This tale is from “The Kid in the Kaleidoscope.” If you missed Part One catch it (here)
By the spring of my junior year, it was time to do something about the abuse heaped on me by Coach Jenkins. The time for revenge had arrived, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Ricky Delgado had spent nearly as much time at Juvy as he had at Wilcox but he was curtailing his criminal behavior so he could try out for the swim team. He was available and eager to assist me.
Over the summer, my art teacher Miss Veasie and Coach Jenkins, both single, had connected. Throughout my junior year, Jenkins was hanging around the art classes when not intimidating kids on the football field. It unnerved me to have him there. Jenkins scowled whenever Miss Veasie lavished attention on me, and I swear he ratcheted up his intolerance of me.
But Miss Veasie only saw Coach Jenkins as a mighty Apollo. She couldn’t stop making goo-goo eyes at him whenever he visited the classroom. If horrors were ranked, discovering that your teacher was boiling with lust for someone you couldn’t stand ranked right up there with imagining your parents doing “it.” Before long, Miss Veasie was being referred to by her students as “Easy-Veasie.”
Miss Veasie went so far as to involve her students in a scheme to play footsie with Jenkins. She convinced him to join her at posing for our drawing class—shoeless. As the rest of the class concentrated on his muscular feet and her petite ones, I focused on their commingling toes and noticed what a big baby he was whenever she nudged her foot against the bottom of his. He didn’t like having the soles of his feet touched. He tickled easily.
One day I was walking by Easy-Veasie’s desk and glanced at her open weekly planner. For Friday she’d penciled in: sculpture. I asked about this. “What kind of a sculpture are we going to make?”
“We’re going to use quick-drying plaster to make a body cast.”
I was a budding painter, not a sculptor, but taking a cast of someone to make a statue seemed like cheating. I didn’t need to ask, but did. “Who’s going to pose for this plaster cast?”
“Coach Jenkins has volunteered to pose for us. Isn’t that nice of him?”
“Yeah, he’s quite a guy. I’m sure he’ll make a great sculpture.”
Easy-Veasie looked incredibly happy at the prospect of troweling plaster over Coach Jenkins’ muscular body. “Many modern sculptors use quick-drying plaster to make casts of models and friends.”
The school library had a few books on modern sculpture, including a how-to book on creating ghostly human replicas by piecing together castings of friends, models or anyone patient enough to leave their impressions in plaster. A plan began jelling in my head…one of sweet revenge.
That Friday, Easy-Veasie used the book I’d returned to the library to give a lecture on making plaster casts. During her talk, Jenkins arrived and quickly disappeared into the supply room. He reappeared a short time later wearing only a swimsuit. Since he often filled in for the swimming coach and was a fairly good water polo player, our seeing him in a bathing suit wasn’t that odd.
At Easy-Veasie’s direction, he walked over to a folding chair, sat down and assumed a stiff pose resembling Rodin’s Thinker, with a red crew cut. Most of the pictures I’d seen in that How-To book showed sculptures of people clothed in everyday attire, but Easy-Veasie must have had a reason for wanting a replica of the coach wearing only a swimsuit.
She’d done her homework, learning it was first necessary to coat the model in Vaseline to prevent the plaster from sticking and making it easy to remove. With a furtive smile on her face, and with her students looking on, she greased Coach Jenkins like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Next came the quick-drying plaster. If someone hadn’t accidentally torn a certain page from the how-to section of the book, Easy-Veasie might have learned that it’s not a good idea to cover the entire body all at once; it’s safer to apply the plaster in sections, which can later be pieced together. While he breathed through an extra-wide straw, the whole class took part in covering him in plaster. Naturally, he’d ordered us to leave his sensitive feet alone. This sculpture wouldn’t have feet. During the plastering, I went to the sink to wash my hands. Ricky was standing just outside the door. I gave him the nod, our agreed-upon signal. A few minutes later, everyone but me was startled by the blare of a fire alarm.
The administration at Wilcox took fire drills seriously, even if we students didn’t. I knew there was no fire, along with Ricky, who’d donned a plastic parka and held a cigarette lighter taped to a broom handle up to a ceiling sprinkler in French #101. The French class was conveniently away on a crepe-hunting expedition.
Easy-Veasie ordered us to file out of the building. We headed to our designated safety spot on the playing field. Students seldom stayed with their classes; everyone mingled about enjoying the unexpected opportunity to socialize. I knew Easy-Veasie wouldn’t notice I hadn’t left the building; she’d be too mindful of the poor bastard she’d just covered in quick-drying plaster, who couldn’t move at all and had to remain motionless, eyes forward, as he breathed through a straw. Before leaving to join her students, Easy-Veasie reassured Jenkins that this was just a short drill and she’d be back in no time. She kissed one of his plaster-covered ears as I slipped into the supply room.
Coach Jenkins’ shoes and clothes were on one of the shelves, neatly folded. On a higher shelf were half a dozen brightly painted papier mache head masks Easy-Veasie had purchased on a trip to Mexico. Whenever she thought our use of color too timid, she’d bring out these gaudy masks and make us wear them in order to “feel the colors from the inside out.” I peeled off my shirt so I couldn’t be identified, then pulled down a mask resembling an orange-and-black spotted leopard. Finally, I got to be predator instead of the prey.
I could only imagine what Coach Jenkins thought when, from the corner of his eye, he saw me slinking up to him with that leopard mask covering my head. His eyes, the only exposed part of him (except for his feet), bulged like those of a deep-sea diver who’d surfaced too quickly. I produced a dirty grey feather from the side pocket of my jeans, the same feather I’d desperately clutched that terrible day at the chin-up bar when I’d failed to break Chris Ferris’ record.
I wasn’t in a hurry. A quick survey of the classrooms would show that a sprinkler had actually gone off, making this more than just a drill. I had a good twenty to thirty minutes to enjoy my revenge.
If I was hot beneath my papier mache mask, I could only imagine how hot the coach was under all that plaster. But I wasn’t about to feel sorry for him. I ran the feather slowly over one of his soles. He let out a muffled bellow of rage, spit dripping from the end of his straw. Again the feather, only the other foot this time. His muscles were flexing in his plaster cocoon, and the folding chair shook back and forth. But the plaster held.
How I wanted him to know it was me avenging myself on him. I wanted to pull off that leopard mask and shriek, How do you like being tormented, asshole? But I could only let a feather talk for me. I wormed it through his toes, spit draining from the straw and forming a puddle in his lap, his eyes red and puffy.
Until then, I’d rarely showed toughness. My childhood hero Zorro might have summoned mercy for this guy, but not me. I imagined all the chubby kids he’d tormented over the years—tender, frightened kids yearning to belong, frustrated at being picked last for every team and snickered at for having less-than-perfect bodies. Coach Jenkins might not have been personally responsible for all this, but at that moment he was the living embodiment of everything wrong in the world.
When I thought he was getting used to the feather, I ran my fingertips up and down the soles of his feet, varying the motion like a great pianist coaxing perfect sounds from a Steinway. His eyes were now closed, but he was still jerking and flexing, moaning like a vampire stuck in his coffin. If he could have broken free at that moment, he’d probably have killed me.
I decided he’d had enough and returned to the supply room, tossing the leopard mask on the shelf with the others and pulling on my shirt. Since Jenkins was still immobile, he couldn’t turn to see me as I hurried out of the supply room, just as the all-clear siren rang out.
Easy-Veasie sprinted back to her classroom and took a hammer to Coach Jenkins, who’d nearly passed out from being mummified so long. Vaseline didn’t do much to keep the plaster from sticking: Jenkins staggered around with chunks of it glued to him, looking like an outraged Abominable Snowman. He grabbed his clothes in the supply room and bolted for the locker room to shower.
Coach Jenkins became meaner to everyone, and wasn’t seen in the art room after that. He and Easy-Veasie seemed to have cooled it as a couple. I always wondered what he thought when he found that dirty grey feather in his pants pocket, where I’d placed it.