Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 13

Illustration by Sean Wang

a satire by Christopher Paslay

When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.

Part 13 of 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm,” Dom says.

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

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

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

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

“Is she on medication?” the Kid asks.

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

“Hmm,” the Kid says.

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

“I’ll see what I can do.”

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

“I can imagine,” Gina says.

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

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

“You can call me Dom,” the Kid says.

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

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

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

_______

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

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

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

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

“Why just the first marking period?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, fine.

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

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

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

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

“You have a toe ring,” the Kid says.

“I do.  Wanna see it?”

“Sure.”

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

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

Part 14   

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