“Don’t Bring Your Battle Axe To Class” by H. Miller

An original memoir written in CW 352:  Creative Nonfiction Workshop with Prof. Elizabeth Geoghegan — Spring 2010

“Don’t Bring Your Battle Axe To Class”

Mr. Linton was a crazy man.

He was a third grade teacher.

He taught at a private school in Portland.

He was an expert at fascinating his students.

He was fired one day in May.

Growing up I wanted quietness. I believed that everybody else spoke too quickly and rarely waited for my opinion. I felt that things were too loud in the world that involved other people, so I spent most of my time thinking of the perfection of My World. At home, I had eighty-eight acres of backyard that I could roam around in, and I thought that such a space could provide enough entertainment for my lifetime. There were no problems in the immense Speaking World that I thought couldn’t be solved in My World. In my eighty-eight acres, I had streams and dells, ponds and pathways, woods and groves, and my endless imagination to play around in.  Everything was just fine for me.

No other child that I knew had such a grand space.

So school was a trouble, because I believed that My World was all that I would ever need. To my teachers’ and parents’ dismay, I didn’t feel interested in anything outside of home, and I didn’t feel the need to impress anybody. I wouldn’t do homework, I wouldn’t finish tests, and I often would disappear if nobody was watching me. I never explained to anybody why I was so happily uninterested in everything outside of My World, and I never thought that there was anything wrong with that, until I met Mr. Linton.

I met him on my first day of third grade, which was three days after everybody else’s first day, due to me tricking my whole family into thinking that I was gravely ill. He was half Indian and half English, and he stressed this fact upon my classmates and me. It was a strategy he used to make himself seem like a bizarre animal to us. His voice was booming and crystal clear, in crowds he was always the one everybody could hear. He was colossal compared to the little old ladies that had taught me before him, he claimed he could cut down a redwood with one mighty swing of his karate chop. He was a superhero to the kids who had already been through his classroom. He used his accent and appearance as tools in a way similar to Roman Emperors bringing exotic beasts from around the world to fight each other for the entertainment of the masses.

Mr. Linton was cunningly honest and seemingly impossible to deceive. These were useful traits when it came to fascinating and controlling rambunctious children. These were also qualities that I had not previously encountered in any of my former teachers. I had thought that no adult could ever hold any sort of power over me and that my methods of avoiding work were unmatched by any human. He slaughtered my belief and found every way possible to get me to do things I loathed. I could not stand him. I replaced daydreams of the perfection of My World with daydreams of pissing in his coffee.

When he assigned book reports, I would read obscure comic books, a strategy I had established the year before, but Mr. Linton knew more about comics than any other person in the whole wide world. He would bust me every time, but instead of forcing me to do a makeup project, he would buy me graphic novels for the next book report. This was one of his methods that were not approved by the school. In fact, most of his teaching habits felt somewhat abnormal. When it rained really hard on a school day, he would turn off all of the classroom lights so we could watch the water fall. Whenever students hurt themselves, which happened often at the age of nine, he would tease them until they stopped making a fuss. He refused to allow our class to celebrate Columbus Day, on account that Christopher screwed up and confused Indians with Native Americans and misnamed an entire race. This loss of a day off made some kids upset and led to parents getting involved, and soon he told us that he was on probation by the school.

Mr. Linton told us that he was losing his patience with the school administrators.

In the classroom Mr. Linton began giving us more strange projects. He assigned kids to sneak into other classrooms and bring back all of the gold and silver pencils they had, and hide them underneath the class sink. He checked out books from the school library and had us take them home, and he told us not to read them until we felt like it, which he figured would happen in highschool. He gave me The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which ended up being one of my favorite books. We figured that all of his odd assignments were just part of a ridiculous game that we were playing, and so nobody said anything about it.

By April my book reports were no longer based on comic books or graphic novels, Mr. Linton had me read The Tell-Tale Heart and other such short stories. I told him my secret about My World, and about why I had such a problem with the Speaking World. I told him that reading had become more important to me than running around in my eighty-eight acres at home, that his trickery convinced me that learning might not be so terrible. He said it was a shame that I was growing up, that I would miss being stupid. I remember thinking that the joke wasn’t funny.

One day he had us all write our own riddles.

They were all pretty awful, seeing as nobody really grasped the concept of a true riddle. Most of them ended up being bad jokes with illfitting punch lines. My riddle was why do hyenas cackle? To which the answer was, because they don’t know how to laugh. Not much of a riddle really, but I thought it was something at the time. He read them all out loud to us so that we could decide which one was the best. I forget which one was picked.

After reading us the riddles he told us stories of growing up in India. He always used his stories to try to get a message across. The one that I remember was a story of him and his brother stealing mangoes from a tree inside the garden of a government building. His brother had convinced him that the best mangoes in India were on this one particular tree, because the government had mutated it into a super-mango tree. His brother told him that these mangoes were as light as dust and that, once picked; they would float in the air like balloons. Believing his brother as any younger sibling would, he hopped the wall of the garden to nab some super-mangoes.

He described to us the terror he felt when he saw a rifle for the first time not on television. A soldier who was guarding the building was holding it. Mr. Linton assumed that the soldier was protecting the super-mangoes. So the young terrified Mr. Linton crept very sneakily around the garden behind the soldier and the mango tree and sat down in a bush. His plan was to wait for the guard to leave and then run to the tree, climb it, pick the best super-mangoes he could reach, and dash out of the garden before anybody could be the wiser.

Hours passed with Mr. Linton hiding in the bush, waiting under a scalding Indian sun for the guard to leave his post. He said that with every minute that passed, the mangoes hanging before him looked sweeter and sweeter and yet less and less obtainable. He started thinking that the soldier would never leave, that he would be stuck in the bush forever. Then there was a noise by the wall that the young Mr. Linton had climbed over. It was his brother coming to look for him. His brother had landed on the ground poorly and knocked over a potted plant. The guard had heard the plant fall over too, and Mr. Linton watched as the guard pointed his rifle to where the noise had come from and began marching towards his brother.

Mr. Linton told my class that making decisions was something that few people liked to do. That people often make the wrong decisions because their desires get in the way of reason. After hours of staring at such delicious fruit on such a hot day, the young Mr. Linton could not help himself. So he ran to the tree and looked back to see what was happening to his brother. His brother was running as fast as he could away from the guard who was chasing him. Mr. Linton decided that his brother would have chosen the super-mangoes over saving him, so he climbed the tree. The super-mangoes were heavier than he had expected, and after grabbing several, the young Mr. Linton was too weak to hold himself in the mango tree, and he fell. He told the class to never be greedy, or they might fall out of their own mango tree.

He repeated that a lot to all of his students.

The guard had heard him fall from the mango tree, and chased him and his brother over the wall and out of the garden. Once safe, he looked down at the one super-mango he had managed to get away with. It was bruised, heavy and had ants all over it. Never had he felt so disappointed. This was the end of his story, him looking at a filthy stolen mango. Class was over and it was time for everybody to go home.

The next morning after my mom dropped me off at school, it was late in the academic year and it was beginning to turn into summer. When I reached the Elementary building, I saw all of my classmates waiting outside on the school steps. They told me that they were told to wait outside by the counselor. I was upset because I had finally finished my first real book report and I was eager to prove myself to Mr. Linton.

As it turned out Mr. Linton had brought a large plastic battle-axe to school that day and threatened the principle with it. Apparently they were planning on moving him to a different grade because of his teaching habits. He was immediately fired and replaced by the fourth grade teacher. It is hard to remember what the rest of the year was like, I remember the replacement being another fragile old hag and I remember how the class always talked about how easy it was to get away with not doing any of her assignments. Thanks to Mr. Linton, My World had taken a backseat in my life, but with him gone I began to return to my old habits.

So Mr. Linton was a crazy man.

He was a third grade teacher.

He taught at a private school in Portland.

He taught me how to enjoy life outside my life.

And he was fired for swinging a plastic toy at the principal’s face.

—written by Henry Miller

 

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