I don’t think I could have been more terrified and confused if I had been dropped at the front gates of Hell. Or perhaps it was Hell. No? Well then Bussey Middle School in Garland Texas was as close to the doorstep of Hades as I had come. In the span of a few short months my family had moved from Trenton Ontario in Canada, to a rented house in a suburb of Dallas Texas, during the hottest summer in 25 years. I had spent the next few months living in an old house in an old neighborhood attending a new middle-school. Now here I was, six months later, living in a new, new house in a new old neighborhood. I’d been plucked out of one school mid-term and plopped into another after the Christmas holidays.
I’m sure everyone has some recollection of the recently harvested foreign student being introduced to the class, the awkward look of stunned submission. Momentarily supported by the teacher’s hand resting reassuringly on the poor schmucks shoulder, words of encouragement are disseminated to the established students for a warm welcome to be extended. Meanwhile, the “fresh meat” stands at the front of the class wondering what rule of Karma has been broken to place them in such a regrettable circumstance. Walking to their newly assigned desk, they are acutely aware of all eyes upon them. On me! At age 12… all eyes… never a good thing.
The bad thing, as if the previously described torture wasn’t enough, is that this took place 6 times that day. This was middle school, no home room. I had to take my schedule to every classroom, introduce myself to every teacher and go through the same dog and pony show. After lunch I attempted to change my strategy by shuffling inconspicuously to a vacant desk in the back of the room, but each time I was called out to either come to the front of the class, or stand beside my desk and tell everyone “a little something about myself.” By the end of the day I was ready to die.
My last class was something called Study Hall. I had no idea what it was. I’d never heard of a Study Hall in Canada, but I thought it sounded… cerebral. In my mind, I pictured a very studious atmosphere, perhaps a large warm room with a fire place and mahogany bookshelves lined with heavy leather bound volumes of great classics in philosophy, science and literature. What it turned out to be was an abyss, a student dumping ground. These were the dregs of Bussey Middle School. They (now we) were watched over by a constantly rotating cadre of disgruntled teachers, corresponding no doubt, to the current, most disfavored by the Principal. Any conception that this room was remotely conducive to studying was immediately dispelled.
The class was composed of various constituencies from off-season athletic programs, sub-par academic performers, delinquents working off detention hours and outcasts from any number of studies where they had become an unbearable distraction. The primary activities, to the best of my determination, were the following:
- Being instructed to return to your seat or risk being sent to the Vice Principal’s office
- Actually being sent to the Vice-Principal’s office
- Returning from said office, or…
- Playing Woody-Ball. A game in which a triangular piece of paper is flicked by finger to transverse a vertical plane (the edge of the desk) without falling off, resulting in 6 points. An extra point or two point conversion is possible.
The etymology of the name Woody-Ball was a matter of much discussion among the aficionados of the day. The two leading theories had to do with either the nick name of the game’s inventor, or a reference to the surrounding physical attributes of where the playing piece landed should it cross the edge of the desk and fall into your lap.