July, 2003, Tiburon, California: Yesterday evening I met Ron L. at the equipment room. Ron will be installing my voicemail equipment into new San Jose digs soon.
He loaded some gear to configure in his shop, and then we went to dinner. Guaymas is a snazzy mexican restaurant overlooking the bay, and from our table we watched the mob of teenagers in jackets and dresses awaiting the Ferry.
The Ferry arrived and slowly docked, a large gold banner riffling in the breeze. “Class of 2003,” it said.
Up the gangplank and onto the decks, and then sailing off for a bay cruise with lots of fun and laughter. Young people are all beautiful, and it’s great to see them laughing.
After our meal, we walked back to the cars, and a vast bellow from the Tiburon firetruck announced the parade. Cruising slowly behind the firetruck, car after car of teens in suits and party dresses, waving “Class of 2003” flags, cheering, yelling and having a blast. All the cars were convertibles. Ron claims to have counted 13 Mercedes, 15 Porches, and 16 BMWs.
So different it was in Henrietta, Texas, forty-two years earlier.
In Henrietta, seniors graduated three days before everyone else. It was a hot June day, and band was my last class. I was the snare drummer, and pretty good at it. Earlier that day, I’d unpacked one of the big field drums that you use when marching. I’d secreted it in the practice room, whose door was right behind our drum section.
Midway through class, during a pause, I stepped into that room and strapped on that field drum. When we began the next song — a march called “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite” — I played my part on the field drum.
It has a deeper tone. Mr. Raeke, the band master, looked at me oddly, but said nothing. As the song went on, I began marching around in a circle, and then marched up the side of the band and out the door. Suddenly, behind me, I could hear the cacophany of folks choking and laughing into their horns.
Up the long corridor between bandhall and gym, with my field drum sounding louder and louder and louder. I played a drum solo called “The Downfall of Paris”. I’d learned it for contest, and it seemed appropriate.
Around a corner to the left I veered, past the girls bathroom, then quickly around a corner to the right, past the office. From the corner of my eye I saw the Superintendant skidding from the lounge, but I was past him.
Down the hallway past classrooms I marched at triple-step. That drum solo and I were moving. Only thirty feet separated me from the door, when out jumped a goblin!
Oops, I mean, out leaped Mrs. Schwend, the librarian,and she planted herself in front of me. I tried a fake and to the left but she was too good for me. Short of knocking her down, I was captured!
In the meantime, my girlfriend Carolyn, following our plan, had run from band to start my car. I could see the getaway vehicle outside, for all the good it did.
And now Mr. Kale, the Principal, had grabbed me.
“Come along, Mister,” he said.
In his office I unbuckled the drum. He said he was going to give me three licks with the paddle. I told him he couldn’t because the bell had rung and I was no longer a student.
“Don’t give me trouble,” he said. “You don’t know it, but I’m doing you a favor.”
I didn’t care. I was too jazzed up. I got the licks, and then left. Carolyn was waiting. Off we drove.
At a party that night, I heard from Eddy Frank that the School Board had actually had a meeting. The agenda? To consider blocking my graduation. Eddy’s father spoke against it, saying it was just youthful hijinks, but it looked likely to vote against me, when Mr. Kale the Principal stood up.
“You can’t block his graduation,” he said.
They looked at him, and Mr. Douthett asked why not.
“He’s already been punished,” said Mr. Kale.
Mumble, grumble, grumble … and acceptance. So that was it. I would graduate.
Wherever you might be, Mr. Kale … thank you.