Monday, April 26, 2010
Out the Window
One of my favorite high school teachers was my sophomore-year history teacher, Mr. Ramrod, as we affectionately called him. He was a banty-rooster of a man - a 5-foot-6 ex-Marine (he was also a fanatic for Notre Dame football, but I don't hold that against him). Every day, he wore a pastel-green shirt, black pants, and a skinny black tie with a globe-and-anchor tie-tack; his hair, as you would expect, was never more than about a quarter-inch long. He was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm for his job of imparting knowledge to young minds who weren't always clear on the concept of what they were doing in his classroom in the first place. He would strut back-and-forth across the front of the classroom, using his long wooden pointer to whack the maps as he explained to us the intricate details of the Battle of the Bulge, or the foolishness of the Allied settlement after World War I. His class was fun, as well as interesting. Heck, even my brother, who was no kind of a scholarly 'grind', loved his class. Ex-Marine that he was, there was never any doubt as to where he stood on certain, um, issues of the day (bear in mind that it was the early '70s - the height of the Cold War - at the time). When I was in his class, Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union, and Mao Zedong ruled China. And Mr. Ramrod told all of his classes, on the first day of school, that, on the day that Brezhnev or Mao died, it would be a class holiday, and each of his classes would throw a party in honor of the auspicious day. Mao died in '76, a scant three years after I graduated, and Brezhnev in '82, and I always wondered if he had actually done what he told us he'd do. Mr. Ramrod was the Guest of Honor at our 20th class reunion in '93, and I asked him about that. His face lit up, pleased that I'd remembered. "You're damn right we did!" Mr. Ramrod was also a coach for the football team, and, as you might well imagine, his energy and enthusiasm were very, uh, motivational. Despite his small stature, he had a very winning way of getting his players to believe they could do more than they thought they could. In the classroom, he would often use joking mock-threats to get his students, especially the boys, to stay in line and pay attention. One of his favorites was, "You guys had better settle down and pay attention, or I'm gonna start throwing people out the window!" And even though most of us outweighed him by at least 30 pounds, none of us had any doubts as to whether or not he could do it. He would even tell the other teachers, "If my kids don't shape up, I'm gonna have to start throwing 'em out the window." Our classroom was on the second floor, but the architecture of our school was such that the first floor was about half-underground, so the second floor was really only about a floor-and-a-half up. So he wasn't exactly threatening to throw us off the Empire State Building. . . ------------------------- Now, one fine early-spring day (and I have to tell you, Up North, where I'm from, spring doesn't really fully arrive until well into April, or even May, and when it does finally arrive, there's a LOT of pent-up energy flying around the high school), Mr. Ramrod had some pressing business outside the classroom (I have no idea what he was up to), so he set us up with some Defense Department movie of the Battle of the Bulge, or somesuch, left us with his standard threat to throw us out the window if we misbehaved in his absence, and left us to ourselves with the Wehrmacht in the Ardennes (or was it the Japanese Navy at Leyte Gulf? I forget). You can imagine how well that worked - unsupervised 15-year-olds in a high-school classroom on one of the first warm days of spring. 'When the cat's away, the mice will play,' and all that. Pretty soon, a couple of the guys were daring each other to commit various and sundry minor transgressions of discipline, and in the fullness of time, it escalated to where one of the guys got up on the window ledge, opened the window, and jumped out. When he landed on the ground, less than ten feet below, we all watched and cheered as he ran around the corner of the building to the stairwell, ran up the stairs and into our classroom, which was, conveniently enough, the closest one to the stairwell. Upon re-entering the classroom, he swiftly took his seat, pretending that nothing had happened, while the rest of us broke out in gales of laughter. Well, one guy having successfully pulled off the 'transgression', only spurred others on to match his feat of daring and rebellion. Another guy jumped out the window, and when he was safely back in his seat, another followed. Maybe five or six guys, all told, jumped out the window, made their end-run of the building, ascended the stairs, and returned successfully to their seats. All in great, mischievous fun. And of course, Mr. Ramrod was gone, so no-one was the wiser. ------------------------- Except for one thing. We were on the second floor, and there was a first-floor classroom directly beneath us. As it turned out, it was a math class, taught by another of the football coaches. Mr. Hulk (as I'll call him here) was almost the polar-opposite of Mr. Ramrod - he was a massive man, of the 'Gentle Giant' persuasion. In his bearing, he was almost stereotypically 'coach-ly' - he had a gravelly voice, and a slow manner of speech that made him seem vaguely dumb (which he certainly was not). Temperamentally, he tended to have a VERY long fuse before he would react negatively in any way. And he absolutely would NOT use profanity of any sort whatsoever. Us football players would snicker amongst ourselves when he would chew us out at practice, saying, "WHAT THE DING-DONG DO YOU GUYS THINK YOU'RE DOING?!?" So that was Mr. Hulk, and his math class, as I said, was directly below our history class. ------------------------- About ten minutes or so before the end of the class period, Mr. Ramrod returned, the movie ended, he set up the film projector to rewind the film (am I just dating myself horribly by mentioning the old movie projectors, with the big old reels of film that you had to rewind after playing them?), and the kids in the class all looked around, knowingly mischievously, thinking that we had really pulled one over on The System. A knock came on the door. Mr. Ramrod answered the door; it was Mr. Hulk. "Mr. Hulk!" he chirped. "How can I help you today?" "Mr. Ramrod," began Mr. Hulk, in his slow, plodding manner. "Would you please refrain from throwing your students out the window, as it is disrupting my class." Mr. Ramrod was confused, and looked back at Mr. Hulk with a look of utter bewilderment. "Throwing my students. . .?" Suddenly, awareness spread across his face, when he considered that he'd just been gone for virtually the entire class period. "Thank you, Mr. Hulk," he replied. "I assure you, it won't happen again." Mr. Hulk thanked him and left, and he closed the door. Turning to the class, and trying his best to keep a stern face, he said, "So - you guys were jumping out the window while I was gone?" And while we all trembled, wondering what fate worse than death he might have in store for us, he just shook his head and smiled. "Can you believe it?" he asked us. "He really thought I was throwing you guys out the window! I guess I'll have to be more careful how I talk in the teachers' lounge." And he just cracked up at the thought that Mr. Hulk would take it as anything beyond the joke that it was. While we all exhaled. . .