Underground Humor and Pranks, Part 2

Even though the RHS staff during the years I taught there seemed populated with many people who had finely-tuned appreciation for pranks and humor, students were hardly exempt from such “creativity.” In addition, almost all school personnel, functioning in an environment demanding much communication, are likely to fall prey to occasional bloopers or laughable moments themselves.

One such person who has always been mindful of her own naivety is Elaine Uonelli, long-time speech and hearing therapist for the school district. Her schedule was arranged to allow visits to all the elementary and secondary schools, at which she was assigned to small conference rooms to work individually with young people referred to her by staff members. She readily shared with friends the following incident and the blunder that followed:

I was at Geneva-on-the-Lake when a stranger, newly introduced to me, “gifted” me a clip with multi-colored feathers. I took it to one of my elementary schools and attached it to the lamp in my work room – something neat to look at while doing paperwork. Not until I was nearing retirement did a friend spot it and introduce me to “the roach clip.” Yikes! I had no idea I had been advertising pot to children. In hindsight, I can also remember wondering how a cockroach could have any connection to a “clip,” since the only use of “roach” I knew was an insect.

It is doubtful that Elaine would mind, after all these years, further observations about her “feathers.” Friends frequently saw them attached to her purses and tote bags, but it took a long time for anyone to point out what they were. She has always been so sweet-natured and genuine that more observant friends just chuckled to themselves and wrote the situation off as “just one more Elaineism.” One must assume her husband was equally naïve. In fairness to her, most of her “clients” were children; had she happened to decorate her room with a roach clip in a secondary school, someone would probably have noticed sooner.

Carol Gregg Benroth, a 30-year English teacher, also encountered a few unusual situations, one involving a “coaching” position and another a presentation gone awry in her Speech class.

One day early in Carol’s career, Katie Carter, a student in her English class, approached her asking if she would consider being a coach for a field hockey team that a group of girls wanted to continue. Their previous coach had taken a year off to attend graduate school.  Upfront, even Carol would likely agree that she looked and still looks about as much unlike a coach as anyone could, being short of stature and cerebral appearing.

However, she was extremely fond of Katie and intensely loyal to her students, but she still told Katie she hadn’t ever been much involved in sports and certainly knew nothing about field hockey. Katie persevered, telling her teacher that all they needed was a sort of chaperone to just be there for practices, thus following the school rules by having an adult present.

Katie checked field hockey books out of Morley Library and gave them to Carol the day after hearing Carol’s excuses. The new coach absorbed the contents fully and felt somewhat prepared for the first practices, but she said, “I knew they were desperate when they chose me.”

JoAnn Crellin, who was physical education teacher at the time, also helped Carol with scheduling and score-keeping duties until finally a first game was imminent. About then, “Coach” realized not many public schools had field hockey teams and all the opponents were girls from private schools, such as Hathaway Brown and Catholic schools. The opponents were dressed in preppy, short, pleated skirts.

Meanwhile, RHS girls’ teams had nothing to wear but their school gym suits. Anyone having much to do with secondary schools during the last half of the 20th century knows that girls’ gym suits were designed by some sadist determined to make the female body as unattractive as possible.

Maybe a superintendent somewhere considered the suits a form of birth control, as in “We want our girls to look really ugly in front of the boys.” The gym suits were a concoction of scratchy material held on the body by elastic at waist and legs. They formed a series of pleats that were positively “balloony” on both top and bottom.

Carol could not stand the way our girls compared to the private schools’ teams and went to a fabric store and bought enough material to sew short, black jumpers.  The girls wore white shirts and black briefs underneath. JoAnn and Susan Kamler, home economics teacher, helped with the sewing.  Compared to the gym suits, the RHS girls looked more official, although Carol insists the outfits were not equal to the opponents’ ones.

Everything became a moot point anyway, because the team went on record as Riverside’s lowest scoring team of any kind ever. Their year- end score was 0 wins, a record-breaker as the only RHS sports team to finish a year without a point.  It was, however, in keeping with school spirit, that the Riverside Log ran a little article when one goal was achieved. No matter: Carol said the girls had fun and so did she; all were more interested in the actual playing than they had been in the practice drills.

There are some units within high school subject areas that are prime for weird things to happen. Speech class is one because it involves students doing things instead of placidly (sleepily?) sitting at desks. Carol assigned a project in which each student was to explain a favorite activity or pastime and to bring in whatever items were needed to illustrate it.

All went fine until one boy tried to demonstrate how a paint ball contest worked. Paint balling was popular during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and most teams dispersed into woodlands and hunted each other down with their specially designed guns.

Carol’s paint ball enthusiast began by hanging up a big sheet of paper with Rambo drawn on it. He chose to use the chalkboard at the front of the room and then went to the back with his loaded gun. It is assumed he must have cleared a path between the occupied desks and the target. He explained the expected concept, fired the gun and … nothing but a slight sound – again and again. The fellow was appalled at his flubbed demonstration, and all present were baffled as to what had gone wrong.

Investigation about the mystery followed, with Carol explaining as follows:

The chalk tray kept the paper from lying flat against the board, so when the paint ball hit Rambo, it penetrated the paper, leaving no trace on the outside. The red explosion marks were not visible until the paper was removed.  It was just a funny mystery until the chalk board looked almost bloody.

One of the kids fetched a bucket of water and rags – perhaps from the custodian? Luckily it cleaned up well with some elbow grease. Paint ball game paint must be water soluble, or clothing of players would be ruined after each encounter. I was very worried until it washed off, though. The young man did not receive a failing grade on his project.

Tim Dalheim

During my 28 years at RHS (I choose to ignore my two years at Mentor High School), I was the victim of a few harmless pranks also. By far the most creative was produced by Tim Dalheim, who spent three years in my Newswriting class, the group whose purpose was to serve as reporters and page editors and to prepare the school newspaper for publication.

The other members of that group were often co-conspirators with Tim as they together hatched schemes to amuse and amaze me. One day while out raking leaves in the yard at my home, which was only a mile from the school, I found a note in a plastic bag under a small pile of leaves. I knew it had been placed there by the Log staff, who knew I was a private pilot. The note said something along the lines of “Oh wondrous eagle, keeping watch on us from high above….” Probably the eagle was a reference to my not-so-teensy nose, which I had always blamed totally on my father.  I wish I had kept the note.

Another day when the same group was in the room while I was in study hall, the desks were all re-arranged to face the windows. The next class was just as happy to spend a few minutes turning them around instead of hearing about verb tenses.

Tim’s masterpiece, however, was drawn on the chalkboard I always used to give the page editors directions on what to do while I wasn’t there or was involved with another class.  He had drawn an exaggerated picture of the very buxom Dolly Parton and had taped an actual picture of Dolly’s face in its proper place. Beside the drawing were “instructions” with the pretense they had been written by me. They said, “Write an interesting lead on Dolly’s most outstanding feature.” There were even little “bouncy” marks under Dolly’s ample bosom.

Then those staff members able to stay there waited in anticipation of my reaction, which was just as they had hoped. I knew who the artist was immediately.  Once my laughter and “appreciation” ceased, I told Tim, “Unfortunately, that will have to be erased before the next class comes in.” It had not occurred to me that the staff photographer, Angela Loiacono Brinker, now a family physician, had taken a picture of Tim’s drawing, which she presented to me several days later. I kept it.

In general, the Newswriting class must have grown tired of my yammering about “leads.” Many of them had a difficult time doing a reversal in organizing an essay; for newswriting, the most interesting, outstanding part of an article must be first. Composition writing and almost all fiction structure is opposite of newswriting and saves the really important information for the end. I told my Newswriting class that they had been victims of their English teachers, including me.

Tim Dalheim

I was adamant about the rules: NO leads are to begin with an article: A, An, or The. Also, short prepositions are FORBIDDEN in an article’s opening words, so there are to be no “On’s ” or “At’s.” My favorite words of wisdom to them were “Newspapers and their ilk are short-lived; today’s big news story is tomorrow’s garbage wrapper. If a tornado comes along and kills people, don’t begin the article with the chicken coop that got moved down the street.”

Tim absorbed the concept of how to write a good lead immediately, and he left his teacher with the oft- repeated Dolly story as a happy memory. I was devastated two years ago when he died at 60 of multiple myeloma, leaving his family and friends behind in a sadder world, minus his presence.

No doubt I said and did many ignorant things over the years, including one classic blooper, requiring some explanation first. For 26 years I taught a ground aviation class, categorized in the Science Department. A dreaded unit was meteorology because a more boring topic than weather is hard to imagine.

I always began the unit with a pep talk about reality, along the lines of “We are beginning a lengthy, plodding examination of weather science, which you will find intensely long and possibly difficult. However, 80 percent of all airplane disasters are at least partially caused by bad weather but almost always written up as ‘pilot error.’ An aviator should know better than to get into bad weather.” I stressed that even if they never got into airplanes, they live in northeast Ohio, which has some of the most changeable weather in the world and they could function better if they understood it.

As a feeble attempt to make things more interesting, I used a language figure of speech called “personification.” One day, in describing  frontal weather phenomena, I drew a cold front with a sweeping border sitting over a land mass. I put lots of chalk dots within the line to signify numerous air molecules that make a cold front “heavy.”

MOONING ABOUT RETIREMENT: A celebration of retirement was held by Carol Lewis, home economics teacher, and me at the end of the 1995 school year. We thought it fitting that since we both had classrooms at the front of the building and had been PRIVY to considerable mooning by RHS seniors soon to graduate, we would “imitate” them in our own way. Carol made cardboard cut-outs of a full moon and a half moon, and out we went, and someone snapped this picture. I stress that the whole idea was COMPLETELY Carol’s brainstorm.

Then I stood at the opposite end of the board and drew another sweeping line with only a few dots in it to represent warm air molecules, making that air mass “light.” All would have been fine if the words out of my mouth had been, “This warm air mass is jealous of the cold air having more molecules than it does, so it starts moving toward the cold air to ‘steal’ some.” Instead, it came out my mouth as: This warm ass starts moving because it is jealous of the molecules…” Anyone who knows teenagers can guess that not a single kid missed the blooper.

Did many of them miss the correct spelling of “meteorology”?  Certainly, by omitting two syllables.  Did some of them leave the class convinced that warm air is heavier than cold because it feels like it is? (Yes, they missed the humidity/water vapor explanation).

Many other laughable moments happened – minor ones like the class being asked what important event was called “A Day of Infamy” and the student answering, “That was the day the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.” (Correct event, wrong country).

Then there was the student in my sophomore English class, who, after three weeks of our dealing with Julius Caesar’s history and the politics of Rome as pictured in Shakespeare’s play, asked, “Are you telling us that Caesar was a REAL person?”  (Only sort of; actually, he was half devil, half man).

One of MY most ignorant moves happened while proofreading sports columns students had written for the Log. From the Plain Dealer Style Book, well aware of my shortcomings about competitive sports, I set firmly into my mind the proper way to write scores, with the winning number first and the losing after (“Riverside won against Harvey 17-10,” for example).  I got a bit perturbed when one sports page editor ignored that rule, and I set about diligently “correcting” a golf match score by placing the larger number first and the smaller one second.

Fortunately, I had warned the page editor about my problems with sports, and he caught my flub, followed by his “Oh, Mrs. Reed, how could you not know ANYTHING about golf?” I pled guilty and attempted a suitably embarrassed, apologetic tone and didn’t do much thereafter about changing any scores. It was far better to accept that teenagers knew a great deal more about competitive sports than I ever would.

After that, I confined myself to watching only for spelling and grammatical errors on the sports page.

My next learning adventure will be to work on my verbosity, a very extremely arduous and likely unsuccessful endeavor/pursuit/effort.

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