Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 21

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 21 of 25

There was a buncha people lined-up outside World Peace Charter School, at least 40 or 50 a them, and there was more showing up all the time.  The Kid had no idear about any a this, until the Philadelphia Post called him up and asked him if he had any comment about it.  No, he said, he didn’t have no comment.  It prob’ly had something to do wit student admission interviews for the fall, the Kid figured, which opened for World Peace Monday, March 4th.  Course, it was only Friday, March, 1st, and the last thing the Kid was thinking about was World Peace next school year.  There was gonna be no World Peace next school year, cause the School Board was gonna shut them down, Dom wrote in his journal.  He was counting on it. The math and science scores would be horrendous, and there would be pressure to revoke the school’s charter.  Plus, U.S. Rep. Barry Al Akbar, Sr., was prob’ly in the background bad mouthing the place, using all his connections to replace the Kid’s school wit Achievement Kings Charters, Inc., which ran a better show and had much more experience.

Next school year for World Peace Charter wasn’t even on the Kid’s radar, he wrote, not for a second; he was spending most a his time thinking about buying a ring for Gina, and about helping Tamarra get into Cheltenham Academy, among other things.  It was true that the student admissions interviews did begin on Monday, March 4th, at 8:00 a.m., though.  This date was set a long time ago, when the Kid hadda submit his charter application to the School Board, showing his school plan for the next three years.  The Kid wrote in his, um, admissions policy that starting in 2013, students would have to come down to the school to interview wit the school faculty staff, in addition to completing the application; this policy was written on the World Peace website and stated that only the first 200 students would be offered an interview.  The Kid wrote in his journal that he figured this would cut down on people applying, but besides that, he said he didn’t even think that there would be no World Peace Charter by then, anyways; he never seriously thought the charter would get approved from the start.

Course, it did get approved, and all this craziness . . . what’s the word . . . ensued.  Now he was stuck wit dealing wit it.  And by 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, when the bell rang at Eisenhower High School to end the day, there was over 100 people at World Peace.  The Kid got another call about it, this time from Action News.  Did he have a comment concerning the long lines a people camped outside World Peace Charter School in the 25 degree weather, saving a spot for their sons and daughters so they could be the first ones interviewed on Monday morning?  Well, the Kid said, not at this time, no.  But the Kid knew now that he couldn’t keep hiding from all this, that he’d have to go down there hisself and face up to it, which he eventually did.  He went down right when it was getting dark and saw the scene for hisself, and he couldn’t friggin believe his eyes.  There was television news vans setting up their equipment—wit their satellite dish things up in the air—and there was big spotlights on reporters who was standing in front a World Peace wit their microphones talking into the cameras.  People was being interviewed, too, the parents who was standing in the long lines.  Dom wrote in his journal that he just sat in his car across the street and kinda watched it all, watched and listened.

This one lady, who had on this big wool hat and was wrapped in a green Philadelphia Eagles comforter, says to the reporter, “Well, I’ve been in line for eight hours now, since eight this morning.  But it’s worth it, if it means we can get our son Robert into World Peace, it’s worth it.”

And the reporter says something like, “Sounds like you mean business.”

“I do,” she says.  “I got my hat on, and my blanket here, and this thermos a coffee.  I took off from work today, but my husband Rick, he’s on his way down here, and he’s gonna take over for me.”

“He’s going to save your son’s spot?” the reporter says.

“He’s gonna save our spot.  We only have . . . lets’ see . . . about 62 hours until the doors open for the interviews, and we can make it.  Believe me, we can make it.”

Dom wrote that he was shocked, completely shocked; he had no idear what he should do.  Course, he made up his mind real quick when a parent spotted his candy apple red Porsche 911 Turbo S and started pointing and saying Hey, hey, is that Dom Rossetti?  Across the street!  The C.E.O.!  That’s his car!  None a the parents went over, though, cause they didn’t wanna lose their spots in the line.  A coupla news reporters started to go over wit their cameras and microphones.  The Kid saw this and started up his car and without turning on his lights, pulled outta there and sped away.  He wasn’t sure if this was caught on camera, but the whole thing did make both the five o’ clock and six o’ clock news that night.  The Kid was supposed to go to Gina’s for dinner—he went there every night—but he called and cancelled . . . I have a ton of work to do, sorry, I’ll see you and Ashley in the morning . . . and decided to go home to his condo in Center City to clear his head and figure things out.

He was sitting on his leather sofa watching the news, he wrote, holding his head in his hands and hoping not to see his Porsche on TV, when his cellphone rang.  It was Tony, my brother, and he was all excited about seeing World Peace Charter on the news.

“Hey, Dominic!” Tony says to the Kid.  “You watching this on the television?”

“Hi Uncle Tony,” Dom says.  “Yeah, I’m watching the news.”

“I’m so proud of ya,” Tony says.  “You’s doing such a good job wit that school.  Look, just look at all those people in that line wanting to get into our school.  It’s a beautiful thing, kid.  You’s doing real good.”

The Kid wrote in his journal that he didn’t honestly know whether his uncle Tony knew that there wasn’t no school, that it was all just a hoax.  He thought Tony knew it was fake, but now he wasn’t so sure.

“There is no school, uncle Tony,” the Kid says.

“Yeah, forgetaboutit.  Don’t try to be modest, kid.  You’re a good man, and you’s doing good for the city and all the children, even the coloreds.  And you care about the famb’ly, too, which you know is the most important thing.  If I was there wit you I’d give you a big hug and kiss, Dominic.”

“Yeah,” the Kid says, “thanks.  But I gotta go, uncle Tony.  Sorry, but I have a lot of work to do and—”

“Yeah, forgetaboutit,” Tony says.  “Have some manners, kid.  I’m calling you on the phone to thank you . . . your uncle Tony, who loves you . . . is calling you up on the phone to thank you, and you’s gonna hang up on him?”

“No, but—”

“But nothing.  Now listen, cause I have some good news I wanna tell ya.  I was thinking, since there’s all these parents outside our charter school wanting to get their kids in, we should open up some more schools, just to make room for all the others kids who can’t get into World Peace.  We could open up maybe five or ten more schools, and you could run them, since you’s doing such a good job wit this one now.”

“Uncle Tony, I—”

“Let me finish, Dominic.  Stop interrupting me for Christ’s sake.  Now, I know you think I’m some kinda moron, cause I never finished high school, but I actually got all the papers and applications together for our new charter schools, and I’m already starting to fill them out.  See, I remember how you did it last time, and I’m just gonna do it like that again.  I got this guy, this retired school superintendent friend a mine—he owes me from way back—and he’s actually helping me wit some a this stuff, gonna put his name on the application.  He might want a piece of it, he might wanna be the C.E.O. or maybe C.F.O. of one a these schools so he could pull in some extra cash for this shore house project he’s working on, but I ain’t got no problem wit this, do you?”

“I don’t know, uncle Tony.  I’m really stressed out right now.”

“Relax, kid.  I know you’s got a lot a stuff going on and whatnot.  That’s why you don’t have to worry about doing any a the paperwork or nothing.  I’ll take care of it, me and my retired superintendent friend.  He’ll do all the applications, go to all the meetings wit the School Board, all of that.  You just rest up and get ready to run the schools when they get approved.  We missed the deadline for next school year, so the charters won’t open until I think they said the fall of 2014.”

The Kid’s arm started getting numb, and the room started spinning, and he wrote in his journal that it was all over now, he’d reached the end a his rope.  He couldn’t take it no more, none of it.  He was gonna tell Tony it was over, right there, right then, and he didn’t care what happened, he didn’t care if Tony screamed and carried on, if he threatened to whack Dom and stick him in the trunk of a car or burry him in the weeds somewhere.  It was over, it was the end.

“Uncle Tony—” he started saying, but stopped, cause there was another call coming through on Dom’s cellphone, a call from Willard Fairweather, the President of the Philadelphia Unified School Board.  Dom looked at the caller ID and without thinking, told Tony he’d call him back, he hadda take this real important call which he had no idear how he was gonna handle cause the entire world was just falling down all around him.

“Kid—” Tony says, but Dom hangs up, and takes the other call.

“Hello?” the Kid says.

“Is Dominic Rossetti there?”

“Yes, this is Dominic.  Can I help you?”

“Hi, Dominic.  Willard Fairweather.  We have to talk, right now.  We have a real problem here.  Have you seen what’s going on down at World Peace?  Have you watched the news? Did Roger Bradshaw contact you yet?”

“Um, well . . .”

“Did you know there are parents lining up in the cold down there, saving places for their kids for Monday’s interviews?  Are you aware of this?”

“Well, I’ve been swamped with work at Eisenhower . . .”

“We can’t have this, Dom.  It’s not safe.  People are going to freeze to death.  Plus, it’s not fair and equitable.  I’ve been talking with Superintendent Crothers, as well as the rest of the School Board, and we feel that maybe we should call this off, reschedule the interviews for another date.  People are starting to complain, Dom.  It’s fine that you are limiting the interviews to 200 students, but you can’t do it on a first come, first served basis.”

“Okay,” the Kid says, as if he gave a frig about any of it anyways; there wasn’t even no goddamned school.

“It’s not fair, Dom, it just isn’t.  These parents that are lining up out there tonight, they are mostly . . . how shall I put this . . . they are mostly parents of the children who have the resources to do this, I guess you could say.  They can afford to wait out in the cold, and have family members who can save a place for them in line.  There are a lot of students whose parents work two jobs, who can’t get out there in the cold to save a spot, understand?”

“Yeah,” Dom says.

“Some parents might have medical conditions, too, might have asthma or some other health issue that might keep them from being able to go out there in the cold and get in line for their son or daughter.  This lining up in 20 degree weather is insane, Dom, and it’s not fair and equitable.  Plus, it’s dangerous.  Do you want a lawsuit from this?  I don’t.  The city and state don’t, either.  We have to call this off.  Seriously.”

“Okay, what do we do, then?”

“We’ll hold a lottery,” Fairweather says.  “We’ll go down there tonight, me and you and maybe one other School Board member, and we’ll explain about the safety and equity issues, and we’ll simply tell these parents lined up outside the school that they can go home, that sometime in the near future, they will be contacted and given the chance to put their child’s name in a lottery, and the first two hundred names drawn will be given the opportunity to interview for admittance into World Peace, to have their names entered into the second lottery.”

“A lottery to get into a lottery?” Dom says.

“Yes, I guess so, but it’s the only way to make it fair for everyone.  Do you have a better idea?”

“No,” the Kid says, “I don’t.”

“It’s settled then,” Fairweather says, and in the end it was, thank Christ.

_______

Now, the next day after the phone call wit Tony and Willard Fairweather and the whatdoyacallit, the fiasco down at World Peace, the Kid was on the verge a having a mental breakdown, the kinda thing he had years ago in his apartment when he got in real deep wit the Internet gambling and me and the Gorilla hadda come to his apartment and threaten to bang down his door to save him.  He wrote in his journal that he knew he hadda confront his uncle Tony, he knew he hadda strap-on a set a balls and face my selfish prick-of-a-brother and tell him it was over, the charter school racket was finished, that at the end a the school year the Kid was gonna step down as C.E.O. of World Peace, and get on wit the real things in his life.  Now, there was still a good chance that the charter would get, um, revoked once the math and science scores came out, and this would be the easy way out; it would also make it nearly impossible for Tony to open up any more charters.  But the Kid didn’t wanna count on this, cause he knew deep down that politics was thicker than both blood and water—and test scores, too—and that God only knew what was gonna happen when the results a the state exams came out later that month.  And if the School Board didn’t revoke World Peace’s charter, what was the Kid gonna do?  Well, he was gonna do what he shoulda done from the beginning: tell Tony that he could take his charter school scam and stick it up his ass, that he wanted no parts of it, and if Tony tried to extort him again like before, the Kid would go public, maybe even go to you’s guys, the F.B.I.  The only question was, the Kid wrote, when did he do it?  Before or after he proposed to Gina?

Well, the Kid wrote that that was an easy answer—he’d propose to Gina first, he had to.  See, if anything happened to the Kid once he told Tony he was out, at least Gina and Ashley would know that he truly loved them, that he’d asked them to spend the rest a his life wit them.  And the Kid would know, too, that he’d done what he’d waited a lifetime to do to the woman he’d waited a lifetime for, and this would make everything okay.  If Tony killed him, at least he’d have the satisfaction of knowing he was engaged to Gina, and that he’d done the right thing; in a way, the Kid almost hoped for this to happen, that Tony would kill him so he’d never have to tell Gina the truth, that World Peace was all a big lie, that for the last year and a half, him and Tony was making a fool of everybody, Gina and little Ashley included.

The Kid wrote all of that in his journal, my hand on a stack a Bibles.  He wrote, I love Gina and Ashley, and I don’t care if Tony kills me.  He wrote it and underlined it three times.  And the crazy thing was, after that, the Kid also wrote that by putting this down in words, by coming to terms wit his fear and his true feelings, he felt better, he felt the anxiety and panic and numbness and dizziness start to fade away, and courage and strength and hope come in its place.  So it was settled, then; the Kid would propose to Gina, and shortly after, if the School Board didn’t vote to close World Peace down, go see Tony and tell him to go frig hisself.

First, though, the Kid needed to buy a ring.  Instead a going to some chain place in the mall like he did before, he went to a real store—Bibi’s Fine Jewelers in Central Jersey, owned by the father a Gina’s girlfriend, Janice—and this time picked out the right ring for the right woman.  He even bought a book, the Kid did, a book about how to understand diamonds and whatnot, about how to judge the whatdoyacallit, the four C’s—cut, color, clarity, and carat-size.  He learnt that cut was the proportions a the diamond . . . round, or heart, or oval, or pear . . . and that color was rated from D to Z, D being colorless and Z being light yellow.  He learnt about the clarity, which was rated from flawless to inclusions to imperfect, and of course he learnt about carat-size, which he kinda knew about already.

So he made an appointment to see Shericka, and when he got to Bibi’s, she was there waiting for him in her office.  They shook hands and the Kid explained that he knew Janice, and they talked about her for a bit, and then they started talking about Gina, and how Dom was gonna propose to her.  Shericka asked Dom what kinda diamond he was looking for, and Dom said he wanted a round diamond—a classic cut—and Shericka agreed that yes, this was the prettiest, and what she hoped to have; she told the Kid that her and her boyfriend, Kevin, was real close to getting engaged, too.  And the Kid also said he wanted something as clear and as colorless as possible, cause the sparkle, he said, is more important to him than just the size; a diamond can be big, he said, but if it was dull and cloudy, what was the point?

“I understand,” Shericka says.  “So about how much are you looking to spend?”

“Around seven thousand,” the Kid says; it woulda been more, he wrote, but his finances was shot from World Peace Charter.

“Wonderful.  And about how big do you wanna go?”

“Around a carat, give or take.  I want a good balance—a good size, but also a good sparkle.”

“Absolutely.”

So Shericka leaves her office and goes into the vault and brings back three different stones in little white envelopes and takes them out on her desk and puts them on this black felt pad so the Kid can, um, inspect them real close.  She tells him the size and grade and price a each one, and he looks at them all, holding them in this silver tweezers, almost dropping it on the floor twice; his hands was shaking, he wrote, he was so nervous.  All the stones was about the same price—around $7,000, two was a little bigger and less clear, and the other was a little smaller but nearly colorless and flawless—it sparkled so hard, Dom wrote, that it almost burned out his eyeballs.  He even made a joke wit Shericka, told her that he needed sunglasses just to look at.

“It’s beautiful,” she says.  “Absolutely brilliant.  I think Gina will love it.”

“I think so, too.”

Shericka asks the Kid if he wants to look at anymore diamonds, or if he’s made his decision.

“Hmm, I think I’ll take this one.  Yeah, this feels about right.”

“Good choice,” Shericka says, smiling, and admits that if Kevin was to get this for her, she’d be quite the happy gal.  Course, the Kid wasn’t done, cause he still needed to pick out a ring for Gina; he ended up choosing an 18 karat white gold band in a Tiffany setting.  Now for a while, back in the 1980s, I was doing some business down there in Filthy-delphia’s jeweler’s row, doing some odds and ends for a diamond dealer Jerry D’Alessandro knew, so I knew all about diamonds and the fours C’s and whatnot.  And let me say this, the Kid got a good deal for that engagement ring, a friggin good deal indeed.  Actually, for some reason, I remember the GIA report by heart, cause the Kid showed it to me right before he proposed to Gina: the diamond was 0.95 carats, a G color grade, and a VS2 clarity; it was friggin beautiful.  Funny how ya just remember that kinda stuff, huh?

The final price on the ring, the whole kit and caboodle, came to I think $7,500 and some change, I think that’s what the Kid said.  As Shericka wrote it all up, she made small talk.

“So, where are you gonna pop the question?’ she says.  “Do you have a spot picked out yet?”

“Not yet,” the Kid says, but this was a lie, see.  He didn’t wanna tell, cause he didn’t wanna jinx it, like before.  He knew where he was gonna propose to Gina, knew the time and the place—Saturday, March 23rd, in Princeton, New Jersey.  As a matter a fact, even as Shericka was filling out the paperwork, it was all set up and planned out; he wrote it all out in detail before hand in his journal.  The Kid was gonna drive Gina and Ashley up to Princeton for a photo shoot he had arranged—in Gina’s car, cause there wasn’t enough room for Ashley in his Porsche.  The photographer was gonna follow the three a them around Nassau St., getting pictures a them eating ice cream, laughing, and holding hands.  They might even go across the street onto Princeton University’s campus and take a stroll, get pictures by the sculptures near the art gallery there.  Eventually, though, the photographer would lead them over to the courtyard on Witherspoon, right next to the library, to a café table for solo pictures.  The photographer would first have the Kid pose wit a tea cup, and when he was done, have Gina pose wit a spoon.  On the spoon would be engraved the words, Will you marry me?, at which point the Kid would tell Gina to turn around, and he’d be on one knee holding the ring, asking if she’d marry him.  Course, he wouldn’t just ask her to marry him, he’d read the poem he wrote.  I actually got that here wit me, too, along wit the news articles and the copy a his journal.  Here, let me read it to you’s guys:

Will You Marry Me?

 

Sometimes, when I wake-up in the morning,

and the world floods my brain like a tidal wave,

and I struggle to keep from drowning,

the thought of you pulls me to the surface.

 

Many times I’ve lain on my mattress

convinced you were a dream.  After all,

I’ve waited a lifetime to find you.

I’ve walked a million miles on barren roads,

climbed the peaks of dusty mountains

searching for a woman to unlock me.

 

Then you appeared.  Like a golden sun

blazing on the horizon, you give me warmth.

You bring beauty to my being, endow me with

the power to love; when I kiss you

the earth quakes and flowers blossom.

 

So give me your hand, I’m on one knee,

asking the question, “Will you marry me?”

That’s what the Kid had planned, see.  That’s how he was gonna propose to Gina, sweetie pie Gina.

Shericka finishes the paperwork and hands the Kid a receipt.  He put down a $500 deposit on the ring, which would be sized and set and ready to be picked up in three days; when Dom came to get it, Shericka told him, he’d have to have a certified bank wit the balance.

“So you’re all set here,” Shericka says, and reaches out and shakes Dom’s hand.  “Thanks,” Dom says, smiles, and walks outta the store.

Part 22

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