Mrs. Perle, my sixth-grade teacher, was an unnatural woman given to transports. Her transports had teeth, rather fangs. She was certainly venomous. Mrs. Perle tapped into something twisted within us all. Are we not all sadists and masochists in various degrees at various times? Yet, we hold ourselves back; we are self-aware, or aware of God. Mrs. Perle is mostly likely in hell now, that part reserved for petty tyrants, the ones without a saleable ideology.
Mrs. Perle gave us rules to follow, then a posture, finally a face, a particular smile, a mask to be put on. You submitted. If not, you were ridiculed, reviled, humiliated and mocked, pointed at, laughed at, became one of them: the despised. One by one, my classmates put on the mask, first the usual suspects, the usual suck-ups. Then all the girls. The girls were more practiced in hiding behind a smile. Then Roger, then Dennis, then Paul succumbed, then the floodgates. How they beamed, the mask, eyes bulging out of their heads. The fake smile. That was what Mrs. Perle wanted. A real smile might turn on her, the class laughing au naturalle, in her face. Then, there were just four of us. Myself, Irwin Katz, David Laks and Tommy Glass. We weren’t heroes; the stakes were not great. We didn’t even have the nerve to split, leave the room when she became weird, nothing much would’ve happened to us, I’m sure. The four of us would do everything she would ask, except put on that mask.
The last election of the school year. Class representative or some such nonsense. So confident was Mrs. Perle, she put the election in the hands of a student as she left the room. We elected Tommy Glass. Mrs. Perle, upon returning to the classroom, overturned the election, explained the qualifications needed in a class representative, explained the hefty stakes involved. We had another vote. Tommy lost.
After 50 years, the lessons are the same, but now the stakes are existential. Perhaps Tolstoy was right: “God sees the truth, but waits.” Waits! He sleeps! Although even now as I speak, he may be stretching, turning off the snooze alarm, putting on his boots, getting ready to re-enter history. Perhaps an age of miracles awaits us.