Once upon a time, there was a student who refused to sit where he was supposed to sit, balked at the idea of keeping his mouth from flapping when he was supposed to keep his mouth from flapping, and, all around, was quite an annoyance to other students-not to mention his poor teachers.
One day after the boy flapped his jaws too much and to the wrong people and at the wrong time and to the great irritation of everyone around him including his teacher-not to mention the boy's recent and persistent bullying of certain other boys-the present adolescent company included-the students decided to act.
Their plan was to silence him and perhaps to 'teach him a lesson' so to speak, and this they did, dear reader, but it was the way they did it, calculatingly, cunningly, in a manner that was utterly surreptitious, stealthy and cruel, and in a way that no-one, except for me, could finger them, and so that no evidence trail would lead to them, that was the most remarkable.
Did I say evidence? Yes, evidence definitely would play a role. I alone was the only person to whom they had divulged their secret, albeit accidentally perhaps, but perhaps not, even though I was not one of them, even though they distrusted me, even though I could have reported them to the authorities. But evidence can have a life of its own and, at times, can be a two-edged sword. In this case, that sword was two-edged indeed, and sharp as a new silver-steel razor blade.
And I'll say it right up front without any sense of guilt-well, perhaps that is not quite as accurate a statement as it could be, but I'll say it anyway-it wasn't going to be me who was going to be left without a seat when the music stopped. I wasn't going to take the blame. After all, it wasn't my plan. I didn't perform any covert action calculated to inflict bodily harm or any other harm. I did nothing in that respect-nothing. If I was guilty of anything, it was that I did nothing.
And yet, I was secretly happy that I got away with doing nothing. It was a like a dark conspiracy where they-those boys in my class room who took matters into their own hands-and I, who did nothing, secretly yet silently concurred in keeping the matter hush-hush. I acted like I was unaware when these complicitors came around, I behaved like I knew nothing for it was they who schemed and acted on it right to the end.
But the problem was they knew that I knew what they did but none of them was going to come right out and say that they knew. They just hinted, alluded, teased even, I think, they made unkind allusions to the incident when other innocent students, and teachers, were around, within earshot, knowing of my discomfort with the knowledge I had, and knowing of my incapacity to do anything about it, knowing that I had waited in the shadows, saying nothing to anybody, and knowing of my total disinclination to do anything about it-especially now that many weeks had elapsed.
So that I was beginning to feel that I was the perpetrator-I who was blameless or nearly so-and to feel this immense desire to confess my crime. In my dreams, the police were interrogating me, bullying me into confessing, but I always awoke just before I signed. Why did I not sign it? Why did I awake each time-seven nights in a row? I wanted to admit my guilt but something else insisted I was not guilty. Maybe I'll go to the authorities and confess.
The fact is they had no choice. I had overheard the plot and they feared doing anything to hurt me. Thus, until now, I have not even dared to whisper about these dastardly and strange events. But now, dear reader, hear this horrifying tale.
On the day in question, the boy decided-a great mistake I may add-to take out his cell phone, and he did so with great fanfare, as he wanted the whole class to tune in to his oh-so-important business, something about how the cook gave him French fries instead of fried clams. He was greatly distressed by this mishap and he wanted all those within earshot to know about it-and know about it they did. He had ensured that they heard-like it or not-that he had on the previous night an unpleasant argument with the waiter, an insignificant man whose daily dose of excitement consisted of giving students food or drinks that they had not requested-but not just any students, he only sought out those who looked like they wanted to push him around, and order him around as though he were merely their servant. He was no-one’s servant, he told himself, even though he was in a service business.
The boy had told the old man-I say old but he was merely 45-to please get him fried clams, one order, make sure they were hot, and no grease. I say he "told" him but the tone and manner were more on the order of an instruction like he was telling his dog to go fetch a stick. The waiter hated to be told what to do. He knew his job, nobody needed to remind him. So the waiter said he would put the order in as soon as he waited on the newcomers at the next table, causing the boy to look him straight in the eye and say, “look idiot, I gave you the order, now do your job. Put the order into the cook and then wait on those slobs!”
The man acted like he didn’t hear him and proceeded to the nearby table, a sneer forming on his lips. “May I take your order please?” he said most politely, pleasantly, quite audibly and brimming with enthusiasm.
“Hey! Shit-for-brains! Didn’t you hear me? I was here first! Now get my order in! Do you know who I am? My father’s a cop! He’ll arrest your ass!”
The newcomers looked at the boy and then each other trying to ignore the unpleasantness developing. The waiter replied, “you’re making me cry.” He took the newcomers’ orders, and proceeded to take the orders of more students who just arrived.
“May I take your order please?” he asked them-again most pleasantly. “May I suggest the clams? They’re quite fresh. We have only enough left for, well-what do you know-only enough left for you good folks. Would you like a free sample?”
"Sure, thanks!” said the tall, gangly, skinny kid with the tattoo of a pit bull on his arm.”
"Wow! What great service!” said the girl sitting next him.
The waiter-now feeling utterly victorious-hurried toward the rude boy, smiled pseudo-graciously at him and said loudly, but with extreme politeness, “yes sir, may I take your order?”
The boy’s face blushed red-hot with anger, his cheeks looking pent up and twisted like he was struggling to control his tongue, something for which, historically, he had been quite unsuccessful as a rule.
“You complete, flaming, fucking idiot, I ordered already! And I ordered clams! And I want them before that table over there gets them! And I want a sample too! Now!” he barked.
“Huh!” said the waiter-chin projecting out from his body now like a strutting peacock. “You must wait your turn like anyone else! And sir, please adjust your tone and drop the despicable language while you are on these premises. A foul mouth is not something we cater to here."
Gesturing with a sweep of his arm toward the newcomers, the waiter-a long-time student of the art of taunting patrons whom he despised-added, “These kind people have been waiting too. They have been seated. They have been quite patient and understanding-not to mention that they have been exceedingly respectful and friendly. In short they have demonstrated what you have not sir-common decency and good manners, unlike yourself who, it appears, must have grown up in barn.”
“I want my fucking clams!,” the rude boy said, arising from his seat.
“Sir, their orders have been taken. The orders now will be remitted to the cook. And sir, I am so very sorry to inform you that we have no more fried clams. We’re all sold out. I could give you the French fries. We have plenty of those.
“No!” the rude boy replied.
“Well then, if not, perhaps you could return tomorrow when your foul mood may change for the better and when your foul tongue may be quieted, and-if that is the case-when we will be better disposed to want to accommodate you. What is your preference, my good young man?”
The other customers were listening intently to this conversation, growing increasingly more heated as the boy insisted upon his rights.
“I was here first fool! Where is the fucking manager?”
“You heard me asshole! I said get the manager.”
“Oh, now you want the manager! Is that who you are requesting young man?”
“Are you fucking deaf?”
“Am I what?” the waiter replied.
“The manager! The manager! The manager you moron! Get the manager now!”
“Oh! Of course! It is the manager you want. I could have accommodated you on that score much earlier and saved us all a lot of time-especially those good people over there-if only you would have tried to be polite like any common person. Yes sir, my unruly boy, I am the waiter and I am the manager too. “What can I do for you my fine friend? How about the French fries? They’re quite delicious! Why don’t I give you a free sample?”
“You’ll give me what I ordered!” the angry boy declared, gritting his teeth.
“Sir, you need to control yourself,” replied the waiter-manager, now puffing up his chest like a marine sergeant. “Or you will have to leave. You are bothering my good customers and delaying their meals.”
“What are ya going to do ‘bout it, throw me out? Let see you try, wimp!”
The waiter simply smiled, saying, “as you wish sir.”
Six minutes later two police officers entered.
“What’s the problem here?” said one officer.
“This gentleman insisted-quite rudely and profanely I may add-on being served before anyone else. He would not wait for his turn. He displayed an uncommon lack of common manners.”
“Okay, let’s go son," the same officer said placing cuffs on the rude boy who glared at the manager and told the officers the waiter/manager was lying and twisting the whole story. The other officer got statements from the other customers who supported the waiter entirely.
"Here my boy, this is on the house,” the waiter said to the rude boy as the cops were escorting him out. The waiter handed him a large bag of French fries but the boy kicked the bag out of his hand sending the golden fries flying into the air and landing on some of the customers.
“Sir, your order,” said the manager/waiter. “And it was free! How ungrateful!” he added as though his heart was broken. He evinced a pained look on his face for the benefit of all. He told the newcomer customers that they will get free fried clams if they will just wait until the rude boy was removed. “I was saving them for tonight-very fresh, just caught this morning-but I was saving them for dinner time tonight. But you folks will have as much as you would like, on the house of course.”
He then strode to the counter like a peacock, looked back one more time to the rude boy and, smiling, said, “Good-bye my unfortunate, unlucky boy,” he said. "Try to have a good day."
“Too bad about the French Fries!” said the cop who held the rude boy’s arm. “Because that’s all you’ll get for supper!”
“Yeh,” said the other cop-a large, burly man with a thick neck and a permanent scowl on his face- “you can eat crap for all we care. You gotta learn some respect.”
The next day, the boy was back in school. Two of the young men who had been served before the rude boy at the Atlantic City beachside clam shack were in his class room. They were talking inaudibly to two young ladies, snickering to themselves and looking over every now and then to the rude boy. The latter took his cell phone out, determined to create a scene.
“Yeah man, this jerk at the clam shack served these four losers before me and then got me arrested when I complained,” he said quite loudly,” then whispered, “I am going to teach him a little lesson about respect…Tonight, yeah, you in? Good. I’ll be there. Midnight. Remember, we’re the midnight raiders. Let’s do it!”
The other boys heard the entire conversation as the rude boy wanted them to hear all of it but not me. However, I heard all of the boy’s conversation but ignored it, resigned to the fact that the boy would do whatever he wanted no matter what course of action I took. The boy walked over to the other two students and said, “You’ll get yours losers!”
Leaning toward them, he whispered confidentially, “you two stupidos are going to commit a little crime tonight and you won’t even know when or how. So long suckers!”
Enrico and Fernando decided to follow the boy to get some evidence. But for now, they remained behind in class, guessing from the phone call, quite accurately, that the boy was meeting his partner-in-crime that night at midnight at the clam shack. They now were joined by two more friends- also boys. That’s when I overheard them say they were going to have a "hot surprise" for the boy who had threatened them. I didn't think much of it. I thought they were just joking when they mentioned giving him a hot foot and, in fact, I wasn’t sure what that meant. What’s a hot foot? Huh. But later I knew. I said nothing to anyone. I was appalled. I felt I had a part. I felt that I was criminally complicit somehow.
I was secretly glad though-even happy. At the same time I was horrified. How could I be elated and horrified at the same time? He had it coming, I thought. Yes, he did. But then, nobody deserves what he got. I wasn’t sure what I felt. The deed was done though and could not be taken back.The boys in class, I thought, knew that I knew and each day that I did nothing, said nothing, they became more emboldened around me when no-one else was in the room. They joked. They laughed. They alluded. This bothered me as I felt I was conspiring with them in some way.
This is what I gleaned from their hushed conversations that were meant to include me. The rude boy and his accomplice had broken into the clam shack through the only rear window. The other boys had been inside earlier at about 10 PM. They ignited the grease vat and, over the course of an hour, brought the temperature up very high, so hot that French fries would cook in less than a minute.
At 11:45 PM, they left back through the window, one at a time-first the three climbed back through the window, then the last one slid the large steel ten-inch-high vat used for holding old, used-up grease, directly underneath the window-the grease spattering from contact with a little bit of water that had somehow gotten into the vat.
Now the plan was ready to be hatched-they just needed to wait. It wasn’t enough to plant the hot grease and scamper away from there. No, they wanted to hear the approach, to hear the two miscreants open the window, hear them brag about what they were going to do to pin the crime on them but most of all, they wanted to hear the screams of whichever miscreant entered first-the one who would get the hotfoot.
They all hoped it would be the same rude boy who incessantly threatened them, the one they hated, the one who had insulted them many times over two years, the one who often tripped them with his foot in the hallways, the one who spit on their backs as they walked past, the one who put dog excrement on their seats just before they sat down, the one who urinated all over their possessions in lockers and the one who liked to shoot spitballs through a straw at them when the teacher was writing on the board. Yes they wanted it to be him.
They now referred to this same boy while in my presence as “hot foot” and-this being the most humiliating to me as I could not defend the poor boy, or show what I knew-they referred to him as “pudding face.” Yes he would need extensive plastic surgery-not just for the foot, at least that’s what I heard. I hadn’t seen him. But I heard the story. He indeed had been the first one in. He was going to get them because he hated them for seeing his humiliation in public at the hands of the clam shack guy-that little insignificant man. So he was going to lead the charge, plant some evidence that would lead to them and then make a phone call that would tip off the police. But that changed when the rude boy dropped from the window, then slipped face-first immediately after stepping right into the large bucket of burning grease up past his ankle-the left foot I think. But maybe it was the right.
I can only imagine the infernal laughter of the four boys across the street who were hiding, waiting for the boy to get his hot foot. I could only imagine the infernal screams. And so he got it. But he got more than that. The pain must have been so excruciating that he slipped. He fell, yes, fell face-first into the vat. No, no-one deserved that. It was a sick, sick joke.
Yet I was happy that it wasn’t the other boy-the rude boy’s accomplice-who was going to do the B & E too. That would have been grossly unjust-incomprehensibly unjust-and would have upset my moral universe completely. As it is, my sense of justice was teetering on the edge of the abyss. I felt dizzy. Should I go to the police now after so many days of silence? They would ask questions-“Why the wait? How did you know? Why did you withhold information? They plotted in your presence?”
I decided I would spill my guts. Yes, tomorrow I would tell all. I had to do it and get it off my conscience. The first thing tomorrow I would go to the pay phone on the corner down below my apartment, the one near the bare streetlight.
No, maybe I should do it now in the dark, make the call, give no name, just give them the facts, disguise my voice somehow, give over the names of the four perpetrators, villains, crazy kids. After all, justice must be done.
Ten days I waited. And I could have prevented what happened. Yes, they would ask such questions and why should I expose myself? I didn’t do it. I could have stopped it, maybe. No I could not. And, if I could not, then what would be the point of admitting any involvement? No, I wasn't involved-better for everyone that way. The deed was done. It could not be undone. It would last a lifetime. Yes, I didn’t try. Of course they would hold that against me-me being a teacher and all-making it look like I was the real problem, that I alone was the guilty one-the one with the responsibility-making it look like they were just irresponsible boys-that I was the adult. They would lazer right in on me.
The boy received a hard lesson. He hadn't learned his lessons earlier. That was certain. He had many lessons that had come at him that he could have used to his benefit. But he just spurned them all-contempt, karma, nothing I could do, better this way. Sure, nobody deserved that.
But, you know, if it had to be someone-and no teacher could have prevented it-then it was just as well that it was him.
After all, he was looking for trouble.