If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!

My two daughters, from a very young age, have always wanted to hear stories about when I was a kid. Since this has usually been the equivalent of bedtime stories for them, I’ve had a motivation to mine the depths of my memories, looking for any nugget that could be brought up and spun into gold. Or, at least, turned into something that could put them to sleep.

It’s not often that I volunteer my stories out of the blue, since I figure I’ll need them for some night when I’m stuck for anything better to tell them. But over the weekend I made an exception, and it’s worth a few minutes to put it on this forum too. It all started with a song on the radio.

I attended an all boys Catholic high school, not because I was particularly religious, but because my parents decided I should go there. I couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to, and after the first year or so inertia set in and that was to be the school I graduated from. I learned some things, had some fun, but mostly I just passed the time until it was senior year.

What we used to call “senioritis” hit me in a big way back in high school. I was young, and didn’t know half of the things I thought I did, and wasn’t really interested in too much more than girls and beer. And being the top dogs in high school sure felt better than being one of the younger guys ever did.

Every school day, about an hour or so into classes, the student body president  would come on the intercom and read the daily announcements. Every school probably has something like this: Registration forms for the Drama Club are due by Tuesday in Room 204.  Rarely were the announcements ever worth listening to, since it was a chance to talk to your friends for a few minutes until the bell rang.

One beautiful morning in May of my Senior year, after all of the books had been turned in, and the grades had been recorded, and the last of the tuition money had changed hands, I found myself in the hallway on the proverbial last day of school. The graduating seniors got to leave a few days earlier than everyone else, to give everyone left behind a few days to try out being the next rung up on the four-year ladder that is high school. And maybe it was just to get us out the door earlier than everybody else, now that I think about it.

It was just about time for the daily announcements, and the student body president was getting into position to read the news for one last time. I don’t know whose idea it was, but the apparent lack of any meaningful punishment to be administered made it seem like a great idea. And so it was.

In a brazen commando mission, a handful of graduating seniors–myself included–stormed into the main office and commandeered the microphone. So what did we do with it? We sang a few bars of the most anti-establishment song we knew, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II).” Hey, teacher, leave them  kids alone! We then either left or got kicked out (I can’t remember which one it was), leaving us free to soak up the attention from our classmates, who probably wished that they had thought of it. As I like to think of it, we said goodbye with a flourish.

So as that song came on the radio last weekend, my older daughter, who’s into all of the hit music stations, expected that she could turn to her music instead. I told her to wait, and that I had a story to tell. I then sketched out the story above, over the guitar part at the end of the song, and she didn’t quite know what to make of it.

“So did you get in any trouble?” she asked me. At that very moment, the frantic cries of the Teacher came over the speakers: How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? 

“No sweetheart. I didn’t,” I replied. “I had been eating my meat at that school for four years, and that last day was the time to finally have some pudding.”

She looked at me quizzically. I would have explained it to her if she asked, telling her that four years of not getting suspended, not getting high in the bathrooms, not cursing out my teachers, and generally staying in the vicinity of the top of my class had earned me a little bit of leeway to pull a stunt like that. I don’t know if the school administrators saw it quite that way, but they didn’t have much leverage over my classmates and I, either. And so they left us kids alone.

I’ve heard that song on the radio a lot over the years, but last weekend was the first time I had thought about that incident in 25 years. Perhaps all those years of forced storytelling have paid off, after all.

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