Mel Carlson was my sophomore English teacher. For some reason he seemed obsessed with giving everyone the impression that he was a formal, stoic, boring, stodgy guy. He didn't fool us for very long. The greatest thing about people who are that tightly wound up is, that when you get them to laugh, they laugh uncontrollably and for a long period of time. When we were reading Lord of the Flies, we would have a chapter assignment every day, and Mr. Carlson would begin class by calling on someone to summarize what we'd supposedly read. Then he would point out subtleties. For example, at the beginning of the book, Roger was trying to throw a little pebble at a smaller kid, but couldn't quite reach him. Mr. Carlson went on about how there was an invisible circle of protection around the smaller kid that represented Roger's societal conditioning. The day that we read about the Death of Piggy, he called on my step-brother:
"Mr. Auster, what happened in last night's chapter?"
"Well, Roger finally got the nerve to hit someone with a rock."
"That's one way to HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA"
There was no better feeling than being the one who made Mel Carlson go hysterical. His smile made his face entirely glow. And watching him try desperately not to laugh initially, and then to stop when he started, made the entire room just, well, just fall in love with him.
I achieved that honor, too. We were discussing the scene where Sam and Eric are tied up by Jack and prodded with spears until they joined his tribe. Mr. Carlson pointed out that this was pretty much the end of civilization on the island. I pointed out that this was symbolized by how British they were when they were being poked. I quoted them from the book: "Oh, I say," "Honestly!" in my most effeminate Monty Python accent. I didn't mean it to be funny, which is probably why he found it so.
Once I had to teach a summer institute for 6th through 8th graders. Due to a weird condition of our grant, we had to teach them mathematics from 9 AM until 3 PM, which is a very long time. There were no standard "Discipline" tools we could threaten them with like homework or grades. The net result was a stressful situation for everybody, where the kids pretty much wound up acting without adult authority. I got to observe leaders emerge, and cliques form. There was the "in" crowd, the "out" crowd, and the crowd of kids who were "out" but desperately wanted to be "in." The whole time, I was thinking, "Lord of the Flies. I'm living out the fucking Lord of the Flies."
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