Sunday, April 3, 2016

Tales from Midwest Memories: The Soap Opera Scandal of '88

*All names have been changed to protect the guilty and innocent, but mostly, the guilty.

As I sat in Mr. Johnson’s office and waited on my mom to arrive, I chewed on my cuticles and wondered how this got so out of control. The situation began innocently enough – a joke made among friends during study hall.
Monday study hall dragged on with no end in sight. Gina, Rene, Chrissy, and I had been friends since elementary school. Our freshmen year, we found ourselves outcasts in a school containing less than two hundred students, so we adopted the motto: “us against the world.” We sat together at the table nearest the window and shared the weekend’s gossip in whispers and giggles, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes at the deceit and debauchery engaged in by our classmates.
“Ya know, this place is like a soap opera,” Gina muttered.
I laughed at the idea, pulled out a piece of paper, jotted down the words “As Valley High Turns,” and sketched out a crudely rendered picture of the earth at the bottom of the page.
“Just think, what a soap opera we could write. These stories would be just as good as anything on tv,” I whispered, showing the girls the page.
The girls nodded in agreement, and in that moment, we conceived a monumental idea. By the time the bell rang, we had drawn up our cast of “characters.” We included students, faculty, staff, and administrators because how realistic would it be to write a show set in a school with no adults? We discussed plot lines, love triangles, and all matters of degenerate behavior based on our classmates’ actual lives. I gathered up all the notes, and we headed our separate ways. I hurried to Mrs. Deeley’s history class to work on the script.
On Tuesday, I shared my work with the girls during study hall. They “oohed” and “aahed” at all the proper places, then grabbed their pencils and began making notes on the script, snickering as they worked. After class, I took the piece and began making the changes and additions suggested along with some of my own invention as well.
The rest of the week flew by in the same manner. The girls read during study hall and made their notes. I took their input and revised, reworked, and added as necessary. By Friday, the script had grown from a teasing suggestion to a substantial piece of writing that filled a two-pocket folder. The girls made their notes for the day, and I took it home with me.
Over the weekend, I neatly rewrote the entire script. I created an official looking cover from two pieces of cardboard and assembled it using brass-headed brads. The final copy of our “story” occupied the front and back of fifty college-ruled loose-leaf pages, detailing every piece of information the four of us knew or observed at Valley High School filled in with constructions of logical interactions and reactions dreamt up in our teenage minds.
I carried the manuscript to school on Monday morning and passed it to the girls. Chrissy took it first, then Rene, and finally Gina. We discussed the story at lunch. Each of us identified our favorite parts, and we declared the project a success.
After lunch, Gina ran to my locker. Out of breath with wide eyes, she panted, “It’s gone!”
“Whadda ya mean ‘it’s gone’?” I asked.
“The story. Someone took it outta my locker. IT is gone!”
Gina shook her head, “No idea.”
While I considered the possibility that there would be some turmoil over the story, I did not bother deliberating over it for long. I went on with my day as if nothing happened. Miss Bonnie came to get me at the beginning of eighth hour, and as soon as I saw her pursed lips and narrowed eyes, I realized the manuscript was going to cause more trouble than I thought.
Mr. Johnson frowned at me from behind his large wooden desk with his arms crossed over his chest. A photocopy of the manuscript sat in the center of his desk, taunting me. I guess he did not appreciate his bumbling, but charmingly clueless, portrayal.
“Are you responsible for this?” he asked, pointing at the stack of paper.
I frowned and nodded.
“Your mother has been called. She is on her way,” he stated, and then he stood and left the room, tripping over the edge of the bookshelf on his way out the door.
I could not help but smile.
Miss Bonnie glared at me from her perch by the front counter, involuntarily pulling at her tight purple sweater and running her lavender lacquered nails through her perfectly coiffed hair. I guess she did not appreciate her role as the aging prom queen making desperate advances on senior boys while trying to cling to her youth.
Through the front office window, I spied “Princess” Jennifer storm by with “Prince” Jonathon just a few steps behind her. She paused long enough to stare daggers at me through the glass. Her mascara ran down her cheeks. When John caught up to her and reached out to touch her shoulder, she jerked away from him and continued down the hall. He followed with his arms out and palms up, his mouth running a mile a minute trying to make it right. I am certain neither of them appreciated the exposure of the first-hand accounts of “Prince” John’s late night exploits.
Mom finally arrived. She sat straight and tall in the seat beside me with her hands folded in her lap and nodded at all the appropriate times, while Mr. Johnson explained my offenses and my punishment. She signed my referral sheet, folded her copy in half, and slipped it into her purse. She cleared her throat at the office door, and I jumped up from my seat and followed her out of the building.
The consequences surrounding the uproar were substantial. The senior and junior girls threatened to “give me an ass-whoopin’” for the next month. My mom grounded me for two weeks for “being disrespectful to my elders.” Mr. Johnson sentenced me to a week in the broom closet that also served as the school’s in-school-suspension room for writing “lewd and lascivious materials, better-suited for adults than proper young ladies.”

At the tender age of fourteen, I learned an important lesson about the power of words, and it was all worth it.