Author: Cornish, Rick

It's Cold
Today’s one of my two-days-per-week consulting days, and here in my Stockton office I can see steam when I exhale. That’s how cold it is. Obviously a problem with the boiler again. I’m wearing a sweater, a sweatshirt and a heavy leather jacket and yet my teeth are chattering. I’ve come in early so I can write my daily column before the beginning of the workday, but I’m shivering so violently my fingers are striking the wrong keys.

I remember only one other time in my life that I had to overcome the cold and write, shivering or not. I was in the eight grade and had the grave misfortune of being assigned to Mr. McKaplow’s homeroom. There were 29 of us and we all shared a mutual bond of hatred for and fear of this man. Mr. KcKaplow was a short, chubby little man, with curly black hair and bug eyes and a penchant for honing in on the special and unique vulnerability of each of his students. He had each of our numbers, knew where each of our hot buttons were located. And this special talent served him well, for Mr. KcKaplow was a sadist.

Like all the rest of us, John Bebby, who was two years older than the rest of us and was the only eight grader at Bret Harte Junior High School who’d already been arrested for car theft (he drove his mother’s boyfriend’s El Dorado to Reno where he was busted for trying to buy a Keno ticket in a legal house of prostitution) was afraid of McKaplow. But given John’s craziness, which would get him killed before he reached eighteen, that just made him act out all the more. So it was not a complete shock when, one morning in January, in the middle of a surprise science quiz, Mr. McKalplow suddenly bellowed at the top of his lungs, “E X C R E M E N T!” He was looking down at his open desk drawer. “THERE IS DOG EXCREMENT IN MY DRAWER.”

We all put our pencils down in unison, all inhaled together and held it. All 29 of us, including John Bebby, were terrified.

“I want to know who is responsible for this,” our homeroom teacher said, now in a very calm, sickeningly sweet voice. He was smiling now. The room was completely silent.

“I’m waiting,” now in a whisper. Nothing. Two long minutes passed.

“Alright,” he said good-naturedly, “we’ll all write a little essay.” Mr. McKaplow turned down the dial on the thermostat on the wall in back of his desk and then walked over to the bank of windows that comprised one entire wall of the classroom, floor to ceiling. He began opening the windows, one after the other, while talking with his back to us.

“Take out your composition books and begin writing an essay entitled, ‘Why We Do the Filthy Things We Do’. If, of course, you didn’t take part in this prank, just let me know.”

We all began writing in unison. Mr. McKaplow had finished opening the windows within his reach and was now when opening the rest with a long pole with a hook on the end. When he finished he hurried over to the cloakroom and emerged with his heavy wool overcoat on and a scarf tied around his neck. It was bitterly cold outside, and within just a few minutes our classroom became an icebox. And it smelled strongly of dog poop.

Mr. McKaplow went back to grading papers, and we struggled with our writing assignment. Except for John Bebby. He was drawing pictures of hot rods in his composition book, which is what he did during all writing assignments. Kids were starting to shiver now. The girl in front of me was trying to hug herself to keep warm but her arms weren’t long enough. No one even dreamt of going into the cloakroom to get their jacket.
“So how are we doing?”, Mr. McKaplow purred, steam coming out of his mouth as he spoke. “Anyone care to share a personal revelation?” He was smiling and, to me anyway, he looked like a vampire, all bundled up in his black overcoast and navy blue knit scarf. The bell sounding the end of the first period rang, but it didn’t do us any good. Homeroom period ended, but science period had started….same teacher, same bitterly cold room. We kept writing. I have no idea what other kids were writing. I was writing about my Christmas vacation—my presents, turkey dinner at my aunt’s—just anything to be writing. What else could I do.

I noticed a few kids watching John Bebby, hoping, I thought, that he’d confess so we’d be allowed to at least get our coats. And I remember thinking that there was less chance of that happening than Mr. McKaplow relenting. Nope, our teeth were going to chatter for another 50 minutes. And that’s just what happened. At the end of the period, Mr. McKaplow collected our composition books and dismissed the class. As we filed out of the classroom, he stopped John. “Mr. Bebby,” he said, with his hand resting on the boy’s shoulder, “do you have a dog at home?” “No,” said John, and then as he walked toward the door and out of McKaplow's grasp, “but our neighbor’s got a big one.”
Posted:  11/24/2003

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