More than once I got the question if he was my brother. Not that I ever saw the resemblance. Perhaps it was the blonde hair. Could have been the pudgy physique. Maybe it was the attitude.
He was “Ed”. At least I called him Ed. Never seemed to mind I addressed him in the first person familiar. It was the 70s and there was some loosening of the rigid hierarchical structure of high school, but not that much. Officially he was Mr. Baumgartner. Closest I ever saw any of my cohort get to informal address was ‘Mr B’. Not me. To me he was Ed.
I had a bit of a problem with authority figures, a condition that has abated little over the years. Other teachers demanded formal address, but I suspect Mr. Baumgartner knew he’d lose me by requiring such a stiff barrier between us. So to keep the communication lines open, he never flinched at my calling him Ed. Never let it be about him. Good man.
What he did with a whole school district I experienced in 1979.
It didn’t take much to understand that more than a few teachers at Palisades were generic functionaries. The nightmare ones directed their energy towards their abhorrence of teens. Others were perhaps once enthusiastic teachers, but years inside the system ground them down to where they longingly looked at the calendar in anticipation of retirement. Hence ridding themselves the responsibility of supervising these out of control hormone monsters.
Then there were the young hip teachers. The ones desperately trying to be our friends. These were fun people but suboptimal teachers. Even the OK ones were just OK.
But not Mr. Baumgartner. He was a different experience.
My bond with Ed was sealed one frigid night in January. At an away basketball game we had enticed two classmates to forgo the student bus heading home and instead be two of six shoe-horned into my rusty, smoky compact. Well, one large snowbank and five hours later we finally got back to Kintnersville where more than one pissed off Mom and Dad awaited our return. Understandably, a few of these parents got on the phone the next day to Ed wondering what kind of fustercluck operation he was running where a rogue such as I could spirit their precious daughters out of Ed’s custodial care.
This looked bad. I fully expected the uptight bureaucracy to bring the Shithammer of God down upon my teenage head. Instead, I got….nothing. Oh, a little stern talking too and even that I could not take seriously. The gleam in Ed’s eye let me know he tacitly approved of two girls and four boys packed in a Chevrolet Vega. It had a classy rebel taste to it all. Blows Against The Empire.
Years later he moved out of the teaching ranks and into administration where he had a major hand in changing the culture of that school district. A new culture that finally placed the students at the center and made their education the one and only priority.
Time passed and it was 25 years until I next talked with him…our 25th reunion. Guess which fond memory Ed had of me? Blows Against The Empire indeed.
In the spring of 2009 a former classmate and I took an opportunity to page through some old yearbooks. There in my senior edition, Mr. Baumgartner penned a lengthy farewell. His concluding sentence urged me to ‘Keep being an angry young man”. He knew, he really knew….more than I appreciated at the time.
It was signed, ‘Ed’.
This essay originally appeared in the July 2014 edition of A Pirate's Bounty, the now-defunct online journal.