I actually started high school a little early. My parents had divorced the year before and my grades – especially my math grades – had suffered. I wanted to stay in the top track in math, so I had to retake algebra in summer school. I remember thinking I would get the hang of the school, but it turned out all the hallways were locked up tight. The only place we could go was our classroom and the cafeteria.
Summer school ended up being the highlight of my day. My mom worked and my grandma stayed with my brother and me. One afternoon right after eighth grade ended, my friend Dave came over and we played around with my video camera. My windows looked out over the garage roof. Naturally, it seemed like a good idea to get out on the roof and take the video camera with us. My little brother David also came along. Well, it turned out the roof wasn’t all that interesting. We had a six foot tall privacy fence next to the house on one side, so we climbed down on that and – from there – jumped down to the air conditioning unit into the backyard. We continued videotaping until I heard the phone ringing in the kitchen. I went in to answer it. Wrong number. My grandma had been watching television in the living room and couldn’t figure out how I had gotten from upstairs to downstairs without passing her. It took her a few minutes, but when she did put two and two together…
I went by “Bob” except when I was in trouble. If I was addressed as “Robert” then something was up, but I could probably talk my way out of it. “Robert Francis” was worse; I’d probably get smacked. If I got all three names – “Robert Charles Francis” – well, it was time to write the will. My grandma came to the back door, shaking and red. She was so mad; she couldn’t even say my name. All she did was point at me with a shaking finger.
“You! Get in here!”
And that’s how I ended up grounded for most of the summer.
My algebra teacher was Mr. Iverson. I got the subtle impression he didn’t really want to be teaching us summer school. The class was populated by a number of smart asses. I knew this because I happened to be one myself. There was a girl named Sarah. She would get all up in arms about various things in the class and Mr. Iverson would make the sign of the cross, the same way you would ward off vampire attacks. I sat next to Brandon. He was a big Cubs fan. That year, the Cubs were doing pretty well and Brandon wore his cap with pride to class (this was before everyone in the world wore baseball caps as a matter of course). Mr. Iverson gave him his nickname, “The Beaver”. Another kid – Willard (who went by Bill… can’t blame him for that) – was a smart ass with a smile. He got saddled with “Eddie Haskell”.
I didn’t get a nickname. That was fine with me. I had been in trouble for most of eighth grade and I was trying to stay under the RADAR. Algebra ended up being okay the second time around. I remember I understood it and I think I did pretty well. I rode the bus to school with this big kid who lived near my dad’s house. I don’t remember what he was taking in summer school, but we used to sit in the back of the bus together. I’d get off the bus at his stop. This was half a mile from where my mom lived. No one realized school let out around 2:45, but summer school only went to noon. I had a couple of hours to kill before I would walk home with my bag and books to do my homework under the watchful eye of my grandma.