Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 4 (Coming Together and Planning)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..” begins Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities. So also seemed the times of late 1963 in the town of Cisco, Texas, specifically in Cisco High School, home of the Loboes. The fun-driven lifestyle and friendships of certain students in the Senior Class of 1964 assured in our minds we were living in the best of times, well worth waiting over 11 years for our graduation. However, new coaches, new administrators, a new school bond, and our class in “facility limbo” threatened to lay our hopes and frivolity low…..unless we lived up to our fanciful self-analysis that we could overcome anything thrown our way. It wasn’t an unrealistic “Let’s put on a play and everything will be all right!” attitude from Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies; it was more like “Ok, how can we get control of this thing and turn the tables on everyone?” We may not have known the answer yet, but our self-confidence made us look for one.

We had just been successful saving the Homecoming Bonfire from college arsonists (The 1963 Cisco High School Homecoming Bonfire — No Sleep and Almost Torched into Martyrdom [August, 2013]), but we had no Senior Trip and Senior Play as our traditional senior privileges. Like the days before the French Revolution, there was an uncertain tension in the air, and our not-so-serious microscopic Cisco context of tension reflected the very serious context of the world in general, both near and far. The Beatles and Rolling Stones were about to start the “British Invasion” of America, giving us, through rock ‘n’ roll, motivation to resist attempts to squelch teenage expression — resistance through music and fashion; we found rogue radio stations who played rock ‘n’ roll despite censorship of the music in communities and churches. JFK had brought youth, hope, and optimism to the Whitehouse and to the country’s psyche, but he was assassinated in Dallas about two weeks after our bonfire. College youth were beginning to ask poignant questions about US foreign policy and thinking of ways they could make a difference from campus, while at the same time the US was becoming more and more mired in a no-win situation in far-off South Vietnam. Young women were questioning their traditional roles in society, but Title IX had not yet come along to give them equal opportunity in school-sponsored sports. Dr. Martin Luther King had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D. C., but before that, in June, 1963, Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..”

To quote Adling from his diary: “We dreamed more than the average kid. There comes a time when you want to see some results of some dream — see something actually happen. I’m not sure why pure dreaming is not enough, but it is probably a universal truth that something exciting has got to happen to a dreamer on a dreamer’s own impetus sometime. That’s getting at my motive for thinking of putting the desks on the roof; it was subconscious. I recall driving by (the “converted” high school building) [parentheses mine] and for some reason noticing the natural cover provided by the roof lines for hiding desks and their movers. This time I began forcing all my thoughts into a ‘it might could come true’ configuration — a bit like releasing 100 small helium-filled balloons and grasping and grabbing them and shoving them down into a barrel, the too wild ones would just have to float away, and I’ll just use what I can contain….so, I had a dream that could be converted. I was really excited.”

Not exactly Martin Luther King “dream stuff,” but that was the beginning, a novel idea that would not go out-of-mind for being too fanciful. It hinged upon the flat roof of the building foisted upon us by the circumstances of Chapter 1 — the flat roof that covered the long central hall between two rows of classrooms, covered the hall from the offices to the gymnasium, and covered the walkway that stretched from the double-door front entrance out toward Avenue H. In my memoirs I called that roof the most unlikely place to find the school chair/desks, yet it appeared to be attainable, but in a way that had not come to Adling yet.

Continuing from Adling’s diary: “As I recall I went to your home and told you I wanted to show you something; you (and you should have known better) went with me on a drive-by, and I told you my thoughts. You were enthusiastic and immediately took to the project.” We now know there were at least two important reasons Adling went straight to me — 1) we had been imagining and dreaming together since the end of the sixth grade; it was what we did; as I have said, no matter how wacky an idea would pop into our heads, we knew the other would listen to it, probably when no one else would, and 2) I was the perfect friend on whom to try the “it might come true” test, as Adling did not know if it could be done. I was like a sieve selecting those “balloons” that needed to be let go and pointing out those that could be grasped. Cleverly, he presented his idea by showing me the evidence of plausibility (the drive-by) and by challenging me through asking if it could be done. From the outset my impression was his conviction that this could and needed to be done.

Part of my enthusiasm centered upon this challenge, to be sure, and I began mentally working on a way to do it, showing how ideas Adling had at first would not work. But if early conversations about the idea were recorded, all one would hear was giggling, outright “guffawing” laughter, and an occasional “Oh, man, that’s neat!”, “Patrick, that’s cool!” (We called each other “Patrick” — that’s another story.), and “Just think of it!” But I soon figured it out, sometime near the end of November, as best as I recall; I did not keep a dairy — think of the incriminating evidence! — and I did not write my memoirs until six years after we graduated high school.

(37 years after we pulled off the chair/desk escapade, in 2001, Adling and I were on a trip together celebrating our M-4 anniversary. In a restaurant in New Mexico, outside Santa Fe, he told me for the first time that he was so unsure the idea was realistic when he first thought of it and told me, that if I had said it could not be done, it would have been just another “balloon” that needed to be let go. 37 years!?! I never knew that! I’m sure that if I could not come up with a plan of how to do it, I would have “shot the idea down.” I considered that part of my “job” within the world of our friendship. I still don’t know if Adling was telling the truth in New Mexico, or if he was just trying to get a stir from me!)

By the end of 1963 and of our aborted class plan to paint the Lake Cisco dam during the Christmas holidays (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]) Adling and I had snippets of private time together in which to build a skeleton of a plan. The whole thing had to be motivated by entertaining the student body; we savored the thoughts of what our peers would do when they saw all the chair/desks atop the flat roof. It had to be throughout as innocent a prank as it could be — no criminal action, no vandalism, and no property damage. From the beginning, not only did we plan on not getting caught, we planned on our being the perpetrators of such a mystery, it still would not be solved until we graduated. Our plan called for us to announce, once we had our diplomas in our hands the following May, that we had done it, when, we surmised, it would be too late for the school district to do anything to us. Our skeleton plan was 75% fun and 25% thinking of possible risks. Our determination to get together and plan the “desk thing” would spike as I would get fed up being the “messenger boy” between Coach Bates and Mr. Hathaway (Chapter 2), or when Adling would get fed up with another teacher, usually Mrs. Mulliner (Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]), or when the Senior Club would take another “hit” by the school and community (Chapter 1).

But, not surprisingly, the spirit of the two of us in “skeleton planning” was the happy-go-lucky spirit of our friendships going back to the sixth grade (See Adling’s “ode.”). It seems naive of us in retrospect, but to us at that time, fun-filled motives justified the “logical” assumption that the prank, if successfully pulled off under our firm criteria, would be taken by observers in the same spirit as it was done.

The beginning of 1964 brought pressure from the athletic department upon the Senior Club and Student Council dances out of concern of athletes breaking training rules, despite the end of football season (Chapter 1); King Lobo nominations brought unfair concerns about Berry and me (Chapter 3); Adling and Berry had quit speech class over clashes with Mrs. Mulliner (Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]); with a joke of a high school building and no prospects for a Senior play or trip (Chapters 1 and 2), people outside Cisco did not know whether to pity us, laugh at us, or both. And, if all that was not enough, rumors not squelched by the administration were beginning to circulate that imposed student dress regulations were being considered. Adling’s idea and my modus operandi for the idea seemed the only things we could control to bring back to our Senior year the fun we expected the end of high school to be; if we did nothing, the school year seemed bound to an unnecessary turmoil from the authorities and/or a forgettable mediocrity that only a new school building could cure — a cure from which, cruelly to us, we could never benefit and enjoy.

The two of us began to scrutinized and tweak our plan in earnest; we felt compelled to do so. Our fun with the skeleton plan spread into the concrete. The math was daunting if we were to stay two. The CHS student body (grades 9 through 12) then was a little over 350 students, which, in the “converted” high school building, was served by around almost 300 chair/desks, 20-35 units per classroom, according to the mental counting Adling and I would do during our “normal” school day. The prank had to be pulled, we reasoned, during the school week, on a week night, as to do it on a weekend would risk the chair/desks to extended exposure, possibly weather damage; we absolutely wanted to avoid harming any school property. To do it on a school night, with school the next day, meant our window in which to execute would be limited to “prime time” only, limited by midnight, as none of us was allowed to be “out and about” on a school night past then. If we limited ourselves to two working only for a few hours before midnight, we might not be able to handle all the desks we could reach before we had to get back home for the night, making a partially completed job — an outcome we found absolutely unacceptable to our self-esteem; we had to find someone to help us; we had to let someone else in on “the plan.”

Whoever was going to join us had to meet strict standards the secrecy of our planning had spawned. He (unfortunately, no female classmates were considered) had to speak to no one but “the conspirators” about the plan; he had to remain absolutely silent about the plan if he did not want to join; he had to work like a dog; he had to risk being caught in the act; he could not “take over” the group of planners, nor could he just “follow along” and not contribute to consensus decisions that would be demanded of the group; he had to commit to the high moral ideals of the plan and hold them more than worth the risk. In other words, he had to be like one of our study group that met at my house! (Chapter 2)

Both of us knew who the “third” had to be — Berry. He was a “no-brainer” choice; we decided upon him in seconds. If anyone had more motivation than Adling or I to do something about this school year and the direction it was going, it was Berry, President of the Senior Class and President of the “infamous” Senior Club. He could be as sneaky as we could, and his loyalty lay with the student body, especially with our graduating class. He was as uncomfortable about his King Lobo status as I, and for the same reasons (Chapter 3). So far, he had had little or no means to deal with the pressures put upon him regarding the Senior Club and the unofficial “private” dances it sponsored. The plan for the prank might just give him the means to “push back.” Berry was the “perfect third.” As Adling put it, “You and I agreed on Berry as a natural, able, and ‘must’ helper….”

Berry and I made arrangements for me to pick him up one afternoon after school in my car Liberty at the community gym, with no agenda or reason being mentioned. Berry later said he thought it was a matter concerning relationships between the Student Council and the Senior Club and the trouble he and I were having with Coach Bates and/or Mr. Hathaway. He was quite surprised when I demanded his complete and absolute secrecy about our conversation and that if he chose “not to go along,” he would give his word not to reveal anything I was about to tell him. Now curious, he agreed to these terms. When I told him of the idea, he had the same reaction Adling and I had when first thinking about it — he burst out laughing! He joined us enthusiastically, feeling the fun of the challenge immediately as I told him details of how far Adling and I had planned, emphasizing we needed his input.

As a planning trio now, it was harder to get together to plan without drawing anyone’s attention. Many times we three would be with other friends and classmates acting “normally wacky” as usual, and then, if we were lucky, the three of us would find ourselves alone, and we immediately “transformed” into planning mode, which was also wacky, but in a different way. Planning was much like study sessions — a few minutes of serious talk followed by even more minutes of laughing and joking. We came to several agreements — the prank had to reflect the happy-go-lucky attitude of our friendships and must be free of crime and dishonesty, the latter as much as possible. We had to have alibis, among our greatest challenges, and we were determined these, even, would be diversionary at worst, free of untruths. The more we thought about it together, the realization that to “pull this off” would demand far more minute-by-minute timing, cold execution, and frenzied, back-breaking work than originally anticipated.

We concentrated upon alibis, checking and re-checking that my idea of how to get the chair/desks upon the roof would work, and how to gain access to the school building one afternoon after hours without “breaking and entering.” Even without anything concrete, we were confident we would figure out how to do it not only without being caught in the act, but also without being found out. Berry agreed with the idea of telling others we did it only after we graduated with diplomas in-hand.

The chair/desk numbers, which Berry confirmed, soon had the three of us realizing we needed a fourth, and, possibly, a fifth. We guessed that four would do it in a few hours, if we worked very hard, and if my modus operandi proved successful. To let five in on it would increase the chances of leaks and the chances of our being “grouped” as a quintet often as suspicious; we had to trust that being possibly seen as a quartet would not seem suspicious.

But who to get as a fourth? Ideally, he would be as “perfect” as Berry was the third. We turned, naturally, to consideration of the rest of the study group, Lee and Clark Odom. But such consideration did not last long, as the three of us quickly agreed: Clark Odom did not have either the spirit or the gall to even think about joining us. Lee, on the other hand, had the spirit, being as mischievous as any of us, but he did not have the gall; we doubted he would take the risks we were taking and we were certain he would find something immoral in it, no matter how “perfectly” we planned. We had to look outside our study group. Adling and Berry became apprehensive, as they could not think of anyone suitable off-hand, and I agreed with them that if we could not find a fourth to join us, the likelihood that the chair/desk plan would soon be just another crazy “balloon” that had to be let go would be very high.

But I had no such apprehension as they; I immediately suggested Cole. Readers of Cole’s “ode” [May, 2012] know why I knew Cole and his qualifications better than Adling or Berry. Berry knew Cole better than Adling from double-dating with him, but he (Berry) seconded my suggestion right away when he thought of Cole’s crucial contribution toward saving the Homecoming bonfire back in November (The 1963 Cisco High School Homecoming Bonfire — No Sleep and Almost Torched into Martyrdom [August, 2013]). Adling trusted Berry’s and my judgment, and soon Cole and I met over at my house alone, and a scene reminiscent of Berry’s took place; Cole “died laughing” as soon as he thought of the “uproar” all the chair/desks atop the school’s roof would cause; to keep his mouth shut about this to anyone but the other three was “second nature” to the secretive Cole. He joined us at least as enthusiastically as had Berry. As I suspected, Cole was our “perfect fourth.” (For the record, had we decided we had needed a “fifth” — and I’m not talking about a fifth of whiskey! — I would have suggested Joe Woodard, Cole’s fellow “birddogging” and Dad’s empty root beer bottle “planter,” and I think I would have been supported by Cole in this selection, despite the alleged “rivalry” between Cole and Woodard {See Cole’s “ode”}.)

Again quoting Adling: “…you chose Cole, whom I did not even know — but he turned out to be an excellent choice. We four had rather extensive planning sessions and kept the project an absolute secret among the four of us.” Perhaps this was why Adling was also to describe me as the “leader” of the prank from the moment I came up with the way to do it. “In fact, you spear-headed the deal the rest of the way,” he was to say later on. Personally, I’m not so sure that is accurate, for, when we were a quartet at last and planning together, the chemistry that was to become the spirit of the M-4 seemed to develop and grow exponentially. We all four suggested, not demanded “our” ideas be considered; instead of statements like “I think we ought to…” or “I say we do…..,” there were lots of questions of each other like “What do you think about….?” or “How does this sound?” I suppose I made lots of suggestions and asked lots of questions in our planning sessions, but I do not recall doing so more frequently than any of the other three. Our planning included lots of “casing” of the school at night-time to familiarize ourselves with the “scene” of our plan, a scene seemingly assuring us that my idea of exactly how to do it would work.

What was the “spark” that galvanized our resolve to actually act upon our fanciful plan? When three of us were elected as candidates for King Lobo, near the end of the basketball season. To be nominated by our peers was like all three of us winning; the possibility of one of us actually being crowned sat uneasily with us, as our friendships were based upon a very non-competitive egalitarianism (Chapter 2 and Chapter 3). Rather than dwell upon the discomfort the situation personally caused us, Adling suggested we should do it before basketball season was over, before the Coronation. Besides, so confident were we that we could do this without being caught or found out, for us to think about actually doing it did not seem to be risking anything at all.

The last “away” basketball game was to be at Hamilton, on Tuesday, February 11, 1964. Adling’s and Berry’s alibi, therefore, would be to “attend” that out-of-town game. Cole and I would come up with a plan for us to do something else together that night. Cole was not present when we decided upon the date, as we made the decision at athletics during or after the last period of a school day. Later that afternoon, when I told Cole of the “day of decision,” he first thought I was talking about some Student Council project with which I needed his help. I think all of us felt “strange” we had evolved the plan into something much more than some crazy idea over which to laugh.

I recall being concerned regarding one point about our preparation, due to the sudden decision to do the prank. There would not be enough time for us to weave a web of diversion and deception Adling and I had cooked up, with the approval of Berry and Cole. To break association of us being seen together with suspicion of what we were “up to” (See Adling’s “ode”), he and I were going to stage at school a “falling out” with each other. Funny now, but I don’t remember any doubt in our minds that we could successfully convince our peers, and our parents if necessary, that it would be questionable we were going to hang around each other any more. We actually thought that if we could “put on our act” as we envisioned, there would not be a “knee-jerk” association with each other should one of us be suspected after the prank. As it turned out, this was only a “pipe-dream” preparation plan, about the only one of so many we could not follow.

Commitment to doing it on the evening of the game meant that someone actually going to the game had to be brought into our confidence so they could relay to Adling and Berry details of the game, all in order to support the their alibi. Those brought into the confidence of the plan would not be told what was actually going to happen, for their own protection, but would be told the importance of passing on detailed information from the trip to Hamilton. Adling took it upon himself to suggest basketball players Bobby Smith, a sophomore, and Larry Hargrave, a freshman, to be the “chosen ones.” As Berry and Adling trusted my judgment concerning Cole, Berry, Cole, and I trusted Adling’s judgment on these confidants. Adling got their cooperation without having to tell them very much about what we were going to do, although Bobby and Larry tried to get as much information as they could out of Adling; the two underclassmen pledged their secrecy as we requested.

All seemed in place the evening of Monday, February 10, when we all gathered at my house to go over final details without my parents overhearing and to wish each other luck. As I said in my memoirs, the next evening was going to be “quite busy” indeed! Our collective state of mind was to shed ourselves of the “worst of times,” leaving only the “best of times,” to inject good memories into our senior year to replace ones appearing not-so-good. We had unwavering faith our friendships were up to the task.


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