Tales From High School

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

—Kurt Vonnegut

Today’s post has no point. There is no lesson here. It will not make you a better person to read this post, it will not give you some new life skill or hone an old one.

Though, to be honest, that means it’s pretty much just like every other post you’ll find here. This time, though, it’s not even significant to me. I just wanted to share an interesting tale from my days as a high school student with you.

It was May of 2005. I was a freshman in high school, a few short months from turning sixteen, with all the freedom to crash into things at a high speed that carried with it. It was the fifteenth, to be precise. That night, the third/sixth installment of the Star Wars franchise was to be released, at midnight. Despite the previous two releases being met with the critical acclaim of used tissue, excitement was high. A teacher came to class as Darth Vader. We spent the day humming the Imperial March whenever we saw him.

This story isn’t about him, though. This story is about something very simple. The end of my day was marked by the ring of a bell, like high school students everywhere. Fun fact: high schools haven’t changed much since they were used to train factory workers. It shows.

When the bell rang, I left class and converged with my other factory workers in the large central area affectionately referred to as “the foyer”;. The foyer was a large, open room that served as a central gathering-place for students. In the middle of the foyer was a square formed by four utilitarian columns.

That day, the square was more obvious than usual. It was an opening in the pack of students that had gathered, an implicit boundary created by the architecture. Two students stood in the middle of it, wielding yardsticks they had appropriated from the science rooms. They faced off against each other, twirling their yardsticks. They paced forward, placed their yardsticks against each other’s, and locked gazes. A collective silence grew over the crowd gathered.

The two pushed off each other, then rejoined, fiercely swinging yardsticks until the clacks reverberated off the walls. They struck and parried, circled and thrust, blocked and maneuvered. Neither scored a hit. From somewhere in the gathered students, light-saber noises started to be heard. More students took up the role, providing sound effects for the historic battle that was being waged in our own hallways. One of the combatants lowered his yardstick, raising his hand instead. The other combatant, taking the hint, threw himself bodily against one of the columns. The other combatant advanced and sliced at the other’s ribs; his intended target ducked just in time, letting the yardstick clatter off the column.

The fight raged on for minutes. At one point, a collective gasp arose from one side of the square. The group of students parted, and a student wearing a black hoodie approached. The hood was raised, riding low on his brow, obscuring his face. He held a yardstick in each hand, their tips trailing on the floor as he walked. The combatant Jedis, locked in a battle of strength at the center of the square, broke their fight and stared at the intruder. The Sith slowly raised both yardsticks, and the two Jedi exchanged a look. The Sith twirled the yardsticks, and the Jedi charged.

The battle went on for minutes, the Sith successfully fending off both Jedi. Finally, it went on too long. The Jedi locked yardsticks with the Sith, forcing him to keep both arms fully extended above his head to keep the yardsticks at bay. One of the Jedi took the opportunity and relented his attack, quickly ducking under the Sith’s arm and stabbing the other Jedi through the chest. The Sith brought the yardsticks around with surprising speed, resting them scissored on the Jedi’s shoulder. The Jedi, in acceptance, knelt. The Sith scissored, and the remaining Jedi collapsed with theatrical stiffness.

Another gasp, and the students along one edge of the square fell away to reveal a hall monitor. He entered the square and stood in front of the Sith. The hall monitor raised a hand, palm outstretched. The Sith convulsed, as if electrocuted, and fell to the ground. The hall monitor walked away.

That was it. Just a few moments in an afternoon, precipitating a disappointing blockbuster release. Just a few hundred teenagers turning a clichéd hallway scene into an epic battle by their willingness to join each other in a delusion, an agreement to recognise a grandeur that wasn’t there.

But hey, it’s not every day teenagers actually use their imagination, which probably explains why I still remember it.