Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 10 (Commentary)

Returning to the question from the Introduction: Why, then, this prank? It was an impish dream made real by extraordinary, out-of-the-box teenagers — not one, or two, but the improbable grouping of four of us of like mind (4 out of 54). We had the “gall” (or, better, using words from fellow Senior 1964 Joe Torres, the huevos) to use that dream-come-true to “kick against the pricks” of a graduation year “going bad,” to reach out and “seize the day” — to take control of a situation that was turning the end of our school days into something very forgettable. It was admittedly strange and improbable, but this prank seemed to “do the trick.” Like a bolt of lightning, the prank shot into the “perfect storm” of unusual circumstances and altered permanently the course of the storm into a memorable and fun-filled trek. (By the way, in my opinion, Joe’s compliment to us is the highest one guy can give to another!)

The question of “Would we do it again, knowing what we know today?” may be moot, as I think we would answer “Absolutely yes!” IF the circumstances were the same. But, they can never be the same again. As to the question “Was it worth it?,” which is probably not moot, the answer would be the same, especially if you factor out the effects of the prank on our mothers. It is hard to put into words, but it was as if we graduated from high school with at least two diplomas, not one; we had another from the “School of Hard Knocks,” from the “School of How the World Really Works,” if you please. Earlier than most high school graduates, we learned some very important lessons beyond those in the classroom. We learned we could keep and nurture the joys of childhood without having to remain childish; we learned that respect for authority had to be earned by the authorities, not given to them because of their positions; we measured evidence supporting the philosophy that schools are about students, not about adults — schools are about developing students’ minds, not about providing “career ladders” for so-called “professional educators.” We learned that when friendships clash with the wishes of the school, of the family, and of the community, friendships can triumph.

An obvious part of our triumph was the fact the chair/desk escapade was only the beginning for the string of successes making up the M-4’s “resume” beginning in May, 1964, though it is true that That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013] was the last “escapade” involving all four of us. The other escapades, for example, The Flag Escapade — Phase I [August, 2013], The Flag Escapade — Phase II [August, 2013], and Crashing The Cisco Beauty Pageant — Night of the Long Knife [August, 2013], involved only one, two, or three of us. The absent one was Berry, not because he chose to be, we like to believe, but because of the four of us after we graduated, Berry had the “shortest leash” held by his parents. Not even Lee nor Clark Odom were kept away from us as much as Berry, it seemed. Nonetheless, we went through our adventures after high school as if all four of us were always present; we conjured the spirit of 2/11/64 every time we “struck,” and the first person to whom we reported afterwards each time was always Berry. We wanted him to share in our “triumphant successes.”

But it takes very special friendships to be so triumphant. I’ve said it was highly improbable four “like us” were together in the same classrooms. What do I mean by “like us?” We could not articulate what we had as friends back then, though we certainly felt we had lots of things that compelled us to interact. Hindsight, especially 50 years of it, is indeed probably “20-20,” and a similar span of experience teaches one how to articulate with substance, hopefully, and not “chirp” with empty rationalization. With this probability and hope, I would like to list some of the special characteristics we had as friends within the M-4:

We did not overtly compete with each other; if we did use each other for comparative purposes, it was individually and covertly done. We decided things as a democratic group; we never allowed any one of us to “take over,” and we maintained that egalitarian status quo by “cutting each other down” as brunts of jokes “across the board;” no one was immune; no one could be in our group and have a thin skin. We avoided, if we could, situations placing us in competition with each other; that alone explains a lot about the attitude Adling, Berry, and I had toward our King Lobo candidacies (Chapter 3). And, we deliberately did not “go” for a girl any of the others had his eyes upon. If one of us was dating a particular girl, she was “his” until he declared to us she was back “available.”

We accepted each other “as we were” — or, as I like to put it: “warts and all.” No one of us could hide his strengths or his weaknesses, as he knew the other three could see them as plainly as he. Most importantly, we did not try to change each other; we respected each other more than that. We, for the most part, enjoyed each other’s differences as much as we enjoyed each other’s similarities.

We supported each other and each wanted the best for the other three — like loving brothers, if you please. But, as I’ve said, it was better than actual siblings — we chose each other. From my perspective, I chose Berry before we even started to school; I chose Adling at the end of sixth grade; I chose Cole in Mrs. Pirtle’s biology class when we were high school sophomores. Each of the other three would have their own set of similar “choosing” statements. We tried and try to “be there” for each other, but sometimes, that is easier said than done; I wish that when Berry was having trouble academically at A&M, forcing him to go to college elsewhere for an interim, I could have helped him in his courses; Cole was soon to arrive on campus to also be of help to him. But, “one of his warts” was his pride, making him reluctant to ask for help often enough.

It was and is really difficult for us to be truly upset with each other; when Adling got angry at me as described in Chapter 6 was literally the last time I remember him being so with me. Instead of raving at each other over something one of us might think is stupid of the other, we just laugh at the other at his own expense — no pity, and no mercy. We kept and keep each other alert and “on his toes.”

We REALLY exemplified this next trait of true friendship, a trait that, thankfully transcends the M-4 to many other good friends — it does not matter how long two or more are apart, when we reunite face-to-face, it is like we departed only the day before. We “pick up right where we left off.” Like dogs, when it comes to seeing each other, we have no concept of how much time has passed; always, it is a joy to see each other.

We lived our friendships with each other to assure that “in the end,” we would have no regrets. Most people, sooner or later, deal with such personal questions as, “What would have happened if I had…?”, “What would have happened if I hadn’t stepped back from…….?”, or “Should I have taken that step into the unknown…?” We, as individuals and as a group, know the answers to those questions; in other words, our lives have had few, if any, moments struggling with “What if?” questions laced with regret. Because we had the huevos, we have lived our lives without looking back, without regret, without remorse, without second-guessing ourselves. The secret to not being bothered by our conscience (outside being bothered by our mothers’ reactions)? We made sure we never did anything harmful to anyone or anything, by our definition of “harmless.” In many people’s eyes, we “pushed the envelope,” “fudged the rules,” “played needlessly with fire,” “behaved questionably,” and “acted irresponsibly and controversially.” Because we were judging our behavior for ourselves, and not anyone else, we could go to sleep every night with a clean conscience, by our own reckoning; we would not have “done it” otherwise. So, our reaction to those who judged or are judging us to this day is something like, “So…?” or “And your point is what?” Then, possibly, comes further judgement that we are defiant, unrepentant, disrespectful, arrogant, sneaky, and non-exemplary. That’s OK….bring it on!

To us, only those last two adjectives are correct — sneaky and non-exemplary. So..? And your point is what? We were seventeen years old, full of testosterone and Dad’ root beer, and we all had the huevos to make our ideas into reality. I’ve not met many high school graduates who can say similarly all these things together.

Yet, we never thought of ourselves as entitled to anything; we never whined, complained, or asked for clemency, forgiveness, or chances to make amends when the “throw the book at ‘em” view prevailed. We were as human as our “inquisitors,” only we thought and still think we were and are more humane than they.

We like to stand alone, on our own. We were and are no one’s “patsies,” “yes-men,” “bitches,” or pawns. We were never going to be some adult’s vehicle through which that adult would live vicariously his/her life.

I’ll stop the list right here and point out that most of these are traits we could have had without the prank. What did the prank bring to these traits of special friendships? The prank “amped up” the risks and dangers to which teenagers are prone; we lived “on the edge” when doing pranks more than average. The more risky and exciting our innocent pranks, the more closely-knit became the bonds between us; as we worked together, we saw and felt why we thought so much of each other (the “super-glue” of soldiers and athletic teammates, as I’ve said). We found we were so “good” at pulling pranks together, we never got caught; found out, yes, but never caught red-handed. Success only strengthened the bonds between us, just like going through our “punishments” together brought us closer together. “Super-charged” teen-aged excitement and the success that accompanied it morphed us into irrespressibility. In our “moral ivory tower” of our own making, we were beyond reproach, guilt, or shame. Half those in our world, including most of our peers, seemed to agree.

In terms of our friendships, high school without the prank would still have been a great ride. But with the prank, high school was a hell of a ride! Despite the legacy and love of our mothers, we cannot help but be glad we did it! And, we can only hope that our classmates are glad we did it, too! They have giving us lots of evidence they indeed feel that way.

We defied the stereotypical teenaged “gang” always looking for trouble, so I have always believed we never were a “gang.” We defined what kind of group we were, and it just goes by the name “M-4,” from which exudes the “M-4 experience.” We were never compliant, but we were respectful, even at times when that was difficult to do. We together, not necessarily individually, did not smoke, drink, or curse, but that was just our choice, not a deliberate attempt to be exemplary. Most of us were church-goers and none of us had homosexual tendencies. Each of us had likes, hobbies, and tastes that the other three could try or not, and however any one of us reacted to the others’ likes, hobbies, and tastes did not affect our friendships one way or the other. The M-4 experience did not demand certain behaviors or moralities, nor was it ever burdened by having to accept behaviors or moralities of individual members. Our decisions and directions were always the results of open, honest, egalitarian democracy; whether these results reflected one or more of us as individuals was coincidental, but these results necessarily reflected all four of us. We were and are a meritocracy, each member of which is never threatened by the achievements of the others; on the contrary, we all rejoice in those achievements.

Take one attribute of mine that attracted me to the other three strongly — I loved to be different from everyone else (still do!). I’ve often proudly said I’ve never met anyone in my life like whom I would exactly want to be; I have only one hero, and that is a sports hero — the great baseball slugger Hank Aaron. I admire traits of others and despise other traits of others; I do not look for living or dead examples from others to live by — I take admirable traits from a lot of different people, living or dead, to make them my own and reject the despicable traits of, often, a lot of the same people. I say this bit of personal philosophy to say that the M-4 experience seemed to operate similarly, with our “warts and all” policy and our ever-skeptical respect of others.

Accordingly, it is hard to describe the M-4 experience succinctly; elsewhere (The M-4…And the ‘M’ Stands for… [May, 2012] and above) I gave the M-4 only two definitive adjectives — sneaky and non-exemplary. Even after 50 years, I not sure I want to go much further than that. We still do not like being pinned down and defined, and we still do not go around preaching that people, young and old, need to try to be as we. During my teaching career, I’ve had many “groups” in my classrooms wanting to pull pranks — I knowing about their plans because my students have always known that as long as I hear nothing harmful or dangerous, I will not “squeal” to the administration on them. I demand they read the section from my memoirs on what happened to the M-4 before they proceed with their idea, whatever it is. Only then, after reading, I tell them they can plan knowing what we did not know and thereby I have a “clean conscience” as a champion of student expression; they have been warned. Some groups change their minds; others go ahead with their prank, and, usually, get into trouble for it.

The M-4 experience helped me as a “rookie” teacher in public schools, leading me to the conclusion that the more effective teachers were those who were not “perfect” when they were students; instead of my being frustrated with my students trying to pull stunts and pranks on me, I “smelled the attempts out” before they occurred, thinking to myself how “amateur” as pranksters the students were compared to the M-4. Sometimes I get concerned about how politically conservative or socially prejudiced Adling or Berry sometimes appears nowadays, and I think to myself “he is forgetting his M-4 experience.” I have faith that, for both of them, their “backsliding” is a sneaky M-4-like cover, a covert “distraction” away from their real agendas; conservatism, elitism, and prejudice were and are not part of the M-4 experience. Cole is so true to his M-4 experience, I really don’t know what his political views are, despite our working together regularly trading labor on each other’s ranches!

Would that others who read this have experienced the kind of friendships we had and have as the M-4!


We hope the chair/desk escapade changed the relationships among students, faculty, and administrators at the Cisco schools for classes that followed us in graduation — changed for the better; we hope the aftermath of the escapade will remind both the school and the community, not to mention schools and communities everywhere, that students must be an integral part of solving collective, local, educational problems. Never marginalize a class of students, as was attempted with the class of 1964! And never underestimate the power of teenage dreaming!

It is important to point out the legacy of the M-4 was not created to compare or compete with other school pranks or pranksters associated with Cisco High School or any other school. We came together and planned in complete ignorance and indifference to pranks that preceded us; what had happened in the past was not germane to the “perfect storm” of the school year 1963-1964. Any comparison of what we did with other pranks is a prerogative of others, not a point of interest to us.

What makes the M-4 and our legacy so “gray,” so controversial, and, therefore, I think, so interesting is that we inadvertently exposed the foibles of particular authorities and of authority in general; we laid bare the brute and embarrassing fact that the school administrators at the time and the city officials and police at the time (The Flag Escapade — Phase II [August, 2013]) made inappropriate, myopic, inhumane, childish, and un-called-for decisions; then, they followed up on those decisions with actions and inactions of the same ilk! (not that both groups of authorities did not also make some good decisions and do some good things along the way) How can I say this? Look who’s talking! If anyone can identify inappropriate and childish decisions, it has to be us, the M-4! We sure made our share! But, and here’s the “rub,” ours were not myopic and inhumane; we knew what we were doing and we knew the risks; our “cause” justified our actions in our minds; we were and still are not so sure the same could be said of the school and city administrations back then. Throughout the history of the M-4, just who were the “adults?”

For each of us the M-4 experience and legacy has been of immeasurable aid during our diverse professional lives. The other three have to tell their own stories on this matter, but my story has already been alluded to above in connection with my chosen field of being a high school physics and advanced math teacher for almost 40 years. Beyond help in the classroom, being an M-4 member has allowed me to see quickly that a lot of bad administrative decisions at high levels have been made over the years to bring the state of public education into decline. Simply put, the wrong models — the “business” model and/or the “coaching” model — are/is being used to demote public school teachers into “employees” or “workers” or “team members” who loyalty lies not with their clients, their students, but with the “company,” or “team,” the school. The correct model that has been ignored is the one we saw used back in Cisco High School — the “colleagueual” model wherein teachers are treated like professionals with students as clients (analogous to doctors having patients as clients and lawyers having legal clients). You can imagine how “unfit” I was, as a member of the M-4, to be a “company” guy, to conform to the “cookie-cutter” educational philosophy they attempted to cram down my throat! (For the amusement of those readers who went to Cisco High School back in the 1960’s, can you imagine such “cramming” being done to Mrs. Lee, Mr. Bint, or Mrs. Bailey? How about to our Jr. High Teachers Mrs. Hart and Mrs. Schaefer?) {If you want to pursue this matter further, see my three posts on educational reform, 1: Educational Reform — Wrong Models [May, 2013], 2: Educational Reform — The Right Model [May, 2013], and 3: Educational Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need [May, 2013].} Being of the M-4, having to leave public schools as a teacher before I wanted caused me no frustration whatsoever; it did increase my concern for my clients, my students.

Is there any public figure that reminds the M-4 of ourselves? I think Johnny Manziel, or Johnny “Football,” the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for Texas A&M does. And not because I am an Aggie and Aggie fan or because Sylvia and I have season football tickets at A&M; and not because of his great skill and jaw-dropping performances on the football gridiron. It is because of the way he was treated by the NCAA and the media when he was under suspicion in the summer of 2013 of making money off his signature, which is against the NCAA rules. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, what was alleged seemed to be “spun” as being as bad as possible, without evidence, just as the chair/desk escapade had to be seen by some as being criminal, without evidence. There was a feeling Johnny needed to be made “an example,” just as was attempted on us. I hope I can speak for the whole group, Johnny, when I say, “We feel for you, man! We not only sympathize, we empathize with you; we know exactly what you have been going through. Hang in there!” And, in the other direction, I like to think Johnny agrees with us when we think about the whole M-4 experience and philosophically muse “The world is a lot ‘grayer,’ not stark ‘black and white,’ than most people think!”

It is merely my opinion, but, back in 1964, the path the school administration should have taken was laid before them clearly, if our information from the faculty meeting concerning our “fate” is accurate — the view of Mrs. Bailey, Mrs. Lee, and Mrs. (Page) (Chapter 8). Something would have been done to us under their view, but the “punishment would have fit the ‘crime';” justice would have been served, and the school would have avoided the divisive chaos “throwing the book at us” caused. As far as we were concerned, had this happened, we would have made our point and would not have, perhaps, felt the need to carry on the legacy of the chair/desk escapade. On the other hand, had this happened, our subsequent “adventures” would have been, if attempted, much less significant in meaning, and our legacy would not have soared near as high. “Gray,” very “gray.”

I shall close with this thought: What if the new administration and the new coaching staff coming in for our senior year in 1963 was enlightened enough to see that the only way they could successfully transition into the new school facility was to heavily involve those who would be most affected by having no high school building — the CHS Seniors of 1964? What if they recognized our immense insights, imagination, abilities, talents, and potential? (All they had to do was look into the Coronation we produced for the Seniors ’63 in early 1963.) If we had spent our energies with the power and where-with-all to actually change the atmosphere from pessimistic resignation to optimistic fun, would there have been a chair/desk prank/escapade at all? As it was, with no such power and where-with-all, and with the adults of the school distracted from us, playing their silly adult games, Adling’s imagination came up with a way we could change the atmosphere of the school from pessimistic resignation to, at least, chaotic (if not optimistic) fun. It took four of us; I was the “how” of Adling’s idea; all four of us were the executioners of the idea; the back-breaking work wrought the change, and our quartet got a new name. Our friendships soared exponentially. Like the school year after February 11, 1964, we and our class were never the same. Long live the memory and legacy of the M-4!


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