Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Well, She Is Getting Old, Father"

Maybe I was slightly incorrigible in my youth. Strike that. I was downright incorrigible in my youth. On one memorable occasion, however, my incorrigibility actually served me quite well - a greater good, if you will.

After finishing eight years of Catholic elementary school, my parents insisted I attend a Catholic high school. I'd begun to display some disciplinary problems, so they must have figured continuing with a religious institution was the best hope for containing my penchant for misbehaving. Well, it was a nice thought.

At the time, my objection to attending a Catholic high school had less to do with any aversion to religion and more to do with athletics. As an aspiring young swimmer and diver, I wanted to attend a public school nearby simply because it had a swimming program and the Catholic school didn't. But my parents - my father in particular - were adamant about my remaining where they sent me.

After a year and a half of wearing a jacket and tie to school, group prayer twice a day, not being able to tend to my skills as a diver, and ever-escalating tensions between myself and school administrators, I decided it was time to do something. Figuring the honest and direct approach would have little chance of success, I resorted to what I knew best: obstinance and disrespect.

Mission Objective: Get myself kicked out of this school at any cost.

After a couple of days of skipping nearly every class in sight and saluting the dean of girls with my middle finger on several occasions, then came the pièce de résistance: the paper airplane in silent study hall. It was a large masterpiece crying out for some bold lettering on the side of the fuselage. So I gave it some: "FUCK YOU."

I thought I had better play it safe so I took the airplane home with me that day and threw it away, but that keen-eyed octogenarian Sister Elizabeth apparently saw it very clearly before I escaped the premises and she reported my hi jinx to the principal. First thing next morning I got called down to Father Frascadore's office. It was a free-for-all: Vice-principal, dean of boys, guidance counselor, dean of girls (must have been those fancy salutes), two janitors - you name it. All there ready to make certain this was an expulsion and not something I had engineered. Heaven forbid they should be outfoxed by a tenth-grade idiot.

"What happened yesterday in silent study, young man?" Father Frascadore asked.

"I don't know what you mean sir."

Then Father Frascadore thought he would throw me for a loop: "I'm talking about the 'fuck you' you wrote on the paper airplane you made."

"Whoa. I did not write that on any paper airplane."

"Oh you didn't, did you? Did you make a paper airplane?

"Yes, sir I did."

"Did you write on that airplane?"

"Yes, sir. I did"

"Did you write, 'fuck you' on that airplane?"

"No, sir. I didn't. I wrote USAF for United States Air Force."

"You mean to tell me Sister Elizabeth mistook 'USAF' for 'FUCK'?"

Momentary pause . . . leaning into my audience . . . and then, just above a whisper: "Well, she is getting old, Father."

Mission: Accomplished.

Everybody was happy. I was on my way to my new school that afternoon, and Father Frascadore and his minions got their wish: I was unceremoniously expelled, and in their eyes I wasn't allowed to leave with so much as a shred of dignity. Little did they know, they could keep their precious dignity. I only wanted out.

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