Friday, April 15, 2011

Stupid - Part Three

For those of you jumping in without reading the articles in chronological order and wondering what the hell this has to do with the Alaskapade, the next paragraph is a repeat from a previous entry.  Everyone else just skip down.

I was sitting in a client's conference room in the midst of pre-meeting smalltalk when a co-worker brought up the Alaskapade and asked when I was leaving.  One of my clients asked what he was talking about and my co-worker pulled up the page on the conference room's projection screen.  We had but moments before the meeting kicked off, so there wasn't much time for me to explain.  There was time, however for my client to express his opinion that "this has to be the stupidist thing [I've] ever done".  My first instinct was to argue the purpose for my trip, but this is my customer and IBM probably wouldn't appreciate that.  So, I just grinned, nodded, and bit my lip as the meeting started.

It did get me thinking though.  I know I'm firmly resolved in my purpose for the trip and I also know that I've done many things more stupid than this.  There are too many to list without starting another blog, so I thought I would describe my top three in no particular order. As promised in a previous post, here is another of the three dumbest things I've ever done. 

"Sabotaging" My Senior Prom
"Now you can explain to your mother why you won't be walking across the stage at your graduation commencement this weekend."

This isn't as much stupid as it was just a smart ass prank.  I was a senior in high school and like most seniors, I thought I knew everything and felt like my Teflon reputation would keep me out of trouble.  Reflecting back, this is all pretty trivial when compared to exploding balls and prison camp.  But watching my kids go through high school and seeing them deal with what seemed like end of the world stress reminded me of how at that time in my life, simple high school silliness sometimes seemed like the end of the world for me too.

I graduated in 1981 from Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, Texas.  LCHS was a brand new school with all the modern conveniences and was considered a model for other schools and districts around the country.  My sisters graduated from South Garland High School and it was expected that I would too.  They were both super star students, cheerleaders, drill team, and ultra-social popular girls.  They were a public school faculty's wet dream.  Me, not so much.

I wasn't a bad kid. I like to think I was just energetic and creative.  In today's diagnostic terms, I was off the charts ADD/HD. Back then, there was no name for it.  Kids like me were just brats.  Whatever the term, in my last year of junior high school I knew one thing; I was not going to go to South Garland and live under my sisters' shadows while trying to measure up to their academic and social successes.  It almost broke my mom's heart, but she understood my motivations.  When LCHS opened, we were the first class to go through from freshmen to seniors.  In fact, the first year, there wasn't even a senior class.  The school was new, the technology was fresh, and the faculty was young and optimistic.  It was the perfect place for me to blaze my own path and pretty much get away with anything along the way.

I as a scrawny kid in high school.  I was 5'-4" and I didn't hit puberty until the summer before my senior year. I was too small (and lazy) for sports and my interests were all technology related. Schools today embrace geeks and offer programs for them to excel.  Back then, we had four primary groups: socials, jocks, ropers, and freaks.  The socials were usually rich, snotty kids who wore Izod shirts, Jordache jeans, and always drove cool new cars.  They seemed to always have extra lunch money and were constantly letting their snotty social friends cut in the cafeteria lunch line. The jocks were often stupid lumps of beefcake who were pushed through the academic system by the coaches because of their athletic prowess.  The ropers all drove old pick-up trucks, dipped snuff, and smelled like the livestock with which they probably lost their virginity.  The freaks had long hair, wore concert t-shirts and torn jeans, and were proud of their stoner reputations.  Many of them would come back from lunch every day with a vapid grin and reeking of pot. Looking back, the freaks were probably the most genuine crowd of all the groups because what you saw is what you got and they really didn't give a damn what anyone thought of them.  The socials pretty much did the same drugs that the freaks did. They just wore nicer clothes and completed their homework.  Nevertheless, I steered clear of the freaks. I didn't judge them; I just didn't want anything to do with them.  My sister was struck down in a crosswalk by a stoned driver the week before her high school graduation.  Her death tortured my mom and I couldn't bear being associated with people who could do such a thing to a family.  So, I never touched pot nor drank in high school. In fact, I've never smoked pot even to this day.

The geeks didn't fit into any group.  In fact, back then we really weren't thought of as geeks.  Dorks is probably a more appropriate term for who we were. I was into model rocketry and computers. The Computer Math class had the latest technology of the time: a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer with a whopping 4k RAM, a 1.7MHz processor, data storage on cassette tapes, and a black and white monitor. I wasted countless hours writing BASIC programs to validate rocket designs and calculate propulsion trajectories...none of which I ever used or validated.

In my sophomore year, I got into photography and it opened up a whole new world for me.  Photography and my affiliation with the school's yearbook and newspaper staff helped me cross over from dorkdom to a somewhat pseudo-social status.  I wasn't popular. In fact, I was still a dork but I had a camera and that made me key to getting the popular kids' pictures into the yearbook and paper.  As such, I got invited to many parties.  I got the last girl, but at least I was there.
Spot the Twin Camera Photo Dork
Our class' faculty sponsor was Mr. Poore.  Tom Poore was a strict, no bullshit, take no prisoners teacher. No one talked in his class and there was no cutting up allowed.  It was a solid hour of American History and amazingly enough, everyone learned in his class.  His reputation as a hard ass preceded him and everyone hated him until they actually had him as a teacher.  That hatred usually faded into respect laced with a dusting of fear.  He was the kind of teacher who made a kid believe that the trivial things that happen in high school could actually end up on some permanent record.  As our class sponsor, Mr. Poore helped us raise money for our senior year activities.  Under his leadership, our class worked through our sophomore, junior, and senior years to earn money for our prom and other senior year events.  We served concessions at Texas Ranger baseball games, worked the midway games at Six Flags, and had countless car washes.  By our senior year's end, we raised over $20,000.  With it, we bought the school a new scoreboard for the gym and paid to finish a monument on the school's front lawn that was started but unfinished by the slackers from the class of 1980.  On top of all that, our senior prom was free to all class members.  This prom was no small affair. We held it at the Grand Ballroom at the new (at that time) Dallas Hyatt Regency Hotel. There were cash giveaways, casino games with prizes, and excellent food. Granted, it was hotel food, but compared to school cafeteria food, this was tasty stuff.  We had a killer DJ named Marshall Argovitz.  You never forget a name like that. For grins, I looked Marshall up while I was writing this and low and behold, he is still a Dallas area events DJ.  Although the name Marshall Argovitz conjures thoughts of someone about as exciting as a model rocketeer computer nerd, he did a great show.  But I digress.  This may have been our prom, but it was Mr. Poor's showcase event to his fellow teachers, the school administrators, and the district executives.  They were all invited and looking back, it seemed like they all showed.  I wasn't aware of this fact or I might not have done what I did.

Well, maybe...

Mr. Poor was a forward thinker.  As a photographer and one of few students he seemed to actually like, he put me in charge of creating a slide show for the prom. This assignment started back in the tenth grade and had me collecting images of my classmates from my sophomore throughout my senior years.  I was the ultimate photo geek. I carried a regular film camera for the paper and yearbook and another camera with slide film for the prom show.  My photographer crowd thought we were infinitely cool and thus labeled ourselves "Camera Commandos".  Everyone else just thought of us as photo dorks. When they would make an announcement for any club to meet for yearbook photos, I would grab my camera and go.  I wasn't shooting the picture, I just wanted to get out of class and a camera was a like an unlimited hall pass.  I managed to appear in many club or group photos my senior year.  I'm convinced that if I had a hair net, I could have been included in the photo of the cafeteria lunch ladies.  My cameras went everywhere I did.  I had photos of car wrecks, a Cessna plane crash near our school, and I shot every official event our school held as well as many unofficial "events" held by the students.   I even captured images of a football coach making out with a senior student at the Dallas Zoo. This guy was body builder with a short man's complex and a total dick to me the year before. He gave me three licks with a paddle in front of the entire varsity football team for something I didn't do. I made a point to walk up to them at the zoo that day and say hi...with both cameras danging from my neck.  We got along really well after that.

One of the unofficial event photos I shot was from a small party I attended.  It was after the Homecoming dance and a bunch of us were going to dinner after.  Our crowd got to the restaurant and our reservations had fallen through. One guy's parents were out of town, so we stopped at a grocery store and bought steaks to grill at his place. Half of one of the couples there was my closest friend who was also a rocket geek. He and I seemed to share a brain and were always together.  An exciting Friday night for us was putting a twist in the belt drive on the record turntable and listening to entire albums backwards hoping to catch hidden subliminal messages. We would do this while building rockets and making prank phone calls.  He and I were super tight but to me, the girl he took to the dance was a complete whiny bitch whose existence the rest of us just tolerated.

This party went as parties did when parents weren't around and after a while, people were coupled off making out wherever space permitted.  My friend and his date were on the couch and I snapped a picture of them.   On the coffee table in front of them were beer cans and a wine bottle or two.  On the couch, perfectly juxtaposed  were he and his date, stretched out with his hand up her fluffy blue formal dress.  You couldn't see his face, but you could see hers clearly.  For all her whiny yelping in the past, she looked pretty happy in this picture.  At the time, no one seemed to notice that I took the pic and I pretty much forgot about it.  I was processing slides and negatives in my darkroom at home (yes, I was King Über-dork with my own color/b&w/slide darkroom) and ran across the image, but it wasn't in my negative strips.  I mistakenly shot the photo with my slide film camera. I probably just saw the shot opportunity and grabbed the first camera body I could reach...since I wasn't grabbing any other body.  I decided to print from the slide and took a copy to my friend at school.  We all had a laugh over it, until she saw it.  Then, it wasn't funny to him anymore.  Bitch.

A year went by.  Spring and the twilight of my senior year had arrived.  I was on track to graduate in the upper 10% of the lower 50% of my class, I was signed up to go into the Air Force in the fall after my graduation, and The Cars' Panorama was a top selling album.  I worked three different part-time jobs to help out at home and keep running money in my pocket, and I was the head photographer on the newspaper and yearbook staff.  I was optimistic about my future and life at eighteen was pretty good.

A few days before the prom, I was reviewing images from the stack of slide carousels that comprised the presentation for which I had been shooting pictures and working over the last three years.  Each slide was choreographed with specific parts of tunes from the era that we selected which included "Don't Stop Believin'", "Super Freak", and "Touch and Go". This was all programed on old school equipment that far preceded today's multimedia platforms.  The Radio Shack TRS-80 computer couldn't handle much more.  The music tracks were on cassette tape along with subsonic cues we manually placed, which would tell the different slide carousels to advance to the next image. The Hyatt gave us three large screens, the center screen of which was giant and the best images would be projected there. During the program, the images would flash from screen to screen, precisely timed with the subsonic cue points I programmed in.  On Friday before the prom, Mr. Poore reviewed the show and gave his blessing to its content.  I took the carousels and projection equipment home with me with plans to go to the Hyatt in the early afternoon the next day and set up for the show.  The Hyatt's audiovisual technician met me and connected everything into the hotel ballroom's P.A. system. We reviewed the show, reset the carousels, and left the ballroom.  After we parted ways, I sneaked back in, removed the retaining ring on the center slide projector, pulled out a random slide, and hurriedly dropped in the slide which I claimed had been destroyed the year before.

I drove home, dressed for the prom, picked up my date Tammy, did the obligatory photos with the moms, and we headed downtown. On the way, I told her what I did.  She laughed out loud and then said "You're dead. Mr. Poore will kill you!"  She too worked on the prom planning and one of her roles was coordinating invitations to the administration members to whom Mr. Poore wanted to kiss up. I sank deeper and deeper into my car seat as she listed them and decided I should try to retrieve the slide before the show.  We arrived at the ballroom and saw that it had been transformed into a wildly decorated scene with casino games, hors d'oeuvres tables, and Marshall Argovitz's lights flashing and music blasting.  I approached the AV table in the center of the room which was now surrounded by red velvet ropes and saw a different hotel AV guy sitting there.  He wouldn't let me get to the equipment saying he was instructed my Mr. Poore to prevent anyone from messing with the content of the show.  I told him I was the guy who produced the show and it got me nowhere.  Crap! I had really outsmarted myself now.  I joined my date and my friends and tried to put it out of my mind.

Mr. Poore found me and introduced me as the producer of a wonderful retrospective of the best times experienced by the best students at LCHS. I can still hear him today. He did this repeatedly to many of his special guests, including the school district Superintendent and his wife. He commented "I hear you've done something special for us tonight". "You could say that..." was all I could come up with.  Mr. Poore was so emphatic that I suspected he had found the slide and was just putting me through the wringer to make me sweat. I was already sweating and I didn't need his help.

As the evening progressed, we danced, we ate, and we acted stupid as seniors do. After a few awards were handed out, the lights dimmed and the slide show started.  The presentation lasted about thirty minutes and kicked off with our school fight song, which now that I think about it is probably a term no longer allowed in public schools these days. The first image was of our school mascot in front of the school in the early morning dawn light.  Other random images slashed from screen to screen.  I made it a point to get shots of everyone I could into the show and groups would yell out when they saw themselves and their friends on the screens.  People cheered the pics of the teachers they liked and boo'd the ones they didn't.  There were silent when Mr. Poore's picture came up.

I kept waiting for the slide to appear and each time a screen filled with another image, I was cautiously relieved. I had dropped the slide into the carousel with such haste that I had no idea where in the presentation it might appear.  I only knew it would be in the center screen; the giant screen.  Everyone was having a great time, laughing at the silly images, some staged, most candid. I was nauseous. I looked around the room for an instant to see where Mr. Poore and his entourage were standing. I wanted to know which side of the room to avoid. Before I turned back to the screen, the entire room erupted in laughter. My stomach wrung itself inside out and I thought to myself, "This is it. I'm dead".  I looked up and was relieved to see an image of a football coach dressed as a cheerleader at pep rally.  Oh yeah...I knew that one would kill.  Whew!

A few minutes later (which seemed like an eternity), I was looking for a place near me to discreetly barf when the crowd erupted again, but this time you would have thought the coach was naked based on the volume of the screams and hoots.

This was it.  I was dead.

There on the giant center screen was my best friend and his whiny dance date.  Unfortunately, she was also his prom date. Oops.  Her shriek rose above all the other yelling and became so shrill a pitch that I was certain only dogs could hear it.  In my early afternoon haste, I had dropped the slide in sideways. But on that large screen, the image and her identity were crystal clear.  For a brief instant, the photo dork in me marveled at the clarity of the image, its depth of field, and its color balance. I could go to my grave (and probably would within the next sixty minutes) knowing I took a really good photo.

The music kept playing and the images on the outer two screens kept changing.  But the image in the center screen just stayed there.  Apparently, I didn't just insert the slide sideways, I also dropped it in cockeyed and it was stuck in the projector. The screen would go dark for an instant as the projector's shutter closed for the next image to drop in from the carousel and then illuminate again with the same picture.  This happened repeatedly and every time the crowd would yell out loud.  The repeating of the image became a bigger joke than the image itself. People were holding up lighters like it was a rock concert in the 70's.  If this were a concert, my death would be analogous to Stevie Ray Vaughan's demise as he died moments after one of his greatest performances too. This went on for a good five minutes while Mr. Poore searched the hotel for the AV guy who had apparently abandoned his post once the show started.  Eventually, the show stopped and the offending slide was removed while everyone boo'd. The presentation started again and everyone settled down.  My stomach however, was about as settled as Fukushima, Japan during the recent earthquakes there.  This was the sentimental part of the show wherein our alma mater played and all the sappy pictures of the students showing their school spirit at pep rallies and football games were shown.  The last image before the credits ran was of our school mascot posed in front of the school in the sunset. It was symbolic of the end of an era - in a very high school way.

When the music faded, everyone was silent.  Almost every eye in the house was teary except for one pair and those were blood red with anger. Mine were tear filled too, but for a different reason than everyone else.  Finally, my picture popped up during the credits and the place erupted again.  People were shouting out my name.  At that instant, it occurred to me that in a few short years, I had moved from  pre-pubescent photo dork, up to pseudo-social, and further up to full-on Ferris Bueller rock star status.  Even the two or three freaks who showed up at the prom thought I was cool.  My introspective status analysis came to a sudden halt when Mr. Poore appeared at the podium, turned and looked at the screen, and then shot a look back at the AV guy who then killed the projector.

You could have heard a moth fart in the silence.  It was as if E.F. Hutton had spoke.  Mr. Poore said nothing. He just walked away.  Marshall cranked up some music and the usual prom activities resumed.  I hung around, danced, and did my best to have fun.  The rest of the evening, I was greeted with encouraging lines like "man, that was cool!", "that was awesome!", "you rock!", etc.  Unfortunately, those words of encouragement were followed by "...Mr. Poore is gonna kill you".

My friend avoided me the for the rest of the night and I went to a different after prom party.  He and the rest of my normal crowd went to a "party" held for him by his parents so they could keep an eye on him.  He was a great kid and is a great guy now, but for some reason his parents never trusted him.  Maybe it was the company he kept.  Nevertheless, it was probably best that we parted ways because at the time, he seemed really pissed.  He later told me that he thought it was as funny as everyone else, but she was sitting next to him and he had to act pissed.  Looking back on those days, I realized how much she meant to him and how much he means to me to this day.  I suppose a better friend would have thought acted differently.  But I did what I did and it seemed funny at the time.  To this day he is one of two or three people on whom I could call anytime day or night and he would be here for me.  He knows I would be there for him too.

Monday came around and when I got to school, people just stared at me as I drove my AMC Hornet into the student parking lot.  I remember holding out hope that because I didn't have any classes with Mr. Poore this semester, I might be able to avoid him. I was still enjoying somewhat of a hero status before school started.  But by the break between first and second period, word was out. It was like one of those movies where the school bully let it be known that he was going to beat someone's ass.  In this case, the bully was Mr. Poore and the ass was mine.  Even my teachers would look at me and just say "wow".  My journalism teacher Ms. Newkirk looked at me, held our her hands as if grasping together,  and just said "big ones".

Never one to back down from confrontation, I decided to take the initiative and go see Mr. Poore rather than have him send for me.  I went by his classroom after lunch before my next class.  I noticed the crowd behind me was swelling and yet growing increasingly quiet.  There were no doors to the classrooms; just open doorways, so it was easy tor them to eavesdrop on the class without being seen.  He was sitting at his desk grading papers; his classroom was bathed in its usual hallowed silence.  I took a deep breath, gulped, approached his desk, and said that I heard he wanted to see me.  He responded without looking up from his papers "I will see you; when I'm ready; on my terms, not yours."  I remember him then sternly pointing to the door in a silent gesture indicating he wanted me out of his sight.  Man, I felt sorry for the students in his next class.  Hell, I felt sorry for myself.

There were only three days of school left.  Maybe I would be off the hook he got distracted, although that was about as likely then as President Obama handing over his birth certificate today. Days passed.  Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, nothing. By Thursday, I was beginning to consider the possibility that he did forget.  Friday was a school day, but seniors were out.  It was either today or I was off the hook.

I managed to distract myself with the usual end-of-school goofiness. The yearbook was out and people were passing their copies around to be signed by other students. I suppose it was a popularity contest of sorts to see how many scribbles one could get in their yearbook. The super-social airheads would just pass their books around for anyone to molest and I never passed on an opportunity. If it was a girl's yearbook, I would find the creepiest looking dude's photo and next to it write a passage thanking the girl for giving him his first blowjob or some other grotesquely descriptive sex act.  I did the same thing for the guys. It was great to see them or someone else discover it. I could always tell when someone saw a yearbook I wrote in. In an apparent post-prom homage, someone wrote "R.I.P 1981" in my book next to my senior photo.

I was at lunch in the noisy cafeteria and had almost forgotten about it all until student after student came up to me telling me that they just called over the school PA for me to report to the office. I walked into the office which was bustling with year-end activity and the place fell silent.  All of the cute student aids just looked down when they saw me except for one, who just did the finger across the throat slashing motion as I walked by.  The secretary just shook her head and pointed to the offices in the hallway behind her desk.  I knew where to go.  I had been there a few times over the last four years. Mr. Poore was waiting for me in the Vice Principal's (Mr. Coleman) office. I went in and sat down, but was told to stand.  Mr. Poore did all the talking.  He described how my "sabotaging" the prom humiliated him before his peers and his supervision and how I ruined the prom experience for the rest of the class. I thought of the crowd reaction and fought to suppress a grin.  I swear Mr. Coleman fought back a grin too.  I stood silent; motionless, and emotionless.  There was no getting out of this one.  I just wanted to get it over with. Mr. Coleman finally spoke up and said they had carefully considered carefully an appropriate punishment for me.  He flipped through his Rolodex, picked up the phone, dialed, pressed the speaker button, and said  "Now you can explain to your mother why you won't be walking across the stage at your graduation commencement this weekend.  You'll receive a diploma, but you will not be allowed to participate in the commencement."

I only thought I was afraid before. This was going to go over like a fart in a church Baptistery. with my mother.  Mine was a single mom who proudly raised three kids on her own and one key major measure of accomplishment for her was seeing us graduate.  She struggled to pay for my senior photos, the cap and gown, and my graduation invitations, so depriving her of seeing me walk because of something stupid I did was going to hurt me much worse than the paddle ever could.

Mr. Coleman  had called my mom at work, which didn't help my case any.  When she came to the phone, I told her I was in "the office" again. "Do they need permission to paddle you? Because they already have it." was her response. I explained what I did and she started laughing.  I told her they weren't going to let me walk at graduation and her laughter stopped. I think I remember frost forming on the phone's speaker.  If it did, it quickly melted when she started her rant.  Mom was with us kids like a mother bear was with her cubs, but if we were guilty, she was all for us paying a price.  In this case, she thought the price was too high and when she started in, Mr. Coleman picked up the receiver and asked me to step out.  After about ten minutes, they ushered me back in and Mr. Coleman reached for his paddle. 

His paddle was a masterpiece of woodworking craftsmanship with a taped handle and holes drilled throughout the butt impact zone for added sting.  Mr. Poore asked if he could do the honors, but apparently only administrators were allowed to dish out corporal punishment. I was relieved to hear that. I assumed the position and Mr. Coleman asked "How many?" I grinned and answered "One!" to which Mr. Poore replied "He wasn't asking you" as he held up five fingers.  Mr. Coleman let five hard ones fly and set my ass on fire.  I wasn't grinning anymore.  I stood up fighting  back tears.  I tugged my pants from my butt and and shook them as if to rattle out the ashes that had been my underwear as I regained my composure. I reached out and shook Mr. Coleman's hand; Mr. Poore refused, so I turned to leave. I wanted out of there bad.  My parting words were "See you Saturday".  It was a lesson learned well, for about two days. I wore combat boots to the commencement and after receiving my diploma on stage, did a nose dive tumble down the steps as the entire place gasped.
Seniors 1981

I've seen Mr. Poore a few times since then. He fast tracked himself from a teacher to the Principal at my sisters' alma mater South Garland High School.   While there, he helped us coordinate our 10th and 20th class reunions. He even shook my hand.  While writing this, I did some looking around and found that he's still in the Academic world.  In fact, he's wound up at probably the best possible place a guy like him could. Click here to see.