When I was a kid in junior high school, it was easy to get hurt at school. In metal shop we had access to any number of machines that could cut and bend galvanized steel into all sizes and shapes of poorly designed ash trays and in the process maybe lose a hand. In wood shop there were numerous saws, awls and a multitude of pointed and serrated objects capable of severing fingers as easily as it is to clip a fingernail with a pair of nail clippers. In drafting class we were loaned pointy pencils and compasses capable of putting out an eye just as easily as a Red Rider BB Gun.
I escaped all of those classes without a single incident. We had teachers like Mr. Gurr, (pronounced “grrr” and yes, this is his real name), in Drafting who at the sound of the class bell would thrust his 60 year old thin frame in the doorway to prevent anyone’s departure, shouting “Two Pencils”, “There are two pencils missing”, “No one leaves until two pencils are returned!” Third period pencil stabbing successfully averted!
There was this one time though….ninth grade science class where I almost burned down the school. I wish I could remember the teacher’s name. He taught at Wilson Jr High maybe only 2 or 3 years. I think it was Mr. Baird or Smith – I will call him Smith. He was a lunch and break time pot smoker; we were all sure of it. He would dish us out an experiment and then duck out of class, returning in about 5 minutes looking definitely more ‘relaxed’.
The classroom was equipped with 12 to 15 2-person tables that served as desks. The desk-tables were the heavy, sturdy types with black tops, very durable and perfect for science experiments. We kids were seated in alphabetical order. I rather enjoyed classes that had teachers who sat us in alphabetical order as it always ensured cutups named Wyatt, (me), would get to sit in the back of the class. I think it would be interesting statistical data if we could learn the average ‘wisecracker numbers’ of kids with last names beginning with S to Z versus A to G. I’ve never seen this written about before so perhaps I should claim it now:
I hereby declare there is such a thing as a Wyatt Wisecracker Axiom (WWA). It is of course an “axiom” because it is a premise that is so evident that it should be accepted to be true without controversy. When you were in school, did not the wisecracking always come from the back of the class? Did you know any front row wisecrackers? The WWA simply states that the propensity to be a classroom wisecracker increases in direct relation to the first letter of a person’s last name. So you see, my tendency as a class clown was not my fault – I was made this way by our language, our alphabet, our society. OMG – I’m a victim! (Shouldn’t I get a lawyer?)
So as a Wyatt, I was assigned as a science lab partner to a kid named Jeff Wright. We didn’t know each other and we were never friends, but with the wisecracker axiom working against us, I guess we were destined to get ourselves into a bit of trouble. Trouble came to us one day in the form of a science experiment.
I wish I could recall the full details of the experiment, but since I don’t, I’m going to improvise a bit. I remember we had a Bunsen burner, a small vial of alcohol, a cork, a beaker of some other liquid and some kind or organic matter. I think we were supposed to be heating the beaker of liquid. Instead, one of us super geniuses thought it would be more interesting to cork the alcohol vial and heat that. Yeah, brilliant, huh.
Within seconds the alcohol expanded, the cork blew, the alcohol burst out of the vial and onto the desk. As soon as the alcohol passed the flame from the burner, of course it ignited and spread immediately to the balance of the alcohol on the table. The entire table looked like it was on fire. Smith sobered up quickly and pounced on the table with the fire extinguisher.
Meanwhile Jeff and I were just standing there, looking like Buckwheat and Alfalfa after Darla admitted to carrying Spanky’s love child. We were frozen, mouths agape, totally confused as to what just happened or what we should do. Should we help put out the fire? Should we start blaming the kids in front of us (the loser S kids)? Should we set the teacher on fire and plead temporary insanity?
Luckily, none of those actions were required. Smith had the fire extinguished in nothing flat – no doubt he had a lot of ‘recreationally-related’ fire dampening experience…..or else he was just used to dealing with idiots like us. He asked us, “what did you have in this vial?” He sniffed it and before we could come up with a plausible fabrication, he simply looked at us and said, “you shouldn’t heat up alcohol”. He turned and walked back up to the front of the class.
The mystery was resolved and the disaster averted. Jeff & I just stood there, dumbfounded, just looking back and forth between each other and Smith who was making his way back up to the front of the class. Nothing was reported and there were no repercussions. Perhaps tomorrow we would attempt something a little less dangerous like seeing what happens when we mix together Diet Coke & Mentos.