Today would be one of those Fridays at the end of the school year when "pupils," as we were known then, would find whatever was outside the classroom window inordinately fascinating. I can remember one classroom in particular from which, during certain periods of the day, I oversaw several Indian skirmishes in and among the trees along Lake Street in the western Chicago suburb in which I lived. The bank of classroom windows was of the type that pushed out or rather pulled into the room. Just above them was a hinged window pane that could be lowered by a pole with a brass hook at its end. This pole could also be used to grip the bottoms of each of the four window shades in the unlikely event that the setting sun from the west would filter through the tops of the sentinel maple trees outside the second floor and blind a few dozen students.
The hooked poles could also be used to fend off libertines, freebooters, or the French. Any one of them might attempt to board our classroom after a skirmish. That is, if their vessels had somehow survived a broadside from our six-pounders hidden just beneath the window ledge. Exactly where the rigging for window shades, weight sashes, and audio-visual screens (the rat lines) were secured by belaying pins.
"What's the matter, Mr. Benediccio? Is your young man's fancy turning to thoughts of love? Or is it baseball? What was the Anti-Trust Act, sir? Do you have any idea?"
The galley master, thank the Lord, had overlooked me this time. I had been studying the tree line onshore, sighting targets and calculating the trajectory of the ordnance needed to take out those ammunition stores at quayside. Within moments the entire embarcadero would be a confusion of merchants, citizens, looters, and livestock. Among them would be the newly freed galley slaves and, unless I missed my guess, one Captain Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine, aid to Lord Feversham, wrongly imprisoned by the governor of Jamaica, with myself, any minute now, at his side!
A smell of lilac would waft up from the bushes below Ashland Avenue, and that particularly Midwestern olfactory pleasure became the perfumes of the French aristocratic women on deck.
"YOU!" I felt a hand clamp my left shoulder from behind. Mr. Lupinsky, the U.S. history teacher, was a good one, and he could not be held responsible for this very boring few pages of the textbook he had been issued. In my current 19th-century, early-summer drama, I had no use for him. He was simply the galley master. Lupinski was great as a gangster or a crooked cop, aside from being a better-than-average lay history teacher in a Chicago diocese Catholic school. I was in Mr. L's class the day Kennedy was shot, and I think I saw something go out of him that day. Whatever it was, it never returned, as far as I know. The spring semester of U.S. history during A.D. 1964 was my time to do pretty much what I wanted. I was mentally vacant as "Coach," as we also called him (he was the guy who got me to "go out" for football: another disastrous and heart-breaking story full of Freudian sweat and anguish for another time) said, "Define trust."
I could always shift mental gears quickly; it has kept me out of psychiatric wards and military school. "Like a monopoly."
"Thank you! Yes, like a monopoly. You all know Monopoly." And with the release of that meaty and Slavic palm, I was safely out of the 20th Century again.
Sliding the three-pound Our American Heritage to the left a few inches, I could see the corner of next period's textbook, and I felt that certain second wind I sometimes managed at this time of day. It had been a long four periods since English class (lunch being the longest and most violent), usually my best chance at escape unless the porcine Sister Borgia was on a grammar, punctuation, or spelling reign of terror. These left the inmates weaker than their first day on the prison island. Many did not survive. But I used my wits in that class to, first of all, be seated near and then to befriend Ivan Rothman. Easy to persuade, Rothman would quickly correct my assignments and willingly comply in copying correct multiple-choice answers of grammatical rules. To this day I have no shame: I did what one must to serve the cruelties of those times. But coming up, after Lupinski's tired dunning, was Asian Civ.
The Iroquois along the lake had been quiet. Too quiet. I could leave this post with Sergeant Rod Taylor (also the actor in The Time Machine) and know the situation was in good hands. It was time now for me, as Captain Oswald Bastable, to do what I could about the Boxers running opium or possibly to rescue General Charles "Chinese" Gordon from the Allah-and sun-crazed Mahdists even now surrounding Khartoum.