NOTE: I wrote this story some years ago, while I was still a classroom teacher.
My classroom is a calm, quiet place. My students—even the rambunctious ones—take a certain comfort in the placidity of Mr. Fornale’s room. One person talks at a time, everyone gets a chance to have his or her say, and we always respect each other’s sensitivities…well, almost always.
One summer, I had the privilege of co-teaching with Miss Pudlak at our school’s summer camp. She immediately noticed a few quirks of mine, but she graciously glanced over them. Miss Pudlak understands; she truly understands. If only the students were so understanding.
When my turn came to speak on the first day of camp, I explained to the students my expectations that they respect my hatred of all things cute. Fluffy stuffed animals are cute. Puppy dogs are cute. Hello Kitty is officially banned from my classroom. And since pink is a color that tries to be cute, I do not wish to see it in school.
Upon hearing this, a blond-haired girl who had always struck me as polite, kind, and respectful promptly smiled and pointed to her pink T-shirt.
“You are very brazen, Krista,” I said. “Don’t you worry about upsetting your teacher on the first day of camp?”
Krista’s smile widened and her brown eyes brightened.
I narrowed my eyes and sneered at her. “You are not making a positive impression, you know.”
“But Mr. Fornale, there are no rules against certain colors and cute things,” she protested.
“Hmmm…,” I replied. “Maybe no rules apply in this case, but you are violating a critical norm.”
“What’s a norm?” Krista asked.
“Hey, I have a friend named Norm!” interjected Andrew. Everybody loves Andrew because he is so friendly, and he is brilliant at math. Sometimes, however, he makes comments about random things.
“Why are you always making comments about random things?” asked Krista.
“What do you mean ‘Random’?” protested Andrew. “You said, ‘Norm’!”
“Meaning a thing, not a person, silly.”
“Oh!” said Andrew. “So, what is a norm?”
“Just a standard practice,” I responded.
“That’s just more confusing,” criticized Krista.
“Anyway,” I said, “you now know how I feel about cute things.”
“That’s right,” said Krista, “I do!” And she smiled slyly.
As I walked back to my desk, I heard Andrew whisper, “I don’t know about that smirk on your face, Krista. I think you are up to something. You shouldn’t mess with Mr. Fornale. You could get in trouble.”
“Ha!” laughed Krista. “For having cute things and cute colors? Who ever heard of that?”
“Well, I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Yeah? And I have a good feeling about this!” smiled Krista.
The next morning, I was preparing some materials at my desk before class got started. In walked Krista with a pink shirt, a pink bow in her hair, pink shoelaces in her sneakers, and a Hello Kitty notebook in her hand. She said, “Mr. Fornale, I’m soooooo sorry for having upset you yesterday by wearing that shirt.” Again, I could see that sly smile.
“Hmmmm,” I replied. “By the looks of you today, I don’t think you were very sorry.”
Just then, Andrew walked in. “Uh-oh,” he said upon seeing Krista at my desk.
“Oh, good morning, Andrew,” Krista beamed.
“Mr. Fornale, I have nothing to do with this, I just want you to know,” Andrew preemptively began to defend himself.
“Actually, Mr. Fornale,” Krista interrupted, “Andrew was encouraging me to get on your good side, so I bought you this little gift.” And she handed over the Hello Kitty notebook.
“Oh, brother!” Andrew muttered to himself as he slunk his way over to his desk. “I’m keeping my distance from this one.”
I looked at Krista, puzzled. “This,” I grumbled, “is supposed to get you on my good side?”
Krista didn’t answer; she just kept smiling at me as she danced her way back to her desk.
“I’m keeping this,” I said, “as evidence for when Officer Larry comes to arrest you for bullying me.”
Andrew looked up, intrigued. “You mean she can get arrested? Just for giving you a Hello Kitty notebook?”
“He’s kidding, Andrew,” interrupted Krista.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Andrew responded.
So the next day Krista convinced all of the girls to wear pink shirts. And the day after that, they all wore pink sneakers. Then the day after that, they didn’t wear pink, but they took out pink cotton candy at snack time and smiled at me as they ate it. The nerve!
And Krista showed no signs of stopping. I told her she was victimizing me, and that I didn’t deserve it. After all, when have I ever done an unkind thing?
She just continued to smile in that manner that suggested she was getting the best of me.
“We’ll see if you are still smiling,” I said, “after I have a talk with Officer Larry.”
“Uh-oh!” Andrew murmured. “This doesn’t sound good, Krista.”
“Oh, come on!” Krista replied. “As if I am going to get arrested for putting pink things in the classroom.”
The next day I was the one smiling when I walked into the classroom. I smiled right at Krista when she walked in. She seemed a little nervous about it.
Andrew said, “Krista, Mr. Fornale is smiling at you the way you smiled at him yesterday. I don’t think this is a good thing.”
Krista, somewhat rattled, put on a brave face, took out a pink Justin Bieber binder with a Hello Kitty sticker on it, and pranced over to her desk.
“Krista,” I said, “Don’t worry; I can take it. Actually, I feel sorry for you. I have the sneaking suspicion that your day is going to be a difficult one.”
“Krista nervously put away her binder, and began her writing assignment for the day. She was no longer smiling.
Within moments, Officer Larry Goldstein appeared in our classroom doorway. I was elated to see him.
“Good morning, Officer Goldstein!” I said brightly. “It is wonderful to see you!”
“It is wonderful to see you as well, Mr. Fornale,” Officer Larry replied. “And it is great to see all of you, boys and girls.”
“Good morning, Officer Larry!” the class said in unison.
“Officer,” I jumped in. “I cannot help but suspect that you are here this morning because of some wrongdoing.”
“That is correct, unfortunately,” said Officer Larry, frowning.
“How sad,” I continued. “It is troubling that people do the wrong thing when they know better. And I suppose the wrongdoer is going to have to face a stiff consequence.”
I said all of this while smiling and looking at Krista. Krista looked at me with a mixture of seething anger and gnawing worry.
“But it is only right that people who do the wrong thing should have to pay for their mistakes.” I was truly enjoying myself. “Isn’t that right, Officer?”
“That is correct. And boys and girls, you should all understand the need to conduct yourself properly and responsibly at all times—not merely to stay out of trouble with the law, but in order to be good citizens and good people,” lectured Officer Larry.
I could see it all coming together now. Krista had flashed all of those pink items in front of me, and she had grinned so cheekily. She had presented me with a detestable item and dared to call it a gift, and she ignored all of Andrew’s warnings that something bad might befall her. So, when I saw Officer Goldstein at the deli in that very morning, I could not help but appeal to him to protect me from a fifth-grade bully. I laid out all of the details of my torment, and I urged him to come to my aid. I was certain that his presence in my classroom had something to do with our discussion earlier that morning.
At this point I was the one smiling. I knew that within moments, justice would be done, and justice would have no mercy.
“Therefore, Mr. Fornale,” Officer Larry went on, walking toward Krista’s desk and stopping in front of it, “I am here to do something that is necessary but unpleasant. I am only sorry that I have to interrupt your class in order to do so.”
Andrew now buried his head in his arms on his desk. He had said all along that he thought Krista was headed for trouble.
“Please, officer,” I smiled. “I am sure that as unpleasant as your business will be, it will send a clear message to the class and help to preserve order in the community.” I rose and walked to meet him in front of Krista’s seat, where Krista was looking glumly down at the surface of her desk. I glared down at her as I said, “Officer Larry, do not let anything hold you back from doing your duty.”
“Very well, Mr. Fornale,” he responded. “It is with regret that I give you this summons.”
“What?” I retorted. “A ticket? For me? Whatever for?”
Andrew sat up straight, with a look of shock on his face, he looked over to Krista.
Officer Larry handed me the ticket, which had his signature at the bottom—in pink. Then he said, “I’m sorry, but you parked your car in front of a fire hydrant. I would have left the summons on your windshield, but I knew where to find you.”
“I don’t believe this!”
“Sorry, Mr. Fornale. Like you said, I have to do my duty.”
I looked down again at Krista, who was now looking up at me. She had that mischievous smile on her face again.
“Well…well…well…,” I stammered. “Well, there must be someone else you have to talk to in here. What about Krista?”
“Oh, that’s right!” he shot back. “Krista,” he said as he pulled a pen from his pocket, “here is your pen. Thank you for lending it to me as I wrote out the citation. I’m sorry I forgot to give it back.”
Krista took back the pen, smiled warmly at Officer Larry, then grinned triumphantly at me. Andrew was doing the same.
Justice works on its own timeline, not ours.