The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 9 (Continued Aftermath and The Birth of a Legacy)
Next, we went to see Mrs. Catherine Cole at Cole’s house. She “took it” better than we had expected, maybe because we appeared to her en masse. Then, we went downtown to City Hall, where Mrs. Lois Adling worked, to break the news to her (In addition to reacting to her son’s involvement, she now for sure knew she had to guard against exposing Bobby’s peripheral involvement (Chapter 8); she might completely forgive Bobby — her son was another matter.) Finally, our quartet visited Mrs. Charlotte Hastings at First National Bank, also in downtown Cisco, where it was difficult for my mother to respond, probably, as she wanted in such a public setting. Generally speaking, our mothers responded to our news with a great deal of disappointment, voicing disbelief we would have done what we did; yet, they all were in agreement the “punishment” did not fit the deed. None of our mothers were “crusading suffragette” types to gather public pressure against the school to come up with a better response to what we did; the times for such responses had not yet come in small towns in Texas. Personally, what was difficult for me to handle was that we could not voice to our mothers how we actually felt — we were proud of what we had done and delighted at the results we had caused already at the school; they would not have “taken” to those sentiments very well at all. Now, our fathers might, but we dared not tell them, either for fear it would get back to our mothers, or for fear it might become a divisive point between our parents, or both. (It was years later when my dad thought it “OK” to let me know something he never told my mother: soon after our admission, he had lots of friends come to him at the meat market counter where he worked at A&P Grocery as head butcher and shake his hand in masculine congratulations; they knew that deep down fathers everywhere would be proud to have sons with the “gall” to do what we had done. The same thing happened to Mr. Berry when he visited downtown at that time.)
Needless to say, our plans to camp out during our “3-day vacation” from school went over like a “lead balloon.” Our parents, in fact, went out of their way to see none of the four of us even saw each other during this time. Cole spent those days mostly working on his dad’s ranch with his uncle, who had “a blast” asking Cole over and over why he wasn’t in school. My dad took some time off and took me to Abilene to buy some college supplies — specifically a foot locker for my anticipated days in Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets — and I had to relay the “embarrassing news” to my aunt and great-aunt, who accompanied us on our trip to do shopping of their own.
Nonetheless, we managed to have contact with our peers during the “vacation,” mostly with certain Juniors, who were working on producing the Coronation. There was a school-wide consensus brewing that thought we had been punished much too severely; we suddenly had a solidarity of support and sympathy. Petitions of protest were circulated and signed by the braver students, all organized by Dr. Addy’s sons, Ervin and Blair. We learned the petitions were squelched by the administration, like King George responding to Patriot calls to resistance. Rumors were piling up about the faculty meeting, like names of teachers who had tears in their eyes over what had been decided about us.
Adling, Berry, and I not getting to live out our King Lobo candidacies not only called consternation with our mothers, it caused a lot of havoc at school. The call for new elections to replace the three of us “blew up” in the administration’s face. Not lost upon the student body was the fact their wishes for who should be King Lobo were being disregarded, as if it was a matter of who the school wanted, not they. The question arose, for whom was the Coronation — the school, the parents, or the students? No doubt what answer was in the students’ minds. When we returned to classes after our expulsion to serve our “probation,” one of the first things the three of us were told was that the prank had no negative effect on their vote; many even said the prank “reinforced” their vote, indicating that the three of us got lots of votes in the original election. The new election was hastily called and held (just for King Lobo candidates, not for Queen candidates and all other members of the court who were elected in the original, “legit” election), and the student body actually told they could not vote for any or all of we three! Many voters in the new election told us they wrote in our names anyway, and, of course, these were ignored. What a “great” lesson in democracy for high school students! As a result of this new election, we three were replaced (Gene Darr and Robert Mitchell, originally elected, remained candidates) by Clark Odom, Earl Carson, and Stan Livingston as King Lobo candidates.
These three were and still are friends of the three of us. (For me, Clark was one of the “study group” at my house (Chapter 2), Earl I had known from first grade and was one friend whose ankles I had taped many times, and Stan I had known just as long and with whom I went through years of Sunday School.) So my comments on the “new” King Lobo candidacies have nothing to do with these three good friends; they have to do with the sham the administration made of the election of King Lobo in 1964. I am not saying that Adling, Berry, or I would have won King Lobo (In fact, Gene Darr, who was elected King Lobo, along with the Queen, Leannah (Leveridge) Darr, was an excellent choice — traditional outstanding athlete — more than worthy to represent our graduation class, CHS Seniors 1964.), but however the election for King Lobo turned out that year, it was the outcome of a “rigged” election — “fudged” by the administration in complete repudiation of the wishes and preferences of the student body. Moreover, it was hypocritical; under the conditions the three of us were elected, Earl would not have been academically eligible; yet when it came to applying the rules in his case as a replacement, a “blind eye” was shown. It also appeared that the three replacements had no choice — they had to participate regardless of how they felt about being placed in such an embarrassing predicament — acting like a winner instead of an “also-ran.” Not only was it a sham, it was a farce for the Senior boys.
The Juniors working to present the Coronation for the Seniors and the rest of the school knew it too. The idea cropped up among them to refuse to put on the Coronation unless the three of us were reinstated as King Lobo candidates. The administration “freaked out” at this, threatening to cancel all future Coronations if they “striked.” It was another bluff; this administration was good at bluffing! (Chapter 8) Specifically, it was emotional blackmail of all the parents of the community who had present children and were to have future children honored in the Coronation. To the calm and rational, any administration who tried to cancel Coronation in Cisco would not have jobs very long! The short-term irrationality of the threat shifted, unjustly in my opinion, blame to the “rebellious” Juniors, and the upcoming Coronation was commanded and pushed forward, under duress and protest, as far as lots of students were concerned.
The Coronation was a public event, so the administrators, even if they had wanted to, could not prevent the three of us attending. However, Mrs. Berry absolutely forbade Berry from attending, citing it would look like he was bearing a grudge. There was no such prevention of the attendance of the other two “ousted” candidates and of Cole, so Adling and I got to see the replacements participate wearing the accessories he and I had helped choose! I had a date with Sylvia for the Coronation, and she was not happy with me for wearing a white formal coat just like the other King Lobo candidates and replacements were wearing in the program (Perhaps she had the same concern as Mrs. Berry, or, perhaps she would have preferred me to be more “humble.”) Adling and Cole went as “stags,” protesting by wearing big, black, broad-brimmed cowboy hats, Adling having borrowed his from me. When the program was over I went down on the gym floor, seeking out Mr. Roach. I found him among the crowd, reached out and shook his hand, and wished him a nice evening. He acknowledged my greeting, but did not look me in the eye.
When the Junior-Senior Banquet was held, traditionally right after the Coronation, Adling “threw” an “alternative party” to the banquet at his house, in honor of the four of us. It was the place to be that night, written up nicely by Kay in the school section of the newspaper; many came over to Adling’s right after the banquet, not staying for the dancing, etc. As a “honoree” to this “shindig,” I dearly wanted to be there, but I had to stay away to placate Sylvia, who was struggling to know how to react to all this, as far as our relationship was concerned. It was possible, again, I was going to lose her. This was one time my love for her trumped my loyalty to the four of us, and I vowed thereafter to do all I could to prevent these two important aspects of my life from ever again coming into conflict.
Speaking again of farces, our month’s “probation” turned out to be the greatest joke of all; that is why I’ve put quotes around the word. I can only guess the administration thought we would passively observe all school activity, lamenting we “took ourselves out of it.” They never understood there was nothing passive about us; we were irrepressible. Take the Student Council, for example, which was presumably stripped of Senior boys because of our “probation.” C. B. Rust, the Vice-President, took over my Presidential duties. Before each meeting, he would meet with me, often accompanied by Berry, Student Council member because of his Senior class Presidency, and Cole, Senior class Student Council representative. We would go over all the items and issues that needed to be discussed; then, after the meeting, C. B. would brief us on what had occurred, and, if I needed to, I could talk also with Seniors Kay (Wallace) Morris — Student Council Treasurer and Alice Ann (Webb) Holliday — Student Council Secretary. Berry, Cole, and I never felt “out of the loop” because of our absence.
We soon found out in our “probation” who sympathetic teachers were and who wanted to “make us an example.” Coach Turner teased us about “singing like canaries,” but we could tell he did not approve of what happened to us; whether true or not, Mr. Hughes made us feel better by saying we did such a good cover-up job, he had become convinced we did not do it right before our admission. We took respectful advantage of the sympathizers, as they went out of their way to make things as “normal” for us as we wanted, and then some. Speaking of my personal experiences, I think I got to do things at school as Student Council President and as President of the Drama Club I would have never got to had it not been for the prank and its aftermath. I was allowed into the “taboo” ground of the teachers’ lounge to mimeograph off copies of the Edgar Allan Poe-like short story collection (entitled “Stories to Ponder”) I had written since my Junior year and allowed to distribute those copies throughout the school; we were allowed, thanks in no small part to Mrs. Mulliner, to put on a play I had written (not quite the Senior Play, but better than nothing), despite there were no theater facilities in the building (Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]), even though we had been told at the beginning of the year we could have no plays (Chapter 1). The student body was very supportive, treating us like celebrities, both on and off school grounds; our peers went out of their way to keep all four of us informed and “in the loop” just like the three of us on the Student Council.
I took a copy of my short story collection by Coach Cromartie’s house one afternoon after school. He made the remark that it looked like we “had the whole school in the palm of our hands” during and after “probation.” It seemed true. We four began to experience what it was like to be “public heroes” and “household words.” Lee Wallace, Kay’s brother, and “fish” in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M at the time, started referring to us, tongue-in-cheek, as the “Malicious Four,” knowing full-well there was nothing malicious about what we had done. The name made its way to Cisco quickly and it stuck; we used it ourselves for a while, but did not like its implications if not used sarcastically — it misrepresented us, so we took advantage of its popularity and only said “M-4,” letting anyone who heard our story make up their minds what the “M” stands for (The M-4…And the ‘M’ Stands for…. [May, 2012]). The prank, we began to find out, made several radio shows over the State, as well as a few newspapers, although one paper shortchanged us on the number of chair/desks we transported — how dare they! We wanted to document all this publicity, but, given the moods of our mothers, we never did.
It got to where we felt we could steer the student body any way we wanted; they seemed to beg us to organize them in some way to retaliate for the way their voice in the King Lobo election had been eviscerated; we were the de facto leaders of any expression of the student body, not the Student Council or any faculty advisor. For example, one noon hour at school, a group of boys, disgruntled at the rule that students could not be in the main hall at lunch, asked me to lead them on a protest march into the hall. Leading the student “mob” up to the main entrance door where we had done the chair/desk lifting, I soon was facing a very nervous Mrs. (Page) and Mrs. Cotton, faculty hall monitors that day. Seeing their uncertain faces, I realized that if I went through with this piece of anarchy, I would lower the name of the M-4 to a level our detractors would wish we would fall and thereby justify all the unfair treatment we had received in their twisted minds. I acted as if the monitors knew what they were doing and said it was not as good an idea as I first thought; I lost a little prestige, perhaps, in the eyes of the wildest of the “mob,” but I “saved” the reputation of the M-4.
It seems not even new information about February 11, 1964, information that potentially could have caused the M-4 disaster that night, could tarnish our growing legacy. We learned that weather reports for the early morning of the 12th called for a high probability of rain, which, thank goodness, did not materialize; I’m glad we never heard that forecast! Also, Mr. Mitchell, head custodian and Robert’s dad, who lived across Avenue H from the school at the W 12th Street permanent roadblock, said later he thought he heard “strange noises” from the direction of the school before he retired that night and “came within an inch” going to check them out! But, fortunately for us, he decided they must be coming from the religious meeting up the avenue, or, more likely, from neighbors “moving furniture.”
If any of our peers asked us why we did the prank, all we had to do, eventually, is ask him or her if we had come to him/her and asked them to help, what would they have said? Noting our growing fame and the perks accompanying it, the answer always was “I would have said ‘yes.'” We did not have to justify anything about the prank to our peers before long. There was no way we could justify the timing of the prank, given the King Lobo “thing,” to our faculty sympathizers, and there was no way we could justify anything about the prank to our mothers.
Because of the chair/desk escapade, we had inadvertently redefined ourselves. We started out to change the school year, and we ended up changing ourselves as well. Because our friendships were based upon humor at each other’s expense, we had made a set of great friendships even greater; we could take on all the fame the world could bestow, we felt, and we would never get the “big-head.” It had become far, far more than everything one of us becoming King Lobo could have brought on. To this day in Cisco, one is pressed to know who was King Lobo when, but many know the name “M-4″ and the event from whence it sprang.