What I didn’t get into is that smacking a kid was also okay at school. Again, it was encouraged. Some teachers still refer to that time as “the good old days.”
Let me preface this next part by admitting that when I was 15 I was an ass. I’m not saying that justifies hitting a 15-year-old, only that in a lot of cases where I was smacked I kinda had it coming. However, a couple of times I was at least a bit undeserving of what I got.
One time was in shop class. I forget the teacher’s name, but he gave us the mind-numbing task of taking a piece of sheet metal and a small ball-peen hammer and tapping on the sheet metal until we shaped it into a bowl. This took hours, days. I think it may have taken some kids a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the teacher sat back and watched us or sat in his office and watched television. All the students were small ball-peen hammers, a small anvil, some safety glasses and the ear-ringing sound of 30 kids tapping for an hour every day.
Finally, after hours, days of tapping I had a somewhat bowl shaped piece of metal. I thought perhaps this would be enough to satisfy him so he would at least give me some other mind-numbing task to do.
I set my hammer and safety glasses down on the anvil and called him over. Please, please, please let this piece of crap look enough like a bowl that he’ll let me move on. He came over and I showed it to him. As I was showing it to him and desperately pointing out all of its bowl-like features, he reached over, picked up the small ball-peen hammer and hit me above my eye. You know the spot: that ridge of bone that’s covered by your eyebrow.
Funny thing –an eyebrow doesn’t afford much cushion when you get hit with a ball-peen hammer. Granted the hammer was small, maybe 10 or 12 ounces, but it was a friggin’ hammer.
I jumped back in case he tried to hit me again and put my hand to my eye. I looked up at him and he said, “See? If you would have had your safety glasses on, that would have hardly hurt at all. Now what did you learn today?”
I had actually learned a lot in that few seconds. I learned that getting hit above the eye with a ball-peen hammer really hurts. I learned that the shop teacher was an asshole. I learned how to dwell on revenge almost immediately. But I think I found the answer he was after.
“That I should always wear my safety glasses.”
He said I was right and signed me off on my bowl.
I didn’t tell my parents about it, because any kind of trouble I might have gotten into at school would have only been magnified and repeated at home. That was also a social norm at the time.
The next time I was hit by a teacher it was a vice-principal. (I still have trouble with the spelling of ‘principal.’ I deliberately want to spell it ‘principle,’ because friends, they are not your pal.)
I forget exactly what I did that landed me in his office. Maybe I threw a desk out a third story window or something equally smart. In any case, I sat across from him, slouched in the chair, maintaining my ‘cool.’ That’s what’s important when you’re 15 and crap hits the fan. You must do your best to remain looking cool.
He leaned back in his chair looking at me. I slouched in mine looking at him. Finally he sat up and leaned his forearms on his desk. It was obvious he had decided what to do with this miscreant before him.
But actually, he let me make the decision.
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “You can either take a week’s worth of lunch detention along with a phone call home or you can take a swat.”
Reminder: trouble at school meant trouble at home, only magnified. I didn’t care about detention; I was scared of the phone call home.
“Detention and phone call home or a swat?”
“Yep, those are your choices.”
“A swat? A single swat? That’s it?”
I almost laughed. This was way too easy.
“Bring on the swat,” I said. Maintaining my coolness was fairly easy at this point.
He reached down to the lower right-hand drawer of his desk and brought forth the paddle. I think he did this rather slowly on purpose, you know, for dramatic effect.
The dramatic effect worked. As the paddle was revealed I could see it was made of three quarter-inch plywood, about ten inches wide by twelve inches long. The handle was long enough to grasp with both hands. He had even taken the time to drill a number of one-inch holes through the paddle to compensate for wind resistance.
He smiled and I realized my eyes were probably as large as pie plates. Then he said what no 15-year-old boy wants to hear from a grown man.
“Stand up, bend over and grab your ankles.”
I did as I was told, while still trying to maintain the cool (which was becoming increasingly harder to do). As I bent over I could see him through the space between my side and my arm. He gripped the handle of the paddle with both hands and had it raised like Babe Ruth wanting to tear the cover off one before it rocketed out of the ballpark. I held my breath as he stepped into his swing.
I can honestly say that I have never been hit harder by anything before or since. He hit me so hard with the paddle that it propelled me three steps forward and into the wall. I clung to the wall dry heaving. I could feel nothing on my backside. I actually felt the impact up into my insides. If the wall had not been there I would have went down.
I looked back at him while I continued to dry heave and catch my breath at the same time. He stood smiling, twirling the paddle in his hand.
Once I could breathe a bit, I tried to grasp at the cool, but it was pretty much gone.
“That it?” I croaked.
“Yep. You can go on back to class now.”
I really knew the cool was gone then, because I started feeling the pain in my backside. I could barely walk, but I managed. I shuffled slowly, like an old man who’s dropped a load in his pants. Definitely not cool. All the cool had been swatted out of me.
I think back on it now and I realize that I should have told my parents. I look back and realize there was something sick about that man. No grownup should derive that much pleasure from hitting a kid that hard.
But we can all learn from negative examples and a lot of those negative examples don’t involve a swat. So learn from it, apply what you’ve learned and move on.
Just don’t let anyone swat the cool out of you. That’s just wrong.