Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
By Amy Kaufman Burk
Caroline Black worked her way to the front row. She chose the center seat, and clasped her hands on the battered wood. Trying to contain her nerves, she studied the scarred surface. Daisy and Nick Forever. Jack Daniels for President. Daisy and Todd Forever. Algebra Sucks. Daisy and Larry Forever. Several hearts with initials. A large hand, loosely fisted, exceptional detail, middle finger extended. Caroline swallowed dryly, appalled that so many kids had carved up school property, but more appalled by her own admiration: the fuck-you artist is talented with a knife.
“Is this desk taken?”
Caroline looked up and shook her head. The girl smiled shyly, and slid into the next seat.
“I’m Kayla Davidson. I’m new.”
“I’m Caroline Black. I’m new, too.”
They shook hands.
“I’m from Massachusetts,” Kayla offered.
“I’m from Laurel Academy,” Caroline answered.
Kayla raised an eyebrow. “Is that a sovereign nation?”
The bell blared, and thirty kids scrambled for their seats. Ten quiet seconds, then conversations resumed: summer jobs, hairstyles, outfits, girls hugging, boys giving each other high fives, a few couples kissing passionately. A tall, skinny, blond boy jogged to the front.
“Teacher’s late. Shut up and listen. Behind the gym, after school. Mexican, cheap. Hawaiian, top quality.”
Caroline and Kayla exchanged looks of utter incomprehension. The room filled with hisses, boos, and scattered applause. The boy bowed.
“Most of you know me from ninth grade, and I expect your vote for class president. But I see two mysterious ladies. I’m Kurt Christianson.” He lifted Caroline’s hand to his lips, then reached for Kayla.
“No, thank you,” she murmured, withdrawing her clenched fist. “But a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Ah,” Kurt leaped back, “a shy damsel!” The class burst into laughter, which immediately hushed as the teacher walked in.
“Hello, Sir,” Kurt bowed again. “I was just leading the class in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“How patriotic.” The man pointed to Kurt’s empty seat. “I’m Mr. Cohen. Welcome to Hollywood High School. This is Honors Sophomore English. Anybody think they’re in the wrong class?” Two boys and a girl raised their hands, and Mr. Cohen motioned them to the front. “The rest of you, fill out these information cards for the administration.” He handed a stack to Kayla. “Take one and pass it on.”
“I need a pencil,” called a boy from the third row.
“Here,” a girl with brown braids handed him a shiny new pencil, perfectly sharpened.
“Thanks,” he smiled.
“Grow up,” she shot him a withering look, and turned her back.
“What’s the date?” asked a girl from the left. Caroline glanced over. In spite of the ninety-degree heat, the girl wore a thick black turtleneck and tight black jeans, along with black lipstick, black eye shadow and long black hair.
“September 4,” a boy with light brown dreadlocks down his back.
“I mean the year,” the girl cracked her gum.
“What are you, stupid?” Dreadlocks smirked.
“No, moron, I’m a poetry aficionado. I’m organizing Poetry Night. I’ll recite Sylvia Plath, and you can recite the calendar.” She blew an impressive bubble, which exploded in her face.
“Both of you, lose the gum and the attitude.” Mr. Cohen spoke evenly.
“1973, and nice shot.” Kurt grinned as the girl fired her gum into the trash can. “Want to see a movie on Saturday?” She flipped him the bird, and the class laughed.
I can’t believe…in front of a teacher! Caroline’s green eyes darted from student to student, gauging the classroom. Her hair hung loose down her back, catching the light, turning from wheat to gold to blonde. She moved her head slightly, scanning each person, a two-second emotional x-ray. Edgy…staccato…angry…live wire…she landed on Kayla…scared like me…and Mr. Cohen…calm, in absolute control. Caroline’s anxiety dropped a few notches.
“What’s your name?” Mr. Cohen zeroed in on Kurt to begin roll call.
“And you?” nodding at Brown Braids.
“You?” he glanced at Dreadlocks.
“Kevin Sherwood. People call me Dreads.”
“Dreads it is.” Mr. Cohen checked off his name, and looked at the girl in black.
The class broke into laughter. “Her name’s Andrea Krause.” “She only wore blue in ninth grade.” “She changes her name every summer.” “Last year she was Picasso.”
“Settle down.” Mr. Cohen didn’t yell, but the room was instantly under his control. “How is it you all know this girl’s name?” He pointed at Pencil Boy.
“We’ve all been in school together since kindergarten. Except for the two girls in front. And for the roster, I’m Mort Holloway.”
“Glad to meet you, Mort.” Mr. Cohen turned to Poetry Girl. “How’d you pick the name Elvia?”
The kids snickered, and she glowered.
Mr. Cohen looked over the group. “It’s her name. Her choice. Everyone will call her Elvia.” He addressed the girl. “You don’t have to answer my question.”
“It’s okay,” she shrugged. “Elvia is a combination of Sylvia and Emily, for Plath and Dickinson. And my blue period is over, so Picasso doesn’t work anymore.”
Dreads raised his hand. “I have an announcement. Presto placed seventh in the state surfing competition.”
“Presto…” Mr. Cohen scanned his class list.
“Egbert Petrovich.” A short, muscular boy with a spectacular tan spoke up.
“You prefer Presto,” Mr. Cohen made a note.
“Wouldn’t you prefer Presto if you were named Egbert?”
Mr. Cohen laughed. “Point taken. Congratulations, Presto. Take a bow.”
The boy jumped up and raised his fists, as though acknowledging a crowd at the beach. The kids laughed.
“Really mature,” Sharon muttered, tossing her braids.
Mr. Cohen finished roll call and collected the information cards. “Last chance to speak up. Anyone else think they’re in the wrong class?” He paused, then wrote on the board: The nondescript man turned out to be a lion in the classroom. “Let’s start with everyone’s favorite: grammar.” He paused, and the kids waited. “Ladies and gentlemen, get it out of your systems. Let’s hear some objections.” The room filled with hisses and boos, while Caroline and Kayla exchanged a mortified glance. “Excellent,” said Mr. Cohen, to an immediate silence. “Now, who can find the adjective?”
“I think I’m in the wrong class,” Kayla whispered to Caroline.
“I think I’m in the wrong galaxy.”
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