I did not — and this probably comes as very little of a surprise to most people who read this blog reguarly — spend much time in the Principal’s office in Elementary School. In all honesty, I simply wasn’t popular enough to have the chance to act out in a way that would gain the attention of the higher-ups.
And that was a good thing; the stern, strait-laced, British, Mr. Peerless, our Principal, rather scared me. I had been friends with his son Eric, and had taken French lessons from his wife, who was from Brittany (thus the circular white-with-red-center “Brest”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brest%2C_France sticker on her car’s rear window), and who taught me a grating Breton accent that, fortunately, faded away in time. A day or two a week I’d carpool with Eric and his mother, and, if I somehow missed my carpool, would travel with Mr. Peerless instead; a ride with Mr. Peerless was a guarantee of a silent, nerve-wracking trip.
So, for five years, I’d avoided the impeccably-named Mr. Peerless’s office, but I blew it one windy afternoon. After Recess the teachers would line our class up on benches under a tree next to the side entrance; when we were all well-seated we’d be led into the school in an orderly single file. But this afternoon the wind was strong enough to push a too-tall, too-skinny fifth-grader around as it swirled between the Elementary and Middle School buildings. Somehow, this wind picked up a white plastic half-gallon bottle and sent it spinning around the benches on which we sat. Someone kicked the bottle, sending it spinning towards someone else, and then that person kicked it, and then a few of the kids were laughing and running in the wind, kicking the bottle between them.
I sat still, figuring the teachers would disapprove of this levity and want us to head in; but the teachers were nowhere to be found, and I was boring quickly. So I got up and kicked the bottle too, laughing with the popular kids and having fun, until suddenly those absent teachers did appear and put an end to our frolicking. For adults who had been absent for at least ten minutes, they were remarkably put out. Those of us who’d played with the bottle were lined up against the wall while everyone else was led back into the classrooms; then we were taken to Mr. Peerless’s office.
That’s when I knew I was in trouble. Looking at the kids around me, I realized I was the only one who hadn’t made multiple trips to the principal — frankly, I had no idea what to expect in Mr. Peerless’s office and no idea what to do when I got there. So I hung to the back of the group and, then, sat in the corner.
The office was decorated in yellows and browns, with a textured-pile carpet and curved-edge furniture made from a yellowish wood; only a few red and green books in the bookcase, and the bright white sunlight coming through the leaded window, broke the monotone. First Mr. Peerless berated us for playing with the bottle instead of sitting there like good little children, and I was relieved, because I assumed that some sort of scolding would be involved. But what came next? Would our parents be called? Would we lose recess priveleges? How did these things go? Was there a negotiation? Would the other kids sell me out? I kept my mouth shut and nodded my head. Then Mr. Peerless asked us, with purpose, “so what were you doing with the bottle anyway?” One kid, I don’t remember who, immediately confessed to playing with it, which was clearly the wrong answer. I think someone else might have also confessed to playing, but then another of us malefactors came up with the right answer: “I just wanted to return the bottle to its owner.” This right outcome-oriented reply sat well with Mr. Peerless’s firmly Quaker beliefs and he shook his head in approval. “Who else just wanted to return the bottle to its owner?” he asked, scanning the room with his little round glasses looking over his beard, a skinny, balding, dark blond Freud. I could tell a good thing when I heard it and I, along with almost everyone else, raised my hand. We were allowed to return to class, while the two kids who had been unfortunate enough to cop to the truth before someone was smart enough to find the right lie got some kind of punishment.
Because it was a lie; we were kids, and we were just having fun. That’s what kids are supposed to do, except maybe not at Quaker schools.