No Particular Place Nor Person – A Story from the Modern “Academy”
Sometimes things happen and nobody cares. Even if what happens is horrible. Worse, many, maybe most folks usually, if they consider matters at all, cheer on the atrocity de jure, especially when calamity comes wrapped in false promises of something … anything. They only begin to care when the wolf is literally at their door. Some only find alarm when jaws close around their own throats. Tom Ironsides wasn’t one of them.
Every morning was a grand new beginning in his educational experiment, serving as a humble substitute teacher in the high schools of a suburban county much like most others across fading America. Monday, April 22nd was no different. Coach R’s first period honors chemistry class, a point of pride at Silver Snuff Comprehensive High, worked rather sleepily on their review sheets. Tom surveyed the room – fourteen working slow but steady, two working on and off, two quietly discussing the weekend, three engaging the digital wonders of social media, and one sleeping soundly. He spoke words of encouragement:
‘It’s all about balance. Calculate the change in pH for each little equation. You should be asking yourself if you have electron donation or reception in progress. Your work goes in the little boxes. Every correct formula will match one of the three answer options for each equation thus leading to the next problem. It’s just an equation-maze puzzle, from “start” to “finish.” This young lady up here is almost finished!’
‘Were you a chemistry teacher before you came here?’ asked a boy from the back-right. He was committing three infractions at once – being black, wearing a hoodie, and listening to something via earbuds. Unconcerned with bureaucracy, Tom had already noted him among the “slow but steady.”
‘I lectured in classical philosophy for three years at a University in Eastern Europe,’ Tom answered, ‘Before that, I did two one-year teaching fellowships, one here and one in France.’
His answer piqued the interest of a few plodders and one of the on-and-off-agains.
Another boy in the back, maybe a “good old boy” inquired, ‘What did you do before that?’
Tom thought for just a second – the plain and direct (and maybe still classified) answer simply would not do. He replied, ‘I … retired from the Marine Corps.’
‘You an officer?’ the first boy wanted to know.
‘Yes, Oh-five, light colonel. I was in … requisitions. At the Pentagon.’ While technically true, this explanation was far from exhaustive. Tom wondered if it would satisfy collective curiosity. Beyond “requisitions” he had always had trouble with explaining things away to the innocent and the by-the-book “I can’t talk about it” never felt right to him.
Of all people, a pretty girl in the front row, the one who was now actually finished, pushed the matter forward: ‘So, is it “Mr. Ironsides,” “Dr. Ironsides,” or “Colonel Ironsides?”’
‘Were you in combat?’ came an inquiry from another good old boy.
Tom, vividly remembering a painful night in Mosul, considered his available options. Balance, Thomas, he told himself. ‘Well, I …’
‘Pardon this announcement,’ squeaked a limp-sounding voice from the ceiling, ‘Teachers, please hold first period for a few minutes after the bell rings. We are starting a… We just need a few minutes to do something.’ After a short pause, it continued, ‘Please keep all students inside the classrooms and keep the doors closed. Keep the students away from the doors…’
Tom starred at the circular speaker for a moment, wondering if there was anything to be added. He hated superfluous chirping, as he heard it. Five, ten seconds passed. Okay, that’s that, he thought. At least his little predicament was diffused. He spoke: ‘Well, now we all have time to finish. Let’s have at it.’
Minutes passed. A bell rang. A tardy bell rang. More minutes passed. Half of second period passed. The students, all of them, were now either tapping at their phones of dozing. From just down the hall, a loud BARK! got their attention.
‘So that’s what that is about,’ Tom smirked. The black boy with the hoodie returned his expression with a chuckle. Some of the kids looked less than pleased.
Tom swiftly stepped to the door and glanced out the narrow, security-wired window. Coming down the hall was a grumpy-looking coach, a lighter-loafers-looking administrator, two tubby lawmen in tactical pants, and a rather handsome German Shepherd. Tom instantly formulated a plan which he found both defiant and amusing. He stepped to the front of the class. ‘When they come in, everyone look at me,’ he said. The class nodded along.
Someone twisted a key in the unlocked door. It opened and in walked the grumpy coach. Tom “resumed” his lecture: ‘… and that’s why the Georgia sheriff pled guilty to violating the students’ civil rights, violating his oath of office, kidnapping, obstruction, and…’ He looked at the now quizzical coach, ‘Hello! How may I help you?’
After gaping at Tom for a second, the coach spoke directly to the class, ‘I need everyone to step out in the hall. Just leave yer bags and jackets in here. Take off yer coats. Just leave everything. And, hurry it up.’ He turned and, avoiding Tom’s steady thousand-yard stare, said, ‘I, uh, please step out with them. Sir.’
‘Love to!’ boomed Tom as he waltzed into the hall. He walked straight up to the nearest obese deputy, ‘Can I have a look at your warrant? I’m writing a research paper on probable cause.’
The officer looked confused and almost frightened. ‘I don’t… We… It’s routine procedure.’
‘Just kidding,’ Tom said with a laugh, wheeling to face the class, now assembled along a locker-embedded wall, ‘Thank god the dog barked, right kids? Just enough time to flush that fresh batch!’ With that, twenty-two previously sullen and dejected teenagers roared with laughter.
Even the deputies checked smiles as they entered with the Shepherd. Grumpy Coach also stepped back in and closed the door behind them.
Tom’s mind briefly addressed the sub-compact .45 on his ankle. Not a thought about it. You don’t print and you never touch, Thomas. And, that’s only a drug-sniffing dog. Of course, it would impress the hell out of these kids to pull OC on this rabble of petty tyrants… His thoughts were cut short by the suspiciously swishy administrator, who now angrily addressed the still snickering students.
Mr. Assistant Something chastised the children, ‘Now! We’re not gonna have any of that. This is very important and if you don’t want to…’ He was cut off, in turn, by Tom, who stepped in front of the little man, making sure to “accidentally” brush shoulders.
Tom asked bluntly, in his long-unused direct action mission voice, ‘Did the principal invite them here?’
Stammering, all the man in the pink plaid shirt could muster was something about a policy at the board office.
Tom continued, ‘Under sixteen dash seventeen dash four-twenty, either the school’s principal or president has to authorize any outside visits. By anybody. You don’t have a president, just a principal. He didn’t invite them, huh? No warrant. Are they in hot pursuit of a dangerous felon or something?’
The little man looked worried. The kids, having found a new hero, looked on in rapt silence. Tom looked CIA serious. He didn’t blink.
Luckily, the classroom door opened at that most awkward moment. ‘I think we’re done this morning,’ said one of the county’s finest (and largest).
‘Okay, y’all can resume the science,’ barked Coachy the Grouch as he lumbered away.
‘We’re studying civil rights, at the moment,’ rejoined Tom as the kids filed into the room.
Several minutes later there came another BEEP from above. The squeaky voice (now sounding a little shaken) announced the “project” was over and that all students should report to second period. He thanked everyone and extolled the school’s commitment to “safety.” He added that the Pride Club would meet Wednesday after school in his office. He ended with the lame house motto: ‘Cause you can’t get enough of the Snuff stuff!’ A bell rang.
Thanks to “safety,” second period lasted all of seven minutes – barely long enough for Tom to take attendance and tell the new kids to do the pH review sheet for homework.
Another idiotic interruption from the sky heralded the fact that parents and the community were being alerted to that morning’s successful – nothing at all was found – routine safety search via Facebook and Instagram. Another bell rang.
Third period was Coach R’s planning period. For Tom, it was investigative and alarm-ringing time. He quickly downloaded the school’s letter from Zuck’s Suckerbook site, read it, and suppressed a laugh. The damned stupid letter hadn’t even been up for fifteen minutes and it already had garnered twenty-eight little “likes” and “hearts.” The mindlessly cheerful comments had started as well, most of them thanking Providence for “safety.”
Yeah, keep the kids safe by stomping on their Constitutionally-protected liberties, Tom mumbled to himself.
The last, latest comment caught his eye. It was from the little effeminate admin man, who apparently had just posted the letter itself. His self-congratulatory remark got under Tom’s thick skin: ‘No, sir. Nothing illegal was found. But, then again, if they’re not doing anything wrong, then they have nothing to worry about.’
Tom repeated that to himself as he dialed the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The conversation, once it started, was a little disjointed.
‘Hello. I’m not sure if you’ll consider this civil or criminal. I’d call it criminal. My name is Tom and I’m a substitute high school teacher. I’m a mandatory reporter. I just witnessed a school and the local police break violate scores of students’ rights, break about a dozen laws…’
Forty minutes later, Tom was wrapping up an interview with an ASA and two special agents when Little Mr. Pink Shirt snuck to the door. Eavesdropping, he caught the last of the conversation, Tom’s end:
‘Definitely. Under the State Constitution too. Maybe under forty-two U-S-C nineteen-eighty-three? No. I don’t know the state’s kidnapping statute. The one for disrupting a school – it’s a one-year misdemeanor – is sixteen dash seventeen dash four-twenty. Ha, ha! Yeah, like pot… Conspiracy for all counts. RICO too, if I was really tacking on shit. Oh, hey, thanks, gentlemen, ma’am. Bell’s about to ring and my coffee cup is empty. No. No, I doubt anyone from here to there cares at all about any of this. But, I thank you. Goodbye.’
Pinky recoiled from the doorway and slunk back to his office. More bells rang. Coffee was consumed. pH was balanced. A girl thought Tom looked like a cartoon robot.
Around four o’clock Tom signed out. Another successful day in his experiment and one he would remember. He turned around and saw the Plaid Swisher standing in the corner.
‘Who were you talking to this morning during third,’ that squeaky, annoying voice asked.
‘FBI,’ Tom deadpanned, ‘I’m a mandatory reporter, don’t you know.’ He turned to leave but couldn’t help adding one last thing: ‘Of course, if you’re not doing anything wrong … then you have nothing to worry about.’
The next Monday morning, on his drive back to Silver Snuff of all places, came a predictable call from Agent Sara Smith (who sounded young and kind of sweet). She regretted to inform Tom that, after an exhaustive (one-week) investigation, the Bureau and the Department were declining to do anything about the previous week’s matters. Something about a Facebook barometer. Something else about being overworked assisting refugees and making sure commercial banks were protected against customer withdrawals. She asked Tom to keep the issue quiet. Not an issue for this particular sub. For the past twenty years, he never had a problem maintaining silence. Sa la vie.
Eight o’clock. A bell. A BEEP. Something about the “Snuff stuff!,” and Tom looked out at Coach R’s first period once again. He dropped the prepared lesson plans in the lab countertop sink and began,
‘About last Monday, kids. About that. It’s important to follow the law … for safety and so forth. And … the law, and the CFR, just happen to say that a person can make up to one-half ounce of certain things before it’s a problem, legally-speaking. Now, this being a boring old chemistry class and all, who’s ever heard of Torpex? I have here a dash of powdered aluminum…’
CFF Public Service Announcement:
Every week in this country, government schools and local law enforcement routinely throw the law out the schoolhouse window – at the expense of your children. Your acquiescing “likes” and “hearts” be damned.
Fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969). They don’t shed the following either:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
– U.S. CONST. Amend. IV (1792)
Rights may not be “shed” but they can be trampled. If we allow it. Will you?
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