I was always pretty scrawny. Consequently, I got picked on quite a bit through Elementary School and Junior High. It was pretty unpleasant but I learned to keep clear of the bullies for the most part and managed alright.

When I got to ninth grade though, I really met my nemesis. Gavin Richardson was his name. Gavin was one of Butch Farley’s minions. Gavin was small and smart enough to befriend Butch because Butch could easily have whooped him. But, he was big and dumb enough to pick on me. Those intermediate bullies were the worst.

Butch for example never picked on the little kids. He had nothing to prove. Picking on us puny ones was the realm of bullies who didn’t dare pick on anybody their own size. There was one exception. One day Butch got crossways with my seventh grade brother, Todd. I really don’t know what made him mad but he slammed Todd up against the back wall of the auditorium so hard that Todd’s head ricocheted off the wall and head-butted Butch right in the nose. Blood splattered everywhere. Todd came out of it unscathed and Butch cut him some slack after that.

Gavin, however, wouldn’t cut me any slack. Going to school became a nightmare. I hardly slept at night for the dread. One day I happened to see the great Disney movie Song of the South. In it, Uncle Remus told the story of Brer Rabbit and how he out witted Brer Fox and Brer Bear. About the time the fox and bear tossed Brer Rabbit into the briar patch it occurred to me that I, like Brer Rabbit shouldn’t have all that much trouble out smarting Gavin, or Butch for that matter.

A couple of days later, I got my first chance to test my theory. We were showering after gym class. My locker was uncomfortably situated right between Butch and Gavin. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Gavin winding up a towel with which to pop my bare backside. The Brer Rabbit in me began to emerge. I kept my cool and made like I hadn’t noticed. Just as Gavin let the towel fly, I moved and that towel snapped like a firecracker on Butch’s exposed rear end. All I had to do then, was quietly, discreetly, get dressed while Butch cleaned Gavin’s clock.

Things quieted down for a few weeks.

The next semester though, I took Mr. Hocker’s typing class. Gavin took it too. My assigned seat was near the door at the side of the room. Gavin passed my desk every day and with an extended knuckle whopped me on the shoulder blade as he entered the room. It wasn’t three days before that became intolerable. There was no such thing as “Safe Schools” back then. I was pretty much on my own to solve this one. Gavin was clearly meaner and tougher than me, but I had already concluded that I was smarter.

The next day I kept a wary eye out for his approach. When he arrived and went to thump me, I exploded out of my chair, shoved him over a desk, typewriter and all, and came down on top of him swinging for all I was worth. The element of surprise gave me the initial advantage and I calculated that Mr. Hocker would be there to break thinks up before Gavin recovered enough to kill me. It worked! We got sent to the office where neither of us confessed the reason for the altercation. After a warning, we went back to class, Gavin subdued and Jinx quietly triumphant. Gavin never bothered me again.

In today’s schools the aggressor is automatically considered guilty and I’d most likely have been threatened with expulsion. That would prevent me from daring to defend myself against such subtle bullying. And that would tacitly give Gavin license to pick on me for the rest of my life. The old ways are sometimes better.

Other bullies have prevented Disney from distributing Song of the South anymore. The Sista Rabbit in my wife, however, found it for sale in Europe over the internet and bought us a copy on DVD.

Zippity Doo Dah!


# 9 – School Lunch

School Lunch was popular in the sixties. Oh, there were a few who sneaked off campus for a bottle of pop and a bag of potato chips (corn chips weren’t invented yet), but most of us stood in the lunch line and ate whatever the lunch ladies put on our trays.

A favorite place to socialize was in the lunch line and the lunch room. The food was pretty ordinary, but I thought it tasted great.

I remember standing in lunch line one day a few kids behind Marjorie Green and her girl friends. They were the popular girls of the Senior Class and always wore the most stylish fashions. Marjorie had on a green and orange dress that day. It was sort of a sack dress all pea soup green with a garish orange panel down the front. Separating the green from the orange panel were two large zippers, one down each side. The zipper pulls were two three inch brass rings. They were pretty predominant ornaments at her neckline. We hadn’t been standing there long when Billy Morton and Brock Hoopes walked by. Brock turned aside, walked up to Marjorie, inserted an index finger in each of those rings and pulled them clear down to her hemline where they completely disconnected. The whole orange panel fell to the floor. Bob Jensen, Marjorie’s football hero boyfriend, felled Brock with one punch.

When the pandemonium cleared up the Principal gave Marjorie the worst of it for wearing such a ridiculous outfit to school. “Seems to me,” he said, “She was begging for it.”

Lunch was pretty predictable. There were ten basic meals with few variations. These were cycled through with regularity. Then one day the cooks decided to get creative. They went Mexican. I had never eaten Mexican food. There was no Taco Bell in Himni; infact, I don’t think Utah had one anywhere. I didn’t know a burrito from a canoli. I got exposed to tacos the following summer when my aunt and uncle took me to San Diego for a couple of weeks. At this point in my life, though, this was as exotic as it gets!
As Mitch, Lew and I worked our way past the cooks at the lunch counter, Lew watched Nettie, our favorite cook, slap a large brown gooey looking glob next to the Spanish Rice on Mitch’s tray. He asked, “What is that!?”

“Refried Beans.”

Lew looked up at Nettie, then down at the glob. Then looking back at Nettie asked,”How many times?”

As Lew’s own glob now slowly slid down the front of his shirt, we walked cautiously over to our seats.

By the time we were Seniors, School Lunch was going out of vogue. My gang still ate there regularly, but fewer and fewer joined us. Along about April came National School Lunch Week. We decided in honor of our fair cooks and in order to promote School Lunch, we’d better do something special. We put our heads together and came up with a pretty good gag.

Between us we managed to gather up a complete collection of linen, china, crystal, silver and candelabra. After paying the clerk we ducked out of line and grabbed a table where we set out the whole table setting, lit candles and all. To our amazement, as we turned to go get our food, Nettie appeared at our table with all our food on a huge tray she’d conjured up somewhere. She served us with finesse befitting a king and then to our utter amazement, accepted our invitation to sit and dine with us. She was fine company, but kept picking at our poor table manners.

We had a newcomer in the gang that year. Bob Elkington was an exchange student from New Zealand and had fit right in. We loved trying to mimic his accent. Bob picked up his fork in his left hand, placed the tines, pointed down, on his plate and began stacking potatoes and peas on the back of the fork with his knife. “Mind your manners, Bob,” Nettie scolded, “One day you may eat with the Queen!” Bob replied, without even looking up, “Pahdon me mum, but this is ‘ow the Queen eats.”

Nettie stared resolutely at Bob for about a minute, then quietly switched her fork to the left hand and picked up her knife.

Hank Simmons was a regular at Hanley’s Department Store. He came in every day. Pushing his walker ahead of him he’d come up to the meat counter and mutter that he wanted, “some a that there meat there.” We’d give him something different every day and he never seemed to even notice. Bobby, Bill and I thought Hank needed a little variety in his life. One day it was bologna, another, pimento loaf; always just enough for today. He’d be back tomorrow.

Hank was an institution in Himni. An old worn-out sheep herder, Hank now spent his days hobbling from his little house on Cranston Street to the Limerick Bar, from the bar to Hanley’s and back home again. His hair was snow white and short cropped. So was his beard. We always wondered how his beard always managed to have a week’s growth; never longer, never shorter.

When I first moved over from IGA to Hanley’s I was strictly in the meat department. Gradually, though, my assignment expanded to occasional checker. On my first day checking, Hank came through my check stand. He placed his lunch meat on the counter along with a jar of Postum. Postum is a non-cafeinated coffee substitute. I thought it was funny that Hank had just come from the Limerick, but drank Postum instead of coffee. And then, he asked for a half a pack of Philip Morris and half a pack of Newports! I didn’t know what to do. I got Phil Hanley’s attention, who came over and explained to me that I was to open a pack of each and move half of each to the other. Customer service was paramount at Hanley’s. Hanley’s was also an institution in Himni. Besides Phil and his brother Frank and taken care of Hank like this since before I was born. It was then that I realized that I could sell the other split pack to Hank tomorrow. He paid in cash and hobbled out the door, meat, Postum and cigarettes in hand.

There were two Drug Stores in Himni. One had all the trappings of the time, soda fountain and hamburger grill, magazine rack, small appliance department, isles of first aid and medical items and, of course, the pharmacy. It was privately owned by Robert Mueller, who was a franchisee of the Rexall brand. The other, was strictly oriented to medicine and was owned by Alvin McWherter. Some thought Alvin must be more serious about medicine. Apparently, that was Hank Simmons’ opinion.

Hank hobbled in to McWherter Pharmacy one day and made his way right to Alvin.

“Watcha got for constipation?” Hank snapped abruptly.

“Have you tried a good laxative?”

“Exlax, castor oil, nothin’ seems ta work!” said Hank, a mix of desperation and aggravation in his gravelly old voice.

“Well then, let me give you a couple of suppositories, that ought to do the trick,” counseled Alvin.

“What do I do with these?” Hank queried.

“You place them in your rectum.” Alvin answered with a professionally matter of fact tone.

Hank hobbled out the door and around the block to Cranston Street.

Three days later Hank was back in front of Alvin McWherter. He looked angry, frustrated and not a little distraught.

“They never worked!” he scolded.

“What didn’t work?”

“Them suppo, suppose, aw hell what ever you called ‘em.”


“Yea, them, well they never worked!”

“What do you mean, “They never worked!”?”

“I’m still constipated, that’s what I mean, “They never worked!” Hank growled through clenched teeth.

“With professional calm and assurance Alvin questioned, “What did you do with them?”

“Well, I didn’t have no Rectum so I put ‘em in ma Postum. Hell, for all the good they done me, I might as well a shoved ‘em up ma rear!”

It makes me wonder, looking back on my life, how many times was I like Hank? How many times would I have settled for familiarity, only to have God spice things up with a little unsought variety. How many times have I made rediculous requests of He and His servants, who happily complied anyhow? How many times did I have spiritual constipation? How many times did I misunderstand God’s remedy for me? I sure hope He laughed as heartily at my botched efforts as I have at Hank’s. I rather think He did.

Henry Steinmetz was our Sunday School teacher for a while. His kids, Hank, Ernest and Riley were our age. Henry looked old enough to be their grandfather. Brother Steinmetz was a kindly old man, a little rough around the edges, with more hair growing out his ears than on his head. Henry was a pray-er. It seemed like every time Sacrament Meeting went long, the Bishop called on Henry to offer the Benediction. (“Another Sunday night without watching Maverick,” I’d complain to myself.) Often there were audible groans. Henry never prayed shorter than 20 minutes in his life. He prayed about everything! Sometimes it was even embarrasing, like the time he prayed my acne would clear up – right in Sacrament Meeting! Or the time he prayed that Brother Warner’s cow would stay in the pasture and out of Sister Banks’ corn patch. He was Ward Teacher to both of them, which was awkward; as though that prayer wasn’t.

Sunday School class was like that too. Nobody applied the gospel to our particular lives like Henry did. Some days it seemed like he knew exactly what shenanigans we’d been up to during the past week.

We loved to go to his class. It started with Henry at the door to welcome us individually to Sunday School. He only had three fingers on his right hand and yet his were the most comfortable, warm handshakes I ever felt. Ironically, a handshake from Hank (Henry Jr.)was a different story all together. Hank’s grip was like a vise. In fact for fun, he’d often pretend he was cranking on a vise as he drove you to your knees begging for mercy. My dad had a monster grip, but Hank could even bring him to his prayer bones in agony. Mercy was not in Hank’s vocabulary. We tried not to ever shake hands with Hank. Even if you were agressive and charged in for a good grip it was hopeless.

Anyway, back to Sunday School class. There were about a dozen of us who regularly attended Henry’s class. Of all the teachers we harrassed during our youth Henry was the most memorable, or at least his class was. We were pretty unruly but somehow he got through to us.

Frannie Hermann and Aaron Black were among us. They were dating at the time. Frannie never took her eyes off Aaron for the whole 45 minutes. She’d tickle and touch his face and whisper stuff to him. He on the other hand was always concientionsly trying to pay attention. This little distraction always amused us. Like the time, out of nowhere, Frannie grabbed Aaron’s lower lip (Aaron had predominant lips) and stretched it half way across the room. Henry just said, “Put that back!” and carried on with the lesson. Aaron gave Frannie a fatherly smile, half impatience, half adoration, smacked his lips in his characteristic manner and turned his attention back to Henry’s lesson. I couldn’t take my eyes off Aaron’s lower lip! I still can’t believe it could stretch that far.

The classroom had coarsely textured plaster walls, smoothed by several heavy layers of cream colored paint. I never could ignore the bucktoothed mermaid that seemed deliberately sculpted in the texture of the West wall. The paint was rubbed off her breast so apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed her over the years. Once, I sat with my back to her and rocking back in my chair, bumped my head hard on that same worn protrusion. I don’t know how many pounds per square inch the impact produced, but it hurt like the Dickens.

Rob Hanke was also in that class. He usually slept. Rob spent all his energies on misadventure and used church to catch up on lost sleep. The night before one particular class, had been spent shooting frogs he’d inflated with a straw, then floated on the pond behind his house. Instead of a scope on his pellet gun he’d duct taped a flash light. The poor frogs couldn’t sink, being blown full of air. That is, until he popped them. Which is why Rob bolted out of his chair from a dead sleep when in Henry’s lesson, he told us that it was his opinion that God would punish us in kind. Or in other words, that we’d get precisely what we gave, as punishment for cruelties we had committed in this life.

Rob had what we called “Coke Bottle Bottom” glasses. The thick kind that magnify the wearer’s eyes. He was turning a tinge of green and his eyes looked so big and froggy that some of us thought the punishment had already commenced.

Lily Tomlin once lamented, “I always wanted to be somebody…I should have been more specific.” Thank you, Henry Steinmetz, for teaching me to be specific.

The Omner Valley Jr. High, had been the High School before the new one was built. Before it was the High School it had been the Omner Valley Stake Acadamy. It was built in about 1915 and showed it’s age. It was a three story brick structure. Holes had been drilled through the walls and long pipes installed with large plates on the outside of the brick. These were intended to bolt the whole place together. A large tube had been retrofitted to the northside third floor as a fire escape. The upper entrance was always locked to keep us from horsing around in it, so we’d climb up from the bottom and slide down anyway. We always wondered if the person with the key would be there if a fire ever occurred.

OVJH had a combination auditorium/gymnasium. The gym floor doubled as a stage. The auditorum seating, including a large balcony, accomodated the entire student body and half the town. If you sat too far to the left though, the curtains hid the basketball bankboard on that end. Same thing on the right. Butch Farley’s gang loved sitting in the balcony with pea shooters during basketball games.

It was in that auditorium that I saw the second most amazing athletic feat of my life. My pal Ronnie Hulet was probably the greatest, natural born athlete I ever met. He never went out for sports, to the dismay of all the coaches, but the things he could do were legendary. In Omner Valley Jr. High, he was fastest up the rope, impossible to hit with a dodge ball and could do triple the pull ups of anyone in the eighth grade. One day I walked into the auditorium just in time to see him standing on the rim of the basketball hoop. He dived, and I mean head first, on to the bare hardwood floor. I thought I was watching a suicide attempt! When he reached the floor though, he completed the slickest roll you ever saw and came up standing on his feet, a broad grin spread clear across his face. The coaches forbade Ronnie from ever doing it again; but secretly they bragged about him every chance they got. The funny thing is, he never played sports because his Mom didn’t want him to get hurt.

The school got a new English teacher that year. Her name was Miss Cornelia Green. She was reported to have been an accomplished journalist with the Chicago Tribune. No one could ever explain though, why an accomplished journalist would leave her career in Chicago to teach brats at Omner Valley Jr. High. She was a big boned, manly woman. She dyed her hair blonde. The dark roots of her coarse tangle of shoulder length mane were always showing. She had little cosmetic talent and her make up looked like it amounted to weeks of layers. It was often caked on so thick it cracked, as did her bright red lip stick. She had a black mole right on the tip of her nose which always managed to shine through by noon. Quite frankly, looking back, I honestly wonder if she wasn’t really George C. Scott hiding out in the Witness Protection Program.

Miss Green managed no degree of classroom discipline. This was not for lack of effort. One time she went to smite me on the back of the hand with a ruler. I managed to catch the ruler and we shook it between us for a few moments before she let her end go and retreated to her desk. She would storm from commotion to commotion feigning fury but wasn’t a good enough actress to pull it off. Her storming was amusing to watch though. You could see the frustration building up, then she’d rock way back on her heels as if winding up and would launch her enormous body forward in a thundering charge. More than once the teachers on the floor below had sent up delegations to plead for less commotion from our room. Their, biggest complaint? “It sounded like a herd of cattle stampeding across the floor.” We soon learned that there wasn’t a mean bone in her body and instead of loving her for it we took horrible advantage.

Finally, about half way through the year, she gave up on trying to teach us anything and resorted to reading stories and books to us. She hoped at least to pique our interest in literature. Mostly, she selected wonderful stuff and I for one, sat in wrapt attention as Sherlock Holmes or Robinson Crusoe or Jean Valjean’s adventures paraded across the stage of my imagination.

Ronnie Hulet, on the other hand, had a very hard time sitting still in any situation. To do nothing but listen to Cornelia Green read for an hour was torture for him. He’d have gladly taken P.E. seven periods a day, where he’d surely have received straight A’s. Sometimes he’d cope by drifting off to sleep. Along about the end of April though, when the weather was warming up nicely, the compulsion to be outside running overtook Ronnie. Right in the middle of Red Badge of Courage, he stood up and screamed, “I’ve had it, I can’t take this anymore!” Whereupon, he dashed across the room and dived out the second story window!

Miss Green staggered, her eyes rolled back and down she went. It was not a pretty sight. For one thing women and girls wore dresses to school in those days. When she came to, it was Ronnie who was fanning her face with a file folder. She thought she’d halucinated the whole thing. And I realized that this was the premier athletic accomplishment I’d ever witnessed.

Ronnie Hulet moved away the next Summer and I never heard of him again. Cornelia Green never returned to Himni after that year either. They say she went back to Chicago and journalism. I keep hoping someday she’ll write her version of the story. I’d like to close my eyes and listen to her read it.

# 13 – Szhungaelzee

Mitch Warner and I and few others were cleaning up the stage after the School Play our senior year. We just about had things tidied up when somebody (Hall of Famers won’t like the lack of a specific name.) kicked a roll of masking tape across the floor. Somebody else kicked it back and the game of Szhungaelzee was born. In seconds, four chairs were set up, as goals, at opposite ends of the bare stage and a full blown scrimmage was underway. Not entirely original, Szhungaelzee was played with the feet, like soccer, with a puck (the masking tape) like hockey, preferably on a hardwood floor. We had a ball that afternoon playing, developing rules, strategy, technique and terminology.

We were on a mission! Before we went to bed that night the game had been named, the puck had been renamed the Raquephrat, the rules had been committed to memory and two teams had been formed. It was commonly agreed that most sports had been buried so deep in rules that they had become stodgy and mechanical. Szhungaelzee’s rules were bare bones at best. We considered Sunday shoes as required equipment. A slightly rebelious way to thumb our noses at the school coaches, who were constantly whining about the gym floor during dances. We threw it out though, knowing we’d never find a place to play if we did. The number one rule was: All comers are welcome! We didn’t ever want Szhungaelzee to become elitist and political like High School sports had become.

Can you sense a tone of bitterness here? You should. There were a lot of us who were bitter about showing up every Friday night to worship the chosen few. In fact that’s how Szhungaelzee got it’s name. We used to sit in the stands at the ball games and make up our own cheers. Stuff like, “Lean to the Left, Lean to the Left, Lean to the Left again, rah (or was it raw?)!” At which point the one farthest on the left made like he’d been shoved off the end of the bleachers. Good fun. One day Mitch showed up with a new one. He’d heard it in a movie or read it in a book somewhere. It was a cheer from some college named Shelgamy. It went, “”S” Stands for Shelgamy, “H” stants for Hit. Shelgamy, Shelgamy, (clap) (clap) (clap).” Anyway, Mitch couldn’t, for the life of him, remember Shelgamy so in order to render it for us he came up with an invented college named “Szhungaelzee!” It was irreverent I know. That was the point. There were no intramural sports. There was no E in PE. Only the elite got a real shot at playing ball of any kind. We were synical about the whole athlete thing and this was our subtle statement about it all. Anyway, when we played Szhungaelzee, the cheer was implied and the whole thing represented a sneer at the establishment. This was the late sixties after all.

The next day the stage was locked, the gym was occupied and we were dying for a quick game during the lunch hour. The new Himni High had a hall just for the Arts department. It dead ended at the band room. It wasn’t all that wide, but it had little traffic, so it worked. Douglas Winger sneaked one past Pee Wee Lundquist, our goalie, and the Raquephrat slid out into the main hall. Douglas, who was Himni’s pre-eminent scholar and kept a pretty low profile at school, was in hot pursuit. He was already developing his famous sliding swoop and attempted to use it to bring the masking tape back into play. He slid on his side out into the main hall intending to hook the Raquephrat with is right foot and swoop it back the other direction. Just as he made the hook though, Mrs. Celestia Hopewell’s right foot stepped right on the tape. Douglas was already looking back in our direction. I guess there wasn’t time for him to see the horror in our faces. In what seemed like slow motion (which hadn’t been invented yet), Douglas swooped. Celestia went one way and the puck went the other. After we gathered Mrs. Hopewell up from the floor, she marched us all the to office. She was kind enough to acknowledge it was an accident, but we were forever banned from playing Szhungaelzee in the hall.

Pee Wee attended the Grant Ward and his Dad had a key to the building. We got permission to use the gym at the church and scheduled our first game for the following Thursday. The Raquephrat Kickers defeated the Anti-Jocks by a score of 12 to 7! Each team consisted of six players. Pee Wee was our goalie. The spread of his two size 12 feet left exactly the width of a roll of masking tape between the pop bottles we used as goal posts. It was hard to get one past him. The most exciting part was the turn out! There were probably 80 spectators. Three more teams were organized by night’s end. Another signed up the following afternoon. We had a league!

Lew Hopkins was Student Body President that year. I don’t think he ever joined a team, but he showed up every Thursday to cheer us on. On Friday mornings, when he did the announcements over the intercom at school, Lew would read the Szhungaelzee scores. This drew more excitement and before long we had huge crowds showing up Thursday evenings at the Grant Ward Cultural Hall.

Then problems began, especially at my house. (Mom and Dad were both on the faculty.) The establishment was not pleased. It began with the coaches and my dad. I guess they felt threatened. I guess they thought we were encroaching on their turf. Maybe they feared economic repercussions. Like Communism this cancer had to be erradicated. Initially, they tried to “talk sense” into us. It was quickly obvious that wasn’t going to work. Threats followed. Still we played on. Then one night we showed up at the church to find the key no longer worked and a note on the door indicating the “brethren” had determined that they could no longer permit our activity. Liability and law suits were not a concern. Those were the days when the troop rode to camp in the back of the Scoutmaster’s pickup truck. We checked the other meeting houses with the same results. We had been black balled!

When I got home that night my father and mother we not speaking to one another. Dad, who’d seemed pretty puffed up for about a week, looked pretty humble. I’d heard a heated rumble in their bedroom the night before. All I could make out was Mom saying, “…it’s good clean fun!” and something about “…a bunch of self agrandizing bullies!” Nothing was ever said to me, but I’m sure Mom didn’t approve of his strong arming us kids into submission. It helped to know Mom stuck up for us.

And so, Szhungaelzee died. Perhaps it’s just as well. I might have gone pro and ruined my whole life with fame and lavish excess. Since then, while the jocks waste countless hours couched in front of ball games on TV, I enjoy days and days hiking on the mountain. While they hobble around the golf course on aching knees, I backpack in the Grand Canyon. While they relive their youth by yelling at their kids on the little leage field, I fly kites with mine. They got what they wanted and, in the end, so did I.

# 14 – EMS

There were three Baritonists in the Himni High School Band. LeGrand Morris (Grandy), Michael Simper and myself. In the band room we sat on the back row, but in front of Rob Hanke, who played the Sousaphone and needed a bit of elbo room in the back corner opposite the drummers. Mitch Warner played the tenor sax and sat right in front of us.

Mr. Hess, our band teacher, had listed the student’s names in alphabetical order. He then assigned each a consecutive number, in that order. When it was time for roll call, he just called on us to count off in the appropriate sequence. As luck would have it, Morris, Parker, Simper and Warner stacked up right in a row. Our numbers were 27, 28, 29 and 30. We soon took to calling out our numbers in four part harmony. Grandy would sing his number and hold the note, then in succession, the others would add their number and harmonious note. Rob, not wanting to be left out, often added a deep bass sousaphone drone as foundation for our performance.

We were a “harmonious” group in more ways than one. We saw eye to eye on most things and were pretty much inseparable even when not in the band room. The previous summer, all of us except Michael had gone to Boy’s State together. Michael’s big brother Ronald had gone with us. Michael was a year younger. We talked often of Boy’s State, of the fun we’d had. Mitch and I were still corresponding with Rhonda and Wanda, twin girls we’d met while up there in Logan. Michael was desperate to have the same experience. It’s hard to say this about Michael, we liked him a lot, but he was a bit odd. I know what you’re thinking, but I mean even odder than the rest of us. He was even awkward around us, his best buddies. He always treated us with a kind of awe and respect, like he couldn’t believe we liked him and that our friendship was somehow tenuous.

Michael invented the “blip boid.” I think he intended it to be sort of a combination sign somewhere between “the bird” and a salute. To correctly execute the blip boid you had to hold your right arm out in front of yourself with the forearm in a vertical position. The hand was held in a relaxed posture with the index finger and thumb extended, but also somewhat relaxed. Once in this position you slowly elevated the hand while twisting it back and forth in a jerky, syncopated motion until you got it about half as high as you could reach, where you stopped until all responding blip boids had been completed. Michael insisted this be our club high sign. Trouble is, we didn’t have a club.

Maybe Michael thought going to Boy’s State was the final initiation that would make his membership in our club complete. It must not have occurred to him that we’d all be gone next year. Or, maybe he thought that he’d fall in with other Boy’s State alumni in our absence. Anyway, he mused about it a lot and was constantly seeking the mysterious key that would insure his invitation. One day, off the cuff, I mentioned that never in the history of Himni High had the newly elected Student Body President failed to be invited to Boy’s State. His insecurity prevailing, Michael asked, “So I run for Student Body President, but what if I lose?”

That was no problem, because never in the history of Himni High had the loser of the election for Student Body President not been elected Senior Class President…and never in history had the Senior Class President failed to be invited to Boy’s State either. It was a sure thing! Michael was elated!

“Would you guys be my Campaign Committee?”

Now Mitch and I, in particular, were into politics. We’d gone to Boy’s State after all, plus we’d gone to Model United Nations twice and were steeped in Mr. Parker’s (my dad) American Problems class. We were the quintessential campaign committee! We didn’t tell him that neither one of us got elected to anything more important than Dog Catcher at Boy’s State.

The next few weeks were spent developing strategy, painting posters and overcoming Michael’s Pip Squeak image. The latter was a challenge. We decided the jocks were out. Michael’s challenger was Ricky Hanley, a jock – who had money. Our attention turned to the shops. If we could turn out the vote in the Auto, Wood and Ag shops we could kick Ricky’s butt. There was a reasonable population in that end of the school. That group was typically disinterested in such things as school elections. The academics were already pretty much in the bag on account of the persistent rivalry between academics and sports. Yup, the shops were the key.

In those days there was a common phrase used by the greasers down in the shops. As an insult cum challenge they would often offer a surly “Eat My Shorts!” Quite often that, or more commonly, “EMS” was scrawled on the restroom walls. We appropriated “EMS” for ourselves – Elect Michael Simper!

It was a good strategy and it might have worked. We’ll never know, though, because Mitch and I panicked and stuffed the ballot box – and got caught.

Ricky Hanley was declared the winner and Mitch and I were hauled in on the carpet. The Disciplinary Council consisted of the Principal, Mr. Steckler, Coach Harker and Mrs. Celestia Hopewell. We were doomed. Mr. Steckler informed us of the charges and explained that if found guilty, we’d be suspended for a week and our diplomas would be held until we’d completed 100 hours of community service. The biggest implication, I thought, was that it took Mitch out of the running for Valedictorian. He and Emily Allen were in hot contention for the honor and I couldn’t bear to have him lose it this way.

The witness, Marci Merriwether was called and before she was even halfway through her deposition, Coach Harker declared, “I move we convict ‘em. It’s clear they done it!”

“Did,” Mrs. Hopewell sharply replied.

“Did what?” Coach Harker queried.

“The correct English is “did it”, sir, not “done it.”

There was ice between them.

Mitch offered a subtle blip boid in my direction. I responded.

Coach Harker raged on at the vile act we’d committed. He always hated Mitch. Mitch could have been an All State Quarterback. He was smart enough, athletic enough, tall enough, and charismatic enough to have done the whole thing. He just had no interest in sports and that killed Coach Harker. His bitterness was showing like a girl’s slip.

Mr. Steckler finally got him settled down and turned the attention back to Marci. Meanwhile, I observed Mrs. Hopewell scratch a quick note which she passed to Coach Harker. When he held it up to read it, the light was such that, I could see the name Ted Traynor was scrawled on it. Ted was next year’s hope for a successful football season. I still can’t believe what came next. The coach mouthed the words, “You wouldn’t!” She responded with a most resolute glare.

The exchange was interrupted by Mr. Steckler, who dismissed Marci. She gave us a nasty little sniff, letting us know she was getting her revenge for the Golden Emerods incident. The Principal called for a vote. “By a show of hands, who finds the defendants guilty?” All three hands went up. He was about to declare our sentence when Mrs. Hopewell interrupted, “Due to extenuating circumstances, I propose that we ease up on these boys a bit. They’ve been assets to our school. This is the first time they’ve appeared before this council. May I respectfully suggest that we limit their punishment to community service and leave this little affair off their academic records?”

Mr. Steckler smugly suggested her proposal be put to a vote. “All in favor of the lightened sentence, suggested by Mrs. Hopewell, please signify by raising your hand.” Mrs. Hopewell’s hand went right up and not so swiftly, so did Coach Harker’s!

Mr. Steckler’s jaw hit his chest. Mitch and I were pretty shocked too. We came away shaking our heads. After all, who’d have thought that the greatest lesson in politics of our high school career would have been taught by an English teacher!

You might be interested to know that, though Ricky Hanley was the new Student Body President, he didn’t get invited to Boy’s State. Neither did Wes Whickham, the Senior Class President. Michael Simper, however, was invited and was elected Senator, his campaign slogan – EMS!