Freedom Lane: Zchool Days
Paulie folded his paper and put it under the counter of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street in New Haven. It was a slow day, but it usually was on a Tuesday in the early afternoon. The monotony of the day was broken when Paulie’s nephew, Da’Quarius wandered in.
“‘Sup, unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “Wha’chu doin?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Paulie said. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius shrugged. “Probably.”
“Probably?” Paulie asked. “You’re not in school?”
“Rose an’ Helen never signed me up, I guess,” Da’Quarius said. “You don’t hear me complainin’, do you?”
“This ain’t good, kid,” Paulie said. “You need an education if you want to follow in my footsteps one day.”
“Dat’s cool,” Da’Quarius said. “You went to high-school an’ college an’ all dat?”
“Doesn’t matter what I did,” Paulie said. “You’re only twelve, and you’re going to school!”
“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “Lead da’ way den, professor.”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Episode 4: Zchool Days
Rose put the phone back on the wall. “That’s the last one,” she said to Helen, who was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea and having a few Saltines. Rose spent most of the day in the house on Freedom Lane calling schools for their recently adopted son Da’Quarius.
“Did any of those school want to take that little shit?” Helen asked, crumbs spilling from her wrinkled lips.
“They’ll take him,” Rose sighed. “The public schools don’t have a choice. They have to.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Helen, breaking another Saltine in half. “Just ship him off so we can have some peace and quiet during the day!”
“I don’t know if public schools are right for Da’Quarius,” Rose said. “He’d do much better in a private school.”
“Public schools are fine,” Helen said. “Paulie and I both went through public schools and we ended up just fine.”
“Did either of you finish high-school, though?” Rose asked.
“Doesn’t matter what I did,” Helen replied. “Public school is free, and free is for me.” She cackled and even more crumbs spilled to the table.
Rose sighed. She didn’t want to bring up that Haven Hill School had an opening and were more than willing to take Da’Quarius, even this late in the school year. She had an appointment the following morning to meet with the principal and tour the school. Rose decided to keep this to herself just now.
“Why ain’t Helen comin’?” Da’Quarius asked as Rose slowly drove them to their appointment at Haven Hill School.
“You know Helen,” Rose replied, slowing down for a woman and her dog crossing the road four blocks away. “She would rather rest than be out and about all day. It’s just you and me, kiddo.”
The pair made it to Haven Hill, just in time to be late for their appointment. They were met at the door by the principal, who gave them a tour of the entire school.
“So what do you think?” Principal Johnston asked when the tour was over. “Do you think Haven Hill is the place for young Da’Quarius?”
“You sure you let blacks in here?” Da’Quarius asked. “The only one I saw was the janitor.”
“Don’t worry,” Principal Johnston said with a warm smile. “We accept children of all race and creeds.”
“I’m very excited,” Rose said. “I used to go here as well. Da’Quarius will be in attendance on Monday morning.”
“Excellent,” Principal Johnston said. “All we have to talk about is the tuition and uniform.”
“What do you mean you signed him up for Haven Hill?!” Helen shouted. “Tuition and uniforms? Do you have any idea how much that’s going to cost us?”
“I know exactly how much,” Rose said. “Da’Quarius’s education is what’s most important here, not our coin purse.”
“He’d get a fine education in public school!” Helen said. “We’re on a fixed income! We haven’t even gone to see a movie after they found out I was sneaking in the back door! Besides, he won’t make it the whole week.”
“Sure he will,” Rose said. “He’s much smarter than you give him credit for.”
“I tell you what,” Helen said. “If he can make it the whole week without getting expelled or arrested, he can stay. Otherwise, it’s public school or Juvi Hall. Personally, I’d prefer Juvi.”
Rose sighed deeply. “Deal,” she said.
“Five days,” Helen said. “He has until Friday.”
Da’Quarius entered the intimidating large front doors of Haven Hill school after Rose made him ten minutes late on his first day after refusing to pass a bicyclist in the right lane. He ran down the hall to the sixth graders’ homeroom. He was stopped outside by principal Johnston.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Principal Johnston said with his arms crossed.
“You need to search me for drugs an’ guns?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Should I?” Principal Johnston asked in return.
“I would,” Da’Quarius replied, trying to stare Johnston down.
“We need to give you a placement test,” Johnston said. “All new students have to take it. It’s so we know which class suits you best.”
“Just toss me in da’ dumb kids’ room with all da’ other hidden niggas,” Da’Quarius said, following Principal Johnston. “Ain’t dis what dis all about?”
“You’ll find there are no secret dungeons for any students of color,” Principal Johnston said. “If we did, it’d be just for the Muslim kids. I’d also like you to refrain from using such language while in my school. You’ll find yourself in detention if you use that n-word one more time, Da’Quarius.”
Principal Johnston led Da’Quarius to the library doors where he’d be tested. “Off you go,” he said. “Good luck on your test!”
“Da’Quarius Lobsterclaw Sherman,” Todd Segrins said. He was a student in Da’Quarius’s homeroom. “I’m shocked they haven’t installed metal detectors seeing as you’ve been here two whole days.”
“Metal detectors won’t stop me, mo’ fucka,” Da’Quarius said. “Little niggas learn kung fu in da hood. You wanna try me?”
Todd laughed. “Sounds like they teach you to talk big in the hood,” he said. “That’s for damn sure. You’ll find that big talk won’t get you very far here. You can fake being one of us all you want, but you don’t fit in here, Da’Quarius. You might as well leave.”
“I ain’t goin’ anywhere, cracka,” Da’Quarius said. “You best get used to seein’ dis smilin’, black face sitting in yo’ classroom, you little bitch.”
“It’s only a matter of time, Lobsterclaw,” Todd said. “You’ll see. You all do.”
Later that night, Da’Quarius went home to unwind after an annoying day at school. He sat down hard on the couch next to Helen. Helen said nothing until the commercial of her Soap Opera began.
“Something bothering you, kid?” Helen asked.
“Nuttin’,” Da’Quarius replied.
“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Helen said. “You can talk to me.”
“It’s dis kid at school,” Da’Quarius said, wishing he were talking to Rose and not Helen. “He tellin’ me to quit school cuz I don’t fit in.”
“You listen to me, Da’Quarius,” Helen said with a finger up. “You don’t take any shit from that little squirt. It’s prison rules, Da’Quarius. Take out the big dog, and the bitches will follow suit.”
“Thanks, Helen,” Da’Quarius said.
“You’re welcome,” Helen said. “Now get lost. My stories are back on.”
Da’Quarius ran off to his room to do his homework and decide how to best deal with Todd.
“You two alright?” Rose said coming in from the kitchen. “Da’Quarius ran off to his room awfully fast.”
“Everything is fine,” Helen said, smiling in the glow of the TV. “Just Fine.”
“I’m glad you could meet me on such short notice,” Principal Johnston told Rose.
“Is everything with Da’Quarius alright?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” Principal Johnston said. “I’ll start with the good news. Da’Quarius scored extremly high on his aptitude test. I want to put him into our honors program.”
“That’s great!” Rose said.
“Yes,” Principal Johnston said. “Which brings me around to the bad news. It seems Da’Quarius isn’t doing well in his classes. The tests show that he’s very bright, but in class he’s doing very poorly. His teachers have reported to me that he’s very rude to the other students. A few parents have called me to tell me that Da’Quarius had said some things that frankly worry them about him being in this school. Some have threatened to call Homeland Security. I know he’s only saying these things because he feels like a fish out of water here, but we still can’t have him telling the other’s about gangs, guns, and drugs every time he feels cornered.”
“Oh dear,” Rose said. “I’ll have a talk with him when we get home. I’m sure he can be persuaded to cool his jets a bit.”
“I hope so,” Principal Johnston said getting up to open the door for Rose. “I would hate if Da’Quarius would have to leave us before he can get situated.”
“Thank you so much,” Rose said, standing.
“One last thing,” Principal Johnston said. “I’d hate to bring this up with everything else, but your check for tuition bounced.”
Da’Quarius was eating lunch when a group of kids led by Todd came to his table. He was hoping to eat alone and get back to class without incident. He had a long talk with Rose the night before about what he does and says in the school. As much as he knew Helen was right about being the big dog, he didn’t want to upset Rose.
“Can those old ladies see what they pack you for lunch, or did they mix your lunch up with the cat’s?” Todd said as his friends around him laughed.
“Dis tuna fish,” Da’Quarius said continuing to eat.
“I’m sorry,” Todd said. “It smells like Fancy Feast from here.”
“Fancy Feast?” Da’Quarius asked. “Ain’t dat what dey call yo mamma when she on the street corner?”
Todd’s friends started ooing around him, and the smile left his face. “You better watch what you say around me,” he said. “Mr. Kitchner says you’re only here because you’re a story in the school newsletter: the black kid raised by two old lesbians.”
“Mr. Kitchner a bitch,” Da’Quarius said, “an’ if you say one more thing ’bout Rose and Helen, umma make you a bitch too.”
“I’m shaking,” Todd said. “Why should I be scared of some hood rat raised by two wrinkly, old rug munchers?”
Da’Quarius lost it. He had a flash of what Helen told him about not taking shit, and he lunged at Todd. Todd went right to the ground where Da’Quarius proceeded to punch him, over and over again. Todd’s friends were too scared to do anything. They just backed away.
One of the lunch monitors grabbed Da’Quarius from the back and pulled him off of Todd.
“YOU DON’T SAY SHIT ‘BOUT ROSE AN’ HELEN!” Da’Quarius shouted. “NONE OF YOU MO FUCKAS! YOU TALK SHIT AGAIN, AND I’LL HAVE DA’ TEN OF CLUBS ALL OVA DIS MO’ FUCKIN SCHOOL!”
Rose brought Da’Quarius’s lunch in his room. He was being grounded for fighting in school the day before. “Well, we better call Paulie and tell him that Da’Qaurius won’t be at the pizzeria this weekend,” Rose said.
“I knew something like this would happen,” Helen said. “Make the little mulignon feel like he’s in prison, and he’ll start acting like it.”
“Don’t call him that!” Rose snapped. “And don’t say things like that about him. Despite how he talks, he’s a good kid. The principal was telling me the other day about his potential.”
“I meant it as a term of endearment,” Helen said. “He didn’t make it the full week anyway. He’ll be expelled.”
“He’s not expelled,” Rose said. “Not yet. The principal knew he was provoked, and he’s willing to give him one more chance, as long he drops this whole prison rules philosophy that he picked up somewhere. For what it’s worth, you were right. I hope that makes you happy.”
“It doesn’t,” Helen said looking at Rose’s face.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Rose said. “You were right about the money too. We can’t afford this school.”
“Come here, dear,” Helen said. “Come sit with me and we can talk about it.”
“No,” Rose said. “I’m heading out for a bit. Maybe I can get a job at Star-Mart, greeting customers. I’ll be able to pay for Da’Quarius’s education if I don’t get stabbed to death by a shoplifter.”
Rose grabbed her purse and walked toward the front door. “Just so you know,” she said as she opened the door. “Da’Quarius got in the fight after the kid insulted us.” She left the house slamming the door behind her.
Seconds after Rose left the house, Paulie entered.
“Whoa,” Paulie said. “What’s with Rose? You guys have a fight or something?”
“Stay the hell out of it,” Helen said turning on the TV.
“You know I can’t,” Paulie said, turning off the TV. “I can’t sit back and watch my big sis fighting with her wife and not try and stick my nose in it. You guys never fight. Tell me what’s going on!”
“It’s Da’Quarius,” Helen said with a long sigh. “He nearly got expelled for beating the shit out some snotty little fuck that deserved it.”
“I don’t see the problem,” Paulie said.
“Me neither,” Helen sighed, “but that sissy principal does. It doesn’t matter one way or another. We can’t afford that school anyway. Me and you got along fine without graduating high-school. Why can’t Da’Quarius?”
“Slow down,” Paulie said. “You guys are low on money? Did you burn through everything that pop left you?”
Helen stared at Paulie and said nothing.
“I get it,” Paulie said. “Forty years after the old man croaks, and you still can’t talk about why he didn’t leave me a dime. Pops is still insisting on screwing me, long after he’s gone. What a piece of work!”
“Drop it,” Helen said.
“Alright, sis,” Paulie said. “But I want Da’Quarius to get a decent education. If he’s going to be running Paulie’s Pizza after I’m gone, then I want to make sure he got the melon to do it.”
“We’ll send him to public schools,” Helen said.
“The hell you will!” Paulie said. “Da’Quarius is a good kid, but public school ain’t the place for him. I hear what my customers say about the New Haven schools. They’ll pass anyone regardless of they’re work, and Da’Quarius would pick right up on that and coast. I want that little mulignon to be challenged.”
“Rose said we aren’t supposed to call him that,” Helen said.
“Mulignon?” Paulie said. “It’s a term of endearment!”
“We don’t have the money for that prissy-ass school,” Helen said. “End of story.”
“You got rocks for brains?” Paulie asked. “I’m telling you that I’ll pay for it.”
“We can’t ask you to -”
“You’re not asking,” Paulie said. “I’m offering from the kindness of my heart. Don’t tell him I said so, but I care about that kid too. He’s got potential, Helen. You guys worry about teaching him good manners and shit, and I’ll foot the school bills.”
Helen sighed. “Fine,” she said. “I know there’s no stopping you once you have an idea. If you want to pay for it, then you can pat for it. I just need one more favor.”
“Anything,” Paulie said.
“Go after Rose and stop her before she gets a job at Star-Mart,” Helen replied.
8 Days Later:
“How was school?” Paulie asked Da’Quarius as he entered Paulie’s Pizzaria for his Saturday shift.
“Good,” Da’Quarius said. “Rose is happy dat I’m fitting in and not causin’ trouble. Helen was right. Ever since I beat da’ shit out of dat little bitch, Todd, nobody is botherin’ me. Prison rules.”
“That’s good,” Paulie said with a big smile. “That old bird knows what she’s talking about sometimes. Just make sure you do it where you can’t be seen next time.”
“Oh yeah,” Da’Quarius said.
“Can I ask you something, kid?” Paulie asked. “If I called you a mulignon, like as a term of endearment, would you be offended?”
“Depends,” Da’Quarius said. “Would you be offended if I called you a greasy-headed ginny fuck, like as a term of endearment an’ shit?”
“Point taken,” Paulie said, nodding. “Come on, kid. Clean up the bathroom, then I’ll show you how to toss the dough.”