Street of Rogues Ch. 6—Exploding Invisible Goldfish

Rated R (language and situations)

Street of Rogues Chapter 6—Exploding Invisible Goldfish


I’m sure the reason such young nitwits are produced in our schools is because they have no contact with anything of any use in everyday life.—Petronius (d. circa 66 CE), The Satyricon.

I greeted Kleinberg outside the side door of the Junior High School we knew as the Titanic. “Wha’s happ’nin’, man?”

“Nuthin’, man.” We slapped hands. For all his high-strung unpredictability, Kleinberg just wanted to have a good time like the rest of us. I seemed to give him a few laughs, and in return for that he usually had a smoke for me when I needed one.

“Yo, Chuckie.” (Grunt.) “Yo, Sullivan.” (Giggle.) Hand slaps for everyone as I made my way up the line of forlorn faces getting ready to step into quicksand. “What’s on the menu today?” I asked, meaning, What’s the drug du jour?

I got the typical answer, followed by the usual question. “I don’t know man, nuthin’ I guess. Got any money?” Kleinberg knew I wouldn’t have any to speak of. I was lucky if I had a pack of smokes with enough left over for a Devil Dog and a package of black licorice Nibs. My finances at the time depended heavily on a meager allowance and loose change from Pop’s overcoat. It looked like another depressing day until Lewis came running up all breathless and sweaty, with glassy eyes and enlarged pupils. He blurted out the news in one gulp: “Robby Plott’s got this mescaline and guess what—it tastes like chocolate pudding powder and comes in this horsecap for five bucks and he won’t be there long and—”

“What!? Where is he now?” We needed to know at once, it was nearly time to go inside.

“Candy store, but we have to move fast. He’s leaving after his breakfast.” The five of us sprang from the gate en masse, as if a start gun had gone off, and beat feet up the street. It wasn’t often that I had five bucks on a school day, but I did have some contacts up that way I hoped to find as I sprinted along with the pack. We burst into the luncheonette candy store puffing hard-earned wind and scanned the stools for Robby. He was still there, finishing his English Muffin and egg-cream soda. Just as I had hoped, an old friend named Roth was also there. He was a good buddy from last year and due for a touch.

I always liked Roth. I used to spend the night at his house from time to time watching The Late Show movie on one of the three broadcast stations that constituted TV back in 1969. We’d eat Mallomar cookies and wash them down with real seltzer water—the kind Moe, Larry and Curly used with the trigger on the bottle. His parents were Jewish Hungarians with concentration camp tattoos to prove it. They were hard workers, the lot of them. While the rest of us were atrophying on smokes, booze, glue and chemicals, Roth and his brother got real jobs in their father’s produce business. Before long, both brothers were driving their own Monte Carlos.

Roth, me and a kid named Masloff—born of an Argentinian mother and a Nazi father— were inseparable for a time in seventh grade. Roth knew Masloff since grade school. For a full ten-month school year, Roth told me, they fought every Friday after school. It wasn’t anti- semitic on Masloff’s part, he was just a fiery kid who always got into fights. He’d fight anyone, usually did, and lost those bouts regularly. Routinely, Roth slowly removed his glasses and beat the shit out of him.

“The kid never learned!” Roth said with a laugh. That summer, Masloff finally cooled off and he and Roth became best friends. When Masloff died in a sailboat accident (he went sailing with someone who couldn’t swim, was knocked unconscious and overboard by the boom and drowned), Roth was the first one at his funeral—respectfully in suit and tie. That demonstrated a certain character to me which I quietly applauded.

Plus, he lent me a deuce, after I promised I wouldn’t say where I got it—which was a lot faster than panhandling ten, twenty-cent subway tokens. I was still short, but had one remaining chance of buying in if my girlfriend would show up at her usual time. Margaret lived across the street from the luncheonette in a thirty-story apartment building and, always fashionably late for school, was due to pass there any moment.

Christened Margaret Mary Magdalene Saint, she was the most voluptuous girl in school. At fifteen she was already a stunning woman. She had long, dark wavy hair, a full body, and swayed her hips sweetly when she walked. Her face was heart-shaped and had two blue glowing stars for eyes. Smiling all the time, she laughed with a grand gusto and held her liquor as well as the best of us, which she often proved. She may have been rough-cut, but she was genuine diamond. We loved each other deeply, and to this day I consider Margaret my first, true love.

The dicey part of our intermittent five-year affair was the fact that her father hated me. It was ironic, but most of my friends’ parents thought I was the rotten apple of the crowd, the big- haired instigator of everything. Unfortunately for us, Margaret’s father and I met before we were properly introduced. It was early in our friendship, and I’d gone with some guy to visit her in the old apartment she lived in. For some reason, this guy always went around in a straw hat and cape. I don’t remember his name; what was his trip anyway? I didn’t ask and never found out. In any case, as we sat on the lobby couch waiting for Margaret to make a chance appearance, this short, stocky guy comes over, takes a look at me and my hair and my pal in his straw hat and cape and says: “Whatta youse want?”

I didn’t know who he was, or that he was the Supe and Margaret’s father (The Supe was how we referred to all Superintendants, and they were a pretty dangerous lot if they caught you swimming in their pools at night or playing around in the elevator rooms. Some of them carried whips!), so I said something very much like: “Hey, it’s a free country, pal. If you don’t like it then take a hike.” The next thing I knew we were tossed out the front door by the scruffs of our necks.

Margaret described the encounter to me later, about how some ‘clods’ mouthed off to her Sicilian, connected father, who had a part-time business running vans full of unstamped cigarettes up from the Carolinas to re-sell in the city, and did I have any idea who the morons were? When I told her Yes, it was me, I believe that was when she fell in love with me. However, it would be years before I would ever see the inside of her apartment, and only when Cosa Nostra was in the Carolinas picking up butts.

Half Irish by her mother, who called her Margie, she was the oldest of five kids and sometimes took care of her baby sister—something I resented at first because two-year-olds need this constant attention, and it distracted my make-out concentration. Ultimately, I had to give up those designs and resigned myself to watching Margaret push a swing with little sister Kip on it. Somewhere along the line as I watched, I realized that this was one of the qualities I loved about Margaret—the way she knew how to nurture and love people. It showed in how easily she made friends, even in the way she walked. Her sultry stride was all at once casual, thoughtful, happy and sexy. She walked without a self-conscious bone in her beautiful, womanly body. I loved to watch her coming up the street to the park with those swaying hips; emerging from her building, walking toward the luncheonette like a cat on the prowl. I was The Thin Man to her Myrna Loy. Thank God she was being late on time! I ran over to intercept her. She smiled demurely when she saw me approaching.

“Hi Baby.” A little kiss. “Lemme see yer purse.” I started rummaging around in there, past the Kools, the lipstick, hairbrush, mirror…

“Gimme that!” She grabbed it back. “How much you need?”

“How much you got?” She had the fin so I traded her Roth’s deuce for it, coming out three bucks ahead. “Gotta fly, Baby. Seeya! Thanks, yer the best!

“Whatta my gonna do for lunch?” she wanted to know, following me with big, blue, rapidly receding eyes as I made the dash back to Robby’s pudding-flavored mescaline.

“Get from Julie, she always has money! Seeya at lunch?”

“K.” She waved, and I was a happy boy.

“Plott’s Pudding” did taste similar to chocolate pudding powder, but performed a hell of a lot better. By the end of the first period of class I was fully on it—a mellower hallucinogen than the Sunshine, Brown Dot, Blue Cheer, Barrels, LSD 25 and other Owsley-brand acids that were more prevalent at the time. It didn’t seem right, having to sit in a double period of science on Plott’s Pudding first thing in the morning.

Even when I was straight I could never make a formula balance on both sides of the equals sign. There were only three people in the class who could do that; the rest of us had been guessing at the answers for the past three lessons. Sullivan happened to be one of the three who understood it, and it was pissing the insane Mr. Gerble off. (I think he had shell-shock from The Civil War. If you dropped a textbook, he ducked.) Gerble kept throwing harder equations at him and Sullivan kept rattling off the solutions from his head, adding a shrieky, mescaline giggle after each correct answer. When Gerble asked him to explain himself he’d rattle that off, too, adding things like: “It’s obvious…” followed by another shrieky giggle. He was starting to piss me off.

In my seat in the last row by the window, I returned to gazing outside—where it was threatening another autumn storm, getting windy and darker. Construction workers were beginning to leave the site where I’d been watching them build a huge, centralized cop station directly across from the school’s front entrance. Convenient. Good, I thought, about the impending storm, anything to slow that down! Our ‘park’ would never be the same once the 112th Precinct was ‘fully operational,’ like the Deathstar before its time. Cops would be parking their cars on our street and wearing civilian clothes, disguised as regular people. We’d have to speak in whispers and finally straggle off someplace else. There would be no more neighborhood-wide hide-n-seek games to occupy a hundred people. No more Johnny on the Pony, which was best when played wildly drunk and disorderly.

Maybe I can get outta here under cover of rain, I began thinking. If caught, I’d make up a story about how I thought our basement might be flooding. It was a perfect day to go to the NBC building and catch a few game shows. They always coached the studio audience, telling half of us to yell Buy it! or Come back! at the appropriate times so it sounded natural, I guess. Of course, we yelled our part slightly before cue and louder than everyone else. If we couldn’t be seen, we made sure we were heard.

Musing thusly, I chanced a peek at the clock. At eighty minutes, a double-period of Science was interminable. I didn’t even want to glance past Gerble, fearing the possible eye contact might make him call on me, but I had to know how much longer I’d be detained there. Moving slowly, I zoomed in on the wall clock in the front of the class, did the math (thirty-five minutes to go!), and made the mistake of accidentally looking at the blackboard. It was crawling with formulas and squiggles and all kinda signs and crap, but that wasn’t the unexpected part. Instead, I felt like if I didn’t hang onto my desk I’d go headlong crashing down into the thing from the back row, which quickly lengthened to about a block away.

Whoa… weird. I hung onto the front of my desk for dear life. Don’t giggle! My hair fell forward like blinders, until I was looking into a deep bowl with Gerble wrapped up in squiggles as if he were struggling inside a Whirlpool blender with nine settings. Then my stomach started getting the squiggles. I couldn’t let that happen; it wouldn’t do to blow my load now and lose five bucks in the process. I had to grab onto a piece of reality in order to restore equilibrium to my stomach, so I strained to catch a few words of the lesson for an anchor against the hallucinations and sea sickness—pushing thoughts of my animated friend Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent (a Bob Clampett Cartoon!) aside to concentrate.

Gerble: “Yes, if I thought a kid was a bad seed I’d go out of my way to get him in trouble.”

Student (Sullivan, in fact!): “You mean to say that even if they didn’t do anything?”

Gerble: “Yes, if I thought he deserved it.”

I couldn’t believe my ears, or the translating mechanism that was supposed to make it all make sense. Was this so-called ‘educator’ admitting to a class of thirty-seven witnesses that he’d deliberately fabricate a false set of circumstances in order to get someone he didn’t like into hot water with school authorities? He’d lie, with blatant disregard for the stain it would leave on the student’s ‘permanent record?’ I knew he was trying to bait a hook, but I was only going to nibble. I raised a finger to get his attention, snapping it back to the desk edge quickly to steady myself.

Gerble barked at me immediately. “What do you want?” (NYC educators were so polite back then.)

A cone of silence fell over the class. Thirty-six mugs all turned to look at me, staring intently—a little too intently for comfort. It’s odd how the complexion of a room changes when everyone in it turns to look at you; it’s almost as if you’re in a different room altogether. I knew they were counting on me to stand up for their honor and put this guy in his place. I found Sullivan’s face in the crowd. It was clear he was trying to hold back hysterics. Clutching his gut and shaking his head, he mouthed at me: “NO!

I wasn’t about to take the fall, though; I was going to finesse this jerk. “I just want to—”

“Stand up!”

“Wha..? Me?” It was something I didn’t want to have to do. Having to try anyway, I slid the chair back, stood up, and fell backwards into the closet behind me. The class roared, getting their money’s worth already. I must have overcompensated for the tunnel-vision vertigo I was having. Fortunately, the knock was a relative point of departure from which to stand straight—I knew what wasn’t working, so, crawling shakily across the floor and up my desk, I tried it again and managed to waver there like a buoy in a choppy bay.

“Slipped on a piece of paper…” I covered and went on, ignoring the snickers and completely ignoring Sullivan out of self-preservation to keep from laughing to death if I so much as looked at him. “Anyways, you mean that if someone hadn’t done anything, but just ’cuz you didn’t like ’em personally, you’d actually contrive a false set of circumstances to get ‘em in trouble?” My plan was to overstate the obvious, thereby showing the class what a sick butthead he was—something they probably knew beforehand and Sullivan had previously made clear already. He fell right into my trap.

“Yes, that’s right, if I thought he was a bad seed.” I couldn’t believe the shameless audacity of the man. That’s when I forgot myself and made one, tiny mistake.

“Man, you’re crazy.” I muttered under my breath as I sat down. After the ensuing cries of approval from the class died down, I realized I had only thought I muttered it quietly, but in fact had just written myself a ticket down to the Dean’s office. Gerble had a self-satisfied grin on his face and was waiting for the right moment to leverage his complete authority over me. I looked at Sullivan, who was looking at the floor and shaking his head.

Damn, I really did mutter under my breath this time.

You! Down to the Dean, boy!” and from the front of the classroom, Gerble’s gnarly finger extended all the way to the tip of my nose.

I got out of there fast, ducking into the nearest head for a smoke. I had to think about this and work out my story. If I hadn’t been pre-occupied I would have noticed the smoke coming out from under the door and turned around. Not knowing who was in there, and without backup, the bathroom could be a risky place. (No one ever took a shit in there. It was too dangerous to be so vulnerable.) It was too late to avoid it, and I ran into speedy Melvyn and his boys smoking their Kools.

All the black kids smoked Kools; the whites smoked Marlboros, hardpack—except for Margaret, who also smoked Kools, which sucked every time I ran short of butts. Melvyn and his boys smoked in there and sang a cappella. They were damn good, too, until they broke up laughing before the end of the first chorus. To me, their presence meant one of two things: either I’d get blindsided and left to rot, or they’d frisk me first, then punch my lights out. Either way I didn’t like my chances. I was pretty sure they weren’t there to perform for me.

Too committed to back out now and run like a nerd, I lit up, took the first hit gratefully and blew a smoke ring that shot out three feet and exploded on the wall as if it were a zit hitting the mirror. “Fuck,” I said to Big Gerard, “I just got sent to the Dean.” I thought this might deflect them into extending me the courtesy of at least finishing my butt before they mugged me. Big Gerard stroked his goatee, watching me severely. I wondered how many times he had been left back.

Finally, he said, “Whachoo smokin’, man?”

“Huh? Marlboro, why?” They all frowned, in perfect harmony. “Don’t smoke those, man, smoke these… be Kool!”

He held out his pack of Kools, bottom up, from where they liked to open them. Opening the pack from the bottom was supposed to keep them fresher—so they’d ‘last longer.’ Fuck that, a real smoker smokes them stale, or before they can get stale. The soft packs supposedly gave you two extra drags per butt, too, but I wasn’t so sure about that until I could measure for myself, something I still haven’t done to this day. Damn pain in the ass if you asked me, soft packs. Where would you keep your roaches? Nah, hardpacks were the best. I flicked the head off my Marlboro, stuck it back in the pack and took one of his nauseatingly mentholated Kools—in no position to be anything other than thankful for it. Looking for the blindside rabbit punch to the head as I lit up, it never came. Once we got to talking and smoking I told them what happened (leaving out the part about the pudding breakfast) and they commiserated appropriately with me. Well, I said, gotta go now, and made for the door.

I was dizzy as I wove through the hallways, followed by a trail of smoke. Eventually I made it down the three flights of stairs to the basement, past the sour smelling cafeteria, and found myself standing in front of the dungeon-like door that was the Dean’s office. I had it all worked out. I resolved to simply tell the truth and let matters lie where they landed. After all, this was irrational, wasn’t it? I stood there for a second vainly trying to brush away the paisley patterns twittering about like butterflies on the door.

I knocked. Knock-ock-ock. Knock-ock-ock… It sounded as if old WW II bombing footage was being replayed. I sucked it up and tried the knob. If it was locked, I could hang in the bathroom for half an hour and hope he didn’t come barging in looking for smokers to bust.

“Hiya, Dean. I was just comin’ to seeya!” I’d say, but the knob went ‘CLICK’ and opened right up. Why was everything so LOUD all of a sudden? I bravely went in on the side of righteousness.

Fortunately this wasn’t Dean Coupler—he was on a half-year sabbatical. Even Ma was afraid of Coupler and refused to see him anymore after he tried to put the make on her. He beat the shit out of Lewis that time in the locker room, too, so I was glad it was Winegrow sitting behind the desk. He had some paperwork in front of him and was engrossed in it. I stood there silently looking down at his bald, round head. Four model airplanes dangled on strings over each corner of his desk.

Clearing my throat, I started. “I—”

“SHH-ush!” he said, waving me over to a hard metal chair without looking up. “Sit down and shut up.”

I sat there a few minutes getting more and more uncomfortable until I started to squirm, so I stood back up to take a closer look at the airplanes hovering above his desk. They were very detailed and looked to be miniatures of real, classic planes. “These are cool,” I said, testing the prop on one. It spun as if it had been freshly oiled, blurring into a transparency of its former self.

“Break those, and I’ll break you,” Winegrow growled in measured tones without looking up. Clearly, the paperwork annoyed him. Sighing at it, he then looked at me for the first time. He was so cross-eyed that one eye bulged out of his big, bald, pinkish, Charlie Brown head and appeared to be looking at the other eye. His upper body was thick, almost bloated; he was an exclamation point with a tiny waist and puny legs—so top-heavy that he looked as though you were viewing him from above through an ultra wide-angle lens.

I had to turn away to avoid the giggles, so I started looking at the many photographs he had on the walls. They were all pictures of airplanes, some of them with him standing next to them. Here he was next to a bi-plane, replete with oldstyle leather headgear. He looked ridiculous, wearing a crushed smile that burst out of that tight headgear, all pink and shiny but for those cumbersome eyes. I looked away from it quickly, to keep from losing it—a laugh attack not being advisable here. I had seen people go convulsive while laughing too hard on a hallucinogen, and didn’t want to go there. I turned to look at something else, anything.

There, on the credenza, I noticed the fish tank for the first time. It had water, gravel and a small, charcoal filter that bubbled inanely in the corner. There were no plants, no little plastic treasure chests to open up and reveal little plastic skeletons, and no fish. Just to be sure there weren’t really small fish in there, I moved closer to inspect.

Then I saw the sticker on the glass. INVISIBLE GOLDFISH, it read. I wondered, how did he know they were goldfish? Off to the side was a vial of Tetramin Fish Food and it had a sticker, too, which read, naturally: INVISIBLE GOLDFISH FOOD. I picked it up and hefted it, finding it empty.

Cute, methinks, and I started ‘sprinkling’ it over the water in the tank. “Hey Mr. Winegrow, how do you know you weren’t ripped off and sold guppies instead?” I said as I sprinkled, followed by: “Where’s the thermometer, also invisible? They could be cold… How do you know they ain’t dead already? I suppose if they’re still eating—” When he looked up and saw me littering his tank with invisible food he bolted out of his chair, sending it crashing against the wall, and rushed me.

Stop!” I stopped in mid-sprinkle, mouth open. Knocking me out of the way, he flung open a drawer and rummaged around frantically for a net, which he finally produced and dragged over the surface of the water repeatedly, back and forth, trying to scrape up the invisible goldfish food. “What are you doing, man!?” he bellowed. “These fish are stoo-pid! They don’t know when to stop eating, they’ll eat until they blow up!” (Note: The word written as ‘stoo-pid’ is occasionally used in this telling. For those who can’t extrapolate the translation, it means ‘stupid,’ and usually refers to something I’ve done. If possible, it should be read with a New York accent.)

I backed away cautiously. “These are exploding invisible goldfi…?” stopping myself before continuing on about his invisible goldfish or guppies or whatever the hell he thought they were, dead or alive. What we needed was a bigger net.

Clearly exasperated with me, he finally asked why I was there. “Why are you here? Quickly man, before you destroy the place!”

I stood there blinking at him, like that myopic girl in class. “I—”

“Wait!” He held up his hand for me to stop. Brushing me out of the way, he crossed the office and took a headlong dive into the closet. Scrambling around on all fours, he tossed out an old bean can with some dried-up tangerine peels in it, then a galosh, and an old calendar that fluttered out the way a startled pheasant might—his skinny butt waving enticingly at me the whole time. One well placed, steel-toed boot… Pay dirt turned out to be a wooden plank with an eye hook screwed into its dead center. Then he rattled out about five feet of heavy chain and a thick dowel about a foot long. For a brief moment I nearly panicked. If this had been old Dean Coupler I would have shouldered him into the closet and run for my meager life!

Fascinated by this display of incongruity, I stood bolted to the spot and watched as he put the plank on the floor, hooked the chain on the hook in the plank, then put the dowel through the top link of the chain. Then, while standing on the plank, he proceeded to try and lift himself up via the dowel with both hands. Pulling harder and harder, he started to strain. His reptilian eyes bugged out even more than usual and little beads of sweat erupted all over his head, hundreds of tiny sun-blisters getting ready to pop. As I watched, dumbfounded, he turned different colors; bright red at first, then he took on a musty shade of burgundy, until finally rifling through various shades of oxygen-starved purple until the veins in his neck started doing little dances. I thought he might very well just pull himself straight off the ground and levitate in front of me until he exploded like a gluttonous, invisible goldfish. I flinched just watching him. He looked as if he were blowing up a balloon too full, or someone had shoved a firehose up his ass.

He finally let go of the dowel with a bellowing “YAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaa…” that trailed off for an eternity, reverberating in pulses inside my head while he flexed his tiny hands and all the other blood he had in that dwarf body of his started returning to its regular locations. He changed back from purple to burgundy to bright red and then finally to just pinkish again. The chain lay crumpled at his feet, totally exhausted.

Jesus! I thought. Is this what seniority does to you!?

“What is it, boy? Out with it!” he commanded. “I haven’t got all day!” Obviously he had some pretty important shit to do; the fish tank may have needed invisible algae scraped off the glass for all I knew.

I stammered out my story, which I’m sure I would have totally forgotten by then were it not for the fact that all I had to do was remember the truth this time. “I told Mister Gerble… after he told us that he would get a kid he didn’t like in trouble…” Winegrow stifled a yawn. I was already boring him. “…who didn’t even do anything! I mean, for no reason…” Not particularly articulate but enunciated well enough, I told my lunatic Dean I had committed the heinous act of disrespecting the psycho Gerble by calling him ‘crazy.’

Bracing myself for whatever might follow, he walked to his desk, put the chair back on its legs, sat down and started shuffling papers again—dismissing me with a wave of his pudgy, doll-like hand. “Go tell him you’re sorry,” was all he said.

“?” Did I miss the tirade, or had he already killed me in a blinding flash of light I never even saw and this was to be my hell—feeding invisible food to nonexistent fish? “That’s it? Just like that? I mean, that’s all?” I stammered some more.

“Yeah, just like that.” Winegrow seemed calm now, placidly scribbling away about God- knows-what in disappearing ink under those dangling plastic airplanes.

I couldn’t leave just then. I had to ask him: “I’m right, aren’t I? I mean, what kind of teacher would do that?”

He looked up at me with heavy exasperation. “Hey, you called him crazy in front of his whole class. Just go apologize and give him this note to get back in.” He scribbled his initials the way a left-handed caveman might have on a stone tablet and walked it over to me, folding and crinkling it a little first. Then he said that thing to me which I will likely never forget.

“Look kid, he may be right or he may be wrong, but all that doesn’t matter. All you want to do is get back into class. Now get outta here.”

He backed me out of the room with a little shove and slammed the door. I stood there blinking at it for a while, not sure of what really happened, and for a split second wondered if I had imagined it all and hadn’t really gone inside yet. Then I remembered the note in my hand and knew I hadn’t dreamed it up.

Winegrow was right, of course. Being right or wrong won’t get me back in class, I thought. Whether Gerble was right or wrong, good or bad, the only thing that mattered was the goal, which was to get back in class, sit there and shut up so I could get my grade and be gone.

This was to be a mentality I would employ for years to come—keeping my eye on the goal and ignoring any other bullshit taking place that was a waste of time and out of my control anyway. That doesn’t matter. The idea is to keep your focus on what does matter and skip over the bullshit! I didn’t have to be right or wrong, I needed to do what I had to do in order to get what I wanted.

He was teaching me about the means to the end, and how we can control our desired results through whatever means necessary, and that means is superfluous to the end result. We have control over our lives by not getting distracted by irrelevant arguments and circumstances. He taught me that what I needed was more important than winning an argument; which can be not only a waste of energy, but can blindside you and even sabotage the end results. The end excuses any evil, Sophocles said, as a formula for success.

It was a revelation to me, standing there staring at a paisley-blank door, and it lightened my load somehow. It was liberating, this notion! I didn’t have to get sucked into some moron’s way of thinking, or risk trying to make them see things my way. I could just lump it and go about my business.

In a very real, tangible way, I learned more in school that day on mescaline by getting thrown out of class than I did my entire school ‘career’ afterward (although the invisible fish remain a mystery). Forget the fact that the source of this revelatory piece of information was bizarre, it’s all about what you make of it.

“Sorry about the fish,” I said to the door and left, badly in need of another smoke.

On my way back to class I ran into Chuckie in the hall. He was on his way to see Dean Winegrow. “What happened?” I asked him. He told me his desk caught on fire. “How’d that happen?” I wanted to know.

“Prolly ’cuz a da match I threw in it,” he told me, over-illustrating what Yeats said about education: “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

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