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Understanding Al Bumen (Novel)

"Al Bumen", is the first in the series of three novels. It follows the mental decline of a public school teacher. He goes on to become the murderer in Driftless Summer.

Chapter Two

The Beginning

It was the end of August, and Al had all but given up hope of finding a job. He had hoped to teach at the high school he had attended, but they hadn’t even given him an interview. It was a highly ranked school and they didn't hire many first year teachers, but it was still a blow to his ego.

As a student teacher, he had been surrounded by polite students bent on high grade point averages dutifully absorbing his lessons, and interested parents that called the teacher at the slightest hint of a problem. That was, as it turned out, an unrealistic scenario.

Al had lived with undiagnosed anxiety and depression for so long, that he didn't consider his condition a handicap, but it may well have been what kept him from any second interviews, and the few interviews he did luck into, were shorter than he had thought they should've been. The interview teams were all very courteous, and hopeful sounding words were offered at summation, still, no job offers came of them.

The interviews had stopped coming some time in July and it was the last day of August. Maybe he should have been more flexible about moving, or salary, he might have a job by now, or so he thought. It can be hard to see yourself as others see you. To make matters worse, there was the usual glut of social studies teachers.

Disappointed, Al signed another year lease on his tiny apartment and prepared to settle into another year of washing dishes and frying doughnuts. If he applied himself, a promotion to assistant manager would provide a check comparable to a first year teacher, although there would be no summers off.

He sat at the card table tracing the pattern with a thick finger, and smelling the doughnuts and fresh bread coming from the shop below him. Soon, he would descend the wooden fire escape and pick something out for lunch.

Then the phone rang and Al answered, “Uh huh”

The caller introduced herself as head of human resources for the Milwaukee Public Schools, “Is this Alphonse Bumen”?

He said, “Yes?”

“Between Language Arts and Science, which one would you prefer?”

It took Al by surprise, had he even sent them an application? He had no preference, “Science."

“Alright, you’ll be teaching science at Hardy Middle School on Hadley. You start on Monday.”

The phone call was over in a minute and Al Bumen was a teacher. He had the weekend to find a place to live and prepare for students.

He didn’t feel elated–not even close–it was panic mode. He told the landlord to rip up his lease to which he replied, “I’ll try to rent it out, but until I do you’re legally bound to pay the rent.”

Good, he thought, just keep piling it on. He knew it would be hard to rent if anyone got a whiff of the cat piss that he hadn’t smelled when he was looking at the place.

Al walked the tiny space making a list of what was absolutely necessary, then he dropped those items over the rail. Al made trips to his car with as many pairs of pants, shirts, socks and underwear as he could carry. Some items were reconsidered and left where they lay. With a quick adjustment of his lumbar pillow, he started off. The apartment door was left open for anyone that wanted the rest of it.

The hundred miles went by quickly enough, he was thrilled to have a job and, at the same time, frightened at the short notice and the idea of teaching on his own. Hopefully, there would be science books with lessons prepared, so he could get his feet on the ground and set a routine. He worried most about finding a place to live without knowing the city.


The trip ended at the first gas station within city limits. He needed gas, and a city map.

The attendant gave some vague directions and Al started off to find the school in the darkness. The streets were well marked and it didn’t take long to find it. The school was an industrial looking building with four-stories. It was made of red bricks and had faded green-gray window frames. The school was surrounded by two story houses each with a small patch of grass on either side of the steps leading up to front porches. The spaces between the houses were too small to be of use for anything but an old trike or dog on a chain.

He stepped out to stretch his legs and to look for for rent signs. A tall black man had been watching him from his porch, “Get your white ass outta here.” Al was startled and turned to face the voice.

Al pointed at the school and said, “I start teaching there on Monday, and I just wanted to see it.”

“I thought you were looking for drugs.”

“No, I wasn’t looking for drugs–you got any?”

The man on the porch laughed.

Al pressed him, “No, really. I could use a lude or even a handful of aspirins if you have any. I’m nervous about Monday–I only have a day to find a place to live.”

The man studied Al and after some consideration said, “I’m your union rep–I suppose I can help you get a good start. C’mon up, we’ll smoke a bowl and I’ll show you some places to look. It won’t be around here though. Jimmie’s my name, Jimmie Cox with an X.”

Fine art by Michael Kmiotek.
Kinetic sculptures suitable for gardens or other outdoor locations