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An Excerpt from The Rocheville Devil


   There was another principal during Tom’s first couple of years, a young fellow named Esterhaus, who smiled a lot and seemed to know every kid’s name. He always looked like he was working on something in his head, some grand plan to improve the school, but they transferred him to Colby City after Tom’s first-grade year, and around Rocheville the rumor popped up that the president of the school board had said it was a shame to waste a talented administrator on the likes of those hicks up north. Enter Mr Hatter, a veteran of the Korean War and a sour little bulldog who at age 42 had no intention of developing a rapport with children in such a late stage of his life. The joke around school was that he had wiped out a whole platoon of Red Chinese with one of his paddles, just spanked the Commie hell out of ’em.

   The school board refused to approve Hatter’s proposed military-haircut proposal, which turned out in his favor because it helped him discover how much he loved saying “Excuse me, Miss” to long-haired boys. He never understood the spontaneous inventiveness of childhood, never understood a child’s need to express himself in new ways. Fifth grade: Tom remembered Daniela telling him about the previous day at recess when she and some of the girls were making up a new hand jive—the movements, the rhyme, everything—and Hatter approached, listened intently for a bit, and said “Is this something you think you ought to be doing?” She swore it was true and Tom had no reason to doubt it. Mr Hatter didn’t understand children. He was born 42.

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