On bad boys, Catholic school and the proverbial dunce’s chair

English: Arne Jacobsen's school dest from his ...
English: Arne Jacobsen’s school dest from his Munkegaard School exhibited at Designmuseum Danmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was all Dean Passick’s fault. Most things were, in seventh grade.

There my studious self sat, in the proverbial dunce’s chair, right next to the teacher’s desk, at least four feet away from any other student. You may as well have put “pariah” on my forehead in permanent marker. At least, that’s how it felt.

Dean and I were worlds away from each other most days, despite him always, always, ALWAYS sitting near me. You probably need the stereotypes here to relate to your junior high days. I was the bespectacled brainiac who never caused trouble and did the extra credit twice. He was the troubled kid who hit puberty early and wreaked havoc in every single classroom he entered. Ah, now you’re associating different names with Dean and me— you had your own classroom versions, I’m sure.

If you’re still wondering why we sat near each other, then your teachers were less Machiavellian than mine. It certainly wasn’t because I had a penchant for the bad boys. No. It was because every single seventh-grade teacher knew I wouldn’t give Dean the time of day. I was their best shot at a prank-free hour.

Usually, when Dean began his stunts, I tuned him out. I was far too enraptured with my creative writing or jotting down the homework assignment. I was able to ignore flying spitballs, breathing on the back of my neck and whispers of, “What’s the answer to number four?” When he jumped out of the second-story window of a classroom to escape Ms. Hovanetz, who was chasing him around the room to take him to the principal’s office, I opened my book to read. When Sister Frances Joseph pulled him by the hair and said, “Boy, I’m getting my ruler out for you,” I calmly kept writing the preamble to the constitution. I never ever turned around to see what he was giggling at or pulling out of his desk to try to get a laugh. He was persona non grata to me.

And now I’m hearing my mother’s voice: “But there’s a first time for everything.”

Yes, Mom. I’m getting to that.

So it happened that on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, in Mrs. Haffner’s English class, Dean finally caught my attention. He decided to pull out all the stops. And so, as he reached out to snap my bra against my back (these snaps probably numbered in the thousands when you tally how many girls he did this to repeatedly, so I didn’t blink an eye anymore), instead of the usual snap—he unhooked it. Entirely. With a practiced hand, in less than five seconds, that told me he had done this before. Many times. Probably in a more private space.

So there I sat, in my nearly see-through white uniform blouse (If you wore a uniform in the 1970s, you know that the blouses were practically see-through. Not sure if that was a feminist or patriarchal thing but either way, it sucked.), trying to figure out what to do.

If you were a public school kid, you’ll wonder why I didn’t get out of my seat and ask to go to the restroom.  If you’re a former Catholic school kid, you’ll laugh at the notion. The nuns and their cohorts owned every bit of us during our seven hours at school—and that included dictating when we were allowed to have bodily functions. There was no bathroom break other than at the assigned time. Which is why Catholic school janitors were always so busy cleaning up puke. You didn’t dare ask to go to the bathroom. You just puked where you were. Teachers never punished a kid who had just vomited.

I waited until after class, crossed my arms over my chest and asked Mrs. Haffner if I could switch seats with someone. When she asked me why, I told her Dean was distracting me, that I was unable to concentrate. Surprisingly, she acquiesced, moving me a row over.

Which would have been great, but now I was seated directly across from Bridget Lavelle. Bridget was a giggly girl who loved to whisper and pass notes in class. Which she promptly did to me, the next day, halfway through class.

Not wanting to appear mean, I took the note. As I was about to open it, Mrs. Haffner stopped talking. After about 10 seconds of dead silence, I looked up to find her and the whole class looking at me—while Bridget turned beet red and gesticulated wildly, seeming to tell me I should eat the note.

But before I had a chance to go all goat-like and gobble it, Mrs. Haffner swooped in, read it aloud (and I believe it involved a question regarding my huge crush on Kevin Dunne) and promptly told me to get up. I was to drag my desk back to hers and place it one foot away. This is where I sat for an entire month. I could raise my hand a million times in that one hour, but I was not going to be called upon. As the closest thing to Hermione Granger on steroids, this was probably my worst punishment.

You didn’t mess with Mrs. Haffner.

After I got the lecture on how you should never cross people who have just done you a special favor, I went to the girls’ bathroom and cried. I was the girl who never got into trouble. And in this instance, Dean was sitting pretty while I got to smell Mrs. Haffner’s cough-drop breath for an hour every day.

I actually Googled Dean Passick the other day. Didn’t come up with much. Which I guess is a good thing. He may not have won the Nobel Prize, but it looks like he also doesn’t have a criminal record. I’m guessing his days of second-story window jumps have been over for quite some time.

While I still cringe when the only seat open on parent/teacher night is next to the instructor’s desk.





10 Comments Add yours

  1. Ugh! I went to public school, but the girls in my class who were Catholic, got the big dose of guilt in church. I remember being able to tell that there was something different about those girls. And not in a good way. Oh, the unfairness of getting caught!

    These day, when I see my son doing things like finding “cheat” codes for video games, and looking for short cuts, making up his own rules, I think about how I spent my youth being the good girl, following the rules, doing what I was supposed to do, and how I damped down my own spirit.

    Love your writing!

  2. Clever writing – you really drew me in. And, oh, that well-known scenario of being caught with a note. It always amazed me how teachers back then could do something as humiliating as read whatever it said aloud!!

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes . . . shame was big in Catholic school:) Nowadays, I think they’d get sued for reading the note. Lol.

  3. Eva Cornejo says:

    Uniform blouses were see-through in the 80’s too lol

  4. andmorefood says:

    this happened to me after high school – the boy in class I couldn’t get along with, not the bra unfastening! though they might have been because I was in a convent :p

    1. andmorefood says:

      that might have been*

  5. Anne says:

    Ah, sweet (or not) memories of Catholic grade school!

  6. wburke617@comcast.net says:

    Hey, I was a bit of trouble and ya liked ME!

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes, Bill. True, true:)

  7. Should have happened earlier – less mortifying – happened to me in third grade, but I am a preschool dropout!

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