"Go over and sit in the corner."
This is a sentence I overheard at the coffee shop this morning--a young mother was telling her two little ones to go over and sit at a corner table and wait for her to bring their food. But the sentence had other resonances for me.
Sitting in the corner (or standing in the corner--face into the corner) was one of the punishments favored by my elementary school teachers in Enid, Okla., and Amarillo, Tex. And so I'm rather familiar with the sound of it.
In Enid, at Adams School, there was an even worse punishment: "Go stand in the cloak room."
It wasn't really a room, the "cloak room." In the back (or side) of each classroom was a wooden partition that ran partway across the room; it did not reach the ceiling; it did not reach the floor. Behind it (between the partition and the wall) we hung our coats in the seasons that required them. Getting sent in there to stand while class went on was both humiliating and liberating. (No classwork!)
There was one problem, though: The teacher could see your feet and ankles. That meant you had better not be moving around/fooling around in there, for the next punishment was "Out in the hall!"--a place of some danger since passing teachers could give you grief, as could the principal, Miss Hinshawe, who, as everyone in the school knew, kept in her office desk a Rubber Hose, which she used to flail into bloody submission the worst offenders. (I was not one.)
I never knew anyone who actually felt the Rubber Hose (or even saw it)--but it was there, believe it! (Wasn't it?)
So what did I do that earned me a place in the corner? The cloak room? The hallway? A partial list:
- I messed up another kid's drawing during art period while he (she? can't remember) was at the pencil-sharpener. I--and this is painful/embarrassing to admit--drew a group of ... please forgive me ... turds emerging from the character he/she was drawing. He/She told on me; I visited the hall. Later, I saw that the teacher had cleverly converted the ... items ... I'd drawn into a fence. The character was now sitting on a fence--a rather thick one.
- During penmanship class, we used actual dip-and-write ink pens. With points. I wondered one dull Oklahoma day if it would stick in the back of the kid in front of me if I threw it like a knife. Young scientist that I was(n't), I threw it. It stuck. For a moment. The kid cried aloud. I went to the hall. (Why not to Miss Hinshawe? I might have found out if there really was a Rubber Hose.)
- I went down the up stairs (no kidding), an infraction so grave that the Authorities removed me from the Safety Patrol--a horrible punishment, mostly because we Patrolers got out of class a few minutes early in the afternoon to go stand at the crosswalks, dressed with a white Sam Browne belt (with tin badge), to wait for the big kids to ignore us.
- A bunch of us got in trouble at recess for dividing into two "armies"--Rebels and Yanks--and charging each other across the field and engaging in all sorts of violence.
I never received any corporal punishment at elementary school (I did, however, at home--well earned), but I also once got whacked with a paddle in ninth grade at Hiram High School.
Scene: Study Hall. Rows of desks. An empty desk separating each student from the one in front and behind. DANNY is seated behind his older brother, RICHARD (a senior). MR. WOLFE, the Study Hall supervisor is out of the room (cigarette?). DANNY, armed with a long rubber band (brought to school by an EVIL FRIEND), decides to nail RICHARD. DANNY draws the rubber band to its full length and ... sudden silence in the Study Hall. DANNY looks over toward the door. MR. WOLFE has returned and is looking right at DANNY.
MR. WOLFE: Out in the hall. [MR. WOLFE gestures in case DANNY does not know where the hall is.]
SOUNDS of imminent doom coming from some of the OTHER STUDENTS.
MR. WOLFE [out in the hall]: Take everything out of your back pockets. [DANNY does.] Bend over and grab your ankles.
DANNY [complies easily--so lithe at 14]: Please ...
SOUND: WHACK! WHACK!
MR. WOLFE: Now get back in there.
DANNY [fiercely fighting tears]: Yes, sir.
Back in Study Hall, DANNY sits--gingerly--while every eye in the room is checking to see if he will cry. DANNY is wondering, too. But he doesn't. He bends his head and focuses ferociously on his English book--perhaps the chapter on predicate adjectives?
Later, RICHARD tells DANNY'S PARENTS what happened. DANNY endures some cross-examination--but no subsequent punishment.