When I was a high school sophomore I had a small-eyed flannel-wearing field-sport-coaching teacher for AP U.S. History, I’ll call him Coach X, who was sort of a younger softer clone of the small-eyed flannel-wearing baseball-coaching AP U.S. Government teacher I’d have two years later. This was the South and Coach X was generally nice and but one day it got out that he had the alleged ability to do an excellent imitation of Eddie Murphy’s Velvet Jones SNL commercial for a book called I Wanna Be A Ho. (‘Are you a female high school dropout between the ages of 16 and 25?… That’s right, it’s a known fact that a good ho can make up to fifteen hundred dollars a week. Just think, fifteen hundred dollars a week without leaving the comforts of your own bedroom…’)
A few kids with an almost pathological interest in our teachers’ personal lives began to pester. Everyone pretty much got on board. At first Coach X refused. Then he began to bargain. After almost a semester, we managed to make some deal, where if we did something good for so many weeks or all aced the midterm or something he’d do it. Deep down he wanted to, you could tell.
So one day he did. It was okay. It was sort of funny.
It was also kind of not okay.
Not just because of the humor or its undertones. Racist, misogynist, classist humor always performs and further entrenches the thing it critiques, for better and for worse; no one in that room was incapable of critical thought (we were a motley but sharp bunch of sixteen-year-olds). It wasn’t a question of corruption or degeneracy, so much. But it bothered me. That moment–cue sound byte of Coach X intoning Because in six short weeks I can train you to be a high-payin ho—slid a wedge into the already cracked fiction of who we were supposed to be. All those rules, all that silencing, all those limiting proprieties: pedagogical, institutional, and profoundly cultural, enforced on us not for order’s sake, as we’d be taught to believe, but for power’s. And now, I saw, their application or non-application was a matter of power too. They could be temporarily lifted to create an adult audience for an adult joke; they could be slammed down when that provisional audience refused to keep the joke in context, or tried to make such jokes themselves.
All of that pissed me off.
In Coach X’s history classroom hung a thick roll of pull-down maps, each representing a different phase of U.S. history, pre-colonial to present day. The early ‘unsettled’ areas were just plain, blank as dinner plates; there were no maps of native peoples or their migrations, forced or otherwise. Which also pissed me off. And made for another reason to take the map roll as my prime site for revenge. Specifically, I had my eye on the ‘Western Expansion’ map, which bore the (for me) felicitous title Westward Ho!
I sneaked in one lunch period to pull it down and look at it. Coach X was out mowing the green or something. The font was easy. The background was pale peach, sort of a barf color, which was very convenient because the art room had some similarly hued construction paper in its scrap bin. So. You can probably guess what’s next. Yep: I cut an appropriately-sized rectangle, wrote I Wanna Be A so it matched the map’s (happily exclaimed!) Ho!, sneaked in, pulled the map down, taped it up there, slipped the map back up into the roll. And waited.
It was a while before we got to the relevant unit, but let’s just say the Western Expansion was worth the wait. The map had been down a good few minutes before anyone noticed. Then: giggles, elbows. Coach X got to it and ripped it down, I think, before some folks even saw it. He demanded to know who was responsible. It had happened subtly, unexpectedly, and–best of all–silently. I folded my hands on my desk, kept a straight face, and said nothing. It was, I thought, some pretty fucking elegant revenge.
Which is why I will never, ever know how I got found out. I hadn’t told a soul. One of the pathological teacher’s pets saw me swipe art supplies, probably. Or maybe they did handwriting analysis (though I’d copied the map’s font pretty good). It took them a couple days to figure it out. I was sitting in another class when my English teacher, a friend of Coach X, opened the door, leveled her arm, and pointed at me. I tried to look surprised. She wasn’t having it.
She beckoned me with her finger and we walked silently down the hall to her office, where I was handed disciplinary referrals and a sentence of near-eternal lunch detention. That was all. There was–I don’t think I made this up–a weird flavor of truce. She seemed agitated, almost apologetic. Were she–and for legal reasons it had to be her, not Coach X–to pursue more appropriate disciplinary action, the whole story would come out. She knew it. She knew I knew it. I knew she knew I knew it. We hadn’t gone over the Cold War unit yet, but I knew all about that stuff. So we didn’t talk.
And I ate alone, and was kinda satisfied.