Whenever I hear somebody say that the lack of corporal punishment in the schools has led to the demise of public education, I immediately think about Ol’ Fat Face.
Mr. B was an assistant principal in my junior high school back in the late ’60s. He was about 6 feet tall and had a blimp of a belly. On hot spring days, Ol’ Fat Face’s white shirts, which he wore every day, were stained with perspiration around the armpits.
I’ve written about Ol’ Fat Face before. Guess you can say he left an impression on me, but more so on other students, especially their rear ends.
Students who misbehaved routinely were summoned to Ol’ Fat Face’s office for discipline. He wielded a large paddle and swung it freely, too. So did the shop teacher and almost all the physical education teachers.
To this day, I don’t know who was the hellion who broke a bottle of cologne in the gym showers. Since nobody confessed, my eighth grade PE teacher decided to give licks to every kid in the locker room that day.
Some of us, sly rascals that we were, went from row to row in the locker room to avoid the sting of the paddle, snickering all the way. Somehow, we escaped.
Two days later, Coach R apologized to the entire class, saying he had made a poor choice to discipline all the students instead of just the culprit. Apparently, school phones had rang off the hook, and administrators had to do some damage control to appease angry parents whose kids were paddled.
Despite that incident, most of the students got along with Coach R. We didn’t give him a nickname, and he didn’t smell, either.
But I could write a book about Ol’ Fat Face. One afternoon in the lunchroom, my friend, Timmy, a big kid, put his hands around my neck, pretending to strangle me.
Ol’ Fat Face must have missed a meal that day. He was in a bad mood and was on to Timmy like ugly on an ape.
Gesturing with one finger, Ol’ Fat Face signaled to Timmy to follow him out of the cafeteria.
I spent the next hour worried what Ol’ Fat Face was going to do to Timmy and what Timmy was going to do to me for not telling Ol’ Fat Face that Timmy was just horsing around, that he didn’t hurt me.
Finally, Timmy entered the classroom, wearing a poker face. He sat down next to me, looking straight ahead. When the teacher turned to write something on the blackboard, Timmy put his hands around my neck again, giggling. The three licks from the paddle-wielding assistant principal had not fazed him.
In fact some students competed to see who could get the most licks before they graduated from ninth grade. Not me. I was a small kid, and I had about as much meat on my rear as a worm’s.
So you can imagine my fear and anxiety when I was summoned to the administration building one afternoon to see Ol’ Fat Face. One look at his secretary’s angry eyes told me I was in trouble. “Mr. B wants to see you in his office, right now.”
Now I lay me down to sleep.
As I walked into the office, two oversized feet quickly slid off the desk and I was gazing into the bulging dark eyes of Ol’ Fat Face. He ordered me to sit down and handed me a piece of paper that my school bus driver had given him. Some student had scribbled profanity about me on the paper.
“Tommy Germond is a skinny, snot-nosed little X#$@!,” it said.
“Did you write this?” Ol’ Fat Face asked, his voice rising rapidly.
“Why would I call myself a “skinny, snot-nosed little blanklety, blank?”
Dumb as the day is long, I thought. He stared at me.
“Well, if you didn’t, who did?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
It took him several seconds to digest my testimony.
“You better not be lying, and you’d better tell me if you find out who wrote this,” he said, dismissing me.
Found my way out in a hurry, perspiring more than Ol’ Fat Face.
Never told my parents about the incident. Had Ol’ Fat Face paddled me for something Ididn’t do, I’m not sure how my dad would have reacted, but a line from Chief Dan George in the movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales” would probably be on point: “Hell is coming to breakfast.”
My revenge? I disfigured Ol’ Fat Face’s picture in my yearbook.
Thinking back on that era, the state of education then and today, legislators’ attempts to raise academic standards, maintain discipline in the classroom and make schools safer for teachers and students, I don’t know what the answers are.