There is perhaps no more thankless job on the face of the earth than the substitute teacher. Paid around $50 a day and always on call, the “sub” spends his hours in a classroom full of children, but no one, not even the sub himself, believes that what he is doing even resembles teaching. Whether the assignment is one day or one month, the individual in question is merely holding the fort until the real teacher arrives, using “study time” and “busy work” as covers for the fact that he is nothing more than a glorified babysitter. One such story, told with wit, bombastic humor, and a healthy dose of cynicism by author Lenny Castellaneta, is relayed in No One’s Even Bleeding, yet another account of our broken, pathetic, and utterly frightening education system.
I can certainly empathize with Lenny. While I was never a substitute, I was a teaching assistant for two years and I can attest to Lenny’s humiliating experiences inside the American classroom. The kids Lenny describes — ignorant, rude, self-righteous, violent, and contemptuous of all authority — are universal of course, but they differ from mine in one key respect. Lenny openly flirted, made dates, and yes, even had sex with a few students over the years. I, on the other hand, merely stewed in my nihilistic rage. Make no mistake, Lenny also hated those under his care, but he seemed much more content knowing that at the very least, the scars could be tempered by a blow job or two. Most of the time Lenny had to endure ESL groups, “special” kids, and violence-prone retards, but here and there he managed to secure every older man’s wet dream — Girls P.E. By describing his visits to the girl’s locker room, incidents of rubbing lotion deep into young skin, and being paid to watch teenage chicks literally spill out of their clothing (he even describes a cat fight where a breast leaks out of an already skimpy top), he knows he’s forcing his male readers to pound their heads with jealousy. He even dutifully recalls his erections, as if we weren’t already hating him. But to know that he manages to fuck a few of these girls is just about too much to bear.
Lenny subbed in the Los Angeles school system for about five years as he waited to make it big in television. As he “taught,” he submitted scripts for such TV classics as “Family Ties” and “The Facts of Life” and waited for news from his ever-changing agents. Lenny devotes a significant chunk of the book to his adventures in the screenwriting trade and, although interesting, we impatiently endure these diversions until he returns to the classroom. Here, Lenny vividly describes the women he meets, lusts for, or fucks. The detail is perhaps Lenny’s vain attempt to recapture these salad days (he has a particular obsession with skin tone), and at times the memoir reads like a perverted old man’s laundry list of past conquests. Still, I liked the openness of Lenny’s lust, for as we know there is not a male teacher alive who has not, or does not, fantasize about his female students. As a sub, Lenny has the best of all worlds. He can often act on his fantasies because his brief tenure will help him avoid detection and punishment. However, there is a revealing tale even here. The principal at one of his longest assignments (secured when an older teacher is out for hip-replacement surgery) has a chat with Lenny about another aspect of his job, which of course Lenny believes is related to his being seen with a student in public. Before the principal can make his point, Lenny offers the lame excuse, “She’s my cousin.” Rather than firing Lenny, the principal recounts how it is strange how many teachers have offered the same explanation. There is, it seems, no shortage of cousins. It’s almost as if the principal understands that in the hell that is the teaching profession, getting a piece of ass now and then is the least we can offer these poor, tortured souls.
No One’s Even Bleeding is, then, primarily a sexual memoir — a tale of a sex-obsessed twenty-something who literally has his pick of hard-bodied young nympths without ever having to face the consequences. There is a pregnancy scare, but for the most part we hear of no disease, pain, or guilt. Lenny fucks a lot of young pussy and lives to tell the tale. The lucky bastard. Still, no memoir involving education would be complete without the kids themselves — kids who hate books, despise learning, and curse the very system that forces them to use their brains from time to time. Schools where fighting is more frequent than lectures, where verbal abuse spews from every corner (the teachers are hardly martyrs in this tale), and the demon of social promotion — where kids, many of whom can’t even read, are passed through because parents would rather their kids have diplomas than the stigma of failure — swallows nearly everyone whole. There were times I wondered if I had picked up a memoir about a prison guard by mistake rather than a teacher who worked with children. Perhaps there are a few silly sots who continue to preach about the innocence of children and how they are our “shining future,” but this book, like too many I’ve read over the years, gives us the truth behind the illusion. Kids are rotten bastards with absolutely nothing going for them. That our civilization continues without madness and anarchy is a testament only to our ability to make do with lowered expectations and pervasive incompetence. When mediocrity becomes the norm, we adapt as we always do. Call it our damned human instinct. But it never gets any easier to accept.
But did I mention the humor? I do not want to portray this book as a call-to-arms or a warning bell in the night. Mr. Castellaneta even becomes a full-time teacher in the end, but not once does he believe he is really doing any good. It’s a job — just like subbing paid his bills while he pursued his Hollywood dream — and in many ways, I have to believe that Lenny continues to haunt the high schools because he is looking for fresh game. Once a lucky SOB, always a lucky SOB. But the book ends without one kid inspired, reached, or taught anything at all. No lights of understanding go off, no success stories are related, and no bad kid comes around in the end. The kids keep lying, fighting, sleeping, and wallowing in an ignorance usually reserved for Third World gutters. Lenny is just our ringmaster; do not blame him. Instead, thank him for surviving and having the courage to tell us at all.