LC Van Savage
Do schools still have "detention?" Things have changed greatly since I attended an institute of higher learning, and no it wasn't held on a rock holding a piece of papyrus and a reed stylus.
Detention, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, used to be just what the word said---you were detained after school for being an obnoxious, disobedient, recalcitrant pain in your teacher's buttsky.
But the real pain was being detained. All the kids were out playing ball or sucking up cokes and scarfing burgers at yes, the malt shop, and you would be sitting at your desk writing "I won't deviate from the path of scholastic virtue in Miss Banislewsky's classroom ever again" 500 times on lined paper, or standing writing it on the chalk board, and believe me, Miss Banislewsky counted.
Detention was a miserable experience for both student and teacher. After all, the teachers wanted to get out of there too for the afternoon, but because of acting up, (nowadays called "acting out,") both student and teacher were locked in an afternoon dance of punitive (and often mathematical) fury.
My favorite detention (yes, I was occasionally assigned a few) was when I wasn't given anything special to do but to "just sit there, Missy, and think about how it feels to have four chalkboard erasers thrown at your head," or "just think about how Miss Reynolds really felt when she opened her desk and that white mouse jumped out onto her lap" or "you may consider it funny Elsie Richardson, to glue tacks on Miss Heffron's chair, but she didn't, no sirree, she didn't at all. And don't you dare tell me the other kids forced you to do that. Shame on you, for shame!" But I never felt shamed. Miss Heffron was a fascist dragon and deserved what she got.
Those detentions where I was expected to sit for a couple of hours, to-contemplate-my- sins and to-see-the-light, were really fun for me. I did neither, but what I did do was to quietly make up stories. Now that's not new. I suspect lots of kids have done that while toiling through the wearisome, endless hours of interminable detentions. I'd make up many intricate stories, and lots of them involved my living off the land out on the ranges of the old west, singing "Don't Fence Me In" as I'd mosey along on my old cayuse, making lifelong friends with the Indians, and sleeping by the fire under the stars surrounded by loving guardian wolves.
One time in detention, I was handed a geography book and was ordered to "learn something." I did. I learned that Australia is an upside down United States and that Michigan is shaped like a mitten and that there's a city in Montana called Butte which of course is wildly funny to a bored adolescent, as is Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
I used to make a horse out of my hand during detention. First, second, fourth and fifth fingers would be the 4 legs, and the head would be my middle finger. I'd have that text book open on my desk during my 27 hour's detention, and my horse would gallop all over the world, me on his back, and would never tire, and would never get bored. He'd prance and snort and shake his mane, and together, we would go and go, Hand Horse and I, so happy. Before I knew it, the teacher would be shutting off the lights and telling me to go on home, and that he hoped I'd "learned my lesson and would never do that again." I always promised and always lied.
Sometimes even today, fifty years later, if I'm stuck in a deadly monotonous meeting that's turning my eyeballs to stone, my hand will instinctively curl into Hand Horse and together we'll gallop all over the world and have glorious adventures together, he and I, and then before I know it, someone is turning off the lights and telling me to go on home. And just as I did fifty years ago, I go home happy. Detention was an enriching and positive experience.
"To Norma Jeane with Love, Jimmie"
co-authored with Marilyn Monroe's first husband,
is at local bookstores.
Email her at email@example.com