Some years back, toward the beginning of the school year, I got a call from my kid about a leadership opportunity that he wanted to pursue after normal school hours. I was pleasantly surprised, so of course I offered to give him a ride home when it was over.
We had recently moved into the community, so I wasn’t particularly familiar with the area. Nevertheless, it was hard to miss the imposing building toward the edge of town that hosted countless high schoolers. I parked and went inside.
My kid had mentioned something about a history classroom, but I guess he was distracted because he neglected to tell me the room number, and he wasn’t answering his phone. Not wanting to waste time, I decided to press forth and seek out some help. Now, my navigational skills have never been particularly sharp, but I swear that place is a complete maze! (It also didn’t help, I suppose, that I accidentally wandered into a side entrance). I hadn’t made it far before a voice emanated from a nearby classroom:
“Need some help?” I turned to meet the gaze of an ordinary looking gentleman — likely a teacher — grading papers at his desk.
“Uh, you could say that,” I said sheepishly, walking through the open classroom door.
“Ya lost?” the man queried once more. As he rose from his desk, an EpiPen clattered to the floor. “Oh geez, whoops,” he said, bending down to pick it up.
“Is that yours?” I asked him.
“Yup. You never know what kind of snacks those kids will bring in,” he explained, returning the device to his desk. “So, you in need of directions?”
“Yeah, I kinda just wandered in,” I said, chuckling a bit. “My kid’s somewhere around here. Something about a student leadership program in a history classroom.”
The teacher squinted at me for a second, crossing his arms before smirking. “You must be [my kid]’s dad!” he said warmly.
“You’ve met him, I take it?” I asked with some trepidation, hoping their encounter had been a pleasant one.
“Oh sure, he’s in my morning class. Good kid.”
I half-jokingly produced a sigh. “Well, that’s a relief. I’m glad he’s already left a positive impression.”
He nodded. “He’s consistently contributed to class discussions and activities. And, y’know, I make sure I can include all my students in fun, yet educational, activities. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but that may be the reason why I’ve got a pretty darn good student retention rate…” He suddenly snapped to. “But anyway, you needed directions, right? To a history classroom?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, having realized by this point that I appeared to be standing in such a classroom! “I’m guessing this isn’t the right one?”
“No, but maybe they’re holdin' it in one of the upper-level classrooms,” he suggested. “And I hate to break it to you, but I’m actually new here this year. I swear, I get lost in this place all the time! Who needs all these rooms, anyway?”
I laughed. “Glad I’m not the only lost newbie!”
“Well, I happen to know exactly where a fellow history teacher teaches, and he’s the head of Geography Club. He’s been here a while, so maybe he’s in charge of multiple groups.” The teacher pointed to a basic map of the school on the wall. “His room is somewhere around here. That’s my best guess, I’m afraid."
I studied the map and memorized the necessary turns, as well as some nearby key locations. “Thanks!” I said. “I’ll let you get back to grading. What’s the topic of the week?”
“Labor unions, workers’ rights…that sort of stuff.”
“I see. Well, have fun, Mr…uh…”
“Brown,” he said, returning to his desk. “Hope to see you at parent-teacher conferences!"
“Right. Take care, Mr. Brown!” I said, briskly heading out. Grateful for the directions, I wound my way through the hallways, making sure I made the turn past the gymnasium and ascended a flight of stairs. As I approached my destination, a group of teachers streamed out of the classroom before me. I peered in once they had cleared to find another teacher, who was gathering his belongings. A large balding man, he was wearing jeans as well as a shirt with a bright floral pattern. I stood within the doorway and surveyed the classroom until the teacher finally noticed me.
“Howdy!" the man practically bellowed. He was positively beaming for some reason. "Can I help you?”
“Yeah, hi, I’m looking for my son. He had a club or something today, and I heard that might have been held here…”
“Nope, sorry, only teachers here,” the man said. He gestured toward the whiteboard, which read English Dep
partment Meeting. (A line had been drawn through the second p). “Yeah, already got called out on that one,” the man confessed, scratching his nose. “I’m not too good at spelling sometimes."
“No big deal,” I said. “Growing up, I had a few English teachers who couldn’t spell so well, either.”
He shrugged. “Anyhow, name’s Frank Smith,” the teacher said, sticking out a pudgy hand with blunt fingers. I shook his hand. “CGreen. Nice to meet you,” I replied.
Mr. Smith turned to resume picking up some books. “So, lemme guess: your kid’s quiz grade was a letter too low.”
“Oh, no, not at all,” I said. “I came here under the impression I could find a history teacher. My son’s in a leadership club, or something. Looks like this is an English classroom, though.”
“Not exactly,” said Mr. Smith. “They’re doing some electrical maintenance in my classroom just across the way — that’s why we moved here. All the lights went out! Can you believe it?” He chuckled. “Sorry ‘bout that.”
I barely resisted the urge to groan out loud. “Guess I’m lost again.”
“There should be a map around here…yeah, there it is,” Mr. Smith said, making his way toward the door. “All the classrooms have these near the doors.” He was pointing toward the map, which was identical to the one I saw in Brown’s room. "I’m grateful, too. I’m a recent hire, and this place is bonkers, lemme tell ya. Why, just the other day, I had three students come in late to class because they got lost. Hell, I get lost sometimes.“
“Wow, I believe it,” I said quickly, trying to avoid a potentially long(er) conversation. “Hey, I think I’ll just head to the main office. Maybe they’ll have more info for me there.”
“Good thinkin’!” Mr. Smith said, walking back to retrieve a forgotten book. “It should be labelled on the map. I’d try and take you there, but I gotta go call a landscaper about my bushes. That’s, uh…not an innuendo or anything.”
“Um, ok,” I replied. After glancing at the map, I followed Mr. Smith as he exited. “Have a good one!”
“Y’all take care!” he replied. We parted ways as I followed my planned route.
Unfortunately — and I don’t know how I managed to do this; perhaps I misread the floor numbers — I somehow got lost once again! I was aimlessly wandering the labyrinthine corridors when—
“Hey!” a stern voice called out. I halted, spinning around to meet the gaze of a man I had passed by without even noticing. He was atop a footstool, which only augmented his presence.
“Hi. Sorry, I must have zoned out,” I said wearily.
The man nearly cut me off. “You’re lost,” he asserted, stepping down. “Are you the father of a student?”
“Yeah, my kid’s around here somewhere, but-“
“Haven’t you visited the main office?” the man said as he walked toward me. I couldn’t help but notice his upright, almost regimental stride, though he relaxed a bit when he reached me. “Sorry. It’s just odd to find parents wandering the hallways at this hour.”
“Completely understandable,” I replied. “but I was trying to reach the office just now. I think I screwed up reading a map.”
The stern man nodded. “With all due respect, sir, you screwed up pretty badly. Specifically, you’re on the completely wrong side of the building.”
I groaned, facepalming, before realizing the implication. “Wait, so you know your way around here? Couldn't you just, like, take me there?”
“I could”, the man replied, “but it’s a bit of a hike, one which I’ve already made several times this afternoon.” He reached toward his back pocket and whipped out a folded sheet of paper. “The last thing I want to do is walk down there again, but I can tell you exactly how to get there.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he had already unfolded the paper to reveal an annotated school map. We stepped though the directions a couple of times to make sure I was clear.
“Yup. I mixed up the floors for sure,” I said confidently, “but I think I’ve got it this time. Thanks a lot, Mr…”
“Jones,” he replied. “And you’re welcome. Take care of yourself.” He turned around and assumed his position on the footstool. As I walked past him, I caught a glimpse of his project: a large board titled 17 Things to do Instead of Drinking.
Luckily, my navigational skills served me this time as I found myself at the main office at last. As I walked in, I found my son chatting with a middle-aged woman whom I deduced was an administrator of some kind.
“Hi!” the woman said. “You made it! We were wondering about you. I’m the principal; nice to meet you!”
“Likewise,” I said. “So you were running the student leadership meeting?”
“Not exactly, but I was in on it,” the principal replied. “I hope you didn’t get too lost!”
I briefly recounted my exploits of the afternoon:
“…and finally, I received guidance from a Mr. Jones, who I could only deduce was a health teacher, and so I made my way here,” I concluded.
“Oh, yup, yet another recent hire,” the principal said. “I’ve heard he makes himself useful wherever he can — probably picked that up in the Navy.”
“I see,” I replied. “Just my luck to run into three teachers who are new to the school when I’m only trying to get directions.”
The principal laughed. “Just your luck, huh?” she replied. Her expression then changed slightly.
“An ironic bunch they are, for sure.”
Why on Earth would she say that? Who were those three teachers I met, anyway?
I gave it some thought and remembered a few additional details that may help:
- Mr. Brown’s desk was pretty uninteresting, though I did notice a prominent framed photo featuring him standing next to a toothless old man — perhaps his father? They both looked very happy.
- Mr. Smith had a Sport Clips coupon peeking out of his back pocket.
- One of the points on Mr. Jones’ board read:
— #8. Listen to your favorite music! Listen alone or with friends! Help the artist out: get your music legally!
There is a link among the three fictional identities in question.
Perhaps Frank’s subconsciousness wants to tell us something...?
The subjects taught (including “history”) are not hints, and the teachers’ names are placeholders.