Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Disconnect, shut the main reactor down, and separate from this technology.

In high school, I guess I was one of the “smart kids.” I mean, I can’t say I ever felt particularly smart, but at my school we were corralled into a system of five academic “phases,” with “phase one” being the lowest and “phase five” being the highest. And you can probably guess where I found myself... Yep. Branded “super dork” before ever setting foot in those hallowed halls. The only times we phase fives even crossed paths with the lower phases were for things like lunch and gym. And religion. Oh, and “homeroom,” where we were sorted alphabetically by last name in order to complete daily tasks such as the taking of morning attendance, the recitation of various pledges and prayers, and the viewing of our school’s endlessly fascinating “morning news” snoozefest on our high-tech closed-circuit television network.

As I muddled my way through the landscape of phase-five freaks and geeks, I started to realize that, more than being particularly smart or gifted in any academic area, I was instead merely a good student; good at memorizing things in time for tests (and forgetting them soon thereafter); good at giving teachers, administrators, coaches, organizers, leaders, hell, people in general, whatever it was they wanted. What they expected. Academically I definitely struggled, but always with the knowledge that I would ultimately “come out on top,” because, well, the people that mattered seemed to like me.

In fact, it was difficult for a phase five to be held accountable for any real wrongdoing. In an environment where “demerits” were handed out left and right for the most minor infractions (gum chewing, un-tucked shirts, unkempt appearances, unshaved faces...) I was shocked to realize that at the end of my four years I graduated without having received a single one! Even after I was caught cutting a class—an offense which carried with it an “automatic” penalty of five demerits/after-school detention. Granted, the teacher who caught me (one of my favorites) never let me forget the incident, but then again, he never gave me a demerit for it, either!

But like I said, I did struggle, often in ways many of the people around me didn’t seem to. Particularly with things like trig, foreign languages (at first, anyway), essay-writing, chemistry... Oh god. Chemistry. That was a fun one. One of the “privileges” of being a phase-five student was that we were permitted to skip freshman-year physical science, and instead join classes of sophomores in biology. Which was fine. The teacher was great, and though I had never had any experience with lab work before, I managed to keep my head above water.

Unfortunately, what none of us realized was that that meant we would then be taking chemistry our sophomore year (instead of our junior year, like the rest of our classmates) and that those special phase-five, sophomore-year chemistry classes were “taught” (I use the word loosely) by a living relic who was, in all likelihood, best buds with Antoine Lavoisier, and no doubt stood by the side of Dmitri Mendeleev as he devised the periodic table. Yeah. There wasn’t much “teaching” going on in that classroom. (Each day that the woman managed to find her way there seemed a miracle in and of itself.)

What there was, however, was an abundance of childish antics and shocking misbehavior. I mean, what could anyone possibly expect? Here you have a room full of phase fives, the crème de la crème, the upper crust of the Catholic School educational system (fuck that’s hilarious), a group of kids who’ve never failed anything in their lives, suddenly failing test after test of material they can’t wrap their heads around, and with which they receive no assistance whatsoever. What could they possibly do? Well, I’ll tell you. For one thing, they could spit spitballs! They could throw candy and other garbage around the room! They could belch and shriek and shout insults and curses as if they had Tourette’s! They could slam doors and bring cameras to class and torment the living fossil in front of them with sudden flashes of bright light!

Seems cruel, but that’s not even the half of it. Once a week, class took place in the lab. And if you think the antics we could achieve in an empty classroom were something, you can’t even imagine the mayhem we were able to create in a high school chem lab, fully stocked with all of the requisite tools and equipment.

It all started when, on our first day in the lab, I nearly burned the place down with my out-of-control Bunsen burner. It was an accident, and in my subsequent haste, I knocked a huge lab thermometer off the table, which shattered and sent beads of mercury dancing on the floor all around us. Well, even our “teacher” recognized the hazards of a mercury spill, and she snapped into action, making a very big deal about the necessary clean-up, and also about the fact that I was going to have to pay for that thermometer, young man! Yeah, put it on my tab, lady. For shortly thereafter, while heating up something or other over my now tame Bunsen burner, I managed to drop my crucible on the floor, causing it to shatter into a million pieces with an oddly beautiful and satisfying little tinkling-shattering sound.

Well, that did it. In an act of solidarity, one of my best friends tossed his own crucible on the floor, and before we knew it, the room was filled with a chorus of adorable little smashings and shatterings. It was beautiful. Moving, really. And that very day, the crucible-collecting began. We took them from anywhere we could get our hands on them, hoarding them for those certain moments that would be perfectly punctuated by that beautiful little shattering sound that had become so recognizable to us all. Sometimes, if the object of our torment was alone in the room, we would walk by and just toss crucibles through the doorway, laughing hysterically as we high-tailed it down the hallway, waxing poetic about our funny little tinkly porcelain shrapnel grenades.

And somehow, we never got in trouble for any of this. We were never held accountable, or even asked about the disappearance of a lab’s worth of crucibles and other equipment. And I don’t think we ever really expected to be. We were phase fives, after all. Untouchable.

And in case you’re wondering, I never did pay for that thermometer.


Blogger -jingles_the_cat said...

I love that you wrote this. You know I'm nodding along with all of it.

Good times.

PS The fossil is still teaching. I'm shocked she's even still alive.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Lostinspace said...

hi. i am sorry that i haven't written in a while, but i do read your postings. they are like good wine with a dish of shrimp and lobster pieces on top of fettucine in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. this one, especially, made me laugh, and no one ever hardly makes me laugh.

i think you are one Catholic boy that i actually adore wholeheartedly. :)

3:13 PM  
Blogger P/O said...

thanks for the nice comments, ladies. lost, you are so sweet.

ps--i'm not catholic!! :)

11:03 AM  

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