No Stranger to Trouble

Recently I was asked what kind of student I’d been back in elementary school, more specifically, how did I behave? Did I get in to a lot of trouble or was I a good boy? Without giving it much thought I responded that I’d been a good student, who got mostly B’s and avoided trouble as best I could. We continued on the subject a bit longer then moved on to a new topic.

Later that evening, I was sitting outback enjoying a beer and remembering the days of my misguided youth. After only a few minutes I realized that I had indeed had my share of trouble in grade school. Alas I was a misguided youth. Trouble always had a way of finding me no matter where I might be including school. My first brush with authority occurred when I was in the 1st grade at St John’s Catholic School in Baldwin Park.

One stormy morning we were put on rainy day schedule so when recess time came we lined up and walked to the auditorium where we were to spend our rainy day recess. My friend Russell Weldey and I were bored silly. Our teacher, Sister Fatima, had spoken to us once already and told us to settle down, so we were just sitting near the back talking. I don’t remember which one of us noticed the open door first but it didn’t take us long to sneak through the doorway and make our way into the long tile hallway between the classrooms. It was so long, shiny and smooth, we couldn’t resist. We whipped off our shoes and began running down the hallway then dropped into a slide! It was Awesome! We slid again and again! It was a blast!

The hardest part of our naughty, little adventure was trying to keep quiet. We wanted to laugh out loud and shout with joy! But as luck would have it on our very next slide we nearly slid into Sister Mary principal, who was not pleased! She grabbed us by the back of our shirts and marched us down the hall to the 4th grade classroom where Russel and I spent the next hour kneeling in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin in front of the whole class! It was humiliating.

My next brush with the law occurred the following year in 2nd grade. I was actually having a pretty good, trouble free year. Then the week before Easter the teacher was telling us about Jesus and his Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem. When she told us that He was riding on the back of a donkey my mouth filter faltered and for reasons unknown I said aloud, “Another name for donkey is jackass! He rode into Jerusalem on a jackass!” Stupid thing to say I know. Just where that priceless bit of information came from I have no idea. So when Miss Tyler asked me where I had heard that word I had no answer and just shrugged my shoulders, which was obviously the wrong answer as I soon discovered.

Ever had your mouth washed out with soap? It is an experience better left unexperienced! That’s right, Miss Tyler grabbed me by the arm and walked me over to the sink in the back corner of the classroom where she proceeded to wash out my mouth with a bar of Lava hand soap! It was awful! The wet soap was rough and felt like it had little tiny rocks in it. It barely fit in my mouth. The entire time she washed out my mouth she kept apologizing and telling me that I had ‘forced’ her to take such action, but I didn’t see anybody twisting her arm. Talk about making bad choices, I made the mother of bad choices!

The whole mouth washing ordeal was a horrible experience. I wish I could have avoid that one at all costs! It’s been 58 years since that incident and I can still taste that bar of soap and feel its roughness in my mouth. It was really nasty. To make matters worse Miss Tyler was also ‘forced’ to tell the principal who was then ‘forced’ to call my parents. Believe me, when I got home from school that day I got it good!

I did pretty well in 3rd and 4th grade, no real problems, some missed recess, some after school detentions, but nothing major. Then in 5th grade I moved to a new school, St Frances of Rome Elementary in Azusa. Being the new kid it was pretty easy to stay out of trouble nearly my entire 5th grade year. There was some missed recess time and a few after school stays near the end of the school but again, nothing major.

6th grade was the year I crossed the line into the big leagues, of trouble that is.  I began the year with the usual offenses and appropriate consequences and it was also the the year I got caught setting off Greenie Stik-M Caps in the classroom. Greenies were small sheets of little explosives caps with adhesive backs. They were made to be used in certain cap guns and rifles. They were very popular at the time. Several of the guys had them, but only a few of us brought them to school.


One day our teacher, Sister Anastasia, had left us alone in the classroom while we were working on an assignment. As soon as she was out of the room I pulled out the caps and a pair of scissors and used them to try and pop a cap. If you scraped the spot just right with the tip of the scissors it would flare up and smoke. Sometimes if we were lucky you could actually get it to pop loudly. I finally managed to set one off and was working on a second one when I suddenly felt this horrible pain on the top of my head.  Looking up and to my left I saw Sister Anastasia towering over me! She was a big woman and at that moment from my vantage point I realized why she was nicknamed the Bear.

She had caught me red-handed. Apparently she had returned by way of the back door near the rear of the classroom, saw or heard the first cap and quietly made her way over to my desk. I was so intent on popping a cap that I never noticed her until she brought that knuckle down on my head. I probably still have a mark. She still had her arm raised and  I thought for sure she was going to whack me again but I think she must have felt sorry for me and my sore head. She sent me to the office where the principal proceeded to read me the riot act. She warned me how dangerous the situation could have been, hell I could have burned down the school. (how I’m not really sure) She had me sit in the office for about an hour then assigned me detention and sent me back to class, but not before calling my mom which guaranteed big trouble for me when I got home.  Ah, the good old days.

7th grade was a pretty good year. I managed to stay out of trouble most of the year. It was, however, the year I got my first ever F!  Although it was only a triad grade I was restricted from TV for several weeks until I could prove to my mom that my grade had improved. Our teacher, Mrs. Marbell, was a former army drill instructor so she managed to keep us all in line most of the time. Of course the year wouldn’t have been complete without me getting busted for at least one fool stunt and it was a big one.

I was an altar boy at the time and one morning after serving a mass I decide that it would be cool to sneak some Communion hosts out of the Sacristy. I grabbed a handful of hosts stuffed them in my pocket and returned to class. Needless to say, I got caught passing some to my friends and was taken by the principal to see the pastor Father Dugan. Father was pissed! He assigned me a weeks worth of detentions and didn’t allow me to serve a mass for two weeks. I was also grounded for a couple of weeks by my mom but it had been worth it. The guys thought it was cool.

8th Grade was a different story. I guess I was making up for my 7th grade inactivity and more! Seems like I was always getting into mischief. I got in trouble for shooting spit wads, throwing paper, passing notes, floating paper airplanes, eating in class, and worse yet passing one, single love note. Not a note from me to a girl mind you, but a note written by me and signed by me using another student’s name.

Truth be told it wasn’t even my idea to write the note and not all of the things in the note were concocted by me. Sadly I was a follower and had easily been talked into writing it by a ‘friend’ who sat in front of me. He also came up with most of the written content. Had we gotten away with it, it would have been among the coolest pranks, but Sister somehow intercepted it and I took the fall.

Unwilling to take the blame alone I ratted out my friend as an accomplice. I didn’t care about being called a rat, I simply wanted justice. But that didn’t happen. When asked by Sister if he had played a part in the scheme, he looked at her with a super kiss-ass look on his face and answered, “No sister, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t know why John’s trying to involve me.” I couldn’t believe it, he was lying through his teeth! Worse yet, she believed him! Talk about Rats!

Well there wasn’t much else I could do, I’d been found guilty. I was forced to apologize to the intended victims and my friend for falsely accusing him and I got about a week’s worth of after school detention. Of course my mom was notified so when I got home I got in even more trouble. I really thought for sure that my mom would see the humor in the harmless prank but she didn’t. I was grounded for a while and life went on.

I got in trouble one more time before my 8th grade year was over. It was a biggie! In mid May on a bright and sunny Monday morning I got called into the principal’s office and had no idea why. When I walked in she jut sat there staring at me for a long moment with a look of utter disgust on her face. One glance at Sister Regis and I knew whatever I was there for was enormous! She finally acknowledged me and motioned to me to sit down across from her, which I did. I thought she would finally say something to me, but instead she continued to sit at her desk quietly staring at me. Finally she asked “Were you at 10:15 mass yesterday?”

Wow! I had no idea where she was going with this, of course I was there, she had seen me, they had locked eyes. Suddenly he remembered the look in her eyes when she’d seen him. It looked a lot like it did right then. “Yes,” I answered. “And where were you sitting?” What the heck? She knew he hadn’t been sitting, he’d been standing just inside the row of glass doors across the back of the church. “I wasn’t sitting, I answered, I was standing by the doors at the rear of the church, but you already know that.” She ignored the last part of my response.
“And may I ask why you were standing there?” Duh! Hello the church was packed. “The church was full,” I told her, “so I stood near the back, but I was inside the church!”
Sister Regis sat there for the longest time and finally said, “I know you’re lying to me, and I know exactly why you were standing there!” She squinted her eyes tightly and shouted, “You stood there so you could see into the Brides Room when girls went in to use the facilities! Every time the door opened you were looking at the girls in the bathroom!”

That’s about the time I exploded in laughter! I tried to hold it in but failed miserably. It was just about the funniest thing I’d ever heard! Sister was taken aback by my response, she looked shocked as she stood up and leaned across her desk.
“Stop Laughing!” she shouted and when I didn’t she slapped me a good one! It definitely startled me and hurt like heck, but the look on her face made me laugh again. Enraged she screamed at me to get out of her office and wait outside. I couldn’t wait to get out of there! Lesson learned. You can get in major trouble for standing in the wrong place in church and you can get in even worse trouble for laughing in the principal’s face!

I was seated right outside her closed door and heard her speaking to my mom. I was being suspended for the rest of the day and the next and my mom was coming in to talk to the principal. Thank God my mom didn’t see it sister’s way and believed I was by the doors for no other reason than to attend mass in a very crowded church. She even told Sister Regis that she was shocked that a nun could have such dirty thoughts. My mom wasn’t mad at me or anything but she was very upset with the principal.
That was the last trouble I got into that year but Sister got even with me. In addition to all the detentions she assigned me she gave me a U/Unsatisfactory in Conduct on my report card! Oh well, life goes on.

Of course my mischief continued in high school but that’s a whole other story!

Just Saying…

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