Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good Morning Jacob...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 20 October

I think I can...

Good Morning Jacob…

Ninth grade woodshop was a tight ship with Mr. Gilbert at the helm.  Our class was an elite crew as roll call started at seven each morning sharp, one hour before everyone else in the school.  Anyone late had to deal with Mr. Gilbert’s large flat cherry wood paddle, carefully designed with numerous holes drilled through the flattened portion of the bat to minimize drag and maximize sting.  You’d expect nothing less from the school’s premiere woodshop teacher. 

Most of the class made it a point of never being late but it might surprise you to know how many times a student had to brace himself, legs spread, rump up, and hands clenching the narrow sides of the doorsill.  The experience always left the recipient’s face flushed a deep red.  Mr. Gilbert was never apologetic.  For him this stern discipline was a rite of passage into manhood, nothing more or less.   For the student it was a point of honor not to fuss or quibble about such things.  Simply take your seat and feel proud you took it like a man.

If you managed to catch that time-suspended moment of news worthy crisis, you would have wanted to laugh at the ease Dan Feighan’s left pinkie finger separated from his hand and looped across the room.  It’s not like we all hadn't been warned countless times about the table saw.  You always use the doohickey to push your work through and pass the blade.  But there’s nine months to the school year and even in Mr. Gilbert’s shop class the boys have their quota of grab-ass.  This time it was just a matter of Dan caught up in conversation with Steve about Tricia being really hot and who could possibly care about her acne.  Who’s paying attention for you when your mind is visualizing her tight sweater on these cool autumn days?  God knows Steve wasn't.  He about blew a snot-bubble given his surprise.  Dan was stunned at first, and then overcome with concern that some idiot might next step on his freshly scrubbed, pink finger.

Mr. Gilbert’s first instinct was to grab the cherry wood paddle but, instead, he yelled for someone to bring him the first-aid kit while he went over to collect up the orphaned finger.  Somehow everyone figured it was time to power down all the woodworking tools.  Shop class was finished for the day.  Guaranteed by the end of lunch recess everyone in the school would know something about the incident in First Period Shop.  Certainly the recounting would have to be gorier than it actually was because, truth be known, the amount of blood spilled was a bit disappointing.  For story-telling purposes the level of emotion displayed was also unsatisfactory.  Gilbert’s shop was one mostly silent with dumbfounded curiosity, save for a couple of muttered wise-ass remarks coming from the back of the group and some smothered laughs. 

“Shut up and go sit in the classroom,” Gilbert said.  “That goes for you too, Frank.  You've got a smart mouth.  I’ll deal with you later.”

So now we’re all feeling culpable in some way or another, including Mr. Gilbert.  He’s already figuring on having to explain to Mr. Bates, our prissy principal, how this outrageous incident could possibly have occurred.  Damn it all to Hell!  Mr. Gilbert knew good and well he would shoulder all the blame.  No telling what else they’ll want to pry into.  You’d think Bates lived on Mt. Olympus.  Ninth grade boys and power saws are everywhere.   Let Bates handle this class.  Limbs would be flying off the walls. 

Feighan’s parents were talked out of having his finger reattached.  It would be more trouble than it was worth.  It’s not like he was destined to be the school’s quarterback or something.  Besides, he was right-handed.  He should consider himself lucky.  Mr. Gilbert left him alone.  He let all of us off the hook.  After roll call the following day he merely glared at the class and told us the remainder of the week would be a refresher course in shop safety.  That was punishment enough.  We all looked at Feighan, certain he should get the worst of the cherry wood paddle.  It was a fine paddle.  It had a comfortable grip and a well-balanced design.   We all admired the workmanship.  Hanging there from the shop wall it somehow epitomized the best Ninth Grade Woodshop had to offer.


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