Jesus in the Classroom
If you aspire to be in the teaching profession, I’m talking middle school right now, grades six through eight, don’t worry so much about theories and techniques of classroom management.
“Hey Mr. Vick, next year, high school, my sister will be a senior, I’ll go to all the parties, I’m getting so laid. What are you writing down there? Is it sexy!” Mr. Vick smiled but shook his head to hide it when Spear, an eighth grader who in the dark might be mistaken for an old man, or even an Alien Grey if the lighting was dim, crouched next to him. Spear shared his fantasy with the mischievous intention of shocking his former Humanities instructor into changing his calm demeanor.
A sixth grader had materialized to Vick’s left without warning, innocent, pink faced, and offering up a large cookie. Vick deftly pocketed his notecard and pen and began to scan the lot for any pressing business. Spear grinned harder because of the child’s presence. Mr. Vick stood up before the younger Rocky could hear more.
Vick walked right into two chest-to-chest boys who looked as if they were intimidating each other with how many food particles were lodged in their braces. Jing Ran, known as J.R. to most, was bigger than Mr. Vick, in height, width, and weight. J.R. looked red faced and fierce. He looked like the garage sale painting of Yelü Yanxi, the ninth and last emperor of the Liao Dynasty, which hung up over the crate-constructed model of the Parthenon in Mr. Vick’s classroom. The boy whom J.R. faced was wilting beneath the rising tenor of his ever political and politically incorrect voice.
While Vick broke up the simian posturing match he could hear from behind him, through all the laughs, sun blinded screams, and bouncing balls of recess, Spear’s sober and jaded commentary on the bellicose situation, “What a bunch of tools.” I couldn’t agree with you more right now, the educator of America’s future thought to himself.
Spear wasn’t the only one done with break and heading inside. Everybody’s thirty minutes on the sunlit pavement were over, as indicated by the octogenarian interim principal who wore a baseball jacket and a cap that read NAVY RETIRED. All the Doc had to do was make his way over to the 4-Square court while looking at his watch and a few of the more anxious and obedient players would run for the doors to get ready for their afternoon classes. The Doc could puff up like a bossy rooster if anyone questioned his commands or dared to ask for more time out. Most preferred to flee rather than to have to face him.
Those three letters: D, O, and C, were like some magical coat of arms that made him the all-powerful authority figure. Mr. Vick had actually started master’s programs on three different occasions over the last decade but had only completed a grand total of eight credits. Mr. Vick Post had something unique though that the Doc didn’t, and according to him, it couldn’t be found in any academy or institution. Besides, charter schools didn’t even require graduate work.
After the type-A wave rolled in, the picnickers were always sure to follow. These were the children who did not like to even be associated with the uncivilized masses who wanted to stretch out their time-off from learning to the last possible moment.
The Southwest sun burned brightly at half past noon. At home Vick still fired up his wood stove at night, and stoked it back to flame upon waking, yet despite the long-lived frost, the seasons were changing. The daytime had very little resemblance to the night anymore. One of the picnic kids had brought an umbrella and used it as a genteel prop to walk, not run, with dignity to her advanced math class. Everyone else took their sweet time for that last shot, tag-you’re-it, what-a-fail, got yah chump!
Mr. Vick watched the yard from higher ground, and fended off teacher-hang-ons while trying to squeeze in a joke or two with any staff who were out. He was always out, every day. Vick liked the fresh air, and in his mind recess was where the action was. It was a time to refuel before the Opus lesson or the transformative activity that could be mysteriously channeled before being eloquently delivered. Vick compared himself to Babe Ruth, Carole King, and even Robert Redford, in regards to his teaching. It was one of the things he told his wife when they first met, and it’s a big part of why she fell in love with him he supposed; “I don’t even plan my best lessons, my whole life is the preparation. What I read, talk about, dream on, is my curriculum. I let it happen, and the job becomes a meditation.” He had repeated that on more than one occasion and hoped it didn’t make him sound conceited. He was admittedly proud of his work though, because only a few could do such work well.
The Doc was already inside before the hard cases could even be attempted. The good doctor was an interim principal, being paid more for ten weeks of employment than Mr. Vick would make all year. Doc’s mission, in his own words: “To find just the right person crazy enough for the principal job.” In the minds of the staff though, he was there to slash the budget and burn bridges before summer break could arrive. To Vick’s ever reaching historical imagination the Doc was a fear-obsessed demagogue who lost the ability to self-reflect a long time ago. Vick felt impersonal around the Doc and limited his interactions, especially within the tiny coop-like room he called his office.
“You’re frickin gay!” J.R. yelled into the grill of yet another new opponent.
“You’re mom’s gay!” shriek-shouted Terrence who was dressed in matching sneakers, oversized shorts, and hockey jersey – all bright red. He was heavier than Mr. Vick too. Terrence’s whitish blonde hair, which almost glistened in the sun with grease, rested on the shoulders of his shiny NJ Devils’ attire. He appeared nearly as obscure and terrible as Jing Ran. Before Vick could even start comparing Terrence to infamous Vikings, J.R. fired back.
“My mom is gay, happy, because she’s a Christian and doesn’t recognize the abominations of sinners!”
“Oh my gosh, you and your whole family are such losers,” Terrence replied with unrepentant sincerity. It was a cruel commentary that Mr. Vick would not allow himself to agree with. After all, there were forces and pressures behind people’s personalities, just as there were in the creation and destruction of empires.
Unformed pectorals rammed into flab covered abdominals.
Snarling, wet rubber bands glistened ominously in both their mouths, the primitive threat probably being the bands’ potential to snap off and infect an eyeball with a lacerating sting.
Mr. Vick moved in as beef jerky breath collided with the smell of ramen noodles and raisins. He tried to start out easy but with authority.
“Hey, J.R., chill out man,” was Vick’s attempt to gently command, forgetting that the only one J.R. took orders from was God. Jing Ran’s tiny zealous eyes which hid themselves in a face that appeared to have been inflated to overcapacity, raced frantically around the blacktop for something, maybe a sign. With nothing but emptiness before him, J.R. settled his glare skeptically back onto Mr. Vick.
“What! I’m going to righteously pop this heathen. Righteously here and righteously now Amen!”
“J.R.…” the teacher of pre-teens who had always been irreligious save for a few brief forays into Wicca, Dionysian Cult revivals, and Transcendental Meditation in order to contact biblical figures who were actually humanity’s alien ancestors… re-strategized, “Do you remember what Jesus said about turning the other cheek?”
“You challenging me on the Bible Mr. Vicky boy!”
Mr. Vick was promised weeks before that he wasn’t going to get called anything but Mister and Vick by J.R., and he found himself caught off-guard by his own sudden volatility. “No! I’m asking if you remember what Jesus said after the Roman soldier slapped him!”
“What? No one would have the balls to slap the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Victor Post stared into the swine-like orbs that had looked at the world for no more than fourteen years. The moment was tense and seemed like it could only get worse. Vick kept staring, unsure of what to do next. J.R.’s bristle-thick hair and upturned nostrils made Vick remember the villainous Calibos from the original “The Clash of the Titans.” He had no choice but to burst into laughter and destroy the seriousness of it all.
Mr. Vick’s chuckle was not imbued with all out mockery or meanness. It was jolly and full of kindness and said, “Look how stupid we all are, arguing over what? How silly it all is that we pretend everything is so important, following rules, staying within plebian worker norms.” Mr. Vick wasn’t sure even if he had said those words out loud or if the boys just released themselves from the spell of anger on their own accord.
Terrence-dressed-in-red inhaled and interrupted the trance of three-way laughter that had ensued. His comment had only the best intentions behind it. Unfortunately his words formed enough of a risqué idea to re-set J.R.’s fundamentalist alarm systems. “It doesn’t even matter if Jesus was real or not, it’s a good story, and like what you taught us last year, a good story can help people to do amazing things.”
“What! I don’t remember Mr. Vick teaching us that Jesus wasn’t real!” snorted a suddenly re-triggered soldier of God.
Vick stopped letting go and gave J.R. the seriousness his confusion demanded. “What do we all really know about Jesus?” Vick asked them in a whisper while watching the very last straggler take leave of the asphalt.
Terrence awaited his teacher’s words with untainted curiosity while Jing silenced himself and honed in to listen for holes in his theories or any disputable evidence. Once their attention was unquestionable Vick bombarded the boys with his knowledge, most of which came from the book “The Yoga of Jesus” as well as a documentary he once watched during a bout of insomnia entitled “Holy Blood Holy Grail”. He purposely left out all recollections from the History Channel’s series “Ancient Aliens”.
The blacktop situation, itself fueled probably by MSG, sodium nitrite, caffeine, polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters, red dye # 9, 2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo pyridine, Aspartame, and tortured animal flesh was diffused deftly using kid-speak and techniques Mr. Vick had learned when he worked with incarcerated teens in the deserts of Utah. The disses and threats were forgotten by the culprits within minutes of the altercation being intercepted. J.R. and Terrence made their way inside the double doors not arm-in-arm, but not as anything close to enemies.
“Thanks Mr. Vick,” said J.R., acknowledging the fact that he was going to class and not to the Doc’s small temporary office to face a parent phone call and possibly an awkward meeting with the school’s counselor.
“Yeah, you’re still good Mr. Vick. See ya later,” said Terrence as he held the portal open for his strong-willed peer in a gesture that said all was fine. Not an easy thing to do in a teenage world that is flooded with digital bullets, tidal waves of hormones, and pains in the femurs that indicate rapid growth.
The empty lot, still twirling with ghosts… Vick would try and remember to write that thought down.
“See you guys, if Doc Haansen gives you trouble for being late tell him to talk with me after school.
“God bless you Vicky Boy.”
“Same to you J.R. now get in there and learn something new!”
Vick allowed himself the brief sanctity of simply standing still and enjoying the cold dry wind that came off of the La Plata Mountains. The blacktop continued to buzz like a low lying storm of frenetic adolescent energy.
Vick was pleased because both parties seemed genuinely happy. Within a few moments of the impromptu lesson everyone seemed slightly changed from the experience. Terrence walked away a believer of sorts and whispered to himself while text messaging his cousin in North Carolina – “Dude, Jesus trained with Tibetan monks.” R.J. sat in class and typed into his church camp’s message board – “Jesus got slapped and he was fine with it. I don’t know if I would be. Comments from you guys on this?”
Mr. Vick stood outside absorbing a missionary-like triumph over the forces of ignorance and inhumanity. His absence, he assumed, would give unfounded permission for his seventh grade Humanities class to send text messages, flirt awkwardly, and launch projectiles of various shapes and sizes at each other within the confines of his windowless classroom. Children learn from play though, in fact, from what Vick’s wife Lily had told him about animal development, the more advanced the being the the longer their childhood lasts.
With every minute spent outside Victor Post took in the birdsongs, wind shifts, and vulture shadows. To be a teacher is special, a noble profession. His senses reveled in the things that appeared in the average man’s day but, like J.R. and Terrence’s tirade, are rarely given the time they deserve. He widened his angle of vision and put his fingers into a Yoga mudra. Vick felt himself disappear in a sea of psychic delights and did nothing to stay in his corporeal form. This was part of his gift, he thought, he was a natural meditator. And in combination with a variety of concentration techniques learned through self-study, the esoteric possibilities for teacher as Jedi knight were endless. He took out his notecard and began to write again.
At age twelve they don’t need alcohol, for they practice seemingly random outbursts of disruptive behavior as well as invisible kindnesses that are seemed by design to ripple out and set off landmines of laughter, and chatter, until the eventual falling off of the chair happens and the orchestra hits its crescendo.
He was about to head inside to quell the inevitable chaos with a round of imaginary trireme rowing and counting aloud in Greek when the meditative moment came upon him with strength and profundity. The world, the parking lot, where their games of Ninja and Zombie tag were temporarily abandoned, looked crystalline and glimmering to the 1,000 spiritual eyes of Vishnu that Vick had called upon to open. The blacktop was alive again, with ghosts, the spirit bodies of many children who continued to run in the sun instead of having to be stuck in a plastic chair and repress the forces of experimentation and curiosity that were welling up inside all of them.
“Ghosts are on the move today…” he whispered to himself as he deposited his notes into his back pocket. Vick’s eyes closed, and put him deeper into an alpha state.
His mind fluttered far away then quickly back to his responsibilities. It was time for him to go back, he intuited, back inside to another afternoon of button pushing, table climbing, and real learning.
Approaching the door, strangely, it was as if no one was in his classroom. He could hear nothing. Where was the chaos that comes before creation? The heavy but loosely hinged barrier was only open an inch, and the room seemed dimly lit by a blue glow.
Twenty eight pairs of eyes, supported by craned and twisted necks, which were in turn held upon stacked binders and notebooks, which themselves laid upon faux-wood desks, watched the ceiling with eerie passivity as Egyptian gods faced Roman gods in a hypothetical battle for possession of the earth.
“Weird,” whispered Mr. Vick in earshot of Morgan, a girl with red allergic hound dog eyes who had never liked reading until she sat in on Mr. Vick’s Fall Gothic Literature club. She now claimed to have read over thirty Stephen King novels. “But kind of cool,” he concluded.
“Kind of,” Morgan lightly replied without taking her gaze from the dancing lights that formed the episode of “History’s Strongest Gods.” Mr. Vick began to feel a woozy nausea replace his curiosity. He followed the dust filled beams of light down to a small trash-can sized robot that appeared to have been modeled off of R2-D2 from the “Star Wars” of old.
“You don’t even recognize it do you? It was given to us over six weeks ago Mr. Vick, and was part of every classroom teacher’s improvement plan. Should I be surprised to know that you still haven’t used it?” echoed the voice of Mr. Vick’s principal. He was tall, and thin, with chicken skin around his neck and bulbous knuckles that protruded often, as his hands were commonly put in the form of fists.
“What?” replied Mr. Vick, who was confused but more relieved to have not screamed when Dr. Haansen’s orthopedic sneakers fell soundlessly on the fraying brown carpet and his dry coffee stained mouth was almost on top of his neck.
“We need to talk in my office,” finished the Doc in a way that rang of wanting to sound official. He irritated some of the kids with his poor film etiquette but among others aroused the infamous shaming mantra, “Oooohhh – yer in trouble, oooohhhhh – yer in trouble… oooohhhhhhhh…”
A faded blue piece of paper that read The Office of Doctor Haansen was outlined in masking tape and hung head high on the entrance to a room that somehow fit a metal desk, a swivel chair, two extra fold-ups, and a file cabinet.
“First you resisted the improvement plan I laid out four weeks ago by not even attempting to use The Educator.”
“The Educator… but I am the edu...”
“The robot! The gift from the Transportation Security people that can do just about anything a classroom needs. “
“I told you Doctor, I’m not comfortable being recorded when I teach.”
“Being recorded! How… ludicrous.”
“You’re saying it’s ludicrous to not want to be recorded?” asked Vick in hopes of clarifying what he felt was an encroaching monster of injustice and absurdity.
“Second! Your curriculum is imbalanced.”
“This is about the Rome/America blogs isn’t it?”
“I’m not ready to give specifics,” snapped the Doc with quiet concern.
“Some of the kids compared you to Nero, and the other dictators of Rome right? That’s what this is about?”
“Thirdly?” wondered Vick.
“Third. Why are you teaching about Jesus!”
“The tracking software I received shoots me a memo whenever a flagged word is used in a text or email in this school. Students Jing Ran and Terrence Murphy have exchanged both forms of electronic communication concerning your non-secular beliefs. It is apparent that you have been teaching about Jesus Christ!”
“But I’m not even…”
“Your improvement plan is officially active starting now. You will be monitoring Indoor Lunch Detention as well as receiving a $7,000 lowering of your salary, which… can be looked at quarterly for reevaluation.”
His chest tightened as if his heart were dropped onto hot pavement and it was beginning to shrivel. Constriction led to a feeling of overwhelming suffocation and a need to bust out of the stifling and repressive interrogation office at all costs. Rage sent his always active imagination into a frenzy of patriotic slogans and revolutionary heroics. More than a fifth of his paycheck now gone could weigh heavy on his household. He and his wife had just adopted a puppy, not to mention Lily’s aspirations to study Chinese Medicine one day.
Vick cooked brown rice and lentils that night. Lily was glad to smell dinner when she walked in, and he hugged her as if they were being reunited after a long time away from each other. Silky, the ink black pup who was born on the Navajo reservation, dove excitedly at their calves, sensing something powerful was afoot.
“What happened after you walked out?” Lily asked, more intrigued than nervous. “You didn’t have to teach did you?”
“I did actually, it sucked, and the kids knew something was wrong.”
“Does the school board know?”
“Yeah, their rep actually told me they stand behind Haansen’s decision and they refused to discuss it further.”
“Hang on…” she said, as she pushed gently away from his embrace and made her way to the refrigerator. When Lily handed him a cold can of beer Vick was relieved to see her mood had become jovial and relaxed.
“Can you imagine what J.R. will do if he finds out about this?” he asked her. Having schooled her all year with comedic imitations of the cast of characters whom he taught, he knew Lily would be fine with the invoking of Jing Ran.
“He’ll definitely think the Doc is possessed,” she theorized.
“Get thee behind me you evil plucked chicken!” Vick shouted and raised his beer.
“Get thee behind me!” Lily retorted, raising her can and making contact with a “clink”.
The puppy stood on its hind legs for the first time, and celebrated life along with the laughing couple.
The extras were packed away for the next day’s lunches, and the dishes were left to soak in a pool of warm water and suds. Lily and Vick played on their hands and knees with their dog and drank beer until relaxation became the bridge to sleep.
Vick surprised himself when unconsciousness arrived quickly after tucking in. Almost immediately, his imaginary self was back at the school, dreaming of his lunch time perch, and the kids who occupied his days.
“Why have their spirits decided to stay outside and congregate around that hole in the trees? Usually they just float and dance around before following me inside.”
The opening he referred to was the one spot on the parking lot’s border where Alligator Juniper didn’t grow; a twelve inch doorway to the spectacle of a barking but not-so-vicious dog. A fence, creeping with vines lay in between the yard and the recess lot. Vick felt a pull towards the tear in the neighbor’s privacy curtain and followed the multitude of spirits.
The people next door hated the noise of 160 pre-pubescent humans who learned social skills in organic whirlwind performances. They had let the police know on more than one occasion that they did not appreciate the hoots, hollers, shrieks, and otherwise loudly delivered dialogue of the student body.
“How could the kids focus inside when their curious other selves are attracted to something forbidden, even if I was to make it back in time?” Vick wondered this as one of his feet descended under the weight of a dreamy gravity and down the steps of his all-seeing perch. He headed towards the aperture in the Juniper barrier which seemed to radiate attraction.
The yipping of the dirty white haired terrier grew louder and more desperate while the spirits faded from his attention. The feeling in Vick had become almost magnetic, and before he could wonder how many minutes he had before the Doc came looking for him he was climbing the fence behind the trees like a cat burglar and attempting to pet the urgent canine who seemed to resemble a tap dancing stuffed animal.
“What’s all the commotion about little guy? What’s in this forbidden yard?”
The yard was not much different than he had imagined; dying grass, rocks, a few sage brush bushes. As Vick’s eyes traveled to the dog’s house, over the clothesline, passed a weight lifting bench, and up to the back door, he knew that there was something else present only he wasn’t seeing it. The dog bolted as quick as his yip was sharp and disappeared behind a pointy yucca plant.
“I’m not exactly sure why I’m following you buddy and risking a lashing from the Doc, but now I’ve got to at least pet you.”
Turning the corner Vick saw what the dog was obsessing over, a pair of boots that looked like they had crisscrossed the surface of the earth. Yipper dodged Vick’s hand and left him with nothing to touch but the old foot coverings. They certainly smelled like a hiking man’s, and felt warm to the touch, as if they had recently been removed.
Yipper reappeared and pulled Vick’s attention to the shelter that must have been a mansion for the tiny terrier. The curt mechanical barking began again and aimed itself at the entrance to his backyard palace.
“What? Did something get in there and you want me to get it out?”
Yipper stood silent, then sat with shaky respect.
Kneeling in the dry ground Vick began to make his way towards the wooden cave. The rough and tumble smell of boots that still hung around his nostrils was washed over by an overwhelming perfume of ancient origin. His nose lit up with old world scents and suddenly his ears became full of sweet music, holy music that he had no reference for. His head made its way through the darkness of Yipper’s shelter, and now his eyes marveled in a bright light that came from an abyss of blackness. It did not cause him to retreat or even squint. Vick opened his eyes wider, his nose inhaled vigorously, and his ears doubted if anything so beautiful had ever touched them before.
“Mr. Vick!” shouted someone from the blacktop, but was ignored for the rapture from within the dog house was only growing.
“You out here!”
It was Spear, and now the music began to dampen, the light grew dimmer, and only the smell of spiritual incense vaguely remained.
“Whatever is happening will happen again if I can get in the right headspace,” Vick Post mumbled to himself as he backed out like a plumber from beneath a sink. It was as if he had found someone’s lost diamond ring but could not yet grasp it.
Spear continued to scream his name.
The seventh grade must have been going bonkers at that point and the good doctor had probably caught wind of his absence.
As he came to stand his eyes met the worn shoes again, however this time they were full!
The beat up army issue boots led to ragged jeans and towards a shirtless torso. Vick put a hand to his own round belly as a lean sun browned waist breathed rhythmically and calmly in front of him. His shirtless torso was partially clothed by the thick and dreaded hair that hung like vines from his head. A long thin beard hung as naturally as icicles from the overhang that was his chin, yet still revealed the closed lips that did not seem to have any aspiration to open. The nose was Romanesque, with a width that could have also made it Egyptian. His face, being tanned and weathered and partially masked by dreadlocks did not give away any particular nationality at all.
The vagabond stepped forward, Spear continued to shout, Yippers ran in circles as if overjoyed by the meeting. Vick back-stepped until he bumped into the fence. A fear, one not marked by sensed danger, but rather by shear awe, moved through him. The tall wild fellow reached out his big hand, covered Vick’s eyes, and created a warm feeling between his eyebrows.
A transfer took place from beneath the palm of this seemingly homeless ascetic, and into the mind, body, and soul of Victor Post. He felt as if a download of wonders was happening that was simple and clear but would also take a lifetime to disseminate. This was a special moment, and he was glad he chose to see it through.
“Mr. Vick! Are you fucking O.K.?” shouted Spear from no more than five feet away.
“Fffi…ine…” Vick heard himself say half way between worlds, “I’m fine, just go inside.”
He opened his eyes and realized the holy man had dematerialized, and in fact he himself was back on the school’s property. The dog barked again, this time aggressively, through the opening in the trees.
Spear pulled Mr. Vick across the blacktop with an arm around his shoulders.
“The Doc’s gonna shit if he sees you like this Mr. Vick. Now let’s get out those little cards of yours and start writing something profound. That usually always helps.”
Before he knew it the strange and wonderful part of the dream experience was in the past and even his uncomfortable feelings of self-doubt had subsided. He was back inside and standing in front of a full squad of young bodies whose spirits were finally in union with their limbs. He picked up a black dry erase marker and wrote FASCES on the white board, causing an immediate and outrageous bout of cacophonous laughter.
3:30 a.m. He sat up and began searching for the clothes he had stripped out of at 10:00.
Victor Post had gone through all the appropriate channels for help and assistance, but Dr. Haansen’s hammer would fall, regardless of any of Vick’s pleas for professional assistance. His phone had never rung and his email box remained empty.
At 3:50 a.m. he began to draft a letter of resignation. His words would be broadcast to Doctor Haansen, the Doc’s handlers on the school’s board, as well as to the parents of the children he taught. Upon sending it Vick’s heart opened and the image of a flower bursting into existence exploded in his mind’s eye. Vick was relieved and exhausted when the screen of his laptop was finally closed, and his hands began to rummage in half-light for the note cards he liked so much to write on.
The Humanities block is a performance of pain and delight; an hour and fifty five minute science experiment that started with the assembly line. But that is all material.
Through the esoteric lens the children are actually made up of a continuous bombardment of cosmic forces that only take the forms of human bodies.
They who resonate beastly urges and have quills to deliver them.
They who have impulses to strike out with reptilian disregard.
They who would sting another child’s face by making him the butt of a joke, a wimp just like his father, or her a slut, like her mother.
They couldn’t sit still for love or for money, not for threats nor treats. Sugar makes it escalate, punitive causes them to retaliate.
Twenty eight in a room
But… there is love, and it is everywhere.
In fact if I’m not careful
It could fill my heart
And expand it
To the size of a planet
Or a star
And then I would explode
And all the children would laugh at the show of photons, the beaming forth of my own destruction.
My ego toppled
At the foot of the cold
click here for The Monkey King
Virtual avatars are the coolest until Han is introduced to the reality of MMA, hybrid assassins, Monkey Kung-Fu, and his own father.