"Mr. Face, what is tomorrow?" asks the teacher as he erases the day's lesson from the board.
I pause, he turns to face me and smiles showing his perfectly straight white teeth. Then I answer, "Tomorrow I receive my diploma." Trying my hardest to say the right thing.
"You mean, Brace Face, you will be tested to see if you are suitable to have a diploma. And if you pass you will then be given your diploma," he says with a well educated calm.
"Yes, that's what I meant," I respond, upset with my first statement.
The next day.
"Today we have the distinct honor of challenging another young man ready to take his place in American society. But first, Brace Face must show his worthiness to our fine institution and give us the confidence necessary to embrace him with this document of great achievement, we all know as a diploma," Mr. Robertson says holding up the off white paper encased in shiny perfect glass.
I sit in my wooden chair with my white skinny arms building little structures to look complete, listening to the poetic words of an educated man. He is so beautiful and I am so small.
All my teachers are there except for my past art and literature teachers, from kindergarten to the speaker, my favorite of all time, Mr. Robertson. Sitting up in a panel formed by joining tables broken in two by the podium where the speaker stands talking in to the thin silver microphone, smiling at me and my accomplishments thus far. I sit there trying to act as professional as I can. Living up to expectations; unfamiliar with what exactly that suggests.
"Do you know what the test asks of you, Brace Face?" The first question.
"No sir, I don't have a clue.
"Good." he says bending down to meet the microphone's motive.
"Please, come up here to the front so we can all see you," he commands.
"Yes sir." I then rise from my desk, round the stage to the stairs, conquer them and find myself under close inspection as I stand there centered in front of the smiling faces.
"Please take your pants and underwear down to your knees," Mr. Robertson says anxious to see my reaction.
"My pants?" I ask in complete confusion.
"You're not wearing a skirt are you, Mr. Face?" he says in his playful way with the appreciation of the panel, gleaming with larger smiles than before.
Trying to gain back some seriousness and approval, "No sir. I have on pants." Then I unbutton them and take them down slowly with the hope he will call the bluff and start laughing again. I look down at the zipper and follow it to the floor, along its square tiles to the podium, up across the fake wooden stretch to his face there smiling at me.
"Don't worry, son. We've all been here before," he says to give me the courage to bring both garments to my knees. I stand there feeling limp, abused, and physically cold.
"Good," Mr. Robertson says in a fine voice. "Now the test has begun. You will be required to undergo extreme pain and asked a series of questions. Your answers to these questions will provide us with the information we need in documenting your success here at our institution and for your benefit, a diploma." He pauses to take out twelve long number 2 pencils wrapped in a clear plastic and backed by a white cardboard. He opens them with a small red pocket knife. Then turns to me before discarding the wrapping in to the waste basket to ask, "Do you have any questions for us at this point?"
"No sir." I don't have any questions, I'm a future graduate of public education.
"Good," he replies as he begins sharpening a pencil in a small plastic sharpener. Turning the pencil, grinding the end, pulling it out, inspecting the progress. One by one. No words. I look down each side of the panel to find security. They sit there smiling and not relinquishing their eyes from my face. I am naked.
"Come here," Mr. Robertson sats as he looks at the finished tenth pencil. I walk as close as I can to the podim feeling the protection behind its tallness. "No, Brace Face. Come up to the table, stand with your hips against the edge. I will be asking you to bend over in a few seconds. Then I will proceed with the test."
A few seconds.
Against the table.
Bending down to welcome intrusion.
Sharp wooden pencils penetrating.
Warmth from sweat between my left cheek and the table. Faces of the right panel, smiling. Blood like thin snakes bounding down my legs to the floor.
Soothing questions asking concentration of me.
"What form of government is America founded on?"
Mr Robertson's left palm on my lower back, right hand covered in plastic gloves assaulting me. Legs tightening then relaxing and tightening again. Over and over. I start to cry. Can't feel it but I'm reminded when Mr. Robertson says, "Just a few questions, son. Now, what type of economic structure does America carry?"
"Capitalism." comes out from somewhere in my mouth.
Tightens. Relaxes. Tightens.
"If you were put in charge of choosing a distinct government and ecponomic institution for a new nation, which would you choose, Brace Face?" he says. I feel real again when I hear my name.
"Democracy and capitalism, sir," I reply.
Relaxes. Tightens. Silence.
"Good, son, you're doing very well. One last question, do you have any questions for us?" his voice was so calm that I wonder to myself how many times he's done this before. He's experienced.
"Yes. I have one-"
"Are you sure you want to ask me a question?" he says cutting me off with a nervous tone in his voice.
Tightens a little more. Silence; I think.
"We all like you. All of us here like you a lot. We want you to receive your diploma because we know we could use someone like you in the work force. You have been doing really well throughout the test so far. And everyone here is well aware of your previous outstanding grades. Are you sure you have a question?" Mr. Robertson asks implying acquiescence.
I open my eyes which have been shut from the moment I reached my position and look down at the faces of my past educators. The look of pride in their work was wiped from their faces and they took a picture of anxiety. I am fulfilled.
"Yea, here's one for ya. What the fuck is up with this shit?" I say half way laughing and the other half crying.
"We're sorry. You will not be receiving your diploma today. And son, for next time, don't question your educators. We know what's best."
This story was written by a friend of mine in 1993 while attending Purdue University in West Lafayette. It was originally printed in his zine Braces #2