Bathroom, 1993

Mr. Rossi teaches Regents Global History, and he is a loser. That sounds harsh and unfair, and it is, but it is also true.

If you see Mr. Rossi, you recognize in a few second, There stands a loser. There are no shortage of losers at my school, and in my more honest moments I count myself among their ranks. But kid losers can’t compare to grown-up losers. As a kid, you figure being grown up removes several layers of loserdom from your surface. Adults can drive, live in their own places, do what they want. Those adults who can’t shed this skin are especially deserving of our contempt and laughter, and none get more of both than Mr. Rossi.

All losers search for at least one person they can stand atop and say, “At least I’m not that guy.” Mr. Rossi is that guy.

Mr. Rossi is shorter than most of his students. He is pudgy, which is somehow worse than being straight-up fat, and he accentuates his pudginess by insisting on wearing horizontally striped polo shirts to school. His hairline is beginning to recede. Midyear, he attempts to grow a mustache, and the thing comes in patchy and sad. He looks like a far less adventurous Mario.

Mr. Rossi still lives with his mom. Someone with more self awareness would have made sure the teenagers under his watch never found this out, but Mr. Rossi just told us, like the fact wasn’t a cudgel kids would use against him. He lives with his mom in a crappy part of Newburgh, a rough town. Once, a stray bullet whisked through his living room and missed hitting him by inches. He told us this too. Had this happened to someone else, it would have been terrifying, or bestowed upon him some stripe of badass-ery. But since it happened to Mr. Rossi, it’s hilarious.

Apart from these considerable impediments to gaining the respect of his students, Mr. Rossi isn’t very good at his job. He loses control of his class constantly and is ill-equipped to recapture it. He arrives late to class all the time, bursting through the door in a panicked sweat. And though “know a lot about global history” is presumably the first bullet point in the job description of a global history teacher, he does not. He mixes up facts and gets them just plain wrong all the time. Sometimes he notices his errors, says “Aw geez!” and “Holy moley!” and literally smacks his head, all with an earnestness that adds to his loserdom.

Most of the time, though, he doesn’t catch on to his own mistakes and plows on, oblivious. It takes every bit of strength I possess to fight my Nerd Instincts to correct him. If for no other reason, I should probably correct him so my fellow students won’t be at a disadvantage when they take the Regents. But my fellow students are juniors, and I’m a sophomore.

In junior high, I took advanced classes, surrounded by other dorks, but my high school has a brutally half-assed approach to dealing with “advanced” students. This approach consists of sprinkling a few of these students into classes with kids who are year older and wishing them the best of luck. A few days in “regular” classes with older kids showed me I should do everything in my power to make sure I’m never “discovered” as being younger than everyone else, or worse, being found out as a Smart Kid. Correcting Mr. Rossi would blow my cover.

My school has other perils, primary among them the bathrooms. If you use have to use one mid-class, you may be taking your life in your hands. The bathrooms in the “old” part of the school are especially treacherous. They are dimly lit and cramped, and by the time you push the front door open and realize it’s full of dirtbags, it’s too late to run. The bathrooms in the new part of the school have no front doors, so you can at least sneak up on them, listen for a moment, and hear if there’s any murmuring and cackling going on inside.

bathroomsI’m in French class, one of the few classes I have with kids my age, or younger. French class is in the “old” part of the school. I have to go to the bathroom, badly, and ask for a pass. Students have been instructed to use the nearest bathrooms, to not venture into the “new” part just because the bathrooms there aren’t full of monsters. But I’d rather get yelled at by a teacher for violating this rule than get pummeled by peers. So I take my chances and head for a bathroom in the “new” part of the school anyway.

When I get there, I see Mr. Rossi standing at one of the urinals. He nods awkwardly as I take my spot at the farthest urinal from him. He finishes up and goes to wash his hands.

I’m still taking care of my own business when I hear an enormous splash, followed by Mr. Rossi’s patented “Oh geez! Holy moley!”

I zip up and turn around to see Mr. Rossi is soaked, from the collar of his shirt to the crotch of his pants. He could not be any wetter if he sprayed himself with a firehose. I do not see any evidence of what may have caused this to happen. There’s no busted pipe, no faucet handle laying on the floor, no basin cracked in half. This kind of thing just happens to him. The laws of physics or hydraulics or pure fairness do no apply to Mr. Rossi.

Mr. Rossi sloshes over to the towel dispenser and pulls out two paper towels. Only two. The entire roll would be inadequate to deal with his situation, but he soldiers on anyway, dabbing at the lake inside his clothes. It is mid-class for him, too. Knowing Mr. Rossi, he will return to his classroom and feel compelled to explain this predicament to 30-odd cackling juniors. His honesty and self-deprecation will earn him no respect, only more laughter.

“Boy, some days, huh?” he says to me as he dabs, because I am staring. I leave the bathroom before I can see how he deals with this.

This should be the point where I told you that this sight causes me to gain some understanding of and sympathy for this man and his lot in life. In truth, the first thing I do when I sit down at my usual lunch table that afternoon is tell my friends about this incident and how god damn hilarious I think it is.

All my friends believe this is hilarious, too, the imagined sight of this strange little man soaked through a calamity that is completely inexplicable, except that it must be an act of a god who delights in reminding Mr. Rossi what a loser he is. In our minds, he will have to stay in that bathroom, soaked and alone, so that we may deal with ourselves.