50 minutes until 12:20pm. My stomach was growling—typical during the period before lunch. “I’m starving,” I moaned to my friend Cindy sitting in the desk next to me. The classroom desks were arranged in semicircles facing a black rectangular chalkboard on the wall and an American flag bolted in place on the ceiling corner. The desks were the brawny kind, hard to move, with wooden slabs on top—not like the flimsy desks you see in modern conference rooms today.
It was Spring 1992 in an island suburb in the San Francisco Bay. Dwarfed by its neighboring metropolitan neighbors San Francisco and Oakland, Alameda was predominantly residential and tame. It was a place where parents wanted their kids to spend their childhoods. Every Halloween, children from neighboring cities drove into Alameda to trick-or-treat from one Victorian home to another.
The sunshine peaked through the leaves of the sidewalk trees and into the classroom windows. 29 teenagers, all 16- or 17-year-olds, sat inactively listening to Ms. Taylor as she meekly lectured on the universality of Catholicism.
“I dare you.”
I heard whisperings from the class clown behind me.
“I’ll give you twenty dollars if you do it. C’mon. What’s the worst that can happen?”
I looked behind my shoulder to see George, the class clown, and his buddy Harvey engrossed in side chatter. They were talking quietly enough that the teacher didn’t notice. I turned back around to face Ms. Taylor and feigned attention. While Religion was an easy A, I had an academic reputation to uphold and that meant being courteous and attentive to all my teachers.
Ms. Taylor started to write information on the chalkboard. I, like any monkey of a straight A student, copied the same information onto lined paper which I organized into a binder neatly tabbed for each of my subjects: Honors English, Trigonometry, Religion, Honors Chemistry, Civics, and French. One more year of this, then I’m college-bound.
I could sense some rustling behind me. Must be George and Harvey up to their non-stop antics, always making everyone laugh. I turned around to see what they were up to.
Harvey had straddled the ground-level window sill and was preparing to discreetly vanish from the classroom. Nice one, guys. Harvey waved a final good-bye to the class before dropping onto the ground, uttering “oww” as he face-planted onto the pavement.
The whole class, now aware of the shenanigans, broke out into silent laughter, clutching tummies, high-fiving, pulling out wallets to settle bets. Ms. Taylor, all the while, continued bullet pointing on the board, oblivious to the animated but quiet merriment.
Minutes later, Harvey rushed back into class. “Ms. Taylor, Ms. Taylor, someone stole my clothes. I was in the bathroom and someone stole my clothes.” Harvey had stripped every article of clothing from his body and stood before us in boxer shorts. While Harvey’s limited attire was conservative compared to Michael Phelps’s barely-covering-his-manhood daisy dukes, this showdown took place in a small suburban town, in a private Catholic school, in Religion class! (That versus national TV. Thank you very much Olympian Phelps who is an exhibitionist in every sense of the word.)
The quiet giggles of minutes prior now escalated into raucous shrieks. Several guys let out a big WOOT. George whistled. I laughed so hysterically, I wept.
“I swear to God I was just in the bathroom and someone stole my clothes,” Harvey repeated with a bewildered look on his face.
“Well maybe you’ll find them in the principal’s office.” Ms. Taylor pointed at the door.
While the story of a high school classmate disappearing then walking back into class with only his boxer shorts is a true one, the one I’ve written here is fiction because I, regrettably, was not there. Damn, the high school scheduling gods for putting me in a different Religion class. It was so long ago, but the tale lives on, and I wrote how I imagined it played out, taking many liberties as I don’t know the specifics.
With Dean’s extensive visits to Alameda to see my parents, he calls the town Mayberry USA. It’s exactly that: historical, Americana, slow, Main Street. You’d think a sheltered town would house a population of conformists. I admit, I was a conformist student. But isn’t it always small towns where Presidents are reared, celebrities hail from, and Olympians are born? City dwellers like me constantly dismiss the burbs, but ironically that’s where I spent the better part of my life, with some of those years being the most memorable.
I’ve read that in these modern times we are so hyper-stimulated that there’s rarely any boredom which can stimulate creativity. Do kids even pretend play anymore when they’re surrounded by Wii, Xbox, and those damn Angry Birds? Maybe not which is why this story’s for them and probably even more so for us as a reminder that we grew up in a low-tech age without cell phones or iPads, when life really was all fun and games.