Thursday, November 30, 2006


Mr. Kern (Dave) was the 8th grade English teacher at L.B. Clarke. He had short, red, curly hair. He also loved to suck on toothpicks - all the time!

Mr. Kern and I pretty much had a hate/hate relationship with each other. Almost from day one, he took an immediate dislike to me. I'd be lying if I said the feeling wasn't mutual. It wasn't bad all the time though. From time to time, he'd kid around with you. But there were plenty of times that I thought he was a total asshole as well.

Mr. Kern was also the detention monitor in 8th grade. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was probably kept after school with him more than 100 times that year. It wasn't all detentions though. At some point in the beginning of the second semester, I had failed to finish the first seven assignments or so. He then told me (in front of the entire class actually) that from that day forward, anytime I didn't finish an assignment, I had to come in after school. Actually, it wasn't a bad idea. More often than not, I ended up coming to see him after school. But at least I got my assignments done. It became a running joke actually. As he'd go around the room asking us for our grades, I'd say, "Not done." He'd then ask (more like confirm) "I'll see you tonight?" To which I'd reply, "Yep."

I can't recall what I'd done. But one day Kern got really mad at me and demanded my phone number so he could call my parents that evening. I gave him the wrong number. I must admit though, before the class was over, I went up to him and gave him my real number. That pissed him off even more though. He was furious that I'd even attempted to lie to him. Whatever.

Quite often during the year, Kern would have us use these really old textbooks that he kept in the closet in the back of his room. They had names in them dating back to the 1970-1971 school year. They were pretty beat up. They also had an interesting trend in a lot of them. If you paged through the books, you'd inevitably find something that says, "Go to page 67." Then when you went to that page, it'd say, "Go to page 114." This could go on for several pages. Once you reached the final page, there would be some sort of comment like, "Fuck you," or "Kern shoves that toothpick up his ass before putting it in his mouth." Brilliant... Of course I did some of that myself. I would have a trail of page numbers that would span 50 pages or so. In the end, I left some sort of clever message or vile poetry. Sometimes I would make a really long one, then not have it go anywhere. The last page would have nothing on it at all.

One day before class, Kern approached Kevin Dehne and I. He said, "Hey, I got a sniglet." For those who may not know, "sniglets" was a regular feature on HBO's "Not Necessarily The News." It was a segment hosted by comedian Rich Hall. It was basically a comedy segment about new words. He would name a word, then describe its meaning. The two I remember are "Carperpetuation" - which is the act of vacuuming something, (like a long thread) not having the vacuum suck it up, picking up the item, looking at it, then setting it back on the floor to try and suck it up again. The other one I remember was "lactomangulation" - the act of opening your milk carton on the "wrong side." Anyway, Kern's sniglet was "ruglump" - the act of stumbling on the carpet, then kicking the spot with your foot. The spot was the "ruglump." Kevin and I sort of snickered. Kern just shrugged his shoulders. His reaction was funnier than the sniglet.

See my entries on Kevin Dehne and Nick Novachek for a few more stories about Kern.

One day in the gym, after lunch, my friend Greg Flemal and I were screwing around on the bleachers. We were sitting down, but were sort of shoving each other back and forth. We weren't fighting or anything like that. We were just being slightly rowdy. Anyway, Kern comes over and give me five detentions. How many did Greg get? Zero! What the fuck?????? Yeah, don't tell me teachers don't play favorite (or anti-favorite) sometimes. I was so pissed about that. I'm pissed off now actually. Fuck him!

One day I came back to school after missing a day for being sick. Kern told me to get the notes from the previous day from someone else. I asked a few people. But no one had them. I told Kern that I can't find the notes. So he made me walk up and down the rows, asking everyone in class, until someone let me borrow their notes. It was sort of funny. But I had to ask about 10 people before someone actually had them. Thank you Beth Sullivan! I got the impression that Kern was less than thrilled that no one had taken notes from the previous day.

One day Kern busted me for running to the hot lunch line. He told me to go back to my locker, then start over. By that time, the lunch line would have been long. I didn't feel like doing that. So instead, I grabbed my coat and went home for lunch. I think Kern was mad that I had one-upped him. So what did he do? He approached me after lunch and said that I didn't have permission to go home. Then he gave me two detentions! I say again... what the fuck?????

During class, it was common that kids would go up to Kern's desk when they got stuck on something. A small line would form around his desk. Well one day my friend Mark Schreiber went up there. So I decided to go up with him. As I walked up to him, I poked him with my pen. Mark thought he'd be funny. So he shouted, "Ahhhh!" I certainly didn't poke him hard enough to warrant that response. In my mind I was thinking, "Thanks Mark..." Kern had an unusual delayed reaction. But about five seconds later, he put his pen down, looked up at me, then to Mark, and said, "Did he poke you?" I could tell that he was beyond furious. Mark quietly replied, "Yes." I could tell by Mark's reaction that he was sorry for getting me in trouble. Kern then said, "Put your stuff down and come with me." He then walked around to the backroom. As I followed him, Brenda Dax smiled at me, then leaned back against the wall, trying to hear what was about to be said.

As I stepped into the backroom, Kern grabbed me by the face, dug his hand in my chin, and violently rammed me into the wall. Then with fury in his eyes, he got right in my face and said, "I'd like to beat the shit out of you. But I can't. I'd lose my job. But I hope you say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and they go out and beat the shit out of you." He then went on for a little while longer, letting me know that he was demanding a conference with one of my parents. When he was finished, he pulled me from the wall, then threw me into a desk that was back there. He literally threw me so hard that the top of the desk broke off. He then informed me that I was to remain in that desk for the rest of the period.

Wow! To say I was a bit startled is an understatement. Anyway, about 20 minutes later, the bell rang. I calmly walked out, then realized that my pen was still up on Kern's desk. It was the only pen I had. So I had to get it. So I put on my best cocky smirk, waltzed up to his desk, and said, "Can I have my pen back?" Kern looked at me as if he were shocked that I'd had the balls to approach him. He looked around, found it, then said, "Is this your pen?" After I'd confirmed it, he tossed it to me and said, "Boy, you've got guts." As I turned my back on him, I had the biggest shit-eating grin on my face you can imagine. I was so proud!

So a week later, a conference was scheduled with my dad. Now backtrack a few weeks. Kevin Dehne had been in a similar situation. Kern had demanded a conference with one of his parents too. Kevin told me that when his mom came in to meet with him, the first thing Kern did was dump out a large paper grocery bag of papers and stuff, and declared, "This is what Kevin has been doing since I called you." Apparently Kern kept a diary of Kevin's every move during the days leading up to his meeting with Kevin's mom. If Kevin threw a piece of paper away, Kern snatched it out of the garbage. Thanks to Kevin, I knew all of this.

For the next few days, I had a few spies - Kevin, Mark and Ron Gretz for example. They would go up to Kern's desk and ask a question about their assignment. And they'd see Kern's "diary' on me. So I knew he was keeping tabs on me. And I do know that one day when Ron and I were passing notes, he wrote that down. And he even fished our notes out of the garbage when were done. So one day in detention, I decided to play a trick on him. Knowing he was watching me like a hawk, I took out a piece of paper and began drawing a huge figure eight on it. Then at some point, I crinkled it up and threw it in the garbage - or so he thought. I actually went up to the garbage can by his desk. It was after school, so it was pretty full. I leaned down, put my hand over the can, but held onto the paper instead of dropping it. From Kern's vantage point on the other side of the desk, he was unable to see the garbage can. About 10 minutes later (a delayed tactic in order not to be obvious) Kern grabbed the garbage can and began to look through it. He literally uncrinkled dozens of papers, in a vain effort to locate my figure eight. Of course he never found it. And I'm pretty sure he realized it. Because after several minutes of looking, he shot me the most evil-eyed look you can possibly imagine. It took every square ounce of my being not to burst out laughing.

So anyway, a few days later my dad showed up for this conference. And Kern went off on my dad! He kept saying stuff like, "If he was my kid..." He repeated this several times. My dad was getting angry at this point. And he looked at Kern and said, "Do you want him for a few days?" Kern sheepishly said no, and then was respectful for the rest of the meeting. Way to go dad!

I'm going to digress a bit here. A few years later, I became best friends with Richard Wheeler. For years, Richard had been best friends with Mr. Kern's son - class of 1990's John Kern. It was odd. Richard was friends with John. Richard's sister Kathleen (class of 1987) was friends with John's sister Jennifer (class of 1988). Richard's mom was friends with Mr. Kern's wife. And Mr. Kern was friends with Mr. Wheeler - Richard's dad. I want to say that the Wheelers and the Kerns all sort of went their respective separate ways sometime around the time I was in 7th grade. But anyway, Richard always had a ton of stories about the Kerns. By high school, Richard despised everything Kern-related. He'd make fun of them all the time. He had some good stories about John. For one, John had once believed that he was some sort of psychic mindreader. Richard was able to prove to him that he wasn't. He also told me a story of how John once crushed a Christmas tree ball in his hand - which required a doctor's visit and stitches. He also said that he had slept over at John's house once, and had accidentally caught a glimpse of Mr. Kern's bare butt in the bathroom the next morning. Apparently someone opened the door on him as he was getting out of the shower. Richard said it was "big and red."

At some point during that school year, John Kern got suspended from school for getting into a fight with my fellow classmate, Shawn Pickard. For the rest of that day, people were saying that we should all stay away from Mr. Kern that day, as he was no doubt furious over his own kid being in trouble.

Speaking of John Kern, I have a story on him. Since I'm writing about his father, this seems as good a place as any. And it is school related. During my senior year, I came back from lunch, and was headed back to my seat in study hall, next to my friend Dave Svatek. Well, John happened to be in the room ahead of me. And he apparently had something to talk to Dave about. He was leaning into my seat. So when I got over to him, I tapped him and motioned for him to move. He didn't. In fact, he completely ignored me, as if I wasn't even there. I remained calm. And a few seconds later, John left. But I was pissed - much more pissed than I should have been. But I was pissed nonetheless. I felt that he had no right to ignore me like that. Who the hell was he anyway? So what could I do? Well, if you read my entry on Brad Strouf, you'll see that I got some revenge on him by spreading my own feces on his front porch. But that was when I was in 6th grade. Now I was a senior, and 17-years-old. But I was immature as well. A repeat of history seemed to be in order.

So I enlisted the help of Scott Jaklin. I had him write a page-long letter to John, telling him how much of an asshole he was. It wasn't just a bitchfest. It was well-written, and had legitimate arguments. At one point it said something like, "Since you like to shit on people, I'm going to shit on you." My plan was to take some dogshit and spread it all over his porch. Unfortunately, the night I chose was the coldest night of the year. It was literally 20 below zero. And all the dogshit was frozen. So... you can imagine what I did next. I was determined to follow through. So I produced my own sample, and used some newspaper to set it inside a paper bag. Then Scott joined me. It was about midnight on a Saturday night. Neither one of us drove. So we walked two miles from my house to John's. It was so fucking cold! But we did get there. I discovered that my turd had just about froze up over the walk. But I was able to spread it a little bit - using the newspaper of course. I then shoved the note in the front door. We then walked over to Jason Krings' house - who lived about five doors down from John. I had told him about my plan. He told me to stop by when I was done. The warmth would have been welcome. But he never answered the door. At one point, we went to Super America to try and call a cab. But no one answered at the cab company either. So we walked back home - a round trip of over four miles in blistering cold. A few days later, John approached Dave (they shared gym class together) and asked him if I had done it. Dave knew that I had. But he simply told John that he didn't know. John never once approached me about it. In fact, he's never gotten near me since. Incidentally, when I told Jason Krings that we'd done it, he told me that he assumed I would, and that he was going to go out that night to see my work. But he said it was too cold! Gee, I walked four miles. And he couldn't walk half a block!

As for Jennifer Kern, Richard had an interesting story on her too. Richard's mom worked in a doctors' office. One of her coworkers was the doctor who delivered both Jennifer and John. Well, just prior to Jennifer's 1988 graduation, her mom sent a long letter to the doctor. It said stuff like, "18 years ago you helped bring into this world a wonderful girl..." The letter rambled on and on about how great Jennifer was. It also ended with the line, "As for her younger brother John - he's a peach too." Needless to say, the doctor thought the letter was very, very weird. And of course he passed it around for the staff to look at, and laugh about. Richard's mom had a copy, and showed it to Richard - who of course brought it to school. We would have loved to have passed that around. But Richard's mom would have killed us. So until this blog today, that little story has not been told. Speaking of Jennifer, I believe she now lives on the east coast - possibly in Boston. And I even saw something from her where she listed a woman as her spouse. I know a lot of people assumed that Jennifer was in fact a lesbian. I guess she's confirmed it publically too. So I'm not telling tales here. I believe Jennifer and her spouse are both doctors - or at least in the medical profession in some capacity.

When John and Richard parted ways, John began hanging around with class of 1990's Todd Wegner. They seemed like an odd pair. At some point during either during my junior or senior year, John began to carry a briefcase to school. He was of course the ONLY student to ever take a briefcase to school. Jesus, what was wrong with him? Of course shortly thereafter, his buddy Todd became the second (and last) person to bring a briefcase to school. Todd appeared to worship John. In fact, Richard said that Todd was the one who helped convince John that he was a psychic mindreader. About 10 years ago, I somehow tracked down Todd Wegner. He was living in Appleton. Meff and I prank called him at 2:00 in the morning. I grilled him about why he worshipped John. He claimed no knowledge of what I was talking about. Finally after several minutes, his wife started screaming at him about arguing with total strangers in the middle of the night. So she made him hang up. Incidentally, today John is an attorney in San Francisco. I don't believe he's ever married. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, back to Mr. Kern. For several weeks, he would show World War II movies after school during detention. The kids loved this. I think Kern was doing some sort of project that required him to watch a bunch of these films. Sometimes I'd get sidetracked from my asignment, and get hooked on "Tora, Tora, Tora" also. Kern would yell at me if he caught me watching. Remember, I was there to do my school work, not to sit in detention.

One day after school, Kern and I had been verbally going at it quite a bit. I was pissed. He was pissed. It was ugly. He had already dismissed all of the students from detention. It was just me and him. At one point, I had the assignment done. But it wasn't presented on the paper correctly. Kern had some sort of bizarre set of rules regarding how everyone's paper was supposed to be. We could only use 25 lines of the sheet. Not only couldn't we use the bottom line that was usually partially cut off. But we also couldn't use the line above it. Plus when we were doing sentence structure identification stuff, he insisted that we fold our paper in a certain way. He had some sort of exact science about it. If you deviated from it, you were in trouble. Anyway, he made me do it over. If you reread my entry on Mrs. Casey, you'll know I don't take kindly to doing assignments over again, simply because the teacher doesn't like me. So I ended up starting to do it over. But I purposely made it really large and messy. Knowing he'd be pissed, I called him over to look at it. I asked him, "Now what do I do?" He glanced at my paper, then said, "Now you pull down your pants and shit on it. Then you blow your nose on it. Then you take your finger and rub it all around. And when you're all done, it won't look any worse than it does right now." He was very angry. But believe it or not, it was actually 5:00. Yes, he kept me that late that day. He then told me to simply leave. I don't believe I ever redid that assignment.

On the last day of school, Kern gave us a spelling test. Why? Who knows. We'd already gotten our report cards. So there was no point. I had no paper. So he made me come after school to take the test. He even went to my 7th hour class to make sure I didn't duck out. When I got to detention, I refused to take the test. We began to argue. Troy Rezachek (who also was in detention) watched the whole thing. At one point, I began to walk away. He yelled at me to return - which I did. I honestly would have left, save for one reason. I had two glass pieces in my locker from the candle sconces I'd made in Mr. Ashenbrenner's class. And I didn't think I could safely get to my locker, retrieve them, and get out of school without Kern nabbing me. So after maybe 20 minutes, I gave in and took the damn test. Then I left without incident. So my very last day at L.B. Clarke school, I was in detention. How fitting.

I saw Kern a few times at the video store. By that time my rage for him has disappeared. We were always cordial to one another. I'm not sure when Kern retired. But I think it's been awhile now. He and his wife have left Wisconsin, and now live in Arizona.

UPDATE - 6/4/07 - No, it's not Mr. Kern. But it is a photo of his son John. Interestingly, one of his fellow class of 1990 members sent me this little tidbit about 10 days ago.

"For our graduation John gave a speech. The theme was, "Think globally, act locally". He was really heated and kept repeating this mantra. By the end he was practically screaming it. I think the crowd was a little taken aback. My sister still talks about it when his name comes up. Very weird."

Good stuff! Very funny! In Meff's comments about Mr. Kern, he mentioned a phenomenon called "Kern-mania." That graduation speech sounds like Kern-mania at its finest. I'd love to have a copy of it.


At Thu Nov 30, 05:55:00 PM PST, Blogger CindySue said...

I got my first job interview at 14 due to Mr. Kern. Dalebroux Jewelers was looking for a part timer and for some reason they asked Mr. Kern to pick 5 girls from Clarke. I was one of them, but I don't remember who else was picked. I did get the job and I worked there for 4 years. My Mom told me that Bette Dalebroux died recently. Linda Streu and her sister Paula have owned the store for many, many years.
I guess I could thank Mr. Kern for my start in the Jewelry business. I worked as a manager for a Jeweler in NJ and for their sister store in the Diamond District on 47th and 5th in NY. I loved it!!!! Telecommunications business doesn't have the same spark for me....Routers and Hubs don't make me smile like Rubies and Sapphires. Maybe someday I'll get back into it.
Thanks to Mr. Kern for my love of jewelry.

At Thu Nov 30, 08:51:00 PM PST, Blogger Brad Strouf said...

Wow...this has to be the longest "teacher" entry to date.

First, thanks for the "honorable mention" regarding the feces spreading story. Oh, you got the grade wrong though. You were in seventh grade, not sixth when that event took place. I didn't attend L.B. Clarke until seventh grade...

Anyway, I actually thought Mr. Kern was a decent teacher. I know that completely contradicts what your memories and recollections would have one believe...but then again, I didn't have the same kind of relationship with him that you did.

So...John is a lawyer and Jennifer is a doctor. The kids did well, good for them.

Great post.

At Thu Nov 30, 09:04:00 PM PST, Blogger Greg Pagel said...

man, Burt. I can't believe you got out of Clarke alive.

Your stories are awesome.

At Fri Dec 01, 07:46:00 AM PST, Blogger TWORIVERSWALRUS said...

Well, it looks like some people did get along with Kern. Maybe it was just me. Wait a minute. Kevin? Kevin Dehne? Where are you? I seem to recall Kevin getting shoved into a locker (breaking it in the process) by Kern.

Oh, and Brad, it actually was in 6th grade. At that time, I had no idea who you were - and vice versa, I imagine.

At Fri Dec 01, 08:22:00 AM PST, Blogger Brad Strouf said...

Ok, I won't attempt to compete with your awesome memory...I stand corrected.

At Fri Dec 01, 09:39:00 PM PST, Blogger the_meff said...

As much as a goody-fuckin'-two-shoes that I was through most of my school career (in spite of my presumed guilt by association because I chose to hang around with a freak like you), here's where you and I had an interesting parallel.

Kern hated my guts too.

However, because of the aforementioned goody-fuckin'-two-shoesiness of my character, he was not able to slam my head into walls and toss me into desks. But I'm sure he would have loved to.


Because I won.

I "saved" Richard Wheeler from a lifetime of Kern-mania. Otherwise, it would have been fuckin' Richard hauling a goddamned briefcase to LB Clarke, not Wagner.

Make no mistake. Kern had nothing but contempt for me. He singled me out in class regularly and, I believe, kept me after school a few times because I didn't always follow his cracked written assignment rules to the letter.

One quick amusing Kern story (and a slightly embarassing one at that...)

As some of you may have read in these pages, Richard and I began perpetrating our own little comic book atrocity on the world, a particularly scatological and borderline pornographic spoof on Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Suffice to say, Larry Flynt would have proudly published our work in the pages of Hustler.

We achieved a smattering of LBClarke fame for our trash heap of comics. I remember Chris Kaminsky enjoyed them, as did Robin Richmond, Scott Jacklin, Joe Antonie, a few others, if I recall. Well, during Kern's class, I was working on some new cover art, a Mister Roger's take on the Flashdance poster...it was Fred Rogers in his trademark sweater and tie, only wearing fishnet stockings and high heels, pulling a chain, allowing a gallon of water on him, smiling like a crazed sex fiend at us. "High five to sex crime!" as Borat would say.


It was so fucked up it made me laugh. So I turned around and showed it to Mike (Bruce?) Schroeder and Tom Grassman. They cracked up.

Without looking up from his desk, Kern said, "Jeff, bring it up here."

So, turning bright red, as I'm known to do, I sheepishly place my masterpiece on his desk. He looks at it. He looks at me. He looks at it. He looks at me. Then, he pulls out an envelope, writes "Mr. and Mrs. Messerman" on it, shoves Flashdancing Fred into it, and demands I give it to my folks for them to sign and bring back to him.

Needless to say, there was no way my folks were going to see that. I believe the envelope became part of the cemetery behind Tannery Road, buried in a snow bank.

Nothing came of it after.

I'm sure it only confirmed Kern's worst fears. Poor Richard Wheeler was corrupted by a dangerous lunatic.

Hell, he was probably right.

At Sun Dec 03, 07:48:00 AM PST, Blogger apeman said...

Kernicus Bust!!

At Sun Dec 03, 08:19:00 PM PST, Blogger the_meff said...

"Routers and hubs"

Cindy, you workin' in I.T. as well???

Me too.

And, quite frankly, routers and hubs ain't exactly trippin' my trigger these days either...

At Tue Dec 05, 06:32:00 AM PST, Blogger CindySue said...

Jeff, I'm sort of into the business... It's my husbands and his partners business and I use to work with him on the Engineering side of it. I soldered a lot of the boards and put a lot of the products together. Now I'm on the accounting side of it. Check it out... http://www.cbmusa.com

At Wed Dec 06, 04:46:00 AM PST, Blogger Greg Pagel said...

Soldering is fun.

At Wed Dec 06, 04:50:00 PM PST, Blogger Brandon P. said...

Burt, once again, you have an incredible memory and a knack for being entertaining. Good read!

I sometimes wonder if you kept notes of your experiences. I can't remember crap from back then. I hardly remember specific moments from high school. I remember having Mr. Kern as a teacher. I don't remember what he looked like but recall that he did all of his teaching/notes on an over-head projector.

At Thu Dec 07, 06:21:00 AM PST, Blogger TWORIVERSWALRUS said...

I kept notes in my head. My mind is a steel trap for utterly useless information.

At Tue Mar 24, 09:36:00 PM PDT, Blogger JON DOE said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tue Mar 24, 09:42:00 PM PDT, Blogger JON DOE said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tue Mar 24, 09:46:00 PM PDT, Blogger JON DOE said...

Mark Pare', I had that piece of shit Kern in 1972. He always taught from the back of the class, a pencil stuck in his face. Mr Kern was a "teacher' that ALWAYS took pride in testing "his" students. A dear friend, John Reich (a gentle soul) was a well schooled Catholic kid (nuns don't mess around especially with english). John was a happy go lucky kid and for some "reason" Kern didn't like him. He constantly asked question after question and John answered every one and always smiled like a young kid would.That PISSED Kern off even more...and the game went on. John won the entire year. John died just 3 years ago. I miss him and I can still see that smile. Every check that Kern cashed as a "teacher" was robbery. I never had an ass like him since. It has been 42 years and if Kern were ever around me again, I would still seriously consider fucking him up. Maybe pushing his wheelchair over. I hope this message finds him dead. This message has been sugar-coated, next time I wil tell you how I really felt about him. markpare1@live.com


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