Friday, February 26, 2010

Tales from High School X - Mr. Manicotti: King of the VCR

As can be inferred from the name, St. Francis High School is/was a Catholic school. As such, students were required to take a religion course each year. While over the course of four years I experienced increasingly strong theological disputes with course material (a foreshadowing of my future agnosticism), I generally liked the teachers I had for religion. For the first two years I had Mr. Corey Cycle, a pretty young teacher and a fairly cool guy. He would joke around with us but still was good at presenting material in an engaging way. My senior year I had Dr. Albert Focaccia, a Greek Orthodox deacon and a phenomenal person. He was intensely knowledgeable yet easygoing and genuinely cared about students. But my junior year, ah my junior year, that was the year I had Mr. Joseph Manicotti.

Mr. Manicotti, or "Average Joe" as we referred to him as occasionally, seemed like a legitimate average Joe. Generally genial and sporting a moustache, Mr. Manicotti was prone to saying bizarre things or explaining complex ideas in oversimplified ways. For example, to try to teach us about how environmental factors can affect behavior, he explained to us that "Arabs are shifty because they live in the desert." The scarcity of water leads to shiftiness. It's just science, clearly. He truly did not believe this was a racist statement, and said it with no malice, but it was indicative of the kind of skewed or not-thought-through viewpoints he'd periodically present.

Mr. Manicotti was a funny guy, in part because he seemed to lack some of the professional boundaries of conversation that many teachers maintain. While at a retreat before our senior year, Mr. Manicotti told the epic tale of his wife's four pregnancies and childbirths ("two of my kids were accidents!") complete with quoting the phone call from his wife about the fourth pregnancy, which for some reason was quoted in a deep, masculine voice. The spectacle was so outlandishly hilarious that another teacher, Mr. Saismost, had to run out of the room laughing. Other times Mr. Manicotti would attempt to be funny on purpose, usually less effectively. Each of his classes watched the film Romero about the life and assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero as portrayed by the late, great Raul Julia. From talking to other students in other sessions of the same class, apparently Mr. Manicotti scripted a gem of a comment for the climactic assassination scene when Oscar Romero is shot to death with an automatic weapon while performing mass (spoiler? it happened in real life, so...): "Now that's a mortal sin!" Each of the three junior religion classes got to experience that zinger.

Romero was not the only film we watched with Mr. Manicotti, however. No sir. In fact, as the class progressed through the year, my friends and I were convinced that each class session would be a 50/50 chance of watching a movie. We weren't complaining about this by any means, but it did seem strange to us. The films started out very relevant to course material. We watched films such as Romero as discussed above, or Peter and Paul about the early church after the death of Jesus Christ. Schindler's List was a bold choice, and one I enjoyed. Lorenzo's Oil was a bit of a stretch to tie to the material though. At Christmastime, Mr. Manicotti was surprised to discover that some other faculty were actually going to show movies as well and did not reserve a Christmas film in time before they were all grabbed up. Our holiday treat was a random entry from the Eyes on the Prize PBS documentary series about the civil rights movement. A fine series, but How the Grinch Stole Christmas! it ain't. One time we had Mr. Manicotti substitute teach for another class and got to enjoy a documentary about the 1980 USA vs Soviet Olympic match dubbed the "Miracle on Ice."

Things got ludicrous by the end of the year. We watched Deep Blue Sea. You may be familiar with this film. It is about genetically altered "super sharks" that systematically hunt and kill the scientists responsible for their creation. You may know it as "that one movie where Samuel L. Jackson gets eaten by a shark that leaps out of the water behind him" (spoiler? The movie isn't really good enough to merit discretion). The tie to religion class may be the fact that LL Cool J plays a master chef who is also a preacher who manages to defeat a shark by stabbing it's eye with a crucifix (spoiler? Who WOULDN'T see that coming?). Somewhere along the line, we started to suspect that maybe Mr. Manicotti just didn't own a VCR at his home.

The most bizarre movie we watched and the strongest evidence for the "this is the only VCR readily available to Mr. Manicotti" theory cannot be found in any video rental stores. You cannot buy a DVD of it. Youtube does not offer any clips. That is because this movie was a home movie. One morning, we walked in to see the TV/VCR cart set up and ready to go (coin flip came up heads today? Great!). We took our seats and waited for today's entertainment. The image came up on the screen: a girl between 11-13 years old riding a horse. Not in a show or anything. Just like, at a horseback riding lesson. I thought that maybe Mr. Manicotti had taped over this with something we should see, and the real show would begin momentarily. But it did not. "What is this?" asked someone. "That's my little angel!" replied Mr. Manicotti, a proud smile on his face and his eyes fixed on the screen. We watched for like five solid minutes until some less than classy student proclaimed, "hey, she's kinda hot!" Mr. Manicotti was aghast; "Hey, she's only 12 years old!" he chided. "Whatever man, give her a few years," the anonymous commenter shot back. Mr. Manicotti declared movie time over. But the memory would live on in our hearts for years to come.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tales from High School X - Señor Golbez and the Mysterious Writing

At the request of a reader, this chapter has been voluntarily removed. It may or may not reappear again at a future point in another form that addresses certain concerns. To those of you who read it before I took it down, I hope you enjoyed it! To those who didn't get the chance, my apologies.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Tales from High School X - Señor Golbez Goes to Ray Ohn's

This tale from St. Francis High is one of my all time favorites. At this school, there was a program called Senior Service. Every Wednesday, seniors would spend the morning at an off-campus site doing community service of some sort. For example, my senior year, I helped out in a 1st grade classroom at my old elementary school. Other seniors helped out at nursing homes, etc. A secret benefit of senior service was that juniors taking a senior-level class were effectively granted a free period on Wednesdays when their senior-level class fell during the morning. I was a year ahead in French, taking French IV as a junior, and the Spanish IV class also met at the same time. This meant that the two juniors in my class (myself and Craig Biscuitzka) often joined or were joined by the handful of Spanish IV juniors, such as my friends John Gozer and James Draco. This was already a good situation when we had an easy period with Madame Maroon (a wonderful educator and a good person), but was even better when Craig and I would get to join the Spanish IV juniors for a free period/study hall with Señor Golbez.

Golbez was just as prone to even more prone than any students to getting bored and wanting to chat during this time. Sometimes he would want to pass the time by playing "Would You Rather?", a game which consists of Golbez describing two or three situations, then asking you to choose which you would rather do. The most notable involved choosing between being a hideously ugly man with living in poverty but with an enormous penis and lots of sex, being a man of average-looks, divorced, two kids, with a middle income, average penis, and normal amounts of sex, or a beautiful man (like a model!) with lots of money but a tiny penis and lackluster sex life. Don't most teachers talk to their students about these options?

Perhaps the greatest time-passing chat we ever had with good ol' Golbez in these study halls was as follows. Please note that I cannot verify his story, I can only verify that this is the story as it was told to us. Oh, and it should be noted that Bellido had a twin brother (so he says), Alejandro Bellido Golbez. He himself is Bellido Alejandro Golbez. True? False? Again, only he knows. From here on in for this entry, quotes mean it is Bellido Golbez speaking:

"I want chu guys to know someting about me. I never drink, and I never fight."



(Like 15 seconds of silence)


"But this one time I went to Ray Ohn's [a nightclub] in [Name of state capital] and I got SOOOOOO drunk! And there was this girl there and she was like 'woo woo!' [breast-juggling gesture] so I was like 'grab!' [breast-grabbing gesture]. Den she got like SOOOO mad but I didn't care because I was like laughing, but then her boyfriend came up and wanted to fight so I called my brother Alejandro over and then we beat him up and then we were thrown out for fighting and never allowed back for two years."


(At this point, we are in a bit of a stunned silence. Didn't he preface this story by saying he never drinks and never fights? Oh well, maybe this was the one exception.)


"And this weekend was the end of two years, so we went back."


"Now we are not allowed back ever again."

Truly, a role model.