Their teenage voices hummed in unison, a soft buzz at first, barely audible. After 10 seconds or so – there was no exact science to it; these were evil geniuses, sure, but they were still teenagers, and really, plans at that age are uncool, man – the steady hum would grow, bit by bit, until the entire room provided a constant noise ready to drive the old man insane.
The old man, though, couldn’t hear it. Not at first, at least.
Which, I guess, was the point.
By the time he finally noticed it, the humming would occasionally be peppered with giggles as the teens tried (and failed) to contain their amusement. He looked puzzled.
“Class, can anyone here that?” he’d ask.
“Hear what?” somehow would question back with the type of mock sincerity perfected by high school sophomores across America.
He would fiddle with his hearing aid, turning knobs until he found the setting he needed, then he returned to his duties.
The class, of course, returned to its duties, which primarily consisted of tormenting this poor old man. They would speak in low whispers, causing him to again adjust his hearing aid, this time turning the volume up.
By then it was too late. The class would start talking in loud voices, almost shouts, that probably deafened and already near-deaf man. As his hearing aid boomed from the voices, the class erupted with laughter, another oh-so-clever practical joke successfully completed.
He was Mr. Young.
We were the class.
He was, without a doubt, the kindest, sweetest, most sincere substitute teacher in the history of Powell County, if not Kentucky, if not the United States. I can’t speak for other countries.
We were, without a doubt, assholes.
We should all hang our heads in shame.
Anyone who attended a Powell County school any time in the 1990s (and probably in the 1980s) got treated to the substitute teaching of Mr. Young, a retired minister who was in his 80s (at least) in my time. He might have even been pushing 90. It’s quite possible, and it’s not surprising. The man was a machine.
I mean that quite literally, of course.
We all remember Mr. Young’s “typewriter,” which was, in hindsight, the most awesomely awesome thing any substitute teacher has done. I don’t even need to use hindsight to know this. We sat there spellbound when he did it, knowing full well that this trick was both corny and entertaining (but mostly entertaining).
For the unlucky uninitiated (which can pretty much only be Powell Countians younger than 23 and non-PCers), Mr. Young’s typewriter consisted of him making clacking sounds by rattling his false teeth in his mouth while his fingers typed in mid-air. Once he got to the end of the “page,” he would place one finger to the side of his nose, making a inhaling honking noise while he turned his head back to his left, thus allowing the typing to continue.
Keeping up with then-modern technology, Mr. Young upgraded to an electric printer, somehow wiggling his ear while either humming or getting his hearing aid to make a noise. It’s not that I can’t remember the detail of how he made it happen; I’ve willfully blocked it. Then and now, it was the work of magic. I’m pretty sure that if he were alive today, he’d have upgraded technology and do some sort of e-mail via WiFi, but only after also showing kids the typewriter.
If that wasn’t enough to make you immediately love him and realize his total goodness, Mr. Young was a retired minister, a fact many of his students did not know. I counted myself one of the fortunate ones, even catching him in oratory action a few times when he would guest preach at the First Presbyterian Church of Stanton.
You have no idea what it’s like to be 10 years old at church, only to see Mr. Young as your substitute teacher. I would get absolutely giddy, telling my grandparents “You will not believe what you’re about to see,” as I sat spellbound wondering the eternal question: would he do the typewriter trick?
He never did, and although I failed to understand why as a child, I can see now that a stoic Presbyterian church might not be the most appropriate place for Vaudeville-style humor. Actually, that’s not true at all – I still think he should have performed for the congregation, perhaps as the offering was being taken. It was definitely worth more than a tithe.
Mr. Young died a few years back, and Powell County’s schools are worse off for it. I’m not sure how much we learned during the days Mr. Young would serve as our sub other than new ways to play pranks, which is a shame. I think, though, that even then, we knew we should feel bad about the little jokes, but when you’re 15, you pretty much feel powerless to stop the wave, so you press on, even at the expense of a kind old man.
So now, here I am, 34, with a fully formed conscience that today sits feeling a bit guilty. I think we all should. We were just kids then, but we’re adults now, so today, I say this (and I encourage you to join me): Mr. Young, on behalf of Powell County, I’m sorry.
And knowing Mr. Young, he would forgive us.
Then he’d do the typewriter trick.