It was time for Colombus Elementary’s third annual teacher meeting since La Familia had taken over. Five teachers sat in the break room.
The school bell rang.
Ted, the rotund, silver-haired prinicpal wearing a grey Armani suit that had recently been pressed, sat at the head of the table. He fanned himself with a stack of papers that he’d bent between his thumb, index, and middle fingers.
“I want to welcome everybody to this annual teacher get-together thing. Some of youse I know real well, John, Tiny…” Ted said, looking at the two men.
John was tall and thin, all arms and neck, like an Italian Kareem Abdul Jabaar. He wore a dark charcoal pinstriped suit, with high lapels. Gaudy gold cuff links poked through the cuffs of his suit, like the yellow eyes of a great cat.
“Hey, Ted,” John said with a quick nod.
“Hiya, Ted,” Tiny said, his infantile teeth poking through his thin-lipped smile.
“And a couple of youse..” Ted said, “I gotta be honest, neva seen before.”
Ted acknowledged the other two present, protruding his jaw and bending his puffy cheeks into a bulldog’s countenance.
“Pete D’Amato,” Pete said, “Ehhh, fit Grade and computas.”
“Melanie, Mel fa short,” Mel said. “I head the library.”
“Okay, Pete, Mel, Nice to have yas,” Ted said.
Tiny wore black slacks and a loud, cream-colored silk shirt. Pete wore a tuxedo. Mel wore a red sun-dress. Although strange to outsiders, the outfits demanded no comment from those present.
“If I may, Ted, I’d like to say something before we get down to business,” John said.
“Sure thing, Johnny,” Ted said.
Mel poured herself a glass of the chilled white, a Catarratto from the southwest regions of the motherland, that rested placidly in a bucket in the middle of the table. She winked at Ted as she took her first sip.
“Okay, as Terry and Ted already know, two weeks ago I bought a new vehicle,” John said.
“She’s a cherry, Johnny,” Tiny said, slapping John on the back.
The others nodded in agreement. Real nice, they thought.
“She was,” John said, “Until yesterday when one of these no good basta-ads keyed her, and now I’m in the hole five macas for a new coat of the dipingere!
John shook his fist. The cufflink of his right arm clinked against itself.
“I swear on my mother if I find the punk that…”
“Alright, Johnny, that’s enough,” Ted yelled. “Take a walk or something would ya.”
“I’m sorry, Teddy,” John said.
While John craned his neck and adjusted his collar, gathering himself, Pete leaned over to offer his condolences.
“Well find the punk,” Pete said.
“Okay, anything else before we begin here?” Ted said.
He pointed at each teacher, one by one. The teacher’s shook their heads. They knew it was time to get serious.
“First order of business,” Ted said, “and this was brought to my attention by Tiny as still being an issue, and, of course, I’m speaking about Jimmy Spinoza…
Mel raised her wine.
“Yes, Mel,” Ted said.
“Is Jimmy Spinoza the second-grader with the cowlick who always smells like gasoline?” Mel said.
“Com’on, Mel. That’s Eddie Finarack,” Tiny said. “The kids call him Alfal-foline.”
“It’s a play on words,” John added.
“Jimmy Spinoza,” Pete said, “and please correct me if I’m wrong here, is the kid, fourth grade, with the scar on his upper lip, and no matter when you seen him he’s only got on one shoe.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“That’s Spinoza?” Mel said. “I always see him standing next to the furnace room with his head against the door.”
“Son-of-a-bitch loves the sound of a furnace,” John said. “Whaddayagonnado?”
“Okay, okay… Now that we all are familiar with whom Spinoza is, let’s get down to it. Where is this kid’s other freaking shoe?” Ted said.
Tiny cleared his throat.
“Ya know, I thought I seen a shoe outside the music room the other day.
“You talking Tuesday or Wednesday, Tiny?” Ted said.
“I’m thinkin’ Tuesday.”
“You know what?” Mel said. “I was passing by the music room Tuesday, I was on my way to go visit with Cliff… anyways… and I heard Anne talking to Albert Finnegan, second grade, about taking off his shoes during class.”
“So, was it Finnegan’s shoe? Or has the owner yet to step forward?” Ted said. “Because, I gotta be honest, I’m tired of this Spinoza kid walking around with one shoe all day.”
“What’s the big deal, Teddy?” Pete said. “Kid hardly’s got the peanuts to know that he’s even at school, let alone whether or not he’s wearing the appo-piate number of shoes.
“Spinoza’s a little off, aint he?” John said.
“Reminds me of the batman, what with that dual-personality syndromes,” Tiny said.
“Please tell me he hasn’t started wearing a cape,” Ted said.
“No cape, Teddy, just breaking balls” Tiny said.
Ted passed his meaty hand through his silver, conditioned hair.
“Alright, good. Keep an eye out for that shoe though,” Ted said. “I can’t take another year-and-a-half of the shoeless wonder standing outside the furnace room.”
“There is something to be said about the low hum of a good furnace. Kinda like one of those Buddhist chants or something,” John said. “Jus’ saying.”
Mel, Pete, Tiny, and Ted fell silent. They looked at John, deciding whether or not what he’d just said was in jest.
“Watch out, Johnny’s a good furnace away from losing his right shoe!” Tiny said, slapping his knee.
Tiny reached up and grabbed John’s neck just above the collar bone and pinched – like an older brother adding a highlight of injury to the insult.
There was laughter. John shrugged off Tiny’s hand, and then he crossed his arms.
“Alirght, okay, settle down,” Ted said, claming his troops. “Next order of business, is it true that Stevie Reems, fifth grade, hit Carl Carlson, first grade, wit’ a brick to the face?”
“Ab-so-friggin-lute-ly,” Mel said. “I saw the whole thing happen.”
“Okay, Mel, what’s the word?”
“Well, they were playing tag, and little Carl called Stevie’s mother a whore.”
Pete and tiny hollared, “Hoooooo,” in unison.
“Kids got some balls,” Pete said.
“And then what?” Ted said.
“Well,” Mel said, “Stevie, acting like nothing happened, picked up a brick, walked over to Carl and smashed him in the face.”
John, still a bit upset over the shoe joke, rejoined the conversation.
“Hey, can you blame him? You call my mother a whore, and I’ll slit ya friggin’ throat,” John said.
“Fuggitaboudit,” Ted said.
“Can’t blame the kid for that,” Tiny said.
“Completely agree,” Pete said. “You talk about family like that you gotta expect consequences. These kids gotta learn… consequences.”
“For the record,” Mel said, letting the words sink in. “Johnny… your mother’s a whore.”
“Speakin’ of balls,” Pete said, nodding at Mel in a gesture of respect.
Ted, flipping his glasses up and down along the bridge of his nose as if trying to place the woman in the red sundress into focus said, “Heyyyy, who we got running the library over there? Is that Bobby DeNiro?”
“Ya know, if you weren’t a lady I’d crack you in the fuckin’ head right now,” John said.
“Heyy, take it easy tough guy,” Tiny said. “She’s just breaking balls.”
“John, relax,” Ted said. “Enough with the sensitive crap, it’s getting on my nerves. Seriously though, should we suspend the kid?”
Pete, always a good consigliere, chimed in, “Nehhh, he’ll learn his lesson one way or another.”
“Alright, next issue, and without a doubt the most important. I been getting a lot of flack from the parents about having French toast as the staple of our before-school breakfast program.”
“What’s the problem here?” Pete said.
“I got about fifty inquiries into the nutritious value of French toast,” Ted said, looking at the sheet of paper he held.
“Are they aware that Dolores makes it from scratch,” Pete said, “bless her heart.”
“That’s a valid point, Pete’s got,” Mel said.
“No, no, they know. Their problem is, apparently, with us giving the kids syrup,” Ted said.
“This problem they have, it’s with the syrup?” Tiny said.
Ted checked his sheet, again. “According to 43 emails, yes, the syrup is the issue.”
“What if we offer ‘em waffles or something?” Tiny said.
“Yeah, waffles with, ehhh, jam or jelly?” Mel said.
Everyone nodded at the good idea.
“Already tried the jam and waffles approach,” Ted said.
Tiny, Pete, and Mel sighed.
“Anyways… they got a problem with the, the uhhh, syrup,” Ted said.
“What about pancakes,” John said.
“I’m sorry, Johnny, you’re gonna have to repeat yourself,” Ted said. “It sounded as if you just said, “what about pancakes?” That’s what it sounded like. When we are clearly having a conversation about a proper substitute for syrup, you feel the need to bring up pancakes?”
“I’m sorry, Ted, I…”
“Oh, you’re sorry?” Ted said.
“Doesn’t make it right, Johnny,” Pete said.
“But, Tiny just said waffles,” John said, pointing at Tiny.
“What’s with this guy?” Mel said.
“But I…” John said.
“Friggin’ idiot you ask me,” Tiny said.
Ted started to yell.
“We’re talking about appropriate French toast toppings, and you don’t say, ‘what about powda sugar, or straight butter,’ but instead you start talking about pancakes, one of the lowest if not the lowest ranking breakfast food around…”
“Friggin’ pancakes, Johnny?” Tiny said
“They always get so soggy,” Mel said.
“I was just making a suggestion,” John said.
Pete stood from the table and said, “Teddy, you want me to shut him up?
“Please,” Ted said. He’d had enough.
Pete slapped John. Once forehand. Then backhand. And one more with the palm.
“Johnny, you’re my friend a long time here, but you gotta go,” Ted said. “You’re fired.”
John, realizing that Ted was serious, and fearing the worst if he stayed, began hist exit. His long lanky body bobbed as he walked, like a pump car starting out on a set of traintracks. John shut the door behind him.
“I can’t believe he brought up pancakes,” Mel said.
“Whatayagonnado?” Ted said. “Alright, guys, that’s all I got for this year’s meeting… Pete, can you cover John’s art class for the remainder of the year?”
“No problem, Teddy.”
“I thought art programs was gettin’ cut?” Mel said.
“Over my dead body they’re getting’ friggin’ cut,” Ted said.
“This come down from the bosses?” Mel said.
“From the man himself,” Ted said.
“Why?” Mel said.
Why?,” Ted said, “‘cause these kids gotta experience everything. You think I give a fuck if some kid can’t pass some rudimentary mathematics? Hell, I can’t even pass rudimentary mathematics, and I don’t need to. I got some accountant quack who deals with all my finances. But let’s say that one of these kids keeps failing math class, doing real bad in all his classes, lets say he walks into the art room one day and picks upa some clay, and he’s hooked. Loves to do the pottery, and he’s pretty good too. Well, if he keeps at it, he might be able to make a whole boatload of money off it, and then he can hire some accountant shmuck to deal with his finances too. And, Mel, we ain’t taking that opportunity away from the kids. Not here. Not at Colombus.”