I know I really shouldn’t, but… (Part 1)

July 24, 2012 § 6 Comments

Remember how when you were a kid there were things that you knew were going to get you in trouble, and the trouble was totally going to outweigh the fun, but you did it anyway?


Well, I probably didn’t hang around kids like you, or rather, your parents wouldn’t let you hang around kids like me.

My bane was talking in class. There was no surer way to get in trouble than to repeatedly talk in class. Mrs. Opal Smith, my third grade teacher who I was secretly in love with, tried to shush me by giving me the nickname “Mouth.” Since I loved her though, I loved the nickname, too. It was kind of her pet little lovey name for me, I thought.

Then she got to sending me to the principal, Mrs. Riley, which was a tad harder to square with my secret love theory. Mrs. Riley was a tall kind of linebackerish woman who wore pretty pink dresses and necklaces and could beat the living fuck out of your ass with a wooden paddle. I didn’t love her quite as much as I loved Mrs. Smith, but after she got good and warmed up and started huffing, what with me caterwauling and the paddle thwacking and her grunting it was okay for me, and seeing as how often we did it together I kind of think it was okay for her, too.

After a while Mrs. Smith started getting interference from Mrs. Riley. It was that “Can’t you control your own classroom?” kind of blowback, so Mrs. Smith took matters into her own hands by moving my desk into the very back of the room (mistake) next to the windows (another mistake) and then building a giant cardboard and pegboard wall around my desk so that I was in my own isolation unit (potential career-ending mistake).

The isolation wall was higher than my head, but if I raised my hand to be called on, my hand would poke out above the top and Mrs. Smith could say, “Yes, Mouth?” and I’d answer “12!” or “Four pumpkins!” or would slowly spell out the test word. My classmates thought it was hilarious, and I had the best ol’ time tucked back against the windows where I could watch the butterflies or wave at Mr. Vallieres, the janitor with the giant riding lawnmower who would always talk with me back in his workroom and tell me funny jokes and give me a piece of licorice now and again to and from my whippings with Mrs. Riley.

Isolation from the rest of the class made me even more aggressive in my talking, so pretty soon I quit raising my hand and just talked away. The other kids would catch snatches and bits and start laughing and it drove Mrs. Smith crazy.

When the new gun came to town

Mrs. Riley retired in the middle of the school year and she was replaced by Mr. Bradford, an ex-high school basketball coach who was about 6 feet and twelve thousand inches tall. He had a bald head and a booming deep voice and was the kindest, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet unless you got sent to his office for discipline.

One day Mrs. Smith, like Mr. Gorbachev many years later, “tore that wall down” after a particularly bad spate of unlicensed talking, and sent me to Mr. Bradford for some disciplining. “Well, hello, Seth!” he said with a smile, reading the little white discipline card that Mrs. Smith had filled out. “I see you have a problem knowing when to keep your mouth shut.”

Showing a deft defense, I didn’t say a word.

“Seems all cleared up now, though,” he mused.

I shut up some more.

“Tell you what. I’m going to give you something to talk about. And I’m going to give you all the time you want to discuss it. You can talk about it as loud as you please, in fact. Sound good?”

I shook my head.

“Well you see, Seth, Mrs. Smith says you’re the most talkative student she’s ever had. I don’t know whether to believe her or not.”

Sweat poured off my forehead.

“Before we get to discussing, I want to show you something.” Mr. Bradford opened his desk drawer and pulled out the biggest wooden paddle I’d ever seen. It looked longer than my leg and thicker than my head. It made Mrs. Riley’s paddle look like the backboard for a midget’s hairbrush. “Let’s get started, okay?”

I was frozen to the couch.

“I want you to get up, turn around, and grab onto the edge of that couch. But do me a favor, will you? Hold on tight. Because if you don’t you might go straight through that wall. Which is made out of brick. And you might die.”

I instantly calculated death v. ass whipping, and assumed the position. As the paddle came down it whistled through the air, shrieking like an artillery shell. The sound was so massive and loud and accompanied by such force that my feet lifted off the ground. In the milliseconds it took for the pressure to scream “PAIN” to my brain, I remember thinking, “That was so hard it didn’t even hurt!”

Seconds later I couldn’t breathe, and the next whack lifted me so high up into the air that I lost my grip on the couch and hit the brick wall with my forehead. Mr. Bradford went back to his desk and started working on some papers. I collapsed on the couch, sobbing. He’d occasionally look up and smile. “I’m here to talk if you want to, sonny.”

I’d sob a little more and shake my head and he’d go back to work. Once I calmed down and had wiped away all the tears, he put his papers down. “Why don’t you go back to class now? If you feel like you need to talk some more, just tell Mrs. Smith and have her fill out one of these cards and we’ll have another little chat. Okay?”

I nodded and went back to class. Nothing is worse than walking back to class with raging sore ass, and as Mr. Vallieres saw me go by he hollered. “Hey, little buddy. How about some licorice?”

I went into his workroom, breathed in the smell of gasoline and grease, and took the proffered candy. He pulled his red bandana out of his pocket, ran it under the tap and wiped my face. “You get back in there and keep grinning, buddy. Ain’t nobody gotta know but you and me. Don’t let ’em see they got to you. Don’t never give ’em that satisfaction.”

Mr. Vallieres, raised the son of a cotton sharecropper in Louisiana, taught me more than any teacher ever did.

The trout and the mouth

Some fish scientists once did a study with wild river trout. They put them into a tank with solid sides so the fish couldn’t see out, and placed the tank outside in a yard. Most of the fish would just swim around in the tank and eventually starve to death.

But a tiny percentage of the trout would jump out of the tank, where of course they would die on the lawn. The trout knew there was a small chance that they’d be jumping from the tank into an adjacent pool of water or perhaps a stream, and they’d have beaten the odds. So they took the chance and jumped, and died. I don’t know what the scientists proved, except that scientists are a bunch of sadistic fucks. But I know what the trout proved. They proved that there are only two kinds of wild trout: jumpers and starvers.

As soon as I got back to class everyone stared at me. They knew what crying eyes looked like, and most of all they could see my whipped and chastened appearance as I went back to my desk with that big old “I ain’t hurt” fake grin plastered on my face. I sat. Painfully. Proudly. Silently. For about ten minutes.

Because no sooner did Mrs. Smith start talking, than my brain started turning again. There was my favorite pretty teacher saying things, and asking questions, and telling other kids “Good answer!” and teaching up a storm, and before I knew it I had lots to say and contribute even though I didn’t understand the subject and dogged if I was going to sit there like a trout in a tank.

I was a jumper.

Without thinking or even raising my hand I said “It’s a verb!” even though she was asking a math question, and the class started laughing and she looked needles and hand grenades my direction and there I was…I knew I had to shut up…but there was so much to say…and that whipping hurt so bad…but the talking felt so good…but the whipping felt worse than the talking felt good…

The one thing that was going to get me into the worst trouble was the one thing I wanted most to do. Dog have mercy on the souls of those teachers.


When someone mentions “riding in San Diego” I get that same bubbling-up happy feeling that I used to get sitting in my isolation unit in third grade when I’d vaguely hear Mrs. Smith say something and have the irrepressible urge to answer.

“Hey, let’s go do the Swamis ride!”

[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]

“Hey, come on down to North County and let’s do a BWR training ride!”

[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]

“Hey, come on down to North County again and let’s do another BWR training ride!”

[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]

“Hey, let’s do the BWR!”

[Bubbly happiness and enthusiasm.] “Okay!” [Followed by ass kicking beatdown.]

The reality of going to San Diego and getting thrashed is always a thousand times more horrific than the fun-ness (funnity?) of bundling up the bikes with Spivey and rolling south at 5:00 AM.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from “Pace Protection” Miller: “Hey, come on down to North County to celebrate MMX’s birthday with a Sunday ride! We’ll even do part of the BWR course! It’ll be fun!”

And me? What did I do?

I said, “Okay!”

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