Vive la RĂ©sistance
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa (Jun 2010)

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            When I look back on my high school days, I see many teachers I liked, some I didn’t, and just a few who didn’t leave much of an impression at all. But they were all well-intentioned in their own ways, and their commitment to that mostly thankless job earns my retroactive appreciation. With one exception. Let’s call her Ms. Fullmouth. I took her class as an elective during my sophomore year, and all but two of my classmates were freshmen. I discovered my instinctive mother hen vibe on the day when a quiet freshman girl asked a question to which Ms. Fullmouth responded, and I quote, “What a stupid question.”

           I sat up, ears hot as they heard this woman use the word “stupid” two more times before bothering to answer the question (which was, for the record, a reasonable one). I was raised to believe that no question was “stupid.” Applying that word to someone’s honest question would qualify as merely unkind in most cases, but coming from a teacher it merited its own special category of, “Oh, no she didn’t.”

           Though I was relatively tactless at this age and not the most sensitive soul on the planet, even I recognized that what we had all just heard could scar that girl for the year, if not for life. I wondered how likely she would be to ask her next question, how interested others would be in asking theirs, and how that might affect their ability to learn. I cared about learning, so this crossed some internal line with me; the woman might as well have challenged me to a duel. Whatever respect I had for her position as my teacher ended on this day. Nicole, meet Righteous Indignation. Henceforth I was The Countess of Monte Cristo, completely justified in making this woman’s classroom life hell. My “A” work in the class was my cache of jewels, rendering me virtually untouchable.

            One memorable day, Ms. Fullmouth was at the board leading a group workbook exercise. After filling in one line, I stuck my pencil behind my ear. I had a spare on my desk in case the other broke and, without thinking much about it, stuck that pencil behind my other ear. My good friend Restlessness stopped by and suggested that I move both pencils to the top of my head in a “V” like antennae. I obliged. Right here the student behind me let out a snicker. My body responds to that sound much the way I imagine other people’s bodies respond to cocaine. More, it whispered. More. Fully alert for the first time in that day’s class, I reached for my backpack. 

            I’ll skip ahead for a moment to explain why I got kicked out of the room. Ms. Fullmouth chose the one tactic destined to fail with me: the ignore-it-and-it-will-stop method. All I needed was a simple, “Alright, enough Nicole,” and that would have been that. But alas, alas, she looked everywhere but at me as I became a growing distraction, even to myself. It was a power struggle that I knew she would lose for one simple reason: I had a lot of pencils.

            As an art student, I carried around a full spectrum of something like 48 recently-sharpened friends. And, one by one, into the hair they went. By around number eleven, I wondered why this silliness was being permitted to continue. With each addition I looked at Ms. Fullmouth, politely waiting for the signal, but she refused to make eye contact. Then I would pause, shrug, grab another pencil, and the cycle continued. Titters began to spread and, though I was pretty straight-faced for a while, even I started to giggle at the sheer lunacy of it all. Why was I doing this? Why wasn’t she stopping me? Who can say? Let’s have another pencil.

           My curls are pretty dense and did a good job of containing the bulk of the collection until I got to about 40. By that point I was shaking so badly from snorting and trying to subdue my own laughter that, with each pencil I added, another would slide out. I must have looked like an art supply store tribute to the statue of liberty. It would have taken both hands to hold this batch of pencils at the start of class. By the time Ms. Fullmouth sighed, looked to the sky and said, “Nicole, take those out of your hair,” only two remained in my backpack. Orange and light green. In other words, she was far, far too late. The entire class was in hysterics, and I had lost all sense of reason. God alone is to be thanked that no one lost an eye when I said, “OK…” – in a tone that said, hey, buddy, you asked for it – and shook my head wildly from left to right. Pencils of all colors but orange and light green sprang from my head in all directions. I imagine it was sort of beautiful.

            Other than that notable exception, the only projectile I ever unleashed in Ms. Fullmouth’s class was general disdain. Justifiable or not, Mom made it clear on the home front that my getting in trouble did no one any good. She advised me to be on my guard with this teacher. Understood. Totally.

            A month or so later at the mall, I saw a pair of musical socks (push a button, hear a song). “Wouldn’t it be funny if I wore those to Ms. Fullmouth’s class?” I asked my mother. “She wouldn’t know where the music was coming from! Ha!”

           Mom took a thoughtful moment before replying, “Maybe not at first, but then she will, and you’ll get in trouble. Then what?”

           She had a point. I liked that she went with reasoning rather than just telling me not to do it, which we both knew wouldn’t get her very far. She continued, “If you’re going to do it, have everyone in the class wear them.”

           A much better strategy, to be sure. What could Ms. Fullmouth do then, I wondered? Either kick us all out, or enjoy a nice musical interlude. Nonetheless, I scrapped the idea as I did not have the cash to buy these socks for the whole class, a fact that my mother damn well knew. Well-played, Mom. Well-played.

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