Hail the Weird Substitutes

Andrea Verschuyl

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We’ve all had a crazy sub that leaves a serious impression, forever marking the way we see the world around us. Behind every mover and shaker in the world stands a teacher, but blessed too are the faceless subs whose oddities are shuffled into nonexistence, swallowed like marbles into a deep bowl of pancake batter. Today we celebrate those folks in all their weirdness. Ladled into the pan, we watch them rise, finally recognized for their indescribable, alien beauty.

I have had my fair share of substitutes. To spare these rare, deep-sea creatures from the embarrassing light of day, all of the following individual’s names have been altered, but believe you me, they are real. This brings me to the chilling tale of a sub who is only known as: the Old Guy. My French class sat silently when the Old Guy hobbled into the room, but his smile was bright and his personality seemed to exude the grace of a thousand ponies. “Hey class!” He exclaimed, “Want me to sing you a tune?” Anyone who has suffered the monotony of High School knows that when a teacher offers to serenade you, it is your duty to accept. So the Old Guy leapt into a fanciful melody about the ABC’s and how it pertained to his antebellum sweetheart. Then, amidst the uproarious applause of the classroom, he called out to my friend. “You there, with the red hair!” My friend’s back stiffened, a totally “awk” smile twitched at the corners of her lips. “Yes?” She answered, warily. “Your hair is red!” “Yup.” Now the Old Guy smiled triumphantly, “Just like my mother’s! You know what the men used to say to my mother?” Now the classroom began to shuffle uncomfortably. The “humorous” comments made to women with red hair are notorious. “What?” My friend whispered. “Red head, red head, fire in the woodshed!” Bellowed the Old Guy laughing uproariously. But the story, friends, does not end there. To this day sometimes I sit like a timid bird at my desk, as that old ABC’s tune creeps up behind my head. Closer and closer it tip toes until I know that the Old Guy is just behind me. The wide eyes of my friends tell me that his haunting tune now grazes the back of my neck. And then he’s there! “Are you Dutch?” He says impishly leaning frighteningly close. “Yes.” I squeak. “Then you are just like my ex-wife! You wanna hear an old song about a banana?” I will never eat another banana.

Yet the trials of my experience with substitutes do not end there. Freshman year, a wide-eyed Bambi-like creature, I sat, enduring a Physical Science course. There stood the substitute, now known only as the Crone. The Crone was steady enough in appearance. A posse of playful puppies tumbled over one another on her chest. When she turned around, the seat of her pants dangled pendulously towards the floor. Her back arched, her eyes bulged; she was terrifying. “So I suppose you all know what happened recently,” she crowed. Yes, we knew. Bin Laden had been killed. “What do you think will happen now?” She asked menacingly, then cut off the class’ responses, “Shut up! Shut up! You know what’s going to happen? I can see you do. It’s all over your faces. His people, that man’s people will come and get us! They will get their revenge!” She stood, her body seizing with desperate gasps for air. We sat silently; someone coughed. “So!” She said cheerfully, “You’re watching a movie about fireworks? I love fireworks!” We trembled collectively; hands squeezed hands beneath the desks as students sought some form of cold comfort from the Crone. Now the Crone admitted gleefully, “But fireworks can be dangerous! Back in the day I used to have fireworks displays for my neighborhood. You all know fireworks can be dangerous, right? Mhm, I can see you do. You know what happens when you tilt a firework just so? Well I sure didn’t. That firework was tilted just enough though and when I lit it, it flew right into my neighbor’s yard and blew up their tree! Then you know what all of those moms started doing? They started putting their kids inside, or in their cars. And I was yelling at them! Banging on the windows! Did they really think their kids would be any safer from a firework in the car?” I never really liked fireworks anyway.

Usually with portly stomachs tucked beneath a Tommy Bahama button up, a foreign pair of glasses teetering precariously off the tip of their nose, many subs extend an enigmatic pall over the class. Like Big Foot, we never truly believe that they are real things, lost as they are within the fog of myth and fable. Yet the stories they leave along the way are classics, cradled within the muddy footprints of time. They change us all.