Monday, March 22, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: Flash Gordon

Everyone who filed through Silver Creek High eventually sat in a class taught by William Gordon. Called “Flash” by everyone who knew him, though not to his face, Flash was your stereotypical math teacher with an abstracted look on his face and a head of hair always in need of cutting.

He was a tall, gangly man whose shorts always seeded too short and whose ties always seemed too wide. He also had a good right arm, which he’d use to lob chalkboard erasers onto the head of any student caught talking in class. I suppose today it would be assault or child abuse, but back then it was jut part of life. Walking down the science hallway with a headful of chalk dust was almost a badge on honor because everyone knew Flash had caught you.

Flash and his wife, Helen, were parishioners at Our Lady of Angels, so we often saw them on Sunday mornings. He had a very special wide tie that he reserved for services and holydays, it had crucifixions all over it. I thought it was the most morbid article of clothing I had ever seen. I used to wonder, if Christ came back, what he would make of all these people with symbols of his execution lying around. People wearing crosses around their necks, stuck onto the back of their cars. Seems kind of cruel, you know. ‘Welcome back, remember what happened last time?”

We’d often end up sitting near Flash and his wife and it was always something of an ordeal because of the hymns. Flash had an enthusiastic, though unreliable voice. He’d boom his way through the songs he knew by heart and la-la his way through the rest. This resulted in sudden bursts of noise so the hymns wound sound “la-la-la-la GLORY ON HIGH la-la-la LIKE AN EAGLE la-la FOREVER…” This had the unfortunate effect of giving most people around him a bad case of giggles.

Every month Sliver Creek High School had an afternoon assembly. The whole school would gather grudgingly into the gym, sneakers squeaking across the basketball floor, and file into the bleachers to wait for that month’s useless information.

The sophomore cheerleaders bake sale raised $210 for Polynesia. The Drama department production of South Pacific was in dire need of sailors as the entire navy consisted of two awkward Freshmen and Vikram, our Indian exchange student who was to shy to sing the word “dame.” The only good thing about these assemblies (aside from getting me out of gym class) was the feature known as “Meet Your Teacher.” This was the brainchild of our Vice Principal, Lewis Hall who decided it would make student-teacher relations better if students learned something unexpected about the faculty. And it was, in practice.

We’d learned, for example, that Mrs. Favero. from the Home Ec department was 247th in line for the British throne. She was more than a bit coy about the mechanics of it, but I gathered it was the result of some ancestress having an affair with the illegitimate son of the illegitimate daughter of Henry VII. Our principal, Edward Christienssen told of his adventures onboard the Andrea Doria the night it had its great accident, complete with sound-effects and an overwrought poem about "the great lady dipping her brow unto the gray water." And hippie English teacher Mr. Carpenter told us about traveling from Seattle to Death Valley in a van with Ken Kesey and Alan Ginsburg. Unfortunately he couldn’t relate to us any of the details because I gather it was all sex- and drug-related and while the administration wanted us to meet our teachers, they didn’t want us to get quite that personal.

When it was Flash’s turn to take the podium he started by setting up clipboards covered in blueprints. Then he cleared his throat, fiddled with his fat tie, and began talking about how he’d always had an interest in architecture and also had a fascination for all things Classical.

The result was one of the oddest hobbies I’d ever heard of: designing ancient temples. It was the “designing” part that was fascinating. Because he wouldn’t just recreate existing ones, like making detailed drawings of the Parthenon. No, he would take what the ancients had done and then get all weird and make something new. Not just new buildings, but a whole new Olympian pantheon. For example, the Temple of Athena at McDonald’s. This featured Corinthian columns flanking ample parking, complete with a drive-through portico with acanthus leaves and a frieze featuring Mayor McCheese in a toga. The Banktheon was a Bank of America in a round Classical design with a sunken vault and a colossal statue of “Altus Caponus.” (Because, of course, every bank wants a statue of Al Capone in the lobby.) And then there was the Driveoseum, a classic Greek amphitheatre that was a drive-in and included a refreshment stand known as the “Popcornia.”

All of this was delivered with not a hint of how freakishly weird it was. There was no sense of whimsy behind it, no indication that he was aware this hobby was strange and his creations were frivolous and rather wonderful. I was both surprised at this hidden streak of creativity and amused that he was so un-amused. Nobody had the nerve to laugh, we all just sat there as if he were showing us designs for something serious and we had to be suitably respectful.

I have to admit that out of all the Meet Your Teacher assemblies, Flash’s presentation was the one that surprised me the most. The following month Miss Haber from the science department told us how her family kept pet skunks when she was a kid. Yawn.


Duke said...

I had a 6th grade teacher who raised racing pidgeons. He brought a few in to show us. They immediately escaped of course. After somehow getting up into the ceiling tiles they spent the rest of the day pooping on our desks.

I would have loved your Flash. He's my kind of teacher.

Kittie Howard said...

I love your stories. When one pops up, I smile and wait to see where you're taking me. It's always a fun, through-provoking read...Flash was truly fun, a complex man, to be sure, one made serious by, as you said, not laughing because he was so serious. And the tie with the crucifixes...very layered, here; thought-provoking because you're right, What would Christ think? And the answer my slide over a whole lot of theology. Super post, thank you! (My hub's been sick, is fine now; I'm back using the multi-purpose room and getting caught up!)