One Last Time
As always, Gabe was up before his wife was, thinking yet another weird
story to tell her. She rose and nearly winced at the thought of another
wild relative of his that she never met.
"Hey, Julie. Did I ever tell you about my cousin Vinnie who wanted to join
Julie yawned and looked at him with a deadpan expression, "no, but I'm sure
you're going to tell me."
"Well, Vinnie went out the circus one day and asked the ringleader for an
audition. The ringleader took one look at this skinny little kid and asked
what he could do."
Julie nodded with an almost blank look that came from just waking up.
"So he climbed the highest pole and when he reached the top, he jumped off
and went straight down."
"I'm sure that got everyone's attention," she commented.
"It sure did," Gabe agreed, "in fact everyone thought he was nuts. But
before he hit the ground he spread out his arms and swooped right over the
ringmasters head! He was zigging over here and zagging over there. I mean,
by now, everyone was watching!"
She nodded, "oh, I'm sure."
"Well, when he finally landed, he went straight to the ringmaster and said,
'what do you think?' and the ringmaster said, 'is that all you can do? Bird
Her groan was not silent as she hit him with her pillow. It was going to be
one of those days.
The empty classroom was quiet, but as Gabe entered, he knew who'd be there
to keep it all interesting and uneducational.
Several students began to file in, but even as the clock neared the final
moments before class began, four seats still remained empty.
The bell rang and still, they didn't come. He knew they would though, and
exactly five minutes later they did.
Four lads each dressed in some of the most clashing outfits entered.
The first was Vinnie Barbarino, a cool Italian type with a Romeo complex.
Sporting a faded flight jacket over a red t-shirt, Vinnie entered with a
saunter. His hair was one of the eight mysteries of the Buchanan High. How
it always managed to hold it feathered look, baffled Gabe Kotter.
He was followed by Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington, so named for the way he
made the earth shake when he was entertaining the ladies. If the stories
were to be believed. A young black man with a strong jaw and a handsome
face, he never failed to back Vinnie up when trouble came pulling along.
Not that he wasn't doing the pulling along himself, of course.
Next came Arnold Horshack, who with black, curly hair and the old oversized
green Army uniform over his frail-looking frame was easily the clown in the
classroom. He seemed to sneak up to his chair before sitting down looking
as nervous as ever.
Finally, last and never least was Epstein, who's full name of Juan Luis
Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein, seemed to suggest one of the most diverse
lineages in the entire Bronx. He was the tough, rebel-type with torn blue
jeans and jacket and a red bandanna in his back pocket. Topping it all off
was a head of hair that was similar to an afro with large dark curls and a
boyish face that seemed ready to burst with facial hair at any moment.
Without fail, he approached Gabe, "here, Mr. Kotter, I've got a note."
He always had a note. A note for everything but death and taxes, and it
shouldn't be hard to work those in either.
He read aloud the handwriting that was very much Epstein's and said,
"please excuse Epstein from soccer tryouts, signed, Epstein's Mother."
"Well you're in luck Epstein, you don't have to go to the tryouts today."
Epstein's eyes lit up, "really? All ri-ight!"
"That's right, because they have been rescheduled for next week."
He couldn't help but feel sorry for the lad as he sat in his chair with a
crestfallen look. But he was the teacher, and he was going to teach.
"Okay, does anybody remember what we talked about yesterday?"
He walked up to the chalk board and began to write Battle of Normandy in
bold letters when the P.A. system came on.
"Would Mr. Vincent Barbarino, please come to the office.... NOW!"
Principal Woodman's anger flew through the speakers and chilled the bones
of everyone in Gabe's class, including Gabe himself. He remembered being a
student at this school so many years ago, but could swear that Woodman was
just as old then as he was now.
Vinnie jumped up, defensive, "but Mr. K, I didn't do anything! Honest!"
The P.A. blared again, "Right now, Vincent!"
"Better get going, Barbarino," Gabe sighed.
"But.." Vinnie slumped his shoulders and left the classroom.
"But Mr. Kotter...." Horshack protested, "he didn't do anything."
"Sorry, Horshack, I can't decide that. Woodman wants him to get over there,
I very well can't say no."
Epstein stood and did his tough guy impression, "well, I think someone
oughta catch Mr. Woodman in a dark alley one night and.."
"Epstein," Gabe cut him off, "as much as I'd like to support your West Side
Story fantasies, you know I can't allow that."
"Aw man! Mr. Kott-hare," Washington complained, "you take most of the fun
out of everything."
"No," Gabe replied with a sly grin, "Nixon did that. And I'm the one who
has the sad job of telling you."
Minutes later, Vinnie returned with his head down as he entered the class.
He walked into the middle of the room and looked up.
Everyone leapt up and congratulated the ecstatic Barbarino.
"Hey, that means that taking that fourth year of twelfth grade really paid
Horshack really knew how to bring focus into an event.
Then, Mr. Woodman came in to see the display, scowling. He always scowled.
Even when he smiled, he scowled. Mr. Woodman just had one of those faces.
"Isn't that great Mr. Woodman? Vinnie just graduated!"
Woodman scowled at his attempt to over-state the obvious.
A short man with white hair, which might not be real came in and began to
stare down the revlery.
"Washington, Epstein, Horshack. You all graduated too. Four Sweathogs in
one day. Oh, Hell's frozen solid, I'm sure."
As they came to receive their diploma's everyone had an impromptu party in
their honor. Mr. Woodman crossed his arms and stepped back. Everyone was
overjoyed, everyone but Vinnie.
"Hey Vinnie, my man. Why so glum, chum?"
"Don't you get it Freddie? We're adults now. We have responsibilities. We
own a piece of the future in our hands," he held up his diploma for
The room went silent as it all sunk in.
"Man we're adults. It's really here," Epstein stood there, shocked,
"somehow I thought there would be fireworks or something."
Dingfelder Horshack couldn't say a thing.
Now the room was as silent as a ghost town.
"You guys will do fine," Woodman said at last, dropping his mouth into that
familiar sneer, "you've grown a lot since you first came to Buchanan High
and I'm very proud of you."
Almost looking choked, he left the room quickly.
"Wow, another first," Gabe said, astonished, "he was actually choked up."
For a long time no one said anything. The Sweathogs were men and they were
Then Horshack spoke, "but what about Mr. Kotter? Doesn't he get to
Welcome back. Your dreams were your ticket out. Welcome back! To that same
old place that you laughed about. The names have all changed since you hung
around. And those dreams have remained and they've turned around. Who
thought they need ya, back here where we need ya! Yeah we tease him a lot,
but we got him on the spot Welcome back!
- John Sebastian