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The Essay
Show #392
The School for Scoundrels
David Gunn

Carlo Bramblework was a scoundrel, and a good one. Part rogue, part rapscallion, part rascal, knave and shyster, he was as unprincipled and immoral as they came. But these were acquired attributes; he didn't come by them naturally. Through his teens and early twenties, Bramblework was an able raconteur and bon vivant, in demand at soirees and other societal functions around town. But in 1996, he attended a performance by the Welsh Royal Grenadier Orchestra of "The School for Scoundrels," an overture by Samuel Barber d'Seville. The music was unconscionably invigorating, and it got Bramblework to thinking about the institution on which the story was supposedly based. He discovered that there really was a School for Scoundrels, and that it was located in an unprepossessing tenement in Sector Y of Greenwich Village--virtually in his own back yard! Curiosity got the better of him, and one day he rang the school's doorbell. A dour footman glared at him through a peephole and waved him off, but Bramblework eventually persuaded him to open the door. He was roughly ushered to a small office, cuffed on the ear, and forced to stand in a corner. A large sign on the wall seemed to sum up the school's intent: "Leave your scruples at the door; you may pick them up when you leave, but naturally we hope that you won't." Soon, a grim, middle-aged woman with a face pinched into one enormous furrow sat down at a desk in front of him. For fifteen minutes she ignored him; instead she studiously moved papers from one pile to another, then back again, a task that would've given Sisyphus the heebie-jeebies. Bramblework at last deduced that he wasn't supposed to exhibit any scruples either, so he abruptly swatted the papers out of the woman's hand onto the floor. She glowered at him and he glowered right back. Finally, she spoke. "What dya want?"

Up to this point, Bramblework had felt only a niggling curiosity about the school, but now he felt challenged. "I want to go to school. I demand to go to school!" he said in a hitherto untested stentorian voice. The reciprocal scowling continued for another minute, and when Bramblework didn’t blink, the woman turned, rooted around in a desk drawer, extracted a pamphlet and handed it to him.

"Here," she chuntered without elaboration. Bramblework took it back to his corner and began to read. "Be a scalawag!" it proclaimed in big, bright type. "Or a reprobate! An imp, a prankster, a rogue! You can be all of these and more when you attend Mother Bumpkins'"--the grim woman at the desk raised her head and briefly smirked at the mention of her name, no matter he'd been reading silently to himself--"School for Scoundrels!" When Bramblework read the name of the school, the music that he’d heard in concert suddenly wafted through the room, but uneasily, as if the string section had undergone electroshock therapy. "Learn the fine arts of deceit and chicanery," the brochure continued. "You, too, can be unscrupulous and unethical in ten easy lessons."

It so happened that Bramblework had recently been unceremoniously dumped by a young woman altruist, and he was now primed to test the waters of duplicity for a change. So he ponied up the matriculation fee, bought a sweatshirt with the school logo on it (Quando tutto l'altrimenti viene a mancare: il burrito dei cervelli dell'agnello! --When all else fails: lamb brains burritos!), and attended his first class that very day.

Impropriety 101 was a small class. It consisted of only him and the teacher, Professor Vera Venalchik, who was the spitting image of the bride of Frankenstein. And spit she did! Her instruction was delivered with a contemptuous expectoration that made Bramblework wince. And, frequently, duck. But, he soon learned that he was expected to badger her right back. By the end of the first semester, he had settled so well into the antipathetic rhythms of the school that he was awarded the coveted Badge of Odium.

The second school term featured The Three Is: insolence, iniquity and invidiousness. Here Bramblework really excelled. Even hardened headmaster Mother Bumpkins was cowed by him, and she felt compelled to name him "School Bully" after he burned down the cafeterium. That title allowed Bramblework to browbeat anyone at any time, which he did with as much relish as he heaped onto his beloved burrito dei cervelli dell'agnello.

At last the day of graduation was at hand. But thanks to Bramblework's egregious behavior, most of the school staff had either resigned or were on medical leave. His classmates, too, had all fled from his withering presence. It was left to Mother Bumpkins to present him with his diploma. Bramblework had intended to reprise his first meeting with her and swat the document out of her hand. But when the band launched into the school song, the overture to "The School for Scoundrels," he was suddenly overcome with an emotion he hadn't felt for months. Tears welled in his eyes as he graciously accepted the paper from Mother Bumpkins, but then the emotion-- hunger--kicked in, he ate the diploma, ribbon and all, and then went after the headmaster.

The moral: Never underestimate the power of a lamb brains burrito to alter the palate of even the most impudent individual.

The rhythms of this 392nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar are clarinetic, not antipathetic, as it features a most unscoundrelly interview for your listening pleasure, preceded by a likewise uninvidious and noninsolentical programmatic prologue from Kalvos.