February 25, 2013
As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I was quite the cowering mess of a child. The word for kids like me back then was “faggot” (that was back in the days when it meant “shy and timid” rather than dudes who like penises instead of vaginas). While I pretty much feared everyone, I had a particular aversion to authority figures. Parents (mine and my friends), teachers, bus drivers, policemen, and even doctors all scared the piss out of me. It was therefore either shit luck or our Lord’s oft-referenced sense of humor that I should be born to parents who lived in a part of town that would have me attending Brookville Elementary School.
Serving the community’s school children from grades one to six, Brookville was presided over by a bona fide psychopath named William B. McLaughlin. I’m not sure what Mr. McLaughlin’s story was. Perhaps he was bullied in school as a child and, determined to get “his turn”, aspired to become a Principal so that he could bully the kids of those who bullied him. Or perhaps he just saw our generation as a bunch of undisciplined queers who needed to be whipped into shape if we were ever going to beat the Ruskies (I can just imagine what he would think of the current generation of emos, goths, and metrosexual pseudo males). Either way, there clearly should have been a law on the books to prevent a lunatic like him from having any regular interaction with children.
At Mr. McLaughlin’s insistence, lunches were silent at Brookville. During the half hour period, you were expected to eat, drink, and shut-the-fuck-up. To enforce this, he patrolled the cafeteria holding, in his right hand, a stack of yardsticks bound together with a series rubber bands. He would slap this homemade lashing stick against his left palm as he walked around giving us the evil eye. Every now and then he would stop at a table where he suspected the children were conspiring to make unauthorized use of their vocal chords. As a warning shot of sorts he would slam his stick down on the tabletop, a thoroughly frightening gesture to a scared little boy such as me. At each table where he did this he would arbitrarily pick a few unlucky students and swat them across their back or on top of their shoulder. Admittedly it wasn’t a hard whack but it made his point clear – step out of line and you will surely be sorry.
Despite the threat of verbal and physical violence, kids (as we all know) are quite incorrigible and, inevitably during each lunch period, a whisper or two would permeate the silent cafeteria. This would prompt Mr. McLaughlin to most forcefully blow the capacity of his lungs into his referee’s whistle then shout “Oooo-kay get those hands up, your mouths are closed!” Once he got everyone’s full attention he would proceed to scream and rant and threaten us with the horrors that awaited at “two-fawty-five” (the term by which he would refer to detention). Even so, a defiant student would every now and then take a stand and refuse to put his hand up when the whistle was blown. This was a decision to be regretted as Mr. McLaughlin would promptly take the child across his knee in front of the whole school and beat his ass raw until he cried like a little baby.
Of course one’s sin need not have necessarily risen to that level of insubordination to have been met with such punishment. A mere accident or error in judgment could have just as easily resulted in you leaving school that day with a black and blue tattoo of Mr. McLaughlin’s hand across your tender young rump, as my second grade classmate David Rosenberg found out when he spilled his juice. Within seconds of the unfortunate incident, Mr. McLaughlin was lifting young David from his seat and frenziedly beating his ass for all to witness. Tears poured down the boy’s face as he screamed and begged for mercy. He got none. I had been sitting right beside David when the whole thing went down and was traumatized for life, my fear of Mr. McLaughlin (and authority figures in general) taken to whole new heights.
The David Incident was by no means a rare occurrence. I watched dozens of school boys suffer the same fate. While I never saw Mr. McLaughlin put his hands on a girl, his magnanimity towards the weaker sex appeared to be just as negligible. I specifically recall the day he walked into the school library and caught little Jordana McCreary smiling. If there was one thing that enraged Mr. McLaughlin it was the smile of a child. Singling her out from a across the room he pointed at her and shouted, “You, Smiley, yes you, get up against the wall!” Seemingly in shock she did so without emotion. That changed once he began his tirade. “Don’t you look at me!” he said, “Turn that smiling face around and face the wall!” At that point she was actually no longer smiling. She did as he said and although I couldn’t see her face, I was pretty sure from the shaking of her head and neck that she was crying. “Just where do you think you are?!” he demanded to know. “Where?! Tell me where you think you are! Oh? Not gonna answer me?! No? Hey! I asked you a question little girl!” He then launched into a raging dissertation on how school was for learning not for smiling or giggling or expressing any sort if happiness. By the end of it Jordana was clearly sobbing. “What’s the matter Smiley?! Are you gonna go home and tell your daddy?!” he asked her, “You do that! Tell your daddy! Tell him to come see Mr. McLaughlin!” he dared her.
Through the whole outburst, Mrs. Smitherman, the librarian, didn’t dare intervene or shoosh him in accordance with the library’s quiet policy. It was a wise decision on her part. Mr. McLaughlin had as little tolerance for the trespasses of his faculty as he did for those of his pupils and he was unreluctant to castigate them in full view of the student body. On more than one occasion I witnessed him pull a teacher out of class for a verbal lashing. He strategically did so right in front of the door so we could all watch through the plexiglass window. While his exact words may have been muffled by the door and wall, it was clear from his facial expressions, the volume of his voice, and the extension of his finger towards her face that he was not congratulating her for a job well done.
The days were long and stress-filled at Brookville but eventually the clock would circle ‘round to 2:30 and they would come to an end. As with lunchtime, Mr. McLaughlin expected us to remain silent during the bus ride home. Before he would allow the buses to leave the school yard, he would climb aboard each one, blow his whistle, yell at us about our alleged plans to speak to one another, and command us to place our index fingers vertically over our lips and keep them there until we were delivered to our respective bus stops. While the other kids would remove their fingers and commence acting like kids as soon as we were a block or two from Brookville, I kept my finger firmly attached to my lips, sensing Mr. McLaughlin would somehow know if I did not. I was fully convinced he was omnipresent, lurking invisibly, waiting to take corrective action for any transgressions I might commit outside of school. At home I would sometimes have visions of his angry, disembodied head hovering outside my bedroom window, looking in, blowing his whistle, yelling his various catchphrases at me - “ooookay get those hands up, your mouths are closed ”, “last one over two-fawty-five”, “make it schnappy”, “are you gonna go home and tell your mommy”, “two-fawty-five, two-fawty-five, two-fawty-five . . .”.
As scared as I was of Mr. McLaughlin, I never personally endured his discipline myself. In fact, he actually seemed to take a liking to me early on. I remember him tapping me on the shoulder one day during an indoor recess and saying, “Come with me son.” He brought me to his office and closed the door behind him then proceeded to ask me a few questions that I can’t remember. What I do remember is him opening one of his desk drawers and retrieving a zip lock bag filled with carrots and celery sticks. He removed a carrot and held it out to me. I reached and he pulled it back. “What do you say?” he asked.
“Thank you Mr. McLaughlin?” I said, unsure of myself. He then handed me the carrot, this time for real.
While it didn’t faze me at the time, that experience seems incredibly creepy to me now. I don’t remember him trying to molest me or anything but when the school principal takes you behind closed doors to feed you raw, phallic-shaped vegetables it does, in retrospect, seem like the prelude to an ass-fucking. If Mr. McLaughlin liked ‘em young though, I tend to think that Becky Montgomery was more his type. Despite being the miserable bastard he was, his face did seem to light up whenever he saw her around school. “Ree-beccah of Sunny Brook Farm”, he would call out to her, a perverse glow upon his face. I almost don’t blame him, callipygous young tart that she was. She may have been but a girl but Becky Montgomery definitely had a woman’s ass. Not that it would have justified him tapping it or anything but that shit was fucking unreal. It caught my attention long before I could even relate why or correlate it with the sudden tightness in my pants. But I digress.
Mr. McLaughlin was a monster whose existence thoroughly terrified me as a child. Even after I left Brookville he continued to exert a frightening influence on my fragile psyche. For many years my hope was that he would meet his demise after getting transferred to an inner city high school. I imagined him blowing his whistle at a cafeteria full of teenage thugs, shouting at them to get their hands up and keep their mouths closed, threatening to two-fawty-five them, then getting his stupid ass shot dead right where he stood. Unfortunately that never happened and the most for which I could hope was for him to die a lonely, angry old man despised by his wife, disowned by his kids, and generally hated by everybody who had ever known him. Apparently that never happened either. About ten years ago my mother, who works for the school department, had mentioned that she was going to his retirement party. When I asked how she could, in good conscience, go to a party for that evil sonovabitch her response was, “Well he was always nice to me.”