1. This is Just a Test

Good morning, boys and girls. This is Principal Weeks talking over our newly installed loud speakers. I hope I didn't frighten you with that sudden ear-piercing screech we call "feedback." You are about to take part in a test of what we call the "civil defense system." What is a "civil defense system?" It's a whining unrelenting wail we call a "siren" that makes you want to claw out your insides and run amuck in some pathetic hope that somehow you'll be able to find your mommies and daddies—and for good reason.

This "civil defense system" announces the imminent and total destruction of everything on Earth as we now know it. Don't be afraid, because this is just a test. When you hear the siren, crawl under your desks and, with your heads down, wait there until you hear what we call the "all clear signal." The "all clear signal" will be that same scary siren but this time we'd like you to climb out from under your desks and resume your studies as if nothing happened.

Remember: this is just a test. If it was the real thing, you'd have to stay under your desks, curled up in a ball, waiting for god knows what while we adults slip out of the school and rush headlong to our loved ones for one final embrace.

Please try not to pee in your pants. This is just a test. Thank you.

2. This is Another Test


Children under desk for bomb drill during Cold WarChildren. There's the siren. You know the routine. Under your desks! Be careful. The snake got loose again. Old Rattley is on the floor somewhere and bitin' mad.

Boys: No looking up the girls' dresses.
Girls: No poking the boys in the butts with your pencils.
Boys: No farting in the faces of the girls.
Girls: No stamping the boys' fingers with your tap-toed shoes.

Listen, kids, while you're down there, see if you can find the quarter I dropped.

I'm stepping out awhile to have a ‘moke but I expect you to be on your best behavior. Remember: Monica will tell me if any of you act up. Right Monica, you little bitch? Did I say "bitch?" Excuse me, "snatch" —I mean—"snitch."

If I'm not back before the all clear siren goes off, too bad. Remain on the floor. And keep looking for that quarter.

3. All Clear Again

Children, I'm back. Hope everything went well. Did any of you find that quarter? Thank you, Jamie. You shall be rewarded. After school you can erase all the boards.

Principal Weeks asked me to warn you never to be in a room alone with Janitor Gilhooley and never, under any circumstances, accept candy from him.Where's Monica? Would some of you in the back please untie her. The one hundred and one uses of the skip rope, eh Monica?

Any of you see Old Rattley? Oh, you heard him? Where? In the back? Kids, we won't be going in the cloakroom for the remainder of the day. We'll leave Old Rattley for Janitor Jenkins. I know your lunches, coats and galoshes are in the cloakroom. Thank you, Monica.

Children, do you know there are boys and girls all over the world who are cold and hungry? No? Well today at lunch we're going to find out what it's like to be those suffering little boys and girls. When the noon bell rings, I want you to go outside and sit quietly on the benches for the entire 35, sorry, 45 minutes. I know it's raining, Monica. I know the benches are out in the center of the playground. I know it's cold. Listen, Monica, who's the teacher here, you or me? All right then. If you don't quiet down, I'll get the skip rope. Understand?

And kids, I'll be watching you from the faculty lounge. So don't try sneaking into the building before the lunch break is over.

4. Post-Lunch

Welcome back, children. Look at you. Drip. Drip. Drip. My goodness. It sounds like it's raining right here in the classroom, doesn't it? Did you learn something out there?

Now, now, what's all this sneezing and coughing? What say we show the world's suffering children that we American kids are made of sterner stuff? All shivery are you, Monica? Tell yourself it feels like Santy's toasty kitchen in here.

Did you hear that, kids? Isn't it warm in here? Well it will be tomorrow if they finally fix the heating system like they promised. In the meantime, jumping jacks everybody. And try not to slip on the floor. It's very very wet.

5. A New Day

Good morning, children. All one, two, three…eight of you. Wow!

Seven inches of rain yesterday. They say the cold snap and arctic winds will die down tomorrow. I'll bet the walk home from school without your coats and galoshes was an adventure: just you, your shoes, the downpour, the cold, and the floods.

Rattlesnake in black and white photoThe cloakroom is safe again. Old Rattley is back in his glass house and Janitor Jenkins is in the hospital. They say he'll be out of his coma within 72 hours but in a great deal of prolonged pain. I think we should draw Janitor Jenkins a great big get-well card. Jimmy, that's a wonderful idea: a nice picture of Old Rattley would be just what the doctor ordered. Do you know Janitor Jenkins is in the same hospital as some of your schoolmates?

Now that the cloakroom is safe, you can get your coats, galoshes, and lunches and be right as rain. Ha. I made a funny. Probably went right over your pointy little heads.

There'll be plenty of good eatin' today. The sick kids' lunches from yesterday are back there and it would be a shame to let all that food go to waste what with the world's starving children. I and some of the other teachers have already taken most of the good stuff but if you root carefully through the pile of paper bags in the corner back there, you might find a tasty morsel sticking to some of the baggies and wax paper. Watch out for the rats.

Now, children, let us pledge our allegiance.

6. The Day After That

Good morning, children. I see we've lost two of you today. Well, six is my lucky number. You'll be happy to hear that our Monica may not lose that left foot after all. When we go home tonight, let's wish upon a falling star for her complete recovery. You're right, Janie, it's still raining too hard for us to wish upon a falling star. Then let's think extra good thoughts for her because I understand her father was laid off from the Potter-Claymore Bombs N' Stuff factory about eight months ago and her family has no medical coverage so she's being treated in the poverty ward at "Fat Chance" General.

Old Rattley slithered out of his home again last night. But there are so few of us left that the odds are in our favor nothing bad will happen. To be on the safe side, I want each of you to keep your feet raised four inches, and when you think you can't hold your quivery little limbs off the ground one second longer, just remember what happened to Janitor Jenkins.

Any questions? All right, children, "I pledge…"

7. The Next Week

Good morning, children. Thirteen today. That's almost half the class.

Sometimes it's really hard to come to school with all those funny pills the doctor gives you, isn't it? As long as you don't get hooked, you'll thank him in the long run. They finally found Old Rattley. He was cornered and killed by a friendly policeman. He didn't go down without a fight. See? Here's one of the bullets lodged in the wall. Let this be a lesson to you. If ever you find yourselves in a situation in which you feel in danger, always know there will be a policeman waiting around the corner with a gun.

You'll be glad to hear our Monica will be keeping that left foot of hers. Sadly, she's contracted what's called double pneumonia. If any of you are religious, now would be a good time to say a little prayer for her. I know she's a tattletale, Johnny. Janitor Jenkins is recuperating nicely. He's not breathing on his own, but he'll soon be out of traditional diapers and full time in Depends. The miracles of modern medicine!

Janitor Gilhooley will take over chores for Janitor Jenkins. Principal Weeks asked me to warn you never to be in a room alone with Janitor Gilhooley and never, under any circumstances, accept any candy from him. It's best not to go within 50 feet of him—or any of the school janitors come to think of it. Just leave him to his work and his fantasies.

Did you see that rainbow this morning? Beautiful, wasn't it? I understand some of you no longer have homes what with all the flooding and that you're living in a big tent in Urban Park. Just like Indians. Boy, I'll bet that's a peck o' fun. No?

Let's stand and say our pledge to the flag.

8. The Week Following

Good morning, children. Word on the playground is some of your parents are upset about that lunchtime-in-the-rain incident a couple of weeks ago. Rumor is they're considering a class action suit. Kids, I'd like to introduce you to our new mascot, Spitty the King Cobra. I know you've missed Old Rattley since he was gunned down a while back. You don't miss him? Boys and girls! You were afraid of him? Snakes are one of God's creatures. God wouldn't create anything that wasn't good, would He? She? It? You don't want to make God mad, do you? Then let's welcome our new friend with all our hearts—and souls.

Spitty is just a little feller now but King Cobras can get to be 15 feet or longer when they grow up. Remember feeding Old Rattley crickets and those cute white mice? Someday Spitty will be eating rabbits and small dogs. Yes, Kelly, rabbits just like the Easter Bunny. If you have a warm-blooded pet you don't like, let me know and I'll put him on our food chain list.

See how Spitty sits up and makes his neck real big? Those are called "hoods." When you see them—watch out! They mean Spitty is unhappy. Just like when Old Rattley used to shake his tail. When Spitty is upset he stands up, spreads those hoods of his, and begins a-spittin'. Yes, Jimmie, he can spit real far—and fast. A lot faster than you can run.

See how the glass on his home is covered with goo? That's poisonous Spitty drool. That means he's very angry. With us, Penelope? Yes, Penelope, with us. Children, no sniffling. Sniffling makes Spitty very moody. Remember: if you feel scared while doing your arithmetic or taking a spelling test, don't let Spitty see you're afraid ‘cause he might start spewing that poison goo of his in all directions.

I want you to go home and tell your folks all about Spitty. I'm sure when they hear about him and how you feel, they'll rethink that class action suit.

Children, please stand and face the flag.

9. A Week After the Last One

Good morning, children. I want to thank you for telling your parents all about Spitty. I understand most of them have come to their senses and dropped that nasty suit. Parents can be wrong. They're not perfect. Not even close. There are holdouts but I'm certain even a cursory look into their pasts by a nosy private dick will quiet them down too.

Things are mostly looking up. Coughing fits are almost gone. Recurring fevers are mostly a thing of the past. But the fear never quite goes away, does it kids? What if it rains again? Will it rain too hard too long too cold? Will the cloakroom again become off limits because some cranky snake escapes from his cramped quarters and follows his wanton lust just when you need something from that cloakroom the most?

Don't worry. I'm here to protect you. That's why they pay me. Not nearly enough mind you. Which reminds me. As Spitty grows, he will need a bigger place if he's to remain happy and not a threat to those around him—that is—all of you. Yes, Woody, Spitty now lives where Old Rattley did before he was cut down by that kind policeman. Yes, Patty, you can still see some of Old Rattley's blood splatter if you look real close.

Barbara, please take those sheets of paper you see sitting on the corner of my desk and hand one to each of your classmates. Good. Children, I want you to take this paper home and have your parents sign and date it. Are you in trouble, Penelope? No darling—not yet anyway. The school is in a financial bind and it has been decided the load must be shared by the people who are responsible for bringing you little mischief makers into this world, sucking on the saggy dried-out teets of society, namely, your parents. This paper "asks" them to "donate" one hundred dollars each month to the "Save Our Spitty" fund.

As time passes and Spitty gets larger and larger, he'll become hungrier and hungrier and madder and madder. That's a fact of nature. These donations will ensure the happiness of our mascot by purchasing him a large, comfortable home with all the fixings and, thus, make each of your lives slightly more secure. Yes, Joey, I know some of your parents are not working. But two meals can replace three when oatmeal takes center plate. And there's no need to use that big hot furnace or those harsh electric lights when candles give off such a lovely warmth and glow. Just think Joey, living like your favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, did when he was a boy. Make certain they get that hundred to me every month or you'll be sitting next to Spitty quicker than you can say, "Help! I can't see! My eyes! My eyes!"

Let's stand. "I pledge allegiance…"

10. And Yet Another Week

Children. Quiet down. It's time for a Classmate Update. Monica is finally over her pneumonia. She's home and, her stepmother tells me, anxious to return so she can once again make our lives more miserable than they are already. It ain't easy showing up day after rotten day knowing there's a little troublemaker in our midst. What can be done? You've all seen The Wizard of Oz. What happens to the Wicked Witch? Use your TV-given imaginations. What, Janie? There's no such word as "ain't?" Well, Janie, is there such a word as "smack?"

I understand some of your families are still living in that big tent in Urban Park. Lots of juvenile delinquents down there, eh Billy? I see you wear your hair in a waterfall and roll your cigarettes in the sleeve of your tee shirt. It's not for me to judge. If you have to carry a switchblade, you've got to carry a switchblade. Nice tattoo by the way. No, you should be proud. Not too many 9-year-olds have "Devil's Disciple" splayed across their necks.

The Feds are slow in getting that aid to your family? Feeling kinda hungry are ya? You look a bit crazy-eyed and gaunt. Well, Billy, that's why the Mafia made the garment workers put all those holes in the belts. Things seem tough right now but remember: if help doesn't come soon and your stomach's still growly, you can make more holes in your belt with that knife of yours.

The flood has finally left your street, Johnny? Good. All that's left is the mud and the smell. Don't forget, kids, that mess is giving your unemployed mommies and daddies work; another blessing for which we can thank our Lord.

There's more Janitor Jenkins news. While coming out of his coma, he saw that big get-well card we drew of the late Old Rattley. Nurse Findley up at the hospital told me that when Janitor Jenkins saw that picture of Rattley grinning at him, he got a wild look in his eyes, let out a holler, tore the tubes from his arms, and let loose his bowels something fierce. No, Theodore, they were changing Janitor Jenkins at the time so he wasn't wearing any diapers. He made a mess and upset the hospital staff because of the extra work he caused them and, children, it's never good to anger those who are caring for all your vital needs when you're in a helpless condition and at their complete mercy 24 hours a day.

Let this be a lesson to us. When snakes get loose in our lives, maybe we should make an effort to tell the help about it before they start to clean dark rooms—unless we happen to be too busy or it's too much of an inconvenience. Live and learn, right kids? They say Janitor Jenkins has been stabilized and tied down so it's all turned out just fine.

Now class, before we begin today's lesson in good citizenship, let us stand and recite the pledge…

And so time ground round and round, like one of those great early nineteenth century millstones we learned about in Social Studies, inevitably turning and crushing the multitude of dried kernels of grain that lay beneath it to a fine uniform consistency, destined to be molded into countless loaves of bread and consumed, digested, pooped out and flushed into an eternal unknowable sea.