The smell of cannabis wafted across Farmstead High School’s parking lot.
No one was surprised.
Mr. Bacall, my English Teacher, liked to smoke weed several times a day.
Festoons of hemp smoke surrounded his pink tie-dyed bus during lunch, like a nimbus.
He didn’t give a shit.
He just let us do what we wanted during class.
Which meant we got to screw off for sixty minutes while Mr. Bacall read back issues of High Times or the San Francisco Chronicle, which he had swiped from the Teacher’s Lounge.
At the end of each semester, he’d call us one by one to his desk. He’d then ask us, “What grade do you deserve?”
I thought it was a trick question.
So the first time I told him, “Mr. Bacall, I deserve…aaaah…how about…a B?”
“Okay…a B it is.”
Sure enough, a month later, my report card said: “English 101—B.”
Well. Hell! I thought. The old stoner wasn’t kiddin’.
At the end of the following semester, I got called up again.
This time, I was prepared.
“What grade do you deserve for this semester, Charles?”
“How about an A?”
Mr. Bacall leaned back in his chair, giving me a piercing look.
“Really?” he said.
“Why do you think you deserve an A?”
“Why do you think you deserve an A grade for this last semester?”
Suddenly, I was aware that I was in the presence of a very sober teacher who seemed extremely interested in hearing what I had to say next.
“Well, I’ve paid attention in class, I’ve showed up regularly and on time…and I read some of the books you had on our class syllabus,” I said proudly.
“Which books did you read?”
Now I didn’t want to tell him that most of the “books” I had read were comic books I had purchased at our local drug store—so I racked my brain for a couple of classic movies I had seen on TV.
“Letseee…uhm…I read Moby Dick.”
“That’s quite commendable. Can you give me two character names from the book by Herman Melville?”
Mr. Bacall barked a laugh.
“The author,” he said.
“Oh, right! Yes sir, Ol’ Herman sure can write a good one, Mr. Bacall.”
“Yes, Melville certainly can write. That is why Moby Dick is considered a classic. Now, name two characters from the novel.”
“Well, there’s Moby Dick… That’s the whale.”
Even to this day, I can’t recall anyone laughing so hard and for so long at
something I said in all sincerity.
After taking a few deep breaths and wiping the tears from his eyes, Mr. Bacall wrote something down in his grade book, dismissing me with a waved hand.
A month later, I got my report card.
And, as you probably guessed, it wasn’t an A.