Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 2.1 (Garrett Kalleberg)

Kalleberg, Garrett
Some Mantic Daemons


Given to me either by the author or the publisher. I believe this was the first book published under the Futurepoem banner, Dan Machlin's press. It's inscribed and dated on the same date as yesterday's title, which means that they were either signed at the same time or that I acquired them on the same date. It probably also means that Garrett came to Buffalo only once, not twice, as I surmised yesterday.

Before he left on Sunday, we took Will Alexander to brunch at a little cafe around the corner. We found ourselves all telling funny stories about former teachers. Suddenly all of my middle school teachers started coming back to me. Some of them were serious characters. Want to hear about three of them? Sure you do.

Well, first I remembered Mr. Morton, who taught wood shop in the seventh grade. Mr. Morton was a short, balding WWII vet whose minimal coiffure was ghost white. His forehead was pinched and wrinkled, and the pinches and wrinkles all seemed to be trying to squeeze themselves into the little space between his pointed eyebrows, which seemed to be vying for the same position as the wrinkles.

A myth circulated that this peculiarly angular scowl had been caused by his having been shot in the head during the war and having had a metal plate inserted into his forehead. One of Mr. Morton's creations was a wooden roulette wheel painted red, white and blue, which he used to determine what kind of punishment a student would receive if he or she acted up. I think we were uniformly afraid of the man.

Mr. Timmons, or Señor T., as he liked to be called, was my Spanish teacher. A thin, very short man with a full head of white hair cropped as tight as the day he'd enlisted, he was also a veteran of WWII. He'd flown something like 100 bombing missions as the little guy who sat in the glass hatch under the plane and released the bombs when they were over the target.

He'd orally recorded accounts of all his missions. At some point, the person who'd recorded and transcribed them made a presentation in class recounting his heroics. He was a lively, flamboyant type who sometimes wore Hawaiian shirts to class and liked to talk about taking his wife out for Margaritas. I think everyone liked him.

Probably the most vivid character was my history teacher, Mr. James A. Michener (no relation). Mr. Michener was a scary looking guy -- medium height, very thick from the chest to the waist, his face deeply pockmarked, his dark hair slicked back with some kind of gel. He wore a dark blue coat and and colorful tie to school each day. The coor of his socks always matched the color of his tie, and he made a point of telling us that this was the correct way to dress.

He'd been a marine colonel during the Korean War. He liked to tell us about the marines. He'd beat his chest and then pat his gut and say, "You know what they used to call me in the Marines? Skinny Jimmy. Skinny Jimmy!~ Ain't that somethin'?"

If he said a word aloud in class he knew we wouldn't understand, he'd single someone out, usually me, and say, "Michael, do you know what that word means?" After I'd told him no, he'd fling a dictionary in my direction and shout, "Well look it up!"

If someone sneezed in class, he's ask the person, "Do you know what just happened?" When they said they'd sneezed, he'd reach up to the rollout maps and pull down a chart of the human nasal passage. He'd then explain the physiology of the sneeze to the bewildered and terrified student, after which he'd toss them a box of tissues and say, in a gently mocking tone, "Now go wipe your nose, you snot-nosed little brat."

Once he showed us a letter he'd received from his namesake the famous author, who'd responded to a letter detailing the coincidence of their names. He seemed very proud to have received the letter.

Oddly, I thought the guy hated me, but when I read the recommendation he'd written for me to get into high school I discovered quite the opposite was true.

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