French to Me Part One: The Breakers.
By ice rivers
The last time that I saw Les Eleves was when I passed our broken classroom. Les Eleves was sitting at the desk, looking forlornly at the dark clouds outside the Friday afternoon window. The man was clearly at a crossroads. He was hoping to become a Jesuit priest but first had to complete a teaching assignment or something. Eleves was losing his religion.
Let me 'splain as another one of our more confident teachers a goombah named Mr Giatto might have said.
Set the scene at our private preparatory Jesuit High School school named Bishop James Sheehan High. I knew we were college preparatory but I didn't realize that we were private. I had gone to a Catholic grammar school and when it came to high school, I would continue that education. Two all male Catholic high schools were available. Along with Sheehan there was another school called Cardinal Horner. Horner was the older of the two and the more established. My father had gone to Horner. He used to take me to the Horner football games. The Horner teams had a history of national rather than local success. They were a powerhouse. In my father's day some of the Horner players hung around until their twenties under one dispensation or another. Everyone assumed that I would follow in his footsteps.
Bishop Sheehan was only a few years old when I visited it for the first time to participate in a Science Fair. The school sparkled. Only in it's third year, Sheehan had begun to compete against Horner in varsity basketball. Horner was Basilian. Sheehan was Jesuit. Sheehan was closer to my home. Sheehan was more exclusive and expensive that Horner. Sheehan required higher scores on its entrance exam than did Horner.
The guys that I graduated with from St. James were evenly divided on which school they wanted to attend. I chose Sheehan. I had excellent grades in grammar school. I scored very well on the entrance exam. I got into Sheehan.
I might have gone to the brand new public school called East High located on East Main and Culver. I could walk to East. East was co-ed. Sheehan was all male. Sheehan cost a pretty penny. East was free. I could have saved my parents a lot of money. All that I'm saying is that I could have given East a chance but good Catholic boy that I was, I didn't.
I chose Sheehan.
At Sheehan, we had to wear a suitcoat and tie to class. I had no idea how to tie a tie so instead I spent my first year at Sheehan sporting a clip-on bow tie. I got a lot of grief for that as well as for being a city kid. I was solid middle class which to many of my classmates, the sons of doctors and lawyers and scions and such was decidedly low class. I suspected that our grades were determined in part by the contributions of our parents. The more they gave, the higher the grade.
After a few years, I'd grown accustomed to the place. I still wore clip-ons but they were full length ties. I found myself gaining more and more respect from my classmates, especially the other city kids who competed with me for the lower grades. We gained respect by becoming breakers.
We breakers learned all manner of disrupting attention in class and giving the teachers a bad time. I suspect that the school scheduled us so that we breakers would all be in the same class. To avoid chaos in the hallways, we stayed with our home room all day and the teachers came to us. In other words, we were with the same kids all day long. We learned to work as a team; a ball breaking team.
When we were busted, we were assigned JUGS. A JUG meant a detention in the office of the Prefect of Discipline. In that office we were held and sentenced to print out encyclicals which were never completed. Since JUG was a sign of ballbreaking, the same group of us were in JUG every night and we were proud to be there as it established our reputation. We all knew how many JUGS each other had accumulated and rated our courage by that number.
Our group was condmened to take French. French was the last class of our day just before jug and just after Mr. Toddler taught history during which the entire class would quiet downn and brazenly sleep on the desks. Toddler thought he was a succesful spray and prayer becuase his classes were SOOO quiet. He didn't give two shits. By the last period of the day we were rersted, pissed off and ready to disobey. Our French teacher named Mr. Hennings, all things considered was walking into a nightmare on the first day of his teaching career.
Henning was young, tall, thin wore tortoise shell glasses and was obviously afraid. He seemed like a nice enough guy to me but clearly vulnerable.
He lasted about a month before that last cloudy day.
We broke him.