Dr. Hammond's Nervous Breakdown

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A funny look at the things that can, and sometimes do, go wrong with the American education system.

Submitted: February 01, 2008

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Submitted: February 01, 2008

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There were always lists to be made. There were lists of athletes, lists of celebrities, lists of TV shows, lists of old video games and even lists that attempted to name all 170 other kids in the Harrison Hills High School Class of 2000.
Making the lists ate up a lot of time in the classroom. All Derek, Doug and Mark had to do was to sit in a small cluster, three desks in a back corner of the room by the window and they could banter back and forth for an entire forty-five minute class period over the list that they were making.
While the teacher stood in front of the class and droned on about Teddy Roosevelt offering every American a "square deal" (whatever the hell that meant) or the Periodic Table of Elements, or the structure of plant cells, or whatever else it is you're supposed to learn in high school, Doug, Derek and Mark could always while away the boredom by making up a list.
"O.K. I know," Doug Martino would begin, "let's make a list of famous Mike's and Michael's." Doug was the ring-leader of the list making cabal. He always started the making of the lists; got the most excited about the making of the lists, and even continued making the list long after class had ended.
"Mike and Michael are the same name, Doug," Derek Wise would say. Derek Wise and Doug Martino were inseparable. Doug was short and dark while Derek was tall and light featured. The two of them made their own teenage comedy duo like Abbot and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy. Doug was the goofball; Derek the straight-man.
"O.K. well, let's make the list anyway." Once Doug got an idea in his head for a list, he couldn't be stopped. "Michael Jordan," he began.
"That sucks," said Derek. "That's not even creative. Michael Jackson," Derek said.
"He's like a girl. I don't know if he counts," Mark Kowalski interjected. Mark was the brain of the list making group. After the list had been debated over for about a half-hour, once the obvious candidates had been exhausted, Mark was the well of knowledge that Doug and Derek consulted in order to refine the list and make it more eclectic and esoteric.
"Yeah he counts," Doug said. "He used to be a man in the 80's and his name is Michael." Doug then proceeded to write Michael Jackson on a sheet of loose leaf notebook paper.
"What about that guy on sixty minutes?" Blonde haired Derek asked.
"Oh that's a good one! I know who you're talking about, but I can't think of his name," Mark whispered.
"What the hell is that guy's name?" Doug Martino said.
The teacher, Mr. Brady who was trying to talk about the value of x, coughed to let the three boys know that he knew that they weren't paying the slightest bit of attention. The value of the letter x had nothing to do with famous people named Mike. He coughed and said, "Gentlemen, is there anything you would like to share with the class?"
Doug Martino said, "No," and then the three of them straightened up, looked forward toward the blackboard, grabbed their pens like they were actually going to take notes and sat silently, but the silence only lasted for a second.
All three of their seventeen year old mind's were spinning inside. Each one was contemplating what the name of the guy named Mike on sixty minutes really was.
"Mike Wallace," Mark Kowalski whispered while he stared at the back of Jessica Holt's head.
"Mike Wallace!" Doug Martino practically screamed and leaped up with joy as he scribbled the name Mike Wallace down in his notebook.
"Alright, you three, that's it," Mr. Brady said. "I want to see you after school for detention."
"Shit," Derek mumbled.
"Damn it," said Doug.
Mark just sighed. The three of them sat still and looked at the blackboard for a second, but then the list went on. "What about that Asian guy that plays tennis?" Mark turned around to Doug and whispered.
"Yeah, what's his name?" Doug whispered back while still looking forward.
"Michael Chang," Derek whispered aloud to no one particular.
"Michael Chang! That's a great one," Doug said, and then he hurriedly scribbled the name Michael Chang in his notebook below the names of Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson and Mike Wallace.
The list went on. The lists always went on. Those three kids had wasted an entire half of a school year working on a list of old Nintendo games. One time the three of them had worked on and sanded the same cutting board for an entire two months of shop class while attempting to make a complete list of 1980's sit-coms. There was always the list to be made, and conversely, there was always detention to be served.
Sometimes the lists would get so out of control that the list itself would take over an entire class. Other students would just jump in and randomly add to the list. 
"Who's that guy in the Junior Class that always wears shorts, even in winter?" Doug asked during one history class.
"Yeah, I know who you're talking about," Derek whispered.
"Yeah the kid that looks like he has a toupee on," Mark said.
"Come on, we don't have him on our list of the junior class," Doug said. He chewed on his pencil like he was a cow and the pencil were a piece of cud in and effort to think of the name on the kid who always wore shorts and looked like he was wearing a toupee. "What the hell's his name?" Doug whispered aloud.
"Jim Cole," a girl's voice said.
"Oh man, Jim Cole!" Derek said aloud.
"Thanks Jackie," Mark said.
"Jim Cole. Alright, Jackie," Doug said as he wrote down the name of Jim Cole below the name of Eric Santos. "Gimmie  five," he said.
A hand slipped under the desk and Jackie actually gave him five. Mrs. Luccieri, who was in front of the class heard the hand slap. "Doug Martino, Derek Wise and Mark Kowalski, see me after school for detention," she said while she remained turned and facing the blackboard.
"Shit," Derek whispered aloud to no one in particular.
"Damn it," Doug said into his notebook of lists. Mark just sighed.
Then senior year came and the list making went on. Science class, like physics was the best for the list making because then all three of the list-makers could sit together at one of those black-topped fireproof lab tables, and make their lists more openly without all the need for subterfuge.
Their Physics teacher senior year was a new teacher named Dr. Hammond. It was rare, almost next to unheard of, to have a Doctor teaching a high school class. On the first day of class, when the skinny bespectacled teacher introduced himself as Dr. Hammond, right away Doug Martino said, "I know, let's make a list of famous Doctor's that we know. Dr. Strangelove," Doug said.
"That's a movie," Derek whispered in return.
"It's a James Bond character, I think," Mark said.
"It still counts," Doug said.
"What about Doogie Howser? Does he count?" Derek wanted to know. Doug was the one who made up the rules regarding the lists.
"He's not a real doctor," Doug said.
"Neither is Dr. Strangelove," said Derek.
"Well, do fictional Doctor's count?" Mark asked.
"Yeah, but not Doogie Howser because he didn't even have doctor in his name on TV." The three high school seniors sat silently and considered this point for a second. They knew that it made no sense, really, but for some reason, at the time it seemed too.
"Wait a minute," Derek finally said, "I think, technically, the name of the show was Doogie Howser M.D."
"Yeah I think he's right," Mark added.
"O.K. then we'll count Doogie Howser," Doug said begrudgingly and he scribbled Doogie Howser down on the list of famous doctors. "Come on, let's name a real doctor," he said.
"Martin Luther King, I think," Mark said.
"Good one," said Doug.
"Marie Curie?" Derek asked rhetorically. It was science class and Dr. Hammond was speaking about force and mass, or something like that. Occasionally the class lecture would seep into the list making the way in which, if you fall asleep with the TV on, sometimes the TV show itself will become part of your dream.
"Was she a doctor?" Doug asked.
"I'm not sure," Mark said.
"I don't even know if they had doctors back then," Derek said.
"Well, she did doctor kind of stuff," Mark said.
"True," Doug said, "she counts. I'm putting down Marie Currie." Then he proceeded to write down the name Marie Currie below the name's of the other famous doctors: Strangelove, Martin Luther King, and Doogie Howser.
Dr. Hammond continued to lecture on about a formula that dealt with force and mass. He heard their conversation, but he was different, he didn't give the three boys, or anyone else in the class detention. He didn't seem to interact with the class at all. Dr. Hammond was a first year teacher and he was having a rough time in general.
He had been fired from his old job as a research scientist for Hoffmann-LaRouche, the big ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />New Jersey based pharmaceutical company. Rumor in the high school had it that Dr. Hammond had been fired for some form of inappropriate behavior like exposing himself to a member of the female janitorial staff, or getting caught masturbating in the employee break room. At least that was what Linda Saccamano had said to Doug Martino in Art Class, and if anyone should know it would be Linda, since Linda's mother and by consequence, Linda herself knew all there was to know gossip wise about everyone even remotely connected with Harrison Hills.
The only thing that was certain about Dr. Hammond was that he was different. He seemed disinterested in teaching anything. He even admitted to his senior year physics class, the one that Derek, Doug and Mark were in, that he sometimes hated kids.
"How can you hate kids and still teach?" Linda Saccamano asked Dr. Hammond one day. It was a valid question.
"Well, not so much you guys," Dr. Hammond said. "The seniors are O.K., but the freshman drive me crazy."
"They drive you crazy?" Doug asked.
"Yeah with their bullshit excuses."
Derek Wise laughed. There were a couple other snickers in the class room. "Dude, you said bullshit," Doug said.
"You just said it too," Dr. Hammond replied.
"Yeah but you're a teacher," Doug said.
"I hate the freshmen," Dr. Hammond said.
"You hate them that much?" Derek asked.
Then Dr. Hammond pulled a toy revolver out from underneath the big black topped lab table at the front of the class. "I hate those little pricks," Dr. Hammond said. He gestured with the toy gun and pointed it out at the class. "What? You didn't do your homework?" he said aloud like he was play acting in front of the freshmen class. "Well take that," Dr. Hammond said to a make believe freshman. "Bang, bang!" he said as he pretended to shoot a young freshman with the toy gun.
The entire class laughed, but Doug, Derek and Mark didn't bother to make any lists in their senior Physics class that day. Dr. Hammond had never given them detention for making lists before, but still, the guy seemed a little unhinged. He looked crazy with those small, squinty bespectacled eyes jabbing at the air with that toy revolver from behind the big lab desk. It was best not to push his buttons and tempt fate that day, the three seniors figured.
But, their effort to pay attention in Physics class lasted only for one day. The next day, and the next day, and the day after that, Doug, Derek and Mark were back to making lists once again.
Dr. Hammond continued to lose control of all his classes. He still claimed to hate the freshmen most of all, but his senior class was just as bad.
"Hey," Doug asked one day, "is it true that Jessica Holt gave Tommy Mumford a handjob underneath the lab table in Dr. Hammond's class yesterday?"
"I don't know," Mark said. "Where'd you hear that?"
"Chris Lee told it to me yesterday," he said.
"I heard that too," Derek said. "I don't know if it's true, but I believe it. Dr. Hammond's class is out of control."
"Yeah it is," Mark said. Then the three of them laughed.
"That guy's gonna go crazy," Doug said.
"Rememebr that shit with the toy gun?" Derek asked.
"Yeah that was messed up," Mark said.
"He's gonna go nuts," Doug said. The three boys laughed.
Dr. Hammond's physics class continued to get more and more out of control. Eventually, none of the senior's would even ask if they could leave the class to go to the bathroom, go to their lockers, or even go outside to smoke a cigarette. They'd just get up and leave.
Sometimes Dr. Hammond would get so frustrated that he would stop teaching altogether right in the middle of the class. He'd begin by attempting to show some Physics formulas on an overhead projector, but eventually he'd just quit as the entire class gossiped back and forth, or made lists. Dr. Hamilton would sit slumped over behind his big lab desk and mumble to himself, "I hate kids."
One Tuesday morning, when Dr. Hammond had quit teaching, Doug Martino jumped up in front of the class and took control of the blackboard. He wanted the whole class to participate in the making of this list. The class was talking about the senior prom, but Doug stood in front of the class and shouted, "Alright, everybody SHUT UP!"
The class quieted down. Even Dr. Hammond turned around, amazed that someone, anyone, had been able to quiet down his class.
"We're making a very important list," Doug said to the class.
"You guys are boring with your lists," a girl named Amy Welsh said to Doug. Doug didn't pay her any mind.
"We're making a list of past World Series winners," he said.
"That sucks," the girls in the class said. They didn't pay any attention to the list making that was going on in the class. Most of the girls just sat in little huddles around their own tables and gossiped about the prom.
All the guys in the class shouted back teams and the years that they had won, or that they thought they had won, the World Series.
"The '86 Mets."
"The '85 Royals."
"The 1927 Yankees."
Doug stood in front of the class and scribbled down the team and the year on the blackboard. He was in a frenzy of list making excitement. This was the first time that he'd ever had the opportunity to make a list on the blackboard, in front of an entire class.
"Who won the World Series in 1992?" someone shouted.
Everybody was stumped. For some reason no one could name the World Series winner from 1992, even though it hadn't been that long ago. The class got silent.
In the silence, Dr. Hammond seemed to make a come back. He stood up and said, "Alright, Doug, sit down."
Doug didn't move. "Doug Martino, sit down!" Dr. Hammond yelled.
Everyone in the class turned and looked toward the board. Doug's eyes got big after Dr. Hammond yelled and he ran back to his lab table.
"Okay, force times mass…" Dr. Hammond droned on. 
"Who won the 1992 World Series?" Doug whispered to Derek and Mark, his compatriots.
"I don't know," Derek said. "Is Dr. Hammond actually trying to teach?"
"Yeah I think he is," Doug said.
"I can't believe it," Mark said.
"What the hell's going on?" Derek said with a laugh. "Dr. Hammond is actually trying to teach?"
"Yeah, that's messed up," Mark said. The three of them laughed.
"Come on guys. Who won the 1992 World Series?" Doug insisted.
"The Toronto Blue Jays," Mark whispered to Doug.
"The Blue Jays!" Doug shouted. Dr. Hammond stared at him.
"Alright Doug, that's enough," Dr. Hammond said.
"Dr. Hammond the 1992 Blue Jays won the World Series!" Doug shouted with joy.
"So?" Dr. Hammond asked. 
"The 1992 Blue Jays!" Doug shouted again.
And then Doug Martino leaped up and walked to the front of the class, up to the blackboard right while Dr. Hammond was in the middle of explaining the transparency that he had put on the overhead projector, and grabbed the chalk right out of the new Physics teacher's hand.
Doug then wrote the name of the 1992 Blue Jays on the black board to complete the list, but he didn't right it out as 1992 Blue Jays, or the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays. In his frenzy of list making excitement, Doug Martino simply put '92 BJ's on the blackboard.
After he was done completing the list he walked back to his lab table. It was as if writing the list on the board, and finally completing it, had sapped Doug of all his energy. 
Dr. Hammond went back to droning on. Force times mass equals…blah…ba-blah…ba…blah.
The class was silent for once, like a miracle, one of Dr. Hammond's classes was actually silent. And then the low laughter began.
"Hey look at what he wrote on the board," Mark whispered to Derek.
"Yeah I know. Doug put 92 BJ's on the board." Everyone started to laugh. The class laughed. It was a low sneer, like a quiet cough at first, and then it broke into a loud crescendo of laughter.
"Look at what the board says," kids began to say out loud.
"I know. It says 92 BJ's."
Everyone started to laugh. Dr. Hammond suddenly stopped.
"Alright, that's it you little shits," he announced. "You're just like the freshmen," he said.
The class continued to laugh and then Dr. Hammond walked behind his big lab table at the front of the class and pulled out a revolver just like the toy one he had brandished during his rant against the underclassmen a few weeks ago, except this one was all black.
He pointed the snub-nosed revolver and waved it left and right in the air in front of the class. "What's so funny, you little shits?" Dr. Hammond demanded to know.
"It's a gun!" a girl at the back of the class squealed.
"Oh shit," Derek said.
"Damn it, couldn't he just give us detention?" Doug whispered.
Mark just sighed. "What the fuck is so funny!" Dr. Hammond screamed while he gestured wildly and indiscriminately in front of the class with the revolver. Kids began to try and hide beneath their lab tables. A couple kids thought about pulling the fire alarm, but Dr. Hammond saw what they were about to do, and pointed the gun at them. "Don't even think about it," Dr. Hammond said. "I want to know what's so funny."
He stood there pointing the revolver out toward the class. No one was laughing anymore. Everyone sat holding their breath and waited for Dr. Hammond's next move. He jabbed the revolver in the air. "Come on, what's so funny?" he asked the class again. No one said anything.
"Well, what is it?" Dr. Hammond screamed out at the class. No one made a move, or a sound.
"He's gone nuts," Derek whispered under his breath. Dr. Hammond heard something in the corner where Derek, Doug and Mark sat.
"What about you three clowns? What's so funny?" Dr. Hammond said as he pointed the revolver at them.
None of them said anything. "Doug?" Dr. Hamilton said as he jabbed the gun in Doug's direction. Doug raised his hands innocently.
"You think this is funny, Derek Wise?" Dr. Hammond asked as he pointed the gun at an even level with Derek's head. 
"No, sir," Derek said.
"What'd you say?" Dr. Hammond demanded as he forcefully jabbed the gun in Derek's direction. Derek's face turned blood red. 
"I said, no sir," Derek said.
"Well what's so funny, Kowalski?" Dr. Hammond asked now as he turned the gun on Mark Kowalski.
"Nothing, sir," Mark said.
"Come on, Kowalski. I know you three guys know what's so funny."
"Nothing's funny, sir," Mark said.
Dr. Hammond raised the gun straight up in the air and pointed it at the ceiling. "I know that one of these three clowns knows what's so funny. I'm gonna count to ten, and if one of them doesn't tell me what's so funny I'm gonna blow somebody's fucking head off."
Dr. Hammond began to count. One….Two…Three…Four…
Derek, Doug and Mark turned their heads and looked at one another.
"Come on Doug, you tell him," Derek whispered.
Five.
"Why me?" Doug asked
"The lists are your idea," Mark whispered back.
Six.
"You think he's gonna do it?" Derek asked
Seven.
"I don't know," Mark whispered
Eight.
"I think I'm gonna puke," Doug said.
Nine.
And then Doug, Derek and Mark all blurted out, "Dr. Hammond! Wait! Don't shoot! The board says '92 BJ's. That's what's so funny!"
When the three of them yelled this out the class couldn't help but laugh. Another roar of laughter went up over the fact that the board said in big numbers and letters: 92 BJ's. The class laughed. The gun went off in Dr. Hammond's hand. A loud BANG echoed and reverberated off the walls of the class room. A bullet hole ripped through a panel in the ceiling.
Police rushed into the room seconds after the sound of the gunshot and tackled Dr. Hamilton to the floor….
..:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /> 
The next day, Dr. Hamilton was replaced by silent old Mr. Silkorski, a twenty-five year veteran of the classroom. He taught the class about mass, area, inertia, volume and all the boring Physics stuff that you're supposed to learn in high school.
There were no more guns and no one ever really did find out whatever happened to Dr. Hammond. There were lots of rumors. One rumor said that he'd gone nuts in the class that day because he'd been jilted by a lover in a gay love triangle. Linda Saccamano started this rumor and she insisted that it was true.
Doug, Derek and Mark continued to sit together at the same lab table. "O.K., I know. Let's make a list of crazy people," Doug said.
"Adolf Hitler," Derek Wise said.
"Dr. Robert Hammond," Mark Kowalski whispered.
"Good one!" Doug said out loud excitedly before he wrote the name of Dr. Robert Hammond down in his notebook.
Their teacher, Mr. Silkorski heard Doug say the name out loud. Mr. Silkorski said, "Doug Martino, Derek Wise and Mark Kowalski see me after school for detention."
"Shit," Derek whispered.
"Damn it," Doug said under his breath.
Mark just sighed and slumped down in his chair behind the lab table. Physics class had gone back to normal.


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