First Week in December Friday
The faculty room at New York City’s McClellan High School
reeked of industrial strength cleaner, sweat socks, and chalk. The
walls were made of dirty beige concrete blocks and the linoleum
was beginning to crack. Today it was empty save for Coach Tom
Hughes and Kane Brady, the junior year English teacher, who were involved in a heated exchange.
Neither Johnny Sanders nor Deon Jackson did the work. They didn’t turn in one homework assignment all semester; they refused to take all of their tests and didn’t even bother to do their term papers. I have to fail them.”
“Do you realize that Johnny is the power forward and Deon is the point guard for McClellan High School’s basketball team? This year’s team has a shot at the state championship.”
“Tom, they’re not here to learn to play basketball, they can do that on the street or at the Y. They’re here for an education and they won’t get one if we continue to pass students along without them doing the work required to get a passing grade.”
“Are you telling me physical education isn’t important?” Coach loomed over Kane, who was only five foot six.
“Physical Education is as important as English is to their development. If they failed to show up for your class, sat on the sidelines for every exercise and disrupted the class on a regular basis what would you do? I know you’ve failed students.” Kane’s eyes blazed.
“I didn’t fail our two, star basketball players,” the Coach huffed.
“Talk to them about what happened. I didn’t want to be unreasonable so when I realized they were on the team and
failing my class, I told the boys in November what they had to do to pass. I also told their parents. They didn’t do it. They didn’t turn in one missed homework assignment or the term paper I assigned in September.”
“They don’t have time for all that shit, they have to practice. The other teachers go along. This is your first year here. You fail Deon and Johnny and you’re out on your ear.” Coach drank the sludge they called coffee and stared at Kane pointedly.
“And I’m out on my ear if these kids don’t pass the standardized tests at the end of the school year.”
“There are ways of getting around that.” Coach Hughes was trying to physically intimidate him, and Kane wasn’t buying it.
“So which do you suggest, do I sacrifice their education so they graduate without being able to read passed a sixth-grade level? Or do you suggest I fail them and give them the incentive to pass next semester so they can play ball?”
“These boys can get scholarships for college if they play,” the coach said belligerently.
“And if they don’t do the work here, their professors will fail them because they can’t keep up and they won’t be able to play or pay for the education they were promised.” Kane was practically begging the coach to put the kids and their futures first.
“They have difficult lives at home.” The coach got sanctimonious.
“No, they don’t. They have both of their parents and both sets of parents work. Deon’s father is a policeman and Johnny’s mother is a nurse. I’ve spoken to them and they agree with my decision. Their boys have gotten out of hand. They are aware that their sons have not done any schoolwork for the past two years, with the school turning a blind eye. As I said, I have their full support. The parents would rather have their sons educated
than have them only know how to play basketball.”
“They don’t have the mental capacity to do the work.”
“I’d like to see you tell that to their parents. If they were incapable of doing the assignments, I’d suggest putting them in a remedial class, but they can do the work, they just refuse to do
it.” Kane glared at the coach.
“One way or another, you’ll pay for this. Those kids were my ticket to coaching college ball and I’m not going to lose out because of you,” Tom shouted. Kane shrunk back. The coach was six foot six and about two hundred fifty pounds to his one forty soaking wet.
“Get them another student to tutor them. If they catch up, I’ll change their grade,” Kane offered.
“Fuck you, Brady. Either you pass both Deon and Johnny, or you’ll pay the consequences. This is what happens when you let fags teach school.”
“I could have you fired for that remark.”
The coach pushed him up against a wall, shook him, and said, “Buddy, you’re not going to be around long enough to complain.”
He let Kane go and Kane slipped to the floor.
Tom Hughes tore out of the faculty room and down the corridor.
Kane had stood his ground but was shaking in his boots. He wished he had someone to talk to about this, but this was his first year teaching and since he came in August from Indiana, he hadn’t had time to make friends. The coach had been at the school for five years. What is my word worth against his?
§ § §
The coach approached Johnny and Deon in the locker room. “He won’t budge. If you get your papers in, he’ll pass you, if you don’t you fail. You should have made a token effort.”
“Why should we have to be in class with a fag? Why would I want to do work for a fag? He needs schooling of a different kind. By the time Deon and I are through with him, there’ll be a new teacher in English Three who gets how to play the game.”
Johnny’s smile boded no good for Kane Brady.
“Yeah, let’s see how much he really likes to take it up the ass.” Deon poked his friend in the ribs. “We’ll make it a team effort.” Deon laughed out loud.
“Yeah sort of like a class project,” Johnny smirked.
“I didn’t hear you say that. Remember, if you get caught, it will go worse for you than if you fail,” Coach told them. “You’re courting jail time and then no college or pro team will have you.”
“You’re just as guilty as we are for encouraging us not to participate in that fag’s class and you’ve threatened other teachers before this.” Deon spat. “This one is the first one to face you down. The fag has balls, who knew?”
“If he fails us, you don’t get to coach college ball. If we get caught, you don’t get to coach college ball. It would be in your interest to let us know where he lives so we can take care of business, and to provide us with an alibi if we need one.” Johnny stood waiting for the requested information.
“He sometimes stays late to review papers and make up his lesson plans. You can follow him home. If you get caught, you’re on your own.”
“No, we’re not. You’re right there with us. We told you what we’re going to do, if you don’t report us, you’re as guilty as we are. But, we all know you won’t make any waves because you want that college coaching position.”
“All right, go, do your worst. If you get caught, I know nothing.”
Right…” said Deon as he elbowed Johnny in the ribs and smirked.
§ § §
Kane hadn’t realized it was after nine. He was grading papers. It was easier to do that at school. Here he could spread out unlike in his efficiency apartment. However, his apartment was only two blocks from work on the edge of New York’s trendy SoHo and convenient to shopping. It also had huge windows which let in more light than the usual city apartment. His was a neighborhood in flux. He lived in an old tenement and there was a pricey new high-rise down the block at Ten Sullivan. It was the tallest building in SOHO.
Kane sighed, gathered up his papers, put them in his satchel, and closed up his classroom.
“Good night, Ernie,” he called to the janitor as he left the building.
“Good night, Mr. Brady. You be careful. There’s a lot of snow and ice outside and they’re predicting another storm. Schools will probably be closed tomorrow.”
“I’ll be careful. Thanks.”
§ § §
Kane shivered in the cold. The walk home seemed more difficult tonight, feet dragging through the snow piles with the wind gusts almost picking him up off the ground. He kept on looking over his shoulder. Kane was sure someone was following him. Every time he glanced backward he saw shadows in
He looked around again and watched five boys in ski masks come out of an alley. They were walking quickly toward him, with seeming purpose. As they got closer, he realized that they were following him. He began to walk faster. They also picked up speed. Kane started to run.