The Round Robin

As described in King's Food Host, each and every day in 1970 was a perpetual delight. There really was a spring in my step during the morning shave and shower, wondering what new shenanigans lay at the end of my three mile journey by motorcycle from home to high school. It was heavenly to arrive amidst a plume of dust and burning rubber, to hobnob with the old Gang for a bit of badinage before classes commenced, and especially to court the furled brow and malevolent grimace of Beetface waiting at the main entrance. A bit of a swagger and a slight smirk was all he got from me in return.

Beetface wasn't really a nemesis. Nor was he the Sherlock Holmes to my Professor Moriarity. Rather, he was one of the Keystone Cops, but on an especially good day, rose to the level of Inspector Lestrade, always at least two steps behind The Gang. It was cat and mouse all the way, and I knew in my heart that he would never beat me. (I'm convinced the defenestration episode and its consequences--Beetface's one supposedly successful prosecution--was an unconsciously willed desire to head northward, an event for which I will always be grateful.)

Lest you need a refresher of Adminstration, the principal previously had been the antediluvian Herbie, way out of his element in dealing with the three evil H's of that era: hoods, hippies and hallucinogens. By my senior year, the date of this tale, he had finally been pressed into hanging up the cap and gown. Two things probably led to his early retirement at the tender age of 80, more than anything. First was the cherry bomb Tommy set off in the hallway the last day of school the previous spring, which certainly took its toll on his frail nerves. And then there was that business of someone spraypainting the witty slogan "Fuck Herb" on the sidewalk leading up to the main entrance. (I well recall Beetface running out to intercept and guide Herbie to another door as he waddled up from the parking lot.) He was replaced by a man half his age: José, we called him. This is the chap Dugg-Bedd welcomed to the new gig at with a bit of telephonic harlequinade. See The Duggmobile for details. Thank heavens Caller ID hadn't been invented yet.

But while José was the figurehead, Beetface was our Colonel Klink, the one with whom we dealt daily, the one to dish out the punishment, supposing he could ever manage to crack a case.

Fall semester, senior year: things were really clicking now. Viet Nam loomed and was always in the back of our minds as we pondered what graduation would bring. Mind expanding narcotics (to use Joe Friday's favorite word) blossomed like dandelions among the flower children; no amount of parental Atrazine was going to stem that tide. And then there was the casual sex, or at least dreaming of it--ah, me, those were the days.

I'm sitting in a worthless Civics class one October Monday that year, "taught" by the track coach. That was the hallmark of our high school in those days and why I grew up thinking I hated social studies and history: these courses were invariably covered by athletic lummoxes, dragooned by José to the one area where they might conceivably do the least damage. So as I say, I'm daydreaming in class (probably with erotic thoughts of red-haired Gloria, she of the flashing white teeth, who sat right in front of me), listening to the Cro-magnon up front attempt to explain some word he didn't understand but we all did, when there was a rap at the class room door. 

It was a school secretary indicating that Beetface craved my immediate attendance, pronto.

I had no idea what it all meant, but wasn't concerned in the least. I may have been 6'4" and only 138 pounds, but confidence came easy.

So, I was relieved of class and worked my way down the industrially appointed hallway (schools were always factories in those days, with bland decor to remind us we were all expected to turn out the same) to Beetface's office wondering what he had up his sleeve this time. By this point in my not inconsequential career, I had already visited often enough to feel quite at home. See Sheel-Teat if you'd like to review my inaugural voyage there.

As I was directed into the heavily shellacked blonde ash chair positioned directly in front of his desk for maximal third-degree interrogation, he began: "You're up to your ears in trouble this time!"

This took me by surprise, for of the nine or ten stunts I had pulled over the past 72 hours all around town, I knew of none that were traceable. Say what you will about delinquency, some of us were just darn good at it. So, cognizant I was in the clear, I baited him along with no need for the usual feigned ignorance. Here's the deal.

Friday night, just a couple days previous, the Homecoming Dance had taken place in the gymnasium. In case you're interested, the band had been White Lightning from Minneapolis. Curiously, just four years later I would be playing in a band booked by the same huckster agent who handled them.

During the dance, it seems, someone completely dismantled the boys lavatory. According to Beetface, one of the tall porcelain urinals had been completely pried away from the wall (surely a crow-bar affair requiring much dedication and perspiration), all of the stools were clogged with massive wetted paper towel balls and set to overflowing, the toilet paper dispensers knocked off the partitions and unceremoniously tossed in the bowls as well, the liquid hand soap lines cut and the fire alarm bell (ten feet up, if you please), completely ripped off the wall, leaving bare wires dangling in dismay. A very workmanlike accomplishment was my first thought.

After hearing the description, I calmly inquired of Beetface, "What makes you think this has anything to do with me?" And he dropped his bombshell.

"We found tobacco juice sprayed all over the place."

I told you how much fun I found high school! I also told you of cat and mouse games! (Do you think I could sue the screenwriter of Ferris Bueller's Day Off for plagiarizing my life story?) This was turning into a real treat for three reasons. First, Beetface thought he had the ultimate evidence. (Little did he know that everyone in The Gang chewed tobacco). Next, I had no idea Beetface had ever read Thoreau, who wrote:
Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.
And lastly, the most fun of all: I was indeed at that dance, but this really was the first I had heard of the demolished restroom. In fact, none of The Gang even mentioned it the following night when we were out carousing the streets of Ames yet again in search of merriment. As a bit of a mayhem maven myself, I usually was aware of who was up to what, but this event passed completely under my radar.

I knew I was in the clear and played the game for all it was worth! Lots of back and forth, for the old fool really thought he had cracked the caper and was just waiting for a soulful confession. After a half-hour of this, I decided upon a plan of action. Looking as contrite as I could (an emotion which doesn't come naturally to me), I broke down and conceded I knew who did it and would squeal.

Beetface rubbed his palms in glee; he had finally licked a case!

"I had nothing to do with it, but know for a fact that Dugg Bedd was the guy who destroyed the lavatory. He told me afterwards."

That was a blatant lie, of course, but then Beetface never could tell by facial expressions when we were lying or not. (To be fair, we never gave him much chance to practice discerning the difference, since just about every conversation we had with the gent was packed with prevarication.) Dugg Bedd had been with me the entire time at the homecoming dance, so I knew he hadn't done it. The perfect guy to rat on, right?

Just to show you how amazingly pudden-headed Beetface could be, he discharged me from his office with a command to return to class, instructing me to inform Dugg Bedd he was wanted in the Vice-Principal's office on the double. Always the obedient type, I did as I was told. I also filled Dugg Bedd in on what had transpired. He was primed and ready.

So, when called in for his interrogation, he eventually broke down with, "I didn't do it, but know for a fact that Sheel-Teat did it." By Dugg Bedd's account, Beetface took this minor detour in stride, and was still rubbing his palms together in the knowledge that the truth had finally been discovered.

And then there was a progression worthy of any of Shakespeare's comedies.

Sheel-Teat turned in Armpit.

Armpit turned in Tiny.

Tiny turned in Fake-Nose.

And then the topper: Fake-Nose turned in me.

What had first appeared to be a cut-and-dried case to he of the rubicund visage, had all of a sudden turned into Ouroboros. We were back where we started, and all that had been accomplished was that six lads had been variously excused from classes during the day (always a treat to stray far from the illiterate athletes running the show in front of the room), amidst much merriment. Six cats playing with one mouse. Not very fair, I grant you.

By 2:00, Beetface, bursting with anger and in a fit of choler, summoned us at once, in toto, to his office for some sort of plenary session. What a mistake! Dealing with any one of The Gang was problematic at best, but pack us in together and it's hellzapoppin. Sheel-Teat and I, in particular, had a wonderful tête-à-tête when he spotted a copy of Dale Carnegie's well-known self-help book on the sparse shelf, spouting, "Studs, I'd rather win friends by making people fear me." Lots of giggles from our side of the bench, but Beetface was not so disported. By now I felt certain he just wanted to get this school year out of the way and never see us again.

In his day, authority and respect came with the title, but not so now (as Judge Julius Hoffman was discovering at about the same time, several hundred miles to the east), which startled him. Beetface put in the requisite show of law and order, pathetically still trying to instill shock and awe in the Establishment. It went nowhere. For we all knew we were in the clear, and so could dally with him at will. After some fruitless admonitions, he turned us loose. I always visualized him buying an industrial quantity of Tums on his way home from the ed-saltmines afterward.

We certainly had fun that day. But you know me; I hate mysteries, which is why I eventually ended up in mathematics. After all that revelry, the actual perpetrator of the damage was still a complete question mark. 

Some months later we eventually got wind that the boys lavatory had been deconstructed by Armpit, one of the very interrogees! What's sad about it is the rationale. A girlfriend gone astray brought it on.

I mean, that's not art.

Next installment: The Harriet Experiment