My friends and I used to wonder what made Mr. Peters, well, Mr. Peters. His blunt cynicism fascinated us. Unlike the other teachers we regarded him as an actual human being. The other teachers seemed more like archetypes than personalities; rather than being something they merely represented it. After all, to a teenager adults aren't really people. Aware only of their own personalities, teens think of adults as people who've lost their humanity. It's what makes growing older so frightening at that age: growing up seems like being hollowed out, degeneration into a symbol void of character. That said we didn't know what the fuck to think of Mr. Peters.
Case in point: my junior year Pat Wryer got the lead in the school production of The Boys from Syracuse. Giggling with his theatre buddies in the cafeteria, Pat is making these grand sweeping, forehead almost to the floor bows when along comes Tom Strondon. Tom sees Pat celebrating success and reacts according to his instincts. Tom kicks Pat in the balls as if he's trying to boot the guy for a field goal. In fact, Phil Sudeski insists to this day Pat actually popped about an inch off his feet. Tom then explains the savage kick to all present by saying, "What a fucking faggot." Mr. Peters, meanwhile, has witnessed the entire series of events and sprints over. Tom is opening his mouth, presumably to attempt to weasel out of things, but before he can say anything Mr. Peters running punches him straight in the face. Broke the kid's nose. Mr. Peters points at Pat and says, "He started it. You finished it. And that's all anybody saw." He then vanished out the other side of the cafeteria, eyes bugging out like a paranoid homeless man jacked up on meth. So, yeah, he struck us as different from the other teachers.
One time my buddy Alan and I are getting out of detention, and there is Mr. Peters getting into his car. Knowing not to suggest fuck off to the hand of Fate, we followed him. He went straight to Marcy's Diner over on Main. After he left we asked a waitress about him. She said he came in just about every night. So we started making passes on the place. It got to be part of our routine. Me and the other guys would be on the way to a movie, only we'd take a roundabout route just to pass Marcy's to see if Mr. Peters was in. Sure enough, almost every pass we saw him, always drinking a chocolate milkshake with a side of fries. And every night he sat eating alone. Halfway through the shake he'd pull out this battered notebook and start writing in it. We always used to speculate what might be in there. Alan usually got the ball rolling in that department.
He might start, "He's on his like thousandth play. Problem is he never gets past the opening dialogue. It's good stuff though. The kind that makes you want to keep trying because it keeps making you think, 'I can do this.' But he's a fucking teacher for a reason. He can't. It's part of what's driven him insane."
Then Gary throws in, "The other thing that's getting him crazed is that he's got buddies in New York and L.A., guys who've kinda made it but aren't famous, and they all have stories about what happens to young actors, and it makes Peters all worried about like what if he's inspired kids to go after their dreams, but they all ended up clichés sucking dick in alleys for dimes."
Then I'd add onto that, "And what makes that all so bad is he sees more starry eyes than talent, but he lets them go on believing they can be grand because there are always bills to pay. So he feels like a kind of human trafficking guidance counselor, setting kids up to turn into low rung pornstars and back alley cum buckets."
Alan would rejoin, "Yeah, yeah! That's why he snaps on people when they ask for advice. He knows they're sideways asking if he thinks they've got what it takes to be... whatever, and he's so sick of sending kids off to fail he can't help screaming at them."
"Like with Richard Washington," Gary says to stir the pot.
Alan nodding, "Richard Fucking Washington. You were there, right?"
And I reply, "It happened in my history class. Fucking Peters comes bursting in --I swear I think he kicked the door open. Mrs. Kline says something like, 'Can I help you Mr. Peters?' And he goes, 'Not now you old bitch.' He points at Richard and says, 'Regarding what you asked me earlier. No. You've got talent, but I don't think you know what to do with it. So find a teacher who isn't legally obligated to candy coat things, who can say to your face, "Richard, you fucked up. What you just did may have given me cancer. Stop doing that." I can't say things like that to you because you might sue the school over emotional distress or some such bullshit. You have potential, don't get me wrong, but being good doesn't entitle you to success.'
"Then he just left. Gave Mrs. Kline the finger on his way out."
Gary shakes his head, "I can't believe you remember all that."
I say, "It was memorable. It almost felt like he was talking to the whole class in a way. Richard set him off, but Peters was trying to save us all."
This gives Gary a brainwave, "That's what all the plays are about. He's trying to craft something that will save the student stars he sent off to be everything except actors. Penance for the sin of being their inspiration to seek success in the theater."
"Gentlemen, I think we've nailed," I say, and we'd leave things at that till the next round of hypothesizing. Every week we came up with something new, or rather, something we thought was new. As I got older I realized we were just rediscovering long standing clichés about lost love, broken dreams, and the burdens of reality. That said, we made an outright effort not to find out what, if anything, we said might be true. It's tempting to say our suppositions felt more real, but honestly, we worried the truth could be disappointing. It would suck to find out Mr. Peters was simply a bipolar drama geek instead of a tortured genius, whose mind was too cracked from a failed romance with a rising star, whom he lost when fame malformed his lover beyond recognition, tragically leaving him in the bitter clutches of the old adage those who cannot do teach. We liked him the way we thought of him.