Search Results for swartz

Mr. Swartz and The Yardstick

When I was in school kids went from ‘grade’ school (K-6th grade) to ‘junior high’ (7th and 8th grade), and finally to ‘high’ school (9th – 12th grade).

 The junior high I went to was what could only be described as a ‘teacher dumping ground’.  Teachers who had gained tenure status were extremely difficult to fire, let alone discipline.  So, in light of that I’m convinced that our junior high teachers were all assigned to the school on the basis that they were either a) incompetent, b) crazy, or c) both and this place was their last hope.

 Most of them were crazy, by the way.

 One such whacko was a science teacher named Mr. Swartz.   If you have ever seen the old television series “Lost In Space”, then you have seen Mr. Swartz in the person of Dr. Smith, right down to the wild hairdo and creepy smile.

 Mr. Swartz had two loves in his life.  The second of these was rocks – sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous (though I suspect he was abnormally attached to the igneous ones, I could never be certain).  However, his love of the rocks positively paled in comparison to his love for his yardstick…no, I’m not being euphemistic. 

 I mean a real yardstick – for measuring distances..well, distances up to three feet.

 The yardstick was carried everywhere he went.  He used it to point out items of immense interest, on the chalkboard, during class.  He’d also use it to point at the raised hand of a student eager to answer one of his questions.

 During the breaks between classes, Mr. Swartz could be seen patrolling the hallway outside his classroom swinging the yardstick like a baton.

 One of the more diabolical uses, for his beloved yardstick, involved smacking it down, full force, on a desk beside the head of a sleeping student.   I saw many a kid fall to the floor, and lie there dazed, after such a rude awakening.

 Since the school had no air-conditioning, the windows were left open when the weather warranted…and that was often.

 I was very glad that I had Mr. Swartz in the morning, as the buildup of afternoon heat in his second floor classroom, coupled with his droning voice, led to many a snoozing student and subsequent yardstick whack-on-the-desk, and I wanted no part of that.  I much preferred to do my afternoon snoozing under the ever-watchful eye of my blind-as-a-bat English teacher, Miss Thompson.

 One of my fellow students, in Mr. Swartz’ class, had a penchant for snoozing.  I swear, I don’t think this guy ever slept at night.  We’d find him asleep in gym class, math class, and once in the midst of a horrendous food fight in the cafeteria!

 One morning, he fell asleep (yet again) in Mr. Swartz’ class. After the yardstick-on-the-desk trick woke him up, Mr. Swartz laid the yardstick down between his widespread feet and proceeded to read him the riot act.

 Seizing upon the opportunity, another student carefully slid the yardstick behind the screaming teacher, and passed it along the aisle student by student.

 I was last in line, and since we hadn’t had a “plan” for this, I was momentarily unsure as to what to do.

 Not to worry, Dan (a friend since third grade) was sitting next to me, and he jerked his head over his shoulder and towards the open window.

 I got it, right away, and the last anyone ever saw of that yardstick was it’s maiden (and short-lived) flight from the second story into a very thick hedge.

 After he had finished berating the snoozy kid, Mr. Swartz reached down to retrieve his yardstick, and came up empty-handed.

 He wheeled around, eyes darting this way and that, looking very panicked.

 “WHERE IS MY YARDSTICK????????”, he bellowed.

 No one answered, so he shouted it again, and again.



 By this time I was beginning to get slightly alarmed as Mr. Swartz face was red, his veins bulging, and I thought his head might actually explode.

Totally not Mr. Swartz, but since I love "12 Angry Men" and Lee J Cobb...well, there you have it. An aside - this picture was incorrectly identified as Jack Klugman by some institute for higher learning where I snagged the photo. I weep for our educational standards.

 I snickered into my hand, careful to avoid eye contact, pretending to have a coughing fit.

 Finally he gave up when it became clear he’d have a stroke before anyone answered him.

Mr. Swartz continued class, albeit out of sorts without his trusty yardstick.

 He never procured another one either. 

 Strange episode, strange little man.

I Was Rat Pack When Rock Was Cool

And I have my eighth-grade physics teacher to blame. His name escapes me, but let’s call him ‘Elmer’. That’s because the very first song I ever heard blasting from the speakers he had mounted on either side of his blackboard was a little ditty called “Elmer’s Tune”.

Elmer was decidedly off-kilter, just like Mr. Swartz and Ms. Floro.

As I’ve stated before, my entire junior high school was like the M*A*S*H 4077th of schools.

They were all nuts. Totally.

Elmer would blast big band and swing tunes every morning before school and during breaks between classes. He’d leave the door to his classroom open and since it was a pretty small building the sound really carried.

And carried.

After a while, I swear even the floorboards reverberated with the strains of Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”.

This, mind you, was in the days of rock ‘n roll.

I was finding angst in Alice Cooper and cool in Fleetwood Mac. I dressed like Stevie Nicks, except for the funky hats…I mean, after all, my hair was a work of art – all straight-as-a-board and parted in the middle. A hat would have totally ruined it. I had the gossamer-winged ensembles in black down, though. I just skipped the heroin-vapid look, thankyouverymuch.

I did not get the appeal of the Dorsey Brothers or the aforementioned Glenn Miller.

 Then, one day, I heard something different.

 I’d heard the voice before.

 He was one of my totally uncool Mom’s favorite singers, which by definition, meant he had to be someone I’d detest.

It’s a moral imperative – when your square parents just ‘love’ some kind of _______________ (fill in the blank) you must, as a teenager, instantly hate said thing with every fiber of your being. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that in the “How To Drive Your Parents to Xanax-Land” teenager handbook.

The unmistakably cool and smooth sounds of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” came booming down the hallway at me, and I found myself smiling and enjoying that voice.

I guess that’s where I broke with my friends over music and embraced all that was cool – Frank, Dino, and to a lesser degree, Sammy and Tony. Not that those last two weren’t cool, I just preferred Frank and Dino.

If you are uncool I’ll wait here while you go figure out who I’m talking about.

*turns up the volume on her Pandora ‘Rat Pack’ station*

Those cats were, hell they still are, cool as ice and smooth as glass and I suppose I have Elmer to thank for providing this teenager a safe out to make such a claim.

I never told my parents, though.

That much of a traitor I wasn’t.

Another thing that Elmer did was come up with creative ways to spell the word ‘hell’. He couldn’t say it to his students, but by damn he would spell it!

We, being adolescents, would do our level best to push him to the brink every day. He was pretty tough though, and wouldn’t crater too often.

This just made him more fun to challenge.

Of course.

He’d invariably say something like, “What in the H*E*double-hockey-sticks is going on?” Or “What in the H*E*double-crooked-letter….?” Even though anyone who has ever had to spell Mississippi knows that the ‘crooked letter’ is an “S”, which meant he was asking us just what in the Hess was going on, and that made him a Communist.

And, if you don’t know who ‘Hess’ was, go look it up.

*considers asking Wiki founder for royalties for all the traffic she sends that way*

Sufficiently edumacated now?

Anyway, that last one would always bring a huge laugh from the class and a confused look to the face of Elmer.

Several years later I asked a neighbor who’d just started going to our junior high about Elmer and his fondness for music from the 40’s.

She told me he’d retired and then died recently.

Just like that.

I was sad, but glad too that Elmer had introduced me to something I would love the rest of my life.

And, I’m betting that in heaven there’s a doorway somewhere and from inside come the lovely strains of “Moonlight Serenade” even as the angels cover their ears and ask Elmer just what in the h*e*double hockey sticks he’s trying to do, deafen them?

Tokyo Rose

In my tale of Mr. Swartz I think I mentioned how all the loony teachers from our school district were put into the basket we called junior high.

I have come to realize that this assorted nut bowl was one of the first playgrounds on which I happily played twisted sister.  We called it “being a smart-ass”, and I was honing my skills on a regular basis.

My seventh grade math teacher was yet another victim of my evil mind, but really as you will see it was her own fault.


Her name was Mrs. Floro and she was of Japanese descent.  She spoke with a very thick accent and attempted to teach her unruly students the finer points of algebra.

What we really learned in that class were two things.

One, she had a temper and two, she was a thrower.

It was not easy understanding her when she was looking at us, let alone when she had her back to us.

We didn’t bother trying and instead amused ourselves…often loudly.

With her back turned to us as she wrote formulas on the blackboard we exchanged spitballs, notes and other projectiles across rows of desks paying absolutely no attention to her heavily-accented English.

This did not make her happy.

She’d invariably turn around just as someone let loose with a missile and would pick up one of the soft erasers off the chalkboard ledge hurling it at the offender with amazing force for someone who couldn’t have been five feet tall or weighed a hundred pounds, soaking wet..holding a bowling ball.

Her immediate response would be to turn back around and continue the “lesson” on the chalkboard.

Some math-geek would invariably ask a question – could they be actually trying to learn? – and she’d stop what she was doing and answer in Japanese-English.

I don’t think I understood two words that woman said.

Except “GET OUT!”

Yes, those words were always quite clear though never addressed at me.  They would get screamed at the last person to get on her last nerve that day – usually about ten minutes into an hour-long class – and it meant to go sit in the hall until class was over.

We rarely got sent to the office in those days.  Generally, we just got sent out to the hallway…I mean other people got sent to the hall, not me..well, except for this one time in English but it wasn’t my fault!

Not all my fault anyway…but, that’s another story for another day.

Since Mrs. Floro was Japanese we nicknamed her “Tokyo Rose”…now, before you get your knickers in a knot remember this was back in “the day” and we had no clue who or what the real Tokyo Rose was.  It was simply the first name that came to mind when someone said “Japanese”.  This was way before anime, or she might have been named Dragonballz or something.

She hated the moniker and rightfully so, but her red-faced reaction to hearing it was just fuel for our evil little fire.

Her temper was…well, it was hilarious to see someone so small lose it with such regularity.

It was also further fuel, but this fuel was strictly for enjoyment.  And every day we “enjoyed” it more and more.

Generally, I was not a participant in the shenanigans in class.

I was, however,  the observant type.

And, I observed Mrs. Floro go through an inordinate number of soft erasers.

She’d throw them, and then promptly forget about it.  I never saw her go looking for one or ask a student to hand it back.  She’d simply reach inside a desk drawer and get another.

This little fact set in motion the events that would lead to the perfect execution of our wicked plan.

My fellow minions students and I began collecting the thrown erasers on a daily basis. Of course, we had to make sure at least one of us angered her to the point of throwing one and counted as a banner day the day she threw three of them at us!  We’d squirrel them away in coat pockets, purses, whatever way we could and I collected them in a plastic bag hidden in my gym locker.

On “the” day, I passed out two of the erasers to each of my classmates during the five minute class changes we had leading up to Mrs. Floro’s  fifth period algebra.

A particularly evil clever classmate began putting the pressure on her almost the instant her back was turned to us that day. 

You could almost see the steam coming out of her ears each time she turned around to glare or yell at someone.

This was going to be an epic blow-up.


Finally, she reached her breaking point and grabbing an eraser turned to throw it at the offender.

He ducked and it hit the wall behind him with a thud, leaving a white outline of chalk.

She turned back around and at the silent count of three – by me – fifty erasers were launched in Mrs. Floro’s direction.

I had, during preparations, made it clear that no one was to actually aim for her but rather aim all around her.

Apparently, some of my fellow students were either hard of hearing, nearsighted or simply lousy aims.

Mrs. Floro’s back, her hair and the entire blackboard were at once covered in white chalk; and with that many hitting the solid surfaces at one time the room was filled with a soft white fog.

She turned around and looked at us.

We sat stock still, not moving and not speaking.  Desperate attempts not to laugh caused many a lip to bleed that day.

She blinked again and ran crying from the room.

The next day we had a substitute and heard that Mrs. Floro was on an extended leave of absence.

I never saw her again and none of us ever had to dodge the eraser-bullet again either.

It was her penchant for throwing those erasers that was her ultimate undoing.  And yes, sometimes they hit their mark…with force. 

So, you see what eventually happened to her really wasn’t my fault….much.  I was simply the instrument of doom justice in this case.

The Instrument of Doom Justice!