|Note: Picture is for illustrative purposes and is sadly NOT the original|
"Alright then," said the man, switching off the slide projector, which for the past couple of moments, through the whirrings of its cooling fan, had been providing the only source of noise in the packed gymnasium. "If there are no more questions, I would like to ask the fathers to make their way into the cafeteria where we have some coffee and snacks set up for..."
The men rise and scramble out of the gym, disrupting the orderly rows of folding chairs as they race towards the door, which the last father closes behind him.
It is not until they are safely separated that the two groups actually come together with the shared thoughts and actions originally envisioned by the people who sponsored this program. Only their shared thoughts are not the type of father-son bonding one might expect, and are more along the lines of "Boy, am I glad that's over!" and their joint action is to breath a sigh of relief. Not exactly what the committee had in mind when they decided to hold a "Father and Son Night."
"Let's try this again," says the man. "Does anyone have any questions?" Hands shoot up. Fingers are pointed. Voices call out. Kids are whispering and giggling and prodding each other with elbows to the ribs. "Ask him about...." "I'm not gonna ask him, you ask him." "You're sick!"
After a few minutes of nervous chatter, one boy stands up and asks "If you have a wet dream, what should you do with the...stuff?" His question relieves the tension and soon all the kids are raising their hands. "What's a BJ?" "Why does it tickle when I climb the rope?" “Is it really gonna grow hair?”
The kids, giddy with questions after nearly two hours of sitting next to their sweating dads listening to the speaker talk about vaginas and penises and intercourse, are more than eager to ask anything of this man...not so much for the answers but more for the thrill of saying words like "boner" and "tits" out loud in front of an adult without getting punished.
Except for this one kid, he just doesn't quite get it. Actually, this kid never gets it. He is Robbie Lasher, the kid who rather than ask questions, is just shouting out words like "fart" and "shit" before quickly hiding his giggling face in his hands. The speaker has been pretty patient with Robbie all night and has ignored his outbursts, but a rather loud "PISS!" forces him to confront Robbie.
"You there, do you have a question?" he asks, pointing at Robbie, who is rocking back and forth, his chin tucked in towards his chest, drooling a little as he bites his lip to keep from laughing. "Do you have a question?" the man asks again. Everyone is staring at Robbie, waiting to see what he will do next, knowing from past experience that something good is about to happen, which usually results in something bad for Robbie.
Robbie looks around the room without actually focusing on anyone, apparently sizing up his audience. He stands up, a surprising move that elicits many 'ooohs" from the crowd.
"Yeah, I have a question." he says, "What does T.S. mean?"
"TS?" repeats the speaker, looking perplexed. "I'm not sure I have ever came across that one before. Where did you hear it?"
"C'mon," says Robbie, visually pleased that he has stumped the speaker, "everyone knows what T.S. means."
"Do you?" asks the man, looking out at the rest of the group. "I must admit, I have never heard of it...but things change all the time."
The kids in the group look equally confused, looking around at each other while Robbie, still standing, smugly surveys the scene.
"Well...?" says Robbie. The kids are whispering and conferring with each other, occasionally glancing back and forth between the speaker and Robbie so as not to miss anything.
"Tit Sucker?" calls out one boy, causing many of the kids to start laughing, but the boy’s tone implies that he was sincerely trying to offer an answer, and the speaker looks to Robbie for verification.
"Nope," says Robbie.
"Well son, it appears I can't help you with your question, maybe you can..."
"It means Tough Shit," interrupts Robbie, "Tough Shit!" The speaker removes his glasses and looks sternly at Robbie.
"Young man," he says "I do not see how that is appropriate to this conversation. Please take your seat and keep your comments to yourself. If you continue to inter..."
"Tough Shit" repeats Robbie. "Toughshitpissfartfuck!" The entire group gasps at the mention of the f-word. Robbie has really done it this time they think, as he is escorted from the room.
Robbie had always been the kid who gets in trouble. But he was of a special breed. His behavior went beyond that of simple attention seeking. Sure, he liked the crowd pleasers, like eating paste or intentionally clogging the toilets by flushing whole rolls of toilet paper, but he was also sneaky. He would secretly throw away the blackboard erasers, for example, or sometimes put hamster turds in the teachers coffee, but would never tell anyone. It was not the attention he craved as much as the chaos.
Robbie spent a lot of time in what the kids knew only as the Remedial Room. No one really knew what went on in there, only that every day, during Math and English, a teacher’s aide would come and take Robbie from class. Quick peeks into the Remedial Room revealed a rather colorful, comfy looking place with lots of toys and games. Most of the kids had a very vague notion that even though this room looked like a lot of fun, it was not somewhere they wanted to be, but even so, there was a secret awe and fascination with what went on behind that door with the construction paper covered window.
As the years went by, Robbie began spending more and more time in the Remedial Room, and by fifth grade he was only with his class for gym and art. Rumors about the room began to spread. Kids who heard their parents talking about a new movie, something about a Cuckoo's Nest, would come to school with weird stories about torturing crazy people, saying that the Remedial Room was for crazy kids. Many of the kids started to be afraid of Robbie. They stopped asking him to do silly things in gym class and did not encourage him to eat any more paste in art. Robbie would still do weird things on his own, but just not as often.
By Christmas, he seemed a lot calmer. He looked a lot cleaner. He even combed his hair, using this big black comb that he kept in his back pocket. Then one day, he stayed with the class for English. The kids thought the teachers aide must have forgot him, but the next day he was still there.
The kids noticed many changes in Robbie. He raised his hand in class. He waited for his turn at recess. He didn't try to pee on you in the bathroom. The teachers also were happy to see the many changes in Robbie.
One day, just before Easter, Mrs. Carr, the art teacher, announced that there was an empty bulletin board in the hallway that needed filling. She said that she would pick the seven best drawings and hang them up for all the school to see. She passed out paper and crayons and watched as all the kids began to draw. While walking down the aisle she was shocked to find Robbie intently concentrating on his creation. All of Robbie's artwork in the past involved tanks and blood, done half-heartedly in only one or two colors. Looking over Robbie’s shoulder, she was pleased to see a very elaborate, careful drawn rendition of the school. He had drawn happy children playing on the swings, smiling teachers watching them, a big orange sun in the sky. The kids in the room also began to take notice...usually Robbie was the first to finish and would spend the rest of the time bothering them and trying to scribble on and mess up their pictures.
The bell rang and Mrs. Carr collected their papers. "I will look these over and pick out the seven best and have them hung up by lunch so you can see who won on your way to the cafeteria." She winked at Robbie as he left the room and blushed with pride when he expertly winked back.
After English, the children lined up for lunch. They were all excited and eager to see who had won and the teacher had a hard time getting them to settle down. They marched down the hallway and stopped in front of the bulletin board. Robbie’s picture was hung right in the middle. Robbie looked delighted, rubbing his hands together with a sense of satisfaction. The kids turned to congratulate him and he shyly smiled and returned their praise. Mrs. Carr peeked out her window and felt a real sense of joy in Robbie’s achievement. "This is what being teacher is all about. " she thought as she returned to her desk.
Meanwhile, out in the hall, Robbie stood beneath his picture and smiled. The fourth graders had just begun to exit the cafeteria and the hallway was filled with bustling children. "Behold!" yelled Robbie, pointing to his picture, and the kids stopped in their tracks to look at it. All eyes were on Robbie as he ripped the picture off the wall. He quickly reversed it and hung it back up. The children all gasped as Robbie once again pointed to his picture, only now it was a crude drawing of a cartoon cat with slanty eyes and buck teeth...and a gigantic penis between its legs!
"Behold..." says Robbie, "Chinky Cat!"