Okay, I admit it. I always hated school. I was one of those goofy awkward kids with a vivid imagination. I stared out the window, played with my ruler, picked my nose, made noises, distracted those genuinely interested in actually getting an education, bit my nails, played with my fingers, looked around to see who was as bored as I was, always pretended I was somewhere else, and irritated my teachers endlessly.
I got sent out in the hallway a lot.
My name is Jim Smart – and I have ADHD…
It is ironic, I suppose, I’ve become a journalist without any real formal education. I’ve always emulated great writers hoping some of their greatness would rub off. It has taken a lot of rubbing. Because I am textbook Attention Deficit, distractibility has always been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing when your mind is all over the place like a pinball in a pinball machine—which is where great ideas come from. A curse when two weeks’ worth of laundry is piled up on top of the washer and the kitchen sink is full of dishes. Or, perhaps your problem is years of back taxes and the grass is two-feet high.
My report cards always said the same thing, “James would excel if only he’d stop daydreaming in class…” My grades were always below par. In fact, they were terrible. I haven’t the faintest idea how I graduated from high school. I always found myself in the company of like-minded students of educational hopelessness. When I was in 7th grade, I came to know a character who has become a lifelong buddy—Ray Hinson of Roanoke, Virginia. Together, Ray and I were as hopeless as it gets in a classroom. His mother couldn’t stand me and considered me a bad influence. She didn’t want me hanging with her son. What she didn’t understand was, Ray and I were both bad influences. We were cut from the same genetic cloth—brothers from different mothers.
Ray and I were inseparable. We attended a lot of classes together. Must have been a matter of design by the Prince Georges County School system in Maryland because Ray and I always wound in the same classes. No matter how determined educators were to separate us, it just didn’t work. Ray would be behind me and I’d hear him giggling and making flatulent noises. So, naturally, I had to cultivate ways to let him know I was thinking of him. A return report… When the teacher’s back was turned, I’d throw something at him. I always wound up in the hallway. I’d get hit in the back of the head with a wad of clay from art class delivered by Ray himself and it was hard to contain my laughter. I always had to find a creative way to get even with him.
The lunchroom at Samuel Ogle Junior High School in Bowie, Maryland was always long on great potential for mischief. A tray full of food and eating utensils was euphoria for Ray, his brother Rick, and me. Those large soup spoons and chunks of carrots were great weapons of mass destruction. You could wipe out a whole lunch table with one carrot. Ray would use the soup spoon as a launch pad. He calculated how much pressure to apply to the spoon based on the weight of the carrot, then, liftoff!!! Within seconds the roar of someone getting whacked in the head with a wet carrot 30 feet away. One time at lunch, I asked Ray why they called it a tossed salad. His response? He tossed my salad…all over the lunch table. Other times, he’d wait until I was drinking my half-pint of milk and chose that moment to make me laugh. Thank God I wasn’t drinking a soft drink.
Of course, our vice principal, Mr. Turner, was not amused. He’d walk up to us and invite us to examine our behavior. Oh—we did, of course. Our strategy was always a focus on improvement. Depends on what your definition of improvement was. We needed a larger carrot. We also had Mr. Arthur Lakin, a tall imposing figure who had just come out of the District’s school system over in D.C. Lakin was a tough ex-marine who tolerated nothing. He’d pin me up against a locker and ask me if I’d like to be torn apart. “No Sir…” It only took once and I wet my pants.
Back to Ray and me…
Ray was one of the first kids I’d ever known who could pass gas on cue. He could even burp and flatulate at the same time—and that takes enormous talent. When we ran out of approaches to annoying other students and faculty members, we retreated to the restrooms to see what we could get into for cheap entertainment. The objective was to get all toilets and urinals to overflow to see if the floor drain worked, and that took huge amounts of toilet paper, paper towels, and water. There was always the disappointment of discovering the custodial staff had not yet restocked the restrooms, which were out of paper towels and toilet paper.
I seriously considered trying to flush my math book.
We’d be walking down the hallway and, Dale Hall, our metal shop teacher, would identify us as the “Gold Dust Goof Offs.” Mr. Hall drove a cool 1965 Chevelle hardtop. He was a good friend and a terrific shop teacher He tolerated us just short of killing us. Ray and me in shop class – imagine the possibilities for federal disaster assistance.
Of course, there was music class with Mr. Collins, who drove a new 1967 Mustang convertible. Our presence in his class was never about music, of course. It was more about making disgusting sounds. I thought we sounded pretty good. Physical Education with Mr. Hildreth—which was never about physical education. Those of us who didn’t dress out (Ray and I never dressed out) were sent to a storage room to strip Hildreth’s antiques for his antique store. One way or the other in Ken Hildreth’s PE class, you were going to work up a sweat.
When school let out, Ray and I connected and rode home on our bikes. Ray looked hysterical on a bicycle. I don’t know what it was, but I always got a fit of the giggles as he roared up my street on this big clunky bicycle. We’d cut grass together and split the proceeds. We also fixed lawn mowers. One time, the muffler fell off a lawnmower and Ray asked me to pick it up. Mindlessly, I reached into the high wet grass and learned quickly why you never pick up a hot muffler.
So tell me, Ray – did you suggest I do that just to be funny?
The problem with Ray and I was ADHD and a committed appetite for mischief. We just couldn’t contain ourselves and be responsible citizens. No one knew what our problem was in those days because no one understood ADHD. We were prone to mischief in a quest to carry out our distractibility. I suppose some of it was boredom—nothing to do and looking for something to do. Ray and I always found something to do. Our mothers would be wonder where we were and what we were doing. We could be found at the school plugging up the potties.
In the summer of 1969, Ray and I had both managed to flunk 7th Grade. Our parents put us in summer school. We had a terrific summer schoolteacher. I fail to remember his name; however, he was very good at what he did. He had an impossible job with us. He also didn’t know us. We got into trouble on a regular basis. And, as impossible as it may seem, we managed to flunk summer school and wound up repeating the 7th Grade—together. You’d think by now the system would have figured us out and put us in different towns. By pure luck or the administration’s desire to push us on up the line, we made it to graduation as the Class of 1975.
Decades since Ray and I hung together was the arrival at birth of our 12 year-old son, Jacob, who was welcomed and adopted into our lives back in 2008. Through the years, Jake has managed to hone his extraordinary craft of humor and become nearly as dangerous as Ray and I were a lifetime ago. And, because I refuse to grow up, cutting up with Jacob is second nature. His gift of humor is beginning to come to life at nearly the same age Ray and I were back in 1968 in Social Studies class. Only I don’t expect to be plugging up the school toilets with Jake anytime soon.
I lost track of Ray for a long time—decades in fact. We found each other via Facebook. Ray and I have both had good lives with great families. I still look at Ray and get a belly laugh. I just can’t help it. We started out that way in the 7th Grade back in 1968 and the laughter has never really ended. Our plan is to return to Samuel Ogle Middle School and plug up the hoppers. This time, we have to make sure we don’t get caught.
And, Ray—bring toilet paper and paper towels…