By Tom Fillion
Every year as graduation day neared, members of the senior class tried to leave an indelible mark of their time at the school, euphemistically dubbed, The Senior Prank. The day selected was close enough to the last day of school for the perpetrators to enjoy their brief moment of fame, yet short enough for them to escape retribution that might jeopardize their graduation. Usually, the Senior Prank bordered on bad taste and vandalism, i.e., stealing a golf cart driven by the overweight assistant principal with bad knees, Superglueing the locks in all classroom doors, and planting the courtyard with panties supposedly worn by a young physical education teacher, Coach Kitty, who was dismissed for shedding hers with various male students. Each pair of panties had her name on it.
The most memorable was neither in particularly bad taste nor in the felony category and was orchestrated by a senior who was lazy, unmotivated, and basically considered an unremarkable dumb-ass by most teachers who had to endure him taking up space and air in their classrooms. That furnished him the perfect cover for pulling off the most outstanding and technically complicated Senior Prank in recent decades. I had the dubious honor of his presence, as a senior, taking Algebra 1 in a make or break chance for him to graduate with all the minimal requirements of the day. I was in the enviable position of when I asked him to get his head up off the desk to uncloak the variable X in one of its many disguises he should have answered with, “How high, sir?” I barely got a murmur out of him. With that much effort I wouldn’t see him, Henry Mortimer, all six foot three of wrinkled, sleepy, droopy clothing again for two or three days.
The day of the Senior Prank was like Senior Skip Day – not on the school or district calendar but looked forward to with the same anticipation as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Spring Break. True to form, Henry Mortimer wasn’t even on campus the morning the most audacious Senior Prank was discovered by the early arrival of the custodial crew. They were the ones who would have to clean spray painted walls, call for district locksmiths to repair locks sealed with Superglue, put out an APB on a missing golf cart, or remove hundreds of panties with the same instruments they used for picking up discarded Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers after high school students had eaten their most nutritious meal of the day.
The sun rose that morning to the same surprise as the high school custodial staff. The eastern sky was spectacularly attired in Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors. Nothing would have distracted from Nature’s early morning masterpiece except an event as rarefied as Henry Mortimer’s Senior Prank that called for an immediate rewriting and revision of the senior class’s yearbook pages of notables most likely to succeed in causing a high school community to come to a standstill in awe and inspiration.
“You have to come see this.”
My colleague and fellow coach led the way to the courtyard outside the main office. The administrative staff surrounded the flagpole. Dr. Bunkerhill, the wrinkle factory who was our principal, pointed into the firmament. Her hand shook and, if she could have, she would have headed to her car for an early morning cigarette break. Other administrators cupped their hands and looked skyward.
A crowd of students gathered. As more buses, cheese wagons, arrived, the students forfeited their free breakfasts to come and stare and rejoice at the unheralded Henry Mortimer’s masterpiece. The size of the crowd swelled and soon rivaled the one that assembled with local dignitaries to honor a recent graduate who died in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“How can we get that down?” the principal demanded.
The custodial staff shrugged in unison. They didn’t have a ladder long enough to reach that high. None of them were willing that time of the morning to shimmy up the flagpole covered with silver and shards of rust. More importantly, how had the culprit in the middle of the night managed to attach the mammoth sex toy, a dildo, to the top of the flagpole? Theories abounded but each hypothesis proved faulty and was abandoned. Pole vaulters were questioned as a last resort - to no avail. The dildo remained aloft until a ladder of sufficient length and a SWAT team of qualified tradesmen with sufficient safety training arrived from the district maintenance office. Meanwhile transfer documents were prepared for select members of the administrative staff unless the perpetrator or perpetrators of the Senior Prank were identified and appropriately disciplined. That meant one thing after the principal huddled with a cigarette in her hermetically-sealed car parked in her private parking space. A reward or bounty was the obvious investigative tool. There is no code of silence in high school. There is no high school omerta.
“A twenty dollar reward will be paid to the student or students who successfully identify those involved in the Senior Prank,” was announced throughout the school.
Officer Jimmy, our school resource officer at the time, who was Puerto Rican and British and bore a resemblance to both nations, except for his avowed use and opinion on the superiority of female undergarments, soon had some significant leads to follow up on. It was only a matter of time before the perpetrator(s) were foisted upon their own petards.
Henry Mortimer slept soundly at a table in the corner of my classroom. It was several days after the Senior Prank had entered the historical event category. Officer Jimmy had exhausted all leads pursuant to case number ******. Principal Bunkerhill anticipated a transfer to the inner city pastureland of a Title 1 school. Her career was in effect put into an early retirement trajectory until Officer Jimmy opened the door of my classroom and pointed to the sad sack of a senior, Henry Mortimer, dressed in a crumpled shirt and jeans, and smelling of cut bait from a night of fishing. He was foolhardy enough to grace us with his presence on the senior class’s last day.
It took a few drops of his Algebra 1 book that he rarely opened to rouse him from his torpor so that he could follow the stalwart officer who had the presence and demeanor of a Scotland Yard detective as he closed the case of the Senior Prank. I was informed a few hours later that the twenty dollar bounty was paid out because Henry Mortimer readily confessed to masterminding the entire plan although he deferred from explaining how he did it. Why he choose to be close-mouthed wasn’t readily apparent. Of course, it put his immediate future in jeopardy because in addition to being banned from the graduation ceremony, school district policy dictated that all seniors convicted of disciplinary infractions be required to take their final exams. That meant I would have to be the Grim Reaper of Graduation calling Henry Mortimer’s parents to inform them that they had sent out graduation notices for their prized offspring - in error. There was no way he would ever pass the exam and, in fact, he didn’t. Algebra 1 was the only one he failed, and miserably, but he did show up to my classroom with a Big Gulp and a straw in one hand, a can of WD 40 and crescent wrench in the other, and a confidence that belied the predicament he was in. Did he know something I didn’t know?
Yes, he had kept it secret until that point and it was worth its weight in gold and graduation notices.
“So how did you do it?”
He placed the Big Gulp on the corner of my desk.
“Can we discuss the exam grade first?”
“You failed. You know next to nothing about Algebra. You have to work really hard to know so little.”
He was unfazed by my dire pronouncement and proceeded willy-nilly to explain how he single-handedly placed the dildo on top of the flagpole and prevented the Stars and Stripes from flying that day until the SWAT team of maintenance tradesmen from the district headquarters had surveyed the problem, checked with their supervisors, and reclaimed the flagpole for its proper function.
“I did it with these.”
I wondered what the purpose of the can of WD 40 and the crescent wrench were for.
A can of WD 40 and a crescent wrench had caused such a hullaballoo? I needed further explanation.
“I was throwing a Frisbee with some friends in the courtyard a few months ago and it landed in the bushes near the flagpole. That’s when I got the idea.”
“Okay. I’m still not seeing the connection between the Frisbee and you placing the sex toy on top of the flagpole.”
He took a sip from his Big Gulp.
“When I picked up the Frisbee I noticed the tops of two bolts covered up by dirt. I cleaned off the dirt with my hand and found out the flagpole had a hinge on one side and the two bolts on the other side. The nuts on the two bolts were the only thing securing the flagpole. If I could get them off, the flagpole would come down on the hinge side. So every day since then my friends and I have been throwing the Frisbee out there as close to the flagpole as possible. Every day I’ve been spraying the two nuts and bolts and the hinge on the flagpole. It took me all of five minutes to drop the flagpole, strap on the dildo, and push it back up.”
When graduation day arrived Henry Mortimer wasn’t there, but the principal did call his name as a graduate, and he received a thunderous ovation in abstentia from his classmates, thanks to the exam grade that somehow I misplaced.
Tom Fillion is the author of two novels, The Dream Mechanic, and Giuseppe’s Award, short stories, and poems.