“Joseph, stand up and tell us about 1812.”
Joseph sat to my right, two rows over. At the sound of his name, he slumped over as if he had a heart attack. “OOhs” and “uh-ohs” filled the room. As he stood, I could see his hands trembling. His brown hair covered his eyes but I bet he had them closed, praying.
Mrs. Jones clapped her hands three times. “1812, boy, speak up.”
Though he probably knew the answer, Joseph just stared at his feet. Joseph was extremely smart but he had no people skills. He spent all his time reading fantasy books, drawing wizards, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and feeding quarter after quarter into Xelda at the mall arcade. Whenever a girl smiled at him, his entire body turned red and he lost the ability to speak. He was no match for Predator Jones—which is why she attacked him daily.
“Boy, did you drop your tongue out in the hall?”
“Mrs. Jones,” Myron shouted, “I tell you what happened in the war of 1812. A bunch of people died!”
The class went ballistic.
Mrs. Jones was on her feet. “That’s it, boy. That’s it! Get up here. I got somethin’ for you.”
Realizing he was no longer in her sights, Joseph dove back into his seat.
Mrs. Jones started rummaging through her drawers looking for her paddle. It was a long wooden thing with holes punched in it. She had named it Bathsheba. She told us ‘that King David in the Bible made a bad choice when he laid up with Bathsheba, so any time she pulled out the paddle, that meant somebody made a stupid choice.’
After several minutes of slamming drawers and looking under piles of books, Mrs. Jones gave up her search. Myron had hid the paddle the day before. Frustrated, she pounded her fist on the desk. Her yellow hat went lopsided and her left clip-on earring fell off. She’d worked herself into a sweat. Her freshly applied face powder was quickly turning to cake batter. She pointed at Myron. “I said get up here!”
“But, Mrs. Jones, you don’t have your paddle.”
She started cracking her knuckles. “I got somethin’ worse than Bathsheba, boy.” Mrs. Jones then lifted her hands and a made a show of curling each of her thick fingers into a fist. “You about to get the five finger death touch.”
The entire class jumped to their feet. Everyone was shouting and clapping. Since the beginning of junior high, we’d heard the legend of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch. Rumor was that if she couldn’t find her paddle, she would punch you in the butt instead. I had never believed it, but now here she was about to send Myron into orbit.
As he headed to the front, I told Myron, “She’s gonna beat you down.” I should’ve known by the look he gave me that something bad was about to happen.
“Oooh, Mrs. Jones.” Myron brought his hand to his mouth like he’d just heard something shameful. “Brandon said your five finger death touch couldn’t get him because he knows kung fu.”
“Oh he did.” Mrs. Jones eyes flashed like a hungry wolf that had just discovered she could have two kills for the effort of one. “Well, come on up here, boy, and let’s see if your butt knows kon fu.”
“Whoa, whoa,” I lifted my arms in surrender. “I did not say that.”
“Too late now.” With the power and elegance of a sprinting rhino, Mrs. Jones made her way around her desk.
The class was in a frenzy. The laughter and applause was louder than the crowd at an NBA final. Everyone was pumping their arms and shouting, “Go! Go!”
I couldn’t believe this was happening. I tried to reason with her some more but with all the shouting she couldn’t hear me anyway. I thought of running from the room, but honestly, even though it was happening to me, I didn’t want to miss this. I was about to become a part of Marshall Junior High history.
I met Myron at the front, in the isle between the front row and Mrs. Jones’ desk. Instinctively, my right thumb went rigid. For dragging me into this, I wanted to ram it into the soft spot beneath his floating rib to execute the horrible spinal-column-shock-and-instant-bowel-release technique. I decided to let it go.
“Y’all lean over and putcha hands on the desk.” Mrs. Jones circled behind us.
I was laughing so hard that I almost couldn’t stand. Myron moved in beside me and as we lay our hands on her desk, the sounds of laughter increased by a hundred decibels. I looked over my shoulder and Mrs. Jones was actually winding up her arms the way Popeye does just before he knocks out Brutus. Then she started doing a shuffle like Curly on the Three Stooges.
“Watch out cause here it comes!” Both arms swinging, she stepped in. I thought of hopping over her desk but I was paralyzed with laughter.
“BAM!” she shouted as her big old fist hit me in the left butt cheek.
Myron collapsed to the floor and faked a seizure. I dropped to my knees overcome with laughter.
“Everybody sit down and shut the hell up before I tap somebody else.”
The class was over the edge. Papers were flying. Books were scattered across the floor. It was a madhouse. Even the two teachers, whose rooms were on either side of Mrs. Jones’ had rushed in to see what was happening.
We had to go to the office and after telling the principal what happened, he laughed, told us to not provoke her again, then dismissed us. I could still hear him laughing as we closed his door and started down the hall.
To this day, I’m certain that it was my kung fu skills that kept the poisonous affects of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch from harming me.
As for Myron, I received word recently that he lived in Colorado teaching band.
He walks with a limp.