The Train Is Coming by Walter Giersbach
Randy Morrison was maybe 14 or 15 years old, but the kids at school all called him Eighty cause he was so smart. He thought like a guy who was maybe 80 years old. Five or six times smarter than we were.
He’s smarter than Ms. Vrohovak, our substitute till our regular teacher has her baby. Ms. Vrohovak is a gorgeous woman and really nice, but we lost respect when she told us “An umbilical cord is part of a parachute.” And, another time, that “anus is a Greek word denoting a time period.”
Guess that gives you some clue about modern education. Anyway, the thing that stopped the world — our world at Millard Fillmore Charter School — was the annual science fair. Kids who wanted an A for the term or were just sucking up to Mr. O’Donnell, the science teacher, were supposed to come up with a project that they could put on a table with some signs and charts. O’Donnell would judge the best one.
Maybe 20 or so busted their asses writing down periodic tables and showing why this is important to something or other. At least two projects showed how the sun was drying up all the Earth’s water. The winner was angling for a blue ribbon. In the real world, Eighty explained to me, it’s winner take all. Second place probably gets a set of butter knives. Third prize in life is you’re fired.
All the parents came in smiling and making mooshy sounds over their little darlings’ projects. Think they even made their kids take showers and put on clean jeans.
And then there was Eighty. He wandered through the gym wearing a blue suit, white button-down shirt and red necktie. See, you gotta understand, Eighty’s dad is a businessman for some company that invests in hotshot new businesses. And his mom is this dynamite trophy wife who’s a lawyer.
O’Donnell was also working the crowd, shaking hands with the parents, examining the projects and nodding at the kids, when Eighty said, “Don’t touch that. It’s proprietary.”
“I beg your pardon,” O’Donnell says, all stuffy like.
“I said,” Eighty repeats, “that’s a proprietary scientific presentation. A patent has already been applied for.”
O’Donnell puffed out his cheeks and muttered so only Eighty could hear, “It’s just a goddamn toaster.”
“Not any toaster. Every slice of toast comes out imprinted with the manufacturer’s logo. Show him, Harold.” And out popped this piece of bread with a GE logo burned into it.
“And where’s your project?” O’Donnell demanded.
“I am the project,” Eighty said. “I’m a study in economics and I’m here to monetize these students’ discoveries.”
O’Donnell got red in the face and the parents started looking at him.
“Are you out of your cotton-pickin’ mind?” he whispered. “You little mouth-breathing Muppet, you’ve given me nothing but trouble this year.”
“Hear the whistle, Mr. O? The train’s coming in. I have several clients here. Under contract. Jacquie has a new smart phone app for locating parents. Say, her dad claims he’s working late, but he’s really hanging out with his secretary, the bereft child can locate poor papa and make him come home to her siblings and distraught mother.”
“Well…well, I never approved these projects,” O’Donnell huffed.
Sam Zackowitz’ dad shouted, “Let the kid alone, Mr. Science. He seems to be on a roll.”
Eighty’s mother drifted over and suggested, “Are we discussing a restraint of trade issue, sir?”
“This is a high school!” O’Donnell burst out. “Not a circus for venture capitalists!”
Eighty took out a calculator, glanced at it, and said, “I believe a couple of my clients will be taking their first million to the bank before next year. I’m so thrilled at the promise shown by Alicia. She’s going to become an engineer. I explained that mechanical engineers make weapons and civil engineers build targets. I think she’ll do really well as a biological engineer. Her inoculation — theoretically — will give violent people terrible diarrhea. Terrorists will have to stop shooting to change their underwear.”
“This is a private school, you moron. I absolutely forbid turning it into a commercial enterprise!”
“You mean, taking state and city money — taxpayer money — for your inflated salaries and forbidding the students to taste a piece of the pie?” At that point, Eighty’s face became a terrifying mask of power, the power he was wielding on a school night in front of a rapt audience. “I mentioned the train? I meant to say, I think it’s left the station. A committee of students has just begun negotiating with the mayor to set up our own charter school. Our beloved principal, Dr. Sam Wallingford, has agreed to lead us in our endeavors as the new principal.”
“Old Sam is senile!” O’Donnell shrieked.
“Dementia is such a heart-breaking thing,” Eighty said. “That’s why Tyrone has taken your syllabus, enriched it with McGraw-Hill texts and packaged it in a robot. See? The simulacrum over there who looks like our substitute teacher, Ms. Vrohovak? We paid her a small honorarium for replicating her body. Count on the substitute android teaching your classes next year.”
Walter bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance. His work has appeared in print and online in over a score of publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.
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Tags: childhood, machine, Walter Giersbach