Note to Parents: While this article talks about my own misdeeds it is not an endorsement or blessing of your kid doing such things unless they do it with more style and flair than me. In which case I need to meet them, as I do appreciate genius and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to school them in the ways of the “Farce.”
Cutting Class and Going to a Museum…Hmmm…
I was watching the move Ferris Buehler’s Day Off a couple of weeks ago and I began to reminisce about the good and not so good times in high school. When I watched the movie I was reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds by which I weaseled my way through or out of classes, escaped to get my driver’s license by playing dead, well just played really sick and cut Geometry class by hiding in the library. You see no one suspected me of such behavior because of my shy nice guy persona. Now to be fair I was pretty introverted most of the time. To top it off I was a NJROTC cadet in the years following Vietnam, played on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well, was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy…not like I am now. I look in some of my yearbooks and see the comments inscribed by friends and they all pretty much reflect the image that I put out. Thus though I was a complete goof off in some classes and show off in other classes that I liked, most people never suspected me of anything, except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school. Little brothers and sisters have that ability.
A Face that You Could Trust…An Unlikely Miscreant
I found that by faking being a really serious student was far better cover to get away with things than being an in your face rebel like some of my other classmates were. The fact that I carried a large stack of books with me everywhere I went added the image. It did make my arms tired but when you have little else to use you take advantage of what you have.
All of us back in the 1970s in Stockton had a common core of classes to prepare us for life. One of them was a class in health which also included some of the academic preparations for drivers training. I was in a class with a bunch of folks that I have had contact with even today which was taught by Mrs. Davenport. During the class we got to see two of the most class “scare the shit out of you” films of all time. They were Wheels of Tragedy produced in 1963 by the Ohio State Patrol and Red Asphalt produced in the early 1970s by the California Highway Patrol. Wheels of Tragedy can be seen in its entirety by following this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6728780942571899981# while Red Asphalt can be seen here: http://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f166/red-asphalt-18740/
They are to this day some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them, especially when Mrs. Davenport left the room and couple of us played it backwards on the 16mm projector. If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence and close up depictions of dead bodies. I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty graphic in kind of a retro way.
Once we got through that class which was the first or second quarter of the sophomore year for many of us we started the actual drivers education portion in the spring so that hopefully when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass the State of California written test and the road test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV. This class was taught by Mr. Allerdice, a stocky retired Marine with a close cropped hair. He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless. These classes were limited to 3 students and included a bunch of time behind a simulator followed by supervised driving in a Chevy Nova which had two sets of controls, one for the student and the “My God we’re about to die!” controls on the right side of the car at which Mr. Allerdice sat. This was somewhat intimidating but still kind of fun, especially because we knew that if we were successful we got our learners permit and were pretty much golden for the DMV. I had no problems with the class, really sailed through it and got ready for the real deal training on my parents 1972 Chevy Impala which was about the size of a small armored vehicle.
When the day came for my driver’s test I had to find a way out of school when my mom could take me to the DMV. This came shortly after my 16th birthday at the end of March 1976. That morning I told my mom to be ready to meet me about 10 AM. In second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick, felt feverish and that I might throw up. Since I had finished gym class the period before I was still somewhat sweaty which provided the cover for the fever, a sweaty and flushed face is great cover when feigning illness. The teacher wrote me a pass to the school nurse. I trudged down the hallway like I had the plague until I got to the nurses’ office which was in the main lateral hallway of the school where many of us had our lockers. The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness who was a most genial person. I told her my story and still sweaty and flushed she took my temperature. I prayed….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1 but still high. How I pulled that off I don’t know to this day. She then looked at me and said “Young Man, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?” I nodded meekly careful not to look her in the eye. She went to the sink and got a paper cup and filled it with warm water. She then said “You drink this; it will either settle your stomach or bring up whatever is down there.” I had not expected such good fortune. I walked into the adjoining rest room and closed the door. I looked down and the toilet and looked at the cup up water and smiled. With a grotesque simulation of an episode of projectile vomiting I tossed the water into the toilet. I did this again and again for about 5 minutes. When I was done I flushed the toilet, rinsed my face off with warm water and looking even more ill than I had went back into the nurses office. She was already on the phone with my mom. “Ma’am, your son is really sick, and throwing up. You need to come and get him now.” The time was 9:30 AM. She wrote me a note which bought my freedom and told me that she “hoped that I felt better.” I thanked her in a most sincere way and I walked slowly to the main entrance on Center Street. About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school. “Steven, are you okay? The nurse said that you were really sick.” I said coyly, “Mom, I told you that I would be ready to take my driver’s test, let’s go.” She gave me the most puzzled expression and said, “But she said that you were really sick.” I simply said, “I know mom, I told you that I would be here.” Years later I told her the details of how I pulled it off details which totally amazed her.
I guess that it’s like Ferris Buehler said: “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”
My problems in more advanced mathematics began to occur in 9th grade when someone decided to throw the alphabet into what had otherwise been innocuous math questions that I could do in my sleep. First period of 9th grade began in the hell of Mr. Nichley’s Algebra class. Mr. Nichley was a throwback teacher. He looked and dressed like it was still 1959, gray suit, boring tie and fedora hat. He started the class speaking a language that I did not understand and wrote strange equations on the chalkboard which had new symbols and blurred the boundaries between the alphabet and the Arabic numbers that I had learned so well. Unfortunately he was not much for explaining things to numbskulls like me and when I asked a question his answers always sounded like he was speaking in some foreign language. The problem was that Nichley often seemed to be more intent on enforcing his brand of discipline than teaching. I lost count of the number of students that he sent to the vice principle for minor infractions, including those done outside of school. Some of the girls came in one morning very tan in the middle of the fall after have sat under sun lamps the day before. This drew them blue slips. If you talked in class and he was not in a cheery mood, which happened to be quite often, you got sent down. Once he sent like 8 or 9 students in one class session. I got sent down once without a blue slip. However late in the fall Nichley was diagnosed with cancer of some kind and we got a never ending stream of substitutes. Somehow I got through the year with C’s of various degrees and escaped to high school where I was faced with yet another test of my now severely limited advanced mathematical skills. Nichley would survive to an advanced age dying just a few years ago in his late 80s surprising me because I figured that he must have died long ago as he looked like he was in his 70s in the 70s.
High school was different. Geometry made more sense than algebra, I think because I could see the diagrams. However, despite understanding it better I found our teacher, Mrs. Rundel boring as hell, so boring that I began to cut class. Now Rundel’s class was 6th period, the last of the day. This meant that as long as I didn’t get caught the next stop was the bus and home…or early in the year football practice. The first quarter I only made a few cuts by going to the library. The library was the perfect place, who would go to the library to cut class? That’s like running from God by going to church…wait I did that too. But the library staff assumed that I was supposed to be there as I nestled my body amid the history and reference sections. I got a “B” that quarter. The next quarter I upped the ante. I was becoming more and more bored, and Rundel always seemed to buy my excuse that I called into the counselors’ office or some easily verifiable story. Of course to verify she would have to go see the counselor as she didn’t have a phone in the classroom and I’m sure my studious and law abiding demeanor helped the charade. The 2nd quarter I pulled a “C” and the 3rd quarter I cut more and dropped to a “C” minus. What was amazing was that I was missing huge amounts of class and still passing. The true test was the 4th quarter, this time I cut class more often than not. I think I cut 23 out of about 45 class meetings, all in the library. The last day of the quarter I showed up. I had to take 7 tests that afternoon and I finished the quarter with a 60.5% average just enough to squeak by with a “D” minus. My mom was surprised at the grade; she had not gotten a notice mid quarter about substandard academic performance because I had intercepted it and forged her signature. She asked about the grade and I gave her my innocent, I had a “hard time with the class in the last few weeks of the quarter” story. Rundel retired that summer and I’m sure that I had to have something to do with it. Thank God she did not call my mom like Mr. Rooney did Mrs. Buehler: “He has missed an unacceptable number of school days. In the opinion of this educator, Ferris is not taking his academic growth seriously. Now I’ve spent my morning examining his records. If Ferris thinks that he can just coast through this month and still graduate, he is sorely mistaken. I have no reservations whatsoever about holding him back another year.”
My less than stellar experience in mathematics ended in 11th grade when I came up against the advanced algebra teacher, Mr. Nadeau. Nadeau announced to the class that he planned on failing half of us. I realized I was definitely in the half to be failed. I knew that I had met my match and no amount of chicanery was going to get me through the way I got through the previous year. I raised my hand, asked to be excused and went immediately to Mr. Brascessco my counselor. I told him that I needed out of the class now, asked what was available and was enrolled in English Literature and sitting in that class in which I was quite successful and to this day I have never had to take another math class in my academic career, I was smart enough to know that my strength was writing and research, obviously honed to a fine edge while cutting class in the library.
And now…my mood music selections for the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina and their eminent Grand Master Pastor Marc Grizzard. I have written a couple of times about them (see my latest on them here: http://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/halloween-book-burning-update-bring-the-marshmallows-please/ )Since I looked at what they think is good music and found nothing suitable, they don’t have the Horst Wesel Lied in their music library. Since they can’t spell the name of the song and certainly wouldn’t be able to sing it like good Nazis, I have picked a few more contemporary tunes to help heat up the night.
I would start with the classic Disco Inferno by the Trammps, followed by Fire by the Ohio Players. Once they got into it and started gyrating to the music while piling those Bibles on the fire I would switch over to a different style and play Burning Bridges the theme from Kelly’s Heroes performed by the Mike Curb Congregation and Foreigner’s Hot Blooded, REO Speedwagon’s Keep the Fire Burning, Linda Ronstadt’s Heat Wave, Abba’s Kisses of Fire. Continuing I would go with Johnny Cash and The Ring of Fire and the Talking Heads Burning Down the House and Blondie’s Atomic. Since this is a spiritual event I would end with AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.
It seems that Grand Master Pastor Marc has run afoul of the Fire Marshall and evidently he has no burn permit and that because of burn restrictions he won’t be able to have the burning. Evidently Marc has decided the path of confrontation with the Fire and Law Enforcement agencies. I can see this getting picked up in some of the offbeat press gets hold of this and starts presenting it as another example of Christian persecution. This could really be fun to watch and if I was there I would bring the beer.
I do hope the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist and the Grand Master Pastor Marc will appreciate all that I do for them. By the way call them at 828-648-0213 write Grand Master Pastor Marc at his personal e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peace, Padre Steve+