Author: Judd, Brooks

Ten items or less: March 2011 A Book of Matches

Last month I shared my memories of three wonderful teachers that influenced my life. I believe the cycle goes on as we attempt to pay things forward and show compassion, care, and love for people that enter into our lives for perhaps a brief instant or perhaps even a lifetime.

But there are also those “other” teachers that can only be classified as the teachers from Hell. At Bret Harte Junior High in Hayward just a short one mile away from Hayward High was such a teacher. I’ll call him Mr. X. He was my science and home room teacher and was the master of sarcasm, bullying, and psychological abuse. He brought with him to the classroom a sense of dread and fear that permeated the classroom like an evil living entity. The only positive thing anyone could say about Mr. X was that he was able to unite his students into a group of young students who feared and loathed him.

Mr. X was not blessed with what anyone would call “good looks.” He had oily unwashed black hair, a permanent five o’clock shadow and his teeth were tinted a dull yellow. He had black shark like eyes that were in constant motion looking for his next prey. His dingy tattered white shirts were ill fitting, highlighting the sweat stained armpits that were as yellow as his teeth. All these could have forgiven had he not been such a passive-aggressive, mean, abusive, person.

Mr. X played no favorites when it came to doling out his particular passion for psychological abuse. Everyone suffered. One week we were doing our science experiments. Brenda B, a classmate of mine since kindergarten at Highland School, was as sweet, nice, and quiet as any person could be, was called up to do her experiment.

The class grew silent as Brenda approached the front of the room. Each one of us was hoping that nothing would go wrong. We were all aware of what might happen if something DID go wrong. Mr. X’s anger would elevate at the slightest delay, his yellow teeth would clinch, he would angrily fold his dark hairy stubby arms across his heaving chest and ugly beads of sweat would begin to form on his dark, deeply creased forehead. Then the yelling and sarcasm would begin. We all knew the drill. All of us had felt Mr. X’s wrath and fury at one time or another.

To begin her experiment, Brenda needed to light her Bunsen burner. She nervously took out a small pack of book matches and with trembling hands began to strike the first match. It didn’t light, nor the second, nor the third one. Mr.X became more agitated with each failed attempt. We were all squirming in our seats. Brenda’s eyes began to tear up as she tried desperately to get one of the matches lit.

Suddenly Mr.X erupted and began waving and flapping his arms around and then bellowed out, “Miss B, exactly how long do you plan on keeping us all here!”Brenda began sobbing quietly. Mr. X angrily snatched the book of matches from Brenda’s hand, held up the tiny booklet and sarcastically emoted, “Classroom, THIS is how you light a match. You strike it like this. You don’t have to be a genius!” Giving Brenda an evil look he struck the first match, then another, then another. All failed to light. Beads of sweat slithered down Mr. X’s forehead deep into the lines of his face all the way down to the tobacco and soup stains on his dingy yellowed shirt. He wadded up the small book of matches and hurled them into some imaginary waste paper basket, wiped the sweat off of his brow, and sighing heavily said, “Well Miss B. what exactly do you propose we do now?” Brenda’s head bowed down and her shoulders began to shake. We all adored Brenda but not one of us would have been willing to trade places with her.

After a few moments of complete silence, Mr.X stepped over to his desk, opened up one of his cluttered drawers and yanked out a big box of table matches. He slowly walked back over to Brenda glaring at her the whole time. Still staring at Brenda Mr. X slid out the tray of matches halfway from the box grabbed a long wooden match and struck it against the side of the box. The match broke off with a loud snap. Mr. X fumbled for another match. He struck it and a quick puff of smoke appeared and just as quickly disappeared. His lip curled into a sneer as he looked around at the classroom with his inky vacant eyes. Mr. X slid the tray of matches all the way out of the box and the entire box of matches tumbled onto the floor like felled oak trees.

The class was frozen in fear at what might happen next. With spittle forming on the edge of his mouth he barked, “Miss B. pick up these matches now!” Brenda wiped the tears from her face, and still shaking she bent down and began to sweep up the fallen matches. Mr. X bent over her like a hungry ogre, his sweat stained shirt heaving in and out. Brenda gingerly handed the matches to Mr. X. We all held our breath as Mr. X struck the third table match. It lit. There was a huge silent cheer of relief from the classroom for Brenda and ourselves as the Bunsen burner began to glow with all the splendor of the Olympic Torch.

Brenda was able to finish her experiment without incident. She began to collect her materials and as she began to walk back to her seat Mr. X stopped her, put his grimy hands on her tiny shoulders and orated, “Class, I want you to all to remember this. Then he took his hands off of her shoulders and rummaged around the floor for the book of matches he had tossed away. Finding the offending matches he triumphantly held up the crumpled matches like a newly won trophy and with a faux look of concern he pompously said, “Miss B. next time you come up to do an experiment you must be PROPERLY prepared. These will not do. You should have thought of that before hand. Right, Miss B.?” Do you understand? Class, do all of you understand?” He waved the matches around his head and tossed them aside. We all nodded our heads as Brenda silently walked back to her seat and sat down. She glanced around the room looking for a friendly face and we all smiled back at her. She smiled weakly, put her head on her desk and began to cry.

Mr. X walked over to the middle of the room, began rubbing his hands together gleefully and looking around the room he cheerfully asked, “OK, class, who wants to be next?”

Until April, read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, and be nice to someone.

Posted:  3/3/2011

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