Mr. Nowicki was a slight man with gray hair. He wore a tweed jacket with leather patches sewn into the elbows. He lectured his English class as he drew a diagram on his chalkboard that was inspired by the book the class had been reading, Dante’s Inferno.
“And so,” Mr. Nowicki said. “As Dante himself informs us, there is not one, not two, not three by nine circles of hell. Each level is reserved for a different type of sinner, and the more sinful you are, the worse the sinner is punished.”
The teacher turned around and faced the class. “Just like real life, huh?”
The teens replied with polite chuckles. Mr. Klugman stepped away from the board and paced the room, having taught the material so long that he knew it by heart. “First you have limbo. That’s for virtuous pagans. You were a good person but you didn’t declare your love for God so you’re going to have to stand in the corner of the spiritual waiting room for awhile and think about what you’ve done.”
The teacher continued. “Second, lust. Oh, if you chase after the pleasures of the flesh, then the second level is where you’ll go to do a little time.”
Whitney, who was fully aware that as Disco Werewolf, her brother had become an unbridled pervert and serial adulterer, looked up and to the left, where her twin was sitting. In all actuality, he was sleeping. His sunglasses were on but like Grandpa, his head was back and his mouth was open.
“Level three is for gluttons. Now, come on, people is that fair. Going to hell just because you like a little extra hot fudge on your sundae? Ahh, but then you’ve got level four, where the cheapskates go. You got a lot of money but you aren’t sharing the wealth, well, that’s worse than being the guy who eats too many cookies.”
Mr. Klugman walked down one row and up another. “You’ve got the wrathful and the heretics. They go to levels six and seven. So, revenge is right there in the middle and heretics are treated much worse than pagans who at least tried to live good lives and didn’t openly badmouth God.”
The teacher spotted a boy pass a note to a girl. He grabbed it, read it, and summarized it. “Jennifer, Kevin would like to know if you’d like to go to the movies with him this weekend. I don’t know if he’s paying or not and I don’t know if you should go or not but please sort this out between yourselves after class and Kevin?”
Kevin, who was so embarrassed he wish he could just slink away, replied. “Yeah?”
“Next time, be a man son,” Mr. Klugman said. “Open your mouth and make words come out. Frankly, I take this as a poor reflection of myself if I didn’t teach you the basics of how to communicate this year.”
“OK,” Kevin said.
“Ironically,” Mr. Klugman said. “There isn’t a place in Dante’s version of hell for the cowardly but there should be.”
The teacher moved on. He smacked a ball cap off of a student’s head. He then ripped a sheet of notebook paper out of the next student’s notebook, balanced it on top of his palm and held it front of that student’s mouth.
“No gum in class,” Mr. Klugman said.
The kid looked at Mr. Klugman, then at the paper. He enjoyed three last chews, then spit it out, allowing it to make a big, wet plot on the paper. The teacher balled the mess up instantly.
“Sakes alive,” Klugman said. “You can all vote now. You can all participate in the future of this country. God help us all.”
The teacher kept moving between the rows. “The violent end up in the seventh circle of hell but surprisingly, there’s still two more levels after that. I mean, once you’ve punished all the violent people in the world, you’d think that would be it, right? That’s it. All done. Finished. But no, there’s still two levels left. What are they?”
Mr. Klugman looked around for a volunteer. Seeing none, he picked on a kid wearing a football jersey. “Ben!”
Ben had nothing.
“Useless!” Mr. Klugman said. He pointed at a girl with a ponytail. “Kate!”
Kate stammered. “Um…uh…uh.”
“Pathetic!” Mr. Klugman said.
The teacher looked about, then spotted a snoozing Mitch. “Ahh, Mr. Lumpkiss finally makes time in his busy schedule to attend class. Mr. Lumpkiss?”
Mr. Klugman raised his voice. “Mr. Lumpkiss! I’m talking to you!”
When the teacher drew closer, he realized the boy was fast asleep. “Oh, for the love of…”
Whitney didn’t know how to feel as she watched this spectacle. Part of her wanted to laugh that her brother had been caught looking like an idiot. Part of her wanted to cry that her brother struggling to keep it together.
Mr. Klugman snapped his fingers in front of Mitch’s face. The boy stirred. “Mr. Lumpkiss!”
Mitch snapped his head to attention. “Huh? What?”
“Take those ridiculous things off your eyes this instant,” Mr. Klugman said.
It was obvious that Mitch was just starting to grasp reality, having just been jolted out of a state of deep REM sleep. “Huh? Oh, sorry.”
Mitch flipped his clip-on sunglasses up, revealing his eyes through his prescription lenses. “Sorry, sir.”
“Off of your face entirely.”
“Oh,” Mitch said as he pulled the sunglass attachment off of his glasses. “Right.”
“You got a D on your last exam, Lumpkiss,” Mr. Klugman said. “If I were you, I’d be paying extra close attention.”
“Yes, sir,” Mitch said.
“Crap on a hot tin roof,” Mr. Klugman said. “This happens every year. Like clockwork, one of the handful of students I have who are actually going somewhere and make this job worth doing get a bad case of senioritis and destroy their entire academic career just because they get a little antsy in the pantsy.”
“Sorry, sir,” Mitch said.
Mr. Klugman leaned in, putting his face just an inch away from Mitch’s. “Tell me straight, boy. Are you on the marijuana?”
“Huh?” Mitch said. “No.”
Klugman held his thumb and pointer fingers together, pretending to suck on a joint. “A little taste of the old reefer stick, eh son?”
Mitch shook his head. “No.”
Whitney decided that she would find this funny, but only in her mind. She didn’t need to laugh and risk incurring Mr. Klugman’s wrath. One Lumpkiss taking it was enough for today and besides, she didn’t want her English teacher to end up in the fifth level of hell.
“Come on,” Mr. Klugman said. “Out with it. You’ve been sparking up grass, haven’t you?”
“Tell me, you’re not on the hard stuff, kid.”
“Only the soda kind, sir.”
“Oh, a wiseguy, eh?”
“Heroin, boy! Are you chasing that dragon?”
“Is…uh…that even a thing sir?”
“What are you asking me for? I’m not a drug addict.”
Mr. Klugman shook his head. “You disgust me, Mr. Lumpkiss. I’ve never seen a brighter student fall so far, so fast but if you won’t pick yourself up and get off the dope, then so be it. Another youth lost to our nation’s great struggle with pill poppery.”
Mitch knew it wasn’t worth it to argue. He wondered if, technically, Mr. Klugman might have been right. Did alcohol count as a drug? Oh well, he figured he could quit anytime, anyway.
“Do try to be more like your sister, Mr. Lumpkiss,” Mr. Klugman said. “At least she received a respectable, journeyman’s B minus on the last exam.”
Whitney scrunched down in her seat, not wanting to gain a reputation as a teacher’s pet. After all, that would be disastrous for her night job as the front woman for Sexual Vomit. Plus, what if her non-existent fans were to find out that she opted to wear a purple sweater rather than violate the school’s dress code by wearing her band shirt?
“The eighth circle is for fraudsters and the ninth circle is for traitors, Mr. Lumpkiss,” Mr. Klugman said. “Fraud, as in the lies you’re telling yourself so that you can ignore your conscience whenever it urges you to resume your once studious ways and treachery, such as when you betray yourself by not pushing yourself to the highest level of academic success of which I know you are more than capable.”
“The deepest, darkest depths of hell await you if you don’t turn your ship around and sail it to safer harbors, Mr. Lumpkiss,” Mr. Klugman said. “I’m not a religious man and in this class, we’ve studied Dante’s Inferno from a purely academic perspective but nevertheless, whether you believe in a higher power or if you believe we are no more than the sum of our time in this world, know this, young man – you’re on your way to your own personal hell, right here, right now, within your very lifetime.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
The teacher walked back to his desk. “You should be. You make me sick. Now then, where did we leave off with our good friend, Mr. Shakespeare. I believe it was the Ides of March and Caesar had a bone to pick with Brutus, didn’t he? Mr. Frasier, if you’d be so kind as to turn to page 495 of your textbook and read out loud to the class the part where it says…”
The intercom beeped. “Mitchell Lumpkiss to the guidance office, please. Repeat – Mitchell Lumpkiss to the guidance office please.”
Mitch looked to his teacher for permission. “Go on,” Mr. Klugman said. “Get out of my sight.”
The nerd stood up, collecting his things, shoved them into his backpack and walked out the door.
“And let that be a lesson to the rest of you,” Mr. Klugman said. “Stay off the reefer sticks. Alright, Mr. Frasier, go ahead.”