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Every once in a while - actually quite often - I get asked if I'm writing another book. The short answer is 'Yes.'
The longer answer is, well, a much longer answer. It's not easy, you know. The forty or so stories that make up The Principal Chronicles actually started out as more than sixty. Some of them were just okay and some of them were very good, I thought, but they didn't fit. The story below is a new one though, and one that would have made it into the first book if I'd written it a few months earlier. It's based on a true story. I did bring a homemade fan to school, I did have a crush on a girl with beautiful long black hair, and a boy did turn his desk into a crystal radio.
Please let me know what you think.
At the Intersection of Adolescence and Technology
This is a story about adolescence and technology and their first intersection in my life.
This is not a story about having to borrow the car from Dad, or having it break down on a first date. This is not a story about trying to find a payphone far enough from home so as not to be embarrassed at calling a girl in front of my parents or siblings.
It is, as I said, a story of the first intersection of technology and my own adolescence.
It’s important for me to tell you at the outset that although I hadn’t met him yet, Roland Markham became a hero of mine in the late spring of 1968 when my brother came home from school to tell me that Roland, a fellow student in his Grade 8 class, had turned his school desk into a crystal radio so he could listen to baseball games during class.
“Get out! You can’t do that!” I exclaimed. Then, after a second, I added, “What’s a crystal radio?”
“It’s a radio that needs no batteries and you don’t need to plug it in! Roland just needed a toilet paper roll, an eraser, some wire and a few odds and ends from home and - Voila! Roland’s desk became a radio! He’s a bit of a geek, but I’ve gotta admit, it’s pretty cool! Even Mr. Carruthers ended up thinking it was pretty neat. He was pretty angry at first though. He thought Roland had damaged the desk and was gonna send him to the office, until Roland convinced him to put the little earpiece into his ear. And just as he did it Al Kaline hit a double! Carruthers likes baseball I guess. So Roland didn’t get sent to the office. He just had to give us updates at the end of each inning.”
I was eight. I consulted my brother’s Boy Scout manual and saw that, yes, it was possible to turn a school desk into a radio. I didn’t, though, want to get into any trouble at school, and so looked into the possibility of making a crystal radio set at home. My parents were pleased at this foray into the realms of science and technology, and so bought me a crystal radio kit, which I put together with minimal adult help and supervision, and began listening to the one or two stations the radio picked up. Roland may have been a bit of a geek, as my brother said, but he’d turned an eight year old on to technology.
Adolescence has nothing to do with eight year olds, but it does have to do with twelve year olds. And by the time I was twelve, I’d moved on from crystal radios, but was still, or rather was now, fascinated with the simple technologies available to twelve year olds at Janisse’s Hobby and Toy Shop. Working model steam engines, which could operate a small drill or saw were too expensive for me, but the little motors that drove model automobiles were pretty inexpensive, and if you took the red plastic propeller from an even less expensive balsa wood and rubberband glider, and glued it to the motor, you could make yourself a personal fan!
Which I did, and like Roland a few years before, I brought it to school.
Like I said, I was twelve. Grade seven. At the beginning of adolescence. And as fascinated as I was with the technologies at Janisse’s Hobby and Toy Store, I was even more fascinated by girls. Now, I’d always liked girls, all the way back to Kindergarten and Carol Ann Smithers. But by grade seven it was different. In grade seven I was twelve and Bethany Langer was sitting in front of me.
I fell hard for Bethany almost from the moment I met her. She was new to our school that year, and when Mr. Cope read her name out for attendance, he said her last name, Langer, so it rhymed with ‘hangar.’
“Excuse me, Sir. It’s pronounced ‘Lahnjay’,” she said, correcting him. “It’s French.” I fell a little bit in love right then. I’d never met a French girl before.
She turned around in her desk to introduce herself to me. “My first name is Beth. Now usually, when someone’s named Beth, it’s short for Elizabeth. But in my case, it’s short for Bethany. I was named after my grandmother.”
“So, your grandmother’s name is Bethany?”
“No, silly. It’s Elizabeth.” And then she laughed at me. A laugh that reminded me of many small bells. And I was gone.
I don’t know that Bethany ever knew that I was in love with her. I certainly never told her. A twelve year old boy never tells a Bethany Langer that he’s in love with her. Throughout that year, though, I tried to convey to her that I was in love with her, by stumbling over my words when I spoke with her, by tripping over my own feet at the front of the classroom accidentally and by being complimented by Mr. Cope for always having my history homework completed and reading ahead in English.
None of that worked.
I also tried inane compliments. “You have great hair.” I told her. “I wish I had your hair.”
She did have great hair. Long, black, straight and silky looking hair that reached all the way to her waist and, to me, her incredible hips. I knew though that it was far safer to compliment her hair than her hips.
”Silly! You don’t want hair this long! It’s so much work!” And then she fanned her hair out over my desk for a moment, before expertly gathering it up to one side of her head and pulling it in front of her and away from me.
I didn’t tell her how much I appreciated the work she put into her hair, or how much I wanted to run my hands through it. That seemed almost as dangerous as complimenting her hips. But I think she gathered as much, because she said, “Thanks for the compliment, but if you touch my hair, and my brother finds out, he’ll kill you. He’s super protective of me.”
I didn’t ask how he’d find out. I knew. She’d tell him. “David Garlick had the audacity to touch my hair! And he’s fascinated by my hips!” She’d tell him that for the pleasure of watching her brother kill me. And so I didn’t touch her hair. But having it all right there in front of me, five days a week was a kind of exquisite torture for twelve year old me, from September to April.
And then in April I brought my homemade, personal electric fan to school. I’d constructed a small box to hold two ‘D’ batteries, glued the eighty-five cent motor into place at one end of the box, with a red plastic balsa wood rubberband glider propeller glued onto the motor. By connecting the wires coming from the motor to both ends of the batteries, the propeller would spin, I would point it at myself, and be far cooler than anyone else in the class. In fact, I thought, having such a device on my desk would make me the coolest kid in the class.
Everyone would be jealous of me, and impressed by my technological know-how. Perhaps even Bethany Langer would be impressed and fall in love with me.
That’s not, as you probably guessed, how things turned out.
The fan worked very well at keeping me cool, and earned the notice and admiration of Mr. Cope. “Pretty neat, Dave! You made that yourself?”
A couple of the boys in class were also intrigued. “Where’d you get the motor?” “How’d you know that it was gonna work?”
Bethany, though, was less than impressed. When I initially hooked it up in class it was pointed at her, and it blew her fascinating and exquisite hair out of its usual state of perfection. “Don’t point that thing at me again, okay? Geez!”
And so, for the rest of the morning I had to be satisfied with the compliment from Mr. Cope and the couple of boys who thought it was kind of neat. At least, I thought to myself, I’m not sweating like a pig and smelling up the place with my sweaty arm pits which was a new and unwelcome part of adolescence, and another reason, I thought, Bethany Langer would never fall in love with me.
Things took a terrible turn later that morning though. Just before lunch Bethany fanned her hair out over my desk which was usually something I really enjoyed. But this time, her fascinating and exquisite hair got caught up in the propeller of my fan, which quickly wound itself up, over and over, from her hair’s end, which again, reached all the way to her hips, to her scalp, while she screamed, “TURNITOFFTURNITOFFTURNITOFF!”
As quickly as I could I disconnected the batteries, but by then, my personal electric fan looked as though it had become one with Miss Bethany Langer.
“IDIOT! GARLICK, YOU’RE AN IDIOT! NOW I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GO HOME AND CUT OFF ALL MY HAIR! I’M GOING TO BE BALD AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! IDIOT! MY BROTHER IS GOING TO KILL YOU!”
And then Bethany ran out of the classroom crying. The bell rang and we all went home to lunch.
I went home to wait for death.
I told my mother what had happened, leaving out the fact of my unrequited love for Bethany Langer and her incredible hips.
“Do you know where she lives? We can call her and apologize.”
“She’s still going to be bald, and her brother is still going to kill me.”
“It can’t be that bad, can it?” She asked.
“I don’t know any bald girls, do you?”
There weren’t any Langers in the phone book though, so there didn’t seem any way of calling to apologize, in any case.
Although I spent much of lunch looking out the window for him, Death didn’t come by at lunch. But Bethany didn’t return to school after lunch either. Mr. Cope told me that he didn’t think what had happened was my fault, but it was cold comfort to me. At least I’ll go to my death knowing that Mr. Cope didn’t hold me responsible, I thought.
After school I walked home by myself, waiting for Bethany’s brother to jump out from behind a tree, or pull up to me on a motorcycle and, after running me over, beat me to death with a big stick. I realized that I had no idea what Bethany’s brother looked like, but that whoever came up to me with murder in his eyes would probably be him.
Just before supper, a meal I thought might be my last, there was a knock on the front door. I went to answer it, walking as though I was a Jimmy Cagney character walking towards the electric chair at the end of a movie.
I opened the door to find Roland Markham, the young man who’d become my hero in 1968 by turning his desk into a crystal radio.
“Are you David Garlick?”
“Yes Sir.” I called him Sir, even though he was my brother’s age and in my brother’s classes at high school. He was six years older than I was, but he was about the same size as every other kid in my grade seven class. His voice sounded like a cross between sandpaper on metal and the squeak of a mouse. He had the same impressive case of adolescent acne I was worried about developing, and it didn’t look as though he’d washed his hair that month.
“Here’s your fan back. It still works. There’s a couple of Beth’s hairs wrapped around the motor spinny thing though. It’s pretty cool! Did you get the motor at Janisse’s?”
“Yes, thanks! How do you know Bethany?”
“You mean Beth? She’s my sister. Well, half sister. Her mom married my dad last year.”
So this was the brother sent to kill me.
“I’m awfully sorry about Bethany’s hair. Did she have to cut it all off?”
“Nah! Once she calmed down we unwound things pretty easily.”
“So you’re not going to kill me?
“Kill you? Where’d you get a stupid idea like that? I just didn’t want my stupid sister to throw your fan away!”
“Still, please tell Bethany I’m sorry, okay? I don’t want her hating me because of this.”
“I don’t know if my relaying an apology will help much, but I’m happy to tell her. Have a good evening, okay?” And with that, he left.
I’m pretty sure that Bethany hated me for a good long time after that. She didn’t speak to me, or call me silly, or laugh her laugh of many small bells at anything I said for a very long time. She also started to tie her hair in a long single braid, which was far less fascinating to me, though she still had great hips.
I apologized profusely and wrote her the very best ‘I’m sorry for being a jerk’ letter I could, but I’m pretty certain she continued to hate me, at least for the rest of the month. By the end of the school year though, things had gotten back to almost normal between us, and I’d begun to notice that Michele Lindsay was at least as attractive to me as Bethany had been.
But I never brought the fan to school again.