Teachers are the molders of young minds.

Danny's Story

The oft-discussed thin line between genius and insanity I think is simply this: both the genius and the psychotic see relationships between events that others would have missed. The genius has the good fortune to be correct in his wild suppositions; the nut does not. At least, so it was with own incipient psychosis.

Danny Gordon and I attended grade school together at Teddy Roosevelt in Canton Ohio. When Danny was in the seventh grade, he and his mother moved to Florida. Danny's father had been killed years earlier. Nowadays, of course, single-parent households are common. But in those days, Danny's having no father seemed inconceivable -- and perhaps a little scary.

When I happened to hear the news twelve years later that Danny had killed himself, I didn't weep or wail. Danny and I had not been the best of friends, really, and anyway, I am not an emotional guy. Hearing of a suicide could hardly have been expected to snap many dendritic connections. But my dumb-ass idiotic memory flashed before me that picture of Danny in the hallway of our grade school, the sign around his neck, the gum stuck on his nose, and lines of kids filing by throughout the long, hot afternoon. It was Mr. Glunt's idea.

Mr. Glunt was one of the sixth grade teachers. One quickly learned the legends that had grown up about this particular molder of minds. He had served as a marine and knew karate and his fast feet snapped a kick or his hard hands a chop to any boy in his class. Teacher Glunt had three suits: a blue, a black, and a gray. To cross him when he wore his blue suit -- so it we whispered by the green lockers in the dark halls -- was to court certain death. To annoy teacher Glunt while he wore his black suit would typically result in a paddling of some five minutes duration. He preferred the wooden variety with holes for higher speed. Teacher Glunt's gray suit signified a good mood and a childish prank would result in no more than a swift kick to the behind. However, it was always quickly added -- Glunt never wore his gray suit.

Luckily, I did not have Glunt for a teacher.

In the sixth grade, I was voraciously interested in learning about everything, particularly dinosaurs. Once I was eating lunch in our room along with about eight other kids. Our own teacher was not present. I quietly munched my Liverwurst sandwich in the corner. The other eight kids were having a riot of the usual garden variety sixth-grade type (circa 1950, that is when drugs were unknown and guns hadn't crept into schools yet). Throwing erasers and chalk, paper airplanes, yelling, kicking -- all in good clean fun. But me, the intellectual creep, I pored over the detailed description of a Stegosaurus.

In walked Glunt.

Kicks stopped in mid-kick. Paper airplanes stalled in mid-flight. Erasers froze in mid-air. Inertia itself took a sudden time-out. Children's voices terminated mid-phoneme. Glunt walked by Jerry and Susan and the first row. Not a muscle in the room twitched. Glunt walked by Fred and Nancy and Ted and the second row. Glunt walked by the empty third and fourth rows, and the children standing in the aisles and came to the beginning of the fifth row. The last row. My row.

I could actually hear the saucer eyes of the other children turn in the stifling silence. Up the fifth row to the corner of the room where the intellectual creep read about Stegosaurus walked The Glunt. He stood quietly in front of me for a few moments and smiled a truly warm and friendly smile.

Then I noticed that my head snapped back and forth quite rhythmically timed to the forceful slaps that my cheeks were receiving: left, right, left, right. I suppose he must have hit me only about thirty times altogether but it seemed forever that I had to concentrate on moving just before his giant hand hit my face again. Just as slowly through just as dead a silence, teacher Glunt departed. I noted as he disappeared through the door that he had been wearing his gray suit.

Danny had Glunt for a teacher.

One unusually warm April day, our geography lesson was interrupted. We were to file out and see something really special in the hallway. When we left the room, we could see that the hallway was already jammed, for Glunt had ordered every class to see his marvelous exhibit. Everyone's heart pounded. We were all eager to have our turn to view this wondrous thing even more important than memorizing the State Bird (cardinal!) and the State Flower (carnation!) of Ohio. (Funny just how open and receptive the mind is at that age).

Finally, we rounded a bend in the hall and our turn came. There stood Danny: beet red, with a huge wad of gum stuck on his nose. A high, pointed dunce cap adorned his head. Around his neck, a sign hung: "I chew my cud in class."

So this was the lesson that Glunt had rightly considered more important than any mathematical formula, any play of Shakespeare, any human dream or skill that we might otherwise have spent our warm April day learning.

The kids filed by and were mostly silent. A few giggled. Danny's girlfriend strode by, her eyes on the floor. And, her own sixth grade cheeks burned even more brightly than Danny's. But anyhow, I am sure, absolutely sure that they would have broken up soon even if this had not happened. You know how puppy love is in the sixth grade. Kids at that age don't really have deep feelings. I am just as sure that Danny realized this too.

That's it. That's the story of Danny and the gum. And, I think you must agree, now that the tale is told, that any man who sees a connection between that warm April day and Danny Gordon's suicide exactly twelve years later is not a sane man. Even if Danny's stiff blue body was found with a note around his neck, a dunce cap on his head, and upon his nose -- a wad of chewing gum.

The Story of the Lost Sapphire
Short Story Index

To contact the author: truthtable@aol.com

Last modified: Sun May 18, 1997