Mike "Rocky" DiMaria was my ninth grade World Cultures teacher, which was odd since the man seemed to have about a fourth-grade education. We called him Rocky because he bore a striking physical resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, though he didn't have quite the same level of intellect. Mr. DiMaria was hired to coach football and the job description really should've stopped right there, but in the ultimate wisdom of the Middlesex High School administration, Rocky was also assigned a few social studies classes.
It was your classic "fish out of water" story. Just imagine, well, imagine Rocky Balboa teaching a high school social studies class, I guess. His lack of knowledge combined with his dumb-jock arrogance blossomed neatly into a new breed of douchebag.
For example, one morning Professor Rocky was "teaching" us about the great philosophers "SO-crates" (and this was well before "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" came out) and Plato. Now, I'll give him credit. He pronounced "Plato" correctly and didn't even mention a "fun factory". However, during his lesson he threw in the little-known factoid that Plato was such a well-known and respected philosopher that early astrologists (his word) named the last planet in the solar system after him.
Now, understand from the get-go that we all knew that Mr. DiMaria was a Grade A sphincter biscuit, and this was far from his first case of foot-in-mouth. But what can I tell you, we kinda liked the big lug, so we'd just play along good-naturedly and fire back a few challenges every now and then. This was one of those times.
"Uh, excuse me, Mr. DiMaria," said Steve, "I realize you're the teacher and all, but isn't the last planet called Pluto?"
"No it ain't," replied Rocky. "Most people tink dat, but it's ack-shully called Plato."
"Are you sure?" chimed in Regina. "I always thought it was Pluto. That's what we've been taught, anyway."
"Trust me, it was named for Plato."
"I dunno, Mr. D.," added Jill, stifling a chuckle. She was by far the smartest student in the entire ninth grade, and enjoyed razzing those with lesser intelligence, meaning everyone. "Pluto was the God of the Underworld. Since Mercury, Venus, Mars, pretty much all of the other planets were named for Gods, doesn't it stand to reason that Pluto is too?"
"Dat's a common mistake, Jill, but I'm positive it's Plato, like the philosopher."
"You sure it wasn't Pluto like Mickey's dog?" I asked.
"Don't be stupid," he said.
We debated the issue for a few more minutes. Not one of us had ever heard that there was a planet called Plato, of course, but Rocky was unwavering. I guess his Bachelor's program at Comatose State University had a unique curriculum.
Most of us in Rocky's class also had several other classes together. Naturally, were eager to share our newfound knowledge with Mrs. Stamen, our science teacher. Since she possessed a PhD from Princeton along with an enthusiastic passion for teaching, we were giddily curious as to how she'd respond to the scientific theorizing of the offensive line coach.
"Hey, Mrs. Stamen," I said. "Did you know that the last planet in our solar system was named for the philosopher Plato?"
"Who told you that?" she asked.
"Mr. DiMaria," said Regina. "He was pretty certain."
"No, seriously," Mrs. Stamen said. "He really told you kids that?"
"Yeah," said Steve. "What do you think?"
"I think Coach DiMaria is a sphincter biscuit."
Okay, she didn't really say that. What she actually said was, "It's Pluto. I'm going to have a word with Mr. DiMaria. If he wants to remain ignorant that's up to him, but I'm not going to let him pollute you kids."
So a couple days later during World Cultures, Jill asked, "So, Mr. D, did you talk to Mrs. Stamen about Pluto?"
"Uh huh," he said. "But I still tink it's Plato. I'm gonna have to check."
"The word of a Princeton PhD isn't good enough?" asked Regina.
"I'd perfer to do my own research."
Really, you'd "perfer" to?
We had a lot of fun with Rocky. Jill actually kept a journal entitled "The Wisdom of Rocky DiMaria" where she wrote down all of his verbal diarrhea. Among the classics:
"If you finish your test before you're done, put it in dis basket." Do we have a time machine in class, maybe?
"Da people of China are dyin' due to a lack of starvation." Lack of starvation, Rock? Wouldn't that be a good thing?
"Two great wonders of da Egyptian world is da pyramids and da Spinks." Oh really? Would that be Michael or Leon?
Yeah, if that guy was qualified to be a high school social studies teacher, I'm gonna be the first astronaut on Plato.