Fishing For Seniors
 

Steve Holland
 

© Copyright 2007 by Steve Holland
 

Photo of a tray of glass eyes.
Being able to toy with gullible students is one of the perks of teaching.

I dangled an unusual type of bait the last time I went fishing. The bait cost only $1.86, yet the results were phenomenal. I hooked 32 high school seniors in less than an hour! Each weighed between 115 to 200 pounds, and none were smaller than 65 inches. Six other fishermen helped me net the record catch.

My bait, however, doesn’t deserve all of the credit for luring the seniors. In fact, my bait would have been as useless as a green golf ball if it wasn’t for Beth Duncan and Dee Caldwell, two Greensburg Community High School teachers. Beth and Dee had been chumming the student waters years before our major catch in May of 2006. To set the table, they both had occasionally fed their classes bits and pieces of a bizarre tale which students were uncertain was fact or fiction. The tale is about my glass eye.

The story originated in 1999 after a high-pitched male student once told Beth that my eyes are different and unique. Having taught teenagers for 25 years, Beth knew this translated as “Mr. Holland’s eyes are fucked up.”

“Well, that’s because of his glass eye,” Beth said.

“What?” the alto squeaked as his eyes bulged. He focused on Beth’s piercing eyes and appeared to see nothing else, not even Beth’s sparkling earrings.

“I said that’s because of his glass eye.”

“Mr. Holland has a glass eye?”

“Yes.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.”

“How did he lose his eye?”

“It happened in Paris and involved a poodle. That’s all I’m going to say.”

From that point, the tale of my glass eye grew to become folklore. Now when I am in front of a class explaining something important like why people shouldn’t end sentences with prepositions, some students stare at me and think “Boy, Mr. Holland’s eyes are fucked up.” They also wonder which is the fake, my left eye or my right eye.

I do not have a glass eye, but my right eye is slightly larger than my left. My right eye is also a lazy-ass and a lousy team player. It frequently refuses to look in the same direction as my left eye.

Because my eyes don’t match, the myth of my glass eye has persevered. Which eye is glass depends on the configuration of the planets and the rumors swirling around that particular year. Over the years teachers have reported to me that “this year it’s your left eye” and “now it’s your right eye.” I’m waiting for the year a future Indiana congressman tells a teacher, “I think both of Mr. Holland’s eyes are glass.”

Baiting the Hook

Not all students, however, are so gullible. Some of the teenage skeptics need convincing. That’s why I occasionally play a small part. I first took an active role in 2003, when the Class of 2006 were lowly guppies in the piranha-infested waters of high school. Many of the guppies in my freshman English classes that year were also taking French with Beth. One day while listening to her freshmen moan about their cruel English teacher, Beth couldn’t resist baiting the naive teens.

“Oh, Mr. Holland is mean!” a blonde-haired female whined. “He expects us to write a descriptive paper at least three typed pages, but there’s no way we can write that much!”

“Well maybe he’s in a bad mood because of his eye,” Beth goaded.

“His eye?” asked a small boy in the back row.

“Well, I probably shouldn’t tell the story. Please get out your French workbooks. Today we will be going over the exercise on page 78.”

“What story?” the blonde inquired.

“Well, it’s not my story to tell,” Beth said, forcing back a smile. “As you should recall, this exercise covered…”

“Tell us. Please tell us. We won’t tell anyone,” interrupted a freckled boy in the front row.

“It’s about his glass eye, and that’s all I’m saying.”

“Mrs. Duncan!” the blonde pleaded.

“No, you’re going to have to ask Mr. Holland. I have said enough.”

Later that day Beth told me of her stellar performance. So when a curly-haired girl brought up the topic the next day in English class, I was ready.

“Mr. Holland, Mrs. Duncan told us to ask you about your glass eye,” the girl said from the back of the room.

I tilted my head to the right and gazed at the brave female. All eyes locked on me as the students waited for my response. I remained silent for several seconds before I spoke.

“I…I…I would rather not talk about it,” I said softly. I then lowered my head and walked through an open doorway into an adjoining room. Out of the student’s sight, I stood silently and listened. I could hear students whispering. A minute later I entered the room and continued class.

The next day in French class the curly-haired girl raised her hand and waited for Beth to call on her.

“Mrs. Duncan, I asked Mr. Holland about his glass eye like you told us, but he didn’t look too happy. I think we made him cry,” she said with remorse.

Receiving Bites

As time passed, the story of my glass eye evolved. I learned this after Dee reported on a discussion held by her juniors and seniors during a speech class.

“Today during lunch, the teachers were talking about some of the funny things Mr. Holland has done,” Dee said near the end of class. She approached the front row of students and adjusted her glasses. She then jostled the straight, medium-length black hair which made her look like the older sister of Scooby-Doo’s Thelma. When Dee was certain everyone was listening, she continued.

“One of the teachers was telling a story about Mr. Holland’s glass eye and…”

“Mr. Holland has a glass eye?” interrupted a shocked, brown-haired girl with blonde highlights. “I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yeah. How could you not notice?” a chubby male asked.

“Don’t you remember when we were freshmen? You could never tell if he was screaming at you or someone else because he had that one eye that went the other direction. It used to really freak us out,” informed a long-haired male with a metal piercing protruding from a bushy eyebrow.

“Now I know what you’re talking about,” said the girl with the highlights. “I didn’t realize a glass eye made it do that.”

“I’ve heard Mr. Holland has even taken out his eye and rolled it down the hallway,” shared a normally quiet female.

“I can do better than that,” boasted a burly male with thick, black sideburns. “Dudes, did you know his girlfriend broke up with him on the Eiffel Tower because she found out about his glass eye?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” confirmed the quiet female.

“If he has a glass eye, it wouldn’t be able to move, and I think both of his eyes move,” declared a thin male skeptic wearing oval glasses.

“Well, duh! The eye is not totally glass,” corrected a pale girl with wavy red locks.

Up to this point Dee was content to sit back and enjoy the discussion she incited, but the last comment was too bizarre to let pass untouched.

“What do you mean?” Dee interrupted. “Are you saying it’s both?”

“Yea, the eye is part real and part glass. There’s only the one part that’s glass; I think it’s the iris,” the pale girl explained.

The pale girl’s story is my favorite. I sound like Col. Steve Austin, the bionic government agent from the 1970s TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. My price tag, however, would be much higher than Col. Austin’s. I would be the 13.5 Million Dollar Teacher because of inflation. My left eye, like Col Austin’s, would come equipped with a zoom lens and the capability for night vision. I would also follow Col Austin’s example and use my cybernetic eye for top-priority missions, like searching for Bigfoot.

Setting the Hook

Seven years after Beth had started the myth of my glass eye, gossip was still percolating. Beth was particularly pleased that many of the students she baited as freshmen in 2003 were still believers as seniors. Other seniors, however, were no longer convinced by mere words.

“You’re a liar,” a bull-headed male senior bluntly accused Beth one afternoon in English class. “All we have is your word. Where is your proof?”

The boy had a point. The story of my glass eye lacked a shred of proof, no matter how shabby. At least the legends of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster offered gullible fanatics out-of-focus pictures for so-called proof. For Beth and Dee to net a higher percentage of students, they had to also provide “proof,” even if it meant videotaping a staged production.

I can picture the ideal scenario. The scene begins with me innocently washing my Ford truck in my driveway. I am difficult to identify in the video because I am being filmed fifty feet away on a downward angle. Leaves are obstructing the top of the viewscreen. Minutes pass as I, wearing faded jeans and a tie-die Grateful Dead t-shirt, smother the vehicle with suds and then hose the suds off. The hiss of the water striking the truck is barely audible. I wipe off the excess water and then disappear into my garage. Moments later I reappear with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels. I shower the windshield with Windex and sop up the cleaning solution with a paper towel. My right hand presses the paper towel in a circular motion. I look like the Karate Kid as he practices his “wax on, wax off” motion on Mr. Miyagi’s 17 vintage cars.

I stop and cautiously scan to my left and right. I then aim the bottle of Windex at my right eye. With the bottle obstructing the camera’s view, I pretend to squirt my eye. Lowering the bottle, I quickly take a paper towel and appear to polish my eye.

“Yes! That’s the money shot!” can be heard on the videotape. I lower the paper towel and turn toward the voice. I now look upward into my neighbor’s elm tree. My head slowly rotates until I suddenly freeze. I stare directly into the camera.

“Oh, shit!” is barely audible.

“Hey, you in the tree! What are you doing?” I shout.

Blurred images of branches and leaves fill the screen. The ruffling of branches and the scraping of rubber soles against tree bark can be heard. Suddenly the picture is a quivering bird’s-eye view of grass. A surprising thump follows, trailed by “Ow!”

“You damn paparazzi!” I scream. “Can’t you people leave me AND MY GLASS EYE alone?”

Shaking images of my neighbors’ back yards are accompanied by heavy panting.

“That’s right! You better run!” I bellow in the background.

Luckily, videotaped proof emerged without Beth or Dee crawling up a tree. The proof was on a tape that contained French students delivering dull presentations on French artists. I taped the presentations during Beth’s absence in late April, and I assumed the tape contained nothing else. I was wrong.

Moments after Beth pushed “play” and sat down to grade the presentations at home, she knew she had struck gold.

“Lou, get in here!” she hollered to her husband. “You have to hear this!”

I didn’t find out about the incriminating evidence until after Beth had shocked all of her classes with it. She then let me in on the little gem. She even provided a play-by-play summary from one of her classes.

“For all those skeptics who think I’m lying about Mr. Holland’s glass eye, I have something for your listening pleasure. Pay particular attention to the opening conversation on this tape,” Beth said she told her seniors near the end of English class. She then inserted the tape. Students watched a shaking picture of TV equipment.

“Wow, TVs and DVD players on carts. So what?” remarked a cynical boy sitting near the window.

“Hush,” Beth said while holding up her right hand. “Wait for it.”

“I think I have it recording,” suddenly screeched a raspy female voice on the video. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell with my lousy vision. Can you look through the viewfinder to see if this is running?”

Many of the students instantly recognized the voice of Mrs. Chambers, the school’s media specialist. Some of the seniors leaned forward in their seats as if they were eavesdropping on a private conversation.

“Not with this one eye, I can’t,” replied a male voice with a hint of southern Indiana hick.

Beth stood expectantly in front of her class, raised her right eyebrow, and waited for an avalanche of reactions. She wasn’t disappointed. Jaws dropped and eyes bulged when students recognized my twang. The teenagers traded gasps and looks of astonishment. Instant chattering ensued.

“I can’t believe Mr. Holland said that!” exclaimed the same senior who previously labeled Beth a liar. “He admitted it! I guess you weren’t lying after all.”

The sound bite was ideal “proof,” even though I was actually referring to my weak eye. The comment occurred while Mrs. Chambers was giving me a crash course on how to run the video camera. The video camera was set up for a person to use his right eye, but I didn’t think I could do this since I had spent the past 20 years using my left eye to look through the camera viewfinder. I blurted out my response, and Beth twisted and exploited it like a sleazy tabloid reporter.

“I am glad you’re able to use my personal life to entertain your students,” I told Beth while pretending to be offended. “Please, keep amusing your students at my expense. I insist.”

“My students? I’m the one who is being entertained and amused,” she replied with a smile. “Just two days ago I used your freaky eyes for a practice topic on how to write a comparison and contrast paper. The kids loved it! And that tape was awesome! Your eyes are priceless, particularly that Marty Feldman eye! Ha! Ha!”

With my confession on tape, Beth finally imbedded the hook in her gullible seniors’ mouths. The majority of seniors were convinced I had a glass eye. The stage was now set for me to make certain none of the seniors would wiggle off the hook.

Setting the Hook Deeper

I made my contribution on the third Saturday of May. That morning I left my third-floor Embassy Suites room and casually walked to the glass elevator. I felt a little disoriented, but I tried to act normal. The button glowed orange when I pressed the downward arrow. The elevator dinged and the two metal doors slid open. I entered and pushed the button for the first floor. The doors clamped shut.

As I descended, I gazed through the glass window at the breakfast area below. I located the four other Senior Trip chaperones and a handful of the 32 seniors who were participants on the two-day trip to Chicago. It appeared I would be performing for a sparse audience. I noticed that Miles Keeton, a chaperone and my roommate for the trip, had spotted me. Miles quickly leaned over to converse with the two other male chaperones at his table. They peaked upward and smiled. The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Before I vacated, I repositioned the black eye patch that I had purchased two days earlier for $1.86. With the patch concealing my right eye, I looked like a malnourished pirate. I took a deep breath, stepped out, and walked to the entry of the breakfast area. Before I could enter, Miles had left his table and cut in front of me.

“O.K., funny guy, where did you put it?” I asked.

“I knew something was up when I saw you wearing your patch,” Miles said as he combed his fingers through his short hair. “If you’re thinking I hid it, I didn’t. But I did move your bag near the television so you might find it over there.”

“Thanks,” I said, pressing a hand on his left shoulder. I then turned around and returned to the elevator. While I was soaring upward, I could see Miles informing his two breakfast mates about the mix-up. Of course, Miles spoke loudly enough for nearby eavesdroppers to soak up every word.

Unfortunately for me, the chaperone with the most vital role in our deception performed while I was addressing Miles. I was unable to watch Angie Feinstein, the sole female chaperone, work like a master puppeteer as she manipulated the two female seniors at her table.

“Oh, no,” Angie mumbled as she watched Miles and me converse.

“What?” asked a Japanese girl wearing a red t-shirt. Following the direction of Angie’s eyes, the Japanese female and her sidekick turned from their breakfasts to watch the scene. The Japanese girl’s flowing hair swayed as she rotated her head.

“Mr. Holland is wearing his eye patch. I’m guessing Mr. Keeton did something stupid again,” Angie said.

The two girls quietly gawked at my eye patch. After several seconds of silence, Angie said, “You both know Mr. Holland has a glass eye, right?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. We know,” the Japanese girl answered matter-of-factly.

Once I vacated the elevator, I returned to my room and sank in the couch. I envisioned receiving my Best Supporting Actor trophy from a sexy actress with excessive cleavage. I knew that was a little premature, however, since I had one last scene to perform. I waited five minutes and then returned to the breakfast area, this time without my eye patch. Since the line for scrambled eggs and sausage was at a standstill, I radiated annoyance and frustration. Ten minutes later I finally joined Miles and the other two male chaperones at their table.

“How did we do?” I whispered to Miles.

“They’re hooked,” he answered.

Reeling in the Catch

After breakfast the students packed their belongings and boarded our charter bus for a short journey to Six Flags. By the time the other chaperones and I were prepared to board, 45 minutes had passed since the scandalous eye-patch incident. It was time to discover if the few seniors who had witnessed the scene had dispersed the information on the teenager grapevine.

I climbed the bus steps and turned left to face the students. Thirty-two silent teens stared at my grey eyes. The witnesses obviously had done their homework. I sat in my third-row seat and glanced back. One particularly fascinated boy sitting two rows back continued his thorough examination of my eyes.

“What?” I asked the mesmerized senior with tan skin and moussed hair.

“Nothing,” he replied as he continued staring.

I considered swaying my head back and forth to see if the entranced teen would imitate my actions. Before I could put my plan into effect, however, Miles plopped down next to me. I immediately noticed his devilish smirk.

“You’re going to love this,” Miles said quietly. “Just now when I was walking down the aisle to count heads, some pipsqueak said, ‘Mr. Keeton, we’re going to play a game later. Maybe you’ll want to play. The game is Hide Holland’s Eye.’ Isn’t that awesome? Well, I gave the little joker a stern look and said, ‘You don’t want to joke about that. Besides, I didn’t do it on purpose. I just moved his bag, and Mr. Holland couldn’t find it.’”

By 11 a.m. the news of the eye-patch incident had traveled 285 miles. The same joker who had invented Hide Holland’s Eye called Beth while we overran Six Flags. The conversation was eventually relayed to me.

“Mrs. Duncan, you can’t guess what happened,” the student had blurted on his cell phone.

“Let’s hear it.”

“Mr. Keeton hid Mr. Holland’s glass eye this morning! Mr. Holland came down to breakfast wearing his eye patch, and he looked pissed! Mr. Keeton came up to him, and I thought they were going to fight right then and there. Mr. Keeton then told him where he hid the eye so Mr. Holland went back to the room and popped it back in. When Mr. Holland came back down to breakfast, he was so pissed he wouldn’t even sit with Mr. Keeton!”

Considering the joker didn’t witness the eye-patch incident, it made sense his account was distorted. The seniors had played the telephone game and had upgraded the incident along the way. If it took only three hours for the story to mutate to the point Mr. Keeton and I were ready to brawl, I wondered what the story would be in 24 hours.

“Ally, did you hear what happened on the senior trip?” a teenage girl could ask over the phone the next day. “I heard Mr. Keeton popped out Mr. Holland’s glass eye when Mr. H was sleeping!”

“No way!”

“That’s what I heard. Mr. Keeton then hid it in Mr. H’s jar of Mylanta and left the room. Mr. H woke up and tore the room apart looking for his eye. He couldn’t find it so he put on his eye patch and went down to breakfast. There he ran into Mr. Keeton, and he cussed Mr. K out!”

“What did Mr. H say?”

“He said, ‘Hey, you Howdy Doody-lookin’ mother fucker, either you give me back my glass eye right now or I’m gonna go medieval on your candy ass!”

“Holy shit!”

“And an hour later when Mr. Keeton got on the bus, he had bruises all over his face, neck, and arms!”

“Like did Mr. H beat him?”

“Mr. Holland said when he was at breakfast a one-armed man broke into their hotel room. This guy took his prosthetic arm and beat Mr. Keeton with it.”

“Do you think that’s what happened?”

“Hell no! Mr. H. beat Mr. K’s ass!”

“What did Mr. Keeton say happened?”

“He is unable to speak.”

“No!”

“I’m dead serious, Ally.”

“Whatever happened to Mr. Holland’s glass eye?”

“All I know is Mr. H was wearing his glass eye on the trip home.”

I never heard if the prosthetic-arm version ever hit the teenager communication network. I did hear, however, of a conversation the following week which proved the eye-patch story was alive and well.

“I heard about what happened to Mr. Holland,” a boy from the Senior Trip had informed Mrs. Feinstein during art class.

“Yeah, doesn’t that suck?” Angie replied.

“Did Mr. Keeton hide it?” the boy asked with genuine concern.

“No, I think he just moved Mr. Holland’s bag. I assume that is where Mr. Holland had the container for his glass eye. It’s kind of like dentures. You pull them out at night for sanitary purposes. Mr. Holland does the same with his glass eye.”

“Yeah, I understand.”

Understand? What a sucker! It’s no wonder our fishing trip in Chicago was successful. My fellow chaperones and I caught our limit and anchored the urban legend of my glass eye in the process. I doubt we will ever have another opportunity to achieve those two accomplishments.

But just in case, I’ll keep my eye open.

I am a graduate of Purdue University, and I have taught English and Journalism for 16 years at a high school in southeastern Indiana.
 
 

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