“From kindergarten to graduation, I went to public schools, and I know that they are a key to being sure that every child has a chance to succeed and to rise in the world.”
– Dick Cheney
In high school, I had a tutor, and she was a nice enough lady, even if she was narrow minded, conservative and a tad too religious for my tastes. But, this was Centerville, Ohio and to expect a tutor who was an intellectual progressive would have been to believe in unicorns. Even after all this time, one of her lessons still resonates with me, the difference between principle and principal.
I had made that grammatical mistake in a paper I had written and she pointed out “the easiest way to remember the difference is that a principle is a belief and the principal of your school is your pal.” While I became instantly aware of the difference, under no circumstances was my high school unit principal, Mr. Durnbauugh, my pal.
If white collar marginalization is the adult equivalent to waterboarding, then high school is a teenagers introduction to both marginalization and torture. And every Monday morning in high school I was blasted with that as I would wake up with the dread of knowing I would be met with a pink slip from my homeroom teacher telling me to go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. It’s not like I was some sort of hellion who was blowing things up, mouthing off to teachers or truant to the point of expulsion, I was way too high to care about most of that stuff. Come to think of it, weed was mostly responsible for those visits. It would seem that at one point during the previous week, one teacher or another would report me for being “out of sorts” (stoned) or tardy (pot heads are not known for punctuality). Those were my only infractions, outside of typical sullenness, which wasn’t a punishable crime at that point. Invariably, I’d walk into home room, not even sit down, grab my pink slip and go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. Who would dole out Saturday school to me. And for those of you wondering if “The Breakfast Club” was real, it did exist. And thanks to Mr. Durnbaugh, “The Breakfast Club” hit pretty close to home for me when it was released.
Thankfully, the guy who monitored the 7a-12p Saturday school sessions was my sophomore English teacher, who either liked me or was afraid of me, I never knew and never really cared because I was usually WAY too high and felt the punishment was beyond silly. While he was militant with the other kids about doing school work, I usually got a pass reading whatever rock and roll biography I had my nose in or the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Once and while he’d stop at my desk and say “At least make it look like schoolwork.”
But neither Mr. Durbaugh nor that Saturday school monitor were my high school teaching nemesis. That title belonged to David Mark Fife. This guy was barely out of college when I had him for freshman science. Mr. David Mark Fife, with his nicely trimmed beard, solid button down shirts and knight ties and wide corduroy pants, would zero in on me daily and, while I was a wise ass, I am not sure I was deserving of much of the sarcasm of verbal accosting I took from that guy. Little did I realize that I would become as hated to him as Osama Bin Laden was to Dick Cheney.
Back then radio was much different than it is today. And in the little suburban sanctuary of Centerville, Ohio anyone under thirty lived and breathed by the local AOR station, WTUE. This predated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and syndication so radio stations and their DJ’s were pretty tailored to their markets. And the morning shows were the centerpiece of information, music and humor for cities outside of major metropolitan areas. At WTUE , Jeff Curry and Dan Pugh (who would later find success as ESPN God Dan Patrick) were ours and it just so happened that Jeff Curry was my half brother.
One of the more popular characters created during that time was Waldo Snivels, a dweeby sort of guy who was always unlucky at…everything. Well, they had created a storyline where Waldo met a woman and fell in love. So in the final storyline for the character he fell in love and was to get married. Obviously, given Mr. David Mark Fife’s age, and our class discussions about Waldo, I knew he was a fan of the morning show. The Friday morning before Waldo Snivels Monday morning nuptials, I made a bet with Fife that Waldo wouldn’t get married. Mr. David Mark Fife took the bet, not knowing my inside line. OK, I probably shouldn’t have made the bet, but I wanted to one up the bastard, even if it was only for a Snickers bar.
Monday morning came and during the morning show the Mayor of Dayton had run off with Waldo’s bride, leaving him alone at the alter. So, I walked into Mr. Fife’s class with way too much confidence and announced to the class, and a fuming Mr. Fife, that he lost and owed me a Snickers bar. Unbeknownst to me, someone had told him that my half brother was one half of the creative team of the morning show and after class he pulled me over to the side and from clenched teeth seethed “I don’t owe you shit you little bastard. You knew ahead of time what was going to happen.” He was pissed and I knew enough to shut up.
A few months later while we were all outside for a fire drill, I reminded him he still owed me a Snickers bar and he pulled me aside and said “You’re an asshole Higgons, that’s all you’re ever gonna be, you know that?” Apparently, he was still angry and again, I knew enough to shut up.
My sophomore year I ran into Mr. David Mark Fife in the hallway where he blocked my passage and said to me “Take a swing at me Higgons. I’ll give you a free shot. Go on, just take one swing at me.” This was after lunch so I was pretty high and didn’t take the bait, “No way, I hit you and you expel me.” He smirked and replied “Exactly.” I recall nervously laughing and walking around him, not knowing if it was a joke or not. Either this guy really hated me, had some serious rage issues or I was just a master of cutting sarcasm at 15. Somehow, the first two ring most true.
This was the era of overhead projectors and I knew Fife had all his notes on scrolls and I knew where he kept them. So one day after school in my junior year, I decided to go stealth on Mr. Fife and steal his notes. Well, I didn’t take them so much as just relocate them to another drawer in his classroom. Obviously, the next day there was quite a commotion during first period as Mr. David Mark Fife was in a state because his notes were missing. Being that my class was next door, he came in and asked if anyone knew anything about where they might be. I raised my hand and suggested “Maybe someone just moved them into another drawer in the classroom.” He stared at me and quietly stormed out of the classroom.
The last semester of my senior year it all came to a head. I had gained a little more confidence, surliness, and was beginning to relish in my anti-authoritarianism. I was walking by the lunchroom where kids sat for study hall and a friend threw a piece of orange at me. So I picked it up and threw it back at him and from behind me came “You throw like a girl Higgons, now go pick it up.” I turned and there he was, Mr. David Mark Fife. I replied, “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t throw anything.” and kept walking.
“Go pick it up,” he said.
“No.” I said as he trotted up to grab my arm and swung me around.
“I saw you throw that, now go pick it up.”
“I didn’t throw anything and I am not picking up anything.”
“You can go pick it up or we can go to Mr. Durnbaugh’s office”, Fife said.
“Fine, let’s go”, I turned and headed towards the office with Mr. David Mark Fife in tow.
We made it to my princi”pals” office where Mr. David Mark Fife and I argued quite vociferously about what had happened with the orange. (Yep, the absurdity of this all still rings true to me.) It finally ended with me yelling “Why do you even bother to teach if you hate everyone so much?!” Sensing this was a millisecond from becoming a physical fight, Mr. Durnbaugh quickly ushered Mr. David Mark Fife out, saying “We’ll talk later”. He came back in to discuss what happened and I told my side of the story to my “pal”. Someone threw it at me, I threw it back. That was it. Durnbaugh asked who threw it first and I said I didn’t know (I wasn’t then and am still not, a rat). So he called my father and arranged for a meeting with the three of us the next morning.
The next morning as my father, Mr. Durnbaugh and I convened to recount the “orange incident”, I was given the choice of one week of out of school suspension or two months of Saturday school. When I asked what would happen to Mr. Fife, I was stonewalled. Feeling unjustly prosecuted, I opted for the out of school suspension because I felt that would ultimately be less painful. My father strongly suggested I take the Saturday school. He used the argument that “You don’t want an out of school suspension on your transcript.” Given my transcript and the college counselor’s sage “He shouldn’t go to college” advice, I’m not entirely sure it would have mattered all that much.
But then I got to thinking (it really is amazing how much quicker you can think without doing a wake and bake) and decided the Saturday school option was clearly the better choice because the assigned Saturdays took me through the end of my senior year which meant that Mr. Durnbaugh couldn’t add any more on my Monday morning visits for being high or tardy. Ultimately, I went with Saturday school…besides, I had just started a killer Bob Dylan biography.
So, what’s the ultimate point of this story? None, really. I just felt this story is marginally more interesting than the documentary “The World According to Dick Cheney”. If you watch this doc and are looking for some insight into the former Vice President, you won’t find it. And the truth is, I don’t think there is much to the man. He was, for better or worse, a straight shooter throughout his entire political career.
The only thing I took away from this documentary is that Dick Cheney was a deeply principled man and he was never interested in being anyone’s pal. And while I am diametrically opposed to him in every political and philosophical way, I couldn’t help but find myself fascinated by his steadfast commitment to his principles. It really is admirable. I mean really admirable. Sure, his ideals and principles have cost trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of lives overseas, shattered our international standing, etc. but he did stick to them. And in politics, that says a lot.
The only thing “The World According to Dick Cheney” left me wondering was what if his principles were different. What if he had actually used that steadfast commitment for good rather than duplicitous back stabbing politics, power, war mongering, torture, war profiteering, bastardizing the constitution, illegal incarceration, lining the pockets of Halliburton and the rich, etc. well, then maybe we’d all have been a little better off.
As for Mr. David Mark Fife? Well, that son of a bitch still owes me a Snickers bar.