I took a deep breath, placing my right hand on the door handle for support. I put on a smile, turned the handle and walked in.
Mr. Hopper’s classroom was located in a secluded part of campus, adjacent to the surrounding neighborhood. This bungalow classroom was long and overcrowded with high schoolers on the brink of graduating but far from being ready to dive into life outside of school.
Most teachers found it distracting and unnecessary for me to stop by their classrooms to pick up their attendance rosters, an inconvenience that they needed to get rid of as soon as possible. For that reason, teachers either had their rosters by the front door or a designated roster monitor. Not Mr. Hopper.
This distraction didn’t bother him at all. He relished my visits. He expected me to traverse the length of his bungalow to retrieve the roster, waiting patiently like a black widow its prey as I made my way through the web of chaotically organized student desks, all the way to his desk, on which his feet were kicked up. The confidence I had entered the room with was slowly stripped away, entangled in the piercing stares of his students, shred by shred, as I walked past each of them. The joy he would derive from watching me walk all the way to his desk was evident by his grin, which grew wider and wider the closer I got. It was foreplay. By the time I arrived at his desk, I had been purged and primed.
Known as the fun teacher, Mr. Hopper’s history class was one that every kid wanted to be in. “We don’t do shit in his class,” became the unofficial class motto. His brand of education combined a hedonistic spirit with one of debauchery.
The long trek to his desk wasn’t enough to obtain his roster. I had to go around it and stand in front of him, face to face. Him sitting, I standing. As he brought down his feet up off his desk, he rolled his chair away from it, spun its seat towards me with his legs wide open like a Santa Claus ready for the next little boy in line.
He was wearing light khakis and a light-hearted smile. Both did very little to hide his overwhelming enthusiasm. He looked me up and down. Indiscriminately. He wanted to get a good look at me. Standing there fully clothed, I had never felt more exposed.
Boys were treated differently in Mr. Hopper’s class. To his friends, he would gift clothing, shoes, video games and even pardon late homework assignments as if they were life sentences. His type fell in the categories of robust and remedial. There were a few girls in his class, but to him, they were as pedestrian as the desks and linoleum under them. The boys were the main attraction. The main course. Mr. Hopper was merely courting me and I was yet to experience the depth of his benevolence.
“How you doing, man?” Hopper asked in a jovial tone as if he hadn’t seen me in years.
“I’m good,” I replied.
“What’s you name again?”
“Mmmm…Oh yeah! Jose. My homie Jose,” he butted in.
I smiled awkwardly and nodded.
“Get closer man,” Mr. Hopper said reaching out his hand, expecting me to shake it. As I reached out my hand to meet his half way, he swiped it. The amount of force that he was using to constrict my hand told me that if we were alone, he could easily overtake me. I wouldn’t stand a chance. He was testing my strength, asking himself the same question I was asking myself, “Could I take him?” The aggressiveness in his smile gave me a clear answer. I was facing the type of man my mom cautioned me about not taking candy or car rides from.
He began to slowly pull me in closer to him while leaning forward. His eyes were looking straight into mine, dead serious.
“Are you my homie?” he asked.
“Yeah. Sure,” I answered reluctantly.
He smiled. Letting out a boisterous full-bodied laugh, he started to flail his other hand above his head and lift his feet off the ground. His diabolical cackle filled the room. It finally came to an end when he stomped both feet on the floor. It shook the whole room.
He pulled me in an inch closer and looked over to the sides to see whether anyone was listening. He leaned in, so close that I could see the saliva gathering in the corners of his lips. He whispered into my ear, “I’m not your homie. I’m your daddy.”
I couldn’t move or speak. All I could do was feel his big hand not planning on letting go of mine. I could hear his students laughing. I could see the girls sitting on their desks while wearing short skirts with their legs slightly open. I could smell two boys sharing a breakfast burrito, one asking the other, “Hey fool, how do you say pussy in Spanish?”
Mr. Hopper pulled away, his hand still tethered to mine.
“So, what’s your favorite kind of music?” he asked.
“Opera, I guess.” I wanted this interaction to end as soon as possible, so I said the first thing that popped into my head.
He leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes. After clearing his throat, he took a deep breath and exhaled a prolonged deep hum, “Mmmm…opera makes me feel good.” His hand began to massage mine. It looked like he had fallen into a sweet slumber. He was in a trance. I slowly slipped my hand out of his and began to walk away.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I have to go pick up the rest of the rosters.”
“Alright Jose, you stay cool.” I continued to walk to the door, not looking back. “Same time tomorrow?”
I took a deep breath, placing my left hand on the door handle for support. I put on a smile and turned the handle.
“OK,” I answered and walked out.
Laughing Song. Ca. 1825. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. By William Blake.