Daily Archives: February 20, 2012

leo

 Leo was a remarkable kid . He had an off-beat sense of humor .  He  was a student in my fifth grade class at Saint Clement and he never gave me any problem .

I hadn’t seen Leo for awhile before the principal’s office was ransacked one weekend and I never saw him after that . . The school secretary had related a tale of an odd phone call she had received . She told it to the principal , as well as anyone and everyone who would listen , and the principal related it to the cops .

The secretary said someone had called the school and said   ” Did you get my answer ? ” and the person hung up before she could say anything . She said the voice sounded suspiciously like Leo’s . She said that , since the call came a day after the robbery and vandalism in the principal’s office , Leo was probably calling to confirm that it had been him .

Leo had been kicked out of Saint Clement School a week or so before the weekend incident . People began including the name Leo in discussions of the incident . ” It must have been Leo “, they’d say ,” It had to have been .”

It wasn’t Leo . After the cops went to his house with a search warrant and looked around they found no evidence to involve him .  Three weeks after the robbery a local guy who had been a former janitor at St. Clement and who had been fired from the job went into a liquor store that was three blocks from the scene of the crime and tried to buy beer with a school check . He had the school checkbook with him . The liquor store owner called the cops , who arrested the guy .

Leo would have been a hell of a lot smarter than that if he had broken in to the school office and stolen stuff .Leo was a sharp little kid . In second grade he stood up in Domini the ex-nun’s class and said , very assertively , ” I don’t believe in God ! ” Then Leo calmly sat down and quietly waited for the fallout  .  His announcement  was enough to drive Domini , who was a little emotionally off anyway , the rest of the way off . She wanted Leo castrated and crucified and kicked out of school .

Leo’s sixth grade teacher was a man who considered himself  very culturally aware . He was a patient , tolerant ,   sensitive teacher who strove to make a difference in the world , who strove to be accepting of everyone .  Leo had this guy’s  number . He began wearing a hair net to class . He wore it day after day . His teacher wondered about it  but said nothing . Day after day the teacher  pondered the hair net . He was distracted and concerned .  He discussed the issue  with his wife . Should he say something to Leo about it ?  Did it violate the uniform policy ? Why was Leo wearing it ? If he didn’t say something to Leo about it , then what might be next ? Was it passive acceptance that anything goes in his class ?  It was driving the teacher nuts . Day , after day , after day .

Finally the teacher asked Leo about the hair net . ” It’s not part of the uniform,” he said . ” You shouldn’t wear it to class .”

” It’s part of my culture ! ” Leo responded , sounding offended .  Then he was quiet and waited for the fallout . Leo knew exactly what he had done . There were no more words from the teacher . His introverted response was internal  turmoil and self-doubt and longer , more agonized discussions with his wife . What should he do about Leo’s hair net , if anything ?

And then , one day , Leo stopped wearing the hair net . This left the issue eternally unresolved in the teacher’s mind . What should have been done , if anything , about Leo’s hair net ?  His wife told him to forget it ; it was done ; it didn’t matter any more . But years later when he re-told the hair net story it seemed obvious that the incident still nagged him .

Leo had the gift , if that’s the word ,  of seeing  the inner demons in people and he intentionally riled them up . He somehow saw that a person’s self-conscious strengths  could also be their vulnerability and he devised precise and sophisticated  tactics to attack and to challenge those supposed strengths . Leo , mysteriously , saw into human souls , I think .  Leo was a pre-teen  prophet  , of sorts , calling people to task and  challenging their beliefs .

Prophets are not often welcomed , I guess , even adolescent  ones .  In seventh grade  Leo got kicked out of the school for upsetting and unsettling the wrong person , or perhaps for  bothering the wrong people for too long  .  Prophets are not often appreciated .

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