda take off his dirty diaper and put on a clean one.  Now, who the frig really knows if this guy really took an actual dump in his pants or not, if there was really a load a shit in his diaper for the strippers to clean up; this is, whatdoyacallit, mere speculation.  But the point is this: lots a people, real important people, was visiting Tony’s club, making his dream come true.

_______

After the Kid gave Tony the $100,000 for the deposit, Tony left the Kid be for a while.  The Kid put all his time into being the principal a Eisenhower, not really caring much for Uncle Tony’s charter school, which was a total scam anyways.  Secretly, the Kid hoped the whole thing would fall apart and his uncle would get busted, and he was continuing to keep a journal—this journal—so if the cops came to him, the Kid could prove he really didn’t have nothing to do wit it, that cause a his slip up in A.C., his uncle had been strong arming him and committing, ah, extortion.  Course, if things started going bad first before the cops busted Tony, the Kid could be in some real trouble, cause Tony was hell bent on getting that million bucks.  Which is what made the whole fiasco surrounding the fake address on the charter school application the Kid submitted to the State and School District a big goddamn deal to say the least.

Right around April, right around the time when Tony and little Frankie was rolling up their sleeves and rehabbing Straight A’s, there was a glitch wit World Peace Charter High School that almost brought the whole scam to a screeching halt, as they say.  But before I tell you’s guys about the glitch, I gotta give you’s some background information first.  Now, to make it look like there was really a charter school, the Kid hadda have a real building to serve as the headquarters, and he hadda start accepting student applications for enrollment.  To accept the “official” applications, the Kid got a buddy from his college fraternity who was a web designer to put up a phony World Peace Charter High School website, complete wit the school’s mission statement, a description a the teachers and faculty staff, a breakdown a the whatdoyacallit . . . curriculum, and the school’s contact information, which was completely made up, see.  The after school clubs was listed on there, too . . . the Wind Farm Awareness Club, the Solar Panel Awareness Team, and the Electric Car Awareness Association . . . all this extracurricular stuff was included.  The Kid even wrote a blurb about World Peace’s cutting edge Egyptian Math and Israeli Science, and how this was gonna bring together the folks in the Middle East who was always fighting and trying to kill each other over a little piece a land.

So this one day, when the Kid is showing me and Tony the new website and such, I says to the Kid, “So what’s this Egyptian Math and Israeli Science stuff, exactly?” and the Kid says “Uncle Manny, they are real cutting edge instructional programs.”

And I says, “Yeah, I get that, but what is it?”

And the Kid says, “Here, it’s real simple: One pyramid plus two pyramids equals three pyramids . . . that’s Egyptian math.”

“Oh,” I says, “I get it.  But what’s this Israeli Science?”

So the Kid says, “Well, you do Israeli Science by taking two dreidels . . . one plastic, one wooden . . . and holding them up and dropping them, using a stopwatch to time each one to see how long it takes for them to fall through the air and hit the ground.  It’s a lab, Uncle Manny, a science lab.”

“That’s Israeli Science?” I says.

“Yep,” the Kid says.

“You’s pretty smart, kid,” I says, and I actually thought he was; remember, I dropped outta school in I think it was ninth grade.  Now, the joke was on me cause later I read in the Kid’s journal that it was all a buncha bullshit, just a stunt so Tony would get caught and the charter school would get shut down.  The crazy part was, though, this stuff the Kid wrote about on the website, the Egyptian Math and Israeli Science stuff, it somehow got the attention of Education World Magazine, who was doing a special report on charter schools in Philadelphia.  A coupla weeks later after the Kid put up the World Peace Charter School website—in the beginning a May, I think—Education World writes this front page article about the Kid’s charter, how its gonna be 100 percent green, how it’s gonna have all these fancy clubs promoting electric cars and solar panels and whatnot, and how it’s big on, howdoyasayit . . . social justice.  They called the Kid up on his phone and interviewed him and everything.  Here, I got a copy a the article right here.  Let me read the beginning of it:

Environmentally Friendly Charter Uses Math and Science to Teach Tolerance

World Peace Charter High School in Philadelphia is not only 100 percent green, importing all their electricity from a nearby wind farm, but is also offering students an innovative, cutting edge curriculum that uses math and science to teach nonviolence and tolerance for diversity. 

The heart of this curriculum? Something called Egyptian Math and Israeli Science.  Dominic Rossetti, the principal and founder of WPCHS, said the new instructional program sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. 

“The program actually uses things like pyramids as counters,” Rossetti said.  “We also use dreidels to do experiments during physical science labs.” 

Although WPCHS is a cyber charter, some learning will take place with instructional staff in person at the school, which is where the new curriculum will be rolled out.  WPCHS is set to open during the 2012-13 school year, and is currently accepting applications for its freshmen class . . . 

Now you’s guys tell me: is that friggin beautiful, or what?  The Kid showed me and Tony this article the week it came out and I’ll tell ya, my brother Tony nearly shit on the friggin floor, I ain’t making this up.  Tony grabbed the article real proud and started bragging and saying that he knew they could do it, he knew they could open a world class charter school that would help all the kids learn and be real smart, especially the coloreds.  To this day I don’t know if Tony even knew the whole thing was just made up—that there wasn’t even a school to begin wit—but it sure seemed like Tony thought there was a real school, somewhere, somehow.

Anyways, the word was now out about the Kid’s charter school, and everybody and their freakin mother wanted to go to it.  When the article came out, so many people went on to the World Peace website that it whatdoyacallit . . . crashed, and the email address that the Kid had set up to accept the admissions applications was friggin flooded wit emails.  The crazy part was, the Kid purposely made the application form—which was on the website, too—real complicated and long and whatnot, so not as many eighth graders and their parents would apply.  I think he made the application like ten pages long, wit all these real tough essay questions, and also asking for all these copies a grades and transcripts from the kids that went back to first grade.  The applications asked for behavior records and discipline referrals, and even for state test results and copies a something called individualized education plans; the stuff the Kid was asking for on the application was, according to his journal, breaking privacy laws.

Still, lots a people was applying, and lots a people was also getting angry cause they was having trouble wit the application, getting all the paperwork and whatnot.  Eventually, there was this big friggin protest about the applications outside the Kid’s house during little Sherri’s Christening, which I talked about before.  Now I wanna get back to the part I was saying about the glitch in the address a the charter school, the thing that almost stopped the charter from moving forward.  In May, right after the article came out in Education World, a buncha people not only sent the Kid a buncha emails, but they also tried to call the school and go down there in person.  There was no phone number listed on the website, though, but there was an address.  Course, at the time there was no building, the Kid simply made up an address and put it on the original charter school application that he submitted to the State and School Board; like I says, the Kid didn’t think the charter would ever get approved.  But it did get approved, and so the Kid hadda put down the fake address on the World Peace website, which was something like 12345 Clark Street . . . I forget exactly what it was . . . and left it at that.

This turned out to be a major screw-up, cause these friggin eighth graders and their parents wanted to get into the Kid’s charter so bad that they tracked down the freakin address and actually went there . . . drove their cars and took buses to 12345 Clark Street or wherever the frig it was . . . application in hand, hoping to talk to the Kid about possible admission to the school.  Well, turns out 12345 Clark Street was a goddamn Chinese takeout restaurant—called Chung Lee’s or some shit—and this Chung Lee guy wasn’t very happy about it.  I guess I wouldn’t be, neither, not if all these kids and their parents kept coming in and asking where World Peace Charter High School was, and if I knew Dominic Rossetti, and if I knew where the other 12345 Clark Street was.

He was getting phone calls about it, too.  That’s what they said in the newspaper, that people took the address and did that Internet search to find the phone number.  I wasn’t there to hear the guy answering the phone, but I could imagine how it went:

“Hello, can I help you?”

“Hi, my daughter is interested in attending your charter school next fall, and I have a few questions I need to ask.”

“Scuze me?”

“Yeah, hi.  It says here on your application that she needs to provide a copy of her discipline records all the way back to kindergarten.”

“You!  Why you keep calling my store!”

“Is this World Peace Charter School?”

“No!  This Chung Lee’s!  I call police if you call store again!”

“This isn’t the charter school?”

“No!  Very busy now!  People waiting for order!”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

If this happened once or twice, it wouldn’t be a big deal, see.  But it kept happening to the guy, over and over for like two weeks, people calling and coming in looking for World Peace Charter School, and the Chinaman finally went crazy.  This one time during the dinner rush, an off-duty Philadelphia police officer, who had a son who wanted to get into Dom’s school, started giving Chung Lee shit about one a the essay questions on the application.  Chung Lee apparently snapped, saw red and just snapped, jumped over the counter and went up to the cop and started trying to push him outta the place.  The cop ended up smashing the Chinese guy in the face wit a forearm and knocking out three a his teeth . . . in self defense, he told the newspaper, and the reporter from Action News.  Oh, and by the way, where in the frig is this World Peace Charter High School, anyways?  Does this school even freakin exist?

The next day, after these maggot reporters started sticking there nose into the Kid’s and Tony’s business, word got out that World Peace was really a Chinese restaurant.  The, whatdoyacallit, media, was all over it like white on rice, no offense to Mr. Chung Lee.  The Philadelphia Post wrote a story about it . . . I got it right here, I think, wit the headline reading: Egyptian Math, or Wonton Soup?

Tony heard about—saw it on the news—and actually thought it was friggin hilarious.

“A Chinese takeout joint,” he says, smoking his cigar at his desk.  “Have you ever ordered food from there?  Are they any good?”

The Kid thought he was home free, he wrote in his journal, thought the jig was up.  They was busted, and Tony was prob’ly going down.  Course, that’s not what happened at all.  The chairman of the Philadelphia Unified School District School Board, this guy named Willard Fairweather, calls the Post and says it was prob’ly a paperwork error, that Dom Rossetti had a great reputation and just simply got the address wrong.

“A paperwork glitch,” he said in a follow-up story the next day.  “It’s just an honest mistake.  Obviously, World Peace Charter High School really exists.”  Why did he do it?  Well, maybe cause he owed Tony, but my guess is that he prob’ly thought it really was a mistake by Dom, cause who in their right mind would do something like this on purpose?  And the newspapers believed him, and so did Action News.  They was all just poking fun, after all.  Course there was really a charter school, course there was.  Nobody knew where it was—not even Willard Fairweather—but that was a small fix.  Fairweather would prob’ly make it a point to contact Dom, find out the real address, so the comedian news media folks would stop making them the butt a their jokes.  He would most likely call Dom soon, maybe even this week, or next week, if he was really busy.  They’d get the address, and everything would be fine and dandy.

Part 10  

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 8

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 8 of 25

According to the Kid’s journal, the part that hurt even more than missing the accreditation was the lack of having that extra counselor he had hoped to get.  Lot’s a people think that when a kid is misbehaving and acting like an animal, he should be smacked in the head or kicked in the ass and thrown the frig outta school, me being one a them.  If you don’t want your school to be a jungle, you gotta get rid a the animals.  Course, that’s only true to a point, cause if you just keep throwing all the kids out on the streets and making them somebody else’s problem, the streets is gonna be a jungle, too.  And lots a places are a jungle.  Now, parents isn’t doing the best job these days—I can agree wit that—but this doesn’t mean the school can just wash their hands and give up.  Being around the Kid for those few years taught me this, and gave me an understanding of the importance a having school counselors.

Course, I ain’t trying to give you no speech on counselors, or to tell you’s to go out and give them all hand-jobs or nothing.  What I’m saying is how not having enough counselors could hurt a school, especially a school like the Kid’s in the middle of a friggin shoot-em-up war zone.  Believe me, it’s true.  To prove it I’m gonna tell you’s what happened this one time in the Kid’s office, the principal’s office, when a student came to see Dom cause she was having problems wit anxiety and whatnot.  This comes right from the Kid’s journal, and I’m gonna do my best to tell it just like I read it.

So one day, a coupla weeks after the Kid gave the $100,000 to Tony, the Kid is sitting in his office checking emails and trying to keep up wit all the district’s useless paperwork, and he hears a knock on his office door.

“What is it?” he says, not looking up from his desk.

“Mista Rossetti?” this young female voice says.  The Kid knows the voice, knows who it is.  It’s this girl named Tamarra , a 15-year-old 9th grader.

“Tamarra ,” the Kid says, “hey you, come on in.”  So Tamarra  comes in and Dom clears off a buncha books from the chair in front a his desk so the girl can sit down and talk.  Dom and Tamarra  have been talking for like a month now, and it seems clear that they been making some progress.  See, on New Year’s Eve, Tamarra  went home to her house in North Philly after leaving her girlfriends so she could watch the ball drop in Time’s Square on TV wit her mom and her mom’s boyfriend.  When she got home, though, the house was quiet and the lamp in the living room was smashed, and she couldn’t find her mom or her mom’s boyfriend, Mr. Jeff, nowhere.  She went upstairs and saw all the lights on in the hall and went to her mom’s bedroom, and that’s when she saw the two a them dead, shot in the head, laying on the bed in a pool a blood.  The sheets was white, but there was a dark purple wet circle under their bodies.  There was blood and, whatdoyacallit, brain matter on the walls and headboard . . . these is Dom’s words, not mine . . . and Tamarra  just turned and ran outta the house and went back to her friend’s house and told her mom who called the police.

Turns out, it was a murder suicide.  Tamarra ’s mom’s boyfriend, Mr. Jeff, was drunk and depressed and sick a everything, and decided to pull out a gun and shoot Tamarra ’s mother in the head, and then sit on the bed and stick the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger on hisself.  Tamarra  was all freaked out that night and said she didn’t never wanna go back to that house, ever.  According to Dom, she hadda move in wit her dad in West Philly and start taking the trolley and two buses to get to school; Tamarra ’s grandmother drove up from Camden to get all a Tamarra ’s things from the old house.

Tamarra  was back in school on January 2nd, and the only reason anybody knew what had happened to her mom was cause one a the teachers had seen the shooting on the news and recognized the name.  Right away Dom got Eisenhower’s only counselor to call Tamarra  down to her office and talk wit her, but her time was limited and she could only do so much; she’d referred Tamarra  to a local mental health agency, but after one session, Tamarra ’s dad never took her back and followed the intervention plan.

Tamarra  seemed to be okay for a while.  A week went by and she was adjusting to living wit her dad and her new routine.  But then she all of a sudden started having these . . . these intrusive thoughts, I think it’s called . . . where she kept seeing her dead mom and Mr. Jeff in the bedroom wit the purple blood on the sheets and the brain spatter on the wall and whatnot.  She kept seeing this stuff, even when she tried to think a something else; the harder she tried not to think about it the worse it got.  So one day in her biology class, when it got real bad, she starts crying and digging her nails into her forearm, and the teacher gets all freaked out and calls the counselor but no one comes; the counselor was outta the building cause she’d taken a group a seniors to a college fair downtown.

After a little while Dom get’s a call on his walkie-talkie that says he needs to hurry up to Ms. Maddock’s room cause there’s a student in there freakin out and digging her nails into herself, crying and digging her nails in her skin.  Dom runs up the steps and on the way calls the Crisis Hotline, and when he finally gets to Tamarra  he clears everybody outta the way and does what the School District suits tell everybody not to do—he puts his hand gently on her back and kinda hugs her and tells her that it’s okay . . . it’s gonna be okay . . . just cry now and get it all out.  And she cries good and hard, and the other kids in the room aren’t making fun but are there to help her and give support, cause everybody knows what just happened to her mom on New Year’s Eve.

When she’s done crying Dom is still kinda half hugging her, telling her to take deep breaths and such. Tamarra  finally calms herself down.  The Crisis Hotline people get there, and Tamarra  is taken to another mental health agency, but like before, her dad doesn’t have the time to take her back for the treatment or follow through wit the stuff he’s supposed to be doing.  So Dom finally says frig it, frig the girl’s dad, frig trying to fit her into the counselor’s insane schedule, he’s gonna try to help the girl hisself.  And he does, believe it or not, the Kid does.  Dom takes all a the stuff he’s learnt over the years at our addiction meetings, all the treatment and skill building stuff the social workers have been using on Dom and the rest of us maniacs, and uses it on the girl, Tamarra .  Stuff like deep breathing and visualization and what’s that other one . . . oh yeah, progressive relaxation . . . all that stuff that helps keep us drunks and gambling addicts and kleptos sane, keeps our lives manageable.

The first thing Dom teaches the girl is the saying, What you resist persists.  And believe you me, that’s an important one.  See, resisting things makes them stronger, gives them energy.  Like a little kid fighting against a real bad migraine headache, crying and kicking his legs against the pain.  When a little kid does this, what happens?  The pain above his eyes usually gets worse and he ends up throwing up all over the place.  If only the little kid would accept the pain, if only he could, um, submit to it, it would take the real bite outta it and things would start to get better.

That’s how Dom tried to explain the saying, What you resist persists to the girl Tamarra .  That’s how he tried to get her to accept what had happened to her mom and her mom’s boyfriend.  It was okay to cry, he told her, to be sad, to be afraid, to be angry.  It was healthy and natural.  It was okay to have the bad thoughts in your head, the thoughts that didn’t listen and go away when you wanted them to, cause they was just thoughts and wasn’t gonna hurt you.  Sooner or later, if you just let them be, they’d get tired of hanging around and go away on their own.  It was true, you just hadda give it a try.  And when you did have the thoughts, you could play a game wit your mind and even disappear to another place, a nice place, like the beach in the summer or a big old green field in the fall, a field wit the warm sun high in the sky and the cool autumn air just blowing through the golden leaves on the trees.  And when you had that urge to scratch yourself, to dig in your nails to make the thoughts go away, you could breath deep, deep, and let all that bad nasty energy leak right through that imaginary hole in the top a your head.

So the Kid works wit Tamarra  for a few weeks, and things get better.  The scratches on Tamarra ’s arms start to heal and go away.  The two get this routine going, where during the second half a the girl’s lunch, she goes and visits Dom in his office; Dom said in his journal that he put these daily meetings in his planner and that they was set in stone, in stone.

Anyways, to finish what I was saying, Tamarra  is in the Kid’s office sitting down on a chair in front a his desk for one a their meetings.  The Kid stops what he’s doing—really stops, doesn’t just pretend to stop—and gives the girl all his attention.  He smiles and sits up straight and says, “So what’s crack-a-lacking?”

“Nothing,” the girl says, but lot’s is going on, there always is wit Tamarra .  After a minute or so she opens up and starts talking about the track team, which Dom convinced her to join two weeks before to keep her busy and to occupy her time.  Turns out, Tamarra  has a little bit a talent, not in the sprints like most a the other girls, but in the mile—a distance event.  She ran a 5:47 in her first race, which was only wit a week’s worth a training.

“Woa, that ain’t bad,” Dom says to the girl.  “Seriously.  A 5:47 is pretty good, especially since you haven’t really been on the team that long.”

“Thanks.  You run, Mista Rossetti?”

“I threw the shot put,” the Kid says, “a long, long time ago.  Back when I was in high school.”

“You look like a athlete,” the girl says.  “You look strong and in shape, too.  How old is you, Mista Rossetti?”

“That’s top secret,” the Kid says.

“You married?”

“Nope.”

“You got any kids?”

“Not yet,” Dom says.  “So did you win a medal in the race last week?”

“I just missed,” Tamarra  says.  “They gave medals to the top four, and I got fifth.”

“Keep at it.  You’ll get one soon.  A 5:47 mile is great for a 9th grade girl who never ran before.  If you stay on the team until you’re a senior, you might even break 5:00 minutes, and that’s state champion territory.”

“I like running long races,” the girl says.  “It helps me clear my mind.”

“Absolutely.  How is everything else going?”

“Better.  My hands don’t shake no more.  Plus, I’m taking advantage a my time, like you said I should do.  On the bus and trolley rides to school, I read and do some of my homework.”

“Wonderful,” the Kid says.  “Keeping organized is the key.”

“I know.  And when I start thinking about my mom, I do what you said, I take deep breaths and try to remember the goods things about her, the good times.”

“I’m so happy to her that.”

“I drew her a picture last night, a memorial.  Wanna see it?”

“Please.  Can I?”

“Sure, Mista Rossetti.”

The girl takes the picture outta her bag and shows the Kid.  It’s a collage wit a buncha magazine clippings wit pictures a things that represent the girl’s dead mother.  There’s a picture of a nurse, cause her mom was a nurse’s aid, and a picture of a chocolate brownie, cause her mom loved eating chocolate.  There’s like a dozen pictures on the collage, and the girl explains them all.

“I can see you really loved your mom,” the Kid says.

“More than anything.”

Just then the bell rings and it’s time for the girl to go to her next class.

“Okay, well, you’d better get going,” the Kid says.  “You don’t want to be late for Mr. Engblom’s class.”

The girl puts away her collage, stands up.  “Yeah, you’re right.  Mr. E. don’t play that.”

“No, he doesn’t.  Have a good one, Tamarra .”

“Thanks, Mista Rossetti,” the girl says, and turns and leaves.

_______

The Kid kept running Eisenhower as best he could.  The one thing I remember the Kid saying about being a principal of a school was this: There is mangers, and there is leaders.  The Kid was most definitely a leader, no doubt about it.  And he lead by doing, not just by talking.  When the Kid said something he meant it, and when a person said that they was gonna do something, he expected them to do it; in a crazy way, he was just like his uncle Tony.

Actually, the Kid and Tony was a lot more alike than our famb’ly would wanna believe.  Just like the Kid had a vision for Eisenhower, Tony had a vision for Straight A’s, his world renowned snapper palace where a gentleman could eat a New York strip steak, drink an ice cold Heineken outta a frosty mug, and for dessert, have some beautiful 22-year-old naked redhead wit a shaved cooch give you a personalized couch dance—grind her ass into your lap until you blew a load into your J.Crew boxer shorts.  That was Tony’s dream, his vision.

Now, even though it was a goddamn crime against the children a Filthy-delphia, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t tell a little about Straight A’s and all the work Tony put into it.  In February a that year, Tony put down the $100,000 the Kid gave him on the strip club and liquor license.  Tony got the place dirt cheap, from this Russian wannabe gangster known as “Sasha” who ran this prostitution and human trafficking ring, where they kidnapped these strung-out hags in Moscow or some friggin place and brought them over here to America to pimp out for like $5.00 an hour.  Apparently, the feds . . . you’s guys, once again . . . was moving in on Sasha and he hadda pack up and get the hell outta the country.  Tony said the guy and his two brothers was selling everything they friggin owned, including Vlad’s Playhouse, the three story strip club that was already supposedly on the verge of, whatdoyacallit, bankruptcy.  The asking price for the place was $850,000, including the Class-B liquor license.  Course, the place wasn’t in Sasha’s name, and I wouldn’t know it if it was.  The owner a the property, the name on the deed, was Chaz Traynor, a well known adult video distributor, and that’s who Tony actually bought the place from and technically made settlement wit.  But the Russian muscle behind the strip club, the pimps who forced these foreign broads to service American men, they wanted a $100,000 cash down payment just in case something crazy happened and they hadda blow town early.

Me and the Gorilla went wit Tony to sign the agreement a sale and to give this Sasha jerkoff the $100,000.  Course, we also brought Sal DiSimone wit us, the famb’ly lawyer, so he could make sure no funny stuff was taking place.  You never know what could happen when you is dealing wit Russian wannabe tough guys, so we had Sal there checking over all the papers and contracts and whatnot.  I carried the cash in this big friggin leather duffle bag, the Gorilla backing me up wit a loaded AB-10 9mm under his coat.  Me and Tony was packing, too, my .38 special in my shoulder holster under my suit jacket and Tony carrying a .357 in his waistband.  We did the deal on the third floor a the strip club on a Saturday night at around 11:00 p.m., right when the place was supposed to be at full swing.  It was easy to see why the place was going bankrupt.  The first floor was three-quarters empty, wit maybe about a dozen guys sitting around the main stage watching the girls dance.  The girls was wearing these tassels over their nipples, and had on bikini bottoms.  Right away you could see Tony shaking his head cause tassels and bikini bottoms wasn’t no way to run a strip club, not if you wanted to get people coming in through the front door.  Plus, the girls—women, actually—was all old and beat-up, third-rate broads that looked like they’d popped out a coupla kids and had saggy tits and flat asses.  This one chick even had a surgical scar on her stomach, like she had a whatchamacallit—one a those cesarean section operations.  The second floor was even emptier, wit just five or six old guys getting lap dances on these cruddy red velvet couches wit cigarette burns and beer stains on them.

The third floor, where we signed the sales papers, was totally empty.  There was a buncha tables and file cabinets up there, and wires hanging from the ceiling.  In the corner there was a bucket half-fulla water, and it looked like there was some kinda problem wit a leak in the roof; the place also smelled musty, like stale beer.  Tony walked over to the water bucket wit Sal and pointed at it and said something about a building inspection, that he wasn’t gonna give these pricks the $750,000 balance at settlement until he knew for sure that the roof wasn’t gonna cave the frig in during the next rain.

“I’ll call Frank’s son,” Tony says to Sal.  “He’ll come down here and check this place out.  Make sure it’s wired up straight and that the pipes ain’t gonna bust.”  Tony turned to Sasha and his two brothers.  “It friggin stinks in here.  You smell that?  You’s guys got a body buried in the wall or something?”

“No bodies,” Sasha says.  “Good place.  You can make lots of money here.”

“Well it stinks,” Tony says, “and I don’t like it.  Before I give you a penny, I’m gonna need my inspection guy to make sure this place ain’t gonna fall down the next time somebody farts, understand?”

“We need one-hundred thousand up front, or no deal.  This is good place.  You make lots of money here.”

“You got any mold in those walls, huh?  Any termites?  Termites can eat a big friggin hole in your ass, and I ain’t joking around.”

“No termites,” Sasha says.

Tony pointed to the ceiling.  “What are those wires there . . . hanging outta the ceiling?  Is this place up to code?  I swear to friggin God, if the city comes in and shuts my ass down cause these wires is all frigged up, I’m gonna find your ass and put a bullet in it.”

One a Sasha’s brothers said something in Russian and stood up.  This made the Gorilla nervous, and he started fidgeting under his coat wit the AB-10.  He asked Sasha what his brother was saying, to say what he hadda say in English so everybody could understand it.  Sasha and his two brothers started laughing.  Now, I’m gonna be honest wit you’s guys, I thought for sure the Gorilla was gonna pull out his gun and start mowing those jackasses down, pumping those goofballs fulla holes and turning them into Swiss friggin cheese.  The Gorilla ain’t normal, see, and when he was a kid, before he got thrown outta school, they tested his IQ and I think it was 75.  The Gorilla didn’t do nothing, though.  He just stood there trying his hardest to figure out what Sasha’s brothers was saying.

The Russians stopped laughing.  “One hundred thousand up front, or no deal.”

“Where’s Traynor?” Tony says.

“Who?”

“Chaz Traynor, the owner a this friggin dump.  What, you think I’m gonna trust you morons without talking to Traynor first?  Forgetaboutit.”

Sasha pulled out his cellphone and called a guy who he claimed was Chaz Traynor.  Tony and Sal talked to the guy for about five minutes, asking him a buncha questions about the club and its condition and whether or not there was mold or termites in the walls.  Traynor told Tony it was fine, up to code, that the wires in the ceiling was from strobe lights that they was thinking about putting in but never did.  There was a small leak in the roof, but it was fixable—would cost maybe a grand or two.  And the transfer a the liquor license was no sweat, neither, cause Traynor knew people on the Baltimore liquor license board.  Course, Traynor said all the money on the sale would go to Sasha and his brothers, the unofficial owners a the place.

“What do ya think, Sal?” Tony says, giving the phone back to Sasha.

Sal looked over all the papers and the deed to the property one last time and decided to give Tony the green light.  It was Chaz Traynor’s property, after all, and Sal had . . . what’s the word . . . verified this by doing a public records search.  If any funny business went down, if somehow this was all a set-up and these Russian clowns was planning on taking Tony’s cash and skipping town, well, Chaz Traynor would pay, simple as that.  Tony would have Jerry D’Alessandro go visit Traynor and get the money back, all of it, wit interest.  And if Traynor played dumb, if he acted like he didn’t no nothing about it, than Vlad’s Playhouse would, oops, blow-up like the Twin Towers.  Musta been a gas main break, officer.  Same would go for Chaz Traynor’s house, that 8,500 square foot mansion on Schoolhouse Lane in Fairfax, Virginia.  Ka-boom.  Or maybe something might happen to Traynor’s trophy wife, Jessica, the ex-adult actress wit the fake tits and bleached asshole.  Yeah, we hadda do an emergency implant removal, Chaz.  Didn’t ya know saline caused cancer?

Turns out, everything Sasha and Chaz Traynor said was true.  Tony gave those Russians the bag a money and him and Sal signed the sales agreement.  The next week he had Frank Scarduzio’s son, Frankie Jr., who is a general contractor and ended up doing most a the renovations on the place, inspect the building from top to bottom.  And wouldn’t ya believe it, the place was in pretty decent shape.  So the next month, at the end a March, Tony made settlement on the strip club, all legal and, um, aboveboard.  The mortgage was in Sal’s name, but that didn’t matter; Sal was Tony’s partner whether he liked it or not.  In a coupla months the Kid would give Tony the rest a his cash and then him and Sal could really fix the place up, and Tony’s dream would be a reality.

Part 9

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 7

Illustration by Sean Wang

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 7 of 25

The Kid’s World Peace Charter High School application got approved by the State Board of Education and the Philadelphia Unified School District School Board exactly one week after the Kid had submitted the proposal; they was granted a three-year charter, not a five-year, so they would have to get a renewal in 2015.  This stunned the Kid like you wouldn’t believe, cause he’d done everything he could—without Tony catching on—to sink the whole thing.  Tony was on the Kid like a hawk, though, which is prob’ly why the Kid took care a business in the end.  Getting the approval was still no cake walk, even though Tony knew lots a people; the Kid wrote in his journal that it was actually kinda nerve-wracking.  Part a the charter application process involved appearing before the School Board and defending the proposal once the Board had the chance to review it, answering a buncha questions from all sorts a community stakeholders . . . parents, clergy, educational advocates, and other such jag-offs.  Before the Kid went in to defend his proposal, Tony had a word wit him inside the Gorilla’s Cadillac in the parking lot a the School District’s central office, where the School Board meeting was taking place.  Tony made it clear that failure wasn’t an option, that he had pulled lots a strings to make this happen, and that the Kid had better not frig it up.

“Just remember what I told you about famb’ly looking out for each other,” Tony said to the Kid, who was sitting in the back a the car in between me and Tony.  “Now you go in there and just do what you know how to do, and everything will be fine.  You’s a smart man, Dominic.  Don’t let them get ya frazzled.  Some a Al Akbar’s people is gonna be there, and you know all about that greedy prick sonnavabitch.  His guys was all set to get their charter approved, get their meat hooks on our money, but not no more.  This is ours for the taking, kid.  We earned this.  Come here.  Give your uncle Tony a hug and kiss for good luck.”

The Kid was in and out of the meeting in under an hour, and the rubber stamps was flying.  Bango, charter approved.  Barry Al Akbar’s people was livid, and so was Al Akbar hisself, who actually had the brass balls to show up at the School Board meeting even though it was a conflict of interest the size of a John Holmes hard on.  According to the Kid, he stood up in the middle a the crowded room, put his hands on his hips, and started storming around mumbling under his breath he couldn’t believe it, that people was gonna lose their jobs over this, just you wait and see; Al Akbar’s Achievement Kings, Inc., hadda watch five new charters get approved over theirs, one a them being the Kid’s, who was an, ah, newcomer in the game and seemed to be stepping on a buncha people’s toes.

Course, Tony was happy as a friggin clam, knowing he was gonna finally get the cash he needed to get his Baltimore project rolling.  Tony was still the silent partner, and the whole thing still seemed to be flying under the radar, as they say.  The education section of the Philadelphia Post reported the Kid’s World Peace Charter High School approval wit little . . . what’s the word . . . fanfare, and nobody but Tony and Barry Al Akbar and his cronies seemed to care.  The Kid, on the other hand, was freakin miserable.  It was hard enough to run Eisenhower High School by itself, dealing wit the craziness of the accreditation audits and all that, without having to deal wit Tony and his whole charter school scam.  Tony wouldn’t let it go, neither.  He had me and the Gorilla stay on the Kid and keep pressing him about the details, told us to get regular updates about how things was going wit the school and whatnot.  The biggest question, like I says before, was Tony’ money, and when he was gonna get it.

The answer to this question wasn’t that complicated, actually; all charters got their money on July 1st, the start a the new fiscal year.  The Kid needed to have two things before the Philadelphia Unified School District would start to provide funding for the newly approved Word Peace Charter High School on July 1st: a budget, and target enrollment numbers.  There was a whole buncha other stuff they needed, like an instructional plan, and teachers, and curriculum, and books, and a building, but that stuff was just needed on paper and would come later on, after the city released the funds so Dom could pay for it all.  The key to getting the money, though, was the budget and the enrollment numbers.

Now, all this stuff was already submitted wit the charter application, but that was just an estimate, see.  The school district needed real stuff now, final figures and target numbers, cause they was gonna start parting wit all that cash and they needed to make sure they had the paperwork straight so the feds . . . you jack-offs . . . didn’t come in an audit them and start throwing people in jail and all that.  Now, before any a this stuff could get done, before any final budget and enrollment figures could be submitted to the School District, the Kid hadda form a Board of Trustees to approve and adopt everything.  On paper, on the charter application, there was the names a seven people who the Kid had picked to be his Board.  Course, people like me and Tony couldn’t be on it, not wit the last name Genitaglia, anyways, so the Kid hadda find seven regular folks who was professional and had good reputations and also had something to do wit education in some kinda way.  The Kid knew lots a people like this, but the only problem was, he didn’t wanna get them caught up in the scam, so he never asked any a them to get involved.  What the Kid ended up doing was putting seven names a seven fake people on the Board—wit fake job titles and credentials—and would worry about dealing wit this problem if and when the time came; the best thing about fake people was that they never gave you shit and always did just what they was told.

And guess what?  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  World Peace Charter High School’s Board of Trustees just so happened to approve the Kid’s final budget and target enrollment numbers, which was officially submitted to the School District a month into the new year.  The Board had decided to set a target enrollment of exactly one hundred students, all freshman, for the 2012-13 school year; on the charter application, the Kid said he would increase his enrollment every year by 100 until he had 400 students.  The math was perfect: 100 times $10,000 equaled Tony’s strip club $1,000,000.  Friggin beautiful.  The budget, though, wasn’t as easy to put together.  Like I says before, real people look at these numbers, and the School District might just pitch a fit if these numbers didn’t add up; worse still, a State or Federal audit might be in order.  That was the most important thing in public education, as I was being taught by the Kid: always make sure your paperwork is in order.

I don’t wanna bore you’s guys, so I won’t get into all the line-by-line items in the budget; I’ll just give you’s guys a . . . what’s the word . . . overview.  The Kid’s charter, like I says before, was approved as a cyber school, and this would save the Kid a lot a headaches and most importantly, a lotta cash-ola for Tony.  Wit a cyber school, see, you didn’t really need to worry about stuff like food service, and transportation, and safety, and health services, and a code a conduct, not really, not the way you did wit a real “brick and mortar” school, as they say.  Wit a cyber school, most a the classes and learning takes place on a computer at the student’s home, wit the student reading books online and answering questions and having these interactive “webinars”.  Webinars is kinda like a chat room where the students can talk wit other students online, and also wit the teacher, who is on the other end a their computer checking in on the students to see if they have questions or need help wit their studies.  When the Kid first told me about what cyber charters was like a hadda laugh, cause what kinda student is gonna lean by sitting at home every day on a computer . . . hanging out online wit their friends . . . supposedly reading and writing and doing whatever they is supposed to be doing.  Course, the P.A. State test scores showed that compared to all the other “brick and mortar” public schools in the state, cyber charters, um, perform the worst—their kids got some a the lowest math and reading scores in the state.  Makes sense, even to a dumb shit like me.

Course, it’s big business, and smart people like Tony Genitaglia knew it, which is why cyber charters keep opening up all over the place.  Anyways . . . what was I talking about . . . oh yeah, the budget stuff.  So cause the Kid’s charter was a cyber school, the main items in his budget was stuff like teachers and staff, curriculum, instructional materials, and, ah, liability insurance, I think.  And computers, too.  I can’t forget about that.  Computers was one a the biggest expenses beside the teachers and staff—the laptop computers.  Every student hadda have a school laptop in order to learn, and this hadda be issued to the student by the school.  On paper, the Kid budgeted $150,000 for 100 brand spanking new MacBook Pro laptops, which he could buy in bulk for around $15,000 a pop.  Then there was the $60,000 to pay the salary a the computer guy to run and set everything up, and to deal wit the maintenance issues and all that kinda bullshit.  And speaking a salaries, the Kid had budgeted $870,000 for six teachers, a secretary, a counselor, a principal, and a C.F.O.  The English, math, science, social studies, phys ed., and Spanish teachers was to get paid $45,000 a year plus $15,000 in health benefits, and so was the counselor; the principal would get paid $185,000 plus $15,000 in benny’s.  The CFO would get the same package as the principal, cause he would be running the books, including payroll and all the accounting stuff; these lopsided salaries was standard operating procedure for charters, so it wouldn’t raise no red flags.  The secretary . . . well, she could just put on her kneepads and play the skin-flute for the staff, free a charge.  Course, when I made this joke to the Kid he got all serious and says to me, “Uncle Manny, you have no idea how important a good secretary is when you’re trying to run a school.”  So the Kid paid the imaginary “secretary” $35,000 plus health care.

The last big expense was the whatdoyacallit . . . the curriculum and instructional materials.  This is where those textbook company criminals raped you, gouging working people by charging an arm and a leg for the license to use their stuff.  The Kid decided to hire a cyber curriculum specialist called Cyber Sultans, Inc., or at least to put their company name down on the budget.  You’s guys ever hear a these Cyber Sultan jag-offs?  Friggin criminals, let me tell ya.  They talk a friggin good game, sure, but this one time the Kid actually showed me the kinda product these charlatans is selling, and let me say this, these pricks might as well just walk around wit a ski mask and a gun for all the money they is stealing.  The, um, advertisement on their website is something like, Cyber Sultans: Data Driven Cyber Curriculum for the 21st Century.  Data driven my friggin left nut.  Forgetaboutit.  I may not understand mission statements and whatnot, but it was easy to see that the Cyber Sultans instructional approach . . . using social media to make learning fun . . . was a buncha malarkey.  The Kid only hadda pay $100,000 for the license—a cool $1,000 per student.  This included all the electronic books and workbooks, homework assignments, tests, discussion questions, and project topics for all six subjects.

This was all just on paper, though.  No one was gonna get anything, not the teachers, or the principal, or the computer or finance guy, or even the Cyber Sultans, cause it was just for show, see.  It was just to make the budget work, to fulfill the most important thing in 21st century public education: paperwork.  See, I listened to the Kid when he talked to me, I know.  Plus, I read about it in his journal.  Now I know what you’s guys is thinking.  You’s thinking: How is the Kid gonna pull this off?  He’s gonna get caught and go to jail and lose his principal’s certificate, and then where will Eisenhower High School and all the poor colored children be then?  Well, that was the thing.  The Kid wanted to get caught, wanted the feds . . . you’s guys . . . to come and shut the whole thing down.  This is why the Kid kept writing everything in his journal—the one I’m holding in my hand right now—so he could document everything and show that from the very beginning, from the very start, he was innocent.  The Kid was extorted, see.  Extorted by my brother, Tony Genitaglia.  Is it all starting to make sense to you’s guys now?  The Kid wanted to get caught, wanted the feds to find and lock up his no good piece a shit uncle who prob’ly killed Dom Sr., see?

In . . . what’s the word . . . hindsight, this might not have been such a good idear.  The Kid and the girl may be dead, may be a pile of ash; when you’s guys check the dental records, I guess we’ll know.  And stop, just wait a minute, cause I know there’s another question just burning in your mind, and that’s How was there a building if the school was a cyber charter?  Good question, cause that’s what I thought at first when the Kid told me we hadda get a building for the cyber school.  And here’s the answer: There was a building, cause there hadda be.  It was in the rules, the, ah, State charter school bylaws.  Even cyber charters hadda have a building to serve as a headquarters for meetings and assemblies and periodic tests, for classes and counseling sessions wit the students and faculty staff.  And this part, having a real building, you couldn’t fake or make up, at least it would be harder to pull off.  Once a month, during the periodic tests and classes and counseling sessions, the State Department of Education and the Philadelphia Unified School District was gonna come in and observe and poke around to see if everything was working the way it was supposed to.  They was gonna come in and audit the books, too, which was supposed to be kept at this headquarters at all times.  At first the Kid had no idear how he was gonna get around this part, but deep down he didn’t really care.

Like I says before, he wanted to get caught and to see his criminal murdering uncle put in prison where he belonged.

_______

In the New Year, in the winter of 2012 after the he submitted his World Peace Charter School budget to the Philadelphia Unified School District for approval, the Kid was able to put more a his time into what he truly loved doing, which was being the principal a Eisenhower High School.  By now the Kid had hoped Eisenhower would be accredited by the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools, but on the very last audit—the final step in the whole back-breaking accreditation process—the Kid dropped the ball.  Course, the Kid didn’t drop the ball, my jag-off brother Tony did.  See, Tony didn’t wanna wait until July 1st to get his million bucks for his Baltimore titty club, he wanted it now, today; patience wasn’t one a his, ah, virtues.  Right around Valentine’s Day of 2012, Tony did something he hardly never does: he called the Kid up personally on his cellphone to tell the Kid that he needed $100,000 of his strip club money ASAP.

“I’ll send the Gorilla over to your place tomorrow to get it,” Tony told the Kid.  “I got this thing and it can’t wait.”  This was all written down in the Kid’s journal, nearly word for word, by the way.

The Kid knew this was impossible, cause the new financial year didn’t start for over four months, and the charter wouldn’t get the money from the PUSD until at least July 1st.  So the Kid says, “Uncle Tony, we’re not getting any money until the summer.”

“What?  The summer?  Says who?”

“Says the people giving us all the money, the funds.”

“I can’t wait till the summer, Dominic.  I told you that.  I got this thing and it can’t wait.”

“There’s nothing I can do about it, uncle Tony.  The financial year doesn’t start until—”

“Forget the financial year!  I need that cash!”  There was a pause on the phone, and Tony tried to get his cool again.  “Who the frig are these people, huh?  What are their names?”

“It’s the School District, Uncle Tony,” the Kid says.  “The School Board.  The same people who approved our charter.  They’re not trying to keep anything from us, it’s just the way things work.  The law says the financial year doesn’t start until July 1st, so we can’t get the money until then, until the new school year begins.”

“The law,” Tony says, and spits.  “Friggin cocker-roaches.  Fine.  Whatever.  Just get me a $100,000 advance on the million, and we’ll wait till July for the rest.”

“They don’t give advances.  It doesn’t work like that.”

“Jesus friggin Christ!”  Tony was breathing heavy into the phone.  “Ya know, I oughta take a baseball bat to one a these prick’s heads, and then we’ll see about all this financial year bullshit.  What kinda friggin scumbags are these, huh?  These School District pricks got a million dollars of my money just sitting in some bank account till July 1stForgetaboutit.  I can’t wait that long.  I need that money, today.”

“There’s nothing I can do, Uncle Tony,” the Kid says.

“What’s the matter wit you, huh?  Are we famb’ly or not?  Am I your uncle Tony?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Did I not bail your friggin ass outta jail a coupla months ago and keep you from losing your friggin job?”

“Yeah I know but—”

“But nothing!” Toney says.  “Now you listen to me, Dominic.  You better get me $100,000 of my money by the end a the week, or you might just turn out like your old man.  Now, you is my nephew, my little sister Theresa’s kid, so I’m gonna give you a coupla days.  I love you cause you is famb’ly.  But business is still business, and a got a reputation to keep.  So don’t disappoint me, got it?  Good!”

And that was it.  Tony hung up the phone and actually called me and said that if the Kid didn’t have his cash by Friday, I was to get the Gorilla and go bust the Kid up a bit.  I didn’t wanna do it, so I called Dom up later that night and tried to help him figure out a way to get Tony his money so my maniac brother would leave the Kid the hell alone.  Now, in Tony’s defense, he did need that money as soon as possible.  He was about to sign a sales agreement on a three story strip club on East Baltimore Street in the, ah, red light district in downtown Baltimore, and he needed $100,000 as a down payment and to buy the liquor license.  It was prime real estate as far as strip clubs went, right in the heart a “The Block.”  Like I says, you’s guys know how upscale and fancy the place was, and you wouldn’t believe how much time and effort Tony put into making Straight A’s what it was.  So when that property became available, along wit the liquor license, Tony hadda act.  He jumped on it and promised the owner he’d have the down payment in a week, staked his reputation on it.  He was Tony Genitaglia, after all.  He always came through.  And what was a man if he couldn’t back-up his word?

The Kid ended up giving Tony the money that Wednesday, two days early.  He took it outta Eisenhower High School’s budget, money that the Kid had set aside for hiring a new counselor and behavior specialist for the second semester to help improve discipline and teach anger management skills.  He listed it in the books as a “consulting fee,” even got a friend a his, who ran one a those educational consulting firms, to give him a phony receipt for, whatdoyacallit, services rendered . . . $100,000 in services; the sad part was, this was small potatoes when it came to the kinda fees these “consulting” firms was getting.  Course, the Kid would put the money back into Eisenhower’s budget in July, or at least that’s what his plan was; Jesus only knew if Tony would remember the money was advanced or even give a friggin hell and still want the whole million.

Anyways, this unplanned switch-a-rooney on Eisenhower’s books was enough to send up a red flag wit the accreditation folks, so the Kid didn’t pass his final audit.  The Eastern Association of Academics and Schools wrote in their report that the Kid’s finances and fiscal stability was in question, and didn’t meet all of EAAS’s standards, and, um, best practices.  Basically, Eisenhower’s accreditation was denied—no soup for you!—as they say in that Steinfeld show.  All wasn’t lost, though; the Kid would have another year end audit in June to see if he was meeting the EAAS standards.

Part 8

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