Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Teacher Slugged in Gut, Morale Takes a Hit

Debut Episode: The Life & Times of Harry Mills--Unionized Teacher With an Average Value-Added Score

By Mark Blocker

The following is a work of fiction in both plot and characterizations. The characters and story should not be interpreted to resemble any persons, living or dead. The story's plot should not be perceived as a real event. It is written for the sole purpose of entertaining the reader.

While putting on one of his loud Hawaiian shirts, middle-school teacher Harry Mills noticed the half-dollar-sized purple welt on his ample gut. Damn, that little fucker nailed me good, he thought. Now buttoned up, Harry started getting pissed.
Yesterday afternoon he was standing in the vice principal's office reporting that a student had slugged him as he was attempting to break up a fight outside his classroom. Harry didn't appreciate the way the school cop made him feel like an old bag bitching about a youngster next door. Furthering Harry's belittlement, the VP, Mr. Frost, sat behind his wood-veneer-on-particleboard desk sneering while taking little bites from a yellowing apple core. Despite Frost and the cop's indifference, Harry continued providing his version of the incident. But now he regretted bringing it to the authorities' attention.
The district police officer, over 45 but exceptionally fit with a small waist and muscular chest, stared off thinking about what he was supposed to ask Mills next. Harry was emphasizing the student didn't just "accidentally" hit him. The 13-year-old boy threw a round house that solidly thumped on his mid-section.
"What were you doing to those boys? You weren't grabbing them or anything, were you?" the officer inquired with a cocked eyebrow. Harry thought the guy looked a lot like a character actor who played a lot of bit-part roles in movies and sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s.
"Hell, no. I was standing between 'em during a lull in the action telling 'em to chill out. Then the short, chubby kid on my right socks me in the stomach, and they. . ."
"All right, all right," the school policeman disdainfully waved his hand, "I get the point you think he deliberately hit you." Then the cop squinted his eyes, focusing on something. Harry turned around to look. It was the clock on the wall. 10 to 3. If Harry was back in his classroom he'd be getting ready to dismiss his last class for the day. The lithe but nearsighted policeman said they had to hurry this up because he needed to get outside when the bell rang to help kids safely cross the street. Frost nodded gravely. Harry looked down at the cop's holstered gun. After a tepid effort to suppress a burp, the cop continued, "Were you manhandling the child at all?" That bit-part actor got minor roles in just about every "Blaxploitation" movie of the 1970s. They were all rated R, and even though he was only 13 at the time, Harry proudly saw them all at the theaters downtown on Colorado Boulevard.
"No," replied Mills. "Hell, no . . "
"Did you slur him in any way, perhaps calling him the n-word?" He even played a cool cop with a huge Afro in Superfly's Big Hustle.
"What the fuck? I didn't call him no fucking 'n-word'! What kind of . . ."
"You needn't use foul language with me, suh." This couldn't be the same guy of course, Harry thought, that actor would have to be 80 now.
Frost added, "Yes, Mr. Mills, district policy prohibits the use of profanity while performing your assignment." The two exchanged nods while Harry watched and clenched his fists. Frost didn't remind Mills of anyone. His shoulders, however, made Mills think about sliced bread. Harry also remembered how it took months of purposely charming, "Good morning, Mr. Frost," before he could get the man to cast a glance and mumble his name.
Harry momentarily thought about lighting a cigarette and exhaling a big cloud all over the place. But that was against district policy, too. And Harry hadn't smoked in 15 years.
The cop took out a wrinkled handkerchief and wiped away the sheen on his clean scalp. Mills figured the cop was balding and chose to resolve the inevitable with a razor. Mills himself preferred to deal with aging by growing his thin gray hair into a ponytail that draped down his back. It went well with his salty beard. Frost had a cul de sac of what was once dark but now graying curls. Frost ran marathons and married a tycoon's daughter, so he didn't give a shit about how old he looked.
The cop sighed. "I don't know if anything's gonna come of this." He copied onto his little notepad info from Mills's drivers license. He closed his notepad and jammed it into the breast pocket of his tight uniform. Then he pulled the dog-eared pad out again because he forgot Mills's phone number. Mills noticed the cop was wearing a bullet proof vest. Harry wondered whether the cop was truly an incompetent dimwit or if it was a Columbo-like ruse to trick condescending, asshole teachers into making outlandish statements that would eventually screw them in court.
Frost gave the workers comp referral to Mills, and Harry drove down to the clinic. Harry looked across the waiting room at the oil refinery worker covered in grunge, his arm wrapped in an oily rag. After an hour wait, the ample-breasted Latina nurse let Harry inside and escorted him to a tiny examination room where she left him alone again. After another hour wait the young Indonesian doctor entered. He gave Harry's gut a cursory glance before slipping on a disposable plastic glove and poking it with his index finger. He said he didn't see anything wrong. Harry sat silently while the doctor scribbled down on Frost's form that Mills could return to work immediately. It was 6 o'clock at night. The silence became awkward.
"So a student accidentally hit you in the hall?" Harry wondered if the doctor's smile was actually a sneer.
Harry furrowed his brow and shook his head. "No. A kid . . . "
Just then the door cracked open and the nurse with her big, beautiful brown eyes inserted her head. She cupped her hand around her moist, red-lipsticked lips and whispered something into the doctor's ear. "Oh, ho! Heh, heh," the doctor chuckled with a devilish grin. The nurse's head disappeared and the doctor gathered himself, clearing his throat with an overly serious demeanor. "So, uh. Where were we? Yes." He continued scribbling with great flair.
He was a 30-something and spoke with a surfer drawl more common to coastal, blue-eyed, blond flakes. Like the ones he grew up with on Palos Verdes Peninsula before graduating from UCLA medical school. Harry figured the BMW parked out front with the Darwin-fish-with-legs magnet and Heal the Bay bumper sticker was his. He noted how all the other cars were old pieces of shit. Not mine though, Harry thought. Perhaps it was worthwhile being a teacher after all. Then he thought about how he wouldn't be done paying it off for another three years.
Poking the dashboard ignition button, Harry wondered what exactly the nurse had whispered. It's been a while since a gal talked like that to Harry. Whenever his wife called him from her mother's, all she did was complain about aches, pains and neurosis. To hell with all that, Harry vowed. He wanted to live. Walk miles in the sunshine. Swim in the ocean. Catch waves. It didn't matter whether he'd stand up and hang ten. He was satisfied with his Boogie Board. Summer vacation was a month away. The start to this story was tomorrow morning.
He gazed into the falling-but-still-strong sun highlighting all the dust and grime on his windshield. On the other side of a large vacant lot, silhouettes of tiny cars inched both ways on the 405.
Then Harry Mills turned south on Avalon before making a left on Sepulveda. He was going to take the surface streets home. It was better than staring at red tail lights and billboards tempting him with pictures of ice cold beer and fine whiskeys. It had been four years, six months, five days, 18 hours and 14 minutes since he had a drink. And he wasn't about to start now.

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