Mister Bowen, Bye Bye

When I was twelve my town closed down our Junior High School and made everyone in sixth grade stay in elementary school for one more year. Staying in our elementary school was embarrassing and sad. The principal tried to make it seem more like we were going to junior high by having us move from classroom to classroom for our different subjects, and by letting us choose electives like Intro to Latin or Backgammon, but this did not help.

Our science teacher was a bald man named Mister Brown, who claimed that once he had contracted malaria. One strange thing about Mister Brown was how he would say "and so on" after practically every other sentence. So, for example, when he was talking about the different types of mollusks he would say: "mussels, clams, scallops, and so on." Or when he was listing the various inert gases it would be: "argon, krypton, neon, and so on."

Mister Brown would also put his hand down the front of his trousers sometimes when he lectured. One day after class, he told a friend of mine who was tall named Robert that he was going to a party that night and he was going to get "rip roaring drunk" and his wife was going to have to "drag" his "drunk ass" home. It was October. We never saw Mister Brown again.

At first we thought Mister Brown had a cold or something. We had a substitute named Mrs. Trotsky. We did not like her, and she did not like us. We did the typical things that kids do when they have a substitute. We made noise, threw paper airplanes, passed notes to each other, tried on each others' pants, that sort of thing. One time my friend Mario really had to go to the bathroom but Mrs. Trotsky wouldn't let him, so he said he was going to "whip it right out and piss on the floor." She let him go out to the boys' room, but the incident made her like us less.

Another time, during a spelling test, I was sitting next to Mario when he asked Mrs. Trotsky how to make a "b" using handwriting instead of printing, because Mrs. Trotsky required us to use handwriting instead of printing on this spelling test and because Mario, I'm pretty sure, really didn't know how to make a "b" using this form of penmanship. Mrs. Trotsky, already spinning from the whole "whip it out" thing, took Mario's paper away and gave him an "F." I thought that was unfair because Mario honestly didn't know how to make a "b" so I said so, and she glowered at me and took my paper away and also gave me an "F."

Soon there was a dance at one of the other schools in town. Mario was making out with a girl named Kelly, and I was making out with a girl called Vera. Kelly was a lot prettier than Vera, and Vera's mouth tasted like a salami, but I was no great shakes myself, and I had a really ludicrous hairdo, so I was pretty much lucky to be making out with anyone. Anyway, for some reason that is no longer clear to me, we all decided to go to the girls' bathroom to continue our make-out session. But there were lots of girls in that bathroom and so we couldn't really make out and also everyone was mad that there were two boys in the bathroom. After a couple of awkward minutes, a chaperone came in and told everyone to leave the bathroom. Mario and I hid in the stalls, but once everyone else was out of the bathroom the chaperone looked over the doors of the stalls and saw us. We had to go to the Principal's office and explain why we were in the girls' bathroom. Mario took a couple of swings at the Principal, but the Principal was bigger than Mario and easily subdued him.

When all of this got back to Mrs. Trotsky, she did not see us in a more favorable light.

After a few weeks, it became clear that Mister Brown was not coming back. Nobody told us what had happened to Mister Brown. But more importantly, the end of the quarter was coming up, grades were due, and Mrs. Trotsky, who we had all assumed was only going to be a temporary replacement for Mister Brown, was going to get to assign the grades. This turned out to be terrible for many of us. I, for example, was given a "U" for "Unsatisfactory" in Self Discipline, Respect for Authority, Respect for Property, and Attitude. A "U" was the worst possible grade. When I asked Mrs. Trotsky what the "U" in Respect for Property was for, she said that after the spelling test episode I put my feet up on the countertop. I did not remember doing that and I also thought that was a stupid reason to give me a "U" in Respect for Property.

Actually, I got a fifth "U" that quarter as well. Once in music class, we were supposed to sing a popular song, it might have been called "Snowbird." We had a sheet of lyrics to sing from, and at the end of the lyrics it said "Repeat first line." So when we got to the end of the lyrics instead of singing the first line again I sang "repeat first li-i-ine." I got a "U" in Music for doing that.

Not long after the second quarter started, the school replaced Mrs. Trotsky with a permanent science teacher named Mrs. Billings, who was at least a little better than Mrs. Trotsky. We never learned what happened to Mister Brown. Even though it is now twenty years later, I still sometimes wonder what happened to that man. Sometimes, I even think I see him. For example, once when I was at the circus I thought that the elephant trainer looked a lot like Mister Brown. And another time I could have sworn that the guy selling hot dogs in the stands at Fenway Park was him. Probably, though, he croaked a long time ago.

About the author:

Jay Wexler bakes pies in Boston.