Mr. Skloot’s Fifth Period
It was him, the small boy in the last seat of the row closest to the door, with the eye-ball sized glasses that framed eyes rolled so high they showed no color but the veiny red that rose to fill the void left by the raised pupils, and the coiffure carefully mussed to project indifference with just the faintest glint of mousse — or was it sweat sparkling just there by the dandruff-speckled scalp? — under the red wilting strand of hair which was unfurling into something like a drape for his right ear, who had said it. He had said the thing. And this had led the boy seated directly in front of him, a bigger boy, a popular boy with a silver bolt forging the barrier between his nostrils, to drag his eyes from the plump bottom of the girl seated diagonally in front of him in the middle of the second row, a bottom not sufficiently covered by her halter top and denim leggings, not sufficiently covered at all. This boy, a football player, his shirt asking why they bothered waking him up for this shit, dragged his eyes away from the peach fuzz clinging to this girl’s back and the bobbing strap of her yellow panties that sometimes rose just enough to give him tantalizing glimpses of the converging, triangular nylon material which led pointedly to an area where he hoped the snarky comment he’d tweeted at her just minutes ago might take him before long.
It was something like ripping off a weeks old bandage, when he took his eyes off the girl’s panties and craned his neck back to reassess the little ginger boy who had said the statement, but when he swung forward again he made eye contact with the vixen with the explicit lingerie who had turned around with her phone in hand just then to see who had dared say such a malicious thing about Skloot. Their eyes met and he slanted his eyebrows suggestively and winked and she ran her tongue over her upper lip, and this moment confirmed the popular boy’s instinct that the lust was mutual, and gave him the gusto needed to not only return quickly to his phone and comment on another of her Facebook pics, but to also send a direct message to her inbox in which he attempted to parlay this moment into another, outside of class, at the Coney, maybe, after school that day? And when he looked up again she was already scanning and thumbing, and over her shoulder he caught a frightening glimpse of the ugly girl in the front of the class — whose name for the life of him he couldn’t think of — gritting her teeth together like she was going through some kind of grating internal torture that she didn’t quite know how to articulate.
Meanwhile, the teacher, Mr. Skloot, appeared to have a spider crawling just inside his face. His cheeks and forehead jumping and contorting, the bridge of his nose collapsing onto itself, the classroom ruthlessly lit like a hospital and causing him to blink one lid at a time, rapid fire, left, right, left, right, trying to avoid a dryness in his sockets that was inevitable, the sky outside offering no refuge with its sunless elephant coloring, his pink button down shirt sticking to the sweatiest pockets on his torso, his mouth framed as if he were trying to say something but no words coming out, Skloot struggled to countenance what was happening. He was wondering just what in the hell he was doing there with his life standing in front of them, scratching the itch just below his right buttocks which had gnawed at him since just after the bell had rung thirty minutes ago and which he had conscientiously refused to tend to until now. Now that the kid had said such a repulsive thing about him and his mother, Skloot had finally released all inhibitions and was scratching with desperation, scratching as if at the final square on a winning lotto ticket and searching his students for some confirmation of his current existence, for some empathetic smile or diligent scribe, for some sign of connection, but finding none — finding instead only thirteen students present out of a roster of forty-four, at least eight of them violating one of the rules posted on the pink, laminated poster hung above his door (among them the snide boy with the nose ring seated just in front of the red-head, who now had his phone out, and who — a couple of weeks ago, on the forms handed out on the first day of class — had written down not his home phone number but rather the number of a homosexual service of ill repute, so that after he called in order to introduce himself to the boy’s parents, Skloot reached a man named Javier, who, no matter how many times he had since tried to explain the mistake, would not stop calling him back and leaving salacious voicemails, prompting the teacher to finally go ahead and spend his one day of the week devoid of school or meetings or other bureaucratic bullshit in the mall standing in line at the Verizon store where it cost him six hours and $86.74 to change his phone number).
And where the hell was that consultant? The guy had taken a bathroom break thirty minutes ago for crying out loud, the old bastard.
Skloot thought back momentarily to the time his mother burnt the cookies at his fourteenth birthday party, not only the memory but the taste returning to him now, filling his mouth, how she had called him a spoiled little shit when he complained how they tasted like tree bark, and he smacked his lips, looking out, the silence now becoming long enough to watch the dust settle, realizing that not only could he not save these kids, not only could he not teach them, not only could he not get them to like him or respect him or even call him Mr. Skloot as he plainly insisted, but rather John or J-Money and even on several occasions Jizz, realizing that not only could he not do any of this or get them to stop cursing or fighting or to sit in their seating chart, he could not even seem to be able to get them, and in that moment, himself, to understand just why in the hell out of all places in the world would someone with top earning potential like himself choose this hangnail of a city to live in and this miserable school to work at. He couldn’t get them to understand that it was them, the kids who now looked out on him as if he were a Jehovah's witness intruding on their front porch, that he’d wanted to help, and as he clenched his facial muscles in effort to tighten his focus, a thought squeezed out which made everything relax and go slack and brought an almost maniacal smile to his face: they didn’t want him to be here, and he didn’t want to be here, so why be here at all? He would quit. He would quit! He would quit, quit, quit, quit. The idea danced in his head. He didn’t owe any of these little shits or the bastard Principal a damn thing; he’d never have to see any of them ever again.
Steinberg in the back had been holding in a fart going on six minutes. You’re already fat and then you fart with a name like Steinberg, and that’s just what they expect. With his fat just hanging over his waist like a young boy’s bowl cut, he nodded to himself. He wasn’t gonna fucking fart. He wasn’t gonna give them the satisfaction. He was gonna get in shape. He was gonna start running. He was gonna get his grades together. Girls were gonna take notice. And with his cheeks clenched, Steinberg didn’t give a damn if anyone else is doing the worksheet, he was going to write the fucking six to eight sentences about Indians and settlers trading maize for steel or whatever bull...
And as Skloot looked out at the dark sky, imagining all the glorious things he would do after this, his last day of the insidious and thankless torture that had been his brief stint at Tuxedo High, that perhaps he would become a rug salesman or a dishwasher (his Uncle Marty, a life-long dishman at Harold’s Crab Shack, was fond of telling him, "Johnny, you respect a dish, you give it the time and care that it deserves, and it will respect you right back") as he looked out the window and imagined himself happily scrubbing a congealing pot, another girl seated in the last desk of the row nearest the window sat in unfazed concentration, a candy cane straw between her pursed lips angled at exactly 28 degrees upward, capitalizing on the momentary distraction caused by the little ginger fucker desperate for attention on the other side of the class, and blew a nice steady blow, long and measured like blowing on a too-hot cup of coffee, and a little balled up piece of urine-soaked tissue paper came bellowing out the other end of the straw, following an arc whose crest was no less than eight feet high, and with most students’ heads still craned — uncomfortably now, it seemed — towards the boy in the back to see what he might say next, only she followed the ball’s trajectory, which was, so far, inch-perfect.
This ball had been left overnight with several others to soak in a small tumbler of her own urine in her basement, and then plucked with a pair of tweezers and left to marinate in a Ziploc bag all morning until just minutes ago, when she took advantage of a different distraction earlier in the class period (the leather jacketed boy in the rightmost seat of the front row had received a phone call, causing Kid Famou$ to rap profanely through his pant pocket, and this boy, who wore skinny jeans, then had to writhe and squirm to enter the pocket and stab at the phone with his stubby fingers, managing at first only to raise the volume, and then to answer the call, put it somehow on speaker, and project the stern rebuke of his mother that if he could hear her, he had some God damn explaining to do about the little plant that she and his father found growing in his closet right by the ... until he finally daintily slid his finger across the phone’s screen and ended the masquerade, which masquerade caused the teacher — who was now no longer scowling but looking out the window and smiling as if, yes, almost as if he was pleasuring himself — causing Skloot’s nose to become so upturned in offense that his two nostrils presented themselves to the class like an extra pair of eyes in the middle of his face) to pluck one of the pre-rolled urine balls out of the Ziplock with the tweezer she always kept in a special buttoned pocket in her purse, and insert it in the straw.
It was now like she was controlling it with her mind, and she clenched her face accordingly, willing the tiny ball, which rotated tightly and shed its liquid weight, giving off the impression that the ball was sweating, willing it towards its anointed destination: the pimply nape of a girl in the front of the center row, a girl who hadn’t done anything particular to the girl with the straw, but it was just that she was so damn annoying. She was the type of girl that seemed to be trying so hard in all the wrong ways, desperate for attention from a world that would’ve probably relented to giving it to her if it were for any other reason than the ones she asked for with her clownish face and skimpy outfit and the way she would just stare at you like an unfed and horny puppy...it was enough to drive you crazy ... this girl like a dandelion growing through the cracks of the sidewalk who everyone would be cool with her being a dandelion if she didn’t have to keep on insisting that she was a rose again and again and again ... this girl ... this fucking girl ....
As the tiny ball inched towards her, closer and closer, this heavily made-up girl was obliviously traveling with her eyes away from the teacher and past the boy behind her who was holding his crotch and panting like a dog, and through the jungle of upturned limbs and aghast faces, craned in jagged symmetry towards the back of the room where the red-head was still brimming with satisfaction. She was seeking eye contact with the hot boy in the back of the class, seated right in front of the brazen dork who’d insulted the teacher in a really shockingly personal way just then, the hot boy with the nose ring and with the tattoo on each wrist, that when they’re both unturned, show two stick figures battling each other, one with a gun, the other with what appears to be a bow and arrow, though the bow is little more than a backwards D and the arrow simply a straight line. It was for this boy that she had spent hours in her bathroom that morning, waking up at five a.m. to painstakingly apply and wash off and reapply any number of expensive cosmetics stolen from her mother’s forbidden stash, her mother having been still passed out and hungover on the couch then in the clutches of a snoring, hairy man in a wife beater whose breath was so pungent that even from the living room it ruined her Froot Loops in the kitchen, and she ended up just skipping breakfast and balancing the bowl on top of the mess in the sink before returning to the closet where she chose just the right shirt with the cinch top that turned A's into B's, and the tights that framed her ass just so and then she made her way back to the mirror where she redid her hair for forty minutes to give it that perfect bed-head look, and it was all for him, and sure, she did have a bit of an acne problem, but with just the right amount of application they wouldn’t be able to notice ….
Yes, finally! It must be this girl that the star running back was looking at now, his eyebrow cocked and, wow, was that a wink? Yes, it definitely was! And, so, in response, she seductively brought her teeth together, as page 16 of her mom’s latest Cosmopolitan suggested she might, conveying her unsated hunger for him, and she rubbed her teeth together now in such a way that let him know that she was his, and wow, presently he was sizing her up once again before returning to his phone, where she felt sure that he was going to finally respond to one of the several suggestive messages she’d left him, or maybe even accept the friend request she’d sent him months ago.
She pouted her lips and stared hopefully, seductively, sexily, as the boy just behind this desperate girl rubbed his thighs together as he had for the past ten minutes in a motion he hoped looked like nothing more than a nervous tic. His breath quickened and spastic, and yet silent — he had learned how to make his breath silent just for attacks like these — desperate not to draw attention to himself. His feet tapping, his hands rubbing, sweat sloping down the contours of his face, his windshield wiper of a tongue unable to catch each of the droplets before they fell into the edges of his mouth and made him smack his lips, his bladder like a child screaming for attention, he knew the key was to focus on something else, focus on anything but the fact that it was only Monday and he had already used the two allotted bathroom passes that Jizz allowed each week, and that by the time he’d returned to the bathroom each time he’d already had to go again.
This teacher, though a complete dunce, was also a total stickler for the rules. The boy’s bladder was some kind of sieve. Even on the days when he’d, as a kind of biological test, not drink even a single ounce of water, he’d have to pee between twenty-five and thirty times. And the one time he’d finally gone to the family doctor to get it checked out, it was not only unhelpful but disturbing: the way the doctor, Dr. Pelck, a man not quite cross-eyed but seeming to be voluntarily looking at two parts of the boy’s body at once in some voyeuristic way, had just in the run of his normal string of questions about the boy’s year in school and age and eating habits, how he just come right out and said, “Now why don’t you go ahead and lower your pants so I can take a look-see at your privates.” He said it just like that — take a look-see — with the laid back cadence of a slightly buzzed airline pilot asking the passengers to not get up to take a leak until they got through a mean patch of turbulence.
He mashed his thighs together now as Jizz smiled out the window as if he were looking at a beautiful vista instead of the miserable sky hanging above the local Marathon plant opposite the school, and he thought of Dr. Pelck. How, yes, the door in the doctor’s office was closed behind him but how this had made him even less comfortable laying there, the cheap paper crinkling below him, feeling like a prime cut of rib a Polish butcher was getting ready to wrap up on the deli counter, as he lifted up his butt just enough to wiggle free of his pants while Dr. Pelck reviewed one of the countless manila folders by the sink devoted to his weights and heights over the years. It seemed somehow important to the boy that he got his pants down before the doctor turned and saw him squirming, kicking, but he couldn’t manage, and with his underpants hanging between his ankles like a depressing hammock, Dr. Pelck came and stood over him with this look on his face: both rows of his teeth clenched together and the apples of his cheeks thrust up and out like a six year old forcing a smile for a family photo. The doctor had both eyes trained right on the boy’s cowering half chub, which, in order to make limp, the boy had, with all of his brain power, been trying to conjure up an image of two sumo wrestlers smushing their ass cheeks together. And how just then, even though minutes before he couldn’t seem to squeeze a drop into the small plastic cup he was given by the nurse to check for diseases, he was overcome with the desire to pee, naked from the waist down excepting for the socks, Dr. Pelck looking down with his face too small for his upper body, which in turn was too large for his legs, giving him the overall shape of a kite, his chin and not his cheeks with a dimple in the middle, everything about him drooped and saggy like he was about to shed all his skin and be born anew, eyes rolling and altogether too alive on his face, the boy felt all of a sudden less like he was about to be medically examined than get tortured and felt like he should run and hide but at the same time laying there, unable to move, naked and exposed like a Thanksgiving turkey. And how even after the rest of the perturbing visit — which had ended in the doctor complimenting him on his “verve” and telling him about the links between anxiety and incessant urination, and finally with Pelck putting his arm on his shoulder and asking him, “Son, do you feel anxious?” The boy’s bladder problem had never gone away.
He sat there in class now trying to think about anything but bathrooms and water, his neck vibrating as he took a quick panorama of his surroundings, noting the proximity to the door, the time, the dyed and gelled red hair on top of the kid who’d just said the thing that was sure to get him expelled, and coming to rest on the eyes of the tattooed football player in the back of the room who seemed to be watching him. He thought briefly about his aunt, how maybe this was a family type issue 'cause he remembered his mother telling him once this embarrassing story about how his aunt was waiting for the bus one time and then out of nowhere just dropped her pants and started pissing right there on the sidewalk, not squatting or anything. Sometimes it just hits you like that. But no, this boy was surely not looking at him but the girl behind him and to his right, the hot girl with the thong more out of her pants than in them, and the pretty face that was no doubt going to end up one day looking like a catcher’s mitt if she kept using as much cocaine as she had been.
No, nobody was looking at him, and yet, everybody seeming to judge him. To be waiting on his next move.
The key to get past all this was just to focus. To focus intently. Just to focus on anything in the world besides himself, and to allow the focus to push past boredom and interest and for it to become something that he was not removed from at all by any time or distance or judgment. The key was to become the other thing. And he tried to immerse himself in the lesson, but it was just pathetic how hard Jizz had clearly worked on the thing and the smiley faces all over the paper like they were eight years old and the inspirational quotes and the word of the week; despite his best efforts, it was still just impossible to give even the slightest fuck about the ramifications of colonial barter in 18th century America, and so the boy switched his attention to the pimple formation on the back of the neck of the hideous girl sitting directly in front of him, the whiteheads outnumbering the popped by a score of twelve to nine, the overall shape of the pimples something like an elephant with the tusk raised all the way under her right ear lobe, the neck itself one of those hairy necks on which it is impossible to tell exactly where the hairdo ends and where the upper back hair begins. He stared, breathing rhythmically, in through his nose and out through his mouth, trying to imagine himself as one of those whiteheads on her neck, until he was jerked back into himself when the girl craned her disgusting neck suddenly towards the ginger in the back and began rubbing her teeth together like two sticks making fire. This caused the boy with the urinary issues to lose all concentration, and presently all of his hard work was for naught, and he knew he couldn’t hold out any longer because his bladder was now sending jolts of warning through his body, alerting him he didn’t have minutes but seconds, seconds before ….
He jumped up, and, as he did, something hit him in the cheek, something like a slobbery insect, giving him a slight pause before he completed his dramatic dash out of the classroom, the girl nearest the back window watching him with an interest that he felt was perversely keen, this girl who let out a little snicker and who he felt studying him, his neck hot, her eyes with no lashes to speak of and with big purple bags under them that maybe even touched the outer reaches of her flared nostrils, the girl back there with the mustache, watching his every move while chewing on a candy-cane straw, chewing, chewing, chewing and smacking and laughing and chewing some more until he almost ran back there and strangled her.
The girl with the thong halfway up her spine watched Skloot watch the boy run out of the classroom as if there were some fire consuming the room that only he’d seen, and thought, what’s it gonna take to get this teacher to look at me? She was so tired of the high school scene, the horndogs who had stopped making her feel pretty a long time ago. The football player with the nose ring coming on to her with all the subtlety of an erect penis. She wanted a mature man like Mr. Skloot. She liked the way it didn’t even seem to faze him when the ginger said what he said. She wanted to do LSD with him. She wanted him to tell her how young and naive she was. She wanted him to read her poetry and tell her it was terrible and lacking promise. She wanted to rub his groin while he scolded her and watched the evening news.
Steinberg lost all discipline. He figured, if there were any time to let out a big stinker, this was it.
Skloot said his first words since the ginger had insulted him. He said, “That’s all she wrote, folks.”
The boy was in a dead sprint when he heard the classroom door behind him, and just as he’d expected, Skloot was coming for him. Well, there’s no turning back now.
He was already unbuttoned and in the process of unzipping, pushing the door open and beginning a calculated stream while still feet from the urinal by the far window. This piss didn’t seem to surprise the old consultant guy with the pink lips who had left the classroom a long time ago and now revealed himself behind the far stall smoking a cigarette, blowing his smoke clandestinely through a slight opening in the window. The boy ran to catch up with his urine and cover himself behind the narrow wall of porcelain, avoiding eye contact with the old man who kept on smoking as if he weren’t even there, and relieved himself via a stream that simply would not end despite the screams that ping-ponged through his mind and at one point may have managed to escape through his mouth. It was then that it occurred to him. Right there as he screamed to himself and the man pitched the cigarette and walked past him and maybe even gave him a slight nudge causing him to contact the cold, gleaming white, the thought wriggled up his spine and cemented itself in his brain. It was there, not quite escaping the waterfall of plumbing that the flick of his right hand hastily begat, right then and there that he understood with an inexplicable clarity that he would never, ever be able to return to face them, any of them, and that he was going to leave forever. This thought tickled him. And his feral laugh echoed through the bathroom as he zipped up and tried to figure a way past the security guard and out of this Godforsaken school.
//Mark Jay is a co-founder of The Periphery.