Feb 4, 2016

The Great Toilet Seat Incident...

    There are people alive who didn't know until reading this that I was expelled from high school.  It's true.  During my senior year, I and a few of my closest friends were tossed out and had to be readmitted by our parents.

    It started because one of our well-loved teachers, Ms. Isabelle Jarvis, a teacher of English and Creative Writing, had to take a few weeks off for cancer treatment.  A substitute teacher named Mrs. Lusk was assigned to take her place during her absence.  Mrs. Lusk was no Isabelle Jarvis.  Nor could she ever have been.  Nonetheless, a few of us smart-alecky high school seniors decided to protest in a very cruel, immature way.  

It went down like this:
Someone in my inner circle of friends (It might have been me; I really don't remember) got the brilliant idea.  Mrs. Lusk was such a half-ass teacher, we should give her a half of a toilet seat!  Collectively, we thought it was brilliant.  In the basement of my home was a bathroom that had not been used in years.  We removed the toilet seat, which was wood, cut it in half, cleaned up one half, and carefully wrapped it in Valentine's Day wrapping.  We put a heart-shaped card on the package that read, "To Mrs. Lush from All of Ush..."  And on Valentine's Day, we sneaked into her classroom very early and left it in her seat.    

Mrs. Lusk waited until her first class to open her "gift."  It was not pretty.  The class laughed; She cried and left the room.  The word spread throughout the school.  And the search for the culprits began in earnest.

 The school administration -- Principal Donald Sayles and Assistant Principal Charles Abba -- questioned all the usual suspects.  No one had a clue who might have done the dastardly deed.  Mrs. Lusk resumed teaching her classes, but there was always that question hanging over the school as to who might have committed this thoughtless, cruel act.  Several weeks passed, yet no one had been identified as the perpetrator.  My friends and I kept quiet.
    One day, Mr. Abba appeared in our English class.  "As you all are aware, a horrible act was perpetrated against Mrs. Lusk a few weeks ago.  I assure you that we will find the person who committed this misdeed, and when we do, we will take appropriate action.  That person will never get into a respectable college or university.  They may never graduate from high school.  They will be disgraced."  Then he went on to be the "good cop."  "If the person who committed this act steps forward, we may show some consideration.  I encourage anyone who knows anything about the event to come to my office at any time to discuss it.  My door is open.  Thank you."    

That was just before the lunch hour.  My partners in crime and I discussed it during the lunch hour and decided to turn ourselves in.  One of the perps, Dennis L., was the son of the President of the PTA.  We all had honor-roll grade point averages.  We were all very active in class societies and projects.  What could they possibly do to us.  There were a few people who knew we had done it.  What if one of them squealed?   And so we went to Mr. Abba's office at 1:00 PM to face the music.  There were plenty of other people present in his waiting room.  He came in shortly after 1:oo and started around the room.

    "Angelo, what are you here for?"
    "I punched Mr. Pezzano 'cause he pissed me off."
    "Come back at 1:30."
    "How about you, Vinnie?  Why are you here?"
    "I got kicked out of Miss Tarbell's class for giving her some lip."
    "Come back at 2:00."
And so it went.  Finally, he got around to us.  "Hi, Dennis.  What brings you to my office?"
    "Bob and Rick and I are here to talk about the toilet seat incident."

He was shocked.  He spoke almost in a whisper.  "Come in my office and have a seat."  He led us into his office.  "If you boys know something about this incident, let me first assure you that the school will make every effort to protect you.  We will never allow the perpetrators to harm you in any way."

We looked at each other and then stated almost in unison, "We did it."
There was a prolonged silence.  Finally, Mr. Abba said "Oh, my God!" as he rushed out the door.  We waited more than an hour for his return.

Mr. Abba returned with Don Sayles, the Principal.  They informed us that they were convening a special faculty meeting at 4:30 PM to review our case and determine the punishment.  They were recommending that we all be suspended, only to be readmitted when accompanied by a parent.  We would no longer be eligible for the National Honor Society, since they planned to strip us of all of our "Activity Honor Credits."  These were "points" that you earned for participating in clubs, societies, and other extracurricular activities.  In our school, membership in the NHS was determined by the combination of grades and activity honor credits.  The ultimate disgrace would be that we would not get to wear the honor "shawl" that came with NHS membership and was worn over the graduation gown.  The faculty met and endorsed our punishment.  Mr. Sayles asked me if my parents had even the slightest clue what I had been up to.  I answered that my mother was aware of the whole thing, watching us cut the toilet seat in half.  In fact, I told him, "She said we were going to get ourselves in plenty of trouble, and that this caper was really stupid."  Mr. Sayles informed me in front of his staff and my friends that I was a barefaced liar.

I got home after a long, lonely walk.  My brother, Willy, who had recently been expelled from the University of Michigan, was home.  My mother was at Bridge Club and my father was playing golf, so I know it was a Thursday.  I explained to Willy what had happened.  He was amused.  When we heard my mother arriving, Willy said, "It's your funeral!"  He ran upstairs, where I knew he was listening at the top landing.  As soon as my mother came in the house, I started bawling as I told her the whole story.  I had to repeat everything when my father arrived home.

The next morning, my father was elected to accompany me to school and get me readmitted.  He and Mr. Sayles were old golfing friends, so we were greeted warmly, if awkwardly, as we entered Mr. Sayles' office.  My father apologized for my conduct and expressed how embarrassing the whole incident was for our family.  Mr. Sayles expressed how shocked the administration and faculty were to find out that three such outstanding students had stooped to such callous behavior.  Then my father did something totally unexpected.  He said, "Don, I understand you called Bob a liar.  The fact is that his mother did know about what the boys were doing and expressed her disapproval.  He was telling you the truth.  I'd like you to apologize to him for your accusation."  Mr. Sayles apologized awkwardly.  We soon left his office, my father left, and I went to class.  But the story doesn't end there.

It really bothered the three of us that we weren't going to get to be members of the National Honor Society.  So when the school was looking for a volunteer to run the annual Community Chest drive (later to become the United Fund), Dennis suggested that the three of us volunteer.  What a brilliant idea!  Maybe we could earn our way back into the school's good graces.  We ran the fund drive, raised more money by far than had ever been raised before, and eventually were granted full restoration of our activity honor credits.

Miss Jarvis returned to school that spring and I don't think she ever forgave us.

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