Rules of the Game

By Ed Staskus

   You never want to fall asleep in Mr. Hittbone’s second period math class, no matter what, because he will leave you asleep until you eventually wake up, whenever that is. It’s one of the rules written on his personal rules board at the front of the class. “No Waking Sleepers!” Classes will come and go, and no one is allowed to wake up anybody sleeping.

   If you fall asleep he just lets you snooze and snore, no shaking you awake, and you miss the next class, and even the class after that. You wake up and it’s, my God! You get major detentions for missing classes at St. Ed’s. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your fault. Mr. Hittbone doesn’t care that maybe you had homework for six classes and maybe you had work to do around the house, too, and walking the dog on top of that. Nobody cares when you’re explaining. They care even less when you’re complaining.

   A guy once went dead duck and slept for three straight periods. When he woke up Mr. Hittbone was at his podium lecturing, just like always, but after the guy blinked shook his head looked around, he saw there weren’t any familiar faces. There were all different guys in the class. He bolted out of the room. He hadn’t technically skipped any classes, but he got a butt load of detentions for disrespect.

   It’s not a school rule. It’s the Boneman’s rule. There’s no breaking and getting away with it. I woke up halfway through his class one day after a restless night at home. “Did you sleep good?” he asked. He smirked down at me. “No, I made a few mistakes,” I said. He didn’t like that. I got a detention.

   “You boys grow up without rules, without boundaries,” he told us the first class the first day of school. It was September 2014. The good old summertime was over. “You need discipline. You can be yourself, whatever you think that is, once you’ve learned the rules.”

   Lots of rules and no mercy, that’s the Boneman, like he just stepped out of the Old Testament. Mr. Rote and the rest of the religion teachers teach the New Testament, but that update has never reached Mr. Hittbone. It’s not sinners in the hands of an angry God anymore, Mr. Bonehead! But he doesn’t care about that, either.

   Everybody says he’s been at St. Ed’s since it opened, or maybe even before that. He was probably rubbing his hands for the big day to happen. He’s only ever taken two days off in all those years. He told us about them on the second day of school. “It wasn’t because I was sick,” he said. The Chalk of Fate says he’s never been sick. Someone else might have been sick on those two days. Maybe he only ever feels like crap in private.

   Mr. Hittbone’s a short man, mostly bald and bearded. He has lips like wieners. He wears suspenders like it’s another century. He doesn’t wear a sports jacket. He only ever wears a dress shirt. He has grayish hair and eyes the color of a telephone pole. He’s a grumpy dude. Everybody hates him, the upper classmen, and us, just everybody, really. Everybody hates his chalk board full of numbers and equations we can barely understand.

   Some of the upper classmen add an “S” to the front of his name, but never out loud to his face. That would be a disaster. The Boneman is old but lightning fast on the draw with detention slips. It’s not even funny. He’s married but told us he can’t stand his wife because she never turns off the lights and watches TV all the time. “She even shops in bed, thanks to television,” he said. We all thought, “So what?”

   He has a son and daughter, but never talks about his son. When he told us about his daughter he said he was annoyed about how in the first year of whatever job she got she was making more money than him. He always says money is a “masterpiece in the eye of a masterpiece,” whatever that means.

   “God wants us to prosper and have plenty of money,” he said. “Money is how you keep score. That’s why you don’t want to stop at simple math, because then you’ll only make simple money.” Nobody knows what he’s talking about.

   He smokes between classes, in front of our gold dome Hall of Fame chapel. He rips the filters off his cigarettes. I’ve never seen another teacher smoke on campus, only him. He throws the butts on the ground, mashes them with his foot, and lights up another one. Whenever anybody tells him cigarettes are bad for you, he scowls. “When it looks like I’ll live longer than my next smoke I’ll scrape it off the bottom of my shoe,” he says.

   Whenever anybody tells him cigarettes are practically illegal, he gets mad about that, too. “The government tells you smoking is bad for your health, but when you Ben Franklin it, the government has killed more people than cigarettes ever did, or ever will.”

   One morning he told us he was in a gas station buying cigarettes down on Detroit Rd. just down from the school, when somebody tried to rip off the attendant with some kind of money trick. “I wanted to beat him with a baseball bat,”  Mr. Hittbone said, making fists, his hands shaking. He wanted to bash the hell out of him. Every day the forecast for the Boneman is clouds, rain, and anger. We all laughed, though. He couldn’t punch himself out of a paper bag with Babe Ruth’s bat.

   He teaches from a podium at the front of class. He’s the only teacher in the school who has one. How does he rate? It’s because he’s a dinosaur and gets his way. He puts his papers and things on the podium and hardly moves all period, unless he wants to tear up something that’s on your desk. That’s another one of his rules. “Math Only!”

   Even if you’re not doing anything with whatever is on your desk, like a science assignment, if he sees it he’ll just swoop down on you and take it. “I don’t think you’ll be needing this,” he says, and rips it up. He’s always looking for things to rip up, even if it’s something from one of your other classes, not even his class, something you were just glancing at. He’s always showing up all of a sudden and tearing your stuff to shreds.

   He has a ton of rules on his board, more than fifty of them, a boat load of them. “No Chewing Gum!” If you chew gum anywhere on campus, not just in his class, watch out for him seeing you doing it. He scribbles your name in his black spiral notebook and reports you. He gives you a full detention, which is forty-five minutes. He never gives out minor detentions. Mr. Hittbone told us chewing gum should be forbidden at the school.

   “You want to be a bum? Go ahead, chew gum, but not here.”

   No one is allowed to touch anything in his classroom, either. “No Touching!” If you walk by one of his special teacher books and you sort of graze it with your leg, you get a major detention. If you pick up a marker at the board without first asking his permission, you get a major detention. If you punch somebody’s arm, even though it’s none of his business, you get a major detention.

   It’s nothing like my third period class, which is our science class. The teacher is Mr. Strappas, who’s one of the varsity football coaches. He’s young, has blond hair, and is super fit. He played football in college and he’s a cool dude. He encourages us to touch things, do things, get into the projects, and the only rule he has is no talking when he’s talking.

   I don’t know why some guys can’t get it right. It’s always the same guys who get it wrong, who do all the talking in class, breaking the rules. We sit pairs to a table and the two chatty guys are somewhere in the middle of the room. They talk about video games, sports, and all their other dumb stuff. Mr. Strappas will say, no talking, and they will say, sorry, but they don’t stop. They don’t get good grades on their quizzes and tests. They don’t turn their homework in on time and get bad marks for effort. They’re just retards.

   Mr. Strappas doesn’t stand at his lectern. He roams back-and-forth, to the sinks, the whiteboard, and all around the room. He’s always on the move. It’s my favorite class of the day. I actually like learning in it. It’s fun finding out about atoms and lasers and everything he’s interested in.

   He expects us to be in our seats when his class starts but doesn’t sweat it if it doesn’t happen. But if you’re not in your seat when the bell rings the instant Mr. Hittbone’s class starts, you get a full detention. Everybody should be in their seats when class starts, we all know that, but if you’re standing there for a second, just fixing your belt, he gives you a detention. It’s totally stupid, but that’s another one of his rules.

   Because it’s  the Boneman, you absolutely want to make sure you’re all good. “Look Proper!” We wear ties, dress shirts, dress pants, a belt, undershirt, and black shoes. We have to make sure we’re all buttoned up. If any button is even half unbuttoned it means a full detention. He totally hates it if the second button on your shirt is undone.

   Even though Mr. Hittbone is a hundred years older than Mr. Rote, our first period religion teacher, who is young and thinks he’s all there, but is a doofus, it’s one for the button in first period and the same button in second period. They both hate casual dress days. “It’s like a casual walk through the insane asylum,” the Boneman says, looking at us like we are crazy.

   If there is any piece of paper on the floor around or near your desk at any time of the class he’ll give you a detention, even if it’s not yours, and even if you didn’t see it in the first place. “No Litter!” If the paper has your name on it, it’s even worse, because he rips it up before giving you the detention. Mr. Hittbone is his own chicken hawk laying down the law.

   “Don’t Look Through the Windows!” We’re supposed to face front when we’re in class, but there are some guys who sit right by the windows and sometimes they can’t help shifting their faces to the glass. That means a full detention. If Mr. Hittbone and I looked out the same window, I don’t think we would see the same thing, no matter how you do the math. Sometimes I think that since I didn’t have a part in making his rules, the rules have nothing to do with me. If you say Cloud 9 is amazing, he’ll say, what’s wrong with Cloud 8? No matter what, you can’t fight the Boneman. He’s like Godzilla. He swats you down with his horny tail.

  At the end of class, we can’t jump up and leave like in any of our other classes. His rule about the bell for ending class is that it isn’t the school bell, but his make-believe bell that matters. When the real bell goes off, we have to stay in our seats until he says we can go. At the end of class I’ll say, “See you tomorrow Mr. Hittbone.” And he’ll say, “Thanks for the warning, Mr. Who It.” My name is Wyatt, so he calls me Who It, as in Why It, and then he laughs.

   Sometimes it seems like he wants you to lay down at his feet like a beat-down dog and say, “Yes, sir, I’ll go dig up those apples, sir, whatever you say.” He thinks he’s the GOAT, but he’s just an old goat. He’s got us for fifty minutes, and that’s that. I’m counting the days until my sophomore year and I’m none of the Boneman’s business anymore.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s