Joeron the Moeron

Joeron the Moeron charcoal drawing
Joeron the Moeron short story illustration. Charcoal drawing by author.

Joeron the Moeron and the Invisible People

In kindergarten, the boy had been taken to the library downtown once with the rest of his class. There the childrens’ librarian read them a story, and they got to draw a picture about the story, any part of the story they wanted.

Kindergarten was good like that.  In kindergarten, the boy got to draw pictures of animals everyday, and no one was mean to him. That was at the Methodist church downtown.

Then the boy went to first grade, and nobody talked to him.  He walked around by himself at lunch and recess.  That was at the new school they had built “because of all the niggers.”

It was the same way in second grade, but then everything got worse because he got a C in handwriting on his report card.  The fighting at home stopped long enough for his parents to explain that his teacher had called, and if he didn’t stop drawing in class, she was going to call again, and he would get his ass tore up.

The boy’s teacher only had to call twice that year, but it was enough to make the boy hate school.

But the third grade was suddenly good.  In the third grade, the boy’s teacher liked him.  She didn’t tell on the boy for drawing, and she even made him the announcer in the class play that year.  She also liked the boy’s new friend Donald.

Donald was a good drawer, better than the boy at drawing robots and the kind of mechanical stuff the boy liked, and he was outgoing and confident in spite of being one of the few non-whites at the school.  Donald was Chinese, and he and the boy really hit it off that year.

But at the end of the third grade, Donald’s parents sold their corner grocery store and moved far way to Queens, New York, a completely different world in a completely different universe, and the boy never saw Donald again.

Then the boy didn’t have anyone to talk with at lunch and recess, and in the fourth grade he went back to walking around by himself.

The fourth grade was frustrating and strange for other reasons too.  That was the year they had the young and pretty teachers that everyone liked and talked about how nice they were.  The boy supposed he thought the teachers were nice too.

The nice teachers always talked to the girls about their mothers and clothes and what they did on holidays and stuff like that, very friendly and chatty, but for some reason the boy didn’t understand, he was always making them angry and getting into trouble.

It seemed like he was always getting into trouble before he even knew he was doing anything wrong.  A few other people did too.  It was truly strange to the boy, like he was in some negative parallel universe where he couldn’t possibly say or do the right thing no matter how hard he tried.

That was also the year his aunt had been arrested for stealing at work and gone to jail, and it was in the newspaper.  His teacher had asked the boy in class if he was related to the woman, and the boy had said no, but he could see in his teacher’s face that she knew he was lying.

The boy was glad when the fourth grade was over, but the fifth grade turned out to be even more difficult for the boy.  That was the year his father’s alcoholism peaked, and his mother cried nearly every night at the dinner table.

That was also the year that someone named William or Williams or Thomas had cut the boy’s grandfather off at the boat ramp of the levee downtown, and the boy’s father had called up half the Greenville phone book and cussed them out trying to get a hold of the right person.

In spite of this, things really didn’t change much for the boy at school, at least not with the other kids.  The boy was already invisible at school as far as friends or birthday parties or  conversation.

And then there was the fifth grade musical the following spring.

Instead of doing four separate class plays during the day, the fifth grade teachers had gotten together and decided to do a musical program involving all four classrooms.  They would have the program at night so all the parents could come, and it could be more gospel themed.

Naturally the boy was terrified by the thought of his father coming to the school, and he stayed after class and asked if there was any way he could not participate in the musical.  He begged her.

His teacher became angry with him, and told him there wasn’t any where for him to go while the class practiced if he wasn’t in the musical.  When he insisted, she told him that he would have to sit at the back of auditorium and copy pages from the encyclopedia.

The boy was glad to take the option.  He didn’t care how stupid he looked sitting all by himself as long as he could prevent his father from coming up to school during evening hours after he had already had a few beers or more.  He never even considered the possibility that he might not be the only kid at school who needed to opt out.

He entered the auditorium glumly on the first day of practice and was surprised to notice four other people sitting in the shadows at the back.  Then he saw that they were invisible people that nobody liked, and he understood.

There was Gina, the girl who never talked, and Danielle, the girl who would kill herself after middle school.  There was also an extremely-obese girl named Sharon, and Oscar, the boy with the speech impediment.

In spite of all this, their teacher Mrs. McGaunt reminded them that this was punishment and that they weren’t supposed to talk, and if they didn’t have at least three hand-written pages done for the day, they would have to complete it as homework.  Then she left them alone, and the rest of the class started rehearsing at the other end of the auditorium.

From time to time, one of the fifth grade teachers would walk up to check on their progress and make sure no one was talking.

Later, toward the end of the rehearsal, the music teacher Mrs. Phelps came up and was particularly harsh.  She lectured them for their lack of participation, and she accused them of talking even though no one was saying a word.  She glared when they denied talking, and then she just walked away shaking her head.

Mrs. Phelps was the one who had come up with the gospel theme and the idea of doing it at night so all the parents could come.  The boy could tell that she took their lack of participation personally, so much so that it made him even more fearful of her.

Mrs. Phelps wasn’t just the elementary school music teacher, she was also the organist for her church, and was known for having smuggled bibles into Communist China as a missionary. She was the most outwardly religious and disciplinarian of all the faculty.  It was she who organized the class films on drugs and “Mormons and other cults.”

The boy truly feared Mrs. Phelps. What would she do if she found out he was a Mormon?

The boy was relieved when he learned that they would no longer have music class after the fifth grade, and he wouldn’t have to see Mrs. Phelps any more.

He also learned that they would no longer have an art class either, but that isn’t what made the fifth grade particularly depressing for the boy.

The worst thing that happened that year was the kids started calling him Joeron the Moeron, or Moeron for short.

That was the year he stopped going outside at lunch and recess and started going into the library instead so he wouldn’t have to hear it.  That was the year when his reading binges started and his notes began.  By the time the boy entered high school, he would have read about everything from the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the states of the modern Middle East to field notes written by Darwin and other Victorian naturalists.

Joeron the Moeron lived between a trailer park and the sewage plant, but his daily refuge for most of the next seven years would be the library of what was generally regarded as the best private school in the state.

short story by Joe Riverson Smith