This may be a story that I have told here before. If I have and you remember it, sorry. Good thing is that I tell this story a little differently each time, although the specific details are the same.
My mother was good about teaching my brothers and I to be responsible for ourselves. We cleaned our own room, made our beds, cleaned our bathroom, washed our clothes (and folded them, put them away), vacuumed the rugs, picked up after ourselves. I am the oldest of three boys and, once I reached an age where I was able to put gas in a push mower and negotiate our yard with the mower, care of the lawn became my job. Dad still likes to mention that he never had to mow after I was 8 years old, except for when he just wanted to do it. My brothers and I also were responsible for waking up in time for school, dressing ourselves, and getting ourselves either to the bus stop or walking to school. That also meant that we prepared our own brown bag lunch. Mom made sure there was bread and fixings, as well as chips or whatever else we needed — as long as we put in the request for what we needed for our lunches when she prepared her weekly grocery list.
Lunch got me in trouble. The high school that I attended was fairly small, roughly 400 students for freshman through senior grade levels. Our building consisted of two long hallways lined with lockers, with a commons area in between that opened into a courtyard. Across the courtyard was the shop area where trade classes were taught, as well as the main gym and lunch room building. My locker was located at the end of the long hallway, next to the main doors that led outside to the courtyard, the doors that many students took to and from the gym or lunch or shop class. It was also next to the band room, the reason my locker was at the end, since I was a band student (trumpet players are the best kissers, as I have been told by more than one young lady).
My locker was in a perfect spot for those less than honest students, who were inclined to steal. Three days in a row, my lunch was stolen out of my locker, a big deal to me since it was during track season. I needed my nutrition for after school practices and meets. For my lunch, I started keeping it with my band instrument in the band room — not always convenient as the band room often was locked for my lunch period. My teen mind did not want to report the thefts to the school principal, the most logical thing to do.
So, one morning I decided that the solution would be to make two lunches — one that I would eat and one that was doctored. In typical teen fashion, I was trying to work this out quickly and at the last minute before I had to leave for school, while I was making my lunch. I spread one piece of bread with a thick layer of peanut butter, the other with an equally thick layer of grape jelly (Mom always lamented how fast we went through jars of peanut butter and grape jelly). Hmmmmm… what else needed to go on the sandwich?
“Mom, do we have any ExLax?” Mom furrowed her brows at me with an expression of mild confusion, an expression she gave to me frequently. Funny thing is that she knew better than to ask why, which she should have done. She just said no and carried on with her own task.
I took the task of finding a way to doctor that sandwich into my own hands, utilizing the do it yourself and take responsibility my mother had instilled in me. What to use? I searched the bathroom medicine cabinet, the logical place since maybe Mom had just forgotten about the ExLax. None. In the vanity under the bathroom sink, I found what seemed to be the solution. I didn’t think about the solution being potentially criminal. I just thought that the lunch perpetrators would see this substance and be deterred. That should work, right? I carried that can of crystal Drano (that’s drain cleaner) to the kitchen, poured a layer of the large blue crystals on top of the peanut butter, slopped some more peanut butter over the Drano, slapped the jelly laden slice of grape jelly on top, wrapped the PBDranoJ sandwich, and put it into a paper bag.
I find out part of the result by third class period. In between classes, I was slammed up against my locker by an angry Gary Ayers, a fellow senior who had discovered the benefits of weighlifting, one of the largest guys in the school.
“What did you put in your lunch?” he yelled, fists balled in a threat.
I know I was grinning. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Gary.”
Gary’s girlfriend, Janet, had eaten my lunch before gym class, according to Gary’s story.
“How did she get my lunch?” Once again, I know that there was a wide grin on my face.
Gary raised a large fist, intended to punch that grin off of my face. Before he could deliver, a few of my friends stepped in between, allowing me to escape and get to class. This would not be over, I knew, but at least the mayhem was delayed. It wasn’t that I was afraid of Gary, but I didn’t want to be suspended from school for fighting. There was only one track meet left in the season, it was my senior year and I did not want to miss that meet.
Fifth period. Principal Bill Hinrichs appeared at the classroom door, motioned for me to join him out in the hall. He was shaking his head with an expression that was between amusement and disbelief. Mister Hinrichs was that type of person, a math teacher before becoming school principal, one of my favorite teachers. I had done very well in his classes, had also done well a few years before when I played basketball for the team he assisted as coach. As he escorted me to his office, he continued to shake his head every time he glanced at me. When we arrived at his office, he offered me a seat across from his desk, next to the school nurse who was waiting for us.
He went straight to the point. “Steve, what did you put on your sandwich?”
I looked him straight in the eye, told him exactly what was on the sandwich.
The school nurse gasped. Mister Hinrichs simply rested his forehead on his hand while shaking his head some more and muttering Henrikson over and over.
Three girls stole my lunch on their way out the door to gym class. They had a master key to the lockers, so they were able to get to it easily. As they waited for roll call before gym class, they split the sandwich. They didn’t see the crystal Drano. I had done too good of a job concealing it in the thick layers of peanut butter and grape jelly. They never had a chance to swallow their bite of sandwich, their mouths instantly foaming and slight burns on their tongues as they spit the sandwich out.
I am fortunate that I attended a small school where teachers and administrators had the chance to know their students and their families. There was no police involved, just a school nurse gasping in shock and a relieved/amused/amazed school administrator.
“You do know, Steve, that this could have been much worse.” Mister Hinrichs told me the names of the three girls, “Every one of those girls has a big boyfriend. These girls stole your lunch, so essentially they got what they deserved but GEEEEEEEEZ couldn’t you have used something else? ExLax maybe?”
Mister Hinrichs actually laughed when I calmly responded with the obvious answer — we didn’t have any ExLax. I had checked.
“Really, I wouldn’t do anything to you at all since this was a case of theft, but I also don’t want a fight to deal with. I have called your mom and she knows that you are coming home right now. You are going to be suspended for three days.”
That meant I would miss the last regular season track meet. That hurt, but I didn’t argue. I knew I was lucky that was all that I was missing.
My parents responded in the same fair, reasonable, sensible manner that they always had when I got in trouble. By my senior year of high school, they had a lot of experience. They were both shocked, both relieved, both understood that I had luckily survived a very stupid event in my life. They said that I would also be punished, basically was being grounded those two days of suspension. My parents called up the parents of each girl, took me that evening to each of their houses, and I had to personally apologize to each girl.
There were a lot of events in my young life that I survived with little or no damage to my life or reputation. Some might call that survival simple good fortune, some might call it an over qualified guardian angel, some might call it a God thing. I call it being raised by two loving, common sense, committed parents who always have and will have my back — and that itself could be a God thing. I have needed and always will need them.