When I was a senior in high school I took a psychology class as an elective. The teacher, Mr. K., was a heavy set man in his forties who had an odd sense of humor. He displayed black, suction cupped, funeral flags on his room’s door frame on the day of a test, and hung a rubber chicken at odd moments from the cord of the Venetian blinds by his desk. He once stared at my chest with a bemused smile on his face that eventually made me to look down. I had my glasses in my shirt pocket and wore a sweater on top of my shirt. I realized that the bump on my chest looked like I was wearing a falsey, and I made a big display, to his added amusement, of pulling the glasses out to show him that his assumption was incorrect. He liked to tease certain students about their supposed love lives, and frequently focused his attacks on one poor soul who was dating the daughter of a much feared and despised civics teacher. And the psych teacher told us repeatedly to ask an English teacher about his middle name. We asked, “Why would we want to know that?” And he always answered, “Trust me. It’ll be good when he tells you.” It turned out that Mr. M., the English teacher, and Mr. K. had gone to the University of Dayton back in the day and had drilled together in ROTC. Mr. M. reluctantly told us after weeks of badgering that his middle name was Joaquin, and the psych teacher was delighted that he had forced this mildly humorous revelation.
I enjoyed the psychology class and the teacher’s penchant for spreading a little in-house gossip about the faculty politics of the school. His teasing, even when directed at me, seemed all in good fun. But I didn’t appreciate his unexpected appraisal of my romantic capabilities. I heard his assessment when my girlfriend interrupted a kiss during a Saturday night date and told me a little story. Mr. K. was her adviser for the school’s radio club where she served as a DJ at our FM station. She mentioned to him that we were dating, and he told her that he was surprised. He said, “Isn’t he a bit slow?” I was one of his best students, so I knew that he was referring to my reserved nature and conservative life style rather than my mental abilities. My girlfriend was more experienced than me, and he had assumed that she would have picked a guy who smoked, drank, drove a hot car and had deflowered a cheerleader or two.
On Monday morning I sat at my desk and stared at him as he taught the class. He asked a few questions, and I didn’t raise my hand or make a comment during a discussion. He finally caught my fish eyed glare and asked, “Are you all right, Dennis? You’re not answering any questions.” I growled, “I’m feeling a little slow today.” His eyes popped open wide and his face flushed a deep crimson. He didn’t call on me for the rest of the class.
Later in the semester some of the other students found an opportunity to bedevil the psych teacher. Someone brought in a mechanical duck that made a quacking sound when a button was pressed on its belly. Mr. K. was lecturing at the front of the class when he heard a quack coming from the back. He ignored the interruption at first, but demanded the toy when the quacking continued. No one moved or said a word. He began to talk once again, but suddenly rushed to the back of the class when he heard another quack. He searched up and down for the culprit, but was surprised when another quack came from the front of the class. He said, “All right, fun is fun, but that’s enough.” It was all quiet for five minutes, and we saw him relax as he continued his lecture. But then the quack came from the left side of the class. A few minutes later he was out of breath, angry and frustrated as each one of his increasingly desperate raids resulted in a quack from the opposite side of the class.
I was happily amused by his distress and hoped that the duck would eventually be slipped to me so that I could join in. But I never saw how it was being passed, and it never came closer than three seats away from me. I later figured out that the duck wasn’t being passed at all, but that four or five students had each brought in a duck and had coordinated their attack.
Mr. K. never caught the culprits, and they judiciously limited their prank to a one time event. But he had the last laugh during the final exams. He hung a rubber chicken from the blinds, flew the funeral flags on the door, and asked as many obscure and difficult questions as he could muster. We sweated and scribbled and puzzled our little puzzlers as he watched us with a thin smile on his lips. And the room was silent.