The Localist

Mr Mel’s scrambled eggs

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I was always a smartass kid when I was young. I was a handful for any teacher. I was a bright kid with a lot of wit and maybe too comfortable exercising it with authority figures. I was never a violent kid. I had the odd schoolyard dust up but most of the time that involved me sticking up for someone else. I had to switch schools by the age of ten and continued to make sure any teacher of mine earned their paycheck. The teachers most at a loss with me were substitute teachers, those wonderful individuals who would come in on an hour’s notice to make sure the future of our nation did not spend the day turning staples into flying arsenal. But they always seemed to want to make an example of someone quickly, and guess which quick-witted smartass ginger was usually first to volunteer…that’s right – yours truly.

This was the exact situation I found myself in on a Monday morning in grade 7 art class. Mr. Mel was a crusty old thing who was surprisingly fit for a man who looked like death. He was tall, slender, bald and spoke with a lisp, which added to his creepy demeanor and the schoolyard rumours about his personal life. For whatever trumped up charge he had me on, I was sent out of class and into the hallway. I grabbed my books and gave the usual “with pleasure” on my way out. In the hallway I found a couple girls of I knew in the grade above me. Not a bad situation or way to spend my Monday morning, I thought.

Mr. Mel must have heard the girls in the hallway laughing at one of my well-crafted teenage jokes, because after a few minutes he stormed out and ordered me to go to the principal’s office, a common occurrence in my scholastic career. I sternly told him, “No”. He approached me and told me again, in an even more aggressive tone, and pointed in the direction.

By this age I knew what teachers were and were not allowed to do. I attended an elementary school that still allowed the strap (a small leather belt used to whip the hand in punishment). As luck would have it, the practice was abolished a few years before my current situation with Mr. Mel, so I had a shit eating grin on my face that screamed “What the fuck you gonna do old man?” I looked him dead in the eye and I told him, “You go get Mrs. McGinnis (my class’s Teacher AId) and have her tell me to go to the office and I will go, but I don’t respect you and I wont listen to you.”

I don’t remember much of what happened next. No, that’s not true. I remember it vividly, but as if it happened in glitches or it was interrupted by moments of silence and darkness. I do remember that by the time I had been able to take enough deep breaths I was in the principal’s office with a lot of broken furniture and some sort of blunt object in my hand.

After explaining to Mr. Mel where my respect lies I turned back to the two girls who were now just watching the entertainment. The first thing I felt was a hand grab my right arm. Next, an arm slipping under my armpit and against my back. I immediately froze and before I knew it this crusty old man had me in a full nelson and and was driving me into the wall face first. I vaguely remember the girls questioning his action. My buddy “Cotton Balls” came out of the class and started yelling at the substitute teacher who now looked more like a wrestling villain. Out of my mouth spewed nothing but curse words I’d acquired listening to N.W.A and Andrew Dice Clay as a kid.

Mr. Mel pulled me off the wall and started driving me towards the office, which was down the hall and to the right at a T intersection. As we approached the T intersection I realized he wasn’t turning and was gonna feed me another taste of the wall. I kicked both of my legs in the air and timed it perfectly so I could push off, saving my face from another impact. A bunch of kids ran out of class after hearing the chaos and just saw enough as we got to the office door. He had to release one of my arms to open the door and when he did he got the hardest elbow I have ever thrown to the sternum. I heard him wince but only for a second before he wrestled me to the principal’s office. The receptionist, a friend of my family’s, stood there, stunned and not sure what to do about a physical altercation between a student and substitute teacher. With a heave, he tossed me into the principal’s office and shut the door.

That’s when I stood up and decided to destroy anything within arm’s reach. Bookshelf, phone, computer – it was all gonna feel my wrath. There was a cut off hockey stick with a tennis ball on the end used to rub scuff marks off the floor – that became my weapon of choice as I wrecked everything I could, with tears in my eyes. The principal was out somewhere, so when he came back he had a receptionist explaining what she saw and why his personal office was trashed. I am sure his first concern was ‘lawsuit’, or maybe it was my wellbeing, as Mr. Oldham was always a fair and good man.

In the end my parents took me to a doctor that day, had pictures taken of all my bruises and cuts, and explained to the school that they would be dealing with lawyers and the media. I took 2 days off I think. My parents were always great at letting me and my brothers, even at a young age, make crucial decisions. They would lay out the situation, possibly steer my thoughts in one direction as any concerned parent would, but the decision to press charges was ultimately up to me.

I have no idea why, but I think even at that young age I understood that I could ruin this man and essentially run him out of my quaint picturesque hometown of Spruce Grove. Maybe my future self visited me in my sleep and told me to be patient, as revenge comes best served late, and that if I kept this to a minimum now it would benefit me in the future. I will say that the experience did lead me to establish boundaries when it comes to being a smartass… just a little. But I still knew what he did was unacceptable.

I chose not to press charges, and trust me, my future self was right. Five years later, on a cool Halloween night, I would get the revenge I was waiting for and it would be sweeter than imagined and too perfect to be scripted.

Check my next post for the climactic finish between Mr. Mel and me.

MEET THE LOCAL: GREG POLAK

Illustration by Sydney-based visual artist Anthony Chang.

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