It’s been more than sixty years since I left high school, but a telephone call from my youngest brother, Thom, reminded me of some of the more whacky times of my senior year. |
My graduating class was vilified by teachers and administrators for being the so-called worst in school history. According to their consensus, we were the worst athletes, worst students, and worst citizens in the long storied history of Defiance High School. See, in those days they didn’t care about our “feelings” and self-esteem. It was REAL world.
To be fair, in those days it was a very “conforming” society, and a number of us were outliers. In statistics, outliers equate to about three out of 1,000, but by my estimate 13-percent of my senior class fit the description.
My brothers, four and six years younger, said school officials were still griping about us throughout their own sophomore through senior years. My recollection is that we were decent students, but always up for some extracurricular hi-jinx. Alone we were perfectly normal, but when two or more got together there was some kind of catalytic process that created tomfoolery. It often became a contest about who could top who.
There’s a story about POWs of the North Koreans and their Chinese advisors. It seems the Turks were virtually impossible to control, and therefore, brainwash. The trouble-maker leader would be separated, but another would immediately step up. They’d separate him, and on-and-on. Pretty soon all the Turks were back together again. That pretty much describes my class from grade school through graduation. We saw a lot of the principal’s office, but though often charged—rarely convicted. Hoo-hah!
Let’s say some kind of mischief occurred; the slightly over-the-top kind—like sailing inflated condoms out of a window. The administration would immediately round up the “usual suspects” to be questioned. I can still hear a typical morning announcement, “Will the boys involved in vandalism of the assistant principal’s home come to the office. We know who you are!” We never fell for that. Besides, why “the boys”? Oh yeah, the girls didn’t do that kind of stuff then. Maybe that’s why none of them would date us. You think?
Note: There was almost no destructive vandalism. Maybe we soaped the windows, put a flaming bag of dog poop on the porch and rang the bell, dumped the garbage cans, bombed cars (including police cruisers) with water balloons off from a viaduct—that kind of stuff. Maybe the worse thing was shooting out street lights—although several of the guys set a field of dried grass on fire once. I admit that was too much. And then there was this one guy who got into a school bus used to transport part of the marching band of a rival school, and dropped a deuce on one of the seats. Gross, but not destructive.
We, of course, fashioned nicknames for our humorless, school administrator antagonists. Let’s see there was Claude Balls, Frank the Tank (or Brother Blue), Porky, Randy, Gussie, Miller the Mother, as a few examples. However, we were equal opportunity insulters; that is, we saddled each other with names like, Elmer, Gut, Ears, Citric Acid, Duck, Garbage, et.al. We also gave the girls names. Probably the best ones were Oil Can and Tear Gas. I’ll leave you to figure those out.
I had a girlfriend senior year (she an unsuspecting junior), which somewhat hampered my efforts, but I still managed to contribute. She was a cheerleader, and I a starter on the basketball team. Trouble was I was in coach’s doghouse, and usually got yanked in the first half never to return. It didn’t help that certain “friends” would holler for me to get back in the game. Their continual chanting drowned out the cheerleaders, and in general, ticked everyone off—coaches, cheerleaders, towns people—everyone. Plus, it guaranteed I would ride the pine for the rest of the game. I mean, I didn’t do things to hurt the team. Just wanted to relax them; calm nerves. Example: I convinced a teammate whose number was the reverse of mine to trade jerseys for a game.
Then the “Zorro” incident took over the school and surrounding area.
Disney resurrected Zorro from the 1930s movie archives, and ran a regular television series. I started innocently fooling around with what I thought were humorous and “camp” references to the masked avenger, and the phenomenon got legs; developed a life of its own; took off like an out-of-control bonfire. Overnight “Z’s” and “Zorro” defaced school and public buildings, library and text books, downtown shops, automobiles—even the police station. It went on for months and made the news on a radio and television stations in another state. Also, everyone started calling me Zorro, and would greet me with a fingered “Z” air sign, which was similar to religious people crossing themselves.
Aha! The principal and dean had a culprit to hang everything on. It didn’t matter that I had never written the word or the letter on anything that wasn’t my own property. I always returned the silent “air” sign though. Even that took off with students greeting each other in that manner. It was like some kind of Masonic secret exchange. (“I’m one with you, brother.”)
The last straw was the word “ZORRO” stamped in the snow goal line-to-goal line on the football field, which was clearly visible from the second and third floor windows of the high school. The students, and even some of the teachers, got a big kick out of it. The school administrators did not.
Once again, I was summoned to the principal’s office. The principal, assistant-principal, and dean of boys were in attendance. The latter did not have the stern look of the other two. In fact, he looked amused. The exchange went something like this: ASSISTANT-PRINCIPAL: “You! You are the ringleader of this, this outrage that has brought shame on the school, and the town! What do you have to say for yourself?” ZORRO (ME): “Me? I’ve never defaced anything.” PRINCIPAL: “What does this have to do with those old Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. films?” ME: “Wha…? What’s that?” ASSISTANT-PRINCIPAL: “Those old Zorro movies?” ME: “I have no knowledge of those, but there is a Disney series on TV.” PRINCIPAL: “Well, whatever. The lesson is you have to be careful of what you say so we don’t have these, these…er…unfortunate incidents. Do you deny you are the genesis of this plague and are the ringleader?” ME: “Okay, I ignited the fuse, but calling me a ringleader is not accurate. I admit to talking about Zorro, but it just took off. I have no explanation about why it did.” (Meanwhile, I’m thinking what’s with these guys. Are they nuts?) ASSISTANT-PRINCIPAL: (Satisfied smirk) “We think it would be just and proper for you to pick two friends and immediately go to the football field and stamp out that word.”
This was my punishment? I guess the learned gentlemen didn’t understand that having me in the spotlight would do nothing but “up” my street cred, and spur the movement. On the other hand—fantastic! I get out of class for as long as it takes, and get to spring two other guys. We could milk this and goof around until lunch. Now, I knew the three who did the job—Rupp, Ryan, and Goedde for curious readers who were classmates—but I wasn’t going to involve then. Instead I picked two others (Hull and Schultz both now deceased), who like me had “solid alibis”.
As I left the principal’s office, I happened to pass the small area that included the PA system for morning and afternoon announcements. For some reason, no one was around. I got an idea that was too good to pass up. Flipping the “on” switch, and checking to make sure it went to every room and study hall in the school, I worked up a rolling belch and let it rip. The reverb and echo was classic. Quickly, I turned off the system, and zipped out. Laughter from the rooms I passed was still in the air. From one open door I heard a teacher exclaim, “Somebody is being very rude.”
So, the three of us are cavorting around on the field with shovels with people in the windows grinning and waving. The third floor was the physics lab I had that period, and all of them were glued to the windows making “Z” signs. Our instructor was included in the group also getting a laugh out of the situation.
Then my Mom drove by and saw us having a snowball fight. Curious about why I was not in class, she pulled over and demanded to know what I was doing. I told her, but she wanted to know: Why me? I feigned total ignorance, and said something about being a good school citizen. I could tell from the “look” she gave me that she didn’t buy it. That evening she told Dad. He thought it was funny.
I knew I was on safe grounds with my Dad since he pulled off worse pranks when he was in school. Example: He and some friends found an old, wooden carriage horse, broke into the school and sat it in the main hallway. But that’s not all. They also gathered up some horse manure, and put a trail of road apples behind the horse leading to the main door. Way to go, Dad!
We finished the task, but not before building a large burial mound with a “Z” in bas relief on top. We used dirt to color the letter. It looked terrific.
The school administrators actually caused the fad to grow on steroids. For the rest of the semester incidents multiplied. They got a different result than intended. Ah, serendipity, don’t you love it? Then summer came, and the fad died a natural death. But to this day, to some I’m still Zorro. About 12 years ago, out of boredom I became a substitute teacher for one year. (A year was enough.) However, in the classroom I made the students address me as Zorro, but I would not respond unless they rolled the “r”.
As graduation neared it was time to prepare for Senior Day, which included the outgoing class presenting an entertaining review (skits, songs, comedy, etc.) on stage for the rest of the school, and whoever from the public domain wanted to watch. It was held in the community auditorium, which is in use to this day.
The theme of our Senior Day was the Dick Clark Show. As the curtain rose, couples in suits and nice dresses would be dancing to a platter (record), and then “Dick Clark” would introduce various acts to perform. The on-stage couples and the emcee were class officers and their friends. A teacher who was our class advisor was the honcho who watched over everything to make sure all was proper.
Wow! Another opportunity for a classic maneuver. However, as a safeguard, all acts had to audition before the class advisor and officers. I talked to one of my friends (Bob, called either Birdie or Roach) about us doing a hillbilly type duo. We used a “close enough” name so the judging panel would think it was an Everly Brothers parody. We booked the act as the Avery Brothers—Alex and Eugene. Unknown to the panel was that the real Alex and Eugene Avery were infamous degenerates from a nearby town.
Birdie had a guitar. I borrowed one from the music room, we learned a few chords, some basic harmony, and we were ready. The auditioning judges thought we were good enough to put as the last act—the anchor, sort like batting cleanup. At the time they didn’t know how wise that was.
The day of the show we were milling around with some classmates before school when several (mainly Gut Livingston, also deceased) suggested it would be a good idea to throw fruit and vegetables at us when we completed our number. Brilliant! During lunch period, the nearest supermarkets did a good business—especially for tomatoes, overripe fruit, and cabbage. I need to mention that graduating seniors, not in the show, were required to wear cap and gown, and were seated stage center. The gowns were convenient hiding places for ammunition.
Our audition number was “vanilla” enough to be approved; however, that was not the song we intended to perform, which in itself would still have likely been acceptable; but for that day was a bit more edgy. We dressed in uh-hyulk, rube-type outfits, and waited to be called. Finally, the announcement for the Avery Brothers came from the stage. Quite a few in the crowd got the name reference and laughed.
We marched out, setup a music stand, and placed sheet music on it. I think it was one of my brother’s trumpet books. On the front of the music stand, I placed a men’s restroom sign complete with an arrow pointing the way. The students laughed, but the teachers squirmed. That gag wasn’t previewed during the audition. We began: “I touch your lips that’s when the trouble starts a-brewin’ / I can’t resist the brand tobacco you are chewin’…” a Homer and Jethro parody of “Kiss of Fire”. When we finished the crowd loved it, and as the applause died down I stepped to the mic and glanced at Birdie. “They’re going to try and nail us.” He grinned and nodded. We noticed almost all the senior boys were reaching under their robes, and preparing to fire away.
“Would you like to hear another one?” We prepared to be clobbered.
“NO!” and a barrage of produce filled the air. It was strangely beautiful like a kaleidoscope, and seemed to fly at and around us in slow motion. Miraculously, neither my partner nor I took a hit. The “American Bandstand” participants sitting in tables on the stage weren’t as fortunate. Neither was the stage backdrop. The shocked looks on their faces was to die for, and I’ll never forget it.
Later, we learned that the class treasury had to cough up to pay for cleaning the backdrop.
A few weeks later we graduated, and the school said good riddance. But check this out: our group contained one of the first women to graduate from Harvard law school. She became an elite power attorney in Washington D.C., and Beverly Hills—and was atypical of our ladies in that she was a sneaky smartass. Another of our young ladies (a quiet one) started flipping houses 30 years before it became a craze. There’s more, viz.: a prominent physician who became head of medical research for a major university, a West Point graduate; a Marine Major General, a senior executive for a well-known West Coast aircraft company; an entrepreneur who published several very well-known business magazines; and four who became published authors. The high school administrators had issues with all of the above except the flipper.
Not bad for a class of ne’er-do-wells.
Respectfully submitted by Gene Myers – I’ll grow up someday.
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high school, mischief, hi-jinx, Zorro, Senior Day, Homer and Jethro, American Bandstand,