(Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.)
Life as a fearless young Marine Pirate growing up in Fountain City was not always a nonstop adventure. For example, my prankster reputation had somehow escaped the notice of teachers and administrators at Fountain City Elementary School who had appointed me to the AAA Safety Patrol when I entered the eighth grade.
The same clueless adults anointed me a “floating lieutenant,” sort of an internal affairs officer for the Safety Patrol. It was my job to monitor the crossings and report any goofing off by the more junior crossing guards. Nothing a Marine Pirate couldn’t handle.
Each school day morning the Safety Patrol gathered in the boys’ locker room to don our white belts and badges. There was always horseplay, and on this morning just a few days before Christmas break we were more raucous than usual.
I’d like to say that the boisterousness which attracted the attention of Mr. Mitchell, the Safety Patrol “sponsor,” was all George’s fault. Such a brazen lie would not sit well with Santa Claus, so I confess that my own contribution to what ultimately happened was greater.
The night before, George and I composed a poem which only an eighth-grade boy would have found amusing. Our little masterpiece took aim at a teacher neither of us liked in the most scurrilous manner. In a word, it was vulgar.
George had read the poem aloud to the group once. Blinded to danger by pride of authorship, I snatched the poem from George and began my own recitation.
I completed the third stanza before an ominous hush fell across the room. Seated on one of the benches which lined the walls, and screened by my audience, I did not see Mr. Mitchell enter the room.
The boys crowded around me melted away. Mr. Mitchell gave me a look that was equal parts disgust and disappointment and took the poem from my hands without a word.
“Get to your posts,” he said to the group and walked out.
I had to think fast! I was too young for the U.S. Army, but I seemed to recall that the French Foreign Legion was not so picky.
No matter what, I was dead. My parents would kill me for either the poem or joining the Legion.
By the time I got back to the locker room there was a message instructing me to meet Mr. Mitchell and Mrs. Carter in the principal’s office. Mrs. Carter was crying.
“Larry, is this what you think of me?” she asked between sobs. I was trying desperately to disappear into a crack in the floor and couldn’t answer.
Worse was to come.
The following day, as ordered, I appeared in the principal’s office with my parents. I clung to the faint hope that Principal Rudd would not read the poem aloud. Ha! Mr. Rudd wasted little time in reciting the darned thing – slowly.
Several lifetimes passed before he finished. He then fixed me with a stern glare.
“You’re a very bright young man,” he said, “but Leopold and Loeb were also geniuses.”
It would be some time before I got out to look up “Leopold and Loeb” at the Fountain City Library. Principal Rudd had compared me to a couple of murderers! I was guilty of hurting Mrs. Carter’s feelings, and perhaps I butchered the English language, but the principal’s analogy was, pardon the expression, overkill.
Much to my surprise, I received the Aurora race car set I wanted for Christmas. I was sure my folks would have returned it, but maybe they thought my ordeal in Principal Rudd’s office was enough punishment. I know I thought so.
Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.