Wednesday - May 14,1956
3 months and a few days short of my 16th birthday
It was around 2pm. I was in class in a portable classroom far from the main school whose view was obscured by the Auto-shop next door. 5 minutes into Mr. Floyd's History class and I was already counting the seconds until the bell rang and it would be over…
Looking back on that class now, I'm pretty sure it was more of a dumping ground for feral students than the simple History class they told us it was supposed to be. I say that because our teacher, Mr. Floyd, seemed more like a boxer or a bouncer, than someone whose sole job it was to impart knowledge to youth. He was a tough talking humorless man you knew could make mince-meat out of anyone at any time. He was so half-cocked-scary to me that I sat as far from him and as invisibly as I could in class. He didn't like me I know by the way he sometimes made an example of me about how not to be and what not to do in his class. He’d done that more than once. I’m sure It didn't help that I didn’t do many of his assignments like he wanted me to and that I hardly ever had answers for the questions he'd ask in class. In a nutshell, nothing about him made sense to me. To me he was just a cruel person, half man, half beast, with a big angry chip on his shoulder and a short fuse. Repulsive.
That day, Wednesday, I entered Mr. Floyd's class truly afraid. The reason for my fear was that two days prior, on Monday, I'd turned in homework I'd copied verbatim from some old encyclopedias we had at home. The reason I made any effort at all to do this assignment was that Mr.Floyd had pulled me aside after class the previous Friday and told me point blank that if I didn’t do my homework this time he was going to flunk me and kick me out of class for good. So, to buy a little more time I jimmied together something that looked like finished homework to turn in on time with the rest of the kids in class. Those two days of freedom passed like tick tock and there I was sitting in the back row about to be exposed for the faker I was. I hated school.
t first Mr. Floyd talked about the assignment and what he had expected from us and how generally disappointed he was with the results. Then he began calling names one at a time for us to come get our graded papers from him standing at the front of the room. After my name was called and he handed me my paper and I saw the big red F scrawled across the top of the page and saw his eyes morph into hateful slits, I knew the BIG ONE was on its way, the end of the line for me in that class.
shook nervously as I returned to my desk and slid down as low as I could in my seat trying anything I could to hide. All papers returned, all kids settled in their seats again, Mr. Floyd paused, looked us over, then started up. He started with the two boys and one girl who hadn’t done their homework, telling them in so many words what miserable little creatures they were and that if they continued to be so irresponsible they'd end up losers and drunks and living on the streets. Then he sent both boys to the vice principal for punishment and made the girl stand outside until she stopped crying. Then he started again, this time the subject was cheaters and how they were the same as crooks and liars and that maybe even worse than the 3 losers who hadn't turned in their homework at all. At times as he talked he’d look at me specifically to drive his points personally home. This was his method—to set the scene, then humiliate someone in class…this time it would be me and the sneaky dishonest way I'd done my homework and that this had been my last chance and that he was going to make me spend the rest of the year in Study Hall where I would be closely supervised by some disciplinarian type who would make sure I did every last bit of the extra hard work I'd be assigned there —hard labor for me if the school had been a prison camp.
And so, when he turned my way and paused, gathering himself for what I knew would end up being one of the lowest points in the history of my public education…suddenly a boy ran past our building yelling THE SCHOOL'S ON FIRE, THE SCHOOL'S ON FIRE! I looked in the direction of the main school building at the sky over the Auto-shop roof, and saw a cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky. At first Mr. Floyd thought the kid was joking and was about to start again on me when I interrupted him saying that I could see smoke coming from the direction of the school, and then more excited kids came running past our room heading off campus. Finally, the fire alarm bell rang...Mr. Floyd had no choice but to dismiss our class so we too could run to safety, me especially.
I never had Mr. Floyd for a teacher again or even saw him again for that matter. What’s more he didn't flunk me, gave me a D instead. And I didn't have to spend the remainder of the year being punished in Study Hall because it burned up like with the rest of the school.
Our summer vacation was close to 5 months long that year. The school district needed time to install enough portable class rooms for all the students to attend after the fire. They covered the football field and basketball courts and put more buildings out where we were out behind the Auto-shop when the fire started. So I spent my junior and senior years in those rooms, graduating finally, barely, in June 1958. Before I finished though, I was one of the kids the authorities asked if I knew anything about how the fire started. I did not, thankfully.
It turned out the vice principal was the culprit, the same guy Mr. Floyd had sent the
two boys from my class to to be disciplined. But just before he was arrested for setting the school on fire, he died in a car wreck a lot of people believed was more suicide
than an auto accident. I just read online that he set the fire because he was angry for
not being chosen to be the principal of a new high school under construction in
another part of town.
So, what has any of this got to do with dogs you ask? Not much, really. The only thing I can think of that's dog related relative to my high school fire is the bulldog nose ornament on one of the two trucks my dad had parked along the curb outside the school that people going in and out of the school were throwing whatever they could carry from the school, into. I remember watching both teachers and students hurrying in and out of the school, like ants, carrying things like typewriters and tossing them in dad's trucks…and they were doing this while the floors directly above them two stories up, were on fire. Students were even on the roof of the school along side the firefighters while it was burning. You can see them in the movie, close to the flames, near the middle of the building.
Anyway, I've decided some parts of ZenDogs website needs to wander a little in order to keep up with my interests, so if you check out the website now you might see something new. I've changed things since my last post.