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Alan D Busch

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Category: 

Memoir



Chapters 1 and 2 of My Molochim (angels)

sorry about the disjointed appearance of the stories, but do read them please.respond if you like with either negative or positive reviews.





 

 

Teachers

Inside Mr. Gallo’s World

Mr. Gallo’s class was a welcome respite from the daily humdrum. The kind

of teacher who put a lot of effort into making  you feel … well, like you were

home.


He once brought half of a sheet cake to class and apportioned it so precisely

with a plastic knife that each child in the classroom of thirty students

received an equal portion. The precision of the cut was, from what I could

see, an amazing feat of exactitude.


Mr. Gallo required that each student draw a one inch square box in the

upper left hand corner of his notebook paper into which he would inscribe

one’s grade. It was not to be  just any square but an exact one, as if

drawn by a draftsman, without overlapping lines at any of the four

corners.

He was a punctilious man who seriously enforced his class assignment

protocol.  Penalties for non-compliance ranged from 1-5 points. That may

not seem like much, but it is a serious consequence for a conscientious

eighth grader. He docked me a point once after I had failed to place a

“period” after my middle initial in the heading of my assignment.


Mr. Gallo’s middle section was shaped uncannily like a boulder punctuated by

his “non-existent” neck upon which sat an exceedingly round, shiny head,

completely bald atop and shorn of any and all hair on the sides.

No! Mr. Gallo did not wax his head, but he did perspire quite a lot which

would explain his gleam.


His face was one of those which only a mother loves. His rather

unhappy teeth would have caused even a seasoned dentist to wince,

but he had a smile that shone like none other. His nose was broad and

flattened as if it had known the impact of too many fists in its youth. All in

all, his rather tough looking appearance contrasted remarkably with his

otherwise gentle manner.


It was imprudent to irritate Mr. Gallo, but let’s be clear on one thing. Mr.

Gallo was a master teacher and, as such, he used his rather ogre-like

appearance to his advantage to manage his classroom. As a result, kids

learned in Mr. Gallo’s class-not merely textbook civics but civic

responsibility, not fear of but respect for fair law and order. His most

effective teaching tool … the power of his own example.


The Coatroom Mystery

“Pssst, hey Rebbe,” David whispered while ducking for cover. Sat right behind

her as a matter of fact. I watched begrudgingly from across the room, relishing

a moment’s respite from textbook tedium.

“Shush!” she snapped at him, spinning sharply around, her twin-braided

pigtails flying clockwise around her neck, nearly brushing the tip of David’s

nose. With a glare clearly meant to chastise, she spun back around, the same

braided pigtails returning counterclockwise.


Her chastisement had no effect in either delaying or deflecting the advances of

David, her adoring admirer.

“Hey Rebbe, after school ‘ya wanna’ …?”

“Shush David, please. Mr. Gallo’s ‘gonna’  hear you,” she implored with

stern civility.


The boy Rebbe “shushed” was David Tsurrismacher, a wiseacre of a student,

a mere twit of a lad. Not a bad kid as I look back,  just mischievous … you

know, impish. And it wasn’t that so much which bothered me about

David. There were other impish kids besides him, even one rather “nerdy”

fellow who told us he read the dictionary while sitting on the toilet.

Hysterical, but I had read the World Book Encyclopedia in the bathroom, so

I could relate. Would I have told this to the class? Not in your wildest

dreams!

No. What really got my goat about David was how smitten he

was by Rebecca.

Rebecca Shumacher, a ‘shayneh maydele’ whose affections I too sought, lived

right behind me, just beyond the woods, a short dash from my house.

 I could only hope she thought of David as … well, an annoyance, like when

you’d get that ink on your fingers after changing the plastic ink cartridge in

those cheap fountain pens.


What’s more, he, along with many others, used to call her “Rebbe”.


“A gut Shabbos, Rebbe.”

“A gut Shabbos, Avrum. All are well by you?”

“Baruch Ha Shem, Rebbe.”


Now that is how ‘rebbe’ should be used. But ‘Rebbe’, used as a diminutive for

a name as beautiful as “Rebecca”  was simply beyond the pale.


“Pssst, Rebbe, Rebbe,” his whisper becoming loud enough to hear from

 where I sat, in the first row, last seat by the classroom door. Seat number #5 to

 be precise.

“Yea, that’s right David, keep disturbing the class’ quiet study, please!”

Rebecca turned a pretty shade of red, her cheeks suffused with the

hue of embarrassment.

Mr. Gallo closed his grade book.

“Rebecca,” he bespoke that most beautiful of names, his voice tinged with

slight reproach.

“Yes, Mr. Gallo?”

“Do you have a question?”

“No, sir, I was just trying to …. Davi …”

Again, David ducked and covered. He succeeded partly in smothering his

giggling with the pages of Chapter 5, “City Government: How It Works For

You”.

Rebecca’s cheeks approached purple.

Da-vid,” Mr. Gallo’s voice rose in pitch.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Gal …”

 Mr. Gallo’s pate gleamed. He wiped his brow.

“Rebbe, pssst.”

“Good David, good. Keep it up, Mr. Gallo’s gonna blow.”

It wasn’t but a moment later when … ‘what is it they say?’

 the sh*t hit the fan.

“David, come with me, please.”

A pall of silence blanketed the classroom.

“Now he’ll get what he deserves.”

 I silently rejoiced.

Mr. Gallo arose deliberately from his chair. His desk, positioned precisely three

floor tiles in front of and between rows three and four, seemed

fashioned from a single tree trunk, as broad in girth as was he. Every

eye followed him. He walked to his left, past rows five and six, the outermost

row parallel to the coatroom, turned right and proceeded to the end of the

aisle where he took hold of the coatroom doorknob. With but a slight turn, he

opened the door. It creaked. The class shuddered.


Mr. Gallo nodded his head. David got up, shuffled over hesitantly as though he

were about to pass through the portals to the great unknown. Mr. Gallo

followed, closing the door behind him. The drama of the moment seemed

interminable, as if filmed in slow motion.

I must have nodded off for a few seconds …


“Big Bruno”.

“Yea …”

“It’s time.” He got up from his cot. Glanced at his Timex on the roughly

hewn wooden table where he had eaten his last meal: ‘surf n turf’, three twice-

baked potatoes, an ample serving of broccoli (“for my mother”, he is reported to

have said), a stack of blueberry pancakes, a quart of milk and one chocolate

mint. He dressed himself hours before after the final watch had begun.

“Captain, open it,” the warden ordered. Father John stood just behind the

ring of guards, a rosary in one hand and in the other, a prayer book opened

to Psalm 23, ‘Lord, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …”


I awoke! Startled when my elbow slipped suddenly off the edge of the desk,

causing my right hand to fall away in support of my chin, I glanced around

quickly hoping there had been no witnesses. Nobody had seen it, thankfully.


The class was hushed.  I guess we were expecting a volcanic eruption. 

We watched the clock. One, two … three interminable minutes

passed. Nary a sound. Just as the fourth began, the door opened. David

emerged. Looking a little shaken up, he seemed relieved his ordeal had come

to an end.


As for the rest of us, we never did find out what had gone on in the coatroom

that afternoon-neither shouting nor whimpering let alone anything in

between. That fact should have led us to conclude (at least it did me) that

Mr. Gallo communicated his upset through the power of silence. I mean … how

would you feel if he or, for that matter, any teacher glared at you for three

minutes? Heck, I think I’d rather be yelled at. Oh sure, there was rampant

speculation, outside the class especially. Mr. Gallo had read David the riot

act in threatening undertone or that he had waved his right forefinger

menacingly in front of David’s nose for three minutes. There were even those

who circulated the rumor he had hung David up on a coat hook by his fruit

loop.


I never believed any of the rumors. David, to my knowledge, told

no one other than perhaps Rebecca though I never did ask her about it.

The class as a whole, I suspect, was inclined to believe, though our

eighth grade civics teacher may have looked like an ogre, he was

more like … well, Shrek, I guess.


Twelve Years Later
 

The Week Begins at Resurrection School

I wasn’t prepared that Monday morning for religion class. The time was 7:50

a.m.“Oh boy, I’m in trouble now,” I paced the hallway, trying to brainstorm.

 “All I need now is for Father Jim to show up and see me unprepared.”

All homeroom teachers were expected to teach religion in homeroom class on

Monday morning, from 8:00 to 8:40. As I understood it, the expectation was

that the children learn catechism at the start of the week. Now mind you, I

didn’t even know what that was, no less able to teach it. Neither the pastor nor

Sister Jayne ever questioned me about this. After all, here I was, a Jewish

man, teaching religion in a Catholic school!  I wonder if either of them ever

thought about what I did during those forty minutes.

There remained but one minute before the bell when, out of nowhere, the

entire religion lesson flashed before my mind’s eye. I raced back to my room.

The 8:00 bell rang. The kids filed in before me from the hallway where they

were required to form two lines.  I spotted Father Jim coming down the

hallway. I shut the door behind me.

“Class, may I have your attention?”  Bernadette knocked her books on the

floor.

“Over here everyone. Bernadette can manage quite nicely by herself.”  I tapped

the chalk as loudly as I could against the board.

Father Jim snuck in quietly and sat down by LeShaun. Several of the girls

nearby giggled. Kids liked him: young, good-looking and very

idealistic, Father Jim wanted very much to be the kids’ priest. I guess he

thought he could relate.

I drew an enormous oval on the board.

“Class, this is our universe as we understand it,” I began, inserting the

planets at different points in their elliptical revolutions around the sun.

“Hmm, good. The kids are paying attention, Father Jim is smiling. Seems

interested. Okay, now Fidel, Fidel … ah, there you are.”

Fidel was the ace up my sleeve.

“Class, imagine our planet and everybody who lives on it, the billions and

billions of people … imagine everybody as ONE, ‘kinda’ lumped together. Got

it?

Thirty heads nodded up and down.

“So far, okay, good.”

“Now, am I correct to have placed this gigantic “one” at the center of our

universe?” pointing to the celestial body I had placed in the center of my oval.

“No,” responded the class almost as one unified voice.

 “It’s the sun, the sun,” several cried out.

“Very good, so we are not the center of the universe-not you, not me, not

any one of us,” I said while looking at Fidel.


And now the kicker. Father Jim was on board, the kids

were enjoying the lesson, it was already 8:35, and I had set everything up to

ask the last question.

“Where is God?” I asked, anxiously scanning the room for a respondent.

“Ye ….sss, Fidel!

“I knew he’d take the bait.”

“Everywhere. God is everywhere!!” Fidel triumphantly exclaimed.

“And …” I probed.

“But, but …”

“But what, Fidel?”

He paused. I waited.

“Class, what Fidel may be thinking but hasn’t the words is … our lives are like

the planets that revolve around the sun, the center of the universe whose

maker is God. Life goes on with or without us. No one among us is the center.”

Fidel lowered his hand. I looked at him. He seemed ‘okay’ with that. Father

Jim, too, seemed pleased. He got up to leave, adjusting his Roman collar on

the way out.

Tuesday Morning

“Fidel, be quiet please.”

“Yes, Mr. Busch.”

I scanned the classroom of some thirty seventh-graders, my kids, my

classroom, a first year teacher at Resurrection Parish School on

Chicago’s west side.

Of these thirty there stood out one kid in particular. Yes, you know him …

Fidel. Something about him left me feeling he was the brightest kid in my

class.

They say it’s in the eyes. Fidel’s shone with a sparkle of natural intelligence.

He was the kind of kid every teacher desires in the pinch. Smart and enjoyable

… most of the time, a kid who, when needed, can answer a question like an

adult and, in the next instant, return to his childish ways.


It was that most precious time of day, silent reading, when each kid was to

ready himself for his book interview with me.

Truth be told, I knew virtually nothing about implementing a Random House

reading program successfully other than ... ‘Keep the kids quiet.’

They never taught us this stuff at the university.


“Fidel, please be quiet.”

“Yes sir,” he responded sniggeringly.

“Okay, I’ll give him one more chance, then I’ll …”

Several moments of silence ensued.     

Then the unsettling effect of that same sole voice, unmistakably Fidel’s,

spread to his entire group table. What had been a studious table

of six seventh-graders Fidel transformed into a giggly cabal which, if  left

 unchecked, would have spread to the whole of the class like a virulent

infectious strain.

“God, what if Sister Jane walks in?” I alarmed myself.


In Sister Jayne’s Office Several Days Before


“Alan, please, take a seat.”

I was very nervous, my first review by Sister Jayne Daly, the principal of

Resurrection School.

“Thank  you Sister,” trying to be and appear as pleasantly unconcerned as

possible.

Alan, the seventh grade is a tough age.”

“Yea, it sure is,” I said agreeably. I kept smiling, adding an agreeable nod and

“uh huh” here and there.

“Classroom management is the prerequisite for effective learning,  You know

this.”

“Yes, Sister, I do.” Something was up. I fidgeted in my chair.

“You’re having some difficulties in that area, aren’t you?” She was right. I had

 been having some problems with classroom management.

Thirty seventh grade youngsters against one freshman teacher, all of twenty-

two years of age. Frankly, I did not like the odds.

“Well, Sister you just said it’s a tough age, right?”

“Indeed I did, but what would you say to a little assistance?”

“Like what?”

“I’d come and observe your class for an hour or two every day until I see the

problem improving.”

“Sister Jayne, if you do that, I’m done for. I’d lose all credibility with those

kids. Remember you hired me to take charge of that class. I’m the

expert,” I asserted, exuding self-confidence.

My God, is she ‘gonna’ buy this?  I hardly believe it myself.”


Don’t misunderstand. I liked Sister Jayne, respected her. She was a member

of the Sisters of Mercy, an order of Catholic nuns that allowed its members to

wear regular clothing and a diminutive leader who inspired a balance of fear

and respect in those around her. When she walked softly-as she always did-it

was with a “big stick”. That’s right. Sister Jayne was a throwback to Teddy

Roosevelt’s Bullmoose Party. When you’d see her in the hallway, one heard

whether from students or staff: “Good morning, Sister Jayne. Yes ma’am,

Sister Jayne.”

But that was precisely my point. Were she to ‘visit’ my classroom, sure the

kids would be well-behaved, but not due to anything I had done.

Sister Jayne considered my self-defense thoughtfully. It did not take her long

before she made her decision.

“Alan, you’re right, of course, my coming to your class will not make of you a

better classroom manager. You’re on your own.”                                            

She smiled knowingly, gently putting down the pencil she had been

twirling between her third and fourth fingers. She had seen this sort of thing

before.

“Thank you Sister. You won’t be sorry.” I got up to leave.

“See ya tomorrow,” I waved.

Again, that same smile.

“She’ll be watching,” but I was okay with that because I felt I could

stand up straight again.


Dealing With Fidel …

As much as I liked Fidel, I had to act. Swiftly and decisively.

“Fidel, step outside.”

His only response came from the scraping of his chair legs on

the floor tile as he pushed himself back from the table. I relished                   

the pervasive hush. Twenty nine heads snapped back into silent reading

mode, noses barely off the printed page.

Fidel sulked out of the classroom, head bent, shoulders slumped, hands

thrust into pockets.

I strode out after him.

“So … this is what Mr. Gallo must have felt like.”

We stood facing each other in the hallway, eye to ... chin (his eye, my

chin).

“Fidel,” I blurted out, thankful I had not said ‘David’.

His wide eyes stared up. He swallowed. Adam’s Apple bobbing.

“Remember Mr. Gallo’s approach,” I reminded myself, squinting,

trying to look fearsome.

“Fidel,” I spoke now barely above a whisper.

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Busch,” he swallowed a second time.

“Fidel, I like you. You’re a good kid. Did I tell you how pleased I was with you

yesterday in religion class?”

“No sir.”

“Well, I was.”

“Gee …uh, thanks,” his eyebrows knitted together.

“Still, you disturbed silent reading this morning, Fidel, twice. You understand

that a teacher's classroom management is essential for the class to learn, you

do know that, right, Fidel?”

“Uh, yea … I mean ‘yes sir’ Mr. Busch.”

“Good. But at this moment, the very worst thing I can say to you is …”

I paused deliberately to make him sweat. He gulped a huge breath as if

about to take a plunge under water.

“May you be blessed with a son one day who is as bright as you.”

Utter, pin-dropping silence!

“Huh?” his mouth agape.

Fidel’s face at that moment could have been the pictorial definition of

“nonplussed” on one of those refrigerator magnets-you know the ones with all

the facial expressions.

“The center, Fidel, remember? You’ll understand. Just not right now,” I opined

rather sagely.

We smiled; me … contentedly, knowing I had handled this much like I thought

Mr. Gallo had done; Fidel, slightly bewildered but relieved … as if the jury

foreman had said “not guilty”.

I turned the doorknob. The shuffling of feet and the clatter of chairs against

desks made a huge racket as Fidel’s classmates scrambled to return

to their places. He preceded me into the classroom.

I followed, sat down at my desk, quite pleased. The bell rang.


Chapter Two … Mr. Birenbaum

“Alan,” my sixth grade teacher called me over to his desk.

 “Oh, no! He’s not gonna do this now?”

“Yes, Mr. Birenbaum.” I looked at the clock. Just moments before the

final bell.

“Alan, your fractions test?”

“Yes, Sir,” I said reluctantly.

“I see a problem,” he stated, as I knew he would. He had given them back to

us earlier in the day. Mine was littered with red ‘x’ marks.

“Yes Mr. Birenbaum, … uh, I just don’t …”

“Indeed, I’ve spoken with your mother. Perhaps a half hour after dismissal.”

“But, but …” I protested weakly, looking downcast.

 

Earlier …

It had been a bad day.

I vomited about an hour after eating ‘mac and cheese’ in the school

cafeteria. I did make it to the bathroom in time but not by much.

The guys and I had been eating lunch when Billy reached for the salt shaker.

You know what happened next, don’t you?

“Ah geez,” Billy exclaimed, shoving the plate to my side of the table.

“I don’t want it either,” I said, laughing uproariously along with the rest of the

guys at Billy’s misfortune.

He looked at me, nodding his chin upward as if to say “Behind you.”

I turned around. There behind me stood Mr. Van Kurin, six feet, six inches tall

Mr. Van Kuren, the frighteningly lengthy but neatly attired principal of

Dielman School. You did not look “at” Mr. Van Kurin but “up at” Mr. Van

Kurin, invariably with a crook in your neck after all was said and done.

“Mr. Busch.”

“Yes, sir.”

“My office, please,” which, as it happened, was  just across the hallway.


“I don’t know who really did it but it wasn’t me,” I pled my innocence. Mr. Van

Kurin weighed my words.

“Hmm … take this note to Mr. Birenbaum.”

“Yes, sir,” getting up to make a hasty retreat.

“And Mr. Busch, stay away from salty foods.”

I ran down the hallway, into the bathroom just in time to lose my lunch.


After the Final Bell

Just me and Mr. Birenbaum.

The other kids? Gone home. Wished I had been there too. I didn’t feel so good.

I sat at Sara’s desk, center spot, first row. Best seat in the house.

Sara Applebaum was one of the really smart kids in our class. Always

attentive, prim and proper. Her penmanship had lots of curly ‘q’ (s), and she

dotted her ‘i’ (s) with a tiny heart. Girls! Go figure … but she was pleasant

and quite pretty except for those darn eyeglasses she wore. Thick lenses.

She took some ribbing from some of the kids, she did, but she showed them.


Mr. Birenbaum wrote several proper fractions on the

board: ½, 1/3, ¼, 1/5 and 1/10.

“You see the numbers above the line?”

“Do you mean the ‘ones’?

“Yes, the ‘ones’ in this case, but they could be any number. That’s the

‘numerator’. Here look at this pie,” he suggested, drawing a nearly perfect

circle with one of those oversized wooden teacher compasses. You know … the

ones with the chalk.

“Remember this from class?” he asked, extending his hand holding the

compass toward me, as if I were nearsighted.

“Yes Sir, protractor.”

“Compass.”

“Oops, sorry.”

He set it aside. He peered down the length of the aluminum chalk tray

attached to the bottom edge of the chalkboard. It hadn’t been wiped clean in a

while, thick, as it was, with a quarter-inch accumulation of chalk dust. He slid

his fingers along the metal extrusion.

“Got one!” he exclaimed with the enthusiasm of an archeologist finding a

shard in the sifting tray after a long dry spell.


“Numerator, numerator, numerator,” Mr. Birenbaum emphatically

instructed. He tapped the tip of the chalk on the blackboard which, when

combined with what sounded like a kid banging erasers on

the other side of Mr. Birenbaum’s classroom wall, created a plumb of chalk

dust. It floated a short while before settling onto the shoulders of his vest. This

had happened before. Some of the kids used to giggle at what they called Mr.

Birenbaum’s ‘dandruff’.

“Huh, wonder why it’s called a blackboard? Looks green to me,”
my thoughts

 afloat.

“Alan!”

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Birenbaum,” refocusing my attention.

He sighed, yet determined to carry on.

“Tell me, Alan, what kinda pie u like?”

“Apple,” I quickly responded, my mood picking up. I was feeling better.

“Okay, here’s the idea. Your mom is planning a dinner party and you’re

helping her. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“How many guests are going to be invited?”

“Ten!” I exclaimed.

“Ten? Wow, quite a crowd.”

“Well, okay five,” I conceded.

“No no. Ten is fine. One slice of pie per guest, right?

“Right,” I agreed, feeling sated, as if I had eaten my slice before the

guests arrived.

He placed a dot right in the center of the pie from which radiated five

carefully drawn lines.

“You see these lines?” placing the tip of his chalk on each while he counted:

“one, two, three … they divide the pie into five equal pieces, fifths,” he

emphasized. He drew an arrow from the pie to the 1/5 he had earlier

written.

“But I thought we’re having ten guests?”

“You are! Now watch this.” Starting at the center point, Mr. Birenbaum drew

another five lines, each one cutting every fifth into equal halves.

“Now take a look,” stepping back from the board. He searched quickly

for the yard long wooden pointer with the black rubber tip but had to settle

for the oversized compass opened out fully to 180 degrees. He started

tapping again.

 “How many slices do you count?” Yet another arrow, this time from the pie

to the 1/10.

“Ten.”

“Right. That ‘ten’ is the denominator, the number below the line. Same with

the ‘five’, you know the ‘fifths’ before I cut them into halves. Remember?”

I nodded.

Again with the chalk tapping.

“This denominator ‘5’ means I cut the pie into ‘fifths’, five equal slices.

“Understand?”

I nodded again, hoping to reassure him.

“Okay, then what did I do?

“You cut them into halves.”

“And I ended up with how many slices?”

“Ten.”

“And the ‘10’ is called the ….”

“Denominator”.

“And which “denominator” of apple pie would you rather have?”

“A fifth”.

“Excellent.”

He reached for the eraser.

Mr. Birenbaum served that pie up fractionally just the way he liked it, as

would any good host. Since that day, apple pie has never tasted better, but I

never ate ‘mac and cheese’ again.

 

Alan D. Busch


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Reader Reviews for "Chapters 1 and 2 of My Molochim (under construction)"

Reviewed by Susan Smith 8/30/2008
The style of the writing reminds me of Garrison Keillor's "Lake Wobegon Days." The vignettes have a common thread and give the feel of actually being there. It was interesting to get inside the brain and the skin of an young adolescent and later young man in a different time and place, which I was amused and had sympathy. Yet I saw the similarties of my own experience, which I could relate.



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