Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 16

Illustration by Sean Wang

a satire by Christopher Paslay

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

Part 16 of 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 17

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