By Warren Starr
The first six weeks of school are always a joy . They are the spring time of teaching. The last six weeks? Those weeks can be, in the immortal words of Thomas Paine, “The times that try men's souls.” Those are the days when teachers consider retirement regardless of whether they've been teaching for three years or thirty. Mr. Hemphill was nearing the 30 year mark.
Today Mr. Hemphill, as students always called him to his face, felt more like the “old Mr. Hemphill” he knew students often called him behind his back. Not quite 60, his friends, all of whom referred to him as just “Bob,” often commented on how young and fit he appeared for a man his age. To the high school students at Olympus High he was ancient. Ninety percent of the other teachers were youngsters under 40, most under thirty.
“How old are you?” he was often asked.
“Older than you can imagine,” he'd reply. “I used to teach Shakespeare.”
“You still teach it; we read Romeo and Juliet first semester.”
“No, no,” he would grin. “I used to teach Shakespeare the MAN. That's why he uses so many puns in his plays.” Mr. Hemphill never gave a quiz or test without including a bonus question, always a pun of some kind.
He didn't feel very punny today. He just felt tired, weary to the bone. On his now cleared, moments earlier cluttered desk, were two items. The first was the true source of his fatigue. Seventh (the final) period of his day Mr. Hemphill had been doing his best to lead a literary discussion with a class of 38 students. Most of them hadn’t read the mere seven pages of the novel he'd assigned for homework and upon which the discussion was about. Suddenly a piece of paper floated into the air from somewhere in the middle of the room, and past three or four desks. It lighted softly as a tiny bird at his feet. He picked it up. The paper, which had floated like a bird, was as welcome to Mr. Hemphill as bird poop. Indeed, the less euphemistic form of the word “poop” came to mind as he saw what was on the paper.
In graphic, splendidly detailed tagger art color was a picture of a penis and scrotum on a skateboard. Mr. Hemphill commented on the quality of the art and expressed his wish that the author would channel his obvious talents in a more productive manner. What he almost said was that the artist must surely have spent hours and hours studying and handling his subject in order to depict it so 2.
accurately. He didn't say it however because Mr. Hemphill in his core saw himself as a professional. His clothes, though not expensive, were ironed and neat, his shoes polished. The years he'd spent in front of classrooms had taught him losing his temper was not professional. More importantly, it did you no good. He had taken a copy of the paper to the vice principal with the names of those he was certain were responsible. To the class as a whole he expressed his disappointment that some of them who had such grand potential for greatness were choosing to waste it on depravity. He meant it too and said it with great sincerity. A few looked as if they agreed with him. Several others, and probably the ones responsible, snickered albeit surreptitiously.
“They think I'm just an old, old guy from another planet,” he thought at the time.
When he looked at the item now he felt disappointment once again, and anger, most definitely, and hurt. For some reason it definitely hurt. Of course it most likely had not been meant for him. It had a boy's name on it, Nick ________, and it was likely a gang thing. When a gang member gives a guy a picture of a male private part it is a message. He's calling the guy out, insulting him, asking him what he's going to do about it. Sometimes a gang guy draws a picture of the female equivalent. That is a worse insult, and implies the recipient won't or can't do anything about it because he’s just a P______. “Don't judge these guys” Mr....