Fig Newtons, False Gods and Free-for-All

Supernatural phenomena normally steered pretty clear of Mr. Gardner's eighth grade social studies class.

Maybe it thought it could do more good on the dodgeball court, where some of us needed all the help we could get...

Maybe it saved its eye-poppers for the kids at the Catholic school down the street, so it could enjoy a really jazzy entrance...

Or more likely, it was just as face-hitting-the-desk-bored as we were, from learning about the American Revolution eight stinkin' years in a row.

Mr. Gardner himself, however, was a pretty cool guy. Each day, he'd let one of us out of class a couple of minutes early, if we could answer one of his trivia questions.

Now, this was extremely valuable tender for our young years. See, with two extra minutes of liberation, in the 80s, you could easily:
  • Drink your weight's worth of lukewarm fountain water
  • Whip someone in the butt with your Trapper Keeper notebook
  • Tease your bangs straight up and top-coat them with AquaNet
  • Swap three Garbage Pail trading cards for some Joe Bazooka gum
  • Or any number of other critical social interactions

No other teacher had ever given opportunity for such unbridled freedom. So, yes, Mr. Gardner was a little unconventional. And one day, the man even extended to us the open hand of trust:

"I just have to take these papers to the office. I'm going to leave you all unattended. But you stay here quietly in your seats and read chapter 12 while I'm gone. And we'll discuss it when I get back."

Of course, the moment he left, the paper airplanes were flying. The boys hand-wrestled. The girls squealed over the latest 16 Magazine photo spread featuring An Abundance of Guys Named Cory. And general mayhem broke loose.

The classroom looked like it was directed by John Hughes.

But suddenly, the giggling, the shouting, the sound of running high-tops all stilled...

...As a deep ancient voice resonated from the very heavens... or, you know, the classroom PA system:

"This is God! You should be reading chapter 12! I command you!"

It was striking how much this Maker of All Creation... this Do-It-Yourself-in-Seven-Days World-Builder.... and Mr. Gardner doing a Charlton Heston impersonation sounded alike.

And that's when one boy— a kid we called "Fig" Newton, whose vast talents included making the perfect sound of the bell and convincing substitute teachers he was, in fact, a new student named Tyrone— decided this whole Chapter Twelve Commandment thing could be resolved with a single philosophical explanation:

"We're atheists!"

The classroom exploded with laughter.

When Mr. Gardner returned, his Magnum P.I. mustache was turned up in a smirk.

Funny, we never did speak about the important spiritual moment we'd shared in his absence.

You'd think something monumental, like hearing the crackly voice of God, would have been worth filling the man in on...

If, you know, if we'd believed in that sort of thing.

Apologies to my fellow blog friends that I haven't gotten a chance to come check out your posts lately. It's not that I'm ignoring you or became a blog-snob or anything. I've been crushed with two work writing projects due at the very same time. It's a little like playing dueling banjos, only I'm the only banjo player for 50 miles.

I promise I'll be around to see what you're up to, soon, once I can get that banjo duet down to a manageable one player riff.



The Mother said...

That was probably my kid. Got himself into all sorts of trouble studying for his Bar Mitzvah.

Jenn Thorson said...

The Mother- Heh- I can imagine some of it probably involved making up his own Yiddish. :)

You know, I just kinda like knowing there was another kid like "Fig" out there. :) He always made things a little more lively.

Bobby Jean said...

Wish I had gone to your school! Most of my teachers made Ben Stein look frantic. Miss Knight, however, had a sense of humor matched only by her brilliance, a rarity in 1959. We never knew what she would be wearing to class. Some days, her red hair would be askew, other days she would arrive with crooked lipstick or mismatched shoes. Promotion to sixth grade was a dark, dark day :]

Jenn Thorson said...

BobbyJean- Well, our school had a few innovative teachers... and some, um, unique characters, too.

LOVED the imagery of your Miss Knight. You just can't make that kinda stuff up.

Jaffer said...

"Blog Snob !"

"Figgy" wouldn't have dared do that in my classroom - we would have got a good laugh but knowing Indian society, the joke would be on him for the rest of his school days - jokes like - "Saw you at the temple/festival but I thought you..." or "You don't need to pray..." - would make him regret ever saying that !

Yes, yes, were are horrible like that !

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- Heh, having worked with a number of folks originally from India, I can definitely see that sort of teasing going on. :)

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

Fig was a funny guy. Are you sure you're not Fig? As in, "Hey, mom, Fig got in a lot of trouble using the school's PA system today and I--I mean he--got sent to the principle's office."

BTW, I'm very busy at work, too, what with being on deadline at two magazines and all. But I keep stopping by your site like a dysfunctional unrequited lover even if it means getting fired. I've got my priorities right: God, blogging, family, more blogging, work. You should re-evaluate your life and get things straight, too. :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Mike- Ah, but I have friends from that era who can verify the existence of the "Fig" character. Of course, they are conveniently not available now to defend the verity of the tale. :)

And thank you for the liberal layer o' blogger guilt. I will rethink my wayward priorities. Like employment retention and, oh, sleeping. :)

Lauren said...

hahaha i love the list of things you could do in the extra two minutes. so true. boring, but necessary to survive socially :-)

i loved reading some of your posts!

JD at I Do Things said...

HA! I love that ol' Fig. Quick on his toes, isn't he.

Jenn Thorson said...

Lauren- Absolutely-- if your hair FELL in the 80s? Social suicide!

JD- Yeah, ol' Fig... I remember him fondly.

Chris@Maugeritaville said...

I just love school stories where I'm not the protagonist. Nice work, Jenn!

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I was in a creative writing class in 10th grade. My teacher was showing us how all advertising is filled with sexuality -- even advertising for yogurt. The image was of a peach with milk being poured over it. The teacher asked us what it reminded us of and said something along the line of: "Do you see how even this is sensual? Like the curves of a woman?"

That's when the intercom clicked on and the principal said "Mr. S. Do you have So-and-So Student in your room? And can I see you in the office?"

The intercom had a two-way speaker. The principal had only heard the end of the conversation. Luckily he understood when the teacher explained and his request to go to the office wasn't about what he'd heard. But it was a funny moment.

Jenn Thorson said...

Chris- Oh, you are King of the school tales... Every time I read one of your stories I find myself wishing I could recall more of my school days. I imagine you're a lot of fun to work with.

Lisa- Heh, wow, that had to be more than the office folks were bargaining on hearing... Great story!

Staci said...

My teachers rarely trusted us enough to leave us unattended, but I went to public school, so maybe that explains it. The only time I can think of is the time some guy was hopped up on drugs or something and the janitors were circling him with their brooms, pinning him to the ground while he screamed and carried on like a wild animal. Mr. Quiggle, a former military guy, left us alone then to lend the janitors a hand while they waited for the police.

I'm sure it had to happen some other time, but that's the only thing I can come up.

Skye said...

We never had such cool teachers back in grade school. In Junior High though, we had one that would threaten to thread fish-hooks through your thumb nails and proceed to hang you from the ceiling if you managed to finish the assignment she gave the class before her daughter finished it. I consistantly finished the assignment first and would then read so as to not disrupt the class, so I got the threat on a frequent basis. Ever since then, whenever she's taught someone of my family (younger siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews) she picks one student that she thinks should be the first to finish and then threatens whomever is related to me in that same manner. I can't believe she's still allowed to teach grade 7 English! *rolls eyes*

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of the dueling banjos myself. Reminds me of the movie Deliverance (shudder...).
I, for one, will be glad when you get done playing them.

Walt said...

“Swear There Ain’t No Heaven And I Pray There Ain’t No Hell…
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell“. I always liked these lyrics by Laura Nyro; and sung by Blood, Sweat and Tears. Back in those days the only real fear of God came from the principal's office, as corporal punishment was still in vogue, and there was a rumor of an electric paddling machine in the office of the great and all powerful OZ. Yet the fact that the school's PA system was two way, seemed to go over our heads every time.

Jenn Thorson said...

Staci- Mr. Quiggle? With that name, he sounds straight out of a kids' book. :)

Skye- Don't ya wonder how people who seem to hate kids end up in teaching? And some of them hang in there for just years.

Rambler- I've got it pretty much down to one banjo at the moment, but it's still a pretty complex composition to get through. Hopefully it's playing "I will survive." :)

Walt- You know, going to the office really WAS like approaching the Great and Powerful Oz, wasn't it? They had banned paddling in my school by the time I was in the system. But we did have some.... unique... individuals teaching sometimes. Many not as nice as "Mr. Gardner."