When I was a kid I never started anything. Maybe with my folks sometimes. But as far as other authority figures went, I knew my place. I wasn’t beyond sneaking around behind their backs. When our fourth grade teacher stopped reading out loud How to Eat Fried Worms and declared, “I am not going to read that word!” and of course wouldn’t tell us what the word was, I was the one who peeked into the book on her desk while she was preoccupied to see what the word was. But to openly defy authority, that wasn’t me. It even made me nervous to see it. I knew something was wrong with the picture when this same teacher, an old white-haired woman had to chase Jimmy around the room, feigning one way and the dashing the other way around a group of desks to try to get her hands on this spirited boy.
But there was once in middle school that I sort of swore at the principal. We had, back then, this system of buying a lunch where early in the day a teacher would collect little yellow tickets that sold for 50 or 75 cents. Students put their name on their tickets. These were then delivered to the lunch room, and come lunch time, if your name was on the list, if you had turned in a lunch ticket, you could eat. If not, no food for you. Come back, one day! Well one day I hadn’t, for whatever reason, turned in a ticket. But in my head, I knew I had. I always turned in my ticket. Why wouldn’t I this day? This was nonsense! I left the front of the lunch line embarrassed and without a tray. And angry at the system that had screwed me out of my lunch. At the lunch table with my friends I railed at the stupidity and injustice of it all. Brett pointed to something on his tray and said I could eat that, so I began to dig in. That’s when I felt the principal’s hand on my shoulder.
“You’ll need to come with me.” What?!?! Our school had very strict rules about taking food from someone else. Bullies and jerks did that sometimes, grabbed your food or just stuck their fingers in it. But that wasn’t what was happening here. Brett was correcting an injustice. I wasn’t a bully. I was the one who had been wronged! “You can’t eat someone else’s food. You’ll need to come to the office,” he repeated.
“What!?” I said, this time out loud, too loud, standing to face the principal. “He said I could have it!”
“That doesn’t matter.” I think the principal could see that I was losing it. He tried to calm me. “Where is your lunch?”
“Back there!” I shouted, pointing and waving toward the kitchen, “with all that other . . .” It was too late now; I’d come this far. I said it. “Crap!”
I don’t remember much after that. The principal walked me away from the lunch table, for the safety of my friends I’m sure. He checked the lunch list for me, but I knew it was a lost cause. I hadn’t turned in my ticket, and for whatever reason, low blood sugar maybe, I had gone off on the man. Later that day a girl said to me, “Oh I heard about you today.” Oh brother.
Oh, and the word from the book in fourth grade was bastard.