Reeducation Cult Control

Creators of educational curriculum are crazy or they have a sense of humor. -Intellectual Shaman

The Circle of Courage was a place where students provided feedback to each other on their behavior. It was based on the reeducation principles, which sounded a lot like the curriculum a cult might use for brainwashing. Two thumbs up was a great day! And two thumbs down meant you lost your prize money.

“How did Nicholas do today?” I asked. Usually, the first vote was accurate. Everybody spun their hands and offered thumbs. It was two thumbs down. Nicholas screamed, “You bitches; I’ll kill you!” He picked up his chair and threw it through the 2-story window onto the playground. After the incident, the success of our program came into question.

We moved the group next-door and continued. “How did Jason do today?” I asked. Everybody spun their hands and offered thumbs up; that is, except for Nicholas who did thumbs down. “You get to go to the prize box,” I said. Jason was looking for his prize when Nicholas snuck up behind him and upturned the box onto the floor. The bell rang and everybody grabbed a prize and ran for the exit.

“Come back!” I shouted. But they were gone.

Usually, it’s easier to control a group than one person, but I just wasn’t having very good luck. I was teaching the 5th graders how to read and everybody was bored, including myself. It was the workbooks. The questions were about grocery stores and places you didn’t want to go. I was the authority who didn’t want to be the authority and maybe the kids knew it.

“There’s 3 of us and only 1 of him,” they said. Jamal had a mischievous grin on his face. “Let’s go play basketball!”

“You can’t!” I yelled. But maybe they heard the lack of conviction in my voice. I was reading Ayn Rand where she defined the individual. He is someone who is neither a master, nor a slave.

They got up and left.

“Miss Helfrich, the boys took off on me!”

“Why did you let them!” She screamed.

“There was nothing I could do,” I said.

“That’s not true! Now watch the class while I do the job you were supposed to!” She went downstairs and wrangled the boys like they were disobedient sheep. I taught the reading class in the interim. “Great job Gary! You have the first page done!” By giving attention to the results I wanted, everybody in the class competed to get their work finished. I just hoped they wouldn’t run out of work to do until Miss Helfrich came back.

They ran out of work and the natives became restless. “What are we going to do now?” Keith asked. I realized I needed to come up with something fast. “Pictionary!” I said. “Let’s see who can guess what I’m drawing!” I started to make a grasshopper. I got the leg done and it looked like a chainsaw.

“You’re drawing a serial killer!” Skylar yelled. Then the kids started to talk about Freddy vs. Jason and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Things were getting out of hand and Miss Helfrich walked in.

“Mr. Johnson! What are you drawing?”

I quickly completed the grasshopper so she would know I wasn’t drawing a serial killer. Then she breathed a sigh of relief and so did I.

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Halloween Hysteria

I can spot a teacher from a mile away. They usually drive Priuses or Honda Rav-4s. They’re timid outside of their classrooms, but inside, they have the power. This increases their enormous egos and stokes their relentless insecurities. It was my job to escort our students to class and wait for them to blow up.

“Jason, join the others at the table,” Miss Shimazoo said.

“I don’t want to.” He looked at me with an angry smile and ran. I got up slowly and walked to the door. I knew most of the fun for him was in the chase, so I decided not to.

“Can I talk to you Mr. Johnson?” Miss Shimazoo said.

“Sure.”

“You really need to control his behavior.”

“Kids are going to do whatever they will do,” I said.

“That’s not true!”

“I’ve got to go.” And sure enough, Jason was waiting for me at the end of the hall. He ran up the stairs and into the EBD classroom.

I was preparing to have the conversation I’d had with him 100s of times. It was almost comical.

“You brought this on yourself,” I said. And he cried. We were both players in a foolish game the government was paying for.

I got his confession and made him write an amends letter. Then we drew pictures for a while.

“Yours look so much better than mine,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Then Miss Helfrich entered. “What did you say to upset Jason?” She asked.

“Nothing.” And I told her the whole story. Then she noticed my picture of a submarine.

“You’re an artist,” she said. I smiled, but the compliment was followed with responsibility.

“You can draw our new picture schedule on the white board tomorrow.”

The next day was Halloween and I drew Hands, Eyes, Feet, and a Mouth to show how students should pay attention. Without thinking, I gave them monstrous qualities.

The hands were purple with black fingernails. The feet were lizardly and green. The eyes looked evil. And the mouth could swallow a child whole. Miss Helfrich entered the room and stared at the white board in horror. Her jaw dropped to the floor and she looked at me with malice.

“How did that come out of you?” She asked. “There is something dark within you. Do you know how many kids get sacrificed on Halloween as part of Satanic Rituals? I’ll have to contact the principal and you’ll be fired!”

Luckily, the principal was a level-headed man who liked me.

“What seems to be the problem?” He said.

“Our para is possessed!” Miss Helfrich screamed.

“Oh, I don’t know, those drawings are pretty good. Mr. Johnson, why don’t you erase them and give them human qualities.”

“Not a problem, sir!” I said. And when I erased the drawings, something odd happened to Miss Helfrich. She immediately calmed down, like her memory was wiped clean, along with the pictures.

Conversations with Nobody

Most of our anger,

disappointment,

and sadness

comes from expecting what we want

from others.

I’ve been in love before

I kissed her

And I wish I’d known the right things to say

I really cared about her

but now I don’t believe in love.

Happiness stays in our heads or it doesn’t

Not for rational reasons, but for the way things could be

Playing golf in all its glory

or feeling the piano’s emotional tones

You have to do the things that matter

without apology

and refuse to carry burdens,

bad ideas,

and baggage.

You cannot receive purity;

it comes from within.

You won’t find it in women,

expensive nights,

or doing things

the way they ought to be done.

You’ll test the limits of your sanity

and study the nuances of conversation

So much is left unsaid

and so much

will never be

spoken.

Learning the Ropes in the WWE

Getting hired is an artform and to get good at it, it helps to be a horrible employee. That wasn’t me.

The interview panel was asking me questions. “Have you ever had a problem with someone at work?” It was a trick. If I said “no,” they’d think I was lying. If I said “yes,” they’d want me to elaborate. I wasn’t going to tell them about my worst day on the job, so I pretended to think long and hard. I sat there for over 30 seconds.

“Can I come back to the question?”

“Sure… What qualifies you for this position?”

“I have a degree in psychology. If I know one thing, trauma leads to pathology.” They liked fancy words. The skinny teacher kept nodding every time I spoke. She had a grin on her face. I might’ve thought she ate children, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was so skinny, but I knew I was making a favorable impression.

“I know the answer to your first question,” I said. “Would you like me to answer it?”

“Go ahead.”

“I recycled someone’s beer and they got angry.”

“That won’t be a problem here; beer is not permitted on the premises.”

“Okay, we’ll let you know.”

I got hired the next day.

Miss Helfrich pulled me aside. “I just want to let you know; you may have to restrain some kids today. I’ll show you how it’s done. In 20 minutes, I was holding on to them while they threatened to kill me. By the time the school bell rang, I felt like I’d wrestled in the WWE.

“Mr. Johnson, you need to ride the bus today.”

“What?” I asked.

“Yes; I’ll show you how to strap in Nicholas.” She pulled out a harness that looked fitting for Hannibal Lecter.

“If he bites, we have a mask he can wear. Don’t ever let him out of the harness until his stop,” she warned.

Nicholas got onto the bus and followed his routine while I talked to the bus driver. “Back in the 1800s, I’d be nobody,” he said. “No, you wouldn’t; you’d be the stagecoach driver.” That cheered him up a bit.

“You know, I have this girlfriend,” I said.

“Yeah?”

Do you know a good place where I can take her?

“Yeah, there’s a great Vietnamese spot on 4th.” He deviated from his route so he could show me the restaurant. Then he got lost. Nicholas started complaining and he weaseled out of his restraints.

“I’m going to kill you, you bitch!” He screamed. Nicholas had a pencil in his right hand and he tried to stab me with it. I leapt out of the way, while the bus driver tackled him. We got him into his restraints and found the bus stop before anybody got too worried.

“Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea,” the bus driver said.

“Well… I have a story to tell my date, anyway.” I replied.

Cafeteria Philosophy

A school runs like a clock. And the people there become predictable, like hour hands, minute hands, and second hands, counting down for retirement. Teachers follow routines and anyone who breaks them is deviant. Most who can’t stand the grind will not allow themselves to be ground, but some need to break the grinder. It may come from sublimated rebellion or the teacher who said, “When you finish a Master’s Degree, you can come back here and tell me how to teach!”

My first day of work started with breakfast. The kids lined up and I walked them to the cafeteria. Jason tried to break for it.

“Watch him Mr. Johnson!” Miss Helfrich yelled. I grabbed him.

“We’ll have to document that restraint!” She watched her students to make sure they were doing everything right. Then she started watching me.

I was watching the janitor. He had slick silver hair and a grey beard. He didn’t look defeated. He didn’t look tired. There was something about him.

“Mr. Johnson, pay attention! Nicholas just spilled his Captain Crunch. Get a towel, will you?!”

I got a towel and cleaned up the spill. Then the janitor noticed me.

“Why are you spending time here?”

“Why do anything?” I asked.

“Ahhh, a philosopher. Now I understand.”

“Kids have what adults lost.”

“What’s that?”

“Spontaneity. I’m trying to get it back.”

“You won’t find it here.”

“Precisely; I need fuel to take me where I need to go; desperation equals escape velocity.”

“You don’t need this job.”

“Mr. Johnson, stop talking. It’s time to line up!” Miss Helfrich yelled.

“I’ll talk to you later,” I said.

I went to the staff meeting in the library and the principal introduced us.

“Welcome Mr. Johnson; he has just finished his undergraduate degree in psychology!” I stood up.

“And welcome our custodians; they have been getting our building ready for this school year.” I looked at the head custodian. He took the credit and sat down. I thought about positions, power, and importance. The silver-haired janitor stood in the background. What happens when a philosopher decides to lead? Convention ends. In that moment, I knew my calling.

The Reason for Work

I watched my dad during his last week of work. He was coming apart at the seams. He talked about the importance of his job. “A man needs someone to submit to. That’s why you need a boss.”

“Why?” I asked.

“If a guy doesn’t submit, he’ll become unruly.”

I started working in education and I couldn’t believe the ridiculous things I was asked to do.

“Mr. Johnson, get under the bathroom door and pull that kid out of there!” Miss Helfrich said.

“I don’t want to get on the bathroom floor!”

“Then I’ll do it myself!” She shouted. She slid under the door face-first and terrified Dondre. There was pee all over the floor and it soaked into her shirt.

Upstairs, Nicholas pulled out some scissors and tried to stab me, while Miss Helfrich restrained him. Mr. Oliver was called in. He was our behavior expert, but for some reason, he spent most of his time with me. By the end of the day, I felt like I had an emotional disability.

“Competence can be taught,” Mr. Oliver said. He tried to help our 5th grader with his algebra.

“That’s not right,” I said.

“Oh, I was just showing him that it’s okay to get the wrong answer,” Mr. Oliver replied.

I was in disbelief.

“Mr. Johnson, can I speak to you outside?

“Yes, of course.”

“We must advocate for these kids,” Mr. Oliver said. “That means we present a unified front.”

“But you need to teach them correctly,” I said.

“Are we going to have a problem with you?” Mr. Oliver asked.

“No.”

The next day, Mr. Oliver met me in the cafeteria. “I got spammed by one of your emails and my computer crashed. Your email is ironman@msn.com, right?”

“Yes, but I haven’t used that account in years.”

He didn’t believe me.

Relationships and the Flood

I was 16 and trying to figure out what to do with my life. I got hired at the golf course a few months back and now it was the off season. I wasn’t working much and the job was slow. So, I cleaned out the gutters and the drains and waited for the dirtiest golf carts to come back. The course changes in the winter. There’s a constant drizzle. And players use gas heaters to keep warm. These types work blue collar jobs and have a spot on the men’s club. You might find them on community bowling leagues. They go unnoticed in society and the city depends on them when the power fails or the sewage lines back up. The greens freeze over and the winds brings down tree limbs, and they’re in denial that the course in unplayable. Their ponchos and pant legs get drenched. Their balls plug in the mud. It’s 33 degrees and nostalgia keeps them going. I tried to stay inside. Hypothermia was real. And I talked to the janitors to pass the time.

“You know, we just hired a man from Mississippi. He has a pony tail and he’s a misogynist.”

“A what?” I asked.

“He hates women. You should hear some of the things he says.”

“Like what does he say?” I asked.

Bonita gave me a disapproving smile. She was in her late 40s with bags under her eyes and dyed black hair. She wore low-cut tops and jeans that exposed her beer belly. I was just a curious kid without much knowledge of relationships.

“He thinks men are better than women,” Bonita said. He has an ego.”

“Ummm.”

“Find a nice girl Andy and treat her right.”

“I’m workin on it,” I said.

I left her to clean a golf cart caked in mud and reeking of BO. There were unused golf tees in there, bubble gum wrappers, chewing tobacco, and beer cans stuffed in the cubby holes.

Meanwhile…

The river was rising near my neighborhood and people were sandbagging. The next-door-neighbor was worried because water kept squirting out of her lawn. Her house was built on a concrete foundation that was shifting towards the river. Soon, parts of the neighborhood were evacuated. The flood was moving so fast that it piled up in the center. It was brown with white caps. Uprooted trees charged downstream like battering rams. I was excited by disaster and I didn’t think about the consequences of losing my home.

Back at the golf course…

Diehard players were dispersing. I think it was the ice storm. And I overheard the head pro talking.

“The course sits on an old river bed. When the flood shifts just this much, we could be underwater.”

The next day, it happened. A current plowed through the forest and washed across fairways 4, 5, and 7. It was 4 feet deep in some places and the boss had us out there in an aluminum boat with an outboard motor collecting flagsticks and anything else we could. It was dangerous, but I loved it.

I was in the boat with Greg and Dave. “This beats being at home any day,” Greg said.

“Same here; my wife is on my case,” Dave complained. “She just wants to smoke and drink and she doesn’t watch the boys. They’re in middle school now and they’ll have a girl pregnant before they get to the 9th grade. I’m still trying to teach ’em different, but they’re like me when I was their age. I thought with my little head and married the wrong woman. Keep that in mind, Andy. Your little head will get you into trouble.”

“Thanks Dave,” I said sarcastically.

Greg corrected me. “No really, you have to be careful out there. Women are not to be trusted. You’re free now, but just wait. In 5 years, you could be married.”

“Really guys… women can’t be that bad.”

They raised their eyebrows and looked at each other. “He’ll find out.”

We collected the pins, some tee markers, and trash cans. And I thought about what Greg and Dave told me. I just wanted to do something I loved and leave the rest of the world behind. Maybe there were a lot more lessons to learn. So, I decided to keep my mouth shut and my ears open and be ever mindful of my little head.

Chapter 4 Digging up 200 Ghosts

September was a scorcher. Heat records were broken. And for some reason, I felt like the sun was trying to stop me from digging. I shoveled out the dirt and plopped it into a pile until the fall wind blew it into the air, a rotating cyclone that entered the bay and drown in the water. I watched the glassy ocean and the leaves carried out to sea, and stared at the island where the vanishing lights appeared and disappeared. 8 more hours of this and I’d sleep for a day. I was thinking of the things I would buy and wondering what kind of treasure I’d find. I hit solid wood for the twentieth time and smashed the lock with my ax. Out came a body with its sword stretched towards me, screaming a bloodcurdling cry. I leapt aside and the sun did the rest. Its body floated away to a place never seen by the living. Dealing with the undead was becoming routine.

“Maybe we should call you a necromancer,” Gordon said.

“Hey, I thought you were afraid of ghosts.”

“It’s not so bad, since I’ve been watching you. Can I give you a hand” You’ll still keep all the money.”

“Swell,” I said.

We were digging graves under the shade of enormous Elms and when we cracked open the box, and heard the screams, the sun did not intervene. I pulled out my sword just in time and the undead leapt upon me. It had twice the strength of a normal man and sunk its sword an inch from my head. Gordon pulled off his glasses and reflected the light at the bearded apparition until a hole burned squarely through its head, curling in flame, like a cigarette butt burning. When it vanished, I looked at its leather tunic and gasped. “A map, or half a map. I think this is what we’ve been looking for.”

“You mean, what I’ve been looking for,” the superintendent said.

The Way Back to Life

The lives people live or don’t live up until their death baffles me. I don’t know their inner worlds, but their actions betray their emptiness. -Intellectual Shaman

The Senior Center is where old folks go when they don’t have anything better to do. There’s a chess game there that never ends. A checkmate is a rematch and a rematch is a checkmate. And one man becomes too feeble to continue and another takes his place. I’ve been watching this game for days. The old men huddle around and give each other advice.

“No… you shouldn’t have moved there. You see, he’s going to take you with his queen.”

They tried the same thing with me and I told them, “Well, he sure is now! What is this, a community game? Shut the hell up!” Apparently, I violated unspoken rules and nobody wants to play with me anymore. Hell, I’m only 68. I got married, had kids, and they’re doin what they’re supposed to be doin; living their lives. This place is worse than death. If these men worked the 9 to 5 to get here, it’s been a slow suicide.

There must be a way out. There must be a way back to life. I strolled into the rec room and looked at the scattered books on the shelves. They were untouched; probably because eyesight fails when you get older and so does the will to life.

RV Living caught my eye. It was a manual for freedom. I read it, like I was reading the bible; like my salvation depended on the maps that could take me where time didn’t matter. “I’ll start out towards the Grand Canyon and make my way down to Texas. I’ll need a copilot, someone dumb enough who has adventure in their blood and a will stronger than iron. I looked at the feeble men hunched over their game. My answer was a resounding “No.” I didn’t even need to ask.

Like all “Great” things in life, they must be done alone. I sat there reading the RV manual when a pretty young thing walked in.

“Aren’t yah going to join your friends outside?”

I looked into her green eyes. “Thanks, but no thanks,” I said.

“It’s good for you to spend time with others; you’ll live longer.”

“Those men are already dead. I’m driving to Texas; do you want to come?”

“You’re so funny Henry. Really?!”

“Really.”

“My grandmother needs lookin after; otherwise I’d go.

“Well… bring her along.”

“You are too much!” She laughed. It was her way of saying “No.”

I had 3,883 dollars in the bank and a Honda I used to get around with. I sold my commuter car and bought a Winnebago. Leaving the Senior Center, I gunned the engine towards the setting sun. Chasing eternity is worth it. You’ll never catch it, but if you keep going, it’ll smile on you like a sunrise that never sets.

The Stories in Our Heads

The Stories in Our Heads

tell us to smile

or they whisper sadness

into our souls

They take away pain

And all those things

real or imagined

Why do they keep playing

like a wounded song

or a melancholy melody

We can’t turn them off

So, we listen…

over and over

again

And our dreams get mixed with nightmares

There is no heaven

There is no heaven.