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Excerpt for THEMES by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Themes


By



Jay Dubya



Other Books by Jay Dubya


Adult Fiction


Black Leather and Blue Denim, A ‘50s Novel

The Great Teen Fruit War, A 1960’ Novel

Frat’ Brats, A ‘60s Novel

Ron Coyote, Man of La Mangia

Pieces of Eight

Pieces of Eight, Part II

Pieces of Eight, Part III

Pieces of Eight, Part IV

The Wholly Book of Genesis

The Wholly Book of Exodus

The Wholly Book of Doo-Doo-Rot-on-Me

Thirteen Sick Tasteless Classics

Thirteen Sick Tasteless Classics, Part II

Thirteen Sick Tasteless Classics, Part III

Thirteen Sick Tasteless Classics, Part IV

Thirteen Sick Tasteless Classics, Part V

So Ya’ Wanna’ Be A Teacher

Mauled Maimed Mangled Mutilated Mythology

Fractured Frazzled Folk Fables and Fairy Farces

FFFF&FF, Part II

Nine New Novellas

Nine New Novellas, Part II

Nine New Novellas, Part III

Nine New Novellas, Part IV

One Baker's Dozen

Two Baker’s Dozen

Shakespeare: Slammed, Smeared, Savaged & Slaughtered

Shakespeare: S, S, S and S, Part II

O. Henry: Obscenely and Outrageously Obliterated

Twain: Tattered Trounced Tortured and Traumatized

London: Lashed Lacerated Lampooned and Lambasted

Poe: Pelted Pounded Pummeled and Pulverized

Hawthorne: Hazed Hooked Hammered & Hijacked

Hawthorne Hacked, Shakespeare Sacked & Thurber Thwacked

Suite 16

Time Travel Tales

Snake Eyes and Boxcars

Snake Eyes and Boxcars, Part II

UFO: Utterly Fantastic Occurrences

PLOTS

The Psychic Dimension

The Psychic Dimension, Part II

Modern Mythology,

First Person Stories


Young Adult Fantasy Novels


Pot of Gold

Enchanta

Space Bugs, Earth Invasion

The Eighteen Story Gingerbread House


Description


Themes is a collection of fifty-two short manuscripts: nineteen of which are articles and stories along with thirty-three of which are essays that reflect the author’s personality and philosophy. Articles range from biographical sketches to the author’s humorous adventures and the manuscript section is dedicated to the writer’s observations about matters running the modern social spectrum from the Iraq War to inherent problems associated with American democracy. Some of the articles in this work originally appeared in the Hammonton (New Jersey) Gazette and the Hammonton News.


Theories

History

Experiences

Manuscripts

Education

Subjects


Part I: 19 Articles and Manuscripts



“A Tale of Two Counties”


I have always lived on the cusp and have immensely enjoyed doing so. I don’t exactly mean that I was born between two astrological zodiac signs. I mean I live on the edge, and this pattern of behavior makes others (especially educational bureaucrats who fear on-a-mission teachers) “edgy” because of my proclivity for adventure and because of my inclination for challenging arbitrary executive decisions.

In my short history on this planet I have always exploited the maverick and the iconoclast role to the hilt. I generally root for the underdog and hope that he or she wins big over the favorite. I instinctively despise bureaucracy and prefer to pursue simplicity in all my mundane endeavors. As a rule I like unusual things and topics, and I certainly am not a blustery politician or an impractical businessman. I don’t have to “kiss-up” to anybody and I’d definitely prefer kicking someone’s butt rather than smooching it. As Popeye would often say and maintain, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.”

Being a true-blooded “cusper” does have its attendant rewards. My teacher pension is secure after completing thirty-four years of dedicated public-school service. This new-found independence I cherish affords me unique privileges. I can write controversial Hammonton Gazette opinion columns and get local residents all riled up, I can author R-rated adult novels with relative impunity, and I have the opportunity and the luxury of sharing my self-gratifying singularity with separate newspaper and book readerships. I don’t have to worry about losing my job because I have no job to lose, and I relish every moment of it. That’s why both acquaintances and enemies regard me as a dangerous person. I just don’t care what others think when I obey my moral compass.

I not only figuratively live on the cusp. I actually literally reside on the cusp, too. My house physically exists in two New Jersey counties. I like it that way. It adds variety to my life. My geographic status is consistent with my personality characteristics and with my life. This is how the entire two-county phenomenon spontaneously developed.

My wife and I had gotten tired of living in five-room apartments. First, we lived in Hammonton Arms on Valley Avenue when that project was new back in the late ‘60s, and then we lived several years in Della Court Apartments on Park Avenue just off Egg Harbor Road. It was time to get serious as parents and have our house built, but my wife Joanne and I wanted our children to attend Hammonton Public Schools in Atlantic County (New Jersey) because we both taught there. We were in sort of a quandary about how to solve our minor dilemma but thanks to a stroke of good luck, we did.

Chris Rehmann, the Hammonton town engineer, performed a comprehensive survey of my father-in-law’s (Joe Battaglia) farm property and discovered that Joe owned a hundred feet of land in Atlantic County that he never knew about. Joanne and I appeared before a local planning board and acquired fifty-foot frontage of additional land in Winslow Township by having one of my father-in-law’s Camden County land parcels subdivided. Then we had our creative subdivisions approved in both Atlantic and Camden Counties to form a standard-size building lot and the tax assessors agreed that the Town of Hammonton would tax the home and the additional fifty-foot stretch of land would subsequently be taxed by Winslow Township.

The green “Now Entering Town of Hammonton” highway’ sign on the White Horse Pike is not the true Atlantic/Camden County-Line. An observer must perceptively look at my house situated across the street from the boundary-line highway designation. The middle of my porch is the real county division, so when I pensively pace around inside my side screen porch, I inadvertently keep moving from county to county as I become thoroughly geographically disoriented.

Whenever a traffic accident happens on Route 30 (which is referred to by locals as “the Pike”), I automatically dial 911 not thinking that someone might have hit a pole in Winslow Township, Camden County. My 911 street’ address is hooked-up with Hammonton in Atlantic County, and I must commend the Hammonton Police Department because the officers will professionally and promptly respond to the emergency in Winslow Township, direct the four-lane highway traffic and attend to the accident victims until the Winslow Township Police arrive to take over those responsibilities.

Late last summer I was about to trim a large yew bush on the Hammonton side of my U-shaped asphalt driveway. I thought I had observed a big white bag stuck inside the yew shrub so I reached inside to grab and remove the object. I soon frightfully discovered that the circular white bag was a honest-to-goodness hornets’ nest. Several nasty warrior wasps flew out of their well-constructed domicile and persistently buzzed around my head. I scampered rather frantically one hundred feet to the safety of my home’s laundry room, wildly slamming the entrance door to my garage behind me. I soon realized that I had received a painful arm sting from one of the angry neurotic insects. My mind was naturally contemplating revenge.

After conscientiously applying a generous application of rubbing alcohol to my left shoulder I decided to wage battle against the ornery and undesirable wasp colony. I hopped into my Buick LeSabre, made sure that the power windows were up and then slowly drove the vehicle out of my garage, turned it around and next methodically progressed forward toward the White Horse Pike. I gently rammed the yew bush with my car’s left front fender, intentionally and gleefully disturbing the seemingly tranquil hornet’ colony.

I delighted watching agitated wasps swarm in a disorganized frenzy around my LeSabre’s windshield. I felt protected and insulated from imminent danger. Feeling entirely safe, I cheerfully laughed at the insects’ futility and at their general confusion and incompetence. I deliberately crashed into the wasp-hive nine consecutive times while I amply savored the annoyance I had initiated and the frenetic insect activity that enveloped my automobile. I was administering to the buzzing and incensed nervous critters a well-deserved intrusion. In my illustrious perception of ongoing events I knew that superior human intellect was successfully transcending primitive bug instinct. I was indeed the supreme master of my environment.

Finally I determined that I had executed on the agitated wasps sufficient retribution for my still throbbing shoulder sting. I skillfully backed-up my’ reliable auto’ to the front section of my driveway. When I confidently halted my reverse movement I quickly perceived that a hostile guard’ wasp had somehow managed to wriggle its way inside the car. My cocky nonchalance suddenly converted into unbridled panic. My general conceited suaveness soon changed into an exasperating “fight or flight” mode. I discreetly chose “flight” as the more intelligent and discreet alternative. I had underestimated my all-too-determined instinct-guided opponent.

My body instantly exited my metallic blue Buick in a hurry and then I swiftly sprinted westward to avoid the disturbed insect’s mounting wrath. All the while the furious wasp buzzed around my head, madder than a hornet. ‘That angry hornet has a bee in its bonnet!’ I remember thinking as I scurried onward. ‘I need sanctuary quick!’

I dashed toward my mother-in-law’s White Horse Farm Market with every iota of energy my legs could muster and anxiously scurried down the dirt road a full six hundred feet until the nasty territorial hornet abandoned its pursuit. I logically stopped my escape enterprise, extremely exhausted and completely out-of-breath from the arduous episode. Then I realized something rather significant. ‘I’m really very lucky,’ I rationally thought, ‘because that hostile berserk out-of-control hornet was so angry that he had chased me clear into another county.’

Identity Crisis Brewing in Author’s Mind”


Yesterday morning I was peering into the bathroom mirror and as usual, my accurate reflection was predictably staring back at me. That simple everyday 7 a.m. act gave me adequate time to reflect. “I’m much better off than you are,” I chuckled to my always loyal mirror image, “because I’m three dimensional and you’re just a flat 2-D surface impression of the real me,” I emphatically said as my eyes noticed my lackluster likeness’s mouth stating the exact same inane jargon back to my unshaven face. I didn’t realize it at the time but that bathroom situation was actually the start of a very vexing identity crisis.

I carefully stepped downstairs (for I had once fallen and double-sprained my left ankle), sauntered through the kitchen and den and then entered my two-story colonial home’s laundry room. “Where are you going?” my wife inquired. ‘You seem like a determined stubborn swallow looking for Capistrano.”

“Over to my mom’s place for breakfast,” I half-guiltily replied as my mind contemplated my objective. “I’ll stop at Dunkin Donuts and get something palatable to bring along with me. Maybe I’ll buy a half-dozen double chocolates.”

“Don’t stop at that doughnut place,” my spouse commanded in almost a military tone of voice. “You’re getting too fat and old looking. You’re a prime candidate for either diabetes or a cardiac arrest. And watch out for the black ice!” Joanne authoritatively commented. “February driving in South Jersey can be very hazardous!”

“I’ll see ya’ later,” I defiantly answered my interrogator as I entered the laundry room door leading to the garage. I forcefully pressed the garage wall button in disgust and the electronic door opened. I was glad to escape my wife’s criticism. My trusty car would be my perfect getaway vehicle from what I un-affectionately considered ‘matriarchal tyranny.’ I suddenly identified with why Rip Van Winkle habitually went squirrel hunting up in the Catskill Mountains.

I carefully pulled out of my U-shaped asphalt driveway onto the White Horse Pike and soon my characteristic rebellious nature rose from my subconscious. “I can’t wait to buy those half-dozen high-calorie doughnuts,” I said to my 2-D image in the flat rearview mirror. ‘Instead of double-chocolate I might even buy the Boston cream kind without the holes in the center so that I get more delicious doughnut to munch on,’ I thought and laughed while thoroughly enjoying my general naughtiness. ‘Or maybe I’ll purchase three and three.’

I flicked on my car stereo and heard The British rock group The Who singing and playing the catchy tune “Who Are You? Who-who, who-who!” The familiar music reminded me of my 2-D bathroom mirror reflection so I hurriedly switched stations, even though The Who are of “My Generation” and quite personally I really like most of the songs of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.

I then realized something rather significant as I stopped for the traffic signal at the Route 30 and Route 206 intersection. That particular musical activity I was listening to was the continuation of a once more subtle identity crisis, which had originated a month before when I had spilled some Coor’s Light onto my new shirt at a restaurant and my wife proceeded to criticize my ineptness (in her classic soprano voice) in the car on the way home, “You smell like a brewery! Take that shirt off when we get home so I can throw it into the washing machine and get rid of that ugly stain. You really know how to increase my daily workload! And be careful of the 206 intersection!”

My Walter Mitty mind exited its unpleasant recollection and I gingerly switched the radio station from Philadelphia’s Oldies’ WOGL-FM playing the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” back to Trenton’s WNJO’s spinning of the equally rhythmic “Who Are You?” Then my in-progress reality check hit me like a crumbling concrete wall. “You smell like a brewery!”

My family name originally was Wiesnieski. But then the three-syllable Polish name was Germanized around 1900 into Wiessner. That transition (according to omniscient family historians) was done because during the turn of the twentieth century Germans were generally regarded as highly skilled workers and thus commanded higher paying salaries in Baltimore, Maryland than the newly arrived Polish immigrants did.

On the last leg of the drive to the local franchised doughnut outlet I recalled that my father’s oldest sister Aunt Marie Mayor once told me that a prominent business had existed on Gay Street in downtown Baltimore appropriately named the John F. Wiessner Brewery. I remembered Aunt Marie showing me in her club basement several empty brown-bottle souvenirs that were officially labeled “The John F. Wiessner Brewery.” ‘I WAS named after a brewery,’ I recollected with enlightenment as I approached Dunkin Donuts, ‘and the strange irony is that my wife had just incidentally said I smelled like one!’

At that moment I needed to rationalize my most recent comprehension in a hurry. Remarkably there were only two cars ahead of me in the doughnut establishment’s quick service lane. My frail ego had to defend its latest fracture and convince my mind that the coincidence was some type of weird anomaly.

“Ha ha!” I chuckled to my image in the rearview mirror while recollecting my wife’s Saturday morning prattling about how especially dangerous it was devouring high-fat-content snacks. ‘When I type in John Wiessner on Google or on Yahoo Internet search engines, my name usually comes up listed before and ahead of the famous John F. Wiessner Brewery. At last I’m more notorious than the brewery I had been named after. I have a higher Internet ranking than that defunct out-of-business brewery does!’ I proudly concluded. ‘Aunt Marie Mayor would definitely be proud of my accomplishment!’

It doesn’t matter if my last name is spelled Wiessner or Weissner (my real last name follows the utilitarian spelling rule I had memorized in third grade, I before E except after C). My last name is sometimes misspelled Weissner because one of my credit cards spells it that way and when I had originally purchased my first computer, I had used that particular credit card. So, because of an accidental clerical error at the credit card company, my three e-mail addresses are also misspelled Weissner and consequently my last name appears on the Internet with two different spellings.

Despite the remembrance of that annoying difficulty my often-maligned family name (either Wiessner or Weissner) still commands more respect and patronage on Google and on Yahoo than does the brick and mortar John Frederick Wiessner Brewery that (according to Aunt Marie) my father and I had been named after. My Saturday morning existence was finally enjoying a moment of triumph.

“Did you know that I’m finally out of the shadow of the John F. Wiessner Brewery in Baltimore?” I told the suddenly startled and bewildered doughnut employee at the carry-out-window. The encumbered in-a-rush woman gave me a very peculiar look as she robotically handed me my white bag and my change through the opened drive-up window. The befuddled lady didn’t even give me the courtesy of a perfunctory “Thank you!”

As I slowly drove to my mother’s Marlyn Avenue residence an additional thought hit me like a ton of bricks and mortar. My author pseudonym Jay Dubya when typed on Google or Yahoo commanded much more respect than John Wiessner, John Weissner and the John F. Wiessner Brewery does all added together, but the really perplexing dilemma my brain was struggling with was this. ‘I now have more identity as a “pen name” than I do as a real person, or as a real person named after an eighteenth-century brewery.’ I reckoned. That grim realization only added misery to my already depressing identity quandary. ‘The appellation Jay Dubya does not appear on my birth certificate!’ I concluded.

As I steered my metallic blue Buick LeSabre from Bellevue Avenue onto Marlyn other bothersome-but-relevant ideas haunted my vulnerable psyche. My former high school (Bishop Egan) on the Levittown (Pennsylvania) Parkway has recently been demolished and no longer exists at its former location. The high school has merged and is now Conwell-Egan High in Fairless Hills, Pa. I had graduated in 1960 from Edgewood Regional High School but that institution is now called Winslow Township High School. In 1965 John Wiessner had graduated from Glassboro State Teachers College, which now possesses the designation Rowan University. Ironically much of my past both in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey has been erased.

I sat in my warm car in my mother’s driveway and seriously evaluated the total puzzle. ‘Nothing is easy in this world!’ I decided. ‘Sometimes I believe I should be living on a more favorable planet that accommodates dreamers.’ Then my imagination adroitly put all of the pieces together.

I had been named after my father who had been named after a brewery once located on Gay Street in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. ‘That’s an undeniable fact!’ my mind assessed. ‘My pen name is more famous than my real name, which has two distinct Internet spellings. One of my high schools no longer physically or functionally exists and my other high school and my former college both have acquired different names,’ I reminded myself. ‘A good deal of my memorable past has been almost systematically eradicated from history.’ I flicked the ignition into the “Off” position and grabbed my small bag of doughnuts.

Now you fully know and can amply appreciate precisely what has been “aleing” me and I hereby humbly solicit your sympathy. An identity crisis had been brewing deep inside my mind, inside my heart and inside my restive soul. I recklessly exited my Buick automobile and slipped and fell on the black ice that covered my mother’s driveway.

“Oh well,” I mumbled to my somewhat defeated spirit as I rose from the hard, cold driveway to my feet and gingerly reached for my white Dunkin Donuts’ bag, “I’m still going to enjoy my delectable chocolate-covered Boston cream doughnuts and a few double-chocolate treats to boot regardless of who I might happen to be! Maybe I should have listened to my wife about icy February obstacles! Gee, I can already smell the aroma of Mom’s coffee brewing from inside her home!”




Local Legend Transcends Technology”


Jack Donio is not only Hammonton’s Fire Chief for fifteen years but also the good-hearted citizen is a local living legend and a favorite hero of area mythology. Move over Jersey Devil. If big Jack Donio happened to be an American Indian, he would more-than-likely carry the name Chief Big-Heart. His widespread reputation is not only because of his extraordinary volunteer service to his town. You’ll soon know why.

All kinds of fascinating tales abound about “Big Jack.” For some inexplicable reason I always want to believe these incredible stories, no matter how exaggerated their redundancy may sound. Having a literature background, this former English teacher enjoys myths and relishes their perpetuation.

One popular tale has Jack Donio on his former Winslow farm surrounded by fifty silent and obedient migrant workers. Without making any announcement in either Spanish or English Jack holds two huge sledgehammers perpendicular to the ground. Standing erect, the mammoth man casually twists his wrists upward and the dual sledgehammers instantly rise to waist level right before his very amazed and spellbound audience. Then Big Jack Donio casually drops the dual heavy objects to the ground and departs the barn area in a nonchalant gait as the impressed and astounded farm employees chatter amongst themselves.

A garrulous farmer (of some credibility) had once told me that he had witnessed Big Jack pull into Folsom's C&E Cannery with an enormous load of Jersey tomatoes stacked in “five-eights’ bushel baskets.” The tailgate load was so large that when Big Jack stepped down from the cab, the truck’s front tires immediately rose two inches above the asphalt. I don’t care if it sounds too sensational and exaggerated to believe. The story propagates and verifies the behemoth’s remarkable legend, which quite incidentally I too am guilty of perpetuating.

I could mentally picture Big Jack arm wrestling King Kong Bundy for hours over whose head was balder, and the intense contest would naturally end in a draw because the smoky bar they were in had to finally close down for the night. That’s the kind of bizarre stuff my fertile mind imagines whenever I meet and converse with Big Jack Donio.

One particular Saturday night in late July of 2001 my wife Joanne and I and friends Mac and Denise Fascetta drove eight miles from Hammonton out to Sweetwater Casino for dinner. After enjoying a terrific meal and some interesting conversation while seated at a table overlooking the historic Mullica River, the four of us had to exit the South Jersey establishment through an adjoining dining room. My perceptive eyes immediately observed stocky brothers Jack and Joe Donio seated at a table having dinner with wives Eugenia and Roseann.

“Uncle John,” Joe enthusiastically greeted me in his familiar affable tone of voice, “how the heck are ya’ doin’?”

“Great Uncle Joe,” I returned, implementing our typically predictable salutation. “It’s great to see two local farmers out feasting and enjoying themselves during the height of the summer harvest season.”

“Sir,” Jack said as he nearly disintegrated my right head in a firm handshake, “it’s always an honor and a privilege to see you,” the likeable giant stated rising from his seat while all four of our wives chuckled.
I was extremely flattered because the local legend Fire Chief regarded former English teacher John Wiessner as an important member of his community. Overcome by curiosity and desiring to learn some gossip, I inquired about the validity of one of his many adventures.

“Jack,” I deviously began, “is the fantastic story true that you used to take two heavy sledgehammers on your Winslow farm and...”

“Forget about that trivia,” the awesome hero politely interrupted with noteworthy authority. “That’s history if ya’ know what I mean. Here’s a new story.”

Big Jack told me that on one recent occasion he had been summoned to a massive local fire. The Chief felt sick, weak and dizzy after arriving at the scene of conflagration. Upon exiting his vehicle and stepping towards the blazing warehouse, Big Jack nearly collapsed to the ground. The Hammonton Rescue Squad arrived and immediately transported the afflicted Fire Chief to Kessler Memorial Hospital. Everyone present during the emergency suspected that Big Jack Donio had suffered a heart attack.

“Wow!” I loudly exclaimed inside the handsomely decorated Sweetwater dining room. “Obviously you’ve survived your ordeal. What happened next?”

Big Jack took a deep breath to effectively heighten my suspense and then he dramatically explained that the hospital doctors told him his heart had lost its rhythm. It was fluttering and beating irregularly and had to be stabilized. ‘The rhythm must have sounded like a really bad rap song,’ I thought but dared not comment.

“The doctors in the Emergency Room said that three things could happen to me,” Big Jack nonchalantly emphasized. “And I’ll always remember them.”

“What were they?” I curiously asked. “I’m always interested in learning new information.”

“Nothing would happen, I could live, or I could die,” Donio tersely replied quite matter-of-factly. “They then said they had to use a ....”

“A defibrillator?” I interrupted as I inserted a direct object into his declarative sentence. “The medical device you’re referring to is called a defibrillator.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Big Jack concurred with my accurate nomenclature, “they wanted to give me a powerful electric shock to get my heart workin’ right again.”

Big Jack next informed me that the concerned doctors then professionally administered several hard electric jolts to his immense sternum. Donio’s huge barrel-shaped-chest did not respond to the potent stimulation and his body did not react by heaving up from the hospital table like viewers always see on TV hospital shows. “I stayed in the hospital for a full week but my damned heart never regained its proper rhythm,” Big Jack stated in a feigned melancholy tone of voice.

“Well, how did you ever get it beating back to normal?” I inquisitively wanted to know as I glanced down at the gigantic steak that looked like half a cow lying in the center of Big Jack’s dish.

“I went back to work as a wintertime highway supervisor. I was at a construction scene,” Big Jack proceeded to elaborate, “so bein’ bored I grabbed a jackhammer from a guy and started riveting concrete non-stop for six hours. Then I went back to the doctors at the hospital for a scheduled checkup, and they were astonished and said that my heart problem had miraculously been cured.”

As I drove from the rustic Sweetwater Casino Restaurant back to Hammonton I thought about Jack’s new tale and about my fantasy of him arm-wrestling King Kong Bundy for hours in that splendid imaginary smoky barroom. I then thought about the lyrics to a Jim Croce song.

“He’s badder than old King Kong, meaner than a junkyard dog.” Then while driving south past several expansive blueberry plantations I chuckled at my mind’s fantasy. The pro’ wrestler King Kong Bundy’s family owned a South Jersey junkyard and they probably have several vicious mongrel dogs diligently protecting the premises. ‘Heaven rest Leroy Brown and Jim Croce’s souls,’ I mused, ‘and long live King Kong Bundy and Hammonton’s Chief Big-Heart. Now I know why the riveting road-shattering device is called a Jack- hammer,' I concluded with a smile.

“Keep your eyes on this winding road,” my wife imperatively ordered. “How come you’re smiling and giggling?”

“I don’t know!” I prevaricated. “Sometimes I just simply enjoy acting stupid!”




Williamsburg Field Trips”


Throughout my thirty-four-year teaching career I had been on over a hundred field trips, mostly with seventh and eighth grade students. Some of the more exotic destinations have been Philadelphia, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Atlantic City, New York, Hershey Park, Kings Dominion, Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, Luray Caverns, Washington DC, and on the emotionally traumatic Williamsburg/Washington DC field trip.

The three-day and two-night annual eighth grade field trip to Washington/Williamsburg was definitely the most harrowing misadventure that could easily whittle away at a teacher’s life expectancy. At certain times on the bus the children would be screaming so loudly that I thought the juveniles were testing the malleability of my ears’ tympanic membranes.

Some of the more obnoxious students would kick each other across the bus aisle, slap and punch the children sitting behind them or in front of them and put chewing gum (which was forbidden and against school rules) into girls’ long tresses. Some of the more boisterous and aggressive children behaved as if they were rookies vying for starting positions in a professional football team’s camp. A traveling sideshow class of a hundred and fifty fourteen-year-old student squealing demons could dramatically transform an ordinarily tranquil motel into a frenzied scene.

I do recollect one particular excursion down to Williamsburg, Virginia very well. Four buses were commissioned to transport the pint-sized eighth grade Philistines. I was assigned to Bus #1 along with another teacher Rob Renbeck and the superintendent of schools. “Where are you going to sit?” I asked the school system’s chief executive before I boarded the bus.

“In the front,” the superintendent replied. “I always like to sit in the front.”

“Okay,” I said, “I guess I’ll be sitting in the back somewhere with Mr. Renbeck. First I’ll take attendance!”

I stepped onto the bus while the superintendent was gabbing with the other chaperones, the principal and the school nurse. After surveying the caliber of students aboard I rearranged the children’s seats while I took the roll to make sure everyone on my Bus #1 roster list was safely aboard. I made sure that all of the worse behaved children were sitting up front with the superintendent and that the better-behaved students in the rear were sitting near the other teacher and me.

After an hour of motoring southward (we were then on the Delaware Memorial Bridge just before I-95), the ornery tendencies of the more-naughty rascals surfaced in the anterior of the bus. The children hooted, chanted and carried on, testing the mettle of the school system’s chief administrative official. And before a person could recite the Russian alphabet the children seated toward the front of the vehicle then began singing popular television jingles with dirty words being substituted for the original rhyming ones.

Several of the boys started shouting and sounding like they were a covey of inebriated hoot owls while they explored the boundaries of being free of parental control. Many of the less illustrious students had never been out of New Jersey before and didn’t know how to act civilized in public (or in private). In fact they acted like little spoiled scamps, just the same way they had always been behaving in school.

While the back of the bus was rather calm the front (where the superintendent had been sitting with his rigged audience) produced the racket of an ancient Roman gladiatorial contest. The mystified school superintendent turned around several times to get my attention but I ignored his eye contact, pretending to be taking in the blurred scenes flitting by my side window.

The super’ looks distressed!” I laughed to Rob Renbeck, my teaching comrade.

“The whole front of the bus sounds like a juvenile gang fight in a teenage cabaret,” Rob answered. “I hope the superintendent knows karate!”

He must think we’re fantastic disciplinarians,” I chuckled. “Rob, let’s step to the front of the bus and settle the little urchins down so that we don’t have to perform emergency CPR on the superintendent.”

The superintendent was an intellectual philosophical type and he actually impressed me by showing a remarkable bit of disciplining skill while at the Williamsburg motel. The children had just finished swimming that evening in the motel’s pool. Next the energetic lads and lasses had dinner at the motel and at ten p.m. everyone was supposed to be in their rooms. At ten-thirty the superintendent was telling Rob Renbeck, Joe Sacci (the music teacher) and me how he had surprised several students that had tried sneaking out of a Washington motel room back in 1950.

“I was down by the pool at the Washington motel, just like we’re standing here right now,” the superintendent explained to Rob, Joe and me. “Then I spotted two girls sneaking out of their motel room on the second floor and I yelled, ‘Hey you up there’!” the superintendent bellowed and then indulgently laughed as he turned and pointed up to the motel’s balcony without really looking up at it.

Well, it was a very unbelievable case of déjà vu. When the superintendent yelled out “Hey you up there!” with his back to the motel’s balcony and then turned, two girls tried sneaking out of their room and had thought the superintendent had caught them in the act of escaping while he was telling us his 1950 story. The startled young ladies re-entered their room thinking that they would be seriously reprimanded. The superintendent had caught and indirectly disciplined two girls in Williamsburg violating the rules without his knowledge while he was cheerfully describing in 1977 a similar incident in Washington that had occurred way back in 1950.

“What’s so funny?” the Socratic-type superintendent asked when noticing that Rob Renbeck, Joe Sacci and I were holding our stomachs while laughing so hard.

“You tell the funniest stories!” I answered as Rob Renbeck nearly lost his balance and almost tumbled backward and coming very close to launching Joe and him into the motel’s swimming pool.

On another trip down to Williamsburg from New Jersey, some nutcase sniper (on the passenger side of a passing left-hand-lane car) had an air rifle and took a shot at the driver’s side window. The glass internally shattered while the bus was going sixty-five miles-per-hour down I-95 between Wilmington, Delaware and Baltimore. All four chartered class trip buses heading south stopped and we had to wait for the Maryland State Police to arrive so that an official report could be filed.

That same beleaguered bus driver should have read his horoscope before re-embarking toward Washington. As the driver of Bus #1 made a wide right-hand turn heading onto Independence Avenue toward the Capitol Building a taxi cab driver tried passing the bus on the right. The bus and the auto’ turned simultaneously and it violently smashed the taxicab into a parked car.

The already stressed-out bus driver got into two heated arguments at the same time with the Iranian taxicab driver and with an Iraqi that owned the stalled parked car that had had its hood open. It was a unique dispute because neither the Iranian nor the Iraqi yelled and screamed in English while the accursed bus driver was bellowing an assortment of cuss words at the two foreigners using very understandable and graphic American expletives. The vehement yelling and cursing really entertained the children that had recently been evacuated from the bus after the collision.

The thought of the annual Williamsburg pilgrimage always made me shudder with apprehension. In 1978 the hundred and fifty screaming neurotic demons were impatiently waiting for entrance into a Smithsonian Institute exhibit area. A female teacher- chaperone brought it to my attention that the students were blocking the other tourists’ access to the exhibit’s ticket booth so I chivalrously commanded in a loud authoritarian voice for the eighth-grade students to “slowly shift to the right.”

As I casually shuffled to the front of the students’ irregular line a young married couple began shouting a stream of criticisms directly toward me. The pair of “civilians” apparently had become unhappy campers mixed up in the legion of eighth grade maniacs moving to the right and had been severely jostled around in the turbulent student migration. The young man bellowed in my ear, “Look buddy, your kids almost crushed my wife and me. We didn’t appreciate being mauled and knocked about by your discourteous teenagers!”

“Sir, I was only trying to show the other tourists some courtesy by making the ticket booth accessible to them!” I answered. “I guess my maneuver backfired!”

An intimidating crowd of bloodthirsty fourteen-year-old children crowded around the man, his wife and me and began yelling, “Give him a shot in the nose Mr. Wiessner!” and “Teach him a little karate Wheesey baby!”

I immediately felt like a frustrated toreador at a bullfight that was geared to the emotional interests of aspiring juvenile delinquents. The students actually wanted to see their English teacher get into a wild fistfight with a simple disgruntled tourist and his equally distressed wife.

“Sock it to him Mr. Wiessner!” a young pugnacious-type fight enthusiast boisterously hollered. “Hit him upside his head!”

Listen Mister, do you see this mob of screaming young devils!” I told the fellow as I pointed to the psyched-up crowd of rabid youths. “How would you like to take my place and be in charge of these young hellions?”

“No thank you!” the man instantly answered. “My wife and I have already felt their wrath!”

“God bless you!” the wife exclaimed as she and her husband voluntarily moved away from the ticket window vicinity to the back of the line.

Events that suddenly emerge out of nowhere can make long-distance overnight field trips about as desirable as a chicken hawk colony flourishing on a poultry farm. As the chartered buses rumbled through the federal government district of Washington DC I was amazed at the observations the more alert students were making while glancing outside their bus windows. None of the magnificent white marble monuments and obelisks that they had recently viewed at an eighth-grade educational slide presentation assembly in their school auditorium interested them in the least.

As the bus driver announced over the microphone, “There’s the White House on your right!” several students looking in the opposite direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue then yelled to their classmates, “Hey, look at that weird guy selling balloons!” and “Check out that drunk begging for booze money!” But that was not the rule for several of the more serious students that had asked when pointing at the White House, “Is that the Capitol or is it the Supreme Court Building?”

The basic purpose of the Williamsburg/Washington trips was to cultivate an appreciation of American history and of our nation’s colonial heritage. But to the more nefarious-minded students the highlights of the daily educational itineraries were staying up all night, pounding on walls, and having wild pillow fights. The children also reveled in playing strip poker with members of the same sex, sneaking out of rooms at four in the morning and making the teacher-chaperones earn every cent of the money they weren’t getting paid extra for.

If the social (sociological) experiences just mentioned were the culminating aspects of the students’ trip, then why did the teachers have to transport them three hundred miles away from home? We could have simply rented a motel five miles from the school and saved fourteen hours of needless transportation back and forth from Williamsburg. After all, the social experience should transcend the dull academic learning agenda, shouldn’t it?

“It’s a good thing we have the rule that girls sit with girls and boys sit with boys on the bus!” Rob Renbeck stated to Joe Sacci and me.

“Yes, and the girls are on the second floor of the motel and the boys all on the first floor!” Joe added.

“Guys, the school field trip rules might actually be promoting homosexuality by keeping genders together without even realizing it!” I concluded, much to Rob and Joe’s amusement.

That night we stayed at a motel on the Alexandria side of the Potomac. Several enterprising students somehow jimmied open a soda machine’s door and the culprits emptied out the entire Coke dispenser (which had recently been filled) and distributed their booty among appreciative and already hyperactive classmates. When the hotel manager discovered the theft he really protested to the trip’s coordinator and naturally the school had to compensate the motel for the juvenile larceny.

Rob Renbeck and I had pulled the midnight to three in the morning shift to check rooms and curtail male students from sneaking out of their quarters and visiting members of the opposite sex on another floor of the motel. I noticed across a side street that someone was breaking and entering into a car so I reported the crime-in-progress over my room phone to the motel’s office. The night manager came running up the concrete steps to the balcony overlooking the alleged crime scene.

“Look at that guy over there trying to start that car!” I told the night manager. “Mr. Renbeck here and I just saw the fellow break into the auto’ three minutes ago!”

“Oh,” the night manager replied, “that’s not happening on the motel’s property so I’m not going to worry about it and get involved!”

“But it’s the stealing of an automobile!” I objected. “It’s a major crime!”

Do you want to come back to Alexandria and testify in court six months from now just to see justice served?” the motel night manager asked me.

“No, I don’t think so!” I replied in astonishment. “I live a hundred and fifty miles away!”

“Well then, if I was you I would just forget that I had seen anything at all!” the night manager finished with a wink. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have some important paperwork to do!”

Rob Renbeck and I looked at each other and we both shrugged our shoulders. We stood there and watched the entire theft transpire and gave the anonymous criminal mock waves as he drove the stolen vehicle by the motel balcony.

While we were in Williamsburg on that same trip a group of students was watching a colonial craft demonstration. A female Williamsburg employee dressed in 1700s garb was showing some of the students how pottery was made back in the time of George Washington. “Don’t stick your hand near that spinning machine!” Rob Renbeck cautioned the children.

The last thing’ in the world a teacher can tell fourteen-year-olds is “Don’t do that!” or “Don’t try that!” An eighth grade girl stuck her right index finger in the spinning pottery and got it caught in the rotating lathe. Blood was squirting all over the place. The rotating pottery wheel had to be stopped and Rob Renbeck had to accompany the crying injured child to the nearest infirmary and then call the parents and get permission for stitches to sew up the wound. Renbeck had to spend five hours of his time making sure that all school procedures had been properly followed involving the case of “an unnecessary student emergency.”

Maybe that girl will grow up and become a spinster!” I told Rob that night in our motel room.

“I don’t think so!” he tersely returned with a forced smile.

That night at the Williamsburg motel I was rooming with music teacher Joe Sacci and with Rob. Joe heard some ecstatic students yelling into the air vents and they were telling other children in neighboring motel rooms that big parties were to be held in rooms 211 and 223. Joe stood on a chair, skillfully disguised his voice and then yelled into the air vent, “The biggest party is goin’ to happen in room 217 at three in the morning!” Joe informed his anonymous air-vent audience. “We have two big bottles of whiskey!” Sacci persuasively added.

At precisely three a.m. there was a gentle rapping at our motel room’s door. Joe triumphantly opened the door and he, Rob and I yelled at the six astounded and shocked violators standing outside, “Busted! You’re all busted!” in what was certainly the finest case of student entrapment I had ever been associated with on any overnight field trip.

On the way back from Williamsburg the buses stopped at the distinguished and eminent Kennedy Center in Washington. After a brief tour of the cultural arts’ facility the students were conducted to the Kennedy Center’s cafeteria. Some hungry children had beaten Rob Renbeck and me to the cafeteria, had opened up the wall menu ledger and then had mischievously rearranged some of the word’ letters of foods available to diners. Servings of “Pussy Burgers” and “Dick Dogs” were suddenly imaginatively listed inside the Kennedy Center’s cafeteria ledger. A cafeteria manager came over, saw the recently created obscenities inside the ledger and screamed, “Who’s in charge of these juvenile delinquents?”

Rob Renbeck and I looked frightfully at each other, spun around and deftly hid behind two tall and wide red pillars so that the columns completely obscured us from the distressed woman’s sight. The thoroughly appalled cafeteria manager eventually got the children to line up and then assigned a cafeteria employee to change the ledger language back to the normal “Hamburgers” and “Hot Dogs.”

The trip coordinators showed up and had to listen to the cafeteria manager complain to Mrs. Finnian, the school principal and the superintendent, “This is definitely the most embarrassing and humiliating thing that has ever happened in my cafeteria! It was absolutely mortifying and a horrible public disgrace!”

When the four buses finally headed back north toward Baltimore, bus number two passed bus number one and the children got all excited about the little race the drivers were conducting. Rob Renbeck and I were on bus number one and watched in astonishment as a student on bus number two opened the roof-hatch and stuck his head out giving the middle finger to the mesmerized students on bus number one.

The buses were heading toward the tollbooths for the Harbor Tunnel before traveling under the Patapsco River. The wise guy student on bus number two (giving the royal finger to the tunnel-vision students on bus number one) was almost decapitated as the bus number two’s raised hatch just made it under the Harbor Tunnel’s tollbooth’s pavilion roof. Everyone held his and her breath until the bus’s roof hatch was finally closed. The student received three days of Office Detention for nearly beheading himself and for using obscene gestures (not “obscene jesters” as indicated in the Teachers Handbook) to his fellow classmates viewing the crazy spectacle from bus number one.

The Williamsburg three-day-trip was eventually shortened in the 1980s to simply being the Washington DC two day and one motel night trip. That move was done for costly economic expense reasons. The high school seniors that used to go to Washington for their pre-graduation trip now flew from Philadelphia to Disney World in Orlando, Florida so the eighth grade graduating class inherited Washington as its prime destination.

The first day of a 1990s eighth grade class trip was rather exhaustive as the students and chaperones visited and toured the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Ford’s Theater and then partook of a night cruise with dinner on an entertainment ship down the Potomac River.

The very wary chaperones deliberately kept the students touring historic sites and monuments to tire them out so that the children would sleep the whole night instead of bugging the heck out of us. After we had toured the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the buses finally headed across the Potomac where that year the children were staying at an attractive Tyson’s Corner motel.

Since the volatile children had been fairly well’ behaved on that particular Washington excursion, the chaperones rewarded them with a pizza party in the motel’s Madison Room. When the pizzas and soda had been totally consumed five chaperones escorted the first half of the students back to their rooms, which were strategically located in a remote section of the huge suburban motel. The four remaining chaperones (including myself) escorted the second batch of seventy-five students from the Madison (mass dining) Room to their assigned accommodations.

Mac Fascetta and I made sure all of our students had evacuated the Madison Room and we brought up the rear guard of the second set of still boisterous fourteen-year-old children.

Suddenly a stocky male in his early twenties (chaperoning a Catholic high school sophomore class that was also staying overnight at the Tyson’s Corner motel) came sprinting up to Mac and me nearly screaming the larynx out of his throat.

Are you in charge of those wild kids on the other side of the building?” he hollered, apparently not used to the behavior of normal public school eighth grade students.

Yes we are!” I politely answered. “There are five of our chaperones already over there’ getting the students settled in their rooms!”

“Well your kids are banging on the walls and setting a bad example for my kids!” the young muscular fellow shouted with a crimson face.

Look,” I rather calmly answered, “I’m assigned to this group of seventy-five students. Our school already has five very capable chaperones over there to deal with that problem!”

Evidently the muscular Catholic high school chaperone didn’t savor my explanation so he surprisingly took a huge swing at my face. I ducked down just in the nick of time and his blow glanced off the top of my head and knocked off my red Phillies baseball cap. Then Mac Fascetta latched onto the fellow’s right arm and I firmly gripped his left one and the enraged chaperone’ finally realized that we weren’t exactly wimps and that my friend and I could effectively restrain him and defend ourselves if necessary.

So even while enjoying a pleasant field trip a teacher’s existence might be endangered by a chaperone from another school losing his temper from excessive stress and then ultimately going ballistic. When Mac and I got back to our “Home sweet home!” motel quarters we heard a major disturbance sounding like glass being shattered (originating from the adjoining room).

Four of our eighth-grade students had indeed been pounding on the walls and had antagonized a drunken tractor-trailer driver that had been occupying the neighboring room. The noise had aggravated the inebriated fellow to the point where the big-rig operator was climbing the walls from the students’ pounding on the walls. The totally upset man had entered the startled kids’ room, had broken an empty bottle of Southern Comfort and the crazed tractor-trailer driver was in the process of threatening to slice up the throats of the suddenly shocked students with the shattered weapon being held in his right hand.

Mac and I convinced the intoxicated man that we were the students’ unfortunate chaperones and then we humbly and respectfully apologized for any inconvenience the little terrors (presently being terrorized) had caused him. After Mac and I had promised that the “obnoxious children” would not bother the troubled gent again the somewhat appeased driver slowly staggered out of the boys’ motel room muttering under his breath how he indeed would inflict serious injury if the reprehensible rascals persisted in the continuation of their annoying high jinks. Remarkably (and much to our relief) the boys’ sensed that the irritated fellow meant business, abandoned their disturbing antics and soon went to sleep shortly after midnight.

The following morning after enjoying a scrambled egg breakfast at the Madison Room, the buses were boarded to tour some sites in metropolitan downtown Washington. Mac and I had pulled the difficult midnight to three a.m. shift and were tired the entire morning. After touring the Vietnam Memorial, Mac Fascetta and I returned to our bus only to find four eighth graders standing on the roof and being screamed at by at least twenty Vietnam War veterans (several of them were in wheelchairs) that the children had recently verbally antagonized. Police in the area arrived on the scene and adroitly broke-up the brief altercation and the incident was then reported to the school principal for further disciplinary action.

At noon the eighth graders ate in a cafeteria in downtown Washington. Several students were making fun of an old man sitting alone dining in the cafeteria. After noticing the old man reaching into his vest beneath his sport jacket and toying with an object that Mac and I believed was a handgun, my fellow teacher and I approached the boys’ table and had them move into an adjacent dining room before any unnecessary tragedy might have happened.

While we were waiting for the buses to arrive Mac and I casually strolled through a shopping mall browsing at window displays. Three of our students raced by before I could yell out “Stop!” Then suddenly five motorcycle gang members in black leather jackets dashed by in hot pursuit of the three scampering children. Apparently, the students had made some irreverent remarks to the gang members, who then hopped off their motorcycles and chased the young renegades through the shopping mall. Obviously the offensive children must have been in better shape than the burly motorcycle enthusiasts because the pursuers eventually gave up the hunt and disgustedly walked back past Mac and me in the direction of their parked Harley Davidsons.

At the Smithsonian’s Aerospace Museum Mac and I showed some bona fide students the Spirit of St. Louis that had been flown across the Atlantic from New York to Paris by Charles Lindbergh and then we viewed several space capsule models. We were really fatigued from a lack of sleep so Mac and I did what we traditionally had done on all previous trips. We entered the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum’s planetarium to rest our bloodshot eyes and our weary bones.

“Wake me up if I fall asleep,” I told Mac.

And you wake me up if I fall asleep,” my chaperone friend requested.

Three fairly reliable students from our school were seated directly behind Mac and me so I figured I would ask them for a small favor. “Guys! If Mr. Fascetta and I both fall asleep,” I said, “please wake us up after the planetarium show!”

Don’t worry Mr. Wiessner!” the three dependable students assured me. “We know you both must be real tired!”

The lights went out and fifteen minutes later I heard Mac snoring so I gave him a jolt to the ribs to bring him back to consciousness. Then ten minutes after that Mac gave me an elbow poke to alert me that I too had been snoring.

Fifteen minutes later I felt a hand shaking my right shoulder. A planetarium usher was vibrating both Mac Fascetta and me, waking us up from deep slumbers. The three reliable children had abandoned us after the astronomy show so we had to suffer the mortification of being irresponsible chaperones falling asleep on the job and having to be awakened by a thoroughly amused planetarium program attendant.



A Young James Bertino”


I knew James Bertino several decades before he had matured and blossomed into Hammonton town councilman James Bertino. Jim has a twin brother John and their parents Anthony and Margaret Bertino owned “Twin Boys’ Farm Market” on the White Horse Pike across from the Oak Grove Cemetery. My parents were proprietors of Pete’s Farm Market in Elm, New Jersey, which is now owned by Dennis Donio. Being in the same retail fruit and produce business made our families’ rivals but also friends.

From the years 1967-‘81 I had co-owned boardwalk businesses in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (a beach tee-shirt and gift shop) and in Ocean City, Maryland (a boardwalk arcade). It was an April Friday evening in the mid-1970s and I desperately needed a healthy young body to help me install twenty re-conditioned poker-card drums into Dealer’s Choice machines at my Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk arcade. My brother-in-law Ollie Paretti had done his usual excellent repair work on the electromagnetic devices that rotated inside the cabinets’ windows. I figured I would get in touch with the prospective assistant I had in mind.

I gave young James Bertino a call and the teenager was quite anxious to accompany me on the 175-mile excursion down the Delmarva Peninsula to Ocean City. I picked Bertino up at his parents’ home in my green Pontiac station wagon and we were soon heading south on I-295 toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge. I was already rather fatigued from teaching my grueling six English classes at the Hammonton Middle School so while motoring toward Dover I stopped at a McDonald’s in Smyrna, Delaware where we could devour some much-needed carbs and enjoy mutual sugar rushes. I quickly learned that my callow friend and I were not-too-enamored with studying in school and teaching in a public school respectively.

Soon James Bertino and I were on our way east on Route 13 heading toward Rehoboth Beach where my boardwalk’ tee-shirt store was located beneath the high-rise Star of the Sea Condominiums. We dropped off several boxes of decals and a new heat-transfer machine. It was then after midnight and our eyes were already bloodshot. Our next task would be to deliver the rehabilitated poker drums twenty-five miles down the coast to 410 South Boardwalk, Ocean City, Maryland.

I was getting a little giddy and groggy from sheer exhaustion so I told Bertino a story John Rizzotte (the driver education teacher at Hammonton High School) had once related to me in the faculty room.

“John, what should I do if I’m ever stopped on the highway by a policeman?” I innocently had asked the driving instructor while retelling the anecdote to my rather apathetic passenger.

“That’s easy John,” Rizzotte told me. “You have to simply take away his psychological advantage. Ya’ gotta’ aggressively steal the initiative from him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I persisted to my faculty room colleague. “Sometimes I don’t know if you’re being facetious or being honest.”

“Well,” Rizzotte continued with his little informative seminar, “as soon as you come to a stop, jump out of your auto’ and go directly to his car. Respectfully ask the officer why he had stopped you. Cops are usually so used to being in control and walking over to your car that most won’t know what to do or how to react when you break that regular pattern. Most policemen will then let you go without a ticket because you’ve successfully taken away their psychological advantage.”


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