The Physics of Dr. Perry

by Robbie Mitchell

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"Maybe we should ask someone to watch our backs. Or maybe we should have brought mace. Let's turn around, Robbie! They probably won't let us park on the campus anyway! If we do park, they could throw stones or…"

"Mimi, get off it!" I replied as I rolled my eyes to the back of my head.

Mimi, always the dramatist, was imagining the worst-case scenario for any situation, only this time she could be right.

We were entering the domain of the "public school" system that was supposedly different from the "private school" system. Is a public school different from a private school? Maybe both offered an academic education, but where students are concerned, they are two different turfs. Regardless of Mimi's fears (and mine), we were two private academy students preparing to enter a physics class at a public school. The unknown territory held only one familiar figure, Dr. John K. Perry, the physics instructor.

Mimi and I attended Winona Academy (WA), the Stars, a private institution of our hometown, Winona, Mississippi. Our (or rather Mimi's) doubts arose from the fear of entering the public school known as Winona High School (WHS), the fighting Tigers. The relationship between the two schools was shaky at best, and each full of contempt for the another at its worst. Mimi and I had known one another since attending nursery school at the Methodist Church. We shared each other's company at parties and Winona Academy. However, today, neither of us was able to offer the other comfort.

During my daydreaming, I became aware of Mimi's silence and realized I was turning into the parking lot of the school. Yet, I didn't remember how I had driven us to this spot. If faced with uncertainties, does the body fall into an autopilot mode?

"We're parked, Mimi." I said from some small place inside my mind, "We don't want to be late for Dr. Perry's class the first day." Or any day for that matter. Dr. Perry was in charge of his domain and no one, whether they attended private or public school would tread on his good graces. I believe the best phrase would be to say, "He had presence."

"Well, Mimi. Do we go inside now or wait? We have maybe five minutes." I kept mumbling, not so much for Mimi, but to keep myself focused on the task at hand. Mimi's still silent and I wonder why. If she would say only one word, it would give me encouragement.

Dr. Perry was a throw over teacher from eons ago. That's the way we considered our parents, you know, "eons old." He had taught chemistry and physics since the days of my parents. He was tough, demanding, a genius of biology, chemistry, and physics, and above all, he was fair. During the hourly changing of classes, Dr. Perry positioned himself at the class entrance, hands stationed at the lower back, rocking back and forth on his heels with an "I know everything" demeanor. As his demeanor suggested, he did know everything, or at least we believed he knew everything.

Since Winona Academy had classes with little more than five students, it was difficult to find, or pay, a teacher for courses in biology, chemistry or physics. These are necessities for a student planning to attend college. That was the first contact we had with him. Now, this school year Mimi and I were the only two students needing a class in physics.

During the summer of our senior year, Dr. Perry heard of our dilemma and through his "I know everything" look, went before the Board of Education. Whatever he said, or did, made it possible for us to attend his physics class at WHS-the public school. Dr. Perry had "volunteered" to teach a class for biology and chemistry at WA. Our schools agreed to a student exchange of sorts: we were from the south end of town and the fighting Tigers were on the north side of town. His face would be the only familiar sign that would grant us comfort and some protection from the evils we had conjured within our imaginations. Today, we would not complain upon entering the haven and sanctuary of his physics class.

Easing out the car door, Mimi finally spoke.
"Which doors, Robbie? Front or side?" Mimi asked.

I noticed this was one time she was not making statements or demands, but asking for help. As I prepared to give Mimi my manly decision, we both turned to face the front door, almost simultaneously, to see the object that would protect us through the next hour.

"I've been waiting for you two. You're going to be late. I didn't want you to be late to class and receive a zero the first day. Let's go!" said Dr. Perry as he waved his hand for us.

Dr. Perry was consciously able to make my manly decision for me. Whew!

The walk to the front doors seemed longer than I first anticipated. Were we walking slowly? Or did it only seem slow inside my mind?

As we followed Dr. Perry to the physics class, he turned to us, and using his matter-of-fact voice said, "Mimi, take a seat behind Sangetha. Robbie, take the seat behind Mimi." I vaguely noticed his finger pointing toward two seats, but soon realized we could not possibly make a mistake in our seating arrangement, since there were only two empty desks in the room.

Three weeks later, tensions still ran deep. Mimi and I went to class everyday, but stayed edgy, and always felt as though we had participated in a marathon. I feel confident in saying our public school classmates were experiencing the same tensions. Maybe this was the reason for Dr. Perry's next move.

"Did you read and study the chapter on transmission of power?" Dr. Perry bellowed. This bellow seemed to provide me with a sense of relief, and I'm still uncertain why I experienced such a strange feeling. Naturally, good students answer by nodding their heads in the up and down motion indicating the answer of "yes." The answer was unanimous. "If you had," Dr. Perry voiced, "you would have stopped this scared, suspicious, better-than-you attitude!" He had spoken aloud the problem, now its solution was left to us.

Paraphrasing his next words:

"Consider, I am the power of the engine and my job is to transmit energy to you, the machines. Each of you represents a different machine. You are in the same engine class, but you need different requirements for learning- some of you are like gears, some are like a liquid or gas, and some are like the wire delivering the charge of the current…engineers use systems in combination with each other…coal produces heat which converts water into steam…steam is used to turn the turbine blades which drive the generator which produces the electrical current carried into your individual homes. Without this current, you could not play your CD's, listen to your radios, watch TV, or turn on the lights in your room. People, if you can't learn that it takes everyone of you working together to bring an electrical current into your home, then I'm afraid you won't have the power to read and study the physics chapters, type the term paper soon due, which means that everyone will flunk this class!"

Mimi and I acquired a new understanding for furthering our education, and for our other classmates. For the first time the "Academy Kids" and the "Public School Kids" worked together to achieve a common goal- passing Dr. Perry's physics class!

We all passed.

NOTE: Robbie is now a freshman at the University of New Orleans in Louisiana and works part time at Hibernia National Bank.