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 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.
“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.