The episode begins at the end of a typical day at Springfield Elementary School, where the recently divorced Ms. Krabappel's fourth-grade class is watching
a movie about zinc ("Thank goodness I still live in a world of telephones, car batteries, handguns [gunshot sound] and many things made of zinc!"). The
bell rings, and Ms. Krabappel's pupils rush for the exits. Part of the genius of The Simpsons is (well, was) its almost Dickensian ability to
impart humanity and psychological depth to what lesser shows would have treated as throwaway characters. The next two minutes or so, a darkly comic glimpse
into Ms. Krabappel's lost and lonely soul, is a master class. "If anyone wants to learn more about zinc, they're welcome to stay," she says to an empty
hallway. "We can talk about anything. I'll do your homework for ya?" She drives home alone, in the rain. She buys a scratch-off ticket at the Kwik-E-Mart.
"Still teaching?" Apu asks her. The ticket yields two dollar signs and a cherry. "For one more day, at least." Her apartment is a spinster's walkup. She
isn't someone who just needs a man--she's someone who needs anyone. She takes out a personals ad in Springfield Magazine.
Enter Bart Simpson, who earns a month of detention after accidentally--though remorselessly--killing the class goldfish in a yoyo-related mishap. This
isn't even close to the darkest thing Bart will do this episode. Bart finds the ad in his teacher's desk, and for reasons no more (or less) complex than
boredom or petty revenge, he decides to answer it. An elaborate fiction ensues: The man's name is Woodrow. He has the soul of a poet ("truly yours is a
butt that won't quit") and the face of
Gordie Howe. And he has inside information: Bart overhears Ms. Krappabel saying she wants a man who can fix her car. One letter later: "I put your picture up in my
garage to inspire me while I gapped my spark plugs."
Ms. Krabappel should have been able to see through the deception. Her crush knows her just a little
too well, and he's a little too cagey about personal details. When "Woodrow" stands her up at a romantic dinner (Bart goes to see
Ernest Needs a Kidney
while his teacher sits alone at The Golden Truffle), she actually believes she's been stood up, rather than simply cheated.
Thanks to those crucial few
minutes of exposition at the beginning of the episode, this makes perfect sense. Ms. Krabappel's life is so lonely, so absent of meaning, that she is
willing to buy into a pretty transparent fiction. And why shouldn't she have? Woodrow gives her moments of genuine happiness. Someone emerges out of
nowhere to affirm her self-worth! Of course, this only ratchets up the cruelty of Bart's deception--he picks out an emotionally vulnerable mark--but it
also introduces the possibility of
-deception: In the end, Bart slides a farewell letter under his teacher's door, and she is deeply moved as she reads it ("Any time I hear the wind blow it will whisper the name--Edna"). In a weird way, it is to everyone's benefit for the lie to acquire the status of truth.