Thursday, July 16, 2015
A Way You Have to Be! (Washington High School, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1963-1964)
Mike and the principle of Washington High School, 1963
When he saw me standing in line, the senior—myself being a sophomore at the time—it wasn’t about anything in particular, something about wanting to get ahead of me in the lunch line, in the cafeteria, and then he and I started fighting, he had tried to push his way in-between me and the guy ahead of me, and in the process pushing me backwards, and he pushed me backwards in a hostile way, and I dragged him out of the line like a ragdoll, I had been weightlifting back then, I had muscles coming out of my ears, and fingers and toes, and nose, much less biceps, and I overturned him flat on his back onto one of the tables, then leaning over him, knee on his chest, and about to hammer on his face, decided in the clap of an eye, in choking him, thus, with both hands curled around his roaster like neck, I was clogging his breathing, per near knock him out cold, lest I kill him I let up. Everybody was too stunned to pull me off him, or fearful, or perhaps it was entertaining, he was the bully sort; and he was about my weight, and my height, nearly the same built, but surly with not nearly the strength. He couldn’t have gotten loose if he wanted to, I had knocked all the fight out of him, when his back hit the table—like a hammer hitting an anvil. When I let up on him, he couldn’t swallow, he sounded hoarse. I hurt him bad: the show was over.
Well, I went back to the line, regained my composure, and there were plenty of kids looking at him and me, when he said, “It’s not fair a sophomore should get away with this,” to his friends, I made a turnabout while down near the food counter at this point said, “What did you say?” and I believe he replied, “I don’t know, all right!” And he was all right, but with plenty of bruises I’d think, and quite rough looking, sounding like a frog with a rustic tone to his voice; by and large, he was on guard, not looking for a rematch, but perhaps wishing his friends would have back him up, and they didn’t.
I sat down and ate my food off my tray, with Bill, a friend from the neighborhood, and nobody came after me; I had plenty of friends from my neighborhood too, who were also tough, and my brother was a senior there, and by and by I would have gotten even, and Bill was a fighter too.
It was late, and everyone had left the cafeteria, except me, who sat at a corner table, trying to calm myself down some, an electric light overhead. I didn’t care if I’d go late to class, matter of fact, I didn’t care if I ever went back to class.
In those days (1963), the principals, or at least at Washington High School, in St. Paul, Minnesota, were all very strict. You may not believe this, but he wanted to punish me and not the perpetrator the one who started it all, it was my second fight, that year, and he wanted to expel me from school, with the exception of, allowing me back in a week.
My brother got word of the incident, and accompanied me to the principal’s office, —which I really didn’t want to do—save, he wanted to have his say-so, and as for me, I was done with the mess, and really didn’t care if I ever went back to school or not; when I had confirmed with Mike what I considered, the good news, that, yes, I was going to be expelled, he got angry—not at me, but the situation, and it took a lot for him to get angry in those days, he wasn’t a hothead like me, but it got his goat, that the other kid got off scot-free, this also was a hot peeve.
When we walked in together, into the Principal’s office, he had been standing there previously by his desk, he saw us, and then sat himself down in a chair against the wall—we had no invitation: amused eyes, indexed book opened, as if he was giving some word a diagnoses, some deep thought, had been pacing the floor just beforehand, would be a good guess. My brother said, as if he had already accessed as to the treatment being given me, “You live in a different world than we do, Mr. Principle, we live down in a rough neighborhood, you should visit it sometime, then you’d know we don’t let people push us around, my brother Chick, was simply standing his ground.” (Most everyone referred to me back then as Chick, not Dennis.)
The simplicity and directness of my brother’s disapproval constituted almost a hurt to the principle: so unexpectedly made himself accessible. I had no sense the principle was on the defensive, this was no game. And there was some satisfaction to the additional knowledge, he was acquiring.
“Well,” said the principal, rotating his chair to the over-heated, radiator, as if in thought (knowing good and well he had let the other kid off lightly): “The other lad, said he started the fight, and your brother didn’t disagree!”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that, but did you ask him why he started it?”
“Why…? I wasn’t there.”
But Mike was determined to get his point across, whether he liked it or not, either way, it was coming out.
“What’s the matter with you, you don’t let people push you out of the lunch line because they feel like it, and allow them to bully you, and how would my brother look letting this joker push him around so everyone can see, and you don’t run to the principle for such matters…?”
“Is that what happened?” asked the principal, in disarray.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way my brother’s supposed to be! You would have simply let the bully, bully him.”
“I’m sorry,” said the principal (ere, he yielded) “but I think we do understand each other, or perhaps I want to, your brother was quiet on some of these facts, therefore, I’ll simply give him a letter of reprimand, and he can bring it home, have your mother sign it, and we’ll forget the suspension. But this is a warning, you do your fighting elsewhere!”
I never had the right words back then, so perhaps my silence, or deletion of the facts, distorted the facts for the principle, he did not have a full description, picture, whatever the case, mother never found out about it, I simply signed the note, and returned it to the office the next day. Actually, I had singed all her notes back then, had I let her sign it, they would have figured it was a forgery.
I suppose as I look back on this, the principle had closed sympathetically on this matter. And as I walked out of his office, as I looked over to greet my brother’s eyes, I’m sure he could see in mine surprise and delight. Kind of like saying, ‘Boy isn’t this cool though,” but I didn’t say that, I didn’t say anything. I think my hands were even a little moist, and I wiped my forehead dry, then dried my palms on my trousers a second time. I didn’t like that kind of confrontation back in those days. I’d had rather fought than confront, but I did seemingly breathe better through my skin, I guess, perhaps that’s a good sign of health, so I’d learn later on in life, that is to say, your body is healthy, because I felt full of oxygen, ready for combat if need be. But somehow I was sweating’ more than usual now. “Funny, isn’t it,” I thought, what verbal challenging can cause, per near hyperventilation. Perhaps there was some booze seep out of me likewise, I did my share of night drinking, too!
“Go on back to your class tomorrow” Mike urged after a delicious moment of silence.
“Go on,” he insisted, “I’ll see you in the neighborhood,” and I went to my locker and got my items: jacket and so forth, and went about my way.
No: 1022 (9-15 & 16-2014)