One man's philosophy is another man's bellylaugh.

Jeff L. Howe

Jeff L. Howe
Location
Strasburg, Pennsylvania,
Birthday
April 19
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Visit the website: jeff-howe.net
Bio
Jeff Howe is a bonsai enthusiast and harmonica player who has very good reason to believe that the Universe tastes like a cheap buck-fifty melon. He is a product of Walled Lake and a former Poetry Slam Champion of Milwaukee. He once shook hands with Rocky Colavito, opened for Leon Redbone and took a piss next to Mose Allison (no hands were shaken). All things considered, his best single day was July 4th, 1987 when he marched in the Marmarth, North Dakota parade in the morning, discovered a rare dinosaur skull in the afternoon, and then sat in playing harmonica with a drunken cowboy band until way past tomorrow. It's been downhill ever since. Jeff is a misemployed geologist who specializes in interpreting rock outcrops at 70 miles per hour. It's a gift. His daughter loves cows. ................................................................................................................... FOR MORE STORIES, PHOTOS AND HARMONICA RECORDINGS VISIT: jeff-howe.net

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MARCH 12, 2010 11:19PM

Mr. Batsakis

Rate: 7 Flag

Mr. Batsakis was on a roll. 

He had us feeding right out of his hand.  He was holding court at the head of the the classroom, feet on his desk, leaning back just a little too far in his chair, animatedly telling us a story. The room of 5th graders leaned forward in rapt attention, laughing and listening.

He had been a fighter pilot in World War II, or so he told us.  By my rough account, Mr. Batsakis was single-handedly responsible for shooting down more planes than had actually flown in the German air force throughout the war.  But he was never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and we had no intention of stopping him.  When Mr. Batsakis was telling stories, which was most of the time, we weren’t studying math or social studies, or possessive pronouns.  “No, keep going,” we’d urge when he’d look at his watch and suggested that we get back to class work, “finish the story!”  That’s all it took.

This particular story was about a tremendous dog fight in the air.   His arms would flail wildly as he described enemy fighters coming at him from all directions.  With his imaginary controls he would pull up swiftly from a power dive: “ratta-tat-tat-tat-tat” he’d holler as he squeezed off a burst from his machine gun.  “Ka-pow!” he’d echo as he knocked the crazy Kraut out of the air.  “But look out!”, his whole body would shift left as he avoided incoming shots.  “Nazis at two o’clock!  …errrannnggggaaa…  kapow kapow… ratta-tat-tat… Kaboooom!”

It was exhausting just watching the man.  Even for a fifth grader.

But here’s the best part of the story, the reason I wrote it in the first place.  As he sat there in his swivel chair, feet on his desk, he described a great evasive maneuver.  He grabbed the joy stick of the fighter and leaned forward in a great diving maneuver, “kapow kapow kapow!”  And when he reached the bottom off his dive, when he’d attained as many G’s as any Ace could withstand, he quickly pulled up on the plane, throwing himself wildly back into his chair.

Feet came up off the desk, the chair rocked backwards, his head slammed against the blackboard and Mr. Batsakis rolled over backwards like a diver in a back flip.  There was a huge clattering crash as teacher, chair, head and blackboard merged in confusion.

There was momentary silence.  In our mind’s eye, we envisioned them carrying poor, dead Mr. Batsakis away in an ambulance, only to be replaced by some no-fun, no-nonsense proxy.  Party’s over.  It was fun while it lasted…

But if the entire German army couldn’t kill him, no swivel chair and linoleum floor was going to do it!  “So, I yanked the ejection seat cord,” we heard him holler as a hand came up from behind the desk, “and KER-POW, I was hurled from the plane.”  Not missing a beat, he straightened his chair and clambered back into it ‘ “and there I was floating through the air beneath a billowing parachute, enemy gunfire was everywhere and I was falling into the German forest with only a small knife and two days worth of food….”       

Truthfully I can’t say that I ever learned anything in the 5th grade curricula from Mr. Batsakis, but I must have.  Actually, I may have learned a lot.  I just never knew it.  (Like sneaking the dog’s worm pills in with a spoonful of peanut butter.) 

Mr. Batsakis taught me the art of the story well-told, and that you can be a knucklehead and be damn proud of it. 

I heard that he crashed his little Cessna into the woods near home about 20 years ago.

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Comments

Type your comment below:
So great. Thank you so much for this. You tell the story of the story so perfectly! The end is so sad!
I had a boss who was a salesman: born to be. Before I joined the company, he was making a presentation to a client, during which he sat down on a table: a glass table. The table shattered, but he kept pitching, while a colleague picked the pieces of glass off his ass.

Great story, Jeff. Great teacher, indeed. You obviously learned the lesson well.
FanTAStic story telling yourself Jeff! Ha! I love visual stories like this. I can see it all just as you wrote it. Still giggling. Depending on his age, he may have taken one last grand dive of his own free will. I've know pilots who've gone out in a blaze of 'accidental' glory, just as they wanted to.
I woke up an entire house of weekend sleepers laughing at your telling of Mr. B's histrionics. Especially his back flip recovery!Perfect in every way! -R-
This is such a great story and told so well here Jeff.
I expect you learned much more from this teacher than you realized at the time. He was a good story teller, you became a good writer.
It is all in the choice of the words used....
Hah! Great story. Sometimes, you learn more from these teachers than you do with those who drool on and on . Great Post Jeff!