Monday, May 30, 2011
This is a chapter from my book "Just Hangin' Out, Ma." Click on cover on the right of this page for more information
Brother Conrad was, in my opinion, one of the worst instructors ever at Central Catholic High School. But yet I have never forgotten the man. I had him for “Home Room” and for “World History.”
Brother Conrad was the size of a midget. One of his antics was to crawl up on top of his desk at the front of the room and peek down on somebody who was sitting up front, maybe eating their lunch or doing something inappropriate. He would belly-flop across his desk, his head propped up by his elbows with his chin in his palms. His feet would be in the air behind him, like a little kid lying across his bed at home. Everybody in the class would go into hysterics.
No matter what class he was teaching, he always drifted over into Lawrence, its politics or people. He was very concerned about the canals. He felt that they were dysfunctional and useless. He wanted them to be drained and paved or used for a subway or something.
He was brutally sarcastic. I’ll never forget the day that he walked into the classroom holding a copy of the Eagle Tribune high over his head.
“Lookie, lookie, lookie,” he squealed. “Did you see last night’s paper? We got two more.”
The front page of the Tribune had a picture of a car wrapped around a telephone pole. The car was estimated to have been traveling at over 100 miles per hour. Two teenagers had been killed instantly. The vehicle was hardly recognizable as an auto.
Brother Conrad thought that teenagers were violent and suicidal. He proposed a solution. He often suggested that all teenagers should be shuttled off to an island somewhere. Periodically a boat could be sent to the island and extract all of those who managed to survive to the age of 21 and return them to civilization.
In World History class he had one routine that went on and on. There was a student in the class by the name of Harcourt.
“Harcourt, would you please stand up.”
Harcourt (not his real name) was probably eating his lunch, looking out the window or grab-assing with someone around him.
“Tell me Mr. Harcourt, what do you intend to be when you grow up?”
“I’m goin’ to be an engineer, Bruddah”
“Really? I don’t really think so, Harcourt. Engineers have to know a lot of math. Are you good at math, Harcourt?”
“Not very, Bruddah. But why do you have to know a lot of math to drive a train? All you have to do is follow the tracks.”
“Oh, you what to be that kind of an engineer. And you have the boots for it don’t you?”
“Yes Bruddah, I got these engineer boots for Christmas.”
“How nice. And you feel that you can drive a train by just following the tracks. I suppose that is how you get to school each day. You are from up the river aren’t you?”
“I live in Haverhill, Bruddah. But I don’t follow the railroad tracks to get to school. I take the bus.”
“Well, since you ride on a bus everyday to get to school, why don’t you want to become a bus driver?”
“Bus drivers don’t have no tracks to follow, Bruddah. I figure driving a train should be easier and I think it pays more money.”
“Harcourt, you must know by now that you are never going to graduate from this school or go to college. Here it is only January. Do you realize that if you quit school right now and beat the June rush, you could get in line ahead of all the other kids over at the mill employment office and maybe get a job?”
“I want to drive a train. I don’t want to work at a mill.”
“Okay, okay, quit now and get your fanny down to a train station. If you wait until June, there will probably be a whole bunch of your fellow classmates ahead of you down at the train station. If you quit right now the line will be a lot shorter.”
“I’m goin’ to go to college, Bruddah.”
“You are? And what college is that, may I ask?”
“Harvard? That is a very good choice. Why did you pick Harvard?”
“Because there is a train from Haverhill that goes right to Harvard Square.”
“Oh yes, I forgot. You like trains.”
This comedy routine sometimes went on for the whole period. It depended on Harcourt’s answers. If Harcourt’s answers were creative enough, Brother Conrad couldn’t resist asking more silly questions.
Our entire class flunked the World History exam. For some reason Brother Conrad just couldn’t believe it. When he asked for an explanation, Harcourt raised his hand.
“Yes, Mr. Harcourt. You have an explanation of why this entire class flunked their World History exam?”
“I think so, Bruddah.”
“Well, by all means share your insight with me because I am at a total loss.”
“Well Bruddah, there wasn’t one question on that exam about the canals, the Merrimack River, the water works, Lawrence, or even Mayor Buckley.”