The Rusty Toque | Fiction | Issue 2 | February 27, 2012
COMICS BY BOB FELLDRIP
Mr. Felldrip was tinkering with his cartoons, while his colleagues were busy trying to decide whether or not detention should be given to those high school students with untied shoelaces. Every Thursday afternoon when classes let out, the Social Studies Department assembled for several hours in order to discuss serious school matters, and for more than six months the topic of shoelaces had been its primary concern.
Mrs. Bender, a stubby woman with long, stringy salt and pepper hair carried on and on about the many perils students will face after graduation: “The real world is replete with concrete and potholes, and it’s our duty, our obligation, to teach them to tie their shoes properly.”
Mr. Felldrip drew an arabesque codpiece on his latest character, Mr. Killmore, a pear-shaped man with coffee stains on his yellow tie and chalk marks on the front of his khakis. The Department was prepared to take a vote when Mr. Killmore, in a nasally shrill, shrieked: “May I suggest that we continue our discourse? We do not want to make a hasty decision. We owe it to our kids.” When Mrs. Whiner, the Department Chair, stood up, she tripped over her long, black skirt that hung on her like a pall and stumbled to the ground. From her knees, she recommended that since it was nearly six o’clock and they will most likely be debating for a few more hours that they should order dinner. While Mr. Killmore was taking everyone’s order and Mrs. Bender was taking the floor for the sixth time, Mr. Felldrip slipped out the door, making his way to his favourite bathroom on the seventh floor, where he sat on the toilet and worked on his comics without interruption.
He placed his mouth a few centimeters from the toilet seat and blew a gray pubic hair into oblivion then wiped the seat free from urine. He tore even strips of toilet paper, placed them methodically onto the cracked white seat, pulled down his faded red corduroys and settled in. He whispered: “Why did I ever give up my dead-end marketing job for this gig,” and drew a bullwhip in the hands of his “Mr. Killmore” cartoon.
“Little Mary Mucous is a little cunt,” Mr. Felldrip thought to himself. The pasty-faced runt thinks she knows more about American History than her teacher. Why is a fifteen-year old more interested in the United States’ Constitution than getting laid? When an argument broke out among his tenth-grade students as to why American soldiers were in Afghanistan, Mary Mucous appealed to her teacher: “What do you think about the situation in the Middle East, Mr. Felldrip? We haven’t heard from you. In fact, we rarely hear from you.” Mr. Felldrip felt the blood rush to his unshaved, thick face. “How dare she show me up in front of my class?” He felt his intestines throb. He took a sip from his sixth cup of coffee that morning and asked, “Why don’t you tell us what you think, Mary?” But Mary didn’t back down: “Well, I think that it would be really useful to hear from our esteemed teacher on this particular subject.” Mr. Felldrip did everything in his power to stifle a string of inappropriate words from pouring out of his mouth and preventing a river of urine from running down his leg. “I think this is the perfect opportunity for you to assemble into your groups and discuss the matter at hand,” he directed. While his students were arranging their desks, Mr. Felldrip slid out the door and trotted to the sixth floor bathroom—not his preferred choice—to work on his latest creation, the “Mrs. Bender” cartoon.
He pulled down his faded red corduroys and plopped onto the toilet seat. Pockets of pasty flesh hung over its sides. He stared at the graffiti on the stall door, wondering if a teacher was responsible for having etched the giant penis or if a student snuck in and did it. He licked his thumb and rubbed the graffiti. He licked the same thumb and rubbed the scuffmarks on his brown loafers. Maybe it was time to buy a new pair. He’d have to ask his mother to return the J.C. Penney catalogue she had borrowed. He stuck three fingers into his mouth – they smelled like the scrapple he had for breakfast - trying to get the necessary saliva to erase the drawing from the back of his hand.
Mr. Felldrip drew a word balloon near Mrs. Bender’s cracked lips—“It’s my duty, my obligation to sleep with as many students as possible before they graduate.” Somebody opened the door to the restroom. Through the gap in the stall door, Mr. Felldrip watched the plump man stand in front of the mirror, brush his front teeth with his index finger then pull a quart of Southern Comfort from a brown paper bag and take a long swig. “Ellsworth, is that you?” Mr. Felldrip didn’t answer the stout fellow who opened the stall door next to his, slamming it closed then sending the toilet seat crashing down onto the porcelain. “Just 2,137 days until retirement.” It was Mr. Shoebin from the Math Department, a “Lifer” who entered the profession thirty years ago after he completed his student teaching. He was making a variety of gastric noises. “Sorry about that,” he said, “Damn cafeteria food. Kinda tasty though.” Mr. Felldrip thought that he too must have had the scrapple. Mr. Felldrip hated Mr. Shoebin for having ratted on him to Mrs. Whiner for working on his cartoons in the bathroom during a fire drill. “Listen Ellsworth. I’m gonna need your help. Mrs. Whiner, that Commie Pinko in Social Studies, is running for Union Rep and she’s got most of the votes right now, so I need you and your buddies in the Language Department to vote for me, ‘cause a vote for me is a vote for prosperity.’” Mr. Shoebin published a scathing article in the union newsletter about Mrs. Whiner’s poor teaching methods and her recycled lesson plans. “Did you know that she doesn’t give her students homework every night? It clearly states in the school handbook that teachers must give at least 20-30 minutes of homework per night.”
Mr. Shoebin went on and on about union rules, school rules, expectations of teachers and students, but Mr. Felldrip had dozed off, nearly slipping into a coma as he was prone to do whenever he was assaulted by a colleague’s voice. “Are you with me, Ellsworth?” Mr. Shoebin’s scratchy voice woke Mr. Felldrip from his recurring dream where he’s cartoonist Harvey Pekar, working a menial job as a filing clerk that gives him the time to write his successful comic, American Splendor. “Huh?” Mr. Felldrip asked. “I knew I could count on you, Ellsworth. You’re not like the rest of the bleeding-heart liberals in the Language Department.” Underneath the stall, Mr. Shoebin’s hairy arm appeared, presenting Mr. Felldrip with the brown paper bag. “No thank you,” Mr. Felldrip said. “It’s good stuff. Gets me through the day. By the way, you might want to tie your shoes, Mr. Ellsworth, before you get detention.” Mr. Shoebin took another gulp of Southern Comfort, started whistling “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and exited the restroom.The bell rang, signaling the end of third period. Mr. Felldrip had a fourth period class, but he stayed on the toilet for the remainder of the day, drawing elaborate fishnet stockings on the “Mrs. Bender” cartoon.
Parent-teacher conferences were held three times per semester, six times a year, from 4-10pm. Having taught for six years, Mr. Felldrip had compiled a list of generic responses to most of the parents’ inane questions, so when Little Mary Mucous’ parents wanted to know how their daughter could improve her grade, Mr. Felldrip resorted to an old stand by: “Mary is a delightful young lady who works quite diligently and if she continues to do so, I’m sure that she’ll make great strides.” Mr. Felldrip had given Mary Mucous an “A,” but her parents were unsatisfied; they wouldn’t tolerate anything less than an “A+”; no teacher was going to interfere with Mary’s admittance to Harvard.
After a mere six minutes, Mr. Felldrip had already become exhausted by his “academic” jargon; he was anxious to get back to his comics, so when his meeting with Little Mary Mucous’ parents was over, he shook their sweaty hands, followed them out of his classroom, and made his way to the seventh floor bathroom where he sat in his favourite stall for the remainder of the parent-teacher conferences, futzing with his latest creation—“Little Mary Mucous.”
The following morning, it came as no surprise to Mr. Felldrip that Mrs. Whiner requested to see him. From where Mrs. Whiner was seated, behind mountains of books and papers, he could only make out the top of her frizzy gray head, so he was fairly certain that she was unable to see him fiddling with his comics. While Mrs. Whiner reprimanded him for breaking his appointments with his students’ parents, Mr. Felldrip placed the finishing touches on the “Mrs. Whiner” cartoon, two gigantic Dumbo ears that protruded from underneath a patch of Brillo. He held the yellow pad up to the light to evaluate his work.“
What is that?” Mrs. Whiner asked.
“My lesson plan.”
“Are you listening to me, Mr. Felldrip?”
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Whiner. Every word. By the way, you have my vote. Our school is in desperate need of a responsible Union Representative.”
“Thank you, Mr. Felldrip. If elected, I will certainly perform my duties to the best of my ability. But we were talking about something else. Now where were we?”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Whiner, but may I go to the bathroom?”
“Now, Mr. Felldrip? We’re in the middle of something. If I could only remember what it was."
“It’s an emergency."
Mrs. Whiner sighed: “You’re a child, Felldrip. You know that? Go ahead.”
Mr. Felldrip remained in his favourite stall in his favourite bathroom for the rest of the day, drawing a bottle of Southern Comfort in the hands of his “Mr. Shoebin” character.
Later that afternoon, as the winter light was fading from sight, Mr. Felldrip realized that he conducted his best work in the bathroom and not in the classroom, so he momentarily put down his comics to draft a letter of resignation from teaching.
The next morning, Mr. Felldrip handed his letter of resignation to Mrs. Whiner. “Are you sure this is what you want, Mr. Felldrip?” she asked. “I have big plans, Mrs. Whiner, and I can’t put them off any longer.” Mr. Felldrip took a bow and made his way to his favourite stall in the seventh floor restroom. He opened his briefcase, took out a bologna and American cheese sandwich, a brown paper bag with a bottle of Southern Comfort inside and several yellow pads that were covered in doodles and cartoons. He pulled down his faded red corduroys and filled in the bleach spots with a red pen. When he finished touching up his pants, he began working on his masterpiece, the “Mr. Felldrip” cartoon, determined to remain in his favourite stall in his favourite bathroom until he saw his greatest creation through to its end.
RICHARD FULCO'S stories, poems, plays and reviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Failbetter, Front Porch, Dark Sky Magazine, Nth Position, Heuer, Daily Vault, Poetz, Thirdrail, Serpentine, and Propaganda. His plays have either been presented or developed at The New York International Fringe Festival, The Playwrights’ Center, The Flea, Here Arts Center, and the Dramatists Guild. He received his MFA and was the recipient of a MacArthur Scholarship in playwriting from Brooklyn College. He teaches at Pace University and writes about music on his blog, riff raf.