Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 20

Illustration by Sean Wanga 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 20 of 25

There was no state test monitor at Eisenhower High School on exam day, but the Kid had his hands full anyways.  He wasn’t the test administrator—Mrs. Lankford, the Assistant Principal was—so Dom only hadda walk around every once in a while to see how things was going.  He spent most a his time in his office catching up on work, answering emails, reviewing his teachers’ lesson plans.  During lunch, to his surprise, Tamarra knocked on his door and asked if he had a minute to talk wit her, cause there was a problem she really needed to deal wit.  Dom explained that she was still welcome in his office for their daily therapy session, that she’d always be welcome there.  Tamarra came in and the first thing Dom noticed was that she had a bruise on her forehead and a cut on her lip.  Before he could ask her how this happened Tamarra just jumped into this frantic, um, dialogue about how she was sick a her life and the way things was going, how she still missed the track team and Coach Reed, and how she still wasn’t getting along wit her father, who now had a new girlfriend.

The Kid just sat at his desk and listened, really listened, like I says before . . . he underlined the word listened in his journal . . . and allowed Tamarra to just get it all out, to get it all off her chest, finally; the Kid could sense that Tamarra was holding stuff back the last few times they talked.  She just talked and talked, without taking a breath.  After she went over the drama wit her dad and how she was mad that she couldn’t run in track meets no more, she got to her point, why she was there in the first place.  There was something real important she wanted Dom to help her wit, but she was embarrassed to say what it was.  She said she didn’t wanna hurt Dom’s feelings.

“It’s okay,” Dom says.  “I promise I won’t be offended.”

So Tamarra tells Dom that she wants to transfer to another school, that there’s this private school called Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls, and that they sent her a letter in the mail asking if she’d think about going there.  It was from the track coach, Tamarra says, and pulls out the letter to show Dom.  He looks at it, all impressed, and tells Tamarra that she doesn’t have to be worried about hurting his feelings, cause getting a letter from that school is a big deal.  Cheltenham Prep is a whatdoyacallit, a boarding school, which means you live there during the school year.  According to the Kid, the school was a really big deal, and won all these awards and blue ribbons and whatnot for graduating students and sending them to good colleges and all that.

Dom wrote in his journal that he had a good idear about why Tamarra had gotten a letter from the school.  First, the track coach was interested in getting Tamarra on the team, cause she was a talented runner and could prob’ly come right in and win the league championship in the mile, hands down.  Second, Tamarra was colored, and schools like Cheltenham Prep was all concerned wit, um, diversity, wit making sure that not just the white kids got a chance to have a good education.  Plus, the school didn’t want the people who donated money to them to think that they was racist, neither.  I guess you could say this made sense.  You didn’t wanna be called a racist—not in today’s world—and plus, girls like Tamarra did deserve to have a shot at going to a school like Cheltenham Prep.  From what Dom said at meetings she was a great kid and good in school, and she was also a hard worker, I seen it wit my own eyes; I’ll never forget that workout I saw her run in the halls that day, how she stayed up wit the boys, pushing so hard she broke down in tears.

“I wanna go there really bad, Mista Rossetti,” Tamarra says to the Kid.  “I wanna live there and go to school, and be back on the track team, too.  I’m sick of all this.  Not you, Mista Rossetti.  You’re a really good principal, and I ain’t just saying that.  You care about us, all a us.”

“Thank you, Tamarra,” the Kid says.  “That means a lot to hear that.”

“It’s true.  Eisenhower’s a pretty good school, and it’s getting better, but . . .”

“But you want to get out of your house and go to a new school, meet new people.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“And you want to start running track again.”

“Yeah, I wanna get back in shape.  I’m tired a just hanging out wit Crystal and all a them up at the Plat.  All they do is smoke weed and drink beer and act stupid.  Listen to music and try and act hard and all that . . . get in fights.  If you is a girl they try and grab on you.  Last night, these boys . . . they grabbed me, and . . .”

Tamarra starts tearing up, and Dom told her it was okay, that she could just tell him what happened, it would stay between him and her; when Dom wrote about this part in his journal, he underlined the part do not tell anyone.  Course, I’m telling you’s F.B.I. pricks on this tape, so I guess the girl’s privacy is all shot to hell.  Maybe you’s guys will just keep it a secret?  Yeah, forgetaboutit.  Anyways, according to Dom’s journal, Tamarra took a deep breath and wiped her eyes and told about how last night, up at the Plat, her and Crystal and Crystal’s boyfriend was leaning on the hood of Crystal’s boyfriend’s car smoking a blunt.  This other girl, Jasmine, was there, too.  They kept smoking and smoking, and Tamarra said she was tired and getting a headache, and that the music was too loud, and that she wanted to go home.  It used to be fun, she said, smoking and cracking up laughing, but now it was just stupid and she was really tired of it.  Jasmine didn’t wanna leave, and told her to just, um, chill out.  See, Jasmine was busy talking to these three boys, smoking the weed wit them, too, and was trying to get one a their phone numbers.  After a while, the boy gave it to her, and they started talking about going to this college party down in North Philly, near Temple.

Jasmine started dancing wit the boy who gave her his number, right there next to Crystal’s boyfriend’s car.  They started dancing real close, grinding on each other, and the two other boys looked at Tamarra and started dancing wit her, too.  Tamarra didn’t wanna dance, see, and told them that, told them to just leave her alone, cause she had a headache and was tired.  They kept dancing wit her, though.  Tamarra said she looked around and nobody was really paying attention to them.  The boys got on both sides a her, and made this circle around her wit their arms, and started to just kinda push her around, inside the circle like.  Tamarra told them to stop but they didn’t, they was all high and thought it was funny, and kept pushing her between them, banging into her wit their bodies.  Tamarra shouted then, but the music was loud and nobody heard.  The two boys was laughing and pushing her, and then they started grabbing her, she said, grabbing her chest and butt, ripping her shirt, and she screamed for them to stop but they didn’t, they just kept grabbing her.  Finally, she lost her balance and fell down on the ground, and they kicked gravel on her and cracked up laughing and walked away.

“Is that how you got the marks on your face?” Dom asks her.

“Yeah,” Tamarra says.

“Are you okay, besides your face?  Did they hurt you at all?”

“I’m okay,” Tamarra says.

“Did you tell the police?  Did you report this?”

“No.  Louis, Crystal’s boyfriend, he was friends wit them.  I didn’t wanna snitch on them.”

“Tamarra, you have to report this, honey.  Did you tell your dad?”

“No.  He was sleep when I got home.”

The Kid wrote that he was really upset by this, and offered to report the incident right then, call the school security into his office and have them contact the Philadelphia Police Department so Tamarra could give an official report.  This was serious business, Dom told her, but Tamarra wanted no parts of it, see.  She didn’t wanna snitch on Louis’s friends.

The Kid tried to reason wit her, but Tamarra got very . . . what’s the word . . . standoffish and upset, and so the Kid backed off.

“Please don’t make me report this, Mista Rossetti,” she says.  “Please.  It’s okay, they was just joking around, I’m fine.”

“Did they hurt you at all?  Besides the bump on your head, and the cut on your lip?”

“No, I’m fine,” Tamarra says.

“Well,” the Kid says, “we should really report this.  It didn’t happen here at school, but still . . .”

Tamarra said it didn’t matter, cause even if she reported it, nothing would happen, nothing would really change.  What she wanted, really, was to get into that new school, Cheltenham Prep, so she could leave all a that friggin ghetto junk behind and start over, wit new friends, a new neighborhood, and most importantly, be on the track team.  She could do it, she insisted.  She could make it, she really believed this.

Dom wrote in his journal that he just sat for a minute at his desk, sat and thought about things.  Tamarra wanted to go to Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls, did she?  That was great, wonderful.  Dom was excited for her.  His gut reaction, though, was that it was a bit, um, ambitious, that it might not be very realistic.  That was his first reaction, see.  But the more he forced hisself to consider the idear, the more he looked at Tamarra and saw in her face that drive and determination—and thought about how hard she’d run those track practices and races—he wrote that he had this feeling that she might just be able to actually do it, to not only get accepted there, but to make it there; it was Tamarra’s sheer will and belief in herself that convinced him a this.

He wrote that he quickly tried to figure out how this might be possible to get her into Cheltenham Prep.  She did have a letter from the school, signed by the track coach, asking her if she’d be interested in transferring there, and that was a good start.  It wasn’t any guarantee, but it was something.  Tamarra would still need to take the admissions tests, and deal wit all the craziness a filling out the application—she’d need reference letters, and to complete a buncha essays, and to have copies of all her, ah, transcripts—but the Kid could help her wit this.  The biggest problem, though, was paying for the school.  The Kid said the tuition at Cheltenham Prep was outta friggin control, something like $25,000 a year, and that didn’t include the room and meals and all that.  That kinda cash would be tough to come up wit, especially for Tamarra; Cheltenham Prep didn’t give out any athletic scholarships, so Tamarra couldn’t get one a those.  Course, there was a buncha academic scholarships Tamarra might be able to get, and the Kid wrote he’d look into them ASAP.

“We have to get an application,” the Kid says to Tamarra.  “The application deadline is probably coming up soon.  Here, let me try and find their website.”  The Kid started typing on his computer.  “Ah, here it is, Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls.”

“You think you can get me into that school, Mista Rossetti?”

“I’m gonna try.  Hmm, where is it . . . ah, admissions.  Right here.  Let me just print out this application packet . . .”

The Kid printed out the packet, got Tamarra started wit filling the stuff out.

“Here,” the Kid says, “start with the first page, and write as much as you know.  Skip the parts that you don’t know, I’ll help you with these.  I’m gonna make you an application file, put it right here in my desk, and we’ll work on this together, okay?  We’ll chip away at this, little by little.  Sound good?  Sound like a plan?”

“Okay,” Tamarra says, and stood up and walked over and gave the Kid a hug, a big hug, even though it was the Kid’s policy not to give hugs to students, cause he didn’t wanna get sued or nothing.  “Thank you soooo much, Mista Rossetti.”

“I’m just doing my job,” the Kid says, hugging her tight.  “I’m just doing my job.”


On Valentine’s Day, the Kid took Gina to this hip restaurant in Center City Philly called Bodhi Dharma, some kinda . . . fusion place, whatever the frig fusion means . . . and they had a real good time; yes, you’s guys guessed it—he wrote about the whole night in detail in his journal.  The Kid, see, he liked all kinda crazy foods, like Indian, and Thai, and Japanese, but Gina, well, according to what he wrote, she just liked normal stuff, like lasagna, and chicken fettuccine, and bruschetta, and broccoli rabe.  Now, to impress the girl, the Kid figured he’d show her how to eat the fancy foods, and that’s just what he did; apparently, the Kid learned all about fine dining from that other broad he was seeing, that married chick who dumped him right before he was about to propose to her.

Dom’s new favorite food was sushi, and that’s just what the two a them was eating at Bodhi Dharma.  Dom ordered the miso soup, and the vegetable tempura, and of course sushi, too—a buncha pieces a salmon, and tuna, and yellow tail, even some eel and squid—in honor a Dr. Rosen-Squid, the Kid said to Gina as a joke.  Course, Gina didn’t get it, and wanted to know who Dr. Rosen-Squid was.  The Kid told her—that she was an education professor from the Baumgartner College of Arts and Humanities, and that she’d come to visit World Peace Charter in December wit a buncha students and whatnot.

“Is that her real name, Dr. Rosen-Squid?”

“No, that’s just what we call her.”


“Cause she looks like a squid.  Her eyes are like a foot apart.”

Dominic,” Gina says, “that’s not nice.”

It wasn’t nice, but that’s how God made the broad, ya know?  Don’t get me wrong, I woulda thrown her one back in my younger single days, believe me.  Maybe did her from behind, so I wouldn’t have to look at her squid eyes; maybe I woulda just had her put a bag over her head or something like that.  The world wasn’t always a nice place, no sir.  Richard Applegarth, the douchebag state test monitor who the Gorilla threw in the trunk a his Cadillac, knew this better than anybody.  You shoulda seen his face when we finally went and got him.  He had a squid face, all white and jiggly looking.  It got even whiter when me and Petie drove him to the Ben Franklin Bridge, pulled over to the side and grabbed him by the back a the head and told him, You say one friggin word to anybody about anything, off this friggin bridge you is going!  One word about anything!  Got it?  Got it?  He got it, alright.

Anyways, the Kid was having a beautiful evening wit Gina, real romantic.  There was candles on the table, and the lights was dimmed down, and the waitress came over wit a basket fulla hot towels and asked if either a them wanted one, and they both said yes, and they giggled and put them on each other’s necks, and after a minute the towels got cold, wet and cold, and then the waitress came back over and put them back in the basket.  When the food came, the Kid showed Gina how to hold the chopsticks, and how to put the, um, wasabi in the soy sauce.  Gina liked the tuna and the salmon, she said, but not the eel, and especially not the squid, which she told the Kid was too squishy and tasted nasty.  But the other stuff, she liked it, and said eating it made her feel, whatdoyacallit, cultured.

The subject a Gina’s ex-husband came up, the Kid wrote in his journal.  Gina and the Kid kinda had this unwritten rule not to ask questions about their romantic past, but they was getting pretty serious—was now using the L-word constantly—and it was a natural part of getting to know somebody, I guess you could say, of airing out the dirty laundry and whatnot.  The Kid didn’t say in his journal exactly how the topic came up, it just did, so Gina says to the Kid, she says, “What do you wanna know about him?”

“What is his name again?”

“Andrew.  Andrew McClintock.  Pretty common name, actually.  There’s a buncha people named Andrew McClintock on Facebook.”

“And you were Gina McClintock?”

“Yeah, for about three years.  Three long years.”

“You didn’t hyphenate your name?”

“God no . . . I’m a traditional gal.  I couldn’t imagine being Regina Grasso-McClintock.  Yuck.  Just being Gina McClintock was enough.  Now, Gina Rossetti, that has a nice ring to it . . .”

“Yes, it does.”  The Kid leaned forward and French kissed the girl, in front a the whole restaurant like a friggin sap, putting on a real show, or so he wrote.  Then he says, “Why don’t you parents call him by name?”

“Cause they hate him.  They think he’s a bad influence on Ashley.”

“Is he?”

“Not really.  Not anymore.  I guess he was in the beginning, back when we were married, and Ashley was real little.”

“What happened when Ashley was little?”

So Gina tells him, lets out all the skeletons in her closet, as they say.  First, she tells how Andrew couldn’t keep his thing in his pants, that even when they was newlyweds, he was fooling around on her.  She didn’t know about it, not at first.  One day, though, when she was like six months pregnant wit little Ashley and was at her doctor getting her check up, she found out she had one a those STDs . . . the Clap.  She was having pain in her stomach, but not from the baby.  It was her lower stomach, the Kid wrote.  Plus, it was burning when she went to pee.  She told her doctor this, and he said it sounded like she may have had whatdoyacallit—Gonorrhea, and she said no friggin way, I’m married, I haven’t had sex wit another guy in years.  The doc tested her anyways, and wouldn’t ya know it, the test came back positive—she had the freakin Clap.

At first, Gina told the doc she didn’t understand how this had happened, and wondered if she coulda got it from sitting on a dirty toilet seat, but the doc said no, no way Jose, that never happened in real life, it was one a those urban legends.  If she hadn’t had sex wit a strange man, then there was only one real way she’d gotten Gonorrhea, and that was from her husband.  Which meant he musta been screwing around, unless he’d had it before they met, which was pretty much impossible, cause Gina woulda noticed.  Course, Gonorrhea was easily fixed, all you hadda do was get an injection and take a pill, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was, see, that Andrew had cheated on Gina, and even worse, put the baby at risk.  The Clap could really frig things up on a chick who’s pregnant, could cause them to have one a those, ah, miscarriages, and could make the baby come out wit eye infections and low birth weight and whatnot; that’s what the doc told Gina that day in his office.

Gina was furious, but also embarrassed.  She tried not to tell her parents but her father opened her doctor bill by mistake cause her and Andrew was living at their place till the baby was born, and he said, “Who has the Clap?” and Gina tried to lie but she was a horrible liar, and then the truth came out.  Her father flipped the frig out, and wanted to throw Andrew outta his house, but Gina cried, and Andrew said he was sorry and promised that something like that would never, ever, happen again, and so they all put it behind them as best they could.  And three months later, little Ashley was born, and everybody was happy for a while.  The Gonorrhea didn’t give her no eye infections or nothing, and no birth defects; course, Ashley was born wit the club feet, but the doctors said this didn’t have nothing to do wit Gina having the Clap.

Gina, Andrew, and Ashley got their own place, and things was good for a bit.  Ashley had her first birthday, then her second.  Her feet was a problem, and so she got an operation, but the doctors frigged this up—damaged a nerve in her left foot—and Gina’s father got a lawyer and sued, but the doctor settled outta court, and gave Gina and Andrew something like $50,000, which went into an account for a whatchamacallit, a college fund for little Ashley.  Or, it was supposed to go into a college fund for her.  Turns out, Andrew was taking the money out and spending it at strip clubs, cause he had some kinda sex addiction or something.  It was horrible, but true.  He’d go out at night and drop like one or two grand in one shot at a high class gentleman’s club, getting private dances and whatnot, and more.  When Gina finally found out, when all the money in the college fund was gone and Gina’s father got another lawyer for Gina’s divorce, Andrew came clean about everything, came clean and promised he’d get help, but it was too late for that, way too late.

“I mean, what kinda person steals money from a child?” Gina says, stirring the ice in her glass at the table.  “You know?  Takes money from a child’s education fund and blows it in some strip club?  Who does this?”

The Kid wrote in his journal that right then, right at the table, he had an anxiety attack, that all of a sudden he was dizzy and the room was spinning, and that he felt his right arm go numb.  He thought he was having a stroke, he wrote, and told Gina she might need to call 911.

“Oh my God,” Gina says, “are you serious?”

But then it went away, the Kid started breathing deep and it went away, the room settled and he could feel his arm again.

“I’m okay, I think,” he says.

“Are you sure.”  She had her cellphone out.  “I should call anyway, just in case.”

“No, really,” the Kid says.  “False alarm.  Just a panic attack.  It happens to me sometimes, when I get too hot.  Are you hot?  Is it too warm in here?”

“It’s a little warm,” Gina says.

“Here, let me just drink some water.”

The two just sat there for a while, not saying nothing.  Finally, Gina says, “I shouldn’t have told you any of this.  I’m sorry.  I guess I got carried away.  I didn’t mean to ruin the night.”

“No,” the Kid says, “you didn’t ruin anything.  Seriously.”

“Are you sure?  I’m probably scaring you, aren’t I?  You probably think I’m damaged goods now, don’t you?”

“No, Gina.  No way.”

“Do you still love me, even though I told you about my screwed up past?”

“Absolutely.  Gina, I love you more than anything.”

“You sure?”


“You still wanna be my Valentine?”

“My God, yes.  Yes, yes, yes.”

“Okay,” she said.  “I believe you.”

But the Kid knew Gina could sense something was wrong, cause she said that he looked scared, and white as a ghost.

Part 21

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 19

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 19 of 25

Like the Kid told Dr. Trowbridge that day on the phone, I would be running the show on test day at World Peace.  I gotta tell you, I wasn’t too happy about this—a 62 year old man pretending to be principal of a friggin charter school—but deep down I knew it hadda be this way, cause if anything crazy happened, I could take the fall for it; I didn’t have a reputation to lose like the Kid did, not in education, at least.  Anyways, how hard could it be?  It was all fake, all the students was actors, so it wasn’t like I really hadda discipline them or nothing.  It was all for show, and I was good at that, putting on a show.  Like when I took out my power drill on a guy the Gorilla had in a headlock for not paying Tony, and put it right up to the guy’s face, up to his temple, revving it real loud and listening to him squeal as the drill bit pulled out clumps a his hair.  It was all a show, cause I’d never really drill a hole in his skull . . . his kneecap, maybe . . . but never his skull, that was the Gorilla’s territory.

The Kid went over the instructions for test day wit me a hundred friggin times, and I knew it all by heart.  The state’s math and science exams would be given in one week, next Tuesday.  I had already talked wit my guy Eddie, the casting agent, and scheduled the same 100 actors to come in for another full day shoot; to help the Kid out, I took $11,500 outta me and Linda’s vacation fund to pay for it.  This time they was told they’d be acting in an informational video for the state exams, and that they’d be playing the same 9th graders as before, only this time, all they hadda do was sit there in their desks and pretend to take the tests.  Course, they wasn’t supposed to really take them, just pretend to take them—fill in the bubbles here and there, making sure they followed all the rules the proctors gave them.  These actors Eddie was giving me, well, they was actually experienced at doing this, Eddie said, cause some a them had already done promotional shoots for data companies that sold standardized tests to schools.

Eddie said it was a big business, giving tests.  He said these testing companies made cash-ola, mega bucks, and charged school districts millions.  Eddie said he had no idear how big a business this was until he got a call from one a these places, 21st Century Data, Corp., he thought they was called.  The C.E.O. and national sales manager for 21st Century Data was this slick Irishman named Gerald Coonan, and he wanted Eddie to round up a buncha actors so he could film this promotional video of kids taken his tests.  It was part of a marketing packet on why his tests was the best . . . why they could help the children learn the most.  Coonan was trying to sell his tests to a school district in Camden, New Jersey.  Eddie said he charged Coonan a cool $25,000 just for rounding up the actors.  Coonan also hadda pay the actors, and there was Eddie’s $10,000 consulting fee, too.  But this was small potatoes for the money 21st Century Data was pulling in.

“Jeez,” I says.

“Oh yeah.  These guys are making millions, my friend, tens of millions.  Seriously.”

“For freakin making tests?”

“Yep.  Testing is big business.  Every time you make some asshole take a test, some other asshole is making cash on the deal, believe me.”

“I never thought about it like that,” I says.  “So we’re all set for Tuesday, the 15th, then?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna use the same crew of people.  Like I said, they got experience doing this.”

So the actors playing the students was taking care of.  The faculty staff would again be played by me and the Gorilla and a handful a strippers from Straight A’s, but Ms. Su wouldn’t be one a them; her panties was in a twist about the blow-up she had wit Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid, and wanted no parts of coming back to World Peace Charter.  There would be four tests taken in all, two math in the morning, and two science in the afternoon.  Lunch would be in the café, but the actors were informed that they would be brown-bagging it, again.  It wasn’t good to test when you was hungry, but in Dom’s case, it clearly was; he was hoping they would do as lousy as possible.

“Alright Eddie,” I says, “thanks again.  You’s a big, big help.”

“Don’t worry about it, Manny,” he says.  “But just remember: if it works, you owe me, and if you get caught, you don’t know me.”


On the day a the state exams the power was back on, and our plan was running without a glitch, at least in the beginning.  The students was in their seats concentrating on the tests, number 2 pencils in hand, booklets open to the first math section.  I was the testing administrator, so I was walking around between the four different classrooms . . . there was 25 kids in a room . . . making sure things was straight, that there was no questions from the teachers proctoring the tests, or questions from the students.  Dom told me to ask three basic questions: First, Does everybody got scratch paper and calculators? Second, Does everybody got two number 2 pencils?  And third, Let me know if you need more time, cause we’ll take you into room 263, the accommodation room.  The state exams was technically an untimed test, see.

It was kinda fun being the testing administrator, being the principal; I could see why the Kid liked doing it so much.  I was everybody’s boss, and they pretty much did everything I said, and I didn’t even have to threaten to pull out the heavy equipment, like my hacksaw or power drill.  Course, when the state testing monitor showed up, well, that’s when stuff starting getting a little hairy.  The state monitor, this young, goofy looking prick wit a cheesy mustache and big Adam’s apple and glasses comes into the building, my building, acting like he’s in charge a something.  The first thing I think is, Who’s he been wit?  Any made guys?  Frig no.  Now, I’m a made man, see, they opened the books on me in 1990, like I says before, so I ain’t trying to listen to what this little jerk has to say.

Anyways, this punk—his name was Richard or some shit—comes in and starts poking around, asking me who I am, asking if he can talk to the principal and test administrator.  I’m the principal and testing administrator, I tell him, can I help you wit something?  Okay, he says, I didn’t think you was the principal.  This gets me agitated, see, and this little jerk’s got my blood up, cause why in the friggin world don’t I look like the principal, you know?  Didn’t he see me wearing the suit and tie, walking around the building checking on the students and teachers in the classrooms, asking them if they needed anything?  Didn’t he hear what they was calling me, the friggin nitwit?  They was calling me Principal, Principal Bradshaw.  How freakin stupid does a person have to be to see a man walking around a school in a suit and friggin tie, checking on the students and teachers in the classroom and being called Principal, and not know that that person is the principal?

This state monitor person, this Richard, was a real dumb sonnavabitch, let me just say that much.  He was also a hemorrhoid, and the only reason I had any patience wit him was cause Dom told me I hadda have patience wit him.  So I let him walk around the place wit his clipboard and do his observation, go into the classrooms and stand in the back and watch the students work like some stalker.  He did this for a while, for like an hour, poking around, walking up to the students and asking to inspect their test booklets.  We was in the one classroom, Ms. Dickey’s, and the students was almost done the second part a the math test, and all of a sudden the prick says, “Mr. Bradshaw, can I speak with you for a minute in the hallway, please?”

“What?” I says.  “What’s the problem?”

“Sshh, not so loud.  Let’s talk in the hall so the kids can concentrate.”

For a minute I wasn’t sure if this little asshole actually had the balls to shush me, but he did, he shushed me—the principal, the goddamned principal a the school, and a made man at that.  Well, I went into the hall wit this guy, smiling real big to hide how much I wanted to break his head, and used all my, um, willpower to listen to what he hadda say; again, I did it for Dom.  What he actually wanted to know was if I had a master list a the names a the students taking the test, so he could see if they checked out.

“A what?” I says to him.

“A master list of the names of the students testing.  It came with the testing materials in the mail.”

“Um . . .”

“Where is your secure location?  Where are you storing the tests?”

“Oh, that would be in my office, the principal’s office.”

“Can we go there?  Please?  I need to see something for the report I have to write.”

I take him there, to my office, and we go to the cabinet and pull out the box.

“Doesn’t your cabinet lock, Mr. Bradshaw?”


“Your cabinet?  Doesn’t it have a lock on it?”

“Huh?  I don’t know . . .”

“Your testing materials are supposed to be locked at all times in a secure location,” he says, and writes something down on his clipboard.

“What is you writing there?” I says.  “Let me see that.”

The guy ignored me.  “I need to see the ID pictures of your students, Mr. Bradshaw.  It’s not that I don’t trust you . . . although some of those students look like they could be 19 or 20 . . . it’s just a formality.  Where is your attendance information?”


“Is it computerized?  Would you mind pulling up the identification pictures of the students who are taking the tests for me?”

“Actually,” I says, “Mr. Kaplan has that information, our C.F.O.  Here, I’ll take you over to his office right now.  Follow me.”

We walk over to Mr. Kaplan’s office, which is right down the hall in the main office, and wouldn’t you believe it, Mr. Kaplan is sound asleep in his chair, his friggin feet propped up on the empty wooden table that’s supposed to be his desk.

A-hem,” I says.  “Mr. Kaplan, can I talk to you for a second?”

The Gorilla wakes up, slobber running down his chin, and nearly falls outta his chair.  He looks around like he doesn’t know where he is, then figures it out, and says, “What?  What do ya want, Manny?”

“Yeah,” I says, “how ya doing, Mr. Kaplan.  We got a visitor here, a visitor from the state, remember?

The Gorilla shakes his big bowling ball head.  “Oh, yeah, yeah, the state.  Right.  How are you doing, sir?”

“His name’s Richard,” I says.  “Now, Mr. Kaplan, I think Richard here has a bit of a problem, see.  He’s looking for our attendance records so he can pull up the IDs of the students taking the test.  I guess Richard’s new, and the people from the state didn’t go up to Harrisburg and tell him, but World Peace Charter doesn’t have no computerized attendance system, do they, Mr. Kaplan?”

“Ah, no,” the Gorilla says.

I cross my arms.  “Cause of the fire, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, the fire,” the Gorilla says.

“See Richard, we thought we had those ID pictures for you, but turns out, we ain’t got them after all.  Sorry for the whatchamacallit—for the inconvenience.”

Richard keeps pushing the issue, though, like the hemorrhoid that he is.  He says this isn’t good enough, that he needs some form of ID to verify the students taking the tests, and that if we can’t produce none, this could be a security violation, and he’s gonna have to report it to the state.

I just look at the Gorilla, and he knows what we need to do; we’re professionals, him and I, and we’ve been working together for over 20 years.

“Okay, ID pictures,” the Gorilla says, and stands up.  “Yeah, we got those outside in the parking lot.  Here, let me show ya.”

For a minute Richard thinks the Gorilla is gonna actually show him the IDs, and he turns to go wit Petie.  Something tells Richard that things ain’t right, though, and he stops and says maybe he’ll see the IDs later, maybe he’ll come back after lunch for them.  Course, a second later Petie has him in a headlock and is dragging him down the hall like a sack a potatoes, slamming his head into the office door as he takes him outside and throws him in the trunk a his new Cadillac CTS, the little asshole screaming and kicking the whole way.

After Richard is locked in the back a the Gorilla’s car, Petie comes back and says, “What a piece a friggin shit.”

“Tell me about it,” I says.  “After these tests is over, I oughta go out there and beat the friggin balls off a that sonnavabitch myself, I swear to friggin God.  Who the frig does that little jag-off think he is, anyways?”

“Yeah,” the Gorilla says.  “We oughta—”

Somebody’s coming into the main office, and for a minute we think it’s our pal Richard, but it isn’t, not at all; it’s Dr. Trowbridge, and she wants to take a look around the school herself.

“Hello?” she says.  “Anybody home?  Roger?  Yoo-hoo, anybody here?”

“Dr. Trowbridge, hello,” I says, and whisper to the Gorilla to go hide in his office.  “Hey, good to see you.  Come on in.  I was just about to check on the students, go make my rounds.”

“Good morning, Roger,” she says.  “Oh, what a horrible ride down here.  I have that stupid loaner car from my insurance company.  Ridiculous.  So, how is the testing going so far?”

“Good.  Everybody is working hard, they all got two number 2 pencils and scratch paper.”

“Can’t live without the scratch paper and the number 2 pencils, can we?”

“No, I guess we can’t.  Do you want a tour a the building to see how everything’s going?”

“You read my mind, Roger.”

So I bring her around the building like usual, and she’s satisfied wit how the tests is going, and she relaxes a little and starts to vent about her car, how the windmill totaled it, and how she’s gonna sue the pants off a the Philadelphia Unified School District, cause their insurance won’t pay out.

“Act of God,” she says.  “Unbelievable.  Just replace my car, that’s all I’m asking.  No, they wanna fight it.  They’re going to end up paying a ton of money for a lawyer to go to court, when they could settle this like human beings.  Jesus.  Where’s Richard Applegarth, anyway.  Have you seen him today?”

“The guy from the state?” I says.

“Yes, the testing monitor.  His car’s outside in the parking lot . . . probably getting hit with a flying windmill . . . but I haven’t seem him.  Do you know where he is?”

“Ah . . .”

“I talked with him this morning, and we were supposed to coordinate today.  He’s new, and this is his first assignment alone.  I told him we’d meet up and talk, maybe do lunch.”

“You know, he was here earlier,” I says, “but then he said he was gonna head outside for a while, to, um, go grab some lunch.”

“Really?  Shoot.  There goes that idea.  I guess I’ll just wait till he gets back then.”

“He might be a while,” I tell Dr. Trowbridge.  “He was gonna take a long lunch, maybe hit a bar and throw back a coupla shots.”

“Stop it,” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “He didn’t say that.”

“He said he was gonna go get a hooker and check into one a those no-tell motels.”

“Mr. Bradshaw, enough.  That’s very sexist and inappropriate, and I could write you up for saying that.  Where is he, really?”

“He’s out to lunch, though.  Seriously.  That’s where he said he was going, all kidding aside.”

“Well, he’d better not be gone too long.  He’s still on his probationary period.  I’ll just wait for him, then, if ya don’t mind.”

So Dr. Trowbridge decided to wait.  She hung around for an hour, called Richard’s cellphone, left a message, and then waited another 30 minutes, finally deciding that she hadda move on to another school—Marcus Garvey Elementary, which was down in Center City.

“Well, when Richard gets back, tell him to call me ASAP, if you wouldn’t mind.  I’m actually starting to get a little worried about him.

“No problem,” I says, and walk Dr. Trowbridge to her car.

Part 20

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 18

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 18 of 25

Dr. Trowbridge shows up wit her whole, ah, entourage, her, and about 12 young kids who I guess was college students studying to become teachers, and this other middle aged broad, Dr. Rosen-Greenberg, the Chair of Baumgartner’s School of Education.  Dr. Rosen-Greenberg, who I take it was married cause she had the double last names, was actually kinda attractive, tall and thin, wit this sexy long brown hair.  The only thing was, though, her face wasn’t that good, at least not her eyes, cause they was like a foot apart.  She looked kinda like Jackie Kennedy, I guess—like a squid, that’s what Dom said to me after the visit was over.  The Kid was right; she had the squid eyes.

So Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid and the college kids is all there standing in the empty main office, wit their notebooks and cellphone cameras, and they is all kinda looking around at everything like they was at the zoo or something, pointing, whispering to each other and nodding their heads.  Every now and then they’d snap a picture, God only knows what of, cause there wasn’t nothing in the main office except some plants, a few wooden tables, a phone that wasn’t hooked up, and a big banner hanging across the wall that said, Welcome to World Peace Charter High School!  There was no secretary there, neither.  There wasn’t even a single light on in the whole room, cause there wasn’t no electricity.  The sun was shining through two big windows, so you could see pretty good, but not good enough; the Kid had a buncha candles lit on the tables and counter.

I’m standing there wit these people not knowing what to say, just smiling and asking how their trip was down from Connecticut, where they was from.  The Gorilla was in his office pretending to be the C.F.O. again, and the Kid was still setting things up wit World Peace Charter’s science teacher Ms. Julie Su, being played by none other than Ms. Julie Su herself, the 24-year-old Asian knockout exotic dancer who not only worked at Tony’s world renowned Straight A’s . . . which was raking in cash friggin hand over fist, by the way . . . but who also had a master’s degree in Political Science to boot.  Ms. Julie Su was freakin hot, and smart.  Now, in over 40 years, I never once cheated on my wife Linda, not one time; I’m very proud a that.  But if I was gonna, if I had one free pass to roll around in the sack wit another gal, it would be Julie Su, hands down.  Sheesh, would I ever.

One a the college students standing next to me in the office says something to me I don’t hear.

“Scuze me?” I says to her.

“I said I think it’s great that you have an energy conservation day here at World Peace Charter.”

“A who?

“An energy conservation day.  If every public school did this once a month like you do, we’d not only save a ton a money, but would reduce our carbon footprint by a mile.”

I ain’t gonna lie, but I had no friggin idear what this little girl was talking about.  “A carbon fingerprint?” I says, and looked at my hands to see if I had dirt on them or something.  “Do I need to wash my hands?”

The girl laughs.  “No, a carbon footprint.  Pollution, you know?  The ozone layer.  You’re trying to reduce waste and pollution, right?  Save energy?  That’s why your school is having a ‘power down day’ today?”

“Oh yeah, right, the ‘power down day,’ I see now.  You gotta forgive me, I’m getting old, and I’s got potatoes in my ears and don’t hear so good sometimes.”

“That’s okay.”

“Sheesh, yeah, the power down day,” I says.  “Yeah, we do it once a month, to save energy.  We keep all the lights off and whatnot, and power everything down, the computers, everything.  The vacuum, the refrigerator, it’s all powered down.  It stops pollution, and makes our school—whatdoyacallit, green.  The Kid . . . ah, Mr. Rossetti, it was his idear.  He’s the boss, I’m just the principal.”

“Well it’s a great idea,” the girl says.


The Kid was finally done setting things up wit Ms. Su and came back into the main office, thank Christ.  He introduced hisself again and welcomed everybody and said that he was real proud to have Dr. Trowbridge there for another visit, and also proud to have Dr. Rosen-Squid there, the Chair of the Baumgartner School of Education, and proud to have all the college students visiting, and that he hoped their experience today would make their dream a becoming a teacher even stronger.  The Kid explained about the power down day, again, and thanked everybody for their patience wit this, wit the fact that all the lights was cut off to save energy and protect the ozone, which was part a World Peace Charter’s mission—to be green and stop violence.  He gave everyone a candle, too, and had them light it, and explained that it was really dark in the hallways where there was no windows, but that once they got around the corner to Ms. Su’s room, the science teacher, things would be just fine, cause her room, see, her room had windows.

On the way to Ms. Su’s room, I heard Dr. Trowbridge discussing stuff wit the students and wit Dr. Rosen-Squid, discussing how impressed she was last time she was here wit the curriculum at World Peace, how themes a tolerance and multiculturalism was, ah, embedded in the math lesson, how cleverly Egyptian culture was howdoyasayit—intertwined wit geometric theorems.  Course, she was really looking forward to the Israeli Science, and so was Dr. Rosen-Squid, being that she was Jewish, and a supporter of Israel.  Well, she was a supporter of Israel and she wasn’t, she told Dr. Trowbridge, it was tricky.  She believed that the Jews needed a homeland, by all means, but the way the Palestinians was being treated . . . that was an, um, abomination.  But let’s just see how the science lesson goes, she said.

So we get to Ms. Su’s room and the first thing I think is, wow, Ms. Su is so friggin beautiful; as soon as we was done wit the visit, I was gonna go back to Straight A’s wit her, buy a nice big juicy New York strip and a glass a good beer, and watch her get naked and shake that freakin grade A ass on stage till the cows came the frig home.  Yeah, forgetaboutit.  So Ms. Su’s in her classroom, standing at the blackboard in a short black skirt and tight red V-neck sweater—her cleavage just busting outta it—a pair a black horn-rimmed glasses on, ready to start her science lesson.  There was no World Peace Charter students in the room, so she was gonna present her lesson to us—me and the Kid and Dr. Trowbridge and all of us.

“Good morning class,” Ms. Su says, and for a minute I hadda remind myself that I was watching a real lesson and not a friggin porno on the Internet.  “How are you doing today?”

“Just fine, Ms. Su,” I says.  Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid wasn’t doing as good, though.  I heard Trowbridge say to Rosen-Squid that Ms. Su was inappropriately dressed, and the two seemed offended by it.  They even wrote something about it down on their clipboards.

“Okay class,” Ms. Su continues, “today we’re going to learn about free fall and air resistance by doing an experiment using two dreidels, one wood, one plastic.  I have them both right here, see?  Okay, can anybody tell me what a dreidel is?  Okay, Dr. Rosen-Greenberg?”

“Dreidels are tops that you spin.  They have four sides, with a different Yiddish word on each.  You use them to play Hanukkah games.”

“Very good!” Ms. Su says.  “They are tops.  The Hebrew word for dreidel is sevivon, which in Yiddish means ‘to turn around.’  Now, we’re going to use them to do a science experiment that measures free fall and air resistance.  I’m going to hold each dreidel exactly four feet above the ground and then drop them, seeing which one will hit the ground first.  Does anybody want to make a prediction about which one will hit the ground first?  The plastic dreidel or the wooden one?”

“The plastic,” I says.

“Okay . . . thank you for your participation, Principal Bradshaw . . . Principal Bradshaw says the plastic dreidel will hit the ground first.  Now, before I drop each, it’s important to understand the principles of physics in regards to mass, gravity, and air resistance.  Do you guys remember our lesson about the acceleration of gravity, which is represented by the letter g?”

“Yes,” someone in the back says.

“Wonderful.  So you know that all objects, regardless of mass, free fall at the same acceleration, which is 9.8 meters per second squared.  That means if we were on the moon, and there was no wind resistance and not much gravity, I could drop both dreidels from a height of four feet, and both would hit the ground at the same time.”

“They would?” I says.

“Yes, they would.  But when I drop both dreidels, this bulky wooden one, and this light plastic one, they won’t hit at the same time.  Why?  Because of wind resistance and gravity.  Here, let’s give it a try . . .”

Dr. Trowbridge is shaking her head, like she doesn’t agree wit something Ms. Su is saying.  Ms. Su sees this, and asks if something is wrong.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Trowbridge says, “but I think you’re moving too fast here.  You’re throwing all this information at us without building up to it, without activating any prior background knowledge.”

So Ms. Su says, “Oh, okay, what should I start with, then?”

And Trowbridge says that Ms. Su needs to bring more a the cultural aspect into the lesson, more a the Israeli background stuff.  After all, Trowbridge says, it’s called Israeli Science.  The bit about the dreidel was clever, she said, but it needed to go deeper.  To do a solid lesson about physics, you needed to bring in the conflict in the Middle East, between the Jews and the Arabs; that was going deep and getting at the more important, um, cultural aspect.  Maybe you could start wit a discussion about how after World War II, the Jews just kinda went in and took over land that wasn’t theirs.  Sure, the Jews needed a homeland, but maybe they could think about the Palestinians for five seconds?

“Israeli belonged to the Jews since the beginning,” Ms. Su says.

“Pardon?” Dr. Trowbridge says, this shocked expression coming over her.  “Excuse me?”  Dr. Trowbridge stands up, walks over to Ms. Su.  “Do you think all Muslims are terrorists, Ms. Su?  Is that was this is about?”

“I know you’re a doctor of education and everything,” Ms. Su says, “but I actually have a degree in Political Science, and your version of the history of the Middle East isn’t exactly, um, accurate.”

Well, that did it; Julie Su opened up the friggin biggest can a worms ever.  Trowbridge and Su started arguing real loud, then, trying to talk over each other like on that one TV show . . . Jerry Springer, I think it’s called . . . and even Dr. Rosen-Squid got in it, saying that she was Jewish, and if anybody knew what was best for the Jews, it was her.  The Israelis, Rosen-Squid said, needed to stop being so greedy and just go back to the pre-1967 boarders.  Exactly, Dr. Trowbridge added, exactly.  That was the way to create background for a science class, to make sure you incorporated the need for Israel to stop taking over Arab land, and for the United States ta stop their, um, imperialistic ways.

“I guess you’s think the Holocaust was staged in Hollywood!” Ms. Su says, and starts carrying on about how the Israelis are doing all they can to keep the peace but it’s the Palestinians who are the bullies.  What kinda person blows up a night club filled wit innocent people?  What kinda person teaches their kid to strap explosives on their bodies so they can get on a bus and—

Just then, there is this loud crash that shakes the whole building, and for a minute, I actually thought somebody was trying to blow up the school, I swear to friggin God.

“What the hell?” the Kid says, and runs outta the classroom.  We all follow him, through the dark hallway and past the main office and out through the main doors.  And there it is, the Gorilla’s windmill, smashed through the roof a Dr. Trowbridge’s BMW.

“Oh my God!” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “My car!”

“The wind must have blown it off the roof,” Dr. Rosen-Squid says.

Yeah, it musta.


The Kid spent the Christmas holidays at Gina and Ashley’s house in South Philly.  Gina was really into Christmas, Dom wrote in his journal, and spent lots a time decorating to celebrate the season.  Outside she strung red and blue lights on the railing and around the frame a the door—or should I say Dom did—put one a those big inflatable Santa Clauses on the front steps, and hung a wreath on the door.  Inside, she put an electric candle in every window and sprayed the panes wit artificial snow, and over the doorway in the dining room, stuck some mistletoe.  She hung stockings on the mantle, too, three a them—one for little Ashley, one for Gina, and even one for Dom—and their names was sown right on the front in big red letters.  Course, the center of it all was the Christmas tree, a fat Douglas Fir, which the Kid bought from a guy in a gray hoodie and fingerless gloves on Washington Ave., haggling over the price in the freezing rain while Gina and Ashley waited in Gina’s car wit the heat running.  Gina threw a small party to trim the tree, the Kid said in his journal, and they had eggnog and burned cinnamon incense and played Christmas music . . . Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and that one song about mommy getting caught blowing Santa Claus or some such foolishness.

On Christmas Eve, though, it was just the three a them.  Gina made a nice ham dinner and served it in the dining room wit her good dishes and silverware.  Dom helped wit the rice, boiling the water and stirring it, and Ashley folded the napkins and put out the expensive crystal glasses.  She asked to light the dinner candles and so Dom helped her do it, and they lit more incense and played more Christmas music and finally sat to eat, Gina raising her glass a wine in a toast—to the three of us on this wonderful night!—and Dom and Ashley raised their glasses a cola and they all clinked them together, all at once.  Dom wrote that he’d never felt so content inside, so complete.

They finished dinner and all three helped clean up, Gina washing the dishes, Ashley drying them, and Dom putting the plates and glasses back into the cabinets.  The three moved into the living room, then, to watch “The Polar Express,” a long standing tradition at Gina’s house.  Gina and Dom sat on the couch together, Gina sipping her wine and Dom drinking a cup a tea, Ashley sitting Indian style on the floor right in front a the TV.  At the part in the movie when Santa is stuffing all the toys in the big gigantic bag to take on his sleigh, Ashley paused the movie, cause that was also part a the tradition at Gina’s.

“Can I mom?” Ashley asks.  “Please?  Just one?”

“I don’t know,” Gina says, “Dom here’s now.  Why don’t we finish the movie first, okay?”

Please?  Just one?”

“Well, let me ask Dom, since he’s our guest.  Dom, would you mind if—”

“Go for it,” Dom says.

“You didn’t let me finish my sentence.”

“A present, right?  Ashley wants to open a present?  Absolutely.  Do it up, Ash.  Be my guest.  Let’s see what you got there under the tree.”

“Can I mom?”



Ashley goes over to the tree and tries to decided which present to open . . . Dom wrote about this in detail . . . and she puts her hand on one but Dom says no, not that one, you should open the one right there, the one wit the red and green wrapping paper.  This one?  Yeah, that one.  So she picks it up and holds it, shakes it and tries to figure out what it is, but she’s got no idear.  She knows it’s from the Kid, though, cause he’s smiling like a friggin madman, and so she opens it real slow, a little bit at a time, just to mess wit him, or so he thought.

“Snorkel gear!” Ashley says, and it was—a whole set, the snorkel, the mask, the swim fins.  She rips it outta the plastic box and puts it on and now Gina’s gotta get pictures, cause it’s Ashley’s first snorkel set, and she just looks so friggin cute.  The Kid goes over and shows her the right way to use it, how to adjust the mask so it can fit snug on her face, how to step into the swim fins and strap them on tight, and how to put the snorkel in her mouth so she can breathe wit it under water.

Gina’s getting her cellphone outta her purse.  “What do you say?”

“Thank you,” Ashley says wit the snorkel still in her mouth, and now Gina is trying to get the two a them together to get a picture—Dom and Ashley—right in front a the Christmas tree wit Dom’s great present, a present that Ashley says she can’t wait until summer to use, especially now that her casts are off.  The next time her girlfriend has a pool party, well, you better freakin believe she is gonna show up wit Dom’s fabulous snorkel gear, swimming around a like a fish, making everybody, even Tina, jealous.

Gina cleans up the wrapping paper and the shredded plastic box, and tells Ashley to put the snorkel gear away then, back under the tree, so they all could finish the movie.  Gina hits play and they all go back to their places, Ashley on the floor, Dom and Gina on the couch wit Gina’s legs in Dom’s lap, Dom massaging her feet.  The movie played but Dom wasn’t watching, he wrote, he was drunk on the moment, overcome wit love.  It was friggin cheesy, sure, but the Kid wrote it and I know he meant it.

It was official now, see, they’d said the word earlier that day, the “L” word—love.  Gina said it first, first thing in the morning, right after the two made love.  I love you Dominic, she said, just like that, laying next to him in her bed, naked except for her socks, her body half covered wit the sheet; I ain’t no pervert, I’m just repeating what he wrote in his journal.  She rolled over and kissed him then, got back on top a him, as if she was afraid to let him answer her.  Dom said she was looking right in his eyes, that there was an uncertainty there, that there was a howdoyasayit, a vulnerability, that if Dom said he didn’t lover her or refused to answer her, she’d be crushed—the life would run outta her.  This made the Kid love her even more, cause he still couldn’t believe that she chose him, that she loved him, and took the risk of saying it first.

He sat up and kissed her mouth, softly, and said, I love you too, Gina, and it was so powerful, it was such a release for the Kid and the girl that the two ended up crying right in the bed, tears a joy, holding each other and crying tears a joy; the Kid underlined the word joy in his journal.

The credits was rolling on the movie, and it was time for Ashley to go to bed.  Gina put down her empty wine glass, got up off Dom’s lap.  She shut off the TV wit the remote, and asked Dom if he was ready for bed, and he said he was.  They turned off the Christmas tree . . . they don’t need the house burning down in no fire, that’s for sure . . . but kept the outside lights on, cause it was Christmas Eve, and that was the tradition.

Both Gina and Dom tucked Ashley in, together, like a famb’ly.  Gina told her to go right to sleep, no fooling around, cause Santa would be coming soon wit the presents.

Mom,” Ashley says, “enough with the Santa talk.  It’s okay, I know you and Dom want to be alone together.”

“Santa doesn’t like girls who talk back,” Gina says.

“Sure mom, whatever.  I’m tired anyway.  Goodnight, Dom.  Thanks for my snorkel set.”

“Goodnight, Ashley.”

Ashley yawns.  “Night, mom.”

“Goodnight, sweetie.”

Dom and Gina closed Ashley’s door, and went to their own room to make more love.


After the holidays, in the New Year, the Kid got a call at Eisenhower from Dr. Trowbridge.  She was all pissy and moody, the Kid wrote, prob’ly on her period or something, if she still had one.  The first thing she tells the Kid is that her BMW is totaled, that when the windmill flew down off the top a the building and smashed through her roof, it frigged up the frame a the car so bad it was beyond repair.  She still didn’t know what the hell had happened, how a windmill could just fall outta the sky like that, it didn’t make no kinda sense.  The Kid said at first he made a joke to try to lighten the mood, said something like It was prob’ly Snowball, making a reference to the pig in that book . . . what’s it called . . . Animal Farm, but I guess Trowbridge didn’t think it was funny.  She kept moaning and belly-aching about how the Philadelphia Unified School District’s insurance wasn’t gonna cover it, that even though they owned the building and that their policy was up to date, it was technically considered an “act a God,” that wind blowing the windmill off the roof and down onto her BMW was an “act a God,” and they wouldn’t pay.  Now Trowbridge’s insurance rates, like the windmill, was gonna go through the roof, and she was super pissed; she was talking to her lawyer and planning a lawsuit against the District for a cool $100,000, the price a her car plus emotional damages.

Trowbridge was also unhappy wit the way things went during her walk through at World Peace in December, and there was a lot a things—a lot a things—that needed to be addressed in a performance improvement plan, which the Kid was told he needed to write based on the, um, recommendations of Trowbridge, which she wrote down on her clipboard during her last visit; Dom showed me all a these the day he got them.  For one, Trowbridge didn’t like the way the instructional objectives in Ms. Su’s lesson plan was worded.  One a her objectives for her lesson said, Students will be able to complete a science lab using dreidels in order to understand the principle of free fall.  That was no good, Trowbridge said, cause Su used the wrong verb, see.  Ms. Su said students will understand the principle of free fall.  The word “understand” was wrong, all wrong.  What did “understand” mean? Trowbridge said.  Ms. Su shoulda used one a the verbs from whatdoyacallit, from Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains.  Instead a “understand,” Ms. Su shoulda wrote “comprehend” or “explain,” which was more correct.

There was other things that needed improvement, too, like the fact that Ms. Su’s lesson didn’t have no hook—no, ah, anticipatory set.  She just jumped right in talking about free fall and gravity and whatnot, and dreidels.  She shoulda set up the lesson wit something interesting, to grab the students’ attention, like maybe bringing in something colorful, a puppet or a toy or something, so the students coulda held it in their hands and felt it, got excited about.  Or, she coulda started the lesson wit a cool video clip from the Internet, something like that.  Just jumping in and talking about the principals a free fall and gravity, well, that was not solid instruction and was a sure fire way to lose the students, Trowbridge told Dom.

There was also the matter a the school walls, which was plain and boring.  Now, on the last visit, Dr. Trowbridge had specifically told Dom to have his teachers put up more student work, drawings and artwork and such, but there still wasn’t none there.  She also told him to put up copies a the state academic standards on all the walls, and inside the classrooms, too, every classroom.  Did Dom do this?  Not, um, adequately enough.  He had the state standards posted in only four a the 11 classrooms, Trowbridge counted them herself.  Oh, and what about the data binders that was required to be in every classroom on every teacher’s desk?  Dom argued wit Dr. Trowbridge that there was a data binder on all the teachers’ desks, and there was, but there was only like six or seven pages a data in each, and that was not nearly enough.  A good data binder has at least 175 to 200 hundred pages of data in it, Trowbridge told the Kid, didn’t he know this?  Wasn’t he paying attention at the last professional development meeting held by Dr. Trowbridge’s colleague, Dr. Majmudar, on data driven instruction?  Apparently not, she said.

“The state tests will reveal a lot,” Trowbridge says, “I’m assuming you’re ready for them?”

“Absolutely,” the Kid says, and he was ready for them, ready to fail them.  Big time.  It was the perfect plan, he wrote.  He’d have his students, his fake students, fail the test horribly, tell them to just bubble in any answers or simply leave the questions blank if they chose, and that would be it—he’d finally be free.  It was the best way outta the whole mess, cause it wouldn’t totally kill his reputation . . . Dom was still doing a good job at Eisenhower, after all . . . and it would shut Tony up, too.  What could Tony say, anyways?  Dom did everything he was supposed to, let Tony steal a bundle a cash, and this was the end a the road.  World Peace Charter’s freshmen class would fail the math and science tests miserably, proving that his fancy new Egyptian Math and Israeli Science wasn’t working so good, and the School Board would close World Peace down, game over.  According to Dom, it happened all the time, neighborhood schools and charters was getting closed, just look at the 30 schools the School District shut down last year there in the city.

“Yeah, our students are ready for the tests,” the Kid says.

“I hope so.  Who is your testing administrator, by the way?”

“Ah, Mr. Bradshaw.”

“Your principal?”

“That’s correct, yes.”

“That’s a lot for Roger Bradshaw to take on, to be your testing administrator, as well as your principal.”

“For some people, maybe,” the Kid says.  “Not for Roger, though.  He’s up to it.  He’s a real team player.”

“Let me just warn you to be extra careful with testing security.  We’re going to have a state testing monitor there, making sure there are no violations or breeches in security.  I’m assuming that Roger already held a staff meeting about this with your teachers who are going to proctor the tests?”

“He had the meeting yesterday, as a matter of fact.”

“Is everything square, then?  You’re all set to go?”


“Did Roger receive your tests Friday in the mail from the State?”

“He did.”

“Did you count them yet?”

“Roger did, yes.”

“Is everything there that’s supposed to be.  Do the numbers check out?”

“Down to the nostril,” the Kid says, or something like that.

“Any trouble with the bar codes?”


“Okay,” Trowbridge says.  “What are your plans for storing the tests in a secure location?  Do you have a safe, secure place picked out?”

“We’re going to store the tests in a locket cabinet in Roger’s office.”

“Where are the tests now?”

“In a cabinet in Roger’s office.”

“Are they locked?”

“With a deadbolt,” the Kid says.

“Just make sure the teachers who are proctoring the tests count the booklets both before and after they give the tests to the students.  They should count them in front of the testing administrator.  If a booklet is missing—”

“Dr. Trowbridge,” the Kid says, “please.  Everything’s being taken care of.”

“I’m just telling you,” Dr. Trowbridge says. “You’ve heard about the recent cheating scandals, and the State is cracking down.  If there is a security violation at World Peace, anyone involved could lose their professional license.  You, Mr. Bradshaw, or any of the teachers who are proctoring the test.”

“I won’t be at World Peace on the day of the exams,” the Kid says, “I’ll be at Eisenhower, dealing with our school’s state tests.  Mr. Bradshaw will be running the show on testing day at World Peace.”

“Very well.  These are high stakes tests, Mr. Rossetti.  We take them very seriously.  Oh, and make sure you have World Peace’s school improvement plan to me by the 25th, like we talked about.  Roger Bradshaw can write it, but you need to make sure he addresses the issues I mentioned.  Understand?”

“Yes, Dr. Trowbridge.”

“Great.  I’ll be in touch.  Just know the State has its eye on you.”

Part 19

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 17

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 17 of 25

Course, when the Kid was wit Gina and Ashley, he rarely thought about Tamarra.  The Kid spent Thanksgiving at Gina’s parents’ house in Central Jersey, where Gina grew up, and although Dom wrote that the mood was kinda somber cause they just put Gina’s mother’s mother away into the Alzheimer’s home last month—and everyone was missing her except Gina’s father—they all still had a pretty good time.  The rule at Gina’s parents’ house during Thanksgiving was simple: you was allowed to eat and drink anything you wanted, and if you was on any kinda diet and counting those whatdoyacallits . . . those points, today it didn’t count.  Plus, you was allowed to wear anything you wanted so you could be as comfortable as possible, even sweatpants, and that’s just what both Mr. and Mrs. Grasso was wearing, sweatpants and sweatshirts.  Gina and Ashley was twins and wearing almost identical outfits—jeans, big fuzzy turtleneck sweaters, and black boots; Ashley had her casts off for a few weeks now.  And the Kid, well, he was immaculately dressed as usual, wit black loafers, gray tweed pants, and a crisp blue dress shirt; the thing he was most self conscious about, he wrote, was his blue argyle socks, which Mr. Grasso, um, sarcastically complimented him on.

The Kid made small talk wit Gina’s parents . . . he was a department store manager at the mall, and she worked from home, doing some kinda Internet sales thing on her laptop computer.  Gina was the baby a the famb’ly, wit two older sisters who was living in Seattle and Florida, both on their second marriages, both doing their own thing; Gina wasn’t really close wit neither a them.  And speaking a marriages, Dom wrote that Gina’s parents, especially her father, was brutal, just brutal, on Gina’s ex-husband, who also happened to be little Ashley’s father.  Even though neither Gina nor Ashley had seen him in like five years, Mr. and Mrs. Grasso mentioned him twice, making real nasty digs about him.  His name was Andrew but Gina’s parents called him “What’s-His-Name,” like they couldn’t even bear to say his real name.

“So I wonder what What’s-His-Name is doing for Thanksgiving,” Mrs. Grasso was saying after dinner, eating her pie and coffee; Dom wrote the whole thing down in his journal, as usual.

“Who the hell cares,” Mr. Grasso says.  “He’s a deadbeat, so he’s probably in some line at a soup kitchen and—”

Daddy,” Gina cuts in, “can we not talk about this today.  Please.  Dom doesn’t wanna hear about this on Thanksgiving.”

“I don’t mind,” Dom says.

“No, no, it’s okay,” Gina says.  “We’ll talk about something else.”  Gina helped Ashley scoop some whip cream onto her pie.  “Daddy, did you know that Dominic’s the C.E.O. of a charter school?  He’s a principal in Philly, but he also opened this new school this year, called World Peace Charter.”

“Really?” Mr. Grasso says.  “A new school.  Whereabouts?”

“In Northeast Philadelphia.  Well, the building’s in Northeast, but the school is actually a cyber school.  The kids do most of their work online, over the Internet.”

“Really?” Mr. Grasso says.  “How about that.  I think I read something in the paper about cyber schools.  There was this one school, called ‘Success’ something or other, and they weren’t doing so well, actually.  They had real low state test scores, and the school board was going to shut them down.  And, wait a second, wasn’t the CEO stealing money from there, too?”

“I don’t know,” Gina says, “but not at Dom’s school.  World Peace Charter is the best.  Tell my dad about it, Dom.  Tell him about the article in Education World.”

“An article in the paper?” Gina’s mom says.  “Oh, wow!”

“It wasn’t that big a deal,” Dom says.

Gina kept going on about it, though.  “Oh yes it was, yes it was.  World Peace Charter is 100 percent green and helps the environment.  They also got this new way to teach math, called . . . what’s it called?”

“Egyptian Math,” Dom says.

“Yeah, Egyptian math.  It’s so cool.  I wanted to get Ashley in there, but there’s a waiting list.”  Gina nudged Dom under the table with her foot.  “Now, if only Dom could pull some strings and get Ashley in there . . .”

The Kid just smiled, shook his head and smiled.  He wrote in his journal that it was then, right then, that the anxiety started coming on, that he couldn’t keep this secret from Gina no more, that it was too big, too much of a . . . burden.  He seen Ashley sitting across the table from him, playing wit her whip cream and pie, so gentle and beautiful, and he hadda excuse hisself from the table for a minute to go upstairs to use the bathroom.  He went in there and locked the door and went to the sink and splashed water on his face, trying to breathe deep, to get control a hisself again.  But he was terrified, terrified—he even underlined the word when he wrote it in his journal—of losing Gina and Ashley, who was now a big part a his life, a giant part a his life.  That’s what was at the heart of everything, of all his fear and anxiety: Gina and little Ashley, and the very real possibility a losing both a them over all a this.  It was not only possible, the Kid wrote, but probable, like the inevitable crash of a guy who rides a motorcycle: it wasn’t if, but when.  Everybody who rode a motorcycle crashed, you just hadda hope you was a smart enough rider to walk away from it and live to ride another day.  Was the Kid a smart enough rider?  I don’t know, but that’s what he wrote in his journal: Am I a smart enough rider?  Am I?

He thought about telling them right then, just getting it off his chest and going downstairs and telling them all right then, but that was ridiculous; Gina’s parents didn’t need to know about any a this.  He could tell Gina and Ashley on the hour ride home to their house, try his best to put the whole mess into words that they might understand, but that was impossible; I even knew this, and I dropped outta school in 9th grade.  Gina’s first reaction would be that Dom was a liar, that he wasn’t who she thought he was, and this would . . . what’s the word . . . shatter all the trust they had for each other.  What could the Kid say, seriously?  My uncle Tony made me do it?  He made me steal all the money from the poor children a Filthy-delphia and put it into a friggin strip club down in Baltimore for Christ’s friggin sake?  It was so ridiculous, the Kid wrote, that he couldn’t even say it out loud to hisself.

Course, there was also the very real matter a protecting Gina and little Ashley, of not telling them for their own good; God only knew what my manic brother would do to keep them quiet if he found out they knew.  This, Dom wrote, this was also part of his keeping silent about World Peace Charter.  He couldn’t tell them, and the way he wrote it in his journal was: I can’t tell them for their own good, even if I wanted to!

I guess the Kid musta had that revelation standing right there in the bathroom, cause he wrote that he felt a little better about things, at least he did then.  He washed his face and hands, gargled wit some mouthwash, combed his thick black hair.  He went back downstairs into the kitchen and they wasn’t talking about World Peace Charter no more, but about What’s-His-Name, how he was a deadbeat husband and father, how he was an all round jack-wad and douchebag.  When they saw Dom, though, they changed the subject, just to be polite.

“Everything come out okay?” Mr. Grasso says, loading the dishes into the dishwasher.

“All good,” Dom says.

“We thought you might have fallen into the toilet,” Mrs. Grasso says.

“Nope.  Just made a small deposit, that’s all.”  The Kid looked at his watch.  “So what’s the plan, Gina?  We still have to head over to my mother’s for a quick visit.  I told her we’d be there around seven . . .”

“Chew and screw,” Mr. Grasso says, laughing, breaking the Kid’s stones.

The Kid didn’t laugh, though.  He wasn’t in a laughing mood.


During the State and School District walk through on the first day a school, Dr. Trowbridge told the Kid she was gonna bring some people down from Columbia’s Teachers College to do another observation of World Peace Charter, cause she was so impressed wit the teaching that was going on there.  She was gonna bring down a coupla professors and a dozen graduate students to meet all the kids and their teachers, take some pictures before heading back up to Harlem, New York, where they’d hold a conference and show all the pictures to all the other education professors and graduate students in the department who couldn’t go on the observation visit.  Well, like a week before the winter break, the Kid gets a call from Dr. Trowbridge and she asks if she can come visit World Peace Charter that Tuesday to do the observation, but says she can’t bring the crew from Columbia cause of a glitch in the schedule, but could she bring a crew down from the prestigious Baumgartner College of Arts and Humanities?  The Baumgartner folk was almost as important as the Columbia folk in terms a their, um, contributions to urban education, Dr. Trowbridge told the Kid, almost as important, but not quite.

Well, this wasn’t gonna work, the Kid told Trowbridge, sorry.  Bringing the Baumgartner people was fine, but that Tuesday wasn’t gonna work.  Could she come back in the New Year, when things at World Peace wasn’t so crazy?  No, she couldn’t come back then, actually, cause the Chair of the Baumgartner Education Department was gonna be in Bolivia on sabbatical studying . . . howdoyasayit, educational pluralism next semester, and she’d already committed to the visit at World Peace Charter, had already rearranged her classes and whatnot.

“But there’s not going to be any students in the building,” the Kid told Dr. Trowbridge, or something like that; I can’t remember his journal exactly.  “The students are only in school at the Northeast location every first Tuesday of the month.”

“Jeez, that’s right,” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “Well, that’s okay.  We’ll just take a tour of the building, meet some of the teachers, and sample the curriculum.  We’ve already spread the word about the Egyptian Math . . . good stuff, let me tell you . . . but what we’re really interested in now is the Israeli Science.  Oh, and the fact that World Peace Charter is 100 percent green.  How does that work, exactly?”

“Um, we get all our power from a wind farm,” the Kid says.

“Great to hear it.  Do you contract with CPGP?”

“Um . . . CPGP?”

“Clean Power, Green Power, Inc.?  I think Philadelphia is in their service area.”

“Oh, yeah, I didn’t know what you meant at first, right.  Yeah, CPGP, I think, but I’d have to double check, because Mr. Bradshaw, our principal, takes care of that.”

“Great investment.  It’s clean and renewable, and part of your bill helps fund progressive organizations, like the Green Justice Coalition, and Green Action America, and I think Big Green Revolution.”

“Hmm, interesting.”

“So yeah, a few education professors and about a dozen grad students from Baumgartner will be coming through with me next Tuesday, so I’m just giving you a heads up.”

“Actually,” the Kid says, “that’s no good.  Like I said, we’re really crazy right now . . .”

“Mr. Rossetti . . . this is a bit awkward . . . do you know who I am?  I’m an educational auditor from the State Department of Education.  Loose translation: your boss.  You don’t tell me what’s convenient for you, I tell you what’s convenient for me.”

“Right,” the Kid says, “I get it.  I apologize.  It’s just so busy here . . .”

“We’re all busy, Mr. Rossetti.”

“Yeah, absolutely.  My mistake.  Next Tuesday it is.  I’m marking it down in my calendar now.”

“Very good, so I’ll see you then.”

“Yes.  See you then.”

“Great.  Goodbye.”

So the Kid has the State coming back in for another visit in five days, and now they is bringing in these jackasses from some college to poke around and agitate everybody.  Course, there wasn’t gonna be no students in the building . . . so the Kid didn’t have to worry about paying another $12,000 to hire no actors . . . but he’d still need to have some teachers and faculty staff in there, and he’d also need to deal wit the electricity problem.  See, World Peace Charter not only didn’t have any green energy, they didn’t have no friggin energy at all.  To save money and keep from taking cash outta Eisenhower’s budget, the Kid stopped paying the whatchamacallits—the utility bills, and after three months, the power company finally came and shut off all the electricity.  Now, to fix this problem, the Kid would have to go down to the electric company in person wit a check for $1,216.77, the overdue bill and late charge . . . God only knew how it was this much, the Kid didn’t even turn on the friggin lights in three months . . . and also the $150 for the reconnection fee.

And like I says, he hadda go down to their office in person, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.  Well, the Kid had no time to do this, see, cause he was still working fulltime running Eisenhower, and couldn’t leave in the middle a the day to go down town and fight all the traffic and wait in some friggin line for two hours to pay the stupid bill.  So he asks me to do it, says hey Uncle Manny, can ya do me a biggie, can ya go downtown and pay this freakin electric bill so I can get the power turned back on at World Peace, cause there is these State people and college professor dicks coming next Tuesday, and we can’t have them wandering around in the friggin dark.  So I says sure, kid, I’ll do it for ya, no problem.  See, Dominic was like a son to me, if I didn’t mention that already to you’s guys, and I’d do practically anything for him.  After I says yes, though, I realized there was a slight problem.  It was already Thursday night, and the electric company was closed, so I couldn’t do it then.  I couldn’t do it Friday, neither, cause I had this thing to take care a for Tony, and Tony wasn’t gonna wait.  I also had a thing to do for Tony on Monday, too, and I couldn’t change that, neither.

I was in a real pinch, let me tell ya.  I’d already told the Kid I’d do it, and I wasn’t gonna go back on my word, no way.  Now you’s guys prob’ly can guess what I did, who I asked to help me, and I don’t think it was that, um, complicated of a thing to ask.  I went and asked the Gorilla to go down to the electric company wit the $1,216.77 check and wait in the line and get the electricity turned back on for the Kid.  I made it real clear, too.  I says to the Gorilla, I says, “Now Petie, let’s go over this one more time.  You is gonna go down to the electric company wit the check, wait in the line there, give the check to the lady behind the desk, and have the electricity turned back on, understand?”

“Yeah Manny,” he says.  “I got it.”

“You sure, Petie?  You positive you understand?”

“Yeah Manny.  I understand.”

This was Friday morning, this was, and that’s the last I heard about it until Tuesday morning, when the Kid went to World Peace to get ready for the State people who would be there at 8:30 a.m.  And wouldn’t ya friggin believe it—the power still wasn’t on, not anywhere in the building, and believe me, the Kid checked, went around and flicked all the light switches on-and-off on both floors and nothing happened.  He called me up, at like five-friggin-thirty-in-the-morning, three hours before me and the Gorilla was supposed to be down there at the school to deal wit the State people, asking what the hell happened, why wasn’t there any power in the building, and didn’t I go and pay the bill like he’d asked me to do?  Course I paid it, I told him.  I gave the Gorilla a check for $1,216.77.

No,” the Kid says to me on the phone.  “No, Uncle Manny, you didn’t.”

“What, kid?  I had a thing to do for Tony, so I asked Petie.  Are you sure the power ain’t working?”

“No, Uncle Manny, it’s not.  I checked all the switches.”

“All of them?”

“All of them.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I hurry up and shower and get dressed and go grab the Gorilla.  The whole ride to the school I’m asking Petie what the frig happened, how did he frig this all up, and he keeps saying that he didn’t know what I was talking about, that he did what I told him to do.  We get to the school and park the car, and it’s just starting to get light out; I can see the Kid inside the main office a the school wit a flash light.  I get outta the car and that’s when I see Petie pointing to the roof a the school, pointing and saying that he was right and I was wrong.

“Holy friggin Jesus,” I says, and I can’t believe my freakin eyes: there was a gigantic aluminum windmill on the roof, one a those 20 foot windmills that famers used to pump air into ponds and whatnot.  It was really there, kinda wobbling a little in the wind, its blades spinning ever so slightly.  The Gorilla was still pointing at it, smiling all proud like he did a good thing.  I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out.  Member when I said Petie had an IQ of 75?  Well, I take that back, it wasn’t that high.  It couldn’t a been.  How in the world could one person tell another person to go to the electric company wit a check so they could pay the bill, and that person think that what the other person really meant was for them to go buy a freakin 20 foot aluminum windmill and install it on the goddamn roof?  You’s guys tell me, how in Christ’s name does that happen?

“Wind energy,” Petie says.


“I know what you told me Manny,” Petie says, “but I figured I’d kill two birds wit one stone, see.”

“Oh yeah?” I says.  “How’d ya figure that?”

“The State people is coming today, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“And we needed power, right?  Wind energy?  Now we got both.”

“But we ain’t got no power, Petie.”

“What do ya mean?”

“What do I mean?  What the fig do I mean?  Are you a complete moron, Pete, or what, huh?  You gotta do more than just put the windmill up on the roof to make electricity!”

“Like what?”

“I don’t freakin know, but you gotta do other stuff, too.  You gotta hook shit up to the windmill and whatnot, hook up cables and hoses and shit like that.  So you can pump the wind into the electrical sockets.  Are you stupid, or what?”

“Don’t we got any hoses?  Maybe the kid’s got some.”

“Yeah, forgetaboutit.  That kinda stuff costs too much cash.”

The Kid sees me and the Gorilla from inside the office, and waves to us.  He comes running outside and asks Petie about going to the electric company wit the check, if he knew what happened.  Did he pay the bill?  Did they say when the power would be back on?  Nobody says nothing.  The Kid sees we’re looking at something up on the roof, and turns to see what it is.

“What’re you guys looking at?” he says, and then he sees what it is, and his jaw drops, and his eyes get real big and wide.

Part 18

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

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?”


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


“Yes!  How about a sarcophagus?”


“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.”


“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

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?”


“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.”


“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.”


“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.



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

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?”


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   

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.”


“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  

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