MASTER SGT. JOHN “JACK” STEELE, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF LAW
(Continued from January 26, 2003)
Second Installment: Sergeant Steele Formally Introduces Himself to the Class
Steele passed his eyes over the class, not missing a person, as each student struggled to maintain his or her version of the position of attention. Sweat broke on the faces of some of the students, who could not believe what was happening. Barringer thought, This is supposed to be law school, not some kind of military academy. This is bullshit. Others were planning to make an immediate dash to the Dean’s office after class to report the actions of Steele and to try to get out of Steele’s class. They would soon learn that getting out of Steele’s class was not an option.
After Steele had “eyeballed” every student’s face, he removed his drill sergeant’s hat, placed it on the desk next to the lectern, and addressed the class.
“My name is John Steele. I am a Master Sergeant in the United States Army, and yes, I am also a lawyer. I chalk that up to a long assignment in Washington D.C., and my decision to spend time in Georgetown Law School rather than hanging around the NCO club drinking Budweiser.”
“I got a call from the Dean of this School, an old Army buddy of mine, who told me that for the last few years, graduates of this place have gotten piss-poor scores on the Torts portions of the bar exam. He asked if I could come here and whip your sorry asses into shape. I immediately accepted his offer, because, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my job to whip sorry asses into shape. I’ve trained a couple thousand “raw-CROOTS” to do things that take a lot more grit than learning the law of Torts and learning to act and think like a Gott-damned lawyer.”
“You will not like me, and I don’t give a good Gott-damn about that. My mission is simple, and that is to teach you maggots Torts. And you may even learn something about acting and thinking like a Gott-damned lawyer. You should know that I have never failed to complete a mission, and I’m not about to fail now. Therefore, I will teach and you will listen, and all of you — even you, Barringer, will Gott-damn well learn. Have I made myself clear?”
Several students nodded their heads. Steele glared at the class and roared, “I asked you a question that calls for a yes or no answer. What the hell did I say about that just a few Gott-damned minutes ago? Let me ask you dumbshits again. HAVE I MADE MYSELF CLEAR?”
“Yes, Sergeant” about half the class responded at less-than conversational volume.
“You people had better learn to sound off when I ask you a Gott-damned question. Now, SOUND OFF!”
“YES, SERGEANT,” the class replied in unison.
“Outstanding,” said Steele. He paused for a moment, and then said, “SEATS!”
Some students slowly sat down, while looking to see what the other students were doing. Others followed suit in a rather haphazard fashion.
“People, I am not going to send you a Gott-damned engraved invitation to sit down. When I give the command ‘Seats’ I expect to hear the sound of every ass hitting the chair at the same time. You read me?”
“YES, SERGEANT,” the class replied.
“Much better. OK, Let’s try it again, shall we? Everyone on your feet! Attenn-HUTT.”
The students scrambled out of their chairs and, again, did their best to stand at attention.
Once they were all standing, Steele shouted, “SEATS!” There was one loud thump as everyone sat at the same time.
“Outstanding. You will now take everything off your desks, except for a notebook or a sheet of paper and a pen. If you don’t have a sheet of paper or a pen, grub one from your buddy. Pay attention, people. Here’s the Standard Operating Procedure for this class.”
“This class begins at zero-eight-thirty hours, and you WILL be here on time. If you want to sleep late, you better go back home to mama. You will stand at attention when I enter the room. You will sit ONLY when I give the proper command. YOU WILL ATTEND EVERY CLASS. If you miss a Gott-damned class, you damned well better show up with a picture of you in the hospital or standing next to the coffin of a family member.”
“YOU WILL BE PREPARED. I will say that again, people. YOU WILL BE PREPARED. That means that you will have read the assigned material and that you are prepared to discuss the cases. It does not mean that you’ve read Gilbert’s, or, God help you, that you read some canned briefs, and you think that you can bullshit your way through the class. Not here, people.”
“There will be only one person at a time speaking in this class, and that will be ME, unless and until you raise your hand and request permission to speak, and I grant you such permission. Otherwise, at all times, you WILL keep your pie-holes shut, and you will pay Gott-damned attention. Don’t even think about bullshitting with your buddy during class. If you don’t understand something, ask me, not your buddy. Chances are he’s even dumber’n you.”
“If I call upon you in class, you will stand at attention before you open your mouth, and you will not speak until I give you the command “At ease,” at which time, you will move your left foot away from your right foot until your feet are shoulder width apart, and you will clasp your hands behind your back.”
“You are authorized to have the following equipment on your desks during class: one spiral notebook, two ballpoint pens – blue ink only, and one case book. All other gear will be neatly stowed under your chairs.”
“There will be ABSOLUTELY no food or drinks of any kind permitted in my class – and that includes Gott-damned gum. Have breakfast with mama before you come here. This is not a Gott-damned movie theater or a mess hall.”
“Now, do any of you maggots have a question?”
No hands went up; the room was silent. You could actually hear the students breathing.
“Listen up, boys and girls, this is your chance to ask questions. If you don’t ask any questions, I will assume that you have heard and understood every instruction I just gave to you.”
A student in the center of the room slowly raised his hand. Steele, pointed at him, and said, “You, fifth row, center.”
The student, began to speak, “Do you…”
Before the student could say another word, Steele shouted, “What did I just say? Get your ass out of that chair before you even think about sounding off!”
The student hurriedly rose to his feet, and again began to speak, “Do you….”
Again, Steele bellowed, “Your ass may be out of the chair, but you are not standing at attention, and I did not yet give you permission to speak. I just went over that. I figure you gotta either have a hearing problem or you must be real friggin’ stupid.”
The student put his heels together, arranged his feet at a 45-degree angle, sucked in his gut, pushed out his chest, arranged his thumbs along the seams of his trousers, stared straight ahead and remained perfectly silent.
“Excellent,” remarked Steele. “At ease. What is your name?”
“I think you mean ‘Tom Merchant, Sergeant’.”
“Yes, sorry. My name is Tom Merchant, Sergeant.”
“What’s your question, Merchant?”
While every other student quietly thanked God that it was not them being put through the wringer, Merchant, now noticably shaken, said, “Do you … have… a problem with laptops, Sergeant?”
Steele responded, “Yeah, sure. Sometimes I have a problem with them, and when I do, I get them fixed. Does that answer your question, Merchant?”
“Well, no, Sergeant. I meant do you have a problem if we bring laptops into class?”
“Merchant, you can bring a laptop into the classroom. You can bring ten laptops into classroom if you want. I don’t give a shit. Now, does that answer your question?”
Pausing for a moment, Merchant answered, “Not exactly, Sergeant. I mean, is it OK with you if we take notes on a laptop during class?”
“Well, Merchant, here is your first Gott-damned lesson – and this goes for the rest of you dumbshits. If you wanted to know if you may take notes on a laptop, you should have asked me that. No, instead, you wasted my Gott-damned time and your buddies’ time asking me half-assed questions about whether I had a problem with laptops!”
“If you people want to be lawyers, you better learn Lesson One right away, and that is to think about what you say before you run your mouth. If you don’t you’ll piss off judges, screw up any chance of properly questioning a witness, and render your client broke from having to pay for the time you waste asking dumb-ass questions and otherwise spewing Gott-damned word salad.”
“Now, to answer the question that you finally got around to asking, I already told you what equipment was authorized to be on your desk during class, didn’t I, Merchant? Did I say anything about laptops?
“No, you didn’t mention them, Sergeant. I just thought that, since other professors let us…”
Steele interrupted again, “You just thought? Merchant, unlike you, I say what I Gott-damn mean, and, for the record, I don’t give a rat’s ass what other professors do. If I intended laptops to be authorized, I would have said so.”
Let’s do a little exercise, Merchant. It requires that you listen to me and that you think before you open your yap. I know that might be difficult for you, but let’s give it a try anyway. Here’s the question. Is it permissible for you to bring a laptop into this classroom?”
While all the other students stared down at their desks, Merchant was silent for a full ten seconds and finally said, “Yes, Sergeant, it would be permissible.”
“Outstanding, Merchant. And if you were to bring a laptop into this classroom, what should be done with it?”
“It should be stowed neatly under my chair, Sergeant.”
“Well, Merchant, it took you a while, but you finally got it. Any other questions, Merchant?”
“Fine. Take your seat. Are there any other questions?”
No hands went up.
“Outstanding. For the next class, you will read pages 1 through 95 in your casebooks. Attenn-HUTT!”
Everyone immediately rose from their chairs and stood at what was actually becoming a reasonably acceptable position of attention.
“Outstanding,” said Steele. “I’ll see you people on Wednesday at zero-eight-thirty hours. DISMISSED!”
The students could not get out of the room fast enough. Once in the hall, some students talked animatedly, but most appeared to be in a bit of a daze.
Steele, placed his drill sergeant’s hat back on his head and thought, I think I’m going to like this.