Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

The Chair/Desk Escapade — Introduction

Why should a high school prank from 1964, from so many pranks that occur each and every school year, linger in memories beyond those who witnessed it? Why does that particular prank example not only mark the graduation class of the pranksters, but also serves as a benchmark of reference for issues well beyond those of crazy things that teenagers always seem to do?

It has taken years of retrospection to understand answers to these questions, and as the half-century anniversary of the event comes and goes, it is time to honor the memory of February 11, 1964, to honor what happened on that date in the west-central Texas small town of Cisco. Over the years misconceptions, errors of fact, and groundless conclusions swirl around the birth date of the M-4, the label given to the four responsible for the prank  (The M-4…..And the ‘M’ Stands For….. [May, 2012]) — Adling (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May, 2012]), Berry (Ode to Bob B. Berry [May, 2012]), Cole (Ode to Robert W. Cole [May, 2012]), and Hastings (me). (Think “ABCH” when you want to identify the M-4.) It is time to get rid of these “squirrely-swirleys.”

Moreover, too often those who know a lot about the prank, as well those who know little, make unwarranted assumptions. It is assumed that the M-4 got what they deserved, that their actions were embarrassments to their families, their school, their community, and their friends, that they have lived their lives in remorse, regret, and shame, that their story is an example of proper authority, or that their lives were so burdened by the consequences they brought upon themselves, they have stumbled and stuttered through their higher education and careers as ne’er-do-wells. The truth has another thing coming for those who have assumed in these ways; little do they actually know……. It is time to expose the absurdities of these assumptions.

The first chapter of The Chair/Desk Escapade will begin to describe the “perfect storm” of circumstances that led up to the execution of the prank by describing both the particular place and particular time — i.e. the background setting of the prank. The second chapter will describe the four characters, the M-4 (supplementary to their “odes” listed above), how we brought this setting to bear upon our already remarkable friendships, and how this, in turn, brought us to execute the escapade. Chapters 1 and 2, in other words, should answer, indirectly at least, in the minds of the readers why we did it. Chapter 3 expands upon the answer, considering the role the Cisco High School tradition of the Coronation of King Lobo played. My own personal take on “why” will come at the end in a commentary.

Chapter 4 describes the origin of the idea of the escapade and how it turned into a plan. Chapters 5 and 6 will be an account of the events making up the escapade, and Chapters 7 through 9 describe its effects afterwards — all constituting as diary-like a “blow-by-blow” account as the combination of our memories and my memoirs will allow. There is nothing closed about this account, as I hope it conjures in the readers who directly or indirectly knew about the birth of the M-4 memories or recollections of others’ commentary which can be added to these chapters as time goes on. We are not only dealing with the legacy of the Cisco High School (CHS) class of 1964, we are dealing with the legacy of CHS from the middle of the 20th century.

As the legacy of the chair/desk escapade ripples through the fabric of time, it becomes clearer and clearer how unique the whole thing was. As I’ve said, it was a “perfect storm” of circumstances, of setting, and of characters that had not been seen before, and, in so many ways, has not been seen since. Given that any period of time is absolutely unique, it is probably safe to say we will never see the likes of the chair/desk escapade ever again. New times and circumstances demand events, including pranks, that are also new; repetitive, “copy-cat” events trying to capture the unique past seem always to fall short of expectations and do not complement or do justice to the “original.” Like all memorable, significant, “original” events, the chair/desk escapade stands alone.

Without this “perfect storm,” it is hard to visualize the escapade even coming close to execution.

The innumerable effects of the chair/desk escapade and its spawning of the M-4 make it hard for the four of us to think about our lives in the wake of February 11, 1964 as if we did not do what we did back then. To say our lives “turned a corner” that night is an understatement indeed! The price we paid for being the M-4 has shrunk in our minds over the years, while the rewards and benefits of being the M-4 have increased; price and reward have been inversely related over time, as we see it. I spoke briefly not too long ago with retired superintendent Billy Bates of the Waxahachie Independent School District, who was the head football coach back at CHS in the school year 1963-1964, and who was responsible for bringing me to Waxahachie in the early 1970’s, and he spoke of 2/11/64 as if it had to be a spot of regret in my past; I quickly told him that, on the contrary, he would not believe “all the mileage” the four of us have gotten out of that one night. I did not have time to tell him what I meant, so I hope he gets to read this to find out.

What if Adling had not come up with the thought of the chair/desks upon the flat roof of the school? (Many think of them as “chairs,” and many think of them as “desks,” and understandably so, for, they are, as so many of you know, combinations of a) a coated steel and wood chair-with-back, with an open storage shelf below the seat, and of b) a slightly sloping wooden laminate writing surface rigidly placed in front of the seated student and mounted on the right front corner of the chair seat frame. They are not lightweight nor easily transported vertically.) What if Adling had told his imaginative idea to someone besides me? What if there had not been a “perfect third” in Berry around? And what if I had not known Cole well enough to see him as the “perfect fourth?” What if our plan had needed far more than four? (As you will read, four was not sufficient in the minds of many to account for the facts.)

Part of the answers to any or all the “what if” questions above is that the friendships among our quartet would have not been the same — namely, they would not have become as strong as they are today. I have great friends, but, then, I also have the M-4 (And God Said, “Let There Be Friends”….And It Was Weird! [April, 2012]). “Brothers” and “close friends” are inadequate to describe us. Only members of a team that has successfully executed a mission wherein each member is utterly dependent upon all the others know personally what the four of us have had since 1964. What we have had, thanks to the chair/desk escapade, is priceless — priceless like the story itself.

Other parts of the answers are for me personally anecdotal: 1) my memoirs would be, without the M-4 and the night of 2/11/1964, awfully damn ordinary. They were written while I was in graduate school when I realized that no one in discussion groups could top my high school stories. In fact, I’d wager that if ever any of the M-4 has gotten into a “what did you do in high school?” contest, he has won the contest easily; that is certainly my experience. Our senior year in high school is the largest section of my memoirs.

2) Little about our graduation year in high school would be remembered beyond what is usually remembered about a graduating class. As I related in The M-4….And The ‘M’ Stands For…. [May, 2012], the M-4 and the chair/desk escapade is remembered in the Cisco Police Department to this day. Back in 2005, as I posted in the police department window a poster on our all-class dance at the Cisco Country Club as part of the all-class CHS Reunion, I was asked my name and graduating class.

A look of recognition followed my answers and the question: “Were you one of those who put the chairs on top of the school?”

“Yes, I was!” I said.

“Oh…..” was the response, followed by a pregnant pause.

The pause said it all. There was no delight in the response, but also no horror or repulsion. It was almost as if what was unsaid before we started an ordinary casual conversation about the reunion was something like: “Oh my God! It is one of them! They really do exist!”

So, when it comes to the chair/desk escapade, why? Why, indeed!? Just like “the devil is in the details,” for this escapade, the “why” is in the deed. Indeed.


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