1980 words (7 minute read)


Jay’s journal - 10/13/1992

Welp, I’m in Tutorial.

What’s Tutorial, you ask? Two weeks ago, I would have asked the same thing. You know the weird brown portable in the woods behind C-Court? The one everyone thinks is a storage space, or a hobo house? The one the horticulture kids use a bathroom, when they’re too lazy to walk down to A-Court? That’s me up there.

I always thought Tutorial was where Cascadia stashed its dunces. Turns out it’s the opposite. Tutorial is where they put the geniuses. Ms. Rotchkey, the grizzled, pear-shaped lady who’s always stomping around is apparently a genius as well. All the Tutorial kids consider it some kind of honor to be there. Like, a bigger honor than honor society, even. Stevie Hinman—who’s the smartest girl in the world—goes to Tutorial. So does Audrey Epstein. So do I.

Here’s how I got in. After Colin rescued me, he started giving me rides home. At first, it was all awkward small talk. But then the conversation turned to games. Turns out, Colin’s the second biggest gamer in Dunam. He’s got over fifty Super Nintendo games. I showed him Krave, and Krave II, and then we started playing. Like, all summer long. I asked him why I never see him around school. He told me he was in Tutorial. And at first I tried to change the subject, cause I thought that was the tasteful thing to do. But Colin wanted to talk about it. More than that, he wanted to show me.

So the next day, after the end of day bell rang in creative writing class, I step out into the rain and hike up from C-Court. The path to Tutorial is covered in thick pine trees, and you kinda have to push your way in, like you’re heading to Narnia or something. On the path up, I passed Marlene and Olas, and was a little surprised to think that they were in Tutorial as well. What secret world is this? They scurried past at the sight of me, mumbling a quick “hello.”

The trees suddenly open up, and there’s the portable. It’s small, drab, and uniformly brown with a white metal door. Moss grows on it wherever shade touches—which was most everywhere—so that a green slime covered all the wood. I climbed the ramp and wrapped tentatively on the door, and a heavy muffled voice told me to come in.

The first thing I notice was the lighting. It wasn’t bad. The overhead fluorescents were off, and three odd standing lamps bathe the room in a comfortable orange. In the center of the room were a dozen desks, like a normal classroom, but then bean bag chairs and plush arm chairs lined two walls. Heavy bookshelves filled with novels—more books than in most of my english classes—cover the other walls. Some of the books I’d hear of—Notes from the Underground, Confederacy of Dunces but then there were other books with strange, cool-sounding titles, like Diaries of a Drug Fiend and Labyrinths.

In the corner was a computer—an IBM PS/2—where Stevie sat, furiously typing. Audrey Epstein sat reading at a desk. At my entrance she looked up and blushed a painful smile. I blushed too, not expecting to stumble upon the school’s most beautiful girl, and Audrey immediately buried herself in her book.

At the front of the room, Ms. Rotchkey patiently held a book in front of Bil Twatchkyl’s wheelchair. Colin and Mike sat facing each other in armchairs, locked in a match of Go. The whole room read as a nerd haven, but it was more homier than I’d ever thought a school could be.

Colin leapt up to greet me. I nodded at the walls, which were covered in pictures of cats with clever phrases.

“What’s with all the cat posters?”

Colin shrugged. “They keep us going.”

He lead me over to Ms. Rotchkey. She looked older close up, and over her oval head, the folds of her skin sagged down in layers beneath her eyes, which were covered in thick glasses. Long, gnarled fingers tapped her desk as she studied me. She looked frail, and it was hard to believe she was still teaching. Her fragile face broke into a smile.

“Hello Jay Banksman. So you’re interested in Tutorial?”

I looked at Colin, who blushed and mumbled under his breath, “I told her you might be.”

“You’re welcome to join us. We work a bit differently than what you’re used to. We don’t have many students, and we don’t worry about enrollment. If you want to come, come. Just let your teachers know. I’ll vouch for you, if show up and stay interested.”

“What, uh, what do you do, here?” I ventured

Ms. Rotchkey smiled and gestured broadly. “Whatever we want. You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the Cascadia curse?”

I nodded. The Cascadia Curse. It varies a little, depending on whether you’re in C-Court, or shop class. But the gist of it stays the same. Once upon a time, a handful of Cascadia students graduated and went on to state colleges. This batch of students studied so little, and partied so hard, that every single one of them was expelled. After that, all the state schools made a pact. No student from Dunam would ever be admitted into another college.

Now, decades later, even a 4.0 grade point average wasn’t enough to overcome the Cascadia curse. Cascadia valedictorians didn’t go to college; no one did. It was said that Cascadia High School wasn’t even accredited anymore.

Ms. Rotchkey continued. “I’m trying to get these kids into college. We have fun, and we work hard.” She looked over her glasses. “I only take kids who make me proud.”

I looked around, a little put off by her pitch. Ms. Rotchkey gestured dramatically to the Go table, where Mike scowled impatiently for Colin to come return. “See that? Cascadia’s Go club. Resume fodder.”

She pointed to the computer, where Stevie was typing. “Cascadia’s computer club. Resume fodder. It’s got one member right now, but we’re looking to increase enrollment. Before I die, by god, I will see a student go to college.”

I still wasn’t certain that casting my lot with these nerds was wise. Sensing my hesitation, Ms. Rotchkey jumped in.

“Unless you’re planning to stay in Dunam?”

That was all I needed. “I’m in.”

Colin gave a weak cheer. Stevie finally woke from her computer club, swivelled round in her chair and pushed up her glasses. I had to admit, there was a charm to the room, it occupants, and the secrecy of it all. A grand conspiracy against the system I hated so.

“And Mr. Oatman knows about all this?”

Ms. Rotchkey chuckled.

“I try to keep him in the dark about particulars but yes; after years of battle, I’ve procured school funds for this experiment. If Cascadia can spend $27,000 a year on a baseball team that never plays a game, it can afford a college prep class.”

I looked lustily back to the computer, where Stevie sat. My thoughts turned to the demo of Krave II that was supposed to be released any day now.

“So how does one join that Computer Club?”

And that was that. I’m a week in, and so far it’s pretty great. The portable is hooked to the PA system, so we hear all the school announcements. But otherwise, we’re free of Cascadia. We never have to go to A-Court. I’m even starting to forget about Jeremy McKraken.

The only downside of Tutorial are the other kids. Colin’s great. But the others… well, it’s no surprise they ended up here. I’ve never met someone so loudly pessimistic as Mike. He groans when a math problem is too hard. He harumphs when someone snags his favorite lunch spot. He bellows in rage and flips tables when anyone gets him into a checkmate. We all give him a wide berth.

Shayna I’ve spoken of a little. Whenever Ms. Rotchkey leaves to take a leak, Shayna leaps in to take her place. She tells Olas to stop fidgeting, and Marlene to grow some self-confidence. She accused Bill of running his wheelchair too often, just to annoy her (which Bill later copped to doing). The only thing she respects is authority, and I’m apparently the only person in Tutorial willing to give it. So when Ms. Rotchkey gets back from the bathroom, more often than not, she finds Shayna and I locked in mortal combat.

But Shayna’s not the worst. Oh no. That title is reserved for one person: Stevie. Stevie, star pupil. Stevie, valedictorian. Stevie with her constant, needling smile that only seems to grow, that feeds off your ignorant questions and her perfect answers. Stevie, the first to let you know why you were wrong, and in exactly how many different ways. Stevie, who’s made an artform of showing off her intellect as many ways as possible. Stevie, who sits at the computer I want to use, and always has a better excuse than me for using it!

That PS/2. It’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen. Apparently, it’s the school’s only computer and in theory it’s available for all of Cascadia. Not that anyone other than Stevie and I—and Colin and Olaus and Mike, if we’d let them—would ever use it. But one of the conditions of Ms. Rotchkey getting it was she had to make it available. So, technically, it’s “available,” although Ms. Rotchkey smuggled it up to Tutorial under a blanket, so no one else would see it.

Not that she had to worry. The other students of Cascadia seemed to share Mr. Oatman’s opinion of computers. That they are an unnecessary extravagance, the sole domain of nerds like us. Which was fine; it means we have a model 77 with a 386DX processor to ourselves, the best computer in all of Dunam.

Stevie of course acts like she owns it just because she set it up. Whenever anyone else uses it, she wields her knowledge like a weapon, standing over their shoulder, telling them which folders to click on, how to change directories, when to lock the hard drive, and why to scan the system registries. Colin got so nervous that he now refuses to walk within five feet from the computer.

But I don’t let her get to me. I’ve taken years of abuse from Jeremy. I’m not about to let snivelly little Stevie push me around, or be intimidated by her vast arsenal of knowledge. She knows code, but know hardware. The other day, I got to explain to her, in front of the class, that the only appreciable difference between the 386DX processor 386SX is a 32-bit bus speed (instead of 16-bit). Ha! That shut her up.

The biggest problem is that we have to split our time on the computer in 4th period. She gets first shift, working from her Programming Visual Basic book, while I impatiently stare at the clock. Then, at 2:25, we switch. In the best move of my educational career, I convinced Ms. Rotchkey that videogames were a form of modern literature. She lets me play (and take notes on) King’s Quest V, Space Quest IV, or The Secret of Monkey Island, if I look for literary devices. Someday I’ll have to write a paper, but in the meantime, I’ve got it as good as school can be. Stevie watches carefully over my shoulder, raising her hand if my research ever looks too fun.

Next Chapter: The Drab House