Saturday, August 9, 2014

"I make mistakes; I'll be the second to admit it." ~ Jean Kerr

… and then there was Fred... Fred sat in the front seat right next to the door in our Algebra II class, and I sat right behind him. Fred was funny! But Mr. Byrd, our teacher, wasn't. Mr. Byrd was hard of hearing. He was also hard of seeing, and, we found out, he was also hard of smelling! 

One day during that loooong, boring period in Algebra II, I thought I smelled smoke! Fred nudged me and pointed to the back of the classroom. A kid in the very back of the room had pushed open the wooden top of his desk. I thought he was looking for his homework or another piece of paper, and he was, sort of… He had wadded up several pieces of past homework papers, arranged them inside the metal desk, and then he lit a match and set them on fire! We could see the flames from the front of the room!

Mr. Byrd was nattering on about something to do with math, in that one-note, single-tempo voice of his. He was walking up and down the rows of desks as he nattered, and the whole class was hanging on his every step. He finally came to the desk where smoke was curling up from the sides of the ill-fitting desk top. We waited, expectantly… But Mr. Byrd walked right on past it as if there was nothing wrong! Not only didn't he SEE the smoke, but apparently he didn't even SMEll the smoke!

The fire finally wore itself out when it breathed in the last of the oxygen and ate up the last morsel of paper inside that closed desk. Sadly, we didn't even get to have a fire drill that day.

Now, in those days, you took Algebra II the year after you passed Algebra I. If that went well for you, it was off to geometry the following year. I had done well in Algebra I as soon as I'd gotten the hang of it. I liked it because it was sort of like solving puzzles. Algebra II had me a little nervous, though. People had told me that it was a lot harder than the first course. NOT SO! Mr. Byrd's Algebra II was a year-long rehash of Algebra I, although I'm sure the front office didn't know that's what was happening in his class.

Fred was the one who made it bearable for me, though. Fred was NOT interested in the class at all. He had things to say and other things to think about.

"Terry, I'm NOT going into the army when I get out of school!"

"I didn't know every boy had to go into the Army when he graduated from high school, Fred!"

"Well, just in case, I've got this idea… I've been thinking hard about it, and I decided that if they call me in, I'm going to get a gun and shoot my toe… NOT my big toe… I've been thinking hard about this… In science Mr. Erickson said that the human beings' little toe was going to eventually vanish because it's not really needed." 

I remembered when the science teacher had said that.  I kept trying to imagine what an 8-toed person would look like in a few thousand years. The thing was that I LIKED my little toes there at the end of the other four. I always thought they were kind of cute! I was so glad I was living now, not in that future little-toe-less world.

"Terry, I'm going to get a rifle so I don't miss my little toe and hit my actual foot, and I'll shoot my little toe off, if they try to make me go into the Army! I know it will hurt, but I can take it, I'm sure. Then I'll be maimed and not perfect, and they won't be able to enlist me. That's what I'll do! Problem solved!"

"Well, Fred, it's your toe, I guess."

One day Fred decided to actually do the math assignment in class. "Terry, do you know how to do #6?"

"That one's hard, Fred… nope, I can't figure it out."

Fred jumped out of his seat, book in hand, and went up to Mr. Byrd's desk in front. 

"Mr. Byrd! Can you help me? I can't do number 6."

"If you're ill, Fred, go to the nurse!"

"No, Mr. Byrd, I can't do number 6!"


Fred turned around and looked at me. His eyes opened sooo wide, almost as wide as his grin! "OK, Mr. Byrd. I'll go to the nurse. Can I have a hall-pass?"

"Just take the pass and go to the nurse!"

Fred grabbed his books and was out the door before you could blink. He did a dance outside the room, waving his hands and silently laughing. Then he was off…

Fred came running by the open math class door about twenty times, doing his dance every time, and wildly waving at me. Several of those times he stopped and begged me to ask Mr. Byrd to go to the nurse, too. We could have so much fun! But it was Terry Kingston, he was talking to. And I wasn't going to be shooting off my little toes or running through the halls of Stamford High School any time soon. What a dweeb I was…

Finally, when it was close to the end of the period, Fred was just trudging past the room…  Fred was bored! Then, all at once, his eyes lit up! He came close to the door and said, "Watch this…"

Fred found out that the whole wall of lockers between our classroom door and the room next-door were NOT attached to the wall. Now, Fred was strong, strong enough to put his shoulder to that bank of lockers and push them right across the door of our classroom!

The bell rang, and Mr. Byrd went to the door, as he always did, to push the door open for us to exit class. But the door didn't open. Mr. Byrd pushed the door, and then he put all his might into shoving the door, and the entire bank of lockers fell over on the hall floor. We were locked into Mr. Byrd's room until someone finally called the janitor to open our jail cell!

About a week later, Fred was bored again. He had liked his "free period" of pretending to go to the nurse's office, and I could see he was thinking hard about another escape plan.

"Terry!  I GOT IT! Watch this…"

The classroom door was closed this day, and Fred was sitting right next to it, like he always did. Suddenly, he shot out his right foot and kicked the door hard 5 times! Even Mr. Byrd heard it!

"Mr. Byrd! Mr. Byrd!!! Someone just kicked your door! But don't worry, Mr. Byrd! I'll watch for him…"

As soon as Mr. Byrd turned around, Fred kicked the door five more times, even harder!

"I SAW HIM, Mr. Byrd! I'll go get him for you…" and out the door Fred raced!

Slowy, Mr. Byrd turned towards where Fred used to be sitting and said, "No, Fred. It's alright. You don't… Fred? Fred?"

"He went to find the kid that kicked your door, Mr. Byrd," I chimed in. Me, Terry Kingston, was abetting a criminal, and LIKING it!

Fred amused us, again, with his dancing antics outside the door until the bell rang for class to be over. You know, I always thought that the army could have used a smart, energetic guy like Fred. He could have settled most any problem, and quickly. Of course, without his little toe, he might have limped a little… but Fred would have figured out something... 

The problem came at the end of that year in Algebra II, though. Since I was the only student who ever did the homework, I presume, Mr. Byrd gave me a whopping A+ in Algebra II (which was really only a repeat of Algebra I all over again), and then, that old rascal submitted my name for Honors Geometry the next year! ME! 

Of course, the teacher of HONOR'S geometry would never confuse the words "six" and "sick." And, in case you never had to take geometry, the entire year was full of memorization, a skill that Terry Kingston has never been able to learn. I've never been any good at memorizing anything… 

Finally, that "C" I earned in Honors Geometry looked pitiful on my report card, and the pitiful glances I got from my other classmates every day were worse. And no one on earth but me will ever know how hard I had to work for that blasted "C."

Worst of all, of course, Fred wasn't even in that class to inform me about his latest plan to thwart the Army...    

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