Mr. Ellington

The next day at school there was a buzz. It seemed that Jill had told a few people what had happened. Dolores was even madder about that. She went around telling people that Jill had set her up. Jill, of course, denied it.  Their ranks seemed to be dividing into two camps, the ones who sided with Dolores and the ones who sided with Jill.

Clark was confronted after all, but not by Dolores. Representatives of the Jill camp took it upon themselves to question him. They did not have the evidence of the note because Dolores had crumpled it up and thrown it on the ground at the baseball field and I had retrieved it. Clark just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as if he couldn’t comprehend what they were saying. I witnessed this little interrogation in front of his locker which is down the hall from mine in the art building. Clark’s interrogators seemed satisfied with his answer, or at least confused by his reaction, or lack thereof, enough to leave him alone for the moment, but still I worried.

Later that day I sent Sam and Sharon a note:

abaab aabaa aabaa abbba aaaaa ababa abbab abbab abaab abbab baabb baaba aabab abbab baaaa abbba aabbb abbab abbaa abaaa aabaa baaab aaaaa baaba baaba aaaaa aaaba abaab abbab abbaa aaaba babaa. ababb baabb baaab baaba abbba baaaa abbab baaba aabaa aaaba baaba abaaa abbaa abbaa abbab aaaba aabaa abbaa baaba.

Keep a lookout for Phonies attack on C.W. Must protect innocent.

I got one back from Sam:

abbba baaaa abaaa abbab baaaa abaaa baaba babba abaaa baaab aabab abbab baaaa abbaa aabaa babab baaba aaaaa baaba baaba aaaba abaab. abaab aabaa aabaa baaba aaaaa baaba baaaa baaba aaaaa aabab baaba aabaa baaaa abaaa aaaaa abaaa ababa.

Priority is for next attack. Meet at RT after jail.


RT meant Round Table. Jail meant school. Sam had taken to calling the popular kids phonies after the book The Catcher In The Rye. “If you haven’t read it yet, you will, he said. It’s assigned reading in 10th.” I guess his little way of letting me know he was the smartest of us again.

I immediately wrote him back. We were both in Spanish class together and Mr. Chaves was busy writing a bunch of junk on the blackboard and not noticing us. My note said:

Abbaa abbab baaaa baaba baaba abbab aaabb aaaaa babba.

Aaaba abbab ababb ababb baabb abbaa abaaa aaaba aaaaa baaba aabaa aaaab babba abbba aabbb abbab abbaa aabaa baaba abbab abbaa abbaa aabba aabbb baaba. Aaaaa aabba aaaaa abaaa abbaa ababb baabb baaab baaba abbba baaaa abbab baaba aabaa aaaba baaba abaaa abbaa abbaa abbab aaaba aabaa abbaa baaba!!!

No RT today. Communicate by phone tonight. Again, Must protect innocent!!!


After deciphering my note, Sam shot me a very irritated look. Then some kid ran by the room and yelled “Rink!” and Mr. Chaves took off after him and chased him all the way down to the elementary school next door. The whole class followed him to see what would happen. The kid finally got away and Mr. Chaves made us all come back to class and do the Rumba.

I should take a moment to explain.

For some reason a lot of the teachers at our school are kind of strange. My mom says it’s because the middle school kids probably drive them nuts and my dad says its because the middle school is where they send all the loser teachers. I don’t know the reason, but it does seem to be sort of true. Take Mr. Chaves, for example. The story is that he has a metal plate inside his head because he used to be a boxer and got hurt really bad and if you yell “rink” at him, it makes the plate inside his head vibrate and drives him crazy with pain, so he chases kids. They say he even slammed a kid up against a locker once. But none of it makes sense because boxers fight in a ring not a rink. He does chase kids that yell it at him though, that’s for sure because I had just witnessed it.

Then there is Mr. Burgess, the social sciences teacher, who has to “Plug himself in” before he teaches. Rumor is he smokes a lot of pot, but who knows. He’s a good teacher though. The kids like him pretty well.

Then there’s Mrs. Bixby, the science teacher who keeps rats, or at least she used to until she kept the windows shut one really hot day to torture us, because the class was acting rowdy, and ended up accidentally killing all her rats with the heat instead. I heard she cried and felt really bad about her rats, but it was a pretty stupid thing of her to do.

Also there’s Mrs. Chalfant who is “building me a coffin” because I talk too much in history class. She keeps saying, “One more nail in your coffin, Carson.” My brother says she keeps a bottle of booze in her bottom drawer and takes sips between class. He says he and some friends peeked once and found it, but I think he’s making it up.

A lot of things get said about a lot of people in Junior High, even teachers.

That brings me to Mr. Ellington, my English teacher last semester. He gave us an assignment to write a description on what we saw in front of us, and I happened to sit right in front of his desk.

I mean, you could not help but look up and see him looking down his long pointy nose through his little wire rim spectacles and over his salt-and-peppered mustache, at the paper on the desk in front of him, and making his little scratches with his pencil. You could not help but notice the perspiration stains on his shirt that he carefully tried to hide beneath his pullover sweater vest. You could not help but notice the hollows of his cheeks, but I went even further to describe how they echoed the hollows in his heart, perhaps at the hands of a lost love. I wrote that I pictured him at home, after trying to teach a bunch of rowdy kids who did not care about the symbolism found in A Rasin In The Sun, heating up a TV dinner in the oven, and then sitting by himself at a Formica kitchen table, in a vinyl kitchen chair that sat on a checkered linoleum kitchen floor, chewing each bite very slowly while looking at a clock on the wall that was shaped like a cat – a poor stand in for a real cat, that had perhaps died recently, or never even ever been –  its tail for a pendulum, switching back and forth, back and forth, ticking away the minutes of his life.

I wrote all that and he gave me an A+ and wrote on the paper that I was a very good writer and that maybe I might think of pursuing my writing in the future and he didn’t even mention that it wasn’t very nice to make comments about someone you don’t even know, or assume such things, or defend himself in any way at all. And I felt like the lowest smallest ugliest person on the planet who deserved an F, not an A, for failing to be a nice person, because my mother always told me that manners were more important than talent.

me feeling ugly and small