MISTER BILLY LEE JAMES
Throughout my many long, boring, trying, difficult, crappy, uneventful years enrolled in the Moon Lake School System, I’ve gone through a few school principals. I really don’t intend to drive them away or piss them off.
It just happens. It’s not my fault. Well, maybe partly.
The last principal to impart their wisdom onto me was Mister Billy Lee James. Yeah, he likes to be called that. He’s got more first names than the Dillon Family; and they have nine kids. I’m mentioning him because of all the principals I’ve had to deal with, he was the hardest to figure out.
He’s from down South, like Alabama or Kentucky or someplace like that. He talks with a southern accent and he has a crew cut hair style. I guess he used to be a Drill Sergeant in the Army. He’s large and has big broad shoulders. He kinda scares the shit out of me if you want to know the truth. Unfortunately, that doesn’t deter teachers from sentencing me to his office on a regular basis. As soon as I say something smartass in class I think, “Damn, I shouldn’t have said that.” Of course, by then it’s too late.
In fact, one of the teachers, Mrs. Morrison, just has to look and nod towards the door and I know I have to take the long excrutiating walk to Mister Billy Lee James’ Office. Mrs. Morrison was nice enough to seat me right next to the door so my almost daily exit wouldn’t disrupt her class and to make my departure easier. Very thoughtful of her, I must say.
Mister Billy Lee James’ Office is decorated in Early Torture Technique Style. The walls are painted in Depression Gray. He started out having me sit in a cold metal chair. I was already used to that ploy thanks to Mrs. Lawson. They must learn that in Principal Training Class or something. Then he tried to make me uncomfortable by having a bright light behind him, shining in my eyes. It was like I was in an NYPD Interrogation Room. That didn’t work either. I still visit him quite frequently. He gave up and now there’s a nice comfy sofa for me. I think he naps on the couch because the cushions are always dented in like he’s been snoozing there and the pillows are stained from the Butch Wax he uses on his hair.
It took me some time to get used to Mister Billy Lee James. Like the first time I was sent to his office:
Mister Billy Lee James: “Do you know why y’all are here?”
I looked around the room to see if there were more kids in there. I saw no one else.
Me: “No, Mister Billy Lee James, we don’t know why we’re all here.”
Mister Billy Lee James: “We?”
Me: “Yes. We’re sorry for whatever we did. We’re sure it was an accident. We know it won’t happen again.”
Mister Billy Lee James: “Are y’all making fun of me?”
Me: “No, we’re not. None of us all are making fun of you.”
I was confused as Hell. I have to admit, no other principal had tried that tactic on me before. He really caught me off guard, I have to give him that. I thought I may have met my match in Mister Billy Lee James.
Mister Billy Lee James: “Drop down and give me twenty!”
Drop what down? Surely not my pants. This was getting way more challenging than I’d ever thought possible. So I ignored that “drop down” part and reached into the left front pocket of my Lee Jeans and yanked out two crumpled up one dollar bills I was saving for lunch.
Me: “Sorry, I don’t have twenty. Only two. I guess I can owe you the rest. You may have to wait awhile though. Like maybe a year.”
Mister Billy Lee James: “What the Hell are you talkin’ about, Son?”
Good. We were both perplexed.
Mister Billy Lee James: “Push ups, Boy! I want twenty push ups!”
Jesus, why didn’t he just say so?
So I did twenty push ups and kept my pants on. I was able to hang on to my wrinkly-faced George Washington bills,too. I thought that was it but he gave me a week’s worth of detention, mostly for making fun of him.
That was just the start of a relationship that would last for four long years. Long for both of us. There were times when I felt sorry for him; having to deal with me. But those feelings never lasted very long. I wonder if he ever felt sorry for me. I doubt it.
I think we both have the same unspoken agenda for dealing with each other: Try to confuse the Shit out of him. Ever since that first encounter I’ve tied to prepare defensively. He still catches me off guard and then I try to adjust.
I mean, studying and trying to get good enough grades to graduate is hard enough, even for a real intelligent guy like me. Having to try to outwit a scary principal just adds to my adolescent dilemas.
Oh, I almost forgot. He brings his dog to school with him and he’s got a really big head. The dog, not Mister Billy Lee James. Well, Mister Billy Lee James does, too, but not as big as his dog’s head. I think the dog is like a Mastiff or something. He drools a lot. The dog does. Then he shakes his head and the spittle wraps around his nose. It’s kind of gross if you want to know the truth. I think it’s a scare tactic on Mister Billy Lee James’ part but I’m used to it.
Mister Billy Lee James puts a big spikey collar on the dog to give the impression his dog is mean and will bite any innocent kid that happens to stroll into his office. His dog’s name is Patton after some War General.
To be honest, Patton did sort of scare the shit out of me the first time, but now I carry little pieces of hot dog in a plastic baggie in my pocket. While I am meandering through the hallways to Mister Billy Lee James’ Office I open up the baggie so Patton can smell the meat. When I sit down Patton starts whining and comes over to me and sniffs me and I reach down and pet him. Sometimes Patton tries to hump my leg. I want the dog to like me, just not that much. Boy, he must really like hot dogs.
One time Mister Billy Lee James said, “Looks like Patton likes you.” You could hear the disappointment in his voice. I thought he was going to cry he was so crushed. Patton just drooled. All over my pants.
As I said, we like to try to confuse each other and catch the other one off guard. It’s kind of a game, to be honest. One time Miss Salzman sent me to the Principal’s Office. I guess I was talking, being a wise guy, and disrupting the class. According to her that is. She teaches History and she had asked if we knew how Moon Lake got its name. I raised my hand and you could tell she didn’t want to call on me. Nobody else volunteered to answer the question and she kept avoiding eye contact with me. I’m used to teachers doing that, though. They think I’m going to say something smartass which I usually do, but sometimes I actually know the answer. This was not one of those times.
I started waving my hand frantically. Mary Ellen Monson yelled, “Miss Salzman, Solomon knows the answer!”
Mary Ellen Monson isn’t as sharp as Miss Salzman. The latter knew better but she caved in. “Yes, Solomon,” she said and rolled her eyes. I’m used to that, too.
Me: “The Indians only wore clothes that covered their fronts so their butts were hanging out mooning each other.”
Miss Salzman gave a sigh and I knew she was close to sending me out of the room but she didn’t. Then she said, “No. It’s called Moon Lake because from the air the lake looks like a half moon.”
Me: “How did the Indians know that if they couldn’t fly?”
Miss Salzman: “They just did.”
Karl Monson(Mary Ellen’s twin brother, even though they don’t look anything alike and it’s really easy to tell them apart): “But how could they? Do you think they could fly, Miss Salzman?”
Miss Salzman: “No, they couldn’t fly. They just–”
Terry Coffey(Nobody’s twin brother): “Maybe it was aliens. My Uncle Ray saw a UFO once–”
Miss Salzmnan: “Okay, that’s enough!”
Johnny(whose last name I can never pronounce or spell): “Why didn’t they call it Half Moon Lake?”
Other kids started asking more questions which confused her and got her nervous. When Miss Salzman gets nervous she has a habit and that’s what ended up getting me sent to Mister Billy Lee James’ Office.
Mister Billy Lee James: “Do you know why y’all are here?”
He always uses that tactic; getting you to tell him why you are there even though he probably knows damn well. Kind of like Confession in front of Father Lucas. He always wants you to confess right away, too. Only with Father Lucas I don’t have to do push ups, just Hail Marys. I guess I’d rather do twenty push ups than twenty Hail Marys to be honest with you.
So now I was in front of Mister Billy Lee James with a chance to confuse him.
“Well, it’s like this,” I said, scratching Patton behind his smelly ears.
Me, continuing: “I was in Miss Salzman’s class. You know, History. I suppose you already know that she teaches History. Well, she got a little flustered because we were all asking her questions. I mean, that’s how we learn, right?”
Mister Billy Lee James just slowly nodded his head and I knew he was thinking, “Where in the Hell is this going?” But he didn’t say anything so I kept blabbering. I knew I was kind of getting to him.
Me: “You may or may not know this, but Miss Salzman is an Eye Picker. And the more upset she gets the more–”
Mister Billy Lee James: “She’s a WHAT?”
Me: “She’s an Eye Picker.”
Mister Billy Lee James: “What’s the Hell’s an Eye Picker?”
Good, I got him to swear.
Me: “Well, she picks at her left eye with the thumb and index finger of her left hand. Like she’s trying to pick out eye boogers or something. She keeps tugging on her eye. Today she must have really been in a snit because she was furiously picking at her eye and pulling her fingers away and looking at them, expecting to find some kind of prize or something. Like Eyeball Cracker Jack or something.”
By now Mister Billy Lee James was sitting back in his chair with his folded hands in front of his mouth. I could see in his normally unforgiving eyes that he was baffled. His eyes were sort of glazed over and he stared straight ahead like he was hypnotized or something. So I kept going.
Me: “Well, suddenly Good ‘Ol Miss Salzman pulled a stringy thing from her eyeball. One end was between her fingers and the other was still attached to her eyeball. She pulled it out about seven or eight inches away from her head. It was like a thin yellow tightrope, kinda like something the Flying Wallendas would use to go across Niagra Falls.”
Mister Billy Lee James’ eyes got real big.
Me: “Then she let go of it and it snapped back into her eyeball. It was pretty gross if you want to know the truth, Mister Billy Lee James. My Gamma for sure would have called it a Miracle. So I looked over at Cora Lee Brantley and said, ‘Did you see that thing pop back into her head?’ Well, Cora Lee Brantley pukes quite easily and that did it for her. She made it to the garbage can
bfore before she ralphed, I gotta give her that. But now, every time Cora Lee Brantley vomits, I get blamed.”
Mister Billy Lee James: “Okay, Son, that’s enough.”
Me: “Fortunatley there weren’t any VIP’s in class. Do you know what VIP’s are? They’re people that puke when–”
Mister Billy Lee James, kinda yelling: “I said that’s enough! You can leave now.”
I patted Patton on top of his
grsy greasy head and stood up. I didn’t want to appear to be in a hurry to leave even though, to be honest, I wanted to run out of there. I made it out of his office and got almost to the end of the hallway before he yelled down the confining corridor, “Oh, Son! Two weeks worth of Detention. Starting tomorrow.”
Damn. It almost