Last week I revised a story told in my book Playing with Sharp Objects. Made me laugh. I’m going to do it again. Here’s another story about school that makes me laugh. Hope you laugh too. Enjoy.
Mr. Tragai was an English teacher at my high school. I had him in 11th grade. 1st hour. With my good friend Josh. And I’m disguising Mr. Tragai’s name here. But not Josh’s. Because I only say good things about Josh.
Mr. Tragai was in his fifties. Had a black beard and oversized glasses. Shiny bald head, too. I became obsessed with drawing pictures of Tragai’s face. I filled pages of my 11th grade Journalism notebook with sketches of Tragai’s bald head. On different bodies. To make Josh laugh.
Mr. Tragai would have the body of a newborn baby. He’d be holding a rattle and wearing a diaper. Or Tragai’s head would be atop a giraffe’s neck or in between a bat’s wings. My favorite version of Mr. Tragai was a picture of him as a dominatrix. A leather vest, a whip, and a gimp on a chain leash. Good fun. Mr. Tragai once walked by our table when my notebook was open. He saw my work. It was embarrassing for everyone.
Here’s the reason I spent so much time drawing in Mr. Tragai’s class: Tragai was, without a doubt, the most boring teacher I’ve ever had. His voice was quiet. Tragai’s speech patterns were rhythmic and slow. He was a white noise machine.
Each day, Mr. Tragai would turn on his ancient overhead projector. He’d stand beside it, and read words from slides. It was miserable. And boring. And soothing. Especially for a dapper young 11th grader who was usually up late closing the local McDonalds. Did you know I was a manager at McDonalds when I was 16? I don’t like to brag, but I was a big deal. My tie smelled like grease, but it was a tie all the same.
Tragai was boring, but I did enjoy writing articles in his Journalism class. My favorite piece detailed the trip that my German class took to Germany over the summer. I didn’t go. And I didn’t actually conduct interviews. I made the whole thing up. Quotes and all.
“None of this is true!” Josh told me when I showed him my story. “You can’t turn this in.”
“You’re an idiot, Sam.”
I was unkind to my German teacher and fellow German students in the article. Made it sounds like their trip to Germany was debauchery. Tragai didn’t care. He published the article in the next issues of the school newspaper, and I learned that there were no consequences for fictionalizing journalism.
Reporters for Fox News probably had similar experiences in school.
I worked the closing shift at McDonald’s on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Josh also worked the closing shift. At a local movie theatre. Worse, both Josh and I often went over to our girlfriend’s houses after work and didn’t get home until one or two in the morning. Crazy kids. This meant we were exhausted by the time we arrived at Tragai’s Journalism class. And we sat in the front of the room, near his soothing projector. The slow hum of the projector’s fan and the warmth of the light sang us to sleep each morning.
Mr. Tragai’s style of lecturing was unique. Or maybe it wasn’t. I guess there are other boring teachers, too. The man would begin talking. Then, regardless of whether his audience was alive or dead, he would continue talking. Most of the class fell asleep. Mr. Tragai didn’t seem to care. More often than not, Tragai would talk through an entire period without once interacting with us. Students would show up late, and Mr. Tragai would ignore them as they sat down and fell asleep in their seats. At least Josh and I were on time.
One morning, after a particularly late night, I arrived at his class in need of sleep. He turned on his projector and I was out. Like a light. Now, I often fell asleep in strategic ways. For example, I would place my cheek in my hand so that I was able to remain erect during my slumber. On this morning, without intending to, I fell asleep with my middle finger extended. Unfortunately, my middle finger was pointing directly at Tragai.
A quiet, passive-aggressive voice pierced my peaceful slumber that morning.
“You little shit.”
I started to wake up. The energy in the room had changed. I heard the voice again.
“You little shit.”
I opened my eyes and realized, for the first time the entire semester, Tragai was addressing his students during a lecture. In fact, he was talking directly to me.
“You little shit,” Tragai said to me a third time. “Get out of my classroom.”
I didn’t realize my middle finger was extended. I was so confused. I looked at Josh. My friend’s mouth was agape. He was as confused as I was.
I got up and left the classroom. I sat in the hallway for the period. To be fair, I curled up and fell asleep until the bell rang.
Mr. Tragai came out and asked me to talk with him after class. Josh waited for me outside his classroom.
“Why were you flicking me off?” Tragai snarled at me.
“What?” I asked.
“You were flicking me off during class.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Tragai, I really didn’t mean to. I must have fallen asleep with my finger extended.”
“Oh,” he said.
“Well, don’t let it happen again.”
I left the room. Mr. Tragai and I didn’t have any more personal interactions after this experience.
I slept through the semester, received an “A” in his class, and made a point not to extend my middle finger during naps in school from that point forward.