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.
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
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.
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
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.