No one gets excited when they see Vogler’s name on their class schedule. Vogler smells – like frying onions, or pastrami sandwiches, or a freshly opened bag of pepperoni.
When you hit eleventh grade, you pray for teachers like Lehrer, or Pfaff, anyone except stinky-Vogler. Of course, my prayers fall on deaf ears, always.
“Vogler, third period.” I groan to my friend. She checks her schedule and smiles,
“Mister Pfaff, fourth.”
So off I trot to Mr. Vogler’s portable A. Even the lockers by his room have that Vogler-stench.
“Glad I don’t have to keep my books out here, too” I say with a smile to the kid coming in the door behind me. She doesn’t smile back. My guess? She has a locker in Vogler’s hall.
The little man stands at the front of his classroom on top of a box he tells us he built for himself at his wood shop in the old country. “I’ve been standing up here for 29 years. There is nothing you do that I cannot see. Remember that, students!”
Vogler dresses in the colors of fall. A yellow plaid short-sleeved dress shirt, olive pants cinched above his waist with a shiny brown belt, and matching shiny brown shoes. He has pulled his pants up high enough that, from where I’ve found a seat, I can see the argyle pattern on his olive socks.
Class begins each day with a long boring roll call and as we settle ourselves behind our desks, take out paper and pencil, the man on the box murmurs our names: “Attebury, Barkus, Duda, Edge, Fischer, Frazier, Hoard, Jones, Lange …”
“Here!” cries the girl in the front row. Tall, tan, and attentive, she chooses her seat carefully each morning, depending on where the box sits; she is always front-and-center. If Mr. Vogler hasn’t seen her already, it is only because he cannot see through his smudged lenses. “Good Morning, Mr. V” she adds with a wide grin.
“Um, good morning Miss, um, Alta, um, Miss Lange” he responds as if he’s forgotten her name already. Alta beams.
I sit in the same seat every day, as far away from stinky-Vogler as I can get, and as close to the exit as possible for a quick get-away when the bell rings.
“… Pirino, Quinn, Roby …” he continues to mumble through the roll. I do not move a muscle when he calls my name.
Mr. Vogler teaches history. I’ve always loved history. I read history books at night before I go to sleep. I watch movies about history. But in Mr. Vogler’s class, I stay busy not inhaling, and then often find myself passed out on the desk, a bit of drool escaping my mouth when the bell finally rings. Not once has he called on me to answer a question, even though, perched on his roost, he must know I have stopped listening. My snoring desk-mate wakes me up.
“Tomorrow, students, we will have our semester exam. Bring your pencil and your thinking caps” Mr. Vogler recommends from up high, and I wonder where the semester has gone.
“Did you know there is a test tomorrow?” I ask the kid walking out behind me at the door. She doesn’t answer. My guess? She is just as clueless.
“It’s on the syllabus!” I hear an animated voice call out. “My brother had Mr. V. last year. He said to just study everything on the syllabus and I’d do fine.”
I nod at the towering, well-tanned, but sweet-tempered girl suddenly at my elbow. “Do you still have a copy of your syllabus? You may have mine. My brother saved his from last year for me. Besides, I’ve got it memorized.” She says this last bit in a hushed tone as she shoves the piece of paper into my backpack.
I do some mumbling of my own in a very-Vogler-like manner. “Thanks, Alta.”
I don’t have the world’s best study habits. I sit at the dining room table staring at the Lange-family syllabus and wait for osmosis to do it’s magic. By the time my mother comes to find me, there is drool on the paper. So, I can well imagine Mr. Vogler surprise at home the night he grades our papers.
He enjoys a delicious pastrami sandwiches, and then he pads into the den, having already removed his shiny, brown shoes at the front door and slipped those argyle-clad toes into a pair of soft, fuzzy, brown slippers. He flips the channels on the television dial a few times and, after finding nothing of interest, settles himself into the easy chair with his stack of exams.
“This cannot be possible,” he moans to the papers. “Who is this student? She never talks in class. How could she have gotten a perfect score?”
“She must have cheated!” his wife yells from the kitchen where she is putting the pastrami away. “Did anyone else get a perfect score?”
The next morning Mr. Vogler calls me into his office, he does it during roll call “… Pirino, Quinn, Roby, Ms. Roby please come to my office after class, Smith, Stone, Valentine, …”
I do not move a muscle when he calls my name. I do not drool on the desk. I worry, instead. If I cannot breathe in his classroom, what will I do in even closer quarters?
Mr. Vogler’s office is the size of a small closet. It was designed for brooms and mops, but like all things at this school, it’s received an upgrade.
“How do you explain this, Ms., um, Roby?” he queries as soon as I sit down. He is holding my semester exam in his hand. I notice in this close proximity that his yellow-greenish shirt match his teeth.
I shrug, figuring the fewer words I speak, the more time I can spend inhaling through my mouth, and the less time I’ll have to breathe through my nose.
“Two students aced the exam this year. That is one more than last year. That’s one more than every year. Very few students ace my exam, Ms. Roby. Can you explain how you are one of the two?”
“I got lucky, I guess.” I say, wishing I had taken a sign-language class. The smell of fried onions invades my nasal passages.
“Passing my tests requires more than luck, my dear.” He says leaning in closely so I won’t miss anything. “It requires paying attention in class. It requires taking notes. It requires participating in class discussions. All of the things in which Ms. Lange excels, and you do not.”
I study the hairs coming out of his nose and wonder if their sheer volume interfere with his sense of smell. Maybe he has no idea how bad he stinks. The rumor is he doesn't wear deodorant, doesn't even think he needs it.
“I believe you cheated off of Ms. Lange’s test,” he finally accuses me. His hand vibrates as he points a bony finger my way.
I shake my head, and as I do the coke-bottle glasses on my face slide down my nose. I index-finger them back in place and protest, “Mr. V, I can't see Alta's paper from where I sit. I'm in the back row! I can barely see the board!” I decide that bringing up the argyles at this point is counterproductive.
The next day in third period, Mr. Vogler climbs off his perch and passes out our tests. I score a 100% A+. I ask the kid behind me on the way out the door how she did. She doesn’t answer. My guess? She needs hearing aids.