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  • Writer's pictureJeff Kerr

The Sun Also Sets

Fifty years. That's how much time has elapsed since the miserably mediocre book report I wrote for my tenth grade English teacher. Her name was Mrs. Koch. To say she was pretty would be an understatement. Given how young she looked, she can't have been too long out of college. It boggles my mind to think that she is now in her seventies.

As we awaited Mrs. Koch's arrival on that first day of class, I and every other boy in the room wondered how she would pronounce her name. Maybe the girls too, but back then I lacked the courage to ask them. Anyway, in walked this stunning Greek goddess. Every male jaw in the room dropped a foot as she calmly took up a position in front of the class. "Good morning," she said, her voice ringing like crystal in my adolescent brain. "My name is Mrs. Cock."

Yes, that's how she pronounced it. I now know the proper German pronunciation would more resemble "coke," but what would have been the fun in that? As I recall, we boys were able to stifle our idiotic giggles, but the shit-eating grins knew no restraint. Looking back, I hope she didn't notice, because she turned out to be one of the kindest, most patient teachers of my high school career.

Not long thereafter, Mrs. Koch assigned a book report. Most likely, we were to choose a book from a list. I say this because, if it had been left up to me, I would have gone with baseball pitcher Jim Bouton's Ball Four or My Turn at Bat by that literary giant, Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams. It would have been a simple matter to pluck either one from my bedroom book shelf and whip out a report.

That's not what happened. Instead, armed with Mrs. Koch's list, I strolled into the family den for a peek at bookshelves overflowing with Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, even a first-edition memoir of Ulysses S. Grant. Our family housed such a library because my dad loved books. So much so that he almost didn't get my mother to the hospital in time for the birth of my sister because he had to run back into the house for some reading material.

I ended up picking Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Dad had a three-volume set of Hemingway books. I chose the slimmest volume.

I recall finishing that book, putting it down, and acknowledging that I didn't understand any of it. So, I did what everyone else in the class had probably already done, I went out and bought the Cliffsnotes. Right there on the first page was an important detail I had missed in my reading; due to a war wound, the protagonist was unable to have sex!

Now, there was no way I was going to turn in a book report to Mrs. Koch that contained the word "sex." Or, for that matter, any of its variants. And, with a deadline looming over my head, it was too late to choose another book. So I scribbled some nonsense on the page intended to demonstrate that I had indeed read the book while attempting to minimize my embarrassment at omitting a primary force driving the protagonist. I'm quite sure it was horrible.

I don't recall my grade, but I'm certain it failed to impress. Next up from Mrs. Koch, Shakespeare. More specifically, Romeo and Juliet, for which each of us was assigned a role to read aloud in class. No problem, right? Except for two lines in the Nurse's monologue when she recalls something her husband once said to three-year-old Juliet.

'Yea,' quoth he, 'dost thou fall upon thy face?

Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;

Fortunately, that one flew well above the heads of all of us.

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