I think it all started in the seventh grade. Up until then, I was always the goody-two shoes in school, the student who was always picked to be the "Citizen of the Month." I had no knowledge at all of the "dark side." But then, in seventh grade, something changed. There was a New York City teachers' strike that year that was causing chaos in the school system. I remember having ten substitute English teachers that one year.
Our class was incredibly mean to these substitute teachers. Some kids threw spitballs; some threw paper airplanes. The third substitute teacher was a nervous wreck. Every time she would turn her back, the class would intentionally bang their desks against the floor, using their knees to lift the desks up and down. When the teacher would turn to face the class, everyone quickly stopped the banging and feigned innocence. One day, this hard luck teacher just disappeared in the middle of the day, and we later heard rumors that she had a nervous breakdown in the teachers' lounge.
I'm proud to say that I never participated in any of this nastiness. But, then again, I never took a stand or protested, an action a more heroic student might have done. Lisa Simpson would have said something. I just pegged my peers as "immature" and hoped for the strike to end, so we could go back to learning punctation and grammar. How would I do well on my SAT?
Finally, English teacher substitute #10 showed up. I don't remember his name. I just remember that he had wild hair and looked like an ex-hippy, more comfortable at a Grateful Dead concert than a classroom. Where did they find this guy? When the class started to get rowdy, he told us that he was a black belt in karate. At first no one believed him, but then he showed us some of his moves, which really impressed the class. He became an instant favorite, particularly with the boys. Although he was very entertaining, he was probably the worst English teacher ever. He never taught us anything. Some days he would just let us sit at our desks and read whatever we wanted.
One day, after the bell rang, substitute #10 — who's name I still can't recall — asked me to stay after class. I was horrified, thinking I did something wrong, but it wasn't the case at all.
"I see you like to read a lot of books." he said.
"Me, too. Reading is great. Reading can really blow your mind. You want to read some of my favorite books?" he asked.
"Uh, sure," I said, having never said "no" to a teacher before, being a "Citizen of the Month." This was still very unusual for me — a teacher offering me books to read…
He opened his briefcase and took out three large books.
"It's called "The Lord of the Rings." It's going to blow your mind."
I had never heard of these books. They actually sounded pretty weird, and dangerous.
The dark side.