Rudy Sharkey, an ex-Marine built like a beer keg with arms and just about as tall, was the toughest teacher in the high school. If you were a boy and you weren't on his football team, you were a wuss. I couldn't remember if football was the game with the puck or not, so, needless to say, I was not his favorite student.
Biology! Hated it. Cutting up stinking frogs and worms. Couldn't get that stink off your hands for a month and by then you had done it again. It meant a semester of sickening fumes.
If that wasn't awful enough, then the boredom of species gender and phylum was enough to knock anybody out. It was torture, the likes of which could only be paralleled by the "begots" of the Bible. You know, Adam and Eve begot Caine and Able who begot . . ., well you get the point.
Sharky (as we called him, but not to his face) liked to see how fast he could bore you to sleep and then he would bust out the secret weapon. He had a huge Masonic ring, with a big square black stone set in gold with the Masonic emblem in the middle. Strolling up and down the isles as he droned on, Sharky would spot his victim; head in the mashed potatoes, so to speak.
Without breaking a droned syllable, he would maneuver to a spot directly behind you and slowly he would twist that ring so that the huge square piece was now facing his palm side of his hand. Raising his hand high above your head before dropping it with a rapid snap at the end left you seeing stars and birdies; an act that today would surely send him to jail. But those were different times.
It was Monday and that meant a double biology. The argument, deciding whether it was the teacher for biology or physical education who would teach the first sex education class had been decided. Lucky me, Rudy Sharkey would teach the very first. My class.
He would be the first teacher to actually say the "S" word to a student as part of the curriculum--a curriculum that had never been written. He was going to wing it. We didn't even know it was coming. He stood in the front of the class leaning against that old oak desk looking at the class.
"Today we are going to discuss - sex." The class gasped at first and of course then the giggles and the snickers broke out.
"It is not a laughing matter!" The class knew the tone, even if they didn't hear the words.
"Now, I want to start with a simple question. When is the best time to . . ." and here he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, "do . . . it?" The class erupted in laughter.
"Now QUIET DOWN. This is serious! I'll ask again. When is the best time to do it?" He said it with greater resolve this time. But it didn't help. The room erupted again in laughter. Just when you figured you had another 20 seconds or so of laughter and talking the entire class went instantly silent. All except for me of course; I was still making comments to the kid in front of me. Comments, it turned out that seemed funnier to the class around me than Rudy Sharky's ever were. The result was uncontrollable laughter.
As I was wiping the tears from my eyes produced from the intensity of the laughter, I was suddenly staring into the eyes of one very angry Rudy Sharky. Seems he missed the comment and was eager to hear it again.
Shit! I was starting to feel like a bad example about to be made for public display.
As he stood back up straight and turned strolling towards his desk again he did the set up. "Well Missssster Odom! It seems the class thinks that you are an authority on the subject and have all the answers. Please stand up next to your chair. I will ask you and you alone now. When is the best time to do it?"
I tried to side step the answer. "I . . . I don't know Mr. Sharkey."
"You knew a moment ago why not share your last answer with us then. Some of the class did not hear it."
I'm screwed now and I know it. Might as well go down in flames. He was anxious but patient. The room was silent. There was no way out of it. I raised my head and looked him directly in the eyes as I answered.
"When her old man's out of town."
The room exploded in laughter. Even Rudy Sharkey had to turn quickly and face the blackboard as he regained his composure. And when he did, it was more than clear that it was not the answer that he expected or wanted. For a guy with really short legs he crossed that room in an instant. I was led out of the room by my ear. Shit, I didn't even know he could reach it!
Deposited outside the room, waiting for my death sentence I thought to run but knew for sure that it would be worse. I had to wait. He was doing damage control in the room. I hope it takes a while, I don't want to die. Finally Mr. Sharkey exited the room with his handmade oak paddle as long as his arm.
His paddle was legend in this school. Thin lightweight oak with holes drilled in rows to reduce wind resistance. The handle turned by lathe so that it fit his personalized grip. He introduced every class to it the first day of school by hitting it flatly on his desk. Oak meeting oak made a terrifying sound. No one in living history was able to say what it felt like. 'Till now.
"Wait right here." He commanded as he walked a straight and determined line directly to the room across the hall. Teachers needed a witness to document the act. The teacher came out of the room and looked at Sharky and what was in his hand. Then his gaze turned to me. Sharky was standing on his tip toes to reach the other teachers ear to whisper my crime. All of a sudden the teacher was laughing hysterically. He fell back against the wall laughing as he slid down to the floor with large tears in his eyes. As he propped himself up still laughing and pointed as if to say "get on with it," Mr. Sharky returned to the task at hand.
His paddle wasn't the only thing that got air that afternoon, as my tennis shoes were severely lifted on the floor.
It may not have been my first whack in school, but it was certainly the most memorable. Probably for Rudy Sharky too!