Friday, March 24, 2006
A Sticky Situation
Mr. Higerd was my 7th and 8th grade history and geography teacher back in the 60s at East Amwell Township School in Ringoes, NJ. He was good. He must have been in the Army before he started to teach. He used to say, "At ease, disease - there's a fungus among us." I think that was an old military phrase. Sometimes we'd sit in his classes watching old black & white films on the noisy old projector. They were from the forties and fifties and the sound was always warped and gurgly. It was a lucky day when we got to see one of those newfangled full color ones. A lot of them were old military propaganda films. We were in the midst of a cold war with Russia back then and Red China did not exist. It was grayed out on all school maps. It just wasn't there.
Our history books were meant to last a decade. When we got new ones, we knew they were going to be handed down for a few years to come. One day, Mr. Higerd caught me doing something to the book.
"DAVE!!! Did I just see you writing in that new book?" Defacing books or anything that is school property was punishable by death. It was a mandatory trip to the principal's office and that meant big time trouble. Parents usually got involved. Not a good thing.
"No, Sir. I was not writing in the book."
"I saw you writing in the book."
"No, Sir. I was not writing. I was drawing." Each day, I'd add a new picture to the next page and I had gotten away with it for weeks. He marched back to my desk and abrupty snatched the now closed book out of my hands. Walking back up to the front of the room, he rifled through the pages and saw what I had done. Somewhere in that thick book, I had drawn the first stick figure with one leg forward. The next day, I'd have the legs in a different position, arms flailing away. You fanned it in an upward motion. With each ensuing page, I had created a walking stick man. At one point, he turned around, looked up and became filled with dismay. He turned forward and started to run, picking up the pace. Down came a boulder, bouncing and rolling toward him. He tried to race away, but the giant rock was coming after him at a much higher rate of speed. Finally, it scrunched my poor little man and he was dead. Of course, the boulder kept rolling until it ran off the other end of the pages. The End.
As he flipped through those pages, watching my cartoon in action, Mr. Higerd started to chuckle. "You know, Dave, this is great." He opened the book for the class to see. "If you can't see it from back there, come on up and gather around. This is how cartoons were done originally. They still are. Action figures that change with each drawing..." and on he went for a while.
At the end of each school year, we had to return all of our books. On the inside front cover, there was a stamp or label glued in that each student had to sign, date and state what grade you were in. These were new books and mine was the first name. He told me he was going to follow that book for as long as it remained in use and show it to every one of his classes, to explain the history of cartoons. I was honored. He didn't reprimand me after all. No trip to the principal's office. Instead, he complimented me. These weren't just ordinary stick figures, they were detailed ones that I brought to life in one of his classrooms. I was one of his favorite students after that, until I ruined one of those newfangled color films, but that's another story.