Volume 33, Number 4

A Report Card

David Larsen

Conrad Gleason slammed the door to his bedroom and turned the lock; his mother wasn’t welcome in his room; she’d hassled him more than enough; she’d made her point and then some. Every fifteen-year-old boy was entitled to a place of his own, somewhere to hang out, a sanctuary, a demilitarized zone where parents could no longer get on his case about every little thing.

His report card wasn’t that bad. For his mother to feign such an attitude was a bit over the top. Anyone could flunk Spanish. Three C’s, 2 D’s and one single F don’t make you a dunce. Hell, he got a B in P. E. only because Coach Clark had it in for him; Conrad was about the furthest thing from a jock in the whole school. Not everyone can be Tom Brady or Elon Musk, for that matter. The coach and the teachers were nothing more than a drag, a ball and chain around the ankles of Conrad and his few friends at Blessed Hope Christian Academy, the only guys in the school with half a brain.

To get a look at his mother’s grades from her sophomore year in high school—that would be something.

If his mother did carry out her threat, if she did take away his laptop, she’d be sorry. Conrad would make sure of that. He was confident that he could be every bit as stubborn as she was. Family dinners could easily become hell, not just for her, but for his father and for Jessica, his seventeen-year-old sister, the honor-roll cheerleader who could do no wrong. Conrad knew how to get under their skins, how to be a real pain in the ass when he wanted to be.

Conrad listened for and dreaded his father’s arrival home. There would be another confrontation, more threats, more recriminations. Why couldn’t his mother just write a report on everything that had already gone down, then give it to the bigshot lawyer, his old man, who would by that time be on his second Manhattan and be mildly fuzzy? Nothing could be gained by another brouhaha. Conrad got it: he’d have to work harder and brings his grades up to his parents’ standards. No big deal.

“Your mother showed me your report card,” said Conrad’s father, sternly. Esther, the housekeeper, had set the table in the dining room, using the better, but not the best, set of china. Sometimes they ate at the grand table beneath the crystal chandelier, and sometimes they ate in the kitchen. His mother made that decision. Tonight, he assumed, it was the dining room because an important topic was to be discussed: his grades.

Luckily, Jessica had stayed for an after-school student council meeting. He wouldn’t have to put up with his stuck-up sister’s air of superiority during the verbal thrashing he was about to undergo. Just the three of them, father, mother and disappointing son, would be at the mahogany table.

“I can bring my grades up,” said Conrad, his mouth full of mashed potatoes. “Some of my teachers just don’t want to give me a break. It wasn’t my idea to go to a ritzy private school. We don’t even go to church, and I’m stuck in that school with a bunch of religious dweebs all day.”

“If you want to get into a good college, Ron, you have to have a high G.P.A. Both your mother and I were straight A and B students. And your sister…she’s going to Stanford next year. Do you think they’d take you with the grades you’re getting?”

Conrad shrugged. “No, but maybe I’ll just go to the Wharton School. You can donate a small fortune to the dean or give me a wad of money. I’ll lose it, then file for bankruptcy. Then run for president. No one seems to care about that man’s report cards.”

“I don’t think the president ever flunked Spanish,” said Conrad’s mother. “You have to be smart to get into the University of Pennsylvania.”

“Or rich,” quipped Conrad.

“Donald Trump is rich because he’s got a good sense for business,” she countered. “You don’t get that kind of money by accident.”

“Nobody is saying that he got rich by accident. He got rich by being the son of a rich man and by being a slumlord. But only to whites. No blacks allowed.” Conrad chewed his roast beef with his mouth open. Defiantly.

Conrad’s father put down his fork and glared at him. “If you’d spend as much time studying for school, as you spend reading Mother Jones, you’d be an honor student, like your sister. Your mother’s told me about finding those magazines under your mattress.”

Conrad sighed, heavily. “I use them for onanistic purposes only. I’ve got a thing for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

“That’s not funny,” snapped his mother. “We don’t talk that way at the dinner table.”

“No funnier than Stormy Daniels?” Conrad was thrilled that the conversation had diverged from a rant about his report card to his parent’s favorite subject, the former president.

“All of that is rumor,” said his father. “Donald Trump is a married man.”

“For the third time.” Conrad gulped his water noisily. “And now your buddy, Greg Abbott, is governor. He’s another one.”

“Greg Abbott doesn’t screw around,” chided his father.

“No, but you’re admitting that Trump does… or did?” Conrad asked snidely. “Governor Abbott got hit by a tree. He just screws around with our state. Not with porn stars. Not that we know of. He’s never bragged about grabbing women… by their genitals. Only a fool would do that.”

“The man’s in a wheelchair, for God’s sake. Can’t you show any compassion?” Conrad’s father’s voice was rising. Two drinks. A quarrelsome child. A long day earning a fortune. Conrad almost felt sorry for the man.

“And I feel bad for the governor,” said Conrad, in his whiniest voice. “And I feel bad for us. I would bet you that he’s forty points higher on the IQ scale than the inciter. January the sixth is on your man, the president who lost his reelection.” Conrad was pleased. Instead of his grades, the conversation was now about his father’s heroes. A clever diversion. “I would’ve voted for Biden if I could.”

“Biden’s a socialist,” said Mrs. Gleason flatly.

“I don’t think so,” chirped Conrad. “I read all the socialist magazines, and they don’t talk much about Joe Biden. He’s not one of us.”

“So now my son’s a socialist?” exclaimed his father. “I think you’d better do a little homework on the Internet so you have some idea what you’re talking about. Look up socialism. You’ll be surprised.”

“I can’t,” said Conrad. “Mom said she’s going to take away my laptop.” He paused for a long moment. “But I’ll make you a deal. I’ll bring my grades up, and I’ll look up socialism on my computer. If my grades don’t come up and I don’t see the light, then you can do whatever you think is necessary. But if I get better grades, I’ll be allowed to read Mother Jones, The Nation and Progressive. Even the Monthly Review, if I could ever find it. Unless that Joe Biden brings the tyranny of socialism down upon all of our heads. Then I won’t be able to get those decadent magazines anymore.”

“If you agree to read the Wall Street Journal or the National Review once in a while, you’ve got a deal.” His father got up from the table and prepared another drink, his third.

Conrad closed the door to his bedroom and opened his laptop. He smiled when the word Google came up on the screen. He couldn’t take too much pride in outsmarting a man who owns a MAGA cap. He didn’t even have to bring up the Supreme Court, abortion or Clarence Thomas, one of the only Black men his father and mother could stomach. He could save those topics for another time.