Thursday, February 11, 2016

Yarn Carnage

Dad really loved this story. When I first told it to him, he laughed in that hearty guffaw of his which I loved to hear. Still hear, in my fond memories. Of course, I didn't tell him the tale until 25 years after the fact, well after the parental statute of limitations on schoolboy mischief had expired.

Back at good old St. Hedwig on Detroit's southwest side, this was in the 1977-1978 school year, there were I think 26 of us Senior boys who had not earned the 1/2 credit of Art required for graduation. Someone in the administration had developed, or perhaps the course already existed for exactly such contingencies, something called Art Appreciation. It was kind of an Art class, though we didn't do much real Art. We read about artists, did reports on styles and types of Art, and made the occasional stab at what might in a stretch be called Art. Those projects were not much if any better than first grade macaroni art, but it got us guys off the hook for that precious half credit so we could graduate.

The instructor, who'm I'll call Miss Smith, had a large box full of yarn for use in classes where actual artistic endeavors were attempted. One day, she left the room for whatever purpose, and one of us yoyos (not me, honest!) opened the box and began throwing balls of yarn at the rest of the class. What followed was the delightful chaos of less than mature schoolboys hurling yarn at each other, bouncing each skein off one another's heads and laughing like idiots. Fortunately, someone was wise enough to act as lookout. With the cry, "Smith's coming!" someone held the box open and we tossed the yarn back in as quickly as possible. By the time she was back in class we were all back at our seats apparently doing our work.

This happened another time or two, with the same face saving result. The time after however, the guy tossing the yarn from the box took the tape off the end of each ball as he distributed them to the class. Miss Smith had taped the ends of the yarn to the skeins to know where they were, and of course to keep the yarn in order.

It goes without saying that Senior boys doing mischief cared little for such particulars. We threw the balls of yarn at each other anyway, ignoring that they were unraveling as we smacked one another in the head. This went on for about five minutes until the lookout yelled, "Smith's coming!"

We immediately froze, all stuck in place either while picking up a ball to throw, in the act of follow through after a delivery, or right before letting one fly. Only our eyes moved, roaming between each other and the massive yarn tangle we had inflicted upon the art room. Then, all of us, as if one thought, began frantically trying to roll up all that yarn; there were dozens of skeins worth strewn about. Very quickly realizing the futility of the exercise, we abandoned our cause, and stupidly jumped to our seats and went back to the pencil drawings we were supposed to be working on.

Miss Smith returned to spy the most magnificent display of yarn carnage imaginable. Lines of color, from pastel to primary, were strewn everywhere and in every hue: over the tops of cabinets, across her desk, even over the shoulders and under the feet of all of us students. I might go so far as to say it was a work of Art itself; you know, maybe we ought to have gotten assignment credit for it, now that I think about it. But we sat there working as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

"Would someone care to tell me what's going on?" Smith asked.

Can't you see? We're working on our pencil drawings. Practicing shading, just like you taught us.

Giving the silence a few seconds to itself she finally asked, "Is no one going to tell me what happened here?" What's to tell? We're doing our Art.

Seeing the futility of her situation, she calmly went and called for Sister Principal.

Now, Sister Principal was a old line, strict, authoritarian nun. She had to be, to deal with miscreants such as we senior boys. She entered the room and repeated both of Miss Smith's questions, with no further insight into the situation. She began slowly pacing the room, glaring in turn at every one of us. She intended to make someone crack.

You need to know here that I had kept myself pretty clean in high school. No detentions, no mischief, and I had decent enough grades. I was no goody two shoes, no brown nose who would rat anyone out either. I just stayed clean. I got along with everyone so far as I remember, with no real incidents. But I was fully participating in this fiasco. Willingly, I confess.

Sister continued around the room; we kept at our work, even subtly brushing strings of yarn off our sketch pads as we scratched at them. She wasn't going to break; neither would we.

The dismissal bell rang. We all started to put away our stuff and gather our backpacks to leave. Sister sternly announced, "No one is going anywhere until we get to the bottom of this. If no one speaks up, you'll all get two detentions: one for this, and one for being tardy to your next class." We slumped down into our chairs. This was going to take awhile, until Sister decided that the inevitable detentions were her only recourse.

Sister Principal continued her slow tour. She came around the table where I sat with about 7 other guys, giving the deep glare all around, stopping directly behind me. I knew it, I thought. I'm the first to be grilled.

The deafening silence seemed to take forever though it was actually mere seconds. Then I actually heard her open her mouth: here it comes. I'm on the spot. But she said, "You may go to your next class, Mr. Cosgriff. We all know that you would never participate in such nonsense."

What could I do? I wasn't about to rat the guys out, nor confess my guilt either. I slowly gathered my things, mumbled a quiet, "Thank you, Sister Principal," and went to my next class.

So my official record stayed clean. To be sure, there is a part of me who feels sheepish to this day. But the imp on my other shoulder does smile about it. And Pops thought it was a great story.

No comments: