Mr. Sabatini? I think that was his name. It’s hard to remember.
Maybe it was a plumb position awarded to him because he had buttered up the right school official. Maybe he was owed a favor by a union representative. But for whatever reason, he was not among us very often. There were a few days early in the year, and after that he reappeared now and again, but for the most part, he wasn’t there.
At that particular stage in my life, however, Mr. Sabatini?’s irregular presence did not distress me. It was the 10th grade, and I too was irregular. I was rounding out my last growth spurt, going from being one of the shortest kids in the class to the tall side of average, at least by New York City standards, where the average male is, well, very average. It’s certainly not Minnesota. There were also the requisite signs of a burgeoning adolescence: pimples, a deeper voice, mysterious frustrations about girls. Or were they now women?
Adding to the irregularity, it was also my first year in high school. Our junior high school had gone through ninth grade. Here I was, amid 6,000 students who circulated through a massive building in a new neighborhood. So to have an irregularly appearing teacher? Sure. It seemed perfectly reasonable at that point. Why ask why?
For whatever reason, Mr. Sabatini? was scarcely seen. Instead, we had a student teacher. Our student teacher was the kind of person you wish you could invent if he didn’t really exist, though you probably couldn’t. Soft-spoken, mid-twenties, and already balding, he had a boyish charm, ready smile, quiet joy, and inner calm that I would later come to associate with the Midwest. He was also a marine (or was it the army?) who specialized in skiing. Down the slopes with a machine gun, like James Bond. And he was also given to wearing pink shirts. This was 1982. Not a lot of men were wearing pink shirts. Especially not ex-Marines.