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When I was in fourth grade, I was about as antisocial as a person can possibly be. I was at a new school surrounded by unfamiliar faces. I’d entered the school’s “Highly Capable” program, which consisted of an elite group of students. This meant that all my classmates had been in the same class for several years and were, therefore, great friends.
As recess approached on the first day of school, everyone clambered excitedly towards the door and some plucked large, bouncy balls from the oversized Rubbermaid container. On the teacher’s word, they dashed outside and made straight for the field where they organized themselves for a game of kickball. I was slower to leave the classroom, and instead of playing opted to take with me my only companion – a book.
I seated myself near a solitary portable that was located half way between the playground and my classroom. I was deeply absorbed in my book, my nose stuck between the pages, and failed to notice approaching footsteps until the man to whom they belonged spoke.
“Good morning. Beautiful day, isn’t it?” he said cheerfully.
I looked him up and down. He was a short Asian man dressed smartly with a tie and neatly combed hair. I gazed at his identification card that was clipped to his breast pocket. Mark Hashimoto. I recognized him as the fifth grade teacher that taught in the portable.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I see you’re reading a book. Do you like reading?” he asked.
I thought the answer was fairly obvious, but nevertheless, I indulged him. “Yes.”
“Why aren’t you playing with your friends?”
“I’d rather read,” I told him bluntly.
“Well, recess is a time to run around and have fun. There’s plenty of time to read in the classroom. I think you should get some exercise,” he told me severely, staring down at my scrawny body, which consisted of two percent body fat.
“That’s nice,” I told him. Clearly affronted, he stalked off.
He badgered me at recess every day for nearly two weeks, which was reason enough in my mind to tell my mother about the frequent assaults. She found the story highly amusing, and upon the next visit to my grandparent’s house, suggested I tell my grandpa the story.
“There’s a teacher at my school named Mr. Hashimoto who tells me I shouldn’t read during recess. What sort of teacher discourages reading?” I asked my grandpa, exasperated. “He’s mean. I don’t like him very much,” I added.
My grandpa chuckled. “Is his first name Mark? Young fellow?” he inquired, a sly smile sneaking onto his lips. I scrunched up my face in concentration and tried to remember.
“I think so,” I said. “Why?”
My grandpa’s chuckle transformed into a roar of laughter.
“Do you know him or something?” I demanded.
“He used to be our neighbor. He grew up next door.”
I just stared at my grandpa, amazed.
“No way!” I exclaimed.
“You know what you should do?” my mother chimed in. “You should have grandpa tell you things some things about the Hashimotos and then use that information to exact a little revenge.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, thoroughly perplexed.
“The next time he approaches you, say something to him that only he would know, and don’t tell him how you know it. It’ll drive him crazy, you watch.”
So I did. For the first time in my life, I purposely manipulated a teacher, but I can’t say he didn’t have it coming.
The very next day I set my mother’s plan into motion. As I suspected, Mr. Hashimoto and I engaged once again in our little struggle. Just as he’d turned to leave, I asked “Is your mother’s name Rose?” He stopped dead and turned back to face me very slowly.
“What did you say?” he asked, his voice hard.
“I asked if your mother’s name is Rose.”
“How did you know that?” he demanded forcefully.
“Just a lucky guess,” I stated innocently.
“You just plucked that name out of the clear, blue sky, out of thin air?” he asked, knowing full well I hadn’t.
“Yup,” I said, and commenced my reading.
The next day arrived. “Did you grow up on Palatine Avenue?” I asked.
“Are you going to tell me how you know all this?” he asked, with as much kindness as he could muster.
“Nope,” I said, immensely enjoying the power I now had over him.
“Did you used to have a dog named Buster?” I inquired the next day. He just glared at me and kept walking.
“Did you attend Ingraham High School?”
“Is you brother’s name Leo?”
“Did you used to drive a beat up green Cadillac?”
For days, I tortured him for my own pleasure, watching him falter at the hands of an insignificant ten year old. I would’ve felt guilty if he hadn’t pestered me for something I had every right to do. Yet, I had no mercy for him, and instead loved watching him suffer from his curiosity day after day.
One day, he called me into his portable. It was cold and empty. I figured his class was at lunch. He led me straight to his desk and shoved a Polaroid under my nose, a faded picture of a family standing outside of their house. I did not recognize the people in the photograph.
“Is your mother’s name Debbie? Are your grandparents the Winchells?” he asked harshly, pointing at a young woman in the photo.
“Yes, you caught me,” I replied glumly.
“Is she really?” he asked, evidently suspicious of the fact that I had succumbed without a struggle.
“Yes, she is,” I said, my tone of voice slightly sarcastic and completely unconvincing.
“Okay, then. You may go.”
I told my mother of the day’s events as soon as I returned home from school. She laughed heartily. She was extremely amused that he had gone through the trouble of finding a photo of the Winchells (who actually happened to be my grandparent’s other neighbors) and his hunch wasn’t even correct.
It turned out that Mr. Hashimoto didn’t believe me, as I knew he hadn’t. My own teacher intervened at his request. She pulled me into the hall during class one day.
“What’s your mom’s name?”
“What’s her maiden name?”
“Thank you, you may take a seat.”
She told Mr. Hashimoto what I had revealed, and to my disappointment, his curiosity was finally satiated. Although my little game ended, this story remains a favorite of my family, retold countless times at many family reunions. Mr. Hashimoto doesn’t know it, but he is still the butt of many jokes to this day.