This story involves history instructor Mr. Bert Cohen; his senior Modern European History class (including myself); Assistant Principal Mr. Woodrow Robinson (remember "Woody"?); a never-identified young man in the boy's locker room; and an unnamed classroom perpetrator, to be identified later.
It was September, 1959 - the beginning of our senior year. It was late September, really, about three weeks in, time enough for the first round of class exams in most subjects.
Mr. Cohen's Modern European History class was no different - exam time! I always admired Bert Cohen because his mind was so obviously full of the history he loved; he could extemporaneously deliver a solid hour-long coherent narrative. Looking back, IMHO he was about as close to an accomplished college professor that Mount Vernon had.
It was almost unbearably hot. Because Mount Vernon had zero air conditioning, every window in the room was wide open, and I suspect, as was every window in the entire building. For those who never knew or have forgotten, Mr. Cohen's room was on the second floor on the northward side of the structure. It overlooked a rectangular, grassy cul-de-sac area and directly across it, the stairwell that led down to the entrance of the boy's locker room. Because of the heat, the locker room door was open as well.
[A quickie segue forward to our 40th and 50th reunions. I scheduled them both in early June to be close to our graduation date, and took more than a little 'heat' from schoolmates who suggested that I schedule "during September when it would be cooler". Please! It doesn't really get cool, even in northern Virginia, until way into October.]
Mr. Cohen's exam methodology mirrored his classy teaching skills. He would cite three of the subjects he had been talking about for the past few weeks and then ask you to expound on any two of them - your choice. That way, you could write to your strengths. I always appreciated that╔ although, one subject would have suited me better.
It was soooooooo quiet. You could hear pens scratching paper; you could hear my eraser. Not the most able student you've ever heard tell about, I was baffle-gabbing my way through my two subject choices (I had to use a pencil, of course), when it happened!
About half-way through the exam, from the depths of the boy's locker room came the most startling "Tarzan" yell / scream I think any of us had ever heard. It electrified the entire class, and again I suspect, the occupants of every other open-windowed classroom on that side of the building. It was sensational - loud, long, crisp and so well done! I never heard another yell like that until the movie "Tarzan, the Ape Man" starring Miles O'Keeffe and Bo Derek debuted a generation later in 1981. Immediately, everyone stopped writing and the classroom began to buzz with conjecture; who, what, why╔
Mr. Cohen brought the class back to reality with a reminder that the clock was ticking and this one was for senior grades. In a flash, again all you could hear was pens scribbling╔ and an eraser.
As I labored to invent history as I scribbled, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The unnamed perpetrator, who was sitting directly behind me, leaned forward and whispered in my ear, very quietly so that no one else could hear, "Woody strikes again"!
What wit! I couldn't help it - I burst out laughing, but as soon as I did so, realized to my horror that I had just committed an egregious breach of exam etiquette. Action ceased again and all eyes were now focused on me. One minute, all I had to worry about is somehow finessing this exam; in an instant, I faced unexpected and overwhelming embarrassment. I would have donned my invisibility cloak right then if I had remembered to bring it with me.
Jeez, could the humiliation get any worse? Oh, yeah! Just as the class was getting back to their two subjects and I thought with relief that my agony was over, Mr. Cohen, who had meantime ambled near, asked me the dreaded question no student ever wants to hear - "Something you'd like to share with the class, Darryl"? All I could do was mumble some incomprehensible excuse and pretend to be searching for something under my desk.
I did poorly on that exam, of course, because of that perp who sat behind me! - Fred Wedel (and the rest of my senior year didn't go all that well, either). I never identified Tarzan.
Fred later exceled, of course, and had an excellent career. He is bedridden now with permanent paralysis. I encourage all his friends to contact this good man, who often feels isolated. Fred will be publishing his book this summer, and he told me he would very much like to hear from you.
You can write to Fred at:
Frederick Leo Wedel, Jr.
2089 Arlington Drive
Roseville California 95747-9513
Fred's telephone is (916) 742-6878
Fred's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fred can also be contacted through Skype.
Darryl Wayne Dockins
MVHS Class of 1960