Sunday, March 22, 2015

Act the Second

(This is the conclusion to a story I began a couple weeks ago.  If you missed part one, you can check it out here.  Unless you're a member of law enforcement, in which case, there's really nothing to see.  I consider this a motivational story.  As in, it motivates me to post something else soon so this won't be the first thing people see when they come here.)

Punishment was swift.

The following Monday, most of the student body was in the gym for the intramural finals.  The principal walked in and pointed at the three of us -- Axl, Neil, and myself --and called us to his office.  We unceremoniously made our way down the bleachers and out of the gym in front of all our peers and every girl I'd ever made out with or wanted to.

Actually, if I hadn't had the worst game of my life in the intramural semifinals the week before, we probably would've been playing and they'd have had to stop the game to pull me out.  So, it could have been worse.

When we got to the office, I saw LJ first.  He had graduated the prior year.  They had contacted him and made him come back to the school!  This had to be bad.

Then we were led into another room -- the actual principal's office -- where sat the middle school principal, Mister Mims.

He was Ferris Bueller's Rooney, The Breakfast Club's Vernon, and every other self-important school administrator starving to wield what little power they'd been afforded rolled into one.  I was certain he had waited for this day his whole life.

The basic gist of the meeting was that we would perform 100 hours of "community service" which would largely be made up of painting the middle school.  In exchange, he wouldn't press charges, nothing would go on our record, and we would all be able to graduate as planned.

It seemed like a power play then, and still does.  Intimidation and scare tactics at their best.  I'm sure they needed someone to paint the school.  Here was a chance to get someone to do it for free.  But what choice did we have?  Felt like none.

They had also contacted our parents.  Axl and I would miss our senior trip, to the beach.

And so that became the summer we learned to paint, and bonded, with each other and with the middle school custodian, Ms. Bullard.

Ms. Bullard was sort of a manly woman.  Not all that fetching.  It wasn't hard to imagine her in younger days plowing ten acres nine months pregnant, stopping to squeeze out triplets with no medicinal assistance, then going right back to plowing.

She was no nonsense, but good as gold.  I got the feeling she didn't agree with the principal's punishment, and she made that summer as bearable as possible while still ensuring we got some painting done.

One thing I remember most about that summer are the days when every single thing she said seemed to be a euphemism for something sexual.  OK, so most days are probably like that when you're seventeen.  But this one day, she was having a problem with the tractor (seriously, like a lawn tractor, she was mowing) and had Axl and I on the ground looking underneath it.

"Do you see anything sticking out?"

"Just feel around under there until you find it."

"Don't make me have to get down on my hands and knees."

On and on it went, for like ten minutes.  I swear she was doing it on purpose.  If ever I was going to pee my pants from laughter, that would've been the day.

Another thing I remember about the summer is that somehow LJ had managed to keep the whole ordeal hidden from his parents.  When we found this out, we began "accidentally" splattering paint on him so they'd figure out something was going on.

To counter this, he started bringing extra clothes every day and changing in the car before he went home.  That's when one of us got the wise idea to call his parents, and when they said he wasn't home, we'd say "Oh, is he not back from painting the school yet?"

It seems like a crappy thing to do now, but guys are like that sometimes.  We rag each other incessantly, make up fun games where we punch each other in the upper arm to the point of bruising, and sometimes... tattle on each other like whiny babies.  Evidently.

Mostly I just remember the hours.  The painting.  The long days.  The camaraderie.  Talking about anything and everything to pass the time.  Listening to the radio.  You haven't lived until you've sung "Daytime Friends" by Kenny Rogers out loud with three of your best male friends while sweating profusely in the June Alabama humidity at what amounts to little more than a glorified work release camp.

When it was finally over, I can remember a feeling of "what do I do with all this free time now?"  I might've even had a touch of Stockholm syndrome.  It's easy to understand how people who are in prison for a long time can no longer function on the outside. 

I suppose the worst part of it all was disappointing my parents.  And Neil's mom.  Neil was two years my junior.  She had always trusted me to look out for him, and I had let her down.  One day when I knew he wasn't home, I went over and apologized to her face to face.  She forgave me absolutely and completely, I know.  Still, few times have I ever felt lower.

And of course, missing my senior trip seemed like the worst thing in the world.  It would be another five years before I saw the ocean for the first time.

Despite all that, most of the negative feelings have simply faded away with time.

Someday when I recount this tale for my great-grandchildren -- running a paint roller up and down LJ's shirt, Ms. Bullard and the tractor, getting to see the inside of an actual teacher's lounge -- one of them (while marveling at how sharp my memory is for a 104-year-old) will ask, "Sir Bone (I get knighted in my swingin' sixties), why are you smiling?"

And I'll reply with a hint of a gleam in my eye...

"Not now, what's-yer-name.  Go play in the yard or something.  It's time for my bi-hourly nap."


  1. Great story Bone! The punishment seems a bit excessive, painting the middle school in June. It's so hard.

    And I like Ms. Bullard. I hope she got overtime.

    1. Thanks. I'm pretty sure there were some 8th Amendment violations taking place. In my mind there were anyway.

      I liked Ms. Bullard, too.

  2. So... you're going to develop an amazing memory (something you do not currently possess) sometime after you get Knighted in your swingin' sixties? :) Or does the memory not come about until you hit 101?

    He was Ferris Bueller's Rooney, The Breakfast Club's Vernon, and every other self-important school administrator starving to wield what little power they'd been afforded rolled into one. I was certain he had waited for this day his whole life.

    That was awesome. It also makes me want to curl up with popcorn and The Breakfast Club.

    1. Hey, I'm remembering things from 25 years ago here. Give me some credit. Granted, I struggle to remember what I had for supper most days. I'm an enigma.

    2. Come on, that was funny!

      But I will give you some credit. Which is actually one of the benefits of blogging - helps you remember things a few years down the road :) I look back at some posts about something one of the munchkins said and I'm definitely glad I have it.

  3. Wow! You definitely got the shaft with that punishment. I did a lot more worse things to our school than playing basketball inside after hours and I never got squat. Of course I never got caught and there in lies the difference.

    And now I know the rest of the story!

    1. We definitely thought so. I think they probably did have worse things going on, so they made an example of us.

  4. Good one TC! :D
    I forget why my brother got busted, but remember that he had to go pick up trash at the school. My mom made me give him instructions on how to catch the bus (city bus) because she was NOT driving him. She gave him only enough money for the trip. (she wasn't the trusting sort, especially if you got detention.) But brother wasn't paying attention and got on the bus going the wrong to the end of the line and had to pay another fare. Then of course didn't have the money to get back home. I can't remember if she made him walk or not but she was ticked!
    I guess the good thing is that there were no overdue library books involved.

    1. So you never read "Tropic of Cancer???"

    2. Thanks, I thought that was a good comment, but apparently Bone disagrees.

  5. That was good TC.
    Bone, you read Tropic of Cancer?
    I have big problems trying to imagine you doing something that warranted not going on the school beach trip and a summer spent painting the middle school. But glad to know that's how you bonded--and yes The Breakfast Club quickly comes to mind

  6. I am glad I didn't grow up in Alabama, I'd probably be dead having faced a firing squad for some of my misdeeds. It does sound like you were used to get the school painted. But nice (and funny) memories and that is worth something.

  7. I tend to think you got the long end of the stick, ultimately. Your summer of agony ended up being richer than a day at the beach.