"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Bad Breath Borland"

Being a high school senior is a sweet thing indeed.

Perks of all kinds come to seniors. Open campus lunch periods, serving as teacher's aides, and the sovereign power of being a hall monitor while class is going on, are just a few of the senior privileges that the lower strata of student population scum can only dream about.

One of the most memorable things about being a high school senior is that teachers begin to show you at least some of the respect that you felt was due way back when you first landed on campus as a freshman. Seniors have paid their dues, and commonly feel in every way equal to the full grown adults that have taught them on a daily basis for four years.

Tilmon Crowder was just such a senior.

Born and bred in the extremely working class section of Atlanta known as Bellwood, Tilmon was rough as a cobb and, at least in his own mind, tough as a pine knot. He was a tall kid with knappy, "brillo" hair. Some of his fellow students called him, "Peach," because of his frizzy, fuzzy head of hair. The tougher kids in school whom Tilmon knew could easily kick his rear end were the main ones who called him "Peach." Sometimes, though, in hushed and secretive tones, even the ninety-eight pound weaklings dared to refer to him in this way also. The nickname just fit him too well for his schoolmates to leave it alone.

When the Good Lord allowed man to invent the word, "loud," He must have had Tilmon Crowder in mind. His was the only set of lungs among a 1,400 member student body that could be heard distinctively above the sound of a 125 member marching band, and 1,274 other loud, screaming voices during the Friday football pep rallies in the school's old gymnasium.

Everyone wondered how Tilmon got to be a senior in the first place. If he had ever earned anything higher than a "C" it would have only been because some teacher's aide had been charged with entering the final course grades into the class ledger, and Tilmon had either offered a substantial bribe or else threatened torture (or death) by some insanely violent means. There were no division 1-A schools knocking on Tilmon's parent's door with the offer of a full academic ride. His only "degree" would eventually come from "Blue Collar U."

Tilmon, as one might guess, hated "schoolwork." School - to him - was social time, play time, and party time. Schoolwork was an intrusion, a necessary evil, and and his mind nothing more than an opportunity for the snot-heads to show off in front of the teacher.

Tilmon had his own ways of showing off.

Seeing them as his equals - or himself as theirs, Tilmon had no reservations about proposing things like: offering to rub the tired feet of the school's youngest and cutest English teacher, Miss Johnson, or volunteering to take the head football coach's brand new pick-up truck out for an oil change and lube, or suggesting that he make a hamburger and onion ring run for the marching band drum section and band leader during fourth period. Tilmon was always ready and willing to provide services that even the school's support staff could and would not do.

Most of his teachers understood that there is usually a Tilmon Crowder in every class, and in most every school. Normally, they accepted his brown-nosing tendencies with a hearty laugh or two, and then simply sent him back to his seat and back to work. To them he was little more than a modern-day "Eddie Haskell."

Coach Miles Duncan was the only teacher who couldn't and wouldn't tolerate Tilmon's mumbling as he walked back to his seat after one of these exchanges. Coach Duncan had been an All-America linebacker for a major southern university during his playing days, and was built like a small mountain. He once offered to rip Tilmon's head off and puke down his neck if he did not shut up the mumbling under his breath and get back to his seat. Tilmon seemed to understand the "gospel according to coach Duncan" as it was preached to him on this occasion. And evidently, he never doubted for a moment "coach's" ability to fully keep his promise.

One other teacher that simply could not tolerate Tilmon Crowder's overgrown tendencies was a science teacher named Mr. Borland.

Daniel Borland was a small, frail man, who wore large coke-bottle eye glasses. His modest teacher's wardrobe included neckties with double Windsor knots in them as big as coach Duncan's fist. In today's culture he would likely be referred to as a "geek." We just called him "Mr. Borland." That said it all.

Mr. Borland was not married. It was long debated among those who came through his classes as to why there was no "Mrs. Borland." Most of the football players believed that he was of the "left-handed" sexual persuasion. During class, all the athletes made sure to sit as far away from Mr. Borland's desk as they possibly could. The humiliation of having Mr. Borland to come stand by one of them and "diddle" his fingers on their notebook while he was lecturing was the one thing that no jock, especially during the 1970's, would have ever lived down.

For some reason, Mr. Borland did a lot of "diddling" back in those days.

The most blatantly obvious reason why Mr. Borland had never found a Mrs. was evident every time he opened his mouth within six inches of someone else's face.

It was his breath.

No one in the history of halitosis ever needed a mouthful of Scope like Daniel Borland. During his murderous, dictatorial regime, Saddam Hussein could have used "Borland Breath" as a substitute for Ricin, anthrax, or mustard gas, and would have easily killed just as many of his people. Mr. Borland's exhalation(s) could also have been used as an effective herbicide in wiping out entire fields of kudzu. Further, any number of auto body shops throughout Atlanta could have used Mr. Borland's potent aeromatic breath to strip the paint jobs off repair vehicles.

"Bad Breath Borland," as the poor guy had come to be known, had quite a reputation. Tilmon Crowder, however, also had quite a reputation. They were as destined to clash as two hungry rottweilers after the same dish of food.

Third period "senior" science class began that Friday morning in the normal fashion. Mr. Borland called roll, and Tilmon was the only absentee. Anytime there was a long pause after roll call, the class knew this to be a hint that Mr. Borland was frustrated about someone or something. "Anybody seen Tilmon Crowder today?," Mr. Borland asked the class. No one said a word. Students looked down at the floor, some stared out the window, and others whispered silently to themselves.

You could have heard a gnat's whisker hit the floor.

"I know he's at school today...I saw him earlier - carrying a bag of Hardee's food into somebody's classroom," a football player named "Tele Savalas" Williams (his real name) said from the back of the room. Tele had a twin brother who also played football. His name was, "Isaac Hayes" Williams. Somebody's mama watched a lot of Thursday night TV and listened to way too much R&B while she was pregnant.

"I saw him too," said Anthony Cleveland, who also wore coke-bottle glasses and big knotted ties to school - Mr. Borland had been his idol for four years. Some wondered if he was Mr. Borland's secret love child from some torrid affair with another science teacher. Naaaah...Anthony was most likely just a Borland groupie. Perhaps the only one in history.

No one ever got close enough to Anthony to smell his breath either.

Following roll call, and before Mr. Borland could go on with class, you could hear it. The loud slamming of the third floor hall door, the even louder whistling of "Stairway to Heaven," and the sound of Master brand padlocks on each student locker being "flipped" as the culprit walked slowly down the hall. These approaching sounds served notice to all - Tilmon Crowder was about to arrive!

When he rounded the door-facing and walked into the classroom, Tilmon was in a, "top of the mornin' to ya" kind of mood. As he walked by, he gave Mr. Borland a big "thumbs up" with one hand, while pitching an orange up in the air with the other. He didn't stop whistling Led Zeppelin until he had reached his table, kicking the seat out and plopping down next to, you guessed it, Anthony Cleveland.

"What it is, ya'll?," Tilmon greeted the class. The class did not respond.

"Mr. B," he said loudly, "Yo' man Tilmon is now officially present and accounted for...Anything I can do for you today - my good man?," Tilmon asked Mr. Borland with a wink - as he simultaneously peeled the orange - flicking each peel toward the trash can as if he were shooting free-throws - and making only about every third or fourth one.

One never knows just what the breaking point is for a person of small stature. Intellect, refinement, good manners, puny little biceps, and perhaps even bad breath can all be effective measures of temperament camouflage. Like the hidden but flaming red fires of a steel mill, sometimes the impulses that go on deep down inside a petite heart, soul, and body are actually more befitting those of a mad, raging bull.

That day, the seniors in third period science saw for perhaps the first time in their young lives the undisputed wrath of God - as interpreted and displayed by Daniel Borland. In almost a demon-like chant, Mr. Borland poured forth the fury of a provoked, mad scientist.

"You're late, again, Mr. Crowder, THAT'S 'what it is'!!...And, my name is not 'Mr. B'...Just as your name is not 'Timmy' nor 'Peach', as some of your friends and classmates are given to referring to you!!...My name - to you, young man - is 'MR.' Borland'!!!...AND...You are NOT 'my man' - nor anybody else's for that matter - mainly because of the childish, irresponsible way you approach not only your schoolwork but your life as well!!!...AND...What YOU can do for ME today, Mr. Crowder, as well as for the rest of your teachers and fellow classmates, is that you can start to GROW UP!!!...AND...Maybe, just maybe, you can begin today to act like a responsible student instead of the overgrown juvenile delinquent that this entire school believes you to be!!!!!...Am I making myself clear, Mr. Crowder???"

The more he said, the louder he became...The louder he got, the closer he came...Like a mad dog stalking its enemy, "Bad Breath Borland" was in Tilmon Crowder's face before you could blink!

The veins in his neck, the flush in his face, the clenched hand wrapped tightly around the ruler he always held during roll call, and the violent shaking of his tiny, fragile body were likely the ventings of pent up frustration from perhaps years of dealing with academic riff-raff like Tilmon Crowder. Whatever the motivation - one thing was clear - this normally dignified little educator was only about three seconds away from physically lighting into Tilmon Crowder like a buzz saw into a tree stump.

"Well do I, Mr. Crowder?," Mr. Borland loudly asked. "Do I make myself clear?"

Tilmon seemed lost for the moment - in either complete disregard for, utter denial of, or simple-minded indifference to, the danger that he was facing. The class was unanimously hopeful that their class clown would say the wrong thing in response, and thus wind up creating an even bigger confrontation - after all, as long as this kind of thing was happening, there were no dull science lectures being given. Too, they had never seen this side of Mr. Borland before. Not a single soul would have guessed that they would be witnessing this kind of show in third period senior science on this Friday morning.

Momentarily gathering his wits, and in typical Tilmon fashion, the reply that Mr. Borland waited in anguish for finally came...

"Whoa, Danny...Go easy, bro...Old Tilmon was just trying to help...", he said - shrugging his shoulders, rocking back in his chair against the table behind him, and looking around at his fellow classmates as if to gauge their reaction to it all.

Mr. Borland lowered his upper body even more closely to Tilmon so that they were practically nose to nose.

Before Mr. Borland could react further to this flippant rebuttal...

Tilmon Crowder made a hideously sour facial expression, fanned his right hand back and forth through the small space between their two noses, and drove the final nail into his own obnoxious coffin...

"Son!!," he exclaimed..."They don't call you 'Bad Breath Borland' for nothing!!!"

Over thirty years later, Tilmon Crowder still holds the exalted distinction of being the only graduating senior in the history of his old Atlanta high school to have received his high school diploma while in a full body cast.

LIB John Brown


Blogger Bulla_ki_jaana said...

Mr. Decker, you write very well. Charming reads.. havent quite read all of them ,but i will eventually

April 04, 2007 8:26 PM  

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