Bald men in the basement: Mr. Eric Duchaj and Mr. Jon Pepper


Sierra Sulc, Editor-in-Chief

Tucked deep in the depths of George Mason high school, way down in the HyC, there are two bald men in the basement.

It may sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but if you’ve ever taken a HyC class, you know that Mr. Eric Duchaj and Mr. Jon Pepper brighten up the room and it’s not just the light reflecting off their shiny heads. The pair is constantly cracking jokes, talking about sports, and just overall “talking in circles.”

When I sat down to talk to the duo, Mr. Pepper stated that he already had an angle for the story.

“Can I tell you my Daniel Tiger angle?” he said with a smile. “Do you know who Daniel Tiger is? Do you know who Mr. Rogers is?”

And then the two were off and there was no slowing them down. They jumped from one topic to the next. Were Mr. Roger’s shoes slippers or sneakers? Why did he change into shoes when he got home? And somehow, should you put sugar on your meat? Several Google searches later, we finally circled back to Daniel Tiger, the main character of a popular T.V. show for toddlers.

“Every episode has a song. The song is ‘In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same’ and I feel like that’s a very good description of what’s going on here,” Mr. Pepper said.

The two continued to ramble on about their kids and sports in the way that they often do.

“See, this is what our podcast would be,” Mr. Duchaj said with a chuckle. “Legit.”

“Like straight legit,” Mr. Pepper responded. “Too legit to quit. Like MC Hammer… Wait, what does MC stand for? What if he was just misunderstood and he was Irish and it was actually McHammer?”

After several more Google searches and a long discussion about Reebok pumps, parachute pants, and JNCO jeans, I was able to slow them down long enough to get a word in.

“If Mr. Duchaj was wearing something like that and you didn’t like his outfit, would you tell him?”

“There’s no way that would happen because Mr. Duchaj dresses incredibly well for work,” Mr. Duchaj said.

“First of all, Duchaj is an impeccable dresser. He dresses extraordinarily well for work.  But sometimes it annoys me because I refuse to dress up for work, mostly as a form of personal protest, but also why would I dress up if I don’t have to?” Mr. Pepper said.

After some more indiscernible baseball talk and some sort of sports disagreement, I told them that I did actually have some real questions for them.

two men behind computers
Mr. Eric Duchaj (left) and Mr. Jon Pepper (right) peer over their computer screens, only their bald heads and eyes peeking over. They can often be found in this position down in the basement doing work for HyC classes. (Photo by Sierra Sulc)

“So, it’s just not just us talking about things?” Mr. Pepper said with another trademark chuckle. “But wait, really important. Before you ask your questions, that whole thing we just did, would that be an appropriate podcast?”

I thought for a moment.

“Uh no, I would get confused listening to that,” I said. “You need to have a direction.”

“We do have a direction. We have a question of the day. Like for example, what’s the most important bone in the human body? ” Mr. Pepper said. And just like that, we were off again.

Five minutes later, I finally got to my questions. The pair met on Mr. Duchaj’s first day of work in Falls Church and, despite what you may think, the two did not hit it off right away.

“On Duchaj’s first official day of work, they took him out and I sat across from him. I thought he was very pretentious. He was wearing a Cubs lanyard and I tried to talk to him about it and he wouldn’t engage with me,” Mr. Pepper told me.

“I don’t remember that. I remember being at the same table, but I don’t remember not engaging,” Mr. Duchaj responded.

“You were not engaging and I was really kind of annoyed,” said Mr. Pepper.

But things have come so far from that day. Now the two spend every day together in the basement and even occasionally hang out outside of school.

“What’s your favorite thing about him?” I asked to nobody in particular.

“That’s really hard,” said Mr. Pepper. There was a long pause.

“I feel like Pepper’s knowledge about things is really broad… He knows a lot and he remembers everybody’s name,” said Mr. Duchaj.

“So, I would say, like, Duchaj is very good at being grounded,” said Mr. Pepper. “His take is in a very real-world perspective. I can talk to Duchaj about anything and he’ll understand it. He’s sneaky smart… But also, like, his hair.”

Laughter erupted from around the room.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but Duchaj is also the most regimented person I know. Love it,” Mr. Pepper said. “Did you know that for Lent, Duchaj went vegan for forty days?”

Two men talking
Mr. Duchaj (left) and Mr. Pepper (right) chat across their “standing desks.” The pair is constantly talking about one thing or another, often engulfed in some sort of animated discussion. (Photo by Sierra Sulc)

“That wasn’t my idea though. That was my wife’s idea.”

“But you did it.”

“Yeah, I did it… And I kind of liked it too.”

“He also doesn’t eat junk food during the week, but when Friday evening rolls around, it’s Duchaj time.”

Then Mr. Mark Deal walked in. That’s when I knew I had lost them.

“Is this going the direction you thought it’d go?” Mr. Pepper asked.

“Yeah, pretty much,” I responded.

“Did you expect that they would be completely crazy and unable to stay on topic?” Mr. Deal asked.

“She told us our logic is circular,” Mr. Pepper said.

“Well, you’re observant,” said Mr. Deal as Mr. Duchaj laughed.

“Well this is the last question for today; what is the worst trait about the other person?” I said.

A unanimous “Oooo” can from the three of them.

“They’re bald,” whispered Mr. Deal.

“We said that was our best trait,” said Mr. Pepper.

There was a long silence, peppered with “hms” and “ums”.

“The absolute worst trait for the three of us is we encourage each other’s off-task behavior. They are the kids that no teacher wants in class together. I’d go to the counseling department and say ‘One is okay, but you can’t give me these two in the same class’” said Mr. Deal.

“We’d be a disaster,” said Mr. Duchaj.

Despite their constant rambling and occasional disagreements over which sports are worth watching, it’s not just their shared love for “Swagger” Old Spice deodorant, podcast plans, and luscious locks that connect them. In some ways they are different, but, in so many ways, they are the same.