While attempting to write this column over the last few years, I’ve taken great lengths to make sure I don’t repeat subjects with frequency. One can only assume a weekly column about Tony Coit and myself hitting on cute seniors while freshman would’ve been as short lived as our success in doing so.
But just as the column comes out each week, there is often a cyclical nature in writing. Reoccurring seasons, holidays, and events etc. often require our attention – or in my case, a column. I’ve mentioned that this will be my last year writing Manteca to a T, and I would love for someone to take up the helm (but that is for a later column, when I challenge the town, and those in it to keep this “Community Column” part of our Community.)
The few times I’ve re-run a column, I’ve been self-deprecating stating that it’s my laziness, or ridiculous lifestyle that forced me to repeat one. When in truth, they were just columns that perfectly fit the time of year, an upcoming event, or a holiday we looked forward to...
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”...or in this case rewrite it.’
But this week will be the last column I repeat until I close up shop. It is by far my favorite column I’ve written, mostly because it still resonates within my everyday life – writing and comedy. Hopefully the message isn’t lost on the high school aged kids it is intended to help. I myself was that same “know-it-all” kid, and am sure had someone plopped this column down in front of me — “Oh what does this old dummy know?!” would’ve certainly left my mouth.
Well young dummy, be careful when you near the finish line, because a fall just before breaking the tape — is the worst fall of all.
“There is a fine line between the entitlement that Captains my ship – and the chip on the shoulder that turns the propeller. But here is the story that caused the storm, one that 25 years later – still affects my life’s navigation” — Lloyd Barbasol
The Great Graduation Confrontation....It’s the last week of school for the town’s outgoing senior classes. Finals, Disneyland, Senior Fun Days, and Grad Night mark the end of their journeys through high school. Tying off all the loose ends, and saying goodbye to faculty and friends. I remember my last week like it was yesterday, all my classmates reaping the rewards of 4 tumultuous years – but they were all doing it without me. I’d been given the old heave-ho exactly 8 days before graduation.
I’m here to warn you seniors, “It ain’t over til it’s over”. There is still an unused cap and gown lying around my dad’s house if someone is interested in buying it. The tale I am about to tell is wrought with love, betrayal, unfounded accusations, and self-realization...OK maybe I’m going a little overboard, but it is a cautionary tale to outgoing seniors, of what not to do at the end. The names of the principal participants will be changed to protect their reputations. And away we go...
May 15 1991: 3rd period English Class is being taught by student teacher “Mr. Nehru”. The class is loaded with the cream of the senior class’ English students. Mr. Nehru had taken the reigns from our primary teacher “Mrs. Bo Peep” about half way through the year. Mrs. Peep often observes the class as she corrects papers during her off period, but for all intents and purposes it is Mr. Sander’s show. We are off curriculum, and having a spirited talk about poetry. I for one cannot stand poetry – not that I don’t see it’s legitimacy as an art – it’s just a bit highfalutin for this country boy. In my mind at that time, it was no different than rap music or commercial jingles. “Anybody can do it.” I said. Mr. Nehru was very cool about it, and challenged me to write a poem – and he wanted it in 5 minutes. I accepted and began to scribble. Soon I was up in front of the class reciting my poem “The Mole”. It was short, maybe two stanzas...and guess what?.. It was good!.. Mr. Nehru was noticeably pleased, and said as much. It was a great feeling to have a teacher overlook the distraction that I was, and give me a pat on the back… and that’s where the story should end.....but alas it does not.
From the back of the room as she corrected papers, Mrs. Bo Peep decided to interject “I’ve heard that somewhere before”… I was a bit angered to say the least, and responded accordingly. She acted as if a long-haired slacker jock was incapable of commanding the English language. The exact exchange that got us to the point where she said “That is someone else’s poem you’ve plagiarized” is debatable. Let’s be very clear here, I had absolutely not stolen, nor borrowed any piece of this poem. There are many things that an 18-year-old me could tolerate being called; a loudmouth know-it-all, a pompous ass, or an entitled underachieving boob - but Plagiarist?!
Nope, not on my watch. I responded “I’m sorry that for some reason my ability to put together a few words that rhyme, has somehow caused an affront to your sensibilities, but I can assure you fine Madame, that I am quite capable of formulating more works of art if you need proof”.
Oh man, if only those were actually the words I used, instead of “I don’t give a **** what you think!” which stupidly flew from my mouth.
Bad Decision #1
We headed to Vice Principal “Mr. Spock’s” office...on the way out of class Mr. Nehru gave me a sheepish almost apologetic look, but I had dug my own grave on this one...To say mine and Mr. Spock’s relationship was volatile is an understatement – I’d spent more time in his office than the janitor — the disdain was palpable. So when Mrs. Bo Peep became a bit overwhelmed with emotion at the outset of the meeting, I knew I was in trouble. My contention that she was “shedding crocodile tears”, and “wasn’t even teaching the class” only enraged him, and was met with classic Spock justice. He opened the door and escorted Bo Peep outside to gather herself. He returned and slammed the door behind him, “What kind of man are you?!.. If we were adults on the streets, we’d go to fisticuffs young man”… In hindsight this is probably when I should’ve tucked tail and shut my mouth, instead of answering with “Fisticuffs?... what makes you think a guy that steals poems about moles, has a clue what that word means?”… He was not amused. ... Imagine the sound an old teapot would make when ready on the stove top, his face had become a physical manifestation of that noise. “Get to your next class and report here at the end of the day to finish our talk with Bo Peep!”... and away I went.
During first lunch I ran into close friend Brian Williams, who informs me “I’ve got the boat hooked up to my truck in the back parking lot...we are leaving after fifth if you want to go skiing”. Of course I wanted to go, so I went to the office avoiding Spock’s sight, and checked myself out of school for “court”. I was fully aware of the after school meeting I’d committed to, but thought I could spin a yarn about a “court proceeding” that had slipped my mind. I’d be just fine.
Bad Decision #2
The following morning I was immediately swooped up from my 1st period class, and escorted to his office. “Sorry about missing yesterday’s meeting, I had some business to attend to at the courthouse”. Dr. Spock didn’t hesitate, “Really, cause I called the courthouse to check up on you...and you weren’t there”...a mere bump in the road for this seasoned veteran, “I actually went to the Escalon courthouse, it was about the Sonora bus egging incident from earlier in the year” (That in itself is a column all its own)...but he was ready, “I called the Escalon courthouse as well, and the D.A., your court proceedings ended months ago”...certainly he couldn’t have done these things, and we reached an impasse… He issued the next move, “I will need to speak to at least one of your parents face-to-face before I let you graduate”… all I heard was “let you graduate”… I made arrangements to have my mom come down the next morning. The thought being why involve dad, the disciplinarian of the two, for what I assumed a mere formality.
Bad Decision #3
The morning came, and mom and I arrived at his office. I had come clean and prepped her about my skiing excursion. She agreed with much hesitation to go along with the story if needed...
Spock opened with a roundhouse punch to the chin, “Your son has missed more school than almost anyone in his class this year”...For some stupid reason I believed the day would be focused on the Plagiarism incident. Dr. Spock had different plans. He unveiled a laundry list of some of my greatest hits over the last few years. Mom was none too pleased. I was quickly losing the room, and then he dealt the fatal blow. A stack of “missed school” notes from the last two years, all signed by my mom – but not a one in her handwriting. I actually saw the honesty gene that courses through my mom kick in. The jig was up, and before my mom could finish saying “Maybe the next time Chris decides to miss a meeting to go skiing, he’ll think twice about it”, Mr. Spock was moving the day’s deliberations to the sentencing phase. Guilty!
You know the scene at the end of A Few Good Men?..The one where Tom Cruise finally gets Jack Nicholson to crack, and Cruise has that wry smile on his face. That “I got you look”. Mr. Spock had it in spades – and for a brief moment I actually felt his joy. It must have been wonderful to be on the victorious end of our 4 year prize fight... He slid open his desk drawer, and pulled out my dismissal papers – papers that were already drawn up. He had his white whale harpooned and on the deck – Moby Dumb. I had some choice words for both of them on my way out. Ultimately my dismissal had little or nothing to do with the accusations of poem thievery levied against me, and everything to do with my inability to keep my big mouth shut.
I left school and headed to New Deal Market. At the time family friend Manuel Sequiera was the manager, and I attempted to talk him into selling me a six-pack. Instead he offered me a job. I think he sensed the hell that awaited me when my dad heard of what happened, and figured it would soften the blow. It was an hour later that I ran into dad at home in the kitchen. “You’re home early?” he questioned. “Well I have good news and bad news, which first?”...Good News: “I got a full time job at New Deal, I start on Monday”.... Bad News: “I just got kicked out of school”... He didn’t say much, “You chose the wrong parent to go down there” was mentioned a few times… but in truth, I had done it all to myself...
I attended my class’ graduation a few days later with close friend, and fellow Senior Mat Payer – he had suffered a similar demise as me, and would be watching from the stands as well. I was ten minutes into the ceremony, that a group of graduating classmates unveiled a giant banner they had snuck onto the field. “We Love You Mat!” was held up high in honor of the much beloved Mat... I waited for the banner that would have my name, and recognize the injustice that had befallen me...well it is twenty five years later – and I’m still waiting for my banner Class of 91’!
I realize I’ve just written a warning column to a group of kids, that probably don’t know that the newspaper still exists...but if I can impart any words of wisdom, they’d be: Always respect your teachers, no matter how much you dislike or disagree with them. They are there to help, not to hinder. Learn to pick and choose your battles. Nothing worse than a snap decision having a long term effect...and most importantly - you’ll never Know-it-All....and believe me as you age, sometimes not knowing, works just fine...
And to the many teachers in town, of which my mother is one – did I leave that out of the column?. Those that know my mother, know what a warm and kind person she is – I often hear “How can that be your mother?!”… I point to my other siblings to display her influence. My pearl of wisdom to all the teachers out there, including mom, is to cut a kid a break every once and a while. Too often in the process of teaching “Life Lessons”, we forget that two of these lessons are compassion and forgiveness – not just an iron fist — and lastly, be careful of what student’s buttons you decide to push because someday in the not so distant future, they may be writing a column for your hometown newspaper...Plagiarism is as nasty a word to a high school senior, as it is to someone attempting to make a living as a comic/columnist/tractor driver.
Finally, a sincere apology to Mrs. Bo Peep, Mr. Spock, and my mother. As a high school Senior, I hadn’t earned the right to speak to any of you, nor anyone the way I did. I am truly Sorry, (but it does make for a great story – one that I wrote and created all by myself)
And remember Seniors, “It’s not Where ya do, it’s What ya do.”