They asked the teacher to, ‘Please, open a window.’ he did so with personal relief.

Above their heads they could hear the sounds of girls, light steps, trundling around like a lunchroom cart with a broken wheel. Attuned to sounds, a footfall, a pencil drop, or a book at which the boys looked up, some amused and others with concern. Theory was the girls did it on purpose, they knew how every scratch on plaster controlled the boys in the downstairs classrooms. Like those light and wild trotting steps that every male feels in the pit of his stomach. And heavy ones, “Fat Maxine” followed by laughter cut short by the teachers pointer coming down as a warning. “If you do not know how to read you will not graduate.” These boys knew the score, jobs were so rare that only the most hopeful of boy children, ones with homes to go back to and a relative who might help them find work, they were the ones still attending every day. Girls learned to read quickly yet no jobs were open to them other than required knowing how to identify currency and lavishing make-up on their faces. Attracting a working man, staying home and having a child was work enough for the other kind of girls. Twice as many girls went on to high school as boys. School was still a safe place to deposit daughters. With security guards on the stairs and in the halls they could not possibly get pregnant. Most of the boys formed a mob who strained at the mere female presence on the other side of the fence and the echoes of feminine voices and laughter that carried through the pipes and the heating system making the adolescent male heart surge. Teachers found themselves in the awkward position parents sloughed off. They knew the diseases and other risk of sex yet they had to tolerate the indignity because they were working with the reproductive population. The effect was to make otherwise repressed teachers more relaxed about the subject and less guarded in talking about the actual activity which they had seen in books and films. Nonprofessionals became insanely fearful over sex and admired teachers for doing what few others could. Boys did a lot of harmless acting out to get attention and demonstrate that they had enough self control to be trusted to let loose and get out of control within acceptable boundaries. They boys fantasized about every observable detail of the girls who flocked to school in overwhelming numbers. The adolescent males observed as the passageway was cleared for the girls through the indigents from town, men who collapsed in alleys, doorways and alongside the sheltering walls of the school who were rousted out each morning. The sight of their future selves made the boys feel endangered. Precious for now, they were cared for at home with every spare family resource being devoted to them. In each graduating class one or two of these young men even went to college. This was an exceptional high school since it usually graduated about 20 boys. Finding a school in rural Iowa that surpassed schools under city domes was not so unusual as some from the cities and coasts wanted to believe. Although few farm families survived, traditional values continued and these small town boys were offered wholesome activities by the community instead of ersatz urban vice. The girls in Iowa did not find being a wife and a mother a less degrading of options. They desired the opportunity to nurture a child no less than a career. Principal Pelter knew how to play the situation much as the situation played with him. When the three vandals were brought in he knew the one named Kel who he could slap around at will and the boy would feel right at home. He looked part Native American, he was probably the first one to trample the display after it was knocked down. The smelly, disheveled Warner kid was a follower, his father was a security guard for a local business. If P let the school security have him for five minutes everyone would feel better about themselves and the father would probably want to be the principal’s friend. The one who was an exception was the one he truly hated, a know it all. His parents probably don’t want the kid to be touched. As superior as so many of the

others were to Mr P, this kid’s family was above them all, looking down on the town from their kingdom on the hill. Mr P almost flipped his car last weekend as Nebraska State Troopers chased him right to the Iowa line. He was doing nearly 90 MPH when he switched off the lights and smoked them turning onto the last dirt side road he saw to make his getaway. All four tires squealed, he did not dare touch the brake pedal or the brake light would give him away. Mr. Pelter had already lived several years like this, hiding his secret self in a profession where a thick suit, somber matching tie and his dour expression had more weight then the contents of his mediocre resume. Next year he might be replaced by someone’s cousin or a tenured teacher, some schools liked to give a teacher time in the barrel. The school district covered a vast swath on the map with a population that added up to a small town. If he did not remember what he did the night before there would be a dozen innocent locals to remind him before he got to his office in the morning. His family long ago recognized that he did not have the grit to make it as a teacher so they enrolled him in Educational Leadership, it fit his strutting manner. Head straight, eyes narrow, no better way to greet a work day that started before 6 AM than with a close shave, decapitating a bloody row of pimples on his neck and a tie and collar echoing his pulse through the unrelenting pain of a hangover. He had been initiated to alcohol as a college freshman with beer guzzling and now as a post graduate was advancing the field. He had a calendar of brewers and distillery sponsored events. Tonight it was speed dating and wine tasting at the airport Radcliff a five hour drive that he just might make if he left before the school buses departed. If he did not get lucky there, he would follow with a Senor Winces Flavored Tequila Slammer night at a college bar halfway back to home. Most of these college kids would be like himself in a few years, P imagined, business class drinkers. Working in clean jobs, drinking like fishes but with their backs turned on the blue collar types and the bums who likely drank as much as any of them did. Or so he told himself to gain self acceptance, often drinking alone in a crowded bar. Iowa was not California, it was not even Utah. In Utah hypocrisy was actively pursued, the non-Mormons made a show of depravity for their Mormon neighbors, there was plenty to do. After all Nevada, the only state where sex between unmarried people was still legal, shared a border with Utah. These Iowans were truly dull moral people. They were trend setters for the national agenda, they were not only the first to complain about the social climate in school they did something about it and the nation followed. It was determine that school must be both a place where morality and correctness were taught and to do so a positive environment was made mandatory. Once the list of taboo subjects was started it could only grow. Whatever was taught had to go through a thorough process of evaluation to make sure it would not disturb the minds of the students and lead to disruptive behavior. In textbooks wars became disturbances between neighbors and assassinations were untimely deaths. In a society where the anti-sex forces worked around the clock to obliterate licentiousness and related pleasure not even a senior high in school could discuss the sexual born plague that had wiped out almost half of the world. Only students over the age of eighteen were allowed in a special health class where books with distasteful pictures were distributed. School Committees who decided what could not be taught were made up of clergy, local businessmen and politicians. Professional educators were deemed unfit for these groups because it was felt they only wanted to hire more teachers and increase spending. How little they new about the teachers’ mind set, like Mr. P’s. Equal to budget was curriculum. When the public was still not satisfied with the product of their educational system they began slashing the moneys tax payer allotted and extended an invitation to outsiders to contribute to the system.

Coca-Cola had its own version of U.S. history and the unpleasantness between the states. A pint of ginger brandy consumed at his desk watching the sun rise, both sweetened his breath and heightened his self esteem, the effect left him after 90 minutes. He had a front pocket full of worthless phone numbers he had gather the night before finding no one to go home with. How could he have lost to that competition, farm boys and prematurely balding middle managers. The women were at best a collection of corn fed prize winning pill poppers. That was also part of the Iowan culture, ladies waiting at their candle lit tables kept ornate pillboxes on display, the uppers, the downers, the hormones to make them feel good about being bad. Like so many of his girl students who took them in the morning and at the Nurse’s Office during the day. The behavior mod pills came out of their snapping purses during a stressful night of small talk while waiting to be selected. The judicious application of pills was how Iowa could boast the lowest suicide rate despite having the most suicide prone population, single women over twenty one. Followed by those under twenty one. “Wow, you’re doing pretty good.” She said in a high and smoky voice. “How old are you?” P replied. This girl was nineteen and had all of the physical qualities he was looking for. He could go for her, no problem. He did not want to wait to call her. He made that mistake too often. P had two ways of talking about himself, like for that nineteen year old, starting with his car and salary. Or for the other ones, women with glasses, facial hair, too old, the ones who reminded him of his mother, he let them know immediately that he works for the school. But this one could be tonight’s winner. He fingered the receipt for drinks with her scrawl. She gladly exchanged numbers with him, not that a woman ever called a man, as far as P knew. While she spoke he already had her mentally naked, skeletal thin with big ripe melons. At the end she shook his hand, not just the usual - Nice talking to you. He could be in. So he daydreamed at his desk, under his coat last night’s memory was making him firm, he went out to the hall, with the last bell he continued the circuit around the school. Mr. P lived for the night and dragged through the day. Disappointment followed as usual. The melon farmer in a tight sweater never once looked his way after the number exchange although he could not get his eyes off of her whenever she got up to change seats. The hostess rang a bell and along came the next available cutie. Some of the other losers blocked his line of sight, suddenly she and her fresh fruits were nowhere to be seen. He threw the number away, if he did not connect that night he lost interest. He did not want to call to hear some man answer the phone, Pizza King! He did not want to see her apartment or have to go on another date before he found out if he was getting lucky. The objective of all of this was to remove the element of luck. I’m not divorced yet, every time he heard that it was an engraved invitation, he waited impatiently. Exiting alone despite his best effort, the night like so many was stacked against him, he could not compete in this crowd, he was younger than most of the women. Except that one slut tonight was a pig judging contest. P hated his life, his job, his parents. He needed action and new faces to get his mind off his self pity. P was too proud and he left thinking his standards were perhaps not low enough for this crowd. A good night’s sleep was seeming attractive to him, he did not even cruise the local bars but got directly on the clover leaf to the highway home. So many evenings now were ending with him hating himself. He was old fashioned that way, a drinker not a pill popper. Next step was to lose the tie and check out the college scene. It was like a kick to the groin when one of the undergrads hoisted a beer in recognition. “Hey,

Mr. P!” Then that reedy still adolescent voice and annoying Iowa accent like plucking loose guitar strings. “It’s my old high school principal.” Looking around as though the greeting was for someone behind him P did not change his expression but eased into the column of students streaming out the other door. Anxious and still thirsty he saw an unexpected swarm of lights at the road house where he knew at least they sold beer. Several cars are parked outside, all full size, four door models interspersed at odd angles with two busses. Whores on wheels? This should be good for some laughs, P thought. The door was chocked opened and the stench hit him before entering, inside the place stunk of body odor, sweat and beer. This suit needed a cleaning so P, already disgusted with the night flinched and walked in. All the lines moved quickly, he bought a beer and looked for a seat. From their dress and hushed voices he realized these were Mexicans, all dead tired and some were squatting on the floor like they were waiting for the next donkey cart. Unobserved P snuck out with his tall plastic glass of beer in hand. It was illegal to take alcohol off the premises in Iowa. Aimless, P walked away from the light. The back door of a car swung open in his path. “Here you go. Grab a seat.” A voice called out from the car. It was not a woman’s voice, P ducked down, one guy in the back and two in front, all white. For no reason except a sense of abandonment P sat on the edge of the back seat so that his feet were still on the ground. “How’s it going?” He asked momentarily stripped of all pretense. Eating sandwiches and drinking beer the men did not say much. “These ‘Cans with you?” He knew about Cans. Where he grew up it was anyone whose skin was a shade off white, had an accent and was not Asian. He grew up in one of California’s remaining Caucasian-Asian enclaves. “Were just moving them to another farm.” One replied after a bite. “I thought you were with the company.” The one sharing the back seat with him laughed. “You mean you don’t know this guy?” Asked the one in the driver seat. Obviously P was sharing the seat with the company screw up. “Who are you fellows with?” P sought to elevate the tone for the sake of self preservation, seeing all of these Mexicans could mean something illegal was going on.

Little Johnny’s parents were at his door. The farmer and his wife, hard working, well sexed, standing up for their little offspring - fruit of their loins. Reminding him at once of his own parents, so many of them did, he hated them. He understood why this kid was the cause of his misery, it was well illustrated, they were standing right beside him. The type of parents who bend over backwards to make good. High power land owners their acreage must be worth plenty. P had more respect for the ones who said their dad couldn’t get the time off work, work being a barstool. He preferred kids whose drunk parents went straight for the belt and filled punk kids with fear of the principal. This little Johnny might tremble in front of him but was putting on an act. This farm boy would be unbreakable because the precious little punk ruled over his parents. Little Johnnie who could be so bold in the school hall showed up at the door with mommy and daddy in tow. All of his bad behavior was to try and break free of the image. As a kid Paul Pelter was the same way and he was doing this kid a favor by turning up the pressure. “If I were to follow through in this matter the police would consider it a hate crime.” The father scowled and the mother spoke. “I just don’t know what’s gotten into him. We raised John to understand and respect the Native Americans.”

Mr. P was moving continually eastward since leaving his home state of California. He had seen timber wolves, big horn, grizzlies all as school mascots but this school still used Indians and was totally out of step with the Political Correctness most schools practiced. A few years ago the grandparents of these kids were killing Indians, the police basement is full of them today sleeping it off. Yet here the school had a miniature village on display in the library, native headdress displayed outside the auditorium and a tomahawk decaled on their football helmets. This was a town full of hypocrites. P didn’t like it because his job was to be the biggest hypocrite of all of them. P kept drumming in the stuff about ’parent’s responsibility’ without relenting. He would not allow an atmosphere where the parents could buddy up, if the father asked about the football teams record P would use that practiced scowl. If he could see one of them was a lush it would be different then they would share laughs about the cruel and sadistic approach to parenting that all teenagers disserved. “You have precious few years to mold this boy. If he went into the military with the attitude he has now he would come home in a body bag.” P did not mention to these parents that no branch of the military accepted volunteers with such poor grades as John’s, or did he allow any discussion of politics as he slid into the next subject, fitting punishment. The school handbook backed him up, John’s misdeed of racial slurs was among the worst offences on the list. Making fun of Native Americans is as bad as carrying a weapon or fighting. How badly did the boy’s parents not want him to be suspended? Confined to home, the place a teenage boy hated most. “Mrs. Gladstone, send John in, please.” Knowing that no one is more miserable than a teenager P made the most of it. Bringing misery to happy homes and reinforcing dysfunction P demonstrated his loathing for this career that was forced on him by his guiding parents who thought their altruistic meddling was a wonderful gift for P who as a boy was only bent on fun, pleasure and indolence. It was only time and the ending of the teen years that allowed him to settle down at the tenth rate private college where his parents sent him. If a pair of teachers could get their son off from a murder charge, it was only P’s own timidity that did not let him try. Too dumb and weak willed to be a teacher he now supervised them. He was yet to get even with his parents but he sensed it around a corner, he would ditch this career job for something that would really suit him. Bartender, bar owner, liquor salesman, stud porn star. P hadn’t a clue, he liked to drink, he liked loose women, he enjoyed when he filled the kids with fear or made the teachers cringe but there was no more money in any of those jobs than he was already making as a high school principal. If there is any money to be made. That would mean getting out of the soy bean circuit and working his way back west, homeward, to mommy and daddy and big sister all looking down on him. He needed a career change that would shock his family. Motivated as he was to bring misery, the impression he made as an authoritarian figure was an excellent one but the performance reviews he received from the various schools where he headed the administration always went from average to sub par. He was a bargain basement administrator and his academic performance as a graduate student was poor. Hotel or restaurant management had potential for him, or manning the shotgun at the door of a brothel. John entered Mr P’s office with a bounce in his step and a look of self satisfaction. On his heels a security guard with linebacker shoulders and a beer lovers gut announced, “He was roaming the halls.” “Hi guys.” John said seeing his parents. This was the kind of family scene that made Principal P want to puke in a wastepaper basket. The ones who were their teenagers’ buddies. The father was impatient with the entire process but the mother’s expression told the story. Pampering their only child, P might as well send them all home now, they were a fortress protecting a kid who was long past due for a total ass kicking. The boy

was better off coming to school where at least the teachers and administrators could make sure little Johnny learned his lessons. The handbooks punishment for a first offense was a two day suspension. P topped that with a ten page essay for Monday about Native American Culture. P congratulated himself on sowing the seeds of future resentment. The one career move that really tempted him used those same hair splitting skills that turned possible allies of enemies into cohorts. P could visualize the turmoil the writing assignment would promote, the pressure of mommy sitting down to get the work done with little Johnny. She, doubtlessly, a humanitarian who protested the stereotype of the old Indian drunk and sitting on a bench while the young ones are knifing each other and beating their squaws, this will be a punishing assignment. If the work isn’t done, P would personally bounce this kid out of here. To P’s mind riling up these sedentary folks were the skills of a carpetbagger type politician. He could see himself riding to office on the most currently divisive issue, the current war, or the next one, taxation, some local land use thing to get the townies nervous, and talk about taxes they don’t earn enough to have to pay, urging them to vote with the wealthy farmers who were getting away without paying taxes. He would go to some business lunches to sort out who had the deepest slushiest pockets. Wave the flag and attack the liberals was the way to do it. That seemed like work and he did not want to risk his publicly funded job to run for an office. He knew a few principals sat on the Board of Education. But that was too public, he wanted to inspect something behind closed doors with kickbacks on public contracts and workers to shake down. At the moment he liked the idea of humiliating liberals, he would have to think of something. John began by protesting his innocence but soon the mother and kid were having at it in hushed tones. “Let me ask you,” P spoke aside to the father, “What do you know about this Ag Corp?” “Agri-Corp? If you have some arable land they’ll farm it for you. Pay your taxes and put a few dollars in your pocket. Why? Do you have some acreage?” Jody, the father, lightened up. “No, I’m just considering some options and opportunities.” If he hoped to learn anything it was best to be as vague and close mouth as possible not wanting to tip his hand since P knew nothing about land or farming. “If you want to get land into production you would do better by doing it yourself. Have your soil tested, go down to the Extension Station, talk to some farmers.” This was a lifetime’s worth of conversation for one of these Midwestern guys. Jody continued enthusiastically, “The reason you don’t want to go with AgriCorp, even though it may sound like an attractive offer, they can use your farm up, destroy the land and then move on. Plus they depress the market price for the rest of us.” “But you said they can pay my land tax and make me money.” Nothing that makes money could be bad. It was like teasing a dog on a leash with a piece of raw meat. “I want to make money from my investment.” “A farm isn’t just a piece of land or and investment. A farm is a living thing and a way of life. The money they turn over to you will be coming out of the condition of your soil. Instead of feeding the soil they eat up the soil and then turn it back over to you.” “How do they depress prices?” P asked before farmer Brown could make another offer of friendship, P was uncomfortable with one man offering to help another man. Maybe that judgment was the result of too much college but it seemed gay. “They bring in foreign workers. They’ll get a family from rural Mexico and put them on an isolated farm, no car, no phone, give them supplies like a sack of rice, and a sack of beans, so they never have to go to town. They leave the moms and kids at home and put the men on busses and the equipment on tractor trailers

to travel the countryside working the farms. In the winter they go home to Mexico. They pay those people so little by our standards that everyone makes a little money even before they undercut the market.” This plan seemed absolutely brilliant to P. “It’s tragic for us and it is tragic for the Mexicans.” The farmer added after a silence. “That’s very interesting. It makes me want to think twice about my investment.” P stood up as a signal that this meeting was over. “Nice talking to you and I expect that essay on my desk Monday.” He could not get them out fast enough before he settled back down and made a call on his cell phone. All his life he had been dragged by the career expectations others had for him but now for the first time P was anxious and jumped at a new opportunity. Unlike the urban coasts Iowa school committees made decisions for themselves without hiring professionals to give them choices. Principal Pelter who believed he was using them as a stepping stone was in turn being used by the local school board as a rubber stamp. He did little more than a security guard work for less pay than a security guard, his only credential was that he was trained to communicate with the various teachers, students, parents, shrinks and the police without tipping one off to what any of the others knew.

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