The Worst Class in the History of Education


"FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!!!"  The circle of blood thirsty 8th-graders gleefully chanted. 

Two inches from my face, I starred at the menacing chin of my nemesis and class bully, Jeff Dahm; His fists tightly clenched, ready to murder me like the infamous monster he nearly shared a name with.  

I was going to die, and Mr. Wood was nowhere to be found.  

This is the face of evil.
I feel dirty for googling it.  
Only a minute ago, I made a mortal mistake. I stood up for Eric, the smallest kid in the class, when Jeff knocked him off his stool. "Quit it Dahmer!" I believe I said; unsure if the additional syllable would be noticed. It was.  

The gladiatorial circle of classmates had seemingly just appeared, as if they were all T-1000 Terminators, able to shape-shift through the many worktop tables and stools that overpopulated the art-room. Or sharks, smelling blood.  I was trapped, and Mr. Wood was AWOL, again.  

As if he could help me. He couldn't even help himself. His dog and dad had died the summer before, and he should've taken a leave of absence. Instead he put roughly 60% of himself into instructing a middle school elective that the school purposely loaded with"behavior issue" kids. 

I'm not sure If I was behaviorally identified, or actually artistic...I just knew that every day in that class was a test of my survival skills. Like a penal colony, I aligned myself with a group of Megadeth kids (who later probably dealt drugs at the high school) as an act of perseverance. We six weren't the nicest kids, but there were at least ten others who were strategically called to the office before us when something went down on campus.  

Instead of shanks, some kids carried geometry compasses which they used to puncture the bottom of the twenty or so pints of oil based paint that were stored high on a shelf above the back sinks. A rainbow of color urinated from the bottles where it wasted together in an oil spill on the concrete floor.  It took Mr. Woods half the class to realize that hundreds of dollars of classroom supplies had spontaneously combusted. He looked at the bottles and the ground, and had no idea how the "accident" had happened.  Maybe it was the ghost of his father, trying to impart some Hamlet-like advice?   

But it was only our class that haunted Mr. Wood. Almost daily some kid would harmlessly ask "How's your Dad doing, Mr. Wood?" which would send him off to his back room to cry. If he ever caught on to our malignancy, he never showed it. Nobody was ever sent to the principle in Mr. Wood's class. In the 18 week class, he probably broke down and cried 20 different times. Other kids would paint pictures of dogs (they knew he had a black lab) and watch Mr. Wood spiral into himself.  


The class didn't just haunt, they were demonic.  

We did three major ceramic projects, which all ended up shattered in the kiln. Mr. Wood's other class, probably 7th-graders, for some unknown reason started breaking our projects, and in retaliation, we broke all of theirs. How Mr. Wood ever graded these handle-less mugs and 7-piece ash trays, who knows? He kept calling in the district repair guy to get the "temperature" fixed, as it must be over-heating our projects. Really he was the clay, and we were the potter, manipulating him on a daily basis. 

And at some point, he just stopped caring. He would give instructions and disappear for almost a half hour. Can't say I blame the guy. I had joined the fun, early on, but the beginnings of empathy hit me that year, because of that class. I didn't want to go to hell like the rest of my class, and I didn't want to make anyone else feel like hell (more than I already had). 

So when Jeff Dahm knocked Eric to the floor, I had had enough. Enough of Jeff's daily bullying, enough of the hate, enough of the immaturity and impishness. I was taking a stand. And for that, Jeff was going to knock me on my ass.    

I was a small kid. Probably 4' 11" in 8th grade, and my slightly husky 120 pounds contained almost no muscle. Jeff was three inches taller, with linebacker shoulders, and a face that looked chiseled by fists. In comparison, my only previous fight ended in humiliation with kids chanting, "Look, Chris is humping that kid!"  {In my defense, another student, coincidentally named Chris as well, jumped on my back and started punching me in the back of the head (I still don't know why). I managed to throw  him off, pinned his arms beneath my knees, and tried to punch him repeatedly in the face...only I guess it looked like humping. Although in 6th grade I had no idea what humping was. I just knew it was BAD. I refused to go back to class, and cried in the hallway until my teacher, Ms. Wark came out and consoled me (I was partially in love with her)}.  

I don't know how many "FIGHTS!" the kids had chanted--it seemed like forever--when Jeff made the first move. He put his arms up near my face, then pulled them real quick back to his chest, bouncing them off and making a THWUMP sound. How apish? Almost simultaneously he yelled, "What did you say, Plumb?!"  

I didn't say anything. It was surreal. Like I was watching my own funeral.  

He got closer to my face. The circle of hate got tighter. "I asked you what you said to me?!"  

"I...I said QUIT IT DAHM!" I lied.  

"I heard something else, PLUMB!"  

I knew I was going to die. But I couldn't handle his hot nasty breath in my face any longer. I hadn't even been that close to a girl's face yet. I hadn't kissed a girl, and Jeff Dahm was going to kill me, and most likely eat my liver with fava beans. But his breath stank and I panicked and went the only place I knew to go: humor.  

"Well, Jeff...We can do this. You can punch my face into hamburger all you want, but will you please just get your nasty breath out of my face! Your breath reeks! You need a breath mint!" 

The crowd roared with laughter and Jeff staggered, like I had landed a stunning blow.  "Whatever, dude." "You're lucky..." "You're lucky...'cause someday..." And that was it. He pushed his way out of the circle of death, and gave up without a fight. Their laughter--my mockery--had embarrassed him into submission.  

I never was bothered by Jeff Dahm again. I can't say he gave up bullying. He was a jerk the rest of the year. But not to me. And that group of Megadeth kids, imps, future felons of America, and genuinely artistic kids, appreciated what I did that day.  I put Jeff Dahm in his place.  

But I remember it as the day I stood up for Eric and put my foot down on being bullied any longer.  I also remember it as the day I learned that being funny is the greatest protection a guy can have. Who needs weapons when you've got wits.  

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First person to guess the year this took place gets my respect.  

5 comments:

  1. Interesting: your mouth got you out of trouble, mine always seemed to get me into fights.

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  2. I don't recognize your antagonists name but poor Mr. Woods. I'm going to have to check my middle school year books but you would have been in the 8th grade in 1993 I believe.

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    1. 1992-1993. We have a winner! Although the school was up near Bellingham, WA...so probably didn't have the same Mr. Woods. (I always thought he should teach Wood Shop with his name; although students probably think I should teach art or home Ec class with Mr. Plumb as a name).

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  3. Putting a bully in his place is THE BEST. Period. End of story.
    Also, I laughed immaturely at Jeff Dahm. That poor kid. What a legacy to live up to.

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    1. I bet he's a nice guy now, they always are.

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