On his way back from the supermarket about half a mile from his apartment, Mike picks up the local newspaper and scans the headlines. There big headline is about a scandal at an elementary school in a nearby town. A fifth grade teacher has been accused of improperly touching his students. A mugshot of the forty-five year-old shows a fit and clean-cut man with a sympathetic face.
Mike sticks the paper into his tote bag and starts to think about his own fifth grade teacher. Mr. Forkin was the first male teacher he ever had outside of gym class. He was of average height, athletically built, had curly dark hair and a large mustache, and wore glasses. He always wore striped shirts with white collars and bright ties – he could have worked at a bank. Although either in his late thirties or early forties, Mr. Forkin seemed to have little experience as a teacher and therefore lacked the strictness and penchant for discipline of the other teachers at the school. But the kids – mostly a mix of affluent Jews and middle-class Koreans – were well-behaved and easy to teach.
He remembers two distinct things about Mr. Forkin. The first was the dark circles under his armpits that would become more apparent by mid-morning each day. Kids snickered about “BO” and would wonder what caused their teacher to be so sweaty under his arms. Perhaps it was the stress of being a first-year teacher at a new school. The other was Mr. Forkin’s alma mater. It was Iona College. The reason Mike still remembered this was because of a cheesy thing Mr. Forkin had told the class once. “I went to Iona College,” he said. “No, I don’t own a college, but it’s called Iona College.” He then put the spelling on the board and told everyone the Who’s on First joke.
As he unpacks the groceries and starts to lay out the ingredients for dinner, Mike suddenly remembers the day he had to stay after school and have a talk with Mr. Forkin. It was March and Mike had been running an in-class NCAA pool. Years before people went online and participated in all kinds of pools, Mike had found a shareware program which allowed him to print out brackets and keep track of everyone’s results. He had recruited about twelve kids, collected five dollars from each, and set the prize at $50, netting himself $10 for administrative costs. He updated the participants with rankings and reports each week. Everyone had fun. And then one day, Mr. Forkin asked him to stay after school. They went to a small room at the end of the hallway where teachers usually went for private conversations. Mr. Forkin produced a sheet with the previous week’s rankings.
“Are you running this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mike replied, a tremble in his voice.
“I heard there was money involved. Is that true?”
“That’s gambling, which is strictly forbidden in school,” Mr. Forkin said. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”
“I didn’t know that,” Mike said.
There was an awkward pause. Mr. Forkin’s face looked grave and disappointed. Mike, who had been prone to shedding tears in confrontations with adults, willed himself not to cry.
“Do your parents know about this?” he asked.
“No,” Mike said.
“Would they be happy to hear that you’re doing this?” Mr. Forkin asked.
“I don’t think they would care,” Mike said. Mike was telling the truth. As long as he brought home good grades and studied hard, his parents left him alone. His father might even have applauded his initiative in running the pool.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, you can call them if you like,” Mike replied, with a surge of confidence. “In fact, my mom is waiting for me in the car outside. Would you like me to get her?”
Mr. Forkin seemed taken aback by Mike’s different tone. He studied his student’s face for a moment.
“I don’t ever want to see you doing this in class again, you understand? Gambling is not a good thing,” he said.
“Okay, I understand,” Mike said.
“You can go now.”
Mike ran out the school door and ran to his mother, who sat impatiently in the car.
“What took you so long?” she asked, irritated.
“I had to talk to my teacher about something,” he said.
“Don’t make me wait here like this again,” she said.
Mike didn’t say anything. He thought about how he could continue the pool without getting caught. There was the Final Four that weekend and the championship game on Tuesday. He would just have to deal things outside of class. And no more handing out rankings and results to everyone. The kids would have to come to him to find out.
As the water boils and he empties a box of pasta, Mike realizes that he hasn’t seen a game of college basketball this year at all. He doesn’t even know who won the national title. He wonders if Mr. Forkin still teaches at the same school in the small town in Northern New Jersey.