I Know A “Better” Story

My title comes from a feature in our local paper where readers submit feel-good stories about smelling flowers or nostalgic breakfasts in long-closed area diners. I’m going to send this in, because it’s way more interesting and it all really happened–there were easily 1000 witnesses. But my guess is they won’t publish it. [By golly, it was published in the Sunday LNP, 4/10/22, only slightly abridged, by me, to make their word limit.]

It was 1964 and our class at McCaskey HS was getting set for graduation. One of the long-standing traditions at the school was to have seniors organize and stage an auditorium program for the whole school called “Class Day.” This, apparently, was pretty much anything the seniors decided it could be, from droll speeches to talent exhibitions to satirical skits. Given that we were firmly in the wide-open ‘6o’s, we opted for the latter. I think there was some sort of cursory review of the planning committee’s general theme, but, as you will see, the censors certainly didn’t know all.

Most of the skits conceived were pretty benign, lightly goofing on the well-known idiosyncrasies of certain faculty members or of certain aspects of student life. And things were ho-humming along rather quietly until I, and a band of military-garbed troopers, suddenly burst onto the stage.

It seems that a number of seniors, sensing invincibility in their closing days of public education, had cut classes one spring afternoon and sneaked into the balcony of the auditorium. There was some sort of program going on, playing to a limited audience on the lower level; but their presence was noted. They were later rounded up and either disciplined or threatened with harsh discipline, the details of which now escape me. But, many of us felt their treatment greatly exceeded their crime, and that’s what I, and my group, was there to satirize.

Here’s where things get pretty scary and illustrate the vast differences between our times and those. In preparation for our part of the skit, I asked everyone to don some sort of military clothing. Everyone chosen to accompany me on stage was also required to bring a shotgun…that’s right, a REAL, loaded shotgun! Of course, they were told to make sure that there were no pellets in their shells.

When I think about this now, I shudder. At that time, I didn’t know diddly-squat about guns. I was just assuming that since most of these kids were hunters, they knew all about this stuff. Yeah? Really? High school kids are so smart. Oh my God!

Anyway, at the appointed time we charged onto the stage. I was leading the troop, waving an actual samurai sword, a friend’s father’s relic from WWII, wearing a beret and another friend’s father’s Marine dress blue jacket. Using a starter pistol, I quickly dispatched the emcee. He was in the midst of introducing the next act, but being in on the bit, obligingly collapsed.

In position, in the middle of that vast stage, I pointed the sword at the balcony and shouted something like, “Look, there he is. That senior has cut class and sneaked into the balcony.”  Then, “Fire!”

With that command, six or seven, I can’t remember exactly how many shotguns, aimed over the heads of those sitting in the balcony, blasted in unison. On cue, my buddy Tom, who’d become something of an expert at crafting life-like dummies by stitching together old clothes and stuffing them with newspaper, dropped one of his creations from the balcony into the center aisle below.

The echo of the roar of the shotguns, was exceeded only by the shrieks and screams of the audience. The whole, huge space was filled with acrid smoke. It was probably the most dramatic thing that’s ever been staged in that storied venue.

Believe it or not, no guns were ever confiscated, and no punishment meted out. At least as far as I know, no one ever heard a word about this from the faculty or administration. Perhaps they were in a state of shock, or, as we used to say in my later, genuine military days, “They didn’t know whether to shit or wind their watches.” Soon after, we all graduated without a hitch. But, from what I understand, that was the last McCaskey Class Day ever.

©2022, David B Bucher

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