BY: BRUCE LOPER
Lauren’s high school stands on the corners of Watergate and Post streets. Thus the name of her school newspaper, The Watergate Post. Compelled to write the story of her doomed newspaper, Lauren, a recent graduate, tells the story of its demise.
Running a high school newspaper can be a daunting task, especially when students have to work with out-dated equipment, reluctant advertisers, and a difficult school principal. High school English teacher, eccentric and affable Bill Dombrowski, starts the paper, manned by a class of both under- and over-achievers. These students never expected they’d be so enthusiastic and dedicated. Even when some of the subject matter incurs the wrath of principal Silvers, the students prevail. But things change rapidly.
As the result of a silly editorial about the foul-tasting water in the school’s fountains, Lauren and the other students come across a possible scandal, and the chase is on to gather evidence of a monstrous scheme to bilk the town residents out of their cash. They encounter political roadblock after roadblock in their search for the truth. Despite setbacks, the students are successful in blowing the whistle on the scheme. However, they are unprepared for the negative and downright vicious reaction from both the town fathers and the evildoers. Lauren and the entire high school unite to try and save their community and their teacher’s job. The story is funny, sad and uplifting at the same time.
Everybody has a reason for writing a book: money, fame, ego, some stupid theme or moral—thanks Ms. Neihardt—a place to hide a bunch of symbolism that nobody except Ms. Neihardt can find or even care about, a chance to change the world—yes, I actually read The Jungle or most of it so you can’t take away last year’s diploma.—I am motivated by a simpler emotion: REVENGE. Maybe not in a Shakespearean sense, but I want this town to know what really happened in our school, what they did to Mr. D: what they did to us.
Of course, they changed all the names. They being the lawyers who work for the editors. Good guys, bad guys, businesses, everyone except me, changed. So, it may look like fiction. But it’s not. There’s a clue here and there, and symbols the air-breathers in the back row could find. So, if you really want to figure it all out, my name is still real and you can look me up and see where I’m from, what school I went to, and then with a little deduction, who all the idiots were.
This is dedicated to Mr. Dombrowski who made the mistake of caring too much in trying to teach us.
And everything in this book is true.
Bryan was the first to see Mr. D., so I’ll start at the beginning. Bryan was the new kid. He came from West Virginia and moved here just before school started. It took a long time to know Bryan, not because he was shy, but I think he and his dad moved around a lot after his mom died and he wasn’t real out-going. Like me. That’s a joke but you wouldn’t know it yet. Bryan was in the office trying to register about a week before school started, but our old secretary didn’t want to help him. She’s the type who never wants to help anyone, though that’s her job.
She told his dad, “You should have picked up a transcript from Welch before you left.” That’s probably about 800 miles from here. Notice that is a subtle clue. His dad probably felt like crap since he should have known, having moved so many times. I had to add that because I like using the word crap since that is a bad word here. Crap. Crap. Crap.
The old lady told Bryan’s dad, “Welch will have to fax over a transcript.
“I doubt that Welch or all of West Virginia has a fax,” he said.
She said, “Sit and wait.”
So they did. Bryan figured they sat there for half an hour without the secretary moving and his dad didn’t move. Finally Mr. Dombrowski came in.
The old witch said, “May I help You?” which is what she always said but never meant.
When you got to know Bryan better and Mr. D., which is what Bryan always called Dombrowski, Bryan acted out the secretary scene but not when Mr. D. was around. I’m sure he never saw it, and I’m sure Bryan exaggerated.
“I’m Bill Dombrowski and I have a 2 o’clock interview.”
He wore a suit and he didn’t look comfortable. It was tight in places like his mom bought it for him when he went off to college, and it was kind of wrinkled or slept in. But Bryan noticed right away Mr. D. was wearing black Nikes. The secretary seemed to see them, too, and she talked more to his feet.
“I’ll see if he’s ready for you.” Her lips never moved. Over the next year I saw her do that many times and when we gave her the petition that comes later she said something like, “Thank you reprobates,” though I know even she wouldn’t call us reprobates, but it sounded like that so everyone all talked like that for a week without moving our lips saying, “Thank you reprobates.” But we were still cool then.
Mr. D. sat down between Bryan and his dad because there were only three chairs and Bryan sure wasn’t going to sit next to his dad. Mr. D. had some papers, which were for Mr. Silvers, the principal, the bastard, the antagonist, and Mr. D. set those on the floor. He pulled out these wads of Kleenexes from his pockets and was trying to wipe off his hands. They were dirty; I mean really dirty and not much of it was coming off.
“I got a flat tire not five miles from here,” he said to Bryan. I guess because he could see that Bryan was watching him. “That’s why I’m late.”
Bryan looked up at the clock above and figured the school mascot was some kind of a beaver but later learned was a wolverine, and saw that it was a good twenty after four.
“Spit on them,” he said just trying to help, and Bryan always faked doing it.
Mr. D. just did this stifled laugh thing and Bryan figured he would sweat the dirt off soon enough. Just then the secretary came back in and told him to follow her, so he stood up. He tried to stuff all those Kleenexes in his suit pocket, but the pocket was a fake so he kind of had a handful of Kleenexes which struck Bryan as funny. He laughed, which made her look at him as Dombrowski bent to pick up his papers. When Mr. D. followed the secretary whose real name was Mrs. Budd and we called her Mrs. Butt for obvious reasons, Bryan looked under his chair and there they were so he picked them up.
His dad saw him and said, “He doesn’t have a chance.”
So they sat there for a long time with Mrs. Butt just separating money, facing them all the same, squaring them all in neat little piles and counting them over and over stopping only to stare at Bryan and his dad now and then as if they were going to steal those stacks. She answered the phone when it rang and still didn’t sound as if she really wanted to help anybody. Eventually Bryan got out his cell and started playing Tetris. His dad kept reading these little pamphlets and annoying him by saying things like: “They have a soccer team here. Maybe you’ll want to try that. You were always fast.” Or, “Look at all these science classes.”
Bry looked but didn’t want to. I guess his dad was just trying to be nice on account of his mom leaving and that sucky school in Ohio where Bryan said you couldn’t make a friend if you didn’t play football. But the whole thing annoyed him anyway.
I have to change something here. I forgot something. That’s the way that Bryan always told it, but Daryl (Colbert) corrected him one time and said, “You ain’t got a cell phone.” Daryl is really smart so he usually tries to sound dumb and says things like “ain’t got.”
He’s right though. It was really a calculator, but Bryan didn’t want to sound like one of those math geeks who write programs on their TI 83’s and have LAN parties every weekend. It is good that I fixed it because I want you to know that everything in this is true except the names, but Daryl did call himself Colbert, but he pronounced it “kol-bert” as in Bert and Ernie.
No way Bryan could afford a cell phone. The last two places his dad worked just about went under, and he said Gorman’s would fold and move production to China within the year. That’s where he used to work. They made portable picnic tables, and I thought it was kind of funny when he said they would fold within the year because they fold up and stuff. He never found that funny, and now his dad’s supposed to do quality control on boats for some job he found on the Internet. Bryan said his dad knew nothing about boats and never even owned one.
So his dad continued to annoy him, and he continued to ignore him acting real interested in the Tetris and all. A fax came in but Bryan guessed it wasn’t for them, because Mrs. Butt just looked at it and put it in one of those manila folders and sat back down to recount her money. You have to wonder if schools find secretaries who hate people or if the schools make them that way, although our Middle School had Ms. Zanco and she was great. In fact, I think she was the only person in that whole school who cared about kids.
Out popped Mr. D. with Mr. Silvers.
“Mrs. Budd will get you your books, have you fill out some papers and show you your room. This Friday will be staff day and kids will be here Monday. You ready for this?” So that’s how Mr. D. got the job.
“I’m ready and excited. Thank you.”
Mr. D. was still sweating even though by then it was kind of cold and Mrs. Butt had a sweater over her shoulders. “I’ll start looking for an apartment this afternoon.” He reached out his hand to shake Silvers’ hand, but Silvers was telling Mrs. Butt to get him the books and show him his room, so he missed the handshake. Mr. D. kind of just used the hand to pull back his sleeve and look at his watch.
Mrs. Butt handed him the books, which were sitting right there on her desk and told him to run them out to his car and followed Mr. Silvers to his office all in one quick blur. Mr. D. left but Bryan heard every word she said.
“You can’t hire this guy. He was late.”
You could tell she didn’t care if Bryan and his dad heard, but Silvers gave kind of a hard whisper.
“Look, he seems all right. He went to State and his grades are okay and the letter of recommendation from his mentor teacher was really good.”
“At least check his references. If that is his best suit he’s in trouble. And did you see those shoes? You’ve got to tell him he cannot wear shoes like that here.”
“Look, I think he’ll be okay. Plus, what choice do we have? School starts on Monday and I need a teacher.”
“What about the blue-suit-lady this morning?”
“You didn’t like her either.”
“She was better than this.”
“We would have had to pay her four steps on the scale and this guy is ground zero. He’ll be okay, plus I told him maybe I could get him junior class adviser and parking lot duty for extra pay, and he seemed grateful. Can you imagine that?”
“There’s no way this guy can do the prom.”
“Give him a chance, besides, I already told him he has the job.”
“Well, he can’t teach here dressed like that. At least talk to him about the shoes.”
She was back at her desk stacking money and looking as if she had said nothing when Mr. D. came back in. She handed him papers and a key and told him to follow her when another fax came in.
“He still doesn’t have a chance,” is all Bryan’s dad said.
When Mrs. Butt came back, Mr. D. wasn’t with her, so Bryan guessed he was either gone or down in his room. He looked at the fax machine willing her to check it, but she sat down to recount her money and neatly put rubber bands around the bills. So they sat. He looked at his dad and nodded at the fax machine, but his dad’s not exactly the gutsiest dad in the world, so he didn’t say anything to her.
Bryan cleared his throat and she gave him a look and he moved his eyes from her to the fax machine, but she chose not to follow. So finally Bryan said “Ma’am,” and it’s not like he’s overly polite or anything, but it just seemed like his last chance to ever get out of there. “A fax came in while you were out.”
She finished the stack she was working on and anyone could see she didn’t want to get up but she did, and she walked all the way to the machine which was two steps and picked up the papers.
Bryan decided she was one-hundred and four. She looked the papers over, put them in a manila folder and sat back down. She was crushing that chair. Bryan figured by then Welch was closed, and they probably never got the fax request because they didn’t have one and the request was just running around in little phone lines going brrrrrri-i-i-g-g-t-t-t-t looking for a home or a phone, which when she said, “Everything’s in order. We’ll have a schedule for you on Monday, the first day of school.” Even his dad sighed when they left the office.
Then they both saw Mr. D. down by the drinking fountain. He was obviously trying to wipe something off the paperwork Mrs. Butt had given him. He didn’t really look like the guy Mr. Silvers would someday call a danger to all us kids.