Rakes is inspired by the true stories passed down from one Central alumnus to his son.
Towards the end of my sophomore year of high school, I needed to prepare for 11th grade; this meant signing up for classes. For my language arts credit, there was one specific class I wanted to take: Honors English.
The man who taught Honors English was some old dude named Jim Rakes, and you needed his permission if you wanted to take his class. Now, I had heard from other students that Mr. Rakes, for lack of a better term, was a hard-a**. One day, in between classes, I approached Mr. Rakes in the hallway. Before me, I saw this old buzzard of a man with cold eyes. “Mr. Rakes?” I asked. “I’m a sophomore. I was hoping I could get your permission to take your class next year.”
Little did I know that this man knew exactly who I was. Although I was not aware of this at the time, he knew my dad as a fishing buddy, and he had taught my mother in high school over two decades ago.
The old man smiled wickedly as he rubbed his fingers together like some sort of James Bond villain. “I was hoping you’d ask,” he said. “I've had to put up with your mother and father. It’s payback time.”
There was only one thought running through my head: I don’t wanna take this class anymore.
So, I’m sure we’ve all been there. You’re sitting in class; the teacher is asking everyone for their homework, but when the teacher gets to you, you tell them the truth: you’ve left yours at home. This is a situation I once found myself in while in Rakes’ class.
“You left it at home?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You swear that it’s actually done and you just forgot it?”
“Yes, I swear; it’s done.” I assured him.
There was a long silence in the classroom. Rakes was obviously deep in thought. “Fine. Just don’t do anything stupid!” he said, as he threw me the keys to his truck.
“Wait, you’re not being serious, are you?”
“Go home, get your homework and come back,” he said.
He was actually serious. I smiled and thanked him. Then I turned around to head out the door.
“One more thing!” I heard Rakes shout from behind. “You’d better not get caught by the cops, or I will tell them you stole my car.”
Needless to say, this was a different era.
One of the stories we had to read for Honors English was Walden by Thoreau. Although many may find this story to be a classic, personally, I found it mind-numbingly boring. So… I never read it. Of course, we had to do an essay on the book once we were done; only, I didn’t know anything about the book, and it’s not like I could just look up a plot summary on the internet. I had no chance of BS-ing my way through it, so I just didn’t do it at all.
When it came time to turn it in, all of the students stood up, walked over to Rakes’ desk, and set down a piece of paper.
Now, I walked through the line so that Rakes wouldn’t single me out, but I never set anything down at his desk, and thankfully, he didn’t see it. A week later, he was handing out the test results.
Everyone ended up getting theirs back except for me, so I played dumb.
“Hey Rakes, where’s mine?”
He looked confused a minute before saying, “It must be with one of my other classes. You’ll get it next time.”
So, next class rolls around, and I asked him again, “Rakes, did you ever find my essay?”
“Uh... Yeah! You did about as good as usual,” he said.
“Oh, that bad, huh?” I said, with a smirk.
“You didn’t do too bad. You, uh… You got a B.”
I could live with that, especially considering that I never even did the essay to begin with. Now, believe it or not, I actually felt bad about lying to him, because I really respected the guy. Months went by before I finally owned up to him. But instead of him getting angry with me, I think he was actually proud of me for being that witty and conniving. I must have reminded him of himself.
Midway through my junior year, the school had gotten a scanner. Mr. Rakes really wanted to use it for his publications class, but he was terrible with technology, so he put me in charge of learning how the thing worked.
Now mind you, this was the late 80’s and scanning was a new technology. I had a little bit of trouble figuring it out at first, but I eventually got the hang of it. Once I learned how to operate it, I had to show Mr. Rakes.
I gave him an example by placing a page of my homework into the machine and I then printed out an identical copy. Immediately, I saw Mr. Rakes’ eyes light up and his infamous wicked smile stretched across his face.
He reached into his pocket and retrieved his wallet. After rummaging through it for a few seconds, he pulled out a 100 dollar bill. “Take it,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “I want more of them.”
Well, who was I to tell him no? I threw it into the machine and printed off copy after copy. Now, these were by no means counterfeit quality. They were printed in black and white and on standard printer paper, but Rakes? He was happy all the same.
Fast forward to the beginning of my senior year. I’m now actually taking Rakes’ publications class; this means that I’m working on the school’s yearbook, and my job was to put in the teachers' portrait photos, then type the corresponding name underneath them. It was a bad idea to put me in charge of this for many reasons, not the least of which being that I like to take liberties.
When it came time to put Mr. Rakes’ name underneath his photo, let’s just say I took another one of my liberties. Instead of typing “Jim Rakes” I put, “Old Buzzard.” Naturally, I showed this off to my classmates. We all had a good laugh, and that was that. But I made one little mistake: I forgot to change it back.
Eventually, the time came around for Mr. Rakes to proofread the yearbook. So there I was, sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when THUD! I get hit in the back of the head with a massive, hardcover book.
“Old Buzzard?” I hear him yell from behind me.
I was confused and disoriented for five seconds before I realized what I had done.
Towards the end of my senior year, Mr. Rakes was diagnosed with throat cancer. He thought it would be operable. We all did. But when he went into surgery, they found out it had spread and that he needed treatment. This meant Mr. Rakes was hospitalized for quite some time. Students were free to visit him while he was in the hospital, and I’m sure he enjoyed the company.
I’ve always hated hospitals; they make me feel uncomfortable, uneasy. One of my biggest regrets is never going in to see him. I should have manned up. I should have told him how much I respected him. I should have told him how much he improved my life. I should have been there for him.
I was, however, able to convince my parents to see him on my behalf, so that they could invite him to my graduation party. Now, I knew that he wasn’t going to come. It was his policy that he did not go to graduation parties. I was very much aware of this, but I still wanted him to know that he was welcome, and to my surprise, he actually told them that he would go. He was willing to break his rule, a rule that he had never broken before, and go to my party, health permitting, of course.
But, my graduation ended up coming and going, and Rakes never showed up. His health didn’t allow it. In early July of 1990, Jim Rakes passed away, and I never got to say goodbye.