Golden Arm – Excerpt #2

I decided to post this in (dis)honor to Serena Williams recent tirade. In the novel, this chronologically takes place just a few weeks after the first except. Basically it’s my homage to the novel Starship Troppers by Robert A. Heinlein. This also touches a bit on my views of violence, honor and respect.

For context, all you really need to know is that the scene takes place in one of Holt’s classrooms and he just had a poor pitching performance where his high school lost game one of the Interstate World Series, going just one third of an inning with six walks and a hit batter who was sent to the hospital.

Oh and comps are basically iPhones with holographic projection and voice recognition capabilities, which sounded a lot cooler when I wrote the first draft of this chapter before the original iPhone came out…

The link to the first chapter of Golden Arm is here:

* (Page 19)

“The lecture is over. Time for topical discussion for those who wish to stay. The recording will be mass delivered afterwards, as always.”

Two of the pregnant women stood up to excuse themselves, leaving the room. Teacher Sloan grinned, the dark goatee framed his smile. He pressed a button. Every comp in the room, including the one on Teacher Sloan’s podium, went black. He then put a small black box on top of the podium. Its red light was on.

“Mr. Holt. What are honorifics?”

Holt released the baseball from his hand and stood up from his seat. “Honorifics are formal terms of speech such as ‘sir’, ‘miss’, and ‘teacher’ used to show respect from one person or party to another. Honorifics also include conventions like using the party’s last name or middle name to establish a higher level of formality and a more refined acknowledgment of personal identity.”

“Mr. Holt, what is the history of honorifics?”

“In the past they have been used to pay homage to heads of state and religious leaders. They are also used in introductions for when the names of parties are unknown. It establishes a level of communication above informality that allows conversation to take place without the use of potentially confusing, misleading or inflammatory terms.”

“Why do you use honorifics, Mr. Holt?”

“Because respect, especially towards parents, superiors, friends or strangers, is important to a peaceful society, sir.”

“Please define respect, Mr. Holt.”

“The virtue that indicates one person finds value in the stature and viewpoint of another person, sir.”

“Please define what a parents is, Mr. Holt.”

“A parent is a person who either has their own progeny or adopted the progeny of another party.”

“Please define what a superior is, Mr. Holt.”

“A superior is an important person with that importance determined qualitatively from cultural norms. Cultural norms can include, but are not limited to age, financial status, political status, occupation, and educational status.”

“Then, please define what a stranger is, Mr. Holt.”

“A stranger is a person that has not yet been engaged in continuing formal or informal communications to establish familiarity.”

“Very good answers, Mr. Holt. All of them are quoted verbatim from the comptext.”

“Yes sir.”

“So, Mr. Holt, can you think without using your comptext?”

“It is turned off, sir.”

“Yes it is, but Mr. Holt, if your comp stayed off, would you ever learn anything?”

“Well, of course sir. It’s just a tool.”

“Would you do as well in this class without it, Mr. Holt?”

“Maybe not, sir.”

“Maybe if you had your comp against Arlington, you would’ve pitched better.”

Holt blinked.

“Your loss contributed to our school losing the Interstate World Series grant. Perhaps your notes on how to handle pressure were stored on your comp.”

“No sir. I have no notes like that.”

“Maybe it could have helped you fix your mechanics, Mr. Holt. Maybe it could have reminded you how to throw the ball towards the plate without sending a kid to the hospital”

“Sir, I don’t know.”

“Mr. Scott Please stand up.”

“Yes sir.” Scott rose from his seat, but kept his eyes on his desk.

“Mr. Scott Do you think Mr. Holt throws the fastest pitch in our high school?”

“Yes sir.”

“Mr. Scott Do you think that is dangerous?”

“Well, sir, no.”

“Please come up to the podium, Mr. Scott.”

Scott walked to the front of the class until he stood next to Professor Sloan.

“Mr. Scott, please show the class your left hand.”

Scott stared at Teacher Sloan.

“Mr. Scott, show your hand.”

Scott closed his eyes and raised his left hand to the class. It was pockmarked with purple welts ringed with reddish bruises.

“Mr. Holt. Every time you throw a pitch that your friend catches, it hurts him. I imagine he shows you, his friend, respect by keeping quiet about it. He allows you to…”

“Sir, I…” Holt stammered.

“Do not interrupt me, Mr. Holt. It is disrespectful.” Teacher Sloan scowled, his eyes squinting at Holt. “Mr. Scott, thank you. You may return to your desk.” Scott shuffled away from the podium and down the aisle to his seat.

Teacher Sloan leaned forward on his podium. “It is my opinion, Mr. Holt, that you are a dangerous person in a frivolous endeavor. Our state has too few resources to waste on a mere game when there are hundreds of thousands of people sick from radiation and pollution. I think that you should stick with physics and focus your aim on helping the world instead of hurting your fellow man.”

Holt slouched, his hands rested flat on the sides of his desk. The baseball on top of it rattled.

“You are gifted academically, Mr. Holt. I think your talents are wasted in baseball. I think, Mr. Holt, that our precious children are safer with less dangerous people playing this game. Baseball does have some redeeming features such as developing camaraderie and respect. For fans of the game, it assists in teaching mathematics, physics and probability. However, Mr. Holt, you already know those topics quite well. Thus, I think the game should be restricted to those in the youngest and younger classes as strictly a teaching tool. Perhaps some of the older and oldest classes can play as well if they are having problems with their arithmetic. They could learn a lot by learning how to count up to four balls and three strikes.”

Holt looked at the baseball. He looked up at Teacher Sloan. His thumb brushed over the stitches.

“What do you think, Mr. Holt?”

“Sir, you are wrong.”

“Unequivocally, Mr. Holt?”

“Yes, sir, unequivocally.” Holt’s fingers curled around the baseball, drawing it into his palm.

“And what proof do you have that is so strong, Mr. Holt?”

“Sir, may I make a demonstration.”

“No, Mr. Holt, and you may place that baseball in your pack immediately.”

“But I was just going to…”

“Now, please, Mr. Holt.” Teacher Sloan growled sternly from the podium.

Holt’s hand spasmed about the ball. He clenched it, gripped it, then dropped his arm, limply releasing it into his backpack.

Teacher Sloan smiled, “Very good, Mr. Holt.” He stepped away from the podium.

Holt sat, looking at his pack, the baseball nestled inside the shadows. “Sir, I…”

“Mr. Holt, do you learn anything from my class?”

“I try, sir.”

“Do you like me, Mr. Holt?”

“Sir?” Holt looked up into Teacher Sloan’s eyes.

“Do you enjoy that I facilitate this class, Mr. Holt?”

“It’s hard, sir.”

“And, Mr. Holt, do you respect me?”

“Well…” Holt looked back down into his pack. “Usually, sir.”

“But you disagree with what I say. Is that showing respect?”

“Well, I… I guess not sir.”

Teacher Sloan placed a hand on Holt’s shoulder. “No apologies are necessary, Mr. Holt.” Holt shivered beneath the touch. Teacher Sloan withdrew his hand and raised his gaze to the silent class.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Respect and agreement are two separate concepts. One can have respect without having agreement, and conversely, agreement without respect. The difference is, it is much easier to disagree and to maintain respect, than to disrespect and maintain an agreement.”

Teacher Sloan took a step backwards, looking at Holt. “I had just disagreed with Mr. Holt. That does happen. However, I also disrespected Mr. Holt. He has been culturally conditioned, as have you all, to recognize me as a superior. I have a respected position in society, I am older than him, I have raised children, I am more educated, and for now at least, I make more money. All of those traits, though, give me no moral justification to disrespect him. Yet I did, and when his personal feelings overcame his cultural conditioning, he grabbed a baseball.”

Holt gasped, “Sir, I…”

“Patience, please, Mr. Holt.” Holt quieted down as Sloan continued. “I have known Mr. Holt, as I have known each of you in this class over the last year. Though I doubt many of you would consider me a friend, I do value each of your contributions to class. That being said, I do not think Mr. Holt is the type of person to throw a baseball at me to harm me intentionally. He might have shown off his baseball talents by bouncing the ball off the ceiling in such a way so that it would come to rest gently on my podium. Maybe not? As his friend Scott demonstrated, even some things between friends remain unknown despite their familiarity.”

Teacher Sloan paused, his eyes roaming over the class.

“In turn, ladies and gentlemen, I do hurt all of you. I give you homework assignments that take time away from your families and your other pursuits. You experience fear and confusion as you attempt to complete my tasks, perhaps even headaches and in more extreme cases nausea. You feel stress and anxiety as you await my evaluation of your assignments. Yes, these tasks to bring you pain, and I do acknowledge that I cause that. For that, I apologize.”

Teacher Sloan strode up to the podium and turned to face the room.

“Pain is distinctly separate from respect. It is when pain, or any other action is combined with disrespect that problems occur. Pain, such as Scott accepts as he catches a pitch from Mr. Holt, is something he accepts because he respects Mr. Holt’s abilities, he respects Mr. Holt’s friendship and he respects his own desire to play baseball to the best of his ability. Perhaps on occasion, he disagrees on whether Mr. Holt should throw a fastball or a curveball, but he does respect Mr. Holt’s choice. Pain without respect is violence. Disagreement without respect is destruction. Destruction of prior respect, destruction of prior agreements, destruction of the potential for respect to be achieved. Without respect, humans become more unknown than strangers. They become dehumanized, and after a time, they are dead. It is that ability to give respect, to find value even if a person disagrees or hurts you, that can give a person pause before committing violence. Sometimes, ladies and gentleman, people ignore the pause and reach for their guns. Then, they return from war with faces blackened from soot and smiling mindlessly, not sure why they should be glad they just defended a patch of forest until it burned to the ground. Yet, as shown so aptly just now by Mr. Holt, sometimes the pause is just enough to stop him from committing violence, or for me to stop disrespecting him and reevaluate whether I am effectively communicating my disagreement appropriately. Of course, while pausing to reflect about the other party, we also pause to reflect on ourselves and whether we are justified in our actions. Thus, cultivate that respect in yourself, and it will aid you in respecting others.”

“In summation, ladies and gentlemen, honorifics have been used throughout history to show respect. Violence, from minor crimes, to violent wars up to and including The Split, have also occurred throughout history. Honorifics, just like other mechanisms, are more emphasized recently by culture in an attempt to create that pause, that chance that relations won’t deteriorate into violence. We just have too many weapons and too few people to go through that again. I, for one, don’t want to die, and I trust, neither do any of you. As a final addendum, I do respect the game of baseball and know that even if I was still an active player, Mr. Holt’s talents are far superior to mine. I also apologize for suggesting a lapse in Mr. Holt’s character or abilities by implying that hitting the Arlington batter was violent. Even though I dramatized the incident and my argument in an attempt to teach this class, I knew throughout my little diatribe that Mr. Holt had an accident, nothing more. In addition, I apologize to Mr. Holt, to Scott and to the entire class for causing you stress and pain in the last year. I can merely hope that through your struggles, you all learn enough so that you do not repeat my generation’s mistakes.”

Teacher Sloan tapped the button, allowing the comps to turn back on.

“Your assignment for tomorrow is a discourse on how to deal with superiors who you think are not respecting you. Class dismissed.”


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