Mr. Rote’s Roman Catholic Lessons
“O Tiger-lily,” said Alice. “I wish you could talk!”
“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.”
No one wants to be late for Mr. Rote’s first period Roman Catholic class because then you would have to go to his office the next day a half-hour before school and be pestered by him. That’s why I NEVER linger over my Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials.
He used to be a campus minister, who is the person who plans masses and retreats. “It’s an important job,” he said. “At least, it used to be an important job.” He was demoted after he spent too much time in his office laying around on his couch, listening to music, and drinking his special coffee.
He says his coffee is the best in the world. “You’ve got to get the right stuff. Don’t even go to the grocery store. All they have is goddamned sticks and twigs there.” He swears ten or fifteen times a day, which is surprising for a religion teacher.
He talks about his special coffee every day. If you are UNLUCKY and end up in his office, he spends half the time asking when you are going to start drinking it, rather than any time about why you’re in his office in the first place.
Mr. Rote is an Irishman. That’s what he told us, at least, although I don’t know how he can be with a name like Rote. It sounds like he should be German, like my grandmother, or something else. He has a thick brown-red beard and red-like hair. He talks in a weird, squeaky sort of voice.
Maybe he is Irish, after all.
From the moment I saw him I thought his beard was disgusting. I’m so happy that Dr. Gutman, the principal emperor, or whatever he says he is, is making him shave it off next year. I hate the beard. I used to think I might grow one when I got older, but I don’t think so anymore, especially when I see Mr. Rote rubbing his crap load of a chin.
His beard is down to his Adam’s apple. It’s not even smooth. It’s all shaggy and straggly, like the Bride of Frankenstein. It’s totally gross. Instead of sticking pencils behind his ear, he sticks them into his beard.
He keeps his hair short, so it’s not totally bad. He washes his hair all the time. He even washes it at St. Mel’s between classes. It’s never greasy. He’s youngish, not too tall or too short, and he’s got a pair of little ears. We heard he used to be fat, but in the last couple of years he’s gotten skinnier, although nobody knows how he did it. He’s a hefty heifer.
Maybe it’s his special coffee. He’s two hundred pounds, at least, although it’s not muscle weight, not at all.
He looks like a giant thumb with a beard. I think he knows it because he said the brain is a muscle, just like muscles are muscles, and he’s a brain builder. He’s probably not married because he doesn’t wear a ring and never talks about having a wife.
“When you’re twenty-eight you create your own hipness,” he told us. “It’s a cool age.”
He’s not a cool 28-year-old, at all. He’s more like a jerk. He’s full of himself. He always thinks he’s always funny. But, he never is. He likes to ask, “Oh, what are you going to be when you grow up?” Nobody ever laughs. Nobody knows why he thinks that might be funny.
None of the guys actually like him and that’s speaking for everybody. He drives an old 1990s sports motorcycle to school. It’s not even cool, when it should be, which is weird. He thinks he’s very with it, and very funny, and thinks he’s very good at playing guitar. He’s not any of those things.
There was a day when he wasn’t at school for some personal reason, which nobody understood because there’s nothing personal about him, and Mr. McKinnon came to class. He’s another teacher at school, but nobody knows what he does, exactly. We took the freshman survey that day, which St. Mel’s does, and when we got to the teacher’s part the only two teachers we raged on were Mr. Rote and Mr. Krister.
Everybody who’s had them hates them, although Coach Krister not so much, at least not when he’s coaching.
The first part of the year Mr. Rote was a nice man, but he didn’t teach us anything, and we didn’t accomplish anything. He just rambled on at random about the Bible. He said knowing the Bible and the Bible times and all the Bible bigwigs inside and out were worth more than a college education. “Would you rather be smart or saved?”
He said his class showed the way to get to Heaven, not the way the heavens work, which he said in the long run doesn’t matter. It was crazy talk.
St. Mel’s is a science and engineering and computer school more than it is anything else. It’s a Roman Catholic school full of ROMANS and hardly any CATHOLICS.
Then we started on the Exitus and Reditus Model during the third quarter, which is something he found on his computer last year, and which doesn’t have anything to do with what we were supposed to learn in our freshman year religion class. Our class was supposed to be about Jesus in scripture, but Mr. Rote had different ideas about what matters.
I don’t know what it was supposed to be about, nor did anyone else. It was just more of the same.
Mr. Rote paced up and down and talked all about the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. He said it’s about seven things, which are wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and Fear of the Lord. The first four things directed the mind, while the rest directed the will, and all of it was directed toward God.
“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” said Mr. Rote, pointing up at the ceiling. “It’s the straight path to Heaven.” I don’t know much about Heaven, but Mr. Rote says one day it will suddenly be looking you right in the eye.
Mr. Rote’s scheme was about someone on the bottom and at the top there was a triangle. There was someone in the triangle. You don’t know what it is when you first look at it, but it’s supposed to be God. It has an arrow going from God to the person at the bottom, and it’s got a line down the middle, and inside there are three numbers.
“One is the exit and the other one is the return,” he explained.
It was dead quiet in class. Everybody was waiting for the explanation.
“There are three different parts to it,” said Mr. Rote “That’s the Exitus side. The first is relational, because we are all relational beings. The second is reason and intellect and the third is free will. Those are the three things we are freely given when we are born.”
We all stayed very quiet and kept waiting.
“The Reditus side has two aspects to it. The first one is God’s grace and the other one is cooperation with God’s grace. God’s grace is similar to when you go to turn on the car and it turns on.”
That’s the only example he gave us. But, that’s not God’s grace. That’s a man-made thing, I thought. It’s supposed to turn on.
He said our lives were like a maze with only one way to find the center. “Just like you’ve been created by the Son and Holy Spirit, in the same way you’re united back with them at your ultimate end. It’s all about going out from God and returning to Him.”
He was always talking about the end, even though we were still at the beginning. We were created at the end of the week, according to the Bible. Maybe he meant it was about that.
We had to do quick writes every day the rest of the year and the two things we had to use for the quick writes were the ER model and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“One hundred percent depends on the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of holiness,” said Mr. Rote.
I knew enough about the Holy Spirit and the Seven Gifts was something I could work with, but Mr. Rote’s ER Model drove me nuts. It drove everybody nuts. He wasn’t supposed to be teaching us that. That wasn’t what we signed up for. It was like a circular driveway you couldn’t get out of.
Unfortunately, I had Mr. Rote all four quarters of the year.
I wish I had gotten one of the other religion teachers, but I didn’t. The first two quarters he didn’t teach us much. He would talk about random stuff like life, some other stupid things, and play his guitar. He talked about music every day. He talked about it all the time, about going to open mikes and music venues, and how he played at those on weekends. He told us about every concert he went to during the summer, except he never went to anything good.
He talked about it constantly. We hated him talking about music all the time. There were twenty of us in the class. We were PRISONERS OF NOTHING. We all talked about how much we hated it. Everything Mr. Rote did was annoying.
When we did the quick writes Mr. Rote would say, “OK, you have five minutes for the quick write.” Then he would yell at somebody.
“I saw you talking,” was his favorite smack down, waving a HEFTY finger.
He yelled at Birdman all the time. Birdman is Mark Biddle, but we all call him Birdman. He thinks his nickname is funny. So does everybody else, just like everybody else likes the Birdman. Mark has to sit in the back corner with nobody around him because Mr. Rote accused him of always talking. He moved him away from everybody else.
But, the truth is, the Birdman doesn’t even ever talk.
We all hate it because Mr. Rote will just yell at you constantly, for no reason. He told Jacob, one of my friends, that he was talking. Jacob said he was sorry and Mr. Rote got in his face about it. “You’re still talking.”
“I’m saying I’m sorry,” Jacob said, and Mr. Rote said, “You don’t mean it, and you’re still talking, too, at the same time.”
“Talk to the fist ‘cause the face ain’t listening,” said Jacob behind Mr. Rote’s back, making a fist.
Mr. Rote is just the biggest jerk. If you’re over ten percent jerk you’re in trouble. And he’s over one hundred percent. Sometimes he tells us it’s tough love, but what’s the difference?
He yells at us and argues with us all the time, and no one knows why. If anyone ever tries to say anything back to him, he says, “ Do you need to stand in the hall, or should I just send you to the Dean’s Office?” If we try to tell him he’s yelling at us for something we didn’t do, that he’s accusing us for nothing, he puts us outside, or sends us to Mr. Streck in the Dean’s Office.
That’s never a good thing, because then Mr. Streck has a reason to yell.
Or, even worse, we have to go to Mr. Rote’s office before school and listen to him strum his guitar and sip his special coffee. It’s just wrong.
In the middle of the second quarter he started piling a butt load of work on us. There was just tons and tons of it. We didn’t know why because we hadn’t done anything wrong. But, then we heard all the religion teachers had a big meeting about what they had taught that year up to that time, and apparently, because he hadn’t taught us anything, he started slamming us with tons of work.
It was so annoying.
We had to read a Bible passage from the Gospels, a whole passage from Mark or Luke, and then write about it. He never gave us short, little passages we could read once. He made us read huge passages that we had to read twice to make sense of. We had to find differences and similarities and how it all related to the ER Model, which nobody understood.
If you didn’t do it exactly how he wanted it done he gave you a bad grade. If you put your own opinion into the quick write he would write something crappy in the margin saying he didn’t care about your opinion. He would give you a bad grade, too.
When we evaluated our teachers it was just a general survey, but when we started talking about them with Mr. McKinnon, we spent a little time talking about Mr. Krister and most of our time talking about Mr. Rote. Mr. Krister isn’t the greatest, but he’s more like an uncle who pulls out his camera in the middle of dinner, so he’s not terrible.
I don’t know what Mr. McKinnon’s exact job is, but we all know he’s an important man, so we told him everything. Everybody said how much we hated Mr. Rote, how he didn’t teach us anything, and just wasted our time with homework. We told him how he yelled at us for no reason, about his bad music, and special coffee. But, nothing changed, even though we expected it to.
Jacob was especially mad about it. He was angry because Mr. Rote always yells at him, even more than he yells even at Birdman. Jacob sits right in front of Mr. Rote’s desk, even though Mr. Rote hardly ever uses his desk, so it seems like he would be safe and sound. Mr. Rote paces back and forth and pushes a little cart up and down the rows, yelling at Jacob from the back of the class.
It’s a cart on wheels that he carries his laptop on. He drinks water out of a Mason jar that he carries on the cart. He’s never spilled any water, ever, like it would be a miracle if he ever did spill any. Maybe it’s holy water.
Mr. Rote wears weird khaki’s and cowboy boots every day. He’s worn the same crappy tie the whole school year. “It’s a fair trade tie,” he said. He told us people in Africa made it from scratch. It’s multi-colored and has little diagonal stripes all down it. He hasn’t washed it once. It has stains all over it and it’s nasty. No one knows why he’s worn the same tie all year or why he never cleans it.
One week he spent the whole week talking about Nike and Adidas, how they aren’t fair trade companies, and how people in other countries work in sweatshops to make their shoes. He spends half his time talking about dumb stuff or answering questions about his beard.
Every day he tells us at the beginning of class that if the top button of our shirts isn’t buttoned it means we will get a detention. But, your top button can break by accident, or something else can go wrong. Everybody knows that. One morning Grant’s button broke when somebody collared him in the hallway, but when he explained it to Mr. Rote, he told Grant he should carry a sewing kit and gave him a detention, anyway
There’s a chair in the detention hall reserved for anybody Mr. Rote sends there, since it happens almost every day. Jacob accidentally set it on fire one day, but Mr. Rote replaced it with a new chair. It was shiny purple plastic.
“That way it won’t burn, just melt,” he laughed.
He’s just a whacked crazy giant thumb.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.