Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 23

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 23 of 25

The Kid took the following week off from work, he wrote in his journal, and nobody at Eisenhower blamed him.  Students, parents, and teachers was all worried and upset about what they was reading about Dom—calling the Kid up at school and on his cellphone and leaving messages a support—offering to help him in any way that they could.  Nobody really believed what they was saying in the papers, not most people, cause anybody who knew Dom knew he’d never steal a penny from no one, that Dom used his own money to buy stuff for the students, even.

The Kid had a plan, though, or he thought he did.  He didn’t write the plan down nowhere in his journal, but he did write about it after he did it; I guess he didn’t want nobody knowing about it until it was done, in case those people who was following him and listening to his phone calls somehow found his journal.  So anyways, this is what happened.  The Kid wrote that he went to see Tony that Tuesday, April 9th, 2013, down in Baltimore at Straight A’s.  The Kid called him first, just to make sure he’d be able to meet wit him, and Tony said sure, sure kid, come on down to the club and have a steak and a nice glass a beer, maybe even head up to the third floor wit one a the girls, all on the house.

The Kid hadda wait till almost 11:00 p.m. to see Tony, who didn’t even show up at Straight A’s until 10:00 p.m., two hours after he told the Kid he’d be there.  Apparently, nobody even knew the Kid was coming, cause the bouncers at the door gave him a buncha business about showing his identification, and when they searched him, they patted his nuts down just a little too roughly.  It was a big muscle-head bouncer wit a blond crewcut who did this—a 250 pound smacked-ass wit no neck—and the Kid wrote that he was really pissed at this, that he told the guy to back the frig off, that he was Tony Genitaglia’s nephew.  The guy just laughed and didn’t believe it, but the Kid said wait, just wait, when Tony gets here we’ll see who the frig is laughing.

And wait the Kid did, for two hours.  He sat at a cocktail table by hisself drinking a cola and checking his watch, keeping an eye on the door for Tony.  About every 15 minutes one a the girls would make her rounds and come over to him, naked except for a tiny G-string and heels.  Dom didn’t like this, he wrote, cause he was nervous and didn’t wanna be bothered.  He was engaged now, see, and loved his fiancé, and this is just what he told the girls when they came up shaking their tits at him and opening their skimpy underwear for him to put in some money.  Right when the Kid was on his last single and was gonna have to go over to the bar to get more change, the front door opens and Tony comes walking in.

“Uncle Tony, hey,” the Kid shouts, but Tony didn’t hear him.  Tony went straight through a door in the back and disappeared.  The Kid got up and went over to the door but in swooped three bouncers wit no necks, and they just looked at the Kid and shook their heads and told him to move away unless he wanted to leave the place wit a limp.  The Kid went back to his seat at the cocktail table and waited for another hour, putting more ones in young ladies’ underwear, and finally, finally, Tony comes back out and sees the Kid and says, “Hey, Dominic?  Hey, look at you!  Come here and give your uncle Tony a kiss!”

The Kid hugs and kisses his uncle, and Tony looks him up and down, and asks where he’s been cause Tony’s been waiting, and the Kid explains that he wasn’t allowed upstairs, that a coupla bouncers came over and was ready to chop his head off when he tried to go in the back.

“They’re just doing what they’s told,” Tony says.  “Nobody goes through that door, nobody but me and Paulie.”

“They gave me a problem outside, too.”

“Huh?”

“On my way in, at the front door, the one bouncer with the short blond hair.  He was real ignorant when he searched me—basically punched me in the nuts.  I told him I was your nephew and he just laughed.”

“Scuze me?” Tony says.  “You told him you was my nephew and he laughed?”

“Pretty much.  Yeah.”

“Come wit me.”

Tony storms across the floor a the club and goes up to the bouncer wit the blond crewcut working the door and asks Dom if this was him, if this was the one who laughed at him and punched him in the balls, and Dom says yes, that’s him, he’s the one.  The guy isn’t facing Tony, so Tony taps him on the shoulder and he turns and sees Tony and says Oh hey, Mr. Genitaglia, how are you tonight? and Tony says Not too good and pulls out a gun and smashes him in the face wit it, grabs the guy by the back a his head and smashes the steel butt a the gun right through his nose.  The guy screams and drops like a friggin ton a bricks—250 pounds a bricks—and lays on the sidewalk holding his nose, blood friggin pouring out like a goddamn fountain.

“This,” Tony says to the group a bouncers standing around watching, “this is my nephew, Dominic.  If I ever hear that any one a you ever disrespects him again, I swear to friggin God, I will put a bullet in you myself, understand?”  He turns to the guy on the ground and kicks him hard in the ribs.  “You.  Tough guy.  I’m gonna count to ten, and if you ain’t off my property and outta sight . . .”  But Tony didn’t have to finish, cause the guy got up and staggered away, banging into a buncha trash cans in the alley.  Tony spits on the ground and shakes his fist in the air, and him and Dom head back inside.  Two bouncers hold the door for Tony and Dom, and they is real polite, saying, Right this way, Mr. Genitaglia.  Right this way, Dominic, and Tony mumbles something under his breath the Kid can’t hear.

Inside, Tony asks what Dom wants to drink and Dom says a can a cola, and Tony tells the bartender to fetch two bottles a some imported beer Dom never heard of, and hands one to Dom.

“Salud,” Tony says, and the two toast, and Tony tells Dom to look around, look around at his dream come true, a dream he couldn’t a done without him.  A colored girl is hanging upside down on the big brass pole on the main stage, her legs wide open.  A group a older men in business suits is sitting together watching her, sipping cocktails, grinning and watching. Tony takes Dom on the grand tour a the place, shows him around the first floor and introduces him to some a the girls and staff, and then they go on up to the second floor to the Emerald Lounge, where there’s more young beautiful girls winking at Tony and shaking their asses in his face.  Tony asks Dom what he thinks, and Dom says it’s great, it’s the most amazing strip club he’s ever been to, and then Tony says, “Wanna see the third floor, kid?  We got anything you want up there, anything.”

“Actually, I wanna talk to you about something, uncle Tony.  That’s why I came down here.”

“I thought we was talking.”

“No, I mean I need to talk to you in private, about something real important.  Is there some place we can go, just you and me?

Tony just looks at Dom.  “Is you okay, kid?  You’s acting kinda funny.  You ain’t gonna try none a that gay stuff on me, is you?”

“I’m not gay, uncle Tony,” the Kid says.  “I got engaged over the weekend.”

“To a girl?”

“Yes, to a girl, but that doesn’t matter.  We need to talk, uncle Tony.  In private.  Seriously.”

“What about?”

“About the charter school business.”

“Charters?” Tony says.  “Oh, you mean about the five new schools that I’m opening, that business?”

“Exactly.”

“Okay, let’s go into Paulie’s office, over here.”

Now, all the stuff that takes place next was written up by the Kid in a whole lot a detail in his journal, like always.  It’s a lot to remember, but I’m gonna try my best to remember it and repeat it just like I read it, especially the conversation between the Kid and Tony.

So, Tony takes the Kid to a back room on the second floor where they can talk, just the two a them, no strippers showing their asses around and looking for tips.  It’s an office wit a desk and file cabinets, and a floor safe in the corner.  Tony sits down behind the desk, and the Kid pulls up a chair across from him.  It’s pretty quiet in there, and the only noise is the soft vibration a the music coming from the main stage on the floor below.  Dom wrote in his journal that he was surprised at how calm he felt, how confident, how steady and sure a hisself.  He just looked at his uncle, kinda observed him, and noticed for the first time that he was old, that there was wrinkles around his eyes and the corner a his mouth, that his hair had gone all gray.  He was still big, sure—the whole famb’ly was, including Dom hisself—but it was then that Dom realized that under all the tough guy mafia song and dance, under the gun, and cursing, and carrying on like a maniac, there was just a man, just his uncle . . . flesh and blood, like him.

“Tony,” the Kid says, fidgeting wit his cellphone in his lap, “the reason I came down here to talk to you is because I’m finished, I’m done with the charter school business.  We had a good run, you and me, but now it’s over.  I’m engaged, Tony, I’m getting married, and I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t run your scams anymore.”

Tony was only half listening.  “Huh?  What is you talking about, kid?”

“I’m out,” the Kid says, “done, finished.  I did what you made me do—I stole a million bucks from World Peace Charter so you could build your strip club, and now the game’s over, at least for me.  I actually have a real school to run, Tony, you know?  Eisenhower High School.  Those kids need me, and I’m not gonna waste my time and money on your scams anymore.”

“What have you been smoking, kid, huh?  Did that broad you’s engaged to frig up your head or something?  I tell you when the scams is over, you don’t tell me nothing.”

“Tony,” the Kid says, “just listen for a minute, okay?  Just let me talk for a second.  You know a lot of people, right?  Politicians and other guys, right?  Well, if you talked to them, maybe we can have this whole thing squashed, and nobody will have to go down for it, nobody will have to go to jail.”

What?  What the frig is you talking about, kid, huh?  You need to start making some sense, fast.”

“You could pay people off to keep quiet, like you normally do.  Pay them off so they won’t—”

Enough, kid.  Enough.  You’s starting to get me angry.  You need to shut your mouth, right now.”

“So I don’t get any say in all of this?”

“No you don’t get no say,” Tony says.  “What’s a matter wit you, huh?  You’s forgetting yourself, kid.  You owe me.  Who got your sorry ass outta jail two years ago when you was locked up for getting mixed up wit that hooker in Atlantic City?  Who was that, huh?  Who made a buncha calls to Joel Gelles’ office to get the charges dropped, made the whole damn thing disappear off the face a the earth?  Who got your friggin Porsche back after your gambled it away—paid $35,000, I think it was, to get it outta hock—and had it delivered right to your house for you like a goddamned early Christmas present?  Me, that’s who.  Me.  And did I let you pay me back?  Frig no.  Cause we’re famb’ly, and we look out for each other.”

“I did have to pay you back, Tony.  You made me open a charter school so you could steal all the money and put it into this strip club.  How much money did you steal?  A million dollars, at least.”

“Kid, you act like you’s not my nephew, like we ain’t famb’ly.”

“Family?” the Kid says.  “Family members don’t bully each other into doing things that they don’t wanna do.”

“Oh, so I’m a bully now, is that what you’s saying?”

“Yeah, Tony, that’s what I’m saying.  What if I would have told you no, that I didn’t wanna go through all that bullshit to open World Peace Charter, just so you could steal all the money?  What if I would have told you no, forgetaboutit?  What would you have done?”

“You wouldn’t a done that, kid.  You ain’t stupid.”

“What if I did?”

“I woulda hurt ya, what do ya think.  I got a reputation to keep.”

“Would you have killed me?”

“It depends,” Tony says.  “Maybe, maybe not.  But you woulda paid, though, you know that.  Something bad woulda happened to ya if you didn’t.  Why is you asking me all this stuff, kid?  What’s going on?”

“Why?  You really don’t know why?  Have you been reading the newspapers, Tony?  Have you seen what they been writing?  It’s over for us, the jig is up.  Al Akbar knows about you now.  He knows about World Peace, how it’s just a front for the mob.  He knows you stole all the money, too.  He’s calling for an audit of our books and an investigation into—”

Frig Al Akbar!” Tony says.  “Frig him and the boat that prick sailed in on!  Nothing’s over, see!  Nothing!  I decide when it’s over, not you, not friggin Al Akbar!  And this is how it’s gonna go!  You is gonna keep running World Peace Charter, keep taking the money and giving it to me!  And next year, when my five new charters open, you is gonna run them, too, and give me all that money!  Are you getting this Dominic, or do I need to jam something into your ears to clean them out, like maybe an ice pick?”

“I’m done, Tony,” the Kid says.  “I’m out.  Do what you gotta do, but I ain’t doing this anymore, I can’t.  It ain’t right.”

Tony just shakes his head.  “I knew it.  I friggin knew it.  You’s an ingrate, just like your old man.  I thought you mighta been different . . . but you ain’t, and now I know it.  Did I ever tell you about your old man, how he died?  Your mother ever tell you that story?”

“Yeah,” the Kid says, “my dad fell off scaffolding two weeks before I was born.  It was an accident.  My mom’s been collecting the insurance.”

Tony laughs.  “Accident, right.  He fell off scaffolding, but it wasn’t no accident.  He made a choice, see, just like you’s making.  It was either his famb’ly that he married into—me, Manny, Theresa, all the Genitaglia’s—or his . . . his principles.  His friggin idear of doing what is right.  Kinda like you, huh?  You gotta do what is right.  You’s just like him, down to the nostril.  You even got his last name, Rossetti.  I always wondered why my sister Terry made you a Rossetti and not a Genitaglia, now I know: cause you’s an ingrate, just like your friggin father.”

“I love my father, even though I never met him.  I’m proud to be a Rossetti.  So is my mom.”

“You’s an ingrate, kid.  Like father, like son.”

“My father was a good man, and you know it.”

“He was a maggot and a cocker-roach.”

“He was a good man, just ask your brother Manny.”

“He was an ingrate!”  Tony stands up from the desk, crosses his arms.  “Our meeting is over, kid.  You made your choice.  You ain’t no Genitaglia, and you ain’t wanted on my property no more.”

“So that’s it?” the Kid says.  “We’re done here?”

You’s done kid,” Tony says, “you’s done.  You and your famb’ly, not mine.  But’s that’s what you want, isn’t?  To be like your father.  I knew it.  Well, I can make that happen, no problem.  There’s the door, kid.  Don’t let it hit you on the way out.”

_______

Dom got home late that night, after 3:00 in the morning.  Gina insisted that she was gonna wait up for him, but when the Kid finally made it upstairs to her bedroom, she was sound asleep and curled up in a ball, he wrote, the TV still on and showing some old Clint Eastwood movie.  She groaned when he climbed into bed next to her, then rolled over and kissed him.

“Hey,” she says, “how’d it go?”

“Fine.  Go back to sleep.  We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

“What time is it?”

“Late.  After three, go back to sleep.”

“I love you,” Gina says, and rolls back over.

“I love you, too.”

The Kid couldn’t sleep, though, and tossed and turned until Gina’s alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., when she got up to get ready for work and to get Ashley ready for school; now that Ashley’s feet was healed, the funds for her Home Bound teachers was gone and she was enrolled in Penn’s Port High for the 4th quarter a the school year.  The Kid just laid in bed while Gina showered and put on her make-up, his head aching, his eyes red and stingy.  When she came outta the bathroom and saw Dom was awake she asked for details about his meeting wit his uncle Tony, and Dom gave whatdoyacallit—vague answers, he wrote, saying stuff like It went well, and We worked things out, and Everything’s gonna be fine.

“Is he going to talk to the newspapers?” Gina says.  “Call that U.S. Rep. and tell him that you aren’t involved with anything illegal?”

“I guess we’ll see,” the Kid says.

We’ll see?  What does that mean?”

“It means we’ll see, Gina, okay.  I’m tired, and my head is killing me.”

“Well is your uncle going to call the papers or not?” Gina says.  “It’s a simple question.”

“I don’t know!” the Kid says, and wrote in his journal that he was surprised at his anger toward his fiancé.  “Gina, I’m . . . I’m sorry for shouting, but I’m just so tired and stressed out.  I told Tony to call the newspapers and to talk to Barry Al Akbar, and Tony didn’t make me any promises.  He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and that’s it.  If nothing happens by the end of the week, we’ll get a lawyer, like you wanted.”

“Dominic, I—” Gina begins to say, but Ashley pops her head into the room, and the talk a the Kid’s meeting wit Tony stops.  “Mom?  You almost ready to go?”

“One minute, honey, alright?  Me and Dom are having a talk.”

“Good morning, Dom.”

“Morning, Ash.”

“I’ll wait downstairs in the car, okay?”

“Sounds good.  I’ll be down in a minute.”

But whatever Gina was gonna say is gone, cause she just stood there in the bedroom, arms folded over her chest, looking confused.  Finally, to break the silence, the Kid said it was all gonna work out, really it was, she didn’t need to worry, and that he was looking forward to their plans later that night to visit Caroline’s, the fancy Italian South Philly restaurant that Dom and Gina was thinking about using for their wedding reception in July.  The talk a planning their wedding seemed to calm Gina a bit, and she shook her head and smiled and said that she didn’t know what she was gonna do wit Dom, and Dom laughed and said it didn’t matter now cause she was stuck wit him, see, cause she said yes when he asked her to marry him, and that big old rock on her left ring finger proved it.

“I’m leaving now,” Gina says, and kisses Dom on the forehead.  “I’ll be home around six.”

“Love you,” the Kid says.

“I love you, too,” Gina says, and walks out the door.

Part 24

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 22

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 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.”

“Yeah, forgetaboutit.”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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 . . .”

“Deal?”

“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.

Part 23

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

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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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 20

Illustration by Sean Wanga 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 20 of 25

There was no state test monitor at Eisenhower High School on exam day, but the Kid had his hands full anyways.  He wasn’t the test administrator—Mrs. Lankford, the Assistant Principal was—so Dom only hadda walk around every once in a while to see how things was going.  He spent most a his time in his office catching up on work, answering emails, reviewing his teachers’ lesson plans.  During lunch, to his surprise, Tamarra knocked on his door and asked if he had a minute to talk wit her, cause there was a problem she really needed to deal wit.  Dom explained that she was still welcome in his office for their daily therapy session, that she’d always be welcome there.  Tamarra came in and the first thing Dom noticed was that she had a bruise on her forehead and a cut on her lip.  Before he could ask her how this happened Tamarra just jumped into this frantic, um, dialogue about how she was sick a her life and the way things was going, how she still missed the track team and Coach Reed, and how she still wasn’t getting along wit her father, who now had a new girlfriend.

The Kid just sat at his desk and listened, really listened, like I says before . . . he underlined the word listened in his journal . . . and allowed Tamarra to just get it all out, to get it all off her chest, finally; the Kid could sense that Tamarra was holding stuff back the last few times they talked.  She just talked and talked, without taking a breath.  After she went over the drama wit her dad and how she was mad that she couldn’t run in track meets no more, she got to her point, why she was there in the first place.  There was something real important she wanted Dom to help her wit, but she was embarrassed to say what it was.  She said she didn’t wanna hurt Dom’s feelings.

“It’s okay,” Dom says.  “I promise I won’t be offended.”

So Tamarra tells Dom that she wants to transfer to another school, that there’s this private school called Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls, and that they sent her a letter in the mail asking if she’d think about going there.  It was from the track coach, Tamarra says, and pulls out the letter to show Dom.  He looks at it, all impressed, and tells Tamarra that she doesn’t have to be worried about hurting his feelings, cause getting a letter from that school is a big deal.  Cheltenham Prep is a whatdoyacallit, a boarding school, which means you live there during the school year.  According to the Kid, the school was a really big deal, and won all these awards and blue ribbons and whatnot for graduating students and sending them to good colleges and all that.

Dom wrote in his journal that he had a good idear about why Tamarra had gotten a letter from the school.  First, the track coach was interested in getting Tamarra on the team, cause she was a talented runner and could prob’ly come right in and win the league championship in the mile, hands down.  Second, Tamarra was colored, and schools like Cheltenham Prep was all concerned wit, um, diversity, wit making sure that not just the white kids got a chance to have a good education.  Plus, the school didn’t want the people who donated money to them to think that they was racist, neither.  I guess you could say this made sense.  You didn’t wanna be called a racist—not in today’s world—and plus, girls like Tamarra did deserve to have a shot at going to a school like Cheltenham Prep.  From what Dom said at meetings she was a great kid and good in school, and she was also a hard worker, I seen it wit my own eyes; I’ll never forget that workout I saw her run in the halls that day, how she stayed up wit the boys, pushing so hard she broke down in tears.

“I wanna go there really bad, Mista Rossetti,” Tamarra says to the Kid.  “I wanna live there and go to school, and be back on the track team, too.  I’m sick of all this.  Not you, Mista Rossetti.  You’re a really good principal, and I ain’t just saying that.  You care about us, all a us.”

“Thank you, Tamarra,” the Kid says.  “That means a lot to hear that.”

“It’s true.  Eisenhower’s a pretty good school, and it’s getting better, but . . .”

“But you want to get out of your house and go to a new school, meet new people.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“And you want to start running track again.”

“Yeah, I wanna get back in shape.  I’m tired a just hanging out wit Crystal and all a them up at the Plat.  All they do is smoke weed and drink beer and act stupid.  Listen to music and try and act hard and all that . . . get in fights.  If you is a girl they try and grab on you.  Last night, these boys . . . they grabbed me, and . . .”

Tamarra starts tearing up, and Dom told her it was okay, that she could just tell him what happened, it would stay between him and her; when Dom wrote about this part in his journal, he underlined the part do not tell anyone.  Course, I’m telling you’s F.B.I. pricks on this tape, so I guess the girl’s privacy is all shot to hell.  Maybe you’s guys will just keep it a secret?  Yeah, forgetaboutit.  Anyways, according to Dom’s journal, Tamarra took a deep breath and wiped her eyes and told about how last night, up at the Plat, her and Crystal and Crystal’s boyfriend was leaning on the hood of Crystal’s boyfriend’s car smoking a blunt.  This other girl, Jasmine, was there, too.  They kept smoking and smoking, and Tamarra said she was tired and getting a headache, and that the music was too loud, and that she wanted to go home.  It used to be fun, she said, smoking and cracking up laughing, but now it was just stupid and she was really tired of it.  Jasmine didn’t wanna leave, and told her to just, um, chill out.  See, Jasmine was busy talking to these three boys, smoking the weed wit them, too, and was trying to get one a their phone numbers.  After a while, the boy gave it to her, and they started talking about going to this college party down in North Philly, near Temple.

Jasmine started dancing wit the boy who gave her his number, right there next to Crystal’s boyfriend’s car.  They started dancing real close, grinding on each other, and the two other boys looked at Tamarra and started dancing wit her, too.  Tamarra didn’t wanna dance, see, and told them that, told them to just leave her alone, cause she had a headache and was tired.  They kept dancing wit her, though.  Tamarra said she looked around and nobody was really paying attention to them.  The boys got on both sides a her, and made this circle around her wit their arms, and started to just kinda push her around, inside the circle like.  Tamarra told them to stop but they didn’t, they was all high and thought it was funny, and kept pushing her between them, banging into her wit their bodies.  Tamarra shouted then, but the music was loud and nobody heard.  The two boys was laughing and pushing her, and then they started grabbing her, she said, grabbing her chest and butt, ripping her shirt, and she screamed for them to stop but they didn’t, they just kept grabbing her.  Finally, she lost her balance and fell down on the ground, and they kicked gravel on her and cracked up laughing and walked away.

“Is that how you got the marks on your face?” Dom asks her.

“Yeah,” Tamarra says.

“Are you okay, besides your face?  Did they hurt you at all?”

“I’m okay,” Tamarra says.

“Did you tell the police?  Did you report this?”

“No.  Louis, Crystal’s boyfriend, he was friends wit them.  I didn’t wanna snitch on them.”

“Tamarra, you have to report this, honey.  Did you tell your dad?”

“No.  He was sleep when I got home.”

The Kid wrote that he was really upset by this, and offered to report the incident right then, call the school security into his office and have them contact the Philadelphia Police Department so Tamarra could give an official report.  This was serious business, Dom told her, but Tamarra wanted no parts of it, see.  She didn’t wanna snitch on Louis’s friends.

The Kid tried to reason wit her, but Tamarra got very . . . what’s the word . . . standoffish and upset, and so the Kid backed off.

“Please don’t make me report this, Mista Rossetti,” she says.  “Please.  It’s okay, they was just joking around, I’m fine.”

“Did they hurt you at all?  Besides the bump on your head, and the cut on your lip?”

“No, I’m fine,” Tamarra says.

“Well,” the Kid says, “we should really report this.  It didn’t happen here at school, but still . . .”

Tamarra said it didn’t matter, cause even if she reported it, nothing would happen, nothing would really change.  What she wanted, really, was to get into that new school, Cheltenham Prep, so she could leave all a that friggin ghetto junk behind and start over, wit new friends, a new neighborhood, and most importantly, be on the track team.  She could do it, she insisted.  She could make it, she really believed this.

Dom wrote in his journal that he just sat for a minute at his desk, sat and thought about things.  Tamarra wanted to go to Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls, did she?  That was great, wonderful.  Dom was excited for her.  His gut reaction, though, was that it was a bit, um, ambitious, that it might not be very realistic.  That was his first reaction, see.  But the more he forced hisself to consider the idear, the more he looked at Tamarra and saw in her face that drive and determination—and thought about how hard she’d run those track practices and races—he wrote that he had this feeling that she might just be able to actually do it, to not only get accepted there, but to make it there; it was Tamarra’s sheer will and belief in herself that convinced him a this.

He wrote that he quickly tried to figure out how this might be possible to get her into Cheltenham Prep.  She did have a letter from the school, signed by the track coach, asking her if she’d be interested in transferring there, and that was a good start.  It wasn’t any guarantee, but it was something.  Tamarra would still need to take the admissions tests, and deal wit all the craziness a filling out the application—she’d need reference letters, and to complete a buncha essays, and to have copies of all her, ah, transcripts—but the Kid could help her wit this.  The biggest problem, though, was paying for the school.  The Kid said the tuition at Cheltenham Prep was outta friggin control, something like $25,000 a year, and that didn’t include the room and meals and all that.  That kinda cash would be tough to come up wit, especially for Tamarra; Cheltenham Prep didn’t give out any athletic scholarships, so Tamarra couldn’t get one a those.  Course, there was a buncha academic scholarships Tamarra might be able to get, and the Kid wrote he’d look into them ASAP.

“We have to get an application,” the Kid says to Tamarra.  “The application deadline is probably coming up soon.  Here, let me try and find their website.”  The Kid started typing on his computer.  “Ah, here it is, Cheltenham Preparatory Academy for Girls.”

“You think you can get me into that school, Mista Rossetti?”

“I’m gonna try.  Hmm, where is it . . . ah, admissions.  Right here.  Let me just print out this application packet . . .”

The Kid printed out the packet, got Tamarra started wit filling the stuff out.

“Here,” the Kid says, “start with the first page, and write as much as you know.  Skip the parts that you don’t know, I’ll help you with these.  I’m gonna make you an application file, put it right here in my desk, and we’ll work on this together, okay?  We’ll chip away at this, little by little.  Sound good?  Sound like a plan?”

“Okay,” Tamarra says, and stood up and walked over and gave the Kid a hug, a big hug, even though it was the Kid’s policy not to give hugs to students, cause he didn’t wanna get sued or nothing.  “Thank you soooo much, Mista Rossetti.”

“I’m just doing my job,” the Kid says, hugging her tight.  “I’m just doing my job.”

_______

On Valentine’s Day, the Kid took Gina to this hip restaurant in Center City Philly called Bodhi Dharma, some kinda . . . fusion place, whatever the frig fusion means . . . and they had a real good time; yes, you’s guys guessed it—he wrote about the whole night in detail in his journal.  The Kid, see, he liked all kinda crazy foods, like Indian, and Thai, and Japanese, but Gina, well, according to what he wrote, she just liked normal stuff, like lasagna, and chicken fettuccine, and bruschetta, and broccoli rabe.  Now, to impress the girl, the Kid figured he’d show her how to eat the fancy foods, and that’s just what he did; apparently, the Kid learned all about fine dining from that other broad he was seeing, that married chick who dumped him right before he was about to propose to her.

Dom’s new favorite food was sushi, and that’s just what the two a them was eating at Bodhi Dharma.  Dom ordered the miso soup, and the vegetable tempura, and of course sushi, too—a buncha pieces a salmon, and tuna, and yellow tail, even some eel and squid—in honor a Dr. Rosen-Squid, the Kid said to Gina as a joke.  Course, Gina didn’t get it, and wanted to know who Dr. Rosen-Squid was.  The Kid told her—that she was an education professor from the Baumgartner College of Arts and Humanities, and that she’d come to visit World Peace Charter in December wit a buncha students and whatnot.

“Is that her real name, Dr. Rosen-Squid?”

“No, that’s just what we call her.”

“Why?”

“Cause she looks like a squid.  Her eyes are like a foot apart.”

Dominic,” Gina says, “that’s not nice.”

It wasn’t nice, but that’s how God made the broad, ya know?  Don’t get me wrong, I woulda thrown her one back in my younger single days, believe me.  Maybe did her from behind, so I wouldn’t have to look at her squid eyes; maybe I woulda just had her put a bag over her head or something like that.  The world wasn’t always a nice place, no sir.  Richard Applegarth, the douchebag state test monitor who the Gorilla threw in the trunk a his Cadillac, knew this better than anybody.  You shoulda seen his face when we finally went and got him.  He had a squid face, all white and jiggly looking.  It got even whiter when me and Petie drove him to the Ben Franklin Bridge, pulled over to the side and grabbed him by the back a the head and told him, You say one friggin word to anybody about anything, off this friggin bridge you is going!  One word about anything!  Got it?  Got it?  He got it, alright.

Anyways, the Kid was having a beautiful evening wit Gina, real romantic.  There was candles on the table, and the lights was dimmed down, and the waitress came over wit a basket fulla hot towels and asked if either a them wanted one, and they both said yes, and they giggled and put them on each other’s necks, and after a minute the towels got cold, wet and cold, and then the waitress came back over and put them back in the basket.  When the food came, the Kid showed Gina how to hold the chopsticks, and how to put the, um, wasabi in the soy sauce.  Gina liked the tuna and the salmon, she said, but not the eel, and especially not the squid, which she told the Kid was too squishy and tasted nasty.  But the other stuff, she liked it, and said eating it made her feel, whatdoyacallit, cultured.

The subject a Gina’s ex-husband came up, the Kid wrote in his journal.  Gina and the Kid kinda had this unwritten rule not to ask questions about their romantic past, but they was getting pretty serious—was now using the L-word constantly—and it was a natural part of getting to know somebody, I guess you could say, of airing out the dirty laundry and whatnot.  The Kid didn’t say in his journal exactly how the topic came up, it just did, so Gina says to the Kid, she says, “What do you wanna know about him?”

“What is his name again?”

“Andrew.  Andrew McClintock.  Pretty common name, actually.  There’s a buncha people named Andrew McClintock on Facebook.”

“And you were Gina McClintock?”

“Yeah, for about three years.  Three long years.”

“You didn’t hyphenate your name?”

“God no . . . I’m a traditional gal.  I couldn’t imagine being Regina Grasso-McClintock.  Yuck.  Just being Gina McClintock was enough.  Now, Gina Rossetti, that has a nice ring to it . . .”

“Yes, it does.”  The Kid leaned forward and French kissed the girl, in front a the whole restaurant like a friggin sap, putting on a real show, or so he wrote.  Then he says, “Why don’t you parents call him by name?”

“Cause they hate him.  They think he’s a bad influence on Ashley.”

“Is he?”

“Not really.  Not anymore.  I guess he was in the beginning, back when we were married, and Ashley was real little.”

“What happened when Ashley was little?”

So Gina tells him, lets out all the skeletons in her closet, as they say.  First, she tells how Andrew couldn’t keep his thing in his pants, that even when they was newlyweds, he was fooling around on her.  She didn’t know about it, not at first.  One day, though, when she was like six months pregnant wit little Ashley and was at her doctor getting her check up, she found out she had one a those STDs . . . the Clap.  She was having pain in her stomach, but not from the baby.  It was her lower stomach, the Kid wrote.  Plus, it was burning when she went to pee.  She told her doctor this, and he said it sounded like she may have had whatdoyacallit—Gonorrhea, and she said no friggin way, I’m married, I haven’t had sex wit another guy in years.  The doc tested her anyways, and wouldn’t ya know it, the test came back positive—she had the freakin Clap.

At first, Gina told the doc she didn’t understand how this had happened, and wondered if she coulda got it from sitting on a dirty toilet seat, but the doc said no, no way Jose, that never happened in real life, it was one a those urban legends.  If she hadn’t had sex wit a strange man, then there was only one real way she’d gotten Gonorrhea, and that was from her husband.  Which meant he musta been screwing around, unless he’d had it before they met, which was pretty much impossible, cause Gina woulda noticed.  Course, Gonorrhea was easily fixed, all you hadda do was get an injection and take a pill, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was, see, that Andrew had cheated on Gina, and even worse, put the baby at risk.  The Clap could really frig things up on a chick who’s pregnant, could cause them to have one a those, ah, miscarriages, and could make the baby come out wit eye infections and low birth weight and whatnot; that’s what the doc told Gina that day in his office.

Gina was furious, but also embarrassed.  She tried not to tell her parents but her father opened her doctor bill by mistake cause her and Andrew was living at their place till the baby was born, and he said, “Who has the Clap?” and Gina tried to lie but she was a horrible liar, and then the truth came out.  Her father flipped the frig out, and wanted to throw Andrew outta his house, but Gina cried, and Andrew said he was sorry and promised that something like that would never, ever, happen again, and so they all put it behind them as best they could.  And three months later, little Ashley was born, and everybody was happy for a while.  The Gonorrhea didn’t give her no eye infections or nothing, and no birth defects; course, Ashley was born wit the club feet, but the doctors said this didn’t have nothing to do wit Gina having the Clap.

Gina, Andrew, and Ashley got their own place, and things was good for a bit.  Ashley had her first birthday, then her second.  Her feet was a problem, and so she got an operation, but the doctors frigged this up—damaged a nerve in her left foot—and Gina’s father got a lawyer and sued, but the doctor settled outta court, and gave Gina and Andrew something like $50,000, which went into an account for a whatchamacallit, a college fund for little Ashley.  Or, it was supposed to go into a college fund for her.  Turns out, Andrew was taking the money out and spending it at strip clubs, cause he had some kinda sex addiction or something.  It was horrible, but true.  He’d go out at night and drop like one or two grand in one shot at a high class gentleman’s club, getting private dances and whatnot, and more.  When Gina finally found out, when all the money in the college fund was gone and Gina’s father got another lawyer for Gina’s divorce, Andrew came clean about everything, came clean and promised he’d get help, but it was too late for that, way too late.

“I mean, what kinda person steals money from a child?” Gina says, stirring the ice in her glass at the table.  “You know?  Takes money from a child’s education fund and blows it in some strip club?  Who does this?”

The Kid wrote in his journal that right then, right at the table, he had an anxiety attack, that all of a sudden he was dizzy and the room was spinning, and that he felt his right arm go numb.  He thought he was having a stroke, he wrote, and told Gina she might need to call 911.

“Oh my God,” Gina says, “are you serious?”

But then it went away, the Kid started breathing deep and it went away, the room settled and he could feel his arm again.

“I’m okay, I think,” he says.

“Are you sure.”  She had her cellphone out.  “I should call anyway, just in case.”

“No, really,” the Kid says.  “False alarm.  Just a panic attack.  It happens to me sometimes, when I get too hot.  Are you hot?  Is it too warm in here?”

“It’s a little warm,” Gina says.

“Here, let me just drink some water.”

The two just sat there for a while, not saying nothing.  Finally, Gina says, “I shouldn’t have told you any of this.  I’m sorry.  I guess I got carried away.  I didn’t mean to ruin the night.”

“No,” the Kid says, “you didn’t ruin anything.  Seriously.”

“Are you sure?  I’m probably scaring you, aren’t I?  You probably think I’m damaged goods now, don’t you?”

“No, Gina.  No way.”

“Do you still love me, even though I told you about my screwed up past?”

“Absolutely.  Gina, I love you more than anything.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“You still wanna be my Valentine?”

“My God, yes.  Yes, yes, yes.”

“Okay,” she said.  “I believe you.”

But the Kid knew Gina could sense something was wrong, cause she said that he looked scared, and white as a ghost.

Part 21

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 19

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 19 of 25

Like the Kid told Dr. Trowbridge that day on the phone, I would be running the show on test day at World Peace.  I gotta tell you, I wasn’t too happy about this—a 62 year old man pretending to be principal of a friggin charter school—but deep down I knew it hadda be this way, cause if anything crazy happened, I could take the fall for it; I didn’t have a reputation to lose like the Kid did, not in education, at least.  Anyways, how hard could it be?  It was all fake, all the students was actors, so it wasn’t like I really hadda discipline them or nothing.  It was all for show, and I was good at that, putting on a show.  Like when I took out my power drill on a guy the Gorilla had in a headlock for not paying Tony, and put it right up to the guy’s face, up to his temple, revving it real loud and listening to him squeal as the drill bit pulled out clumps a his hair.  It was all a show, cause I’d never really drill a hole in his skull . . . his kneecap, maybe . . . but never his skull, that was the Gorilla’s territory.

The Kid went over the instructions for test day wit me a hundred friggin times, and I knew it all by heart.  The state’s math and science exams would be given in one week, next Tuesday.  I had already talked wit my guy Eddie, the casting agent, and scheduled the same 100 actors to come in for another full day shoot; to help the Kid out, I took $11,500 outta me and Linda’s vacation fund to pay for it.  This time they was told they’d be acting in an informational video for the state exams, and that they’d be playing the same 9th graders as before, only this time, all they hadda do was sit there in their desks and pretend to take the tests.  Course, they wasn’t supposed to really take them, just pretend to take them—fill in the bubbles here and there, making sure they followed all the rules the proctors gave them.  These actors Eddie was giving me, well, they was actually experienced at doing this, Eddie said, cause some a them had already done promotional shoots for data companies that sold standardized tests to schools.

Eddie said it was a big business, giving tests.  He said these testing companies made cash-ola, mega bucks, and charged school districts millions.  Eddie said he had no idear how big a business this was until he got a call from one a these places, 21st Century Data, Corp., he thought they was called.  The C.E.O. and national sales manager for 21st Century Data was this slick Irishman named Gerald Coonan, and he wanted Eddie to round up a buncha actors so he could film this promotional video of kids taken his tests.  It was part of a marketing packet on why his tests was the best . . . why they could help the children learn the most.  Coonan was trying to sell his tests to a school district in Camden, New Jersey.  Eddie said he charged Coonan a cool $25,000 just for rounding up the actors.  Coonan also hadda pay the actors, and there was Eddie’s $10,000 consulting fee, too.  But this was small potatoes for the money 21st Century Data was pulling in.

“Jeez,” I says.

“Oh yeah.  These guys are making millions, my friend, tens of millions.  Seriously.”

“For freakin making tests?”

“Yep.  Testing is big business.  Every time you make some asshole take a test, some other asshole is making cash on the deal, believe me.”

“I never thought about it like that,” I says.  “So we’re all set for Tuesday, the 15th, then?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna use the same crew of people.  Like I said, they got experience doing this.”

So the actors playing the students was taking care of.  The faculty staff would again be played by me and the Gorilla and a handful a strippers from Straight A’s, but Ms. Su wouldn’t be one a them; her panties was in a twist about the blow-up she had wit Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid, and wanted no parts of coming back to World Peace Charter.  There would be four tests taken in all, two math in the morning, and two science in the afternoon.  Lunch would be in the café, but the actors were informed that they would be brown-bagging it, again.  It wasn’t good to test when you was hungry, but in Dom’s case, it clearly was; he was hoping they would do as lousy as possible.

“Alright Eddie,” I says, “thanks again.  You’s a big, big help.”

“Don’t worry about it, Manny,” he says.  “But just remember: if it works, you owe me, and if you get caught, you don’t know me.”

_______

On the day a the state exams the power was back on, and our plan was running without a glitch, at least in the beginning.  The students was in their seats concentrating on the tests, number 2 pencils in hand, booklets open to the first math section.  I was the testing administrator, so I was walking around between the four different classrooms . . . there was 25 kids in a room . . . making sure things was straight, that there was no questions from the teachers proctoring the tests, or questions from the students.  Dom told me to ask three basic questions: First, Does everybody got scratch paper and calculators? Second, Does everybody got two number 2 pencils?  And third, Let me know if you need more time, cause we’ll take you into room 263, the accommodation room.  The state exams was technically an untimed test, see.

It was kinda fun being the testing administrator, being the principal; I could see why the Kid liked doing it so much.  I was everybody’s boss, and they pretty much did everything I said, and I didn’t even have to threaten to pull out the heavy equipment, like my hacksaw or power drill.  Course, when the state testing monitor showed up, well, that’s when stuff starting getting a little hairy.  The state monitor, this young, goofy looking prick wit a cheesy mustache and big Adam’s apple and glasses comes into the building, my building, acting like he’s in charge a something.  The first thing I think is, Who’s he been wit?  Any made guys?  Frig no.  Now, I’m a made man, see, they opened the books on me in 1990, like I says before, so I ain’t trying to listen to what this little jerk has to say.

Anyways, this punk—his name was Richard or some shit—comes in and starts poking around, asking me who I am, asking if he can talk to the principal and test administrator.  I’m the principal and testing administrator, I tell him, can I help you wit something?  Okay, he says, I didn’t think you was the principal.  This gets me agitated, see, and this little jerk’s got my blood up, cause why in the friggin world don’t I look like the principal, you know?  Didn’t he see me wearing the suit and tie, walking around the building checking on the students and teachers in the classrooms, asking them if they needed anything?  Didn’t he hear what they was calling me, the friggin nitwit?  They was calling me Principal, Principal Bradshaw.  How freakin stupid does a person have to be to see a man walking around a school in a suit and friggin tie, checking on the students and teachers in the classroom and being called Principal, and not know that that person is the principal?

This state monitor person, this Richard, was a real dumb sonnavabitch, let me just say that much.  He was also a hemorrhoid, and the only reason I had any patience wit him was cause Dom told me I hadda have patience wit him.  So I let him walk around the place wit his clipboard and do his observation, go into the classrooms and stand in the back and watch the students work like some stalker.  He did this for a while, for like an hour, poking around, walking up to the students and asking to inspect their test booklets.  We was in the one classroom, Ms. Dickey’s, and the students was almost done the second part a the math test, and all of a sudden the prick says, “Mr. Bradshaw, can I speak with you for a minute in the hallway, please?”

“What?” I says.  “What’s the problem?”

“Sshh, not so loud.  Let’s talk in the hall so the kids can concentrate.”

For a minute I wasn’t sure if this little asshole actually had the balls to shush me, but he did, he shushed me—the principal, the goddamned principal a the school, and a made man at that.  Well, I went into the hall wit this guy, smiling real big to hide how much I wanted to break his head, and used all my, um, willpower to listen to what he hadda say; again, I did it for Dom.  What he actually wanted to know was if I had a master list a the names a the students taking the test, so he could see if they checked out.

“A what?” I says to him.

“A master list of the names of the students testing.  It came with the testing materials in the mail.”

“Um . . .”

“Where is your secure location?  Where are you storing the tests?”

“Oh, that would be in my office, the principal’s office.”

“Can we go there?  Please?  I need to see something for the report I have to write.”

I take him there, to my office, and we go to the cabinet and pull out the box.

“Doesn’t your cabinet lock, Mr. Bradshaw?”

“What?”

“Your cabinet?  Doesn’t it have a lock on it?”

“Huh?  I don’t know . . .”

“Your testing materials are supposed to be locked at all times in a secure location,” he says, and writes something down on his clipboard.

“What is you writing there?” I says.  “Let me see that.”

The guy ignored me.  “I need to see the ID pictures of your students, Mr. Bradshaw.  It’s not that I don’t trust you . . . although some of those students look like they could be 19 or 20 . . . it’s just a formality.  Where is your attendance information?”

“Attendance?”

“Is it computerized?  Would you mind pulling up the identification pictures of the students who are taking the tests for me?”

“Actually,” I says, “Mr. Kaplan has that information, our C.F.O.  Here, I’ll take you over to his office right now.  Follow me.”

We walk over to Mr. Kaplan’s office, which is right down the hall in the main office, and wouldn’t you believe it, Mr. Kaplan is sound asleep in his chair, his friggin feet propped up on the empty wooden table that’s supposed to be his desk.

A-hem,” I says.  “Mr. Kaplan, can I talk to you for a second?”

The Gorilla wakes up, slobber running down his chin, and nearly falls outta his chair.  He looks around like he doesn’t know where he is, then figures it out, and says, “What?  What do ya want, Manny?”

“Yeah,” I says, “how ya doing, Mr. Kaplan.  We got a visitor here, a visitor from the state, remember?

The Gorilla shakes his big bowling ball head.  “Oh, yeah, yeah, the state.  Right.  How are you doing, sir?”

“His name’s Richard,” I says.  “Now, Mr. Kaplan, I think Richard here has a bit of a problem, see.  He’s looking for our attendance records so he can pull up the IDs of the students taking the test.  I guess Richard’s new, and the people from the state didn’t go up to Harrisburg and tell him, but World Peace Charter doesn’t have no computerized attendance system, do they, Mr. Kaplan?”

“Ah, no,” the Gorilla says.

I cross my arms.  “Cause of the fire, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, the fire,” the Gorilla says.

“See Richard, we thought we had those ID pictures for you, but turns out, we ain’t got them after all.  Sorry for the whatchamacallit—for the inconvenience.”

Richard keeps pushing the issue, though, like the hemorrhoid that he is.  He says this isn’t good enough, that he needs some form of ID to verify the students taking the tests, and that if we can’t produce none, this could be a security violation, and he’s gonna have to report it to the state.

I just look at the Gorilla, and he knows what we need to do; we’re professionals, him and I, and we’ve been working together for over 20 years.

“Okay, ID pictures,” the Gorilla says, and stands up.  “Yeah, we got those outside in the parking lot.  Here, let me show ya.”

For a minute Richard thinks the Gorilla is gonna actually show him the IDs, and he turns to go wit Petie.  Something tells Richard that things ain’t right, though, and he stops and says maybe he’ll see the IDs later, maybe he’ll come back after lunch for them.  Course, a second later Petie has him in a headlock and is dragging him down the hall like a sack a potatoes, slamming his head into the office door as he takes him outside and throws him in the trunk a his new Cadillac CTS, the little asshole screaming and kicking the whole way.

After Richard is locked in the back a the Gorilla’s car, Petie comes back and says, “What a piece a friggin shit.”

“Tell me about it,” I says.  “After these tests is over, I oughta go out there and beat the friggin balls off a that sonnavabitch myself, I swear to friggin God.  Who the frig does that little jag-off think he is, anyways?”

“Yeah,” the Gorilla says.  “We oughta—”

Somebody’s coming into the main office, and for a minute we think it’s our pal Richard, but it isn’t, not at all; it’s Dr. Trowbridge, and she wants to take a look around the school herself.

“Hello?” she says.  “Anybody home?  Roger?  Yoo-hoo, anybody here?”

“Dr. Trowbridge, hello,” I says, and whisper to the Gorilla to go hide in his office.  “Hey, good to see you.  Come on in.  I was just about to check on the students, go make my rounds.”

“Good morning, Roger,” she says.  “Oh, what a horrible ride down here.  I have that stupid loaner car from my insurance company.  Ridiculous.  So, how is the testing going so far?”

“Good.  Everybody is working hard, they all got two number 2 pencils and scratch paper.”

“Can’t live without the scratch paper and the number 2 pencils, can we?”

“No, I guess we can’t.  Do you want a tour a the building to see how everything’s going?”

“You read my mind, Roger.”

So I bring her around the building like usual, and she’s satisfied wit how the tests is going, and she relaxes a little and starts to vent about her car, how the windmill totaled it, and how she’s gonna sue the pants off a the Philadelphia Unified School District, cause their insurance won’t pay out.

“Act of God,” she says.  “Unbelievable.  Just replace my car, that’s all I’m asking.  No, they wanna fight it.  They’re going to end up paying a ton of money for a lawyer to go to court, when they could settle this like human beings.  Jesus.  Where’s Richard Applegarth, anyway.  Have you seen him today?”

“The guy from the state?” I says.

“Yes, the testing monitor.  His car’s outside in the parking lot . . . probably getting hit with a flying windmill . . . but I haven’t seem him.  Do you know where he is?”

“Ah . . .”

“I talked with him this morning, and we were supposed to coordinate today.  He’s new, and this is his first assignment alone.  I told him we’d meet up and talk, maybe do lunch.”

“You know, he was here earlier,” I says, “but then he said he was gonna head outside for a while, to, um, go grab some lunch.”

“Really?  Shoot.  There goes that idea.  I guess I’ll just wait till he gets back then.”

“He might be a while,” I tell Dr. Trowbridge.  “He was gonna take a long lunch, maybe hit a bar and throw back a coupla shots.”

“Stop it,” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “He didn’t say that.”

“He said he was gonna go get a hooker and check into one a those no-tell motels.”

“Mr. Bradshaw, enough.  That’s very sexist and inappropriate, and I could write you up for saying that.  Where is he, really?”

“He’s out to lunch, though.  Seriously.  That’s where he said he was going, all kidding aside.”

“Well, he’d better not be gone too long.  He’s still on his probationary period.  I’ll just wait for him, then, if ya don’t mind.”

So Dr. Trowbridge decided to wait.  She hung around for an hour, called Richard’s cellphone, left a message, and then waited another 30 minutes, finally deciding that she hadda move on to another school—Marcus Garvey Elementary, which was down in Center City.

“Well, when Richard gets back, tell him to call me ASAP, if you wouldn’t mind.  I’m actually starting to get a little worried about him.

“No problem,” I says, and walk Dr. Trowbridge to her car.

Part 20

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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 18

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 18 of 25

Dr. Trowbridge shows up wit her whole, ah, entourage, her, and about 12 young kids who I guess was college students studying to become teachers, and this other middle aged broad, Dr. Rosen-Greenberg, the Chair of Baumgartner’s School of Education.  Dr. Rosen-Greenberg, who I take it was married cause she had the double last names, was actually kinda attractive, tall and thin, wit this sexy long brown hair.  The only thing was, though, her face wasn’t that good, at least not her eyes, cause they was like a foot apart.  She looked kinda like Jackie Kennedy, I guess—like a squid, that’s what Dom said to me after the visit was over.  The Kid was right; she had the squid eyes.

So Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid and the college kids is all there standing in the empty main office, wit their notebooks and cellphone cameras, and they is all kinda looking around at everything like they was at the zoo or something, pointing, whispering to each other and nodding their heads.  Every now and then they’d snap a picture, God only knows what of, cause there wasn’t nothing in the main office except some plants, a few wooden tables, a phone that wasn’t hooked up, and a big banner hanging across the wall that said, Welcome to World Peace Charter High School!  There was no secretary there, neither.  There wasn’t even a single light on in the whole room, cause there wasn’t no electricity.  The sun was shining through two big windows, so you could see pretty good, but not good enough; the Kid had a buncha candles lit on the tables and counter.

I’m standing there wit these people not knowing what to say, just smiling and asking how their trip was down from Connecticut, where they was from.  The Gorilla was in his office pretending to be the C.F.O. again, and the Kid was still setting things up wit World Peace Charter’s science teacher Ms. Julie Su, being played by none other than Ms. Julie Su herself, the 24-year-old Asian knockout exotic dancer who not only worked at Tony’s world renowned Straight A’s . . . which was raking in cash friggin hand over fist, by the way . . . but who also had a master’s degree in Political Science to boot.  Ms. Julie Su was freakin hot, and smart.  Now, in over 40 years, I never once cheated on my wife Linda, not one time; I’m very proud a that.  But if I was gonna, if I had one free pass to roll around in the sack wit another gal, it would be Julie Su, hands down.  Sheesh, would I ever.

One a the college students standing next to me in the office says something to me I don’t hear.

“Scuze me?” I says to her.

“I said I think it’s great that you have an energy conservation day here at World Peace Charter.”

“A who?

“An energy conservation day.  If every public school did this once a month like you do, we’d not only save a ton a money, but would reduce our carbon footprint by a mile.”

I ain’t gonna lie, but I had no friggin idear what this little girl was talking about.  “A carbon fingerprint?” I says, and looked at my hands to see if I had dirt on them or something.  “Do I need to wash my hands?”

The girl laughs.  “No, a carbon footprint.  Pollution, you know?  The ozone layer.  You’re trying to reduce waste and pollution, right?  Save energy?  That’s why your school is having a ‘power down day’ today?”

“Oh yeah, right, the ‘power down day,’ I see now.  You gotta forgive me, I’m getting old, and I’s got potatoes in my ears and don’t hear so good sometimes.”

“That’s okay.”

“Sheesh, yeah, the power down day,” I says.  “Yeah, we do it once a month, to save energy.  We keep all the lights off and whatnot, and power everything down, the computers, everything.  The vacuum, the refrigerator, it’s all powered down.  It stops pollution, and makes our school—whatdoyacallit, green.  The Kid . . . ah, Mr. Rossetti, it was his idear.  He’s the boss, I’m just the principal.”

“Well it’s a great idea,” the girl says.

“Thanks.”

The Kid was finally done setting things up wit Ms. Su and came back into the main office, thank Christ.  He introduced hisself again and welcomed everybody and said that he was real proud to have Dr. Trowbridge there for another visit, and also proud to have Dr. Rosen-Squid there, the Chair of the Baumgartner School of Education, and proud to have all the college students visiting, and that he hoped their experience today would make their dream a becoming a teacher even stronger.  The Kid explained about the power down day, again, and thanked everybody for their patience wit this, wit the fact that all the lights was cut off to save energy and protect the ozone, which was part a World Peace Charter’s mission—to be green and stop violence.  He gave everyone a candle, too, and had them light it, and explained that it was really dark in the hallways where there was no windows, but that once they got around the corner to Ms. Su’s room, the science teacher, things would be just fine, cause her room, see, her room had windows.

On the way to Ms. Su’s room, I heard Dr. Trowbridge discussing stuff wit the students and wit Dr. Rosen-Squid, discussing how impressed she was last time she was here wit the curriculum at World Peace, how themes a tolerance and multiculturalism was, ah, embedded in the math lesson, how cleverly Egyptian culture was howdoyasayit—intertwined wit geometric theorems.  Course, she was really looking forward to the Israeli Science, and so was Dr. Rosen-Squid, being that she was Jewish, and a supporter of Israel.  Well, she was a supporter of Israel and she wasn’t, she told Dr. Trowbridge, it was tricky.  She believed that the Jews needed a homeland, by all means, but the way the Palestinians was being treated . . . that was an, um, abomination.  But let’s just see how the science lesson goes, she said.

So we get to Ms. Su’s room and the first thing I think is, wow, Ms. Su is so friggin beautiful; as soon as we was done wit the visit, I was gonna go back to Straight A’s wit her, buy a nice big juicy New York strip and a glass a good beer, and watch her get naked and shake that freakin grade A ass on stage till the cows came the frig home.  Yeah, forgetaboutit.  So Ms. Su’s in her classroom, standing at the blackboard in a short black skirt and tight red V-neck sweater—her cleavage just busting outta it—a pair a black horn-rimmed glasses on, ready to start her science lesson.  There was no World Peace Charter students in the room, so she was gonna present her lesson to us—me and the Kid and Dr. Trowbridge and all of us.

“Good morning class,” Ms. Su says, and for a minute I hadda remind myself that I was watching a real lesson and not a friggin porno on the Internet.  “How are you doing today?”

“Just fine, Ms. Su,” I says.  Dr. Trowbridge and Dr. Rosen-Squid wasn’t doing as good, though.  I heard Trowbridge say to Rosen-Squid that Ms. Su was inappropriately dressed, and the two seemed offended by it.  They even wrote something about it down on their clipboards.

“Okay class,” Ms. Su continues, “today we’re going to learn about free fall and air resistance by doing an experiment using two dreidels, one wood, one plastic.  I have them both right here, see?  Okay, can anybody tell me what a dreidel is?  Okay, Dr. Rosen-Greenberg?”

“Dreidels are tops that you spin.  They have four sides, with a different Yiddish word on each.  You use them to play Hanukkah games.”

“Very good!” Ms. Su says.  “They are tops.  The Hebrew word for dreidel is sevivon, which in Yiddish means ‘to turn around.’  Now, we’re going to use them to do a science experiment that measures free fall and air resistance.  I’m going to hold each dreidel exactly four feet above the ground and then drop them, seeing which one will hit the ground first.  Does anybody want to make a prediction about which one will hit the ground first?  The plastic dreidel or the wooden one?”

“The plastic,” I says.

“Okay . . . thank you for your participation, Principal Bradshaw . . . Principal Bradshaw says the plastic dreidel will hit the ground first.  Now, before I drop each, it’s important to understand the principles of physics in regards to mass, gravity, and air resistance.  Do you guys remember our lesson about the acceleration of gravity, which is represented by the letter g?”

“Yes,” someone in the back says.

“Wonderful.  So you know that all objects, regardless of mass, free fall at the same acceleration, which is 9.8 meters per second squared.  That means if we were on the moon, and there was no wind resistance and not much gravity, I could drop both dreidels from a height of four feet, and both would hit the ground at the same time.”

“They would?” I says.

“Yes, they would.  But when I drop both dreidels, this bulky wooden one, and this light plastic one, they won’t hit at the same time.  Why?  Because of wind resistance and gravity.  Here, let’s give it a try . . .”

Dr. Trowbridge is shaking her head, like she doesn’t agree wit something Ms. Su is saying.  Ms. Su sees this, and asks if something is wrong.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Trowbridge says, “but I think you’re moving too fast here.  You’re throwing all this information at us without building up to it, without activating any prior background knowledge.”

So Ms. Su says, “Oh, okay, what should I start with, then?”

And Trowbridge says that Ms. Su needs to bring more a the cultural aspect into the lesson, more a the Israeli background stuff.  After all, Trowbridge says, it’s called Israeli Science.  The bit about the dreidel was clever, she said, but it needed to go deeper.  To do a solid lesson about physics, you needed to bring in the conflict in the Middle East, between the Jews and the Arabs; that was going deep and getting at the more important, um, cultural aspect.  Maybe you could start wit a discussion about how after World War II, the Jews just kinda went in and took over land that wasn’t theirs.  Sure, the Jews needed a homeland, but maybe they could think about the Palestinians for five seconds?

“Israeli belonged to the Jews since the beginning,” Ms. Su says.

“Pardon?” Dr. Trowbridge says, this shocked expression coming over her.  “Excuse me?”  Dr. Trowbridge stands up, walks over to Ms. Su.  “Do you think all Muslims are terrorists, Ms. Su?  Is that was this is about?”

“I know you’re a doctor of education and everything,” Ms. Su says, “but I actually have a degree in Political Science, and your version of the history of the Middle East isn’t exactly, um, accurate.”

Well, that did it; Julie Su opened up the friggin biggest can a worms ever.  Trowbridge and Su started arguing real loud, then, trying to talk over each other like on that one TV show . . . Jerry Springer, I think it’s called . . . and even Dr. Rosen-Squid got in it, saying that she was Jewish, and if anybody knew what was best for the Jews, it was her.  The Israelis, Rosen-Squid said, needed to stop being so greedy and just go back to the pre-1967 boarders.  Exactly, Dr. Trowbridge added, exactly.  That was the way to create background for a science class, to make sure you incorporated the need for Israel to stop taking over Arab land, and for the United States ta stop their, um, imperialistic ways.

“I guess you’s think the Holocaust was staged in Hollywood!” Ms. Su says, and starts carrying on about how the Israelis are doing all they can to keep the peace but it’s the Palestinians who are the bullies.  What kinda person blows up a night club filled wit innocent people?  What kinda person teaches their kid to strap explosives on their bodies so they can get on a bus and—

Just then, there is this loud crash that shakes the whole building, and for a minute, I actually thought somebody was trying to blow up the school, I swear to friggin God.

“What the hell?” the Kid says, and runs outta the classroom.  We all follow him, through the dark hallway and past the main office and out through the main doors.  And there it is, the Gorilla’s windmill, smashed through the roof a Dr. Trowbridge’s BMW.

“Oh my God!” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “My car!”

“The wind must have blown it off the roof,” Dr. Rosen-Squid says.

Yeah, it musta.

_______

The Kid spent the Christmas holidays at Gina and Ashley’s house in South Philly.  Gina was really into Christmas, Dom wrote in his journal, and spent lots a time decorating to celebrate the season.  Outside she strung red and blue lights on the railing and around the frame a the door—or should I say Dom did—put one a those big inflatable Santa Clauses on the front steps, and hung a wreath on the door.  Inside, she put an electric candle in every window and sprayed the panes wit artificial snow, and over the doorway in the dining room, stuck some mistletoe.  She hung stockings on the mantle, too, three a them—one for little Ashley, one for Gina, and even one for Dom—and their names was sown right on the front in big red letters.  Course, the center of it all was the Christmas tree, a fat Douglas Fir, which the Kid bought from a guy in a gray hoodie and fingerless gloves on Washington Ave., haggling over the price in the freezing rain while Gina and Ashley waited in Gina’s car wit the heat running.  Gina threw a small party to trim the tree, the Kid said in his journal, and they had eggnog and burned cinnamon incense and played Christmas music . . . Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and that one song about mommy getting caught blowing Santa Claus or some such foolishness.

On Christmas Eve, though, it was just the three a them.  Gina made a nice ham dinner and served it in the dining room wit her good dishes and silverware.  Dom helped wit the rice, boiling the water and stirring it, and Ashley folded the napkins and put out the expensive crystal glasses.  She asked to light the dinner candles and so Dom helped her do it, and they lit more incense and played more Christmas music and finally sat to eat, Gina raising her glass a wine in a toast—to the three of us on this wonderful night!—and Dom and Ashley raised their glasses a cola and they all clinked them together, all at once.  Dom wrote that he’d never felt so content inside, so complete.

They finished dinner and all three helped clean up, Gina washing the dishes, Ashley drying them, and Dom putting the plates and glasses back into the cabinets.  The three moved into the living room, then, to watch “The Polar Express,” a long standing tradition at Gina’s house.  Gina and Dom sat on the couch together, Gina sipping her wine and Dom drinking a cup a tea, Ashley sitting Indian style on the floor right in front a the TV.  At the part in the movie when Santa is stuffing all the toys in the big gigantic bag to take on his sleigh, Ashley paused the movie, cause that was also part a the tradition at Gina’s.

“Can I mom?” Ashley asks.  “Please?  Just one?”

“I don’t know,” Gina says, “Dom here’s now.  Why don’t we finish the movie first, okay?”

Please?  Just one?”

“Well, let me ask Dom, since he’s our guest.  Dom, would you mind if—”

“Go for it,” Dom says.

“You didn’t let me finish my sentence.”

“A present, right?  Ashley wants to open a present?  Absolutely.  Do it up, Ash.  Be my guest.  Let’s see what you got there under the tree.”

“Can I mom?”

“Fine.”

“Yea!”

Ashley goes over to the tree and tries to decided which present to open . . . Dom wrote about this in detail . . . and she puts her hand on one but Dom says no, not that one, you should open the one right there, the one wit the red and green wrapping paper.  This one?  Yeah, that one.  So she picks it up and holds it, shakes it and tries to figure out what it is, but she’s got no idear.  She knows it’s from the Kid, though, cause he’s smiling like a friggin madman, and so she opens it real slow, a little bit at a time, just to mess wit him, or so he thought.

“Snorkel gear!” Ashley says, and it was—a whole set, the snorkel, the mask, the swim fins.  She rips it outta the plastic box and puts it on and now Gina’s gotta get pictures, cause it’s Ashley’s first snorkel set, and she just looks so friggin cute.  The Kid goes over and shows her the right way to use it, how to adjust the mask so it can fit snug on her face, how to step into the swim fins and strap them on tight, and how to put the snorkel in her mouth so she can breathe wit it under water.

Gina’s getting her cellphone outta her purse.  “What do you say?”

“Thank you,” Ashley says wit the snorkel still in her mouth, and now Gina is trying to get the two a them together to get a picture—Dom and Ashley—right in front a the Christmas tree wit Dom’s great present, a present that Ashley says she can’t wait until summer to use, especially now that her casts are off.  The next time her girlfriend has a pool party, well, you better freakin believe she is gonna show up wit Dom’s fabulous snorkel gear, swimming around a like a fish, making everybody, even Tina, jealous.

Gina cleans up the wrapping paper and the shredded plastic box, and tells Ashley to put the snorkel gear away then, back under the tree, so they all could finish the movie.  Gina hits play and they all go back to their places, Ashley on the floor, Dom and Gina on the couch wit Gina’s legs in Dom’s lap, Dom massaging her feet.  The movie played but Dom wasn’t watching, he wrote, he was drunk on the moment, overcome wit love.  It was friggin cheesy, sure, but the Kid wrote it and I know he meant it.

It was official now, see, they’d said the word earlier that day, the “L” word—love.  Gina said it first, first thing in the morning, right after the two made love.  I love you Dominic, she said, just like that, laying next to him in her bed, naked except for her socks, her body half covered wit the sheet; I ain’t no pervert, I’m just repeating what he wrote in his journal.  She rolled over and kissed him then, got back on top a him, as if she was afraid to let him answer her.  Dom said she was looking right in his eyes, that there was an uncertainty there, that there was a howdoyasayit, a vulnerability, that if Dom said he didn’t lover her or refused to answer her, she’d be crushed—the life would run outta her.  This made the Kid love her even more, cause he still couldn’t believe that she chose him, that she loved him, and took the risk of saying it first.

He sat up and kissed her mouth, softly, and said, I love you too, Gina, and it was so powerful, it was such a release for the Kid and the girl that the two ended up crying right in the bed, tears a joy, holding each other and crying tears a joy; the Kid underlined the word joy in his journal.

The credits was rolling on the movie, and it was time for Ashley to go to bed.  Gina put down her empty wine glass, got up off Dom’s lap.  She shut off the TV wit the remote, and asked Dom if he was ready for bed, and he said he was.  They turned off the Christmas tree . . . they don’t need the house burning down in no fire, that’s for sure . . . but kept the outside lights on, cause it was Christmas Eve, and that was the tradition.

Both Gina and Dom tucked Ashley in, together, like a famb’ly.  Gina told her to go right to sleep, no fooling around, cause Santa would be coming soon wit the presents.

Mom,” Ashley says, “enough with the Santa talk.  It’s okay, I know you and Dom want to be alone together.”

“Santa doesn’t like girls who talk back,” Gina says.

“Sure mom, whatever.  I’m tired anyway.  Goodnight, Dom.  Thanks for my snorkel set.”

“Goodnight, Ashley.”

Ashley yawns.  “Night, mom.”

“Goodnight, sweetie.”

Dom and Gina closed Ashley’s door, and went to their own room to make more love.

_______

After the holidays, in the New Year, the Kid got a call at Eisenhower from Dr. Trowbridge.  She was all pissy and moody, the Kid wrote, prob’ly on her period or something, if she still had one.  The first thing she tells the Kid is that her BMW is totaled, that when the windmill flew down off the top a the building and smashed through her roof, it frigged up the frame a the car so bad it was beyond repair.  She still didn’t know what the hell had happened, how a windmill could just fall outta the sky like that, it didn’t make no kinda sense.  The Kid said at first he made a joke to try to lighten the mood, said something like It was prob’ly Snowball, making a reference to the pig in that book . . . what’s it called . . . Animal Farm, but I guess Trowbridge didn’t think it was funny.  She kept moaning and belly-aching about how the Philadelphia Unified School District’s insurance wasn’t gonna cover it, that even though they owned the building and that their policy was up to date, it was technically considered an “act a God,” that wind blowing the windmill off the roof and down onto her BMW was an “act a God,” and they wouldn’t pay.  Now Trowbridge’s insurance rates, like the windmill, was gonna go through the roof, and she was super pissed; she was talking to her lawyer and planning a lawsuit against the District for a cool $100,000, the price a her car plus emotional damages.

Trowbridge was also unhappy wit the way things went during her walk through at World Peace in December, and there was a lot a things—a lot a things—that needed to be addressed in a performance improvement plan, which the Kid was told he needed to write based on the, um, recommendations of Trowbridge, which she wrote down on her clipboard during her last visit; Dom showed me all a these the day he got them.  For one, Trowbridge didn’t like the way the instructional objectives in Ms. Su’s lesson plan was worded.  One a her objectives for her lesson said, Students will be able to complete a science lab using dreidels in order to understand the principle of free fall.  That was no good, Trowbridge said, cause Su used the wrong verb, see.  Ms. Su said students will understand the principle of free fall.  The word “understand” was wrong, all wrong.  What did “understand” mean? Trowbridge said.  Ms. Su shoulda used one a the verbs from whatdoyacallit, from Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains.  Instead a “understand,” Ms. Su shoulda wrote “comprehend” or “explain,” which was more correct.

There was other things that needed improvement, too, like the fact that Ms. Su’s lesson didn’t have no hook—no, ah, anticipatory set.  She just jumped right in talking about free fall and gravity and whatnot, and dreidels.  She shoulda set up the lesson wit something interesting, to grab the students’ attention, like maybe bringing in something colorful, a puppet or a toy or something, so the students coulda held it in their hands and felt it, got excited about.  Or, she coulda started the lesson wit a cool video clip from the Internet, something like that.  Just jumping in and talking about the principals a free fall and gravity, well, that was not solid instruction and was a sure fire way to lose the students, Trowbridge told Dom.

There was also the matter a the school walls, which was plain and boring.  Now, on the last visit, Dr. Trowbridge had specifically told Dom to have his teachers put up more student work, drawings and artwork and such, but there still wasn’t none there.  She also told him to put up copies a the state academic standards on all the walls, and inside the classrooms, too, every classroom.  Did Dom do this?  Not, um, adequately enough.  He had the state standards posted in only four a the 11 classrooms, Trowbridge counted them herself.  Oh, and what about the data binders that was required to be in every classroom on every teacher’s desk?  Dom argued wit Dr. Trowbridge that there was a data binder on all the teachers’ desks, and there was, but there was only like six or seven pages a data in each, and that was not nearly enough.  A good data binder has at least 175 to 200 hundred pages of data in it, Trowbridge told the Kid, didn’t he know this?  Wasn’t he paying attention at the last professional development meeting held by Dr. Trowbridge’s colleague, Dr. Majmudar, on data driven instruction?  Apparently not, she said.

“The state tests will reveal a lot,” Trowbridge says, “I’m assuming you’re ready for them?”

“Absolutely,” the Kid says, and he was ready for them, ready to fail them.  Big time.  It was the perfect plan, he wrote.  He’d have his students, his fake students, fail the test horribly, tell them to just bubble in any answers or simply leave the questions blank if they chose, and that would be it—he’d finally be free.  It was the best way outta the whole mess, cause it wouldn’t totally kill his reputation . . . Dom was still doing a good job at Eisenhower, after all . . . and it would shut Tony up, too.  What could Tony say, anyways?  Dom did everything he was supposed to, let Tony steal a bundle a cash, and this was the end a the road.  World Peace Charter’s freshmen class would fail the math and science tests miserably, proving that his fancy new Egyptian Math and Israeli Science wasn’t working so good, and the School Board would close World Peace down, game over.  According to Dom, it happened all the time, neighborhood schools and charters was getting closed, just look at the 30 schools the School District shut down last year there in the city.

“Yeah, our students are ready for the tests,” the Kid says.

“I hope so.  Who is your testing administrator, by the way?”

“Ah, Mr. Bradshaw.”

“Your principal?”

“That’s correct, yes.”

“That’s a lot for Roger Bradshaw to take on, to be your testing administrator, as well as your principal.”

“For some people, maybe,” the Kid says.  “Not for Roger, though.  He’s up to it.  He’s a real team player.”

“Let me just warn you to be extra careful with testing security.  We’re going to have a state testing monitor there, making sure there are no violations or breeches in security.  I’m assuming that Roger already held a staff meeting about this with your teachers who are going to proctor the tests?”

“He had the meeting yesterday, as a matter of fact.”

“Is everything square, then?  You’re all set to go?”

“Yep.”

“Did Roger receive your tests Friday in the mail from the State?”

“He did.”

“Did you count them yet?”

“Roger did, yes.”

“Is everything there that’s supposed to be.  Do the numbers check out?”

“Down to the nostril,” the Kid says, or something like that.

“Any trouble with the bar codes?”

“Nope.”

“Okay,” Trowbridge says.  “What are your plans for storing the tests in a secure location?  Do you have a safe, secure place picked out?”

“We’re going to store the tests in a locket cabinet in Roger’s office.”

“Where are the tests now?”

“In a cabinet in Roger’s office.”

“Are they locked?”

“With a deadbolt,” the Kid says.

“Just make sure the teachers who are proctoring the tests count the booklets both before and after they give the tests to the students.  They should count them in front of the testing administrator.  If a booklet is missing—”

“Dr. Trowbridge,” the Kid says, “please.  Everything’s being taken care of.”

“I’m just telling you,” Dr. Trowbridge says. “You’ve heard about the recent cheating scandals, and the State is cracking down.  If there is a security violation at World Peace, anyone involved could lose their professional license.  You, Mr. Bradshaw, or any of the teachers who are proctoring the test.”

“I won’t be at World Peace on the day of the exams,” the Kid says, “I’ll be at Eisenhower, dealing with our school’s state tests.  Mr. Bradshaw will be running the show on testing day at World Peace.”

“Very well.  These are high stakes tests, Mr. Rossetti.  We take them very seriously.  Oh, and make sure you have World Peace’s school improvement plan to me by the 25th, like we talked about.  Roger Bradshaw can write it, but you need to make sure he addresses the issues I mentioned.  Understand?”

“Yes, Dr. Trowbridge.”

“Great.  I’ll be in touch.  Just know the State has its eye on you.”

Part 19

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 17

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 17 of 25

Course, when the Kid was wit Gina and Ashley, he rarely thought about Tamarra.  The Kid spent Thanksgiving at Gina’s parents’ house in Central Jersey, where Gina grew up, and although Dom wrote that the mood was kinda somber cause they just put Gina’s mother’s mother away into the Alzheimer’s home last month—and everyone was missing her except Gina’s father—they all still had a pretty good time.  The rule at Gina’s parents’ house during Thanksgiving was simple: you was allowed to eat and drink anything you wanted, and if you was on any kinda diet and counting those whatdoyacallits . . . those points, today it didn’t count.  Plus, you was allowed to wear anything you wanted so you could be as comfortable as possible, even sweatpants, and that’s just what both Mr. and Mrs. Grasso was wearing, sweatpants and sweatshirts.  Gina and Ashley was twins and wearing almost identical outfits—jeans, big fuzzy turtleneck sweaters, and black boots; Ashley had her casts off for a few weeks now.  And the Kid, well, he was immaculately dressed as usual, wit black loafers, gray tweed pants, and a crisp blue dress shirt; the thing he was most self conscious about, he wrote, was his blue argyle socks, which Mr. Grasso, um, sarcastically complimented him on.

The Kid made small talk wit Gina’s parents . . . he was a department store manager at the mall, and she worked from home, doing some kinda Internet sales thing on her laptop computer.  Gina was the baby a the famb’ly, wit two older sisters who was living in Seattle and Florida, both on their second marriages, both doing their own thing; Gina wasn’t really close wit neither a them.  And speaking a marriages, Dom wrote that Gina’s parents, especially her father, was brutal, just brutal, on Gina’s ex-husband, who also happened to be little Ashley’s father.  Even though neither Gina nor Ashley had seen him in like five years, Mr. and Mrs. Grasso mentioned him twice, making real nasty digs about him.  His name was Andrew but Gina’s parents called him “What’s-His-Name,” like they couldn’t even bear to say his real name.

“So I wonder what What’s-His-Name is doing for Thanksgiving,” Mrs. Grasso was saying after dinner, eating her pie and coffee; Dom wrote the whole thing down in his journal, as usual.

“Who the hell cares,” Mr. Grasso says.  “He’s a deadbeat, so he’s probably in some line at a soup kitchen and—”

Daddy,” Gina cuts in, “can we not talk about this today.  Please.  Dom doesn’t wanna hear about this on Thanksgiving.”

“I don’t mind,” Dom says.

“No, no, it’s okay,” Gina says.  “We’ll talk about something else.”  Gina helped Ashley scoop some whip cream onto her pie.  “Daddy, did you know that Dominic’s the C.E.O. of a charter school?  He’s a principal in Philly, but he also opened this new school this year, called World Peace Charter.”

“Really?” Mr. Grasso says.  “A new school.  Whereabouts?”

“In Northeast Philadelphia.  Well, the building’s in Northeast, but the school is actually a cyber school.  The kids do most of their work online, over the Internet.”

“Really?” Mr. Grasso says.  “How about that.  I think I read something in the paper about cyber schools.  There was this one school, called ‘Success’ something or other, and they weren’t doing so well, actually.  They had real low state test scores, and the school board was going to shut them down.  And, wait a second, wasn’t the CEO stealing money from there, too?”

“I don’t know,” Gina says, “but not at Dom’s school.  World Peace Charter is the best.  Tell my dad about it, Dom.  Tell him about the article in Education World.”

“An article in the paper?” Gina’s mom says.  “Oh, wow!”

“It wasn’t that big a deal,” Dom says.

Gina kept going on about it, though.  “Oh yes it was, yes it was.  World Peace Charter is 100 percent green and helps the environment.  They also got this new way to teach math, called . . . what’s it called?”

“Egyptian Math,” Dom says.

“Yeah, Egyptian math.  It’s so cool.  I wanted to get Ashley in there, but there’s a waiting list.”  Gina nudged Dom under the table with her foot.  “Now, if only Dom could pull some strings and get Ashley in there . . .”

The Kid just smiled, shook his head and smiled.  He wrote in his journal that it was then, right then, that the anxiety started coming on, that he couldn’t keep this secret from Gina no more, that it was too big, too much of a . . . burden.  He seen Ashley sitting across the table from him, playing wit her whip cream and pie, so gentle and beautiful, and he hadda excuse hisself from the table for a minute to go upstairs to use the bathroom.  He went in there and locked the door and went to the sink and splashed water on his face, trying to breathe deep, to get control a hisself again.  But he was terrified, terrified—he even underlined the word when he wrote it in his journal—of losing Gina and Ashley, who was now a big part a his life, a giant part a his life.  That’s what was at the heart of everything, of all his fear and anxiety: Gina and little Ashley, and the very real possibility a losing both a them over all a this.  It was not only possible, the Kid wrote, but probable, like the inevitable crash of a guy who rides a motorcycle: it wasn’t if, but when.  Everybody who rode a motorcycle crashed, you just hadda hope you was a smart enough rider to walk away from it and live to ride another day.  Was the Kid a smart enough rider?  I don’t know, but that’s what he wrote in his journal: Am I a smart enough rider?  Am I?

He thought about telling them right then, just getting it off his chest and going downstairs and telling them all right then, but that was ridiculous; Gina’s parents didn’t need to know about any a this.  He could tell Gina and Ashley on the hour ride home to their house, try his best to put the whole mess into words that they might understand, but that was impossible; I even knew this, and I dropped outta school in 9th grade.  Gina’s first reaction would be that Dom was a liar, that he wasn’t who she thought he was, and this would . . . what’s the word . . . shatter all the trust they had for each other.  What could the Kid say, seriously?  My uncle Tony made me do it?  He made me steal all the money from the poor children a Filthy-delphia and put it into a friggin strip club down in Baltimore for Christ’s friggin sake?  It was so ridiculous, the Kid wrote, that he couldn’t even say it out loud to hisself.

Course, there was also the very real matter a protecting Gina and little Ashley, of not telling them for their own good; God only knew what my manic brother would do to keep them quiet if he found out they knew.  This, Dom wrote, this was also part of his keeping silent about World Peace Charter.  He couldn’t tell them, and the way he wrote it in his journal was: I can’t tell them for their own good, even if I wanted to!

I guess the Kid musta had that revelation standing right there in the bathroom, cause he wrote that he felt a little better about things, at least he did then.  He washed his face and hands, gargled wit some mouthwash, combed his thick black hair.  He went back downstairs into the kitchen and they wasn’t talking about World Peace Charter no more, but about What’s-His-Name, how he was a deadbeat husband and father, how he was an all round jack-wad and douchebag.  When they saw Dom, though, they changed the subject, just to be polite.

“Everything come out okay?” Mr. Grasso says, loading the dishes into the dishwasher.

“All good,” Dom says.

“We thought you might have fallen into the toilet,” Mrs. Grasso says.

“Nope.  Just made a small deposit, that’s all.”  The Kid looked at his watch.  “So what’s the plan, Gina?  We still have to head over to my mother’s for a quick visit.  I told her we’d be there around seven . . .”

“Chew and screw,” Mr. Grasso says, laughing, breaking the Kid’s stones.

The Kid didn’t laugh, though.  He wasn’t in a laughing mood.

_______

During the State and School District walk through on the first day a school, Dr. Trowbridge told the Kid she was gonna bring some people down from Columbia’s Teachers College to do another observation of World Peace Charter, cause she was so impressed wit the teaching that was going on there.  She was gonna bring down a coupla professors and a dozen graduate students to meet all the kids and their teachers, take some pictures before heading back up to Harlem, New York, where they’d hold a conference and show all the pictures to all the other education professors and graduate students in the department who couldn’t go on the observation visit.  Well, like a week before the winter break, the Kid gets a call from Dr. Trowbridge and she asks if she can come visit World Peace Charter that Tuesday to do the observation, but says she can’t bring the crew from Columbia cause of a glitch in the schedule, but could she bring a crew down from the prestigious Baumgartner College of Arts and Humanities?  The Baumgartner folk was almost as important as the Columbia folk in terms a their, um, contributions to urban education, Dr. Trowbridge told the Kid, almost as important, but not quite.

Well, this wasn’t gonna work, the Kid told Trowbridge, sorry.  Bringing the Baumgartner people was fine, but that Tuesday wasn’t gonna work.  Could she come back in the New Year, when things at World Peace wasn’t so crazy?  No, she couldn’t come back then, actually, cause the Chair of the Baumgartner Education Department was gonna be in Bolivia on sabbatical studying . . . howdoyasayit, educational pluralism next semester, and she’d already committed to the visit at World Peace Charter, had already rearranged her classes and whatnot.

“But there’s not going to be any students in the building,” the Kid told Dr. Trowbridge, or something like that; I can’t remember his journal exactly.  “The students are only in school at the Northeast location every first Tuesday of the month.”

“Jeez, that’s right,” Dr. Trowbridge says.  “Well, that’s okay.  We’ll just take a tour of the building, meet some of the teachers, and sample the curriculum.  We’ve already spread the word about the Egyptian Math . . . good stuff, let me tell you . . . but what we’re really interested in now is the Israeli Science.  Oh, and the fact that World Peace Charter is 100 percent green.  How does that work, exactly?”

“Um, we get all our power from a wind farm,” the Kid says.

“Great to hear it.  Do you contract with CPGP?”

“Um . . . CPGP?”

“Clean Power, Green Power, Inc.?  I think Philadelphia is in their service area.”

“Oh, yeah, I didn’t know what you meant at first, right.  Yeah, CPGP, I think, but I’d have to double check, because Mr. Bradshaw, our principal, takes care of that.”

“Great investment.  It’s clean and renewable, and part of your bill helps fund progressive organizations, like the Green Justice Coalition, and Green Action America, and I think Big Green Revolution.”

“Hmm, interesting.”

“So yeah, a few education professors and about a dozen grad students from Baumgartner will be coming through with me next Tuesday, so I’m just giving you a heads up.”

“Actually,” the Kid says, “that’s no good.  Like I said, we’re really crazy right now . . .”

“Mr. Rossetti . . . this is a bit awkward . . . do you know who I am?  I’m an educational auditor from the State Department of Education.  Loose translation: your boss.  You don’t tell me what’s convenient for you, I tell you what’s convenient for me.”

“Right,” the Kid says, “I get it.  I apologize.  It’s just so busy here . . .”

“We’re all busy, Mr. Rossetti.”

“Yeah, absolutely.  My mistake.  Next Tuesday it is.  I’m marking it down in my calendar now.”

“Very good, so I’ll see you then.”

“Yes.  See you then.”

“Great.  Goodbye.”

So the Kid has the State coming back in for another visit in five days, and now they is bringing in these jackasses from some college to poke around and agitate everybody.  Course, there wasn’t gonna be no students in the building . . . so the Kid didn’t have to worry about paying another $12,000 to hire no actors . . . but he’d still need to have some teachers and faculty staff in there, and he’d also need to deal wit the electricity problem.  See, World Peace Charter not only didn’t have any green energy, they didn’t have no friggin energy at all.  To save money and keep from taking cash outta Eisenhower’s budget, the Kid stopped paying the whatchamacallits—the utility bills, and after three months, the power company finally came and shut off all the electricity.  Now, to fix this problem, the Kid would have to go down to the electric company in person wit a check for $1,216.77, the overdue bill and late charge . . . God only knew how it was this much, the Kid didn’t even turn on the friggin lights in three months . . . and also the $150 for the reconnection fee.

And like I says, he hadda go down to their office in person, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.  Well, the Kid had no time to do this, see, cause he was still working fulltime running Eisenhower, and couldn’t leave in the middle a the day to go down town and fight all the traffic and wait in some friggin line for two hours to pay the stupid bill.  So he asks me to do it, says hey Uncle Manny, can ya do me a biggie, can ya go downtown and pay this freakin electric bill so I can get the power turned back on at World Peace, cause there is these State people and college professor dicks coming next Tuesday, and we can’t have them wandering around in the friggin dark.  So I says sure, kid, I’ll do it for ya, no problem.  See, Dominic was like a son to me, if I didn’t mention that already to you’s guys, and I’d do practically anything for him.  After I says yes, though, I realized there was a slight problem.  It was already Thursday night, and the electric company was closed, so I couldn’t do it then.  I couldn’t do it Friday, neither, cause I had this thing to take care a for Tony, and Tony wasn’t gonna wait.  I also had a thing to do for Tony on Monday, too, and I couldn’t change that, neither.

I was in a real pinch, let me tell ya.  I’d already told the Kid I’d do it, and I wasn’t gonna go back on my word, no way.  Now you’s guys prob’ly can guess what I did, who I asked to help me, and I don’t think it was that, um, complicated of a thing to ask.  I went and asked the Gorilla to go down to the electric company wit the $1,216.77 check and wait in the line and get the electricity turned back on for the Kid.  I made it real clear, too.  I says to the Gorilla, I says, “Now Petie, let’s go over this one more time.  You is gonna go down to the electric company wit the check, wait in the line there, give the check to the lady behind the desk, and have the electricity turned back on, understand?”

“Yeah Manny,” he says.  “I got it.”

“You sure, Petie?  You positive you understand?”

“Yeah Manny.  I understand.”

This was Friday morning, this was, and that’s the last I heard about it until Tuesday morning, when the Kid went to World Peace to get ready for the State people who would be there at 8:30 a.m.  And wouldn’t ya friggin believe it—the power still wasn’t on, not anywhere in the building, and believe me, the Kid checked, went around and flicked all the light switches on-and-off on both floors and nothing happened.  He called me up, at like five-friggin-thirty-in-the-morning, three hours before me and the Gorilla was supposed to be down there at the school to deal wit the State people, asking what the hell happened, why wasn’t there any power in the building, and didn’t I go and pay the bill like he’d asked me to do?  Course I paid it, I told him.  I gave the Gorilla a check for $1,216.77.

No,” the Kid says to me on the phone.  “No, Uncle Manny, you didn’t.”

“What, kid?  I had a thing to do for Tony, so I asked Petie.  Are you sure the power ain’t working?”

“No, Uncle Manny, it’s not.  I checked all the switches.”

“All of them?”

“All of them.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I hurry up and shower and get dressed and go grab the Gorilla.  The whole ride to the school I’m asking Petie what the frig happened, how did he frig this all up, and he keeps saying that he didn’t know what I was talking about, that he did what I told him to do.  We get to the school and park the car, and it’s just starting to get light out; I can see the Kid inside the main office a the school wit a flash light.  I get outta the car and that’s when I see Petie pointing to the roof a the school, pointing and saying that he was right and I was wrong.

“Holy friggin Jesus,” I says, and I can’t believe my freakin eyes: there was a gigantic aluminum windmill on the roof, one a those 20 foot windmills that famers used to pump air into ponds and whatnot.  It was really there, kinda wobbling a little in the wind, its blades spinning ever so slightly.  The Gorilla was still pointing at it, smiling all proud like he did a good thing.  I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out.  Member when I said Petie had an IQ of 75?  Well, I take that back, it wasn’t that high.  It couldn’t a been.  How in the world could one person tell another person to go to the electric company wit a check so they could pay the bill, and that person think that what the other person really meant was for them to go buy a freakin 20 foot aluminum windmill and install it on the goddamn roof?  You’s guys tell me, how in Christ’s name does that happen?

“Wind energy,” Petie says.

“Huh?”

“I know what you told me Manny,” Petie says, “but I figured I’d kill two birds wit one stone, see.”

“Oh yeah?” I says.  “How’d ya figure that?”

“The State people is coming today, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“And we needed power, right?  Wind energy?  Now we got both.”

“But we ain’t got no power, Petie.”

“What do ya mean?”

“What do I mean?  What the fig do I mean?  Are you a complete moron, Pete, or what, huh?  You gotta do more than just put the windmill up on the roof to make electricity!”

“Like what?”

“I don’t freakin know, but you gotta do other stuff, too.  You gotta hook shit up to the windmill and whatnot, hook up cables and hoses and shit like that.  So you can pump the wind into the electrical sockets.  Are you stupid, or what?”

“Don’t we got any hoses?  Maybe the kid’s got some.”

“Yeah, forgetaboutit.  That kinda stuff costs too much cash.”

The Kid sees me and the Gorilla from inside the office, and waves to us.  He comes running outside and asks Petie about going to the electric company wit the check, if he knew what happened.  Did he pay the bill?  Did they say when the power would be back on?  Nobody says nothing.  The Kid sees we’re looking at something up on the roof, and turns to see what it is.

“What’re you guys looking at?” he says, and then he sees what it is, and his jaw drops, and his eyes get real big and wide.

Part 18

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

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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Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 15

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 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?”

“Big!”

“Good,” Ms. Dickey says, and writes Luxor Temple in the big pyramid.  “How about a grain of Egyptian sand?”

“Small!”

“Yes!  How about a sarcophagus?”

“Medium!”

“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?”

“That’s racist.”

“Good.  Why?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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 . . .”

“Ms. Dickey.”

“. . . 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.

“My who?

“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.”

“You too.”

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.

Part 16

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Filed under Uncle Tony's Charter School

Uncle Tony’s Charter School: Part 14

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 14 of 25

The Kid wasn’t angry about World Peace no more; he was happy.  He said in his journal that he had this new energy, and he was ready to take on the new school year, full force.  He’d run both schools, Eisenhower and World Peace Charter, as best as he knew how.  Everything was pretty much set to go at Eisenhower—the Kid had put in 10 and 12 hour days all summer—and as for World Peace Charter, well, he would do all he could to keep up the charade, at least for a while.  There was no way he could just pull the plug now, not wit the, um, prospect a having a relationship wit Gina.  If he came clean about World Peace Charter now, that would be the end a her, no doubt about it, even if he told her his whole story, showed her his journal and his newspaper articles and all that.  Anyways, the Kid had a plan how to stop the whole thing naturally, without Tony flipping out and without the Kid ruining his reputation and going to jail.  He was gonna make sure World Peace failed the state math and reading tests, failed them horribly; this way, the District would close them down and prob’ly revoke their charter.

Now, though, the Kid had a bigger problem to deal wit: folks from the Philadelphia Unified School District and State Department of Education was gonna be coming to World Peace Charter on the first day a school and doing a whatchamacallit—a walk through.  They was gonna be walking around wit their clipboards and taking notes and whatnot, expecting to see all the great programs the Kid had promised, all the cutting edge instruction.  See, like I says before, just cause World Peace was a cyber charter, that didn’t mean they didn’t have to have a real building to serve as a headquarters, to be the place where they had meetings, kept the supplies, and ran the books.  The principal was supposed to be there fulltime, five days a week, and so was the C.F.O.  Once a week—every Tuesday—all the teachers was supposed to be there, and the counselor, too, having meetings, getting supplies, checking in wit the principal; the other days the teachers worked from their computers at home, teaching their students daily lessons on these . . . what’s it called . . . Internet webinars, which was all done online by text and email.

Course, the only time the students didn’t learn online was the first Tuesday of every month, when the students hadda come in to school in person and have a regular school day wit regular classes, where they had the opportunity to talk face-to-face wit their teachers and counselors, and wit the principal, too.  They was supposed to check in about how things was going wit the cyber curriculum.  Was there any problems they wanted to talk about?  Anything they still didn’t understand?  Was their laptops still running good, or did they need to talk to the computer tech fella in his office?  This was supposed to happen the first Tuesday of every month, see.  Which meant on the first day a school, when the District and State jack-wads was coming in wit their clipboards to observe the Kid’s state-a-the-art charter—100 percent green, home to Egyptian Math and Israeli Science—there was supposed to be a building fulla happy teenagers, getting their rosters and going to class to meet their new teachers, the counselor going from room to room to see if any a the students had any problems or issues, and the principal overseeing it all.

What was in World Peace Charter now, six days before its grand opening?  Nada.  Zilch-o.  Zero.  Nothing but empty desks and classrooms, blank freakin blackboards, and a room fulla textbooks and junked computer equipment.  How in God’s name was the Kid gonna pull this off?  Make it look like World Peace Charter was up and running and living up to all the hype and hoopla?  The Kid didn’t have no clue.  He didn’t, but I did.  I hadda plan to make the whole thing work, just like magic, badda-bing, badda-boom.  I told the Kid my plan over dinner at the Butcher’s Café in South Philly, my treat.  We hadda get people, I told him, a buncha people to pretend to be students at the school; that was the hard part.  We also hadda get some folks to pretend to be the teachers and staff; that would be a bit easier.  Then we hadda set up the school to make it look like classes was in session, that all that good stuff that Dom wrote about on the World Peace Charter website was taking place.  And we hadda do all of it—the whole kit and caboodle—without any a the people knowing what we was really doing; Dom shook his head and said it was impossible.

But I had that part covered, too, see.  There was this guy I knew from the old neighborhood. . . we went back a long time, prob’ly 50 years . . . and he was a partner in this movie casting agency, and he owed me this favor, see.  His office was based in Philadelphia, and about five years ago, he was helping this movie director set-up a scene down at 3rd and Arch Streets where a crowd a like 200 extras was to stand outside this big building that was supposed to be a jailhouse and shout, “Free Bob-Bob!  Free Ta-Ta!”  It was some movie called “Comet Man” about these religious cult leaders who stole all this money in a whatchamacallit, in a Ponzi scheme, and end up getting caught and locked up by the cops, but the true followers a the cult can’t believe it, and was trying to bust Bob-Bob and Ta-Ta outta jail.

Now, my casting agent friend from the old neighborhood—Eddie Gunsenhouser—he had a problem: there was this big old union beef going on down at 3rd and Arch Streets, and a buncha union guys was picketing the movie, cause the producer a the movie . . . not Eddie, this other guy . . . did some rehab work on the building that was supposed to be the jailhouse, and he didn’t use union labor.  The job only cost something like $30,000, but the local wasn’t having it, they wasn’t gonna let some Hollywood piss-ant and his private contractors take bread outta the mouths a their members’ famb’lies, not a friggin chance.  So like a dozen union guys was down there wit the big inflatable rat, screaming and handing out flyers, telling everybody on the street not to go to “Comet Man,” that the producers was thieves and anti-union.  A coupla union goons even threw around some a the camera people setting up their equipment, and according to Eddie, told them that if they didn’t get their cameras outta there, they’d stick them so far up their asses that they’d have to open their mouths to take off the lens caps.

Eddie was all besides hisself about this, see, cause his client, the director a the movie, was supposed to do this scene in one shoot and then fly outta Philly to Arizona where he was gonna film the spaceship landing, and he didn’t wanna be behind schedule; his backers would have his nuts on a plate.  He didn’t know what to do to get the union guys to back off so he calls me up, outta the blue, and asks if I could help him out.  Could I talk to some people a mine, get shit straightened out.  Well, I hadn’t seen my boy Eddie in a while, but we went back a ways, so I took care of it for him; by that afternoon, the union backed off.  He was all happy and thankful and whatnot, and he says to me, he says, “Manny, if you ever need a favor, don’t hesitate to call.”

I told the Kid I could call Eddie up and see what he could do for us.  The Kid rolls his eyes, and says, “I don’t know about this, uncle Manny.”  But I didn’t care, see, I just went wit my gut; the Kid mighta known about education, but I knew about stuff like this.  So sitting right there, sitting right at the table in the Butcher’s Café, I take out my phone and dial Eddie’s number.  It goes to voicemail, and I leave a message:  Hey, Eddie, it’s Manny Genitaglia, long time no see, babe.  Just calling cause I need a favor.  Member Comet Man, and how I helped ya wit those union guys, well, I got this thing . . . and I need your help.  Call me back as soon as ya can.  Tell Marie I says hi. 

The Kid just rolls his eyes again.

“What?” I says.  “I’m trying to help you out.  I would be nice if—”

But then my phone rings, see.  My phone rings and it’s Eddie, and so I answer it.  “Eddie?  Hey, ya fancy-shmancy movie prick, how the hell’s it hanging?”

Eddie says it’s hanging a little to the left—a stupid joke from when we was kids—and then we start talking, catching up on the past five years . . . his daughter just made him a proud grandpa and the new baby’s name is Cassidy . . . and Dom gives me this look and kicks my leg under the table.

“That’s great,” I says, “but let me get down to why I called.  I got this favor to ask ya, and let me just say this, I’m really in a pinch here, Eddie, a pinch-and-a-friggin-half.”

And so I tell Eddie the deal, the whole deal, cause I know I can trust him.  Eddie just listens, occasionally saying stuff like holy cow and sheesh and oh man, and when I’m done telling him everything, when I’m done asking his advice on what to do, he says real casually, “Well, I could just pretend to shoot a promotional video for your charter school.”

“A who?” I says.

“You need 100 kids to pretend to be students, right?”

“Pretty much.”

“And you need them to show up at 7:45 and stay until 2:45, right?  Go through the day like they’re taking classes at this charter school?”

“Yep.”

“No problem,” Eddie says.  “I’ll just make a casting call, and hire 100 actors to play students in the promotional video we’re gonna shoot.  I do stuff like this all the time.  I’ll need to get on it first thing tomorrow, but I think I can pull it off.  Course, if something happens, I’m gonna play stupid.  In fact, I’m gonna need Dominic to sign a contract and officially hire my services for the filming of his video.  Just for liability, you know about that stuff, right?”

“Liability?” I says.

“Yeah, liability.  I know you saved my ass a few years ago, Manny, but I got a reputation to protect.  If you guys get caught, I can’t lose my job.  I can’t go to jail.  We have to do this legally, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” I says, “well you owe me, Eddie.”

“I know I do.  That’s why I’m gonna help with this, and keep my mouth shut about it.  Now listen, here’s what we need to do . . .”

And so Eddie tells me how it’s gonna go, and I sit there and listen, even though I wasn’t too hot about having the Kid sign any contracts.  Eddie says he’s gonna get together a shoot for a promotional education video for World Peace Charter—like an advertisement for the school—and that he’s gonna hire 100 actors to play students in the video, and these actors is gonna be ready and prepared to go through a whole school day, from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., just pretending to be students during their first day a school.  It wasn’t really that hard, actually.  There was no set lines or script, it would just be . . . howdoyasayit, ad-libbed, kinda like one a those reality TV shows.  Eddie would tell the actors: you are all freshmen on your first day a high school.  Listen to the teachers, and do what you are told.  Oh, and by the way, don’t look for the cameras, cause they are hidden, see.  And the cameras are always rolling, so don’t say nothing to no one about the shoot, or it will ruin the video.  There are no breaks, no changing scenes, just one big take—so don’t frig it up.  You are all freshmen, happy freshmen, on your first day of high school.  Understand?

That’s what Eddie told me.  The only problem, though, was that he couldn’t hire a buncha 14 and 15 years olds, that wasn’t legal.  He hadda hire actors that was at least 18 years of age, and he was gonna have to pay them for a day’s work, too.  He said he’d do the rest free a charge—cause he owed me—like writing up the contract for the video, and advertising the casting call, and all the other bullshit he said went along wit setting this whole thing up, but he hadda pay the actors; there was just no way around that.  He didn’t need to pay any cameramen or crew, cause there wouldn’t be any, but the actors . . . yeah, they would get paid, absolutely . . . he hadda reputation to keep.

“So what’s the deal?” the Kid asks after I hang up the phone wit Eddie.

“We’re good to go, kid.  In like flint.”

“What did he say?  How’s it gonna work?”

I tell him everything Eddie told me, and the Kid actually thinks it has a chance to work.

“We gotta pay for the actors, though,” I says.         

“What?  We have to pay for the actors?  How much?”

“Not much,” I says, and play wit a piece a lettuce in my salad on the table in front a me.

How much?” the Kid asks again.

“I don’t know . . . something like $11,500.”

What?

“Yep.  That’s what Eddie told me.  He said it’s standard pay.  Background actors, cause that’s what they’ll be, get paid $115 a day, which really ain’t much, when ya think about it.  Do the math, kid: a hundred times $115 is $11,500.”

The Kid was pretty pissed, I ain’t gonna lie.

“Where am I supposed to get $11,500, uncle Manny, huh?”

“I don’t know, kid.  I don’ know.”

Eleven thousand, five hundred dollars?

“Yep.  And the actors will all be 18 and 19 years old, maybe 20.”

Huh?

“Yep,” I says.  “Why don’t you eat your soup, kid, before it gets cold.”

But the Kid didn’t eat any a his soup, see.  He didn’t eat anything the whole rest a the night.

_______

The Kid went to Gina and Ashley’s house that Monday for a Labor Day barbecue.  At first he didn’t wanna go, cause schools was opening the following day and he was real stressed out just thinking about it, but Gina said pleeeease, and even put little Ashley on the phone and she said pleeeease, so Dom had no choice.  He’d pop in and stay for maybe an hour or two, he wrote in his journal, eat a hamburger and some corn on the cob, then split.  There was too much going on in the morning, too much at stake for him to get all caught up at some Labor Day party.  On the drive over to their house he almost had one a those howdoyasayits . . . panic attacks, but he pulled over and did his deep breathing and visualization exercises and it passed.  Still, he wrote, he couldn’t keep his mind from racing a million miles an hour.  Opening day at Eisenhower was all set, and the Assistant Principal, Mrs. Lankford, was gonna run the show.  Course, the situation at World Peace Charter was much different.  Nothing was certain there, see, and the whole plan could unravel at any time like a friggin ball a yarn.

Seeing Gina and Ashley made him feel a little better, though, he wrote.  The barbecue was in back a Gina’s rowhouse in South Philly on her small cement patio, where she had a grill, a picnic table wit an American flag table cloth, a few deck chairs, and a cooler filled wit cans a beer and soda.  The party was small, only a coupla neighbors—Darryl and Debbie from across the street, and Margie and her son, Chris—and that was it.  Chris was Ashley’s age, but was all worried about the Phillies game inside on TV, and so he pretty much ignored Ashley.

Ashley had a friend to talk to, though, so she didn’t care that Chris was on the couch in the living room watching baseball.  She was talking to Dom, see, and that was good by her.  She liked Dom, thought he was neat and cool, and I ain’t simply saying this cause I read about it in the Kid’s journal, no; I seen the two together myself a few times, and they was quite the pair.  The two a them was out back in the sun, Dom sitting on his chair and drinking a can a cola, and Ashley in her wheelchair sitting next to him, her legs propped up on a bench.  They was talking about going swimming, and how much it bit the big one not to be able to go in the pool in the summer when you was in a cast.  Ashley was a little sad, cause two a her girlfriends was at a swimming party that very day, see, but she couldn’t go cause a her legs.  She coulda went if she really wanted to, but she woulda hadda watched from the side a the pool, and that woulda been friggin torture for her.

“How long until you get your casts off?” the Kid asks.

“Between two and three months.  They put screws in my feet, and they have to heal all the way.”

“Did it hurt?  The operations?”

“A little,” Ashley says.  “The next day it hurt bad, but it got better.  Now it only hurts a little when I walk on them.”

“It stinks not being able to go in the pool, huh?”

“Oh my God, I know.”

“I remember when I was like eight years old,” the Kid says, “and I had an ear infection this one summer, and all my friends were swimming in the pool at our swim club, and I couldn’t go in, I wasn’t allowed.  And this one girl, her name was Dawn, she kept swimming over to the side of the pool to talk to me, to try to make me feel better.  She handed me this penny, and told me to chuck it into the water, and she would dive down and get it.  She was trying to include me into the fun, but watching her swimming wasn’t that fun, you know?  I chucked the penny into the pool a few times, then I just took it and threw it at this fat old lady who was floating in the pool like a giant whale.”

Ashley bursts out laughing.  “No you didn’t!”

“I swear to God.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“Nope.  The lady started looking around, but I left and went to the snack bar and got a hotdog.”

“That’s so funny,” Ashley says.  “Hey, Mr. Rossetti, wanna sign my cast?”

“Sure.  Gotta marker?”

“My mom has one inside, I think.  Hey mom!  Can you get the magic marker so Mr. Rossetti can sign my cast?”

“What’s the magic word?” Gina says.

Please.

“Okay.”

Gina gets it, comes back, hands it to the Kid.  He leans forward, draws his name—Mr. Rossetti—in big block letters on Ashley’s left cast, and feels Gina leaning next to him, watching him.  He looks at her and she’s smiling, admiring him.  He smiles back, and Gina leans forward real quick and gives the Kid a kiss on the cheek, just a peck, he wrote in his journal, but it got him going, got the butterflies flying in his stomach.  He liked Gina, a lot, and he was nervous just how much he liked her.  The thing that got him nervous most of all was how much Gina seemed to like him back, how everything he ever wanted was right there for the taking, but wit this came the, um, pressure a not screwing it all up.

He hadda take a leak, prob’ly cause he was excited and still a little nervous.  He stood up and went to the bathroom inside—it was at the top a the steps all the way down the hall on the left, Gina’s neighbor Debbie said—and when he went in and looked into the mirror, he wrote, all his anxiety came rushing back.  The first thing he thought of was World Peace Charter, and how folks from the Philadelphia Unified School District and State Department of Education was gonna be there first thing in the morning, clipboards in hand, ready to write their freakin reports.  He thought a the stupid plan wit the 100 actors, how they was all set to show up at 7:30 acting like teenagers during their first day a school, roleplaying the part down to the nostril—clothing and everything.  He thought a the phony teachers and staff, too, and their instructions, how I was gonna play Principal Bradshaw, and how the Gorilla was gonna be Mr. Kaplan, the C.F.O., and how the other teachers was gonna be played by five a Tony’s girls from Straight A’s, the ones that was college students and actually studying to be real teachers.

He thought a the school itself, he wrote, and wondered if the way he’d laid everything out was gonna be good enough to fool the folks wit the clipboards.  He’d cleaned the place from top to bottom, tidied and straighten the desks, reassembled the busted computers as best he could, hung inspirational posters on the hallway walls and the school’s mission statement on the bulletin boards.  He brought in globes, and maps, and stuck a small American flag in the corner of every classroom.  He tested the PA system to make sure it worked . . . and it did, just fine . . . and programed the bell schedule in the main office.  He brought in plants for the main office, and an old desk and leather chair for the principal’s office.  He put phony names on the mailboxes in the mailroom, brought in one a Eisenhower’s photocopiers as a prop.  As for lunch in the café, this was easy: the kids were required to brown bag it, which is what the actors playing the students was told.

Course, the thing that really stressed the Kid out was the lesson plans, and whether the phony teachers would be able to teach the material that he had written.  He’d set everything up for them before hand, made the copies, put a textbook on every desk, and wrote step-by-step instructions on how to do the whatchamacallits . . . the activities, and even left scripts on how to answer the questions a the folks wit the clipboards, if they came up.  It’s all a dog-and-pony show, Dom told everyone on the phone, including me.  Just go through the motions, and show these jag-offs what they wanna see.

The Kid was still looking in the mirror, he wrote, still looking at his face.  For a second he didn’t recognize hisself, how he’d let this whole friggin World Peace Charter thing spin the frig outta control, and he needed to start doing his breathing exercises and his mental imagery to stop from having a panic attack.  He breathed deep, in and out, in and out, and tried to think a something pleasant, something to help him to relax.  He thought a Gina, sweetie-pie Gina, in her white short-shorts and Hard Rock Café T-shirt that she was wearing, her brown hair pulled back into a sexy ponytail.

There was a knock at the bathroom door.

“Yes?” the Kid says.

“Oops,” little Ashley says, “sorry.  I’ll use the bathroom in my mom’s room.”  She hobbled on her crutches down the hall.

The Kid comes outta the bathroom and Gina’s standing there, standing and just looking at him.

“Sorry about that,” she says.  “We didn’t know anybody was in there.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Thanks for coming here today, I know you’re busy with the start a the school year and everything . . .”

“No problem,” the Kid says.  “I wanted to come, I like you guys.”

“We like you, too.”

Gina puts her hand on the Kid’s shoulder, and for the second time that afternoon kisses him, this time on the mouth, and the Kid can’t help but kiss her back.

Part 15

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