The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 6 (Carrying Out the Deed — Later Stages)
However, we could not test out my idea immediately after we all four were together in the school; we had to wait on the meeting in the little church across Avenue H to end. Taking our cue from Adling’s and Berry’s excellent idea of “lining up” the chair/desks from the classrooms near the entrance of my idea’s testing, we began moving chair/desks from as many classrooms lining the main hall as we could reach, lining them up “bumper-to-bumper” as quickly as we could in front of the east (NE) main entrance. The remaining meeting might delay chair/desk lifting to the roof, but it did not have to delay chair/desk moving.
The sides of the hall were darker than the center, so as we finished all the chair/desks in Coach Bates’ stage room and began moving chair/desks from hall classrooms such as Mr. Hughes’, Mr. Bint’s and Coach Turner’s into the hall, we tried walking and carrying near the hall sides, but found ourselves running into the hard-to-see tall metal trash cans, making much too much noise! When the noise gave no response from outside, we would laugh at our clumsiness, yet seemed reluctant to take the time to move the trash cans! The classrooms were much brighter due to diffused street light, but still dark enough there was little chance of being seen by a car driving along W 11th St., though we “ducked down” below windowsill level by instinct. One particular moment found Berry and I in a classroom while Adling and Cole were jamming up chair/desks near the east entrance. Suddenly, a shadow appeared at the windows of the room! Thinking it was someone at the window, I hissed out, “What was that?” It proved to be someone all right — a cat jumping upon the window sill from the ground below. With Mrs. Bailey’s room already right at the entrance and with now about five rooms emptied, the main hall was getting mighty crowded with chair/desk traffic!
We had to take short breaks because of the hard work, and during one such break we discovered a new problem at the west (SW) end of the main hall, where we knew the band hall meeting had ceased. A home across Avenue I displayed an open, brightly lit window commanding a nice view of the west entrance. This entrance had originally been tagged as possibly the site of moving chair/desks from a couple of rooms at this end of the main hall; it was believed my lifting idea would barely work there also. To lift from the west entrance or not, that was the question; in our usual, efficient, and democratic way of making decisions in the M-4, we decided on a compromise position and decided to move only Mrs. Cotton’s chair/desks out the west entrance when the time came.
At about this time, the religious meeting across Avenue H broke up; it was time to move jammed chair/desks in the hall to the roof; it was time to test my idea.
My idea of how to get the chair/desks atop the school’s flat roof above the main hall, my modus operandi, was mind-numbingly simple: at the double main entrance at the east (NE) end of the building, the flat roof jutted out to provide sidewalk protection for an extended side of classrooms; the truncated side ended at the doors, leaving a bare, open edge of the flat roof, only a little over eight feet above the sidewalk. A 20-ft square open-air decorative flower bed, planted in lantana and/or nan Dina, just to the right of the doors as you walked out toward Avenue H, had two of its sides ringed with these bare, open roof edges. One of these edges on the square butted up against the wall of the entrance. I saw that if one stood just inside the square off the sidewalk/walkway right outside the entrance and “pressed,” like a barbell, a chair/desk above his head, gripping simultaneously the back of the chair and the front edge of the desk, two legs of the chair/desk would be just about roof level, where another person could kneel down and grab the piece of furniture by one or two of the upward-jutting legs and bring it up out of the “presser’s” grip, turning it around upright in the process, and place it on the flat roof. The distance at the west entrance from the ground to roof level was greater, but believed to be doable also, if the person on the roof reached down as far as he could below the roof level.
It was decided at first Berry and I would climb upon the roof just outside the main entrance, using the sidewalk guard rails like ladder rungs, and start as the two “roof men.” Cole was the first “feeder” of chair/desks out the door and Adling was the first “lifter” to Berry and me. It worked — just as I thought it would! I think we all felt a surge of relief and great satisfaction, none more so than I. It was not easy, especially on the lifter, but we found we could generate a rhythm efficient enough that the feeder and lifter could keep both roof men in perpetual motion walking one way loaded and the opposite empty — setting the chair/desks in ranks and files across the width of the flat roof above the main hall. We experimented to find the most efficient arrangement of our quartet, exchanging positions for several “units.” We found we seemed to work best, fast and efficient, with Adling and Berry on the roof, Cole as the feeder, and I as the lifter. I recall the sensations of a “well-oiled” machine: the soft crunching of the flat roof’s gravel under Adling’s and Berry’s feet during their two-way repetitions, Cole’s reliable maneuvering of the chair/desks from the hall, through the partially propped-open door, and to the lifting spot, and my seeminglly never-ending “military pressing” of each chair/desk over my head.
Our greatest concern, of course, was to be spotted by someone in a car driving on Avenue H, so we had a “system of concealment” should one the roof men, doubling, reasonably, as a watchman, should whisper as loudly as he dared, “Car!” That word would be relayed down along our “conveyor belt” of moving chair/desks. The roof men would quickly place any near-by desks they were transporting in the shadows and both lie flat on their stomachs upon the gravel; the feeder would shove any chair/desks at the entrance back inside the building and get inside the door, shutting it behind him; the lifter would assist the feeder as much as possible and then duck behind the lantana bushes in the landscaping. Thankfully, this system did not have to be employed too many times, and each time “all was clear” within seconds of the car’s passing. If any of us had a moment to spare, which was not often, he would glance up at the sky to look for signs of our greatest dread — worse than being caught in the deed — rain. Again, thankfully, no signs of rain were ever spotted.
Periodically, as more and more chair/desks were lining up along the roof top, we would all four stop our “conveyor belt” and go back inside to push more desks up close to the entrance for the efficient “feeding of the feeder.” At the end of one such “feeding,” we decided to go to other end of the hall and put up the one room of chair/desks from Mrs. Cotton’s room, for, no one seemed to be appearing at the bright window across Avenue I. This lifting site was more difficult, as both lifter and roof man had to stretch to complete the “hand-off.” Here the west door was left propped open all the time during lifting, as that entrance was entirely in shadow; a broken “business” end of a baseball bat was found as the prop. As we finished the chair/desks from this one room, it was my task to get rid of the broken bat that had served us so well. In our surging confidence I carelessly tossed the bat so hard it thundered into the end of the band hall with a loud thud! The three in the hall and I at the door froze; I hurriedly shut the door and received right away a “triple-tongue lashing” concerning my careless “stupidity.” The lashings turned to giggles when it was apparent there would be no response to the loud thud.
Back at the main lifting site at the east entrance, we had stopped for a breather and to check to see how many chair/desks we had to go. As we all talked just outside the entrance, I was holding the front door open so it would not close and lock us out, when it slipped out of my hand and did just that! There was a brief moment of panic, as we all had the realization that such a great plan, having been so successful so far, could be ruined by something so stupid and trivial. Adling became very emotional, and for the only time any of us over the years can remember, he “lost it;” composure became beyond him at that moment.
“Hastings! It ain’t going to be too difficult in the morning to figure out who did all this when they find Berry’s and my jackets and my books in the teachers’ lounge!” he said as loudly as he dared. The way Adling railed at me reminded me of the acting scenes he and I used to do for each other back in our junior high days; I could not help but start laughing, right in Adling’s face. As Adling became more and more upset with me, Berry and Cole became infected by my laughter. Adling noted Cole laughing nervously and did not notice that Berry’s laugh was curiously care-free. An observer of our as-quiet-as-possible quartet of laughter might have thought it a scene of condemned men laughing at themselves. My whirring mind quickly thought of a way to get back into the building, and, apparently, the same thing occurred to Berry. But neither of us let Adling know what we were thinking, as we were enjoying his rant too much. Adling even began laughing at himself ranting. Cole, also clueless to Berry’s and my thoughts, but true to his “coolness under fire,” decided to take it upon himself to calm Adling down and suggested the two of them walk around to the west door where we had recently worked to see, if by chance, it had been left ajar. (He probably wanted to make sure Adling was away from me, in case Adling was really angry enough at me to attack me.)
As Cole escorted Adling around the corner of the building closest to the intersection of W 11th St. and Avenue H to walk the length of the building around to the west door, Berry and I stood side by side without a word until they were out of earshot. We looked at each other and I asked him, “Do you want to go, or do you want me to?” Berry grinned and shrugged his shoulders. At that moment we both knew we were thinking the same thing, and to this day, I do not remember us saying anything about how to get back in to each other! I do remember him answering my question.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. Feeling myself responsible for this “mess,” I said I would go; I climbed onto the roof, squeezed into the small window above one of the stalls of the boys’ restroom, and dropped onto the toilet seat and down on the floor. In a matter of seconds I had let Berry back inside at the main entrance, and the two of us began walking toward the west door to see if we could catch Adling and Cole there. Who should we meet coming toward us down the hall through the maze of chair/desks yet to be “processed” but Ading and Cole! The west door had somehow been unintentionally left ajar! (Perhaps in that “frozen” moment when I slammed the bat against the band hall?) We all now, even Adling, had as loud a “snickering” fest as we could for a couple of minutes over this farcical series of events, when Adling “lost it.”
We returned to the final stages of stooping, reaching, carrying, lifting, and scooting. 10:00 PM changed into near 11:00 PM and we were determined to get at all the chair/desks we could. Some rooms were locked, so we could not get to our “prey” in these — Mrs. Lee’s (outside entrance), Mrs. Wagley’s, Mrs. Pirtle’s, and Mrs. Page’s, not to mention the library. We worked so continuously, efficiently, and rapidly we did not take the time to count the number we did get to and transport to the roof. Near the end, fatigue was appearing, reflected how hard we had worked, in the form of slips and accidental bumping of the chair/desks. But, when finished, we estimated we had reached a total of eight rooms, each with 25 to 35 chair/desks, for a total between 220 and 240! Four of us had done this in a little under 3 hours! (Not counting the preparatory positioning Adling and Berry had done before Cole and I joined them.) Little wonder back then and even today many suspect more than four did the prank, in light of the work done, and that we are still “covering” for no-telling-how-many!
When we could not reach any other chair/desks, we had to call a halt, much to the relief of our aching backs, and we took turns going up on the roof to view the surreal, fantastic, and hilarious sight of what we had accomplished — the entire long flat-roofed corridor over the main hall was jammed “bumper-to-bumper” with ranks and files of desks; the flat area over the offices was completely clogged with chair/desks, with some units sitting on the sloped “wings” of the area; the roof was full of school chair/desks! We seemed to agree, despite how tired we were, that the results exceeded our wildest expectations conjured in our planning sessions. Classrooms below were empty; the sight on the roof compelled laughter; midnight was approaching; the job was done. Tired, sweating, proud, and happy, we all four congratulated each other by shaking hands once again.
Our obvious success spurred us on to complete the rest of our plan for the evening. Cole and I left the building to retrace our steps along Avenue I across town to his car near the cemetery. We ran for a good deal of the way, and, to our surprise, we got barked at again by Tiny at Cole’s house! Meanwhile, Adling and Berry made sure there were no traces in the school building of who might have done this deed and made sure all doors were locked before they closed the last one behind them. They then, with jackets and Adling’s books, waited in the shadows for the sight of Cole’s car. That sight was to appear in the same area where Berry had been deposited back what seemed now a long time ago. Following an obscure route, Cole drove upon the school ground, as he had done on Berry’s deposit. Cole slowed down, and I once more slipped into the back seat to open the right rear door; Adling and Berry slipped into the back seat with me and closed the door quietly; I slipped back up into the passenger seat; it was hard to know which was smoother — the depositing of one or the pick-up of two. Cole drove directly to the rear of W.W. Smith’s service station, where Adling and Berry got out of Cole’s car into Adling’s, to begin acting as if they had just returned from the basketball game.
It was planned for Adling and Berry to meet Bobby and Larry after the team’s return from Hamilton to obtain information about the basketball game. After we had let Adling and Berry off behind the service station, Cole and I, resolving we were not going to lie about our aborted bowling trip, decided we needed more “substance” to our alibi, other than just “riding around” all this time. So, we thought it would be good to say we had waited around for the return of the basketball team, “meeting” athletes and “basketball fans” like Adling and Berry, after we couldn’t bowl. But we missed the arrival of the team at the community gym, so we quickly started looking for any team members not home yet to we could be seen by them. We did find such members at the all-night truck stop on Highway 80 at the west end of town, but, to our surprise, there were Adling and Berry also! It was cool to see that apparently Adling and Berry had gotten to speak to Bobby before going into the truck stop, for they were “talking up” the game with Bobby, Earl Carson, Macon Strother, and Anthony Strother, as if they had been in the stands. Not germane to the game, Cole and I made sure the story of our aborted bowling trip was well circulated at the truck stop. Cole and I felt our alibi strengthened, if the need arose, despite the unplanned gathering of a very tired quartet.
Adling dropped Berry off at the latter’s house and himself drove home; Cole and I arrived back at his house not very long after midnight, about the time we had told his mother we would. We were all back in our “normal” positions for the evening — the plan had been executed!
We all went to sleep that night tired, dog tired, but experiencing the exhaustion of a job well done. Before nodding off we talked, long after the fact, that we all experienced when retiring after the prank a “different form” of disbelief; it was hard to believe everything had “gone off” so very well; our planning had been successfully carried out, even to details, meeting and exceeding our expectations. Cole had radio station KOMA on as we “fell” into our beds, and the newly famous group, the Beatles, who had played at a concert in Washington, D.C. that very evening while the four of us were “so busy,” were being played — their first big hit in the U.S.: “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” I commented how appropriate it was to hear the Beatles to end such a fantastic night; Cole only mumbled something against the Beatles, as was his wont, but he did leave the radio on to the end of the song for me. Just before Cole went to sleep we shared the thought of how the next school day was going to be “interesting,” and how hard it was going to be to keep straight faces, hoping it was going to be hard to be found out.
Alone now with my thoughts as sleep came easily, my feelings, before they yielded to fatigued “grogginess” were best described as tidbits of triumphant giddiness. In Coronation terms, it was as if we all four had been crowned King Loboes; like Napoleon had reached out and crowned himself, we had reached out and done something about our Senior year to make it memorable; we had declared we were kings of our lives — not the pawns of anyone. It was an act of freedom, of defiance, of youthful joy — an act that had turned us into bonded brothers.