I stopped to pick up a video and ran into Lenny, whom I hadn’t seen in years. He greeted me, and then he asked, “Do you remember in sixth grade when Mrs. M. paddled you?”
I asked him why that was the thing he always remembered about me.
“Well, shoot!” he said. “You were the teacher’s pet, and yet you were the only one she ever paddled herself!”
It was true. Her policy was that she never paddled anyone. Instead, she made the offenders paddle each other, and they had to do it until she felt they got it right, meaning hard enough.
The paddle, which hung prominently on the wall, was shaped like a tennis racket, about an inch thick, and cut out of heavy “unbreakable” wood. It had holes drilled through it. On one side was written “Board of education” and on the other were the words “Old Hickory”.
You might say I was the teacher’s pet, only because I always did my work quickly and efficiently, and then I read. I liked to read. I read almost half of the books in the city library that year starting with all of the Hardy Boys series.
As for that fateful Friday, it was almost time for school to get out for the day when Mrs. M. decided to run to the office for supplies. Some students worked on homework, and others did end-of-week cleaning.
Lenny was supposed to wipe the thick chalk from the chalk trays that had accumulated all week. Instead, he started juggling the erasers. He lost hold of one, and it bounced across a couple of desks and landed squarely in my lap, leaving a big, white mark.
I tossed it back at him, but he jumped out of the way, and it smacked Susan soundly in the chest. She squealed and hurled it back in my direction. Her aim was bad, and she hit Sally.
Sally looked at the chalk on her pretty blue blouse, grabbed the eraser, and marched toward Susan. Susan retreated and got an eraser of her own. I had warily gone back to my reading when I heard Lenny tell them it was my fault. Both girls turned and threw their erasers in my direction. I ducked, and both rebounded off the wall, hitting other students.
I walked to the chalkboards on our side of the room and tossed a couple of erasers to those who had been hit. I then took a big one for myself, slid it along the tray to fill it full of chalk, and turned toward Lenny.
He held his hands up toward me. “Now, don’t go doing anything stupid!”
I threw the eraser hard at him, just as the others threw theirs at Susan and Sally. Lenny ducked, but I planned for that and aimed low. As all of the erasers hit, an atomic mushroom cloud of chalk dust rose from that side of the room. Immediately, those in the general vicinity raced for every eraser they could find.
Within minutes the room was a storm of erasers flying back and forth. The dust grew so dense it looked like an early morning fog had settled in. Lenny threw a big eraser which hit me in the shoulder, and in response I once more slid it along the chalk tray to fill it.
As I raised my arm to throw it, Lenny started backpedaling. Just as I let it fly, Mrs. M. stepped into the room. She yelled, “What the devil is…!”, but she never finished, because Lenny ducked, and the eraser hit her right in the face. It left her with a white stripe, making her look like a horse with a blaze down its nose.
During the moment it took for her to blink the dust from her eyes and cough it from her throat, everyone scrambled for their seats; everyone but me. I stood there in shock. My only hope was that she hadn’t seen it was me through the dust cloud. But it didn’t matter anyway, because when she asked who started it, everyone turned and pointed in my direction.
“I think it was all worth it seeing that big white stripe down her face,” Lenny laughed.
“That,” I growled, “is because it wasn’t your rear end she broke the paddle over!”