Cline: Hard lessons learned by cutting class

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 22, 2011

I didn’t learn my lesson. Wouldn’t you think that scrubbing high school toilets after school for two weeks would eliminate any ideas of breaking school policy a second time? Today, it is easy to say yes. Forty-four years ago, nope.
This time out, the ploy to miss school was not premeditated as it had been when I devised a “fool-proof” plan to cut a class to go home and watch television. It turned out that my friend Jimmy and I were the only “fools” that day.
But the end result from the second infraction turned out just like the first.
My junior year of high school was coming to its end. Maybe two weeks to go. Our final big English test was coming up on Monday. Sunday afternoon had arrived without my opening my textbook to study. Plenty of time to study Sunday night during “Bonanza,” I told myself.
It would turn out I didn’t even see “Bonanza” that night, much less my textbook. Somehow, I ended up over at my friend Jimmy’s house that afternoon. I learned that his mother had just been admitted to Iredell Memorial Hospital for some tests the next day. Jimmy was genuinely concerned about her and asked if I could hang around to help him pass the time. “Sure,” I replied.
It was soon suppertime when Jimmy asked me to spend the night with him. We both had the English test the next day, so we could study together. This was verboten at my house, no spending the night with friends on a “school night.” But after his father talked with my mother via the Alexander Graham Bell, my mom reluctantly gave in.
Jimmy’s dad went to the hospital, so the two of us walked the block to a local pharmacy best known as “Louie’s” and ate hot dogs for Sunday supper.
Then back to my friend’s house where we immediately looked for anything to do except study. We were successful. Jim’s father came home and called it a night, as he had a full day coming up between the hospital and his job. Jimmy and I continued the useless nonsense in which we were involved until we noted by the clock that it was nearly three in the wee hours.
We agreed that we would get some sleep, get up early and study for an hour before going to school.
We overslept.
Jim’s dad (perhaps not doing his best job of supervision with us on this occasion, but he did have a lot on his mind) had already left for the hospital. We had, maybe, 20 minutes to get to school, so we rushed out to the car and headed in that direction. The ride took no more than five minutes, but the entire time we were both in a state of panic, knowing we hadn’t studied for the test one iota.
All of a sudden, we found ourselves at the entrance to the student parking lot. Simultaneously, we both yelled, “We can’t take that test today!” Jimmy hung a left and we put distance between the school and us.
We decided we would go to my house for the day since my mom would be at work. Jim’s father could conceivably come home at any part of the day, so it wouldn’t be safe to return there.
Just as we’re about to slow down to pull into my driveway, here comes my mother pulling out. Jimmy screamed at me, “Get down!” I hit the deck, we kept on driving and Jimmy gave my mother the biggest wave since a tsunami hit Hawaii.
After driving around a bit, we then returned to my house, hid the car in the garage and ate some cereal. Jim then determined that an explanation was in order for my mom, so he called her at work.
“Hi, Mrs. Cline. It’s me, Jimmy. The reason you saw me a while ago and might have wondered why I wasn’t at school is that I was on the way to a doctor’s appointment.”
Guilt and paranoia then took complete charge, so we got in the car and decided to get out of Dodge and headed towards Charlotte. No grand plan, no nothing. Just a sinking feeling that we had really botched it again.
We made it to Charlotte and dropped in on Jim’s brother at his work, who was shocked to see us, but gave us the key to his apartment so we would, at least, not have to just drive around all day.
After devouring all the bologna in his brother’s refrigerator, it was time to develop our exit strategy from this mess. Pretty simple, really.
Each of us would simply write parental excuses for our missing the entire day of school, and that would be that. We would have been marked absent for the day by our respective homeroom teachers and our names would appear on the daily announcement sheet as “absent.” The forged parental notes would cover that, and we could make up the English test.
What we didn’t know at the time was that our friend Gordon, probably without realizing what he was doing — at least I hope he didn’t know, sealed our fate.
When fourth period English started, Mrs. Chilton took roll before starting the test. Saying something like, “Oh, Mike and Jimmy are absent today,” Gordon spoke up, “No, they aren’t. I saw them in the parking lot this morning.”
That changed everything. Now we weren’t simply absentees. We had been at school and left without being on the excused list.
A note was sent to the office by Mrs. Chilton, and it was all over for us.
Meanwhile, back in Charlotte, enough time had passed that we decided to head home to arrive right after the school day was over. All that was left to do was to write our fake excuses for the next day. We never got that far.
Just as when we had committed out first offense earlier in the spring, the telephone was ringing as we walked into my kitchen. “Mr. Hiatt (the principal) wants to see you … NOW!” said my mother, this time screaming.
So we made the drive back to school, and dragged ourselves into his office as before.
No calm speech from our principal this time around. Instead, we were a couple of Gomer Pyles standing at attention before Sgt. Carter. The phrase “didn’t you learn your lesson?” was used, leading up to the word we didn’t want to hear: “Expelled.”
Hearing the word rocked our foundations, and fortunately, being expelled didn’t come to fruition. But Mr. Hiatt’s warning was received loud and clear.
It was along the lines of — “The school year is nearly over. I suggest you both use the summer to examine what exactly you want to do as seniors here next year, because if either of you have another blot like this on your record, you will not graduate from this high school with your class. Clear?”
That’s as close to being a Marine as I ever was.
Our return to bathroom cleaning duty began the next day and lasted until final exams began.
I am happy to state that I walked the straight and narrow my final year as a Statesville Greyhound, avoiding trouble at school at all costs.
I did find myself in some uneasy situations away from campus, but as a student, the teachers could have given me apples.
Pass the toilet brush.