CHAPTER 1. Perimeters (The Dirty Little Boy Who Killed Jesus)
"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
"I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them."
Toronto, Canada May 24,1967
Fifteen year old Jakob Daniel "Dutch" Okker found himself the reluctant newcomer to Sir Ivan Collins High School, located near the old neighbourhood of his birth in the east end of the city. Having already been expelled from two schools for truancy and "behavioural issues", he was warned with no uncertainty by the school board's crusty officials that this would be his final opportunity for getting a "proper education." If their warnings were unheeded, there were clear and ominous threats of reform school. Ironically, ( unbeknownst to Jakob and most of the school body) the school was named after Ivan Collins, a distinguished knighted British psychiatrist who had worked with troubled adolescents in the early part of the century.
The prescribed precondition for his "proper education" was the explicit caveat that he be unceremoniously jettisoned into Room 103, the school's only so-called "remedial" class. The classroom was banished to the main floor, next to the head janitor's office where the students needless to say, were under constant exposure to the daily assorted tang of cigarette smoke, dust-bane, and the insalubrious array of chemicals emanating in various odiferous waves, depending on the school's daily clean-up needs.
Collins High was located in a working class east end enclave, part of a grey parochial city clinging precariously to its musty puritanical Victorian past. The area had been settled by working class Irish, Scottish, and British immigrants who worked the waterfront docks and area's grotty factories. Toronto was in the midst of a slow transition, reluctantly ready to shed its Anglo Saxon Protestant cocoon and spread it's newborn wings towards a more a worldly order, as it watched warily at the increasing arrival of overseas immigrants from Asia and Europe. The discreet whispers of annoyance about "those foreigners" were now turning to full on angst, as the establishment faced the ever increasing influx of exotic facial complexions and strange foreign languages.
Jakob's fellow classmates were a forlorn gallimaufry of lost souls: severe underachievers, lost dreamers, differently learned, passively aggressive, chronically angry, cadaverously bored, criminally bent, hyperactive ( ADD and ADHD were yet to be entombed in the first addition of the DMS), physically awkward, dual diagnosed, personality disordered, and even perhaps, a scattering of yet-to-be discovered future prodigies.
The sultry day was untypical for late spring. The classroom's windows were fully opened, allowing a slight breeze to tease the deadlocked air. It was the Tuesday following the Canadian Victoria Day holiday (although most everyone just called it "Firecracker Day"
, an affected celebration of the antediluvian Queen's birthday--one that had gradually morphed into just an another day off school and work, celebrated by over stimulated boys running amok, detonating a variety of pyrotechnics, often culminating in singed hair, charred digits, and overworked fire departments.
It was now almost two months into the transfer to his new school. It followed his latest banishment from Northwood Secondary School which was located just a few miles from his home in the Bathurst Manor, a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood located in the northern fringes of the city. The teacher in charge was Ian McCloud, the homeroom, math and science teacher. Some of his students covertly called him "Smokey", not only in deference to his name, but also because he constantly reeked from tobacco smoke. Like his student Jakob, McCloud, not without his own opprobrium, had himself acquired a substantially tainted file (although one of personnel, not academic significance), the accumulated blowoff of an unacknowledged problem with anger control and drink, both which were exponentially growing more serious with each passing day.
Young Jakob sat slouched, his usual detached posture, in the the classroom's rear margins. The boy was uncomfortably embedded in the the awkward, graceless throes of male pubescence: barely pushing a hundred pounds, his disproportionately aligned head and limbs like a new-born foal, ungainly out of sync. To ad misery to the equation, his intermittently breaking vocal chords made him feel even more gawky.
The young man was the product of a shotgun intermarriage: a non traditional union not looked upon too fondly by the insular social standards of the day. His father Nathan was a multi-generational Dutch Jew who had angrily disavowed his relationship with God after the horrors of the Holocaust left him and his brother orphans. He was a lean six-footer with curly copper coloured hair and greyish green eyes. Now entering midlife, he still retained an athletic build, a reminder of his youth in Amsterdam where he played competitive amateur football. His mother Gina was the first generation child of southern Italians who had moved to a small town near Milan, shortly before emigrating to Canada after the end of the First World War. Coincidentally, she was also left an orphan at a young age, although under much different circumstances. Peeking at middle age herself, she still had the looks that could turn heads. She was petite, almost a foot or so shorter than Nathan with olive hued skin and strikingly alluring hair and eyes, both the colour of black asphaltum. Jakob, like his mother, had her Mediterranean complexion, dark unruly curly locks, as well as a modest Roman nose, all gifts from his madre, di famiglia. His patrimonial endowment included a prominent cleft chin and a generous lips. His uncle, Nathan's brother Mickey, enjoyed taunting him on his ever emerging "ass chin". From an observer's view, depending on their ethnic subjectivity, Jakob could easily be deemed Jewish or Italian. Either way, his mixed pedigree provided the local Anglo bullies with a much broader repertoire of racist slurs.
His teacher, Mr. McCloud, was short in stature and broad-bodied, a thickish neck supporting his disproportionately large head which was framed by sleek savanna of black hair combed back along the sides in a rather outmoded "greaser" styled ducktail. The most striking feature was his prominent and somewhat unsymmetrical WC Fields-like nose which attempted to centre a face whose tumescent complexion suggested a strong affinity for alcohol.
Jakob hadn't been back to his old neighbourhood since he was seven years old, when his father had sold his radio and TV repair business and packed up the family for the suburbs. "Okker's Radio Repair" (later including "TV" when the new form of entertainment became popular), was located on Queen Street East where his parents, and for a short time, his uncle Mickey, lived in the spacious apartment above the storefront. The shop was nestled between "Sunny's Chop Suey House" and "The Backstretch Smoke Shop." Across the street stood the worn grey stone outer façade of Woodbine Racetrack, the city's main horse racing track. Most of the businesses along this gritty length of Queen Street were lured there by shrewd landlords offering relatively cheap rents and good earning potential generated by the track's devotedly hard core gamblers.
Hours after the race card ended, the vacant street would be littered with losing ticket stubs and race programs, as well as beer bottles, empty liquor flasks, cigar and cigarette butts, and a random scattering of ragged street people sleeping off their cheap wine binge after a night's slog of optimistic attempts to cash-in on the charitable inclinations of the exiting crowd. Concerned that the race track riffraff were not exactly the most appropriate mentors for young Jakob, and compounded by a largely WASP neighbourhood not particularly enthralled with Jews or immigrants, his father had announced with no uncertainty, and with his wife's relieved blessings, that the east end was no place to properly raise a child, especially one of a hybrid ethnic background, thus initiating a search for more friendly living quarters. Uncle Mickey, a cab driver who was familiar with every nook and cranny of the city, had encouraged his brother to join the spreading migration of burgeoning middle class Jews and Italians who were leaving the lower Bathurst and College Street corridor for the growing, what Mickey called the "haymishe" suburbs of Downsview and Willowdale, where a bevy of post war affordable bungalows and split levels were being built at a breakneck pace.
For clarification purposes, it should be noted with due regard, that Jakob was not a "slow learner" as such, but more of a representative of what might be termed a rather bright "no learner": a clumsily truculent adolescent snared in an educational system that according to his uncle, overvalued the robot like ideal of conformity and obedience. Jakob, defiantly proud, had single handedly exhausted an entire menu of available school board and parental interventions, including: registering at an alternative school, work-skill programs, truant officer stakeouts, threats of being sent to a provincial training school, as well as individual and family counselling. He had been warned, bribed, cajoled, grounded, shamed, withheld allowance, and threatened with being consigned indefinitely to his maternal aunts in the backwoods of Kentucky, all without their calculated effect.
Over time, Jakob's parents had met with numerous school officials and eventually resigned themselves to a difficult reality. All they could now do was to grasp at some serendipitous straws with faint, crossed-fingered hopes that their only child would eventually outgrow his troubled wayward ways. His former school's designated psychologist had administered a comprehensive battery of tests prior to being transferred and afterwards had a strong reckoning that he was deliberately manipulating his answers to reflect a serious intellectual impairment. She had readily gathered from conversations with the boy and communications with family and friends, that the boy possessed a healthy nucleus of smarts. Frustrated, she suggested a referral to a psychiatrist specializing in adolescent behavioural issues but the waiting list was well over a year. The school's principal's last hope was a tentative toss of a wobbly Hail Mary pass, hoping that the humiliation of being placed in a new school's remedial class would be enough of a negative incentive to sufficiently shake the boy up.
Jakob's choice of seating, in the rear of the class, was strategically based on a no brainer desire to be as much out of the teacher's line of vision as possible. But it also allowed him an unobstructed view of the school's lone portable classroom where the ever popular senior football cheerleader Sharlene Brecker, attended her usual Tuesday morning English class. The aged wooden structure's original white exterior was now badly chipped away by weather and time and the hydro wires attached to the main building dangled perilously above its roof. The poorly groomed football field, suffering the aftermath of the athletes cleated shoes, lay nearby, the yellow orange intensity of late season dandelions freckling the erratic patches of unsightly crabgrass.
Peeved at the circumstances of his own making, Jakob impatiently glanced up at the clock. He had entertained a conspiracy theory about high school clocks: that somehow they were calibrated by the janitors who followed principals' devious orders to lag a second or two every few minutes, pilfering away potential free time from disinterested students like him. Then there was the frustration of being shackled to a desk designed only for the ninety percent majority of right-handed students, forcing discombobulated southpaws like himself the immutable struggle of dealing with the constant irritant of ink stains on shirt cuffs, much to the consternation of exhausted mothers attempting to complete their daily laundry chores.
Most of all, he was tired of being associated with the symmetrical rows of bored teenagers who were constantly force fed a smorgasbord of useless facts and figures, rules and dates, diagrams and maps, and alien looking formulae, all of which were smugly hurled at them by scholastic zookeepers, like red meat at ravenous animals, there to be memorized by rote and spewed back out like well trained seals! It reminded him of a scene in an old black and white movie that he saw awhile ago, shortly after smoking a joint in his buddy's basement . There, in a cavernous newsroom, were row after row of reporters, their fingers tapping away methodically, generating a collective click-clack of keyboards and rhythmic clanging of moving typewriter carriages.
In a few minutes the 11:30 bell would ring out the first lunch period, signifying that Mr. Pelleck's Grade 12 English class would soon be dispersing from the ramshackle portable. Jacob was wise to the usual rigmarole: the jocks and shit disturbers were always the first to exit, followed by a pathetic assortment of brownnoses and teacher's tools working their usual shameless suck-up routine, brazenly mindful of the upcoming month's final exams and subsequent issuing of report cards: the holy grail of their teacher-parent validation.
Sharlene as usual, was the last to depart. Jakob surmised that she was kept back by the teacher only with lecherous intent, the dirty old bastard snatching a passing glimpse of her school renowned, awe-inspiring rear end as she shimmied out the door like some slinky hotshot runway model. "But Jesus H. Christ, what a tuchas it was!", Jake thought; "an absoloooootley magnificently sculpted eye-popping gift for all the pathetic sex crazed, hormonally blitzed teenage boys; an aesthetic endowment of firm female flesh with two oscillating shadows pouting teasingly beneath a mind blowing skin tight beige skirt." A fire engine cherry red sweater chaperoned her gauzy white blouse, revealing a duo of lovely shaped breasts, or tsitskes, as his uncle Mickey called them in his best Yiddish.
Jakob began musing about the stories he had heard about Jimmy Porter, the senior football team's star halfback--an arrogant dick, who according to some rumours, was caught by coach Sheppherd making out with Sharlene in an empty locker room, long after the game ended. According to some students, the cheerleader and halfback were also discovered, backed by the the pungent smell in the room, to have been smoking pot. If true, both escaped any kind of disciplinary consequences, probably for two implacable reasons: the coach knew that the provincial championship was well within possible reach for the team, and Sharlene was strategically needed for her patent talent for swelling attendance (not to mention male students' groins!) at the school's home games.
A recent rumour had also been circulating that Hersh Applestone, one of only a handful of Jewish students at Collins, was "going out" with the cheerleader. Jakob's classmate Danny "one thumb" Binn told him that he thought Sharlene was Jewish because of her surname. If so, she certainly kept it publicly hidden. But Jakob was skeptical. Like his uncle always told him: "only a Jew can extricate one of their own, even the ones hiding in the "safe house" of an anglicized name or a self-hating nose job!" His uncle pronounced with scholarly confidence that each member of the Jewish Tribe had an intuitive built-in Semitic sonar which enabled them to spot a lundsman at will. Jakob found it irritating that he had to constantly remind his uncle that he himself, if you studied the matrilineal observances of Jewish law, although a half Jew by bloodline, wasn't truly a Jew at all, unless through conversion. But uncle Mickey would only shake his head and retort: "Nephew--a half Jew is fifty per cent more Jew than a goy! Do you think the anti-Semites give a shit? The Nazis didn't--they more than cheerfully with gassed half AND quarter Jews!"
Jakob's own limited intuitive radar found no blip off Sharlene. He found her nose an absolute study in aesthetic perfection: a flawless, gently sloped ski hill, the kind he witnessed as a child in animated movies." In addition, her perfectly straight Joni Mitchell flaxen hair, pale unblemished skin, and large jade eyes, proved beyond doubt that there was no way--he would even swear on a jar of kosher gefilte fish that she was no way a Jew--not even even an alloyed one! He also recognized those hard to define shiksa mannerisms: the way she spoke with minimal facial expression, the antiseptic intonation of her voice, and her diabolical ability to make you feel totally invisible with every disengaged gesture.
The sudden sharp tone of the school's second warning bell, vaporized Jakob's lascivious visions of Miss Brecker. He abruptly escaped the classroom savouring the forty- five minute lunch break, eager to check out the new fish and chip shop near the school, his science book discretely shrouding a acutely painful erection He hated the thought of having to return to math class after lunch.
Jakob lost track of time, as was typical of a teenager with an inexhaustible imagination and proclivity for constantly setting himself up for trouble. He returned to the classroom through the back door, stepping tentatively across the threshold, displaying a sheepish grin, hastily rehearsing a mental shopping list of plausible excuses for his tardiness. He found his teacher standing imperiously at the head of the class, arms akimbo, flaunting his generic annoyed teacher's bearing, glancing at his watch with sarcastic relish. The students' eyes were wholly focused on Jakob, contemplating the possible dark modes of punishment that Smokey might deploy from his impressive arsenal.
"I see that you've decided to grace us with your presence young man!" Jakob did not respond, but instead, walked slowly towards his seat. "WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING?" Jakob stood motionless. "To my seat!" he half whispered. Jakob's quick appraisal of his teacher's reddening face, caused him to reformulate a more vigorous response. "I'm going to my desk, SIR!" The teacher gave him a menacing glare. The classroom's usual disorderly pulse now turned into a palpable foreboding hush. Jakob looked away from the heat in his teacher's eyes. Instead, his focus fell on the blackboard and the previous math lesson's mumbo jumbo spread across the green slate.
The absence of a verbal response by McCloud provided Jakob with the courage to gingerly make his way back to his desk. Danny Binn, his desk neighbour, stood up and greeted him with an exaggerated interpretation of a traditional Japanese bow, drawing a chorus of chuckles from his classmates. Danny was a gangly kid with short cropped russet hair and a particularly bad case of zits. He was the first to coin Jakob's nickname "Dutch", based on his father's country of birth. The name had stuck ever since. He and Jakob had quickly developed a tight bond based on their mutual distaste for school and their adult overseers.
Danny himself had his own school moniker: "one thumb"--the unfortunate result of an accident he had in the school's basement industrial arts class during the second week of school. He had decided to cut a two-by-four piece of wood on a disused bandsaw left in the storage room. Somehow, he managed to get the machine operating but while turning his head to make sure the shop teacher was not watching, he mistook his thumb for the block of wood and lopped it cleanly off his right hand.
Those who witnessed the scene say that there was a trail of blood from shop class all the way up the stairwell and clear through to the nurse's office. Miss Fatale, the school nurse, unsuccessfully attempted to contact the shop teacher on the PA system to see if the orphan thumb had been recovered. She instructed whoever recouped it to wrap it in a clean tissue and to stay put. She then quickly dispatched to the accident scene a student she found wandering in the hall with an ice-filled thermos. The V.P. Mr. Merriweather had already rushed to the scene where he discovered the unconscious shop teacher passed out cold in the storage room.
An ambulance transported Danny to the East General Hospital where he was immediately placed on a gurney and scurried off to Plastic Surgery on the sixth floor. Nearly a half hour later, Mr. Merriweather came rushing in, sweating profusely and gasping for air, flanked by a posse consisting of the principal, shop teacher, and the nurse who was frantically clutching a small picnic cooler containing a plastic bag with Danny's rapidly decomposing thumb. Unfortunately for Danny, the surgeon was unable to successfully reattach the thumb, leaving the poor lad in the hands of rehab specialists with the hope of converting the motor skills of his dominant right hand to his left.
Miss Fatale spent the rest of the school day soothing first hand witnesses and attempting to contact Danny's parents. Ed, the young janitor who was barely two weeks into his new job, occupied three hours wheeling a squeaky tub of bleach across the hallway and down the stairwell, trying to neutralize the sporadic drips and dribbles of Danny's dried up blood. A few weeks later, Danny's parents hired a hot-shot downtown lawyer who promptly began litigation against Collins and the local school board. After a intensive internal investigation involving interviews with students, teachers, administration, the school nurse, and of course Danny, the shop teacher was relieved of his teaching duties for gross negligence and placed on unpaid leave pending an appeal by the teacher's union. Afterwards, Danny was treated with an outward but feigned delicacy by teachers and admin staff, based not so much out of empathy, but from the trepidation of being potentially held accountable for any future disastrous episodes.
Upon reaching his desk, Jakob heard Danny whisper under his breath: "Be careful Dutch, I smelled booze on his breath. The fucker's gonna have another one of his freak outs!" McCloud turned towards the two boys. "So Mr. Binn, have you something intelligent to add to the conversation?" Danny sat back, dispersed a hyperbolic yawn, and deliberately stretched out his arms. "No I don't", he smirked. The teacher's eyes bulged with rage. I'm sorry, what did you say?" "NO I DON'T SIR"! A smattering of stifled guffaws spread from the front of the class. The teacher turned around. "DOES ANY ONE ELSE HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?" There was no response--all heads were turned downward towards their desk tops, hands folded with shared compliance. The teacher stepped closer towards Danny. "STAND UP, LAD", he shouted, his face reddening. Danny stood up with a meticulously slow movement, flaunting an exaggerated slouch. "STAND UP STRAIGHT!", the teacher bellowed.
Danny defiantly adjusted his posture but turned his head away from the teacher's glare, rolling his eyes at his classmates sitting near the window, his thumbless right hand hand self consciously concealed beneath his desk. "All of us here know your game Binn! BUT THIS FOOLISHNESS WILL NOT WORK ON ME!" "UNDERSTAND BOY?" Danny did a quick survey of his classmates, trying to establish a rough consensus on the level of endorsement they displayed for his behaviour, in order to strategize his next move. They looked terrorized, having witnessed their teacher's past temper tantrums, knowing how quickly things could get out of hand. It was well known about the teacher's propensity for slamming uncooperative boys into lockers and throwing chalk at disrespectful students. No one volunteered to display even the slimmest gesture of bravado, leaving Danny isolated with little self assurance to strike back. "YES SIR!" he blurted, hoping now that McCloud would refocus his mounting fury towards Dutch, his original target. "NOW SIT DOWN AND KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!", the teacher beligerently responded.
Jakob, appreciative of Danny's deflective fracas with Smokey, was suddenly jolted out of his complacency. The math teacher turned angrily towards him. "Now Mr. ....... what's your surname name again, son?" "Okker!", he responded, barely audible. McCloud studied Jakob's face as if he were frugally contemplating the purchase of a sale item in a busy shop. "How long have you been in my class lad?" Jakob glanced at the clock on the wall behind the teacher's desk. "About 10 minutes, sir!" "Don't get smart with me! When were you transferred to Collins?" "Since just a while before Easter break, sir." "How is it that I don't recall having seen you in math class before?" "I've always been in class", Jakob lied. "It's just that you never notice me back here!" There was a crescendo of giggles from his classmates. The teacher stroked his chin. "Okker...Okker! Haven't come across a name like that before!" Jakob was all too familiar where the direction the conversation would now be veering. "How do spell your name?" Jakob replied slowly. "O....two K's.....E....R". "Sounds German to me," the teacher retorted. "No, it's Dutch! That's why we call him Dutch!" Danny shouted. Jakob smiled. "Yah, my father is Dutch and my mom's Italian". "Is your dad Jewish?", McCloud inquired. Jakob thought to himself: "So here we go again with the usual back door bullshit: the cross examination, the inspection, the scrutiny. Well, then go on ahead you fuckin' pathetic douche bag and shove me under your pathetic microscope and squeeze the Jew out of me like you're some kind of white-coated lab worker on the lookout for some deadly contagious disease!"
The situation brought up painful memories of his grade school days in the east end. Back then there were only a few handful of "different" children at Dawson Road Elementary school: at most a handful of coloured kids and an oriental girl who happened to be Jakob's neighbour. Her parents owned a Chinese restaurant next to his father's radio repair shop. Also, any kid like him with a funny sounding name also stood out. Hughey was his best friend at school--a second generation Canadian of Scot parents. Interestingly, Jakob now recalled little of his friend's physical makeup, only that his breath smelled really funny--kind of like that strange overwhelming vomit aftertaste of chocolate Maltesers.
After school, the two curious little boys would often play together in the basement of Jakob's father's shop, both mesmerized by the many shapes, colours, and sizes of the damaged radios in their varied stages of repair. They would furtively grab the different tools scattered about, pretending to fix the disabled sets. Hughey would always brag that his papa had bought a big television set from Eaton's department store--one that could also play music records.
As would inevitably happen in a close knit neighbourhood, word got out quickly that the Okker's were a "mixed" couple. One day Jakob was invited by Hughey to view his family's new television set without prior permission from his folks. Jakob's mother gladly gave her approval, pleased that her son had a playmate. After precautionary instruction on proper manners and a quick brushing of his hair, she patted his bum and watched him walk the short distance to Hughey's house. Jakob recalled the tentative knock on his friend's door, watching it open ever so slightly to reveal his friend's angry face. Hughey haughtily pronounced that his papa had told him that Jakob was not allowed in their house because: "you killed Jesus and you're dirty!" Jakob remembered the painful hurt, running back home, tears flowing freely, the weight of his friend's hurtful assertion lying heavy on his naive conscience. Jakob's Jesus had always been the Christmas vision of the innocent little baby lying in the manger. How did he kill the little baby? How? When? His mother tried to sooth her son, ever aware of her own church's pernicious view of the Jews' complicity in the Saviour's crucification, handed down through the generations. His father, having long ago given up on religion and God, only shook his head and cursed the world.
Jakob also recollected a photograph that his uncle Mickey showed him a few years ago. It was an image of a huge city mounted sign on the grounds of popular Sunnyside beach located on the edge of Lake Ontario. There, printed in bright yellow lettering against a grey coloured background, were the words: "BATHING RULES--NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED!" He especially remembered the schoolyard beatings and the relentless taunts: "FILTHY KIKE, STINKY WOP!", and the terrifying daily sprints home from school with differently planned routes each afternoon in a desperate attempt to escape the waiting gentile bullies.
Jakob grew increasingly uncomfortable but decided to proceed with his explanation to the teacher. He knew he had no obligation to proceed. He could've told Smokey to "fuck off"--well, maybe not....but at least to "buzz off'", but internal drive was pressing him on--maybe a desire to figuratively sucker punch the munzer into a blasting out a bigoted remark, in which case he would tell uncle Mickey who would be sure to have Smokey's ass in a sling. So he carried on with the charade. "Well, my dad came from a Jewish family, but he told me that he stopped believing in God because of what happened during the war. He said that religion was responsible for all the hate and wars in the world." "How does your mother feel about that?" Well, she's Catholic and I guess she still believes in God", Jakob replied. "What about you, Okker?" "I figure I'm a little like my uncle, you know. I'm not sure if there is a God--there's a word for that but I can't remember." Jakob was awaiting the question that never came. The answer was ready: he was neither baptized or bar mitzvahed.
In spite of his surging anger, McCloud was acutely aware that he was was beginning to step dangerously close to the line separating teachers' professional responsibility from impropriety. He proceeded cautiously. "Don't your parents' different religious views cause a problem at home?" Suddenly, Jenny Ross, the lone coloured girl in the class, her arm raised and hand shaking, stood up and spoke out, her voice quivering. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!" McCloud turned to address the opposing voice. "MISS ROSS--TELL ME WHAT BUSINESS IT IS OF YOURS TO AUDIT ANY QUESTIONS I ASK MY STUDENTS?"
Jenny had confided to Jakob that she was a child of mixed race: her mother, a dark skinned Jamaican had an affair with a white employer while she was employed as a housekeeper in the secluded affluent Rosedale neighbourhood. As soon as he found out she was pregnant, he fired her and threatened to have her deported if she breathed a word. Eventually she got her permanent residency and went back to school. After graduating from nurses college, she got a job as a paediatric nurse at the Sick Children's Hospital. She remarried a few years ago but Jenny rarely talked about her step father. Jakob always figured there was something amiss in her family. He suspected it had to do with her relationship with his mother's husband. She and Jake had forged a tight bond with each other almost from the day they met, most likely through their shared role as children of mixed parents. Of course Jenny had a tougher time of it, unable to hide behind the colour of her skin. Although quiet by nature, she had a feisty spirit and was quick-witted. Jakob had a huge crush on her but did his best to keep it well hidden.
"Your personal questions.......they have nothing to with classroom work sir!" "Oh, doesn't it" he snorted, a large patch of red taking his face hostage. "Since you are so opinionated Miss Ross, I suggest you to go to the library and tell Miss Monday that you're to stay there until I give you further instructions otherwise. And take your geometry book with you--I'll be testing the class tomorrow on last week's lessons!"
The beleaguered teacher walked to the front of the class. For the first time Jakob noticed his slightly awkward gait. In his finest dictatorial posture, he cautioned: "Anymore outbursts and I'll keep all of you after class for the rest of the school year! Does everyone understand?" A hushed silence engulfed the room. "I SAID, DOES EVERYYY ONE UNDERSTANDDD!" There were sporadic rumblings of "yes sir" and "yes, Mr. McCloud", along with a few muzzled snickers.
He turned his attention back towards Jakob. He wanted the last word. "Now, one more thing son. I'm curious to know how you view yourself in terms of your parents' different backgrounds." Jake had been asked this question so many times in different forms, always veiled with fake curiosity, mostly he thought, with the intent of making him feel uncomfortable and guilt ridden. Well practiced, he responded with his usual cultivated standard response: "I guess I consider myself half Dutch, half Italian, and half Jewish." The teacher scrutinized Jakob, revealing a sarcastic half grin. "So Mr. Okker, have you always been challenged by simple grade school mathematics?" Jakob gave him a quizzical look. The teacher responded with an exaggerated mordant look, straightened his floral patterned tie, and in his most earnest impression of a struggling philosopher who suddenly discovers the true meaning of life, turned towards his students and snorted: "Do any of the scholars in this class know why our math genius here has made such a stupendously ridiculous statement?"
Immediately, an eager hand attached to the arm of a small, pale looking boy was vigorously waving, desperately seeking the teacher's attention. The boy's name was Tamas Nagy, but everyone called him "Stutterin' Tom". He was the first child of parents who had emigrated from Hungary, fleeing the Communist regime. Tamas was born prematurely, under three pounds, spending much of his childhood being shuffled between hospitals and home, enduring a multitude of ailments and illnesses.
"Yes, Tamas!" The boy jumped up from his seat, eager to impress his teacher and classmates. "How ca..ca..ca..can he b..b..b..be m..m..m...m..m..." Although most of the class were accustomed to his speech impairment, there were still a few isolated giggles. "QUIET," the teacher roared. "DO YOU THINK I'M JOKING ABOUT KEEPING ALL OF YOU AFTER CLASS! SILENCE!. Go ahead, you can continue, Tamas." "You cannot b..b..b..be ha..ha..ha..ha...some...some...something...th...thr..thr...three times!!!" He turned to Mr. McCloud hoping for some positive pronouncement of praise. But instead, the teacher turned towards Jakob. "Do you understand Okker what Tamas is saying." "No I don't" he replied, a hint of doggedness in his voice.
The teacher walked towards the blackboard and with a chalk eraser in hand, cleared the board. Grabbing a fresh piece of chalk, he again turned towards Jakob and with a mocking voice asserted: "Listen very carefully Okker. This is not calculus--it's bloody grade two arithmetic!" Jakob was well aware that his original comment made no mathematical sense, but he was eager to lead the teacher on. Suddenly, chalk still in hand, McCloud pointed his arm venomously at Jakob "I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE UP TO OKKER: YOU'RE TRYING TO YANK MY CHAIN AND I'M NOT FEELING PLEASED! CAPICHE?"
The teacher glanced at his watch and then returned his sites to the day's lesson. "Now class, let's get on with the reason why your parents pay taxes to help educate you! Last week we learned about perimeters. The word originates from the Greek words "peri" meaning around and "meter" which means measure. So the perimeter around an object is its distance, whether it's a square, rectangle, or circle. Who wants to take a crack at explaining to us how we calculate the perimeter of a rectangle? He immediately stared at Jakob who knew full well that he was about to face the full brunt of Smokey's mounting rage. You...Okker...stand up....STAND UP STRAIGHT, THIS IS NOT YOUR LUNCH BREAK!"
Jakob straightened up slowly, his fingers fidgeting with a badly chewed pencil. McCloud looked him up and down like a vexed drill sergeant. "Do you happen to be familiar with our school's dress code?" He didn't wait for a response. "Okker--are you rehearsing for the lead role in the remake of "The Shaggy Dog" movie? You're well aware that a haircut is in order if I can't see your ears. You may think you're going to emulate one of those dirty, illiterate Rock and Roll musicians from England, but not here in my classroom! It makes me ashamed to be born in the same country as those thugs! I expect to see an appropriately dressed student in my class tomorrow morning--and by the way--no T-shirts or oversized belt buckles with that ridiculous "peace sign." Now I want an answer. How do we calculate a rectangle's perimeter?"
Jakob placed the eraser end of the pencil in his mouth, feigning deep thought. Near the front of the class, Benji Frankel, the only other Jewish kid in class caught his eye. Benji was pantomiming something with his hands: his thumb and index finger were fully extended, followed quickly by a plus sign and concluding with an outstretched index, middle, and ring finger. He then cut the air with an imaginary "X" followed by two fingers. There was an extended pause. "Mr. Okker, for our benefit, would you like to define a rectangle." Jakob surveyed the room. Most of his classmates were smirking, with the exception of Danny whose head was slightly bowed, sensing Jakob's discomfort. "I guess its some kind of a box shape." "Can you be more specific, Okker." "Well, it has four sides...and"......the teacher waited for a reply. "They're used to hold stuff, you know......like birthday and Christmas presents!" A fit of laughter broke out from his classmates. Danny yelled out, above the din: "Don't forget for Bar Mitzvahs too!" McCloud gave Danny his most earnest death glare. "Okay Binn--one more smart aleck remark like that from you and you'll be keeping company with Principal Stevens!"
The teacher returned his attention back to his main target. "Perhaps then Mr. Okker, I can demonstrate for you the very basic concept of a perimeter. Now class, does anyone want to give a simple definition of a perimeter for Mr. Okker's benefit?" He turned to a student with his hand up, two rows away from Jakob. "Yes, Douglas!" Doug Connors, an athletically built kid with a wisp of a moustache peeking out from his upper lip, stood up and leaned against his desk, an aura of confidence emanating from a beaming smile. His longish brown hair, grown to a rather rebellious length but well coiffed, unlike Jake's wild curly mane, served as a canopied cloak for his overly generous ears.
A year ago, Doug had been cajoled by the self-described smarter kids into joining the newly formed "Federation of Toronto High Schools for Democracy" who were picketing the Toronto School Board's administrative office. They thought his dissident "look" would be ideal to spur on the demonstrators and gain new recruits. The protest centred on the calling for an end to the teachers' prying into the activities and content of certain high schools' political clubs and newspapers, as well as for the ending of the repressive dress code. A local newspaper journalist who first got wind of the protest, reported that one of his reliable sources had heard that the RCMP were keeping their sites focused on certain individual protesters who they deemed to be Communists and Trotskyites, along with those affiliated with other assorted left wingers and anarchists, although in truth, most of the young protesters wouldn't know the difference between a Trotskyite and a stalactite. The cops suspected that the long haired, bell-bottomed Doug was one of the ring leaders and kept a close watch over him. The protests eventually ended in failure but Doug gained some minor notoriety which he soaked up with great appetite.
Doug proceeded to respond with a perfect technical answer, assisted by the highlights in his textbook strategically hidden from the teacher's view. "By the way Mr. Connors, are you also auditioning for the same movie as our friend Mr. Okker?" There followed a scattering of "ruff ruffs" and "bow wows" from some of the class buffoons. "I take it that you are also aware of the dress code here at Collin's, young man?" Doug looked at the teacher sheepishly. "Yes sir." "So what's the solution, lad?" "I guess I gotta get a haircut." "Well you better guess that by tomorrow morning when you walk into class. I want to be able to clearly see the top of both ears and your forehead. Understand?" "Yes sir!"
McCloud continued with the day's lesson. "OK class, last week we were talking about the perimeter and its importance for calculating everyday practical things. Can anyone give me an example of a common use for calculating the perimeter?" There was no response. "OK, let us pretend you are all a bunch of wild and dangerous beasts, hungry and grumpy. The rest of the school doesn't want to be part of your next meal so they make plans for building an effective safe protective barrier around you." "DANNY'S A RETARDED GORILLA WITH ONE THUMB!" The remark sounded as if it had originated from the front of the class. McCloud walked briskly to the front and grabbed the wooden pointer from the blackboard's ledge. He slowly struck the palm of his hand, repeating the gesture several times for added affect. "Everyone in the front two rows from Stella to Eric, STAND UP....NOW! Six students stood up in a slow, asymmetric response, reminding Jakob of the TV show "To Tell The Truth." "Now who made that crude remark?" The teacher allowed the silence to linger, again threateningly tapping his palm with the pointer. For Jakob, it seemed like an eternity. The guilty party failed to come forth. "Okay, no response means all of you will stay after class, every afternoon until school ends next month! "NOW SIT DOWN OR I'LL SEND ALL OF YOU TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE!"
In a perverse way, Jakob was enjoying the side show, content to observe the circus spotlight deflect from his own burdens. He leaned over towards Danny's desk and whispered: "Y'know who it was Danny Boy?" The teacher, quick to intercept the pair's whispered interaction, walked slowly to the back of the class, the pointer once again tapping slowly against his palm in a deliberate bellicose rhythm. "So Mr. Okker, are we going to have the pleasure of your input so we can decide how much fencing we will need to keep these insubordinate beasts inside?" He did not answer. "Cat got your tongue?" Again no answer. "Well class, let us see if we can assist Mr. Okker in our search for an answer!" He walked over to his desk and from a bottom drawer withdrew a bright yellow tape measure. It was the generic type with a white retractable metallic measuring strip highlighted by black markings. For added dramatic effect he opened the strip several times, then savoured the ratcheting sound when he slowly released it back into its encasing, like a swashbuckler liberating his weapon from its scabbard, ready for battle.
"I need two volunteers." He looked around, disappointed at the lack of response. "Okay, one last time--any volunteers?" Still no response. He pointed to the two desks near the window. "Edward and Walter, stand up and come join me at the back of the class. The two boys shrugged their shoulders, frowned and reluctantly yielded. They looked terrified. "Now Eddy, take the measuring tape and with Walter's help, measure the distance from the back of the room to the front and make sure you spread the tape out nice and straight!
He then focused his attention back to Jakob. Now Mr. Okker, stand up straight." Jakob remained seated, defiantly simulating deafness. "I SAID STAND UP!" Several seconds passed. The teacher cleared his throat. Suddenly a loud lashing sound broke the awkward silence. Walter stood motionless at the head of the class, minus the measuring strip, a culpable frown on his face, as if his drawers had suddenly fallen in full view of his classmates. Eddy, visibly shaken, dutifully held the tape measure, the white strip safely moored in its housing. A brief, tentative wave of laughter broke out from the embarrassed boys' classmates. Walter stood red-faced, his head bowed. "Sir, I didn't let go on purpose!" The teacher was clearly losing his patience. "Did you get the distance measured Walter!" "Yes sir, it was thirty-two feet and four inches." "OK, now quickly measure the width, and Walter, hang on to the tape this time!" While the two boys went about their task, McCloud glared at Jakob. "It's exactly twenty-five feet sir!", Walter proclaimed proudly. "Eddy, could you go to the blackboard and write down the two measurements." "Yes sir!" "What fucked-up tools!", Danny whispered to Jakob who continued to sit stiff-faced, staring straight ahead in silent obduracy.
"Okay Okker, enough of this childishness! STAND UP! The boy remained steadfast. The room became eerily silent. His classmates were clearly uneasy, sizing up the impasse and the possible unpleasant configurations of how it might all play out. The teacher's face morphed into a grotesque grimace, sufficiently taunting to spook out even Jakob and Danny. He removed his suit jacket, quickly loosened his tie, and tossed the jacket aggressively over an empty desk. Jakob stood up slowly, showing off his amplified slouch so to reveal his deepening rancor.
Suddenly, the teacher grabbed Jakob by the ear, twisting it until the boy was forced to awkwardly shadow him towards the front of the classroom. A smattering of laughter erupted. "OW, THAT HURTS!", Jakob cried out. McCloud twisted harder. "YOU DISRESPECTFUL LITTLE....Let's take a little stroll Okker!" With an even stronger grip, he guided the stumbling boy ahead. Most of his classmates were no longer trying to suppress their laughter. Some of them were laughing uncontrollably, wildly pounding on their desks. Their laughter became a humiliating echo, wounding the traumatized boy, his face burning hot with shame. His heart pounded violently. He tried to turn away from his classmates' laughing distorted faces.
The two antagonists reached the front of the class, the teacher still guiding Jakob by his ear like a leashed contumacious dog. The boy could no longer hold back his tears. The teacher's breath became laboured as they proceeded towards the far wall. Sweat stains migrated down from his arm pits, creating shadows of damp patches on the front and back of his crisply starched dress shirt. Jake struggled to free himself from the teacher's vengeful grip. The laughter was relentless, some of the students standing on their chairs cheering the two on like combatants in a prize fight. Jakob's allies looked on in disbelief. Danny leaned out from his desk, jaws clenched, as if readying himself for a full out physical assault on the teacher.
Jakob struggled harder against the teacher's increasingly painful grip. He caught a strong whiff of alcohol on the teacher's breath. "GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME, YOU DRUNKEN BASTARD!" The laughter stopped. Jakob looked up at Danny whose mouth was agape, a look of dread on his pale face. The teacher pulled harder. "LEAVE ME ALONE YOU PRICK!" Out of pain or fear, or just pure physical reflex, the boy suddenly thrust back his elbow. He felt a sharp contact with something hard and angular. The teacher cried out in pain. "WHAT THE!!"....
Jakob looked up. He saw blood spewing from the teacher's nose. In a panic, he bolted for the back door. Clutching the door handle, he observed through the glass panel, Mr. Hale, the guidance counsellor peaking in, smugly observing the scene, a hubristic look on his face. It was only a week prior that Jakob had a meeting with Hale to discuss his future job prospects, recalling the counsellor talking down to him with his trademark pomposity, declaring that unless his attitude and behaviour changed dramatically, the best vocational hope for him would be "shovelling horse shit at the Greenwood Race Track". "Unless", the teacher said, "like so many of your people", you land a job with one of your wealthy relatives." Jenny said that Mr. Hale once told her that there were excellent job opportunities for nannies and housekeepers in the "hoity toity" neighbourhoods like Rosedale and The Kingsway--or if she learned to cook--restaurants were always looking for reliable kitchen help. Feng, the only Chinese kid in class told Jakob that Mr. Hale once asked him if he wanted to own a laundry shop or a restaurant after he left school. Not surprisingly, the three of them decided to secretly name him: "Hale Hitler."
Jakob let go of the door handle, turned back around, and grabbed his rucksack from beneath his desk. As he opened the door slightly, he heard McCloud scream in pain: "YOU FILTHY LITTLE JEW!" The boy angrily slammed the door as hard as his diminutive frame would allow. He heard the glass window shatter from the door's wooden frame as he began a quick jog towards the refuge of the school's exit. A strong arm grabbed him from behind. "DON'T YOU THINK AN APOLOGY IS IN ORDER, YOUNG MAN!" Jake turned to see Hale leering at him with the look of a hunter who had just cornered his prized quarry. With reckless anger, the boy raised his arm in a Nazi salute and shouted: "HALE HITLER!" and then took off.
A moment later he collided with Karl, the young janitor who was holding on to a full yellow pail. The green powdery contents scattered on the floor, mixing with some shards of broken glass. The janitor was momentarily dazed. "Hey, what's going on kid?" Barely back on his feet, Jakob tried to regain his bearings and quickly made his way down the hallway. A scattered queue of teachers and students had already formed a broken chain along the hallway, all of them looking aghast.
Upon reaching the library, he heard a familiar girl's voice cry out: "JAKE, ARE YOU OKAY?" It was Jenny Ross, looking visibly distressed, trying without success to sequester a flood of tears. He grabbed her by the shoulders and planted a kiss on her mouth. He held both her hands. "I got him good, Jenny! I got him really good!" "Can I come with you Dutch, PLEASE?" "You'll just get into a shitload of trouble, Jenny! Make your folks proud and get your diploma and prove to that asshole Hale Hitler what a fuckin' idiot he is!" He let go of her hands. "Jenny, do me a favour. Get in touch with Danny. He'll give you my phone number!" Jakob took off again and quickly turned back, her lovely caramel eyes locked on his.
By the time Jakob reached Principal Steven's office, there was a gathering assembly of school staff, including Mr. Stevens, the VP, the school nurse, and Mrs. Dalgleish, Steven's horrified prehistoric secretary. The principal broke through the throng and attempted to clothesline him. With his meanest British Bulldog maneuver, Jakob broke through the principal's grasp and reached the door, breathless but unscathed. "YOU CAN'T LEAVE WITHOUT PERMISSION, JAKOB!", Stevens shouted. Jakob turned around, threw out an obscene middle finger gesture in a sweeping 180 degree motion to those gathered, and capped it off with a salacious farewell to the shocked assemblage, making sharp eye contact with each one: "FUCK YOU!....FUCK YOU!.....FUCK YOU!.... and a last: "FUCK ALL OF YOU!" Defiantly, he opened the school's gothic arched main door and double jumped the steps down to the street and his newfound freedom.
His escape route carried him through the neighbourhood's modest homes towards Beaches Billiards, the gritty pool hall where he often hung out after class or during his frequent bouts of truancy. In the rear of the nearby park, underneath the welcoming shade of a huge oak, he stopped to rest, his heart pounding wildly. He heard an intense ringing in his right ear, the one his teacher had grasped in anger. He rubbed the ear, revealing a gritty film of coagulated blood on his finger. "FUCKIN' BASTARD...FUCKIN' BLOODY BASTARD!", he mumbled bitterly to himself, wiping his finger on a discarded leaf.
He took out his transistor radio and head phones from his rucksack. His favourite song was playing: "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield. He placed the head phones in each ear and turned up the volume:
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
He looked back. He was now totally out of the school's sights, relieved that no one was in pursuit. Inconspicuous to him, just at the edge of the school's roof, out towards the north horizon, a threatening phalanx of purplish storm clouds were beginning to organize. Jakob took a deep breath, regrouped his whirling thoughts, and continued on his way.