Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

5th grade teacher sadist

Back in the fifth grade, I had this sadist sociopath of a homeroom teacher who, in the interest of not getting sued if his kids ever decide to google his name, I’ll simply call Mr. Cool. Mr. Cool was not, in fact, hip or neat or whatever; I chose the somewhat ironic name because his real surname is a phonetic synonym for cool. In reality, Mr. Cool was a high follower of one of those overly zealous splinter factions of Christianity like the Mennonites or Quakers or something, the kind of we-think-the-bible-is-a-literal-document idiots that people in New York cannot fathom actually exist when a discussion on gay marriage or posting the ten commandments in courtrooms.

Okay, Mr. Cool. He looked like Les Nesmond’s older brother, with a bad comb-over and a lot of generic clothes and everything but the bow-tie. He came from Kansas or Iowa or something, and like I said, was really religious, but also had a short fuse, and while Jesus may have said to turn the other cheek, this guy would rather put his foot in your ass when you crossed him, and that’s a talent that seldom works out in a fifth-grade classroom. Other than flooring the whole group of us in science class by pulling out a bible and reading Genesis when we got to the part of our book about how the world was created, he also had a bad habit of going completely apeshit when you fell short of the stature of, say, a military school’s ideal behavior model. So pretty much everybody in my class got yelled at or shook or smacked in the back of the head, and regular hellions like Gary Rink got beaten within inches of their lives on a daily basis. In the fifth grade, I was old enough to know that something was wrong with this guy, and it probably wasn’t right for him to be hitting kids in class. I mean, I couldn’t look up the exact law or rule or anything, but I knew the guy was whacked, and I dreaded every day of the fifth grade because of him.

Another reason the fifth grade sucked is that instead of sticking to the books (or his god damned bible), Mr. Cool used to have us do these asinine projects that were meant to broaden our horizons. The most corporal of these was the 50 states and capitals book, which was a thing where we had to draw a picture of each state with its capital and three or four major cities and all of the rivers and stuff, and then list its resources, populations, and other interesting and/or useless factoids. To a fifth grader, fifty pages is a damn book, so this took more than a Sunday night to prepare. And Mr. Cool knew what encyclopedia we had in the school library, and would bust your ass if you simply copied shit out of there. I’m sure he meant good by this sort of thing, and probably got the idea because some Jesus magazine like Reader’s Digest had a fear-inducing article about how kids couldn’t name more than five states or their major cities and the Russians would be using that to our advantage and killing us all Real Soon. And I guess it was better than the fact that my dad had to memorize all of the states and capitals, and could still rattle all of them off faster than I could currently name off a random list of, well, anything. (To be fair, there were only 13 of them when he was in school. Sorry dad, old joke.) Anyway, he was always coming up with dumb shit like this for us to do, little take-home projects which would have been great if we all had Beaver Cleaver families, which none of us did.

So one weekend, he came up with this great project: to prove to us that TV was warping our minds with Satan, we were to completely abstain from the glass teat for the next 48 hours. The project was to tune out and then see what we did with our time when we didn’t rot our minds with cartoons. And in some fit of stupidity, I actually mentioned this assignment to my mom when I got home, and she thought this was a real great fucking idea. So I had both parents lording over me about this stupid assignment, and instead of watching the usual cartoons, I went outside and tear-assed around the neighborhood on my BMX bike.

Granted, I watched a lot of TV back in the day. In fact, since we only got five channels and didn’t have a VCR, I watched pretty much every damn thing on, even if it totally didn’t appeal to me. I mean, I remember religiously watching Barney Miller for the plot, because I was too young to get any of the jokes in it and I needed a way to kill time until WKRP was on. (And it’s not like Johnny Fever’s dope addicts or Herb’s attempts to diddle Loni Anderson would have been that funny to a completely uninformed ten-year-old like myself.) BUT, I also spent a lot of time away from the tube, too. I had a regular gang of friends, and I rode my bike around a lot and killed bugs in jars and buried army men and played out Star Wars episodes two through ten with the unending amount of 3″ tall plastic figures I had and everything else. So I guess I could survive a lack of TV with no problem, except one:

Superman was premiering on TV that Sunday.

Fuck! This was the original Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve and Margo Kidder and live action and all of that shit. I never saw it in the theater because half the time when I asked to go to a flick, my parents would say “god damn it! That’s going to be on TV for free next year, why do you need two bucks to see it now?” And not only that, the network was going to show an extended version of the film, with all kinds of scenes showing Clark Kent growing up and pushing ten-ton locomotives on tracks and bending shit and using his heat vision and everything else. And my sisters were going to get to watch it, even though they didn’t give a fuck about Superman at all. I loved Superman! I had a paperback book of all of these old Superman comics, and I could tell you backwards and forwards every plot of every one. That January, I even had a superman CAKE for my birthday. And I couldn’t watch it because of that stupid Quaker Jesus freak motherfucker and his stupid assignment! I was so god damned pissed that Sunday night. And the next morning, when I got to class, every fucking person but me had completely forgotten about the assignment about an hour after they got home, except me.

Anyway, I haven’t watched TV in a week now, and I’m back to being TV-less thanks to, not a Jesus freak, but a lack of cable TV. (OK, maybe the people who found out I had illegally had cable and cut it worship Jesus. Maybe it’s even Mr. Cool, fired from teaching and working a minimum-wage job at Time Warner. Who knows.) It hasn’t been that bad this time, though. It’s just a matter of not caring anymore about the regular shows. I will miss ER, but that’s about it. I also miss the background noise, like during a meal, but I have DVDs for that.

Fuck, I feel like there’s more to talk about, but I’m tired and want to do nothing but read for a while.