So Long, Chokeman
LEARNING GOAL: Jack Slater will employ persuasion techniques to maintain his status as Bracken Middle School’s most beloved teacher.
You’re probably wondering what a handsome young stud like me is doing hanging out at a bar with a bunch of middle school teachers on a Friday night. I know, I know. I should be picking up babes at a rave or banging my head at a local rock concert, eating ecstasy like Tic Tacs. Have no fear. That kind of fun comes later.
For now, all you need to know is I’m also a teacher, and tonight is our final “staff development” before my coworkers and I have to straighten up, start acting like adults, and go back to work on Monday. My farewell to summer begins when this party ends, and it’ll continue until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night. That’s when I turn into a pumpkin and revert to intellectual Mr. Slater, eighth-grade gifted language arts teacher extraordinaire, soon to be Teacher of the Year.
Yeah, it’s a lofty goal. So what? I’ve been sitting on the winner’s circle sidelines for ages, chomping at the bit for my chance to seize the title. This year, I’m gonna knock Darcy Kuntz out of the running and prove I’m not just a pretty face. I’m a legit contender for Teacher of the Year. It will happen.
Sitting in our usual big corner booth at Oscar’s Bar & Grill in the suburbs of Atlanta, I raise my margarita glass and salute my buddies from eighth-grade hall at Bracken Middle School.
“Friends may come, and friends may go,” I say, “and friends may peter out, you know. But we’ll be friends through thick and thin. Peter out, or peter in.”
“Hear, hear! But for the record, I prefer it peter in,” Alex Savage says, then under his breath to me, “like all the beach bunnies we hooked up with this summer, right, buddy?”
I lift a brow at the memory. He slams his margarita with me and we crash our empty glasses on the nacho-blobbed table to peals of laughter and appreciative tequila grunts.
Meet Savage. He’s my best friend, my roommate, and my wingman. With his shaggy, blond-streaked brown locks and blue eyes, the lucky devil is almost as handsome as me. He and I become sharks when we smell babes in the water. Efficient, ruthless, and completely unremorseful.
Exhibit A: On our annual surfing trip to California, we made a bet to see who could score the most women in the month we were there. I won with a modest sixteen, beating Savage by one. I snatched up his leftovers on her way out of his bedroom the night before we left. Now he’s in charge of cleaning the toilet in our duplex for a year.
#ThanksSlaterSlut <–By “slut” I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the lovely lady who topped off my summer vacation with a boning to remember. “Slater Slut” simply has a nice ring to it. I’m an English teacher. I dig alliteration.
“Do you think the new principal is gonna separate us?” Stephen Straight asks, wiggling his shoulders and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Straight is about as straight as the Blue Dragon River in Portugal. In case you don’t have a map handy, it looks like this:
“If they move me to another team, I will die,” Dutchie Green moans. She’s as skinny as a telephone pole and almost as tall, with mousy brown hair. Smart brain, if a little flighty. A nervous foot-tapper. Green is starting her second year of teaching. I don’t know her very well, but she seems a little … intense. #DramaQueen
“I’ve seen it all, honey.” Ann Papadopoulos drags a finger through the top of her drink, swirling the contents. She flaps her fake lashes up at me. At fifty-something, she’s been teaching social studies and getting busy with students’ dads for longer than I’ve been at Bracken. #DadFucker
Exhibit B: Savage and I also have bets on how long it’ll take for Papadopoulos to bag her first dad this school year. At stake is right of first refusal on the next hot piece of ass to show up in the bar at the hotel down the street. That’s where we pick up a lot of our women because they: (a) tend to be professionals who practice safe sex; (b) are often looking for a quickie with no strings attached; and/or (c) don’t live in town, so there’s little chance of ever seeing them again.
“We should be fine,” Papadopoulos continues. “Whoever this Dr. Dragov is, she’s probably gonna shake things up a little her first year just to prove she’s not a pushover, but it’ll only be a few moves here and there. Solid teams won’t get busted up. Parents would raise too much hell.”
“Not all parents,” Savage mumbles. After a moment’s thought, he turns to me. “Remember Chet’s dad?”
“God, what a little shit. ‘Mr. Worthy, your son has been acting out in class, and oh, by the way, walking around with mirrors on his shoes to look up girls’ skirts is considered sexual harassment,’” I say in my authoritative teacher voice.
“That’s my boy,” Savage and I chime together, mimicking Chet’s dad’s drawl. We laugh.
“At least Chet was the youngest in that family.” Savage munches a chip, dribbling salsa from his mouth. “No more Worthys, thank you, Jesus. I think the Pain-in-the-Reardons have another kid, though. Incoming sixth grader. There may even be another one after him.”
“Ugh,” Papadopoulos groans. “I swear, I’ve taught every single one of those kids. Ivan wasn’t the only one who was terrible. I also had the displeasure of educating Genghis, Nero, and Vlad. All of them lived up to their names. First and last.”
“Didn’t you date their dad?” Green asks.
Savage and I duck our heads to cover our smiles and avoid whatever incoming fire Papadopoulos is about to launch.
Burn! I mouth at him.
He looks like he’s squeezing his legs together under the table to keep from pissing himself.
Papadopoulos narrows her eyes at the young idiot Padawan. “So what if I did?” she grits out.
Straight arches a brow and opens his mouth like he’s about to say something. I give him a subtle headshake. Do not walk into that snake den. You’ll come out leaking venom from thirty-one places and missing your head. He returns to his drink and keeps quiet.
Green titters nervously and loudly slurps the dregs of her ’rita through her straw. “As long as you’re okay with it. I think it’s great that older women can still find love.”
Savage and I exchange stunned glances. I’m 98 percent sure actual steam is about to start hissing from Papadopoulos’s ears. Holy shit, Green is digging herself a shallow grave over there.
The waiter arrives with a fresh pitcher. Papadopoulos snatches it and pours herself a tall one, seething at Green the entire time. Then she passes the pitcher to me. I refill Savage’s and my glasses.
“Who was the girl who rigged the air horn under your desk chair during statewide testing?” Straight snaps his fingers at me. “The one they caught blowing a boy in the stairwell at the public library? Rylie? Rachel?”
“Roxie-with-an-ie Rambling,” Papadopoulos, Savage, and I say with nasally voices all at once. That’s how the kid always introduced herself. People often misspelled her name, and she wasn’t the type to be puttin’ up with that shit, so she made it real clear up front.
Ugh. Just the mention of Roxie Rambling makes my balls deflate, shrivel up, and retreat into the darkest corners of my entrails. Not only did she pull countless practical jokes on me and the other teachers during my first year, but she’s also the reason I’m not happily married with five kids now. Roxie Rambling ruined the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ll never forget—or forgive—that kid.
Savage nudges me with a sympathetic shoulder.
“Little bitch,” I mumble and open my gullet wide for several gulps of cool, refreshing liquor to help me numb the sudden flare-up of pain.
Glug, glug, glug.
Papadopoulos slaps the table, her beady peepers popping from the center of a web of fine wrinkles. “God, that kid was like something out of a low-budget horror movie.”
Straight bats his eyes a couple times and folds his hands, making a little platform to rest his chin on. “I can tolerate a lot, but that girl … Ooh, Lord. Her own grandmother couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her sometimes. Somebody needed to spank that little bottom, if you ask me.” He makes a booty-smack motion with his hand.
I choke on my margarita. Under the table, Savage steps on my foot. His face is red with exertion from trying to hold back a guffaw.
“What did she do that was so bad?” Green asks, tapping her fingers on the wood. “I mean, aside from the blowie-in-the-stairwell thing.”
“What didn’t she do?” I laugh bitterly as I assemble a mental list, leaving out the most important part of Roxie’s and my backstory. Savage is the only one who knows the depth of that humiliation, and I’d rather keep up the appearance of badass bachelor for the rest of the team.
I tick off points on my fingers. “Scream-singing DMX songs in class. Dancing on the tables in the cafeteria. Making fart noises in the back of the room and loudly calling other students out for it. Her behavior disorders had fucking behavior disorders. In my eight years on the job, Roxie Rambling was literally the worst kid I ever taught. The only one I’ve ever come close to actually punching in the face.”
And she would’ve deserved it too. I can’t say that about any of my other students, even the really bad ones. Roxie had a way of getting under my skin like no other, and that was before she ruined my life.
I can feel my blood pressure spiking. I slurp more liquor to slow the pounding behind my eardrums.
Savage lifts his hands to testify. “Preach, brother. Preach. Thank Christ she didn’t have any siblings. I’d have retired early and gone to work in retail hell. No lie.”
Shiver. I still have nightmares about Roxie from time to time, usually after my mom calls to nag me with tales of woe about whether she’ll live to meet her grandchildren. Roxie was a walking example of why so many teachers quit before their five-year employment anniversaries. Thanks to her, I’m allergic to relationships and never knock the same pair of boots twice. Though I’ve grown accustomed to the freedom of having sex with whoever I want, whenever I want, I often wonder how my life might’ve turned out if I’d never had the displeasure of teaching that little demon from the ninth plane of hell.
“Anyone met the new principal yet?” I ask, eager for a change of topic, lest I lose my buzz and fall into a funk.
“Kuntz and Kuntz have.” Papadopoulos pronounces their name like “cunts.” Because that’s how we all pronounce it when they’re not around. It’s fitting.
Darcy, a.k.a. Kuntz the Greater, has always been insanely jealous of our team, probably because the kids love us and can’t stand her. We have a great rapport with our mostly gifted students, and every year, ours is the most requested team in the school. Darcy is so strict and by-the-book, she doesn’t relate to the kids like we do. She acts like she has something to prove to some invisible education deity who’s keeping a close eye on her. It’s no wonder the students don’t connect with her. She’s like a freakin’ robot.
Keith, a.k.a. Kuntz the Lesser, is so far up Darcy’s ass, he might as well be wearing her skin as a suit. He does whatever she tells him to, and if that means yipping like a Chihuahua at everyone when things don’t go her way, Keith will adjust the tightness of his collar and do Her Royal Kuntzness’s bidding before she has a chance to say, “Sic ’em.”
Papadopoulos pours Green another drink. “Darcy and Keith were part of the interview team that brought Dragov on as principal. Apparently, they know her from their time in Massachusetts and just raved about her.” She makes a blow-job motion with her hand to her mouth, poking her tongue against the inside of her cheek.
“I wonder what demands they’ll make,” I say, not worried for myself, but for my friends. The kids, parents, and teachers at Bracken love me. My job security is tight. “At the end of last year, I overheard Darcy say Keith was miserable in sixth grade and wanted to move up to eighth with her.”
“No room at the inn,” Papadopoulos says, cutting the air with her hand.
“Screw those Kuntzes, man,” I agree.
Savage lifts his chin at me. “Here’s to sticking together.” He clacks his glass to mine.
“Fuck, yeah,” I say. “They won’t break up Team 8B.”
“The school would fall apart.” Straight nods.
And the new teachers’ fantasies of having a three-way with Savage and me would be shattered—which, by the way, I do not endorse. I never sleep with coworkers. Ever. It’s a recipe for destruction. Three-ways with nonteachers are fine, however.
Murmurs of agreement rumble around the table.
Slurp. Slam. Swallow.
Savage and I have been teammates in eighth grade since we graduated from college and landed these jobs, but we’ve been friends since before high school. He teaches social studies, and I teach language arts. Most of our kids are in the gifted and talented program, and we always have a blast with them.
“Everyone wants to be on our team because we’re the best teachers in the school regardless of what that stupid-ass Teacher of the Year plaque with ‘Darcy Kuntz’ hanging in the front office says,” Green interjects.
Excellent point. And while we’re on the subject … I’m convinced Darcy rigged the voting last year, but I don’t have hard evidence to back up my claim. Very few teachers in the school like her, and teachers are the only ones who vote for TOTY. Since about a quarter of them forget to vote or don’t care enough to, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to reproduce ballots and throw the numbers. All it takes is slapping the right font in a Word doc filled with the staff members’ names and printing on whatever color of paper the “official” ballots are. Doctor up a bunch of those fake bitches with a check mark next to “Darcy Kuntz,” slip them in the voting box before or after school when no one’s around to witness it, and voila. Instant win.
Whatever. When I win Teacher of the Year, it’ll be because I earned it.
Keith and Darcy Kuntz are part of the reason our previous principal got canned. Well, them and the fact that the guy was accused of choking a kid in the hallway for misbehaving. I didn’t see the (alleged) incident myself, but plenty of the student’s friends came forward as witnesses. The rumor that the principal boinked one of the sixth-grade teachers on his desk during her planning period every day didn’t help matters. The kids at school called him Chokeman, but I’ve never been sure if that moniker referred to what he did to the kid or the teacher. Maybe it was both.
Needless to say, Chokeman might still be principal if those meddling Kuntzes hadn’t trash-talked him behind his back to the superintendent. Ah, well. Chokeman probably did deserve to be sacked. I just hate that it was because of their sneaky backstabbing.
“To Chokeman,” I say, raising my glass again. “May you find happiness wherever your path leads, most likely to prison—or worse, an elementary school classroom.”
“You were a psycho horndog, but we’ll miss you,” Savage adds solemnly.
“To Chokeman,” everyone agrees. Tinkles of glasses clanging fill the air, and we all drink.
“You guys are so cute,” Papadopoulos drawls to Savage and me.
Officially drunk as hell, I drape an arm around Savage’s shoulder, and he cuddles up to me playfully. “Aren’t we just?”
I flick a quick look at Straight to see if he noticed. Nope. He’s busy folding his napkin into an origami bird, as oblivious to joke-homosexuality as his own latent variety. That poor guy really needs to divorce his bitchy wife, boot up his roller skates (he figure-skates for fun on the weekends), and roll right out of her life into the sunset with a hot dude on his arm who’ll treat him like a king. Everyone in the entire world knows he’s gay except him.
“Yes, you are.” Papadopoulos wriggles her arms around Savage’s waist. She lowers her voice so only he and I can hear her murmur, “The things I could teach you two.”
Savage’s brow arches and his lips flatten. With Mama P, you can never tell if she’s being a sweet mommy cougar to the younger teachers she protects like her own children or a horny cougar to the younger guys she wants to slay in bed. Since she’s half in the bag on the weekend before the first day of preplanning, I’m certain it’s the latter.
I let go of Savage as he awkwardly extricates himself from her grip on his other side.
“I guess we’ll know Monday whether they’ll let us stay together,” I say, eager to avoid the teaching moment Papadopoulos’s glazed, heavily lidded eyes are promising.
I’m confident that if anyone’s getting shoved up another team’s ass, it’s Green. She’s the weak link in eighth grade. Newbies always get shuffled around their first couple of years. They’re usually too timid to protest until they earn tenure. Easy pickings for the new administration.
“Principal Dragov won’t dare break us up,” Papadopoulos says. “We’re the motherfucking dream team.”
“Hell, yeah,” Green says.
“More drinks to honor team 8B’s badassness,” Savage says, passing the drained pitcher to the waiter who arrives to check on us.
Savage leans over to me and drops his voice, “I got a good feeling about this year.”
Coming off the summer we had, surfing and bagging babes at the beach for most of August, I have to agree. “Me too.”’
ASSESSMENT: Jack Slater is the social bomb. EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS.