Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

The M-4 — and the “M” stands for…

The remaining four of the quintet (see And God Said, “Let There Be Friends”… And It Was Weird!) form a group christened the M-4, the “M” originally designated for “Malicious,” done tongue-in-cheek by Lee Wallace when he was a fish at A&M. “Tongue-in-cheek” because he knew our group came into existence via a harmless school prank. There was nothing truly malicious about us.

In a nutshell, the four, Adling, Berry, Cole, and Hastings, on Tuesday, February 11, 1964, found themselves inside the school building that night (no breaking and entering) and carried out a long-conceived plan to put all the school chair/desks we could reach in the classrooms atop the flat roof of the old Jr. High Building that was supposed to be the High School for that one school year. (The CHS class of 1964 is the only Senior class I know that did not graduate in a real high school building.) We lifted between 250-300 desks up and upon that flat roof, and got to bed that night before midnight. The rest, as they say, is history, as so many remember that next school day of February 12. It took the school a week to figure out who had done it, the plan worked so well; in hindsight, which is always 20/20, it seems, we were found out by the process of elimination applied to a student body just small enough for that approach to work. In a way, our resounding success backfired, in that only a handful of students were thought capable of pulling something like that off, not vandalizing a thing, and never caught in the act.

If the “M” doesn’t stand for “Malicious,” what else could it more accurately stand for? It could mean “Misnomer” or “Misnamed” or “Misunderstood.” At the reunion in 2010 Sylvia overheard someone talking about the “chair escapade,” saying they thought it was done by out-of-town vandals that did a lot of damage, like had been done to the football field in the past by vandalous rivals. Needless to say, Sylvia was able to correct them! At one of the reunions, Alice Ann (Webb) Holliday commented that, upon reading of our entire “body” of work — the M-4 went on to pull off many “plans” other than the chairs on the roof for years after (not always as a quartet, but as a trio, or duo), never getting caught, but usually found out in the same way we were found out in high school, she was “shocked” we were so “criminal” in our acts. If one looks at the way we were punished, we paid the price as if we were vandals and criminals, and, sometimes, that is all people remember, so, in their minds, we must have been “bad” — the “M” could have stood for “Maligned.”

We do not believe to this day that our “punishments fit the deeds;” we were judged as vandals for non-vandalous acts. Alice Ann used selected parts of our work to judge the whole body of our work, and I think a more inclusive read of my memoirs would argue the case that never were we malicious, barbarous, spiteful, deceitful, hateful, vengeful, or threatening. We defied, in my opinion, any classification; we were not gangsters, gang members, or juvenile delinquents.

We were, however, admittedly sneaky and non-exemplary. Of these two adjectives we are worthy, even though it must be pointed out, we, as a group, were not considered drinkers (except Dad’s root beer), smokers, users of foul or profane language, or chasers of girls. None of us “batted for the other team” nor was any of us a social pariah. Moreover, we never thought we should be given a “free pass” for any reason; if we were caught, we understood something had to be done to us. Our teenage oversight was that we thought the administration, the “powers that be,” and most of society around us would exercise the principle of “the punishment should reflect the deed.” Once we were found out after February 11, 1964, our oversight was obvious. In the beginning, our oversight made us the self-“Misguided”-4.

So, why did we behave in such non-conventional ways? A lot of misunderstanding of the M-4 comes from removing us from our context; from forgetting the times in which we functioned. Unique events such as the exploits of the M-4 are functions of unique times, times that are not only special, but times that cannot be duplicated or expected to return. I like to think the M-4 came into being because of a “perfect storm” of circumstances that will never occur again.

First, the community of Cisco, Texas, circa 1963-1964 was a divided community; half the tax payers wanted to pass a bond to build a new high school to replace the old three-story high school building between west 6th and 7th streets, and half did not believe the building was unsafe, despite the cracks in the foundation pillars, and did not think such a bond was necessary. Paying for a new high school was not a unifying issue in the town. Second, new administrators and coaches had arrived upon the scene to usher in what they thought were necessary changes at a time suited for change — a time when the old was to be vacated for a move into the new, whatever form the “new” might be.

The entire student body for the school year 1963-1964 was put under unusual pressure to pretend a building which we knew as a junior high was actually a high school. Those of us in leadership positions, including those who would become the M-4 (Berry was Senior class President, Adling was Vice-President of the National Honor Society, Cole was Senior class representative on the Student Council, and I was Student Council President.), found ourselves walking a tightrope between making the year one deserved by our class and one envisioned by the adult leadership in the form of the faculty, coaching staff, and administration. The Seniors of 1964 were not only asked to finish up high school in a junior high building (unprecedented humiliation for any graduating class of Cisco High School), we could not, for whatever reasons dictated by the administration, have a traditional Senior trip, nor could we have a traditional Senior play.

In this vacuum of tradition, so many in the Senior class saw the school year of 1963-1964 as one being overlooked by an adult leadership anxious to get such an “awkward” year, in which campuses were “reshuffled” all over the city, behind them as soon as possible, in anticipation of a new campus whose bond was eventually passed. It is clear now, in retrospect, that the student leadership, trying to fill the vacuum in good faith, grew in realization that all student leaders were seen as mere “rubber-stampers” carrying out the directions and suggestions of the student organizational sponsors; we had no power or say in school policy; we only had “tickets” to get our pictures in the yearbook more often than others. Students had little or no meaningful representation.

Over the years there has grown a sense that the M-4 acted in defiance for the whole student body, especially for the tradition-deprived class of 1964. A harmless prank was something truly “ours,” something we completely controlled and by which we exercised what we felt was our stunted freedom of expression. Putting the chairs on the roof was, in a way, a student expression analogous to the Boston Tea Party. Bob Dylan was already singing “The Times They Are a’Changin'” about the future, with its campus riots and protests, but it probably was applicable to the microcosm that was the community of Cisco High School in 1964. From the perspective of the Seniors ’64, the school year was so “topsy-turvy” the graduating class itself had become secondary, even tertiary, to the goal of “getting the school year behind” the administration, so that the district could begin moving into the new school buildings being built for the next year. It was a bad oversight trying to mold us “old school” students into “new school” students symbolized by the new in-the-making facilities and new administration and coaching staff, as if we were some kind of afterthought in the “grand scheme of things.” Maybe the “M” could stand for “Marginalized.”

Though we certainly did not think about it at the time, I like to think that subconsciously we “did it” for our “brushed-aside” class, the graduating class of the “temporary fix” of an unenviable year moving toward a state of mediocrity, a school year best forgotten — all due to causes not of our doing. But there was nothing mediocre about the CHS class of 1964. To this day our class is at or near the top in percentage of honor graduates and at the top of overall grade average; the number of college degrees our graduating class of 54 earned after graduation has to be some kind of record for CHS. And the M-4 went above and beyond the call of duty while we were still in school to make sure there was nothing forgetful about the school year 1963-1964 in Cisco, Texas; we like to think we reminded the world, as well as Cisco, that our graduating class was nothing to be brushed aside, taken for granted, or seen in any way as ordinary. Perhaps, in terms of classes, we were “Meteoric” or “Magnificent’ — anything but “Mediocre.”

Of course there were personal reasons for “doing it,” four sets of them, in fact. Each set was unique to each personality and each person’s experience. It is safe to say the personal motivations were “front and center” at the time, and have, since then, trumped our collective motivation of “taking one for the class.” In the upcoming odes to Adling, Berry, and Cole, I will give my interpretations of why each of the other three became part of the M-4.

Lest the foregoing touching on the collective and personal reasons the M-4 came into existence seem high-minded, serious, and sober, it must be pointed out that the spirit pervading these reasons are anything but. Spiritually, we did it because it was a challenge to see if we could do it, to see if we could put into action our collective “brain child” of an idea, but, most of all, we did it, I think, because it was fun to pull off; it was a concrete expression of the happy-go-lucky personalities our mutual friendships had taken on over the years; it was a celebration of friends at a special time in our lives. We were seventeen and full of confidence, testosterone, and Dad’s root beer. As Joe Torres has said, we had huevos to attempt to do such a prank midst the circumstances to which we were subjugated. We were “Macho” and “Mischievous.” It was a hell of a ride!

After we had served our three days of school suspension (Our report card grades were reduced by nine points each class that six weeks for those three days; this was the reason, I found out, looking at the numbers at the end of school, I was not valedictorian; a few years after our experience a court ruling on another high school prank found that grades can no longer be reduced for school expulsion.), or, as we called it, our 3-day “vacation,” guys at school would come up to us and ask why we had done it, and, instead of answering the question, we would ask them if they would have come in with us to be a part of the prank had we asked, and they all seemed to answer in the affirmative; after that, they did not ask us why again — they had their answer. During this time we were the “Magnetic”-4.

No prom and no coronation honoring a certain quartet of seniors that year! (Three of us had our candidacies for King Lobo stripped, a “punishment” that hurt our mothers more than it hurt us.) We were a quartet for a while possessing “Malcontent-Mothers.” On the other hand, our fathers seemed to understand, but could not side with us because of their wives, our mothers. Years later my father related to me how men would come up to him and shake his hand, as if he was the father of a “celebrity.” In certain circumstances, for a while, we were the “Movie-star”-4.

In the end, our list of punishments all but backfired on the administration. As Adling said in his assessment of the aftermath, “They showed less class than we.” Many in the town, including not a few on the faculty, felt we had gotten a “raw deal;” the real judgement was that the punishment had not fit the deed; as I said in the beginning, we had done nothing vandalous or criminal, yet punished as if we had. The administration had admirably not made it a police matter (what evidence would have made it a police matter?), but, beyond that, it had gone pretty much “downhill,” in trying to make us an “example,” trying to make our case a deterrent to “copy cat” pranksters in the future. This was an administration that could catch harmless pranksters, but could not catch tire slashers; they could throw the book at the M-4, but they could not win the respect of the student body. As graduation approached, we four had an opportunity to lead the student body in protests or boycotts of all sorts; as I was told by a faculty member whose contract was not renewed (Coach Jack Cromartie), when I was allowed in the spring to distribute all over the school copies of short stories I’d written and copied on school equipment, we had the whole school “eating out of the palms of our hands.” To our credit, we did not abuse that opportunity, but merely appreciated having such a moment that comes to so few; we took advantage of the “slack” so many in the community and in the school offered us in sympathy for our receiving such unfair treatment. We never felt “out of the loop,” un-informed, or “left out” of anything our senior year; come graduation we had confirmed to ourselves we had no regrets. We were beyond kings — we were the “Monarch”-4 or the “Mogul”- 4.

The M-4 (having not gotten caught unintentionally leading the painting of the dam at Lake Cisco right before graduation) actually were allowed to graduate, despite all the threats we might not, and, in addition, graduated with a “second” education from the school of “reality,” from the school of how not to be an adult. We were a lot less naive high school graduates than most, thanks to the birth of the M-4 on February 11, 1964. We became “Multi-Matriculators,” or “Mega-Matriculants.”

Today, two of us are professional engineers, Berry (petroleum engineer), and Cole (mechanical engineer), one is a practicing architect (Adling) with his own firm, and one is a Ph.D. physicist and teacher (Hastings).

Seldom, if ever, did all four of us “work” together after high school; when one, two, or three of us did something “worthy” of the M-4, the quartet as a whole, in our minds, received the “glory.” Consequently, between high school graduation and our “settling down” into marriage (& thereafter), we were probably turned into the FBI (The Flag Escapade — Phase II [August, 2013]), threatened with several different misdemeanor charges, we crashed a public beauty pageant (Crashing The Cisco Beauty Pageant — Night of the Long Knife [June, 2013]), we displayed unauthorized but unthreatening symbols, we were summoned before a grand jury, we crossed a condemned bridge across a major river, we entered a proto-national park, we marched in illegal demonstrations, and we raided golf driving ranges. This is an incomplete list, for I have listed only those things for which the statutes of limitations have expired. Out of all this we have emerged as professionals, for, remember, we are Misunderstood, and Misaccused, not Malicious.

At the Cisco High All-class reunion of 2005, I was one of a few of our class distributing flyers in windows downtown for the dance we were sponsoring at the Country Club at  Lake Cisco that Saturday night. I went into the Cisco Police Department (now next to the bank) to ask them if I could display one in their window. They were happy to let me do so, but as I put it up, they asked me my name and my class. Their demeanor changed drastically with recognition of the answer. “Were you one of those who put the school desks upon…? ” Yes, I was,” I answered. “Oh…” was about as far as the conversation went on that subject. The Cisco Police Department, after 41 years at that time, knows the M-4 and the CHS class of 1964. I’d love to be able to see the file they have on us there, if it hasn’t been deleted or shredded for more space.

One of the preparations I did before undergoing major surgery in 2002 was to see the M-4, in case I did not make it (The other preps on the list were to walk the pastures, ranches, and farms on which I grew up — which I now own, to see the Rolling Stones in concert, and to arrange that the last recognizable faces I saw before “going under” were those of the Hart twins, Sylvia and Sandra.). Berry could not make it to San Antonio, as he was in God-knows-where overseas on the job, but SA is Cole’s home, and Adling had come from Lubbock also for the Stones’ concert there. In Durty Nellie’s pub on the River Walk (where I belted out a rendition of the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” accompanied by the pub’s pianist) was the first time Adling’s second wife, Pamela, saw more than two of the M-4 together. She watched the three of us interact as if we had been together just the day before; she listened to the chemistry we had among us; she felt the bond. “Something special,” she called it, and has since never wondered about what it was and is that made and makes the M-4 the M-4.

I wonder what she thinks the “M” stands for?


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