THE CHURCH KEY INCIDENT (or too clever by half)

It was the good-cop-bad-cop scenario regarding school administration. The principle of San Jacinto Junior High was Mr. Indolet (pronounced End-do-lay) who was mild-mannered, easy-going and befriended every student. On the other hand, his Assistant Principal was Dr. Grisstlemaugh whose name alone caused sleepless nights among many a young mischief-maker destined sooner or later to wind up in his office. These latter poorly-parented miscreants could no more stay out of devilment regardless of punishment than good parented well-behaved kids could avoid being teacher pets. The following incident occurred in the 1950’s, understand, when the opinions on corporal punishment were different. Spanking was not only approved of, but seen as a rite of passage much the same as an African tribe encourages its young boys to go into the bush alone with a spear to kill his first lion, or be eaten.

Assistant Principal, Dr. Grisstlemaugh fought in World War II doing his part to throw the allied Normandy invasion back into the sea. He would have died with the others in the pillbox but the concussion grenade blast threw him out the entrance without a scratch or a burn, inexplicably. He was captured on the road back to Germany unable to remember where he had been or his name and having shed his German uniform. In a Great Britain POW camp he recovered enough to be assigned Administrator of Tripartite Captors. After the war, General George S. Patton appointed him warden over Nazi concentration camps until the prisoners had been dispersed, which took a year or more; next he spied on the Russians during the Cold War until his identity was learned. For his service, he was granted refugee status in America where he returned to school, earning his Doctorate in Education.

Dr. Grisstlemaugh, if anything, was a strict disciplinarian who took no sass from “lippy” American teenagers who never had the advantage of Hitler Youth training. His four foot long paddle had once been a baseball bat with the rounded sides planed flat and four quarter-size holes drilled down the middle to lessen wind resistance. By gripping the handle two-handed, Dr. Grisstlemaugh, who the kids renamed ‘Grizzly-ma”, could lift an average boy’s feet off the ground four to six inches. Heavyweights, on the other hand, might only rise to tiptoe height, but the frail were another matter altogether. Shane Dimwater, for instance, was one of those slight physiques, mainly because he had only one lung, but he was not about to live up to his 98-pound weakling status. He’d fight with the best of them, but the bout had to finish fast as he had no staying power. He was a “scrapper” till his wind ran out. At first teachers tolerated Shane’s smarty attitude and show-off antics, but this only increased his misbehavior. One day he got caught with a beer can opener in his back pocket. The sharp point had poked through the denim fabric of his back pocket and the reflected glint caught the wary eye of Miss Crawley. The spinster teacher, who was later fired for serial DWI’s, made the boy come up in front of the class, demonstrate the forbidden item, and as punishment, write a report on the ‘Dangers of Underage Drinking’. Instead, his report stated he found the can-opener in the street and stuck it in his back pocket. Besides that, one end of the “church key,” he called it, was a bottle opener that opened a Grapette soda bottle. If he would have left things there little else would have come of it, but he didn’t. He said the reason she didn’t know one end opened bottles could be on account she only used the end for opening beers. For that, he was sent to the Vice Principals office. ‘Grizzly Ma’, in a rare show of compassion, said if Shane would go back and apologize to Miss Crawley and get her to write a note of pardon and bring it to him after lunch, punishment could be avoided. Rather than the normal reaction of terror, Shane took this as a rare opportunity to prove himself to his schoolmates. Skipping lunch, he dashed across the playground to his house on the other side of the alley and stuffed his underwear with socks, plus folding handkerchiefs in each back pocket.

After classes resumed, instead of the usual shouts of pain echoing down the hallways following ten muffled “Whomps!” a non-teary-eyed Shane emerged from the Vice Principal’s office smiling, wisecracking, and roughhousing-ready. He had taken the “licks” without so much as getting teary-eyed. Not only so, but for good measure before departing the office, he absorbed an eleventh swat for defying the ‘No hands behind the back’ rule, as the blows were heard and counted one by one by students in nearby classrooms. After the last swat, Shane had purposefully put a hand behind him as a gesture of ridicule to show his disdain for the punishment.

After such a David-and-Goliath display, bullies who once tormented Shane now befriended him to such an extent he became school hero excelling the likes of football quarterbacks and head cheerleaders. He kept his secret to himself allowing his buddies to take the full brunt of their punishment without offering assistance in order to preserve his reputation. Even the toughest ruffian declined to provoke such an un-hurtable opponent for fear of losing to the most underweight, muscle-less kid in school. Even Miss Crawley offered an apology to the boy for overreacting as she thought the can-opener a weapon.

Success too easily won is often taken for granted and leads to carelessness, however. Shane became so enamored with his new status that he began taunting others and sassing teachers, always while keeping one eye on whoever might be watching. As often happens with daredevils, one day he went too far. During an address by the Principal, the administrator everyone liked, he added smart-alecky whispers aside, along with giggling and shoulder-pushing until removed by male teachers. Destined for a visit to the Vice Principal’s office after assembly, Shane dashed across the schoolyard to his house and hurriedly padded-up as before and got back in time to await the inevitable.

Sure enough, Grizzly Ma arrived soon thereafter with bloodshot eyes and teeth like prison bars, paddle in hand. With the first “Whomp!” a startling insight occurred to Shane. “WAIT!” he yelled while attempting to reach his back pocket for the ‘Church Key.’ By accident he’d left the opener inside his pocket with the point facing inward. The next “Whomp!” almost caught his fingers and earned him additional strokes. His “YO-OWL-L-LS!” could not only be heard throughout the school but outside in the neighborhood as well. His just due had arrived.


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