A Word on Mischief

Katie recently bought a baby blanket for a child who presently only exists in theory. For the last year or so she has grown increasingly excited about the idea of us starting a family and she takes GREAT pleasure in chasing me around the house holding her stomach shouting “DADDY!” 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also excited, though equally terrified by the prospect of not only always having a child around but also being responsible for its well being. We’ve had long conversations surrounding purely theoretical situations involving school, social expectations, morals, etc. and it’s made me think a lot about the old adage of how life is so different now for kids than it was when we were growing up. The reality is things are, indeed, different but that doesn’t mean they’re any better or worse. Things were different for me growing up than they were for my mom. And things were different for my mom growing up than they were for my Gran and Paps. I guess in that way, being different is making it very similar.

I didn’t get into much trouble when I was a kid but when I think back to the trouble I did get into, little of it involved computer technology of any kind. My text to come home was in the form of my dad yelling from the front porch hoping I hadn’t ridden my bike too far off to hear him. We received likes by showing up on the first day of school with a cool backpack, a WWF lunchbox or Power Rangers notebooks. Bullies were around but they all had faces and couldn’t do anything anonymously. And while I view modern technology as a boon to the success of civilization, I often wonder how kids can have the same monumental learning experiences I had without it? Or almost as importantly, how do they get into the same harmless mischief?

I didn’t need computer technology to feel the rush that was involved with riding in the backseat of Tamra’s car while we tried to evade an off-duty police officer after they witnessed our friend Joe bust their neighbor’s pumpkin. When Ham, Donihe, Aaron, Matt and I called up Electric 94.9 on a wired, analog telephone to tell them we were celebrating Super Bowl Sunday by watching a porno on an old VHS tape, it required effort and dedication to the gag. “Breaking in” to a local rock quarry and stealing a number of large, metal signs required a good amount of audacity and just enough dumb luck to not get caught. Getting into mischief had more to do with being creative in the moment than it did getting terrible ideas off TikTok.

To reiterate, I didn’t get into a lot of trouble growing up. I attribute much of this to the fact that my friend group (in high school, especially) was too lazy to cause a ruckus and wasn’t cool enough to be invited to hang with the popular kids doing all their “cool” sex, weed and alcohol things. Another part of it was me not wanting to disappoint my mom, whom I loved (and still love, of course) very much. But another thing that kept me out of trouble was the fear that struck into my heart the first time I had to visit the principal’s office.

Kindergarten was weird. I remember my first day of school at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Mrs. Overbea’s classroom. There were no desks, just large, round tables where the students would sit. I walked into the room, sat my stuff down at one of the tables and a girl walked over to me, looked me up and down and said I don’t like you. “Okay,” was the only thing I could come up with in response as I stood there dumbfounded by the interaction.

Even though I hadn’t gotten off to a very good start, I learned a lot in Kindergarten. Fictional characters Ben and Nan taught me about grammar and our teacher’s aid Ms. Dexter taught me how to pronounce bigger words and taught me what a syllable was. Socially, I made my first best friend (Brandon), had two girlfriends (Shamra and a girl whose name I don’t remember but I agreed to be her boyfriend even though I didn’t care much for her) and learned about troublemakers.

Cody and Kevin were my classroom’s resident incendiaries and I tried to avoid them as often as I could. Kevin often talked about hitting people “in the middle” and Cody had crudely drawn images of naked people he’d scrawled onto the edges of his crayon box. One day I had let my guard down and found myself bonding with these two kids over the fact that our parents had bought us thick pencils. One of the other guys immediately held it down to his groin and demonstrated just how phallic our pencils were, which then led to all three of us converting our pencils into genitalia that we then used to pretend-pee onto the floor under our table.

Mrs. Overbea and Ms. Dexter were not as amused as we were and immediately arranged for an impromptu meeting with school principal Mr. Dixon (whose name is a hilarious coincidence). Mr. Dixon was a very tall, bespectacled man whose glasses were darkly tinted, likely to strike fear into the hearts of troublemakers like I had apparently become. He was so much bigger than us that he was able to hold all three of our left hands in his palm as he informed us that penises were “not funny” and certainly were “not something we joke about.”

I was mortified and I cried. I had never gotten in trouble in school before and while I would get into my share of mischief later in my school days, I would forever remember how those dark glasses peered deep into my soul, making my sweaty hand quiver as it rested on two others. From that point on, I never wanted to be one of those guys; I never wanted to make this a normal occurrence.

You learn a lot of life lessons through mischief and a lot of your childhood’s memorable moments involve getting into some kind of trouble, even if it was mild or even wasn’t your mischief. Take for instance the senior prank played by the graduating class of 2000 at Sullivan North High School. I had just survived my freshman year and walked outside hoping to find my ride home and ended up finding a mob of seniors armed with water guns and water balloons. What followed was a relentless assault on underclassmen. It was original, it was hilarious and I still remember it 23 years later.

I thought the Senior Prank was a dying art for a long time due to lack of originality or simply taking it too far. Reportedly the seniors of Sullivan Central High School’s class of 2003 simply rode their tractors to school as a “prank” which is not only not funny but was apparently a copycat idea from years prior. Then there’s situations like the 2015 incident in Connecticut where seniors left dismembered parts of a dead baby cow’s corpse strewn about campus.

With stories like this, it’s no wonder I’ve spent the biggest part of the last 20 years being convinced that the kids have lost their touch – even kids from my own generation. This changed yesterday.

Halls Crossroads (commonly referred to simply as Halls) is a part of North Knoxville, is home to about 10,000 Knoxvillians and is the location of Halls High School. It’s also home to the graduating class of 2023 who have rekindled my faith in kids and the Senior Prank with their harmless, yet hysterical, stunt that is making the rounds on Facebook this weekend.

While Mr. Dixon reprimanding me scarred me for life, at the end of the day, he was wrong. You can maybe prevent kids from getting in further trouble but you can never stop a young boy (or a 38-year-old man) from thinking penis/balls jokes are funny. The kids are, indeed, alright. Our Little Wolf is going to be alright.


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