Thursday, December 04, 2014


Julian Cassady was indignant, and he had had the entire weekend to remain indignant. On Friday, his fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Ogilvy, had handed him back his creative writing assignment, a 2,000-word story that was supposed to be 500 words, about a boy who, one school morning, couldn't find his right sneaker, so he goes to school wearing a rubber boot on his right foot instead. What follows is a series of bizarre and comical events.

Julian thought the story was perfect. He knew it was grossly over the 500-word limit, but to him that was just an arbitrary number set by Mr. Ogilvy to discourage other kids from rambling through an incoherent narrative. Julian was confident that he understood the economy of words, and he was sure that his story had no extra padding -- everything was in service to the plot.

Just to be sure, though, he had asked his mother and father to look it over, to see if they found anything that he might have missed. His mother found it delightful and praised him for his creativity. Likewise did his father, although the old man cautioned him about two things: 1) the story's fictional, bumbling teacher, Mr. Vigolgo, was an obvious analogue of his real-life one ("Never piss off your audience, kid"), and 2) the part about the principal being hospitalized that day and substituted by a soggy ham sandwich was similarly unlikely to fly.

Julian listened and edited those parts. Mr. Vigolgo became Mr. Branch, and the principal was brought back to life from almost drowning while aboard a capsized gravy boat.

When Mr. Ogilvy handed him back his story on Friday afternoon, Julian had anticipated a big red A+, possibly with fireworks erupting from the grease pencil marks from which it was written. Instead, what he found horrified him: A B-minus. No fanfare, no comments, just a cold B- that looked like a piece of frozen meat.

This wouldn't do. Julian didn't complain to his parents about the perceived unfair grade. Neither did he sulk (at least outwardly; inside he still felt that he had been deeply wronged). What he decided to do was confront Mr. Ogilvy on Monday morning, before class. He would explain his side of the -- literal -- story. Perhaps Mr. Ogilvy would reconsider the grade, or at least concede that Julian had some salient points in his protestation.

Julian walked to school on Monday morning burdened by his backpack and the load on his mind. He was determined to get his point across and to not swear, like his dad did when the Bills were losing (which was often), or his mother did when she burnt her fingertips on the oven (pretty much every day). No; he would have a polite-yet-firm talk with Mr. Ogilvy. This could be resolved.

When Julian walked into the classroom Mr. Ogilvy was, as always, sitting at his desk, hunched over a stack of papers, the long white remains of his nearly bald head a shroud over his furrowed brow and oyster-shell ears. Lost in concentration. He was marking tests. Did Mr. Ogilvy do anything else besides mark tests and teach? Julian doubted it. He probably nourished himself with pen ink. Julian tried to imagine Mr. Ogilvy on a roller coaster or having a soft-serve cone at Dairy Queen and found that he couldn't -- it was like imagining Jesus Christ surfing.

Finally, Mr. Ogilvy looked up.

"Cassady, you're here early."

Julian smiled halfheartedly and walked to the back of the classroom to hang up his backpack. He unzipped it and took out his story. He walked towards Mr. Ogilvy's desk with a lump in his throat the size of Pluto, but he was resolute to lodge his complaint.

"Mr. Ogilvy, I don't think I got a fair grade on this story. I put every effort into it, but you gave me a B-minus. I don't want to have my grade changed, but I think you should read it again."

Mr. Ogilvy sighed. He took his gaze away from his stack of papers and looked Julian in the eye.

"First, you named your main character Chip McSwitch. That sounds made up."

"It sounds made up because it is made up!" Julian said.

"Fair enough, but the logic of the story doesn't work. If Chip can't find his right shoe, would he really just wear a rubber boot to school? Maybe he would, but you didn't flesh out the character enough to make that plausible."

"You gave Frank Jordan a B, and all he wrote about was an earthquake in Thunder Bay. There aren't earthquakes in Thunder Bay!"

"That's what fiction is: making the possible out of the impossible."

"But you said Chip McSwitch isn't a real name. How is it different? I made up that name. Frank made up an earthquake in Thunder Bay. How is it different?"

"Julian, don't question my grading. You seem to be very upset about your grade, so let's do this: I will read your story again. I might find something in it that I missed before. If that is the case, I will change your grade."

"But I don't want you to change my grade. I want you to like my story."

"We'll see. Maybe I'll change my mind. In the meantime, the buses are going to be here soon, so have a seat and settle down."

"Okay," Julian said. He sat and fidgeted for a minute and then remembered something. He walked to the back of the classroom, took his backpack off its hanger, opened it, and produced a shiny black weapon.

"Julian, no!" Mr. Ogilvy shouted.

The rubber boot nearly struck Mr. Ogilvy. Only a paperweight of a camel bought by his granddaughter on vacation in Egypt in 2011 spared him.

"How made up is that, you asshole?" Julian screamed before he was taken away by a lunch lady and the school librarian.


As of this writing, Julian is awaiting trial. Despite testimony from both sides, his rubber boot has yet to be recovered.