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Chapter 8: The Yearning Centre

The Yearning Centre

While Superintendent White and his attack dogs were screwing the staff at L.B.S.S., Perkins was sitting in the Legion, drinking beer and talking about screwing of another kind.

You know, Old Norm, most teachers are happily married.”

Old Norm looked up from his nap. He thought ‘Did I ask?’ No, he hadn’t, but Perkins was in a mood to talk and there was no one else in the bar at the Legion, except Old Norm and the Queen. And the Queen looked like she was totally uninterested. “Apart from the smart ones like me, who have seen the errors of their ways and gone and got a divorce, there are few single people on staff and those who are are likely to get married soon.” Perkins went on. “Staff rooms are considerably worse places than bars to meet new people of the opposite sex. Who, for example would you want to go home with from the high school? Barovsky? Jones? Maybe Rickards or Ryan?”

Why would I want to go home with any of them? Just what are you implying?

No, no. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m speaking in general. My point is they’re all taken.”

How come you didn’t mention Miss Delpeca? Is she taken? I wouldn’t mind…”

Steady, there Tiger. She’s young enough to be your granddaughter. You know, the high school is so devoid of action you would have better luck at the grocery store, the hardware store, even the old folks home than you would at the high school.”

Oh, I know all about the old folks home. The one over in Happy Valley is full of action if you know where to look.”

You know, Old Norm, people in the big city think that in a place like Byronville there are no secrets. They think that everybody knows everybody else’s business. If say, the librarian is having an affair with the young and good-looking English teacher, well most people would know about?”

Is she? I got a picture in my head of a couple going at it between biography and visual arts. That’s so hot.”

No, I’m talking hypothetically. People in the city think that folks out in the country are always in your face, always sticking their noses in your business, that kinda stuff. The fact is the most people in the country want to be left alone and most people leave them alone.”

Old Norm wished that Perkins would leave him alone or at least talk about something interesting: “D’you see the game last night?”

Maybe it’s because most of what teachers do at home. Yeah, that’s right. At home. Those lessons don’t appear outta thin air and marking doesn’t do itself. Maybe it’s because most teachers work at home and therefore spend a lot of time with their spouses that most of them don’t get divorced. It certainly isn’t the 50% that sociologists claim it is.”

‘Just shoot me now.’ thought Old Norm. ‘Or at least let me go back to sleep.’

But, Old Norm, whatever is true of classroom teachers doesn’t apply to the suits at the Learning Centre. Senior Admin demands their full time attention. Their work doesn’t happen at home. They spend the majority of their days in meetings or on the road or working on board interpretation of Ministry documents. You know, Old Norm, those documents are a lot like the Bible.”

You mean not written in plain English?”

Exactly. They always open to interpretation. So you’ve got your zealots on one side and zealots on the other side. People make their careers claiming this or that document means this or that. The whole thing easily gets confused.”

‘And you’ve confused me with someone who gives a damn’ thought Old Norm.

Whole language, phonics, thinking skills, standardized testing, process as part of evaluation, not including process as part of evaluation, lots of homework,no homework, integration, segregation for girls math. The only thing that is constant in education is change. Don’t like an idea? Hold your nose and wait for it to go away. It will go away. The suits have to justify their positions. So new ideas have to be generated and piloted. Old ideas have to be repackaged and recycled. Teachers need to be retrained. Documents need to be written. It goes on and on. Busy work applies as much to the Learning Centre as much as it does to any elementary class. Those Learning Centre folks spend a lot of their time together and not a lot of time with their spouses.”

You know, Old Norm, with the Obesity Consultant sitting across from the Phys Ed/ French Consultant for hours at a time, with all those working lunches and dinners, those shared trips to the Ministry in the back of a limo…”

They travel by limo?”

They have to. You need a limo so you can keep ‘working’ during the trip” he continued “With all that time spent together and apart from their spouses, one thing leads to another, and they lead to those things being in places they shouldn’t be if you get the idea. But for the most part, what happens at the Learning Centre, stays at the Learning Centre.”

Would you like another?” asked Old Norm. “And here are some pretzels, on the house,” Old Norm figured the more time spent eating the less time spent talking.

No thanks,” said Perkins. “The additives in those things’ll kill you.” Perkins continued “The most famous affair was Director Holzbein’s with a beginning kindergarten teacher. Now this wasn’t your classic Learning Centre affair. They didn’t spend hours together until something inside them popped and they threw themselves into each other’s arms. No, it was more he was in the market, having lost interest in his wife a long time ago. One of the perks of his job was he could go to any kind of meeting he wanted to, whenever he wanted to. If you call that a perk, that is.”

His appearance at a meeting of science heads was unlikely; that just be boring and maybe a little hostile. But a new teacher orientation meeting could be fun. All those fresh faces, 80% female. He could go and play the big man and check out the potential action at the same time. Beauty thing was even if he said the wrong thing, no one would say anything. He was the Director.”

Emily Ingenua was fresh out of teacher’s college. She had an angelic face and a smile that made you melt. She was slim and tall without being too much of either. She had dark brown hair which she grew to her shoulders and big brown eyes. Her voice bordered on the dippy side. But most men didn’t notice. At least not at first.”

What Holzbein did notice was a lot of youthful energy combined with innocent charm. When he thought of his wife neither word came to mind. Years of the elementary classroom had taken their toll on Mrs. Holzbein. The vivaciousness and enchantment that had attracted him to her in the place seemed to be gone. Her smiles were fewer and fewer, having been replaced by sighs.”

And she nagged.”

Oh I know about nagging.”

So do I, Old Norm. So do I.” Perkins went on. “When she didn’t like something, he knew. He didn’t suffer from the usual complaint that men have about women. He always knew what she was thinking, but usually wished he didn’t. One thing she thought was there ought to be some perks for being married to the Director. He was gone a lot. Up to the Ministry for this meeting or that one. Gone to conferences. Some wives would have gone with him, but as a classroom teacher she couldn’t miss that much time. Truth be told it wasn’t such a bad thing he was gone a lot, but still there ought to be some perks. And if there were going to be some perks for being the wife of Director Holzbein, she was going to get them.”

Sharon Holzbein hated her classroom at Curtain Street Public School. In September and June it was unbearably hot. In the winter it was frigid. The room was too small and dingy. Curtain Street was a school in need of major renovations, but there was no money for renovations in the foreseeable future. Thatcher Avenue, which is in the richest part of Granite City, had just undergone a major renovation. There was new lighting, new furniture and most importantly air conditioning. Sharon Holzbein wanted in on that.”

So she nagged and she nagged. Nagging was what was for supper every day of the week. Naturally the more she nagged the less she saw of her husband. But even if he wasn’t home for half of all possible suppers, her nagging was so annoying that eventually he gave in and promised to move the immersion program in Granite City from Curtain Street to Thatcher Avenue. The question was how.”

I was just asking myself that question.” said Old Norm. Perkins missed the sarcasm completely.

How would he get this past the Board? Trustees should be used to having the wool pulled over their eyes. The Budget is usually a chef d’oeuvre of misinformation, overly complicated so that even a Trustee with an accounting background would find it hard to follow. It’s never a fair fight between Trustees and Admin. Sure Senior Admin is hired by the Trustees but usually on the recommendation of other Senior Admin. Some Directors have gone so far as to name their successors. Senior Admin is a full time job, paying well over $100 000 a year, while Trustee is a part time job earning no more than 5 or 6 thousand a year. Admin have spent their entire careers in education, while Trustees come from all walks of life and for them eduspeak is a very foreign language. But something as outlandish as moving an entire program to please your wife was going beyond the usual snow job.”

The first thing to do was strike a committee. And so the Ad Hoc Committee for the Future of Immersion French in the Granite District School Board wasformed with parent reps from all the regions of the Board, an elementary Principal, a secondary Principal, two Superintendents and the Physical education-French consultant. As usual no teachers were asked. There is never a need to appear to listen to teachers. They will do as they’re told. We always do.”

As quite often was the case, the Physical education-French consultant wasn’t able to attend the meetings as she was busy working in consultation with the Obesity consultant. Don’t bother asking how with an annual French grant of $2.7 million there wasn’t enough money for a full time French consultant. And don’t bother asking why there was a full time Obesity consultant and a full time Character consultant but not a full time French one. Just don’t bother.”

Also as usual the final report of the committee was written before the first meeting. What Director Holzbein had tasked Superintendent White to do was to find apparently sound pedagogical reasons for moving the immersion program from Curtain Street to Thatcher Avenue.Demographics is always a good pretext. The stats showed that the projected enrolment at Thatcher would be dropping and so to maximize the capacity of the building it would be necessary to bring in more students. It was fortunate that having read the final report, no Trustee asked why such expensive renovations had been made to a school with declining enrolment. But that would be unlikely to happen because 1. Trustees would have had to have read the report. 2. Trustees would have had to have understood the report. Not to be critical of Trustees. I’m sure they’re nice people. But you gotta remember that it was presented as one report among many. It was deliberately thick so they wouldn’t want to read it. And it was largely written in a foreign language. At any rate Superintendent White would have had a nice, hardly concise answer in full eduspeak if the question had come up.”

So after the committee had met a number of times and after the report had been approved by the Trustees, the immersion teachers at Curtain Street were informed that they would be moving to Thatcher Avenue starting next September. Despite the promise of air conditioning most staff were not happy about the move. See, that’s not surprising. Most teachers don’t like change. Sharon Holzbein was mentally fist pumping when the news was read out, though it was hardly a surprise for her.”

Sometime during this entire process, Director Holzbein had found the courage to phone Miss Ingenua’s school and ask to speak to her. Holzbein wasn’t the kind of man who ran from affair to affair. It was just that things at home had got so bad that he needed some release, some change, something new or someone new.”

Are we getting close to the good part?” asked Old Norm without much hope.

Perkins ignored the question. “He also needed a reason to explain why the Director of Education was phoning a first year teacher. And he needed to stop being so nervous. His palms were sweaty. His voice was cracking. He felt like he was fifteen years old again. Why would a twenty-four year old, beautiful woman be interested in me. Old. Balding. Beer bellied.”

So he phones her up at school and invites her to give him feedback about the New Teacher Induction Program. Like anyone at the Learning Centre gives a fig about what a first year teacher thinks. And he says that the only time they can meet is in the evening at his office. Well she questions him about why the evening. And he says something like ‘as one would imagine my agenda is quite full.”

Perkins repeated ‘as one would imagine with a posh English accent. “Talk about putting on airs.”

How do you know what he said?” asked Old Norm

I have my sources.” Perkins went on. “We’re getting close to the good part. Well, Emily didn’t know what to think. Here was a man old enough to be her father. But despite his age he was attractive. She had always like bald men, but hardly anyone her age was bald. Again despite his age there was a boyish charm about him. He was a gentleman unlike most of the boys she had dated who were only interested in one thing and were impatient to get it.”

But he was married. The fact alone should have been the end of it. Her parents had brought her up right. And even though the topic of married men had never come up-to be honest the topic of sex at all had almost never come up, she could well imagine how they would feel about it. Yet there was something exciting about seeing a married man. Everyone thought of her as a ‘good girl’; everyone expected her to do the right thing. Maybe she needed to be bad just this once before she settled down and got married and got a mortgage and of course got kids. But if she was going to be bad, she wasn’t going to be easy.”

How do you know what she was thinking? Do your sources tell you that too?”

Do you want me to get to the good part or no? That evening at the Learning Centre, he had started slowly, respectfully. Looking back it was clear to Emily that it had been Carl’s intention from the beginning. They had discussed the New Teacher Induction Program an appropriate amount of time. Then he had shown her a draft of a report on the program and asked her if she wanted a drink while she read it. She was surprised when he rolled out a mini bar. But he explained that Senior Admin worked such long hours that they had to mix pleasure with business or there would be no pleasure at all. There followed a few minutes of chitchat. He asked her where she was from, where she had gone to university, what she had majored in. Then somehow before either had really realized what they were kissing. The kissing somehow lead to his desk being clear off of all objects and her clothes removing themselves then his going too and then oh my god the most amazing sex she had ever had. Those boys she had dated really were boys. No endurance, no respect for her needs; just in and out and thanks a lot. But Carl, oh my god , Carl. His touch was so gentle; his kisses so soft and she had felt things she had never felt before. She had gone places she had never been before. So much for being bad without being easy. But who cares?”

Old Norm was more interested “So they did it? Right there in his office?”

On his desk!”

Wow! You don’t see that kind of action very much. Especially at the old folks home.”

No, I expect you don’t. Well seven o’clock in the evening is probably not the best time for doing something like that at the Learning Centre. At that time it’s not teeming with activity, but there are a few consultants and supervising Principals hanging around finishing up the day’s work. Sure, as Director, Carl got the nicest office, with a solid oak door that closed, mahogany book shelves and a big, ostentatious-looking desk which had not been bought for tonight’s purpose. But the walls are pretty thin and the sex was that intense that anyone still there would have had a pretty good idea of the nature of the activity going on the other side of the wall. No one there who knew the couple would have imagined it was with the Director’s wife. So pretty much right off the bat, word started to get round about the Director and his little action on the side.”

When Emily and Carl had finished, they lay on the desk for a brief moment. It was after all a pretty uncomfortable desk. She got dressed and said that she had planning to do. He asked if he could call her again. She wanted to say ‘yes, in five minutes.’, but thought she appeared cheap enough for one night. And answered that yes that would be nice. Yes Tuesday would be fine and kissed him on the cheek and hurried off to her car.”

To be fair to the couple, it was the only time the Director’s office and the Director’s desk was used for these purposes.”

Too bad,” interjected Old Norm.

For future activities they would go out of town or at least rent a room. But the tongues were already wagging. The rumour machine was running on full throttle and it would be no time before it all got back to Sharon Holzbein.”

Sharon believed that revenge is a dish best served cold. So she formulated a plan, hired a private detective and started having her assets evaluated. Hiring a detective is not an easy thing and not something that most folks in Granite City would do or even know how to go about doing it. Truth be told there are no private detectives to be had in Granite City. But a woman scorn is a resourceful woman. Sharon made some phone calls, surfed the internet and shopped around. Eventually she found someone who would come up from the big city as long as she paid his expenses. It wasn’t going to be cheap, but Carl Holzbein was going to pay for his sins.”

It was a little like shooting fish in a barrow. Really dumb fish that is with little targets painted on their sides. Within a day and a half, Dick Tracy, or whatever his name was had all the times, all the credit card receipts, all the eye witnesses accounts from waiters and hotel clerks and most of all, all the digital photographs necessary to hang Director Holzbein up and leave him twisting.”

Amicable divorce is almost an oxymoron and certainly didn’t apply here. Perhaps hostile takeover’would be a better term here, and it was exactly the objective of all of Sharon’s actions. She wasn’t going to leave him with a loonie, a toonie or a five dollar bill. Carl got a lawyer suit to represent him; against the advice of all her friends, Sharon chose to represent herself. No suit could possibly express the pain, the anger and the humiliation that she felt. No suit could possibly be motivated enough to squeeze every drop of blood from Carl’s wallet.”

For months Sharon prepared for her day in court. She read everything on family law she could get her hands on. She researched similar divorces. She gave her class busy work while she read Family Law Quarterly. She knew the value of his soon-to-be-ex husband’s stock portfolio on a daily basis. She knew what his pension was going to be if he went now or in five years and every date in between.’

Then there was his salary. As Director of the Granite District School Board Carl Holzbein earned slightly less than $200, 000 a year. More than the Premier of Ontario it should be said. Babe Ruth when it was pointed out that he made more than the President of the United States replied that he was having a better year than the President. The same couldn’t be said for Carl Holzbein. It’s not exactly clear what it is that a director does. Sure he or she is in charge of the board. But what is expected of a director to a great extend is invisibility. Most boards don’t want a director who is looking for fame and celebrity. Stop anyone on the street and ask who the director of education is and see what kind of answer you get. If invisibility is important then Carl screwed up big time. It wasn’t the divorce. In these modern times divorce is no big deal. It wasn’t the adultery. Hate to say it but in these modern times, adultery is no big deal. It was the public nature of the divorce. Now Granite City doesn’t have a TV station. But TV stations don’t really cover divorces, unless of course it’s the divorces of Hollywood celebrities. But modern gossip is high tech. In Chat room and staff room Holzbein had become an embarrassment to the Board. At breakfasts at Tim’s and at Rotary lunches he had become the topic of conversation.”

And then the pictures got out on the internet.”

There are pictures? Where can I get me some?”

Sharon’s dick tracy had taken some pretty compromising pictures. They were only intended for Sharon’s legal use. But someone had got a hold of them and had hacked into the Board’s website and posted them there. They didn’t stay up there long, just long enough for half of Granite City to copy them and send them to anyone who could possibly care, including TV stations and newspapers in the big city.”

Poor Emily. Unaware of all this, she came into work like any other day and immediately felt a chill throughout the entire school. People were whispering in groups of two or three. Everyone stared and no one said hello. And in class the kids all giggled to each other and whispered words. Then the phone calls from parents started coming to the Principal demanding that their child be placed in a different class.”

Emily went home at lunch and didn’t come back for the rest of the term.”

One thing was clear to the Board: Carl Holzbein had to go. Problem was he still had two years left on his contract and a buyout was not going to be cheap.”

Cheap was not a word that could be applied to the divorce settlement, at least not from Carl’s point of view. While Sharon may have been an amateur in the court room, her determination to exact revenge on her soon-to-be-ex-husband propelled her to a level rarely reached by professionals. Carl’s lawyer faced with a barrage of arguments thought it better to surrender than to fight on in a losing cause. Sharon got pretty much everything she wanted: the house, the family car, the kids, his dog. She didn’t even like the dog. Carl seemed like a beaten man.”

His dealings with the Board went better. He was in a much better position. He had a contract. He hadn’t done anything illegal. He could have held out for a lot more. In the end Carl accepted one year’s salary as long as the Board allowed him to do one thing before he left. One thing that had bothered him had been the findings of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Future of Immersion French in the Granite District School Board . The end result of the Committee’s work was that the immersion program had been moved to the richest part of town, sending a message to the community that immersion was only for an elite and not for everyone. As a firm believer in education for all, he would have kept it at Curtain Street. If the Board would move it to Curtain Street, then he would be happy accepting just a year’s salary .”

The Superintendent of Finance did the math and reported to the Board that it would be cheaper to do the move than to pay off the Holzbein’s contract in full. So after only two years of being at Thatcher Avenue the program was moved back to Curtain Street.”

Carl may have been badly out played by Sharon, but he scored the last goal.”

Carl wanted one other thing in order to go and go quietly- if going quietly was still an option. He wanted a good letter of recommendation. Education has a long standing tradition of sending people off with a good recommendation, anything to get rid of some people. By comparison to many, Carl was fairly innocent. Others, who should have gone to jail, went to the next board with the blessing of their Principals. Given these past trespasses, it wasn’t a big deal giving Carl what he wanted.”

Carl Holzbein took the recommendation, put together a pretty good looking résumé and with Emily headed west. He acted as a consultant for a year or two, but eventually found a job as Director in a much bigger board in British Columbia. Bigger board and bigger salary.”

Against her parents advice, he and Emily married, had two kids and a big house and a big mortgage to go with it. He thought his life couldn’t be better. After a while, changing diapers started to wear thin. He found that Emily had her set of friends in their twenties and he had his set mostly in their fifties. Her friends talked about nothing all the time. His friends talked about important things that seemed to bore Emily. They had so little to talk about together. The things she didn’t know. The music she listened to. And of course the sex got to a point where they had seen it all before: she hardly had time for it any more with the kids and all. And her voice, when did it start being so dippy?”

Emily,well she soon noticed that Carl wasn’t like the Carl she first met. He was so much more impatient with her. Nothing she did was good enough. Why couldn’t he try to like her friends, her music? Why was the sex always the same and so seldom? Why was he always so tired? He really wasn’t like the boys she had dated before Carl, so full of energy, so willing to please. Maybe she should have listened to her parents. What do you think, Old Norm?”

Old Norm didn’t answer. He had gone back to sleep a while ago.