” . . . immoral sex practices,” I finished for him. “Just you and me, okay? First one to jack off wins the Putnam Good Fellowship Award. Fill yore hand, pardner. Get Mr. Grace in here, that’s even better.
We’ll have a circle jerk.”
“Don’t you get the message? You have to pull it out sometime, right? You owe it to yourself, right?
Everybody has to get it on, everybody has to have someone to jack off on. You’ve already set yourself up as Judge of What’s Right for Me. Devils. Demon possession. Why did I hit dat l’il girl wit dat ball bat, Lawd, Lawd? De debbil made me do it, and I’m so saw-ry. Why don’t you admit it? You get a kick out of peddling my flesh. I’m the best thing that’s happened to you since 1959. ”
He was gawping at me openly. I had him by the short hair, knew it, was sav-agely proud of it. On the one hand, he wanted to humor me, go along with me, because after all, isn’t that what you do with disturbed people? On the other hand, he was in the kid business, just like he told me, and Rule One in the kid business is: Don’t Let ‘Em Give You No Lip-be fast with the command and the snappy comeback.
“Don’t bother. I’m trying to tell you I’m tired of being masturbated on. Be a man, for God’s sake, Mr.
Denver. And if you can’t be a man, at least pull up your pants and be a principal. ”
“Shut up,” he grunted. His face had gone bright red. “You’re just pretty damn lucky you live in a
progressive state and go to a progressive school, young man. You know where you’d be otherwise?
Peddling your papers in a reformatory somewhere, serving a term for criminal assault. I’m not sure you don’t belong there anyway. You-‘
“Thank you,” I said.
He stared at me, his angry blue eyes fixed on mine.
“For treating me like a human being even if I had to piss you off to do it. That’s real progress. ” I crossed my legs, being nonchalant. “Want to talk about the panty raids you made the scene at while you were at Big U learning the kid business?”
“Your mouth is filthy,” he said deliberately. “And so is your mind.”
“Fuck you,” I said, and laughed at him.
He went an even deeper shade of scarlet and stood up. He reached slowly over the desk, slowly, slowly, as if he needed oiling, and bunched the shoulder of my shirt in his hand. “You show some respect,” he said. He had really blown his cool and was not even bothering to use that really first-class grunt. “You rotten little punk, you show me some respect. ”
“I could show you my ass and you’d kiss it,” I said. “Go on and tell me about the panty raids. You’ll feel better. Throw us your panties! Throw us your pant-ies! ”
He let go of me, holding his hand away from his body as if a rabid dog had just pooped on it. “Get out,”
he said hoarsely. “Get your books, turn them in here, and then get out. Your expulsion and transfer to Greenmantle Academy is effective as of Monday. I’ll talk to your parents on the telephone. Now get out.
I don’t want to have to look at you.”
I got up, unbuttoned the two bottom buttons on my shirt, pulled the tail out on one side, and unzipped my fly. Before he could move, I tore open the door and staggered into the outer office. Miss Marble and Al Lathrop were conferring at her desk, and they both looked up and winced when they saw me. They had obviously both been playing the great American parlor game of We Don’t Really Hear Them, Do We?
“You better get to him,” I panted. “We were sitting there talking about panty raids and he just jumped over his desk and tried to rape me. ”
I’d pushed him over the edge, no mean feat, considering he’d been in the kid business for twenty-nine years and was probably only ten away from getting his gold key to the downstairs crapper. He lunged at me through the door; I danced away from him and he stood there looking furious, silly, and guilty all at once.
“Get somebody to take care of him,” I said. “He’ll be sweeter after he gets it out of his system. ” I looked at Mr. Denver, winked, and whispered, “Throw us your panties, right?”
Then I pushed out through the slatted rail and walked slowly out the office door, buttoning my shirt and tucking it in, zipping my fly. There was plenty of time for him to say something, but he didn’t say a word.
That’s when it really got rolling, because all at once I knew he couldn’t say a word. He was great at announcing the day’s hot lunch over the intercom, but this was a different thing joyously different. I had
confronted him with exactly what he said was wrong with me, and he hadn’t been able to cope with that.
Maybe he expected us to smile and shake hands and conclude my seven-and-one-half-se-mester stay at Placerville High with a literary critique of The Bugle. But in spite of everything, Mr. Carlson and all the rest, he hadn’t really expected any irrational act. Those things were all meant for the closet, rolled up beside those nasty mag-azines you never show your wife. He was standing back there, vocal cords frozen, not a word left in his mind to say. None of his instructors in Dealing with the Dis-turbed Child, EdB-211, had ever told him he might someday have to deal with a student who would attack him on a personal level.
And pretty quick he was going to be mad. That made him dangerous. Who knew better than me? I was going to have to protect myself. I was ready, and had been ever since I decided that people might-just might, mind you-be following me around and checking up.
I gave him every chance.
I waited for him to charge out and grab me, all the way to the staircase. I didn’t want salvation. I was either past that point or never reached it. All I wanted was recognition . . . or maybe for someone to draw a yellow plague circle around my feet.
He didn’t come out.
And when he didn’t, I went ahead and got it on.
I went down the staircase whistling; I felt wonderful. Things happen that way sometimes. When everything is at its worst, your mind just throws it all into the wastebasket and goes to Florida for a little while. There is a sudden electric what–the-hell glow as you stand there looking back over your shoulder at the bridge you just burned down.
A girl I didn’t know passed me on the second-floor landing, a pimply, ugly girl wearing big horn-rimmed glasses and carrying a clutch of secretarial-type books. On impulse I turned around and looked after her.
Yes; yes. From the back she might have been Miss America. It was wonderful.
The first-floor hall was deserted. Not a soul coming or going. The only sound was the hive drone, the sound that makes all the schoolhouses the same, modern and glass-walled or ancient and stinking of floor varnish. Lockers stood in silent sen-tinel rows, with a break here and there to make room for a drinking
fountain or a classroom door.
Algebra II was in Room 16, but my locker was at the other end of the hall. I walked down to it and regarded it.
My locker. It said so: CHARLES DECKER printed neatly in my hand on a strip of school Con-Tact paper. Each September, during the first home-room period, came the handing out of the blank Con-Tact strips. We lettered carefully, and during the two-minute break between home room and the first class of the new year, we pasted them on. The ritual was as old and as holy as First Communion. On the first day of my sophomore year, Joe McKennedy walked up to me through the crowded hall with his Con-Tact strip pasted on his forehead and a big shit-eating grin pasted on his mouth. Hundreds of horrified freshmen, each with a little yellow name tag pinned on his or her shirt or blouse, turned to look at this sacrilege. I almost broke my balls laughing. Of course he got a detention for it, but it made my day. When I think back on it, I guess it made my year.
And there I was, right between ROSANNE DEBBINS and CARLA DENCH, who doused herself in rosewater every morning, which had been no great help in keep-ing my breakfast where it belonged during the last semester.
Ah, but all that was behind me now.