• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #85: Mr. Hand


"What are you people, on dope?"

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is an absolute classic, and the reasons are legion. Star-making early performances by Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Even young Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards show up. An iconic poolside scene from Phoebe Cates. Endless quotable lines, a score thick with 1980's nostalgia, and even some thoughtful social commentary. My favorite part among many enjoyable pieces has always been Ray Walston's acerbic, flinty history teacher, Mr. Hand.

Mr. Hand is immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever had a teacher or professor who wielded a red grading pen like a sniper rifle and withering sarcasm like a scalpel. Mr. Hand is not amused by your antics. He is not amused by your tardiness, your slovenly habits, your idiocy. He expects you to respect him, the material, and maybe even yourself. It is a mark of the film's quality that Penn's anti-establishment surfer dude, the inestimable Spicoli, is unable to charm, undermine, or defeat this weary instructional titan. Instead, Mr. Hand handles Spicoli with the effortless ease of a veteran teacher, eating his pizza, and even, in the end, teaching him some history.

In my own limited classroom experience, Mr. Hand showed up a time or two. From "I Don't Know" to my time, his refusal to accept the slouching, dopey disinterest of a generation, personified by the hedonistic Spicoli, makes Mr. Hand, and those like him, worthy of our respect. Aloha.

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