Historical Note: In 1348, a great mind of the Florentine Renaissance, Giovanni Boccaccio, got to live The Black Death first hand. He survived and the muse sang to him dark music. So much so that he composed a work of short stories that were told over ten days while a fictional group of survivors self-quarantined to avoid Boubonic Plague. While I’m on exile from my office, I’ll see if I can pound out some stories of my own in honor of the scholar and survivor who, along with Geoffrey Chaucer, helped make the short story collection a staple of fictional literature.
Life taught Troy Walters a valuable lesson early. It was one day when he was unjustly incarcerated in Fifth Grade. He tried to be nice enough to Mom. He just couldn’t piece together why she kept sending him to Shade Tree Elementary five days a week. What had he done to deserve it? Troy was bright, though unattentive. He tried with limited success to crank through enough of what they gave him to keep his rear out of Hell’s Hammock. He drove Mom and Dad crazy by continuing to get easy stuff wrong.
After maybe the first two months of school, Mrs. Appleby had called Mr. and Mrs. Walters over to Shade Tree Elementary for the dreaded Parent-Teacher Conference. She wanted to explore performance improvement opportunities with them for Dear, Little Troy. Having a D+ Average in Fifth Grade Arithmetic that Troy could easily work out in his head any time Dad elected to yell at him about it had made all these delightful performance improvement opportunities possible.
Dad had a different view of the whole situation. He had “explained” to Troy that he would zip his soup-cooler during the Parent-Teacher Conference except when directly addressed. He had two stock answers for Mrs. Appleby. A) “Yes Ma’am.” B) “No Ma’am.” After the conference, Dad and Little Troy had a nice, long perusal of performance improvement opportunities that involved a black, leather belt and numerous threats to melt down Troy’s favorite dirt bike with a blow-torch.
Troy took the butt-whipping just fine. It was no different than Fifth Grade boredom. Just more immediately painful. What really helped Troy’s grades do a Sliding 180 with a Fakey was the threat towards the sacred dirt bike. The dirt bike was like other kids’ pet dogs. It was the only cool thing in Troy’s life at the time. So A’s began to come home for about three weeks. Then Bradley Wayne Atwater decided to get all over Troy’s little case.
Fifth Grade Classrooms have a pecking order of sorts. Boys of that age prove virility by bullying as much as possible. Atwater was far from Number One and tried to overcompensate by becoming an irritant instead of a bully. He essentially picked on someone until they overreacted to provocations and got into trouble. Then he would appeal to the teacher for help and get the other kid in all sorts of hot water. He was predictably despised. This happens to those who are generally despicable. Public Education Professionals lamentably forget their Charles Darwin and protect kids like this until they grow up to successfully breed.
Brad Atwater had originally picked on Eddie Altibelli until Altibelli met him out in the woods behind the Recess Yard. Eddie pounded Bradley Wayne Atwater until he was just a coating of breadcrumbs short of being a raw and fryable pork chop. The blackened eye and the fat lip went poorly with Atwater’s freckled complexion. An intelligent person would adopt a better evolutionary strategy in response to adverse data from the field.
Atwater was too arrogant to ever border on smart and therefore just switched to irritating Troy Walters instead. This worked out fine for two weeks. Walters was way more concerned with his dirt bike and not losing another butt cheek to Good, Old Dad’s black, leather belt than he was to dealing more directly with the likes of Bradley Wayne Atwater.
Atwater was the sort who would knock it off, if you made like Altibelli and knocked him off. Otherwise, his behavior would breed worse behavior in the petri-dish of his bratty, kobold-like personality. He enjoyed taking his six-inch ruler and catapulting snot missives and hawked-up lugees at Troy during Math Class. The teacher tried the old Ignore It Because The Bell Will Ring deterence strategy that makes picked-upon children despise Amerika’s Public Education Systems.
Walters actually handled this with proper aplomb. He ignored it until one of the grubby missiles landed partially in his ear. He then politely raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Appleby, can you please tell Brad that throwing snot bubbles at other people’s ears is not good behavior? Thank you.” Brad got detention. And a letter home. This brought Troy about three days of peace.
Then Bradley Wayne Atwater just about made Walters lose it. Walters loved dirt-biking because he had nothing much else that he could enjoy in life except getting together with a couple of the other guys and doing bike stunts over in the construction sites out behind his subdivision. This also involved spending whatever money he got banging out chores and from birthday gifts on all sorts of Fox Racing paraphernalia. He had the ubiquitous Fox Logo stickers on all his spiral notebooks he toted around school. This caused an aggrieved and angry Atwater to come up with the ultimate fifth grade sick burn.
Walters got permission one Friday to leave class and “drop kiddies off at the pool” as the guys called it. He was gone a good ten minutes. Atwater knew Appleby would just ignore him acting out in hopes that it would go away once the bell rang. Atwater took advantage of the interval to redecorate Walters’ notebooks. He used his Sharpie to cross out the fox in Fox Racing and edit things a bit. All of Walter’s notebooks now read “Fux Racing” instead. He then went to the trouble of leaving an anonymous note of Mrs Appleby’s chair after class complaining that Walters was being gross and writing cuss words out in class.
Walters got hauled into the office. Principal Sharpton asked whether the school needed to schedule a Reevaluation of Conduct Conference with Troy’s Mom and Dad. It seemed the profanity-laden stickers adorning Troy’s notebooks presented an unwarranted challenge to the positive learning experience that Mrs. Appleby dutifully aspired towards in her orderly and pleasant classroom. It also seemed that Mrs. Appleby had already spoken with Troy’s parents and had asked them to please curb such unpleasant behaviors.
Troy attempted to explain his sinful and unrepentant nature. “So I can also expect Mrs. Appleby to tell Brad Atwater to keep his hands off my stuff and stop flicking snot at people? I could learn and grow in fifth grade here if I wasn’t dodging snot-wads so much during Math Class. If I were left alone here, and the same rules were put on other kids you guys put on me; Mom and Dad wouldn’t have to reevaluate anything.”
Mrs. Appleby was very displeased with this answer. Principal Sharpton found it uncomfortable. Appleby wanted further progressive discipline used as a corrective mechanism to redirect Troy’s behavior into a channel conducive to a more civil learning environment. This would presumably occur after he was coated in renewed self-love with a prickly wire-brush, staked in the kick-ball field, and left for the ants, worms and hornets.
Principal Sharpton, however, decided what Troy needed was a redemptive opportunity to show that he could change on his own. Troy was to henceforth chart a personal path towards greater interdependent and discursive cooperation with the acceptable norms. Troy went back to class with the air of a kid who had just lucked out and avoided the Shade Tree Elementary School Rainbow and Unicorn Guillotine.
So Walters got sent back to class next Monday and Mrs. Appleby was perturbed. By perturbed, the meaning here is that she wore the expression of someone who had been made to suck on a turd-coated used prune that somewhat resembled her overall personality. Bradley Wayne Atwater was apoplectic. That was twice now it hadn’t worked. Troy Walters had yet to get in real trouble.
“Oh, Hi Brad!” Troy said. He walked over to his desk with a smug grin on his face. Appleby’s eyes seemed somewhat less well-moored in their sockets, and Bradley Wayne Atwater would have had to have contracted Ebola to have a hotter burn on than he did at present. It had always worked before. The other kid always got into trouble when Atwater provoked them. He would just have to go nuclear.
That night Atwater went into Dad’s toolbox and smuggled out a hacksaw, four twelve-penny nails, and a hammer. He could barely conceal them in his bookbag, but he managed. Tomorrow he would utterly burn Troy Walters. He knew exactly which button to push. The dirt bike was going to take a dirt nap. Let’s see how Troy Walters handles losing his comfort blanket.
So Tuesday started off bright and sunny. Dad was almost pleasant and Mom seemed a lot less worried. Principal Sharpton keeping things quiet yesterday had helped immeasurably. Walters had learned like an old Martial Arts Master. The passive-aggressive attacks of adults can be twisted and redirected back against them. Today would be his crowning achievement in passive aggressive Ju-Jitsu. He just didn’t know that yet as he enjoyed popping the Twisters and Wheelies on his daily ride to Ye Olde Crap Factory.
The first sign something was amiss occurred when Troy reported to homeroom. Bradley Wayne Atwater was absent. Lacking any knowledge as to why this was so, Troy felt even better. Not having Brad Atwater around was like last July when all the pools had reopened from Wuhan Wipeout. It was remarkable the similarity that people like Bard Atwater bore to Coronavirus. Maybe the females of the family grew up to be like Mrs. Appleby.
Meanwhile, Bradley Wayne Atwater was skulking downstairs and made his way down towards the bicycle rack. The four nails made good gashes in the tires of Troy Walters Bike. He twisted them so the inner tubes would be totally ruined. The hammer delightfully marred all the Fox Racing regalia on the bike. The Plastic banner between the handlebars bearing the number three emblazoned over the fox logo was cracked and ruined!
The hacksaw had some problems negotiating the well-forged center bar connecting the seat and the frame together. Atwater’s arm began to hurt, but his inner malice kept him hard at the task. He went back and forth getting a nice, long arm extension like those guys in the Woodsman Contests that aired on ESPN6 or whatever. It never went completely through the frame, but it sure left a good long tear in the crossbar before his saw blade broke. He then stashed his gear and it was his turn to smugly smile. “Enjoy your dirt bike, Dirtbag!” He chortled to himself.
Mrs. Appleby was not pleased with Bradley Wayne Atwater’s late arrival. “Why are you late with no note?” She asked.
“When does a botched abortion bring an excuse from home?” Troy Walters asked under his breath. Eddie Altibelli nearly laughed out loud in class. Troy only found it somewhat unnatural that Brad Atwater didn’t mess with him all day. He briefly wondered why Atwater had a hammer peaking out his bag, and then went back to acting like a normal kid attempting to get out of school with as little obnoxiousness as possible.
The day ended, the bell rang, and Troy Walters looked forward to a relaxing pedal home. Then he saw the scene of destruction. He then understood the hammer he had noticed peaking out of Atwater’s stuff. He had gotten out the customary ten minutes before they released the bus kids and still had time to catch Bradley Wayne Atwater beofre everyone had left. He prepared to leave his unridable bike and went on the hunt.
If Bradley Wayne Atwater were a normal kid sans defective wring, he would not have hung around to make sure he could watch Troy Walters find his damaged bike. Like the bad cartoon villain, his ego demanded that he rub it in. “My God, Troy!” He exclaimed. “What happened to your bike?”
Something unlike anything else ever transcended Troy Walters’ usual personality. The average Troy Walters, who had not been hounded in Principal Sharpton’s Office last Friday, would have already acted in a manner leading to substantial legal jeopardy. Perhaps the Forsenic Technicians would eventually identify Brad Atwater from a random splotch of protoplasm. But somehow, Troy Walters just breathed deeply.
Inspiration came to him as lethal, stupid arrogance subsummed Bradley Wayne Atwater. He leaned over Walters’ bike like Leonardo admiring Mona Lisa. He really believed Troy Walters didn’t know who had worked on his bike with destructive malice and intended to savor the beauty of his handiwork. “Tough brake, Man.” Atwater falsely commiserated. “You got a long walk home.”
Atwater was vulnerable, and Walters struck. He had dead-lifted Atwater and was now carrying him the way a sheppard manhandles a wayward sheep. It was a bit of a hike to Principal Sharpton’s Office, and Bradley Wayne Atwater yelled, kicked and squirmed. Sharpton noticed the commotion.
“What are you two doing?” He demanded of the boys.
“He grabbed me for no reason!” Atwater yelled.
“Check his backpack and then check my bike!” Walters yelled.
“What is this all about? To my office now!”
“Let me just put my pack away.” Atwater pleaded.
“Let me just carry it along with what’s left of my bike to your office.” Walters replied. “Maybe you need to ask Mrs. Appleby why Brad was late this morning too.”
Bradley Wayne Atwater was a very frightened kid as they made their way to Principal Sharpton’s office. “I’m really sorry about your bike, Troy. That’s a total shame. I don’t know what happened to it.”
After the hammer came out of the backpack, along with the broken hacksaw, Principal Sharpton was aghast. Both sets of parents were summoned to a Reconciliation of Differences Conference the very next day. Issues would be resolved in compurgative, cooperative fashion, that would extol the virtues of mutual comity among the diverse Shade Tree Elementary Parent-Staff Community. Little did Principal Sharpton know how non-communitarian the last 15 or so months had left Troy Walters’ Good Old Dad feeling about things.
Byron James Walters had lost his business, a lot of his friends; and had nearly racked up Divorce Number One to go along with the mandatory Wuhan Wipeout Bankruptcy. Apartment life with three kids and an emotionally ruined wife left him in a non-conducive state of challenge when it came to docile compliance to more of the entirely reasonable mandates of sober and thoughtful authority. He had spent twelve months or so like a lean and hungry Grizzly Bear just waiting to sink his teeth into some incompetent, domineering bureaucrat’s hammy ass.
Principal Sharpton hiked his pants and adjusted his belt. He selected his game face and put it on like an accoutrement from a formaldehyde jar. As Principal Sharpton tried to start things off with all the nice, interdiscursive comity that he put on like a condom before he sodomized some poor, misunderstood young mind, Papa Walters interrupted.
“Your input really isn’t needed here, Principal. I’m here. Mr. Atwater is here. Mr. Atwater’s little shit just smashed my boy’s bike. I’ve been patient and haven’t killed the Atwater Spawn and nailed his skin to the garage wall. I think we can both sort this out as gentlemen with as little of your useless commentary as possible, Mr. Sharpton.” The principal was aghast and The Atwaters crestfallen.
“I don’t appreciate your tone, Sir. Nor do I accept the rather unfair portrayal of my son.” Mr. Atwater replied. “However, I accept my son was primarily at fault here. I’ll pay for your child’s bike and discipline Bradley appropriately.”
“That would work out as well as this thing can, Sir. I think you and I have this just about straight as long as your boy is part of my boy’s life as infrequently as possible. Let’s exchange numbers and work the details later.”
The men exchanged business cards. Then Mr. Walters turned to face Principal Sharpton. All the bad experience with cheap, nasty, petty, tyrannical authority seemed to fan out behind his head and shoulders like an ethereal cobra hood of barely restrained anger and hatred.
“My boy will be withdrawing from your school, Principal Walters.” He began. “We’ve had a lot counseling along with my wife and this is the only path that works. There is nothing more to keep myself or my family at this meeting. I will complete the paperwork with your secretary tomorrow afternoon and it will be effective immediately.”
“I am empathetic towards your sense of disappointment with your son’s experience here Mr. Walters.” Principal Walters began. “I am, however, concerned with the abruptness of your request. You can hopefully understand the sudden manner of it makes it rather difficult to comply on our end.” This was particularly so since a sizeable number of parents had no re-enrolled their children at Shade Tree Elementary once the pandemic lockdown had ended during the Summer. Funding and teaching positions were on the block.
“You seem to have mistaken what I just told you for a request, Mr. Sharpton.” Mr. Walters deadpanned. “That perhaps explains why your teachers fail to inculcate attention to detail into the work habits of your student body. Some guy running for President once remarked that a fish rots from the head.”
“Mr. Walters…” Principal Sharpton began in a bid to reestablish his dominance. He would not be “sonned” as the kids called it when someone had their status reduced to zero by the comments of a peer.
“Oh, yeah..” Mr. Walters remarked preemptively. “There is the matter of your teachers who allow children to flick spit and nasal discharge on one another less than a year after a major pandemic. Didn’t The State Health Department have a talk with your staff before allowing you to reopen? I’d sure hate it if this had to be reprinted in every newspaper in the vicinity. Wouldn’t you, Principal Sharpton?”
Principal Sharpton pivoted unpleasantly on Mrs. Appleby. “We will discuss the sanitary violations that have repeatedly occurred in your classroom.” He fulminated. Mrs. Appleby seemed to wither and age in the harsh, coruscating glare of her Career Dissipation Lamp on full illumination.
“And I’ll let you go berate your subordinates once we’ve come to an arrangement that successfully gets my boy the hell out of here.” Mr. Walters concluded. “I will be present at 2:00 PM tomorrow afternoon along with any school property Troy needs to return. I am certain you need no reminder to make sure this process proceeds with no failures on your end, Principal Sharpton. Good Bye.”
On the way home, Mr. Walters’ blood pressure receded. He was both sated and tired from the catharsis of volcanic anger offload. “Son. I hope this teaches us all.” Byron Walters told Troy on the way home. “Anytime you trust an authority, you risk it not caring about you as much as it feeds and cares for itself. Be your own man and never trust the bastards or believe a word they have to say. We’ve got stuff from school to find and a new bike to go buy tomorrow.”