When I attended Central Middle School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, our principal, Mr. Stockstill, called all the boys from all three grades (6th, 7th, 8th) into the gymnasium for a special assembly.1 An unprecedented move.
Once there, we learned, in a bit of a circuitous way, that after-hours the previous day, two boys had urinated on the side of the red brick school building outside of the shop classroom.2
I was willing to concede the logic, without dispute, that boys did the peeing. Reasonable assumption. But Mr. Stockstill did not elaborate exactly how he knew it was two boys. I guess we were supposed to use our imaginations, which I found myself doing as I began to not listen.3
This special assembly turned into a long and strictly-worded lecture about how we can show respect for school property by not peeing on the building. As far as I could tell, that was the main point. Do not pee on the school. Got it.
Some conversations are less productive than originally imagined. This all-boys assembly was a defining example of this point.
We all sat on one side of the gym, on the old wooden bleachers, watching Mr. Stockstill pace the gym floor in front of us as he delivered his monologue. He even gave
an alter call a call-to-action at the end of the sermon. For a brief moment, he paused, looked down contemplatively, inhaled deeply through his nose and hiked up his brown slacks at the waist as he looked back up at us. This was one complete gesture. I gathered this was both a sign of authority and signaled that he would now begin his concluding remarks, which he did:
“Now, I don’t need to know exactly who did this. [dramatic pause…] But if anyone wants to come forward and fess up, now would be the time.”
This would be a much better, and certainly more detailed story if I had been among the guilty. But I was not. That’s not where this story is going.4 But if it had been me,5 there is no way I/we would have fallen for this trickery into a self-incriminating confession. By extrapolation, I knew there was no way anyone was going to come forward at this point. No. Way.6
But Mr. Stockstill just stood there scanning the herd of middle school boys with squinted eyes, no longer looking for someone to confess, but acting like he might identify the perpetrators himself. Just pick them right out of the crowd with his laser eyes. The intense silence lasted so long I was nearly convinced this might work – that he might have this power. The two guilty boys were probably sweating middle school bullets at this point. They had to be reaching their breaking point, and Mr. Stockstill knew it. We could all sense it, but he could smell it – the fear. I half expected two guys to wet their pants… on the school again. The irony.
But alas, they held out and the silence was broken.
And we left quietly to return to our respective classrooms.
Middle School DNA
As a life experience, middle school is an anomaly in space and time, like the piece to the puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere… until toward the end when we can finally see where it belongs and how it fits into the bigger picture.
Looking back as an adult, that whole assembly was so weird and somehow so normal at the same time. Most guys my age (who grew up in the U.S. public school system) likely have a comparable story from their middle or high school days, especially if it involved a coach.9
These memories are comically nostalgic.
By proxy to the adults supervising our middle school selves, through experiences like these, we partially absorb the demeanor passed down to us from the prior generation. We laugh at how ridiculous they were and in doing so, we dismiss the notion that we only water them down a little, add some of our own peculiar generational spices and pass very similar, absurd experiences along to what will become the future stories of the next generation of middle-schoolers, who will then do the same.
Thus, middle school DNA is passed on, shaped and molded by these bizarre experiences, traces of which live on for generations like bizarre genetic mutations, as it seems they somehow should.
Share Your Story – If you have a similarly ridiculous school story, write it in the comment section below, especially if it’s self-incriminating… and involves a coach.
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- Several hundred of us, I’m sure.
- The class was actually called “Shop”.
- It would have been clever for one guy to start, pinch and relocate to throw off the authorities. One guy by himself had a perfect alibi… because everyone knows stopping mid-stream is nearly impossible. Case dismissed. [Warp back to listening to Mr. Stockstill…]
- I know, you were hoping we were headed that direction… to my demise. Sorry to disappoint.
- and therefore, Dave Dickson and Walter Ross would have also been involved… but for the record, weren’t.
- This is the kind of psychology that works on elementary kids. By middle school, we had wised up to this old-school tactic.
- Technically, all of us minus two.
- As much as I want to add something funny here, I’m guessing your current, internal thoughts on this are better than anything I might add. You’re thinking: “Wait what???… Why not tell the girls?!?” Exactly. Nothing about this assembly followed a logical thought progression, so I suppose the ending shouldn’t either.
- Somehow, the most memorable, over-the-top stories involved a coach.