TOXICODENDRON RADICANS (POISON IVY...)
This is one of those stories that my mind has a hard time thinking about. Ever do something so blindingly stupid that whenever you think back on it your brain tries to involuntarily change the mental channel? This is one of those "unwatchable" programs I can't seem to erase from my mental DVR...
I don't know when Junior Highs turned into Middle Schools, but if you know one your know them all. It's where seventh and eighth graders go to prep for high school (where they prep for college, where they prep for the real world, where we prep for senility...) The junior high in my old hometown used to be an ancient white stucco building with oiled wooden floors, a place so decrepit the weight of one student walking its hallways was enough of a strain to shake the entire structure.
One of the fixtures of that now long-gone two story juvenile detention center (what else would you call junior high in those days?) was an eighth grade science teacher by the name of Mrs. Barnard. She had been there for generations, or so it seemed, and was notoriously famous for her withering glare and short temper. I can't testify to her abilities as a science teacher, because in all honesty I wasn't what anyone would call a serious student of any subject other than cutting-up as the class clown. When others were furiously taking notes, I would be drawing fighter planes strafing enemy tanks on the battlefield of my science workshop notebook. I knew nothing about paramecium, but I could draw intricate details of WWII fighter planes...
On one particularly daydreamy day, Mrs. Barnard (and I must interrupt this narrative to offer a visual description... Mrs. Barnard had heavy jowls, which were accentuated by her often foul mood and demeanor... both of which earned her the nickname "Bulldog". I didn't give her that name, I was simply told what her nickname was when I first arrived at the junior high... apparently, she had been thusly dubbed long before I darkened the doorway of her classroom) (where the hell was I? Oh yeah...) was giving a very impassioned lecture on the dangers of poison ivy. She had taken the time to draw a very detailed sketch of a poison ivy plant on the blackboard for our edification, complete with color pastel chalk to highlight the dark red stems and bright green leaves of the plant. We were supposed to draw a similar sketch in our science workshop notebooks. I think I drew a P-51 Mustang in a dogfight with a German Stukka...
My eighth grade science class preceded a fifteen minute recess. When the class ended, hoards of bored and restless pre-teens dashed out into the gravel lot adjacent to the school to run off some of our frustration. During that day's recess revelry one of my astute and observant classmates noticed a vine of poison ivy growing up the side of an elm tree beside the gravel pit.
"Hey Bob, why don't you take an example of poison ivy in to Mrs. Barnard?"
That's all that was said. Anyone with any sense at all would have looked at
the guy who made that silly-shit suggestion with a look of "Yeah, sure... moron!" but for whatever reason, I thought it sounded like a great idea.
I'm not allergic to poison ivy, although I don't make a habit of tempting the Hooey Gods by handling it. But on that day, as if to show my buddies that I could eat the stuff with impunity, I did indeed grab the vine, snap off a two foot section, and hold it up for inspection. By now a crowd of rabble-rousers had gathered to encourage me to carry out the original suggestion. Like a mob chanting "Jump!" to a suicidal guy on a ledge, my "friends" began to dare me to take the poison ivy in to Mrs. Barnard.
A dare? A double-dog dare? (Well, no one actually said things like that, but you get the picture... I'm just glad there wasn't a frozen flag pole in the playground area) Anyway, before I really knew what was happening I found myself marching up the stairs to the junior high school building carrying a stalk of poison ivy, followed by at least twenty giggling jackasses eager to see my impending doom.
They weren't disappointed. I found Mrs. Barnard in her classroom sitting behind her desk eating an apple. Teachers look forward to recess, too, apparently. By this time I was standing beside her desk holding the "flower" in front of me as if I were delivering roses to mom. Mrs. Barnard's face seemed relaxed, almost smiling as she rose to see what I was bringing her. She leaned down, put her face about six inches away from a dripping vine of toxicodendron radicans, and absolutely wigged out.
What happened next is a blur. I remember the herd of taunting jackals that had been right behind me scattering like starlings at the sound of a shotgun. The next thing I remember was being hauled by the nape of my neck into the boys' restroom by Mrs. Barnard. She didn't knock first to let pissing people know she was coming in with an idiot in tow, she just drug me to the nearest sink and began to scrub my hands (which were now poison ivy free, following her initial horrified slap at the plant). The water was scalding hot, and she was furiously scrubbing away at them with her own hands and a bar of white Ivory soap from the sink's soap bowl.
I vaguely remember seeing terrified kids stop in mid-piss to dash out of the bathroom. No doubt they ran outside to inform the rest of the world of my new found hygiene regime.
Mrs. Barnard had Hulked Out. She had grown to at least eight feet tall, four feet wide, and was now a vivid shade of crimson. Her grip on the back of my neck as she drug me to the principal's office was vise-like. Escape was not an option. In fact, I was doing my best not to pee my pants. Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit.... what have I done?
Once inside Principal Hobgood's office, Mrs. Barnard released her talons and thrust me face first toward the desk of a startled Mrs. Hobgood. Mrs. Hobgood lived three houses down from our house on Robin Lane, so we'd met. She was probably the only woman in the world more scary than Mrs. Barnard, at least she was to me and the other neighborhood kids.
Mrs. Barnard detailed the litany of offenses I had just committed to Mrs. Hobgood, who never took her eyes off of mine while my crimes were being listed. If a glare could kill, I wouldn't be writing this story, I'd be one of those little kids no one really remembers...
I got an F in science for the semester (we called them "six weeks" in those days), got an F on my science project (which had nothing to do with the poison ivy incident, but was a subjective grade entirely at the discretion of Mrs. Barnard), and got a "U" for "unsatisfactory" in deportment for the term.
Needless to say, my parents weren't pleased when Mrs. Hobgood placed a phone call to them later that afternoon. My dad looked at me as if he'd raised the village idiot, and looking back on my career as a student I'd say he probably had.
Mrs. Barnard came to class the next day covered with pink Calomine lotion. It was on her face, hands, arms, and although we couldn't see, probably covered her ass, as well. Apparently, some people are highly allergic to poison ivy.