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Fiction #101
(published September 26, 2002)
Spellman, Bastion of Fine Sartorial Standards
by Irene Tejaratchi

Cardinal Spellman, in Baychester, the Bronx. Considered one of the top catholic high schools in New York City. Peppered with girls in navy blue skirts, blazers, crispy starch white blouses, and freshman boys with freshly cropped hair, suffocating ties, and indiscriminate nylon suits that were always too small or too big. Spellman's top rate reputation had more to do with its rules, particularly its super stringent dress code, than anything else. I entered that place with my uniform intact and vague thoughts of my world expanding, but not sure how.

I hooked up with Rosanne Pelutti who I knew from elementary school. She introduced me to Dina Rilto who she met in her homeroom, a slip of a girl with a deep voice and clever things to say about most everything. It became known that Dina's father was in the mob, and that her boyfriend, Tommy Favore, didn't attend school, except the one her dad had him in. He was grooming Tommy to be a "wise guy." Dina had a brother, but he wasn't up for the recruitment, his high-pitched voice and hip-shaking walk discounted the option.

Rosanne and I did our damnedest to break the conformist regime of Spellman's hallways, not because we wanted to mess with rules so much as that floating in that sea of anonymity would have been too painful and wasteful of our spirit. So we sported a few rock buttons, black tights, and subverted the 1980s big hair phenomenon in favor of jet-black locks with a simple spike along the part. These enhancements, though minor, made us the delectable projects of Dean Davenport - stoic force in the halls of Cardinal Spellman High. A stocky, squared shaped woman with a head of short hair whose thinning, see-through-patch at the top revealed her future baldness. She possessed all the firmness and animation of a cement block. She scaled the halls of Spellman with a clipboard and pen, holding these slack by her thighs the way guys do. She was constantly on the hunt to bust someone. I'd be in a good mood, sauntering out of a great literature class, when suddenly I'd see Davenport leaning on the lockers. She wore glasses but her beady eyes pummeled right on through, scaling me up and down. Instinctively, I'd mirror the movement on myself, do a quick mental inventory, because if I was quick enough, I could right the supposed wrong. Something as simple as a button with Sid and Nancy on it, with the logo "No One Is Innocent" was enough for her to give me detention. If you were going directly across the hall to your next class and didn't put your blazer on for those two seconds - detention. Or maybe your skirt was just a little too short (length indiscriminately determined by Davenport) - detention. She lllllloved Rosanne and I for this. We provided her with a cornucopia of Spellman dress-code disgraces. And she loved butchering my last name "Miss Tejamaraki" "Miss Tejatralati" "Miss Tetematachi," each time a fabulously original concoction, but I never bothered correcting her because I knew, from reading Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, that this was yet another authoritarian ploy to undermine me.

In the middle of all this, I lucked out with an English Lit class taught by Mr. Gansfort - a hefty man with a Santa-like belly that busted out of brown suits (always brown) that were un-ironed and greatly worn, his off-white shirts never completely tucked in, his brown beard and hair greasy and uncombed. Were this man subjected to Davenport's 1-2-3, he'd have detention for weeks in a row, maybe a month, or probably just be expelled.

"Okay class, now we're going to read Arthur-I'm-not-a-Communist-Miller's The Crucible," he'd say, launching into reveries on the McCarthy era, that dazed look in his eye, his desire to have been a part of it (on the leftist, commie side) embarrassingly obvious.

He never stated it, but his class had a running theme. In addition to Miller, we read Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Bradbury's Farenheit 451, and Camus' The Plague. I'd go into that class immediately after lunch, and be sorry when it was over. The literature and Mr. Gansfort's prÉt-a-porter were like dessert to me, a calculated fuck-you to Davenport.

Some days, if Rosanne and I didn't have a ride, we'd take the number 9 bus home. It chugged along and got us to Mace Avenue and Eastchester Road in 40 minutes. Students ("Spellmanites") packed the bus, providing a rejuvenating watering hole for a certain gang of thieves. Every so often, these 4 or 5 boys would take the bus a few stops and proceed on a pick-pocketing frenzy. On rare days, one of the marauders outright demanded a watch from an unsuspecting freshman boy, or pulled a gold chain off a girl's neck. Dina rarely took the bus with us, but when she found out about the gang, her eyes widened and glittered.

"Oh, I've gotta tell Tommy about this! Man, that is sssooo good!"

Rosanne and I weren't sure what she meant but were pleased the next afternoon when Tommy and his boys - Patsy, Joey, Robert and Lenny - escorted us on the number 9.

6-feet tall with broad shoulders and well-defined pecs, Tommy always wore a guinea-t and weathered Levis. He had a gaunt chin and a serious mouth, the bottom lip always jutting out like he was pissed, even when he wasn't.

Dina adored him.

For 2 weeks they patiently rode the bus with us. And then, one Friday afternoon, the gang boarded.

"That's them," Rosanne whispered.

Dina looked up at Tommy and winked an eye so softly and come hither it looked more like an invitation for sex than a red alert. Tommy moved behind Dina, one hand hanging on the strap, the other slinking round her small body as he shifted his tall, built frame to encapsulate her. Slowly, predictably, the gang scaled the bus, wending their way to the back, scoping us out for signs of vulnerability and material possession. This time they didn't pull any stunts, probably just slinked their hands into an unsuspecting pocket or two (or three or four or ten). Tommy didn't move, but when the gang exited, he turned to his boys and said, "Now!" and they bolted behind the pick-pocketers who started running. As the bus pulled away, I watched in slo-mo as they disappeared into the projects. Considering that Tommy and his ilk where thoughtlessly rushing into foreign territory, I found it radical that Dina started to laugh. Apparently she'd been instilled with some kind of amazing, unconditional certainty in her father's pedagogy that gave her absolute confidence in Tommy's infallibility. Rosanne laughed too, but the unusual high pitch gave her away.

The next Monday, during morning announcements, a female voice announced that students should take precautions on their way home, apparently neighborhood gangs had been fighting, and last Friday 2 local boys were beaten into a comatose state.

After class, I tripped over someone's backpack as I raced to Dina's locker.

"Dina, hey, were those guys the same ones that - - "

Dina quickly nodded her head, bit her lip, and smiled a smiled that teetered on ecstasy.

"Put it this way, you guys'll never have to worry about those fucking assholes again," she said.

"My God, I can't believe it..."

And then I felt a finger tapping my shoulder insistently. I jumped, turned around.

"Miss Testamarasi."

Davenport. Shit.

"Detention for you...You're wearing light blue socks instead of navy...."

My eyes traveled slowly down the length of my legs, taking time to register Davenport's words, the image of Tommy and his friends running into the projects playing in my brain. They practically killed 2 kids. Actually, the possibility of death still hung in the air.

"Miss Tejaramatsi, did you hear me? That's detention this afternoon." Davenport repeated. "You understand why, right?"

I looked down at my sky blue socks, pointed my right foot, and hesitantly raised my leg slightly off the ground. Speechless. Much as Davenport didn't deserve the virtue of my honesty, I wasn't going to lie. Cause really, those days, I didn't understand much about anything.

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