Do you think it is possible to have your entire career determined by a seemingly innocuous event before you have even reached puberty? I am here to tell you that I have seen it with my own eyes. It all started while the students from Mary Jane Kennedy elementary school gathered on a frigid Chicago Saturday afternoon to watch Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
We have all known kids that have had an affinity for making trouble while growing up. In this case the culprit was a young fellow by the name of Steve. He was one of those juveniles that no matter what was happening, seemed to be at the bottom of the impending monkey business. If there was an errant snowball thrown which managed to catch some little girl in the face, or someone caught doing what we called “skitching” (hanging on the fender of the bus while sliding on the ice), the perpetrator was usually Steve. The incorrigible boy’s visits to the principle’s office were legendary during our day.
So let me get down to the life altering event that I earlier referred to. The “near career experience” which I speak of, happened when we had all assembled in the gymnasium for our Saturday afternoon matinee to watch the Abbot and Costello movie previously mentioned. We all sat down on our folding chairs, the lights went out, and the gathering of adolescents anxiously awaited getting the dickens scared out of ourselves. Steve being a little tall for an eight-year old, sporting bushy blond hair and Tom Sawyer freckles, figured sitting in the back of the make-shift movie house would prove to be the least conspicuous spot for any spontaneous mischief that might occur. After Bugs Bunny provided some yuks of his own by creating some havoc with Elmer Fudd, the movie began and within five minutes someone had hurled a screaming soda can right into the middle of the screen, which upon impact exploded. Little did Steve know that Mr. Reid, the gruff gym teacher who had been tagged for movie duty, and bore a striking resemblance to Frankenstein himself, was standing right behind him. “You’re busted, you little shit,” Reid said while pulling him out of his seat by his hair. Let’s go!”
Steve was brought into hallway and dragged down to see Principle Albert, who also had been awarded Saturday duties in anticipation of such tomfoolery. “Your class valedictorian is at it again,” Reid said to Albert as Steve was thrown into what we called the ‘electric chair’.”
“What is it this time?” the amiable principle asked.
“Upon the start of the movie, Sandy Koufax over here decided to thrown a full soda at the movie screen,” Reid replied.
“That will be all Mr. Reid─I will handle the situation. Please close the door on the way out.”
Reid departed, closing the door, while the mild mannered Mr. Albert sat back in his chair eyeballing the silent Steve. Albert, who resembled the actor Wally Cox, broke the silence. “Son, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Don’t know; I’m only eight.”
“Well it is never to early to have some type of ambition,” Albert told him.
“Instead of suspending you, I’m going to assign you hall monitor duties for all Saturday movies. You’re job will be to walk the hallways and make sure no trouble is going on. Do you understand?”
“You want me to walk the hallways and look for trouble makers?”
“That’s right; now go home and we will see you next week.”
Steve left the office in a somewhat confused, but relieved state of mind.
The next Saturday, the attendants of Mary Jane Kennedy convened upon the gymnasium to view Abbot and Costello Meet the Wolfman. As the movie started, Steve secured the school while wearing his new hall monitor vest. While he walked around the hallways he had a new sense of purpose─something felt good about this. Entering the bathroom, he found two of the younger children throwing spitballs up to the ceiling. “What goes here?” he asked the perpetrators, “Follow me to the principle’s office.”
To make a long story short, Sergeant Steve went on to be a patrol boy, an Eagle Scout, and an eventual thirty-year career as a policeman. His love affair with authority probably saved his life. If Steve had not turned to law enforcement he may have ended up in jail, and I pondered the thin line between the two polarizing directions. He had three people to thank: Mr. Albert, and Abbot and Costello.