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September 26, 2022

Meanderings 22

By Basil D.

In Which I Pay for My Indiscrete Behavior in High School

Once upon a time, when the world was young and Ozzy Osbourne still had a few intact brain cells, I was a high school athlete. Specifically, I was a football player, a first teamer, a "star." In those days there were a lot of advantages to being an athlete. Deferential treatment by the student body. Idol worship from the younger kids. Most important for a rather shallow-minded 15 year old like me, I had a chance at dating cheerleaders. The problem with being an athlete in my school is that we were strictly forbidden to smoke.

I had a problem with this because I smoked — about a pack of Kool super-longs per day. Now, it's difficult to believe in this day and age, but back then any kid in our school in the 11th or 12th grade could smoke if they had a permit from home. The lucky few were allowed to gather in splendid gangsterish isolation at the end of the high-school building every day during recess and smoke em up. I envied this group of cool outlaws and wanted to be a member but I wasn't allowed — even if football players could smoke, my mom would never have signed for me..

I had a novel approach to circumventing this ban — I simply sneaked out with all the other guys during break and puffed away. I leaned against the building and peered around the corner, wary of the approach of any teacher who might come around to check up on us. The few times a teacher came back to inspect the group, I had plenty of advanced warning. I'd take off, sprinting faster than at any time during football practice, run to the other side of the building and crouch behind a utility shed until the teacher left.

One morning as I was slouched against the building dragging hard on a smoke, someone said "Coach coming!"

"Oh Jeez, I'm dead," I thought. I had just taken a huge drag on my cigarette, and I hurriedly thumped it away. It arced away from me and landed in the grass 10 feet away. I was just in the nick of time too, because Coach David came stepping around the corner. Coach David was a tall, muscular man of about 30 and with his close-cropped sandy hair, faded blue eyes and harsh powerful build, he looked every inch the all-conference offensive end he had been in college. His pale blue eyes clicked on me immediately. He walked over, gripped my arm, bent down and peered into my face.

"Basil, are you smoking back here?"

I had a lung full of smoke and was trying desperately to hold it in. I looked into Coach's face and tried to make my eyes wide and innocent. I shook my head. His eyes narrowed and his grip on my arm tightened. Uh oh. I couldn't hold the smoke in my lungs much longer. I could feel my face reddening as I struggled to hold my breath.

"Answer me. Are you smoking?"

"No sir." Smoke puffed out of my mouth in thick whorls. He watched it drift up and hang around my head like a melancholy blue cloud. He stood there for a moment, eyes fixed on a spot just above my head where the smoke cloud had settled comfortably, my little thundercloud of doom. I turned halfway away from him and exhaled a thick plume of smoke down at the ground. I turned back toward the Coach. His eyes were cold, and a wry little smile curled the corners of his mouth, as if he was holding a nasty little secret, one he wasn't quite prepared to share yet

Coach David stepped back, crooked his finger at me in a "come on" gesture, turned, and began walking rapidly away. I looked around at the circle of faces that looked sympathetically at me. There was no question of trying to get away, and no chance of talking the coach out of what was coming. He had a reputation as a man who swung a mean paddle on the few occasions he was required to, and had several times reduced the schools most hardened miscreants to tears with a few tremendous, well-timed blows.

My best friend Curtis shook his head at me. "Damn, dude. You're gonna get it now."

Gee, thanks bud, I thought to myself. Any other words of encouragement before I go get my butt ripped off?

I had to put up a brave front. "Oh, well. Guess it's time to pay my dues." I strode off, head high, after coach, who was now 20 yards ahead of me. As I swaggered after him, I looked at his muscular back, the triangle of heavy muscle he carried on his shoulders, the thick forearms that swung purposefully as he strode through the recess crowd. My behind tingled in dreaded anticipation of what was coming. Damn, why did I have to get caught by the coach? Why not Ms. McPhearson, who was 70, deaf and couldn't have put a crack in a boiled egg with a paddle if she swung it with both hands? I trailed him into the principals office where he stood beside an ancient wood-backed chair, a smooth, thick, well-seasoned paddle gripped in his right hand. He gestured toward the chair with his paddle.

"Kneel down in that chair."

"Yessir." Arguing or pleading wouldn't' help. All I could do was take it like a man. I knelt down in the chair, gripped the rungs on the back and bent my head, waiting.

WHAM. The first blow came so quickly that I didn't really feel anything other than a sense of surprise. WHAM. The second, coming so closely after the first, sent pain shooting throughout my butt. WHAM. Now the real pain set in, and I gripped the back of the chair and bent my head down until my chin touched my chest. WHAM. Now I was really hurting, my teeth were clenched and I was trying desperately not to cry out. WHAM. I had my eyes closed tightly and knew that one more blow and I would be crying. I waited, breath held, eyes screwed shut, for the next blow but nothing happened.

"OK Basil, you can go."

I exhaled, opened my eyes and shakily stood. My butt felt like someone had poured meat tenderizer all over it and then turned a blowtorch on it.

"You stay out of the smoking corner, you hear?" I looked up at him, blinking back tears. His face was set, stern, and his pale blue eyes drilled into me.

"Yessir." I walked out of his office carefully, as if my ass was about to fall off. Ms. Johnson, the school secretary, looked at me sympathetically from behind her cluttered desk.

"Goodbye, Basil", she said.

"Bye, Ms. Johnson", I mumbled.

Football practice was held after school, and for my sins I was allowed to run extra wind sprints to "help your body recover from smoking" as coach told me. Long after everyone else had left, I was alone on the field dressed in full gear, huffing up and down the sidelines. By the time I was finally allowed to quit, I was so tired I felt like crawling from the field to the dressing room. I peeled off my sodden, dirty uniform, showered in the silent, sour-sweat atmosphere of the dressing room and reflected on my indiscretions.

Oddly enough, I had no desire to quit smoking. Like a typical 15 year old, my desire was to avoid getting caught again. As I lay face down in bed that night, I didn't regret my actions. I wondered how I'd make it through the next school day without a trip to the smoking corner. I was no wiser, simply more cautious. After all, I was a 15 year old with an indestructible butt and an optimistic attitude. Maybe I'd just wear padding in my underwear from now on.

Article © Basil D.. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-06-20
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