Ivan was one of those special students that we now sometimes label as having oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and used to be labeled “pain in the backside.” From a very troubled home Ivan had problems with personal and academic discipline. He was living in a group home for troubled teens that were unable to get along with their parents but were not in trouble with the judicial system. You could typically say things to Ivan like, isn’t it a nice day and get a two-minute lecture on why it wasn’t. I had several interesting encounters with Ivan but perhaps the two most interesting didn’t involve me directly but did involve an attendance slip and a car horn.
Our principal at that time was a very kind, calm caring and accepting individual who wore pink leisure suits complete with a pink tie and pink socks. Before I met him I didn’t even know that seersucker sports coats came in pink. He had a true free or open school philosophy including trying a 22 period day (which was a disaster of untold proportions) and the desire that kids be self-directed. Ivan was an ongoing thorn in the principal’s side because he was just one of those kids who were not in any way, shape or form self-directed or capable of functioning very well in the chaotic noisy dis-ordered environment of a 22 mod day .
One particularly bright, cold winter morning Ivan had been to the office to talk with the principal three times and as the secretary tells the story was told he had better not be back in the office again that day or more severe punishment would be forthcoming. Now this principal probably abhorred corporal punishment more than most as it was totally against his nature but he was at the end of his rope and Ivan had tied a noose in it by his actions. According to his secretary he told Ivan that if he was sent to the office again that day that he, the principal, would just simply slap him across his face as soon as he saw him. Unfortunately for the principal he was a man of his word and later that day right after lunch Ivan showed up in the office and before he could say anything the principal gave him what I am sure was a light tap on the side of the cheek in response to which, according to the secretary, Ivan held up a pink sheet and said he was just bringing the afternoon attendance sheet from his room. I am sure that principal carried that day to his grave.
Ivan’s other true triumph over reason occurred when he had finally pushed too many buttons one day and was to be sent back to the group facility where he lived. Now the office was on the third floor of the school which for some reason was a quite common placement in older buildings well into the 70’s. The school had a semi-circle driveway in front that was literally right up against the front of the building. It was primarily a rural/suburban school district at that time. A place where no one locked their houses and no one locked their cars.
The counselor from the group home came to pick Ivan up and started down the stairs from the third floor office. Ivan darted ahead down the stairs, got in the car which had the keys in it, locked the doors and started honking the horn. After several minutes of talking, begging, pleading, eventually threatening and one might say even raging at Ivan followed by quiet resignation the counselor, in that pre-cell phone, pre phone in your room era ran back up the three flights of stairs to the office to call the group home for someone to bring another set of keys to unlock the car doors. For about 40 minutes Ivan sat outside my room in the car on the driveway bouncing happily around the front seat, playing the radio very loudly and constantly honking the horn.
It was as if Santa Claus had landed outside with a bag of gifts and candy, my kids were gone and not coming back until this was over so we just sat and watched. Eventually he honked long enough that he began to burn out the horn so that at the end it was making a sound like what I imagine a seriously demented baby Canadian Goose might make which I discovered 5th grade students found immensely humorous
Someone finally showed up with some keys to remove him from the car. Now of course in those days it took a key to open the door and the key only opened the door it was put into… and just as importantly someone inside the door could hold the lock button down on the door and pretty much prevent someone outside from unlocking the door. This situation lead to a temporary cat and mouse game with each counselor pretending to have the keys on opposite sides of the car to get him away from at least one of the doors long enough to open it. He was very good at determining which counselor had the key and luckily for them he didn’t have very long arms so that he could reach both doors at once.
They eventually got into the car, got Ivan into the back seat and left but Ivan had more than his allotted “15 minutes of fame” and pretty much captured the attention of the middle school for an hour while establishing himself as the local anti-hero student for several weeks.