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?”
“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 . . .”
“. . . 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.
“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.”
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.