Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, April 16, 2016

“In a world where the HORROR never ends there is no escaping the HARPIES of JUNIOR HIGH!!!!”

We were presented with choices when we entered Ninth Grade. We were no longer in sections labeled Section A, Section B and so forth studying basic subjects. We were told to select a course reflective of some life endeavor. These were Academic, Commercial, Industrial Arts, Agriculture and General. I didn’t want to work in a stuffy office the rest of my life, so I ruled out Commercial (proving to be somewhat ironic, I suppose). Industrial Arts was not feasible with my history in Shop. Can you imagine four more years of magic belt hooks and cast iron pipe holders? I had no plans to be a Future Farmer of America and viewed General as the Future Dropouts of High School (certainly an unfair judgment, but that was my opinion). The best fit or more like the only fit seemed to be Academic. Believe it or not, I still had an interest in becoming a scientist.
The other name for Academic was College Preparatory. My parents weren’t certain I should take this selection. Oh, let's be brutally honest, they were downright hostile against the idea. They told me straight out to forget college, no way was I going to college. They did not purely base this on financial considerations; although that was part of it.

My parents had a dim view of higher education. They felt it didn’t prepare you for anything worthwhile, unless you were studying medicine or law. In fact, my mother worried me constantly about my “always having a book in front of my face”. She believed too much reading wore out the brain.
My dad was not only against Academic; he didn’t really see any future in taking Commercial either. It was too much emphasis on secretarial skills like typing and shorthand. It wasn’t man’s work; women did those kinds of things. Men did the dictating and women did the transcribing and then getting coffee for the men. He suggested either Industrial Arts, or at worse even Agriculture, because those courses trained you “for real jobs”.
I thought Academic might help me become a writer even if I never did go on to college.
My grades in Ninth Grade Academic certainly supported my parents telling me to forget college. I probably wouldn’t have qualified for Hamburger U. with my marks. This was my worst year academically yet. I finished the year with an overall GPA of 1.78, a nice solid C minus (or a D plus if you wanted to be negative about it), just enough to promote me to Tenth Grade where a different set of teachers would have to put up with me.
Perhaps I should have rethought the Future Dropouts of America and taken General. I may not have been considering dropping out, but my grades seemed about to shove me over that cliff.

That September just before I set off to Ninth Grade my dad actually pulled me aside for some fatherly advice, the only such he ever gave me.
“Don’t get an F and don’t get a girl in trouble,” he said.
Well, I followed half of his advice.
I never got a girl in trouble. I didn’t even know what he was talking about when he said that. Why or how would I get a girl in trouble? That didn't make any sense. I didn’t ask him what he meant. Dad giving explanations to my questions wasn’t his strong suit.
I did get an “F” in Latin.

Several old familiar faces greeted me back into Downingtown Junior High that fall. Mr. White still oversaw his students from West Chester dictating gym. Mister Hemberger and Mister Kipp were manning the Wood Shop and Foundry. Mr. Paltrone still waved his baton teaching Varsity Music, as they now called it.
Much to my relief, there was at least was one  familiar face I was happily leaving behind in Eighth Grade, but much to my chagrin on reporting to Homeroom I was greeted as Lawrence by Miss Hurlock. It was only for Homeroom, but even two short periods a day with her got under my skin.

I had Louise Remetz for Art in seventh and eighth, but now I had a Mr. Paul Leonard (pictured left). Art was my best subject and the only one I finished with anything higher than a C in. I got straight Bs.

I earned a C in Health, but have no idea anymore who taught it.

I had Mr. Edward Campbell for Civics and Pennsylvania History. If you recall this was the teacher who snagged the back of my shirt and hauled me off to the principal’s Office for hitting Gary Kinzey. Mr. Campbell turned out to be an all right teacher who most students liked, but some kids did call him “PorkyPig” behind his back. He resembled that cartoon character and junior high kids can be cruel. I got a C in both courses and I actually found those classes interesting. He taught us a lot about how the branches of the government worked as equal entities and how our rule was designed as a series of checks and balances to guard against the formation of any person or one or other of the governing houses gaining too much power. He taught we were a nation of rights, which were not in the purview of government to deny us, that we were protected by the Constitution. He told us one of our most important right was that of free speech, even if we were to say things that others vehemently disagreed with. He told us we were a nation of laws and tolerance, but one in which the majority ruled, but the minorities had the right to challenge that and try and convince people to accept their ideas. He taught us a lot of things that don't appear to be followed very well anymore.

It was the Harpies that did me in. Here I was and then they, these female teachers, swooped down like birds to torment me and in a figurative sense, snatch the morsels of knowledge away before I could gain nourishment. (f you don't understand the allusion here, look it up.) Two of my women instructors made me dread coming to school every day and gave me nightmares at night. A third made me lose faith in justice. I don’t know which had the most damaging effect upon me.

I originally had Mildred Wilson for Arithmetic in Seventh Grade. I had managed a C then. I thought it humorous she had the same name as my cousin, the one that served my mother as Maid of Honor. My humor didn’t last. I had struggled with Math in Eighth Grade finishing with a D despite having Mr. Ax, a teacher I liked. Now in Academic Ninth I was facing Algebra for the first time. I was hardly prepared and I had a hard time following the lessons. I managed a C in the first marking period, but dropped to a D in the second. I realized I was falling behind and I didn’t want to fail. Teachers told us repeatedly during all our years in school, “Go to the teacher for extra help if you need it. They are always glad to help.” I had never taken that advice, but this time I did.
I went up to Ms Wilson’s desk after class and asked if I could get any extra help after school.
She screamed at me, literally, screamed,  “No, you’ll get it in class like everybody else. Now get out of here.”
I practically ran.
I never again went to any teacher for help after that. I finished First Year Algebra with a D plus average, pulled up by a C in the final exam. I was thoroughly convinced that math was beyond me.
But the teacher I dreaded the most was Lucille Horner, who I had for Latin.
I did not love Lucy.
 Two things conspired against me in her class.  One was my slight hearing problem, the one I was born with where I had difficulty distinguishing some English words and pronouncing them correctly. Foreign languages would always prove tricky for me. I mean I couldn't tell Calvary from cavalry or quarrel from corral. I was able to read the Latin in the textbook and understand the meaning. Speaking it was my problem and Ms Horner made us stand up in class every day and speak it.  
Here is where my second problem, Social Anxiety Disorder, kicked in. I did not like to be the center of attention in Junior High. People not seeing or hearing me was my preference. Ms Horner forced us, in order of seating,  to stand up and congregate the Latin verbs. This could be hard enough for me under any conditions to distinguish the subtleties between the verbs, but Ms Horner threw in another Monkey Wrench. She timed you. She kept a record of the fastest time achieved of every conjugation ever performed in class history and she expected her students to try for a new one. I would come to class and know the verb forms in my head, but once on my feet in front of my peers my tongue would be Greek to me, not Latin. I would stumble at the start and never get back on track. I use to shake before every Latin class. I would stand to recite and literally quiver. My constant failure wasn’t embarrassment enough. She had to make cutting remarks about my failures.
This was the course where I broke my father’s advice. I got an F. The only one I ever got for a course.

The teacher that stung me more than any wasn’t mean or nasty. Mrs. Rodgers was very nice. I had her for Homeroom in Eighth Grade and I believe she had a son in Boy Scouts. I had visited her home socially for somereason. I remember being there and I remember standing on her front porch, but I don’t know what the visit was about. She was a very kind and gentle lady. I had her for Ninth Grade English. I ended up with a C.

I was totally devastated about what happened in English. Mrs. Rodgers was a teacher with no ability to control her class. She would go out into the hallway and cry sometimes it got so bad. The bullies and troublemakers ruled and learning was difficult for anyone.
I may have been a poor student, but I was never a troublemaker. Everyone else might be yelling and throwing things, but I would be calm and quiet. During one of her attempted lectures about some literary point the two guys who sat next and behind me shoved all my books off my desk. The volumes hit the floor with a load bang. Mrs. Rodgers had been facing our way when they did it. She had to have seen it happen..
“Larry,” she said very sternly, “you are to stay after class.” She said nothing to the other two boys.
At the end of the period I walked to her desk. I said, “Mrs. Rodgers, I didn’t do anything. So and so and Whozits pushed my books off my desk.”
She looked at me. Her eyes were moist at the edges. “Yes, I know,” she said. “But you’re the only one who will listen to me.”
I think that was the moment I became cynical toward education. I felt sorry for Mrs. Rodgers, but I also lost all my respect for her. It is one thing to be singled out and punished for the bad things you do, but quite another to be treated that way when you are innocent and everyone knows it.

Ms Horner assigned some homework I was delighted to do. During the year she assigned us to see movies and she provided the passes. The first was Ulysses (based on the Odysseus Myths, not the James Joyce novel. I can imagine we ninth graders reporting on Penelope portrayed as Molly Bloom. ), The film debuted in theaters August 1955 and played the Roosevelt sometime after school began.
The second film was Helen of Troy, based on the Iliad. This film came out in January 1956 and we saw it on March 9. I am not certain why she did this, since Homer was Greek and Ms Horner was teaching Latin. The films were in English.
Ronald, Stuart and I saw these together. We were walking home on Lancaster Avenue after seeing Helen of Troy. This movie had several battle scenes. One particular scene stood out in our minds. A Spartan below the walls of Troy shoots an arrow in the air. A Trojan soldier is standing on the battlement. The arrow pierces the soldier below the chin and comes out the top of his head. We were discussing how they accomplished this effect.
“You know what,” said Stuart. “I bet what they did was go to a prison and give an offer to a condemned prisoner on Death Row. They would pay the prisoner’s family something if he let them execute him this way for the film.”
Ron and I didn’t think so.
“I don’t see how else it could have been done,” said Stuart. “You could see the arrow go right through his head.”
I did not discuss The Sirens confronting Ulysses on his journey, although they had more interest for me than arrow-pierced Trojans. The Sirens were mythological women who seduced sailors into shipwrecks with their songs. The crew tied Ulysses to the mast so these women cannot lure him. This type of story and imagery fit right into my fantasies.

As the stresses of Algebra and Latin increased, I fled more often into those fantasies. The story always began the same, but as the year progressed I began to play act as well as imagine. This wasn’t difficult because my parents were seldom home with me. I would become the shipwrecked sailor left ashore on the island. I would slip off my socks (I seldom wore my shoes inside the house then). I use to sit in the living room imagining it all, but now I would get up and pretend I was exploring an island, moving cautiously into the dining room. In my mind I would come across the Pirate Women here and they would give chase. I might run back to the living room, slipping off my shirt as if they had pulled it off in midflight. They would capture me in due time and strip off my pants. I would walk about as if a prisoner, holding my hands behind as if tied.
My story wouldn’t end with me tied to a pole (figuratively). The Pirates would slowly circle me. They would poke me or pull at me. Then they would pull off my briefs and leave me naked.
This total striping wasn’t enough after awhile. Like any addiction my fantasy demanded more after a time to keep me interested. I began adding little flourishes to this fancy. My story would continue with my alter ego escaping the bonds.
I had seen the Tarzan films and pictures depicting Native Americans wearing loincloths. I didn’t know loincloths were a long piece of material that they wore tucked over a belt and then passed between their legs and up over the belt again in the rear. I thought these people wore two pieces of cloth that just dangled over their front and back with nothing underneath. I began to fashion a loincloth for my escaped hero to wear. I used a couple of my handkerchiefs hanging them from a rope belt. Eventually I began trying to make my loincloths cover even less.

One day I decided it would be more exciting if instead of a loincloth to have the Pirate Woman not simply pull off my briefs, but to tease me by gradually ripping up my undershorts. I had some old worn underpants, so I took scissors and cut strips and holes out of these, making the shorts ever smaller, but leaving enough to cover my privates.
Yes, I was quite aware doing this made my penis  erect and sensitive to touch. This felt extremely pleasurable, but it ended there. There was no ejaculation. I still didn’t know about masturbation.

I  would hide the tattered underpants in my room and reuse them until a pair was too far-gone then I would dispose of it in the trash.
However, every time I indulged this fantasy I felt guilty afterward. I would lie in bed afterward agonizing about what was wrong with me. I also worried whether anyone could see me dashing about inside the house dressed in ripped up underpants; after all, the lights were on and the shades were up. Whatever feelings of guilt or fear I felt did not impede me from pursuing my fantasies. The next time I was home alone and feeling frustrated I would go to my fantasy world all over again.
And I began adding a voyeuristic element. The Pirate Women would now tease me with their bodies. I imagined them undressing in front of me. But I still lacked a full image of a woman’s body to complete my imagination.

There was a totaling embarrassing incident at school that had absolutely nothing to do with my fantasy life. It was the day I freed the slaves.

It is hard to image any school today having this; however, Googling the Internet shows the practice continued as late as the 1970s in several schools around the nation. Even today, some schools have a version of it to raise funds for charity.

Downingtown High had a once yearly “Slave Day”. We did this in 1955 or 1956.
This was considered a fun day. They had criteria for masters claiming slaves, but I no longer remember the rules. Perhaps Ninth Graders could claim slaves from the class below. I do recall I was very determined to claim a slave. Usually a student would tap another’s arm and claim them. The person claimed had to be a slave for the whole day, which entailed carrying the master’s books, get the master his or her lunch and run small errands.
I was in the hall and zeroed in on this very tall girl walking ahead of me. I think her name was Yvonne, but I could be wrong. She was as tall or even taller than I was. I walked up behind her and tagged her arm, but she ignored me. I took hold of her arm and declared her my slave and she took to running. I leaped for her. I landed upon her back and she ran down the hall with me clinging piggyback style to her. She carried me right past the school office door as Mr. Evans the principal was stepping into the hallway. We almost knocked him over. He looked totally floored by this exhibition.

That was the last year that Downingtown had “Slave Day”. So, I guess I freed the slaves.

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