Larry, school photo, San Antonio, TX, 1953.
I was then in the fifth grade there, and during the academic term would walk about a mile to and from classes each weekday.
For the most part I liked school. Yet there were a couple incidents I would delete if I could alter the past.
For awhile there was a "snapper" craze. Hundreds of the boys would twist bobby-pins into little devices that would immediately and hurtfully snap when pressed against the flesh of an unsuspecting girl. These little "weapons" were perhaps a bit of a nuisance but actually much less damaging than an insect bite, except that the practice had gotten out of hand and was entirely one-sided. To my knowledge, none of the girls were teasing the boys in this way. And no doubt some of the more popular lasses were being unduly harassed.
Even though in only a year or two most of the girls, puberty usually affecting them earlier, would be bigger, stronger, and quite capable of meting out swift retaliatory justice to the offending boys, at the time they seemed in general to be getting much the worst of the deal, so that many of them and their parents complained.
After this had been going on awhile, I found one of the snappers on the ground near the school entrance before the first bell rang and stuck it in my pocket, intending later to show my mom how they worked and what all the fuss was about.
With no prior warning from authorities of any kind, that same morning teachers throughout the school asked for a show of hands of the boys in their classes who had any of the infamous devices. There were no Miranda warnings given and no counseling of the accused about our rights against self-incrimination. Believing my parents' advice that honesty is the best policy, I raised my arm. So did one other naive young man in my room. We were summarily sent to the principal's office where we, along with four or five others, cooled our heels for some time, listening through the door to the sound of her voice raised against some other dangerous criminals who, eventually, came out and passed us with dazed looks on their faces.
Then it was our turn. I tried to let the principal know that I had never even used any of the snappers, that at most I thought it was just "cool" to own one, and that she would not find any girl who'd complain of my behavior. But she treated me like a liar trying to evade my just desserts and, after some self-righteous and abusive yelling, banished all of us from coming back to school. She said we must clear out our desks and leave the grounds at once.
I think even our homeroom teacher was flabbergasted when we returned, evidently stunned, and began emptying out all our things. At the time I had a crush on a really pretty girl in class whom I thought liked me a lot too. It was especially embarrassing having to admit to our teacher, in front of this girl and the rest of the class, that we'd been suspended.
My mom was quite surprised to see me home early, but, when I explained, much more understanding.
She right away called and "lit into" the administrators. The next day she went to the school and had a private talk with the principal, and "gave her a piece of" her mind, after which I was allowed to return.
You would think, succeeding a close call like that, I would have taken the lesson to heart and been on my best behavior. You would have been wrong.
Our school was culturally mixed. Though we had no Blacks whatever, this being still the segregated south and before integration, the student body of over two thousand was about equally divided between "Mexican American" and "White" or "Anglo" kids. As it happened, my best friend was Mexican American.
My father, Leon, liked sometimes to make a big deal about his knowledge. One way he did this was to teach me a little about the tricks of his trade. As a professional interrogator, he knew certain ways to manipulate others. One evening before he was shipped overseas he had quite impressively demonstrated some of these on me.
Like father like son, one afternoon on the playground, I asked my friend if he'd like to learn how he could control a grown man and make him ask for mercy. As soon as he said "yes," I grabbed one of his hands and began bending one of his fingers back. In my enthusiasm I misjudged how much strength to apply. We were both quite surprised when the finger fractured. Of course I said how sorry I was and helped him get to the nurse, where it was splinted.
The next day, during the lunch period, several of his older Mexican American companions surrounded me outside and beat me up. Though I was sore for quite awhile and lost part of a front tooth, I got off pretty easily. In the modern urban setting I might just as likely have been knifed or shot. I was lucky physically. And his finger healed. The main thing broken was the friendship.
So in the fifth grade I learned further instructions on the road to becoming barely civilized. Sometimes just having or showing off neat new things is not very cool, and can have painful, as well as most unintended, consequences.