Skipping school crime and punishment
Lockport R.D. 1...2
As I recounted in my last installment, the teenaged Upper Lockporters decided that all of us skipping school on the same day would be a grand adventure, and we all followed through on the plan…except the one kid we didn’t ask to come along.
This now-deceased lad was a native Lockporter, coming from a multi-generational Lockport family. As such, he had the bona fides to qualify for the club, but for some reason, we just never really got along with him.
He was argumentative in a way that grated on the nerves of even other argumentative members of the crew. He was prone to bouts of severe exaggeration which went pretty much beyond the pale for even the most imaginative of us.
Given these particular quirks and other personality traits of his, he just never quite blended with our cadre. At a time when the rest of us were listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he was listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” And liking it.
His one saving grace was the awesome old-time barn located at the back of his parents’ lot. He had created a second floor clubhouse in this barn, complete with some chairs, a table, and even electric power. It was during a card-playing session in this clubhouse that we were subjected to “Alice’s Restaurant.” The song went on forever. But not like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Iron Butterfly was long-winded in an electrified, loud, plugged in kind of way. Not in an acoustic, plinka-planka-plunka, Peace and Love kind of way. Arlo simply was not Woody. No matter how hard he tried to be.
But, I digress…
So what did this background information all lead up to? Well, given the eventual outcome of our community school rest and relief day, we tried to lay the blame of our betrayal at his feet. Revenge for not being asked to come along. Blame that was, in reality, unjust.
Why unjust? Well, first off, it wouldn’t take any sort of inspired genius at school to notice that almost every kid that lived in Upper Lockport turned up absent, all on the same day. Secondly, a half-dozen teachers saw us gawking from the hillside during recess at Woodward Township Elementary School. They probably called the high school within the half hour to investigate. Plus, we learned after the fact that one of our own members may have cracked under the intense interroga
tion he was subjected to at the hands of the Powers That Be. In any case, we were
Forty-eight years ago, skipping school was a serious offense, at least within the hierarchy of the school governance. Consequently, if apprehended, the punishments tended to be on the heavy-handed side. Figuratively AND literally.
The first penalty phase came when we were all assigned to two weeks of detention hall for our little excursion. I, however, suffered a much more painful second phase to my penalties.
Here is what happened.
The next time I had gym class after the Great Escape, we were over on the old football practice field whacking golf ball sized wiffle balls around with golf clubs. Just a bunch of kids generally pretending to be golfers.
Suddenly, from somewhere out of our Great Beyond, the raspy snarl of a growling voice sounded out. I couldn’t decide if it was the voice of God, or Beelzebub. Maybe a little bit of both.
“WILLIAMS!” “Where were you last gym class!?!?” That voice belonged to the legendary, nay, mythical persona of…The Coach.
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he would want to know where I was last gym class. The thing was, my last gym class was on the day we skipped school.
So, I told him where I was.
“I was over in Lockport.” No lie there. His response?
“When we get back to the locker room, I’m gonna show you how the water runs under the bridge from Lock Haven to Lockport.” He was not promising a hydrology science lesson.
So Help Me God, that is the direct verbatim quote. You just don’t forget foreboding, prophetic, Doomsday-like utterances such as that. Ever.
Now remember, this little exchange took place in the midst of about 30 or so other guys. And The Coach didn’t whisper. He was loud. Everybody heard it. The response was predictable.
There was dead silence for about ten seconds. Then the “uh-ohs”, and eventually, the snickers started. All coming from those who were no doubt immensely relieved that the promise was not directed at them.
So, we eventually stragged back across the overhead bridge to the locker room. My fate was sealed. It was just a matter of time….
Now, to witness The Coach preparing to administer his brand of justice was something to behold. He kept his paddle high on top of a metal cabinet, tucked in beside the stuffed bobcat that posed menacingly, for all eternity, atop the portable closet.
And he kept that paddle in a purple silk or satin or velvet sleeve, not unlike an ancient sword’s scabbard.
When about to unsheath his wooden Excalibur, he would hold the sleeved paddle high in the air, ceremoniously tilt the sleeve up on one end, and allow the paddle to slide out the open bottom, catching the paddle by the handle on its way out of the sock. Shakespearean drama at its finest.
Usually, when The Coach was about to execute the sentence, he would catch the offender coming out of the shower and make him wrap a wet towel around himself.
He must have taken pity on me for some reason, because he allowed me to get dressed before he barked my name. Hey, a skinny, scrawny band geek that carried a Sousaphone around all the time? Which probably indicated he wasn’t too bright? I mean, who wants to wonder around carrying thirty pounds of brass when that constitutes almost a third of your body weight? (Oh, for the good old days…)
So, the time of my demise was at hand. He lined me up next to his office door, facing the lockers, and growled, “Grab your ankles!” Hoo-yah, commander.
“Th-WACK”! The sting was so intense I don’t think my brain processed the message my back-side was sending. I didn’t move. A second or three later, “Th-WACK”! Again. By that time, my brain was in full functioning mode, and I immediately went flying back in between the lockers to hide my silent screams. It was beyond stinging. It burned. Like second degree. Which I have experienced first-hand. But that’s another story entirely.
You must remember that such administrations of punishment were great sources of entertainment for the rest of the gym class. Everybody usually stayed back in between the rows of lockers and either peeked around the corners or stood on the benches and peeked over top of the lockers. Either way, it was a sort of social event for the rest of the class. Kind of like hangings in the Wild West, or beheadings in late 18th century France.
So, as we were leaving the gym building to head back to the high school, one of my buds caught up and asked, “Why didn’t you get out of there after the first whack?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, after the first whack, he turned to go back in his office, but he looked and you were still assuming the position, so he spun around and gave you another one!”
Which reminds me of one of my good high school friends who had the temerity to address The Coach by his first name at the end of our very last gym class before graduation in 1970. Talk about swift and immediate retribution…remember that one, Bob?
Scott Williams is a former resident of Upper Lockport, and once delivered The Express in Lockport, from Haussener’s Farm down to the Woodward Elementary School … all 125 copies … with help from Keith. Thanks, Keith.