(First published in 2002)
Oh, just give everybody a gold medal, and we can call this biannual farce the "Everybody's Special Olympics".since it is coming to that, anyway. But I digress. I want to talk about the only sport I played in school. Hooky.
I started playing hooky in the third grade, when I was a student at Longfellow Elementary in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I had believed there was some sort of invisible force field around the schoolyard that would prevent me from slipping the bonds of the tyrannically tedious Dick and Jane apologists, but it was actually my conscience and the fear of my father's wrath. His wrath was an orange Hot-Wheels racing-car track, which he called 'The Orange Stick'. He employed the orange stick whenever we needed a good lickin', which was almost every night. There is nothing more humiliating than being beaten with a toy you whined about wanting for 364 days before Christmas.
My older brother and I realized that there was no force field, when we heeded the irresistible call of nature, and traded our schoolbooks for blue skies and open fields of tulips. We ran and ran and ran, until we were sure that no one was coming after us. We only stopped to catch our breath and look back to see who might be following, when we discovered the wondrous sight of tulips blowing gently in the late April breeze. This was The Perfect Day. The adrenaline high we got from our escape and joyous romp in those tulip fields salved our well-beaten bottoms later that night when our father found out. And having tasted of the forbidden fruit of liberty, no amount of lickins could keep us from skipping when the opportunity beckoned.
The question was where to go skipping. Most kids start out playing hooky by feigning illness...only to confine themselves to bed at home. How stupid is that?! We decided that the best places to avoid the school patrols were those places where they never think to look for you. I can't say where my brother found his hooky post, but mine was the Public Library. No one ever thought to look there, and it was there that I educated myself. Or edurbated myself, if you like.
Picture a young lady, curled up in a comfy, overstuffed arm chair with a far-away, dreamy look in her eyes. Her fingers caress the pages of an eagerly spread open book, and after hours of pleasant mulling, she is brought to the apex of happy realization with the knowledge of some new fact about a foreign country, or Bix Beiderbeck, and there you have the proper definition of edurbation. Is there anything more contentifying than the company of dead, white European males? Aaaaaaaah. They ask so little, and yet are so satisfying
It was in libraries I learned to speak Russian, which I began to teach myself at 11, because they don't teach foreign languages properly in this country. From there, I learned French, listened to all the best jazz, read everything I could find by Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather, Solzhenitsyn, C. S. Lewis and James Michener. My knowledge of languages, literature, history and jazz became vast, and in the library, I read the Village Voice and Christian Science Monitor, National Review, and American Spectator...which, sadly, has reemerged as the New George. At least I can read the Old Gang at American Prowler online.
Basically, I learned everything they don't teach you in the public schools. When I did graduate, I had a 2.28 GPA (practically a 2.3!), and an honorary high school diploma.
What I did learn in the schools is that you need a Frickin' form for everything. You needed a Frickin' form to go to the can. A Frickin' form to be in the halls, and a Frickin' form when you were late, when you were sick, to go on a field trip. Sadly, our field trips at school never involved actual fields of tulips.
When my kids come home from school on the first day, their homework consists mainly of Frickin' forms. One of the Frickin' forms I have to fill out in detail, is the idiotic "Title IX Frickin' form: What language do you speak in the home other than English?" The whole form is in English, but it is a Frickin' form, and thus MUST be filled out, signed and dated, otherwise the kid gets a ZERO for the day.
Twenty years out of high school, and things are only worse. My children don't play hooky, but I am sure they would benefit from playing it on a regular basis. Except that nowadays you can go to jail if your kid gets all truant. Back then, the lunches were palatable on certain days of the week, but now, thanks to federally funded school lunch programs, the food is dreadful, AND inedible! Oh yes, when we had lunch, we had about 45 minutes to eat, which was necessary on days when the food was inedible, and now, my kids MIGHT get 15 minutes. They come home hungry every day, because they didn't have enough time for lunch, or there were no tables.
My 15-year-old daughter, Julia, was so eager for high school. She looked forward to it all summer. During her summer break, we studied Latin, in order to prepare her for the difficulties of Latin 1.
When school finally started, she was bitterly disappointed. Her math teacher is a boy not much older than she is, and he has no grasp or passion for his subject. Her science teacher is no better. The only classes where she learns anything are history, English and Latin.
The other day, in tears, she came to me, and asked not to go to school. And I found myself saying, "I know that school isn't what you thought it would be, but you can't run away from your problems by playing hooky." I can't believe I said this! Yes, hooky would solve so many problems, and I would gladly risk jail to rescue her from the tyrannically tedious Dick and Bruce apologists in order to help her escape to that happy field of tulips I found in my youth. Unfortunately, automated snoops dial your house nowadays if your kid misses too many schooldays, so hooky is out of the question.
Thankfully, the State has given us an out without meaning to: ZERO TOLERANCE POLICIES. So, tomorrow, she is going to bring a knife to school and use it to butter a piece of bread.in front of terrified witnesses. Then she will clip her nails, all while singing "Onward Christian Soldiers". That should be good for a year-long suspension, and then, tulip fields, here we come!