Who would think that the Young man in the Aviator Sunglasses could be so devious?
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.”This is just the first installment of my high school follies so look for more in the future.
I was a quiet and unassuming high school delinquent back in the 1970s and I love the classic 80’s comedy Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. When I watch it I always reminisce about the good and not so good times that I enjoyed and did not enjoy in high school. When I watch the movie I am reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds which included weaseling my way through or out of classes, escaping school to get my driver’s license by playing dead and cutting Geometry class so often by hiding in the library that the library staff thought it was my assigned class.
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 which was not the place one hung out if one was in the real “in crowd.” I sacrificed my love of baseball to appear cool by playing on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well. I was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy. 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 while I was a complete goof off or no show in some classes I was a show off in other classes that I was good at which gave people the illusion that I was a really good student. I was in those classes but image is everything and my High School GPA was just a bit above 3.0.
Now most people never suspected me of anything devious except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school. Little brothers and sisters have that ability.
I found that by masquerading as a 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. I looked the part of the serious student thus that was what most people assumed that I was.
All of us at Edison High School 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 best “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/
These are some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them. When Mrs. Davenport left the room a couple of us played these films backwards on the 16mm projector, which led to images of dead people’s heads reappearing on their shoulders. If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence due to the close up depictions of dead bodies. I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty cool in kind of a retro-creepy way.
Once we got through that class which took place in the fall we started the actual driver’s education portion in the spring. The idea was that when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass written 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 and a growling who seemed out of place in the school but who was a great teacher. He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless. The Driver’s Education classes were limited to 3 students and included classroom instruction, a bunch of time behind the wheels of a simulator followed by supervised driving. Our class had an orange 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 because I needed her to take me to the DMV. She assumed like everyone else that I had permission to do the things that I said that I needed to do. However I was flying by the seat of my pants and was about to embark on a gamble that if discovered would get me in trouble with the school and even worse at home. I was going to fake being deathly ill.
In my second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick. I told the teacher that I 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 and prerequisite 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 corridor was empty except for staff policing the hallways for the miscreants hoping to cut class or escape for the day. They saw me but saw my pass to the nurse and assumed that I was deathly ill.
The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness. She was no dummy, had been a school nurse forever and didn’t take any shit but she was a most genial person. I entered the office doing my best to look like I had the plague or other life threatening malady and prayed that I could pull off my escape with the unwitting permission of the Stockton Unified School Disctrict. I told the nurse my story but she was not convinced. However since I was still sweaty and flushed and she took my temperature. I prayed that I would actually have one….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1, not too high but still febrile. How I pulled that off the temperature I don’t know to this day because I didn’t expect to have it taken.
The nurse then looked at me and said “Young Man, you do have a mild fever, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?” I nodded meekly and replied that I thought that I was going to throw up, careful not to look her in the eye because I wanted to look really sick. 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; she had given me exactly what I needed to pull off my stunt. 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. By that time 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 saying that “I hoped that I did too,” thanked her and walked slowly to the main entrance of the school on South center Street.
About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school, she was very concerned and asked “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 and disgusted her.
We went to the DMV where I passed the written and the driving test and posed for my first driver’s license picture. I was street legal and had brazenly pulled off a stunt which not only got me my driver’s license but got me out of school early on a Friday.
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.”