You’ll get no argument from me that Mr. Donofrio was a great Driver Ed teacher. My buddies also agree that he assumed too much, which led to the downfall of a great —if troubled— man. I studied tragedy in Ancient History, but I learned about it from Mr. Donofrio when the incident took place.

Richard Donofrio had the difficult task of teaching 12th graders how to drive. He managed this career by not getting frazzled by us kids, like when Jamie drove over the road cones or backed into the shop teacher’s fender. He passed me—barely—and freed me to drive to my part-time job. If my new driver’s license gave me independence, Mr. Donofrio was the ignition key to my future.

Most of us kids saw Driver Ed as a rite of passage. I was reminded of my transition from youth to manhood when I saw Mr. Donofrio years later holding a stop sign at a highway construction site. Maybe we could have blamed Miss Kosciusko for taking Mr. Donofrio from the classroom to the highway and creating the legend that never got into our high school yearbook.

Miss Kosciusko taught History, and since she spoke so articulately, using complete paragraphs, she had been given the challenge of getting Mr. Donofrio to come to his anniversary surprise party. Apparently, it was a big thing at Millard Fillmore High School for the teachers to honor their colleagues who had lasted ten years without a nervous breakdown or delirium tremens or having spit dribble down their chin because of us students. The parties were always a quote-unquote surprise. What’s surprising is that Mr. Donofrio didn’t know what was coming.

Miss Kosciusko told me and a few of her favorite students about the party. When my friend Jamie said he’d like to come, too, she agreed that a few of us could meet at the garage where the school parked its Chevy.

I’ll never know what Miss Kosciusko told Mr. Donofrio to get him out to the garage at 3:00 o’clock on a warm, spring day. Miss Kosciusko with her long brunette hair had all the allure of a Greek Siren, which I also learned in History. Her lingering glances made freshmen guys have to go to the bathroom and cool off. We all liked Miss Kosciusko, but we knew we’d never get her into our cars.

Jamie and me and a half dozen others in Honors History were behind the garage—the Chevy was parked outside—and saw Mr. Donofrio go inside. Miss Kosciusko followed right behind him. I heard her say, “I’ll be right back, Richard. Just get ready for me.”

Maybe five minutes passed and about every teacher at Millard Fillmore loped across the parking lot with big grins on their faces. Miss Kosciusko opened the garage door and everyone hollered “Surprise!”

Jamie had his camera and ducked right in under the teachers to snap the look of astonishment on Mr. Donofrio’s face. But he didn’t get it—the face, that is. Mr. Donofrio was standing in the middle of the garage naked as a baby and wearing a traffic cone on his head.

I elbowed my way in as Mr. Donofrio took the cone off his head. “Surprise?” he asked. That’s what writers call a rhetorical question.

That was the last word we ever heard him say. Miss Kosciusko fainted—or pretended to—and the others closed the door to the garage.

Jamie asked me, “What do you think Miss Kosciusko told him?” I said she probably used her feminine wiles. I liked the word wiles. It was on the vocabulary test I got an A in.

Mr. Donofrio suddenly became very ill—probably a life-threatening disease—and a substitute took his Driver Ed classes until summer came. Miss Kosciusko later just froze if anyone ever mentioned Mr. Donofrio’s name.

I don’t think it was that Mr. Donofrio was pot-bellied or had a scrawny chest or anything that changed his career. He looked okay in his clothes. And cause we played sports, us kids weren’t really shocked seeing him naked. But, someone wearing a traffic cone gets no respect. Jamie and me think it was the cone that made Mr. Donofrio quit his job.

That and the copies of the photo Jamie passed around school. I think Jamie was pissed that he had to go to Sears to get his driver training.

# # #

Conehead by Walter Giersbach
originally published March 4, 2009



Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, Written Word and Big Pulp. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child Publishing.

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visit his Big Pulp author page


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