Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Tribute

Eli 9.5 said something about a mean teacher (fortunately, not his own) last week, and it reminded me of a moment from my own education.

When I was in high school, I had this teacher.

So did you. We all had this teacher, every man jack of us.

Allow me to describe Marge Limon. She was decayed, in her 60s, and wore enormous Harry Caray glasses. She was a smoker, and her clothes constantly reeked.

These details are unimportant, though, compared to this fact: she was the meanest person I've ever known. Actually, the adjective "mean" doesn't begin to describe her, because it fails to properly identify her as the apex predator of mean.

The primary bow in her quiver was an acidic tongue that could demean and embarass in equal measure. It was a poison pen in oral form. She wasn't funny, either. She was just mean.

I had the enormous, earth-shattering misfortune of having one of her classes (Algebra) when I was a Freshman in high school. Her reputation, of course, was legendary, and I thought it was exaggerated. If anything, though, it was actually understated--her ability to humiliate was unparalleled, at least in human history.

No one was spared, except one particular fellow who was the Platonic form of a brown noser. The rest of us were absolutely keelhauled nearly every single day, and to make it worst, she was also another kind of nightmare: the ultra-stickler. Numbers not lined up exactly straight in columns? Wrong. Smart enough to do calculations in your head? Wrong. Anything minute procedural detail, entirely unrelated to algebra, out of its exact place? Wrong. Breathing?


I despised her, this Chain Smoking Stenographer Of The Holocaust, as did most of my classmates, although at least a few each year submitted to an algebraic Stockholm Syndrome. Incredibly, over forty years later, I can still see her withered face, as if Yoda had had taken to wearing a gray wig and had become a serial killer.

DQ Reader My Mom, who was an English teacher in the same high school (and who, while strict, was also tremendously fair-minded and highly respected), actually liked Ms. Limon, and may submit a defense in her behalf. I believe, however, that Limon's interior world was an apocalyptic, smoking landscape, leavened with a fondness for lime sherbert or some other equally contradictory detail.

This is what always happens with the most dangerous and deranged among us. Neighbors give the obligatory interviews, and they will always, without exception, note something like, "He shouted at us constantly, and we were all afraid of him, but the man did love his sherbert."

What I can always count on, though, is that no matter how bad I had it, some of you had it worse. So if Marge Limon was a piker compared to your particular brand of academic evil,  let me know, and I'll publish a few of your stories later this week.

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