Thursday, May 21, 2009


To countless Western adolescents, as Regan talked tough with those short-time Soviet premiers who have all but escaped our minds, the greatest looming deterrent of our time bore various monikers. The Board of Education, Mr. Bo Ard, The Physical Educator, or that of a similar vein could be read along the business end of some of them, at least at my middle school. The ones you never saw sported holes for aerodynamic efficiency or even had rusty construction nails sticking out.

Just one broadside strike of a desk never failed to save souls. What we associated with that particular word was, for some, way more horrifying than a grizzly mafia hit could ever be.

Mrs. G, next to our homeroom, had the shop instructor fashion hers in the shape of a human hand and painted with school colors, if memory serves. On its fateful inauguration day our own teacher, the dry WWII vet, would-be lovechild of John Wayne and Principal Skinner, ordered us seated and silent after he was discretely asked to witness, as if anyone wanted to miss overhearing the proceedings. Breathing minimally we strain, some grinning, others solemnly, to discern the mumblings from outside the open door. If the inquisition ever became intricate he might reappear, to quell us, unless the gunpowder crack of sovereignty meeting Jordache denim invoked saucer-eyed pause. This time the report is followed by a tink-tink-tink as if someone dropped an empty soda can. Later that day most of us saw her toting the faux paw, minus a thumb, evidently shearing along the join at impact.

In eighth grade one of the guys tells me that Bonnie Bowles was able to avoid corporal punishment by citing the way of women as a nod to Jacob's Rachel. Once, while passing the assistant principal's office I could almost feel the whiff, line drive to center field.

As we moved on to high school, the bigger building with fresh challenges, posturing amidst peers with increasingly adult features and improved personal hygiene, the threat and awe quietly gave way. Discipline was now a clerical matter. Usually it was demerits and/or partial isolation in what we termed the hole, a one-time bomb shelter. Actually, the reprimand code had been in force since fifth grade but at first we rarely knew of anyone actually going that far. After a while it sounded almost fun to spend a month in suspension making holiday crafts, to hear one fellow relate it on the bus every morning between bodily epithets.

The girl next door once tried to describe Mrs. Wreede dishing one out from her electric wheelchair. To this day I'm not sure how she got to see that happen.

It wasn't long before a new or refurbished hand-paddle was commissioned, except this time we all know what the tink-tink noise signifies. Same kid even.

Most of those who got it possessed a certain inner strength, not so much irreverence as, well, relentless individuality. The point was not to punish delinquent behavior among a few. Our elementary principal seemed to only wield the board playfully, maybe joking about it when someone has a birthday. It was a concerted effort to counter the threat of global puberty.