MY NAME IS JEFF

CHAPTER 5

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16th

11:10 AM

   There was alot of nervousness in Sociology, the day that the pro and con assignments were to be presented. The topics ranged from the internal combustion engine to lawnblowers. Cindy and Rhonda's debate about home video went over particularly well. The final two entries of the day would be Stacy and Dana's, followed by Carl and Jeff's.
   Stacy gathered her papers, and took her place on the podium behind the lecturn that was set up at the front of the class.
   "As Mrs. Pickering previously stated, prior to the 1950s, when it came to entertainment, the choices for most Americans were extremely limited, and sometimes, nonexistent. There were radio networks that featured music, comedy and drama, but even they had their limitations. If one lived in an extemely rural area, there was often poor reception or no reception at all. Although we take them for granted nowadays, especially in a county as populous this, the multiplex is actually a relatively recent invention. They only started popping up in the late 70s. Prior to that, all theatres were singular large auditoriums, and in most small towns across the country there was usually only one of them, if that. The people in towns without movie theatres had to rely on books for their entertainment, assuming there was a local library.
   Under these circumstances, it is easy to see why there was virtually no such thing as niche marketing during this period. Certainly not among the major studios. Nobody thought in terms of making a film that would only appeal to children, or adults, or teens, or women, or Methodists or Canadians etcetera etcetera. By necessity, movies had to be made with the hope that people of every conceiveable age, ethnicity, nationality and social status would want to plunk down their fifty cents to view them. It was in this atmosphere that the Hays code was amended in 1934, and rigidly enforced for the next quarter of a century.
   For those of you unfamiliar with it, I should explain that the code basically insured that there was no swearing, no nudity, and no depictions of any two people sleeping in the same bed, even if they were married. It also meant no bloodshed. In gangster pictures, whenever some guy got shot, he would usually just throw his hand over his chest and fall over. After all, that sort of thing might cause some young children to have nightmares. Anyone exhibiting any aberrant behaviour had to receive his or her comeupance in the end, and the good guy not only always got the girl, but had to marry her as well.
   Admittedly, this robbed almost all dramatic features from this period of anything even remotely resembling real life as anybody knew it then, or knows it now. However, there was an upside to all of this. And that is the fact that while most of the dramas from this period might seem a bit amateurish, it really was a golden age for comedies and musicals. For the most part, Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby and The Three Stooges are as watchable today as they were back then...as are Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire...at least when they're dancing. Also, to this day, the cartoon shorts from this period continue to be a staple of Saturday morning television entertainment.
   In conclusion, the Hays code would make absolutely no sense whatsoever in this day and age, where there is the internet, DVD rentals and hundreds of cable channels to choose from. However during the 30 year period in which it was enforced, it was a necessary evil."
   The class just sat there as if they were expecting her to say more.
   Not quite sure of how to quell the akwardness of the moment, Stacy just said, "Um...The end." She sat back down to the sound of polite applause.
   Mrs. Pickering was pleased, but with a few reservations. "Miss Kessler, while I appreciate your articulate delivery, I can't quite give you an "A," because you were supposed to be the pro, and there was alot more con in your argument." She turned to Dana. "I can't wait to hear your counterpunch, Miss Lefkowitz."
   Dana stood up, faced the room, and her body language immediately signaled to everyone that her delivery was going to be alot more angry and aggressive than her partner's. "Stacy's father has a gigantic collection of movies on DVD and VHS that all date from the period in question. I've spent the last few days wading through tons of this fodder, and have reached some disturbing conclusions. The hypocricy, not to mention the blatant racism of both Joseph Breen and the Catholic Legion of Decency was staggering. While they were chopping out all of this sex and violence from movies, what they did actually allow to appear in them would be considered hate propaganda by today's standards.
   There were no black proffesionals portrayed on film in those days. They were all maids, butlers, chauffeurs, elevator operators and shoeshine boys. The next time some moralist approaches you and starts lamenting the passing of the 'good old days' of clean family entertainment, I have a suggestion. Tell him to go out and rent the 1941 Humphrey Bogart picture High Sierra. This feature is considered to be a 'classic' by most film historians, and typical of the period. The supporting cast features an Afro-American that makes an appearance about a quarter of the way into the movie." Dana shook her head in disgust. "I could try to describe the nature of this character, but it simply would do no justice whatsoever to the visual. Needless to say, other ethnicities didn't fair all that much better.
   When viewing this stuff in bulk, something equally disturbing gradually starts to sink in. And that's the fact that people like us..." Dana extended her arms to indicate that she was talking about everyone in the room, "...did not exist at all. The Our Gang shorts featured elementary school children ages five through ten. Micky and Judy were both high school students. Kids like us, who are in middle school were completely invisible. If you were to randomly pick two thousand movies made prior to the 1950s, the chances are overwhelming that you will not find a single 13 year old in any of them. I've got to say, that Disney knew exactly what he was doing when he created those mouseketeers. He saw a market that had gone completely untapped for nearly half a century and seized the opportunity.
   But I digress. The fact is, no matter what your great grandparents might have told you about the 'golden age of cinema,' the truth is, the vast majority of it is completely unwatchable. The dialogue is unrealistic, the recitation of it stilted, and overall, none of these so-called legends of the silver screen could act. This was largely due to the fact that the Hays code wouldn't allow them to act. Somebody might say something bad to someone else in a believeable manner, and scare somebody in the audience. Nuanced behaviour simply wasn't allowed. One either wore a white hat or a black hat. I swear, if you rent a bunch of John Wayne movies, and watch them one after another, by the third film, the guy starts to look like a man in a John Wayne costume. This is also true of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Clark Gable. If any of these people had ever been called upon to play somebody other than themselves, they would've been at a complete loss.
   Thankfully, by the mid 60s, this madness had finally ended along with restrooms and drinking fountains with Cs and Ws painted on them. In short, the 'good old days' sucked royally, and the Hays code was a major part of their suckiness." Dana paused, and then in a sarcastic tone, uttered, "The End."
   As she took her seat to the sound of uproarious applause, Mrs. Pickering spoke. "For the most part that was very good Miss Lefkowitz, however you failed to address the fundamental question that your partner raised."
   "Which Is?"
   "What would people in small towns with only one theatre have done for entertainment, if the entire family couldn't all go out and watch the same movie."
   Dana thought about it for a moment. "As Stacy pointed out, the comedies, musicals and cartoons of the time were all o.k, and they still would've been o.k. without the code. It was only the serious pictures that stunk to high hell. What I am basically saying, is that the Hays code prevented the making of realistic dramas, without improving the quality of any other genres. Therefore, it had several cons and no pros...in my opinion."
   "I'll accept that." Mrs. Pickering seemed satisfied. She now looked at Carl and Jeff. "Alright, I guess that leaves you two as the final entertainment of the day."
   Carl stood up, placed his papers on the lectern, adjusted his glasses, and proceeded to read in his usual studious manner. "I will now, to the best of my ability, make a case for the necessity of organized religion."
   Stacy muttered sarcastically under her breath, "Good luck."
   "Quiet Miss Kessler," the teacher reprimanded. "Go on, Carl."
   He continued, "The principal characteristic that separates humans from other species is a sense of self awareness. The exact date that we evolved into the upright bipedal beings that we are, from the tree-swinging simians we once were remains unknown, but one thing is for certain. Some people genetically developed a sense of empathy regarding their fellow humans early on, while others, to this day, have yet to grow a conscience. It is for these people, that a belief in an invisible superior being is essential. Both for their own psychological well being, as well as the safety of others.
   There was once a time when you could inform a person without a conscience that crime doesn't pay, and that justice will eventually prevail within that person's lifetime. And there was a good chance that the person would take that declaration at face value." Carl paused for dramatic effect. "Not anymore. We are now living in an age of mass dispensation of information at lightening speed. It is no longer possible to shield anybody from the unfortunate fact that crime is not only frequently gotten away with, but also quite lucrative. For every C.E.O. of a major corporation that is caught with his hand in the till, there are at least a hundred others that go undetected and unprosecuted. Assault, rape and murder often also go unpunished. The cold case files in most police departments across the country were piled to the ceiling prior to the invention of the microchip. Hundreds, or maybe even thousands of Nazi war criminals went on to lead long luxuriant lives in the pleasant balmy climates of South America. Needless to say, all this would lead anyone with half a brain to conclude that any correlation between an individual's behaviour and that same individual's reward and/or punishment for said behaviour, is purely coincidental...at least on this plane of existence.
   Which brings me to the crux of this argument. The one source of inevitible reward or punishment that can neither be proved or disproved is that which may or may not occur in the afterlife. Let's say that there's a hardened criminal pointing a gun in your face. You could suggest to him that the police will eventually catch up to him for his evil deed. But if he has gotten away with armed robbery numerous times in the past, chances are, it'll have no effect. However, if you can somehow convince him that because of his actions, he is going to receive some sort of devine retribution upon his inevitible demise, you might catch his attention.
   It is for this reason that I believe that organized religion is a necessary evil in this day and age, or in fact, any day and age. As long as there are semi-humans who still haven't quite fully evolved from animal-like beings with predatory instincts, there is only one thing that might...and I emphasize the word, might, keep them from acting upon those instincts. And that is the thought that they might spend eternity shoveling coal in the bowels of hades. If they do not have a rational fear of the law, there is still at least a slight...and I emphasize the word, slight, chance that they do have an irrational fear of Satan. Thank you and good afternoon." Carl picked up his papers and walked back to his seat to the sound of loud applause, including the teacher's.
   "You know," observed Mrs. Pickering, "that is the second pro argument in a row that utilized the phrase 'necessary evil.' Lot's of back-handed compliments going on here. Alright Mr. Feingold," Her voice now turned a bit condescending as it usually did whenever she spoke to Jeff. "The class awaits with bated breath to hear your well thought out rebuttal."
   Jeff calmly stood up and walked to the front of the classroom. He had a mischevious smirk on his face, and the fact that he wasn't carrying any written notes was not lost on the teacher. Instead of standing on the podium behind the lecturn like everyone else had done, he instead just turned around and addressed the class.
   "Who in here believes in God? Let's see a show of hands."
   Mrs. Pickering was not amused. "Mr. Feingold, do you have any kind of a prepared presentation?"
   "I most certainly do," Jeff's voice now took on an air of brazen hubris. "And I've memorized all of it. When you handed out these assignments, you didn't specify that they had to be delivered while standing at that podium. All you said was that they had to be between two and eight minutes long." He pointed at the clock on the wall. "I believe I still have seven minutes and twenty seconds left."
   Mrs. Pickering rolled her eyes and sighed. "Proceed."
   Jeff turned back to the class and repeated, "C'mon, let's see a show of hands. Who in here believes in God?"
   There was a smattering of hands that went up in the air. Jeff picked up a chalk eraser from the blackboard. He then walked up to one girl who had raised her hand, who he didn't really know, and proceeded to improvise. "So you believe that there is a great and powerful invisible entity who is all knowing and watching over us at this very moment?"
   Not sure whether to take Jeff seriously or not, the girl just nodded her head and said, "yes I do" in a plaintative voice.
   "Alright, who do you think is more powerful, God or me?"
   Mrs. Pickering began to interrupt, "Mr. Feingold..."
   Jeff quickly spun around and cut her off "I believe I still have six and a half minutes to make my case! For all I care you can give me a big fat 'F' for this assignment, but I demand the right to finish it!"
   Mrs. Pickering just shook her head in exasperation. At this point, she was pretty sure that she, in fact, was going to give him a 'big fat F,' but begrudgingly decided to let him go down in flames, if that was his wish. "Alright, go on."
   He resumed his rant. "Who is more powerful, God or me?"
   "God" said the chagrinned girl, with folded arms.
   "Oh yeah?" Jeff placed the chalk eraser on the corner of her desk. "Let's see this all knowing, all powerful God of yours move this eraser from this end of the desk to that end of the desk."
   "Feingold, you are such a bozo..."
   "I still don't see that eraser moving."
   "Why would God want to move that eraser?"
   "To give an upstanding Christian like yourself the opportunity to make an Atheistic heathen like me look foolish."
   She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "If ever there were a task that did not require any divine intervention..."
   Of course, this caused a bit of laughter to errupt throughout the classroom.
   "Look," Jeff picked up the eraser, and moved it across the desk himself. "The fact remains, that your God couldn't even perform this simple task, and I just did. Just one of many things we all can do that this imaginary God can't."
   Jeff now turned his attention to the rest of the class. "My friend Carl over there just put forth the proposition that the belief in a higher being can make a lowlife behave himself. And I say that solid proof that that isn't true is sitting right in that chair over there."
   He pointed directly at Clifford, who immediately responded menacingly. "Feingold, If you know what's good for you, you will not drag me into your lame-ass attempt at performance art."
   "Cliff, you may not realize it, but you just proved my point by threatening me like that." Jeff addressed the class again. "Everybody check out the size of the crucifix hangin' around this guy's neck. You know he's gotta be Catholic. Protestants usually only wear dainty little earring sized crosses, but that sucker looks almost as big as the one they hung Jesus on. And do you think that's going to stop him from slamming my head into a locker later on....like he's done just about every day for the last month?" Jeff's voice was now starting to get angry. "Of course not. As a matter of fact, that's what Catholicism has always been all about. Having the luxury of being able to commit any kind of mayhem that suits one's fancy, as long as one goes to mass the following Sunday to ask for forgiveness. I'll bet that's what Clifford over here is thinking to himself at this very moment." Jeff now tried a spontaneous impersonation of Clifford, "'I'm gonna beat the crap out of Feingold this afternoon...but I'll still avoid going to hell as long as I recite a few Hail Marys after doin' it'."
   Much to his surprise, this actually got a smattering of chuckles from the class. Whether or not they were laughing with him or at him didn't matter. He no longer cared about what anyone thought of him. This was now more of a quixotic odyssey than a homework assignment. He now went for a full-fledged assault on Clifford's dignity.
   "I know for a fact, that up until the 7th grade, Cliff over here didn't go to a public school. He went to St. Mark's, where I'm sure he got the crap beaten out of him by some self-hating lesbian named Sister Mary Yardstick...So now he's taking it out on me." This got a few more titters from his classmates. "You know, it's no coincidence that he's wearing a not-so-miniature replica of a device that was once used to torture a man. The crucifix has always been the universal symbol of violence and hatred. Something like 85% of all drive-by murders in barrios across the nation are committed by guys with one of those things dangling from their rear view mirrors. More often than not, you'll find the Virgin of Guadalupe tattooed all over their backs as well."
   Jeff suddenly noticed a bit of a change of ambiance throughout the classroom. Could it possibly be that some of the kids were actually finding him entertaining? With less than a couple of minutes to go, he decided it was time to zero in on the target that would serve as the climax to his stand-up routine. He moved in front of Dana's desk, leaned over, and looked her directly in the eye.
   "Miss Lefkowitz, I noticed that when I asked everybody whether or not they believed in God, you were one of the few people who in fact, did not raise your hand."
   She glared back at him like a junkyard pitbull.
   "Dana, may I be so bold as to inquire what the hell you were doing in a synagogue last night?"
   Because Jeff was leaning right in front of her, she was now mostly hidden from Mrs. Pickering. This enabled her to once again flip him the bird out of the teacher's eyesight, but well within just about eveyone else's.
   Jeff pointed to her raised finger and continued, "I mean besides that." This caused a few scattered giggles throughout the class. He was now starting to actually believe that he just might be able to win this audience over completely if he kept up the momentum. "Well since you've decided to clam up, I guess I'll just have to tell everyone why you were there. It was basically the same reason that I was there and she was there," Jeff nodded towards Stacy, who was sitting next to Dana. "Because Sol is the rabbi's son and our parents all told us that it 'wouldn't look good' if we didn't show up." Jeff looked up at the class. "And that, my friends, is Judaism in a nutshell. Making appearances at appropriate occasions to show off what nice clothes you have. It's not all that much different from a celebrity red carpet photo-op. Unlike Christians, Jews don't discreetly pass around a collection plate. They actually charge for tickets to get into their stinkin' high holy day services. And the prices rival that of rock concerts. This is why bar mitzvahs are so popular. It's the one occasion in which, if you are invited, you can show up in temple for the price of a birthday gift." Ironically, Jeff now found himself hollering like a Baptist preacher. "At any given religious service, nobody is actually paying any attention to what the rabbi is saying. Hell, at least 90% of the congregation can't even speak a word of hebrew. They're just there to check out who's looking good, who's getting old, who's getting fat, who's children are dressed better or worse than their own's....In short, it's one big pissing contest!"
   The classroom was now laughing out loud. Rhonda couldn't help but notice that Stacy had her head burried in her arms which were folded on her desk. Her she was laughing so hard, her shoulders were shaking, but still desperately trying to hide that fact from Dana.
   "Watch your language Mr. Feingold," interrupted Mrs. Pickering. "You've got less than a minute to wrap this up."
   Jeff decided to end in a broad flourish. "To sum it all up, Judaism isn't about doing what you personally think is ethically correct, it's all about impressing other Jews. It doesn't matter whether or not you're really a good person. The object is to make everybody think you're a good person." Jeff stared hard at Dana for one last time. "And believe me, if the rumors I've been hearing over the years about your mama have any weight to 'em...for her that is gonna be one herculean undertaking."
   As Jeff turned to walk back to his seat, all hell broke loose. Dana picked the textbook off of her desk and reached back to throw it at him, but Stacy managed to grab it from her. She then lunged at Jeff, but Cindy and Rhonda both managed to tackle her. Several chairs and desks were knocked over, when the lunch bell suddenly rang.
   "Everybody freeze where you are right now!!" Mrs. Pickering was furious. She turned to the four girls. "I want you to pick up those chairs and desks right now."    Stacy, Cindy and Rhonda acquiesced, while Dana just stood up and brushed herself off. She was still scowling at Jeff, who hadn't quite made it back to his seat.
   "Alright, everyone listen carefully. I want everybody except for Mr. Feingold and Mr. Kingsbury to stand up and file out of here in a slow and orderly fashion."
   As the class followed orders, Jeff piped up.
   "Mrs. Pickering, Carl is completely innocent," Jeff shouted defiantly, his face growing red. "We worked on this project independantly of one another. He had no idea that I was gonna do what I just did. If you're going to punish someone, you punish me, not him!"
   Although she was taken aback by the boy's disrespectful attitude, she still maintained enough composure to realize that what he was saying did make sense. She looked over at Carl, who was now literally trembling, and nodded towards the door.
   "You're free to go, Mr. Kingsbury."
   "Thank you." Carl didn't hesitate, he slipped out just as the last student exited. Mrs. Pickering slammed the door behind him.

11:30 AM

   Out in the hallway, the conversation was predictable.
   "Feingold is dead meat," Clifford was resolute. "I'm gonna kill him."
   "Not if I can do it first," countered Dana.
   Rhonda's take on the situation was a little more jovial. "Well one thing's for certain. If either of you are going to kill him, it isn't going to happen between three and five o'clock any time soon. I think the guy's looking at detention for the rest of this year and next year."

   "Mr. Feingold, have a seat."
   Jeff sat down at a desk in front of the room, and folded his arms over his chest. At this point, he was certain that he was either going to be either expelled by the teacher, beaten up by the students, or perhaps even both, before the day was over, and he was at peace with both of those scenarios. The teachers hated him, the students hated him, and even his family seemed to have pretty much given up on him. Now he was seriously contemplating which would be the best way to kill himself, before anyone else had the chance to. Perhaps he could somehow climb on top of the roof of the school and jump head first into the lunch area, while everyone was eating. That would certainly make a statement, not to mention ruin everyone's apetite for days.
   "Jeff, were you planning on eating in the cafeteria today, or did you bring a lunch?"
   He was somewhat confused by her calm demeanor. This was the first time he could ever recall her addressing him by his first name. "Uh, I brought a lunch."
   "I assume it's in your locker?"
   "Yes ma'am."
   "Here," She handed him a piece of paper and pencil. "Write down your locker number and combination. I'm going to go get it for you. After that stunt you just pulled, I am seriously concerned about your physical safety. For the time being, I don't want you leaving this room, or even opening that door. Understood?"
   "Yes," was his simple response, as he handed her back the paper.
   She disappeared out the door. Jeff had no idea what to expect when she returned. This was the first time that she, or anyone else for that matter, had ever given any indication that they gave a rat's ass about him. He just sat there and stared at the desk for a couple of minutes. Finally Mrs. Pickering re-entered with his lunchbag, and placed it on the desk where he was sitting. He wasn't particularly hungry.
   "First of all," she began, "There's something really important I have to ask you, and I expect an honest answer."
   Jeff shrugged his shoulders, "Why would I lie about anything at this point?"
   She sat down on top of her desk. "I need to know if what you said about Clifford is true."
   "What did I say about him?"
   "I'm referring to the part about him banging your head into lockers. Principal Lazarus has been going nuts trying to figure out what is causing all these dents in the lockers, and none of the kids whose lockers are dented seem to know anything either."
   Jeff thought carefully about his response. "Oh, it's true alright, but to be fair, Cliff certainly isn't the only one whose been shoving me into lockers over the last year."
   "Who else?" Mrs. Pickering's eyebrows were now furrowed.
   He paused before answering once again. "I think you should know that it would take considerably less time for me to compile a list of people who haven't shoved me into a locker at some point or another."
   She now got off the desk, pulled up a chair and sat down at his level. "Why haven't you ever told any of the staff about this?"
   "What good would that do? They all hate me as much as the students. Even you seem to be more concerned about the condition of the lockers than me. If I turned into a snitch, everybody would hate me even more...If that's possible."
   Mrs. Pickering now leaned forward. "Listen Jeff. We don't hate you. It's just that we're not sure what to do with you. Virtually every teacher who has you in their class tells the same story. You're always sitting in the back, either sleeping, daydreaming, or staring at girls. Don't you have any desire to better yourself?"
   "That's a bit like asking someone in a wheelchair if they have any desire to ice skate." Jeff sighed. "There's really only one good thing I can say about myself. And that's that I'm honest. If I wan't honest, I'd be sitting here making up excuses. The fact is, I have no excuses. I sit in the back of the class and daydream alot, because I'm a moron with no attention span. The only reason I've never been held back a grade is because the thought of having to deal with me for more than two years in a row is more than most teachers can bear..."
   "You know something," Mrs. Pickering interrupted. "Up until today, that pretty much would've been my assessment of you as well. However, after watching your little performance piece, I'm now going to have to revise that opinion."    "So now you think I'm dangerous too?"
   This brought a smile to the teacher's face. This was the first time he had ever seen her smile. "Jeffrey Feingold, I can think of many adjectives that may apply to you, but dangerous is definitely not one of them. Listen, I don't want to give you the impression that I approve of what you did in class today, but it did show a side of you that I've never seen before. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen any side of you before, other than the lazy slacker."
   "Perhaps I should come into class and rant and rave like a lunatic every day."
   "No, you're missing the point. You may not have done what I assigned you to do, but you did do something. And I might add, with an awful lot of passion. Considering the lackadaisical manner in which you usually go about doing homework, you definitely caught my attention." She paused for a moment. "Jeff I don't know if you noticed or not, but when Carl stood at that podium, he pretty much expressed the same negative opinion of organized religion that you did. The difference was that he didn't have any anger in his voice. He only spoke of a supreme being in a very general sense. He didn't specifically insult Protestants, Catholics, and Jews the way that you did."
   "That's probably because his parents don't aspire to be religious."
   "I've met your father on several occasions, and he seems like a nice enough person to me. I don't recall your sister ever complaining about him..."
   This instantly infuriated Jeff. His voice now went up several decibles. "Look, if it makes you happy, I've got another sister who's just like the first one. She'll be coming along in a couple of years." Jeff grabbed his lunch, stood up, and started to make his way towards the door. "I think I'll go let Clifford beat me into a coma. Then you won't have to deal with the Feingold's idiot dunce middle child any more!"
   "Jeff, sit down!" she grabbed his arm, and pointed towards the seat. "Please."
   He reluctantly complied.
   Realizing she had just hit a huge sore spot with him, she tried to speak as calmly as possible. "Jeff, I think it would be best if, instead of going to your next two classes, you went to see the school's guidance counsellor. For the last couple of days, you haven't been going to your last three periods anyhow."
   "So you know about that?" He was a bit surprised that this fact didn't seem to have any legal consequences. "So why didn't you call the cops."
   "Because we didn't have to. The principal at the Scarborough school informed principal Lazarus about some kid named 'Jeff' who was joining their kids every day during their fifth period recess."
   "How did he find out about me?"
   "Obviously one of your little biker friends must have informed him."
   "How come he didn't come outside and toss me out on my ass?"
   "My guess is that the kid who informed him must have also put in a good word for you."
   Jeff thought about this for a moment. "Well, I did offer to buy them all a pizza if they let me stay."
   Mrs. Pickering shook her head and sighed. "Jeff, you have no idea how unique this situation is. Usually, when a kid is truant, it's because he's either using drugs, spraying graffiti all over something, or commiting armed robbery. This business of sneaking off of a school campus for the sole purpose of sneaking on to a different school campus is absolutely unheard of...And it's a reflection of our failure as much as it is yours."
   "Well, what do I have to do to bring extreme sports to Faircrest?"
   "Jeff, that's not going to happen any time soon, however beginning next week, we are going to try and put an end to this business of you, or anyone else getting beaten up in the halls. Meanwhile, You're going to see a guidance counsellor."
   "Let's get real," Jeff was chagrinned. "Guidance counsellor is a thinly veiled euphemism for a shrink."
   "Either way, it gets you out of your next two classes without having to ditch school. Which I'm sure you'll appreciate."
   Jeff couldn't help but agree with that. "So what's he going to tell me that I don't already know?"
   "If I knew that, there would be no need to send you to him." There was a long akward pause. "Jeff, there's something that's been weighing heavily on me, and I feel I owe you a big apology."
   He looked up at her quizzically. What could she possibly have to be sorry about?
   "I've been fully aware of the way Dana Lefkowitz frequently...gestures at you in class. It doesn't surprise me in the least that she actually would do that at a religious service as well. I've been letting it slide because I feel sorry for her."
   "Why would you feel sorry for her?"
   "Because she comes from a broken home, and I don't think she's a very happy person. However, that doesn't give her the right to go out of her way to make you as miserable as she is. From this day on, she is not getting away with that any longer." Mrs. Pickering moved closer to him and started to speak very softly, almost whispering. "Jeff can I trust you to keep a secret?"
   Jeff was intrigued. "I guess so."
   "If it ever got out that I said this to you, I would probably be in big trouble, so I need you to swear to me that you'll never tell anyone that this conversation took place."
   A hint of a smile now appeared on his face. He was flattered that the teacher had enough faith in his character to trust him with extremely confidential information. "You have my word."
   She looked to the left, then to the right to make sure there was no one there, and then whispered in Jeff's ear. "I've met Dana's mother. Those rumors you've been hearing about her are all true, and then some. The woman's the biggest skank-ho on the planet."

1:30 PM

   Jeff was led into an room that was adjacent to the principal's office, and had to wait an hour and a half before the guidace counsellor actually showed up. Luckily, he had brought a couple of good books with him. The man finally walked into the room and introduced himself.
   "I'm Mr. Gunston."
   "I'm Jeff Feingold."
   The two exchanged handshakes.
   "So," The guidance counsellor began. "Let's get down to it. Your Sociology teacher tells me that you're basically a good kid with a sharp sense of humor, and virtually no attention span. Would you consider that to be an accurate asessment?"
   Jeff slumped further down into his seat. "I'm not so sure about the 'good kid' part." Jeff also wasn't quite sure of exactly what to make of this guy.
   "Well, let's see, do you smoke?"
   Jeff sheepishly shook his head no.
   "Ever drink? Drugs? Ever been in trouble with the law?"
   Jeff kept shaking his head, while staring back at the guidance counsellor like he was more lost than the people he was supposed to be 'guiding.' Who the hell was this old geezer, and what was his point?
   "I've also heard that you hardly have any friends. Why do you suppose that is?"
   Jeff squinted his eyes and answered him in a droll manner. "Gee, I don't know. Perhaps it's because I don't smoke, drink, or use drugs."
   This brought a smile to Mr. Gunston's face. "Your teacher warned me of your caustic wit."
   Jeff rolled his eyes and looked off in another direction. He had no idea what this guy wanted from him.
   "Jeff," the man continued. "I want you to know that I only work here on Fridays. I'm at a different school every day of the week. Two of those schools are in the inner city. There, I usually have to deal with kids who often don't even know who one or both of their parents are. Alot of them have father's who are in prison, and mothers who are selling crack..."
   "Look," Jeff cut him off abruptly. "Would you please spare me your imminent sermon about how 'fortunate' I am to come from a 'middle class nuclear family'? The simple fact is, I don't have any friends and I'm not good at schoolwork because I'm a genetically inferior speciman. My sisters got all the looks and the brains. I'm not gonna sit here and yak about how I'm 'really smart, but misunderstood'. I may be a dimwitted oaf, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
   Mr. Gunston begged to differ. "Jeff, I'm not buying any of that. I've only known you a few minutes, and I can already tell your an intelligent and articulate young man. There's just some sort of mental block that's keeping you from being able to pay attention in class."
   Jeff now had an idea. He wondered how one of the arguments he's had with his father would play out with this guy. "You know something? I know exactly what's keeping me from paying attention in class. May I ask you three questions, Sir?"
   "Of course, Jeff."
   "On Christmas Eve, in the year 69 A.D., Rome's emperor Vitellius was assasinated. Do you know the name of the emperor that succeeded him?"
   "I must confess, I do not."
   "Have you ever been curious to know the name of the emperor that succeeded him?"
   "Once again, I must confess that I haven't."
   "Then why the hell do you think that I would be!?..Or should be!?"
   Mr. Gunston didn't let Jeff's sudden outburst phase him. "Alright, so I guess European history isn't your favorite subject. Or mine, for that matter. May I ask if there is anything you're interested in?"
   "Yeah, I'd be interested to know what it's like to not live in fear of getting the shit beaten out of me every day."
   "Yes, Mrs. Pickering told me about that," The man leaned back in his chair. "And I've got an idea that I hope you'll be open to."
   "What's that?" Jeff was skeptical.
   "I could recommend to the principal that you try home schooling for a week."
   "In other words, I'm being expelled. Not that I have any objection to that."
   "No, if you were being expelled, you would have no say in the matter. I'm recommending some home tutoring on a trial basis, because I believe that you would prefer that as well."
   "And may I ask who I am going to be 'home tutored' by? My Dad works, and we're currently not on speaking terms anyway. My Mom probably knows less about the Roman empire than I do."
   "I'm going to recommend a professional private teacher..."
   "Oh great," Jeff cut him off. "Yet another expense that my folks are going to yell at me about."
   "It won't cost that much. It'll only be for three hours a day, and it's deductable."
   "Why only three hours?..Not that I'm complaining."
   "Because that's all that's required by the state when you're getting a one on one education. They've somehow figured out that a half-hour's worth of individual attention on a subject is approximately equivalent to an hour's worth with a class of twenty. My guess is that there's going to be a certain amount of homework required that'll take up some of the missing three hours."
   Jeff was actually quite pleased with this new arrangement. "So shall I go home now?"
   "No, I believe you're legally obligated to stay until three o'clock today." Mr. Gunston looked at his watch. "It's a quarter to two right now, so I suggest you show up at your final class, whatever that is."
   "It's phys-ed," frowned Jeff.
   The counsellor could tell that this wasn't one of his favorite classes. "Well, look at the bright side. I managed to get you out of two classes today." He winked at Jeff. "You can at least thank me for that."
   "I do appreciate it, but probably not nearly as much as my math teacher does."
   Jeff decided to arrive at his 6th period p.e. class fifteen minutes early. This would enable him to change into his gym clothes without having to deal with the likes of Gavin and Gordy in the locker room. He finished dressing, just as the previous class was entering the locker room. Coach Randall was certainly surprised to see him sitting out on the field earlier than everyone else. Especially because he hadn't seen him at all for the previous two days.
   "Feingold, were you dismissed early from your previous class or something?"
   "Yes sir."
   "Where have you been the last couple of days?"
   "Playing hooky sir." Jeff had no reason to lie about it.
   The coach scratched his chin. "You know what, I want you to take a jog around the school right now."
   "So I'm going to have to do that twice?"
   "No. I've just decided that for your safety, you should be running separately from the rest of the class. I've been overhearing some of the locker room gossip during the last two periods." The coach leaned over and got in Jeff's face. "I don't know what it is you did earlier today, but it's obvious that it wouldn't be a good idea to let you and the rest of this class out of my eyesight simultaneously. Get moving."
   Jeff quickly stood up and started jogging the usual route. He had barely gotten fifteen feet when he heard the coach holler from behind him.
   "And no stopping to look at the girls in the gymnasium!"

2:00 PM

   As Jeff rounded the final corner, he saw the rest of the class seated in rows. They all started booing the moment they saw him approaching.
   "Alright, now it's your turn," the coach barked at the students. "All of you, get running."
   As they did, Jeff sat himself down in their place.
   "O.K, Feingold. You know the routine by this time." As Jeff started going through the usual regiment of calisthenics, the coach started speaking to him. "I'm glad you got here early today. You'll be doing everything about ten minutes ahead of the rest of the other kids, which means I can dismiss you early. The last place you need to be today is in the showers with Clifford."
   "I thoroughly agree with that. Thank you sir." Jeff huffed while doing sit-ups.
   There were alot of angry looks as the other kids approached. Jeff went out of his way to not make eye contact with any of them, and the rest of the period was reasonably uneventful, though a little more tense than usual. When the coach dismissed him at ten minutes to three, everybody applauded his departure.
   Jeff changed into his regular clothes as quickly as possible, and carried his gym clothes with him, along with his books, knowing that he would not be returning to the place for at least a week. He threw everything into his backpack, and made a beeline towards his bike. As he was unlocking it, the irritating whine of an ambulance siren kept getting louder and louder, until the vehicle passed right by him, and on to the school grounds. He briefly had to cover his ears, it was so loud. He took notice of the fact that it was heading straight towards the gym. Ordinarily, he would've been curious enough to follow along to see who had gotten hurt, and if it was serious. Today however, his own safety took precedence. He was anxious to get as far away from the place as possible, lest anybody start following him.

6:00 PM

   The discussion around the dinner table in the Feingold house was more subdued than usual that evening. Jeff and his father were now barely acknowledging each other's existence. His mother and sisters were pattering away about some dress they saw in a department store window. When everyone had finished, his mom asked him to help her dry the dishes, while everyone else went about their business.
   "So you're going to be here at home for the next week or so."
   "I take it you heard from the school."
   "We got a call from your sociology teacher. She said you put on quite a performance in class today."
   "I did the assignment the best way I knew how." Jeff wasn't sure whether or not his mother was angry. She maintained a poker face as she spoke.
   "She said that you definitely have a future of some sort in the field of public oration. Either as a very debonaire shakespearian tragedian, or a really cheesy motivational speaker. Or maybe both."
   "Alright, so I'm not exactly ivy league material. What else isn't new?"
   "Jeff, I really hope this week works out well for you. Your father and I have been talking, and we were seriously considering taking you out of public school, and putting you into a private school for kids with 'special needs'. Home tutoring is certainly a less embarassing alternative for all concerned."
   Jeff was numb. "Look, if it's any consolation, at least two out of your three offspring came out o.k. Now there's something you can brag about to your friends the next time my name pops into the conversation." He threw the dish towel down on the sink. "If you need me, I'll be in my room."
   Jeff flipped on the small portable television that was in his room. He fell back on his bed, and just lied there prone, staring at the ceiling. The t.v. had been arbitrarily tuned to an educational channel. There was a nature documentary on. The narrator was pontificating about the necessity of weaker animals dying early, so that the stronger may thrive. The tears fell from Jeff's eyes like rain.

4:30 PM, Hospital Emergency Room

   "You're a very lucky girl." The doctor finished wraping the plaster cast on to Stacy's shoulders and arms, while her mother stood watching. "You're only going to have to wear this for a week or so."
   "A week!?" Stacy was mortified. The thought of her arms being outstretched like a crucified man for an hour was terrifying enough, but a whole week?
   Stacy's mother had a much more realistic view of the situation. "Stacy, do you realize how common it is for girls who fall off of balance beams to be permanently disabled?"
   "Or killed," added the doctor.
   Mrs. Kessler continued. "I was once thirteen, and believe me, I can imagine what must be going through your head right now. That there couldn't possibly be anything more humiliating than having to have your mother feed, bathe and clothe you."
   Stacy looked down and said nothing. There was no need to, as she was saying it for her.
   "Well look," she continued. "I'm going to tell you something that you already know, but it bears repeating. Imagine what it must be like to be a quadraplegic. To not have the use of your arms or your legs for your entire life. And yet, there are tens of thousands of them living very full, productive, enjoyable lives. They are great authors, teachers and scientists. Compare that to your situation. You can walk, and move your fingers. More importantly, in around a week, your going to be out of this cast and your arms will be fully functional once again."
   "If the x-rays indicate that it's o.k. to remove it by that time," Interjected the doctor. "I'm optimistic about it."
   Her mother continued. "Now you can either choose to spend the next week whining and complaining, which won't do you any good, or you can turn this lemon into a big vat of lemonade. I know you're the sort of person who likes to help people. This week it's your turn to accept the help of others. Luckily, you're extremely popular, and you've got alot of friends who love you very much. For the last hour and a half, I've had to put both of our cellphones on hold, and the calls have been piling up. The last call I took was from a girl named Cindy. She is literally in a state of hysteria. I take it she's a particularly close friend of yours?"
   "She's also in the school's gymnastics program," Stacy replied. "She actually saw me fall off the beam. For all she knows, I might be in a coma right now."
   "In that case, your first order of business is to let this poor girl know otherwise." Mrs. Kessler pulled out her cellphone. "I'm now hitting the return command on her phone number. When she hears your voice, she's going to be slightly relieved, but you're still going to have to calm her down a little. Let her know you're o.k., and also tell her to tell everyone else that you're o.k."
   Her mother held the phone up to Stacy's face. It took less than half a ring for Cindy to pick it up, and she still sounded frantic.
   "Cindy, it's me...yes, I'm going to be alright...Yeah, I love you too. Listen, I'm going to be out of school and in a cast for about a week, and I hope you and the girls are going to come visit me....No, not tonight. I've got to get adjusted to this thing. I'm not going to be able to move my arms for a week....Yeah, it sucks, but when you think about how things might have turned out, I'm hardly in a position to complain....Cindy, I need you to help me spread the word that I'm going to be alright. I don't want anybody worrying about me. Call Rhonda and Dana first...Yeah, I've also got alot of calls to make this evening...Hey listen, you be careful on that gym aparatus. The last thing we need is both of us in a cast....Bye girl."
   Stacy already was starting to feel a little better psychologically. Yes, she was going to be both incredibly uncomfortable, and virtually helpless for a week, but nontheless, her blessings outnumbered her inconveniences a thousand fold.
   "Well, it looks like you're going to have to ride in the back seat, observed her mother. In the exact center of it, to be precise. I wouldn't want people to think I'm perpetually about to make a right or a left turn." It was obvious where Stacy inherited her sardonic wit from. "I'm going to wait until we get home before I give your father a call."
   They both thanked the doctor and the emergency room staff, and they were off.

   As was to be expected, Stacy had alot of trouble getting a full night's sleep. The simple act of rolling over in bed now required her to stand up first. She also slept without any pajama bottoms, so she wouldn't have to wake her mother to help her go to the bathroom. Little did she know, that this would turn out to be the beginning of an odyssey that would change her life in ways that stretched way beyond mere physical challenges.

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