"I may not remember all the poems we read in AP class, but I will remember the man who taught me a lifelong love for poetry." Edward M. Shine
"The questions you ask are spiritual, they're real, they manifest themselves in peculiar ways that we may only glimpse once, but ponder for decades." Andrew Steel
"I read the full book in only one day! These stories inspire me to do so much. I can't thank you enough." Anthony Fertitta
"I love all these stories so much, and their meanings are poignant and relatable." Brendan Thomas
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STORIES I TELL MY HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH STUDENTS(FOR ENCOURAGING A NEW GENERATION OF WRITERS AND POETS)
By Walter B.J. Mitchell
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Walter B.J. Mitchell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStory 1
C+ Nice Try Mitchell
In 1970, as a Fourth Former (10th Grader) at the Canterbury School, a private boarding school in New Milford Connecticut, I had the privilege of having Mr. William D'Alton as my English teacher. In truth, Mr. D'Alton was about the most disorganized and disheveled man I have ever met. Assorted books and stacks of essays were scattered all around his room. Rumor had it that some of those stacks of essays were over ten years old. Apparently, they were the essays that Mr. D'Alton had either never managed to correct or ones he had somehow forgotten to hand back. That's the thing with Mr. D'Alton—whenever you handed in an essay, you never really knew if you would get it back.
Sometimes, we thought, that might be a blessing.
We called him "Wild Bill." Every morning he would arrive at class with a fierce look in his eyes—his wavy salt and pepper hair flung haphazardly back toward the roof of his crown, his tie pulled down as far as the second button of his white shirt, his shirt tails hanging below his belt underneath the bottom hem of his tweed blazer.
He started every class the exact same way—he'd come bustling into the room, take a sweeping gander at us and then head for the window at the back of the room. As he stood there peering out of the window at the woods beyond, he would say, "You will never guess what I saw this morning."
Some wiseacre would invariably chime in at that exact moment: "Um, would it be the small family of deer in your backyard Mr. D'Alton?"
"YES! How in the world did you know?" he would ask EVERY time!
We truly weren't sure whether Wild Bill was pulling our legs or whether he suffered from a chronic case of amnesia.
In either case—as redundant as the whole routine was—we never tired of it. In fact, the routine drew louder and louder chuckles each morning, to the point where by the spring trimester we were all guffawing.
Well—most of what went on in Wild Bill's classes was highly amusing—like the number of occasions he told about the time he was in New York City and on a total whim ran into the famous F.A.O. Schwarz toy store and with the very last little cash he had in his wallet purchased a toboggan that he hoisted over his shoulder into Central Park where he tobogganed into the dark.
We referred to the story as "Wild Bill's Wild Ride!"
But, for me, there was one thing NOT the least bit amusing about Mr. D'Alton. Whenever we handed in an essay it took almost a month to get it back. And in those days when you were given back an essay they were folded down the middle lengthwise, so when you got an essay back you would open it up slowly much like the way you open a poker hand after you've drawn one card in the hope of landing a straight or a flush. Well, get this—EVERY essay I got back from Wild Bill said the exact same thing:
"C+ Nice Try Mitchell".
It was as if he took one look at me and said, "Now there's a "C+ Nice Try student if I ever saw one." No matter what—no matter how long or short my essay was—the result was always the same:
"C+ Nice Try Mitchell".
By the spring trimester I was desperate. I told myself, no matter what, I had to beat the "C+ Nice Try Mitchell" mold. Wild Bill asked us to write a short story.
That night I found a passage that could very well pass as a short story from a horror novel called The Other, by Thomas Tryon.
I copied the passage word for word.
I was either going to get an A+ or a zero—but, in my way of thinking, that was all right, because at least I wouldn't have to suffer through another "C+ Nice Try Mitchell."
Wouldn't you know—it seemed like an eternity before Wild Bill handed back the short stories. During some of my more paranoid days, I convinced myself that it wouldn't be all that bad if the stack of short stories were the next batch of papers to remain on the corner of Wild Bill's desk for the next ten years.
But mostly I was hopeful. I knew I had a very good chance of knocking Wild Bill's socks off.
Finally, the day came. Wild Bill said—looking straight at me—that he found several of the stories rather "horrifying." He then flashed me a smile.
I smiled back.
I slowly slowly slowly unfolded the paper at the top—this was going to be a royal flush for sure!
Much to my own horror—it read:
"C+ Nice Try Mitchell"!!!
Then Wild Bill had written, "read my note at the end."
I rushed to the back of the second page.
The note read: "For Crying Out Loud Mitchell, See The Other, p. 38-39".
1. Why didn't Wild Bill bust me for plagiarism and give me a zero on the paper?
2. What does this story suggest about Wild Bill as a teacher?
3. What grade and comment do you think I received on the final paper of the year?
4. What is the moral of this story?
Chapter TwoStory 2
It was Homecoming Day my senior year at Canterbury. In a driving rainstorm, my football teammates and I played our best game of the season in a 7-0 waterlogged win over an undefeated Hopkins team. We were delirious. In fact, we were going so crazy after the game that were taking 30 yards sprints and diving and sliding head first through a giant puddle behind the goalpost. The next thing we knew practically the whole team was sloshing around in the puddle, wrestling and jumping on top of one another.
As we headed for the showers I noticed that I was missing the chinstrap on my helmet. So I jogged back out to the field to try to find it. And lo and behold, there it was in the middle of the puddle.
On my way back to the gym, all of a sudden I saw a figure of a young lady sloshing her way up to me at a rapid pace. She called out, "Hey, Mitch."
She stood there right in front of me—and by now the rain was coming down so hard it was pinging and ricocheting off my football helmet. But there she stood: no hat, no raincoat, no umbrella—she was soaked to the bone, as they say. Water was dripping down her bangs and down her cheeks like she was standing under a waterfall.
She looked so sweet and cute—and yet, so visibly vulnerable.
At that moment of truth, much to my intrigue and confusion, I wasn't sure who in the world she was.
"I hear that you and your friends are going to Chuck's Steak House tonight for a celebration dinner," she said.
Then, I recognized her voice. She was the girl in English class who always had the right answers. Her name was Laurie Moynihan.
"Yes, we are," I replied.
"Listen, I know this may seem like a strange request, but do you think it would be all right if I came to Chuck's as well?"
Habba-da-Habba-da-Habba-da—I didn't know what to say!
I mean none of my friends knew Laurie Moynihan, and to my knowledge neither did the couple of girls we invited. What was I going to say?
Well—there she was—standing undaunted in the rain—peering through my helmet and straight into my eyes—
"Boy, Laurie," I said. "For someone who is a genius in English class you would think you would have put on a raincoat."
Her dripping lips formed a cunning little smile and she said, "I find the rain can be very romantic, don't you?"
"Um, yeah, I guess I never thought of it that way," I replied.
"Good thing you have that helmet on," she said. "I am going to have to knock some sense into you!"
"Well, I guess I had better keep this helmet on at dinner, huh?"
"You mean it's all right?"
"Sure. Of course."
"What time are you meeting?"
"See you there!"
"Yup, see you there."
I stood and watched as she sprinted away, water cascading everywhere around her. And then I said to myself, "Are you crazy? I am going to be ranked on unmercifully for this."
Then it occurred to me ... what about Connie Haden? I had a crush on Connie for the longest time and she was going to be there. But I could make it clear to Connie that Laurie wasn't my date or anything—I mean that's the truth. Laurie just wanted to join everyone for dinner.
When we arrived at Chuck's, Laurie wasn't there. Thank goodness, I thought.
When we were seated I noticed that there was an extra chair at the table, and I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Next thing I knew, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder, and there was Laurie standing beside me. My friends were all looking at me like, "what is going on?"
"I asked Mitch if it would be all right to partake in this celebration myself," Laurie said, very confidently.
My friends just sort of sat there frozen until finally Connie said, "Oh sure, that's great."
"Here have a seat," I said, as I rose to help push in her chair.
Laurie made a couple of attempts to talk to my friends, but they quickly went back to talking amongst themselves. The awkwardness of the situation was palpable.
So, I started talking to her myself—and then it occurred to me how different she looked from when I saw her last. Her hair was bouncy and her face was all made up. I had never seen her all made up before, and I must say it was striking to me how pretty she looked.
A few minutes later when she excused herself to go to the ladies' room my friends were giving it to me good. Connie even said I was turning red—and then she said, "Mitch is in love! Look at him!"
"No, no," I said. "Not at all."
Everyone else was like, "Laurie Moynihan? Are you kidding us?"
Just as I started to explain the circumstances, Laurie returned and my friends went back to talking amongst themselves.
Laurie and I resumed our conversation. It was very pleasant and she was being so nice. There were plenty of laughs—she was quite funny, I have to admit.
And then it happened.
Just as our desserts were being served, Laurie leaned up to my ear and whispered, "I like you!"
Habba-da, Habba-da, Habba-da.
"Yes, the hot fudge sundae is mine," I said to the waitress, acting a little as if I hadn't heard her.
But then another very curious thing occurred....
Almost without thinking, I leaned over to her ear and whispered, "I like you too!"
Suddenly, we were holding hands under the table!
If only Connie and my friends could see under the table, I thought.
But, truth be told, for those ephemeral few minutes between the hot fudge sundae and divvying up the tab, I sat there in utter and complete bliss.
The last bit of whispering we did before she left was a plan we made to meet at the back of the chemistry lab at five o'clock on Monday afternoon after football practice.
I know, right? The chemistry lab? I know ... I know ... but it's true!
For the next day and a half all I could see in my mind was Laurie's dripping face in the rain—and yet all I kept hearing in my ears were the relentless taunts from Connie and my friends.
I thought to myself, what if on Monday evening they saw me coming out of the classroom building with Laurie?
My mind was spinning in a maelstrom of emotion. In essence, I was a modern day Odysseus caught between the Scylla and the Charybdis. Only, unlike Odysseus, I was not "skilled in all ways of contending", nor, alas, did I have the blind prophet Tiresias to consult.
Football practice ran a little late, but when I snuck into the back of the chemistry lab, Laurie was sitting there on the floor with her back against the back wall.
This time it was my hair that was dripping—as I had come straight from the showers.
"Your hair is dripping," she laughed.
"Pretty romantic, isn't it?" I quipped, while sitting in place beside her.
"For a minute I thought you weren't going to show up."
"Practice ran late, I'm sorry."
"Well?" she asked, leaning her face toward mine.
"Do I have to explain this to you?"
"You know exactly what I am talking about."
"No, I don't. Tell me."
"I can't believe I would have to tell you something like this."
At this point, she seemed slightly upset. I thought she might start raising her voice—and then my paranoia hit hard—what if they see me with Laurie?
"What's the first thing you should have done when you walked in this door?" Laurie asked ever so seriously.
"Fire up a Bunsen burner?" I asked, desperately trying to alter the mood.
Laurie didn't laugh. She looked mad. I couldn't understand why she was upset and now I felt desperate just to get out of there.
"You know what?" I said, "I really shouldn't be doing this anyway."
"What?" she asked incredulously.
"I should have told you this, but ... I have a girlfriend back home."
It was a blatant lie.
"You have a girlfriend?" she asked as if I was a cyclops.
"Yes. I'm sorry. I should have told you."
"Now I get why you didn't kiss me. Now I get it! Good thing you told me now."
Laurie hopped to her feet immediately and headed for the door. Before I could say another word, she was gone.
Right then and there I felt a tremendous sense of relief.
That relief didn't last very long, however.
As I lay in bed each night all I could see was Laurie's face in the rain—her made up face at the restaurant—her upset face in the chemistry lab—
Laurie's face was everywhere and I couldn't stop thinking about her.
Yet—I was paralyzed.
I thought I would say something to her at some point.
I thought of casting away my paranoia and throwing myself into her arms.
I thought of asking her out during Christmas break. You know, I could drive to her house and no one would ever know.
I thought and I thought and I thought.
And I never did a thing.
Well, as fate would have it, one February evening after one of our rare Friday night Varsity basketball games, I came up from the showers to find Laurie Moynihan in the lobby outside the court holding hands with Billy "Cat" Cataldo, one of my best friends.
Cat was there at Chuck's Steak House the night Laurie ate dinner with us. Cat had been as unrelenting as Connie in taunting me about Laurie. Cat was the one who had asked over and over, "Laurie Moynihan?"
And yet there he was holding her hand right there in the gym lobby on a Friday night in plain sight for everyone to see.
Funny thing is—both Laurie and Billy looked so confident in what they were doing. Usually when teenagers start holding hands for the first time, the awkwardness is written all over their faces and in their body language. Not so in this case. Stunningly not so. They looked like they had been holding hands for months ... like this was nothing new.
That night back at the dorm I saw Cat sitting in the common room, so I hurried over to him.
"Hey Cat, you and Laurie Moynihan, huh?"
"Yeah, Mitch. You know something?"
"She's actually quite cool."
"Yeah—but man you must be getting some major grief from Connie and the boys, huh?"
"Not at all, man. Everyone seems cool with it."
"You're kidding me."
"No. Everyone has been cool."
"Well—that's—that's great. I am happy to hear it, Cat."
"Say, didn't you like her Mitch?"
Habba-da, Habba-da, Habba-da. "Um, nah, not really."
"We actually thought you did."
"I know—but, nah, I didn't. But I am glad you do."
For the next fortnight, all I could do was torture myself. I mean what an idiot I was. What a paralyzed, lying fool I had been.
Finally I couldn't take it anymore. Like a raccoon backed into a corner, I bared my teeth and sprang into action.
You see, I KNEW she really liked me. I KNEW all I had to do is make my move. Cat wouldn't care that much—he never seemed to care too much about anything.
So—late on a freezing, snowy Saturday night, I bundled up and snuck out of the dorm. I knew where Laurie's room was on the second floor of Havemeyer Hall. So I traipsed through the snow to the back side of the dorm and looked up at her window, which, of course was completely frosty and dark.
I had a box of Good and Plenty's in the deep pocket of my parka. So I proceeded to toss a Good and Plenty up to her window. Tink. A white one. Tink. A pink one. Tink. Another pink one. Tink. Another white one. Tink.
Not a stir in the room. Not a rustle in the curtains.
So I started throwing them harder. A white one. TINK. A pink one. TINK. One white one I threw up there hit the window so hard I thought it might break. TSSSH.
Finally—just as I was running out of ammo—I saw the shadow of Laurie's face in the window. She was peering down at me. I even thought I saw her smile.
She opened her window, leaned out and whispered, "Cat?"
"Um, no Laurie, it's me, Mitch."
"Yeah, it's me."
"What do you want?"
"Can you come down? I really need to talk to you."
"You're kidding me, right?"
"No. I really need to tell you something."
"Do you know what time it is?" She sounded like a scolding mother.
"No. But who cares? This is important."
"Well it will have to wait."
"Come on Laurie, just for a few minutes."
"Go back to your dorm. Go."
Excerpted from STORIES I TELL MY HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH STUDENTS by Walter B.J. Mitchell Copyright © 2012 by Walter B.J. Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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