I don’t remember my elementary school sending home a list of supplies to buy when I was a kid. From what I recall, my parents bought what they thought I’d need.
I like to help out. My wife, I know, is very good-natured. She’s an eighth-grade teacher, which says a lot right there. We’ve spent good money on school supplies for her classroom. But why are we expected to buy those same supplies for our son’s classroom when he’s not even the teacher?
I’m referring to the reams of paper on the list we got from school. And the boxes of tissue. And the bottles of hand sanitizer. None of that stuff goes in my son’s pencil box. I was totally against it.
“We have to get it,” I told my wife and son. “It’s on the list.”
“We can’t afford to buy that stuff for my classroom, let alone for his,” my wife said.
My son added, “Guys, I think this list is just a suggestion. My school can easily afford it. They just bought new handballs for the playground last year.”
I could see it all now: We don’t buy all the supplies on the list, I drop my son off at school for his first day, and on my way back to my car to drive home, I get stopped by the administration.
“I wanna talk to you,” says one of the large men in the group now surrounding me.
“I haven’t got time,” I respond.
“Make time, Mr. Picarella.”
A black sedan with blacked-out windows pulls up, the back door flies open in front of me.
“What are you worried about?” Large Man 1 says to me, as I fear what’s to come next. “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already. Get in.”
The car takes me to the district building across town. Two of the large men who stopped me at the school pull me into some sort of holding chamber. Brick walls, no windows. One bright white light overhead. The large men push me down into a chair at a table.
A powerful man enters, sits down with me. He doesn’t speak, just stares at me. He motions to Large Man 2, who quickly produces a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, hands it to Powerful Man.
It looks like the school supplies list, everything checked off but the reams of paper, boxes of tissue and bottles of hand sanitizer I didn’t pack with my son when I dropped him off.
Powerful Man stares at the list, taps his fingers on the table, every now and then looking up at me, examining my every expression. More looking at the list. More tapping. More examining.
“Your kid like recess?” he finally asks. Before I can answer, he says, “That’s gone. He like field trips? More like trips to the field to pick up trash now. How ‘bout his teacher — the kid like her? From this point on he reports to the janitor.”
I take the school supplies list. “I can run down to the store and get the other things on this list.”
“You think so?” he says. “You think you can just pick and choose what to buy on the list, insult us by not getting it all, make us feel like the bad guys for asking for it, make us bring you down here?”
He turns to the large men, “Nicky, Joey, you think I wanted to bring this guy down here?”
The large men nod.
Back to me, he says, “You think I went through changing your son’s status from student to janitor’s assistant just to let you off the hook that easily? Nah. You’re gonna pay. I not only want the supplies on that list that you owe the classroom, but how does Room Dad sound? We also got a book fair coming up, volunteers needed. And the Fall Dance needs chaperones. Wear somethin’ nice.”
This guy clearly doesn’t know me. Behind my friendly exterior is a very, very—
“No problem,” I say.
At the store, in front of all the school supplies on sale, I stopped imaging what might happen if I didn’t buy everything on the list. I wasn’t going to be the only parent in the school who didn’t buy reams of paper, boxes of tissue and bottles of hand sanitizer for the classroom.
On the first day, I wasn’t the only one. Everyone else skipped those items, too.
I dropped off my son, went back to my car, got in, drove home. And that was that. No black sedan with blacked-out windows, no large men, no threats.
I couldn’t keep looking over my shoulder. I had the supplies to the classroom before recess.
This story originally appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in September of 2014. You can find it and other stories like it from Michael Picarella at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.