Monday, July 8, 2013

Alison Krauss "Paper Airplane" (live)

I was a pretty smart little kid.  Sometimes too smart for my own good.  And sometimes so smart, I was stupid.

Here's a little life lesson for the other youngsters out there . . .

When I was in 5th grade, I didn't much like school.  Not that I found it hard.  Actually, the opposite.  I found a lot of it stupid and unnecessary.

By 6th grade, my marks were slipping.  When questioned by my parents about this, I explained that the work wasn't very challenging.  In fact it was insultingly dull a lot of the time and I just didn't feel like doing it.

"I'm bored," I said.  Stupidly.

And that is how I found myself in a private, Catholic School for the start of 7th grade.

In my town, the kids that graduated from The Immaculate Conception had a reputation for being better educated, and better disciplined than their public school counterparts.

Kids, if your parents ask you how school is going, saying it's too easy and your bored is a one-way ticket to a whole new world.

She stood in front of our class, rocking back and forth on her heels.  Tongue in her cheek.  Staring us down.

I felt myself break a light sweat.

It was my first day in Catholic School.  And it was her first day as principal of that Catholic School.  She was trying to intimidate us.  She was doing a good job.

Now, I'd had plenty of interactions with nuns.  My dad's sister is a Sister and we're very close.  When my parents would go out of town, my Auntie the nun and some of her nun friends would come and spend the weekend with us.

Up to that point, my interactions with nuns consisted of them in pastel sport coats, watching episodes of Dallas while eating popcorn in my basement.

I hadn't had any run-ins with the nun stereotype, until now.

She gave a bit of a speech from the front of the class on that first day.  The gist of it was that she would tolerate no bullshit.

She didn't actually say the word bullshit.  And honestly, I was afraid to even think the word bullshit lest she read my thoughts.

Her taciturn manner set the tone for the school.  Even the lay teachers seemed a bit cowed by her presence.

But there were a lot of lighter things about the school.  One of my best friends from the neighborhood also went there.  And the I.C. had a basketball team---the funding for Public School 7th and 8th grade sports had just been cut.  I met a lot of great kids.  My 7th grade lay teacher was actually pretty attractive.  School wasn't fun, per se, but it wasn't boring anymore either.

In fact, it was pretty challenging.  Which was why the breaks throughout the day were such a relief.

After a morning of heads in a book, we'd get a bathroom break and 15 minutes or so to talk, finish up projects and prepare for the next stretch of learning.

Some kids would talk about what they watched on television the night before.  Some kids played that paper-triangle-football game.  Some studious kids kept studying.

I took advantage of the privacy of the bathroom.

Not to go the bathroom, of course.  No, I used my bathroom breaks to make paper airplanes.

I'm not exactly sure if I started this, but no doubt I was quick to become a driving force behind it.  Or rather, a flying force.

While we were released to go to the boys bathroom, a few friends and I would bring a piece of paper along.  And in the bathroom, we'd each quickly fold our paper airplanes.

Our classroom and the adjacent bathroom was on the 2nd floor of the school, and the little window in the bathroom overlooked a small stretch of courtyard, a brick wall, and beyond that Green Street.

We'd take turns throwing our creations out the window, to see whose plane could go the farthest.  If you could get it over the brick wall, you were psyched.  If the wind took it and carried it out to the street, well that was a day to remember.

Soon this activity became more elaborate, more competitive.  Kids experimented with different aerodynamic designs.  Sometimes the paper-airplane crafting would happen in the early morning, before class, allowing some time to decorate the plane with slogans or markers/colors.  Certain kids developed reputations for being "the best" due to their constant success at distance.

This continued day after day after day after day, until . . .

She stood at the front of the class.  She was trying to intimidate us.  She was doing a good job.

In her hands---as she silently eyeballed the classroom---was a brown paper shopping bag.

It overflowed with paper airplanes.

"These were picked up by the janitor, from the courtyard below this classroom.  Based on some of the writing written on them . . ."

I was frozen in place.  I did not move a muscle.

Sometimes we'd just draw pictures or write slogans on the planes.  But on more than one occasion, I had written my name on the wings.  "Finn Flyer."  "PJ Express."  Stuff like that.  I know that my cohorts had done the same, on occasion.  If she'd found one of these planes, we were toast.

". . . I believe I know who the culprits are."

I was toast.

"This ends today.  Not another single paper airplane in that courtyard."

She glared at us.

But she didn't say anymore.

She didn't call out my name.  Or anyone else's.

She glared for a moment more.  And then she sternly strode out of the classroom.

And that's when I realized that she had no idea who was involved.  Or at least she was uncertain enough, that she wasn't prepared to call anyone specific out.  She was going to make a general claim, and see if anyone cracked.

Before that day, it had never really occurred to me that an adult authority figure would stand in front of a class full of kids and say they knew the truth about something, when in fact it was . . .

. . . I knew I could say the word aloud in my head, and she couldn't hear it . . .


Hear the song on Youtube.

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