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 22 of 25
Just like the Kid had said before, politics was thicker than both blood and water. A buncha stuff happened the week before the Kid proposed to Gina, and none of it was good, at least not for the Kid. The results a the math and science exams was in, and World Peace Charter’s scores was some a the highest in the entire friggin state; in fact, they was the highest. World Peace was the number one school in Pennsylvania, wit 100 percent of students passing both tests. Being that I was the principal a World Peace, and also the official whatdoyacallit . . . test administrator . . . I was really, um, curious to find out the results. They was published in the newspapers, but this still didn’t tell me how in the friggin world World Peace scored so freakin high. I was right there when those fake students took the tests, and although Dr. Trowbridge and that other little jack-wad—Richard-what-ever-the-frig-his-name-was—said I wasn’t allowed to read the tests after they was turned in by the students, I read them anyways, cause the Kid told me to. The Kid said to me, Uncle Manny, make sure you look at the tests to see if the actors are really taking them or not, so I did, and they wasn’t really taking them; most a the questions was left blank, and most a the tests had different answers bubbled in.
I got my answer about the high test scores soon enough, though. On the day the Kid was supposed to propose to Gina, Saturday, March 23rd, I get a call from this guy named Gerald Coonan, and he starts talking to me on the phone like I’m supposed to know who the frig he is. Now, at the time I didn’t know who the Christ this prick sonnavabitch was—wouldn’t know him if I ran him over wit my car—though in the back a my head, for some crazy reason, I thought I’d heard the name before somewheres. So he’s talking to me on the phone like a million friggin miles an hour, just rambling on and on, and I says to the prick, I says, “Whoa, whoa, slow the frig down, numbskull. Who the hell is you again?”
“Gerald Coonan,” he says.
“I don’t know no goddamn Gerald Coonan.”
And he says, “I’m friends with Eddie Gunsenhouser, he never mentioned me? I’m the C.E.O. and national sales manager from 21st Century Data, Corp.”
I was starting to remember a little bit. “Oh yeah,” I says, “right. You’s the guy that sells the standardized tests to the school districts and shit like that, right?”
“Right,” he says.
“Yeah, now I remember you. 21st Century Data. You’s guys pull in a buncha cash, from what Eddie told me.”
“Well, it’s not really about the money, it’s about the product. At 21st Century Data, we believe that well designed tests can help children succeed in 21st century society.”
“It’s true,” Coonan says. “We have the research to back our claims.”
“Yeah, so, why is you calling me up?”
And then he told me why, and when he did, I wasn’t surprised. Coonan, see, he was trying to sell his standardized tests in other cities besides Filthy-delphia, but he was having trouble, cause there was all these other test companies who had already moved in and, um, established themselves, grabbed-up the contracts. Coonan said he was trying to make headway in Camden, New Jersey, and in a buncha fancy school districts in up state New York. Course, Coonan was doing okay for hisself, cause 21st Century Data already had a contract wit the State to produce the state exams, and wit the Philadelphia Unified School District to produce their monthly benchmark tests, but Coonan said he was trying to expand, branch out a bit. Plus, 21st Century Data put out a real good product, see. Their tests was the best for helping kids learn, and he had a whole file cabinet fulla research reports back at his office to prove it.
“You gotta talk to the kid,” I says, “maybe he can help you.”
“The kid, Dom. My nephew. He knows about this kinda shit, not me.”
“I was hoping to get help from your brother Tony, actually.”
“Tony?” I says. “Forgetaboutit. Tony doesn’t have no time for you.”
“He doesn’t. Oh really?”
“Naw,” I says. “Tony’s a very busy man. Plus, what is you gonna do for Tony?”
So this prick says, “Manny, no offense, but how do you think Tony’s World Peace Charter School scored the highest in Pennsylvania on the state math and science exams, huh? Do you think this was from all of the great teaching that goes on there?”
“What is you talking about? World Peace is the kid’s charter, Dom Rossetti’s charter, not Tony’s.”
“Listen, Manny, nobody is judging anybody here, okay. We all have our families to feed, right? I’m just simply saying that if you get a chance, remember to put a good word in for me with your brother, okay? That’s all. Nobody owes anybody anything. I’m just trying to expand my business, that’s all.”
“Wait a minute,” I says. “You was the one who fixed the scores? The test scores?”
“Nobody fixed anything. Just remember me, okay? Gerald Coonan, 21st Century Data. Have a good one, okay, Manny? Say hi to your brother for me.”
“Gerald Coonan,” I says. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Thanks, Manny. Goodbye.”
Then the guy hung up.
Course, as soon as this Coonan bastard hangs up, I get another call, bam—just like that. It’s Tony, and he’s talking even faster than Coonan was. Did I see the state exam scores? he asks. Can I friggin believe it? No, I can’t friggin believe it, I says, cause it was all fixed and whatnot.
“Fixed?” Tony says. “Forgetaboutit.”
“Tony,” I says, “it was fixed.”
Tony laughs and says forgetaboutit again, says World Peace Charter School is the best in the state, that their math and science scores is the greatest, the greatest, and he is so proud of everybody, hisself, the Kid, all the students and teachers, everybody. He knew they could do it, he says, that they could pass the tests. He knew the Kid was a great principal, which is why he wanted him to begin wit. Course, I was the friggin principal a World Peace Charter, not the Kid, and I told Tony this, and he just said forgetaboutit a third time. We was all the best, he said, and we should get together and celebrate. Oh yeah, he said, and he almost forgot: the Philadelphia Unified School Board just approved all five a his charter schools—all five!—not for the coming school year . . . it was already past that deadline . . . but for 2014. Was the Kid around? Tony wanted to know. Tony wanted to call him up personally and thank him, thank him and ask him if he wanted to come down to Straight A’s and have a nice juicy strip steak, a cold glass a beer, and a private lap dance—all on the house—just to celebrate.
“No,” I says. “The kid ain’t around. I think he’s in Princeton wit his girlfriend, actually. Don’t tell him I said nothing . . . I don’t wanna jinx anything . . . but I think he might be proposing to her. He didn’t say he was or wasn’t, but he showed me a diamond ring last week. He wanted to know if he got a good deal. He did. A real good deal.”
“What in the hell is you talking about, Manny?”
“The kid,” I says. “He might be getting engaged today.”
“Engaged? The kid, Dom?”
“Yeah,” I says. “The kid.”
There is static on the phone, and Tony is having trouble hearing me. “Hello? Manny, you still there? Hello?”
“Yeah, I’m still here Tony.”
But then the call goes dead. I didn’t bother calling Tony back, cause he was being a dumb friggin moron goombah as usual, and my head was starting to hurt just listening to him. So when my cellphone rang a second later, I wasn’t gonna answer it, not a goddamn chance; it wasn’t till I checked the caller ID that I realized it was the Kid calling me.
“Hello?” I says. “Dominic?”
“Uncle Manny?” the Kid says, and I could tell right away by the sound a his voice that he had great news to share, that he’d popped the question to that nice girl Gina, and that she’d said yes. “Hey uncle Manny, guess what!”
“You won the lottery,” I says joking around, and couldn’t believe how much the Kid sounded like a kid, like a small boy who wanted to tell his dad he made the football team or caught his first fish or dove off the high dive at the pool. See, Dom was like a son to me, and I ain’t gonna lie, hearing him all excited got me choked up a bit. It got me choked up to hear him say that he just got engaged about 20 minutes before, that I was the second person he called to tell the good news, Theresa being the first. It got me choked up to hear him tell the story, the whole story, how he asked Gina to marry him: he did it in Princeton, New Jersey, see, and everything worked just the way he planned it. There was this photo shoot he wanted to get done, he had told Gina the week before, cause he thought it would be nice to have a buncha professional pictures a him and Gina and Ashley. Princeton would be the perfect place to do it, too, cause in late March, when the trees is becoming green again and the flowers is starting to bloom, it’s just so beautiful there, especially on Nassau St. And the college campus, too, that was beautiful, wit the art sculptures and the buildings wit the ivy—just so nice for some pictures. Yes, yes, it would be nice they all agreed, and both Gina and Ashley was so excited to go.
And then the day came, finally, Saturday the 23rd, and thank God it was sunny, so sunny and warm. The three a them drove up to Princeton in Gina’s car, parked in a lot and put five dollars in quarters in the meter. At one o’ clock they met the photographer, who turned out to be a young woman, not a man like the Kid had been told by the photo agency, and her name was Turquoise. Turquoise led them around Princeton and took dozens a beautiful pictures in dozens a beautiful places . . . she showed them to the Kid and Gina and Ashley on her digital camera as she took them . . . and soon it was time to do it, for the Kid to ask Gina to marry him.
He was nervous, sure, but who wouldn’t be; if you wasn’t nervous, you mustn’t really be in love, see. And then Turquoise took them over to the courtyard on Witherspoon St., to a café table like she’d been, um, instructed, and reached in her bag and took out first a tea cup, than a spoon. She gave the tea cup to the Kid, and he posed wit it for a solo picture, snap, snap. Next, Turquoise positioned Gina at the table, and handed her a spoon that she told her to hold wit both hands out in front a her. Gina took the spoon and right away saw the words Will you marry me? engraved on it, then turned to face the Kid, and saw him down on one knee. Then the Kid started reading the poem he wrote, his voice thick wit tears, and at the end, when he held out the ring to her she took it, took it and said yes, yes, she would marry him, she would give him . . . whatdoyacallit—eternity. She put on the ring and it was a perfect fit, cause the Kid had gotten Gina’s ring size from Janice, and she held it out and it was so beautiful, see, so sparkly, and Turquoise said oh my God it’s so beautiful, and so did little Ashley, and so did the group a college girls in the courtyard sitting at the table next to them, who was all up in Gina and the Kid’s business.
“Congratulations, Dominic,” I says to him on the phone. “You’s a good man, and you is marrying a good woman.”
“Thanks, uncle Manny.” There is a pause on the phone, and then the Kid says, “Do you think I should call and tell uncle Tony about this, or should I let him hear it from you or my mother?”
“I’ll pass the word along to him,” I says. “No need to go outta your way to call Tony. Just have a good time, you and Gina and little Ashley. Congrats again, Dom. You deserve it.”
“Thanks, uncle Manny,” the Kid says. There was another pause, and he says, “I love you, uncle Manny.”
“I love you too, kid,” I says, and hung up before he could hear me crying.
There’s a saying about waiting for the other shoe to drop, and that’s what the Kid wrote the very next day in his journal—that things was going so good for him he was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it did drop, right on cue wit the Kid’s expectations. World Peace Charter School’s perfect math and science scores wasn’t that shoe, cause the Kid already knew about this on Friday, when the State exam results was published in the papers; when the Kid got a curious email from Gerald Coonan that afternoon, C.E.O. and national sales manager for 21st Century Data, congratulating Dom on World Peace’s success and asking him to say hi to his uncle Tony for him, Dom connected the dots. And the shoe wasn’t the fact that his uncle Tony got five more charters approved by the School Board, cause the Kid had already read about that in the papers Friday, too; deep down, the Kid knew that this was inevitable, and had already accepted it in his mind.
The other shoe that the Kid wrote about in his journal was the small article that was published in the Sunday edition a the Philadelphia Post, the article about his finances and past credit problems. The article seemed to come outta nowhere, outta left field, and was headlined . . . wait a second, I got it right here . . . it was headlined, Charter C.E.O. has Rocky Financial Past. It was a small article, buried inside the paper’s education section, and all it talked about was how the Kid had declared chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1998, that was basically it. The Kid wasn’t sure why this was coming out now, but he had a good idear, and so did I: it was prob’ly Barry Al Akbar’s doing. Al Akbar was digging around Dom’s past, and wit his F.B.I. connections, this wouldn’t a been that hard. Al Akbar also had a coupla private investigators in his circle, and they coulda been behind it, too.
Anyways, the Kid’s past bad credit was leaked to the Philadelphia Post, and the result was this small article. Not many people saw it or paid attention to it, not even Gina, who subscribed to the Post and usually read it pretty, um, thoroughly. Course, the Kid didn’t wait for Gina to see it before he approached her about it, cause he wrote in his journal that he wanted to nip the problem right in the bud. When he saw the article in the newspaper he went right over to Gina in the kitchen and showed her, told her to read it for herself. She did, but she didn’t think anything about it, cause she already knew these things about Dom, that he’d had a past gambling addiction, and that he’d had to declare personal bankruptcy to get outta the hole. Plus, Gina was still buzzing from the high a getting engaged—still staring at her big sparkly diamond ring and taking pictures of it wit her cellphone and putting them up on Facebook—so some small article about Dom’s past finances didn’t faze her; it wasn’t the first time the Kid had an article about him in the papers, anyways.
Now, that was just the first article in the newspaper, see, the first “other” shoe to drop. There was a few more “other” shoes to come, and the Kid just hadda sit there and wait for them. On Tuesday, two days later, another article was published in the Post, this one a little bigger and piggybacking off a the first one. This one was titled . . . hold on a minute . . . this one was titled, World Peace C.E.O. has History of Gambling, and actually had whatdoyacallit—documentation from the Kid’s credit card statements that showed that he spent thousands a dollars on several Internet gambling websites in the spring of 1998, and cash advanced large sums a money in the Taj Mahal in October of 2011. The article also mentioned that the Kid regularly attended an addictions group in the basement of St. Rita’s church in South Philadelphia, which was a really rotten thing to put in the paper, cause those groups was supposed to be anonymous and whatnot. The Kid showed Gina this article right away, too, and she was a little more upset wit this one, but not much more, cause like I says before, she already knew all this stuff about the Kid.
The third article, the one that came out the day after that, on Wednesday, that was the one where Gina started to get a little nervous and concerned, at least that’s what the Kid wrote in his journal. The third article said, All in the Family: Uncle of World Peace C.E.O. is Organized Crime Boss, and I don’t need to look at this article to tell you its headline, cause it’s one none of us will forget. This article basically ripped the Kid a new asshole, as they say, cause it . . . what’s the word . . . insinuated that World Peace Charter may have had ties to Tony Genitaglia—AKA: Uncle Tony—the big time east coast mobster. It’s kinda crazy that nobody made that connection before, that Tony was the Kid’s uncle, but stranger things have happened, ya know. Plus, Tony was always real, um, inconspicuous, and never had his name on any a the papers or nothing, never showed his face around the school or School District building or any place the Kid was, for that matter; and the Kid’s last name was Rossetti, not Genitaglia, after all.
Anyways, this third article was real frigged up, and went right for the Kid and Tony’s jugular. It didn’t have no real hard proof that the Kid and Tony was linked, that World Peace was a front for the mob, but like I says, it suggested it. See, the article not only mentioned Tony, but it mentioned me, too. It didn’t mention me directly, but it did mention Roger Bradshaw, the principal a World Peace, and how he was suspect. A quick background check a Roger Bradshaw came up empty—there was no information whatsoever on the guy, good or bad. Did he have a PA principal’s certificate? God only knew; it wouldn’t be the first time a principal of a city school didn’t have no principal certification. The article also mentioned how U.S. Rep. Barry Al Akbar, Sr., was calling for a full audit a World Peace Charter School’s budget and finances, and how C.E.O. Dominic Rossetti owed it to the city and state taxpayers to fully cooperate wit any investigation, to be as, um, transparent as possible.
This article, well, this one Gina couldn’t ignore. The Kid didn’t have to show her this one cause she’d seen it herself, and also received a call from her father, who wanted to know if the Dominic Rossetti in the article was the same Dominic Rossetti she just got engaged to over the weekend. Gina told her father it was, the Kid wrote in his journal, but that she’d have to talk to Dom about all of it before she jumped to any conclusions. She knew Dom’s mother—had met her a half dozen times and liked her right away—and knew Dom had two uncles, Manny, who she’d heard stories about and met a coupla times briefly, and Tony, who she actually never met but got the feeling was some kinda criminal, especially the way Dom described him at the Alzheimer’s home. Anyways, Dom wrote that Gina, who had off that day, called him right up on his cellphone that morning while he was in a staff meeting at Eisenhower, and asked him if he’d seen the article in the newspaper. The Kid excused hisself and took the call, went out into the hallway where he could have some privacy. Gina calmly asked the Kid if any of it was true, if his uncle Tony was a mob boss. The Kid said yes, yes he was, he was a mob boss, and explained that he never really talked about Tony cause he was embarrassed a him and wanted nothing to do wit him, which I guess you could say really wasn’t a lie.
“Is that why you never told me much about him?” Gina says.
“Yeah, pretty much. He’s in the mob. He’s a made man.”
“Oh my God,” Gina says, and there was a pause on the phone, according to the Kid’s journal.
“Yeah, it’s a long story,” the Kid says. “Do you know who Rep. Barry Al Akbar is?”
“Yeah, I heard of him. Why?”
“Well, I think he’s behind this,” the Kid says, and quickly explained how World Peace Charter moved in on Al Akbar’s turf, and how Dom went wit another contractor for the security cameras, and how all kinds a shady stuff went on in the word a politics and education, and how at the moment, Dom unfortunately found hisself right smack in the middle of all of it—none a which was lies.
“Look, Gina,” the Kid says, “can I call you back? I’m in the middle of this meeting here . . .”
“Sure, okay. I can’t believe that people would think you have connections with the mafia, though. How ridiculous.”
When the Kid got home, the issue was pretty much dropped, to the Kid’s surprise. He wrote he wasn’t sure if Gina was no longer concerned wit the newspaper article—if she trusted him so much she just, um, assumed that nothing illegal was going on—or if she just didn’t wanna know the truth. Either way, the Kid said that when he got home from school . . . he was now staying at Gina’s house five days a week . . . the issue was dead, and he didn’t have the energy to bring it up again; his plan was to tell Gina after he confronted his uncle Tony, and reasoned that the less Gina and Ashley knew, the safer they was—not only from Tony, but also from the F.B.I. and the scumbag media.
Course, the scumbag media wasn’t done, not even close. They was on a mission now to get Tony and the Kid, and they was digging, digging, digging, like maggots on a piece a rotten meat. This is when the Kid first started getting really, howdoyasayit, paranoid, and started writing in his journal that people was following him, that there was bugs in his house and that his phones mighta been tapped. And maybe they were, cause it was around that time that Al Akbar’s people was on the Kid like a gay fraternity on a virgin pledge, running through his records, tailing him on the street, even going through the garbage in the dumpster behind his condo; Al Akbar never came out and admitted this, of course, but that was the word on the street. But the press . . . sheesh, they was following him big time, always popping up outta nowhere wit their cameras and microphones, asking if he was working for Tony Genitaglia, if World Peace Charter School was in bed wit the mob. Most a the time the Kid just shook his head and said no comment, and kept going about his business.
Then, well, then there was that one time I already told you’s about, when the press caught Tony and the Kid together at Dom’s place during the Christening a little Sherri during that first Sunday in April. Gina and Ashley wasn’t there . . . they was spending the day at Gina’s parents’ . . . but I was there, and I saw the whole thing. And like I says before, right in the middle a the Christening, this protest rally started in the street outside a Dom’s house, prob’ly organized by Al Akbar’s guys. A few dozen people was marching in a circle, holding signs, and shouting that World Peace Charter was a front for the mob, and that the city’s children was victims a Dom’s greedy gambling habit, and all kinda other accusations about how World Peace wasn’t fair, and how it, um, perpetuated segregation, and how Dom made parents wait outside in the freezing cold in order to be offered an interview for admission. They was shouting:
Hey-hey, ho-ho! Dom Rossetti has gotta go!
Hey-hey, ho-ho! He works for Uncle Tony, don’t ya know!
And they was shouting this real loud, pissing off the neighbors on a Sunday afternoon, and worst of all, pissing off Tony. So, like I says before, Tony flips his lid and storms outside and tells all these assholes to get the frig outta there, that they needed to get a job and do something wit their lives instead a always trying to tear somebody else down. That’s when the photographer snapped that picture a Tony all red in the face, fist in the air, screaming at the protesters . . . Dom standing in the doorway in the background in his dinner suit, watching the whole thing. This picture ended up on page 2 of the Philadelphia Post the next morning, wit the headline, Trouble on the Home Front: Education Advocates Protest Uncle and Nephew. There was no new facts in the article, which was now filled wit all these worthless quotes from the moron protesters on the street, but it did repeat the information about the Kid’s bankruptcy, and his gambling addiction, and the scandal behind Roger Bradshaw’s missing background, and the fact that Tony Genitaglia was Dom Rossetti’s uncle. It also reran the quote from jack-wad Al Akbar, and how he was calling for an investigation into World Peace Charter’s finances.
On Monday morning, when Dom got the paper outta Gina’s front door, he took it right to Gina who was in the bathroom doing her hair.
“Let me guess,” she says, “you’re in the newspaper again?”
“Yep,” the Kid says.
“What are they saying this time?”
“That I’m a piece of shit gambler who’s stealing money from the children of Philadelphia.”
“Is it this Al Akbar person again?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“You oughta sue him, Dom, you know that. I’m no lawyer, but isn’t there something called defamation of character, or libel something like that?”
“Something like that.”
“Should we get you a lawyer? My dad’s good with stuff like that. I think we should call an attorney. Seriously.”
“Okay,” the Kid says, “but not just yet. Sometimes this stuff blows over. I think it’s just politics, like I said. Let’s just see how it goes.”
“Are you sure? You’ve worked so hard your whole life building your career, helping all the kids in Philadelphia. It would be a shame to have it all go down the toilet because some jealous politician was out to get you.”
“I agree,” the Kid says. “It would be a shame. But let me just try and figure this thing out on my own, okay? Give me until the end of the week, and if there’s still an issue, if the guy doesn’t back off, we’ll talk to your dad about getting a lawyer. Sound good?”
“What if you’re career is ruined by then? What if you end up in jail?”
“That’s not going to happen, I promise. I have a plan, actually. I know exactly what I need to do to take care of all of this.”
“I’m going to call my dad, Dom. I’m worried.”
“Gina, please,” the Kid says. “Stop, okay? Just stop. You have to trust me on this, I know what I’m doing. Do you love me, Gina? Do you love me?”
“Of course I love you, Dominic. I’m going to marry you.”
“Okay, and I love you too. More than anything in the world. That’s why you have to trust me. I’m going to go see somebody this week, and I think they’ll be able to help. I think it will put an end to all of this.”
“Who are you going to go see? A lawyer?”
“No. My Uncle Tony.”
“What? You’re kidding. I thought he was in the mob?”
“He is. But I have to talk to him, straighten something out.”
“Dominic, I don’t think that’s—”
“Trust me Gina, everything will be fine.”
“What are you going to say to him?”
“I’m going to tell him that he needs to come forward and talk to the newspapers, tell them the truth about everything. Tell them that I never took a penny, that I have nothing to do with any corruption, that me and him are not partners and never were. I’m going to tell him that he needs to do the same with Barry Al Akbar, so everyone will get off my back. I don’t need to be in the middle of their battles.”
“I didn’t know you were in the middle of them, Dom. I didn’t want to ask before, but is there something you’re not telling me? We’re getting married now, and I have a right to know.”
“I told you Gina,” the Kid says, “I opened World Peace Charter School, and that put me in the middle of everything. I stepped on Al Akbar’s toes, and I guess some other people of his, and now he wants blood. Plain and simple. It’s a turf thing, but I think I can settle this. You just need to trust me.”
“I don’t know, Dom. I’m worried.”
“Do you trust me, Gina? Do you?”
“Well . . .”
“Do you? Yes or no?”
“Yes, I trust you.”
“Good. Just give me until the end of the week to deal with this, and if there’s still a problem, we can get a lawyer. Deal?”
“Well . . .”
“Okay,” Gina says. “Deal. But if I’m still reading this stuff in the papers next week, we’re calling my dad.”
“Okay, it’s a deal,” the Kid says. “Shake on it, then. To make it official.”
“Fine. Let’s shake on it.”
And they did. And it was.